Tag Archives: Ogre’s Assistant

Transformation!

After four long years, Transformation! Ogre’s Assistant Book Three is finally done! I had to find a new cover designer: the old one disappeared. But boy, am I happy with the change!

I think Fiona did a fantastic job!

Release date is 4th October but the Kindle version is up for pre-order now! (Paperback is going to take a wee bit longer but there will be one.) You can find it on Amazon US and Amazon UK as well as other Amazon sites. It’s in Kindle Unlimited so if you subscribe to that, it’ll automatically be delivered to your device on release date!

To all the readers who were so patient with me, thank you!

Coming Up with Characters

I’ve heard it said that fiction writers base some or all of their characters on people they’ve met. In my case, it’s true. Well, the personalities, anyways. Probably not the species. Mostly. I thought I’d give you a glimpse into how I came up with some of my main characters.

(Clicking on that photo will take you to the page where this mug is offered. I love gifts! 😉 )

As background: In my previous life and, to a lesser extent, my current one, I’m an administrative assistant. In addition to accounting and bookkeeping duties, I end up typing up correspondence for my clients who, although they own computers, can only hunt-and-peck at the keyboard. (Don’t get me started on proper formatting of a business letter!) Hence the premise for the books.

Anyways. As many friends have deduced, Amy’s personality is very similar to my own: a stereotypical Virgo. Her appearance, though, is definitely not me!

Ev, Amy’s boss, is my former employer with a touch of another businessman I worked with for a while. (Neither of whom looked anything like Ev, but I did work for a while with a man who had a hygiene problem.) Not that I’ve ever known anyone to get into the pickles Ev seems to find himself in. Thank goodness.

Fudge, the familiar cat? Anyone who is or has been owned by cats will recognize him in one of theirs. In my case, he’s very much like my first cat, Boomer, who thought he was human. Although he never spoke English to me, the various tones in his meows and expressions on his face were easily interpretable. We had conversations.

Amy’s boyfriend, Tony, comes from an old boyfriend of mine. Their appearance is even similar. No spoilers, but what happens to Tony happened to the boyfriend, too.

Gregory, Ev’s driver and bodyguard and, eventually, Amy’s mentor, is loosely based on a bouncer I worked with at a bar many moons ago. Cork, the owner of Amy’s favorite pub, comes from that same bar. (I have fond memories of that place…)

So, a peek for you into how I come up with characters. There are even more in Amy’s third adventure, which is currently at the editor’s (and, sadly, still lacking a title). Like the egotistical elf, whose prototype I also dated for a (very short) while.

Writers: how do you come up with your characters? Readers: do you see anyone you know in a writer’s actors?

Now In Tree Book Format!

FictionPaper

Even though the Ogre’s Assistant books have been out in ebook format for three and two years, there’s something about paper that makes it seem more real. They’re real!

Printing costs being what they are, the paperbacks are only available directly from me. These books are quick reads (deliberately so) and to distribute them through Amazon, I would have had to price them at $9.00 or more. I wouldn’t pay that much for a book that’s less than 250 pages and I wouldn’t expect anyone else to, either. I think $5.99 is a much fairer price.

So, if you want ink-and-paper of either (or both!) pop over to the linked page and click on the “add to cart” button. I’ll get them out to you ASAP!

A Familiar’s Tale – Housekeeping

Image by Dave Scelfo. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0A couple of weeks ago, I posted a plaint. Fudge was getting too wordy in his story to keep putting up 1,000± word posts – the menu to the right would get entirely too long!

After talking with some folks and thinking about it, I’ve decided the menu is going to be a brief glimpse into each of his lives. Once he’s finished telling Amy his full story, I’ll compile it into a book of some sort. All the “printing” decisions will be made after I see what I have.

For those of you who have been following along, I have a deal. Comment here before midnight on 1 June 2016, and I’ll send you a pdf of the entire book. Be sure to use a valid email when commenting because that’s where I’ll send it. No promises when you’ll get it because he’s less than half way through his tale but hopefully before the end of summer.

A Familiar’s Tale – Part XVI

Image by Dave Scelfo. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0I awoke to the light of a candle and the smell of cooked meat. I hoped there was rice being served with it – I was hungry! At some point I had been transferred from the traveling tube to my clay jar. Probing Hui’s mind, I discovered that we were at a small inn for the night and the room she was sharing with Tian was larger than the house from which she had just departed. The food being placed before her was more than she was accustomed to eating all day. She was in awe.

The lid to my jar was lifted and a lump of boiled rice was placed next to my water dish. Tian’s voice quietly said, “Never fear, little cricket. I know what you are and will ensure Hui takes good care of you until such time as she also recognizes you.”

The lid was replaced and I settled in to eat. I knew Hui was still young and I had a few years before her magic would manifest. We would learn of her new life together.

Shortly after leaving the inn the following morning, we were taken aboard a barge on the Grand Canal and ushered into a small room with no windows. It was explained that it would be warmer inside than even staying in the palanquin during our short voyage – it was a particularly harsh winter. So, there we stayed – I slept – for the better part of the day.

I was awakened once again by the smell of food. This time it wasn’t just meat sizzling but spices! I looked out a hole in my jar to see an opulent room – silks lined the walls, the tables were highly polished wood and the cushions on which Hui and Tian sat were as exquisitely embroidered as Tian’s dress. While I did not know Tian’s profession, whatever it was, it was a preferable alternative than the hut Hui had come from.

Hui shared a room with Tian for the first several years. We were in a household with four other women all around the same age as Tian, and all witches with crickets as familiars. They all had male patrons who would visit on a regular basis, hosted parties for the men and the people they wanted to impress or, on occasion, the ladies would be called to the patron’s home or to accompany him to the theater or elsewhere it was necessary to have a lovely lady on your arm.

While Tian was her main teacher, all five women helped with the instruction of “Younger Daughter.” Hui learned to play music (she couldn’t carry a tune to sing), to compose poetry, was taught table manners, how to read, how to discuss important matters of the day without actually putting forth an opinion, and how to comport herself around important men. However, much to my relief, she was not taught how to please those men in bed. She was being trained to be a Yiji – what you would consider to be a companion but nothing more.

Because the other crickets were familiars, I was able to quickly learn what went on in this particular household. At the time, China’s official religion was Taoism. As such, the ladies were trained in its ethics. They also learned the I-Ching, a form of divination. They were considered by many of their patrons to be spiritual advisors. Ya-Fen, whose element was Air, was quite adept at calming her patrons when something didn’t go their way.

Hui’s magic erupted at age fourteen. As a trainee, it was her duty to observe (through a hidden hole in a wall) how the women entertained – and advised – their patrons. After pouring tea and playing her dizi, a kind of flute, Tian’s patron still had not calmed from whatever had transpired during the day. He demanded she cast the stalks for him to find out why his transaction had not gone in his favor. She did and determined that his manner made him seem untrustworthy.

“I am trustworthy,” he roared. “I would never do anything to imply otherwise. You must be mistaken!”

“I am sorry, my lord,” Tian said quietly while bowing her head. “I only repeat what I see in the hexagram.”

He howled again and this time, struck Tian so hard she flew across the room. Hui, unnerved by such a violent temper, wanted only to revenge the hurt done to her gentle mentor. As I watched, the polished ebony table rose and smacked the patron in the head.

Tian’s eyes widened (as much as they could with the bruise forming next to her left eye) as she witnessed the magic. At the same time, Hong, the house guard, entered the room to see what all the noise was about.

“My lady, is there something wrong?” Hong asked as he helped Tian to her feet.

“I believe I can take care of the situation,” Tian replied. “Please escort Ho-Xiansheng to the door. See that he does not ever return.” Hong nodded and, grabbing the patron by the arm, hauled him to his feet and out the door. Tian face the wall with the hidden hole.

“Younger Daughter, I know you are watching. Please come in here so I may speak with you.”

Hui rushed from one room to the other, nearly dislodging my tube from her dress. “Honored Sister, how may I help heal your face?”

“It is of no importance right now. The bruise will fade shortly. Do you know what you did?”

Hui felt confused. “I did nothing. But I did see the table rise of its own accord and hit Ho-Xiansheng.”

“I believe you caused the table to rise. Did you feel anger when I was struck?”

“Yes, Honored Sister. I did not like to see you treated that way. He was wrong to hit you.”

“Yes, he was wrong. But that is not your concern at the moment. I would like you to try to raise the table again. This time, just off the floor – do not throw it anywhere.”

Hui was the one to widen her eyes. “How would I do that?”

“Concentrate. You know what polished ebony feels like to your hands. Find that feeling in your mind and then just as if you would use your hands to lift the table, do it with your thoughts.”

At last! I could finally work. I helped Hui to locate the table with her magic and then, slowly, lift the table a few inches off the floor. As the table rose, so did Hui’s astonishment and the table fell back to the floor with a thud.

“I did that?” Hui cried.

“Yes, Younger Daughter, you did. We, the five of us women and now you, possess magic. I felt no air stirring so I believe your ability is with Wood, as is mine. It is a skill that few possess.”

[Wait. Wood is an element? Amy]

Yes. In Chinese astrology, Wood is one of the five elements, along with Water, Fire, Earth and Metal. They do not recognize Air but most Air witches are considered to be of the Fire element. You know, they can use air to fan flames. As you have discovered, Earth witches can also easily manipulate wood and metal. Do not ask me to explain Chinese philosophy to you. We would be here for the rest of our lives. Now, back to my story.

To be continued…

A Familiar’s Tale – Part XV

Image by Dave Scelfo. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0I next opened my eyes to find a humongous eye staring down at me. “This one will do,” said a voice coming from the direction of that eye. I was unceremoniously picked up and deposited into a dark something with small holes. The eye observed me through one of those holes.

I tested my new body. I was obviously quite small, with large hind legs, smaller front ones, two sets of wings, and feelers jutting from my forehead. As I moved the outer wings to test for flight, I made a noise. Curious, I tried it again. A slightly different noise emanated from my back. The eye staring at me, with its epicanthal fold, crinkled in delight.

If you are not familiar with insects, especially the Gryllidae family, I am describing a cricket. Not to put too fine a point on it, I was a bug. I had always thought my superiors infallible. How could they make such a huge mistake, putting the conscious of a familiar into an insect’s body?

I felt yet another metaphysical slap. “We do not make such errors. Learn, youngling!” My mind was filled with images, memories of others, I gathered. In five minutes, I had centuries’ worth of history and knowledge crammed into my brain.

In less than five minutes, I can tell you that I was in China and that singing crickets were favored pets by not only the common people but nobility, as well. I believe they still are. The fact that I had been placed in a clay container rather than something fancier such as a small, gilded cage, told me my human was not even close to being upper class.

My body knew all the right moves but my brain had some adjusting to do. In my previous three lives, I had been an animal that could easily adjust to human circadian rhythms. Crickets are nocturnal. I slept during the day when my human was active and was awake during the night. My jar was on the floor next to her sleeping pallet. I presume my ‘singing’ lulled Hui, my human, to sleep.

Hui was a small child. Initially, I thought a toddler but her language was more advanced. I later learned she was almost ten years old. Born under the sign of the Earth Rat (I will not go into detail but you can certainly look it up on that thing you call the internet), she was a clever girl, confounding the adults with her ability to problem-solve…and get into trouble with the older children.

Initially, my life was rather boring. Sometime during the day, I was taken from my jar and placed into a small tube with air holes, which Hui partially tucked into a fold of her robe. It was warm there and I almost immediately fell back asleep, until I was disturbed long enough to be put back into my jar. Once I fully awoke at nightfall, I observed that my jar had been cleaned, with new food (grains of boiled rice) and water put down for me. As I rubbed my wings together, singing her to sleep, I listened in on her thoughts of the day. They were concerned with what she had learned from her elders (mostly grain farming), the latest indignation perpetrated by one of her older brothers, and wondering what it would be like to live in the Emperor’s palace.

When autumn came, the crickets held by the other household occupants grew gradually quieter until there was no sound from them at all. Like all mundane crickets, they died when their season was done. I, on the other hand, continued my nightly song at full volume.

Apparently, that was taken as a sign because with the first snowfall arrived a lady dressed in rich silks. Her hair was elaborately coiffed and she wore cosmetics. Hui’s parents were very deferential to her and hustled the children out of the main room into the sleeping quarters. All ten crowded the doorway, attempting to listen to the hushed conversation in the other room. The lady’s head turned toward the children several times during the conversation, her eyes eventually settling on Hui. She rose and approached my human, squatting down so they could look each other in the eye.

“Hui, my name is Tian. Your parents are offering you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You would come to live with me and my sisters in our house. There you will learn skills taught to few. You would dress as I do, eat food so rich it will take your tastebuds time to adjust, and meet wealthy and powerful people. Would you like that?”

Hui looked to her mother for guidance. The mother turned her head away. So, Hui thought. She had dreamed of living in the Emperor’s palace, it was true. As a girl child, she really had no value to her parents. As a small girl child, she had even less. She was unable to do some things in the fields that her brother, just two years younger, could do. And the lady’s clothes! She looked at her homespun robe. It held no comparison. Slowly and shyly with her eyes downcast, she nodded her head yes.

Tian smiled. “I had hoped you would say yes.” She rose and went back to Hui’s parents.

The mother told Hui to gather her things, including the cricket, and be ready to leave. As Hui turned to her pallet, she caught the exchange of a jingling pouch out of the corner of her eye. Hui straightened her shoulders, thinking she was off on an adventure none of her siblings would ever have.

I was put into the tube and tucked into my usual spot in Hui’s robe. Through her eyes, I watched her bundle her extra clothing and my jar together into a small lump she could carry. An animal skin was thrown over her shoulders and she tucked her feet into what could generously be called shoes, also made of animal skin. She marched into the main room and declared herself ready to go.

Peeking through one of my air holes, I watched as Tian ushered Hui into a palanquin. Furs were thrown over the women for warmth, the curtains closed and I felt us being lifted. It was not a smooth ride! While we were being jounced around, Tian quietly prepared Hui for her new life.

“We are approximately two days from our home,” she began. “What do you know of geography?”

Hui shook her head. “I do not know this word.”

Tian sighed. “I can see there will be more to your schooling than just our duties. We will begin. First, geography means to study the land and all its features. That includes not only your parents’ fields and where you lived but where things are, like landmarks and cities, and what they are called.

“Our country, Zhongguo, or the Middle Kingdom is the greatest on earth. It is so large it would take us a lifetime and more to walk its borders. We live in a large, prosperous city called Yangzhou. It is near the Great Canal and has people from many countries living and trading there.”

She continued at length, describing the scenery beyond the curtains, allowing Hui the occasional peek which let in a lot of cold air. I snuggled farther down into my tube where, against Hui’s skin, it was much warmer and slept.

To be continued…

A Familiar’s Tale – Part XIV

Image by Dave Scelfo. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0Life returned to normal. That is to say, exacting tribute of cattle from lesser kings, attempting to exact tribute by force from those who did not wish to pay it, and the quarterly gatherings at Tara.

It was at one of these gatherings that Loégaire decided it was time Leinster came under his dominion once and for all. After the religious ceremonies and celebrations were over, he called his battle chiefs to his side and devised a plan he thought would finally bring that pesky place under control.

Aoife, who had become chief advisor after Tadhg’s death, quietly reminded the king of his oath never to bother Leinster again. “My lord, you told me you swore an oath, invoking the elements. Will you now violate something so sacred?”

“That oath was to another king. It does not hold with the new king.”

Aoife shrugged her shoulders. Invoking the elements bound him to the land, not a person. But she knew better than to argue.

The king led his troops down what is now called the River Boyne into the heart of Leinster territory. As we were marching along, a freak storm blew up. Normally gentle rain felt like arrows piercing the skin as it was blown sideways by the strong winds. Thunder crashed and lightning lit up the skies.

“It is a sign, my lord,” Aoife shouted to be heard through the tempest. “You must withdraw.”

“Nay, lass,” the king bellowed. “’Tis but a storm and shall pass.”

As soon as the final word left his mouth, a bolt of lightning struck the king on his horse. Aoife and I, along with several others, were thrown aside like rag dolls from the blast. With one last rumble of thunder, the wind died down, the rain subsided and off in the distance, one could see blue skies.

We picked ourselves up and assessed injuries. Everyone, including me, could hear nothing. Thankfully, I could hear Aoife’s thoughts as she passed from one man to another. This one has burns; that one has nerve damage in his arm; the other one she didn’t know but he was unconscious. Our hearing slowly returned and Aoife coordinated with the closest battle chief on which people needed to get to healers.

At the chief’s orders, several of the king’s men picked up his body and we started back it in the direction from which we had come. I heard mumblings of “Taranis” from several of them. Once we returned to the stone at Tara, the king’s body was cremated in a huge pyre and one of his sons was declared High King of Ireland.

Aoife did not like this particular son, so after conducting Loégaire’s funeral, we slipped away from the gathering. I asked her where we would go.

“At the moment, I am very tired of kings. I am also very tired of always moving from place to place. I have heard of a grove in the mountains to the southwest. Perhaps they will accept me. Maybe I could teach? I don’t know. But I’d like to stay in one place. Maybe even marry and have a family.”

I mentally snorted at this last. Who would want a woman with such a temper? However, because of that temper, I did not voice my opinion.

It took us two years to find the grove. Christianity may have been making good headway throughout the country but there were still plenty of people who held to the old ways. Aoife’s garb was, as was every Druid’s, distinctive and she was asked for readings all along our path. That meant we almost always had a roof over our heads at night, a hot meal for her, and as much meat as I could eat with my choice of bones to chew on.

We did eventually come to a grove similar to the one Aoife came of age in. It was situated in the heart of mountains on the southwest coast of the country. Her reputation had spread and Aednat, the leader of the grove, welcomed her with open arms. Apparently, they did not have someone as well-versed in divination as Aoife and she was indeed given the position of teaching that art.

And much to my surprise, she met a man who could handle her temper! Ardan was a Druid, what you would call a bard. He played a stringed instrument and sang ballads, telling the history of man in general and Ireland in particular. He did not teach but sang to the grove in the evenings. He also was generally the person who spoke with travelers, getting any news and eventually setting it to song to be memorized by the next generation of bards.

Ardan started pursuing Aoife almost as soon as we had settled into our new life. She, on the other hand, at slightly over one hundred years old, wanted little to do with the “young” man (he was only around seventy). Ardan did not give up his quest and Aoife finally gave in after a couple of years. I do not believe she loved him but it was a comfortable relationship that gave her the stability she craved.

Life was not without difficulty. The growing movement of Christianity had penetrated even our little corner of the world. The magical children who were once easily swayed to become Druids were now the “property of the Church” and we saw fewer and fewer come to live with us each year. This broke Aoife’s heart. Although she had wanted children, she was unable to conceive and looked upon the youngsters as her surrogate family.

We also had our share of priests and others come to the grove in an attempt to convert those who lived there. While they were not actively discouraged, it was made plain that the inhabitants did not intend to change their ways. Our grove became more and more isolated as the years went by; those seeking the Druids’ assistance visited less and less.

Overall, however, it was peaceful and Aoife lived with Ardan, teaching various forms of divination to whoever was interested, and giving readings to those who asked for them, for almost one hundred years. Only at the last did she decide she needed to “move on” and see something more of the mountains than just the view from the grove. After explaining her reasoning to Ardan, we left the grove and hiked farther up into the mountains. Several weeks later, she took her last breath sitting on the ground with her hand on my back, leaning against a rock where she had a clear view of the infiniteness of the ocean.

To be continued…

A Familiar’s Tale – Part XIII

Image by Dave Scelfo. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0At the age of thirty, Aoife was declared a fully-trained seeress and given her choice of life: either travel, as did Dalaigh, to find the exceptional children; or be assigned to a nobleman as his personal diviner. She chose the latter, for which I was glad. Wolfhounds may be able to run fast but we are sprinters, not marathoners.

Aoife found a place with Tierney, a Brehon, or judge. Unfortunately, he was the traveling sort, unattached to any king or tribal chieftain. Some forty years older than Aoife, he was a wizard, which explained his longevity in an era when achieving the age of seventy was considered a rare feat. The vast majority of people saw a man in the prime of his life, meaning around the age of thirty.

Tierney was pleased to have found a seeress to accompany him on his rounds. He may have known the Fénechas, or Laws, backward and forward, but to have someone able to divine whether a petitioner was telling the whole truth was a bonus.

So, for the next twenty-plus years, we traveled a prescribed route through the countryside, staying first at this chieftain’s house, then that minor king’s. Tierney would arbitrate arguments the chieftain either couldn’t decide or didn’t want to get involved with. Aoife would use her divination to aid in the decision and once in a while, do a reading for the chieftain or a member of his tribe. It wasn’t a bad life.

On occasion, Tierney was called to be a part of an appellate court. One such court was convened at Tara. It was the court of the Ard Rí or High King of Ireland. Tierney joined two others of his stature to determine if the judgement of the king’s brithem, or counselor, was correct.

While there, Aoife had a vision that involved the king in a nasty battle. As was right, she reported it to Tierney. In today’s parlance, his reaction was, “And your point was…?” Fighting between tribes was almost an everyday occurrence. When Aoife told him the battle was for the king’s soul, Tierney felt this was something the king should probably know. Aoife was called to the throne, which was not a big chair in a castle but a smaller chair in a small enclosure around a large stone.

Lóegaire mac Néill stood and looked down from his height to Aoife. “So, you have had a vision about a battle for my soul. Tell me about it.”

She related her vision once again, explaining the allegorical meanings behind objects and actions in the waking dream. The battle would take place sometime in the not-too-distant future and his adversary, who followed a different god, would attempt to sway him from his belief in Crom, Lugh, Morrígan, and others.

Lóegaire’s eyes narrowed. He admitted that he had heard of a new religion making its way into Britain and knew it was a matter of time before adherents of that faith made their way to Eire. Calling an old man to his side, he quietly conferred with him.

Tadhg spoke to Aoife. “I am an old man even by our standards and I do not see as well as I once did. The Ard Rí needs a seer at his side, especially if even more troubled times are ahead. Would you consent to join us?”

And so it was that Aoife became the personal seeress of the High King of Ireland. You must remember at that time, there were no castles such as Buckingham Palace. The king, his personal retinue and army traveled around the country, mostly fighting against other kings in an attempt to conquer and then hold lands. It was a brutal life.

Aoife and I were kept busy, looking for the most appropriate place to invade, which day would be good to start a skirmish, whether his next child would be a boy or girl… As her reputation for knowing trees spread, Aoife also oversaw the gathering of hazel nuts (which Tadhg swore were the reason for his longevity), the cutting of rowan branches for a new set of ogham staves, and even the archers came to her for advice on which yew tree would be best for a new bow.

Although Tadhg continued to counsel Lóegaire until his death almost ten years later, for the most part, he left the seeing to Aoife. Many times Aoife and Tadhg would argue over the signs’ meanings and there were instances where I had to put a clamp on Aoife’s temper. It was either that or she would have probably strangled Tadhg with tree roots.

True to Aoife’s vision, a traveler visited the king about five years later, attempting to convince him to renounce his multiple gods and convert to his faith, which recognized only one. The king laughed and vowed never to leave the gods who had given him his kingship. He offered the traveler food and a bed for the night, provided the man said nothing to anyone else about this new faith. The traveler declined and left the king’s presence.

There was one interesting series of battles. Although there were several kings who did not recognize Lóegaire’s authority over them, the most troublesome one held sway over Leinster. As always with the Irish, cattle were involved. Lóegaire wanted a tribute and Leinster refused to pay, so they fought.

One day, Leinster’s troops managed to break through Lóegaire’s lines and capture the king. Like most humans, when it came right down to it, he didn’t want to die. Leinster had become quite tired of Lóegaire’s attempts to collect tribute so after several heated exchanges between the two, Lóegaire vowed never to invade Leinster again, swearing the standard oath calling on all elements to witness. He was released back to his men who seemed pleased he was essentially unharmed.

A year or two after that, the traveler found the king again and again asked him to convert to Christianity which, according to him, was the one true faith. This time, though, many of the king’s followers (especially the wives of those followers) had converted and he was pressured by them to accept the teachings of this Patrick fellow.

Aoife was called to the king’s side and asked what the signs had to say about this Christianity. Aoife did not have to look to know the answer. “This is a decision you must make for yourself, my lord.”

Although I still do not understand it, I had come to realize that humans have a need to believe in something greater than themselves. So, Lóegaire’s decision wasn’t whether to believe at all but what or who to believe in. Once again, the king refused to consider any god but those he had been raised with, and sent Mr. Patrick away.

This caused some consternation in his court and more than a few of his knights and such left because of it. The king took no action against them, as he felt everyone had a right to believe however they wished, despite the fact he thought they were wrong. Everyone else kept their opinions to themselves. The king’s temper was legendary.

To be continued…

A Familiar’s Tale – Part XII

Image by Dave Scelfo. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0I had another visit to the ether, then opened my eyes to find a teat in my mouth – I was nursing. A quick glance around told me I probably was a dog and had five siblings. The sound of small children squealing, laughing, playing, whatever small children do, assaulted my ears.

As soon as I’d released the nipple I was sucking on, small hands picked me up and I was crushed against a chest. “This one is mine,” a voice chirped.

“You’ll have to speak with your Da about that,” an older, female voice said. “You know he plans on selling them.”

The little voice whined, “But Aedan has his own dog. I want one!”

“Aedan uses his for hunting. Girls don’t hunt. What would you do with your own dog?”

The human crushing me against her chest thought for a moment. “Girls do too hunt. Brigid goes with the men. I’ve seen her. I can hunt, too!”

The older voice sighed. “As I said, you’ll have to ask your Da. Now put him back with his mother.”

I was placed back with my siblings and after some arguing, secured a spot right next to my mother and fell asleep.

As you might imagine, the little girl got her way. Aoife was appropriately named after the greatest Irish female warrior. She had no compunction about fighting, even with her fists, to get what she wanted.

In this life, I was what today you would call an Irish Wolfhound. We were bred by Bran, who was considered the best hunting dog breeder in all of Ireland. Siblings from other litters had found their way into the hunting packs of tribal chieftains and even the High King of Ireland, regardless of the political climate.

As I may have mentioned, Aoife was headstrong. And, like all my humans, quite smart. At the age of nine she was plucked from her home by Dalaigh, a Druid, and was taken to what they called a grove, to begin intensive studies.

The grove, despite current lore, wasn’t a just a circle of oak trees. Yes, there was that but it was also what you would probably refer to as a school for gifted children. What in hindsight was interesting is that each of the twenty or so children was allowed to bring their pet – and they each hand one. I later learned that the handful of Druids who traveled looking for these children, had the gift of foresight. They were able to tell whether a child would manifest magic, what their element would be, and that each “pet” was a familiar.

For six long years, Aoife spent hours memorizing poems (some of history, some set to music), recipes for healing potions, astronomy and how to interpret the stars, and the Brehon laws. The Druids knew what her element would be but not where her interests or strengths would lie. Therefore, she started training in all three disciplines.

The Druids discovered she needed discipline not only in their arts but with her temper. Rather than argue with her mouth, she did it more often with her fists. The healer threatened to name her hut after Aoife due to the number of scraped knuckles and bloody noses she had to treat. Aoife did eventually learn to debate rather than fight but it was clear to others of her age that she was not to be messed with. As a result, she became something of a loner.

Life was not all classroom study. The grove was a small village that, like all villages in its time, was self-supporting. The children were expected to help with chores such as tending cattle and sheep, planting and weeding food gardens, and gathering healing plants that grew wild in the valley and higher up in the mountains. Because I was a dog, Aoife was tasked with helping with the animals – I would warn them if wolves or elk were near enough to threaten.

The children also partook in the seasonal festivals, which were also religious holidays. They may not have had class on these days but there was always something to do.

At fifteen, her magic manifested – and not in a good way. She was, naturally, arguing with a teacher, lost her temper and caused the roots of the tree the instructor was leaning against to curl up and embrace said teacher. Thankfully, it was not fatal but her instructor bore marks on his face and arms for many years.

I began my job by, once again, giving her headaches until she learned who and what I was and accepted my presence in her mind. Thankfully, that came quickly because her teachers knew what was happening. I was also able to put a damper on her temper, for which many people were grateful.

At sixteen, she had her first vision. We were in class, Aoife learning how to process plants into healing mixtures and me gnawing on an elk bone, listening to Aoife think about how dumb this class was. All of a sudden, her thoughts turned from grumbling to an image of the grasslands where the sheep and cattle grazed. The young man who was supposed to be watching the herd was asleep and in the distance were several men creeping out from the woodland that edged the grazing area.

The Druids’ grove, which belonged to no tuath, or kingdom, was set apart, much like your churches today belong to no country. Most people revered the Druids and rather than take something from them, gave gifts. These men obviously were not most people and were set to steal cattle, as was common at that time.

Realizing this was no dream but reality, I nudged Aoife to tell her teacher what she saw. Naturally, she could not be polite and raise her hand to get the Druidess’ attention but simply interrupted and blurted everything out. That, at least, conveyed the urgency of her message. Aoife was asked if she was certain and I encouraged her to nod.

The teacher hurriedly dismissed class and raised the alarm. Every adult and teenager grabbed a spear or sling and raced toward the field, which was probably a normal fifteen minute walk. The swiftest arrived in less than five minutes.

Aoife’s warning was timely. Lorcan, the boy supposedly watching the herd, had been knocked unconscious and the rustlers were in the process of rounding up the cattle when the first villagers arrived. At first, the rustlers fought back but as more people appeared and they found themselves outnumbered, they disappeared into the woods from which they had come, leaving one of their dead compatriots behind.

And so it was that Aoife was declared a seeress and much to her delight, she was excused from all classes except those pertaining to divination and the Brehon laws. When she grumbled about the law class, it was explained to her in terse terms that everyone had to know them and how they were applicable to their area of study.

What she didn’t realize is that divination included not just visions but astronomy; what you would call ornithology, because they divined by bird call and flight, and one had to know the different birds, calls, and flight patterns; meteorology, because they studied weather patterns; and dream interpretation.

As you probably know, there were no books. All subjects were taught by rote memorization. The teacher would recite something and the class repeated it. Ad nauseum until whatever the subject was drilled into the students’ brains. This is perhaps why their schooling took twenty long years.

I learned right along with her. Some things a familiar instinctively knows but others, like the Druids’ particular ways of doing things, we do not. Aoife excelled at ornithomancy and although the dog preferred to chase the birds, I forced down the natural inclination and observed and remembered with Aoife.

To be continued…

A Familiar’s Tale – Part XI

Image by Dave Scelfo. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0Our trip was, as you say, smooth sailing. The ship skimmed along the water, even after leaving a port on the northern end of Sardinia, when it had to zig-zag to travel in a more southerly direction.

However, as I had pointed out earlier to Korbis, I was a land bird. The captain kept a clean ship and there was little in the way of bugs for me to eat. Korbis kept me alive by feeding me offal from the fish caught for the sailors’ food but my digestive system was not happy. Thankfully, we were only at sea five days. Longer, and I may not have lived.

After taking his leave of the captain, Korbis wandered the streets of Neapolis with his jaw hanging in awe. We’d never seen such a large city, much less one as cosmopolitan. Greeks in chitons and Romans in togas walked side-by-side along the thoroughfares with no signs of animosity.

At the entrance to a Roman bath, Korbis asked a man if there was a place a physician could ply his trade. Taking one look at the obvious barbarian in his breeches, tunic and cloak, the man grabbed Korbis by the arm and dragged him up one street and down another. I had taken flight to find real food (which was plentiful) but at a feeling of alarm from Korbis, I returned and followed them to a large house on a hill. Korbis was hauled through the doorway. I settled on the branch of a fig tree in the courtyard to await further happenings.

“You are a physician, you say. Heal my daughter.”

Through Korbis’ mind, I saw a pale young lady lying on a bed. Were it not for the shallow rise and fall of her breast, I would have thought her dead. The room was as lavish as the corridors Korbis had been dragged through: frescoes on the walls, carved furniture, and a shrine to Athena in the corner. Although the man spoke fluent Latin, they were Greek. That was fortunate.

Korbis asked a few questions, got fewer answers and, heaving a sigh, used his magic to look at her. A tumor on her brain told him why she did not wake. He relayed his findings to the father.

“Magos, you will heal her. Or I will turn you in to the Roman tribunus who is visiting his father, the senator, next door.”

Not stopping to wonder how the man knew he had magic, Korbis nodded and proceeded to draw the energy I was feeding him. More than an hour later, he had carefully evaporated the tumor. The girl’s breathing deepened and color started returning to her cheeks. This was in stark contrast to Korbis’ drawn appearance and my desire to do nothing but eat a full meal and sleep for two days. It had been a difficult “operation.” Even in those days, it was known that anything affecting the brain could have disastrous effects.

Korbis was fed and given a room, not quite as lavish, in which to lay his head. We both slept for the better part of a day. When we woke, a man guarding the door gestured and Korbis followed him to a salon where our host and several others reclined on couches.

Korbis was formally introduced to his host, Kalchas, a wealthy factory owner. The conversation reverted to Greek and although we did not understand what was being said, it was obvious Kalchas was exhorting his friends with a tale. Switching to Latin, Kalchas informed Korbis that he was now a member of his household. He was not to leave the house unless given express permission to do so. His duties would include seeing to the health of the household, instructing the gardeners which herbs he required to be planted and harvested, and assisting Kalchas’ friends when asked to do so.

Slavery! Gilded but a cage, nonetheless. Korbis was dismayed – he’d never find his mysterious island. I, on the other hand, while sad for my human, was happy that I would not have to travel the seas again.

Life settled into a routine. Korbis became accustomed to wearing a chiton rather than breeches (he complained frequently of the breeze on his nether regions), learned to speak passable Greek and, with a large herb garden, cured the ailments of the household and those of Kalchas’ friends. And like his predecessor, Abou, he prepared love charms, amulets for legal cases and talismans for race- or fight-fixing. The young lady he had healed, Agathe, while never the sharpest knife in the drawer, was married off to that tribunus within three months. That afforded Kalchas an entrée into even higher Roman society.

A little over a year into our captivity, Kalchas decided to retire. He turned over the operation of his factory to his oldest son and management of his distribution network to the middle son. The oldest son got the house in Neapolis and we moved to a smaller house in the beautiful seaside city of Herculaneum. It was just a few kilometers away so Kalchas could still keep an eye on his children.

Here, Korbis had to be even more circumspect. Herculaneum was at that time more Roman than Greek, although the Greeks had founded the city. Kalchas devoted the majority of his time to his new-found love of Roman politics. He and the senator (who had also retired and relocated) would spend hours discussing and debating what was happening in Rome. Korbis spent a good deal of time treating the gout so prevalent in the older, less active generation that was Kalchas and his friends.

Then, one fateful late summer day, the mountain Vesuvius started billowing ash. No one, not even the oldest alive, remembered that it was a volcano. At the first signs, panic hit the city and everyone rushed to the sea, hoping to take a boat far away. Korbis and several other slaves were told to pack Kalchas’ valuables and join him at a specific spot along the shoreline. I was told to follow the master so Korbis could be sure of meeting him in the correct place. I took flight but we never made it. The last thing I remember of that life is air hotter than an oven.