What is Arthur?

Short version – no idea. He’s not talking to me.

Longer version. He and his people are border guards, and have been since before the Romans invaded Dacia. They’ve been tangling with magic and non-mundane things for so many generations that they’ve become a touch uncanny themselves. Arthur being Arthur, if you told him that, he’d probably raise a glass of Hungarian red wine and bare his teeth in one of those “it’s not a smile” expressions that make Lelia want to hide behind something.

No, he truly does not understand why she’s scared of him.

Transylvania is a plateau surrounded by the southern and central Carpathian Mountains. It is rolling and somewhat forested, good farm land compared to the mountains, with a lot of natural resources. Winters can be hard, but the mountains do protect the area somewhat. However, back in the day, the mountains also harbored things like bears and wolves, and two-legged predators. The area is a borderland between the steppes to the east, the Danube plains to the west, the Polish plains to the north, and the Balkans. The Iron Gates on the Danube are the edge of the Carpathians. A number of invaders found passes through the mountains and cut through the Transylvanian plateau. This is one reason why fortified churches were common, and why communities were so insular. Interestingly, it also contributed to religious toleration, because it was Catholics, Calvinists, and Orthodox against the Ottomans, and later against almost everyone else.

That’s our-world history. In The Familiars world, where magic has been present for . . . a very long time, just not as strongly as at the time the books begin, the Carpathians served to concentrate some of that. As empires came and went, things and forces found refuge and bases of operation in the remote and rugged places. This required people to deal with “things and forces.” How long have Arthur’s people been doing this? If an anthropologist or archaeologist were to really get into their culture, he’d find elements that might go back as far as before the proto-Indo-European speakers moved into Europe from the steppes. Perhaps even older.

The abyss has been looking back (to abuse Nietzsche) at the clans for a very long time. History hasn’t helped. As a result, they tend to assume that everyone is out to get them, everything is out to get them, and outsiders are to be kept at least three arms’ lengths away. Preferably farther if possible. Back in the Old Country, the other people recognized this and treated the clans with wary respect. Everyone worked together, but the ordinary folks understood that the clans needed a little space, and left them alone. For their part, the clans made their living as herders, woodsmen, hunters and trackers, and things that kept them out where they needed to be, where the Wild Things Were.

How and why some of the clans came to the Americas is a long and complicated story, one that starts in the late 1800s with some foreboding and wariness about Russia and Austro-Hungarian bureaucracy, and nationalism, and that WWI and subsequent just intensified. Meister Gruenewald lost contact with other clan members for almost a century, and in fact André is the unwitting (at least at first) bridge between his mentor and some of the clans.

So, back to Arthur. His particular group settled in the area around what would become Riverton back when Indian raids were still something people worried about. Like the Anabaptists, Palatine Germans, and others, they kept their mouths shut, heads down, and a wary eye on the neighbors. Today, they keep their mouths shut, heads down, and a warier eye on the neighbors. Some things will never change. Perhaps. Arthur and his brother, and a few other cousins fled Latin America and rejoined the rest of the family in the 1940s, for reasons best not discussed.

Arthur is very Odd, by the lights of his people. He’s sort of the second in command, except his older brother lets him deal with things. Skender, his older brother’s real name, prefers not to worry with day-to-day matters and instead focuses on Hunting. Arthur takes care of problems within the clan, keeping the younger men in line, and ensures clan financial stability as best he can. His fondness for the goth subculture has some of the women muttering questions about if he was born backwards or dropped on his head as a baby, or if he was conceived on St. Elijah’s feast (July 20). He pretends he doesn’t hear their comments, they pretend not to know that he knows . . . The goth shop started in part as a way for the clan to have eyes in Riverton, the better to watch the local government and people. Then along came Lelia.

By the end of Eerily Familiar, Arthur has taken responsibility for Lelia, at least in his mind. She starts as his employee and thus a low-ranking dependent. Then she steps, albeit unknowingly, into the same role that the women in the clan do when she takes his orders and uses magic at his command. He recognizes the flavor and scent of her magic as being like clan magic, and so he starts treating her as “one of his.” Thus his dismay when she fails to consult him about possible marriage partners. Picking her own Hunting partner is one thing. Husband? That’s a different matter entirely. If André hadn’t answered  Arthur’s challenge the correct and proper way, Arthur would have thrown him bodily out of the shop and then given Lelia a Stern Talking To about life partners and such.

It’s not the first time a member of the clans has adopted an outsider. Often the adoptees had some kind of gift, usually magic or a skill with knowledge or hand-work that made them valuable members of the community. Bringing Lelia and André into the clan makes survival sense.

However, as Skender and the clan Healer have reminded Arthur, he’s going to get hurt. He’s in early middle age by clan standards, and barring death in battle or a fatal accident, he will live for a very long time. His suflit fiia and nume fiiu will not, not by clan standards. As time passes, Arthur may find it better to withdraw again, pushing Lelia and her family away. Or he might choose to accept the pain and the joy of staying close to them.

Language? It goes back to Dacian with Latin interwoven, and other things besides. All clan members speak at least two languages: their own, and the surrounding speech. Arthur speaks four: his native language, some Romanian, German, Spanish, and English, and he has a smattering of Ukrainian or Polish. Romanian is close to the clan’s language, but they’re not quite interchangeable.

Religion? Arthur’s people can get along with Roman Catholics. They think that the Eastern Orthodox went astray with the theology of Mary as the Theotokos, and are convinced that Protestants tossed the baby out with the bathwater. The clans have no tolerance for any form of Islam, and are wary about a lot of neo-paganism. Thus Lelia’s first guess was not quite right when she thought that Arthur was neo-pagan. It’s actually an offshoot of pre-Nicean Christianity, with G-d the Father as the supreme deity over all. Jesus is the separate son of G-d and is responsible for the day, while Mary as the consort of G-d is partially in charge of the night. St. Michael serves as her man-at-arms, so to speak. Since most of what the clans deal with are things that move in darkness and shadow, they honor and worship the Father and Son, but Mary is the one who watches over their goings out and comings in.

Arthur’s Arthur. And strange.


23 thoughts on “What is Arthur?

  1. What a brilliant writer you are! It’s why I just re-read and/or read the entire Familiars series thus far, and am eagerly awaiting the next. Thanks for this “Arthurian” insight.

  2. Thanks – this is good background information for the series, and helps explain some characters without needing a couple stories.

    It works well for the general geographic area and the peoples settled there. If they use German with a Bohemian or Hungarian accent around the older generations of locals, they’ll be looked at as another of those clans from Somewhere Back Home, maybe on the east side, and then ignored. Polish and Slavic (Moravian) farming and mining communities to the north and northeast? Their language sounds like some of the families from down Carpathian way, maybe over west. The handful of Elders and very old people will be polite in meetings, and cross themselves in private later, because the Hunters are watching the borders ‘here’.

    Those borders are closer than might be thought, and rhyme with existing conditions. Coming to our reality: the pretty hex signs on Amish and other barns were painted for their own reasons, never really explained outside their communities beyond ‘good luck’. This, from a set of clans that generally avoid overt decoration or affectation as sinful. There was an infamous (local) Hex trial in early 20th c., York County PA, for the murder of a cunning-man by someone who thought the man had hoodoo’d him. This opened a lot of regional eyes for a while about obscure magic books, cunning-men, hoodoos, shamans – among the German tribes that had settled locally since the mid 18th c. Much was forgotten or archived thanks to world wars. A friend mentioned this once on a time, and I looked up the book about it. The subjects, to borrow a phrase, would be “Interestingly Familiar” to readers of the series.

  3. I love the wealth of background you put into your stories. That richness does come through even though 95 percent of it is never explicit.

  4. Ah, there were times Arthur used the term “Old World” (not Old Country) so I wondered if his clan were from a different world than “ours” (side thought of his clan not being true human).

    This makes sense and is very interesting.

    Thank you. 😀

  5. I wondered if the clan women (magic user ones) could help Lelia shield her unborn children safely while using magic.

    IE Is their magic similar enough to mage magic?

    • She’s not willing to ask or to risk it. Once burned, et cetera. She also detests asking for help, because she doesn’t want Arthur to think that she’s weak. That’s partly her Street background (don’t signal weakness to predators) and partly because she suspects that he’d get . . . let us say . . . protective.

      • From my “reading” of Arthur, she’s correct about him getting “protective”. 😉

        • On second thought, it likely wouldn’t be Arthur who gets protective.

          It would be the Clan Women who’d get protective toward Lelia but still Lelia likely wouldn’t want the Clan Women to “take charge of her”. 😉

  6. In our world of closely, intrusively managed vital statistics, living to 120 or 180 will raise all sorts of alarm flags. It’s not part of your story, but attentive readers may notice.

    One way for Arthur to blunt the pain of seeing people he loves die wouldd be to remain in contact with their families, if those families will permit. Lelia’s has become privy to many secrets of different types, including a few belonging to Arthur’s family. How much can be kept from the children? How do the children learn the importance of keeping the secrets? (I’m thinking now of Kate Paulk’s =Vampire Con= stories, which had been pulled for editing last time I looked. Such editing usually hurts stories.)

  7. Now I’m thinking of Fred Saberhagen’s Dracula series, where “Dr. Corday/Mr. Thorn” was just an old friend of the family, but one the family’s (Wilhelmina Harker’s descendants) enemies regretted making angry. Good call, njc!

    Might get away with ‘deaths’ at 90-100 because of old aunts, healthy living and exercise, or an ‘unfortunate accident’ around 50-60. Then, restart with some new real but fictitious records. With a couple clan members or very close allies in county health offices or a state vital records office, you could have enough carefully created real birth certificates as ‘spares’ in each generation. Baptismal and other records would gladly be updated in the public version by community. Add some BW or color pics that are officially close enough as candids, and a good makeup artist, and you may be able to fool bureaucrats for drivers licenses. The real trick will be unlearning the precision movements of a long life, and remembering when to be clumsy or slightly forgetful.

  8. Agree with NJC, although right now Arthur’s age wouldn’t be suspicious. And some of his elder relatives might be missed under the ‘that has to have been written down wrong’ if anyone even pays attention to old written records. (stop waving your hands, Andre’s relatives who do geneaology). And if the kids stay close as they grow up, that ought to help some. I ca’nt imagine they’re going to be normal kids, not with both parents shadow mages.

    Now I’m speculating that why Arthur dodges that one professor is to avoid interrogation on his family/origin/culture because the prof knows enough to know Arthur doesn’t fit theusual, and not enough to know to back off.

  9. Very nice information… Have you considered putting snippets like this as notes at the end of the books? Unless, of course this will come out as part of a story in which case, never mind. 🙂

    • No, I haven’t, in part because of Amazon’s quirks about “how much non-story stuff is too much.” Every so often I have thought about issuing a separate “Guide to the Worlds of [series]” book, and tossing in a short story. “Had [I] but world enough, and time . . .”

      • I thought about a “Guide to the World of Familiar Tales”.

        As for enough time….

        Young Wizard: Well, I’ll make time…

        Old Wizard: Do Not Think Of Attempting That! 😉

        • If a Real Publisher does it, Amazon doesn’t balk. If you do it in a Kindle Unlimited book, the ‘Zon gets unhappy.

  10. I can’t help but wonder if there aren’t some hunters who were Varangian Guards and caravan guards that were part of the ‘clans’ outreach back in the day. It would only make sense for that to have happened, IMHO.

  11. Spoiler Alert for Intensely Familiar:

    Arthur’s comments about the ring that Andre’s teacher sent Lelia struck some bells. Wasn’t the crow/raven a symbol of the Corvinus family of Hungary, who were allied with Vlad the Impaler’s family (pre-vlad) against the Turks? Vlad’s impalement practices could very well be the “irreconcilable differences” mentioned in Intensely Familiar.

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