Mike, Rich, and Allister talk a little shop.
The next day, Mike found lots of things for Rich to explore, dig, and turn over, all of them well away from the poultry runs. Rich’s mage helped Allister, sort of. “How did they survive?” Mike asked as he held the gate open. Even scattering some food and casting a ‘come here it’s safe’ charm on the open gate hadn’t convinced the sheep to move until Allister started to shoo them. “They are so stupid.”
“They’re docile, mostly edible, give wool, and not as dangerous as cattle? And not as sneaky as goats,” Allister added, closing the gate behind the last sheep. “Some of the old breeds have better survival instincts, but I’ve never heard of any sheep that won’t try to get through the fence to eat the verge.” He pointed to the grass in the space between wall and road.
“Sheep don’t climb trees,” Rich added from atop the little bit of stone wall beside the gate. A black-faced ewe peered up at him. He peered back.
Baaaaaaaah. With that declaration, the ewe trotted off to rejoin the others. The humans shrugged.
“Like hedges,” Rich declared, bouncing in place. “Hedges have nests, and eggs, and lizards, and snakes. I love snakes, snaky snakes!”
Allister tapped the side of his head with one finger, eyebrows raised. Mike both nodded and shrugged. “They’re not all like him, Familiars that is. The wallaby over in Germany is rather quiet and very civilized.” Spooky pale and funny looking in those sweaters she wears, but quiet. Meister Gruenewald had wondered about the source of Walburga’s divination skills, but then he wondered about the source of everything magic related.
“There’s a mage in in Herefordshire with a hedgehog Familiar. Land-reader and water-worker, keeps an eye on the south bit of Offa’s Dike.” The sorcerer shook his head. “I’ve heard that the Dike was quieter before the Spell Eruption Event.” He gave Mike a puzzled look, then led mage and Familiar back toward the house and farm yard. “Truth, I’m a wee bit surprised we don’t have more excitement here. Not complainin’ mind, just surprised.”
Mike shrugged the Rich-free shoulder. “I’ve been told that, oh, half the places known for magic now had back before the S. E. E. I wonder if there was something back then, but it was so weak that no one noticed it, or no one was strong enough to try to tap it. The really bad places—” He shrugged again, then navigated the stile over the fence, leaving the pasture for the edge of a wheat field. The men skirted the knee-high grain and climbed another stile. This pasture didn’t have sheep at the moment. Instead, a neighbor’s tan and white dairy cows blinked placidly at them as they ruminated. Mike nodded at one especially sleepy-looking individual “She reminds me of someone.”
Allister chuckled. “Aye. The clerk at Sand Central, the one that never saw anything, never heard anything, and never did anything?”
“She’s the one.” None of the soldiers could figure out what exactly her job was supposed to be, unless it was to keep the chair from floating or rolling away.
“You still plannin’ on Edinburgh tomorrow?”
Mike nodded, then opened the gate into the farm yard for them. “Yes. A friend from Ft. Campbell is working there, and we’re going to go to the west coast and play tourist for a few days. She has a car.”
“She.” A knowing smile and lift of sandy-blond eyebrows met his words.
Rich sighed as loudly as a mongoose could sigh. “Only friends. Frustrating, only friends, she’s nice, has a job, cute, knows military, only friends.” Profound disappointment filled his voice, and he drooped.
Mike set him down on the ground beside a bush, then stood and stretched, twisting back and forth. “Friends. Alyssa McMasters.”
“Has a job? Does it have benefits, pension, all that?” Allister grinned.
Mike elbowed him, carefully. “Yes, probably, and yes. No, I will not introduce you unless you promise to behave.”
“Well, sod that, then.” Allister tossed a rude gesture in his direction. “Da needs me to pick up some parts in town, so I’ll drop you off at the station.”
“Thanks.” The afternoon sun felt good. The little breeze brought the smell of cut grass. The upwind neighbor had mowed a hay meadow the day before, and a small tractor trundled back and forth, pulling a set of spinning wire wheels that flipped the grass into the air so it could dry into hay. Mike looked around, then lowered his voice, “Question. Did you ever sort out that charm you were fighting with down south?”
Allister nodded, and led the way to a small stone and wood outbuilding beside the sheep barn. He unlocked the door. Rich raced over and almost slid into the wooden door. He stopped so hard he left furrows in the dirt. Both men shook their heads. Allister waved his hand, opening a shield, and they went in. The sorcerer closed the shield behind them but left the door open. “Mum will know we’re here, but won’t come in. Da doesn’t come in. He tolerates magic, but he had a bad meetin’ with a witch when he was a lad.”
“Makes sense.” Mike folded his arms as Rich sniffed under everything.
Allister opened the shutters and pulled a small green book with padded covers off a shelf. He set it in a circle on the battered wooden table under the window. He turned pages, then moved a ribbon onto a page and stepped back toward the door. “There. The last two lines of the triggering cantrip. The missing vowels are i and a,” he added before Mike could ask.
Rich thumped against Mike’s shin. Mike lifted him onto the table, then read, careful not to complete the spell. “What— That,” he backed up and ran a finger under the lines of text. Celedon’s got beautiful handwriting. Damn. Mike straightened up. “The elements should self cancel. Unless you overweight it toward the fire component, and then you introduce at least three other problems?”
Celedon nodded. “Spot on. Defender, it took me two months to sort out the balance. As a cantrip it’s unstable, almost lethally so. And draws far too much power, I think because of how it ties into the intention-seeking bit in the third line.” He reached inside his collar and drew out a guinea coin on a long chain. He waved the focus back and forth. “If you cast a pattern first, if the pattern includes the glyph tico as the bridging aspect, if you are smooth and fast enough to catch the instability before it pulls everything apart while you link the cantrip into the pattern, then it works.” He pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head, eyes half-closed. “Which is why I told command to ram it up their collective arse.”
“No shit,” Tik-Tik said. He patted the book with his silver-bleached forefoot. “That’s too unstable to use for anything besides a horrible warning, or maaaaaybe a teaching exercise. Maybe.”
“I wouldn’t even do that,” Celedon replied. “I’m not fast enough to catch it, I don’t think even Stilton’s fast enough. I’m sure as bloody hell not strong enough to ground out that, split shields, and redirect the overspill at the same time.”
Tik-Tik nodded, tail fluffed. “We’re not. Maybe once, but we’d have to know to expect it. Shadow and Ears probably could, probably. Silver and Rings have the power but not the speed.”
Mike closed the book. “Shadow’s wife. She’s stronger than he is, scary as shit when she gets mad. I though he was kidding about abyssal beasts wetting themselves when she showed up. He wasn’t.”
Celedon mouthed something in Turkish both appropriate and profane. “I’m warned. She military?”
“Nope. Civilian, grew up hard, knife fighter, fights dirty, real dirty. Cooks really, really well, makes me eggs, round eggs, soft eggy eggs!”
Mike scooped up his Familiar and moved clear as Allister put the book back. “I like your workroom.” He glanced down at the floor. “What did you use for the casting circle?”
“Aluminium. Old beer tins. Cheap, neutral, and they hold a foundation surprisingly well.” Allister crooked his little finger, and a shield base shimmered into existence, celadon green with brown flecks. The sorcerer flexed his fingers and the shield faded again. “It grounds well too. I’m a little surprised we don’t make portable training circles from it, but it might be too easy to bend.”
Steps on gravel grew closer. Allister dropped the shield on the door and turned. “Your Mum’s got tea ready.” Ian frowned.
“Sorry, Da. Lost track of time.”
Mike followed the Douglas men across the farmyard. Magic might be different, language might be different, but an irritated mother needed no translation! A farm wife herbalist. I’d be careful, too.
(C) 2023 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved
I think I like these little interludes and looks-at-how-magic-works in the Familiars milieu as much or more than some of the combat scenes.
And yup, sheep are stupid. I understand that wild sheep and “closer to the root stock” breeds of sheep are not as stupid as the thoroughly domesticated breeds, but none of them will ever move the intelligence meter much.
Incidentally, what character came up with that particular description of Lelia when she’s mad? I think I’ve seen it three or four times now, in almost the same words.
Obviously, Alma came up with that description. [Crazy Grin]
The interludes and fills are very nice pauses in the action, and give more depth to the characters.
I’ll note that the sheep can be dangerous. We had a situation in the west where we’d pulled off for a minute, but a lamb decided to walk behind our vehicle on the road verge – we were now in between. The 100 lb ewe went into alert mode and looked ready to charge, but the lamb wandered back to her. Time to go!
Ditto on that description of Leila. Love it.
Possible typo: “… half the places known for magic now had [it?] back before …”
I can’t figure out “… the glyph tico.” Is “tico” the name of the glyph? Or a description? Or a typo for something I can’t identify?
“Tico” is the name of the glyph. It looks a bit like the Greek lowercase tau, but the cross piece has a tiny curl on the left side, not just the slight curve.
My mother grew up on a sheep farm. She could never abide milk, from having cute little lambs spit it all over her while she was feeding them.
Many stupid sheep stories! Not much use for sentimentality.
We always had wonderful Thanksgiving feasts but her personal attitude was. “Oh yeah, that’s hog-slaughtering day.”
Going forward, would be nice to have some short stories regarding Lelia and why abyssals wet themselves.
Well, Alma, I now have a better visualization of Raj….
Very nicely done!