Benvert was bored.
It isn't a good thing for a wizard's familiar to be bored. You wouldn't like a wizard's familiar when it's bored. Unfortunately, it is altogether too common an occurrence.
Orzul the Wizard entertained himself quite easily puttering about with wizardly researches, like The Invocation of Really Good Beer. He could happily spend entire weeks just in the testing phases. Benvert, however, did not have the internal resources of a wizard, certainly not as much internal resource for beer.
Benvert's main hobby and occupation, besides eating, was chasing things. (These two activities made a satisfying pattern. Sometimes.) He was so dedicated to his pursuit, however, that of late the only fauna left, in all the wizardly wood around Orzul's hut within running distance, were ants and beetles. Beetles weren't much fun to chase except for the flying ones, which had already flown. And Benvert, when he happened to stand up straight, stood at least four feet higher than ant-level, from which height ants didn't even look like ants, in fact they didn't look like much at all.
Benvert was bored.
Benvert did not often play with his food, unless you counted chasing it down before you ate it. Once he tackled his quarry, it was Game Over and Down the Hatch. He didn't bat things about to hear them squeal. Neither did he build ramparts and ditches out of his toasted cheese and sauerkraut. But one evening at dinner, while Orzul browsed the Wizard's World Weekly and Benvert stared glumly into the fire, in which he saw many different kinds of flames, Benvert began drumming his heels against the legs of his stool. He was instantly intrigued. This sounded like running. He could vary the pace to imitate the rapid patter of the fox, the broken-field leaps of the hare, the slow and staggering paces of the deer at the end of the run ...
And Orzul snapped, "Stop that infernal noise! If you're that restless, go walk about outside!"
So Benvert found himself walking around and around the Hut, with nothing in sight to chase.
This got boring.
Benvert started beyond shouting distance from the hut. He slowly spiraled in closer as Orzul's shouts subsided. By the time Orzul was back in his laboratory, Benvert was close enough to peer in the hut windows. (Orzul had quite lot of ground built up below the window sills. In some areas this is called the ecological practice of "berming." In others it is called, "Being too sodding lazy to rake up the leaves for 500 years.")
Benvert was not supposed to peer in the laboratory windows, but Benvert was in a mood to forget that at the moment.
Whatever Orzul did in here kept him interested every day, for more days than even wizards liked to count (and wizards like to count things.) Maybe Benvert would find something that would keep him interested too.
He carefully observed Orzul's behavior. There was a definite pattern.
* Stare into the distance, while puffing on pipe.
* Gather many bits of things out of jars on the shelf.
* Put them into a pot.
* The pot raises a puff of sparkly smoke.
* Make marks in a little black book.
* Stare into the distance, while puffing on pipe.
Benvert already had his own small pipe. Finding bits of things to put in jars was no problem, considering the size of the Wood. Finding jars to put them in was a problem. Wizards usually recycle. Whatever Benvert and Orzul did not use regularly went back into what Orzul called "The Energy Pool". Wherever this pool was where unused jars were swimming, it was nowhere near the Hut.
Benvert considered, however, that his soupbowl was an adequate substitute for Orzul's great Pot, because Orzul was doing Big Things, and Benvert was doing Small Things. And in that case, empty acorn caps made acceptable Jars. (Although this did mean frequent refills of raw materials.)
He did not have a little book or a pencil to write with, because he had never learned to read or write. But he and Orzul had already found that Benvert could make marks with a partially charred stick from the fire. Benvert had been much happier about this than Orzul had, even though it had been Benvert who had had to wash the floor.
But how would he find himself a Book?
At this point Orzul called Bedtime, and Benvert's researches were done for the first day.
Benvert ate his morning's Porridge and Fried Things quite cheerfully, and went directly outside to find something to use as a Book. There were many fallen swatches of bark that looked a bit like the covers of Orzul's books, but none of them were the right shape, and the insides weren't as smooth as the floor of the Hut and didn't show Marks very well. Benvert had heard Orzul refer to the pages of his books as leaves, but none of the leaves in the wood looked like book pages to Benvert. Looking at everything in the Wood was much more interesting that it had been, however, ever since the last thing that would run away had left. Benvert was happily busy until Orzul called him in to toast cheese for dinner.
Benvert stayed happily busy searching the Wood for Book Things for many days.
Eventually, Benvert got bored again. He began throwing bits of bark back at the trees that had dropped them, yelling, "No! Bad book! No book cookie!" Then he jumped up and down on fallen logs, repeating some of the screams he had made while Orzul was shaping him, and scaring more bark off the trees.
The end of one piece of bark broke off square.
Benvert stood stock still for the rest of the day while a thought raced through his head. (When the thought finally emerged from the other side, bloody and bruised, it was promptly retired at a generous pension with the Order of Merit.)
Things might not be the same shape all the time. Things could change shape. Benvert could change the shape of things. Benvert changed clean floors into dirty floors, and dirty floors into clean floors. Benvert changed animals into food.
Benvert could change a not-book into a book.
There was no more time that day to work on his book, for it was dinner-time and Benvert felt Orzul's summons tugging at his ears, and after dinner it was too dark outside for detail work. But next day Benvert stayed next to the Hut, under his favorite tree, carefully knocking bits from the edges of bark until they were rectangle-shaped, then smoothing them until bits didn't come off in your hands while you held them.
The day after that he went looking for anything in the Wood that would take Marks, whether it was page-shaped or not. It was, in fact, bark again -- the inner bark of another tree peeled off nicely into soft, tough strips that showed Marks very well.
Wizards who do everything by magic get very odd (odder than normal for Wizards), and usually die young (not as old as normal for Wizards). So the smaller tasks of the Hut -- washing things, laying fires, mending clothes -- were done by hand rather than by Wizardry. Except for laying fires, however, which Orzul enjoyed doing, the hands were usually Benvert's. This is, after all, the main reason Wizards create Familiars.
So Benvert knew how to roast venison, toast cheese, wash a bottle and mend clothes -- including the tough leather leggings that he wore year in and year out, and often out. His sewing kit was easily adapted to book-binding, and he spent an entire day squatting beneath his tree piecing his Book together, forehead corrugated, with the little red tip of his tongue sticking out between his compressed lips and caressing his snout. (The population of several nearby ant-hills completely lost their appetite and stayed home that day, and plant growth in the neighborhood was markedly slowed down for years.)
Each night, as he ate his toasted cheese and watched the fire, Benvert noticed that flames sometimes looked like running deer, or wizards casting spells.
Weeks after he had first peeked in Orzul's laboratory window, Benvert squatted in a small clearing far from the Hut puffing on his small pipe, with his Book and Marking Stick beside him, several rows of acorn caps each overflowing with different greeneries arranged on the other side, and his soupbowl directly in front of him.
In most of the woods of the world, you can combine any amount of green things in any order and not get any sparkly smoke. You won't even get a belly-ache, if you don't eat any of it. You might get a rash, if you picked the wrong green thing; but Benvert's hide was roughly impervious to rashes.
This, however, was a Wizard's Wood. Magic had been performed in the Wood by one wizard or another for centuries, and magic tends to leak. Not everything around a wizard becomes magical -- deer don't talk Latin and trees don't waltz -- but everything contains more magic energy. It is easier to make the trees in a Wizard's Wood dance, if you have a mind to, although the hula may be more fitting than the waltz.
Magic, as some practitioners have realized, doesn't really depend on symbols and tools. All you need to perform magic -- besides a source of magic energy -- is intention, a way to focus that intention, and the sense to think out the consequences. (The latter is not strictly necessary to perform magic once, but it is essential if you are ever going to perform it twice.)
Benvert now had three out of the four.
It did not suprise Benvert that the first few pinches he put it in his bowl did not raise sparkly smoke. It did not suprise him when, after several days, each pinch that he added did raise a different smoke of different sparkles. His concentration was entirely on his Experiments, so he did not notice at first the creatures roaming about the dark corners of the Wood again. As soon as he did, he took off after one of them, not forgetting to take his soupbowl and his Book with him.
Benvert never noticed that even the most well-gnawed bones he left behind regenerated themselves. He would have been glad that the Wood finally had the sense to create a self-renewing thing-to-chase.
We may each have a different picture of what leaves from the wood symbolize. To Benvert anything from the Wood symbolized "the place that I run free and chase things."
Every creature has to eat. Eventually the new beasts expanded into new ecological niches in the Wood and beyond it, and found their own prey. Enough of them rotated through the Wood to keep Benvert happy. Elsewhere, they mutated slightly, as living things are want to do.
Or un-dead things.
However you feel about vampires, please don't blame Benvert. They do keep him from becoming bored.
It isn't good for a wizard's familiar to get bored. You wouldn't like the results, when a wizard's familiar gets bored.
© Anitra L. Freeman