Yes, my king.
We were sitting on one of the lesser balconies, just outside my study, enjoying the settle of the evening. The political world on Earth was in turmoil. Some nations were all but threatening war with Denmark in an effort to gain access to the Elven Embassy. Colin had returned with one battle cruiser, a large force of destroyers and cruisers, and had a brigade of infantry embarked just in case. The Prince Military, however, was directing operations. Otherwise there was peace. Cameron had a bowl of root beer; my root beer was in a crystal tumbler.
“I remember when you first came to intimidate me. What was it? Almost sixty years ago? There in San Diego.”
Yes, you were on the cusp of Elven puberty so you could no longer remain incognito there.
“You announced yourself as a ‘Familiar’ and went on at great length discussing the role that the Familiars played in the history of Earth, and here on Earth Prime.
“I remember it very well: you mentioned Pyewacket from a movie I’d never seen and a ‘tatterdemalion’ cat from a book I’d never read. Then there was Prince Rupert’s dog Boye, and there was some mention of your work in Athens, there was Beatrice who is still working with Colin’s mom. Then we had all sorts of help in the first rescue in San Diego. Copenhagen and Babieca and Sennacherib all appeared and contributed greatly. And it would be impossible to overlook Bucephalus.
“So, I’m wondering. Where do you come from? How do you become a familiar?”
Well, Cameron paused. As you know, there is a Great Council of the….
“No. Quit it! I know about the Great Council, I don’t want the ‘Great Council party line’. Bing told me all about how he was approached just before D-Day because he was a paratrooper. I want more. Who was the first familiar? How did it start? I believe I have the right to know.”
There was a long moment of silence.
We really don’t know. I mean we don’t understand it either. Not at the beginning. I mean we know what the legends tell us; we just don’t know how or why it happened. We know the circumstances as detailed in Familiar lore. We can begin there. Please believe me; nobody questions your right to know. We’re just sometimes a little embarrassed by how much we don’t know.
The first thing that you need to know, is that Familiars, like everyone else, do not live forever; we have a very long life, certainly, but the first familiars came and went long before there was a written language to mention or record them. Merlin believed that Bast, known as a god by the Egyptians and manifest as a cat, was the first Familiar. At least she was the first Familiar that he was aware of. Being a cat, she was distant, laconic, and aloof. There was also someone who called herself ‘the Lady’ but always remained underwater in a lake. He recorded his dealings with Bast and the Lady in his chronicle which is in the historical preserved section of the Great Library. Each page of the original is protected from the environment. But there are excellent facsimiles available. Familiars try not to be too public. Usually only the person they’re working with knows that they’re there.
That said, the familiars were in touch with one another and the objective was to attempt to guide the folk to a stable and harmonious world. We’ve been more successful on Prime than on Earth, but we’ve made significant progress on both. I was a junior Familiar back then. I never met Bast, and I never met Merlin; but I was busy in Greece helping to lay the foundation of democracy. Bucephalus and I worked with the Great Alexander whose conquests didn’t last, but whose desire to spread learning and the basic appreciation of genuine knowledge were his truly great and lasting achievements.
In much the same way, Babieca assisted el Cid in the demonstration that friendship could cross the boundaries of dogmatic religion for a greater good. Friendship should be genuine, some other barriers, not so much.
Tsar Alexander II, with a little help from Milord, who appeared to be an Irish setter, freed the serfs and they were undertaking reforms designed to be long term. Milord never forgave himself for the momentary inattention that permitted murderers to kill his Tsar. He now resides in a monastery.
But I’m getting away from the basics.
Thirty-some thousand years ago, on Earth, in a cave system that has yet to be seriously discovered, a group of people ventured deep into the depths of a labyrinth in total darkness. They were led by their shaman. We call him a ‘shaman’ as opposed to a wizard as he was not searching for magic. He was searching for a way to commune with the gods of his world. Or perhaps it was the spirits of his world. Or maybe he sought the soul of his peoples. But he was not seeking magic as we know it. He was not a wizard and he did not have a familiar.
They went deep into the cave system. Like I said, we don’t really know why. We can only speculate, but it had to have some deep significance. They weren’t just doing art; they weren’t just decorating, or some such. Hell it could have been some kind of fertility thing, too. Or maybe it was some kind of celebration of life. The one sure thing is that the act was supremely important to those people. The other certain thing was that a Familiar was definitely looking out for them. At least there does not seem to be any other viable explanation for what happened next.
Anyway, deep in the dark of the Earth, they would paint remarkable pictures of their world; they would leave imprints of their hands in some soft clay deposits. We even have some of their fingerprints. They went to great lengths to make this communion: this spiritual expedition. They went deep into the total darkness of the cave system using torches that they had made. If they lost their light, the darkness would be complete. They would be lost. They would be totally blind; blinded by the complete absence of any light. Think of that: no starlight, no moon glow, no glimmer from the street light through the blinds, no distant twinkle from a modem. No light whatsoever. Deep in a cave. But they made this effort, and they took these risks to leave a message that only the spirits, or their gods, could see. They did not expect any human eyes, but their own, to see this work.
“Yes.” I went on to comment. “There’ve been folks all over France for thousands of years. There are reminders of the past wherever you turn; at least the relatively recent past. But the epic galleries of Lascaux weren’t discovered until 1940 and that was by accident. I’m guessing that the galleries you’re talking about haven’t been discovered yet either.”
Cameron paused and I considered this. I knew of the Lascaux caves and all of the incredible effort that had gone into making those paintings. I knew now, that they were more than art. It is true that all art is inspired; but these paintings were inspired by the same force that inspired Stonehenge. An unknown but constant force in human affairs: that ethereal certainty that there is something greater than ourselves, that is just outside the border of our world, just beyond our grasp.
“In a way,” I observed into the quiet we shared, “they were raising a cathedral, weren’t they. To the very best of their ability. They were making a supreme spiritual effort.”
“They were indeed, and this was happening on Earth, not on Prime. Interestingly, there is just as much magic on Earth as there is here on Prime. But we’ve managed it better; we still have questions, but magic is nowhere as well understood as it is here on Prime.
We think that the first familiar moved these peoples to Prime. But we do not know, for sure. In any event, what happened was this.
The shaman and two acolytes were bringing up the rear of the painting crew; they had remained for a final blessing and invocation so the legend goes. They had marked the path with scorch marks from their torches, and they had organized rocks along the path. Both required light to see.
It was while they were bringing up the rear that they lost their way. The torch bearer stubbed his toe, or barked his shin, or something. In pain, he dropped his torch and he just happened to drop it into a pool of the icy water that can collect on cave floors. The light went out. They splashed about blindly, in panic, and managed to recover the torch but it was well and truly doused. Well and truly out.
Your ancestors were formidable basket weavers. It should come as no surprise that they had a way to carry glowing embers in a basket so that they could light a fire while on a trip. But the tinder must be dry to light a fire and, in any event, none of the three were carrying such a basket. Their rank was too high for such a chore.
They yelled for help. But the cave only echoed their calls. They had tarried too long, or perhaps their friends were talking to one another about their work and didn’t hear. Their calls went unanswered.
They held on to each other. The shaman began a chant that was partly a funeral dirge and partly a complaint about the shabby treatment the fates had accorded them.
And then there was light. Faint and distant at first, but a light where no light should naturally be.
It grew closer and, at length, they were handed another torch. They could see the markers for their path. They went back to the surface and were taken to a new world. The bit about a new world is what makes us think the familiar brought them to Prime.
They sat in a long silence. “You know, I hate to seem shallow and all, but what shape did the Familiar take to do this job?”
We don’t know. Cameron seemed to sigh. There’s been lots of talk and speculation. You know there are salamanders in some cave systems that have no eyes as they exist in complete darkness. Others have suggested bats as likely suspects; then others remind everyone that this Familiar had a torch, so he did not need the ability to see in the dark. Personally, I like to think it was an owl. But we really just do not know. The legends are silent on that.
From there we must strive to get our answers from archaeology and history as we grow and learn. On Prime, the Elves and the Bwca and the Trollians developed regularly using magic and questioning Familiars.
On Earth it was different; a massive guilt psychosis developed that led into the period known as the Dark Ages. Familiars and magic kept a very low profile and usually moved to Prime unless they had some specific job to attend to. Earth was difficult. Magic could not function in the main stream of human affairs. There were persecutions, but you know all that.
“So when did the Familiars get organized? When was the Great Council formed? Where are we trying to go?”
The Great Council formed during Earth’s Dark Ages. It was informal at first, and has always met on Prime. The object is to guide the peoples; to guide the peoples by principle hoping to increase knowledge and learning so that war and conflict may ultimately become a thing of the past. Those are the goals, but there’s no way of knowing when they may be achieved. There really is no physical destination. We’re hoping for some sort of “broad sunlit uplands” where peace and reason are the rule.
“I don’t think we’re doing very well on Earth. The Trollian War was a rather small affair on Prime. Certainly we cannot be held culpable for the Riffian incursions. But on Earth we’ve major problems. The Twentieth Century was far more murderous that the Nineteenth. That can’t be called progress. Do you think the Riffian incursion on Earth might be the catalyst for some serious progress there?”
I think so. But we’ve time. Your Father reigned for just over three hundred years so you’ve plenty of time to chart a course and hold to it. Plus you’re royalty, so you reincarnate.
“What about you? Do Familiars reincarnate too?”
No. We have a good long run, but then we cross over. I’ve been working for the best part of almost three thousand years. I’m looking forward to the next answer. Somehow, I don’t think it’s final.
“Well let’s take a little vacation. You, me, Colin, and Surus. We deserve a little break. We’ve a lot of work to do. A tropical island. Sand and surf and tropical breezes.”
Great idea. Let’s use the palace on Maui that we’ve never been to.
1Bell, Book and Candle. A 1958 movie starring Houdini as Pyewacket as well as Kim Novak and James Stewart in supporting roles.