Written by Margaret L Carter / Artwork by Marge Simon
Familiarly Speaking

As a gray rabbit hopped across the forest path, the azure spark twinkling among the trees alighted on its head.
Tami brushed damp curls off her forehead and quickened her pace to a trot. About time her spell brought results—
she must have been chasing that spark in circles for at least an hour. A rabbit for a familiar didn’t fulfill the dreams
of sorcerous power she’d indulged in when she became one of Mistress Arisa’s apprentices, but it was better than
no familiar at all.

Of course the little beast dashed into the tangle of brush under the trees when it glimpsed Tami. She couldn’t
expect a wild animal to grant her the consideration of staying on the path. Once she’d caught up with it and cast
the spell to bond with it, the creature would become not only loyal to her but supernaturally intelligent and would
have no desire to run off. Furthermore, she would never have to go through this ordeal again, because her
familiar’s lifespan would magically extend to equal her own.

She crashed through bushes and vines, tripping over roots and tugging at thorns that snagged on her trousers.
She muttered an incantation to spin a thread of blue light between herself and the spark that glimmered over the
rabbit. “Slow down, bunny, I’m not going to hurt you.” Her quarry, of course, paid no attention. With the animal
bounding out of sight, she had to depend on the thread to guide her.
At least I’ll have a familiar that’s fast, if
nothing else. That’ll show Rion I’m not a total klutz at magic

Ever since she and her cousin Rion had started their apprenticeships with Mistress Arisa, they’d engaged in mostly
amiable competition. When he’d leaped ahead of Tami in his studies, though, she’d had trouble maintaining a
pleasant attitude. He never mocked or teased her, only reacted to her mishaps with pitying smiles.

Her air spells did things like tying knots in the beard of a visiting master mage or blowing out the windows. Her
mending spell to fix the latter installed the windows upside down. Her water spells tended to freeze or steam. Once
she did manage to conjure a bubble that drifted around the cottage for five days before disintegrating—and
drenching a manuscript Mistress Arisa had been working on. One fire spell set the roof shingles aflame. A too-
effective levitation spell had sent a bucket from the garden soaring into the sky, never to be seen again. A simple
growth cantrip had no effect on the seed in the flower pot where she’d cast it but made vines sprout from the
floorboards. Worse, when ripped out by hand, the vines sprang up again. Repeated attempts at magical
eradication, even by Mistress Arisa, had failed.

The sorceress had insisted more than once that Tami did possess innate magical talent. She simply needed better
control, which a bond with a familiar would grant. That prospect had made it all the more exasperating when Rion
had won his own familiar seven months earlier. He’d bonded with a raccoon, a bright-eyed creature with paws as
deft as hands. Their teacher had a hawk at her service. Finally, now that Tami had mastered the familiar-questing
ritual, she could hope to catch up with her cousin and prove her worth to Mistress Arisa.
Even if a bunny isn’t as
clever as a raccoon or as elegant as a hawk

A light breeze redolent of moist earth cooled the sweat on Tami’s face and neck. She waved to shoo away gnats
buzzing around her ears. The intangible thread drew her, with her feet squelching on wet ground, to the edge of a
sluggish stream that meandered among the reeds. The rabbit, crouched in a patch of ferns, darted a glance at her
and hopped away. Instead of following it, the blue spark leaped to a spot at the edge of the water.
So my
companion won’t be a rabbit. What, then?

The glint wafted to a different cluster of ferns, where the leaves rustled as something stirred among them. A snake
slithered into view. She swallowed her momentary disappointment.
Well, that’s not all bad. It’ll have senses
humans don’t, and it can slip into tiny spaces
. She fingered the net bag hanging at her waist, which she’d brought
for convenience in carrying her familiar home. She hadn’t envisioned putting a snake in it. Not that the reptile would
try to escape once she cast the bonding spell, she reminded herself. She took a tentative step closer. Fortunately,
it wasn’t a venomous species, only a common black snake.
What am I supposed to feed it? Live mice? Ugh. Maybe
it’ll hunt its own prey like Mistress Arisa’s bird.

Just as she mentally framed an incantation to soothe the snake long enough for her to catch it, she stepped into
soupy mud that sloshed over her shoes. Staggering, she flapped her arms to keep from falling. The snake wriggled
into the knee-high reeds. Once more the glittering dot abandoned the creature she thought it had targeted.
If I’m
meant to be learning patience and perseverance,
she silently prayed to whatever god or goddess might listen, fine,
I’ve got the idea
. The spark circled three times before hovering over a spiderweb in the grass, then alighted on the
spider, whose appendages were splayed to the width of her palm.

She cringed at the thought of picking up the multi-legged, hairy thing. Since she’d read that insects and arachnids
could become familiars, she had no excuse for rejecting the idea.
Eeuww. Is this supposed to teach me to value all
living things or what? All right, at least it’ll keep the cottage free of flies
. She unfastened the bag from her belt
and leaned toward the web.

When the guiding spark shifted yet again, from the spider to a dragonfly hovering over the stream, she almost
burst into tears.
Not again! Something’s wrong. This leapfrogging from one animal to the next couldn’t be normal.
The spell must be malfunctioning, to lead her to such an absurd result. How could she take proper care of a
dragonfly? It needed a body of water to thrive.
I really am hopeless! I can’t even do this right.

Goblet-shaped flowers grew beside the stream. Their velvety, deep purple petals bore streaks of indigo, emerald,
and crimson in eye-catching contrast to the muted green and brown tones of the reeds and grasses. The dragonfly
landed on the edge of one bloom. Tami tiptoed close, bent over, and whispered the first syllables of her calming
spell. From this angle, she noticed liquid in the cavity of the flower. Now she recognized it as a royal chalice, so
called because of its rich purple hue. It lured insects with its color and perfume to devour them.

Please eat some other bug, not that one. As if hearing her thoughts, the dragonfly glided away unharmed, but it
left the blue spark behind. The gleam brightened to a glow. It expanded to envelop the flower.
What? No, this has
to be a mistake
. But the azure nimbus didn’t so much as flicker.

A plant? My familiar is a plant? She’d never heard of such a thing. She had only one way to confirm or disprove
the bizarre idea. She chanted the bonding spell. If, as she almost hoped, it didn’t work, she would have to go
home, figure out what she’d done wrong, and reenact the familiar-questing ritual.

The spell didn’t fizzle out, though. Instead, the blue glow spread to surround her as well as the flower. Her skin
tingled, and warmth unrelated to the humid late-summer day blossomed inside her. She closed her eyes. She felt
sun on her leaves and water around her roots—no, her arms and feet. She relished the flavors of the wet earth and
the aromas of blossoms, fish, and insects. Oddly, she tasted and smelled through her toes. Pronouncing the final
words of the spell, she opened her eyes. Her head spun as the blue glow faded along with the plant’s sensations.

Out of nowhere, she realized rain would fall before the end of the day.
Wonderful, now I can predict weather. So
can half a dozen minor divinations in Mistress Arisa’s tomes

Tami laid her bag open on the stream bank, then muttered an incantation to loosen the soil around the royal
chalice’s roots. When she had excavated all around them, she cast a lifting spell,
not a full-fledged levitation spell.
Once the plant floated just above the ground, she cupped the root ball in her hand. She transferred her newfound
familiar into the bag and tied the top of the sack loosely around its stem. After wiping her hands in the tall grass to
clean off most of the mud, she pushed herself upright and took a gulp of water from her canteen. Frowning at the
cloud of gnats around her face, she murmured a cantrip that was supposed to chase them away. It had never
worked for her before, but this time the bugs flew straight into the royal chalice’s maw. Satisfaction radiated from
the plant.

She peered at the tiny specks drowning in the cup-shaped bloom. “Maybe you are good for something. Well, I
guess I have to take you home. Rion will never let me live this down.” With the net bag dangling from one hand,
she trudged back the way she’d come.

This time, twigs and thorns didn’t scratch her, and she didn’t trip over a single vine or root. “Hmm, another thing
you’re good for. But I don’t hike in the woods any more than I can help, and it’s not likely I’d be lugging you along
most of the time.”

She reached the path within a few minutes, relieved to feel dry, smooth ground underfoot. About halfway home, a
huffing noise caught her attention. Something rustled the bushes just ahead. As she rounded the next curve in the
trail, a brown hulk lumbered from under the trees about twenty paces ahead. The breeze carried an odor like dead
grass and wet fur to Tami’s nose.

She halted, her heart racing, and gaped at the bear. Two cubs ambled out of the underbrush and turned her way.
She mentally scrambled to recall the bear-defense lessons she’d never needed before.
Stay calm. Show it you’re
not a threat
. “Easy, Mistress Bear. We don’t want any trouble, do we?” she said in a low voice that quavered
despite her best effort at calm. “What cute babies. I’m just leaving now.” With her arms spread at her sides, she
gingerly backed away. The bear swiveled her head toward Tami with a snort and clawed the ground.

Tami retreated one more step. The bear growled. Her ears flattened against her skull, and she paced closer. “Go
away. I’m harmless and inedible.” A deeper growl rumbled in the animal’s chest.

Tami’s stomach churned. The second lesson bubbled up in her mind.
If it’s about to attack, scare it away. Right,
who’s scaring whom?
Waving the arm that wasn’t encumbered by the bagged plant, she shouted, “Go away! Shoo,
scram!” The bear reared on her hind legs. Tami snatched up a rock, flung it at the beast, and missed.

Lightheaded, she staggered backward. Her vision went gray. Heat ignited in her chest and flared through her body.
A sharp crack sounded above her. She glanced up. A tree limb overhanging the path had split halfway through. The
next second, the fracture widened, and the limb crashed onto the trail right in front of the bear. The beast whirled
around and dashed into the woods. The cubs loped after her.

Panting, head spinning, Tami collapsed onto her knees. When her eyes cleared, she scanned her surroundings to
make sure the bear wasn’t coming back.
Well, that was a bit of luck. What was wrong with me there? Shaking her
head, she used the nearest tree trunk to pull herself upright. Whatever had come over her, it had worn off.
wonder I lost my grip for a minute. It’s not every day I almost get mauled to death

She checked the plant, which seemed undamaged except for one bent leaf. She repaired it with a whispered cantrip.
Another half hour brought her, tired and sweaty, to Mistress Arisa’s cottage at the edge of the forest, a fair trek
from the nearby village. The sorceress had chosen this location for her home to ensure people wouldn’t go to the
trouble of seeking her help for frivolous purposes.

Gray clouds were thickening in the sky as Tami strolled up the cobblestone walk. Faint thunder rumbled in the
distance. Mistress Arisa’s red-tailed hawk, on his outdoor perch, swiveled his head to glare at Tami. She found her
sandy-haired, freckled cousin in front of the house, harvesting pears from their mistress’s favorite fruit tree. At
Tami’s approach, he set down the half-full basket and straightened up. “Back at last? What have you got there?”

She lifted the bag and folded down the upper part to display the plant. “My familiar.” She raised her chin and glared
at Rion, silently daring him to laugh.

He restricted himself to a half-smile. “That’s certainly—different.”

Mistress Arisa stepped onto the porch, a potion-stained robe pale against her tawny skin. “Oh, you have a royal
chalice. She’s beautiful.” The sorceress fingered a crimson-streaked petal.

“A plant.” Tami slumped on the porch steps and set the bag beside her. “Apparently my familiar is a plant.” She
glowered at Rion, who stopped smiling.

“A very rare bonding,” Mistress Arisa said. “I’ve read of flower familiars but never seen one before. We’ll have to
transplant her into a suitable pot. She can spend the daylight hours out here to soak up sun and catch insects.
And don’t forget she’ll need plenty of water. What are you going to name her?”

“Name? Her, not it?”

“Of course you have to name your familiar. And this species comes in two sexes. Didn’t you notice this one is

Tami sighed. “All I noticed was that I’m no better at familiar-questing than any other kind of magic. It’s probably
rare to bond with a plant because it’s practically useless.” Ignoring the sorceress’s frown at her rant, she
continued, “On top of that, I almost got eaten.”        

A drizzle began falling as she started the tale of her bear encounter. Rion snatched up the fruit basket, and the
three of them shifted to chairs under the porch roof. By the time she reached the end, the rain had swollen to a
downpour. Tree limbs swayed in gusts of wind. “I was just lucky that branch fell between me and the bear.” A flash
of lightning punctuated her words, chased too closely by a peal of thunder.

Mistress Arisa shook her head with a sigh. “Is there a flaw in my teaching, or have you been dozing through
lessons? That wasn’t luck, child.”

Rion looked as surprised as Tami felt. “What do you mean?” he asked for both of them.

“It was her magic. Earth-based, as we’d expect from someone with a plant familiar.” The sorceress rested a hand
on Tami’s shoulder. “The royal chalice you’d already bonded with focused your power.”

“You’re saying I made the limb break?” She couldn’t keep a dubious note out of her voice. A fortunate accident
seemed more plausible. Most likely, the sorceress was only trying to bolster her confidence.

Mistress Arisa nodded. “Next, you simply have to learn to do the same kind of thing consciously.” She interrupted
Tami’s attempted protest. “And now that you’ve formed that bond, the process should indeed be simple.”

A still brighter flash cut her off, with thunder booming almost instantly thereafter. With an indignant screech,
Mistress Arisa’s hawk swooped into the attic window left open for him. The sorceress got to her feet. “Inside.” The
wards in the cottage walls would protect them.

A buzz reverberated in Tami’s head, and her skin prickled all over. Her hair bristled. Thunder crashed in continuous
waves. The next lightning bolt struck a tree thirty paces away from the house. Mistress Arisa, holding the door
open, snapped, “Hurry!”

They all dashed inside, and the sorceress bolted the door against the wind. Tami instantly noticed that during her
absence a fresh crop of vines had spawned on the floor. Tendrils poked through cracks between the boards and
twined up the legs of the work table. She sighed, scuffed with her foot at the nearest offshoot, and set the royal
chalice on the table. Rion carried the pears into the kitchen, while Mistress Arisa gazed at the vine infestation with a
thoughtful frown.

“This might be a good time for you to try banishing those once more. Let your familiar speak to you and guide you.
Oh, not in words, of course, but in the sensations you share with her.”   

Tami suppressed a sigh.
No point in arguing. She rested one hand on the pot, pointed the index finger of her
other hand at the floor, and scowled in concentration.
Go away! She struggled to conjure up the memory of what
she’d felt when the branch had broken. Warmth crept up one arm and down the other. A spark leaped from her
fingertip. The blue glow spread over the tangle of vines. To her surprise, they withered the moment the light
enveloped them. Within seconds, they melted into a puddle, which instantly vaporized.

She blinked, hardly able to believe in the bare wood before her eyes. Mistress Arisa beamed at her. “There, you did

“Not quite.” A vine still climbed up each table leg, and those vines had sprouted fresh foliage.
So I managed to fix
my own mistake, and not even all the way
. “Looks like I need more practice.”

“A good beginning, though.” The sorceress directed Rion to brew tea. They all settled with their filled mugs to
watch the storm through the magically fortified bay window.

Amid the howling gale, lightning and thunder hammered the landscape. Tami flinched when a bolt struck the pear
tree. Mistress Arisa got up to peer at the damage through sheets of rain.

As violent storms often did, this one blew over within minutes. Tami had hardly finished her tea before the wind
died away and the rain subsided to a sprinkle. The sorceress, her face grim, marched outside for a close
examination of the pear tree. The sun already gleamed through scattered clouds as Tami and Rion joined her. Tami
gasped at the sight of the split, charred trunk. Her teacher contemplated the wreckage with a clenched jaw, as if
suppressing either curses or tears.  

She glanced at Tami.

What does she expect me to do? Just because Tami had succeeded in cracking a limb—by accident—and shriveling
magical vines didn’t mean she could reverse damage this dire. Trying might even make matters worse.

How much worse could it get? This tree’s as good as dead now. She hurried into the cottage and strode out
carrying the royal chalice. Hugging the plant in one arm, she spread her free hand on the lightning-blasted trunk.
She gazed up at fractured limbs, water dripping on her face.
Heal, she silently prayed. Nothing happened. Who am
I fooling? I can’t do this.

A contrary voice whispered, My teacher is counting on me.

Her leg muscles seized up. Paralyzed, she stared at her plant, which shone with the same azure nimbus as before.
Heat radiated through her body.
I’m supposed to do—something—with this. Shouting an incantation that leaped
unbidden into her mind, she wove the hand patterns that belonged with it. The glow surrounded the tree from root
to crown. Little by little, the split closed. Tami leaned on the trunk while energy poured from her, sealing the crack.
Branches grew back together, and fresh leaves sprang to life on them. Buds sprouted on the ends of twigs.   

Buds? In fruit season? A wave of dizziness swept over her. The blue light faded away. She blinked her eyes to clear
the lingering dazzle.

Rion gaped at the rejuvenated tree. “Did you actually do that?”

She exhaled a long breath, expelling residual heat with it. “I guess I did.”

Mistress Arisa fingered the trunk. “A useless bond, you said?” Her lips quirked in a wry smile.

Tami stroked one of her plant’s leaves, which curled around her finger. “I’d better find a pot for her. Please start
teaching me how to work with her right away.”

“With pleasure.”

“I think I’ll call her Princess.”
Margaret L. Carter specializes in vampires, having been marked for life
by reading DRACULA at the age of twelve. Other creatures she writes
about include werewolves, dragons, ghosts, and Lovecraftian entities
with tentacles. In addition to her horror, fantasy, and paranormal
romance fiction, she has had several nonfiction books and articles
published on vampires in literature. Her stories have appeared in
anthologies such as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “Sword and Sorceress”
volumes. With her husband, retired Navy Captain Leslie Roy Carter,
she has collaborated on a sword-and-sorcery trilogy, beginning with
WILD SORCERESS, which has recently been re-released by Writers
Exchange E-Publishing. Her latest solo publication, steamy
paranormal romance novella "Demon's Fall," can be found here:

Explore love among the monsters at her website, Carter's Crypt: