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Most wizards stay in their City of Wonders. Everything they need is there. However once in a while an adventurous soul decides they would like to explore the outside world.

On the outside everything is pretty medieval and mostly non-magical although there are other enclaves of wizardry scattered around.

Familiars are animals but very special ones. They are sentient, can communicate telepathically with their wizard (up to about 10 miles) and can be great companions. However their levels of courage and temperament are the same as the ordinary members of their species. They have no extra magical powers and live as long as their everyday world equivalents.

Before setting out the wizard can choose to bond with just one of a selection of animals. For the purpose of this question let us stick with Earth creatures known to 2018 science. New familiars can't be bonded outside the wizard's home city.

Whilst journeying, the wizard is responsible for looking after their familiar as you would with a normal animal.

My wizard is contemplating a long journey that could last for ten years or more and may travel through dangerous lands and places with carnivores, some of which could be ambush predators. Also he must go through towns and not scare the locals.

The wizard's powers are limited as far as defence is concerned. He will lose part of his soul every time he kills another creature. This is roughly in proportion to its brain capacity. For a mosquito he only loses a tiny part of his soul. For an elephant a great deal and for killing another human he could lose his soul completely. Think of Gandalf using his wits and his tricks rather than outright slaying.

Question

The wizard may have to travel through any environment that we can scientifically hypothesise on a medieval Earth. He may be away for ten years or more, possibly longer. I'm thinking a horse will be his best familiar. What are the pros and cons?

Why a horse? Well, a mouse could be useful for spying and reporting back but might get trapped and would only live a couple of years at most. A horse is long-lived could do a certain amount of spying, is unlikely to be killed even if stolen because it's too useful.

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    $\begingroup$ I hope you have read Hiero's Journey. His familiar was a psychic moose. $\endgroup$ – Willk Dec 5 '18 at 22:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Willk - Thanks for that. No - the truth is I don't read much fantasy! I'm on my fourth reading of Wheel of Time right now but before that the Lord of the Rings. Prior to that, as a teenager I was crazy about SciFi but haven't touched that genre as a reader ever since. I'll take a quick look at Hiero though. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Dec 5 '18 at 22:17
  • $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK It's not clear to me how most of the info you have written is relevant to the question. Are you simply asking: "What are the pros and cons of using a horse?" $\endgroup$ – Arkenstein XII Dec 5 '18 at 22:21
  • $\begingroup$ @ Arkenstein XII - I'll put something about that in the question. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Dec 5 '18 at 22:26
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    $\begingroup$ What factors are going into the Wizard's choice? To be honest, a reasonable answer for any animal is "the wizard likes this species better than every other species." We don't have any sense of what the wizard needs to accomplish, so how can we validate a choice he makes? $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Dec 5 '18 at 22:36
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You said the wizard cant kill without damaging his soul. that got me thinking that the familiar itself could potentially be used as a weapon and too hunt while on the road.

while the courage and temperament might be the same as the animal he is based on he will be intelligent and I assume would do what the wizard asks, that opens up the possibility of using an animal that normally would be too dangerous to be around.

With those things in mind I would probably choose a predator something along the lines of a large cat (lion, tiger) or even a large dog/wolf.

Any natural predator with the intelligence of a human would be an amazing hunter and would be able to provide food rather than use it. they would be able to move silently and scout any potential hazards, probably have greater senses of smell and hearing and if it where large it could probably carry a modest amount of supplies.

As for not scaring a local population the animal could stay hidden but it would probably be best to choose an animal that most people wouldn't question you having so I would have to suggest a large dog as it would provide more benefits to you than a horse except for being able to carry you.

p.s that was my suggestion based on your criteria, however if I was in your wizards position and had to use an animal we know about now I would pick a dinosaur, something between a velociraptor and a t-rex, same hunting potential but the intimidation potential would be huge but that might scare some people (who cares you have a dinosaur).

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I can see the advantage of a large dog who can be tame around people in towns but fierce when attacked. I'm not sure that dinosaurs were available in medieval times though! But I can definitely see the appeal ;-) $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Dec 5 '18 at 23:38
  • $\begingroup$ might not be available but they are earth creatures known to 2018 science :) so if you want to keep it in the realms of possibility it is still possible. $\endgroup$ – Jason Shawcross Dec 6 '18 at 0:12
  • $\begingroup$ The problem with a dog, though, is that the time between becoming adult and when they become too old to do much travelling could well be less than 10 years, while a horse could well be healthy for 20 or more. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Dec 6 '18 at 4:50
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    $\begingroup$ There are a few mid-large sized breeds that have 10+ years of adulthood. Also dogs are one of the only other mamals that can match pace with a human over long distances. $\endgroup$ – Rozwel Dec 6 '18 at 4:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Rozwel - They absolutely can. I once went on a long-distance walk from the south coast of Wales to the north coast. Not only was my border collie able to keep up, she was also able to make detours away from and back to me while we walked. I reckon she walked at least as twice as far as me every day. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Dec 6 '18 at 13:56
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A horse is indeed a good choice. They tend to live longer than 10 years -- though they may not be nearly as spry at the end of that time period -- and, depending on the area your story is set in, it is not likely to draw any unnecessary suspicion. All in all, a good choice for a familiar based on your criteria, with the added bonus of possible transportation, depending on the horse's thoughts on the matter.

However, there are also some drawbacks to bring a horse with you everywhere you go, the biggest being food. A horse needs a whopping 15000 calories each day, compared to the 2500 calories your wizard needs daily. And that number will only grow if the horse is being put through strain, such as when carrying supplies or people. So a majority of your wizard's money will have to go towards simply feeding the familiar. Also, a horse would require a suitable place to stay while in towns, so additional expenses will need to be put towards finding a stable to keep it in for days at a time.

Also, since temperaments of familiars are the same as their base animals, the horse may be a detriment in any surprise or ambush situation, as they tend to panic easily and often end up throwing off or injuring their passengers in the meantime, on top of the risk of trampling.

And don't even get me started about horseshoes.

All things considered, I feel that a trained bird would be a better fit for your world, as they would be able to scout the surrounding area for danger, are not terribly outlandish in towns, and also do not require nearly as much food. However, they also do not have long lifespans, so you may have to give them a specific species to get around that issue.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes I did think of a parrot but they are too gaudy and noticeable or a raven but they are often considered bad omens. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Dec 5 '18 at 22:33
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    $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK Why not a falcon? Falconry was quite common during the middle ages, so a falconer might not invite unwelcome suspicion. $\endgroup$ – Arkenstein XII Dec 5 '18 at 22:52
  • $\begingroup$ A lot of birds can live for a long time. See web.stanford.edu/group/stanfordbirds/text/essays/How_Long.html for some ideas. Those are wild bird lifespans as well. In captivity, lifespan can be dramatically increased. $\endgroup$ – svenvo7 Dec 5 '18 at 23:02
  • $\begingroup$ @svenvo7 - that's quite surprising. They all live more than 3 years and about 85% live more than 10 years. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Dec 5 '18 at 23:10
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    $\begingroup$ @ArkensteinXII In Medieval England there was a set very particular rules about social rank and what birds you could fly called the Rules of Ownership. I belive similar rule of etiquette existed elsewhere in Europe a wandering wizard may have great difficulty if he flew the wrong type if bird in the wrong region without being able to prove his right to do so. $\endgroup$ – Sarriesfan Dec 6 '18 at 5:37

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