A lot of movies and stories have a guru or mentor character, Yoda of course being one of the stellar examples. The way Empire Strikes Back introduced Yoda was stellar: at first Luke thinks he is just a pesky, barely sentient Dagoba life form and he turns out to be the celebrated Jedi master.
In my novel Siana’s War, Siana has more than one mentor. Daevon Endou (young, sympathetic and handsome) teaches her swordcraft. Ambrose Bierce (brilliant, jaded and chauvinistic) teaches her military strategy. Her most intriguing mentor is Mercair. More of a patron and rescuer than teacher, Mercair is Siana’s ace-in-the-hole, her wise counselor and also frustratingly obtuse. I thought it would be interesting for Siana’s biggest ally to also make fundamental missteps based on his misunderstanding of human nature.
Despite his gentlemanly appearance, Mercair is not human. (No plot spoilers now…the novel does eventually reveal what he is.) He seems to disappear when Siana needs him:
“Siana,” he replied, looking uncharacteristically discomfited, “I have come to your succor again and again, why do you attack me?”
“I didn’t even see you for years, while I struggled to find Timothy, and fought to stay alive,” I yelled back at him, enjoying the fact that he could not see me, pacing the strip of sand where the quay disappeared into the beach, “Obviously you wanted to keep me alive, but you did precious little more than that. You never helped me with my missions, and you haven’t told me the truth. How many more things have you hidden from me that might have saved my men?”
“Why haven’t I seen you in all these years?” I asked.
“You didn’t need me,” Mercair answered simply and began to slice his crepes with elegant precision.
And he “rescues” her when she wants to stay in the fray with her army:
“I am sorry, Siana,” he said. But his words rolled off my heart. I couldn’t believe them, not from this being that pantomimed humanity. And the words sounded hollow in his mouth. Another memory lurched into my consciousness, a memory of breakfasting with Mercair at his estate. I remembered how he confessed then to not understanding human emotion. But I had believed, at least, that he had loved me.
“I wanted to to stay and die with my people, to suffer the fate I dragged them to,” I cried, “That was my will, my decision. But you usurped it, just as your kind have always usurped that which does not belong to them.”
In crafting Mercair’s character and role in Siana’s story, I thought his “poor” judgment calls were a great counterbalance to his vast power to intervene. I felt Mercair’s judgment (and Siana’s frustration with him) kept him from being an overly convenient deus ex machina, making his last minute rescues an ironic twist on that cliche.
Later in the storyline, Siana comes to understand and accept Mercair’s uniquely not-quite-human viewpoint, and I had some fun with that as well:
“I think we are, what would you call it, ‘squabbling’ now?” Mercair said, “Let’s return to your list.” I tore off the first half of the page, since I didn’t have anything with which to cross off the first two items on the list. Mercair grimaced when the crumpled sheet hit the floor.
“Hey, terrorists can litter, right?” I said with a wicked smile, “Just leaving my stamp on Aedolae territory again.”
“I still don’t understand all your humor,” Mercair said.
“Good,” I said dismissively and broached item three.