Willard the Wizard

Willard was born on the first day of Pentatina, 765 PC. It didn’t take long before Willard’s father, Webster, realized there was something unusual about Willard. The first night after Willard’s parents laid him down in the cradle, they awoke to a clatter and rushed to his nursery to find every loose item in the room floating in the air and revolving around their son as Willard gooed and gaa’d with delight.

Now Webster and Rebecca hadn’t chosen a name for their son, but upon seeing the chaos in his nursery, they Webster immediately exclaimed, he’s just like Papa Manty’s friend Willie.  Webster was a bard who had studied Manitowoc’s history and had even been able to get his prized heirloom dagger to talk to him on occasion.  So even though Webster was removed more than a dozen generations from his Papa Manty, he knew many stories about his fabled companion, Willie Survive.

Rebecca was used to Webster’s magical songs, but was none too pleased to see her baby working such arcane magic.  On the other hand, she loved the tales her husband told of Willie’s and Manty’s exploits and she kind of liked the name Willard and so the name stuck.

In the days, weeks and years as Willard grew up, his control of the arcane magic increased, but an unusually high number of odd things happened around Willard.  Like the time he got beaned playing stick ball and he reacted by flinging the hurler across the pitch with a flick of his wrist.  After that the other boys took to calling him Weird Willie behind his back, but they were loath to confront him to directly.

After Willard learned his letters down at the clan hold, he discovered the library in the old wizard’s tower.  Willard began spending every spare moment between chores and tending the farm reading books and trying to crack the arcane secrets of the library. Years passed and Willard had read nearly every book in the library written in Almebezbik, but most of the libraries secrets were still locked away.  Finally, when Willard reached his twentieth birthday the secret came to him and he cast his first spell, a ball of light floated from his hand and glowed brightly for a few seconds before winking out.

Encouraged by his breakthrough, Willard redoubled his efforts and slowly began cracking the arcane code that kept the library’s secrets. Thankfully the library’s card catalog now helped him focus on the easier tomes and spell books.  Within a few months Willard was able to memorize and cast all the cantrips he could find.  Try as he might though, he couldn’t seem to summon the power necessary to cast the more complicated spells.  Rarely, like the time he tried to case burning hands, the spell would blow up in his face, sometimes they would fizzle and sputter, but most of the time nothing at all would happen.

Eventually, Willard came to recognize that he wouldn’t be able to teach himself all that he needed to know.  Willard had heard of the mage schools from traveling minstrels who came to visit his father and other adventurers passing through Rebelton on their way to wilder locales.  Willard decided The City held the closest school of renown and so at the tender young age of 22 he packed his bags, kissed his mother on the cheek, shook hands with his pa and headed off to get an education. 

He carefully considered the Arcanus Universitatus.  There was certainly family history in Troll’s Bridge, but traveling to Troll’s Bridge was becoming more dangerous by the year, goblins to the east, gnolls to the west and orcs in Tanglewood had isolated Troll’s Bridge from all the towns north of it.  He would practically have had to travel west to The City just to find safe passage back east.  So that settled it as he hitched a ride with a caravan Zuomystos and after several days of jostling, but otherwise uneventful travel he finally arrived at the gates of The City.

Locating the mage’s college was fairly simple, but gaining admission was another thing entirely.  Halflings were much more renowned for their resistance to magic than being adept at channeling the arcane power.  Finally after much testing, cajoling, pleading and persistence, the Head Master finally agreed to let Willard in “on probation”.  Willard made the most of his opportunity and studied hard, and practiced deep into the night.  Still, the Halfling reputation wasn’t earned for naught.  As talented as Willard was, magic didn’t come to him nearly as easily as it did to the Elves or even the Humans attending school.  Willard’s hard work paid off after 8 years of hard work, he began to feel confident in his ability to control the magic coursing through his body.  He could easily cast burning hands now, and he was beginning to be able to cast web without entangling himself or his entire dormitory in the process.  Thus, rapidly approaching the age of majority, Willard graduated and returned to Rebelton.

It seems he returned none too soon.  The goblin clans to the east had begun to mobilize and were raiding with more and more frequency.  Webster’s songs could bolster the little town’s defenses, but they could do nothing to protect the outlying farms.  And so Willard was pressed into service.

Casting spells in combat was quite different than in the laboratories and practice halls of the university.  While Willard quickly came to recognize that Magic Missile could strike down a goblin at a hundred paces and burning hands worked well when one got to close, a sticky web or a swarm of spiders would quickly disable or scatter a small raiding party, leaving the goblins at the mercy of the slingers and bowmen who accompanied Willard.

Through repetition, Willard gained strength to master ever greater magics and with the library in the old tower he had a nearly endless supply of new spells to learn.  Together he and the hunters slowly beat back the onslaught of goblins until the day he discovered Fireball. With his power growing everyday no goblin could stand before him and even the hobgoblins trembled in fear.  Willard went on the attack and drove the goblins far south and west.  He cleared all the fields and prairies from Rebelton to the western tip of Tanglewood of goblins.

Willard never knew this but his crusade against the goblins left a power vacuum which would allow the gnolls to grow in power, eventually leading to the rise of the Gaedracis and his bandit clan who would strike down his own great-great grandson some two hundred years later. But that is a tale for another time.

With the goblins soundly defeated and his son’s power eclipsing his own, Webster decides it is time to retire at the tender age of 82.  In a solemn moment, Webster passes along the Heirloom dagger and explains carefully to Willard to protect the honor of the clan and keep the dagger safe.  Through the years of his youth, Willard had heard every yarn his father had spun about Manty’s exploits and had even heard the rumor of Zenda’s ghost in Troll’s Bridge. Willard felt it was time to return to Troll’s Bridge to see if the legends were true.

And now for the rest of the story...

Once again Willard prepares to leave Rebelton behind, safe in the knowledge that the Goblins won’t attack the village anytime soon.  But, even with the goblins in retreat, the journey through Tanglewood is no easy journey. There are still orcs, and gnolls, giants and dragons and plenty of other things that go bump in the dark.  Willard packs his bags, readies his spells and sets out for the forest.

The ancient road to Walton has been all but erased by the forest.  Willards youthful studies in the Wizards Tower aid him.  He has the foresight to bring along a map from the old Wizards Tower showing the Kings Road from Rebelton to Walton and then on to the south across the Troll’s Bridge. The first few days travel are uneventful until he arrives at the edge of the crater marking the remains of Walton.  That night his encampment at the foot of the mount of walls is discovered by a band of orcs on patrol. Willard is able to get off a fireball to scatter the orcs and then casts invisibility to escape into the inky darkness of Tanglewood’s night.  Two days later, he emerges from the forest at edge of Troll’s Bridge, tired and hungry, but still in one piece. 

Willard spends some time getting to know the city.  He learns that Troll’s Bridge has grown significantly since the days when Hurley left it behind.  The city’s core has filled up and the city has started to push back the surrounding forest.  The council has added a few houses since Hurley’s time.  But the city is largely controlled by the powerful guild house of Chicdell. The Chicdell’s control most of the commerce coming into town and the Harbor Rats gang.  Willard doesn’t realize that his ancestor, Muskego, set the wheels in motion for the Chicdell’s ascendancy nor that it won’t be long before the Chicdell’s are finally given a seat among the Royal Houses of Troll’s Bridge.

Eventually, Willard finds the welcoming round door of the Smoking Pipe secreted away between tall buildings.  The tavern is run by humans now, and the rumors of haunting are nearly forgotten.  The Tavern does a decent lunch business as it is frequented by workers in the city core.  By evening business tales off as most of the working class folk who frequent the tavern head home to the newer neighborhoods.  Willard spends a lot of time frequenting the tavern and gets to know the barkeep and proprietor, Aren Tinson.

It is on a quiet night after all the other patrons have departed that Aren finally broaches the topic of Zenda to Willard, “I suppose you know that this here tavern was once run by Halflings like yourself. We don’t see much of your kind around here anymore.  I must say, I was quite surprised you when came through that big round door a few days back.”

Willard answers back, “Aye, I haven’t seen much of my kin around town. Though I will confess, I came to town just to visit your tavern. You see my Papa was a minstrel back in Rebelton and he told me stories from when this town young. He told me your tavern here was founded by our Nana Zenda just after the fall of Walton and that she died in the basement of the tavern defending it from orcs. I don’t suppose you’ve heard any of the stories of her ghost or maybe even seen her yourself?”

Aren is about to reply when he is interrupted by the faint voice of an elderly Halfling lady, “No, young man. I doubt Aren has seen or even heard of me.  I’ve been sleeping most the last few hundred years, waiting for another Mantyson to come visit to fulfill the quest.”

Aren is agape at the site of the ghostly Halfling, unable to voice a word.  Willard on the other hand while surprised is able to more quickly collect his thoughts, “Nana, is that really you? I am a Mantyson indeed.  See I carry the heirloom.”  Willard unsheathes the dagger his father had given him and holds it up for the ghost to see. “My Papa told me tales of your youth and how you founded the Smoking Pipe.  I’ve come to see for myself.”

Zenda’s ghost recoils in disgust at the sight of the dagger, “Oy, nearly seven hundred years I’ve waited for my Manty to return and all you can bring me is his dagger?  I suppose that demon still inhabits it, trying to convince you that he is my beloved Manitowoc.”

Willard looks surprised at her response to the dagger and tries to offer it to her again, “No Nana, there is no demon.  This is Manty’s Heirloom, the pride of the Mantyson clan, handed down from father to son ever since Hurley returned to Rebelton.  Papa Webster made me promise never to tell, but the dagger talked to him once.  I haven’t been so lucky.”

Zenda erupts in anger, “Lucky! You should be so lucky that that thing never talks to you in your life.  It is demonic. It will corrupt your soul and try to trick you into thinking Manitowoc is still alive.  How can that be these 700 years that I’ve been waiting for his return. I harbor no fantasies that he is still alive after all this time.  No one could have survived that.  But keep that blade away from me.  It is possessed.”  Her visage ages to reveal the terrible havoc that the ages have worked upon her. A sight that turns Aren’s hair gray and sends him shrieking and cowering behind the bar.  Even Willard quails at the sight of her and his hand with the dagger trembles and spasms as he drops the heirloom to the floor.  Zenda’s ghost explodes into a zephyr of dust the whirls through the tavern and back down into the cellars leaving behind the stench of death, a smell that lingers for days and nearly bankrupts Aren as it drives away business.

Poor Willard leaves Aren cowering behind the bar and after retrieving his dagger, meekly ascends the stairs to the night streets of the city.  He spends a few more days in the Troll’s Bridge but never returns to the Smoking Pipe.  He catches the next ship sailing west down the Almebezbik River.  He disembarks with merchants heading for the city and makes the long, circuitous route Zuodeyja and back Zuoclades to Rebelton.

There he spends the rest of his life researching magic in the Wizards Tower, raising a family and occasionally defending the town.  He never does get to hear Manitowoc speak, because he chooses to hold his tongue even as Willard’s power grows.  But, mere days before Willard’s mysterious death, he receives a vision that shows Manty and Zenda together again.  Willard is able to relay the vision to his son Hilbert.

Finally and unexpectedly, Willard passes away on the eve of the birth of Hilbert’s eldest son, Bowler.  Bowler loves the tales of lore that he learns about Willard, Webster and the older members of the clan.  Bowler lives well past a hundred years and is able to relay the tales of the Great Manitowoc the Rogue and the other clansmen to an impressionable, young Sparta and his skeptical older brother Elroy.