D. A. Ratliff: Wizard of the North


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Images used are free use and require no attribution. Image by ajoheyho from Pixabay.

Author’s Note: A bonus prompt….

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png
Image by Jayne Bersok Photography. Enhanced by Photoshop.

In addition to the December WTS prompt, another image led me to this story. A friend, Jayne Bersok, who is a photographer, took the image of a ‘wizard’ at a Renaissance Fair a few years ago. I loved the photograph and played with Photoshop to come up with this image.

Wizard of the North

D. A. Ratliff 

Wizard Nicolus took a deep draw of his long pipe, savoring the taste of the smokeweed packed into the bowl. He blew out a smoke ring and watched as it dissipated in the cool air, scattering the small group of Woodland Fairies flitting about the trees. One more puff on this pipe, and he turned to continue down the narrow path next to the flowing stream.

A flash of green light startled him, and a fairy, now human-sized, blocked his path.

“How dare you pollute our air with smoke from that pipe. You know better, Wizard.”

“Ah, the fair and lovely Xeris. How are you?” Nicolus puffed on his pipe and blew the smoke above the fairy.

“You’re incorrigible, Wizard.”

“I’m only me and, well, some have called me that before. How are you, old friend?”

Xeris smiled. “Well, as are my brothers and sisters. We have not seen you for several seasons. And now that it is winter, shouldn’t you be on your way north toward home?”

“I am, but I’m taking the scenic route.”

“Then necessity brought you to us?”

“Yes.”

Xeris tossed her head back, her thick red ringlets flowing about her. “Not often a wizard requests the assistance of the Woodland Fairies or any fairy for that matter. What can we do for you?”

“The humans are lacking spirit. War is all they have known for many years. Now, as the magical world has defeated the invading evil, it’s time that we gave humans hope and joy. I need your help and that of the other fairy tribes to return hope to the humans.”

“A tall order, Nicolus. We’ve remained hidden for a very long time because they disbelieved in our existence. How do you propose we bring hope to the humans?”

“When the time comes, be visible. Let the humans know we remain with them.”

“How will we know when the time comes?”

“You will know. I need you to spread the word to the other tribes while I continue my journey.”

Xeris did not respond, but her eyes sparkled with interest, and Nicolus knew that the fairies would help. There was nothing they liked more than spreading their glittering light.

“We will help, Wizard Nicolus, and we’ll be ready.”

“Thank you.”

With a nod, Xeris morphed into her diminutive self and flew off to join the other fairies. Nicolus started to take another puff on his pipe then stopped. No, best to wait until he was safely out of the fairies’ realm.

Still following the narrow stream, Nicolus walked on through the forest as he had many miles to cover until he reached his destination. He pulled his cloak about him as the sun began to set. It would be cold in the northern land of the gnomes where his wizarding family had lived for centuries in the cold climes. He had relished the frigid air, and as a youth, his greatest fun was to skim across the frozen ponds on silver skates his grandfather gave him. He shivered. He would need a thicker cloak as his blood had thinned in the warmer place he now called home.

It was dusk when he decided to find a place to spend the night. A small group of low bushes that would serve as a wind barrier proved promising. He stepped off the path toward the bushes when he heard a whimper. Quietly, he moved farther into the forest and stood still. He sensed a child hiding behind a tree.

“Hello, little one.” No answer. “Don’t be afraid. Please come out.”

Nicolus waited patiently. A rustling of leaves drew his attention to a clump of bushes. He spoke softly. “My name is Nicolus. Join me. Are you hungry?”

A towheaded boy about twelve years old, carrying a rustic bow and a few arrows, stepped onto the path. “I’m Josiah.”

“Come, let’s find a clearing where I can start a fire. I have meat, bread, and cheese.”

Josiah pointed in the direction. “There’s an old campsite past those trees.”

“Then lead the way, and we’ll camp there tonight.”

He followed the boy through the thick brush and, once past the trees, a clearing nestled beside a rocky rise. A ring of stone, filled with ash, marked a campfire.

“Perfect spot, Josiah. Find wood to start a fire with, please.”

The boy nodded and ran off into the trees while he unrolled the bedroll and opened his knapsack, unpacking the food.

Before Josiah returned, he gathered twigs and dry leaves to start a small fire. He pointed his staff at the wood and chanted, “Ignire,” quietly so as not to let the child yet know of his powers. He added more twigs, and the fire was strong when Josiah returned.

“This is good wood. You chose well.” He smiled at Josiah while adding the wood chunks and branches to the fire. A blazing fire was lighting up the darkening sky within a few minutes.

“Come, sit with me and eat.”

He used his jewel-handled knife to slice the cheese, pulled off a hunk of bread, and handed the food to Josiah along with a piece of dried meat. The child’s glance at his jeweled knife had not gone unnoticed, nor had his thin physique and threadbare clothes. This child needed his help, but he must proceed carefully.

They ate in silence, and he handed the boy another slice of cheese and bread which Josiah ate as quickly as he had the first helping. It was dark when they finished. Nicolus gave the water skein to the boy who drank his fill.

Nicolus lit his pipe, took a draw, and blew smoke rings over the fire. Josiah’s eyes widened as he watched the smoke rings fade.

“How did you do that?”

“Lots of practice.”

“Why is your pipe so long?”

Nicolus took another puff and blew out one ring. Both remained quiet until the ring faded. “My pipe is long, so the embers in the bowl don’t catch my beard on fire.”

“Oh. That would be bad.” Josiah nodded.

“Tell me, Josiah, what are you doing in the forest by yourself?”

The boy gazed at the fire. “My family had it tough since the evil broke out. Our village is in a bad way. My father, Eron, and other men left to search for work, but they have been gone for many months, and my mother fears Igron captured him. My brother and sister are hungry, and my mother tries to keep us fed with what’s left of the grain. I snuck out to hunt for something for them to eat.”

“Your mother does not know you are gone?”

“No.” He dropped his head. “I wasn’t going to be gone long, but I got lost. Tried to follow the stream, but nothing looked right. Then I heard someone on the path, and I got scared and hid.”

“I’m glad I found you. In the morning, I’ll take you home.”

“You know the way?”

“I know the way.” Nicolus stood and motioned to the bedroll. “Sleep here, and at daybreak, we’ll leave.”

Nicolus waited until the child was asleep, then walked into the copse of trees where he whispered on the breeze. “Vocare Xeris.”

The glittering green light appeared in front of him, and wizard and fairy spoke in hushed tones. When Xeris flitted away, he returned to the campfire. He added more wood to the fire to chase away the chill, settled against a tree, and fell asleep.

The sun rose, waking them, and after a bit of bread and cheese, Nicolus packed up the food and bedroll while Josiah made sure the fire was out. The morning songbirds sang as they followed the stream toward the village.

~~~

Even though the sun shone brightly overhead, Josiah’s village felt dark and gloomy. With his charge in tow, Nicolus walked down the center of the road, drawing the attention of gawking villagers. One woman squealed Josiah’s name and ran down the street. Within minutes, a small dark-haired woman holding the hands of two young children appeared, her smile erupting when she saw Josiah.

The boy yelled, “Ma-Ma,” and ran to her. She embraced her son and then spoke to Nicolus.

“I’m Mala. Thank you for bringing my son home. My little ones told me he had gone into the forest to hunt.”

“My pleasure to bring him home to you.”

“Please, you must be hungry. I have bread and cheese. You must join us for a meal.”

“Please, Nicolus, please.” Josiah tugged at his sleeve as he begged the wizard to stay.

Nicolus knelt beside the boy. “I’ll stay for a bit.”

He rose and addressed Mala. “I’m pleased to dine with you, then be on my way.”

Mala led him to a small house. Before Igron attempted to spread evil worldwide, the village had prospered. The industrial revolution created a small forge and a pottery plant. All lost when Igron’s armies of ogres ransacked the land.

Nicolus ate a hard roll, and a piece of cheese washed down with delicious mead and took his leave, choosing to press on. Once clear of the village, he summoned a hawk to deliver a message to the elves to join him in his home village.

He pressed on until fatigue and darkness overtook him, and settled into a bed of pine needles to sleep. The sun peeking through the trees awoke him, and he sensed a familiar presence. He spoke softly.

“Josiah, why are you here?”

Light footballs sounded, and Josiah stood beside him. “My mother woke me. She heard a noise last night and discovered food in the larder. Everyone had food, and I saw green flashes like when we camped.”

“You were spying on me?”

“I was afraid you were leaving me, so I ran after you. I saw you talking to a green light that flickered like a candle. My mother said she had heard stories, and it had to be a fairy.” He paused. “You brought us food. My mother thinks you are a wizard.”

“I am. And I’m on a mission with no time to return you home.”

“I don’t want to go. Mother sent me here to see if you would help find my father.”

Nicolus’s heart was heavy as he could not promise that. He smiled. “I will try. Now we must make haste. We have a ways to go before we can find assistance.”

~~~

They trekked north to the edge of the land of ice. Josiah was cold as his cloak was thin, but he didn’t complain. His awe at the vast snow-covered mountains on the horizon helped to lessen the brunt of the cold as they reached a hill and climbed to the top. Nicolus pounded his staff three times on the ground, and a clear, melodious tone sounded. Warning Josiah to be quiet, they waited.

A dark speck appeared in the sky, and as it grew closer, Josiah began to tug at his sleeve. “Is that a…”

“Yes, that’s a dragon who is coming to take us the rest of the way.”

Majestic in his amber and green scales, the dragon landed his enormous body gracefully near them. A burst of fire erupted from his nostrils. “Wizard Nicolus, it’s good to see you.”

“And you, my old friend. Josiah, this is Pendod, Champion of the Golden Dragons and my friend.”

The dragon nodded and then dipped his head to the ground. Nicolus picked Josiah up and placed him behind the scales on Pendod’s neck, and climbed aboard after him. The dragon rose into the air, large leathery wings flapping.

As they soared across the ice and snow, Josiah’s face was full of wonder, and Nicolus knew his plans were what the world needed.

They landed in the center of the village. Magical creatures raced to them, excited to see Nicolus after so long. Elven Master Dain, his long platinum hair shiny in the sunlight, strode toward Nicolus as the wizard helped Josiah off the dragon’s back.

“Too long, Wizard. It’s good to have you return home.” They embraced warmly, and Dain led them to the town hall, where a large crowd awaited them.

“Nicolus, what are they?” Josiah pointed to the assembled magicals.

The wizard smiled. “Dain and the tall, pointy-eared ones are High Elves. The small ones with pointed ears are Yule Elves, and those brutes in the corner are trolls who are protectors despite their gruff exterior. Those wearing pointed hats are Nordic gnomes, bigger than most and a bit on the mischievous side. The ones who look like me and you are wizards and witches.” Two flickering blue lights flew into the room and morphed into human form. “And may I present King Aedan and Queen Bryla of the Snow Fairies.”

Bryla knelt before Josiah. “Xeris told us about the plight of your village. I’m so glad we could help.” She stood.

“Wizard Nicolus, you now wish to put your plan in motion to instill spirit back into the lives of the humans we are here to protect?”

“I am.”

“Then tell us what you need.”

Hours later, the plans for what Nicolus proposed were in place, and the magicals had their assignments. Nicolus, Dain, Aedan, and Bryla headed outside. Snowflakes swirled about them, falling softly onto the snow-laden ground. At the skating rink in the center of the village square, Josiah watched as a lone elf skated gracefully.

Bryla joined Nicolus. “The human child is fascinated by skating.”

“Yes, as I was growing up in this village.”

The Snow Fairy queen smiled. “I remember those days well.”

“It’s a good thing what you are doing, but it will be a lifetime of commitment.”

“Good thing I have a long lifetime.”

Dain bit his lip. “You said that the boy’s father has disappeared?”

“Yes, along with others in his village.”

“We heard that Igron’s followers are massing an attempt to free him.”

Rage raced through Nicolus. “Igron will never be free again. The Triumvirate, the most powerful witches and wizards among us, cast a spell that cannot be undone. He created havoc, fear, and suffering—he will not be allowed to walk free for eternity.”

“I know, Nicolus, but that will not stop those committed to Igron’s cause. While you continue north, we’ll search for where Igron’s minions are gathering to attack and free the hostages.”

“Thank you. We must stop them.”

Dain departed, and Nicolus joined Josiah at the frozen pond. “Have you ever skated, Josiah?”

“No. We didn’t have anything like those skates. We slid across on our shoes.”

“I need to ask you a question. Dain and the elves have heard rumors that followers of Igron are plotting to free him. We cannot allow that to happen, and the elves are going to see if this is true and if they have hostages.”

“Are they going to look for my father? Can I go?”

“The elves are going to search for your father, but it’s too dangerous for you to go with them. If you wish, you can come with me to the north while they search, or I can have Pendod take you home. Which would you rather do?”

“I want to go with you. I don’t want to go home without my father.”

“Then you can come with me, and I’ll send word to your mother.”

~~~

For the next few weeks, Josiah rarely left Nicolus’s side except when he traveled to the northern compound on his own or the young snow fairy Cosmos visited. The young boys had become great friends, which thrilled Nicolus. If these boys could bridge the gap between the human and magical world, perhaps there was hope for all.

There was much to do. Nicolus had decided to build a compound in the most northern reaches of the world. It was convenient because the Yule Elves, who loved to make things, lived in the snowy domain. With the aid of the dragons, the trolls cleared heavy timbers for use in constructing dwellings, workshops, and stables.

A wonderland emerged from the vast snowy terrain. The Yule Elves’ magical skills turned the timber into a warm and cozy dwelling. When Nicolus brought Josiah and Cosmos from the village to the north, the boys excitedly ran up and down the magnificent wooden staircase. Nicolus built a fire in the enormous stone fireplace. Mesmerized, the boys sat cross-legged in front of the roaring fire, where Nicolus joined them, bringing cheese and fruit to snack on.

“What do you think, boys?”

Josiah grinned. “Wonderful. I’ve never been in a place this pretty and so warm.”

Cosmos agreed. “It’s always drafty in the castle where the Snow Fairies live. I like being warm.”

Josiah stared into the fire for a few seconds before speaking. ”Wizard Nicolus, what are you doing here?”

“I want to bring joy back to children and their parents.”

“How are you going to do that?”

“Come, let me show you.”

Josiah and Cosmos followed Nicolus into the snowy night. They crossed the courtyard where a tall red and white striped pole sat in the center with several signs attached that had “South” painted on them.

“Nicolus, why do the signs say south?”

“Because we are at the North Pole, and all directions from here are south. Now come, I have a surprise.”

They entered a long building, and the boys gasped when they realized the building was much larger on the inside. Rows upon rows of workbenches stretched as far as they could see, and Yule Elves at the benches were making dolls, wooden trains, balls, teddy bears, and many other toys.

Cosmos pointed to chutes along one side where finished toys were flying into and vanishing. “Where are those toys going?”

“I’ll show you in a moment.” Nicolus pointed to a bench where an elf was putting the finishing touches on a doll. A flick of his finger and a word uttered under his breath and brown yarn hair, in pigtails, appeared on the doll. Another flick of his finger and the doll floated toward a chute.

The wizard smiled. “The Yule Elves love to build toys. As Cosmos knows, these are magical elves and can work at incredible speeds. Now, for an even bigger surprise, follow me.”

They walked toward the stable, hearing soft baying sounds. Nicolus swept his wand to his right, and the stable doors opened to stalls full of reindeer. Josiah and Cosmos ran toward one stall, climbing on the gates to pet one of the magnificent creatures.

“They’re smaller than the horses at the stable at home.”

“Yes, they are. They are the North Star reindeer. They can fly great distances in an instant but follow the north star home. These beautiful animals will be pulling that sleigh.” He pointed to a red sleigh decorated with gold bells, railings, and green stripes. “I’ve chosen the eve of Christmas to deliver the toys. The reindeer will pull the sleigh and bring joy to the children of the world.”

“Can we come with you?”

“We’ll see. Now off to bed. We have a lot of work to do starting tomorrow.

~~~

Christmas Eve arrived, and Wizard Nicolus, now wearing a plush red cloak and pointed hat, walked into the stables, Josiah and Cosmos in tow. Pendod and the dragons grazed on grain in the square. Inside the stable, the Yule Elves, King Aedan, Queen Bryla of the Snow Fairies, and Elven Master Dain, along with a few gnomes and trolls, had assembled. Now decked in holly branches and leather bridles with gold trim, the reindeer were hooked to the sleigh, laden with large velvet bags of gifts.

Queen Bryla approached Nicolus. “We have heard that the weather is frightful in many locales, and we thought you might wish extra guidance. I requested the Fire Fairies to help guide you.” Three fairies with fiery red hair stepped forward and morphed into tiny forms, their light sparkling red. They flew to the lead reindeer and landed on his nose.

Nicolus beamed. “Thanks to you all for this wonderful night and for helping bring joy to the world again.” He stepped into the sleigh. “Well, boys, are you coming?”

With squeals of delight, the boys jumped into the sleigh. Nicolus guided the team into the square, called Up, Up, Away, and rose into the snowy night.

The reindeer flew with astonishing speed, stopping only seconds to deliver the toys. At one stop, Nicolus landed in a small village.

“Josiah, do you recognize this place?”

Josiah nodded. ”This is my village.”

“Yes, I want you to spend this holiday with your family.”

“But I don’t want to leave you or Cosmos.”

“You will not be leaving us. We’ll see you very soon. Now, go.”

Josiah hugged Nicolus and Cosmos and jumped out of the sleigh. “Promise you will come back for me.”

“I’ll be back in the wink of an eye.”

The sleigh vanished into the night, and Josiah rushed inside. He stopped, his heart pounding—his father was home.

“Father.” He ran to his father’s outstretched arms, tears streaming. “How?”

“I never believed the myths, but an army of elves and fairies stormed the bastion where they held us. They eliminated Igron’s followers and saved us. I returned to an amazing story of my older son’s bravery and a happy and well-fed family.”

Mala hugged him. “Let me get you food, and you can tell us all about your adventure.”

“I’m starved.”

~~~

The next morning, Josiah and his brother played ball outside while their sister played with her doll. Josiah was about to toss the ball when a snort sounded above him. He looked up to see Pendod gliding to a landing beside the house. Dressed in his royal blue robes, Nicolus slid off the dragon.

Josiah yelled for his parents, who rushed outside, and ran to Nicolus. “You came back.”

“As I promised.” He spoke to Eron. “I am glad to see you are safe.”

“I’m sure I have you to thank for my rescue.”

“Thank the good elves and fairies. They are the brave ones. Let’s go inside. I have a proposition.”

Once settled inside, Nicolus puffed on his pipe, blowing smoke rings to the delight of the children. As they watched the smoke wafting through the air, he spoke to Josiah’s parents.

“Mala and Eron, would you consider becoming the caretakers of my compound at the North Pole? I have other responsibilities to keep me occupied during the year, and I need someone I can trust to oversee the elves and the reindeer. You may travel back and forth to visit your family as you choose.”

Josiah grabbed his father’s arm. “Please, father, it’s beautiful there.”

His parents shared glances, and Mala nodded and answered. “We would be honored to serve your quest to bring joy to all.”

“Good, then it’s settled.” He rose. “Pack your things, and we’ll travel to the North Pole tomorrow.”

The family followed Nicolus outside. Mala hugged him. “You saved Eron and have offered us a good life. We’re in your debt.”

“The honor is mine.” Nicolus knelt beside Josiah. “Cosmos will join us as his parents manage the reindeer herd.”

Josiah beamed.

“Perhaps someday you’ll take over and deliver the toys. I almost forgot. I have another present for you.” From under his cloak, he pulled out a pair of silver skates. “I believe you know what to do with these.”

As Nicolus flew away on Pendod, Josiah raced for the pond, silver skates flung over his shoulder. 

***

Please visit Deborah on her blog: https://daratliffauthor.wordpress.com

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