Chuck’s challenge this week: “Who the F*** is my D&D character?” The challenge links to a character generator that rolls up ludicrous characters with a mouthful of abuse. Good fun. I lucked into “a halfling wizard from a company of sellswords who doesn’t believe in magic, EVER.” (Profanity redacted.)
As I was writing this, my wife pointed out how rather much like fan fiction this topic was. I argued at first, but ultimately I can’t help but agree. Fantasy is not really my schtick, but I’ve always loved the Lord of the Rings and I felt compelled to press on with this topic anyway. For a first challenge of the year, it was good fun. It ran a little long, but I just couldn’t bring myself to cut any more.
Here, then, is “Smoke Rings.”
“Did I ever tell you about the time your uncle, Glorfindel, and I fought off the goblin hordes?” Klobo puffed absently at a pipe, then blew out a fantastic ring of cloying purplish smoke.
Kludu coughed but didn’t wave the smoke away. Klobo had told the story many times, but Kludu loved to hear his granddad spin a yarn. “Tell me again?”
“Your uncle and I were coming back from a grand old adventure. Elves and orcs and all that. Treasure in hand, we were making our way back through the Mirthless Marshes of Misander –”
“I thought it was the forest out back of the Vale,” Kludu broke in. And indeed it had been, at the last telling.
“No, it was the Marshes, I remember it distinctly.” Puff, puff. “The rest of our company had gone their separate ways the night before, of course, so it was just old Glorf and me, toting our haul down the Marsh path.”
“Don’t you mean …”
“Don’t tell me what I mean, thank you. Now, it’s unusual to see goblins that far south, but we were holed up in an abandoned guard tower, and we saw them coming out of the woods.”
“Last time, they came from the Marshes.”
“For pity’s sake, Kludu. We were in the Marshes, the goblins came from the woods. I was there, after all.”
It was getting to the good bit, so Kludu left it alone.
“There were fifty of them, if there were five. Have you ever seen a goblin up close, my boy?”
Kludu bit his lip and shook his head, his shaggy hair flopping furiously.
“Of course not. No reason to, at your age. See to it that you avoid them, if you can. Horrible creatures. Tiny daggers for teeth. Greenish grey skin, like the fog off the hills at twilight. Breath like rotten pumpkins.” Klobo shuddered, but his eye twinkled and he winked. “We were in the tower, your uncle and I. Nowhere to go. And Glorf — fool of a Pikelander as he was — sneezes. Can you imagine? Sneezes! Goblins can hear a mouse break wind at a hundred yards, you know, so of course they knew exactly where we were.”
“What did you do?”
“Well!” Here Klobo leapt to his hairy feet and gave a horrific halfling battle-snarl, brandishing an invisible axe. “There was nothing for it, was there? They climbed the tower, one by one, and one by one, we started lopping off their heads. Whop, whop, whop!” He swung and chopped with his imaginary axe. “But even such exceptional and fearless hobbits as your uncle and I can’t fight forever, and those goblins — a hundred of them! — kept swarming over the walls like ants on one of your grandmother’s sandwiches.”
The goblins had gone from fifty to a hundred in the space of a few minutes, but Kludu was rapt; nobody told a story like his granddad.
“We thought we were finished. They had us surrounded, back to back, just your uncle and I and our bags of dragon-gold.” This was patently ridiculous; Klobo had never faced a dragon. Everybody in town knew it, but there was no stopping him now.
“That was when your uncle bumped into the powder keg. Quick as a flash, I struck a spark off the stones, the powder caught, and … BOOM!” Klobo was ninety, but as spry as any halfling in the Vale. He leapt two feet in the air and spread his hands, and despite having heard the tale dozens of times, Kludu still flinched. “They said it was raining goblin arms and legs for weeks in the Vale after that.”
The Marshes were nowhere near the Vale; the story was ludicrous. But Kludu had just turned thirty-three, and he was feeling adventurous. He didn’t argue about the Marshes (even though the tower in his granddad’s story had been located, without question — blasted top and all — in the forest). He wanted to ask the question all his friends and relations had told him never to bother asking.
Klobo, a little winded from the telling, was sitting back in his rocker and puffing again at his pipe. “Yes, my boy?”
“There was no powder keg.”
“Don’t be absurd. Of course there was.”
“Glorf says there wasn’t. And if it happened thirty years ago –”
“Well, there was no powder in these parts back then. Not until the Martinsons took over in Parth and started importing it from the East.”
Klobo huffed out a puff of smoke through his nostrils. “I suppose, then, you’d like to tell me what a barrel of powder was doing on the guard tower in the middle of the forest?”
Again, Kludu let it pass. “Uncle says there never was any powder. That’s why you and he didn’t get blasted to hell along with the goblins. Uncle says you’re a …” He stopped. Klobo’s temper was well documented.
Through a fiery eye, Klobo stared at Kludu. He seemed to be smoking, no longer from his pipe, but rather from the top of his head. “A what?”
“A wizard.” Kludu braced himself, picking up grandmom’s basket of knitting and holding it in front of him as if that might protect him.
Klobo fumed. His breathing intensified and his eyes took on a fierce shade of red. Smoke was very definitely now curling up from his head, and also his fingertips. He seemed to grow a few inches as he crept toward Kludu. “Wizards don’t exist,” he whispered. “Magic is the stuff of children’s stories. It’s not real!” With that, a crackling fire leapt up in the fireplace, and there was a howling from the wind outside. Thunder shook the walls and Kludu dove for cover beneath the armchair, his tiny hairy hands folded over his head.
A moment passed in silence. Feeling rather silly indeed, Kludu crawled out to face his granddad, who seemed to be his normal size again. He wasn’t a wizard. Couldn’t possibly be. There had never been a halfling wizard and there never would be.
“I know there are lots and lots of stories about your old granddad, but don’t believe them.” Klobo was patting his pockets; his pipe had gone out. Kludu leaned his head to the side, stared at the pipe. The leaf within had been ablaze not a moment ago. It seemed such a silly and small thing to…
“OUCH!” Kludu yelped and pressed a hand to his forehead. There had been a great heat there for an instant, almost as if his brain had caught fire.
“Goodness, my boy, what’s wrong?”
“Sorry, I…” but Kludu found it very hard to focus on anything except the suddenly blazing embers of his granddad’s pipe.