This story is by Ben Sutherland and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Once upon a time, there was a great wizard who lived alone on a steep mountain, hiding away from what he had come to believe was a cruel world. He had lived in this house with his wife, Miranda, and two children, Ferdinand and Beatrice, whiling away the years, enjoying time with his loving family, in perfect contentment. Balthazar the Kind was how people knew him before life had its rough way with him.
In those days, in the world below, life was not so contented. Dark elves had infiltrated and overtaken the village. What was once alive with outdoor markets and annual festivals, was now overcast by elves demanding allegiance from villagers too scared to challenge their rule. Knowing that Balthazar was a wizard and of an independent mind, the elves considered him a threat to their power.
One evening, while his wife and children were fast asleep, Balthazar heard a rustling behind the house and then a door opened quietly. He grabbed his long staff and rushed to the door to see what danger might be lurking. He was overwhelmed by two dark elves who burst upon him, one pinning him to the ground and the other, ominous and brooding, snatching his staff. Miranda and his children rushed to the room to see the source of the commotion. As Balthazar looked on helplessly, the more sinister elf lifted Balthazar’s staff, directed it towards them, and reduced them to ashes. The elves escaped as quickly as they came, leaving Balthazar stunned and distraught.
Balthazar was overcome with heartache. His wife and children, the source of his most profound happiness, had been stolen away from him. And with them, all of his magical powers. The dark elves had murdered his family and their control over the village was ever-growing. His despair led him to hide away, holing himself up in his house at the top of the mountain, from a world too cruel.
When friends and neighbors checked on Balthazar, he bellowed, “I have no more magic!” He slammed his door shut and shouted at them, “Leave me be!” Life in the village grew bleak, as villagers cowered in fear with no kind wizards to protect them from dark elves. Children attended school. Their parents went to work. But fear was ever-present.
Nathaniel, a curious ten-year-old boy who lived in the village below, had heard stories of the kind, old wizard who might be able to help lift the veil of fear. He dreamed of what it might be like to meet an actual wizard. So he decided to travel the length of the mountain and visit the great sorcerer of whom everyone had spoken so highly. From the base of the mountain, he followed a worn, crooked path to the top of its peak, discovering a towering house overlooking the village below.
Nathaniel approached the massive door at the entrance to the house and knocked with all his might. The door creaked open to reveal a giant of a man, his long silver beard extending downward, bringing his furrowed brow and a perplexed smile that much closer to the tiny visitor from the village below.
Nathaniel asked in his soft voice, “Are you the kind wizard at the top of the mountain everyone I know talks about?”
Balthazar was taken aback by the idea of any new soul visiting his home after all this time and didn’t know quite what to make of this curious young stranger.
He looked down on the tiny wanderer and responded, “I’m afraid you are looking for someone else.”
Nathaniel was speechless and didn’t know how to respond. He had traveled all this way to meet the kind wizard, from the stories he had been told by his family and friends, only to encounter this gruff, old man distinctly disinterested.
Nathaniel asked, “Is there any way you can point me in the direction of the kind wizard? I’ve come all this way. It’s cold and dark and I’m hungry. And I don’t want to return home until I’ve found him.”
Balthazar was still burdened with the grief of his lost family and did not have a taste for visitors, even after all these years. But he also knew it was not safe to send a child back down the mountain, cold and hungry as night set in. Not until a new day and opportunity for safe travel had arrived.
Balthazar reluctantly welcomed his visitor in and asked him if he’d like to sit by the fire. As Nathaniel did so, the wizard then reached toward the pot hanging over the fire, ladled a bowl of soup, and tore off some bread for his young companion. Nathaniel shivered and he poked the fire to offer some needed warmth to the room.
As he did, Balthazar inquired, “Where do you live, young man? Who are your parents? Don’t you think they might be worried that their son is not home for supper?”
Nathaniel answered, “My parents live in a small house in the village. I didn’t tell them where I was going. And I don’t know how to tell them where I am at.”
Balthazar wanted to feign indifference. He had not asked for this visit. He had positively discouraged it. But he also knew what it meant to be a parent worried about a lost child.
“Don’t worry, young man. I, myself, am not the wizarding sort. But I am friends with a certain owl who is familiar with magic, and might be able to carry a message to your parents in the village.”
Balthazar scrawled a message on a bit of blank paper, called his owl, Angelica, to the fire, and sent her to deliver the message to Nathaniel’s parents down in the village.
Nathaniel sat in wonder watching Balthazar summoning his magic owl and sending her to his parents with news of his adventure up the high mountain to see the great wizard. And Balthazar felt comfort knowing this boy’s family would themselves soon know that their young son was safe.
When they had eaten their dinner, Balthazar mentioned, “I might have some hot chocolate if you’re interested.” Nathaniel’s face lit up. As Balthazar prepared the mug of cocoa for his young friend, he noticed a peppermint stick amongst the cinnamon and nutmeg in his spice cabinet and stirred it into his chocolatey treat.
Each kind gesture that Balthazar made towards his young friend warmed his long bitter heart. Balthazar had not taken visitors for a long time. He had made every effort to scare them off and to be left alone. But now he was beginning to regret that fact.
Nathaniel interrupted the silence. “I wish I could find the wizard. My family needs help. The elves have threatened my parents that if they don’t swear their loyalty, they’ll take me away. I know he’s a kind man and can help me. If only I can find him to ask.”
Nathaniel returned to eating his soup. He felt safe here, somehow.
Balthazar, for his part, listened to Nathaniel’s story and realized with regret that, in his grief, he had been hiding from the world below. It was now a world where dark forces had overtaken all of his friends and neighbors, including Nathaniel and his parents. And he had done nothing to stop it.
Balthazar realized at that moment that something had changed in him. Slowly, imperceptibly he had felt his magic returning where there was once only emptiness. Somehow, this sweet boy had facilitated its return. Balthazar reached behind the fire and raised his great staff. He remarked to the boy, “I think I might know the kind wizard for whom you were looking. Sadly, he died the day my wife and children died. And was never seen again after that day. But, in his place, a stronger, kinder wizard has come to be. Brought to life by a young boy and his kind heart. And I want to thank you for bringing him back to life.”
Balthazar raised his immense staff and summoned the magic that had left his soul so long ago. He stood tall. His shabby robe became a brilliant white. His dark, dull eyes began to twinkle. Lightning painted the sky with a terrifying intensity. A loud crack of thunder punctuated the night. Balthazar directed a bolt of fire into the homes of the dark elves that sent them scattering out of the village. The people cheered and danced in the streets.
Nathaniel, in awe, looked at the great wizard with admiration and asked him, “What did you do?” Balthazar, exhausted from the enterprise, remarked, “The dark elves will threaten no more. And,” he added, “all because of you, my boy.”
The boy, proud of himself and grateful for his new friend, decided that he had indeed found the great and kind wizard he had been looking for. And Balthazar, rekindling love he had lost to heartache, had found peace. His magic had returned at last.