The Progeny

Akril 8-20-08

The news was so appalling, so unbelievable, so devastating when I first heard it that I thought that I was having a bad dream. The great wizard Laris dead at the hands of the malevolent warlock Mirat? It seemed utterly impossible. Laris was the most powerful wizard in the world, rivaled only by Mirat. The two had clashed before, but Laris had always been victorious -- until now.

I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear of Laris' death. He had been one of my idols, and I even had the honor of meeting him on more than one occasion. There wasn't a magic user in the world that hadn't heard of him, benevolent or otherwise. The good wizards revered him and the evil ones loathed him. Now that he was gone, it seemed that there was nothing to stop Mirat from terrorizing the land and gaining allies to help him in his conquest.

However, just when things looked darkest, a miracle happened. I received word from my fellows that Laris had a son. Years ago Laris had rescued a young maiden from a fierce ogre, and she expressed her gratitude towards him in a way most intimate, and Laris, quite unfamiliar with the ways of women (like most wizards), had been unable to resist her advances. He never saw the lady afterwards, but as it turned out, she had given birth to a child, and when this news reached me, I was amazed to discover that the two individuals were currently living in the very village that I resided in. I was even more awestruck when I was informed that since I was the most skilled sorcerer in the kingdom, I was to be given the task of educating Laris' son in the ways of magic, since at the time it seemed as if he was the only one who might be capable of defeating Mirat.

Technically, I haven't been allowed to perform any magic in public since a small accident involving a rooster, a red-haired boy and a bundle of flax, but with the threat of Mirat casting a dark shadow over us all, this prohibition was temporarily lifted for me. I left my house in search of the boy and soon located him and his mother living in a small farmhouse on the outskirts of town. The lad was about sixteen years old, with the same dark brown hair that Laris had possessed in his youth, as well as the same brilliant azure eyes. I explained what was going on to his mother, and though she was sorrowful to part with her son, she clearly understood what was at stake. She was quite aware of the evil deeds of Mirat, and was relieved to hear that the child she had raised might just be the one with the power to destroy him.

My first conversation with Travek -- Laris' son -- wasn't as good as it might have been. Like most boys his age, he was quite stubborn and reluctant to do as his elders bid, but I tried to ignore these flaws, reminding myself that this was the son of the greatest wizard of the age -- possibly even of all the ages.

It is said that Laris was so skilled in magic that when he was but a few months old, he grew so tired of being pestered by an older sibling that he lifted the unfortunate lad into the air using the power of his mind and laid him to rest on the limb of a nearby tree. Fortunately, his mother soon recognized his great talent, and rather than trying to stifle her son's abilities, quickly found someone capable of tutoring him in the ways of magic. Laris learned at an astonishingly fast rate, quicker than his tutor could keep up with at times. By the time he was ten years of age, Laris had become just as competent as wizards more than thrice his age, and it was clear by then that he was destined for greatness. Despite beginning his education considerably later than his father did, I was confident that Travek would learn magic just as quickly as Laris and become just as skilled, if not more so.

If only I could have foreseen what was yet to come...

I brought Travek back to my house to live with me during his tutelage. At first, the prospect of learning magic interested him, but after only a few lessons, he began to grow bored with my lectures and the hours of reading, which, as I repeatedly told him, were both vital to learning the subject. Some days he would pay little attention to me, showing much more interest in the patterns in the wood of the table he sat at than my words on the principles of thaumaturgy.

When I decided that he had enough knowledge to graduate to casting spells, I was appalled at his inability to perform them. Though he was obviously trying his best, he was unable to successfully cast even the most basic of enchantments. The poor boy couldn't even change a pebble into an acorn. I tried running him through some of the more essential lectures again, but this made no difference in his abilities whatsoever.

After several days of pondering, I got the idea that perhaps Travek's skills weren't being stimulated enough. After all, being lectured and reading dusty old books in the same stuffy house day after day wasn't the best place for practicing magic. It was then I decided to leave the village with Travek, in search of minor problems that could only be resolved with the aid of magic. We found many such problems -- a scarecrow brought to life by a sorcerer acting out of mischief rather than malice, a pool whose water would change to blood whenever somebody gathered a bucketful of it, and a sheep that had started talking when a farmer was about to slaughter it and now spoke incessantly. I meticulously described the nature of each problem to Travek, as well as how they could be solved, which I easily did. As before, he seemed mildly intrigued at first, but soon began to grow distracted by other things.

One thing that distracted him more than anything else was the number of fair young ladies we encountered on our travels. I could understand this; after all, I was Travek's age once, long ago as it was. However, I was irritated by how much they tended to distract Travek from his lessons. More than once I caught him conversing with a woman when he was supposed to be concentrating on one of my lectures. He didn't seem to understand the graveness of the situation. As Laris' sole heir, he was the only one capable of stopping a wizard as powerful Mirat. Sadly, even at the times when he seemed to take this information to heart, his magical skills were still virtually nonexistent.

Frustrated and growing desperate, I decided to try putting Travek in a situation where he would be forced to use magic, in the hopes of awakening his skills, which I kept telling myself had to be present in the boy, but dormant. I firmly clung to this belief, even after Travek had faced a chicken-sized dragon, a trickster mage and an enchanted cudgel and come out the loser every time. Fortunately, what Travek lacked in his magical abilities he made up for in his skill at beating a swift retreat when the odds were not in his favor.

For years, we traveled from village to village, educating Travek to the best of my abilities and seeking advice on teaching him from other wizards we met. It was fortunate I hadn't revealed Travek's identity as the son of Laris earlier on our journey, because if I had, he would have certainly have become a disgrace to the wizarding community and a laughingstock of everyone else who knew Laris' reputation. Worse still, Mirat may have discovered our whereabouts and dispatched the boy before he posed a threat to him -- something that seemed increasingly less likely to occur as the months ground on.

Finally, after nearly six summers of traveling, lecturing and barely escaping several serious magical accidents, I was forced to give up. I was running low on money, and Travek's skills were no greater than they had been the first day of his lessons. We began the long journey back to my village, where Travek would return to his mother's house and I would return to my life as a non-practicing wizard.

As it turned out, news that I had been legally performing magic had reached my hometown long before I had. An hour after I returned home, there was a knock at the door by a man desperately pleading for my help. His daughter, he explained, had been turned to stone by a malicious witch, and none of the wizards from the neighboring villages had been able to break the curse placed on her. I didn't have the heart to tell the poor man that I couldn't do magic anymore since I was no longer tutoring Travek, so I merely told him that I would do everything I could to help the girl. We carefully transported the fragile granite form of his daughter inside my house, where she would hopefully be safe until I could find a wizard skilled enough to restore her.

When the girl's father left, the sun was low in the sky and it was growing cold outside. I lit a small fire and sat by it gloomily, wondering what in the world had gone wrong with Travek. Had his education started too late or had I taught him too forcefully? It was hard to believe that he was Laris' son at all. It was as if the offspring of the most fair-voiced nightingale in all creation had turned out to have a song as melodious as that of a hoarse crow. Now it seemed that there was no one who stood in the way of Mirat now, and unless some precocious young wizard popped up out of nowhere, we stood no chance against that menace.

As I stared into the fire, I became aware of a curious white glow just beyond my range of vision. I slowly turned and beheld a spherical light hovering in midair, surrounded by an ethereal, smoky mist. I didn't know what it was at first, but then I heard a voice emanating from the sphere, and I recognized it immediately.

"Calidron, I presume," it intoned.

"Laris!" I gasped.

"Yes," the voice confirmed. "It is I...or rather, what remains of me."

"Laris, I've failed you," I said sadly, bowing my head. "Please forgive me. I did my best to teach the boy, but -- "

"I know you did," said Laris' voice. "I watched you. You were a good teacher, Calidron."

"I just don't understand it," I said. "How could someone descended from a wizard like you be so utterly inept in magic?"

There was a heavy sigh from the sphere, and its light seemed to dim slightly.

"I don't know," muttered the voice. "Perhaps magic isn't inherited. Or perhaps it only occurs if one is the seventh son of a seventh son, as I was. Or -- "

This sentence was cut short by a loud knock at the door. The sphere flickered out of existence like a candle flame in a heavy breeze, and I slowly got to my feet to see who was calling on me. I opened the door to find a young woman with unkempt hair and dirty clothes standing outside, holding a small child by the hand.

"You are the wizard Calidron?" she asked.

"Why, yes," I replied.

"May I please have a word with the man you are traveling with?" she said with an unpleasant edge to her voice.

"The man I'm traveling with? You mean Travek?"

"Yes," the woman said crossly. "I've been following you two for months, trying to catch up with you. Now where is he?"

"I'm terribly sorry, but Travek has returned to his own home now," I explained. "It's on the outskirts of town."

The woman's eyes narrowed.

"I'm not going to spend another minute hunting that man down today," she snapped. "Do you have any spare beds?"

"Well," I faltered. "No, I..."

"Then I suppose I'll have to sleep on the floor then," the woman said, stomping through the doorway with the child in tow before I could protest. Letting go of the child's hand, she walked towards a doorway leading to an adjoining room, then paused to turn to me and say:

"And if Travek should for any reason come here before I wake up tomorrow, be sure to tell him that Miriam has paid him a visit...and be sure to send his son home with him as well."

With that, she strode out of the room. I stared in shock at the golden-haired, blue-eyed little boy who now sat nonchalantly on the floor, blinking sleepily. As if poor Travek didn't have enough to deal with already. Utterly bewildered by what had just taken place, I returned to my place at the fire, my thoughts returning to Mirat once again.

Then there was the sound of soft footsteps, and I turned to see that Travek's son had joined me beside the fire. He looked up at me with an expression of wonder and curiosity, and for a brief moment, I was distracted from the dark quagmire of my fears.

"Good evening," I said gently.

The boy said nothing, but seemed to compress his lips and gaze thoughtfully at me.

"What's your name?" I asked.

Silence again. The boy stared at the bright flames blazing in the fireplace.

"Pretty," he said quietly.

"Yes," I concurred. "Yes, it is pretty."

The boy frowned.

"Green's better," he said.

Puzzled, I was about to ask him what he meant by this, when suddenly the fire changed from orange to a brilliant emerald green. I nearly jumped out of my chair, while the boy merely stared at the flames with a satisfied smirk on his face. Then just as quickly, he seemed to lose interest in the fire. He started looking around the room, and it wasn't long before he noticed the amazingly lifelike granite statue standing in a corner. He started to toddle towards it, and I swiftly leapt to my feet, well aware of small children's propensity for breaking things.

"No, no!" I warned. "Don't touch!"

Amazingly, the boy stopped in his tracks almost immediately.

"What is it?" he asked, looking up at me.

"It's a statue," I said simply.

"But why does it look so real?"

"That's because it's actually a real person changed to stone," I explained. "I just haven't been able to change her back yet."

Rather than ask more questions, the boy gazed thoughtfully at the statue, standing so still that it was as if he had become a statue himself. Then, in the blink of an eye, the statue was gone, and in its place was a very startled young lady, who gasped in surprise and stared at her surroundings, wondering what had just happened to her.

I started to feel faint and had to steady myself against a wall. I gaped at the tiny child that was smiling gleefully at the lady that moments before had been under a curse that several grown wizards couldn't break. Then, out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed the same white sphere that had appeared before, and I heard the voice of Laris in my ear, sounding just as dumbfounded as I felt:

"Or...perhaps it skips a generation."