|Rikard Le Rich||Son of Baron LeRich of North Caravel||M 22|
|Ping Pong||Wizard of Noc, Native of Voisson||F 24|
|Nignog Gateaux||Knight of Gebong, Native of Voisson||M 21|
|Zar Queznel||Wizard of Noc, Son of Zarquon||M 17|
|Alfonso Bongo (aka Dunkan the Drunken)||The Wizard Under the Hill||M 53|
|Girard Bongo (aka Gee Wiggam)||Son of Alfonso Bongo||M 26|
|Throm Beausex||Ursian Air Force Scout||F 39|
24th June 2482
In the common room of the Trollhammer Tavern in Voisson Village, Rikard, Ping, and Nignog are relaxing after their adventure to Lutetia. Rikard is telling them about his family's estate, and how he would like them all to come to his parents' twenty-fifth wedding anniversary on the fifteenth of August (see A Letter Home). The are looking forward to taking a few months off from risking their lives. They will train, exercise, and practice spells. They would like to buy a house in the village so that they can all live together, each with their own bedroom, or maybe with Zar living in the garden in a conjured shelter.
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen," a man says.
They look up. The man is of about their own age, maybe a bit older, with curly red hair and hazel eyes. He has fair skin and a broad smile. He is not tall, but he looks strong.
"Good evening," Ping says. "What can we do for you?"
"I'd like you to take me to meet my father."
Rikard frowns. Here is a man who needs help to visit his father. That must be serious. Who would prevent someone from seeing their father? Rikard points to one of the spare chairs at their table. "Sit down and tell us about it."
"Who is your father?" Ping says.
"He is a certain wizard living in a cave in the Hills of Doom. I believe you know him and know where he lives."
"Dunken the Drunken?" Zar says.
"That sounds like him. But that's not his real name."
"We know that," Zar says. "We made that name up ourselves. What is his real name? You must know if you are his son."
"I'm not going to tell you his real name, nor my own real name. You can call me Gee Wiggam, but that's not my real name. My father does not want anyone to know where he is, and I doubt he wants you to know who he is."
The four adventurers look at one another. Rikard sips his beer. Zar sips his goat's milk. Ping sips her lemon squash. Nignog sips his Ogre Strength Protein Drink, a drink designed especially for him by Jeane Mallius, the owner of the Trollhammer Tavern.
"We can find out what your real name is," Ping says.
Gee smiles. "Will you take me to see my father?"
"How do we know you are his son?" Rikard says.
"You don't. But when I meet him, you will see that he recognises me."
The adventurers sip their drinks again. They exchange looks and make jestures that they each understand. They lean close to one another and whisper and nod and shake their heads. Gee Wiggam watches them with a smile on his face. He has no doubt that they will take him to see his father. He figures that the gestures are ways of agreeing about the price they are going to ask him.
After a minute, Ping says, "We care about Dunken the Drunken. If you are going to try to hurt him, you should know that we are going to think of you as our enemy. We'll be in the middle of the Hills of Doom, and that's not a good place to have us four as your enemies. Is that clear?"
Gee nods. "Absolutely. I don't mean to harm him. I want to discuss some legal matters with him. I need him to sign some papers so I can sell some of our family property and pay his debts."
30th June 2482
It is a sunny, cool, breezy, summer's day when Nignog, Zar, Ping, Rikard, and Gee set out for the second time for the Hills of Doom. The first time, on the morning of the 28th, they found the Bridge of Fallen Trees had been badly damaged by a lightening strike in the storm of the 27th. They spent the day repairing the bridge with the help of a conjured wood scaffold and freshly-felled trees. And so it is the bridge they made themselves that they cross this morning, with the storm-filled waters of the River Boome roaring beneth them.
Ping finds herself once again upon the dirt road that leads east into the Hills of Doom. She is nervous. Going into the Hills of Doom is easier than getting out. Every step takes her further from safety and into unknown danger. And what for? Gee is paying each of them nine gold pieces and a bottle of whiskey. The bottles of whiskey they hope to trade for luminous stones, each of which is worth seventy gold pieces. But they already have plenty of money, enough money to buy a house. So why are they here?
They come to a tree that has fallen across the road. The branches and leaves of the tree entirely block their way. Rikard does not like the look of the tree. It makes him nervous. He looks around, trying to stare into the shadows beneath the trees and bushes around them.
"I don't like this," Rikard says. A bead of cold sweat appears on his brow.
"Surely it fell in the storm," Gee says.Nignog walks towards the base of the tree. "No. It has been cut down." He bends to examine some of the axe marks. "By hand axes."
"Who would cut down a tree with a hand axe?" Ping says.
"Well," Gee says, "Shall we go around it, or is it a trap?"
Ping looks about her. "It's probably a trap that will be sprung on our way back, not on our way out."
They walk around the tree, and no sooner are they back on the road than a large trap-door falls out from beneath them. It is the same trapdoor that they have seen several times before (see The Raptor and The Slime). They jump aside to avoid falling in. Four raptors jump out and attack.
"Run!" Rikard says, and does just that, heading off to the east along the path.
The others stay and draw their weapons. Ping casts Flash and Zar casts Choke. The Choke misses, but the Flash blinds all of the raptors at once. Despite being blind, the raptors keep fighting. They can smell or hear where the sapiens are, and they jump and slash and bite as if their only purpose in life is to kill and eat and tear at human flesh.
Nignog kills one of the raptors and Gee kills another. A blind raptor may be vicious, but it can't see, so it is not dangerous if you have a sword in your hand and armor on your chest.
But now they hear the whistle of arrows in the air, and the thunk of iron tips striking the metal plates on Nignog's back. Ping stares at the fallen tree. There are kobolds rushing out of the forest and hiding behind it. They are firing from the safety of its trunk and branches. There must be twenty of them.
"Zoomba!" she says, and casts another Flash upon the fallen tree, just as the kobolds are all taking aim and firing together. She blinds about half of them.
"Come on," Ping says, "Let's get going."
Nignog is just chopping off the head of the last raptor. It's body falls into the pit beneath the trap door.
"Why don't we kill the kobolds?" Gee says.
"We're not here to kill kobolds," Ping says. "We're taking you to see your father. Now let's go. We have to catch Rikard too."
They run after Rikard and soon catch up with him. He is standing in the road, about to come back and get them. He is looking miserable. Ping slaps him on the shoulder. She is smiling and panting from her run and the excitement of the battle. "You missed a good fight, Rikard. No wonder you're sad. Come on, let's get going."
They follow the route they have taken many times before: across the Iron Bridge, down the River of Fire with the Black Tower behind them, and to the Giant Willow. Just as they are turning up the trail beside Ogre Brook, they see fire on the grass. In the river there is a barrel-like, slimey creature breaking the surface.
"Fire Demon!" Ninog shouts. "Run!"
They run up the trail. After two hundred meters, they stop and catch their breath. It is hard to run fast in armor.
"What was that?" Gee says.
"Some kind of river monster that makes fire," Zar says.
"It may be a Sludge Monster," Ping says. "There was a sludge monster described in Monsters of the Western Outlands."
"Very nasty," Rikard says. "Nearly killed me once. Zar had to save me. Remember, Zar? On the bridge?"
Zar nods. (see The River of Fire.)
"I wonder if there's more than one of them, or just this one," Rikard says. "If we kill this one we could be safer by the river. Maybe that's something to think about."
"What if you got scared and ran away during the fight?" Gee says.
Rikard frowns and stares at the ground.
"Let's get going," Ping says. They continue up the trail.
After a total of four hours of brisk walking and occasional jogging, they arrive at the double door to the Ogre's Lair. They blindfold Gee Wiggam, as agreed beforehand, and lead him up the hill to the well that hides the passage into Dunken the Drunken's cave.
Once at the well, Ping shouts for Dunken. She shouts again. "Hello? Anybody there? Mr. Wizard? It's Ping and Nignog and Zar and Rikard to see you."
There is no answer. "Should we go down?" Rikard says.
Ping shakes her head. "Let's keep trying. Maybe he's alseep."
She shouts again and waits. "Maybe he's out somewhere."
"I suppose he must go out sometimes," Rikard says. He looks around. "What do we do if he's out?"
Ping leans over the side of the well. "Halloo in there!"
A voice comes back from below. "What do you want? What are you hollering about?"
"It's me, Ping Pong. We have some whiskey for you."
"Whiskey? Why didn't you say so sooner. I'm coming. Hold on."
Gee shakes his head and frowns. He is still wearing the blindfold. "That's my father. Loves his whiskey more than life itself."
Ping shouts again. "And we brought your son to see you too."
"Your son! We brought him. Do you have a son?"
Rikard looks at Gee. "He sounds angry."
A ball of red fire shoots from the well, followed by a shower of sparks. "My son!!!" comes the voice from below, and more fire of different colors, and making loud noises. Rikard, Zar, and Ping step back. Gee folds his arms and frowns. Nignog smiles and watches the pretty colors.
After a few minutes, the fireworks stop. Gee shouts, "It's me father. I need your signature on some papers, and these four have brought you some whiskey. Let us come down and visit with you."
They wait a few minutes until they hear the ladder coming to rest in the well hole. Nignog helps Gee climb down into the well with his blindfold still on. Down below they hear Dunken the Drunken's scratchy voice shouting at Gee.
"You little rascal! I've been here for three years and this is the first time you come and visit me? Am I your father? Am I? What gratitude have you shown me for all the trouble I spent raising you?"
"Dad, can I take the blindfold off now?"
"What the devil are you wearing a blindfold for anyway, you idiot? Who goes around in the Hills of Doom wearing a blindfold."
Ping and Zar are looking down the hole at the father and son, who are lit by the light of the luminous stones in Dunken's cave. Dunken pulls off the blindfold and throws it aside.
"And now you come to visit me and you want my signature, is that it?"
Gee stares at his father. His father looks old. His hair is long and gray. But his face is not puffy like it used to be. His nose is not as big and red. His skin is not as yellow, although it is pale. He has lost weight.
"I wanted to see you, Dad. And now I had a good reason to bother you, a reason you would accept, I thought. I can't pay your debts without selling the house."
Dunken stares at his son.
"Mother wanted me to make sure you were okay."
Dunken hugs Gee and Gee hugs him back. "You are an idiot, my son, coming out her."Gee points up the ladder. "They brought me."
Dunken looks up at Ping and Zar. "Come on down, you lot. And bring me my whiskey. What took you so long? I've been dying of thirst here."
They stay the afternoon and night with Dunken the Drunken. He does not tell them his real name, but accepts their nickname when Gee tells it to him. He is happy to see his son and happy to have some whiskey. During the course of the afternoon and evening, he drinks a bottle of Black Castle, and takes a sip out of a bottle of Seven Flags before he lies down and starts snoring.
Gee sits alone next to the stream, frowning.
"What's wrong with him?" Ping says.
"He is embarassed that his father is a drunk," Rikard says. "We should do our best to tell him what we like and respect about his father. That will help him be proud. He loves his father very much, and misses him, but his father is..."
"Flawed," Nignog says.
"Yes," Rikard says.
Nignog nods. "I understand."
Dunken the Drunken wakes up early the next morning. His son cuts his hair and dresses him in clean clothes. They sit by the river and Dunken sets up his film camera on a wooden tripod. He shows Rikard how to use it. Rikard takes a photograph of the father and son sitting beside the stream and the cave garden. Dunken will develop the picture himself. He says he will send it to Gee's mother, his estranged wife, to show her that he is still alive and well.
"In case she cares," Dunken says. "The harlot."
He hugs Gee and cries when it comes time to say goodbye. They climb the ladder and head for home. Gee is not wearing his blindfold. The adventurers each have a new luminuous stone in their pocket. Gee has signed papers in his pack.
"What did he mean about your mother being a harlot?" Nignog says.
"She left my Dad for my Dad's best friend."
"Oh," Nignog says, and walks for a while. "What did your father do when he found out?"
"He drank a bottle of whiskey," Gee says, and laughs. "What would you expect him to do?"
"He makes wonderful fireworks," Rikard says. "And he makes the best luminous stones. He's famous for it, I think. And he's not angry when he's drunk. Many people get angry when they are drunk. I think he has a good heart."
"Yeah," Gee says. "Nice try Rikard." He pats Rikard on the back. "You're a good fellow."
They are an hour's walk from the River Boome when they round a corner in the road and see a huge bull-headed man on a war-horse in front of them. They stop. He is wearing new armor of steel plates, and his horse also has more armor.
"Who's that?" Gee says.
"That's the minotaur," Zar says.
"He's been doing well for himself," Rikard says. "New armor. Horse looks healthy. Nice helmet. That's a new helmet isn't it?"
Nignog shakes his head. "No, same helmet. He polished it, and the horns were crooked last time."
"Is it the same minotaur, do you think?" Rikard says, "Or another one taking his place?"
The minotaur spurs his horse and charges.
"Well, here he comes," Zar says. He and Ping move off the path and take out their bows. Rikard and Nignog stand in the road with their shields up and swords drawn. Gee looks from the wizards to the fighters and joins the fighters. They stand three abreast with shields and swords. The minotaur comes on at a canter with a heavy lance tilted down for the attack.
Flashes of light and puffs of conjured sponge greet the gallent, armored monster. Rikard stands firm and clouts the monster's armored sides. They turn and expect a second charge, but the minotaur keeps riding. They wait for a minute to see if he's going to come back. He doesn't. They continue one their way.
"I guess he knows us now," Ping says, "and knows he can't defeat us, so he keeps riding."
"I wanted to take his armor," Nignog says.
"You wanted to kill him?" Ping says. "I don't want to kill him."
"He's tried to kill us twice before," Nignog says. "This is the third time."
"I know," Ping says. "Just because he wants to kill us doesn't mean I want to kill him. He can't kill us, anyway, so it doesn't really count. We could kill him, though, if he stood and fought us."
They continue their discussion, pausing to examing the trap door and the fallen tree. The trap door is closed. Soon after they pass the tree, kobolds fire upon them from the forest. Ping throws a bridge ring into the forest with Poison Cloud cast upon it. Just before the bridge lands upon the forest floor, she shoves a Sleep Stone through it. The bridge ring hisses and spins in the air, shooting out gray smoke. At one point it even goes up and sideways instead of downwards. Within second, it disappears in a cloud.
Ping and Zar jog along in front of Rikard and Nignog for protection, looking back to see what has happened behind them. Kobolds emerge from the cloud, dragging some of their comrades.
"It works on kobolds too," Ping says.
But a dozen kobolds are still coming, sprinting from tree to tree on the north side of the path. Zar stops and casts a spell. A sphere of bright light appears in front of him, and zooms off into the trees. "The Will-o-Whisp!"
Zar's Will-o-Wisp spell chases the kobolds around, crackling and shining. Some of them try to shoot at it, and some try to hide. They shout to one another in their high-pitched voices. The will-o-wisp chases them around through the trees. Zar is smiling as he moves his head and uses his hands to control the ball of light.
One of the kobolds throws itself to the ground as the will-o-wisp swoops upon it. Another turns and runs. Within seconds, the kobolds are running away in the direction of the trap door.
"Ha ha!" Zar says.
"Nice work, both of you," Rikard says. "That was a good combination of spells."
They walk the rest of the way to the Bridge of Fallen Trees and out of the Hills of Doom.
"Thank you," Gee says. "I'm going north. You'll be going south. So this is farewell. I hope we meet again."
"Farewell Gee," Rikard says. "We will get the photograph from Dunken when we next visit him."
"To deliver it," Ping says, "We will have to know your name."
"I will leave that to my father to decide," Gee says. "He was the one who wanted to take the picture."
They shake hands and Gee walks to the north.
"He can handle himself well in a fight," Nignog says.
"And he's more brave than I am," Rikard says.
"I like him," Zar says. "And I like Dunken as well."
On 7th July, a hippogriff lands at the Spittoon Tavern in Machay. Its rider is Ursian Air Force Scout Throm Beausex. It so happens that Ping is in Machay, having visited the magic shop, and she is at the Spittoon Tavern when Throm arrives. Soon after, Gee Wiggam arrives. Gee and Ping greet one another, and he tells her that two Endan policemen, named Gammus and Grammus, are looking for his father.
"They say my Dad is wanted in Endor for casting a spell on a senator while he was giving a speech. Apparently the senator dropped his trousers."
Ping laughs. "That doesn't sound too bad."
"And for other things. They say he turned a mayor's wife into a pig and stole her jewelry."
"Nonsense," Ping says. "That's impossible."
"All the same, they came to my house asking where he was. They showed me a warrent for his arrest, and another document from the Queen's court that gives them permission to capture my Dad on Caravelli soil."
"Really? That doesn't seem right."
Just then, two tall, handsome men in metal armor walk into the common room. Gee puts his hand on Ping's arm. "That's them."
The two men approach their table. "Good afternoon Girard Bongo."
Ping raises her eyebrows. This must be Gee's real name.
"Good afternoon," Gee says.
One of the men takes out a drawing of a man with a beard. It looks vaguely like Dunken the Drunken. At the bottom it says Alfonso Bongo: Wanted for Misuse of Magic. "Hava you seenah theese man?" The Endan says. He speaks with a strong Endan accent.
Ping shakes her head. "No."
The policemen ask other people the same question. They come to Throm and she says no. They pause over her and admire her flying kit before moving on to the next customer. Five minutes later they leave. Nobody admits to having seen Alfonso Bongo.
"So that's his name," Ping says.
"Yes." Gee says. "You can still call me Gee."
Throm gets up and joins them at their table. "I'm here from Ursia. To find your father, Girard. The Ursian government wants to offer him asylem in our nation. Our hope is that he will share his secrets of making long-lived luminous stones. I'd like to find him and invite him to come away with me before he is taken captive by the Endans."
The three of them discuss this proposal at length, but decide in the end that they should not go to visit Alfonso in the Hills of Doom. They would have to go by foot in order to be sure of finding his cavern, and they would lead the Endans to the spot. So they resolve to wait. Ping will deliver the message some time soon, and contact Throm by space bridge. In exchange, Throm says she will try to arrange for Ping to meet her famous friends Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen.
"When we were at the Loud Lady Lodge three weeks ago," Ping says, "Their hippogriffs were there in the stables."
"I believe it," Throm says.
"What are they doing here?" Ping says.
"I can't tell you that," Throm says.
"But you know?"
Ping smiles. "Well, I look forward to meeting them. Maybe we can work with them one day."
"You might. They will need help in the years to come." Throm says. "There is war brewing between Ursia and Endromis. If it comes to war, every nation will have to take sides. We think Caravel will be on Ursia's side." She smiles. "Which puts you on the same side as Quayam, Thristen and Gristel. And me."
Ping's eyes open wide.
And so Ping at last learns the name of the Wizard Under the Hill. He is Alfonso Bongo, the mischevious, the irreverant, the drunkard. He is a wanted man in Endor. He is a wanted man in Caravel. But his luminous stones are so fine that even the Ursians want to know how he makes them. She looks forward to telling her friends.