Little Izwick, Big World
“May your lantern always swing left.” That’s the best they could muster. As if an object can swing in only one direction, and since that isn’t the right direction, the accused should somehow feel ashamed. The halflings of Candlewood are many things… industrious, handy, possessing great acumen, kind, semi-communist. Actually, three of those things are more or less identical, and that should paint a portrait of their closed society, one that young Izwick Bolfador so deeply despised. Why must all insults involve dangling lanterns, trees, and mist? For a markedly creative society, the people of Candlewood seem incapable of looking beyond town limits. I suppose one can hardly blame them, seeing as most residents have never traveled the single road leading out of town, and since contact with wandering wizards is usually restricted to eavesdropping on the wizards’ cryptic and drunken musings and later demanding the bar tab. Even the name of the town seemed like an obvious misnomer to Izwick. Yes, the trees are bright like candles, the limbs sinking under the weight of countless lanterns of assorted size and shape. But the fuel for each is an inextinguishable pine-resin, not a waxy candle. It would be quite cumbersome to change and relight candles given the sheer quantity of lanterns. A traveler might remark on the wonderful whimsy of a glowing town, but Izwick never understood the fetish, and the light pollution kept him up at night.
The Bolfador clan, like all families in insular Candlewood, is large and growing. Young halflings are practically running out of options when it comes to hobbit-wives (hobbit is a fanciful name that Izwick invented for “simple” halflings). Back to the point, there is the issue of accidental inbreeding, and Izwick always carries a 5-fold copy of the family tree before, as the hobbits say, climbing the tree to hang the lantern. Daddy Bolfador and Mrs. Bolfador, an odd but customary distinction, raised Izwick as heir apparent to the GoodSap brewing company, the best regarded ale house in Candlewood. Izwick’s ten younger siblings gladly accept their subservience to Izwick, a life of long hours sweeping cellars, balancing books, and making honest excuses for Izwick’s chronic dishonesty. Izwick longs for some old-fashioned sibling rivalry, to get into a drunken fistfight over primogeniture before he runs the business into the ground. Of course, Izwick plans to escape Candlewood before he reaches the age of 40, the point at which his apprenticeship ends and the real responsibilities kick in. In one twisted fantasy, Izwick imagines starting his own business, a bitter-root distillery like the one his ancestor Grumble Bolfador owned in the dark ages before the invention of pine-resin, when Candlewood was fittingly named Grimgrove.
So far, we have established Izwick’s core identity. He dislikes halflings for being hobbit-ish, he dislikes candlewood’s name and sense of humor, and he plans to leave. But how would Izwick fare in the wide world of Azra? Well, the convenient truth of Izwick is that by rarely telling the truth, he avoids the damning consequences of it. To better understand this, we need to climb inside his twisted cognition to look for anything that even remotely resembles logic.
Izwick likes to trade. In Candlewood, the merchants act as middlemen in the exchange of goods between different members of society. The farmer trades two dozen Squawk eggs for a metalsmith’s lantern, according to the exchange rates established by the merchants guild, and each trading party provides a small gift to the merchant for their service. The size of the gift depends on four factors. First, was the merchant polite in this transaction. Second, did the merchant provide a speedy exchange of goods (they are responsible for physically transporting the items). Third, did the merchant provide evidence of the guild exchange rate. And fourth, most importantly, was it sunny, misty, or raining. Given that Candlewood exists in near-perpetual fog, a sunny day can be a great boon for the merchant. Of course, there is often the possibility that due to some trivial matter affecting the mood of the trading parties, the merchant walks away with nothing. It is said that merchants are the selfless laborers of society, representing the fairest values and strongest morals, the very conduits of truth (here it should be remembered that Candlewood halflings are “industrious, handy, possessing great acumen, kind, (and) semi-communist”).
Izwick likes to trade. Or he likes to replace. He takes whatever intrigues him, and he replaces it with an object, most often a colored trouser-button. Merchants are a reprehensible breed, at the mercy of thankless halflings, collecting egg-shells and twisted wire instead of yolks and glowy things. Izwick wants to even the score, fighting on behalf of every victimized merchant who drinks away their invisible pain in a pub full of “friends,” and regrets marrying, raising beautiful hobbit-children, and choosing a respectable profession. Of course Izwick knows that his ideology is tainted by angst and boredom, but anything is better than the status-quo. Perhaps his fellow hobbits indulge in their own private worlds, equally vile. Afterall, cousins sleep with cousins.
Izwick wishes that people would unmask the button-thief and finally put an end to his troubles. On the contrary, everyone seems to adore Izwick. His gift of gab (layered in sarcasm) is misconstrued for a seldom-seen art amongst the halflings, many of whom are unaware that communication can be dishonest. The only halfling that approaches poor Izwick is his friend Temet Overhill, perhaps the greatest patron of the GoodSap brewery and an extensive user of pipe-spice (pipe-spice is said to be the chief driver of word creation in halfling-speak, the lexiconic chronic).
In summary, Izwick dreams of a challenging world, one in which he steals: gets caught; lets his guard down: gets manipulated; speaks honestly: makes a friend or two. The ideal city reminds him of home in the faintest sense. It is stormy, but not the soft fog of the countryside… a hard and penetrating rain. It is filled with gullible people, but not the kind that laugh about stolen silverware… the kind that use the remaining silverware as weapons to hunt you down. It is large, but not village, field, and town large… districts on top of districts inside districts large. Izwick spends many nights examining his map of Azra, which is mostly a disproportionately large map of Candlewood along with a few speculated city names in speculated locations connected by speculated roads.
Fast forward to current time. Izwick left Candlewood two months ago with nothing more than a couple of hand-made short swords, a leather bitter-root flask (old family heirloom), and a bag full of trouser-buttons. He enters the Gate-town district of Stormgate at nightfall. For lack of a better idea, he finds the nearest bar in the upstairs loft of a butcher shop, swipes a coin-pouch, and samples every non-ale serum the place has to offer, pouring the drinks from mug to his leather flask in parental defiance. The bartender gets annoyed at this and asks Izwick to leave. Izwick, excited to pick a fight with a much larger humanoid, jumps on the counter and starts throwing buttons at the bartender. In doing so, the stolen coin pouch falls to the floor, its owner recognizes it, grabs Izwick by the feet, and drags him upside down to the balcony window. The assailant taunts, “what happens when a little-man falls from such a height, I wonder.” Izwick replies, “not certain, but apparently threatening little-men gives big-men a tiny erection. I seem to have awaken the wyrmling.” With that, Izwick goes soaring through the night air.
He awakes plastered in mud and aching from the toes of his giant feet to the back of his oddly shaped head. A strange and racially diverse company surrounds him. A human bends over his tiny body and asks, “what’s your name, halfling?” A wry smile forms across the halfling’s face. “Izwick. Izwick Fucking Bolfador.”