The wizard hadn’t always lived in the woods, just as he wasn’t always dressed in ancient clothes clumsily patched together and smelled of swamp water and pine needles. Once he had lived in the capital, where the use of his powers was well-paid for by courtiers and knights. It is true that by the wizard’s time people said that even the wisest of scholars had forgotten much lore over the centuries, while others claimed that magic itself wasn’t as powerful as it had been in the old days. Yet the wizard could still fill the sky with lights, and create little humunculi who could perform basic chores for their masters, and brew potions that could make people fall in love or turn flesh into stone. Although in the wizard’s lifetime many were growing to dislike magic, seeing it as frivolous or dangerous or both, he was still in his time wealthy and respected and even loved.
The wizard was never handsome, even in the days when he had his pick of the finest robes and the most exotic colognes, but nonetheless the daughter of a nobleman fell in love with him. At first she had only liked him for his tricks, after he had made her wooden doll into one of porcelain, but he was kind to her, unlike the boys and girls who only teased her and her family who wished to shut her away in a nunnery because she was a little mad. However the wizard was the first one to ever understand her—for all wizards, by necessity, are a little mad too—and the day came when he married her and took her to live in his chateau by the river and within view of the royal castle. Then one day he bought his wife a kitten, and from that day the two never knew such joy before or since. After years of happiness, the old king died, and his brother came to the throne as King Dupuis XI. This new king had been raised around knights and merchants, and like many in the kingdom he disdained poets and scholars and magicians. The royal coffers would no longer be open to those the king called useless scribblers. As for magicians, he decreed that they would be driven out of the capital and even the tiniest hamlets in the kingdom. Without recourse or appeal, the wizard and his wife and their cat no longer had a home, for the family of the wizard’s wife had disowned her the very day after they had wed.
The wizard, his wife, and their cat went into a clearing in the forest where the wizard used his magic to build a little hut, for that was the most he could do since he had lost all his tools and all of his books save one on the awful day the soldiers came to banish him. There in the forest his clients were no longer great warriors and nobles, but poor farmers and petty artisans seeking trinkets and charms. Still, he tried the most he could to make the days as good as they once were, but as the years of hard labor and freezing winters and endless wandering the forest for food and herbs wore down on them the wife became, little by little, more mad. One harsh winter morning, when the ice was thick on the ground and the wind chilled the entire hut, she brought the wizard a cake, and said it had been left for her on the windowsill by strange little blue men with bobbed tails. The wizard said little, but pondered his wife’s state of mind. From then on, every once in a while his wife would return with presents she said were given to her by the blue men: more cakes and other sweets, or a few silver coins, or small items of clothing like gloves and ribbons. The blue men made her happier than the wizard had seen her since before their banishment. Not only was she delighted by their apparent gifts, she told him, but they lived in a paradise. Everyone had their place, their function, even the dreamers and artists. No one was considered frivolous, none were driven out into the cold and the dark like they had been.
The wizard wondered if perhaps the blue men may have been real, for even in those more mundane days there were still many strange and unknown things in the wilderness, but he was afraid to inquire too deeply into the topic, for he did not wish to know the depths of his wife’s madness. Then one day, when she had left at dawn to try to find truffles to sell in the nearby village, she did not return by twilight. The wizard feared the worst. Not only could the blue men or some other creature in the wilderness have taken her, but the reign of King Dupuis XI had seen the few prosper while the multitude struggled, and thus the brigands and cruel mercenaries multiplied. The wizard searched all through the forest, even in the dark and untamed places that no human had traversed in living memory, but to no avail. Even the spells from his one grimoire had become useless in his quest, except that he found a few pages that claimed that beings not of mundane flesh like the blue men could serve as the living philosopher’s stone.
Less than a year after his wife had disappeared, he too began to see the blue men. At first it was only glimpses at the corner of his eye, or a flash of movement at the window, or his cat hissing under the door for no obvious cause. But then as he walked the forest he could hear them singing in the distance or see little bridges they had built over creeks. At first he feared he had only succumbed to his lost wife’s madness, but he began to ponder. If the blue men were real, then they had taken his wife, or at least knew where she was. And if they did not know, he could use the formulae in his tome to turn them into gold, and with his wealth he could perhaps have the means to rescue her from whoever had taken her. So began his search for the blue men, a quest that the wizard in the woods undertook all the rest of his days. If he ever wondered if he was only chasing after a delusion, perhaps he realized that for him the distinction no longer mattered.