In Part I of Mordenkainen: The Unauthorized Biography, read how a young Mordenkainen grows to become first an apprentice and ultimately a wizard in his own right with his own apprentices. Not yet an arch-mage, the young Mordenkainen is an adventurer. Yet, it is at this time that Mordenkainen's personality becomes set. In his Wild Coast days, he meets many of his life long companions, including his greatest friend, his most enduring rival and his most persistent enemy.
Mordenkainen: The Unauthorized Biography, Part I
By: Glenn Vincent Dammerung, aka GVDammerung
Posted with permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.
Mordenkainen. The name elicits a variety of reactions. Adventurer. Arch-Wizard. Leader of the Circle of Eight. Keeper of the Balance. Master of the Obsidian Citadel. Politician. Manipulator. Sage. Scholar. His life is simultaneously know to everyone and known to no one at all. Even his closest associates know only what Mordenkainen chooses to reveal of himself. The stories conflict. The tales do not agree. The dates are uncertain. Ambiguity of purpose, intent and alliance are Mordenkainen’s shield. Careful, calculating coincidence is his sword. But as has been archly observed, where Mordenkainen is concerned, there is no such thing as coincidence and happenstance.
How is it that one man has come to bestride the Flanaess but leaves no certain trace of his passing? The following investigation attempts to reveal the man behind the mystery, tracing what is certain and speculating about that which is less so. If there are more questions in the end than answers, it is appropriate to the subject matter. No doubt, Mordenkainen would smile.
Birth, Youth and Apprenticeship
In 591 CY, Mordenkain is 82-years-old, although he appears as a vigorous man in his forties. Believed to have been born in 509 CY in the Wild Coast, Mordenkainen’s parents immigrated to the Wild Coast from the South Province of the old Great Kingdom. Of Oeridian stock, Mordenkainen traces his lineage to the Aerdi House of Cranden but by the accident of birth can claim nothing of his more privileged heritage, something which haunted the youth growing into manhood. Indeed, Mordenkainen’s youth was spent in such privation that he early on developed a talent for stealthy prying into others’ businesses and business. Doubtless headed for an early end or a pointless life, Mordenkainen was redeemed by a natural gift for arcane study and family connections he could not then imagine.
Among Mordenkainen’s early chums was the young Tenser. Born of better circumstance and early on recognized as having a gift for magic, it was Tenser who first introduced young Mordenkainen to the arcane. Together the two young men made what progress they could in their magical studies, given their meager means, and a keen rivalry developed between them for all their friendship. In the company of a young tough among their circle of acquaintances called Robilar, Mordenkainen and Tenser had their first tentative adventures wherein their strong personalities were molded. Where Robilar was rash and unscrupulous, if possessed of an admirable loyalty, Mordenkainen was cool and reserved, while Tenser was always strong about doing the right thing for the right reasons. When Tenser would insist on a correct course of action and Robilar would council the most expedient solution to the problem at hand, Mordenkainen would infuriate Tenser by refusing to take sides and adopting a position that best suited his appraisal of the situation. Yet, the three remained boon companions and enjoyed increasing success in their adventures.
This success did not go unnoticed. When the then much heralded Yrag, working at cross-purposes with Mordenkainen and his group, was bested by the three young men, he happened to comment upon it in the hearing of his adopted father, the Arch-Mage Zagig. Passing curious that tyros had shown sufficient impudence and skill to show his man their backsides, Zagig bestirred himself but little to divine who these upstarts were. It is to imagine the Arch-Mage’s surprise when he discovered that the leader of this pack was distantly related to his friend Heward and indeed himself! Always the genial sort, Heward, after he finished laughing, readily agreed to arrange some introductions.
Thus, it was that Mordenkainen was befriended by Heward, who put matters right between the growing mage and the doughy Yrag. In time, Yrag developed a great fondness for Mordenkainen and, along with Heward, continued to speak well of him to Zagig. While Mordenkainen, Tenser and Robilar continued with their adventures and explorations, Zagig would occasionally find it useful to employ them. It became a small matter to move from more frequent employment to formal apprenticeship.
Both Mordenkainen and Tenser began to study under the tutelage of the Arch-Mage Zagig. In this, they joined one Iliphar, already Zagig’s apprentice. Iliphar, an accomplished master of elemental fire, though still less than a complete mage, took an immediate dislike to both the young adventurers. The tension in the Arch-Wizard’s hall was suppressed but undeniable. When Iliphar withdrew to further his own studies, no protest was offered.
In Zagig, Mordenkainen found more than a match for his native intelligence. Zagig was chaos barely contained but with an undeniable purpose, even genius. Mordenkainen could not anticipate the Arch-Mage, as he managed to anticipate most others, but it did not stop him from trying. Zagig, for his part, enjoyed his repartee with the studious and calculating Mordenkainen. In this way, Mordenkainen, much to Tenser’s chagrin, was to be singled out for adventures with Zagig, Heward, the enigmatic Keoghtom and the bizarre Murlynd.
The growing relationship between Zagig and Mordenkainen, and Tenser’s carefully concealed jealousy, perhaps accounts for their unpreparedness for the return of Iliphar. Now styling himself Ilighar, Lord High Necromancer, Zagig’s former apprentice affirmatively declared himself the master. Bringing fire and undeath into the Hall of the Arch-Mage, Ilighar laid it waste, countering Zagig’s defenses, with which Ilighar was more than familiar, and capturing the Arch-Mage and his entire coterie. Exempt alone were Mordenkainen and the magus Serten being only by chance in other precincts.
It fell, then, to Mordenkainen and Serten to see the day was saved. While Serten worked to free Zagig and company, Mordenkainen engaged Ilighar is single, arcane combat. The apprentice demonstrated that the Arch-Mage’s confidence had not been misplaced. Mordenkainen more than held his own against the more seasoned Ilighar. With the close arrival of Serten, Tenser and a furious Zagig, Ilighar was put to his heels, escaping through a pre-prepared planar gate. Ilighar, calling himself Daunskul, would survive and return to plague Mordenkainen, but decades would pass and a century turn before the Master of the Balance and the Circle of Eight would face Daunskul’s planeswalking threat in the distant West.
The immediate upshot of Ilighar’s attack was Zagig’s determination to be rid of his apprentices as an extravagance he could ill afford. It was, therefore, arranged for Mordenkainen and Tenser to attend the University of Magical Arts in the City of Greyhawk. In the breaking of Zagig’s fellowship, Mordenkainen took a hard lesson. Friendship was passing and todays trusted confidante might well be tomorrow’s sworn adversary. Better to keep everyone at arms length. Master yourself so that you may master others and not be mastered. Trust no one.
University and Mastery
At university, Mordenkainen distinguished himself as did his friend Tenser, though relations between the two were never to be again as close as when they dared fate and tempted destiny in the easy company of Robilar in the Wild Coast days. Of the exact details of Mordenkainen’s time in the City of Greyhawk little need be said. At first an understandably rural sort well out of his element in the cosmopolitan metropolis, Mordenkainen’s natural intelligence and a growing personal magnetism won him quick introduction into new circles and the reputation as something of a rake, though never of an unseemly sort. Mordenkainen’s studies always came first, leaving little time for anything but the most passing of fancies.
Mordenkainen was also growing increasingly cynical, finding himself altogether more intelligent than his contemporaries and able to manipulate lesser lights with but scant effort. As he continued to associate with Zagig, Heward, Keoghtom and Murlynd, his self-confidence and opinion of himself grew apace. Practical experience of the most puissant sort gave Mordenkainen the edge necessary to render most of his studies tedious, if not entirely superfluous. It was at the beginning of his last year that Mordenkainen determined that he was sufficiently advanced in his studies to take an apprentice. This caused quite a row among the dons. "The shear presumption," they fumed! It was only the quiet intervention of Mordenkainen’s longtime friend Heward that avoided a scene. Mordenkainen would "graduate early," just avoiding the proctor’s boot. In the future, because of this incident, Mordenkainen would not be admitted into the Society of Magi in Greyhawk, ostensibly because he did not reside full time in the city. Yet, when he would return to the University or Wizard’s Guild to conduct one research or another, having made good, all would attend upon him. If he cared or cares at all, there is no sign.
Finding himself a wizard in his own right, without a master and needing none henceforth, Mordenkainen returned to the Wild Coast. Rejoining old companions, he resumed adventuring, but earned himself few new friends with his haughty demeanor. From a most unlikely source was the nascent Arch-Magi to be delivered from a self-imposed exile from his humanity. Aware of his ancestry, Mordenkainen was always quick to hear of the Great Kingdom, and most especially the Cranden’s of the South Province. Learning that a new arrival to the Wild Coast from Oldridge in the South Province, and a mage at that, no less, was making a name for himself, Mordenkainen determined to make his acquaintance.
Finding the fellow in a tavern, Mordenkainen made his introductions, playing the Mage of Might and Mean as only he could. Learned of the University in Greyhawk, taught by the Arch-Mage Zagig, who was himself taught by the legendary Lyzandred, the renowned adventurer Mordenkainen would have news of the Crandens from a fellow mage and scion of that House! Bigby, as the younger mage was called, listened politely, sizing up his interlocutor with a disapproving gaze and puritanical purse to his lips, until Mordenkainen was through. In a quiet voice, he answered only, "Get out," then returned to his drink. Thunder struck, Mordenkainen flushed and grew wroth at being treated so cavalierly. Bigby’s added epithet and the physical impossibility of his suggestion to Mordenkainen proved to much to bear. Such insolence! Challenge was made and excepted.
Removing themselves from public view, Mordenkainen noted, despite his anger, that this Bigby showed remarkable composure and steel for someone so obviously younger and inexperienced. As they set to, Mordenkainen’s initial surmise was quickly proven accurate. Bigby was no match for Mordenkainen’s magical might. Still, he defended himself ably, asked no quarter, and fought back with an arsenal of spells of such an unusual character that Mordenkainen’s anger turned almost immediately from frustration to wonderment and then delight. Here was no ordinary dabbler! This young mage had the makings of greatness. He required only a teacher of sufficient capacity to develop his ability. Mordenkainen knew just the mage.
Thus began the greatest and longest lasting friendship of Mordenkainen’s life, first as master and apprentice and later as colleague. While he would, by turns, call many friend and be called such in turn, there would be only one Bigby. Puritanical and cautious but capable of great heroism and daring, Bigby has been and is the one person Mordenkainen can always count upon, to perceive and tell him the truth without pretext, to steadfastly interpose himself when threats arise and to remind Mordenkainen that all plans have consequences beyond those you intend. Bigby is the sole person in whom Mordenkainen believes he can confide and who, Mordenkainen believes, is capable of grasping the subtleties of his machinations. For none other will Mordenkainen so readily risk himself and his plans. Bigby’s wry disdain for pretense serves to keep Mordenkainen grounded when he might otherwise proceed too readily. If Mordenkainen has a conscience recognizable as such, it is Bigby.
To be con't . . .
All of the above is based in canon. The persons mentioned. Their interrelationships. Their movements and the timing of events. Departure from canon occurs only in expanding on canon references for purposes of narrative and in ordering events that are not given precise dates in canon. In the former case, artistic license is taken. In the latter case, the order of events is based on related themes and casual/approximate time/ordering references that appear in the various canon sources. While then not definitive, and necessarily subject to future canon treatments, the foregoing is reasonably accurate all the same. Of note, The Wizards Three series of Dragon articles is accepted as "canon" with respect to Mordenkainen, as are all Dragon articles and other published references to Mordenkainen, including novels (not limited to "Greyhawk logo" novels), "pick your path" adventure books and webpublished manuscripts (e.g., Ivid the Undying), in addition to adventures and game accessories.