He raises up his gnarled old hand

And blesses all the friendly fields

Then raises up his gnarled old club

And beats the robber 'til he yields.

Good Walder and the Bandit, traditional

Virtue

Good Walder was recognised as a Paragon of Prosperity in the reign of the First Empress, during the period when a number of friars took a pilgrimage to Bastion and returned to build the first monasteries in Mitwold.

Biography

Good Walder exists primarily in stories. His tales have been told in the Marches since the foundation of the Empire, and many can be traced back to the first decades after their departure from Dawn. Today these stories are known throughout the Empire, often with a particular spin appropriate to the nation where they are told. As the stories of Good Walder spread through the early Empire, so the wealth of the Marches grew. Urizen historians suggest that this is coincidence - as the Empire was consolidated the markets for Marcher food expanded. On the other hand, some priests are equally adamant that as reverence for Good Walder and his lessons of virtuous reward spread far and wide, the fields of the virtuous began to return bumper crops. In the modern Empire, the image of a smiling man with a sack of fruit and corn, and fat money pouch, leaning on a stout cudgel, is a common symbol for Prosperity.

All the stories have common elements.

The stories agree that Good Walder was an itinerant Marcher with a profound connection to the virtue of Prosperity - even before the virtue was recognised by the formation of the Imperial Synod. Accounts vary as to the nature of this bluff, good natured traveler. In some stories he is a traveling merchant or peddlar, in others he is a pilgrim seeking spiritual truth, in yet others he is simply a restless man prone to hearing the siren call of the road and the horizon.

Most stories follow a similar pattern. Good Walder comes upon a village - usually either during the early Spring planting, or in Autumn before the harvest is due to be gathered - and speaks to the residents. Sometimes he comes in the guise of a traveling labourer, looking for work. If he judges these people to be good and virtuous, their fields flourish, their labours succeed and they know health and happiness. If he finds them small-hearted and miserly, a misfortune befalls them that exposes their laziness or greed, often at the hands of Good Walder himself - and his oaken club.

In earlier tales especially, Walder presents himself to a village as a stranger, usually a mendicant or peddler looking to exchange labour for food and a night's lodgings. If he finds folk who are willing to offer work and share their prosperity with an outsider, he leaves behind gifts when he departs. Later stories can be identified as those in which the village folk already know of the legend of Good Walder and are therefore encouraged to demonstrate their virtue either for virtue's sake or for fear or the consequences.

There is almost always one character in each of these stories who mistreats the stranger either by demonstrating miserliness or meanness of character, by tricking Walder, by trying to steal from him. Worst are those who take advantage of his hard work and then refusing to feed and lodge him - denying him the reward earned by his hard work. In most tales, Good Walder takes the matter into his own hands and the unvirtuous are thoroughly beaten with Walder's oaken club. Despite his apparently innocuous appearance, he is described as having supernatural strength and paranormal prowess with his cudgel, arising as a result of his virtuous commitment to Prosperity.

Some variants often have these characters suffer mishaps which lead to their penury and ruin and place them at the mercy of the virtuous among their fellows, rather than being punished directly by Good Walder. These later stories fall in and out of favour - they are sometimes criticized for suggesting that some nebulous concept of Virtue or universal fairness, rather than the actions of men and women, punish the wicked and exalt the virtuous. Others point out that the bounteous harvests that reward those who recognise hard work and the importance of rewards being shared by all who have earned them (and the misfortunes suffered by the wicked), are miraculous rather than heretical.

There are also a few darkly comedic tales in which Good Walder chastises those who try to offer him charity. He rarely uses his club to do so, and the most common (especially popular in the Brass Coast and League) revolve around a disguised Good Walder accepting the charity and then refusing to move on, becoming increasingly indolent and demanding until the charitable soul sees the folly of giving unearned rewards to the undeserving.

While Good Walder is usually presented as a human man, there are a few variants in which Good Walder is presented as female. Scholars suggest that these stories likely represent a different individual whose tales were accidentally combined with those of Good Walder - indeed an analysis of the earliest stories reveals key elements that suggest that this version of Good Walder is actually a Navarr broker.

There is also one story, not held to be canonical, where Good Walder arrives at a village appearing to be of briar lineage and punishes the residents for their lack of hospitality - refusing to allow him to work in their fields. This story is considered borderline heretical, and those who tell it are considered suspect especially in the wake of the Freedom Heresy.

Amongst the fields and meadows,
Down the shady lanes of spring,
Comes a walking old Good Walder,
Prosperity for to bring.

When I found him by my village,
Sat on't ground beneath a tree.
He was quietly contemplating
The activities of a bee.

The little creature moved about
Through the blossoms of the tree,
Never halting, never ceasing,
Gath'ring nectar for his fee.

I took a seat beside him
And I said "good day to thee."
He smiled and he nodded,
And he pointed to the bee.

"See him work his little wings off,"
"For to prosper kin and tree."
"He'll get his fair portion mind,"
"That's the way of things, you see?"

I nodded and I asked him,
"Will you join me at the plough?"
He nodded and we stood and
Worked the day through, and how.

That night we took him in
Fed and watered him as we
An'so he had his portion
Just like the little bee.

As harvest came upon us,
Down the lane Walder had gone.
But the crops were full and bounteous,

Our prosperity was won.

Walder, Highborn poem from First Century YE

Signs

The Assembly of Prosperity cited the following signs as proof that Good Walder was a paragon.

  • There is no doubt that Good Walder is a virtuous Inspiration. He teaches that hard work deserves reward, and that all those who take part in the work deserve a share of the rewards. Likewise, he demonstrates that the lazy and the greedy merit punishment, and these two tenets are seen as central parts of the Imperial understanding of Prosperity underlining both "The Prosperous are not selfish; all that is worthwhile is shared with those who deserve it." and "Despise ... those who take without giving."
  • The travels of Good Walder from village to village, rewarding the virtuous and punishing the wicked, are held as a spiritual Pilgrimage of Prosperity that culminates in his visit to Bastion - although there are few reliable reports of Good Walder's activities outside the Marches they do exist.
  • Both the encouragement to share rewards equally with all who have worked for them, and the swelling of harvests which accompany Walder's visits to the virtuous, are a recognised sign of the Paragon's Benevolence.
  • Walder's punishment of those who thieve and hoard often result in those people seeing the error of their ways (after a deserved and thorough beating) and thus they provide Salvation to those unvirtuous individuals.
  • Several priests of Prosperity to carry an oaken club, in recognition of the weapon associated with Good Walder that is his Legacy. What was believed to be his original club - a stout shillelagh that delivered punishing blows to the undeserving and the greedy - is currently unaccounted for; it disappeared in 142YE along with Naeve Farwatcher, the Navarr Cardinal of Prosperity at the time, who is believed to have lost her life to brigands somewhere in southern Kallavesa.
  • Good Walder's presence swells harvests for the virtuous, and brings misfortune to the wicked in a fashion widely held to be Miraculous. There are also stories of other supernatural rewards bestowed by Good Walder - in some tales he also cures an illness or debilitation for those who treat him fairly.
  • There have been no recorded visions of Walder's life through his own eyes. Several stories end with a suggestion that after a particularly important lesson, Good Walder takes a secret road "out of the world, where he walks still" which seems to be a metaphor for some sort of bodily ascension. Either way, the sign of Liberation is assigned to him,

Good Walder in Play

At his core, Good Walder teaches the importance of hard work, but also the importance of ensuring the deserving receive the rewards for that hard work. Stories of Good Walder sometimes have a scurrilous undercurrent - they include suspicion of "bosses" who employ others and do not give them fair wages. There are several more modern stories that are thinly veiled critiques of the League and Dawn where a privileged few can sometimes be seen as exploiting those who work for, rather than alongside, their leaders. As such his stories are told less often in these nations - and in Urizen where the basic concepts of agricultural labour for fair payment are somewhat alien to the national mentality.

While Good Walder is most popular in the Marches he is known and respected throughout the Empire. It is common to hear a story with obvious Marcher roots re-imagined to make it more relevant to people of another nation. Some of these stories focus less on the importance of rewarding hard work, and more on the importance of concepts of hospitality - especially in Wintermark, Varushka, and the Brass Coast. The latter often involve the itinerant Good Walder earning a place at a family table with hard work, during which he provides a valuable piece of gossip or wisdom that leads to profit for the family who has welcomed him.

Three significant orders have been dedicated to the legacy of Good Walder in the course of Imperial History. Sodalities that take Good Walder as a patron generally cooperate with one another, focusing their attention on encouraging Prosperity, hard work, and recognition of deserved rewards rather than on rivalry with each other. They tend to have very loose organisation, even for religious sodalities, and these orders lack any complex hierarchies - one becomes a member by taking part in the behaviour promoted by the sodality and eventually being recognised by other members.

The Fellows of the Stout Stick focus principally on dishing out punishments - direct or otherwise - to those who are deemed undeserving. Testimony, and the occasional Excommunication, are seen as valuable tools in their arsenal. They are also quick to employ traditional Marcher practices of rough music and shunning, and the Imperial Synod power of Condemnation to expose the lazy, the miserly, and those who steal the hard work of others. Their common symbol is a stout cudgel.

The Order of the Sack by contrast see a sacred responsibility in ensuring the good deeds of the virtuous are recognised and rewarded. They use skills such as Testimony, Hallow, Anointing, and Consecration, though use of the Synod power of Rewarding is also popular for obvious reasons. Another method of recognition and reward - especially popular among Wintermark and Dawnish adherents - is the creation and performance of songs or stories that praise prosperous deeds. Some members are also magicians - they may supplement either or both of these methods with ritual enchantments. Their common symbol is a sack overflowing with fruit, vegetables, and coins.

The Virtuous List tended to be more scholarly and are fewer in number than the other two sodalities. These dedicated priests are primarily responsible for testing the faithful to determine their virtue through observation, gathering evidence, and guile. Of the three guile is the most popular - turning up in a village as a stranger and seeing how one is treated, much as Good Walder once did. The Virtuous Lists were vastly reduced in number in the years following the reign of Emperor Nicovar and have never really recovered - some point to opposition from the Vigilance assembly as a key factor in the decline of the Virtuous List.
Highborn poem by Oliver Godby