Once upon a time a dwarf set upon the world to conquer evil. He was born of a smith, and justly spent his first generation at the forge and the crafting table, putting leather to steel, and steel to leather. His father’s father however was a priest of the Order of Borin’s Beard. And, as often happens to the sons of sons, this dwarf was less belonging to his father’s trade than that of his grandfather’s church. After learning well the way of the hammer and the stone, he undertook the test of faith that only few ever do, the quest and the oath of the Brotherhood of Borin’s Beard.
Around the same time an Elf was finally coming into his own, after almost 140 years of fickle adolescence. He had finally focused his studies on the ancient School of the Nymph’s Fairness. Before long he too was cast into the wild, uncivilized lands of those who are not Elvenkind. He was tasked with the study of others so that he might better come to understand the enchantments he had learned to bewitch them with.
The Underhaven Gnomish Collection Agency Museum of Artifacts of Antiquity as well as Modern Marvels Collection and Appraisal division had one particular gnome agent who after only a few months of field work, discovered the dire need to defend against dark, detrimental, and deplorable demons that haunt the world outside of Underhaven. As such he returned and asked for a two year training session from the Vermin Extermination Guild’s Mobile Attack Force Training Facility in order to cope with the oppressive opponents outside.
The three of them, Bartholomew Beardlong, Tassius Tearleaf, and Gerald Glitternose, respectively, all ventured from their protected homes around the same time into the wilderness mostly unknown to them. It was but by chance that the three happened to meet their fourth companion and all join forces when they did.
Harold Hairfoot was a halfling man of but 35 years when the trouble arrived at his halfling home. *Knock* *Knock* *Knock* came the banging at his humble abode. His father, Harris, a radish farmer of much reknown, answered the door.
“Harris Hairfoot! Quick, get your son and run!” The voice came filtering in with the setting sun’s light, past Harris’s figure in the door.
“What’s the fuss, Bernie Bellykin?” Harris replied in return.
“A nightmare, a dream turned dark. The village is a-flowing with our brothers’ blood! Run while your legs will still carry you!” and no sooner had he sounded that warning did he dart away, alone, into the orange disc of the setting sun, Harris left alone in the doorway.
“Father Hairfoot, what’s the fuss? Should we run and flee like Uncle Bellykin decrees?” Harold questioned his father in a rather panicky voice.
After but a moment’s thought Harris nodded to his son.
“Stop by the church and tell your mother the nun to run run run! We haven’t the time to dine or sup, or drink from our daily beer and mead cups.”
The son and the father and the mother, the nun, sped hastily away from their halfling home, barely escaping before the onslaught struck, ransacking, raping, and pillaging all stuck behind with not a whisper of the Hairfoots’ luck. The flames and fires set by unforseen forces of foul evils before now unknown chased them far far away.
From there they walked a dangerous road, with the fragrant smoky smell of fear trailing behind. They hid in fallen tree trunks, hollowed out by beetles and worms. They camped behind rocks, craggy and cracked with spaces just big enough for the half sized folk to hide. They watched out in trees, shimmied up swiftly and stayed in long into the depth of dark night. Twasn’t till the time they took turns to watch their camp on the open road one night that trouble struck again.
Harold was awake, a-watching, and afraid of what might come, when unannounced it came. A thunderous clamor clanged from whence they had fled. The road tremored and his parents awoke without awakening from Harold. The darkness turned pitch black and the battlecry of a monstrous tongue belted out across the plain.
“Off the road, off the road, we mustn’t be here, lest we be seen!” Harold squeaked.
The family grabbed what little they had brought and slipped out into the tall grasses of the plains. Fifty paces from the road Harold and Harris, and Henrietta the nun dropped to the ground, trying to make their already small figures even smaller, and supressed the whimpers that gave off the smell of fear that was so easily found.
The horde of clamorous iron armor, the chinging of chains, the pounding of a chaotic parade that lost its drummer huffed by them, accompanied every so often by a shout from a different crier. Even after the march passed the sound of stragglers and wagons continued behind them. And then the sound of they hoped most not to hear, the grass moving in the still windless night. The sound of approaching horror.
Harold and Henrietta mouthed silent prayers to their goddess of goodness for protection. The hideous humanish hellions arrived at their spot in the grass, yet they had not noticed the tiny family lying still in the high grasses. Three all together, barely visible in the starlight, black skinned, black-haired, wearing black iron armor and sniffing with bearlike noses, the scent of fear from beside them.
“Kusha! Geshtar raghkai herut” uttered one in grumbling tones of gutteral gibberish.
The others sniffed and turned their heads around. Two walked away but one crouched down and was about to lay its pawlike five digit hands on Harris when the gentle words of a different tongue were spoken.
“Meiya yesso en wa” and behind the words followed a trail glyphs, like smoke blowing through the air, they wrapped around the monster and entered his bulbous ears and he suddenly fell over, silently knocked out atop Harris.
The speaker of the magical words emerged from the grass just seconds before being knocked over himself by the club of one of the other monsters. The man, smaller than a man in fact, but much larger than a halfling was dressed in the beautiful silvery-green silk robes of an elf. But he was no help to them now, crumpled atop the great collapsed corpse of the cretin, who was himself lain across the writhing form of Harris, helpless beneath the weight of them all.
Their place revealed, Harold and Henrietta stood and made to dart away from the assailant, but found themselves colliding into the other dark creature who had returned as well. In a blink they were apprehended, aloft above the ground and soon tossed into an iron cage on the wagon. Behind them came Harris and the Elf, who’s hands were chained. Then the metal slam of the cage closing crushed any hope of escape they might have chanced.
The wagon lurched forward, driven by a smaller creature, pale, goblinesque and scarred. He himself was chained to the wagon he drove and held only the leads of the giant boar-like beasts that pulled their ride. They found with them in the cage a gnome, passed out from an obvious blow to the head which left a swollen red lump in its wake. The gnome was no taller than any of them, but quite differently proportioned, more bulbous and round in places. He was dressed in some fancy and official looking clothes of green, yellow, and white which bore a heraldric symbol of a sword, axe, hammer, and shield tiled in a repeating pattern in a checkerboard fashion across his tunic. On his face were thick glasses, one lens cracked and the frames slightly bent.
Harold went to his side and began to tend his most obvious wound, which although crusted over was still quite open. He tore a piece of his shirt off at the bottom and wrapped it around the gnome’s forehead tightly, serving as a minimal bandage. Henrietta prayed with oval symbol of goodness in hand, spinning it symbolically as she begged the good lady for a blessing of healing for the poor creature. The elf that had helped them before, although knocked out as well, seemed no worse for wear, beyond his persistent snoring slumber. Harold merely thought that the snoring of elves was remarkably similar to the snoring of everyone else.
Later into the night, on towards morning, the halflings had all but fallen asleep along with their charges when they heard an alarming sound. A horn call, the tremendous sound nearly lost in the empty void of the plains. Far ahead of them they heard the sounds of distant battle. They heard indistinguishable voices crying out in earnest for no reason but to express their violent intent and the clash of metal and the thunder of melee. Their escort and the goblin driver stopped, stalling, aware of any movement in the dawning morning grasslands.
Just as the sun breached the horizon, a stout figure appeared silhouetted by sunlight behind him, standing firm in the road. From the cage on the back of the wagon Harold could barely make out the figure, but his long beard and banded sheets of plate armor gave him away as a dwarven warrior of some sort. The figure announced something in the same gutteral words used by their captors.
“Hragath kargor Borin ka hohokor!” followed by “Perish before my axe, foul orcish beasts.” Spoken in the common tongue.
As the dwarf charged the wagon Harold could no longer see him, but he heard the orcs cry in anguish and saw the flash of steel glinting in the sunlight as the combatants moved around the caravan. The goblin driver ahead of them looked anxious, unsure whether to flee with the wagon or hope for release from his bonds by the new contender.
A moment later something hit the back of the wagon. Harold, moving to a position where he might better see, saw it was a fallen orc who had hit the wagon on his way to the ground. Behind him stood the dwarf, his banded armor and shield splashed with blood, and knicked in places but largely uninjured. Four more orcs approached, surrounding him but the dwarf stood his ground, watching for the best place to strike.
The jolt to the wagon appeared to have awoken the elf, who roze wearily from his slumped posture in the corner of the cage. At the same time the dwarf was dodging where he could, blocking with his shield and uttering words in yet another tongue.
“Dothor don Hethoril bin hardan moor Borin’s Brad!” spoken in rhythm with his moments, he seemed to be tracing long ago learned tactical positioning when he at last took a strike against one of the orcs. His axe struck down through the orc’s forehead, followed by a flash of white lightning from out of nowhere. The orc was split nearly in two and fell slowly as his body spewed blood and organs.
In the time it took to make the strike one of the orcs landed a blow against the dwarf’s unprotected backside, and another was preparing to swing a decapitating blow when Harold once again heard the gentle tones of the elf’s voice.
“Nyen ya no la way la yea” and again the glyphs floated through the air into one of the nearby orc’s ears, who was surprised and confused at the sound. The elf thereafter cried out in common.
“Watch out behind you!” at which both the dwarf and the affected orc ducked to the ground, and the two other orcs that had been simultaneously assailing the dwarf made contact with each other’s weapons, ending their pitiful lives. The remaining orc was lost in uncertainty as to what to do with his situation. The elf seemed to know the right words to solve the situation.
“Go! Your allies need help ahead! I’ll take care of the wagon.” He said in a careful, slightly abrasive common.
Thereafter the last orc made haste to reach the battle going on ahead as soon as he could, leaving them alone prisoners, dwarf, and dead orc. The dwarf noticed the goblin who remained and hopped up to the seat beside him, axe in hand. The goblin quivered in his chain bindings but the dwarf did not aggress. He spoke in slow dwarven.
“Borin’s Brad bin darhadan. Thera.” He accompanied his words with a powerful strike from his axe to the chains that held the goblin in place.
After several strikes the iron broke and the goblin, looking more terrified than anything else, slowly climbed off the wagon and limped away, in a direction away from anything obvious. The dwarf then turned his attention to the cage, but that lock would not submit to the blows of his axe.
“Well sirs and lady.” He said in breathy, beard filtered common. “I canna seem to release ye from yer prison. What shall we do about that?”
Harold and Harris looked around at the scene, a picture of chaos with corpses, blood, injuries and prisoners still imprisoned. Harris spoke to the dwarf.
“Good dwarf, Good dwarf. Saved our sour souls, so some of us might say your name again in tales of fact and feat found full of fearlessness and fairness. You’ve done enough, enough. We’re tough, maybe we’ll manage more or less, mired in this mess if we must. But before you part from us, praytell your name so we might pay proper respects in our prayers and our tales.”
Henrietta spoke up, with words of wisdom most wanted.
“Silly silly men. Surely some of these sods sat on the sealing stone to the prison we’re stuck in. Take a look and see?”
The dwarf nodded and went off to investigate the bodies of the orcs he had so handily slain. Around the same time the gnome lifted his bandaged head out of Henrietta’s lap where it had since been lain. He groaned and spoke, as if he had been listening all along.
“Leave it to me. I’m a professional in these sorts of affairs. Has anyone seen my pants?”
The elf raised his eyebrows and then responded, “Sir you are wearing your pants.”
The gnome looked down, seemed surprised, then fished around his ankle, producing a small rod with a crooked end on it. He grinned and walked over to the lock on the cage hatch. He put his ear up to the back of the lock and inserted the rod, whereafter the lock promptly opened and the hatch behind it swung out wide. They were free.
A round of thanks directed to the newly conscious, still bandaged gnome were followed by the group exiting the cage. Everyone brushed off their clothes and the gnome polished his one good glasses lens. The dwarf strapped his axe and shield to his back and took off his gloves.
“Te yer question, me name is Bartholomew Beardlong. Ye may, if ye like, call me Barty.” The dwarf said.
“We are Harris, Henrietta and Harold Hairfoot, halflings of what had been the humble home of our half-sized folk, until recently that is.” Harris replied, smile turning down into a reflective frown.
“I am Tassius Tearleaf. Speaker of the Nymph’s Fairness and Elf of Tearwood.” The elf added.
“I am Gerald Glitternose, Underhaven Gnomish Collection Agency Museum of Artifacts of Antiquity as well as Modern Marvels Collection and Appraisal Division, Class A Collection and Appraisal Agent. Has anyone seen my hat?” The gnome said, looking around.
The collected others shrugged and shook their head, and the gnome frowned, but a few words from Tassius’s magic mouth brought a stream of sparks and shimmers towards the gnome’s glasses, which were then suddenly made perfect again. The round little man smiled at this, and reached up to check his hat, but being still absent, he frowned again.
“Whats become of yer village there halflings? These orcs come a-pillaging?” Barty inquired.
The three nodded in tandem. The others slumped, recognizing the sadness that must have been incurred, but Barty remained positive, he pulled out three small clay stoppered bottles from his belt and handed one to each of the halflings.
“Dwarven Road Ale. Keeps yer throat wet and your spirits sharp, even in the face of darkness and gloom the likes of which we’ve seen te much of today.” He spoke.
Shrugging helplessly Harris plucked the stopper and quaffed the drink, quite parched from the long road behind them. Henrietta and Harold did as well, and in no time at all they were sighing with relief combined with drunken stupor, nevertheless quite relaxedly.
“Might I ask the favor of an escort to the Human land of Ferrisfield from any that are going that way?” piped in Gerald.
Tassius nodded, “I’d be happy to accompany you. I too am headed in that direction.”
Barty responded next, “First I must check on me compatriots who’ve encountered the forward force of orcs not but a lizard’s leap down this road, but I have no doubt they handily vanquished the beasts.”
Harris fell, passing out face forward into the dirt road, belching on his way down. Henrietta scowled at her easily intoxicated husband, and Harold helped to drag him up to the wagon.
“Might we make the most of the wheels we’ve got and ride along the road with this wagon? What do you say?” Harold suggested.
“A strange sight to be sure, but these animals don’t seem to mind us. I only hope they’ll heed our directions.” Tassius commented.
So it was, that the three halflings, the gnome Gerald, the elf Tassius, and the dwarf Bartholomew took up each other’s company and set off together on the road to adventure, fame, and inevitible if eventual doom that all adventurers seem to find.