Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My Dwarven Druid

As you may remember, I recently joined a friend's Dungeons and Dragon's campaign and it turns out that he is a huge junkie for back stories. Well, he recently challenged all the players to come up with back stories for our characters and I gladly took him up on it. While he was probably only expecting a brief description of where we came from and our general motivation, I decided to really dive into the story and make it a narrative. Anyway, I'm pretty happy with how it turned out so I decided to share it.

“David!” King Relhan called towards his keep as he saddled up his horse.

A young human page came running out of the barracks carrying his weight in hunting gear.

“Yes my lord.”

“Any news of the woods?”

David began to strap the gear to the king’s saddle as he spoke, “Well, Pippin and Isaac…”

“Please,” The King interrupted, “don’t call them that.”

“I’m sorry your highness.” David stammered for a second, “The falcons have returned my lord, and it would appear that the deer are running.”


Not only was David King Relhan’s personal page, but he was also the keep’s falconer and handler of the hunting dogs. It was a widely held rumor about the town that David was even able to commune with the animals, the rumor began when David began calling each of the animals by name.

“My lord,” David said, “I don’t think we should ride out today.”

The king leveled his brow at the page, “And why is that?”

Realizing that the king would never believe his reasoning, David resigned himself to silently strapping the spears and arrows to the king’s saddle.

The king rode out with his hunting party as the sun was still approaching its zenith. David rode behind the king, but before the small squad of guards and a cluster of hunting dogs jogged at his horse’s feet.

As they approached the nearest wood, one of the dogs ran out ahead of the party and into the woods. Relhan’s kingdom was renowned for its well disciplined animals. Where most kings would only take a single hunting dog, for fear of the animal’s natural pack mentality taking over, Relhan was able to bring up to three or four on any one hunting voyage without worry.

Relhan pulled back an arrow and waited for the dog to flush out its quarry. David fiddled with his reigns anxiously, nervous for the coming strike.

A doe came bursting out of the woods no more than fifty yards away from them. The king loosed his arrow and it struck true into the creature’s flank. As the arrow hit, David clenched his jaw and ducked his head as if to resist yelping in pain himself. Relhan and the guards paid him no mind, as they watched the doe bolt back into the cover of the trees, leaving a trail of blood that the dogs quickly ran to follow.

“That’s how it’s done boys!” Relhan bellowed back to his guards.

The party spurred their horses to a gallop into the woods, following the trail of barking.

They raced between the trees, their horses moving with the casual grace of creatures familiar with their surroundings. Given Relhan’s appreciation for the hunt, these woods were a kind of their second home.

The barking stopped ahead of them, making way for an eerie silence. The men continued in the direction, too drunk with the excitement of a fresh kill to notice.

They found the body of the doe lying in a beam of light cast from an opening in the canopy above. The arrow rested on the ground, the tips still coated in blood, and a short, cloaked figure was kneeling over the doe with its back to the party. The dogs had all stopped around the scene and were intently watching, they didn’t appear startled in any way.

The men stared on in frightened puzzlement for a moment as the figure moved its hands above the flank of the infirm animal and before the men’s eyes, the doe stood up and trotted off into the wilderness. The cloaked figure watched as the doe disappeared into the woods.

“Excuse me.” Said the king, trying to sound as regal as possible despite being a bit surprised at the situation, “But who exactly do you think you are.”

The cloak figure turned and pulled back his hood, revealing himself to be a tan-skinned dwarf with a short beard and jovial eyes, despite obviously being weary from years of travel in the wilderness.

“My name is Mitleanu. And I am merely a concerned wanderer.”

One of the guards spurned his horse forward with a new-found indignation, “Who are you to poach in the king’s forest!”

“Poach?” Mitleanu chuckled at the man, “I assure you I’m doing quite the opposite. That doe was pregnant. If anything, I am doing you a service.”

The guard stammered in confusion and retired back to the line of speechless grunts.

“Well Mitleanu,” Relhan said, “I am displeased at the spoiling of my hunt today, but I suppose your actions were in the best interest of my lands. Also, that is quite a gift you have for healing.”

“It is merely my way of thanking the earth for providing for me good sir.”

“To whom do you swear your allegiance?” Relhan asked.

“Merely to Obad-Hai and the wild.” Mitleanu replied. As he said this, he looked past the king to David and saw the visible excitement that had been painted on his face. “What is your name.”

The king was taken aback, but he pushed his horse aside to allow Mitleanu a clear line of site to David.

“David, good sir.” He lowered his head in reverence to the dwarf.

Mitleanu chuckled, “Now cut that out, I’m no more royalty than you.”

“I’m sorry sir.”

“My name is Mitleanu, I don’t know why you humans are always so formal, but please stop this ‘sir’ nonsense.” The dwarf wasn’t scolding the page, in fact, he was smiling as he said this, as if in response to a joke he was telling himself. “So, David, I can see how animals are so friendly to you. You can hear them too can’t you?”

At the mention of his talent, David stammered in suppressed joy. The king scowled slightly at the mention of his keep’s supernatural fears.

Mitleanu addressed Relhan, “You don’t understand this gift. His potential is far greater than you allow, I can tell merely by the way he rides, almost in shame.”

“Could you…” David started, but then sat back in his saddle, remembering his place.

“Go on.” Relhan said, reluctantly.

David started again, “Could you teach me?”

Mitleanu’s eyes smiled, “Of course I can, if your lord will allow it.”

Relhan assessed the dwarf up and down, “I will allow you to take David as your apprentice in whatever arts you work, but only if you will swear allegiance to me and join the ranks of my army’s healers.”

“I swear fealty to none but the earth itself my good king.” Mitleanu replied, “But for as long as David is in need of instruction, I will heal your men.”

“I suppose that will have to do.” Relhan replied.

Mitleanu stayed in Relhan’s fortress for many months, teaching David to tune his mind and spirit with the wild. Rumors abounded in the keep about this mysterious dwarf that kept taking the king’s page out to the forest for days at a time. Neither David nor Mitleanu even cared though, as David’s natural talents bloomed before Mitleanu’s eyes. David learned to properly enunciate the sylvan language he had been instinctively using to speak to animals, and Mitleanu also taught him the druidic tongue.

Given Mitleanu’s solitary lifestyle, he was grateful to have a student and, more importantly, a friend. In the nights that they both dined in the great hall, they sat by themselves lost in conversation slipping in and out of various languages without a second thought. They were truly inseparable.

One day, Mitleanu woke from his bunk to find his barracks completely empty. The army was amassing in the courtyard with King Relhan at the head, wearing his ornate plate armor. David was fastening the king’s weapons and shield to his saddle.

Mitleanu ran up to David and the king nodded in greeting at his approach.

“What is going on?” Mitleanu asked, both to David and the king.

“We got a message early this morning to muster our troops.” Relhan replied, “There is going to be an assault against the demon lord Graz’zt, led by a group of adventurers whom I hold in very high esteem.”

“Why was I not awoken with the rest of the troops?” Mitleanu asked.

“Because it will be at least another hour before the troops are ready to move, and you don’t have any gear to ready.” David said. “Besides, we tried at first but you sleep more soundly than a boulder.”

“Your services will be needed dwarf.” The king said, “The healers are going to form a unit of their own at the back of the column, near the supply carts.”

The army marched for a few days as fast as they could, but since they numbered over 10,000 the march was slow and tedious. After a few days they finally arrived at Glamsden keep, home of Barthwick Glamsden and countless heroic tales. The army made camp inside the outer walls of the bailey, and settled in for the night.

Mitleanu sat on a sidelong log outside the healers’ tent and warmed his hands by the small fire. He could hear the sound of boisterous laughter coming from the keep as the dwarven army drank away their nerves about the upcoming battle. David approached and sat next to him.

“I hear we are to attack tomorrow.” David said.

“I’m not surprised.” Mitleanu replied, “We were the last to arrive.”

“Mitleanu,” David asked, in a tone that betrayed his young age, “have you ever been to battle?”

“I have combated many things in my time. I have fought rot, plague, the machinations of hunters and those who wish to bend the wilds to their will.” He paused for a moment. “But I have never seen battle like we will tomorrow.”

“I never thought I’d see the day when I was more experienced than you.” David chuckled nervously.

“I suppose being a king’s page, you have ridden into a fair number of conflicts.”

“Well, I have.” David said, “But only skirmishes between feuding lords or the occasional bandit raid, nothing like this.”

“Be careful out there.” Mitleanu said through moist eyes. “Unlike me, you’ll be in the middle of harm’s way.”

“Master,” David said, “I know.”

Mitleanu and the other healers had set up an infirmary behind the amassed armies on the plains of Cem’Dal and found hours passing as the injured human, elf and dwarf soldiers seemed to steadily stream through the tent’s flaps.

Every time a human solider came through the door, Mitleanu held his breath until he could see their face to confirm that it wasn’t David. The entire day passed without any sign of him.

As the day was wearing thing, all of the healers were feeling exhausted and almost defeated when a messenger burst through the door shouting, “The army of Graz’zt is broken and fleeing! We have won the day!”

The human healers all cheered, but Mitleanu cared less about the army and more about his pupil. The human healers all seemed to have a new found spring in their step and were working with smiles on their faces where once they were somber. Mitleanu stepped out of the tent in hopes of finding some word on David.

Just as he did, King Relhan rode up to the infirmary tent. His armor was flecked with blood, both red and black, and he had a large cut that had severed his plate and bit into his side.

“Mitleanu!” He called, “We have won the day!”

“I heard,” Mitleanu replied as Relhan dismounted and allowed the dwarf to lay his hand on the wound, “any news of David?”

The king’s face grew long with newly realized grief. “I’m afraid he didn’t make it.”

Mitleanu was barely able to finish the healing as he was overcome with grief.

Relhan saw this and said, “You have done well in my service, but since you never swore fealty, you are free of your duties.”

Mitleanu was able to choke out the words, “Thank you” between tears and he retired from the battlefield.

Mitleanu wandered the forests aimlessly as he had done before, but in it he no longer felt the wild kinship as strongly as he had before. He spent many nights in meditation and prayer, often surrounded by the beasts he and David had come to admire together. During this time, he discovered the ability to change his very shape to that of the creatures around him. He found the shape of the bear to feel the most comfortable and natural. He often stayed in the shape for days at a time in hopes of finding the joy he had lost as a dwarf.

Many years passed in solitude. Mitleanu found that he missed some of the smaller comforts that Relhan’s keep had allowed him and he decided to build a home. He dug a small hut into a hill and fashioned a door and furniture from dead wood that had fallen from nearby trees. After many years in his hut, he found joy again in the wilderness around him and the sharp pain of David’s death blunted.

One day, as Mitleanu was lighting a fire and sitting back to meditate, he heard a knock on his door. He was taken off guard and was startled at first, but he rose and opened the door to find a world-weary rag tag group of travelers.

“Hail,” said a human ranger, “we are adventurers passing through and we saw the smoke from your chimney and were wondering if we may join you for a meal.”

“By all means.” Mitleanu replied, glad to see the company.

“My name is Talyn,” the human said, “this is Dim, Flash, Irus, Werdal, and Rhena. May we ask how to address you sir.”

It had been so long since Mitleanu had even given his own name much thought, and at hearing the word ‘sir’ he was reminded of his old pupil with distinct clarity.

“You may call me David.” He said.

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