17 February, 2006
Some people have said they enjoyed reading my short stories, so I figured I’d post this up.
I’ve created a character for an upcoming D&D campaign, a Dwarven Bard named “Short Har”. I wrote up a little story explaining his background, and I thought other people might like to read it.
Short Har, Bard of the College of the Shattered Sword
Harek was born the first son to a minor noble dwarven household. He had a happy childhood, surrounded by comfort and the love of his family. His earliest memories were of the many happy nights were spent with the family together in the evening, everyone singing along while grandfather played his fiddle.
He made his family proud with his industriousness, generally cheerful attitude, and great respect for the law. At a young age he dedicated himself to serving the temple of Moradin, becoming a valued and respected assistant. He enjoyed helping others, especially the youngest children. So, Harek was happier than anyone else when his sister Mariel was born, and he took to the role of big brother with enthusiasm.
Years passed, and everything was as it should have been. Harek continued to serve the temple, and eventually the old master of the temple passed into Moradin’s embrace. After the funeral rites, the old master was laid to rest in the crypts below the temple. The next day, an outsider arrived at the clanhome, presented the symbol of Moradin, and claimed that the Maker had sent him to lead the temple now. People were initially concerned, but after a few days all the priests of the temple announced they had done sacred rituals and that the stranger, Duran, was indeed sent my Moradin to lead them. Duran was then welcomed by the community and he even took on their clan name as his own. He chose Harek as a promising young acolyte and gave him special attention, filling Harek’s entire family with pride.
Looking back, Harek realized that things started changing at that point, but his new responsibilities kept him from seeing it. People continued with their lives, but there was something hiding just underneath the surface. People seemed to laugh a bit less than before, not that they laughed all that much before…. Grandfather stopped playing his fiddle, and became absentminded a lot. One day no one could find grandfather, but they were sure he had just wandered off absentmindedly and would return soon. He never did. But, life went on and Harek helped everyone he could.
Then, one doomed day Harek was performing his duties as usual at the temple. It was late, and most of the other acolytes had gone home to their families. He was cleaning up the temple when he heard crying from one of the back rooms. Harek, being the kind soul he was, went to see if he could help. He opened the door…
…to find Duran violating his sobbing little sister.
Harek had never been a violent dwarf before, but this sent him into a rage he had never felt before. He attacked Duran with his fists, and battered him away from his sister and into a corner. After subduing Duran, he went to check on his sister. “He said it was for the glory of Moradin,” she wept as he helped her back into he clothes. He helped her out of the temple and took her back home. On the way there, she realized how shameful the whole situation was. “Please, please, promise me you won’t tell our parents,” she begged. “Please, it would be too shameful to bear.” Out of a brother’s foolish love for his younger sister, he promised he would tell no one. They made it home and both decided to turn in early that night; Harek hoped this was all a bad dream and that it would go away in the morning.
He awoke in the middle of the night as his father stormed into his room. “Get up, now,” he demanded in his gruff voice. “Get ready and come with me.”
Harek was scared, but put on some clothes and followed his father to the temple. There, every elder had gathered in the main area, surrounding the statue of the ancient hero Harek had been named after. However, the gleaming axe the statue always held was gone. Murmurs arose from the elders as Harek and his father entered the temple. Duran was standing there, his arms crossed and a dark look on his face.
“The traitor comes before us,” Duran said in an icy voice to match his stare. “Is this how you repay my kindness?” he said as he pointed to the statue.
“Wha… what are you talking about?” Harek stammered.
“Axe thief. Jealous of the hero that shared his name with you? And, now, my fellows, I will show you our Lord’s judgment.” With that, Duran began to chant a sacred spell. A rumbling started deep in the earth and got louder. Suddenly, a spectral hand appeared and pointed directly at Harek. “See? There is the thief!”
The elders turned on Harek quickly. “Seize the traitor!” Harek started to yell accusations, but he remembered his promise to his sister and held his tongue. He couldn’t defend himself so he turn to run, only to be caught by the guards standing just outside the temple door. He was subdued and taken to the jail that night
Weeks passed while Harek sat in the jail, alone. Occasionally someone would come by to drop some food outside the door, and Harek had to reach through the bars to get it of the floor. Most of the time he sat in the near darkness, his mind festering, wondering how Moradin could have abandoned him like that. A holy man of the temple had hurt his sister, and now he stood accused of stealing from the temple by Moradin himself! He had nothing to do but go over the events in his head. The more he went over the events, the worse it hurt him. Finally, he did the unthinkable: he cursed Moradin’s name. He realized what he had done, and fell onto the straw mat and cried himself to sleep. He knew he could never follow the law of one that had let this happen to his sister and to him.
In the haze that followed, he wasn’t sure how many days had passed. It was only when someone different came to visit that he snapped back to reality. A figure in a hooded cloak had opened the door and come inside his cell. The figure pulled back the hood, revealing herself as Mariel. But, the sight of his sister did not gladden Harek’s heart. Instead of the beautiful face he remembered, he saw a gaunt face with a sickening pall over it. Grey skin hung loose, her eyes no longer twinkled, and her mouth had obviously not known a smile in a long time.
“I know the truth,” she said as he stared at her, horrified. “That truth is killing me.”
Harek rushed forward to engulf her in his embrace. He heard quiet sobbing, and stroked her now dull hair. “I love you and I’ll protect you,” Harek whispered into her ear. “Let’s get out of here.”
Without a word, she lead him out of the cell, and down a few corridors. At a blank wall, she tapped a sequence of bricks. The wall opened and they ascended a long staircase. After an eternity of climbing in the dark, they arrived at the surface world. A full moon was out, lighting the night. Harek remembered some of the features from maps he had seen: mountains everywhere, a forest down the slope of the mountain and into the valley, and nearby a deep stream emerging from underground.
“The elders stripped you of your name, you know. But you are free, and that is all that matters, brother.” She wrapped her arms around him in a lingering embrace and whispered, “I will always love you, no matter what.” With that, she let him go, turned around, and jumped into the stream. Before Harek could even think, his sister was swept away along the stream, and to her doom.
Harek would have cried, but the tears were dried out of him. He shambled along and followed the stream, hoping against hope that his sister might still be alive somewhere. But, Harek had no experience outside his home and the forest was harsh to him. He collapsed from hunger too many times to count, and finally lay down in defeat, accepting his fate.
He awoke later, bouncing around in the back of a wagon. He looked up to see two very tall people sitting at the front. He tried to speak, but his tongue felt too large for his mouth and no words came out. “It seems your pet is awake,” one person said to the other.
“Hush” came the soft reply from the other. One of them tossed a waterskin in the bank, and Harek drank deeply.
“Sister,” he managed to croak before fatigue knocked him out once again.
Harek awoke later and found himself in a luxurious feather bed. Sunlight was filtering in through high, glass windows. He was still for a moment, not sure what to make of his strange surroundings. After looking around to take it all in, he heard the sounds of a slow, mournful song being played in the distance. There was something compelling about the music, even though he had not heard anything like it before in his life. He got up, put on his clothes, and opened the door. The song was louder in the hall, coming from a room down the hall. Harek moved quietly out of the room and walked down the hall, closer and closer to the music. When he reached the door, he saw it was ajar. He stood there, listening to the deep sound of the instrument being played. The song filled him with emotion, and tears came to his eyes as he remembered his sister being swept down the stream and away from him.
The door opened suddenly, and a very tall man was standing there. Harek looked up into his face, but it was too blurred by the tears in his own eyes. “Your pet has come, Mellisandra,” he said simply as he stepped aside. Harek wiped his eyes clear and looked into the room. Inside was a beautiful elf sitting on a stool and playing a long horn instrument he later found was called a hautbois.
She set the instrument aside and stood up to walk to the door. “Stop calling him that, Michael, or I’ll remove you from your post,” she said in a soft voice. “Welcome, friend. What is your name?”
“Har…” he started, but remembered the elders had taken his name. “I have none, my lady.”
The man nearby laughed. “He thinks you’re a lady!”
“Hush, or I will have your silver tongue on a platter,” she shot at him. “But, Har is as good a name as any.”
Harek started to protest, but Michael laughed again and said, “More like Short Har.”
The elf moved faster than he thought possible. She had her hands around his throat, and he started turning a strange shade of purple. “I said to hush. Have I made myself clear?”
“Y..yes,” he squeaked out. She released his neck, leaving deep impressions where her slender hands had held him with impossible strength. “I forgot my place, …master.” He dropped to one knee and bowed low to the elf.
“Learn to control your tongue, or I will take it out before you embarrass our college, Michael,” the elf said. “I will not have you insulting my guest.”
“No,” Harek said as a dark mood took him. “Short Har is a good enough name,” he said, staring at his feet. He felt defeated and empty.
“Very well,” Mellisandra said, “We’ll call you by that name. This is Michael the Fool, as I think we should call him. I am Mellisandra, master of the bardic College of the Shattered Sword, an ancient group of diplomats and loremasters. Come, sit, tell us your story, friend.”
He walked in the room when he saw it out of the corner of his eye. He turned toward the table and saw it lying there, a fiddle just as his grandfather had played. It shined in the sunlight, and he went to touch it on the table. He heard Michael gasp and move quickly.
“No, Michael, let him touch it. Does that seem familiar, Har?”
“Y..yes,” Short Har stammered. “My grandfather used to play one like it.”
The elf sat there for a moment as he continued to stare at the fiddle. “Would you like to learn?” Melissandra asked in her soft voice.
“Yes, yes I would,” he said, not taking his eyes off the fiddle.
Short Har become a student at the College of the Shattered Sword, learning the ways of the Bard over the next few years. He became friends with the other students there, mostly humans and half-elves, but never did another dwarf ever appear. He was a quick student, learning all about ways of diplomacy and stealth with surprising ease. In the years of his study at the college, he mastered the longsword and the light crossbow combat arts. He also learned how to talk his way out of trouble and how to hide small objects with ease. He even learned the lore and love of the Dweller on the Horizon. But, his favorite training was in the evenings with Melissandra, learning to play the fiddle as his grandfather had.
One evening, after an enjoyable class where he played a song he had composed on the fiddle, Mellisandra stood up and walked to the door. “I should have told you earlier,” she said, in her soft voice. “But, I wasn’t sure until now.” She motioned for him to follow her.
“Sure of what?” Short Har asked. “I don’t understand.” He set aside the fiddle and started to follow her.
“No, bring the fiddle.” she said, as she walked through the door and down the hall. She turned a few corners and went down a hallway Short Har had never seen before. She pulled an iron key on a chain out from under her jerkin, and unlocked a massive door. Beyond was a small courtyard with many gravestones.
“Here is the final resting place for our family, so to speak. Many of our heroes are here, great storytellers and diplomats that have averted countless wars.” She walked past many graves, some ancient stones worn smooth by the elements. “But, there is one in particular that you should see.”
She brought him a gravestone in the back of the yard. The stone was newer that most of the others he had seen in the graveyard. On the stone was a crude portrait he almost recognized….
“You are not the first dwarf to come this way in recent memory, my friend. No, there was another. He arrived here in about the same condition I found you. He had walked for weeks, he said, away from the accursed place he once called home. He told us a tale about how a deceiver had come and poisoned the minds of the people there. This follow of dread Hextor used foul magic to fool people, and use them for his own dire purpose. It was all he could do to escape the enchantment himself.” She looked at the grave and gave a small sigh.
“He came at a strange time. Our college is old, as you know from the history you learned. But, our numbers had dwindled. Not many people choose to come out here and learn the ancient ways of diplomacy. Most Bards these days are just drunken singers, looking to get into a warm bed. Few uphold the ancient traditions anymore” The note of sadness in her voice was unmistakable. “I was wondering if we should even bother keeping the college running when he showed up. He was old and ill, but when he heard me say that he took out that fiddle you hold in your hands and played. Oh, by the gods, he played.” Short Har looked up and saw the tears welling in her eyes. “He reminded me what no bard should forget, that there is magic in the music. Even when things seem hopeless, a song brighten even the gloomiest heart.”
Short Har looked at the gravestone again, and saw the portrait. Suddenly it hit him all like a bolt from the sky. “Grandfather…?”
“Yes, I figured it out. I should have told you earlier. I’m so sorry….” Mellisandra said through her tears. “He died not shortly after from his illness. But, he had brought hope to me and to this college. And, for that I count him our greatest hero.”
Short Har looked away, the tears starting in his own eyes. He turned to Mellisandra and wrapped his arms around her. “Oh, thank you. It is good to know that grandfather found peace.” She put her arms around him, and they stood in that embrace for a long time.
A week later Short Har went to Mellisandra’s room in the evening, as he had for years I order to learn to play the fiddle. She smiled at him as he entered and he returned the smile. “Ready for your lesson? Perhaps you can play me another song you have composed.”
“No, not tonight. I have made a decision. I have been thinking of grandfather, and the hope he gave you. I think it is time that I left the college and made my way in the world.” He was mostly looking at his shoes as he told her this, just like when he arrived here all those years ago.
He looked up to see Mellisandra’s face filled with conflicting emotions. Her words spilled out in a rush, “Oh, Har, I can’t say this makes me glad. I have come to enjoy our time together. Isn’t it silly? An elf enjoying the company of a dwarf. But, no, I can’t be selfish. This is what a Bard must do.” She got up from her stool and went to him. She hugged him tight, and he returned the embrace.
“I promise, I will be back. I must go learn about the world, and perhaps go save my kin from the evil that lurks there.” He squeezed her a bit tighter.
“Har, you are always welcome here. Go, do good in the world. You have learned well, and I have faith you will make our college proud.”
With that, Short Har set off to learn about the world.