Something's Rotten in Faerun
The hold of Kynbarand was founded centuries ago by intrepid Dwarfs from the Kingdom of Rolimar. Sunken beneath the forested hills south of the Troll Mountains, Kynbarand survived the fall of Rolimar through a shrewd policy of self-sufficient isolation. Their mines delved deep into the world, striking veins of iron and semi-precious gems, while above they culled the forest for a bounty of timber and game. Even after the settlement of nearby Sendrin brought mankind to their doorstep, the Dwarves of Kynbarand remained apart from their surface dwelling neighbors.
The Dwarf that would carry the name “Stumpy Treechopper” was born as Bron Glittergeld, the youngest of three sons born to his clan in their generation. From birth the young dwarfling was marked as different with eyes of faded blue, an uncommon trait in the Hill Dwarven people. By his 25th winter Bron’s beard and mane had brightened in color from proper brown to a fiery hue of red. The elders claimed him to be marked by the seeker god Dugmarin, much to the chagrin of the rest of his deeply conservative clan. The Glittergeld were jewelers and goldsmiths beyond compare within the halls of Kynbarand, but young Bron proved to have no talent for metalwork. His apprenticeship to the foresters of the hold was regarded as a source of shame by his brothers, and the quiet divide that had been growing between Bron and his clan quickly became a chasm.
If his service in the “lowly” forester’s guild was a source of consternation for Bron, never did he show it. In fact, life on the surface seemed to breathe purpose into the young dwarf. He acclimated to the ways of the wood quickly, learning of its denizens and dangers. It was during the time of his apprenticeship that Bron also encountered the men of Sendrin, who toiled in the forests that surrounded the grounds claimed by Kynbarand. Unlike the other dwarfs that remained aloof, Bron saw no reason not to treat these human woodsmen as brothers. On many nights he retired to the camps of the human loggers, exchanging stories of the Dwarven way for tales of the lands of The Vast. Bron’s heart carried in it a great wanderlust, but he remained resolute in his need to stay with his people, regardless of how cold has family relations had become.
The years passed, and Bron passed the mantle of apprentice to those dwarflings sent to study under his tutelage. Marrying age came and went, and Bron was the only Glittergeld son not to be chosen to take the hand of a she-dwarf. His kin had branded him with the name Aalvbarath, “half-blood,” in mockery of the amount of time that he spent on the surface world. The human woodsmen that he called friend had given him their own pet name, Stumpy, an ode to his both his dwarven stature and prodigious skill as a timberer. He took this name with him when he visited the settlement of Sendrin, making him the first ever dwarf of Kynbarand to accept the hospitality of the humans.
In the spring of Bron’s 60th year a plague of violence and murder visited the forest surrounding Kynbarand. Orcish raids had been a fact of life in the Vast since the ancient days of Grimmerfang, and on many occasions the axes of Bron’s fellow foresters had bitten green flesh instead of white wood. But while the Orcs sought plunder first and carnage second, these new marauders seemed motivated by nothing higher than bloodlust. Their first victims were the human caravans plying the routes between Sendrin and distant Kurth. Bodies, skinned and defiled were left nailed to the proud oak trees of the forest as grisly trophies. Bron went to the elders of Kynbarand and asked that they send an expedition of warriors to the surface to bring the murderers low, but the elders instead ordered the Forester’s Guild to gather a surplus of wood so that the hold could seal its doors ‘til year’s end, content to let this scourge run its course on the surface. Timber fell, travelers died, and Bron grew to resent the elders of his hold. The militia of Sendrin had been unable to track the outlaws or bring them to justice. Before long, the human woodsmen that had long been Bron’s friends found themselves forced to become vigilantes, shadowing caravans on the forest road to keep them from harm. Though stout hearted, these men were artisans and not warriors. Before long their torn bodies would also come to be nailed to the forest trees, the work of their lives becoming monuments to their deaths. Bron buried the dead men beneath the forest loam and carried his own heavy heart back to the halls of Kynbarand.
Standing before the elders of the hold, he again asked them to send the warriors to intervene. The elders were unmoved by his description of the carnage wrought in the forest. No dwarves had been killed by these marauders, and they seemed quite content to limit their victims to travelers and the folk of Sendrin. It was a human problem, they said, and should be dealt with by humans. Bron’s sense of justice was unsatisfied by the callousness of his people. When the doors of Kynbarand were sealed shut, he stood outside of them, now outcast from his guild, clan and hold. With nothing more than his axe, gear and a modest saving of gold, Stumpy the Treechopper made his way to Sendrin.
The human folk greeted the prodigal dwarf in friendship, though the unchecked banditry in their lands had clearly cast a shade of fear over their hearts. Of Stumpy they inquired about the fate of their woodsmen kin, and it was with great sadness that he related the tale of their grim fates. That night he retired to the barracks of the local militia, hearing the stories of the local watch. The marauders had managed to elude the militia each time that they went out into the forest in strength, and when the watch sent forth scouting parties, those men ended up as corpses. Stumpy lay awake for many hours in his cot, plotting how he might best bring down his quarry.
On the following day Stumpy spent most of his gold on a wagon and horse. He and the father of one of the slain woodsmen then struck out on the road between Sendrin and Kurth. Though he knew not the number of his foe, he was confident that any foe that would flee from a regiment of human militia would stand no chance against a single dwarf with an axe to grind. The old man drove the wagon onwards, and his dwarven companion took great care to stay out of sight. Near the intersection of the Centaur Trail and the North Road, at the forest outskirts, the marauders made their move.
It’s safe to say that the outlaws didn’t expect the bounty of the caravan to be an angry dwarven warrior. Stumpy erupted from concealment and felled a handful of bandits before they even realized what was happening. By the time that the swirling melee was finished over a dozen men lay dead, most put to the axe, a few transfixed by arrows from the back as they tried to make an escape. One survived, a man who had very purposefully had his ankle smashed but had otherwise been spared. Stumpy interrogated him, winning the names “Zandire” and “The Shadowcloaks” as well as a place, “Caluant.” Leaving the last surviving bandit to the mercy of the old man, Stumpy began the long trek west towards that bleak city.
A veteran of dwarven delves and forest lands, Stumpy wasn’t prepared for the urban squalor that was Caluant. The foulness of the tanneries and the polluted harbor wash choked the air with their stench. Refuse strewn streets snaked between clusters of squat, ugly buildings, each ghetto seeming somehow more desperate and hopeless than the last. It seemed as if the whole city stood in opposition to Stumpy and his hunt for Zandire, but the dwarf was undeterred. He adapted, stalking foetid alleyways like forest paths and finding distinctions in the small details around him. Before long he could navigate the streets without a map, finding landmarks in the patterns of discoloration on a stone wall, or the shape of the cracks in a cobblestone. The skills that once helped him to hunt game animals enabled him to hunt men, staying quiet and out of sight until the time was right to strike.
The hunt of Zandire was a long one. The Shadowcloaks were well entrenched in the city of Caluant, and Stumpy made many enemies in his search. Many times he would bloody his woodsmen’s axe in vigilante acts, having to spend months out of sight to escape the retribution of local crime lords. The years passed and the city left its mark upon the dwarven warrior in the form of its dialect, mannerisms and practices. He lived like a Caluanti, braiding his beard and trimming his equipment in the same was as its warriors. Stumpy found friendship with the priesthood of Selune and the honest, sturdy folk that worked in the docks and the tanneries. Unchanged over the years however was his dedication to the pursuit of Zandire, and the forester’s justice that was due.
So it was, on a night beneath the full moon’s light, Zandire called his lieutenants to meet in a back room at the Weeping Unicorn tavern. Their parties which had been terrorizing the Vast had finally discovered what they were seeking, an arcane brand fashioned during the time of Rolimar and plundered by an unassuming band of adventurers that had come south from Kurth. The brand was of great interest to the Night Hood, the leader of the Shadowcloaks who had personally burdened Zandire with its retrieval almost a decade ago.
A hateful bellowing sounded then as Stumpy leaped from the rafters above and buried his woodsmen’s axe deep in Zandire’s skull. The sallow skinned human slumped down, given the same death that he had ordered for so many innocents near Sendrin. A grand melee broke out, during which Stumpy pried a battle axe from the grasp of one of his enemies, using it to cut his way to freedom. With jagged shadows at his heels, the dwarven vigilante made good his escape by way of the rooftops, eventually finding his way back to the docks. Those friends that he had among the harbor workers would not shelter him, but they did help him find a trade ship upon which he could stow away. As the large merchant vessel slipped out across the sea of black and silver, Kynbarand, the Vast and all that Stumpy had known before slowly vanished over the distant horizon…