Windling Archer/Bounty Hunter
A moment of silence.
“it seems our refuge has been found out” I shout to my companion, over the rising din. The missiles are burying themselves into the sides of our fallen tree – where we thought we had lost our pursuers – with greater accuracy and increasing frequency. Tamler, ever the conversationalist, simply looks at me, shrugs, and once again plunges headlong into the underbrush. For the umpteenth time during this hellacious week, he forgets to scoop me into his bag first. I take flight to begin chasing him down, flying low to avoid the hail of arrows and darts aimed at his enormous back. Few archers would choose to aim at a windling over a thundering dwarf, but I’m not taking any chances.
“You drunken rock eating bastard! You left me behind again!”
“Just shut up and shoot” he shouts back.
“I would, but between the thicket of arrows and your stench I can hardly aim!”
Around this point I’ve finally caught up with him. I take my standard position between the crest of his helmet and the ornamental spike on front – iron, always iron with these damned dwarfs – and begin returning fire. I immediately drop two of our pursuers, and the rest of the orks start to lag back, confused as to how a fleeing dwarf managed to peg two assailants without turning or breaking stride.
“Seems that they still don’t know there are two of us. Perks of being my size. Maybe I should just sneak away and leave you to the long teeth…” I say, trying to lighten the mood.
“Huh. Maybe you should.”
“Ah but how I’d miss our chats. And by the Passions you’d be dead in a blink without me.”
“Seem to recall this is your fault.”
We’re both right, of course. Without my bow we would’ve starved more than once in the last two years together, and without my tracking we wouldn’t have sniffed a penny. (Not to say Tamler doesn’t have his own talents, those meaty fists are great for shaping metal, and reshaping skulls when needed.) On the other hand, our arrival in this predicament certainly was my fault. We were gathering information on a fugitive at a local watering hole, Tamler disguised in hood and armor, me hiding, tucked deep in his pocket. Ork taverns might tolerate a dwarf if he minds his business, but a windling like me buzzing around was sure to draw too much attention. I made the mistake of doing just that – drawing too much attention – when I spied a loosely tied bag of coin on a nearby ork’s pocket, and completely botched the pick. To be fair, the ork never actually noticed me, but he took a swing at Tamler – which is never a good idea – all the same. Then the ork pulled a knife, forcing Tamler to brain the poor bastard. The fact that it was clearly self defense was of little concern to the bar full of orks. In the ruckus, one of the orks we previously greased for info was in the crowd, and quickly identified Tamler as a bounty hunter looking for their compatriot (he neglected to mention that he had helped us considerably to that end, but it didn’t seem like the time to argue). Tamler wisely didn’t stick around to discuss it, bowled over a drunk ork woman who was trying to block his escape, and hit the road, with numerous bloodthirsty orks in tow. Leading to our current adventure.
“Well yes, if I had kept my sticky fingers to myself it wouldn’t have gone off in the pub. But you didn’t have to kill that slackjawed ork… you could’ve just knocked him out.”
Tamler grunts in response.
To be honest, friend, I grow tired of this tale. We windlings don’t like to sit idle for any reason, and telling a tale I already know is especially taxing for me. As you can see me before you, it’s clear that I survived this particular misadventure. With your leave, I’ll skip ahead, so we can slip behind and I can address your original question. To escape our Ork pursuers, Tamler trudged long into the night, with me occasionally flying above the treetops to track our trackers. When I thought them sufficiently far behind, Tamler veered hard to the west, scurrying across rocks and along the trunks of downed trees to make us harder to track. After doubling back a few times to thoroughly confound our assailants, we plunged into a roaring creek, Tamler being an unexpectedly excellent swimmer, and floated downstream for two hours until we finally reached the Serpent, putting our pursuers behind us once and for all. Now windlings hate to get our wings wet, it’s true, and I felt like I wasn’t flying clean for at least a week afterward, but I surely hate an orkish arrow in the back more, so in the end it was worth it.
There, that laborious tale is done. And now, if you don’t mind, I’ll be needing a few more flagons of keesris to loosen this tongue, if you are intent – and it seems you are – on hearing how my story truly began.
My early life was more or less idyllic, if you’ll pardon the term, which is pretty rare for people in my line of work. Not many bounty hunters, or trackers for that matter, come from the happiest or most stable homes. Mine was stable, or as stable as one can expect from windlings. My kin-father was a blacksmith, my mother a Loremistress. Some are surprised to find out windlings even have such talents, but they’ve surely never been cut by a crystal blade from a windling’s smithie, or heard a true windling orator spin a tale surrounded by nothing but moonlight and the dancing shadows of a fire. As far as “standard” windling rearing goes, I suppose my youth was a bit out of the ordinary. Unlike most of our kind, we didn’t live with a windling clan properly. When I was just a babe I remember flashes of clan life, bustle and music and laughter late at night, but all of that soon ended. My mother, though she never lost a snippet of song or a twist in a tale, was beginning to lose her mind. Her eruptions, occasionally bordering on violence, soon became too much for the clan to take. The elders remembered too many stories of folk losing their minds during the Scourge, and took no pity on those they saw to be weakminded. The clanfather commanded my mother be executed or exiled. My father’s skills would be surely missed if we left, such was the quality of his blades, and the elders implored him to – one way or another – cast her out. But he wouldn’t. Unlike yours truly, my father could command a deep quiet rage. Where I would’ve flown off into a fury, cursing and warmongering, he simply bid the elders good night, came home, packed his smith’s tools and the most important of my mother’s books, and we left that very evening. He never once sold as much as an arrow to our former clan again.
I said idyllic, and that certainly doesn’t seem to fit the story thus far. Although that’s certainly a dark chapter, it becomes much more brighter from there. After a few weeks of wandering, no small task with
a bouncing babe and a crazed wife to protect from the dangers of the road, my father found us a new home. We stumbled onto an abandoned mining town, seemingly untouched since before the Scourge. Being an old dwarven mining town, it had everything my father needed to start his work again, a forge and a smelter and the like, and being abandoned, there was no one for my mother to bother. The lack of people seemed to soothe her mind a bit, and her frenzies lost their earlier vigor. She still had her bad days, sure, but haven’t we all? And the bad days were a far cry better than they had been in the earlier days, at least according to my father. Most days she would simply flit around the big clumsy dwarf houses, exploring and tinkering with me in her wake. Despite her condition, she was a strict teacher, and sat me down for hours a day, in the middle of rummaging through some long-dead dwarf maiden’s wardrobe, to teach me everything from my letters to ancient lore (which accounts for this silver tongue of mine, which so often gets me into trouble).
My father spent his days on the anvil, meticulously honing his craft. We were only a few days march from some a town called Bosivert, so every few weeks my father would take a selection of his finer (though not his finest) creations to sell. Though he was a stranger, his skill spoke for itself, and windling crystal is in high demand for those who know its worth, so we were able to eke out a comfortable living off of the profits from his forge. After a few good deals, my father would purchase supplies in the town, and begin the long journey home. With the memory of our banishment due to the unfair treatment of my mother, always fresh in his mind, my father went to excruciating lengths to ensure he was never followed and that our haven remained a secret.
And so the years of my childhood passed, peacefully, in Crickhollow, for that was what we called our private town. The name comes from some ancient tome that my father could barely remember, and that my mother surely knew but couldn’t explain. But she said the name over and over, always with a smile on her face, whenever we wandered the empty town together.
Being the son of a blacksmith I’ve always been comfortable around both blade and bow, and my father taught me from a young age how to use them. The more we could hunt and forage for ourselves, the less reliant we would be on sales from Bosivert. I didn’t become truly skilled with either, though, until I met K’sildaya.
One day while my father was in Bosivert selling a fine axe he had been working on, my mother and I were wandering through our lonely town, as we always did. After visiting a few of her favorite haunts, we were on our way back to our home, high in the attic of one of dwarf homes. As we crossed the street, long ago turned into a greenway due to disuse by all but we three windlings, a shout shattered our peaceful isolation.
“Blasted tree sprites! What are you doing here?”
At the end of the street stood a female T’skrang, clearly drunk, with a rusted sword in her hand. Though she stood more than 60 paces off, she took a stumbling step, and whipped her cutlass fiercely at some unseen foe.
“Come back to finish me off, ey?”
Neither my mother or I had seen another namegiver in years. My mother tore off in a panic, heading straight to our hiding place. Rather than fear, I felt a deep sense of curiosity. Though my father would’ve been furious, our secret existence had already been found out, so I figured there was no harm in exploring further. I nocked my bow discreetly and, keeping my distance, flew in for a closer inspection.
“You think just cuz m’drunk I can’t see that dart you hold? Fyew send it this way it’ll be the last thing you do”
“Who are you and what do you want?” I demanded.
“K’sildaya and a drink if you please. Who are you and what are you and why are you here” she shot back, leaning on her sword. Moments later, she leaned too far, slipped, and went sprawling on her face, dead drunk.
The next day K’sildaya awoke tied to a post, hastened to consciousness by a bucket of ice cold water from the stream, tossed by yours truly. You see I hadn’t spoken to another namegiver in my waking life, and I certainly wasn’t going to miss this chance before my father returned from Bosivert. I was also not going to take any chances with this stranger. I knew the stories of our family’s banishment from our clan, how cruel namegivers could be, and accordingly wrapped the drunken T’srkang in so much rope as to be actually comical. When she came to her entire length, from ankles to neck was covered in coil upon coil of thick rope.
“Start talking” I said, hoping to sound intimidating.
“About what, little master” she confidently retorted.
“why did you come here. what do you want.”
“hell, Goldenwings, I don’t even remember where here is. I don’t remember much, which only tells me I had a little less ale than I would’ve preferred. Name’s K’sildaya. Where the hell am I and when I can get a drink?”
After breaking K’sildaya’s heart with the news that we had not a drop of alcohol in Crickhollow she wouldn’t talk to me for a long while. But after I badgered her with enough questions of the outside I think she realized I was just lonely, and truth be told I think she was lonely herself. She began to tell me her tale, battles aboard ships on the Serpent, old scores with powerful merchants, brawls in taverns across Barsaive. For a lonely, isolated windling, it was music to my ears. She spoke with a zeal I had never encountered about places I’d never imagined. I resolved then and there to someday leave Crickhollow and explore the wide world.
Alas, I grow tired again, and more importantly thirsty. Tale telling is thirsty work, and I haven’t my mother’s gift for it. Rehashing old tales makes me restless. Feels like I’m living in the past. I’ll sum up briefly. My father returned, shocked to find a drunken T’skrang swordswoman tied up in the barn at the other end of Crickhollow. He was understandably furious, but eventually came to understand the predicament I had been in – K’sildaya stumbled into town and I could hardly be blamed for that. At first we kept her more or less prisoner – we were scared to let her go and possibly reveal our location, and we certainly weren’t going to murder her. In time she gained our trust and eventually lived with us in Crickhollow. Her weeks as prisoner loosened the grip that the bottle had had on her, and she was content to live out her days teaching me the finer points of archery, swordcraft, and tracking, sipping on the occasional bottle of keesris that my father would bring back for her from Bosivert. Eventually she died, and we buried her behind her home in town. My mother, in a deep calm unusual for her, sang a haunting dirge that I’d never heard before or since. Mayhaps it was a proper T’skrang funeral song.
After a few more years in isolation, I returned from a hunt to find Crickhollow in flames, overrun by a band of trolls. I hid myself nearby, desperate to find my parents, and eventually managed to sneak into our old attic, thankfully spared from the flames. There was no sign of my parents at all. My father’s favorite blade was missing, and one of my mother’s oldest tomes, but whether those were taken during a rushed escape attempt, or were simply shuffled elsewhere during the final peaceful days at Crickhollow, I still don’t know. Knowing I couldn’t stay long, and seeing no sign of my parents, I strapped on a long cruel sword – I already had my bow – and the fine armor my father had crafted perfectly for me, filled a sack with further weapons to sell and half the family gold, and left Crickhollow behind me. A few years of hunting became a few years of tracking, which eventually led to bounty hunting. The most successful years I’ve had were the ones with Tamler, until he and I got split up when a job went south in the Twilight Peaks.
And so here I am, a lonely windling once again. There’s the whole story, much longer than I would’ve preferred, and much sadder to boot. Now if you don’t mind, I think it’s time I had myself a drink.