Leatherfoot Tales: The Houndslayer, Part One

This book is a retrospective of Leatherfoot Brigade scout Gumpy Nattoo’s earliest adventures during the Age of Turmoil.
History is written after something happens and tells future folk about the past. That’s what this is about: the past. When you’re walking through any village, look to the elders to remember the stories of how different things are now from when they were young. No matter their age, they’ll remember things that shouldn’t be forgotten. This is the beginning of one such tale.

Way back afore time began, the halflings lived in and around Rivervale, the most beautiful place in the world. Generations lived amongst the forested surrounds and didn’t think much on what lay outside the borders. Some folk ventured out and came back with all sorts of outlandish tales. They were generally scoffed at, but over time, some of the most outlandish tales turned out to be true. Rivervale wasn’t as isolated anymore.

As things became more turbulent, the Leatherfoot Brigade beefed up its ranks. Most young halflings associated with the Leatherfeet in some way or other, mostly because there were good discounts for the soldiers at the local taverns. When Gumpy Nattoo joined up, that was his primary concern: could he sleep in his own bed each night, and how much of a discount did he get at the Weary Foot Rest?

Gumpy’s first assignment was to accompany the old Sarge out to Kithicor Forest, which had been a pretty place in the old days, but was now overrun with some of those outlandish things that folks didn’t talk about after dark. Parts of the Forest still held the mysterious dark that made it a beauty spot; in some places, folks couldn’t see the sky for the trees.

“It’s lunch-time!” exclaimed the Sarge as they paused on the edge of a clearing. “How can you tell?” asked Gumpy. “By the rumble in my belly, son,” said the Sarge, “Let’s sit a spell and I’ll tell you the real reason I brung you out here.” They sat on a couple of burnt tree stumps and snacked on some dried fruit, crusty bread spread with butter and jum-jum, a few apples, a jug of honeywine and a half a dozen types of cheese. It was a light meal, for they were a days’ journey from Rivervale.

“Son, you’ve heard the rumors of all what’s going on in the lands,” the Sarge said. “You’re taller than most halflings, every bit as sneaky as the next fellow, and crafty besides. I need you in the Leatherfoot Brigade’s scout unit.” Gumpy was flattered and said so. The Sarge nodded, “Yep. So I’m going to up and leave now, and you find your way home. That’ll be the test. Good luck.” Before Gumpy could protest, the Sarge disappeared into the trees and what’s more, he took the rest of the food with him.

Gumpy was kerflummoxed, but only for a moment. He had heard rumors of an elite unit of scouts, but no one ever came out and said who they really were. Any talk of them at the taverns always ended with someone singing a boisterous song that made idle chatter impossible. Gumpy stood up, measured the direction of the wind, observed the slant of the shadows and light, then headed off. In the wrong direction.

Hours later, Gumpy stood scratching his head industriously and wondering where in Norrath he had landed. He was pretty sure he was still in Kithicor, but in the name of Bristlebane, what were all those dark elf dragoons doing all over the place? He’d been used to the sight of the undead, but the dragoons were something new. Furrowing his brow, Gumpy retraced his steps, wishing fervently the Sarge had left some of their provisions with him.

He was surprised to find how much easier it was to follow the tracks this time. Though some of them seemed to lead in circles (no doubt to confuse the enemy), there was one clear set that trampled through the underbrush directly to the place where he and the Sarge had had lunch. Pleased with his progress, Gumpy was ready to follow the trail again when a Kithicor ranger melted out of the woods and nearly gave Gumpy a heart attack. “At last!” said the ranger, grasping Gumpy by the shoulder and marching him off into the dark.

“We’ve been waiting for you,” said the ranger. “You are indeed most crafty; I have been tracking you for hours.” Gumpy felt it best to say nothing and simply nodded. “Once we have met up with the other rangers, we will proceed to Rivervale to learn more of our mission,” continued the ranger, adding, “I am impressed with your skills; let us break bread together while we walk.” Those were the most welcome words Gumpy had heard all day. He followed the ranger into the woods.

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