Zook sits before you, carefully stoking his pipe. He wears a long, voluminous robe of deep, almost blackish, purple. A tall conical hat, half as tall as its wearer sits upon his head. The hat is purple, like its owner’s robe, and made from densely woven and packed felt. Its cone curves gradually forward, rising until its peak terminates well above and slightly before the gnome’s face. A tiny silver star depends from the hat’s apex. Surely, some minor cantrip must be in use to keep this absurdly tall and crooked headgear affixed to its owner’s head.
About his waist, he wears a broad belt of leather from which hangs a wide assortment of pouches, bags, and purses of all sizes and materials.
There has been much discussion in camp about the fate of the poor gnome at archery contest earlier day, discussion that prompts Zook to opine on the subject (as he is often wont to do on so many subjects).
“There is little doubt that this morning’s scene was unpleasant, but don’t jump to conclusions about the little fellow, the one strapped to the archery target. He was probably some sort of miscreant or outlaw. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a miscreant, only with getting caught. Or he could simply have made the mistake of seriously upsetting some high ranking personage or other. But don’t judge our land too harshly based upon what you saw this morning. You see, Blixt is not such a bad place to live as a gnome, presuming of course that you make yourself useful. This is what we gnomes have always done and what we must always do in order to survive in a place such as this.”
He blows a large wreath of pipe smoke and strokes his pointed and meticulously trimmed beard.
“I was born and raised in the Burrow of Aylesbury, a small community of gnomes in the Bald Hills. [editor’s note: these hills rise bleakly in Blixt’s southernmost corner]. Our burrow was only thirty miles or so from Versvesh, Blixt’s southernmost city (a large town really) and only port on Lake Ostryd. Aylesbury was, and still is to this day, part of the Barony of Vex, a minor holding ruled at that time by Baron Aurumand of House Harkonin [editor’s note: this is the same noble house that your old friends Barons Malsvir and Ulrahir and Lady Remshvix now Baroness of Gix, belong to]. The Baron’s holding, Vex, was comprised mostly of rocky hill like terrain, most of its tenants being kobold miners who delved the earth for gems and copper. Over the years, these kobolds had made the Baron’s family quite rich as Aurumand’s manor afforded the only market in which they were allowed by law to sell the raw materials that they retrieved from the earth. The Baron bought copper from his tenants for cheap (above and beyond that amount which was his yearly due in rent) and in turn sold it in Versvesh at a much higher price.
My people, the gnomes of Aylesbury, had not been allowed to settle the more gem studded and richly ore laden hills, that privilege going to the draconic kobolds. The older generations of our burrow thus struggled to make due. But make due they did. They learned to grow barley on the slopes near Aylesbury and, using the ancient recipes that our people guard so carefully, they malted, fermented, and distilled the grain to produce the beautiful amber colored elixir known as uisge-beatha that is so highly prized throughout the kingdom and even exported to far off lands and cities like Darang-Geb, Thrang, and Marburg. The Aylesbury distillery generated considerable profits for our Baron. We paid our yearly rent to him with barrels and barrels of the stuff, barrels that he, in turn, sold for tremendous cost in Versvesh.
So my point is,” drawing deeply of his pipe and exhaling an enormous carp that rises in ever widening circles into the night sky, “that it is only by making ourselves useful that we gnomes avoid gracing the dinner tables of dragon folk who rule this land.”
His hand, bejeweled with a gaudy collection of rings, dips into one of his many belt pouches and emerges with a pewter flask.
“This is not to say, of course, that we should be servile to these beasts, only that we assume the semblance, dare I say the illusion of servility. This is why we gnomes, I believe, are so good at illusion magic. To survive in Blixt I learned early on that our lives are a war and we gnomes are all traitors, all spies in the enemy's country. We live with our heads in the dragon’s mouth, so to speak, and we overcome them with ‘yeses,’ and undermine them with grins. All the while we survive.”
Zook unstops the flask, takes a long sip, pauses a moment to savor.
“As a young gnome I demonstrated an aptitude and an unusual talent for illusion magic. I studied with the best artisans of the chimerical arts that my burrow had to offer and, soon, I had outstripped my teachers. Thus, when I entered my late childhood, my thirty sixth summer to be exact, I was sent to join Baron Aurumand’s household as a magical entertainer. In his manor I conjured up all manner of phantasmal delights and figments of wonder for him and his guests. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, especially after that horrific spectacle of this morning, that it was a tough audience in the Baron’s home. I learned to entertain and, in so doing, I avoided the stew pot. So well did I ingratiate myself to my lord that one summer, my fifty first summer, to be exact, he sent me to Darang-Geb to continue my studies at the feet of a master illusionist. He paid the whole fair and the cost of my tuition. By the time I returned to Vex, I had mastered my art so well that I was no longer satisfied to perform for simple room and board, engaging as the Baron’s raucous and sometimes violent celebrations usually were.
The time I spent in Darang Geb had given me a taste for travel and the road and I wished to strike out on my own and pay my own way as an entertainer. But I was now bound by debt to the Baron. He had not paid for my training in Darang-Geb so that I could run off and pursue a career as a wandering illusionist. He would never agree to such an arrangement and I knew better than to ask.
“I had a better plan though.” He chuckles and knocks his pipe against one of the stones that ring the fire.
“Unfortunately for him, I had spent much of my time in his service compiling vast amounts of evidence that chronicled the Baron’s involvement in a variety of highly illegal smuggling operations. Apparently, the Baron, while he enjoyed the rich profits reaped from the selling of gnomish liquor, did not enjoy paying the exorbitant taxes levied on such goods by the Duke of Versvesh. He had thus been secretly employing gangs of pirates and rogues to transport the precious fluid along channels unknown to the local bailiffs and tax collectors. Needless to say, the Duke’s men were very interested when I arranged to have said documents transported anonymously to the provincial court. Baron Aurumand was arrested and stripped of his rank, a major black eye for House Harkonin and one from which they have not entirely recovered. The Barony of Vex was thus granted to a new lord, though there was much rivalry and intrigue surrounding the transference of the title as it was much coveted for its wealth in metals, gems, and whiskey. While, technically, my services as entertainer should have been owed by right of fealty to my new master, in all the ensuing confusion, debate, and skullduggery, no one could be much concerned about the absence of a single gnome. I thus slipped away and established residency in Versvesh, well trained in the arts of phantasmagoria, and ready to begin my new career as a traveling mountebank.”
He leans back and passes his flask to Brryrrn, the kobold bard.
“So you see, it’s not such a bad fate to be gnome in this kingdom, provided that one knows how to survive.”