Less than Good
The Outcast Craftsman and Monster Hunter
At four foot eight the man that stood, just below eye level of the bar, could only either be a a very short human or a very tall dwarf. Truly, the trouble was in determining which. For if he were a dwarf, where was the glorious, resplendent beard so characteristic of his (potentially) dwarven brethren? The branded knots of hair bouncing beneath his face? Why would he keep only a thin line of chestnut stubble along his chin? But were he a man, why would he speak with the accent so common to those of the dwarves who lived within the Silver Marches? Those who grew up speaking dwarven, yet learned to speak common many years later, their tongues almost unfamiliar with the way the words weaved.
Regardless, there he stood, dressed in tattered and faded leathers of brown and orangeish hues. An enormous hammer slung over his shoulder, the grip worn and tattered after many years of use. The tips of one of his hobnail boots tapping against the floor every few moments, two burly arms folded against his chest. Underneath a dented and dented wooden helmet covered in leather wrappings and adorned with the antlers of some great stag, two eyes the color of fresh avacados gazed up at you, narrowing as you stared down at him.
“You bring stout, yes?”
The Axenheid name was never one noteworthy enough to attach to any prominent event in the history of the Dwarves of the Silver Marches. Nor were those that carried it ever prolific enough to have the numbers to call themselves a clan. Since splitting off from a larger, more prominent family line and taking their name from their progenitor’s singular notable achievement of slaying an orcish general; they had eked out a quiet life for themselves as blacksmiths and merchants of a modest means. Never seeking out glory or notoriety, yet never finding it either. And for several generations, this was the norm. The family was content to be another dwarven family in Citadel Adbar, peddling their wares to the few visitors allowed entry into the citadel and struggling for recognition amidst the surplus of other dwarven blacksmiths living in the citadel.
All that changed with the birth and maturation of Hilbert Axenheid, a man of considerable discontent and substantial ambition. Though in his youth he acquired a reputation as a rabble-rouser, like fermenting beer he seemed to settle down after a few initial bubblings of strife. He grew to be a merchant, and a persuasive one at that. He made more fortune for the family than they’d known in a generation, and shed his former reputation as a troublemaker to earn the trust of his family. Hilbert seemed, at long last, to be embracing the fine dwarven tradition of “settling down and getting to a good day’s work.”
No one knew where exactly he got the map.
Family members stated he went out drinking one night with a few of his mates that fateful night, which was part of his routine. Drinking was a fine dwarven pasttime, there was nothing strange about that. Yet he did not return home for two days straight, nor did anyone know where he had gone. He emerged just as those who were close to him were growing concerned, his eyes filled with an inner fire and a rolled scrap of leather clutched in his left hand. He had found it, he claimed. The location of the next great discovery of Mithral, there in the Silver Marches. And those who would follow him to settle above it would become some of the richest and most influential dwarves alive in the next hundred years.
The prospect that a merchant who had never set foot out of the city would somehow possess a map leading to an untapped vein of Mithral was a lot to swallow. And Hilbert had difficulty getting even those who trusted him to take it seriously, at first. Yet Hilbert was persuasive, and stubborn when it came to getting what he wanted. Eventually, he was able to convince his entire family of his dream. And not just them: he gathered together investors, and even many friends of the family to join him in his quest. Over three hundred dwarves decided to uproot their lives and embark down the path of settlers for Hilbert’s scheme. The way shown on the map was not easy, nor was it safe, however. There were losses of life, and even Hilbert was affected by the dangers. By the time he had led his people to their new home, they were fifty dwarves fewer. Hilbert himself even lost a son and a daughter, leaving him with only his youngest son, Pavel, and an older sister, Brunhilde.
Yet they settled, and they named the settlement Silver’s Flow.
They found Mithral, just as Hilbert had promised. The Mithral ran dry after three years. It was then that public opinion of Hilbert and his family went as sour as month-old milk. Hilbert was deposed as the leader of the new fledgling settlement, and his family name became mud. The settlement of Silver’s Flow, however, continued, able to eke out enough of a living mining other metals as to have a modest, barely-sustainable living for it’s people. Pavel grew up, son of a disgraced business man. A loser’s loser, from a family whom everyone wanted to hate, in a barely civilized settlement that no one wanted to be stuck in. Yet stuck they were, and Pavel grew up the subject of ridicule and disparagement. He did his best to take it in stride. His father had possessed a way with words, but Pavel and his older sister Brunhilde did not inherit that gift from their sire. Brunhilde made a modest name for herself as a brewer, she made great strides in redeeming the Axenheid name by being the producer of the most potent potables in the settlement. Yet Pavel was a quiet child, who would only smile and take it when the other dwarven children lashed out at him. He only wanted to be left alone to study the making of metals, and to provide for others. For a while, it seemed like he was to become a blacksmith.
Yet those who knew Pavel closely knew he was not as stable as his surface indicated. He endured the torments of his angry peers, but he did not let it go. He took it out in solitude, and often expressed it in his craft. Many a weapon-to-be or tool was ruined because, in an angry fury, the young dwarf beat at it while still molten far, far too hard. Rumors spread around Silver’s Flow that there was a demon in the boy, a monstrous thing that Hilbert and his ilk kept secret for fear of the boy’s safety. There came a day when, at some point Pavel was pushed too far. The jeers and japes of his compatriots pushed him over an edge. Grabbing one of the tools of his profession, Pavel swung a blacksmith’s hammer into the guilty boy’s head, again and again and again.
By some miracle, the boy survived. Yet he was never the same, and many people cried out for Pavel’s execution. Silver’s Flow had no jail, and prior to that incident no criminals. So there was considerable confusion over what was to be done with the boy. It’s at this point where history becomes muddled. No one but Pavel knows the full circumstances beyond what happened next. Perhaps his father sent him away, unable to watch as he lost another child? Perhaps Pavel fled on his own, unable to fully face the horror of what he had done? Regardless of how it happened, Pavel left Silver’s Flow, his intent being never to return. He journeyed into the wilderness and, against all likelihood, survived. Though still possessing an inner rage that would drive him to explode into tantrums at times, he learned to harness it. To use it. In the wilds of the Silver Marches he forged a means to harness and channel his own anger.
What emerged into civilized territory was a quiet dwarven craftsman who rarely chose to speak. He traded the pelts and body parts of monsters he had slain in return for the coin he needed to survive. He continued to work as a hunter of monsters, operating independantly and traveling frequently. It would be several years before he would be discovered by those who recognised his potential for applied violence and saw how they could profit from it. Pavel learned that there were always those who would pay to have a stout hammer and a lack of restraint on their side. And he found very few reasons not to take their coin for employing his. And thus, the mercenarie’s career was set in stone.