DEADFIRE part 4: Attack of the Halflings
DEADFIRE, PART 4 by Forbes West
Farson Windhoek is a fan-favorite character in the podcast. We’re excited to share with you the first chapter of a forthcoming novella going deep into Farson’s backstory. Be sure to visit every Friday for a new installment!
From the Self-Writing Journal of Farson Windhoek:
THERE’S something in the air when you cross over into the inhabited areas of the Trade Lands, a sublime sort of nastiness that only a true bastard could love. I loved it. I first breathed it in as I walked down the last part of the Ugly Road, between the pines and the rocks of the Four Fathers Pass, the sun on my face. It’s hard to describe unless you’ve been there. But you’ll probably never go there. It’s a bad place. You seem like good people, far as I can tell; clean cut, innocent, looking to excel in life or at the very least maintain the mortgage. You probably wouldn’t like the cold. Or the slavery. Why was I there? I’m a true bastard, that’s why. And a bard. Sort of. It’s sort of a sad, complicated, ugly, violent story of how I’m a bard and, uh, something else entirely. You may like that. Another time. This is about the Trade Lands and me. It’s an interesting place. Really. The Dungeon Master who made up this place is an okay sort of dude. Whoever that was, during whatever time before. He thought up something pretty interesting.
First thing I noticed after the horse and I found the Ugly Road (a collection of broken white stones and pieces of older pavement piled together to make a road in the wilderness) towards Cold Run Run River was the wanted signs posted on the trees near the crossroads. The horse had an old leather map in its satchel, if I hadn’t mentioned it, otherwise we’d probably still be hanging around that beach hoping not to be devoured by sea beetles. There’s nothing to tell you that you’re in the Trade Lands yet except these signs. Wide wooden ones, twenty feet wide, all with these little pieces of vellum that had these half-assed drawings of runaway slaves. No welcome sign letting a man know he’s in the Trade Lands, just wanted signs and bounties on runaway slaves. That’s the kind of place it is. Good money in that slave catching, so I heard. Also in slave trading.
I and the horse walked past some old and broken carriage as we made our way down to Cold Run Run, the river water moving fast and clear. The old and broken carriage had the leathery corpse of some poor driver shot to death by crossbow bolts. Whatever had happened, happened a long time ago, and no one in the Trade Lands had bothered to give the poor bastard a proper burial—from what I had read on that very eventful boat ride, they probably laughed after looting the corpse. I checked the carriage for a moment just to make sure nothing had been missed—sure enough, a few gold pieces were still in the corpse’s boot, under a moldy foot that still had some dried jerky on it that must have been his foot at one point. It took me a moment to fish them out, as I had to really wrench and break off the corpse’s foot to do so. The horse, I swear, gave me a funny look and I wanted to smack him one for judging me. I need every gold piece if I am to get to my rushed retirement.
“That’s just, oh wow,” I said to myself, checking out the coins and chewing on one to see if it was the real thing. The teeth marks on the rim told me it was the real thing. I was walking forward and putting the coins into pockets, not noticing I’d let the horse go and it hadn’t run off. The horse was sort of sauntering around, like a bored older child.
“You’re a good beast,” I said, walking toward it. I tried to grab it by the reins again, but it shied away and I just let it go. I hadn’t done any riding for the last few miles, it just looked too worn out. So we walked together, like Opie and Andy Griffith, meet pointing out odd things, like crucified skeletons and skulls tacked to trees. It just followed me. I sort of appreciated that, I mean the horse was smart in its own horse-smarty way. That was cool.
I took out my lute from my pack and started to play something sad and slow, more for my amusement than for anything to help the dead man’s spirit reach the wherever, and left the scene of the old crime. A real road sign, not a sign looking for runaway slaves, stated in broken Common that the way to Cold Run Run Village was near. I stopped playing when I heard the first footsteps in the snow pack to my left. The horse stopped as well but didn’t bolt or take off. It sort of just joined me for a walk.
“Huh,” I mused to myself.
Out of the treeline came a couple of Halflings, small little bastards with crossbows with black curly hair and shapely ears that you could just make out under their hoods. The horse neighed and reared up but didn’t do anything else except become completely startled by the appearance of these half-robbers.
“Put your hands in the air, Bard, and we won’t have to put a couple in the chest. You want to live, yes?”
I started to play the lute again and smiled when I saw them up close.
“Oh my god, this is adorable! Look at you little midget bastards, this is so good…” I said before turning my back on them and walking away while still playing my tune. The horse did as well, not giving one single iota of a shit about the little highway raiders. One of them cursed at me and ran up behind me while the other one was still covering me near the trees. They were little bushy-haired Halflings, adorable little adorable bastards really, with childlike faces. But eyes that were red and burning with hatred. They probably were in their fifties; you never know with a Halfling. Them little bastards live long compared to us big folk.
“What’s so adorable, huh, about us traveler? What’s so adorable?” asked the one who’d run up behind me.
“You,” I said, flicking at my lute. “I thought the Trade Lands was this bad, horrible, no-good evil-type place. Slaves and thieves and Orcs and gods knows what else around here. And here you two turds come up, and you actually say “hands in the air.” That’s adorable. Real thieves would just pin me with a couple of bolts and rob my corpse; but no, you screwy guys with your height impediments and your villainy—”
He pulled my cloak to make me stop and, I spun around and clocked him with the lute, knocking his adorable little teeth out with an adorable little clang. A crossbow bolt whizzed by my head like a hornet and almost hit the horse. I grabbed my dagger out of my belt and threw it, catching the other little one in the throat. He floundered around and died face down in the snow. I turned to the one trying to scuttle away, pulling himself along the crooked cobblestones of the Ugly Road and took out my crossbow, stepping on the back of his neck.
“If you’re gonna be a thief, you better be a killer as well.” I shot him in the back of the head with a loud thump. Blood poured out of his skull and onto my boot, and I thought to myself that the only thing worse than a live Halfling was a dead one bleeding out.