Fiery dwarven warrior
Gertrude of the Firebeard Clan
The story begins, not with the birth of our title character, but two generations before, when Thross of the Firebeard Clan left his home to go adventuring. Some say the love of gold drove him, some say the need for adventure, but whatever the reason, he left Grayhaven behind and went out into the world
Thross returned years later, baby Chull in tow, no woman by his side. For the rest of his days, Thross refused to speak of the mother of his son. In fact, Thross seemed loathe to speak of any of his adventures in the world. He did not, however, sell his finely crafted great axe, Amradel. Instead, he mounted it on the wall, a constant reminder to himself of what happens to people who live outside of the gods’ chosen path.
Chull grew up with a healthy fear of adventure, and was content to remain at home and mind the shop. Thross had invested his not un-considerable wealth into a merchant business for his family, but it turned out that he had little savvy for business. The shop was doing poorly when a dwarf woman named Jeskyl walked through the door one winter evening.
She somehow talked her way into a job, even though they could barely afford to keep the place afloat, and it turns out that Jeskyl was everything that Chull and his father were not. She managed to turn a profit in the dead of winter with little to no custom outside of the regulars, and continued making money ever since.
A few years later, Chull and Jeskyl were married, and shortly after that, they had their first child. Within seven years, they had five children, all daughters. There was Zishtarn, the eldest, who took after her mother in business sense, but after her father in temperament – the perfect heir to take over the family business. Then there was Bren, a pious, dutiful daughter. Next came Gertrude, a fire-haired, mischievous, happy child if ever there was one. Second-to-last was Blomund, a sullen, quiet girl who never seemed quite content. And finally the youngest daughter, the family’s golden-haired, sapphire eyed Jodryn.
Over the years, Gertrude grew close with her grandfather, eventually even getting him to open up about his days in the world in a way that he never had before, even to his son. He still would not utter a word about her grandmother, but he shared stories of adventure and battle, of bandits and nobles and treasure. He taught her the value of duty, of loyalty, and of justice. She loved to listen to his stories, and secretly dreamed of going out one day and adventuring herself, but she knew that she couldn’t do that – it would break her parents’ hearts.
One day, their town was raided by orcs. Jodryn was out of the house at the time, and her mother and grandfather went to make sure she stayed safe. Gertrude trailed after them, anxious to experience battle. When she caught them, her mother was already dead, and she watched as an orc slaughtered her sister and grandfather in front of her. She picked up Amradel and attempted to take revenge, but only barely managed to escape with her own life. She passed out in the street from her wounds.
After the raid, Gertrude woke up in her own bed, in her own house. She was told what she already knew, that her mother, her grandfather, and her youngest sister had died at the hands of the orcs. No one else in her family had been injured, so there was one thing to be thankful for.
Her father had returned and had not said a word to anyone. He had just remained in his room.
Gertrude vowed to herself that she would get justice for her fallen family members. Her grandfather’s axe was hanging in its usual place when she finally made it downstairs, and she decided that she was going to learn how to use it.
Later, she learned of a group who was planning revenge for the attack on the town – they were going to hunt the orc raiders and slaughter them. Gertrude found the people in charge, and talked them into allowing her to join. She used a significant portion of her savings to pay for magically induced healing so that she would be able to fight, and she used even more to begin paying for fighting lessons from a member of the company who would leave soon to fight the orcs.
By the time they left, she was not by any means great, but she had an adequate understanding of how to deliver a blow and how to dodge. She opted against armor in favor of mobility – she also realized that for some reason, her skin was tougher than most – many blows didn’t harm her at all.
When she left with the company, her father disowned her, and her remaining sisters told her not to bother coming home. Fighting destroyed their family, and they would not condone it. But Gertrude needed to do this. She needed to fight back, to dispel the feeling of helplessness that had been with her ever since the raid.
She traveled with the hunting party, and they killed any orc that they came across. Gertrude became more skilled with the use of the great axe, and learned to use her rage to increase her prowess in battle. When she fought, she didn’t have to think. She didn’t have to remember, and that blindness was bliss.
Eventually, they found the orcs who had raided the town. The company outnumbered the orc raiding party and cut them down. Gertrude had the satisfaction of destroying the orc who had murdered her sister in front of her. She was sure she would feel peace. But she did not. She was still restless. She still felt the need for vengeance, masquerading as justice.
The hunting party killed every orc that they encountered. They raided villages, burned them down, slaughtered women and children. Gertrude would enter her rage state, and nothing mattered but the kill.
Then one day, the haze of red cleared, for one brief moment on the battlefield. She noticed the eyes of the woman in front of her. They were the same shade of blue as her sister’s. She stopped mid-swing, looked around her, spun her pony, and galloped away. She left the company and didn’t look back. She had become the thing that she hated.
She couldn’t go home. They wouldn’t accept her, and besides, she was too ashamed of who she had become. She wandered aimlessly for a while, stopping at different towns and particularly spending a lot of time at shrines and temples, seeking forgiveness. But eventually, she started to run out of money. She joined with a mercenary group to earn some income.
While with the mercenaries, she realized that she could still fight – she didn’t feel any pangs of guilt for cutting down trained soldiers or raiders. In fact, she enjoyed the challenge. But she knew that there was a line that she must never cross. Raiders were fair game – in fact, she still hated them (and she harbored a deep-seated hatred for orcs as well), but she would never again take the life of an innocent, no matter what their race.
Another matter of interest developed while Gertrude traveled with this mercenary company – she began to fall in love. She didn’t recognize it at first, but Markas, a dwarf of the Soulaxe clan, managed to find a place in her heart. Eventually, they were married, but they agreed that they did not want children, at least not at this point in their lives.
They wed in secret – it was forbidden for members of the company to have a romantic relationship. Once, an officer caught them in an embrace. He confronted Gertrude, threatened to share the information with the whole camp if she did not pay him a specific amount of money.
Gertrude handed over the gold, but she wasn’t giving up without a fight. The following night when he was on guard duty, she snuck a sleeping potion into his canteen. He fell asleep while on duty, and was nearly impossible to rouse when the shift changed. Word got around camp that he fell asleep at his post, and it destroyed the trust that he had with the rest of the men – they needed to know that someone watched their backs as they slept.
Within the week, the officer left the company, and word is that he was not able to get another position again. Gertrude feels poorly about the trick that she pulled, but ultimately feels like this man deserved what he got, and she would do it again.
The couple traveled with this company for years, nearly always managing to be in the same group for missions. They began to plan for a life outside of the company, a life of their own, and they began to save their money to make that life a reality.
Then, one day, Markas did not return from his mission. Gertrude was not present when he died – she didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye.
She left the company. It was too painful to stay.
She joined up with the Hundred Hounds mercenary company, where she has been for a few years at the open of our story. But she no longer allows anyone to get close to her – it is just too painful when they are inevitably lost.
I tried to include spacing but it’s not allowing me to format correctly. If anyone has any ideas, please let me know!