Freebie Mondays: Pieces of the Past – Foodle and Gimbleshot

Freebie Mondays: Pieces of the Past – Foodle and Gimbleshot

My husband runs a Dungeons and Dragons game on Twitch every Tuesday that has come to be known as Winds of Chaos. Due to my work schedule (and load), I’ve been unable to participate as a regular player (though I have done a cameo and hope to do more in the future). As a writer, I can, however, participate in other ways! I decided to help the players in the campaign (who are all good friends of mine) bring key moments in their characters’ past to life. As an added bonus, it makes a great writing exercise for me!

The first story featured Kiona, the party’s wild magic sorceress. The second centered around Mazrah, who is a half-orc rogue. This installment features Foodle, who started out as the party’s ranger but has recently multiclassed to learn some fighter skills. Foodle is played by the fabulous Cauliflumps. This is actually his first D&D campaign, so I really wanted to make this scene special. He asked for a detailed account of the day Foodle received his prized musket – Gimbleshot.
. . .

The forest came alive at dawn. Birds hoping to make short work of their hunting chirped cheerfully as they flitted between tree branches, pausing only briefly to hear the answering echoes of their fellows before they continued to sing. The leaves were always in motion, whether set dancing by the activity of forest dwellers of the gentle hand of the wind. Their shuffle provided a pleasant backdrop to the familiar morning sounds as Foodle cracked his eyes open and glimpsed his first rays of golden sun.

In stark contrast to the constant stream of activity just beyond his window, the house Foodle shared with the rest of his family was quiet, save for the gentle creak of timbers settling on their mooring. He could imagine empty space filling the halls and rooms beyond his bed chamber, an oddly eerie image for so bright and cheerful a day.

But despite this ominous sense of contrast, he did not immediately roll from beneath his comfortable covers. Instead he settled deeper into the warmth and closed his eyes, allowing the sounds of the forest, his home, to wash over him, surround him and carry him to that comfortable place of contentment most gnomes spent their whole lives searching for. If he woke each morning for the rest of his life to the same natural chorus, he could be content and never question it.

Part of him would have been content to spend the rest of the day like this, resting against the soft fluff of his mattress while forest sounds flowed in gentle waves across his ears. But he was eventually seized by the same urgency that drives all sleepers to start the day, so he relinquished his blankets and slid from his bed.

Soon he padded through the empty halls of the house, untroubled by the interior quiet largely due to the new sound striking his ears, which grew less muffled as he approached the outside door. It was not the call of birds, chitter of rodents or chirping of insects but, rather, the chatter of gnomes gathering in large quantities, a delightful counterpoint to the forest’s morning harmony. Though it wasn’t until he set his hand on the small brass knob and began to turn it that he remembered precisely what day it was.

The doorknob slid from fingers gone suddenly numb with excitement, and the wind caught the wooden door, casting it open so quickly it thumped lightly when it reached the full extent of range its hinges allowed for movement.

Beyond Foodle’s door, the forest loomed, the great hulking trunks of the trees rising like sentinels toward the distant, veiled sky. The canopy spread above, casting dappled shadows on the silhouettes of the village structures nestled below. Brilliant golden light spilled through the gaps in the leaves, casting the sky and everything below in a bright green haze.

Another gentle breeze cascaded through the doorway, rustling Foodle’s hair, carrying with it the floral fragrances of honeysuckle and lavender, as well as the woody smells of oak and pine. A second, strong waft soon washed the earthen scents away, however, replacing them with the savory delight of freshly cooked food. Wood smoke wound its way through the other aromas, highlighting the undercurrent of fresh pastry and the sweet tang of newly finished tarts, setting his mouth watering.

Finally, he allowed his gaze to shift to the open space just beyond the door to the Scheppen household and there, in the small indentation of underbrush cleared by regular traffic rested the most massive table he had ever seen. The solid wood slab rested on the remains of two old tree stumps, which could be rolled to new positions whenever the table needed to be shifted. A series of benches had been slid along either side, but when they proved inadequate to hold all the gathering’s guests, mismatched chairs from households and porches had been supplied to supplement, ensuring everyone had a seat. For indeed, it seemed the entire village of Lumbrill had turned out to celebrate this most auspicious of occasions – the anniversary of Foodle Scheppen’s birth.

With a soft squeal of delight, Foodle raced down the three wooden steps that kept the house from flooding during spring and autumn storms, and threw his hands in the air as he ran toward the table’s single remaining empty space which nestled in the heart of his own family.

His good cheer seemed infectious; as he passed, the Lumbrill village gnomes took up his call, cheering and clapping, some even rising from their seats as they greeted the party’s guest of honor.

Breakfast was already spread across the table beneath a series of earthenware domes which kept the heat in and the bugs out. As Foodle settled into his chair, a dozen hands shot toward the plates’ resting places, pulling the domes free and setting them aside. Fresh scents danced on the morning breeze as the long-held steam released. Serving spoons were passed around and plates were filled.

Before he knew it, Foodle had a plate that seemed to be piled a mile high with all his favorites. He could barely contain his excitement while he waited for his mother to indicate that the feast should begin. Normally, he would have gorged himself silly, shoving as much food down his throat as he could before the chance for leftovers vanished, but today he ate slowly, savoring each bite as it entered his mouth.

Days like this came but once in a lifetime, and he wanted to be able to recall each and every tiny detail when it was done.

Laughter flowed freely across the table as the gnomes shared food and stories of their recent days, catching up on the goings on of their neighbors and speculating what future days might hold. Foodle felt drowsy and content by the time he finished filling his stomach, and pushed his plate away only when he could not bear to eat another bite.

He could go back to bed this moment and consider the day a day of wonders, but it had only just begun, as evidenced by the fact that his uncle, Gimble Scheppen, swept suddenly to his feet and cleared his throat. “A day like today requires a special touch,” he declared, his grey eyes shining as they fell on Foodle. He looked poised and dignified, even with the morning breeze sweeping his black hair back and forth across his head.

There was such weight in his voice, in fact, that Foodle sat up, straightening his back and squaring his shoulders so that he would be properly prepared for whatever happened next.

“Today,” Gimble Scheppen announced, his gaze sweeping the table and all those gathered, “is the day my nephew, Foodle, becomes a man. It is a day that comes but once in a gnome’s life. And so, I have endeavored to provide an appropriately memorable gift to mark the occasion.”

Gimble knelt and grasped something tucked beneath the massive table. With some effort, he extracted a long wooden box, hefted it, and set it in a hastily cleared space on the table in front of him. Then he motioned to Foodle, who still sat stunned in his chair.

Heart racing in his throat, Foodle leapt to his feet and hopped the few steps needed to close the gap. Then he stood staring at the detailed carving decorating the polished wood.

Could the box itself be the gift?

“Go on,” Gimble encouraged, his tone eager, “open it.”

Foodle swallowed against a throat gone suddenly sandpaper dry and reached with trembling fingers for the box’s catch. It swung open easily, the hinges freshly oiled, revealing the comforting smell of newly worked wood and the fresh linens of a tiny pillow.

Foodle blinked as he beheld the objects nestled in the soft folds of the fabric, but he simply could not comprehend the implications of his uncle’s gift. His mind worked, twisting in knots, rearranging possibilities. But if this was some rite of passage, he had no idea what it might mean.

“You don’t like it?” Uncle Gimble murmured, his face suddenly twisted with consternation as he shuffled forward to peer over Foodle’s shoulder.

A breathless moment passed, then the two gnomes shared a hesitant, embarrassed glance. It seemed Gimble Scheppen couldn’t make any more sense of the dozen acorns held in the ornate box than his nephew had.

Uncertainty filled Foodle’s uncle’s grey eyes, dissipated only by the sharp laughter that barked from the other side of the table.

“You should see your faces!” Saltar Wren exclaimed between great wheezes as he attempted to catch his breath in the wake of waves of laughter. He pointed for a moment, then set both hands on his belly and tossed his head backward as he let the sound peel like a bell through the morning.

There was no shortage of curious glances turned in his direction by the time he caught his breath, and Gimble’s expression had grown both expectant and stern.

Saltar drew another deep, ragged breath and wiped a hint of a tear from the corner of one eye. Then he pulled something from his lap and held it aloft with both hands.

Here was the object meant to rest on the pillow rather than the acorns, and it was truly a beauty to behold. Foodle’s jaw fell open, and he inhaled sharply as his eyes traced the intricate details.

The gift was a musket, carefully and expertly crafted. As Saltar handed it across the table, Foodle grasped it with all the tenderness he would have shown a newborn babe. His fingers traced the wooden stock carved with oak leaves, petals and a connective band of thorn vines. The details were such that he could have spent hours admiring the carving and still discovered new details. But most exciting of all was the weight of the weapon in his hands. It was perfectly balanced, and he expected the shots it expelled would be nearly pinpoint accurate – provided its user could do it justice.

For several seconds, Foodle worked his jaw back and forth, unable to produce so much as a sound. Then he lifted his chin and met his Uncle’s once more shining gaze through a haze of unshed tears. “How can I ever thank you for such a fantastic gift, Uncle?” he breathed, swiping moisture from his cheeks.

Gimble Scheppen set a sturdy hand on his nephew’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “Provide for your family, Foodle, and protect those in need. Never waver from this path, and you will make us all proud.”

Gulping, Foodle fixed his gaze on the magnificent musket and considered the gravity of the oath his uncle offered him. The Lumbrill forest was a tranquil place which provided everything the gnomes could ever ask for, but it was not without its dangers. He had much to learn if he was going to become as skilled a hunter as his uncle, and he was keenly aware that hunting alone wouldn’t satisfy his family’s health and safety.

Yet, as the wind rustled gently through the trees, carrying the distant call of forest creatures to his ears, Foodle knew that there was nothing else he would rather devote his life to. A grave burden this might be, but it was a worthy one as well.

His fingers tightened around the musket stock, and he nodded before lifting his head. “I promise, Uncle,” he said solemnly.

Gimble nodded, and pride filled his face as his lips formed a smile.

“Well, well, well,” Saltar called, shattering the remains of the moment. “Let’s see how this thing works in action, shall we?” He lifted a heavy pouch and shook it, setting the contents jingling. “I bet you can’t hit the target on your first shot,” he declared, tossing the pouch of musket shot in Foodle’s direction.

The pouch flew at his so quickly, Foodle was forced to let the musket fall into his lap so he could catch it.

“If I’m wrong,” Saltar swept on as he rose to his feet, I have to bag a boar tomorrow.”

A murmur passed through the crowd as he spoke; Lumbrill gnomes recognized a challenge when they saw one.

“If I’m right, however,” Saltar grinned, “you have to cook supper for everyone here.” The sweep of his arm encompassed the gathered village.

Blood surged hot through Foodle’s veins as these words were spoken and a grin broke across his face. “You’re on,” he retorted. Grasping the musket, he sprang to  his feet.

Laughing, Saltar led the way toward Lumbrill’s front gates; no one was foolhardy enough to shoot within the village limits.

Foodle marched in his best friend’s wake, the shot pouch straps slung over one wrist, the fine musket gripped between both hands. He was eager to feel the heft of its thrust, but even more eager to see its first effort strike true.

Behind the two young gnomes strode the rest of the village. Their conversation had taken route again, and all of it now centered around the wager. As they rounded the village pathways and wound between trees, bets were set. Money and favors were wagered and hasty notes were scribbled. Foodle and Saltar would not be the only ones on the hook for things when the morning was done.

Within half an hour, the gnomes arranged themselves just beyond the village gate. Standing near to the entrance, Saltar directed Foodle’s gaze to a place half a dozen yards away where a target had already been erected. Foodle grinned as he measured the distance and tested the breeze, trying to recall everything his father and uncle taught him about shooting.

He had, of course, used similar weapons in the past. But never one as fine as this – and never one that was completely his.

Saltar repeated the stakes of their game and, behind him, several other gnomes turned to their fellows to remind them of their wagers. Then Saltar stepped back, leaving Foodle alone in front of the village with the musket braced against his shoulder.

“Remember,” Aunt Lorilla called softly, “fire when you exhale. And squeeze, don’t pull the trigger!”

Foodle nodded to show he heard and drew a deep, slow breath, allowing every inch of his lungs to fill with air.

In the next moment, everything seemed to fall still from Foodle’s body to the gnomes arrayed behind him, to the forest that loomed above and beyond the village. It was as if the entire world held its breath, waiting for him to exhale.

The shot rang out, the crack loud in the expectant silence.

For several long seconds after the sound died, the forest held its peace, the creatures in this area driven into hiding by the sudden disturbance of their peace. Foodle waited in the midst of that quiet darkness, confused.

With a start, he blinked and bright sunlight stung his eyes.

He closed them, he realized, the moment his finger took action against the trigger. In his excitement, in his anticipation, he had forgotten one of the most important things about firing a musket – focusing on where he wanted the shot to land.

A second loud sound shattered the new stillness, and Saltar thudded to the ground as he howled with laughter. A chorus of chuckles sprang up in his wake as the villagers turned to collect on their bets.

Again, Foodle blinked.

The target was perfectly intact, not a mark on it.

Frantically, he searched the surrounds, looking for a dent in the dirt, trying to determine how close he had come to striking his goal.

Then he saw it – thirty feet to the left of the target there stood a sapling… or used to. Its young trunk had been snapped in half by the force of his musket’s discharge.

Disappointment gave way to glee. He might not have hit what he wanted, but he had hit something.

Saltar’s laughter seeped beneath Foodle’s skin, drawing him into the center of his friend’s mirth. He took two steps backward, leaned his fine musket against the wall, then tumbled to the ground beside his friend, caught in a gale of fitful laughter.

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