The night was not particularly cool. Nor was it particularly warm. It was, however, one of the darkest nights that Brun Wesson had ever seen. This night, as was the same most nights, Brun found himself on a walk through Revenshire Woods with only a small lantern to light his way. Its pulsing warm glow danced brightly in his crinkled, kind eyes. He was fond of people and enjoyed a good conversation as much as the next gnome, but had always been under the firm belief that, now and again, a gnome needed time alone with his thoughts. His nightly walks had become a ritual of sorts. He reveled in the solitude and the time he spent in his own head. The clear skies of the afternoon had given way to blue-gray clouds by the time the sun had fully set, and the tang of rain hung heavy in the air. Brun never concerned himself with the rain, although he cursed his forgetfulness at bringing a hat, as his balding scalp grew steadily colder with each droplet. He loved the smell and the sound of a good storm, so why should tonight’s walk be any different?
As Brun stepped gently through the brush, taking care not to slip on a damp stone or root in the darkness, he heard the familiar trickle of running water over the patter of raindrops hitting leaves. He hadn’t realized that he had walked as far as Runholf Creek but chalked it up to being lost in his own little world. And yet, another sound caught his ear: wood bumping against stone. It wasn’t a sound that he would normally concern himself with, but it was one that he hadn’t heard before while walking this particular path. He stood still for a moment, ringing the rain from his thick beard with his free hand. Eventually, his curiosity got the better of him and he decided that this mystery warranted further investigation.
Runholf Creek ran from east to west of the city-tree of Oakhurst, Brun’s hometown. Its origin had always been something of a mystery. It had been tracked as far as the forest of Elendol, but then simply disappeared. Some say its waters came from underground somewhere near the Mountains of Faldur, the very eastern edge of Domhan Mor, but no one in Oakhurst knew for certain as no one dared venture through that cursed forest. The creek had always provided a clean and fresh source of water, as well as a myriad of small fish for food, but tonight, Runholf Creek would bring something unexpected into Brun’s life.
As Brun approached the source of the noise, he stopped near the bank of the creek and bent low to the ground. The sound was coming from a few yards downstream. He eased himself back up to his feet, taking care not to lose his step on the mossy ground, and moved with caution into the dark. He covered the modest flame within his lantern with his open hand. His body shook involuntarily, but not from the chill. It wasn’t fear for what he might find in the shadows, but that the wind and rain might cause his meager light source to sputter out and leave him to wander in the dark. Minutes later, after climbing through the great, gnarled roots of an elder tree, he stopped. There, among those roots, which over the years had twisted and stretched into the waters of the creek, bobbed a peculiarly tiny boat. It was made of the blackest wood, crudely shaped, and only large enough for a small bundle of blankets. The boat had gotten tangled in the roots of the elder tree. Brun supposed that it must have floated downstream from… who knows where.
Without a second thought, Brun positioned himself over the tiny vessel, keeping one foot on dry land, and bracing the other against one of the roots of the great tree. His oversized belly pressed against his thighs, causing a sharp intake of breath. He made a silent promise to himself to stop eating desserts for a while. He bent as low as his stomach would allow, fully prepared to put his back into it, but found that when he lifted the boat from the water, it was surprisingly light, almost weightless. Whatever type of wood it was made of, he could not place it.
All at once, the bundle inside the boat began to kick and squirm. Eyes wide, Brun nearly lost his grip. He quickly and carefully set the mysterious vessel atop one of the thicker roots within reach. With some effort, he placed his lantern next to the boat, just close enough so he could see the bundle within it and, with hesitant fingers, Brun peeled back the topmost layer of a thick, woolen blanket.
A baby, small, as babies should be, but much more different in appearance. The crinkles in his brow became more severe and Brun hesitated for the length of a sigh. There were an unknown variety of gnomes, from all over Domhan Mor, but none that looked like this one before him. Its skin was colorless, a dark gray, even in the warm light of the candle. Its small shock of hair was jet black, nearly blending into the shadows dancing around it. What troubled Brun the most, however, was its eyes: solid black, and wide open as if to drink in everything they saw.
Shrugging his heavy shoulders, Brun did what most gnomes would have done and reached down, lifting the baby from its ship-shaped bassinet; for whatever it was, and wherever it had come from, it was still a lost child, and was in need. Brun looked the baby over, checking for injuries or signs of illness. There were none to be found, but he did discover that he was holding a baby boy. The child cooed quietly, happily- from what Brun could tell. Furthermore, the young gnome seemed content and well fed. Yet another mystery. Brun wrapped the blanket more tightly around the wriggling bundle to keep him warm and safe.
With a deft move, Brun retrieved his lantern. He took on final cursory glance into the modest boat and noticed a single word scrawled hastily into its bilge. Balancing the baby, lantern, and himself, he brought the flame closer to the mysterious message. Brun squinted in the darkness. The first letter was illegible, either because of the weather or from time, but four remained intact and clear as day. In a whisper, Brun read the word aloud.
As if waiting for that particular moment, the boat cracked and broke apart, dissolving into so much ash. Brun backed away quickly, eyes wide and afraid, catching himself and the child against the trunk of the elder tree. The lantern swung precariously, dripping hot wax onto Brun’s thick fingers. He dropped it with a hiss, but before it could sputter out on the wet ground, he scooped it up again. He couldn’t have said how long he stood there in silence, letting the quiet of the night settle in. The silence was cut by the rhythmic chirrup of a far-off cricket. One became two, became more and at once the forest was alive again. The rain had turned into no more than single droplets hitting leaves high above the canopy. Brun looked down at the small baby boy tucked snugly in his arm, its large, dark eyes staring back up into his own. He couldn’t help but chuckle to himself, “Roon, it is then.” And with the child tucked safely in his arms, Brun made his way silently back towards his home in the vast branches of Oakhurst, lost in his own little world, no longer alone.