Gnut was born in an era of envy. His father, Duran, the Mountain King of Gloomdeep Hold, had watched for decades as the wealth and sophistication of foreigners outshined that of his own kingdom. King Duran had visited Gloomdeep’s only port, Port Wretched, many times, and on each occasion, he found himself more and more incensed at what he found in the markets there. How had the outsiders managed to create such wonders? How were their ships so fine, their clothes so rich, and their magics so clever?
Duran’s anger wasn’t only for the other races who visited Port Wretched. Indeed, the King’s greatest envy was for some of his own people. The Dwarven treasure fleets from distant Skyiron Dominion had visited Port Wretched for centuries, their arrival was as regular as clockwork. Each and every time King Duran greeted the Skyiron Admiral, he nearly shook with rage at how much a mere officer garbed themselves better than he. He railed at how the Dominion’s ceremonial gifts were always looked upon with awe by his court, and how his own gifts to the Dominion were always received with little more polite gratitude.
The wealth of the Skyiron Dominion shamed King Duran, for he thought himself a great king – but would a great king not have a great kingdom? The Mountains of Despair was a hard home, and Gloomdeep Hold, buried in the heart of those same mountains, produced a hard people. They were proud. They were strong. They were great. Finally, after half a lifetime of envy and shame, King Duran declared his intention to lay such a mound of opulence at the foot of the next Admiral that there could be no doubt that Gloomdeep Hold was the equal of the Skyiron Dominion. Any Dwarf who could find or forge a treasure to match a Skyiron prize would be hailed as a hero.
And all eyes were on Gnut to produce the greatest treasure of all.
If only Gnut had been remotely prepared for such scrutiny. He had spent much of his youth tinkering with whatever whimsy came to mind – first in the forge, then the training yard, then the tavern, then the council chamber. And so Gnut became a master of nothing – not a great smith, nor a mighty warrior, nor a talented diplomat. His greatest talent was for producing bawdy versions of common tavern songs. He made for a delightful friend, but a poor hero.
With the King’s decree ringing through the austere halls of Gloomdeep Hold, Gnut found himself wondering how he might meet the expectations of his father’s court. He quickly discarded the idea of crafting something – he lacked the skill – but, he reasoned, even a poor warrior can luck his way into a victory. So, he clad himself in royal armour and prepared himself for war.
Despite the age of their kingdom, the Dwarves of Gloomdeep Hold had made only small and scattered settlements across the Mountains of Despair, leaving great tracks of territory unexplored. Gloomdeep’s depths were no less mysterious, with its underground reaches vanishing into a complex warren of abandoned tunnels whose age stretched back into the mists of history – tunnels once part of an empire that had stretched beneath the whole of Teleria. There was no lack of possible places to uncover hidden treasures, both above and below.
Most reputed among these rumoured sites of buried treasure was an ancient castle, once a Dwarven holdfast but now the home of a terrible monster – known as the Fire Knight, the demon was a flaming brute clad in molten steel, wielding mace and fury such that none could defend against them. The treasures said to lie at the Fire Knight’s feet were glorious beyond measure, and the Fire Knight’s sacred shield bore a centrepiece that was said to be forged by the gods themselves. The gleaming mass of treasure that lay at his feet were said to be the possessions of fools who had taken their chances in a duel – and lost.
Gnut did not think it was the wisest place to seek his gift to the king, but with no skill to tender, he knew he must try. With trepidation in his heart, Gnut announced an expedition to slay the Fire Knight. A celebration was held in honour of this great quest, and over the course of it, Gnut became intoxicated by the heavy perfume of public approval. So intoxicated, in fact, that he even began to dismiss the dangers of his quest…