My parents didn’t get along. As in, my father chased down, beat and dragged my mother into a smoldering hut and had his way with her while the rest of his herd finished pillaging our village.

I can only imagine her fear when she felt the first stirring of a child inside of her a few months hence. The legend of my arrival is that I was so strikingly ugly that instead of catching and cradling me, the midwife withdrew her arms and cried out in terror when I emerged. I don’t know if it was my distinctive green pallor, the sound of my bellows or my startling size, but I hit the ground with a resounding k’thud that has stuck with me ever since.

Let me be clear, k’Thud isn’t my given name, but my mother never recovered from the trauma of my birth and passed a few sickly years after my birth and have no memory of what she called me and know no other name today.

After she passed I was briefly a ward of the church, but I felt no divinity within myself and had no interest in mucking the stables for the rest of my life in exchange for a too small straw mat and regular lessons on why my father’s deeds would land me in hell.

I didn’t know where to go but I knew I wasn’t go to stay so after a handful of winters I took to the streets. Even at that tender age I had the size of a full-grown dwarf and strength beyond that. What I was quite as good at was avoiding the attention of the angry drunks that wanted to tussle with the “ugly dumb dwarf” night after night as they tumbled out of the tavern. The only thing worse was their shame once they realized they’d been thrashed by a seven-year-old.

Even then I could feel the draw to the northlands and after a couple seasons, I stopped resisting the pull and bundled my meager possessions onto my back and followed my heart. No grief, no one hassling me, no one cursing me to my face or behind my back, food a spear’s toss away and one night after the next, a compact fire under the bough of a stunted northern pine where I finally found myself.

The fire drew me, I stared into it nightly and felt my mother’s presence in the flames and its life-giving warmth. One night a visitor approached the firelight and introduced himself as Almore and without hesitation, took up a spot a third of the way around the fire. He carefully arranged his wineskin at the edge of the fire to warm and his furs beneath him and started to weave a story of the age of elemental spirits and when they ruled the realm and of how their power still permeated the land.

He was an entertaining one, unobtrusive in his moderately mysterious way and a far better cook than I and a better woodsman, to boot. Days turned to weeks and for that short season, for the first time in my 12 winters, I had someone at my side who cared for me and did not judge or fear me. His chatter returned regularly to the elemental spirits and eventually, it made its way through my dense skull and I began to understand why. For my affinity to fire was not a figment of my own imagination, it was a connection to the elemental spirits that came before us all and Almore sensed it just as the fire had always done as it reached out to him nightly, entrancing and entreating me to recognize it.

Needless to say, Almore’s subtlety was lost on me and as spring arrived, he informed me that it was time for him to continue his journey and sat me down to explain what he’d been trying to lead me to all winter. I am of the fire. Conceived in a burning building in an act of violence, nurtured by it’s warm embrace, bonded to by a daily cycle of life in the northlands. Almore helped me to make my first connection to the fire, introducing me to smoldering link that laid beneath the surface of my consciousness for all these years. Then he told me I’d have to figure the rest of it out myself and was on his way.

He found me a few more times over the next several seasons, to this day I don’t know how he tracked my wanderings. That’s just another part of his mystery. He’d drop in and marvel at my growth, both physically and my connection to the flame, wondering where I’d top out on both counts, until one season when he didn’t visit. Instead a message arrived through the fires telling me that my time had come and I set out to the south heading toward Night-stone, and you all know the story from there.


Storm King's Thunder JeremyS ekushner