The small figure trudged along the trail, whistling gaily as he went. There was no one around to observe his presence, which was exactly as he preferred. Had anyone been walking along that trail at that time, they would have at first mistaken him for a wandering dwarf. No dwarf was he, though. Roughly the same height as the bearded dwarves of the mountains, his ruddy skin, deep blue eyes and jet-black hair would have raised suspicions. Of course, his close-cropped black beard would have been a warning. No respectable dwarf would have been seen in public or private with such a diminutive beard! However, the nose was a dead giveaway. To say it was big would have been a disservice to that nose and an insult to its owner. In fact, the owner of that nose was quite proud of its size. All members of the Gnome race possessed a large nose; it was their one defining feature among all the intelligent races of the land. They took a great amount of pride in that fact.
This particular gnome was enjoying the early morning air as he walked briskly along. There was still a chill to the air, left over from that evening’s cold snap. Nonetheless, the hood of his travelling cloak was thrown back, the cold air making his cheeks appear even ruddier than normal. His tunic and breeches were of rough-spun wool, brown like his skin. In fact, there was little of color about him and if he had stopped and stood perfectly still (as he was quite capable of doing for long periods), a casual observer would have mistaken him for an old tree stump, which was exactly as he wanted. Being noticed was not something he was in favor of most of the time. That is because this particular gnome was a thief, although, had you called him such to his face, he would have expressed great indignity at being called such. “Professional Treasure Finder” was how he preferred to think of himself, thank you very much! Procurer of things rare and wonderful, which no one wanted any longer. That he sometimes did not bother to ask the item’s owner if it really was no longer wanted seemed to escape his notice.
None of this, of course, was in the gnome’s thoughts as he walked along, whistling gaily, enjoying the wonderful weather on this wonderful day. No, his thoughts were on the item stuffed into the over-sized pack strapped to his back, that rare and wonderful item he had found last night. The item he was certain that the fellow in that camp really did not want any longer. He had watched the fellow studying the intricately-wrought woodwork of the box (mahogany, he knew that dark color anywhere!), had seen him open it, watched fascinated as the man had stared for a time at the box’s contents and then had closed the lid, wrapped it in black silk and then placed it in a pack. What could possibly be in such a fabulous case? He just had to see the contents. But how? It had taken quite few hours of waiting perfectly still in the wooded shadows, watching the man until he was sound asleep, and then creeping slowly, ever so silently, into the camp, deftly removing the case and then, ever so silently, sliding noiselessly back into the darkness of the night forest. He had force-marched all that night, passing unseen and unheard through the forest, as only a gnome can, until the sun’s first rays started to lighten the night sky. He did not want to open the case too close to the man’s camp, for fear of waking him, of course. The man had looked like he needed his sleep and it would have been rude to awaken him. And so it was, as the sun was starting to make its appearance on this fine morning, he had finally allowed himself a moment’s rest to inspect the case and its mysterious contents.
“Ah! What a wonderful thing Life is!” he exclaimed as he walked along. “Once again, you’ve outdone yourself, Felsing Banilor!” That was his name, of course. Not that many people knew that this particular name belonged to this particular gnome, which was also how Felsing liked it. Anonymity was a bonus in his chosen profession, although he preferred to refer to it as “humility”. “I think a little music is in order, don’t you agree?” he said aloud to himself. “Why, yes, Felsing, I do believe that once again you have arrived at a capital idea!” he replied. With that, he reached inside the leather vest he wore over his woolen tunic and withdrew from some secret compartment a finely carved wooden flute. If anyone had been present, he would have launched into a long story about how he had found this particular piece of wood all by himself and how he had carved it into this beautiful musical instrument, all by himself. Felsing’s nimble fingers were good for a few things other than the lifting of other people’s property. Placing the instrument to his lips, he gave a few quick experimental blows of breath and, liking what he heard, began playing a boisterous walking tune which he himself had composed (which he would have gladly told anyone, had there been anyone near to listen to him). His deft and nimble fingers danced along the instrument, his gait took on a slightly jauntier aspect. Yes, Life certainly was good for Felsing Banilor, he thought, and it was only going to get better. Oh, yes! It was definitely going to get better.