(Excerpt from Lines of Blood: A History of the Gnomes)
When Sjandor Withycombe was a child, no one predicted he was destined for greatness. Many, including his parents, believed he was destined for an early grave. As a curious toddler, he would find his way into a den of hibernating bears or to the center of half-frozen pond. A nearsighted and frail child, he found himself unsuited for participation in archery competitions and the other games that taught young gnomes the ways of the forest. Instead, he spent his time studying the way of things, and looking for ways to improve them. Sometimes his inventions showed signs of genius. After observing the mating behavior of a certain fish, for instance, he redirected a stream down a graduated falls he built with some friends. As the fish tired of leaping the steps, the gnomes were able to grab them at will with bare hands. Other schemes were less successful, however. In one infamous episode, he actually strapped himself to a kite with the intention of dropping stones on a herd of grazing elk. He was a young gnome, and he healed quickly. "More quickly than is strictly speaking good for him," his father liked to say.
So it was that when young Sjandor Withycombe stood before the gathered bloodlines and proposed an urban life for the gnomes, those who knew him best were persuaded least. Lacking the character and rhetorical gifts of his cousin Doneagil Basingstoke, Withycombe knew that he would persuade—if at all—on the merits of his proposal alone. He well understood that what he proposed was more than mere transplantation—that it would require a complete transformation of the race, as the gnomes adjusted in body, mind, and spirit to an urban environment. Withycombe did not harangue his listeners, but merely outlined the pros and cons as he saw them and allowed each gnome to judge the proposal on its merits. This respect for individual judgment persuaded many that Sjandor Withycombe was the right gnome at the right time.
Thrust from obscurity to the forefront of history, Sjandor Withycombe led nearly a third of his much-diminished race out of the forests in the direction of the nearest human settlement. His regret at leaving kith and kin mingled with curiosity and a strong determination to realize his dream as Withycombe spent the days and weeks of travel formulating a more specific plan. He knew from scouting reports that the humans were fearful of strangers. Even those who accepted individuals of other races were unlikely to welcome an entire tribe of wayfaring gnomes, a race of which the humans had little or no previous knowledge, looking for food and shelter. He knew that the gnomes could infiltrate the city and pilfer what they needed, but this would be no permanent solution. Eventually the humans would discover such parasites, and dire consequences would follow. He needed a plan under which the gnomes would be physically present within the human city, but not a recognized part of its population; under which they could take what they needed to survive and yet ensure that the humans would disregard their pilferage; and under which they could learn from the humans a variety of skills that would make the change of habitat worthwhile.
Late in Eoantos of -125, the gnomes approached the town of Tamzyrr. Not yet an imperial capitol, Tamzyrr had a large population, an agricultural surplus, and a wide selection of professional guilds and artisans’ workshops; most importantly for Withycombe’s plan, it was built over deep topsoil. From the shelter of a densely wooded copse, the gnomes began to dig a tunnel toward the city walls, lining their subterranean road with brick as they moved beneath fallow fields and the wooden palisade surrounding the city. The gnomes tunneled with great vigor and speed. Reaching the city itself, they built brick-lined apartments underneath human neighborhoods, and beneath business districts they built their workshops. In short order, they mirrored the human city with a complete underworld town of their own. On the first anniversary of their arrival, the gnomes gathered in Sjandor Withycombe's personal compound, which was built beneath the Tamzyrr City Hall (a building that would later be torn down to make way for an imperial palace). In those grand chambers, still some of the finest examples of burghal gnome architectural design, Sjandor Withycombe delivered his first address as head of a new race:
"This is all the welcome you're ever likely to receive. In the sky-lit world above lies adventure, knowledge, and wealth, but also certain death for any of you careless enough to be seen. Remember our purpose. We will learn from our hosts, and then help them in whatever small ways we can. Of the value that we add to human endeavors, take one-third: no more and no less. Then our hosts will be glad of our presence, whether they are consciously aware of it or not. Seek out every means of improving our lot. I will serve as your leader for one more year, after which we shall meet again. At that time, let the one who has done the most for our race be chosen head gnome for the year to follow."
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