Gatha, Patron Saint of Loyal Dogs
The sun shone merrily, and the children laughed. Gatha did not roam far from his charge, for he could smell the marks of ashen wolves in the area. But it was not the wolves that came for them.Just outside of Neblenvar is a large dirt mound, a long, low hill covered in waving grasses and brightly colored wildflowers. Legend has it that it is the final resting place of Gatha, who sacrificed himself to save a child.
The children of Neblenvar head out in late autumn to gather afterberries from between the spiky leaves of henpip bushes. The marauding groups of laughing youngsters, excited at the prospect of the treats to be made from the berries, are often accompanied by dogs or galogalo (a loping, yipping fox-like pet popular with gnomes), for the predators of the plains know that winter is coming and gnomish children tend to be plump, making for a fine fat store to insulate against the cold and hungry months. The legend holds that Gatha was a harrowhound, a breed that - despite the name - is known for loyal guardianship and herding instincts, in addition to their large, lumbering bodies and higher than average intelligence. (Gnomish armies utilize them as battle mounts.) They also tend to develop strong bonds, particularly as puppies, so parents may use them as nannies of a sort - though feeding the massive dogs is nearly as expensive as hiring a sapient caregiver. Gatha is said to have had a deep bond with the child in his care, though there are at least three versions of the child in different regional variations on the tale. In Neblenvar, it is usually a boy named Bamtart.
A howling wind descended on the children, who looked up to find swollen purple clouds swallowing the blue sky.When a Moldering Gale (see sidebar) hit the plains above the berry pickers, Gatha raced to his charge and covered the small form with his own. Some versions spend a great deal of time on visceral details of Gatha's end, while others downplay the graphic torment in favor of sad goodbyes.
"Gatha! I don't want you to go!" The child cried into the hound's thick belly fur and clung tight to his best friend. "I love you." A rumble from Gatha's throat, though it was undercut with pain, said that love was reciprocal. And Gatha made no more sound after that.
It is generally agreed that this is based on a true story.
Variations & Mutation
There have appeared in the last hundred years or so similar tales from other cultures. The Eswe, Vessuna, and even Maajit have their own versions with animals appropriate to each society in the place of a dog.