By Keaton Watson
Highpass is a shit town. Trust me, I know. For starters, all anyone ever really does there is work the mines, and let me tell you, that is borin’. And dangerous. But mostly just borin’. Secondly, people don’t look kindly upon mixed-heritage folk, even the children. And since I’m a pretty obvious half-elf, you can take my word for it. It’s not that folks are bad, per se, it’s just they ain’t open to change. Or anythin’ different, for that matter.
Now me? I’m meant for something more. I’m meant to change the world. I feel it in my soul, like there’s somethin’ inside me lyin’ in wait, lookin’ for the right time to up and blast its way out, but I can’t quite take hold of it yet. It’s been there ever since I was little. See, I never knew my father, and my mom? Well, she got herself into a bit of trouble and they sent her to the mines. That was over ten years ago, so she’s due back any day now. Where did that leave me? Well, I had to make due on my own. Luckily, there were a lot of kids like me in Highpass, and we did what we had to do. Nick a little bread here, a little coin there…. That sort of thing, you know? The trick? Never get caught. If you’re caught, well, you get to go meet me mum in the mines, yeah?
Luckily for some of us, there was a particular fellow who helped us Dirty Urchins out. I think his name was really Rufus, but he just had us call him “Boss.” He was a nasty, older fellow with a crooked nose and some missing teeth. Rumor was that he was a town guard for a while, but no one knew for sure. He was handy with a blade if he needed, and he knew all the secrets. As long as Boss got a share of what we nicked, he protected us. Showed us all the best spots, how to not get seen, taught us all the blade. He was like a father, and he ran a whole city’s worth of orphaned kids. It was Boss who gave me my first lute and my first lesson. He didn’t know much, just the basics. But once that lute was in my hand, it just came to life. Weren’t long before I was playin’ at street corners, with my little apple basket in front of me filling up with the coins of passersby. It was a lot easier than nicking things, and I weren’t no slouch about it either. I could sing most songs after hearing it once or twice, and I got really good at playin’ and tellin’ stories at the same time. Sometimes crowds would gather for the stories. Some, I told from bits and pieces I picked up from travelin’ minstrels visitin’ the taverns, others I just made up myself on the spot. Weren’t long, I had to recruit my friend Kit to help collect the funds and keep the crowd controlled.
“Rat,” Kit says to me one day, “I reckon you’re pretty good at this now. You need a proper name. I can’t just be announcing ‘Rat’ anymore…. It’s.. undignified, yeah?”
I thought for a bit and asked, “Well what you suppose I should be called? Boss named me Rat, so I’m Rat.”
Kit shrugs and says, “I tell you what, I’ll come up with something. Boss don’t run everything, and you gotta think past the Dirty Urchins. Besides, you’re his prize calf, and Boss knows if he loses you, he loses a lot of money. I bet you can be called just about whatever you like.”
And so, the next time I performed, Kit introduced me as “The Great Gregorin Taleweaver! Most fantastic storyteller in all of Amenvale!” And you know what? The crowd didn’t know whether to make heads or tails of that. They came around eventually though.
You know who didn’t? Boss. I guess I was about 17 by then, and Boss was getting the feeling I’d be leaving him soon. He said to me, “Name like that’s just one step away from being a real man, boy. You sure you ready for that? Your little friend Kit here is putin’ too many ideas in your ruddy head!” He slapped me too. Kit was mad, but I took my beatin’ and laughed about it later. That’s when I told Kit I wanted to play in a real tavern. I’d make enough money to pay off Boss to be happy, and maybe get us a real place to sleep.
It took a while, and I had to take a bath before Fat Marge, the Innkeeper of the Thorny Rose let me play on a weeknight. Weren’t much of a crowd, but everyone there left happy and with the name of “Gregorin Taleweaver” on their lips. I had to admit, it was nice bein’ all cleaned up and respectable. Fat Marge thought so too, so she invited me back to play on a weekend afternoon before a real minstrel came to perform.
I dropped the fattest sack of coin yet in front of Boss that night, and his eyes glinted with some sort of malice I never seen. It was gone in an instant, and I can never be sure if I even saw it, really. “You come by this honestly, boy?” he asked quietly.
“Honest, Boss. I played a real tavern tonight, the Thorny Rose. That sack there is your cut, as normal. The rest is mine, fair and square.” I say back.
“Fair and square, eh? And what about Kit, boy? What about my cut of Kit’s money?” He asks quietly.
Now, I’m confused by this. I’m not sure what he’s really gettin’ at, but he’s not nearly as happy as I expect him to be. “I reckon your cut of Kit’s money is there too, Boss.” I shrug a little to get my point across.
“Kit… that boy is playing us. He pockets more money and leaves us nothing but scraps! You mark my words, boy, he’s stealin’ us blind!” He roars after a moment. “Are you mine, boy? After all I done for you, are you still mine?”
I hide my surprise, and just reply simply, “Sure, Boss. I owe you everything.”
“Yes,” he says. “You do. And now, you’re gonna prove it, boy. You’re gonna kill Kit. But first, you’re gonna get all our money back. We’ll split it, fifty fifty. Partners, like always, yeah?”
“Kill… Kit??” I manage to stammer after a second.
“Yes, boy! Or are you lyin’ to me?” He roars. Dirty Urchins scatter before his anger, searching for corners to melt away. Boss’s dagger flashes and suddenly he’s at my throat, the point just under my chin. He’s so close I can smell his rotten breath, and see his black teeth.
“I’m yours,” I manage to squeak out. “But it’s Kit. I can’t kill him. Just take my share for the night and I’ll make sure Kit pays up from here on.” I drop my coin purse on the floor in front of my feet, and the coins scatter on the floor.
“You’ll kill him, and that’ll be the last I’ll hear of it, boy. You’ll do it, or you’ll find my blade much deeper than this little prick I’ve given you now. Now go and stick your knife in his gut, and you make sure he don’t wanna walk away from it, you hear?” He’s deathly quiet now, and again I see that glint from earlier.