Pepa Quin

I was born a mute in Cair Cainen, a walled town in eastern Cinera. I remember few details from when I was a child, for I had to grow up quickly. I was only 5, and didn't even know my voice was handicapped. Up until then, my parents had sheltered me from the outside world, for should any find out about my lack of speech I would have been taken away from them, or even killed. The bandits struck quickly. I never saw what happened to my father. My mother threw me into the dank, vermin infested privy just before she was struck down. I heard her cry out as I hit the rank pool -- a wordless scream of agony. After many hours of waiting for my parents to come get me, for I could not yet comprehend what had happened, I decided to get out myself. Fortunately, the hole had slanted walls, slippery as they were. Climbing out, the first thing I saw was my mothers pale blue dress. Then I saw my mother face -- red all over, twisted and contorted beyond even what pain can do to a human. The image still remains with me to this day.

The year or two after that is rather hazy to me. I can remember running from my house, but I don't remember how I got outside the walls unharmed. Or maybe I _was_ harmed and tossed out to die.. I've long speculated, but I'll never know. Somehow I survived long enough to get as far away from human settlements as I could. Or perhaps it was just a few miles -- this is all speculation based on what I do remember. I survived the next few years only through the grace of Ereal -- that and a large (to me) dog that for some reason took a liking to me instead of taking a bite. It protected me for 3-4 years. Hunting food for me and finding shelter in caves, overhangs, and holes. I'm guessing it was some sort of domesticated stray that felt a need to serve a master again, but again, I'll never know. One morning - I think I was about 8 - I woke up resting on a very cold mound of fur. It had passed away during the night on what was to be the last night of a rather harsh winter. I stayed with it, not clearly comprehending, when I was forced away by a large, sick, hungry rat who had smelled the death and came to feed. It tried to attack me, but being so weak it missed. Lashing out, I attacked in the only way I'd seen - with my teeth, as the dog had shown me countless times before. I killed the rat then and there - but from the foam that came out of it's mouth I knew better then to stick around.

I left the cave and emerged into the world. My clothes had long ago fallen to pieces so you can imagine I was pretty cold out there in the end of winter. I set out walking, not knowing exactly where to go but pushing myself to just go somewhere. One morning, after a few days of wandering, I awoke from inside a cave I'd found the night before to the sounds of humans. I went outside and saw a rather large town not far off. Obviously I had been too tired and it was too dark the night before for me to have noticed it. I was hungry, but not starving - I had crossed two rivers and found many berry plants along the way. Staying out of sight - after all, I did have _some_ modesty - I came across one of the many outlying farms around the town. This farm wasn't like the other farms I'd passed, however. Sneaking around the main barn, I peeked inside. Over a dozen naked youths, all about my age, were in there doing exercises under the watch of a very large soldier. It had been a while since I'd heard human speech, so I couldn't understand what the soldier was yelling, but it seemed to be directed at making the boys move faster. I must have made some noise, for the soldier suddenly looked straight at me. The volume of his yelling increased as it was directed to me, and though I couldn't comprehend I understood the meaning of his gestures and pointing. Quickly, I got "back" in line with the other boys and did my best attempt at the exercises they were doing. Luck was with me, and the soldier didn't suspect I wasn't a part of his troop. The other boys looked at me strangely, but they weren't about to approach their trainer. Life quickly fell into a routine for me as I integrated myself back into society. Excursuses in the morning and farm labor the rest of the day. 2 meals a day, one after training and one after sunset. I shared a pallet at night with 3 other boys. Often I heard quiet complaints from the others about how little food they had and the cramped quarters, but for me it was the first prepared food I'd had in 4 years, a bed, and most importantly a sense of security. I re-learned language quickly so I was able to fool the soldiers for quite a while. However, the boys learned sooner then the soldiers about my muteness, and, as boys will, teased me day and night about it. Until the soldiers found out, of course. They looked me over but found no reason why they should kill me - they never did find out I was a "stowaway" in their farm - so they silenced the boys by making sure we all had extra labor to take up our time.

After 3 year of this - I suppose I was around 12 years of age by that time - we were finally awarded the right to wear clothes. With the clothes began a new step in our training - real fight training instead of just exercises and work. After 2 years I'd become somewhat proficient with a practice sword above the rest of our training, though not the best of the group. With that and other skills, I started wondering about what life might be like outside the farm. While easily able to defend myself in scraps against the other boys, I still had little respect among them and no friends. I thought back to my previous life on my own out in the wild, and longed to return to at least some measure of independence. I got my chance 2 years later. The soldiers finally decided to allow us to practice with real swords. Many of us had reached our full adult height by then, and quite well built and disciplined from our years at the farm. Many of the boys, myself excluded, also watched over newer troops of boys come in from the city. So I suppose the trainers finally trusted us enough to train with real weapons. Big mistake on their part. After a few training sessions out in the fields, I suddenly and without warning made a break for it. All in the area gave chase, but as I was the best runner in the farm, they had no chance. My memory served me correctly and I quickly found the cave I'd slept in so long ago before I'd found them. Hiding in there for a two days, I ventured out into the world once more. Heading south, a few days later I heard the sounds of men fighting. Cresting a hill, I saw a small wagon on a well-travelled road. The wagon, driven by a wiry old man, was under attack by two ragged bandits. The old memory of my parents death rose up in me, and something within me burned. Before I knew what was happening, I rushed the wagon and dispatched the two bandits. The blood cleared from my head and I stared down to the two dead men in horror. I looked toward the driver, who was staring at me in a mix of gratitude and horror. After a while, he finally spoke to me, asking if I was ok. I nodded to him. A wise man, he next asked me if I was able to speak. I shook my head. That's ok, he said, and then asked me to join him on the rest of his journey. I would be his guard, he said, and he promised to pay me by day as well as reward me for saving him from the bandits. I eagerly accepted, grateful to be around another human who didn't seem to have much interest in fighting.

The man, Fledus, was a semi-prosperous small time farmer who often made trips into the city to sell his goods. I worked for him for a year, acting as his guard when he went to the city and working on the farm at other times. One trip into the city, however, took a turn for the worst when I spotted one of my fellow trainees walking around. He saw me, and yelled to other trainees and soldiers around that he'd found the mute. Fledus, whom I'd gradually been able to share my life's story with, shoved a handful of coins and some food into a sack and shoved me away. Regrettably, I ran through the city away from the third human to ever show kindness to me. Hiding in abandoned buildings for a few days, I eventually decided to make my way south in an attempt to flee the country. To escape the city I signed on as part of a caravan guard which was heading west. Again, as I'd found so many other times, no one minded that I didn't speak up as long as I did what I was supposed to. When we finally reached our destination I took my leave of the guard and took off to the south. Fledus had maps and had lightly educated me of the current war with Iridine - which he neither cared for nor disliked, for business was business - and I knew there was a lightly defended area about 3 days travel from here. Where an army could obviously not travel, it was easy for a single dark-skinned man to slip by unseen in the night. I bypassed the first few small towns and villages I came across, because I doubted that any Cineran sentiment this close to the border would not go in my favor. Eventually I decided to try my luck in a small town quite a ways off from the border. Walking through the streets, the people looked at me maybe a little longer then usual, but no one said anything. Once again, I signed up with a small caravan that made a circuit through the countryside. Pay was minimal, but it was survival. I kept this up for 2 years, though never staying with the same company more then a few months. Through guarding and odd jobs I got by until one day the wagons I was guarding arrived at the city of Iridine. Having heard much about the wondrous city, I decided to take a look.

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