I remember little from when I was a boy, many many years ago. Never knew my parents and the only semblance of family I had was a group of children “employed” by Lemm – a swindler, an abuser, a thief. We all were first taught and then forced to steal for him, spy on his enemies and perform many other illicit activities. We had nowhere to go, no one to call for help. The city never gave a shit about urchins like me – I occasionally muse on how my life could’ve turned out if I landed in a shelter or an orphanage. Instead, I stole, I spied, and got pretty good at it.
I was also different from the rest of the children in Lemm’s employment. At first, I did not understand why. I was maybe a little smaller than the rest, quite a bit faster – both useful traits in the streets of Korvosa. I would hear locals calling me an “elf”, however I knew not what that meant. I tried asking Lemm, the only adult who would maybe listen and answer, but he scolded and beat me instead and demanded spoils of thievery – trinkets I “found” that day.
The word elf became much like a swear word for me, a racial slur. Only when I looked at my reflection in a puddle of water I saw why they called me an elf – my long pointy ears were a dead giveaway. The reflection gave me more insight in why I was shunned by other urchins (mostly humans), so I started hiding my ears. Life got easier, but certainly never easy. The older I grew, the greater and more dangerous tasks Lemm sent us on – and the price of failure was high. I know now he would have never killed me – I was one of his best pickpockets – but the number of scars I have to this day shows he never hesitated to lash out at me.
One time Lemm asked me to do a job – steal from a local man, old guy he claimed, with a great beard. I spent half the day walking around his supposed home, looking for points of entry and escape routes, number of guards (there weren’t any). When night came, I snuck in his house, easily and silently opening his second floor window. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the old man was wizard, with protective charms I’ve never encountered before. I was silent as ever, not a squeak came from the floor when I stepped inside and walked along the corridors. Yet, the old man was ready and waiting in his study.
Never before have I stolen from people with magical powers, so I did not know better. I charged in, hoping to simply grab the item Lemm ordered me to steal – and I recognised it the second I took a look in the room – the odd looking orb, but a few inches wide, was prominently displayed on his table. So I rushed in, avoiding the old man’s attempts to grab me, but the moment I touched the orb, something happened. A trap? I gave a concerned look to the wizard, who, at the time, appeared to move super fast. Or was it me moving extremely slow?
I barely understood what he was saying – but he certainly wasn’t happy about my attempt of theft and was promising jail time and extreme punishment. I started sweating, more scared than I ever was in my short life – at the time I was maybe 10 or 11 years old. I saw the old man turning his hands in odd motions and mumbling gibberish when great pain erupted within me. I squinted in pain, closed my eyes.
The pain was gone and the sounds changed – as if I was no longer in the old man’s study, but outside. I felt a pleasant midnight breeze and opened my eyes. I was indeed outside, not far from the wizard’s home. I heard him open his front doors and saw him frantically looking around for me. Our eyes locked. His look changed – no longer was he angry, but instead.. interested. Nonetheless, I turned and ran. Few urchins could outrun me in the streets and certainly not an old man.
Problem is, not only have I not gotten the orb out, but I also alerted the wizard. And that was the worst of all – I knew Lemm would be angry. I hesitated for hours before coming back. Too exhausted to consider other options, I crashed in one of the abandoned houses we used as shelters. Sleep took me fast. Yet I woke even faster due to sharp pain.
I opened my eyes to see Lemm, hovering over me.
“You little shit.” That’s all he said before stepping on my hands with his heavy boots. I felt my fingers buckle the wrong way and nearly fainted from agony. Lemm kept kicking me and thrashing my hands with a stick he found lying on the floor.
I woke hours later with every inch of me in pain. Worst of all, I checked my hands – fingers on the left hand were disfigured and I could not control them at all. Hurt, I spent the next few days lying in “bed” crying. When I finally woke, driven by hunger I went back to the streets. I know I looked pitiful, more than most urchins in town. Had I simply been dirty, I would’ve been ignored, for sure. But most passersby noticed I was hurt too, so they gave me food and drink. Since then, I try to return the generosity as much as possible – had it not been for them, I would’ve died in the gutter. I do sometimes watch over the people I remember helping – the baker especially – who handed a fresh bun into my trembling hand.
I survived for a few days this way, Lemm seemingly losing his interest in me, until I was tracked down by the old man. Once I saw him, I tried to run, but felt myself paralised. He caught up to me, looked me in the eyes and said.
“We have to talk.”
He led me not to jail or even his home, but the academy of magical arts. He was one of the teachers there, always on the lookout for magically gifted people, especially children, who were easier to train and develop. He brought me on to the council of enrollment, where they asked me to do simple magics. They discerned my heritage and explained that high elves (I was one, apparently) had innate magical powers. Simple tricks, for sure, but I could be taught, if I was willing.
I was in a desperate situation – hungry, injured with nowhere to go, so I agreed. There were positives in the academy – I did learn some magical skills and I could improve even more, should I wish. But that’s about it. Both the teachers (well, most of them but a select few) and students were arrogant, willing to hurt others in pursuit of greatness. Korvosa is indeed a city where all types of magic are allowed, even those deemed evil by most – like necromancy.
I was not evil – I saw so much good in my youth, but I was also a troublemaker. My favorite magical school was illusion, so I would play tricks on my teachers, I even learned to make my mage hand invisible, lending to even more trickery. I prided myself in silently pickpocketing necromancers, just to (invisibly) fight the black arts.
I also had this great teacher, an older elf. He was different from the rest, as not only was he magically skilled, but also proficient with a blade. He trained me, as a fellow elf, how to fight in melee well with his preferred weapon, a rapier. His fighting style was unlike anything I ever saw, a bladesinger he called himself. The way he fought was more like a dance or a performance, graceful, yet equally deadly. I know not where the elf disappeared though, as he simply vanished one day.
With him gone and me being forced to join necromancy classes I was torn apart. I could not in good conscience study there and become just like them – the greedy selfish magic abusers. Teachers and students alike noticed my negativity so after 5 years of training (which was nothing in the grand scheme of learning to become a wizard), I was thrown out. By then my hands were healed, although still scarred, so I got myself a pair of gloves. They would both cover by hands and be a reminder of the injustices in Korvosa. Armed now with skills and magic, I started hunting Lemm and his cronies. Elusive as he was, I managed to save some of the urchins slaving away at his factories or as pickpockets (I saw myself in their eyes) and gave them homes, food and shelter. To this day, I have not found Lemm, but driven by vengeance and righteousness, I will.