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Valarin Ehrendrin

My name is Valarin Ehrendrin. I'm Val to my friends, though a few non-friends have called me various expletives interspersed with colorful adjectives. Valarin is what they told me my first name was. Can't complain; could've been worse. My first childhood friend's name was Krud. Not sure if that was a name or a punishment... I'm not really sure why I chose the name Ehrendrin. I think it was to impress a girl. It sounded good, so I kept it; I'd never had a last name when I was growing up....

Ah, growing up. I haven't thought about that in a long time. Not that I'm that old now, mind you. It's just that I put a lot of my life behind me. My childhood wasn't spectacular, so that was one of the things I chose to leave behind. I could tell you that I was born to a rich family and raised in the lap of luxury. I'd be lying, but I could tell you that. Fact is, I don't know anything about my family. I grew up in an orphanage in Driahn. It wasn't a particularly good orphanage, either. More like a place where kids were left so they could be forgotten. I was one of the lucky ones, since I happened to have all my fingers and toes (no extras, either) when I was born. Two eyes, two ears, a nose and a mouth full of straight teeth. Yeah, I was lucky....

There isn't much to say about the place. I honestly can't remember much about it. It was located on the south side of the capital near the merchant district, right in the middle of The Warrens, what the better off people called the slums. It was a dirty, twisting, winding section of town that made a cesspool look like a crystal clear pond. Old Town was what it used to be called, but as the city grew it became the home for those that couldn't afford to live anywhere else. Most of the narrow streets were already crowded with houses and old storefronts long since closed, so people started building upwards. No spiraling minarets here; it was more like shacks were stacked on top of buildings never designed to support them. And the streets got rerouted whenever someone did decide to build an addition into the lane. It was easy to spot newcomers to the area; they'd be lost for hours. That is, until they wound up dead. Or wishing they were.

Growing up wasn't all that bad. The orphanage provided food whenever it could. If someone didn't make it home by dinnertime, we split their share. Of course, if one of us didn't make it home by dinnertime, the rest of us would end up splitting all their stuff too; they weren't coming back. Happened a few times that I can remember. I sometimes wonder who got my old blanket and carved toy dog when I didn't go back....

I left when I was twelve. I just didn't go back one night. I'd met a nice couple who offered me some food, and it looked a whole lot better than what they had at the orphanage. I ended up staying with them for a while. I guess they treated me like their own, though we never talked about it. I just knew they never had children of their own. Loran and Dahlia weren't that old, but time wasn't very kind to them. They'd been in the Warrens for a long time, and I'd seen them around. Loran made his living working odd jobs at the docks, loading and unloading cargo. Dahlia worked at The Red Boar serving drinks... and other things. Didn't find that out 'til I was older. I kind of feel sorry for her, really. I'm sure she used to be really pretty when she was younger, and not wasting herself on strange men and drinking too much.

I went to work with Loran at the docks the next summer. Trade was good, and it seemed like everyone had money to pay able workers. I wasn't all that strong or big, but I managed to earn a few coppers here and there. I was still small and agile enough to climb through holds to retrieve packages and the like hidden behind the bigger cargo. Never once did I question why the stuff was where only a kid could reach it, but I found out soon enough.

Circio was the one that paid the best for getting his packages. He took notice of me and often hired me ahead of a few of the other fetch boys. Pretty soon he offered to hire me exclusively. He said I had promise. Shades, he paid well! Of course I took the offer.... I thought it would be more of the same. I didn't realize that he had other plans in mind. Circio's jobs became more challenging; I'd have to get packages for him that others didn't want him to have. I learned to be sneaky. He taught me a few tricks as well. I had no idea he was such a skilled locksmith. And he was quick with his hands as well. He was never short of money, and I was paid well.

I'd given some of my earnings to Loran and Dahlia, but I'd managed to save up enough coin to buy decent clothes and a pair of decent daggers. Handy tools that Circio taught me how to use. When I was fifteen, he taught me to use a long sword, too. He told me that it was something every young man should know. And if I couldn't use one very well, act like I could. Sometimes that's all that mattered. I eventually earned enough to buy my own. It's come in handy a few times.

I'd also managed to earn enough money to not need to take every job Circio offered. Besides, I'd managed to grow a head taller than him by the time I was sixteen, and I could no longer fit into the tightest places in the holds. That job was given to younger whelps just starting out. I'd moved on to more important jobs. I wasn't all that naive any more, either. I knew Circio was a smuggler. He dealt with gems and various other small items of value; his "packages." It didn't bother me all that much. We didn't hurt anyone. Well, directly anyway. And I started learning the trade.

When I turned eighteen, I started making voyages for Circio acting as a courier. He'd gone with me a few trips to make introductions and arrangements, then I was on my own. I'd managed to travel to many ports over the years, meeting business associates, learning some new skills, making friends along the way. And some enemies, too. I was having the time of my life! I got a taste for travel and exploring the cities I visited. I even had a chance to explore around some less civilized areas....

It was in Circio's home country of Mercadur when things went bad. I'd missed a rendezvous with an associate because of a... prior engagement. Ends up the young woman I was with saved my life. The associate was found floating dead at the docks, his shipment missing. I thought it was quite lucky that I had missed the appointment. Sometimes, however, I wonder if I was delayed on purpose....

Well, that was the beginning of the end. I'd returned to Driahn empty-handed. Circio wasn't very upset about it, but somebody else sure was. The morning after my return, Circio was dead and I was on the run. A couple of the whelps told me he'd been found by the watch, his throat slit ear to ear. Poor bastard. Word on the street said I was next. Our clients thought we cheated them out of the last shipment, and they thought I had the goods. Bloody wonderful....

Getting out of town was the first thing on my mind, but I didn't have much time. I thought I could buy some time, and possibly a way out, by slipping aboard a ship in the port. With a few careful inquiries, I learned of a vessel that was under heavy guard that was planning on leaving that night. Heavy guards seemed like a good deterrence for the ones after me. I pretended to be a porter carrying supplies aboard, then managed to hide below decks. It wasn't 'til that night that I learned something wasn't right about the ship I was on. It flew.

I managed to stay tucked away for a few days, living off the supplies in the hold, before being discovered. I was lucky—they didn't put me off the ship immediately, but waited until we made port, and in the meantime I learned more than a little as I worked off my unintended passage. Enough that when we did dock, I found a spot on another ship, and another after that, some good, some bad.

Been on Bral about three months now, waiting for the next opportunity. I've been working at the port to earn some money. I'm hoping to get back home some day. Maybe... For now, I'm starting to get the hang of this life. There's money to be made and sights to see. I might even be able to make a name for myself here. Or somewhere else... We'll see how fortune looks upon me.

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© 2001 Rebecca J. Stevenson