A brief account of the reviled Arch-Wizard Edmund Manwaring's childhood meeting with Master Tolbas Nogroti.
(*Taken from the Arch-Wizard's personal journals)
Reality. A state of being that is upheld to be the only possible existence, given past actions. The state of things as they are or were. A thing which is not formed of delusion, imagination or deception. A truth.
Destiny: The ultimate end of a journey. A goal set forth by oneself or another for one to obtain. The pre-ordained result of living. An end.
Two words used by scholars and clergy to help the less fortune members of our societies to find peace and happiness in our existences. If we have an unobtainable dream, we are told to keep our focus on the reality of things. If we have a life that is less than desirable, we are told that our destiny is thus, and that we should rejoice and find pleasure in all we do. Even if it pains us.
Oh, that's what they told me when my father passed away in my eleventh year. And you know, it didn't sound any better then than it does now. Of course a man's destiny is to die, but why, pray tell; did it have to be my father?
I suppose that my father asked nearly that same question when my mother died during my birth. But, if he was told to find the happiness in having a son, rather than losing a wife, he ignored it completely. I won't expound on the injustices wrought upon me by my father, but I will say that I have seen lepers treated more decently than I was.
Oh well, Destiny calls, right?
But, I ask this: What of those souls who have destinies of great importance and magnitude? Did they not have great dreams and aspirations? Were they told to keep focused on reality? And, if so, did they pay heed? The casual observer would say they did not.
So, it may be reasoned that one may achieve happiness and a sense of worth by making their reality their destiny. Or perhaps realizing their destiny. Or maybe, just maybe, one's destiny is an illusion and reality is only an extension of one's dreams, wants and desires.
Or perhaps, I am just as misguided and unenlightened as Constable Wilks, who on several occasions informed me that my destiny waited for me in a cold ditch and my reality was the same as a common sewer rat. Maybe. It's possible he was right, but then again, I am still alive. I am not near a ditch and there are no rats in my comfortable room here. As for the good Constable, he departed this world and met his destiny several years ago.
Thinking of the Constable brings back memories of a darker and yet less sinister time in my life. A time when I was convinced that happiness lay with the confines of another's purse. A time when I could mark the passing of time by the hunger pangs that shook my insides when business was slow.
Business was, or the reality of it was, thievery. Picking pockets, scamming and conning. I found that being a man or rather a boy, with few skills and no family worth did not provide me with many options. I could use my, in all modesty, good looks and work as an indentured servant. Or I could use my limited brains and clumsy hands as a cutpurse. Or I could starve.
Not inclined to be the plaything of greasy, smelly and thoroughly disgusting old men, and most definitely not interested in starving, I chose cutting purses and running scams. There was one problem with my chosen profession. I have absolutely no ability to convince anyone of anything that I know is not true . I always gave away the job. If it weren't for alcohol, I would have never succeeded as many times as I did. Only a drunk would believe my cons.
Laughable as I was, I did manage to stay out of the law's hands and even kept myself fed. But, as time went on, I decided I needed a partner.
Or, rather it was decided for me.
Leo was just a scruff of a boy, barely a teenager. Bushy blond hair and big tan freckles. That's the way Leo was always described by people on the street. He was a likable fellow with a hard luck story. A story that changed day to day. But it was always a tearjerker. Leo made quite an impressive living off of the generosity of others. And their gullibility.
I had been working the streets for about seven months when I first met up with Leo. He knew right off what I was about. I looked a total delinquent. He strode right up to me and said, " Yah know, yah grift about as well as Ah fly." Apparently he had seen my recent failure to convince an elderly gentleman to part with a few coins for my sick mother.
"Oh, sure yah luk a right miserable fella," he continued, "but yah sound like a con-man. Ah should let yah go on cheatin' yerself outta yer coin, but Ah need some help, and seein' as how yah do too, Ah think we kin help one anudder out here."
I stared at this scrawny fellow, wild blond tufts of hair jutting out from under his woolen hat. I was as incredulous as my marks, but for some reason, his eyes and goofy lopsided grin convinced me that the least I could do was give it a try.
"What's the scam?" I said as nonchalantly as I could.
"Eeeeooow, that's da spirit!" he exclaimed. "It's a pretty little deal. A new shopkeeper moved into da front down on Jester Way Courtyard. He hasn't been hit by any of the boys yet, cause dey all wanna score big da first time. So what we are gunna do is go down dere, talk to da man and convince him that we knows some things that he should know."
"And that would be what?" I inquired.
"Well, all da scams of da udder grifters! He should pay some heavy coin for our info."
I continued to stare at Leo, and slowly worked his story over in my mind. He knew what I was doing, and never looked away from me. He just waited for me to come to the conclusion that he knew I would.
"So, what in the bleeding world do you need me for? You are gonna sell out every street guy in this neighborhood. Sounds like a one man, one time scam to me."
"Ah see yer point, so here's mine. While Ah am out in da front 'sellin' out Da boys, as you put it, you is in da back of his store, liftin' every thing yah kin! Den we splits it fiddy fiddy!"
His scheme seemed worth a shot. After a bit of deliberation about it, I agreed.
We set out, both smiling at the prospect of out burgeoning partnership. He showed me the store and we worked out our timing and cover stories. I slipped off to the alley and he went boldly into the shop.
The scam went of perfectly and we decided to make it a standard part of our grifting.
Leo and I, we made "heavy coin", as he always liked to put it. We worked the city of Grayville top to bottom, and side to side over the next two years. We had a scam for every occasion. But our best scam, the one that we could pull on any one, portrayed us as brothers.
And you know, we were.
(*Omitted here are several accounts of the Arch-Wizard's daily life over the next two years.)
One warm early summer's day, Leo and I were lounging about our palace. The servant girls were attending to our every need. My pet lion, "Gondo", was playfully wrestling with my foot while a tamed ogre played the pipes in the corner. It had grown boring in the kingdom since we had slain the last of the dragons in a fiery confrontation some days before.
Leo rolled slowly to his side and spoke, completely shattering the fantasy. The ogre and serving girls melted away as the reality of our ramshackle hideout took over as his words came forth.
"Yah know, we needs ta git some coin soon. We are outta smoke, drink and food."
I agreed. "The market, or the court?"
"Da markit Ah think. No new nobles have showed up in court for a few days."
"The market it is then."
Leo grinned toothily as we stood. He brushed off his trousers and straightened his cap.
"Hey Leo, you ever think about how things could have been? If you were rich or a noble or something?"
"Naw, Ah am what Ah am. Just as yah are."
"Yeah, we are what we are." With a playful slap to the back of Leo's head, I ran out the low hung door of the old warehouse and into the street.
Right into the muscular chest of Constable Wilks. I fell backwards from the impact as if I was shot from a steam cannon. He stared down from his visor and extended a hand. I allowed him to help me up and brushed myself off. Leo stumbled after me and struck me in to back so hard that I went off balance and cracked by forehead on Wilks's pauldron.
Leo laughed and after proclaiming me to be the largest horse's shank in the kingdom, saluted the Constable. Wilks smiled slightly as he inspected my wound and asked how business was.
"Slow, very slow, Sir" was Leo's response, and Wilks merely shook his head. He had given up on lecturing us quite sometime ago. He was now content with looking out for us and making sure that some of the other knights didn't get too rough with us.
After he was convinced that my head didn't need any special attention, he let us go on our way. It was a long time before I figured out why he was kind to us. I never thanked him. Not once. I wish I had.
The market was not especially busy this day, but we were sure we could get some action by the time the sun set. We went to work with all the zeal of a harlot trying to entice a Duke.
As Leo told his story of misery to a middle-aged woman in fine clothes, I relieved her husband of his purse as I brushed by him on the busy causeway. As expected, it was a decoy purse. Empty. Marks had become increasingly crafty these days. More crafty than the grifters at times.
After a few hours of attempts that proved fruitless, Leo and I stopped under the apple tree on the corner and sat in the shade of the setting, watching the citizens go on about their business, paying us no mind. It puts things in perspective, if one allows oneself to think about such things. Such thinking, however, is detrimental to happiness, so, things were completely out of perspective for most of us.
In an odd show of generosity, an old woman stopped and handed each of us a small rag. We smiled and thanked her and she went back to her man, who was glowering at her show of kindness for two criminals. We opened the rags to find a small handful of berries. A welcome treat and we slowly began to plop the sweet morsels into our mouths. Our luck had changed.
As we snacked, I noticed a chill in the breeze. I commented to Leo about it, but he just kept eating his berries. After a moment the chill passed, but the memory of it did not. Something about it struck me as being darkly peculiar. I tried to dismiss it, but could not.
After a time, a small group came up the road. I stood and watched them approach. The chill was back in the air, but now it was stronger. I turned to Leo and asked him if he felt it now. He shook his head slowly as he daydreamed about whatever it was that he daydreamed about.
I turned back to the troupe and could now see that four of the members were clad in black robes with black veils. At the head was a tallish figure, clad in black as well, but his face was not covered. His brow was high and his nose was a slope that divided his face like stone wall divides a courtyard. His eyes were dark and sinister. He gave the impression of man who cares not for his surroundings, as he never even glanced my way as I stood with jaw agape at his parade.
It seemed an eternity passed as the figures passed by us, on their way towards the market and shops. I watched in total fascination. Of all the odd things I could have noticed about this crew, the one thing that stood out were the thin, silvery strings that were draped from each of the four veiled figures' heads to the hand of the leader. I had never seen anything like that.
The group passed by us, and I turned to Leo. "What the Devil was that?"
"Ah guess a master and his serving wenches, probably from Halvia, judging by da veils."
"But what were those strings?"
"Whut strings, yah daft idjit?"
"You didn't see them? Strung from each woman to the hand of the Master."
"Sounds like leashes ta me. Leashes, that's whut dey were."
I wasn't convinced. Something about the leashes and the chilly air told me that something was afoot. Something sinister. Something wonderful. Something magical.
Leo rolled on his belly laughing at my idea. He said the berries must have been bad or something and perhaps I should go lie down. He laughed and guffawed for a time, but finally settled down. We sat quietly for a few minutes, pondering private thoughts.
"Why doncha go ask him? Da strings, Ah mean. Go ask dat Master whut dey wuz."
I nodded and told Leo I would meet him at the usual place for this evening's activities of drink and merriment. He said he would be there and for me to bring what ever I lifted from the Master in Black. I nodded and strode off into the dust of the street.
I didn't say goodbye to my dear friend Leo that day. I wish I had.
(*The account of the actual meeting has been removed at the request of Master Archivist Keliwan. It may be viewed upon request in the Archives.)