The scars on my neck are a bit itchy today. Most of the telling signs from my years as a ‘shadow hound’ have disappeared over time but a couple of scars remain.
My mother died when I was five years old. I don’t remember much of her, and my grandparents, her mother and father, didn’t share many stories with me. Since my father left at my birth and disowned me, I’ve had no relationship at all with his parents either. My mother’s parents rejected me too as they couldn’t cope with having a half-breed grandchild with horns and hooves, and when I was 12 they passed me on to people I was told were my aunt & uncle. I found out later that I was sold to them and that they were no relation at all.
Bertram & Gloria Balkan were children of rich gold merchants of eastern Rul and fled to Set from their family lands near Kem due to threats by witch hunters. According to Bertram, he had some business dealings with a corrupt inquisitor that went wrong. He didn’t go into details and just said that he and Gloria had to flee. Close friends of Bertram’s parents had a manor located inside the city walls in northeastern Set, the city of Gods, and so they re-established themselves there.
Bertram thought there had to be a way to take advantage of the many mystics, philosophers, spiritualists, teachers, prophets, disciples and pilgrims that appeared around the Set due to the representations of just about every religion from the New God to the Orcish God of Blood and Iron, and devised a way to prosper from them. Bertram told me the story of how he and Gloria started by taking a small piece of gold to a blacksmith and had him pound it down until he had pieces that were thinner than a leaf. Gloria, dressed as a vestal virgin in a flowing white covering, went to one of the smaller temples and handed out a few small squares of this new ‘gold leaf’ to visiting pilgrims and told them rub the piece of gold onto one of the statues at the temple. She told them that they would gain the favours of the god for their offering. Other pilgrims came to Gloria to ask her where to get the fine sheets of gold she pointed to Bertram and they came and purchased this new ‘gold leaf’ from him to offer up to their god. This started a trend at other temples, and Bertram was the only one who had figured out how to create the gold leaf.
It was so successful that Bertram acquired strong men from the slave markets of Dis to start up his own gold leaf production. He showed me their working room when he was inspecting one day, I couldn’t believe how loud it was! There were 20 men in collars with linked chains connected to the wall so they couldn’t escape with his gold, all pounding heavy mallets against packs of fibre paper each with a minute amount of gold between the pages. I sometimes wonder if the men had a better life working there than if they had found themselves in the fighting pits of Qif.
The collar ‘uncle’ Bertram had on me was a little different than those his working slaves wore. You see, mine wasn’t around my ankle, it was around my neck and it had prongs inside it. I was Bertram’s ‘shadow hound’, someone he would flaunt to his rich friends as the one who would keep an eye on the dark shadows while travelling around to make sure there wasn’t anyone or anything lurking about.
Their hired sword Gornn would always be by Bertram and Gloria’s side and I would point out any potential threats as we travelled through streets or dark alleyways. This act alone would ensure that those who might intend us harm would keep their place as they knew we were aware of their location. If it was just Bertram, Gloria and me, I recon we’d have probably gotten jumped, however having the 22 hand high, enormous rock solid orc half-breed as a guard saved our lives many times. One time a rat came running out of its hiding place and Bertram pulled hard on the leather tether causing the spikey prongs to dig into the soft flesh of my neck. I guess it was my fault for not noticing the rat.
On the way back to the manor from the markets one dimly lit evening there was a group of four hiding in the shadows and I could see their knives drawn. This time I kept quiet and acted like I didn’t see a thing. I had enough of being a pet.