Twenty-seven years ago, a half-breed child was born in the Silver Mountains. Garza Swifttail, a wolfman of the mountain tribes, and Eusebia Sunizar, a human barbarian woman, fell in love, and their child, whom they named Ronugall, was the product of their love. Unlike other brutish races, half-breeds were not common, and bigotry ran deep. Garza was banished from his tribe as punishment for engaging in such an “unholy” union, and Ronugall’s mother was forced to return to her own tribe, with child in tow.
Things among the barbarian clans were not much better. The tribe refused to hear talk of allowing Garza to stay with them; they believed that they had acquiesced enough by letting the half-breed remain there. Young Ronugall was left without a father, and a mother who could do little to defend him. He became the outlet for the tribe’s ire. Looked down upon as something less than human, Ronugall was treated as a dog, a high-functioning pet that existed only to serve the whims of whatever human wished something of him. Ronugall was daily subjected to backbreaking work, sometimes without water or food. Beatings were common. Some days, when the tribesmen were particularly drunk and rowdy, they would force him to perform tricks for their amusement, and sometimes, they would even chain him up and set wild animals upon him, releasing him only when the animal was dead, or when the blood from his wounds had sated them.
Though she could not prevent the abuse, Eusebia devoted all of her time to her son, attempting to teach him what she knew. One evening, after returning home with burning lashes on his back, Eusebia set Ronugall down, looked him in the eyes, and said, “They hurt you because they fear you. The potential you have, the power. They fear their own failure and take it out on you. Remember this, my son: You are only what they say you are if you believe it is true. You always must have pride.”
Ronugall did indeed remember these words, and allowed himself to accept the human’s behavior. Though he couldn’t stop the pain, he could always show them that he was more than an animal through his actions. And as he grew older and bigger, he realized that they did fear him. They shrank back ever so slightly when he’d walk by, exchanging quick, furtive glances. There was rage in Ronugall’s heart, rage that sometimes commanded him to appease his emotions by slaughtering his abusers. But when such thoughts came to him, he remembered his mother’s words, and knew that by killing them, he could only confirm that he was the beast they believed him to be.
The half-breed found another outlet for his emotions, an outlet much healthier and more satisfying for him: smithing. Ronugall often played many parts as a member of the tribe, but when he was first given over to the head blacksmith, a wide bear of a man named Shayad Ubaral, they found he had a natural aptitude for the work. The bending of hot metal, the loud clang of hammer on iron, these were things he could understand, and they centered him. Even Shayad was forced to begrudgingly admit the young boy’s talent, and took him on as an assistant. For several years, the abuse subsided as the tribe valued the armor and weapons he produced. It did not dissipate completely, but for the first time, Ronugall felt that he had gained something rather like respect from his tribesmen, and he became content with the knowledge that he had finally found a way to live among them.
But things never stay pleasant for long.
When he reached the age of 16, his mother was killed during a late-night raid. A sword was run through her breast and lanced her heart. With no modicum of respect keeping him from violence, with no human ties keeping him tethered to the tribe any longer, the abuse escalated, culminating in a prolonged week of torture and depravity that still plagues Ronugall with nightmares to this day. After 17 years of this treatment, the half-breed could no longer stand it. He ran, operating on nothing but sheer adrenaline and wearing nothing but the tattered rags on his back.
He ran the entire night until he reached the town of Jerrett, collapsing in an alleyway. When he awoke, he found himself in a small homestead, wrapped in blankets and surrounded by candlelight. An old Seitsman couple kneeled near him, dabbing his forehead with a wet cloth and washing his wounds. Ronugall was surprised and defensive at first, but the couple calmed him down enough to explain that they were married serfs, and had found him in an alleyway full of bleeding cuts, welts, and bruises on their way home. Though they didn’t have much, they took him in and dressed his wounds.
Ronugall had not experienced such a selfless act from a human since he knew his mother, and all at once he broke down and cried, letting out all of the pain he had bottled up for so many years. The couple, Emery and Angilia Whettlestone, took pity on him and took him in. The couple, despite being serfs, had some influence in town. They were able to petition Lord Jerrett to give Ronugall provisional allowances to continue to reside in the town, as long as he remained peaceful and productive.
“We know how these brutes are,” stated the highbrow Noblesse lord at Ronugall’s hearing. “Let us hope that this wolf-boy is an exception to their race.”
Several months went by as Ronugall adjusted to city life, installing himself as Emery and Angilia’s errand boy: cutting grass, hauling lumber, making market runs, doing whatever was needed to repay their kindness. When they discovered his aptitude for smithing, they offered to introduce him to one of their acquaintances, a local metalsmith named Gabriello Dunbar.
Gabriello was a short, stodgy Seitsman who took one look at the half-breed wolfman and told him to get lost, but with some convincing from the Whettlestones, Ronugall was allowed to demonstrate his skill and, seeing as how Gabriello was in need of an apprentice, he begrudgingly took Ronugall on.
Things were good once again, as Ronugall improved his trade, moving into coppersmithing, which he took to surprisingly well. Though the focus with copper was more on artistic rather than practical creations, the half-breed found it a quite invigorating form of expression, different yet similar enough to blacksmithing that it still comforted him much in the same way. Though townsfolk were often shocked to see a beastman working the anvil, patrons could not argue with the quality of work that was produced, and encountering different people every day gave Ronugall swift experience with the vagaries of man.
As time went by, and Ronugall’s skills improved to the point where he felt he could make a name for himself, he humbly requested of Gabriello permission to ascend to journeyman status. For a year, Gabriello continually refused, citing his need of Ronugall at his side, of his reluctance to attach his name to such an uncouth apprentice, etc. Finally, seeing that his clientele was dwindling due to the frightening appearance of his apprentice, he acquiesced, and Ronugall met with the Board of Syndics of the Metalsmith’s Guild to test his mettle.
The test was a complicated one, no doubt meant to vex the half-breed. He was commissioned to create a copper chandelier that could withstand reasonable amounts of weight and pressure. Ronugall worked for weeks, spending whole nights in the back of Gabriello’s smithy, crafting a beautiful copper chandelier that shone like a newly minted coin. But when he presented this treasure to the Board, they refused to believe that he could have created such a piece, insisting that his master must have assisted him in some way. Gabriello’s own protestations only served to strengthen their belief, for if a master wished to be rid of his apprentice so fervently, surely he would not be above plagiarism.
Ronugall was left high and dry. But Gabriello spoke to him later that evening, whispering that he would take care of it. The half-breed knew not his master’s meaning, but within a fortnight, a signed declaration of ascension to journeymanship, complete with the Guild’s wax seal, arrived on their doorstep. Ronugall accepted the scroll gratefully, shrewd enough to know not to question how Gabriello changed the guild’s mind (or if he changed their minds at all…).
So began Ronugall’s customary 3-5 years of working under the various masters of his Guild. Dreams of visiting far-off kingdoms and working with the best metalsmiths in the land swam through his head, filling his nights with pleasant reveries. Unfortunately, nobody wished to work with him, a fact that Ronugall learned over and over again as he moved from town to town, being turned away by master after master. The half-breed could not understand it. Did his appearance mean that much to these people? Was his flesh so important that it dictated his very lot in life? Ronugall became withdrawn, cursing the fur that sprouted from his skin, the yellow cast of his eyes, the sharp fangs in his mouth.
The idea of returning to the city that rejected him almost as quickly as it accepted him did not appeal to Ronugall, and so he drifted for a while, eventually finding steady work with a traveling sideshow known as “Wilmot Perry’s Cavalcade of Wonders”. The eponymous sideshow owner, himself something of an outcast, being born of Bastardy stock, took a shine to Ronugall, and cast him as their resident strongman/geek. Biting the heads off of chickens, doves, and bats became a nightly occurrence for Ronugall, as scores of human revelers came to gawk and stare at this exotic and strange half-breed.
The wolfman fell into a deep melancholy. Trained for most of his life in the art of smithing, with a scroll from the Guild to prove his skill, and here he was, reduced to killing animals and lifting weights, being stared at like a freak. Though his mother’s words meant much to him, they offered little comfort when it came to the real world.
Most nights were spent in restless sleep, swaddled in the same painful nightmares that had dogged him for years, now more intense and vivid than ever. Oftentimes he dreamed of his father. Though he did not remember him, the creature that appeared in his dreams was regal, full of fierce, wolfish stock and clad in beautiful leather and iron armor. Occasionally he even thought of leaving the circus and traveling to find his vagrant father. Yet even that offered him nothing. He was not a savage wolfman, living off the land and quenching his thirst for blood and meat, nor was he a human, living among civilized society and hobnobbing with wealthy associates. He was everything and nothing, an in-between creature that belonged nowhere. He resigned himself to his fate.
But there was another resident of Wilmot Perry’s sideshow that made his days easier. He was a tall, slender, golden-haired Noblesse youth by the name of Christopher LeRoy, who possessed the sensational skill of fire-eating. The half-breed had seen many of the fair-haired Noblesse on the streets, surrounded in luxurious clothes and a beckoning coterie, and he hadn’t paid them so much as a single glance, but something was different about Christopher.
Whispers abound regarding his Noblesse stock, and what would drive a man with his lineage to a traveling sideshow. Some people claimed he was cast out when his father discovered him laying with a Greenbonded woman, and that is how he received the savage scars down the right side of his gorgeous face, blinding him in that eye. Ronugall cared not for such gossip, nor was he bothered by Christopher’s deformity. In his eyes, those scars made him even more beautiful, for they told of his strength in the face of adversity. Perhaps that was what drew him to the young man, that and his stoic sense of dignity and respect. He always had a smile to offer Ronugall, a dazzling sight to behold, and in this world of hatred, such kindness meant much to him.
Of course, Ronugall never seriously entertained such feelings. In this world, a relationship like the one his mother and father shared was the exception, not the rule, never mind the fact that he and Christopher shared the same gender. Such relationships were not terribly uncommon; Ronugall had seen his fair share of drunken men sharing kisses in darkened alleyways. But even when both parties were human, such things were not spoken of. He couldn’t imagine what the response would be if such a liaison occurred between a human and a half-breed brutekin. In the end, such thoughts were purely academic, since Ronugall knew not whether Christopher carried romantic feelings for anyone other than dusky Seitsman and Greenbonded maidens. So he contented himself with Christopher’s daily smile, and the occasional spoken word, and minded his own business.
That is, until one day, somewhere in the Principality of Finsdale, when Christopher was set upon by a band of ruffians. The young man’s slight build and wispy, ethereal gait often marked him as an easy target among thieves and cutpurses, but most of the time, he could hold his own. However, when he was cornered one evening after a show by three burly cutthroats, he had no chance, and Ronugall came upon him being kicked and beaten to within an inch of his life. His love and compassion flared up within him, remembering his own experiences with such tortures, and he let out a beastly roar, ripping the men off of Christopher’s shuddering body. He held one against a wall, claws extended, ready to rip his throat out, when the words of his mother came drifting back to him. “You are only what they say you are if you believe it is true.”
Ronugall released the man, and turned to Christopher, who was badly beaten and bleeding from multiple stab wounds. His working eye was swollen shut from his attacker’s boots, and the only vocalizations he could make were pitiful croaks. The half-breed collected him in his arms and began carrying him back to Wilmot’s caravan, intent on cleaning him up and watching over him. Unfortunately, a half-breed brutekin carrying a bloodied young Noblesse in his arms was not a comforting sight for most people, and before he could make it, a mob formed, accusing the “horrid beast” of injuring the young man. Shouts of the brutekin’s thirst for flesh rang throughout the mob, amid other shouts of righteous fury. Christopher’s limp body was soon lost among the sea of attacking townsfolk, feet and hands lashing out, kicking any spot they could, never letting up, even as Ronugall was forced to the ground, just as his companion had been.
Flashbacks of the years of abuse he suffered at the hands of his so-called tribesmen came back to him, and a feeling like an ocean wave washed over him, leaving him numb, barely feeling the kicks and punches and grabbing hands of the mob. He came into this world a beaten half-breed, and he would die as one. It seemed only fitting.
Then, a voice rang out, crying for the mob to cease. The crowd parted, and at first, in his haze of half-consciousness, Ronugall thought he was face to face with a child. But as his vision cleared, he saw that it was a diminutive man, clad in elegant robes. Behind him, seated on a small wagon, sat a young man with dark, wild hair and intense, wistful eyes. The little man turned to the crowd and informed them that Ronugall was their hired guard, and he had been escorting the young bloodied man to a doctor. He shamed them all for their behavior, and, to Ronugall’s surprise, the crowd quickly dispersed, as if the knowledge of what they had done had hit them clearly.
The little man helped up Ronugall and admonished him to be less conspicuous next time. Through swollen lips, Ronugall inquired as to who he was, and he introduced himself as Father Gillbar Fredericks, Inquisitor of Kwyrth. He gestured to the taciturn young man behind him and indicated that this was Dylan Wood, his driver and aide.
“You seem to be in a bit of a bind, good sir,” the little man said. “Would you hear a generous proposition?”
From then on, Ronugall was their hired guard, acting as muscle protecting the little man and his aide against the more intimidating specimens of the Kingdom of the Lake. Though he was distrustful of them at first, as time passed he gained a kind of kinship with them, an understanding that they were all somehow different, damaged, belonging on the fringes of society. Outcasts. And a little ember of hope burned within his heart, knowing that finally, he belonged somewhere.