It was a cold night in Barter Town. The kind of cold that cuts through leathers and woolen fabrics and chills you down to your core. The citizens of the slum huddled together forming a single distorted mass that, in the shadows cast by the huge fire in front of them, looked almost to be that of a large plague beast. Yet one man sat alone. Not due to his lone wolf disposition, nor antisocial tendencies, but perhaps only for the fact that the man had a smell that could drive off even the most diseased of sewer rats. The reflection of the fire before him danced in his eyes as he sat silent and unmoving. The thoughts racing through his head, though he did not know it at the time, were the same ones that would make him a legend. The very thoughts that would later define a legacy that would live on for centuries to come. Thoughts that would pave the way for ideals that would cross continents and continue to be spoken for the rest of time. It all began on this night. Today I will tell you of how Stinky Pete came to be the man that he was on this night, before he changed Barter Town, Minoc, Britannia, and eventually the world forever.
Pete was born to the poorest of fishmongers, a woman who no man in his right mind would associate with these days, even if only long enough to conceive a child. But his father, perhaps the best locksmith in Britannia, saw her for something more than the ragged hag that the rest of Minoc thought her to be. Perhaps his father was the warmest, kindest man in all of Britannia for taking the woman as his wife. The scrolls of Minoccian scribes often speak more of his kindness and generosity than his unrivaled skills with a lockpick. It is said that even on the day that his wife took her own life by wrapping barbed wire around her neck and diving into a fast moving river, he still shared a loaf of bread with a beggar. Pete never really spoke of the time when his mother was alive so the first eight years of his life will forever remain a mystery.
As a child, his teachers described Pete as highly intelligent yet incredibly unmotivated. He did, however, show an extreme interest in the history surrounding Minoc and Barter Town, particularly the tales of Chad Sexington, founder of Barter Town. He seemed to idolize Chad which led him to practice the art of stealing, and, as we all know, he was quite good at it. His social skills were severely hindered as well due to classmates bullying him for his uncanny odor. It is said that the name “Stinky Pete” was a product of this schoolyard bullying and that his nature of avoiding conflict led to this being the name that he would use for the rest of his life. Pete’s father often spoke of times where Pete would return from school in tears and scour his skin until he bled with soaps and perfumes to try to remove the stench that surrounded him at all times, but to no avail. As the boy grew older, he could be seen with a few friends, typically stronger, older boys who, probably for fear of losing their belongings, seemed to respect him.
Nobody can understand it, and many Minoccian scholars have tried. When you were anywhere near him, you could smell him from six feet away, but when he wanted to remain hidden, it was as if he could extinguish his foul stench instantly, like one would extinguish the flame of a candle. I doubt he even knew he was doing it, because if he knew he could, why wouldn’t he mask his smell at all times? I do know that on more than one occasion, his ability to hide his stench, combined with a silver tongue, allowed him to escape a surely tragic fate. Guards would often ask Pete’s accusers if they smelled anything unusual during the time the theft had occurred to which the honest ones would deny.
Pete’s father would often be called upon by the King or the Minoccian governor when they needed locks crafted or opened which led to Pete being left at home by himself for long periods of time. You would think that a grandmaster locksmith would be quite wealthy but he preferred a simple life and never accepted payment when he went on these quests. During these long absences Pete would usually be left with whoever his father had as an apprentice. Most were cruel men who rarely cared about the well-being of the child of their mentor which often led to them looking for new work upon his return. Pete’s father tried teaching him the basics of locksmithing countless times so that he could support himself when his father was away, but he never seemed to care much about the inner workings of mechanical things. Most of Pete’s dinners were stolen from Minoccian bakers, butchers, and merchants which is likely where he learned to perfect the art of stealth and sleight of hand.
A few days prior to the cold night around the campfire, Pete’s father was called upon by the Minoccian governor to unlock a chest that was uncovered during a recent excavation. The chest was said to be a lavish one containing priceless artifacts long lost to the throws of time. The locksmith worked on the chest for hours when the tumbler finally clicked and began to turn. Several more hours later, he managed to disarm the trap that was skillfully attached to the hasp of the ancient box. Almost immediately afterwards, the locksmith was shoved back into a crowd of onlookers as the governor’s most trusted men swung open the lid of the chest in excitement. To their surprise, the contents of the chest were quite underwhelming. Nothing but old rusty tools and a few copper ingots.
The governor was wildly angry. He ordered his men to bring the locksmith to the gallows immediately for fear that there were no shackles or jail cells that could contain him. The residents of Barter Town were shocked at this, for it was not the locksmith’s fault that there was no treasure to be had. The governor turned a deaf ear to the pleas of the citizens, his rage blinded him from reason. Everyone watched in horror for mere minutes as the locksmith was strung up and hung from the rope until the final convulsions of his lifeless body had subsided. He was then cut down and left to lay in the streets like a meaningless pile of garbage.
The citizens stared in awe as the governor silently and briskly retreated to his villa barring the doors behind him. There was a moment of confusion where the citizens mostly turned to one another in disbelief of what they had just witnessed. There was no lesson to be learned here. There was no justice. No honor. The very virtues they had studied their whole lives were just forsaken before their eyes in a matter of minutes.
The body was taken to Barter Town. A pyre was constructed despite the cold winter air causing frostbite in the extremities of the lumberjacks who hauled the wood. The boy, the son of the locksmith, would never be the same. The only love he had ever known had just been taken from him, without warning, without hesitation. As he tossed the torch onto the oily cloth at the base of the pyre, something shattered inside of him. He realized then and there that he would never know love again. Within seconds he had forgotten of the man who raised him. His father’s giving nature. The lessons of compassion were blown away by the frigid air hammering against the side of Mount Kendall and ushering in a lifetime of taking without mercy or remorse. In the next few hours, the boy would become a man raised only by hatred, rage, and anguish.
To be continued…