Catai’s mother died in childbirth. His father never forgave him for that. If it wasn’t for his two brothers, Catai might not have made it through the early years of drunken abuse. Jorgund’s conscription was a mixed blessing. Life on the orchard was hard enough with the mourning tyrant around, but without him, it was nearly too much for Aric and Aske to manage, even with the help of their stunted but dexterous brother of only ten summers. The hardship didn’t last long, either. Within the year, the enemy marched through the land, burning everything. Those that ran were cut down, the rest: put in chains.
His brothers were sold at the first trading town and within the month, Catai was the last of his village. For a year, Catai suffered under the whip of the slave traders as they searched for a buyer for the scrawny boy. Eventually, the slavers cut their losses and left him in a nameless gutter, his throat slit, lifeblood running into the street. If it wasn’t for Erlend, he would be in the bellies of the dogs, but the street preacher took pity on him, dragging his feather-light body into the makeshift shack he called home.
Erlend was a hard man, who had devoted himself to a life of piety and had suffered for it. But beneath the hardened shell was a kind soul, and a dab hand with a needle - a gift which saved Catai’s life. What little food Erlend salvaged from the days on the streets, he shared freely, but once he was able to fend for himself, Catai was pushed to take to the streets himself.
The stunted boy, with his scarred body, made the perfect beggar, and on his good days, Catai took to the square to perform the only skill he’d ever learned: juggling. For a brief time, he had found a semblance of happiness with the wizened old man, but it wasn’t to last.
In the month of Equos of Catai’s thirteenth year, the Arl happened to walk past his juggling act. Impressed, the nobleman took a glance at his burly entourage, and Catai found himself in chains and dragged up to the castle as if he had never tasted freedom. For four years, Catai performed at feasts and gatherings. If the performance was good, the beatings at the hands of his cruel master would be lighter. His renewed life of pain was haunted by the fleeting time when life was liveable, and dark thoughts of the fate of his brothers. Hope wore thin.
Finally, one night, wracked with pain after a particularly bad beating, Catai broke. A misplaced dinner knife and a moment of violence later, the broken boy threw himself from the walls of the keep - drenched in the Arl’s blood and weighed down by a heavy coin purse - into the frigid ocean and the fortuitous nets of a pair of bewildered sailors fishing from the bow of a longboat heading south.
The gods must have been smiling on Catai that day, but the fate of his brothers weighed heavy on his heart. The sailors were glad when the nightmare cursed grotesque disembarked in Tydy a few coins lighter after a week at sea, just as the first leaves began to fall.