Nicolai Romanelli
You know the difference between bards' tales and mine? Bards' tales all start, "a long, long time ago, in a kingdom far, far away." My stories all start, "no shit, there I was..."

Being raised a ward of the state is a better deal than it looks like from the outside. Three hots and a cot, and there's a surprising amount of freedom in between the mandatory lessons. At least, there is if you're a nondescript young lad with a flair for evasion and bullshit. I got my lessons, right enough - watching the dead-eyed, no-future fellows in my family's tavern, before it burned down, taught me the value of having my letters and ciphers. And then I got a real education on the streets.

About the time I started getting into real trouble - it was all very sordid, there were girls involved - the orphan-masters started looking at me funny. I put it down to word of my exploits getting around, but they didn't actually say anything, so I kept on doing what I was doing. Then one rainy night - early morning, really, I'd been out all night in the company of someone whose parents would not have approved if they'd known - I climbed back into my room to find a man waiting for me.

You know the feeling you get when you're sure you've seen someone before? This fellow gave me the exact opposite feeling. I was mortally certain I'd never seen him before in my life. But he knew rather a lot about me. Rather too much, really. Even knew I was trying to decide whether to go for my knife or my window. So once he started his pitch, curiosity overwhelmed me and I simply had to hear him out. Well, curiosity and a dart of marble tears. Nasty paralytic, that.

Did you know that in Ardane, fully half of candidates for the Throne's Reach are recruited from wards of the state? And when you factor in everyone who fails induction, the actual active-duty ranks are closer to two-thirds of boys and girls like me? Fascinating, really.

So I learned covertcy and got dealt in on a much, much more interesting game than any of the ones I'd been playing in the taverns. And I became an unofficial envoy of King Phelan's, doing things that would not stand up to close scrutiny, in places no official servant of House Riordan should be seen, to people who did not have the best interests of Ardane at heart.

And then, when I was off in the Caliphates playing hide-the-dagger with a rather persistently evasive traitor who'd absconded with several dozen thousand in crown assets, someone slipped a geas onto King Phelan's horse right before he went riding. Clever, that, bypassing all our wizards' wards. If I ever meet the fellow, I'll express my undying admiration for that trick. Right before I slip him a dose of spinefire.

On the political level, we all know how that turned out. Ardane is still a snake pit of alleged heirs, each one with a better forger and a more contrived claim to the throne, and regency and assassination are the new national sports. The Throne's Reach probably could've done something about that, except one of the first added casualties was the General. And shortly thereafter, crown agents started turning up dead. We're still not sure who was behind it. My personal theory is that several of the early kingmakers each got their hands on parts of the General's files and decided that those of us who they could identify were too dangerous to recruit and far too dangerous to leave around for someone else to recruit.

So now that's not so long ago, and, no shit, here I am, far away...

Nicolai is a human male in his late teens or early twenties, wiry and just below average height.  He's dark of hair, eye, and complexion, with perpetual thick stubble that he deliberately cultivates to add a decade to his apparent age.  His right arm is threaded with recent scars that look like something with poor aim and a mouth full of daggers tried to chew it off at the elbow.

Nic's wardrobe tends toward darker colors: grays, burgundies, midnights, forest hues.  They're colors that don't attract undue social attention under normal conditions but still blend into shadows when skulduggery is the order of the night.  If he's clothed, there's probably at least one dagger somewhere on his person.  When he's expecting trouble, he buckles on a piecemeal set of fighting leathers and a rapier.  For formal occasions, he can shave (or trim a goatee, if he has a week to prepare), tie back his hair, scrounge up a set of finery, and slide into a disdainful upper-crust accent with the best of them.