From the travelogue Shaar and Beyond by Loducius the Laughing, in the chapter entitled “The Holy Orphan of the Ormpe Trash Pickers.”
“My principal reason for visiting the mining town of Ormpe was to catch a glimpse of the famed Curna emeralds. These gems – harvested from the nearby mountains by the wealthy dwarves of the Gemstone chaka and cut in Ormpe by the town’s sizable population of gnomish gemcutters – were found nowhere else and I was eager to see them. However , it was not the gems, regardless of how exquisite I indeed found them to be, that most occupies my memory of that town; rather, it was the sprawling squalor of ramshackle homes that festered outside the city walls, and within that dilapidated slum, the singular child I met during my sojourn.
“Here, in what had come to be called The Quarter of No Hope, I experienced poverty unlike any I had witnessed in this most prosperous nation. Here, I was greeted by a sullen, taciturn people, far different than the warm and curious folk I had met elsewhere in this tolerant and hospitable land. This was a community broken by poverty. That I should find such desperation in a town whose singular wealth had catapulted the leader of the Gemstone chaka into the nation’s High Council posed a mystery I was particularly motivated to solve. My initial inquiries, however, yielded few results. Few among the downtrodden residents proved willing to communicate with an outsider such as I.
“Nonetheless, I was able to assemble at least a general explanation of the poverty I encountered here: The economic boom that had been precipitated by the Curna emeralds has attracted laborers from across the Shining Lands and beyond. Few of these arrivals, however, found profitable work. It was rumored that the mining jobs that these migrants, largely of human stock, had come to claim were instead granted only to dwarves. Gem cutting also was granted largely to the town’s gnomish minority. Consequently, the humans who had sold their worldly wealth to migrate here found few opportunities for gainful employment, and so ended up among the town’s most desperate.
“With this knowledge, at least, the mystery of the unexpected poverty I encountered in this town was solved, but another mystery, far more intriguing, arose during my search, especially during my inquiries among the younger residents of the Quarter. Time and again, they, in their own broken dialect of the common tongue, referred me to a certain Sahil, an individual to whom they attributed various wonders and no small amount of wisdom.
“It seemed that the rapid growth in wealth among the city’s more privileged residents had given rise to a sprawling dumping grounds outside the city walls, near the Quarter of No Hope, in which the region’s newly rich had dumped many of their old, worn possessions in deference to their newly acquired luxuries. And here, children, many of them orphans either in fact or in practice, picked among the discarded possessions of the newly prosperous, hoping to find something that still retained enough value to trade for food.
“Among these child trash pickers, this Sahil individual had attained the status of something like a holy man. Or so I assumed him a man, until I fully parsed the Durpari phrase by which they referred to him: Roughly translated, he was child saint, or more literally, holy older brother not yet reached adulthood.
“In the end, I did not find this Sahil. Sahil, rather, found me.
“It was on my third day of inquiry regarding this holy child that a single songbird alighted upon my path. Many such birds I had witnessed flitting among the refuse of the Quarter, but this particular specimen possessed feathers of purest white and glowed with a vibrant health to rival his ragged kin. And when this unusual creature furthermore spoke a single word in the common tongue, I could not refuse.
“‘Follow,’ it trilled, before it took wing. I followed. How could I not?
“The bird, I later learned, was named Pak-Pak, a common name for such avian pets among the Durpari. But this particular Pak-Pak I followed with an inspired zeal, as he flew through narrow alleyways, one after another, until he returned to find his home in a tiny birdhouse of thin, patinated copper. This tiny birdhouse was lashed to a frayed rope belt, and that belt was tied about the waist of a boy who had seemingly not yet reached his fourteenth year.
“His eyes, however, seemed decades older. He sat upon a half-broken chair of carved rosewood, an object that might have fetched a few coin in mint condition, but now, compared to the ascendant wealth of whatever dwarven emerald miner once owned the thing, was rendered nearly worthless by comparison.
“This child on a broken throne, this was Sahil, I knew it.
“His robes were tattered, dirty, and beneath them, I noticed something like armor, made of scraps of leather sewn together by tiny hands, and reinforced with cheap copper coins affixed with needle and cords of sinew. More curious, however, was the mace that he wielded like a scepter. This iron thing, almost certainly stolen from some abandoned temple and wrenched from the grip of a forgotten idol, was forged to encompass on each of its four sides the visage of what I assumed was some Durpari deity or hero or another. To certain buyers of antiquities, I’m sure, this scepter would still retain some value, despite having been rusted almost beyond recognition.
“But this was not my query. I simply wanted to know: Who was this child saint of the Ormpe trash pickers? For a ten-day, I sat at his feet asking questions, and found at least some answers to my queries. But mostly I found a child ignorant of his own power and influence. I witnessed children bringing to Sahil stale loaves of the local flatbread, having already begun to become spotted with mold. And Sahil, with a gesture and a brief prayer, erased the spoilage with the ease of an innkeeper wiping a tavern’s drink-spotted counter. I saw children approaching with empty pitchers, and again, I saw Sahil touch the pitchers’ rims with a whispered prayer and the things fill to the brim with clean, potable water.
“Now, I had seen such minor miracles performed by numerous priests from here to Waterdeep, and I had no doubt that clerics dwelt here too in these lands for whom such feats were a trivial effort. This child was no proper priest, it was certain. Even the raiment and accoutrements of this child, his tattered robes and makeshift armor and rusty mace, seemed a mockery compared to the merest acolyte in even the most modest temple. And yet, among the urchins of Ormpe, this Sahil was regarded as a saint.
“It became apparent over the weeks I spent among them why this was the case: Priests indeed came to visit the Quarter over those weeks and many other goodly individuals besides. The Hin of the local Baker chaka came to distribute their unsaleable day-old goods among the hungry, and even a few properly trained priests passed through long enough to assuage their consciences.
“But few dwelt here for any meaningful duration, and the poor of the trash heaps treated all of them with skepticism and distrust. Sahil, however, was one of their own, an orphan of Ormpe. His miracles, however meager, were homegrown, without the pretense of pity or self-indulgent sacrifice, and so the others in the Quarter held them in high esteem.
“Sahil himself seemed reluctant to answer any personal questions. Instead, he spoke mostly in cryptic sayings and rambling parables, as if trying to imitate the wisdom of properly educated priests. But over several weeks, I did manage to tease out a few pertinent facts about his history.
“His family, like most residents of the quarter, had moved here in search of work, but they had succumbed to the slum’s despair. His father had turned to the cheap but strong drink plentiful in such neighborhoods as these. His mother had turned to despondency. The father disappeared, in the end, and Sahil’s mother disappeared within herself.
“From what I had been able to prise from Sahil, his mother still dwelt here in Ormpe, but he was unwilling to speak of her. When I inquired further about his family, he seemed to grow annoyed, until he at last gestured to the children who had assembled before him. ‘These little birds,’ he said, ‘These are my mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers.’
“I did not press him further on the matter.
“The next day, I departed. In the marketplace, I had encountered a Calishite merchant bound to Pyratar. My purse had grown light through my travels, so when he offered me passage on his dhow for a modest fee, I could hardly refuse. Had I time and coin enough, I would have investigated more thoroughly the mystery of the Holy Orphan of Ormpe, but the exigencies of travel forbade it.
“I worried that Sahil might be offended by my sudden departure, but, as our dhow departed the dock in Ormpe, a certain thrush alighted upon the taffrail. ‘Come again,’ he chirped, ‘Come again.’ I laughed heartily at this cheerful bird. If the gods will it, I shall indeed return one day to Ormpe.”
An excerpt from the later correspondence of Loducius the Laughing, in a letter responding to a reader of his travelogue Shaar and Beyond
“… In response to your latter query, I did indeed return to Ormpe, some three years after I penned my initial account. I did not, however, find any trace of the Holy Orphan Sahil.
“It seems that, after my departure, tensions had arisen between the young denizens of the Quarter of No Hope and the merchants of Ormpe. These tensions began at first with a series of minor incidents: a mango snatched from a street vendor’s stand, a hole cut in the bottom of a purse in a crowded market, events that seemed relatively insignificant to me and common enough, especially in a town of such disparate wealth. But as I observed often in my travels in the Shining Lands, the famed tolerance of this region did not extend to sins of trade and commerce. For such crimes, there was little forgiveness.
“As the merchants of the town grew impatient with these offenses, minor thefts quickly gave way first to scuffles and soon to more violent altercations, and the ruling Gemstone chaka was eager to put an end to such disruptions in the marketplace. Moreover, the dwarves were eager to find some cause for the urchins’ newfound audacity. To this end, they could find no better scapegoat than the child preacher Sahil, who held such sway among the town’s younger poor.
“In a torch-lit assembly in the dead of night, the town’s Nawab, that is, its chief merchant and de facto ruler, prevailed upon his appointed judges to condemn Sahil for conspiring to interfere unlawfully in the free trade of goods. They agreed, and since Sahil possessed precious little in material wealth, they determined also that seizure of his property would affect him little. Instead, he would be taken into custody and deprived of his freedom.
“Fortunately for Sahil, his young disciples, his ‘little birds’, had already caught wind of the Nawab’s efforts, and when the town guards came to seize Sahil early that next day, they found him already gone.
“It seems that several bands of mercenaries had passed through Ormpe in recent days, responding to a call out of Assur for individuals willing to help them quell some troubles they had experienced there of late. Sahil’s disciples, having already heard rumors of the trouble that was to come for Sahil there in Ormpe, prevailed upon him to offer his services as healer to one such band and thus secure safe travel out of the reach of the local Nawab.
“Sahil was reluctant to leave, I was told, wishing rather to face arrest than to abandon those whom he called family. But when he could no longer bear the tears of his followers, who had no desire to see him bound in chains, he conceded to their pleas and departed without further objection.
“With this, I heard no more of the Holy Orphan of Ormpe. I can only hope that whatever god or gods he worshipped – and I confess I never wholly understood the nature of his faith – guided him to a new calling and a good end. Perhaps his later adventures will someday too be recorded, but as of my last visit, I could find neither rumor nor trace.
“I apologize that I cannot provide a more satisfying response to your query.”