Both of us wore the same dark clothes, with leather armor and matching swords. The emblem on his cloak mirrored mine; a thorny black rose, embroidered so that it would hover over one’s heart if they had the fabric gathered close to their chest.

Paolo Bellini

If scoundrels could be said to have best friends, he was that to me, and more. My partner in crime, I always called him, but Paolo Bellini di Verona is how he would have introduced himself, with a smarmy grin and flourished bow. He stood three inches shorter and weighed at least one stone more than I, with dark, wavy locks of hair and a perpetual beard he kept trimmed as close to his face as possible.

Born in Verona, a city adjacent to Venice in what is now known as Italy, Paolo was Christian’s closest ally and confidante. A self-taught thief, with nimble fingers and a quick wit, Paolo had been forced from his hometown after a family incident with the local noble house. Though only a few years older than Christian, his wisdom and canniness provided what little guidance his headstrong friend and lover was apt to listen to.

Roland

The people parted ways around him. I stood, regarding the tall man who emerged while feeling a nervous flutter in my stomach at the sight. His face bore two scars, one that cut across his forehead and another down his left cheek. He removed a set of gloves and I raised an eyebrow at the two fingers missing from his left hand, seeing before me an entire tome of stories waiting to be told about adventures I could have only dreamt about. A sword sheathed by his side, the leather bore enough wear to suggest that pulling the blade was a common practice.

He tilted his head, a full mane of brown hair spilling onto his shoulder and emerald eyes regarding me curiously. Given the amount of damage to him, his age was indistinguishable, but I assumed him no younger than his early thirties. “You’re a scrawny urchin,” he said once he had studied me to his satisfaction. He tossed the gloves to the side and removed his cloak, depositing it where his gloves had landed. “Doesn’t seem like a boy like you should be causing the stir you’ve been.”

The head of the Brotherhood of the Black Rose, Roland became a father figure for orphaned Christian, leading him down the path of becoming a mercenary. While he handled the intake of jobs and collection of money, most of his earnings provided for a score of children born out of wedlock. He also disappeared often, taking special missions from people outside their normal clientele.

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