* * * *
I scrawl this hurriedly, in case we’re lost. Sorry Thom. The gnolls were real, there were a dozen at least. The adventurers braved against them, many slain, drove the rest back. How long? The Gray Company men are all dead, may be survivors in the carriages. Erica is shouting: there’s kids in there! — CRIS
* * * *
I shall strike Cris’ interjection from my final memoirs, but for now it stays for emotional content: We all feared for our lives at the mention of gnolls. The beastly raiders had set upon a Gray Company platoon and were despoiling their kill, their lust for savagery recalling all the tales we heard the night prior. Yet the Company of adventurers who have joined our caravan proved unassailable, and made amazingly quick work of the demon-dogs and their shambling minions. Of the few that fled, I do not fear their return.
They make quite the motley miscellany, as most such groups are, yet as ragtag their assortment, their skills are not. After we came across a number of slain Gray Company men, the partisans – with no mention of compensation or service levies – promptly secured the vicinity and proceeded to defend us and our goods. Their scouts substantiated the claims Donal heard the night before: a pack of gnolls had set upon the carriages the Gray Company had been escorting. While some said we should fly back to Dunnek and warn the townsfolk (Wallace especially, as he ate every one of Donal’s tales like they were fresh cream gravy), Dreyfuss assured us that they had the situation under control. I can’t say that their tactics were customary under the Decree, but let the dead argue orthodoxy — the blondes know their blades, the Tiefling is ruthless to the end, and that “healer” of theirs has a few tricks up his sleeves.
More impressive, they made little-to-no note of the encounter — the only mentions of personal risk or endangerment that left their lips were on behalf of our party of travelers, ensuring our complete security to their expense and detriment. The only thing this band seems to share with any other Company of Fortune was the way in which they gathered themselves and set about the grim business of sifting through the dead. Only ones so hardened by battle could stomach the task; I myself have tried to leave that kind of life behind.
There was some murmur about it among the caravan, that the soldiers’ purses and property was, by rights, to be claimed by their kin. Others said that pilfering the dead’s baubles would bring the wrath of the Raven Queen, that they who prey upon the dead ride with death in their saddle. Yet those who charge for their Company’s services prey upon the living, and then they claim rights to prizes earned from bandits and highwaymen as “compensation” for combat. How are those “costs of operation” any less owed to the sons who had them robbed from their fathers, than the kin of these, now former, mercenaries? How could one argue against such a practice if those robbing the dead charge no fee for the privilege, as even these fallen men in gray have done? And, practically, what could anybody do to stop them? I might hold against one of these cavaliers of adventure; they are a force as a whole. As such, the debate fizzled and was left alone, and from the bloody mess our travel to the Inne at the Bridge was thankfully calm.
Of special note, however, are the survivors: three young girls, and two gnoll slaves. Like most chattel unfortunate enough to fall into gnoll custody, the slave’s poor minds are simply shattered. Neither could tell us even their names, and when freed of their shackles neither seemed to even notice. I am of the notion that, were I to fall into such a state, I would be grateful for the release of death. The girls were odder still: one one was cognizant, a spunky young half-blood named Rhys. She explained the other two — Alacris, a Tiefling maiden, and Salenae, a High Elf lass, both of whom were in a bizarre, comatose state — were charges of the Mayor of Dunnek, on their way to a villa in Bujold. I did not like the way they stared off into space, unaware of the passing world around them. Cris and I placed them up with Donal on the cart, and they sat motionless the entire way to the Inne. I’ve heard rumors of the Shacklers and their masters, lordlings who prescribe to the League of Due Hierarchy. I pray Mayor Alan is not one of them.
In the course of this day I have gained much respect for this New Company; had I, in my younger, wandering days, met a band such as this, who knows what path my life could have led? And am I, bearing witness to this Company of Mixed Blessings, being called back to a life whose endeavors I had l once left upon the hearth? It is foolish to ponder the what-might-have-been, and while I know full well my days are counted closer than ever, I cannot deny that this party enlivens me in a way others have not. I should speak well of their Character; it likely not the last I will hear of them.