By Capn Charlie
This is the main page for The Shadows of War: Tales of a Mercenary. The author of this work is Capn Charlie, please email him with any queries you have regarding this tale. The material contained here is the property of Capn Charlie and is used with permission by Candlekeep. Candlekeep claim no rights of ownership to The Shadows of War: Tales of a Mercenary and associated material.
The Shadows of War: Tales of a Mercenary
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|From the Journal of Captain Devin Trueblade|
|Jayla the Scouts Memoirs|
|Jayla the Scouts Memoirs|
Death, and blood.
The three things in any mercenary's life. Is it any wonder that most never reach old age? And that they are usually in two states: Drunk, and wishing they were?
It is true for me as well. I have seen many battles. Fought in several wars. Seen good men cut down like wheat, and killed men that were basically doing the same as me: Trying to survive.
As a mercenary it is easy to become callous, to not care how many people you kill just to keep your bowl full and a wineskin close at hand. Some eventually enjoy their work after a while. They relish the feel of their blade chopping into a man, and spilling his blood upon the cold ground.
Not I, though. Though I have been taking gold for ending other's lives for close to ten summers, I still feel the pang of remorse for each life my handiwork cuts short. I still think at night, wondering if the man I saw spitted on my sword like a carcass for roasting had children, and a wife.
Some might call that weakness, and they might be right at times. But on the field of battle, when split seconds are the difference between being victim and victor, you have to do what you must to survive. But when the melee has ended, then you can feel the guilt. The sadness. The morbid curiosity that makes you wonder if there is a special place in the abyss for men like me, or if there is some seat of honor in the halls of Tempus. I hope for the latter, but would not be surprised by the former
After a campaign, when you get the sack of coins for your service, and return whatever arms your employer provided, and sell whatever trophies, and booty, and salvage you have, you are left with a well filled purse. Many think of settling down some where. Staking down a piece of land, finding a wife, and raising some young ones.
Some actually do. Though their dreams might still be as unpleasant: filled with nightmares, and sudden awakenings drenched in cold sweat as they are in camps by the battlefield. But their life is more pleasant by far.
Most, however, never make it much farther than an inn to winter at. They find their respite from the dreams in a drunken coma at night, and at the bottom of an ale barrel by day, Like me.
Cheap wine, and cheaper women, for a while they take your mind off what you have seen and done. But only for a while. Eventually the coin runs out. And then the ale stops pouring, and your belly growls like a savage beast with hunger, and you have to go out and do the process all over again.
I have heard it said that there is a fish that swims against the current, and up waterfalls to reach the places they were spawned, to repeat the process and die. We are much like that. I was spawned on the field of battle. My mother was the wife of simple farmer. When war came to the land, her husband was one of the first in line to be sworn in as militia, and he was one of the first to die. Wearing no armor, and carrying a halberd he had barely been instructed how to clean, he marched towards the foe and was slaughtered. So were many others.
The army kept marching, barely slowed by the feeble resistance of farmers, and shepherds, and those too young to know what they were doing, and too old to do it right. My mother was one of the pretty ones, I was told. She was lucky. She was seized as spoils by an officer, not by a common soldier. Her lot was kind compared to the others. But when her captor was killed in a battle, this time against real troops, not green grocers, what little safety she had fled. Running into the night she left a memento of her favor in the camp by setting several tents, including the barracks, ablaze.
However, the officer left her a memento as well: Me. When finally she made it to a place far enough from the army she felt safe, she set about looking for a temple, or work, or help of some kind.
She was taken in by the clergy of Tempus, who feel it is their duty to make amends for the rapine of war. Her spirit was proud, she refused charity, and instead worked for the temple, cooking, sewing banners and tabards, repairing padded armor, and tending to the small garden and dovecotes of the abbey fortress. However her time eventually came, and I was born. However, the birth was difficult, and while I survived, she did not.
I was raised by the monks, and priests, as is their way, and taught many things. They taught me reading and writing, basic mathematics, old tales and prayers, and battle hymns. They instructed me in tactics of battle, and in swordplay, and horsemanship. They told me what it meant to be a man, and a warrior. And they taught me that while killing may be necessary, cruelty is not.
Ethics from a god of war is surprising to you, is it not? Well, there is no honor to be gained by torturing downed men, or staying your hand from delivering the killing blow to leave a man to die upon the field in the slow and agonizingly painful way of being gut wounded.
There is no honor in slaying innocents, and noncombatants. Such is the way of cowards. There is no honor in mindless destruction, the burning of homes and fields just to see it burn. And there is no honor in rape.
At the age of 13 I was strong as some grown men. I had martial skills surpassing some of their charges almost 5 summers my senior. By the age of 20 summers, I felt I had no further need of the lessons that were still being taught to me. I left the temple one day. Arrayed in shining mail, with an excellent sword, a shield emblazoned in the symbol of Tempus, and riding a fine horse, given to me as gifts by the priests who had been as parents are to most children. They were proud to see their chosen pupil ride out to do their god's work, and were prouder still of the man they had raised me to be.
And much like that fish I have heard about, I returned to the place I was
spawned: The battlefield. It is easy to find those willing to spend coin to have an extra sword at their disposal. And within a tenday I was in the employ of some petty duke that wished to expand his demesne. I had distinguished myself after the first battle. We faced troops of the neighboring Baron whose lands our noble benefactor wished to seize.
I still remember that day. The blood pounding in my ears, the power of Tempus surging through my body making me stronger and faster, and the thrill of victory when a retreat was sounded.
That day I knew no fear, I was invincible. How wrong I was.
Over the next three years, and twice as many campaigns, I gained in experience, and skill, and eventually led my own sword, then squad, then platoon, and finally company. This day I have a hundred men under my command.
Sometimes when I see some starry eyed youth wanting hire, I am tempted to tell them the brutal, horrible facts of what they are wanting to do. But I don't. They would never believe me. The best I can do is try to give them the skills and knowledge they will need to survive. And with the scarcity of new faces in my ranks, I feel that I am successful.
I have thought of retiring before. I have had the gold to buy whatever I needed to take up any kind of civilian life I wanted, but then I backed out and bought my men better arms and armor, and stayed where I was. Some day I will eventually either die on the field, or be too old to lift my sword, then perhaps I will leave this bloody business.
However, there are now rumors of war brewing in the east. Like crows to the aftermath of a battle, our eyes turn there. There is much profit when large nations fight one another. No matter which side wins this war, or any war for that matter, the true victors are the soldiers paid to wage it, and the losers the common folk that have to try to survive it.
But such is life. We must play the hand we are dealt, had things been different I Would have never been born, or perhaps been born to the life of a farmer.
However, camp is almost finished breaking down, the wagons are nearly loaded, and on the morrow we set out to the east, whether our pay will come from the vaults of Thay, or the coffers of the state cults of Mulhorand, only the gods know, and Tempus isn't talking.
From the Journal of Captain Devin Trueblade
13th of Ches, Year of Rogue Dragons, 1373 DR
"I say we turn around and head back," challenges a gruff, authoritative man, "The pay was good, the work was easy, and we don't have to worry about pissing off some godspawn, or getting turned into beasts by dark sorcery".
Though just barely reaching 5 1/2 feet, he speaks with the confidence of one who knows both his size, and his business. His darkly tanned skin and black hair in a long horsetail favored by the Nars, almost blend in with darkened brown leather of the cuirass over his chainmail.
"Besides, how good is honest cavalry against those fell beast riding trollops of the reds, and the two wheeled contraptions of the Mulhish," he says, then finishes quickly, "Not that my men aren't up to it, they would bury them, but take some losses. And this far south in these wastelands you know that riders are easier to find than decent steeds."
"Your concern for your troops is touching, Grigor," intones a slight voice from the far side of the table, her dulcet tone belying a lean compact, and battle hardened frame, "Remind me to confer with you on matters of morale."
Flushing slightly, "You know what I mean," then recovers quickly, "These lowland weaklings wouldn't know a decent piece of horseflesh if it slipped into the furs of his tent one night".
She arches one eyebrow sagely, "Oh, I reckon then you would have them beat sword in sheath identifying a fine horse in your bedchamber, then."
"Damn you woman!" he splutters, red tinting his flesh, "I-"
"Enough!" entreats a low, gravelly voice from across the table, "As amusing as I find your jests at our good friend's expense," Valero says as he rises to his feet. His graceful yet stocky almost six foot form, encased in extravagantly ornamented and fluted armor, with a carefully squared beard, and and ornamented sword almost glow in the low lantern light.
"OH, you do-" sputters Grigor, "Well perhaps I can-"
"They are getting us nowhere," he sternly finishes. "In fact, they might actually be setting us back. We are no closer now than we were two days ago in deciding the direction we go. The troops, as much as they are enjoying an unexpected quest to find the bottom of the local ale keg, are going to begin wondering soon, if it was a good idea to come as far as we have.
Now, please contain yourselves while we listen to what our loyal skald has to say on the matter, Bran, please go on."
A lithe young man, bedecked in shining chain and silken tunic and leggings in an a almost lurid green slowly stands, and lays down a lute he was carefully tuning, "Thank you Valero, as I was saying before I was so ru-"he cuts short, then finishes with a big smile towards the fuming, dark man, "Grigor interjected, we are indeed faced with a quandary. To turn north we join with a side that is currently the underdogs, even with Thayan gold and backing. IF we turn south then we are likely to find little work besides the more mundane tasks of scouts, skirmishers, and irregular troops. IF we turn and go back, the men," he interjects, as he tips his imaginary hat towards the woman, "and women, Jayla, will begin to doubt the legitimacy of our command, thinking us indecisive.
A lose lose situation all around, it seems. Perhaps the best choice is to err on the side of legend, and side with the Untherites, imagine the songs! Our names would be legend, made immortal to last for the ages! In short, I say north, everyone cheers for the underdog you know," he says with a flourish.
"Where I am from the weak are cast out in the snow, with fools and thieves," Grigor says, eying Bran.
"Ah, would that be why you are so far south, my good friend?" Bran cheerfully states, meeting Grigor's glare full on.
"Do not goad me skald, my patience does have limits," growls Grigor as he eases back into his chair.
"As do I, Bran, please join Jayla in not prodding the bear, at least until we have reached a solution," Valero says, standing up. "There is a saying in my my homeland," he begins, "In a race you bet on the fastest horse, and in war you side with the gods. It seems that Unther's deities have forsaken them, see how easily the forces of Mulhorand slice through their lands? I believe the eventual victors will be the Mulhorandi, by virtue of their superior numbers, and divine support.
While I am the first to admit it, the power of the Art is great, but the abilities of the Clerics lend a less flashy, but far more useful support. Healing spells, and potions, blessings upon the troops, and even the summoning of servants of their gods. I say we cast our lot in with the obvious victors," he finishes while seating himself back at the table, "Now Jayla, please, what is your take on our current situation?"
"What, oh is it time for the little woman to get to chime in to your little sword measuring contest? What, needing some help telling the difference between a dagger and a broadsword, perhaps?" she says with a lilting coquettish drawl, eying Grigor, then Bran as she finishes her statement.
Grigor looks as if he is ready to rise to his feet, but Valero calmly and slowly says, "Do let him alone Jayla. There is serious business at hand, and we can't be slowed down by having to find a healer in the middle of the night again, please get on with your assessment."
"Oh very well," she pouts, "You never let me have any fun," and with a sudden shift in voice and flickered movement she launches a dagger from seemingly nowhere onto the table, landing point in a brown patch, with a line of blue running through it, a map on thin vellum of the region.
"Rifthome", she begins in a firm, business like tone, with nary a trace of her former manner apparent, "is a prime supplier of most kinds of arms and armor in the region. However, the way this goes we can be assured dwarven trade will not be halted by so petty a thing as human strife. In fact I am sure they will choose to side with Unther in the conflict and supply them magic and weapons.
Currently Mulhorand has need of little such aid, but the Untherites, have more need of arms, foreign gold, and desperation than a dwarf can refuse."
"And how will all that help us Jayla?" Grigor reluctantly asks.
"I was getting to that," she states, seemingly barely interrupted at all by his query. "The dwarves will have to lead their caravans by land, along here," she draws her finger along the line, "Going north from the rift through the Shaar, past Hardcastle, and here," She points at speckled outcrop, "at the plains of black ash they will go west, off the beaten track. Why you ask?" she queries, "Because the nice wide road from here on in is controlled by Mulhorand, and I doubt they would be very understanding about free trade."
"So they will cut west, cross country, through orc infested hill lands, past bandit riddled woods, and across the southern bounds of Chessenta, to the the Smoking Mountains where it is rumored to be an outpost of their kind. Resupplied they will take a course north, skirting the Methwood, and the troll ridden Rider Mountains, before coming into the civilized lands of Threskel, and finally making it's way to Messemprar.
A nice long out of their way track, and once they exchange their metalwork for iron ingots, and goods to trade for other wares all along the way back to Rifthome far to the south, to begin it all over again," she continues.
Yes, I think that on this long, dangerous journey, that our nice friendly dwarves might need some extra protection. A few scouts knowledgeable of the area, and of human ways, and of course cavalry escorts and footmen to defend against attack. I believe we could find this venture very profitable. What do you think captain"? She says turning towards the head of the table.
"Clean picked bones behind us," rumbles the form at the head of the table, "and the wrath of the gods to the north, and the fury of the red wizards to the south. It does seem that I am facing a hard decision, Lieutenants," he continues, looking each in the eye as he continues, "Because it is my decision after all, no matter how highly I esteem my officers, and advisors,"
He stands to his full height of just over six feet and two, wit ha stiff shock of hair rising another 1, his a steel breastplate, emblazoned with the symbol of Tempus encompassing a stout barrel chest, and mail and plate bedecked arms that though lithe enough top fence, were still muscled enough to deal a telling blow the stoutest of enemies.
"Of course sir," says Valero, with a brief nod.
"I couldn't think of a better way myself, sir," pipes in Bran.
"I follow your lead sir," says a reticent Grigor.
"Could it ever be any other way," demurs Jayla.
"Good," he states, standing and walking to the end of the table nearest the others, "However I do wish you to know that I do value all your opinions highly. So highly in fact, that I am going to do as you all advise." He says archly, much to the puzzled looks from around the tent.
With flashing emerald eyes, and a broad smile he goes around the table patting each on the shoulder as he passes, before coming to rest before the map, "Yes, I believe you all have valid concerns. So, we are going to sit on the fence. Stay right here, run caravan escort, and see how things turn out. Depending on how the next few moons go we might just end up in the employ of Unther, or Mulhorand, or even return the way we came with life, limb and soul intact. But for the time being, we will stay close enough to the action to act, depending on how things turn out."
"There are important times coming, and perhaps, dear Bran, we might just end up in the epics after all. That is as long as we are careful picking our horse."
Chapter One (part 1)
Betrayal. A displeasing word. One that
conjures forth images of daggers driven into the back; of gates opened in the
night to the enemy; and to broken trust. Perhaps it is the broken trust that
hurts the most. To turn to one you thought of as friend, with the dagger in
their hand weeping your blood upon the ground like the tears that now pour from
Yes, that broken trust is perhaps what hurts the most. Whether your fists ball up in rage, or you are left dumbstruck at the pain you feel, the source is still the same: One whom you have entrusted, respected, perhaps even loved has harmed you.
It is a pain that you feel deep in the pit of your stomach, as your bowels knot up and grow cold. It is an ache you feel in your soul. But above all, it is a pain you will forever bear the phantom scars of, and seek never to feel again. The methods of avoiding this agony again vary.
Some forget about it, or at least try to. They push it away from their mind, lock it up in some deep corner of their psyche and pretend it never happened. Sometimes they succeed in lying to themselves so well that they convince others. They walk about their daily lives, just like you or me. The scar tissue of their emotional wounds forever pale, locked away from the light, where the wound festers, and rots.
Some seek vengeance against their betrayer, they think that with sword or fist or word they can make the hurting stop. Maybe they succeed. In blood, or reciprocal pain they find their solace, and drink deeply from the bitter stream of retribution. These too go on with their lives as best they can, but the wound in being seared closed and clean leaves a mass of emotional scars that will forever be visible upon their souls. A mark that all who look in their eyes can see.
Some, some accept it. They try to rationalize the actions of their betrayer. They may even sympathize, seeing the person who betrayed them as more of a victim than they themselves were. They find some amount of peace this way. Though whether they were the true victims is a question as easily answered as it is tragic.
Some lose themselves. They, forget about the person that was hurt, and find relief from the pain by hiding behind a mask or masks. For surely, they were not wronged, it was that person, the one they had been not the one they are today. They go about the rest of their days being who they are not, whether it be meek and tractable, or grim and cold.
Then there are some who do none of those things, and perhaps all of them. Like me. Some might call me a cynic, and they might be right. I have known the sting of dagger in back, as well as I have felt the burns of lash upon flesh. I have gaped mutely at the horror of gates thrown open before the enemy as surely as I have been cast out from them.
At the tender age of thirteen summers I was sold into slavery by my loving parents. Oh, and if you thought that the life of a freeman with elvish blood was unpleasant in the lands of Chessenta, I assure you the life of a slave of such dubious parentage is is significantly more unpleasant.
I remember that brisk autumn day, with the leaves of the trees a riot of color, and the sky an azure dome above all. A beautiful day, by any standards. But just as autumn is the signal of the end of the life of summer, so was it the end of my life. Oh, I was not put to death, and left a wandering specter to pen this account for you, but I did die that day. At least a part of me did. It's surprising how seeing weeping parents the urn to look away from you as shackles of iron are closed about your wrists can make a girl grow up. Oh they were weeping, so was I, in fact. And as I was herded with the others onto the carts bound northward, my parents left southward with their burden of gold.
Oh, they were not just motivated by greed to sell their only child, and beloved daughter. No, times were hard, the constant wars and squabbles that ravaged the land were here in full force this season, and after the crops failed to some blight, and mercenaries roamed the land intent on plunder roamed like hungry wolves, my family was hard beset to fill the pot at night. But bright one morning, I was told to dress, what few belongings that we owned that hadn't been sold were packed upon the old cart that my was pulled by the plow horse, and we set out.
It was along the way I was told where we were going. My mother told me through tears she tried to suppress that they were selling me. Oh, they told me that a lass so small and pretty as I would be some rich woman's servant, to wear pretty dresses, and the hardest work I would do being to help the lady dress. They would flee south, to wait out the war and return, and with the next harvest find me to buy my freedom. They told me that that was safest. I believed them totally. Looking back on it I think they might have even believed a little of it too. Fools.
Do I sound bitter? I don't mean to. At least not that much. Whether or not they ever actually came looking for me or not, I will never know. For all I know and care their bones might right now be lying in the same ditch where their bodies were tossed after their tainted gold was taken from them by force. Then again they might be looking for me to this day, lamenting the loss of their beloved flower. But somehow I doubt it.
I am sounding bitter again, aren't I? I guess I am, a little. They should have known what awaited me. Likely they did, but were as successful at lying to themselves as they were to me.
Elves aren't exactly cared for in the lands of Chessenta. They are tolerated perhaps, but there is no love for them. I don't blame them. Most I have met are either some contemptuous, arrogant fool with his nose so high in the air his pointed ears point at the ground; or some doe eyed lack wit with such great pity for me as though I had some incurable wasting disease. In their eyes, perhaps I do.
Oh, I heard all the jokes, and the names, and the hate spewed forth from minds so small that they seemingly had no room left in it for so many words. Half breed I was called growing up. Never mind the fact that I was only 1/4 elven or so, it didn't matter. My gold flecked green eyes, delicately pointed ears, and slender frame said it all: Different from you!
IT didn't bother me too much, but then again I was from an isolated farming community with no neighbors for over a mile, and seeing more than a dozen people in a place at one time was an unusual occurrence.
So here I was with four strikes black marks against me from the beginning, I was an elf (which was only half true at worst), an ignorant and unwashed peasant (which was, again, only half true), a woman (never mind I was scarcely 13, and still only developed as human girls a season my junior), and of course, a slave.
Some may try to to make slavery sound pretty, or at least bearable. They claim that the life of a slave in some lands is no worse than a free man in others. But freemen aren't rounded up, branded, and sold like cattle.
My first day of life a a slave was not so bad, all things considered. I eventually cried all the tears I could, and quieted, with only the occasional sob to break the monotony. I was able to ride, and not forced to walk as all the slaves of age had to. When we stopped at mid day I got a hunk of cheese, a crust of bread, and a bit of what I believe was boot leather (much better fare than I had become accustomed to recently, I assure you!), and I wasn't beaten. At the time I didn't know that the last was anything special, but then again I would learn. In time I would learn many things.
The second day I learned how one relieves herself in the bushes while chained to four other girls. I learned how one aches after many hours of jarring travel and not being allowed to stretch. I also learned that slaves are not always the supportive group for one another many might think. When you're able to be in the back of a wagon, in what amounts to a cage, literally chained to other people, and still feel alone, you truly learn the meaning of the word. Apparently the other girls found a way to not feel like they were the lowest things in existence. Quite clever it was too: They rendered me that being.
Oh, it wasn't so bad at first, mind you. We were all huddled together for comfort, and then warmth the first day. But by the time we made our way to to the slave markets of Cimbar, almost half a tenday hence, I was some fey monster that wanted to use faerie magics to steal their crust of bread. Fools.
There I go sounding bitter again, don't I? I am, a bit. Now I know that it was a mixture of ignorance and survival mechanism, but then it hurt. I thought I was alone in the entire world. I was, in a way.
I remember the arrival in Cimbar. The sky had parted, and sun shone on the domes, and spires and columns of the city. The statues of long dead heroes lined the avenues. And for a brief time, we became that same huddled together mass of girls that we were the first day, this time in awe over how anything could be this... big. IT was huge. Massive. I saw more people browse a market stall while our procession waited at a intersection than I had seen in my entire life.
When we reached the paddocks, the great pens where the slaves are kept until put on the block, I was stunned. Close to fifty score souls languished in that corral.
Men, women, children. Dwarves, halflings, brutish creatures that could only be half orcs, and even the odd elf or half elf. All gathered together for one purpose: To be sold. My lot, as I heard it called, was part of the merchandise of an enterprising slave trader whose name I neither know, or care to know, who was profiteering from the war.
I was asked how old I was, prodded, made to muscle an arm, and then on my right forearm had a series of characters penned on in some thick ink. The characters denoted my gender (as if that was not apparent), age (Again, as if that could not be deduced), one showing my general health and quality to be prime, and a series of letters showing my lot and owner.
The wrist shackles were removed, much to my relief, as the skin was chafed raw. And i was ushered into the pen that my fellow riders had been sent into. There were perhaps 80 of us in that pen, from the age of 6 to 60. I would another even harsher lesson in the days to come.
We spent the next three days here, huddled about in heaps under the cooling sky, with far too few blankets to go around, and not quite so much food and water as we would have liked, and absolutely no privacy. Occasionally we would be called as a group, such as all females from the age of 10 to 20 to line up in front of one of the gates, to turn in place, to show our teeth, as prospective bidders made rounds of the merchandise.
On the fourth day, our lot was called, and I was sent to the block. Of course we were cleaned first. At least we were told to clean ourselves from the horse trough outside our paddock, and let dry with rags, and then had our appearance shined up a bit by some fierce eyed matron intent on seeing us at least as clean as pigs from a pen.
Then as we were led to the block we were told what was expected of us, not to speak, to do as we were told, to smile, to not cry, or else we would be whipped. Then we arrived at the block: A platform some 6 feet above the ground, where a large man shouted out the wonderful qualities of the slaves, and took bids on them. I remember this acutely. We girls had top billing, at the time I wondered at this, thinking that the stronger male laborers would be the most preferred. Oh, how little I knew.
I was paraded forth, and in his deep voice he told the men, for it was mostly men at this auction, to look at my fine features, my healthy build, perfect teeth. He said to look at my exotic eyes, and ears, that I was the lost princess of some elven kingdom I had never even heard of. OF course the bidders were savvy in their knowledge of how such affairs work, and I was quickly bid 10 coins of gold for, he begged them to look at my delicate hands, and the bid jumped to 15, then 20.
HE entreated them to see my long raven tresses, how fine it was. The bid climbed to 30. He told of how I would retain my beauty for far longer than a normal lass, and that I was young enough to be properly trained in whatever arts the buyer deemed appropriate. He quickly assured a man that I was indeed virginal (which while true, he completely guessed), and the bid rose higher to 35, then 40, then to 50 and 60. I was awestruck at the sums of money talked about. I had never seen more than 3 coins of gold together at one time in my entire life, and here I was having 60 offered for me.
The final bid was 75, from a woman, one of the few in the crowd. She came close, and asked if I could work, and pinched my arm to feel the muscle, then satisfied confirmed her bid, and it was done. She grasped me in an almost painful grip by my shoulder, and led me to a table behind which a clerk wrote things upon a piece of parchment, including the characters upon my arm, and the n an additional character was written there: The symbol of my new owner.
That night I slept on the floor of a rough room of an inn, at the foot of Mistress Delia's bed, told that if I even thought of running the marks would make me for a runaway slave, and I would be beaten more severely than anything I could imagine. In the morning, at least I assume it was morning, as no sun was yet up, I was taken into a room, and made to strip, and was scrubbed top to bottom, and given a new clean dress to wear, and told I was to be a servant and maid to her "girls", which at the time I assumed to be her daughters. I was fed, and then rushed away to loaded buckboard wagon at the inn and told to pile in the back upon several bags and bales of goods. Three hours later I was approaching an encampment east of the town, and got my first glimpse at what my life would be.
Mistress Delia was the quartermaster of a company of mercenaries, perhaps numbering in the neighborhood of 200. The paradigm of pseudo military efficiency she also was the coordinator of camp followers, including cooks, porters, armorers, and, most numerous of all: Her girls.
At the time I perceived them as the finest of ladies, seeing as they were so delicate and lacking the calluses of labor, all bedecked in silks and satin, and jewelry. In hindsight, they were a bunch of paste and tin wearing, two copper doxxies that a man not fresh from a battlefield would think twice before approaching.
For the next year I did the cooking, and serving, and bathing, and washing and general caring for these women. The first night when I asked three of them (whom I was told to fetch tea for) why they traveled with all these rough men for, and if it was protection from bandits seeking to ravish them, they erupted in raucous laughter, and blushing heavily I began to become a little more worldly. After they explained a bit what it was they did (and composed themselves when I asked if they were married to any of their
callers) I began to catch the drift of things.
Always I was kept back by Mistress Delia, whenever the oft drunken always violent men came a calling, and more than once I had to flee with the rest of the followers as the tide of battle turned against us. I learned a bit about the war business, and saw how things worked.
IT was one spring, just over a year after I was sold, that my world turned upside down again. Camp was set, and the cooks expecting the men to return weary, and injured, and ready for drink were setting up the tables, when three men approached camp. One was the captain, leader of their men, supported bodily by two of his officers, and his news was dire. IT was a rout, ambush, the men were either dead, or fled the field of battle. The enemy was approaching this way, and we were to flee. I heard from the supply tent where I was retrieving bundles of bandages and salves to treat the captain's wounds.
Camp was broken as best as we could, everyone was loaded quickly onto the wagons, and the teams hitched, leaving most everything behind. We would escape with our lives, said the remaining officers, but alas it was not to be.
We were overtaken several hours out by light horse cavalry. The Men followers were no new hands to battle, but the professionals cut them down. The girls were seized, and I believe that night Mistress Delia was spit through with a bolt as she beat a man to death with a club. Personally, I ran. I ran into the coming darkness, my eyesight helping me along, for the first time grateful for my elven blood I ran in the dusk until I came to a stream. Falling down in a panting heap, the panic worn out of my muscles I slept where I lay.
Next thing I knew it was rough hands shaking me, waking me up, and though I struggled I was quickly held still. The man was perhaps thirty summers in age, with a face of scars, and broken teeth, and fetid breath. He crowed about finding a "fine little morsel" as he put it, and then set about to take the one thing I had left, after freedom, pride, and dignity were gone. Unfortunately for him, though, while slim, I was actually quite strong, at least as far as he was expecting. A year of carrying pails of boiling water for bathing, and packing camp paid off.
I kicked twice: Once to the groin, and once to the head. My hobnailed boots serving me in such a way as no fine slipper ever could. He fell upon the ground in a moaning heap, but quickly began to recover, reaching for a knife at his belt. I never gave him the chance. Seizing up a stone from beside the stream I brought it down upon his head. Blood Flowed, and I heard bone crunch. I might have retched up what little my stomach held, but I was still alive, and I had killed for the first, but certainly not last time.
First Chapter of the Memoirs of Jayla the Scout
"Whispers of War: Eyes of the Shadows"
Collected by Candlekeep 1384 DR
Chapter One (Part 2)
The sun rises over the rolling hills . It sheds a soft yellow glow upon what is for most appearances a beautiful spring day. A stream babbles merrily despite the gore drenched rock, and rust stained grass at it's banks. A figure stands at the edge of that stream, watching as the last bubbles of a now hidden body flutter to the surface then pop like the lost dreams of the girl she once was.
She is no stranger to pain, or to the many cruelties of life. However up until this point she had never taken a life. She is a slave, or at least was, a slave. And now she is a killer.
As she sets about to the grim task of cutting the dead man's clothes to better fit her she begins to work out a plan of what to do next.
"It is obvious that a girl will not be safe to travel alone," she thinks. "I'm shaped right to pass for a boy, [God] knows the whores let me know that often enough." Cutting the legs of the trousers to be the right length she continues. "If I get rid of this dress, cut my hair short..." Here she quails, as her long hair had always been a thing she was proud of, going to the great lengths of keeping it brushed and free of tangles when it would be far easier to just cut it off.
"No helping it, though. I can alter these to fit me, and then the tunic as well. Luckily he..." Here she pauses again, the enormity of her situation hits her again. She has killed a man. She is a Murderer. "No!" she says aloud. "He attacked me! He would have, have..." here she pauses, facing the reality of what would have happened if she didn't act. Then she continues aloud.
"He would have likely slit my throat and dropped me in the river as not, after he was done." She continues, though whether trying to convince herself, or some lingering spirit, or listening jury of gods, not even she knows. "I did what had to be done. I was defending myself. Same as the soldiers on the field do. They aren't murderers, they're heroes for doing what they do. So so am I." She defiantly states, as though daring anyone to say otherwise.
The stream continues to flow merrily along, it's lilting music seeming to agree with her, as it continues unfazed be her speech. A little more at peace with herself, she begins to shudder a bit when she sees the crimson stain on the front of the tunic. She examines the seams with an expert eye, after having done much sewing and altering in her tenure as attendant to the soldier's prostitutes.
"No way to alter this without a needle and thread, but that's fine." she reasons, "A boy would likely be wearing baggy clothing, pass-me-downs and such. Lucky thing my less than noble benefactor was a small man, or else I would look quite the fool. It might work to hide my figure, such as it is, even. "
Standing, she begins to don the clothing of so recently occupied by her assailant. Though 14, her form is still slender, with barely a hint of the curves of a woman, due to her elvish blood. She stands slightly less than 5 feet and two inches in height, her lithe body weighing in at perhaps 100 pounds.
"These boots I have are good enough, his are too big anyway." She says to no one in particular, "Now, about this hair, no self respecting lad would traipse about with a mane halfway to his waist."
She walks upstream a bit to a horse staked out where she left it after having found it set to wander by it's former rider. Still wearing it's saddle, it whinnies at her approach.
"Easy fella, sorry I don't have anything for you, but you have something for me." she says as she pats the horse on the neck.
Opening a saddlebag she rummages for a moment before finding a square steel mirror about a hand's length wide, and half again as long. Squatting a few yards away from the horse she sets mirror on the ground and begins to gather her hair into a handful, measures it by eye, and begins to saw through it with her knife, wincing as nicks in the blade yank instead of cut at times. After she finishes, she examines herself in the mirror.
"Not bad," she says "Just long enough to hide the tips of my ears, but not so long as to rouse suspicion." Turning to the horse, she continues. "What do you think, horse?"
The horse promptly replies by continuing to crop the grass at the end of his tether.
"Thought so." She says, seeming satisfied.
"Now to get rid of all this," she says, gesturing with the shock of black hair in her grasp.
She walks over to the pile of discarded clothing and armor, then begins to ball it up around the now rust tinted stone, at the last minute deciding to keep the armor out. "I might find a use for this" she says.
An hour later after a brief meal of dried meat, hard tack, and a few raisins she sets out, riding her newly acquired mount in a north easterly heading. The armor she has rolled up behind her in the saddle, as a back rest, with the bow slung before her as she often saw scouts carry it, with quiver slung as to be ready at hand. She hadn't fired a bow since she played with cousins at a festival when she was ten, but everyone else didn't know that.
First Chapter of the Memoirs of Jayla the
Scout, part 2
"Whispers of War: Eyes of the Shadows"
Collected by Candlekeep 1384 DR
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