The Mists of Pantea
Strength – 18
Dexterity – 8
Constitution – 14
Intelligence – 10
Wisdom – 12
Charisma – 14
Prefered Equipment: Polearms, Heavy armour, Thrown missile weapons
Feats: Polearm Mastery, Great Weapon Master
Appearance and Attire:
Just above average height for a human, with a solid yet lean build, Loghren carries himself with the unspoken promise of great strength. A short mop of ash-white hair sits beneath a hand-forged steel helmet, with a plume of owlbear feathers. He wears a battered coat of plate-reinforced chain mail, with a padded black surcoat, bearing the Sigil of the Red Knot – a white crescent moon with a red bird in the foreground. A well stocked pack, lashed with various oddities and trophies accrued over his travels, holds most of his travel equipment. He carries the Wyrm Sting – a Longspear – crafted from the toxic stinger of a wyvern’s tail. It is topped with a chitanous, sickly green blade.
Loghren has the eyes of a Devil. They glow with the fierce amber of a Pit Fiend. A gift from his doting Patron, Bel. His face bears a horrific burn scar, leaving the skin cracked and blackened; the tightened skin pulls at his lip, leaving him with a contemptuous sneer.
Born dockside, to a mother who made her living cleaning other people’s laundry, with a father who was gone by the next tide. The second child, with three brothers and three sisters, his elder brother found work on a ship and never came back; cholera took his youngest sister and a particularly harsh winter took another. At the age of ten, Loghren had grown lean and tough and world wary. Hardship was normal, and loss was inevitable. Still, mum couldn’t feed everyone so it was just as well the others went quickly.
It was about time he found something to support the family, or at least lessen the burden. Looking around ships, warehouses and taverns, Loghren found a room full of rowdy drunks calling themselves the Black Falcons. A mercenary company enjoying some rest time in the city before moving out to find more work. The young lad gathered his courage and went to the biggest, toughest looking man he could see, and asked for an apprenticeship. For his moxy he got the taste of the back of the man’s hand. Thrown down, he stood and threw himself at the man, clawing and punching and tearing at him – to no effect other than a laugh from all watching. Still, his tenacity was appreciated, the company took him on.
After informing his family, he and his new guardians left the city to travel the whole wide world. Loghren spent years with this crew of three dozen surly soldier’s of fortune. He learned from all kinds of people; how to wield all kinds of weapons, how to fight with different styles and tactics, and how to control a battlefield with command and skill. It wasn’t until his teens he started fighting alongside them all.
Despite what Loghren would tell you, he grew to care about his old crew. Velgrim, the bald dwarf who had taken him along, was both a mentor and a friend. Kalash, a desert warrior from across the seas, would sit watch with him and they’d whittle away the hours with idle chatter. Hlammat, an orc reaver, taught him the ways of a Battlemaster and impressed upon Loghren the importance of command. They were a crass, surly, often times scary family, but a family they were.
For over a decade he travelled to strange and dangerous places, battled threats both ordinary and monstrous, and grew into the man he is today.
Mercenary work as a whole, is for the unscrupulous and vicious. This is hardly an exception. Occasionally you run into a band who holds the strictest adherance to a code of honour; jobs shall be completed to the letter, the demons will lie dead and the peasants saved. That sort of work isn’t usually covered by your run of the mill mercenaries.
Mercenaries are for ambushing a rival ambassador’s carriage, killing everyone on board and stealing everything not required as proof of death. Mercenaries are for burning villages and farms to starve out the enemy army. Mercenaries are for storming a keep at night and snipping the o’ so deep roots of a noble family tree. From stem to newest leaf. Dark, dangerous work for people who have more debts than morals, and more callousness than compassion. If you don’t start that way, you end up that way – it’s hard for Loghren to know which camp he fell into, having been at it so young.
Knowing right from wrong isn’t easy when your closest companions and dearest mentors are patting you on your shoulder and buying you beer the first time you gut a nobleman. Loghren, as both a capable killer and a most charming diplomat, eventually gained a place in higher command of the some fourty odd other killers. Whether it was negotiating terms of pay with clients, or delivering terms of surrender.
Eventually, he became a named man. A person whispered about when news of the Black Falcons’ involvement in a matter became known "Watch for the Long Talon. Don’t matter if you think your safe on the field, if he wants to get you he will.’ A name gained when he struck the head from a militia general attempting to quit the field on horseback.
And once you have a name, all you can do is add to it. Even if one day you realise your name isn’t whispered with awe and respect, but fear and bitter sneers. Every black deed sticks to it, and there were so many black deeds. Still. Better to be feared than dead!
Unfortunately, these things do not last forever.
A milk-run of a caravan job went awry when tracking through a shallow valley between towns. A rain of arrows and black fire assailed them from all sides, and moments later a swarm of black-cloaked figures were pilling into the baggage train. Rocked, the Black Falcons brought up a fighting retreat as the ambush saw many of their numbers cut down. In the end, a full blown rout saw the mercenaries scattered. Picking a direction and running, Loghren never saw what happened to the rest – he imagined most were cut down in the end, and those that made it out were heading elsewhere.
Nobody was to blame, the ambush was well timed and well executed, and the terrain was against them. The Black Falcons were brought down, after so many years, and all he could do was try to make his way around this small army of cultists and find civilisation.
A sad day. Fortunately Loghren had long since learned: hardship is normal, loss is inevitable. You pick up, move on and do better next time.
…And hey, maybe this was an opportunity to start over. To rewrite your story as you wish it to be told.
Life goes on. The seasons change. You get kidnapped by a Drow wizard, to fight and die in an arena so he can harvest your soul to empower his necromantic rituals. You weather the punches coming your way.
Perhaps Omazyr selected his prisoners a little too well. Loghren, with the combined efforts of these suspicious strangers, slew all who came to challenge them. Even Jorge, the angry woodsman, fell before the reaving blade. Breaking out, they traversed the subterrainian halls of the Netherena to find the master of this demense. A long, brutal fight ended with the drow butchered from a dozen wounds. So much for necromantic domination!
After successfully working the magical lock to create a portal, the group were forced to fight for the last few feet before freedom. After the rogue and ranger made their way past, Loghren and Alex were left on the wrong side of the portal as it began to rupture. He had never liked holymen. Preachy, self-righteous lot. Still, Alex had proven himself a worthy comrade – he’d gotten this far without a single sermon. Loghren and Alex, their combined might too much for the construct, destroyed the guardian and made their way to safety.
After a brief stay with the islanders, and a purchase of a cheerleading bird, the volcano on the island decided Loghren’s overpowering presense was too much for these islanders; with spectacular haste, the four barreled through all who stood to hold them and gained passage with a smuggler. A shame about those islanders, but when the chips are down you don’t try to reason with volcano cultists – a unanimous decision!
It seemed fate had brought this crew together, already Loghren felt endeared to this trio of oddballs. Not quite mercenary types; but the jump from merc to adventurer suited him just fine.
On the boat the three got to know each other, and their fellow survivors, before being ambushed by fishmen. One loss for a near complete destruction of a larger enemy force ain’t too bad. Still, Loghren accorded the captain a respectful ceremony – the priest finally snuck a sermon in – it’s good practise to pull the guy steering the ship away from despair. Rocky shallows are a popular form of suicide!
Arriving in smuggler’s cove was a nice shift; the group able to reacquaint themselves with the glory of capitalism. Fitting snuggly into a new set of armour, the group bantered some and went to the tavern. Finally! This was what being an adventurer is about. That, and slaying the occasional dragon. In the fires of combat, the forging of the group was complete – the blade quenched in draconean blood. The Red Knot.
Wyvern head in hand, Loghren made good on a deal struck, and returned to Taman the tooth so dear to him. (Everyone acts as if collecting body parts is weird, yet when Taman does it it’s fine!) If you’re going to fight beside someone, you might as well try to be friends.
Taking on a gig as a caravan guard, Loghren had a strange sense of deja vu. His last job had been as such, and the Black Falcon’s had payed dearly for it. Velgrim had always said: “No use fearin’ something forever; take it head on, or from the back if ya’ prefer, so long as you do it.” Time to see if the Red Knot were a sturdier kind of bird.
In the next town along, the party finds a mystery of missing children afoot. Loghren would never be considered a paragon of moral virtue, but kids were special. Little sods hadn’t had a chance to live a good proper life yet. The party set out on a righteous path towards a swamp. Thankfully, no ogres. Just a creepy vanishing cottage that lead to a demi-plane wherein resided two powerful hags.
Finally finding the children, they were shown the visage of a kind and lovely woman taking care of them. Hah! Loghren had lived long enough to know: this was not a fairy tale, and good things don’t just happen like that. You gotta make em’ happen. After Taman and Andraste went to confirm the existence of the other hag, Quirora thought it a good opportunity to spring her trap.
Silly hag. The Red Knot wasn’t trapped there with her. She was trapped there with them. Alex, enraged by the memory of his own lost kin, threw white fire upon the monster. Loghren, taken up by Alex’s furious fervor, joined the frey. The two did a number on the witch, who quickly resorted to trickery and sly magics to stay alive. Unfortunately for her, Andraste and Taman had survived a swim with her sister and were on their way back. Andraste, true to form as ever, ended the woman with an arrow to the face.
Quiphoni thought it best to come up and join in, and got much the same. Apparantly Andraste does not appreciate being stared down. Noted for future reference.
Another damn holyman showed up, acting as if he were riding to their rescue. As if finishing a heavily wounded fishman, and chipping away at the second, was worth the trip all the way here. Loghren, having grown to know the importance of staking a claim on your heroic moments, accorded no credit to this newcomer. His convictions did not save the lives of the young. The Red Knot, with brutal fury and sheer indignation, saved two of the three children.
On their way back, it soon became apparent the moral framework of each party member did not line up. Alex, feeling the blow hardest upon the wound of his lost love, saw the loss of a child unacceptable – a failure tantamount to having done nothing. Unwilling to see the pain and sorrow Alex held in mourning, Loghren clashed wills with the Pelorian priest. Loss was inevitable, you do the best you can – but you’ve got to be realistic. It’s rare everyone makes it out alive; the pain garnered from dwelling on such things was only deserved by the witches they had slain. Alex, offended by the notion of such pragmatic disregard, lashed out. A formative moment in their relationship. A line has been drawn in the sand, and both of them knew it.
Back in town, the group delivered their charges and reaped fine reward, with feasting aplenty. In a spectacular moment of sheer athleticism, Loghren took Paladin Droba’s challenge to arm-wrestle. Seems righteous fury does not hold up against a sweet set of pythons. The point driven home when Alex the Exhausted tried to reclaim honour for the righteous. He got much the same.
Impressed by his strength, and his natural charm, Droba urged Loghren to consider joining his order. To stand for freedom. Loghren was not convinced. Cultists, benign or not, weren’t on his good side. As if you need to be part of a holy order to oppose oppression. Still, he was magnanimous in refusal, and did his best not to disrespect the Paladin.
The next day, Loghren and the Smith who’s child they had saved, set about crafting Wyrm’s Sting. Using the haft of his glaive, and the stinger of a Wyvern, a greatspear was developed. A weapon fit for a slayer of great beasts. Loghren was happy.
On the road later that same day, Loghren got an opportunity to test it. With the wind picking up on the plains, a twister barreled into their flank. With some fast action and exceptional vehicular skill, Loghren saved most of the cart at the cost of some bruised arses for his friends.
The twister turned out to be an Air Elemental. Which turned out to have a terminal case of ‘messing with the Red Knot-itus.’ One more terror dealt with, they were back on the road. Days later, at a swelled river, they came to a destroyed bridge with a cadre of travellers stranded and starving. Quickly deciding the locals were a superstitious bunch, the group decided to head into the Redwood on the morrow. The overtly rude old woman leading the people asked for an escort. Whilst having always wanted to be an escort, Loghren was specific about his clientel.
In the dark of night the encampment was set upon by a Drow raiding party. Chaos erupted. Fire and magical darkness shrouded the night. Fucking cultists, most likely. It’s always a fucking cult. The Red Knot had faced Drow before, so set about rebuffing the attackers. Their leader got away, but a half dozen of his men died in the process. They took Gery. And some other folk too.
Expediency took over, and Loghren had saved a Drow for questioning. He had wanted to be a better kind of man. Old habits die hard. And some jobs don’t need better kinds o’ men. With it naked and lashed to a tree, Loghren took a torch and dagger and stepped back into Long Talon’s old boots. A comfortable pair, if he was honest. The drow was not moved by threats, and would not treat with Taman and Andraste when they vouched for persuasion rather than torture.
“Never make threats you aren’t ready to carry out.” Hlammat had always told him. The scalding knife point hissed and bubbled when it slid into the Drow’s eye. His screams were sweet as music in Long Talon’s ears. Still resilient. And time was growing short. An ultimatum, then. “Tell me, and I’ll stab you in the heart. Don’t, and I’ll leave you here for sunrise.” The drow spat at him. Loghren slashed his ankle tendons and left him to bleed. The Red Knot set out to hunt.
Dark, blood red woods proved just as ominous as they appeared from the outside. A ragged tangle of pitfalls, trips and snagging branches. A drow had stayed behind to slow them. Loghren’s handaxe thudded into his face without so much as losing a stride. They tracked the group to an ancient bazaar leading to a massive, carved crater, at the pit a ziggurat, with small crevaces down the four faces of the quarry. Looking into one, the group realised the Drow had teleported inside, yet found a scrap of human skin used as parchment.
It became apparent the bilingual squad were hiding hidden talents of ciphering. In cough an hour cough 1d6 hours the group learned the slavers took the people to feed to a Queen. God damn fucking cultists.
Foul Language Ahead
The Memories of a Mercenary
A Sour Kind of Friendship
Loghren twisted the haft of his glaive, burrowing the studded tail-weight into the loose dirt of the wagon path. He stared down at his wire-patched mail shirt, once more wondering why the fuck he was stupid enough to agree to this plan.
“Don’t ya’ got the balls, boy?” That smelly fuck Odain. “I dare ya’! I fuckin’ dog dare ya’! If ya do it, I swear on my poxed bollocks I’ll pay you a hundred gold, no matter the score we pull.” Loghren stuck his chin out and sneered down at the dwarf, all five-foot nothin’ of him. “Oh I’ll do it you stumpy fuck. And when I do, not only will I get the gold. You’ll tell all these nice folks how I’m the toughest fucker in this shit-stain of a company!” The sellswords in the tent had laughed and jeered, as if Loghren had suddenly raised the stakes in some meaningful way. Odain had stepped closer, leaning in with all the simian challenge he could muster from his low perch. There was a moment of silence, his face scrunching up as if tasting something sour. The unspoken expectation of violence crept into the two warriors. The others held their breaths, anticipating the outcome. Odain was the older of the two, and a damn sight wilier than Loghren’s infamously clumsy self. But Loghren was vicious as a sick dog, and stronger than he had any right being. “…Aye. I can do that. If you’re man enough to do your part.”
Loghren cursed his own blighted ego. With all the lads watching him, and having let Odain goad him, he couldn’t say no. He’d lost his chance when he hadn’t punched the bald bastard the moment he looked to Loghren to be bait. He might’ve gotten his arse kicked, might’ve even gotten his cut docked for the infraction, but he wouldn’t be standing on this damn road, and he wouldn’t have lost face. Next time.
He’d been there for the better part of an hour. A small part of him wondered if they had gotten the wrong schedule, and the caravan wasn’t coming. It wasn’t good for the crew, but he’d be in for a nice payday and he could get himself out of this forest without a lance through the nose.
That optimism curled up and died when he heard the dull clatter of hoof beats on the road. From just over a distant rise there came a wagon, pulled by two powerful looking horses, and flanked by two – no, four riders. They were a decent way off, making a leisurely pace. They had a damn good long time to decide whether they were going to shoot him, and he had a damn good long time to consider his life choices.
He was alone on the road.
The closer they got, the better look he got of them. An archer sat behind the driver, on the roof of the wagon, cradling a crossbow and pointing it loosely in Loghren’s direction. The riders were well equipped. Matching red brigandines – heavy armour for a caravan guard. The two forward flanks carried lances, whilst those behind had maces and shields. Even the driver looked to be carrying a blade.
Sweat rolled down his face, he wiped it away with a sweep of his grimy hand – he didn’t want to look nervous. Nervous people get shot.
But he was.
He was shitting himself.
The glinting lance points bobbed and weaved, angry as tiger claws.
“Get out of the fucking road!” The driver called, when they were at around eighty yards. The caravan rolled on. Loghren lifted a hand to his ear and motioned that he hadn’t heard them.
One of the riders kicked his horse forward, eager to be rid of Loghren so the rest of the caravan didn’t have to stop. The rider seemed to be debating whether to press into a gallop and skewer Loghren, or to approach him first..
Loghren’s heart thudded in his chest, his every animal instinct screaming to run into the woods. He wasn’t a coward, he wouldn’t be standing in this fucking road if he was, but this plan was suicide.
The rider lifted his lance skyward and came forward at a canter, until he was barely five yards away. “What you playing at boy? Get out of the pissing road before you’re trampled.”
Loghren sucked in a steadying breath and forced his brightest smile. “Aye mate, I will. I just need a minute of your time.” The rider looked uncertain, his head swivelling back to the approaching wagon and back to Loghren – he wanted Loghren out of the road now, he hadn’t expected more resistance.
“You see, I’m part of this here region’s rangers. I’m here to warn travellers of a nasty beast that’s roaming these parts.” The rider’s suspicion flickered with interest.
“What kind of beast?”
“Ah, yeah. It’s a… well, it’s not one beast – you see, it’s a whole bunch of the bastards. It’s a pack of… uh… I mean, a clan… of trolls!” Loghren stared up at the rider, trying to discern whether his lie had been seen through. If it had, might be able to dash into the woods before shit hit the fan.
The rider’s eyes burrowed into him for a long moment, until the rest of the caravan was right upon them. Then he let out a shrill whistle. Riders and pulled on reigns and everything came to a stop. Loghren resisted the urge to duck behind the rider when the archer pointed the crossbow at him.
“He says he’s a ranger. Says there are trolls about.” The rider called, without taking his eyes from Loghren.
“So fucking what?” The driver said, a surly looking older gentleman with a bald head and a salt-and-pepper beard.
“’So fuckin what?’” The rider parroted. The other riders began to cast their eyes about, and Loghren knew what would occur if one of them saw anything amiss.
“Well! You see – the trolls hereabouts are… suspiciously clever!” He pronounced, leaning forward on the shaft of his weapon, a conspiratorial look in his eye. The riders’ looked to each of their companions, unsure of what he was suggesting – what makes a troll suspiciously clever?
“These trolls have been ambushing travellers! Just a few miles from here they’ve set up a nasty little kill-zone where they’ve been blindsiding the poor folk who happen by. Their foul magics have killed three-dozen-“
The driver bulled over him. “Magics? Trolls don’t know magic you stupid f-“
Twin lances of roaring flame ripped across the road, one slamming into the archer’s flank, throwing off her aim and sending the bolt skyward – her screams pierced the air like only those wounded by magefire could. The other hit the driver in the cheek, scouring the flesh from his skull – he slumped down in his seat, dead.
The riders all twisted to see their burning companions, still for a single moment – enough time for the second volley to begin. Arrows and bolts hissed from the brambles; horses screeched and floundered, their bare hides being skewered in a half-dozen places. The riders faired better, as well armoured as they were, and each of them expertly threw themselves from their dying mounts – wary enough to know that being pinned beneath the beasts was a death sentence.
Loghren flew into motion, finally having a use for the flood of adrenaline that had saturated his blood for too long now.
He threw the glaive straight up into the air then caught it in both hands whilst it was over his head – then he swung it down in a scything arc, straight down onto the snout of the frontmost rider’s mount. The heavy blade bit deep, and the horse’s legs went limp and the beast dropped. The rider kicked out of the saddle and rolled away, keeping a grip on his lance. The screams of wounded animals was overwhelmed by the battle cries of the men flooding into the road. The swarm of brigands fell upon the guards like a pack of dogs, clustering around the dismounted riders and harrying them with blows to get through their armour. They outnumbered their quarry three to one.
“You bandit piece of shit!” The man in front of Loghren lunged at him, lance gripped in both hands. Loghren staggered back, tearing his weapon free from the horse in his hasty retreat. He swatted the haft of his glaive into the lance, knocking the point aside before the thrust could drive home.
He followed up with a harrying thrust of his own, halting the warrior’s forward momentum and forcing him a half step back. They locked eyes, the head of their weapon dancing dangerously close, each man a stride out of reach.
“Just run damnit, your mates are dead.”
The caravan guard didn’t even consider it. He stepped in and lashed out with a stab, Loghren pushed one way with his glaive and tilted his body the other, sending the thrust wide – the guard pulled back half way, then jabbed forward again. Loghren twisted once more, though this time the edge of the lance blade scoured across the surface of his mail. A close call. He was comfortable taking a sword blow across the shoulder, but a two-handed thrust would spit him like a festival-day turkey.
He moved in, pressing himself past the lance head; he swept a quick slash across the man’s torso. The blade scraped hard against the brigandine, cutting the textile, exposing the wounded metal plates beneath. The guard retreated, his lancepoint once again between him and Loghren.
Loghren feigned a high thrust, then stabbed low, but the guard switched his botched block into a thrust of his own. Loghren’s blade hit the man in the belly, but the blow was fouled when he had to throw his torso back to escape his foe’s attack.
“The driver was my brother!” He seethed with distraught fury, his eyes daggering into Loghren’s own – demanding answer for his brother’s death.
Well there’s only one way this can go now.
Loghren didn’t answer him. Instead he feigned back step, to give himself the time to raise his weapon and chop down hard. The guard’s roiling emotions had slowed his reaction, forcing him to check the blow by catching it just below the blade on the shaft of his own polearm. Loghren stepped forward, entering into a much tighter range than what most long-weapons were accustomed. He swept the back end of his weapon up, the arc of the swing reversing, the studded iron weight sailing up and smashing into the guards unarmoured chin.
The blow whipped the man’s head back, a spray of blood and shattered teeth misting the air above him. At that very moment, Odain’s mace slammed into the side of his knee – the joint caving in sideways and sending the battered warrior crashing to the dirt. Loghren reversed his swing again; a brutal executioner’s strike that took the man just below the ear.
Odain stared at Loghren, sucking in air like a blacksmith’s bellows. His grinning, blood-spattered face let out a blood-drunk cheer. Time seemed to come back to him, no longer brought into the blade-sharp battle focus he had grown to crave, and his adrenaline addled mind laboured to organise his thoughts. Had he been mad at Odain?
From deep within, an overwhelming tide of exhilaration and joint-mindedness flooded through him and brought out his answering cheer. His voice sounded manic when he spoke,
“Who am I?!” Loghren asked.
Odain looked back over his shoulder, at the aftermath of their ambush. The dozen archers were wandering out of their hiding spaces, to pick over their loot and collect arrows. Those that had been in melee chattered excitedly over their kills. One man clutched at his face, having taken a glancing blow that had left his cheek a bloody ruin, and one of the company’s healers was trying to tend to it with needle, thread and herbs – there were no priests among the Black Falcons.
“Who are you?” Odain’s voice had picked up a familiar, commanding tone. All eyes moved to him, to listen to what he had to say. “Loghren. You are, without a doubt, the stupidest… and toughest bastard I’ve ever laid my eyes on.”
Laughter followed, Loghren laughing loudest of all.
Odain clapped him on the back and led him to their caravan. The day had been a success. Two thirds of their loot would go to the man who had hired them to ransack the caravan. The caravan will be reported to have been lighter than expected. The rest would go to the men. A good day all around.
Loghren sat with his back to the wall, his chair twisted to face the room, with his soot-stained face buried in a quickly emptying tankard of barely palatable ale. The man snoring beside him was Merric; him was a behemoth, still wearing his dirt and blood-stained armour, one hand propping up his drool-stained face, the other instinctively resting on the handle of a wicked looking sabre resting comfortably against his knee. The man had done his work today, and Loghren had held up his promise to buy the man all the drinks he could stomach.
It had been a hell of a fight. A gnoll war party had camped a little too close to a village, and the village were happy to pay to have the problem dealt with before it got any worse. Good people. Smart. They had ambushed their camp during the day – a damn blessing, cause if it had been at night they might’ve been overrun. There had been damn near a hundred of the bastards, and Loghren had gotten cornered by four of the bastards before Merric spotted him backed against a tree.
People gave Merric shit because he used to be a paladin, and still pretty much lived like one. Mostly. You couldn’t be a Black Falcon and do Black Falcon work if you weren’t willing to stray from the path every now and then. Loghren didn’t know why the guy had forsaken his order, or why they had forsaken him, but he was damn glad it happened. The big, blonde bastard had slashed and punched and stomped his way through those hyena-looking fuckers. It had taken everything they had when that damn gnoll-shaman started throwing his pissing magefire about.
The tavern wasn’t busy. There weren’t even any of the Falcons about, aside from the two of them, which was a testament to how exhausting the day had been. Loghren couldn’t sleep; he was young, and he was strong, and he was so-very-ready to be violent. But he’d almost died today.
That didn’t happen to Loghren a lot.
That was why he couldn’t sleep yet. It forced an uncomfortable introspection on him, and it had only gotten worse since Merric had passed out. He’d been so young when he joined the Falcons; he hadn’t even reached his teen years. By the time he had sense enough to fear death, he’d already grown used to the gritty, teeth-breaking savagery of fighting.
His eyes moved across the scattered patrons.
The two women chatting by the window, basking in the last of the evening sunlight. They didn’t look like farmers, or lumberjacks, or smiths. Maybe seamstresses. Those were most of the only real jobs in this backwater. He wondered if they enjoyed their work. Perhaps they thought it dull but satisfying – certainly not so dull as to drive them to the madness of warfare.
A man at the bar, whom Loghren had noted earlier, who smelled of sawdust and sweat. He probably ran the lumbermill. He seemed to be drinking a harsher liquor than Loghren preferred – he’d probably get along well with Odain. Sucking down whiskey like apple juice. Yet the man wasn’t drinking like a drunk. He’d been there for as long as Loghren had, and he had his wits about him. Loghren wondered what that man would think of leaving his home, his family, his mill, and living the life Loghren lived. Spending most of your days in a tent, or in a tavern full of people you don’t know. Spending your days walking. Always fucking walking. All so that when the day comes, you can risk your neck doing some bastards dirty work because he’s smart enough not to do it himself.
Loghren wasn’t a pious man. In fact, he found the whole notion of piety a foolish concept. People who bowed before gods were no different than those who knelt before kings. They accepted that they were the lesser, and their progeny the greater, and laboured before their supremacy. Loghren bowed to nobody willingly.
But one could not consider their afterlife without considering the nature of divinity.
He didn’t know how it worked.
Did you go to whichever god you professed to serve? Do you go to the god you like the best, and they have to like you enough to say yes? Is there some cosmic order in which you go to the god with which your actions and ideas most identify? He liked that notion the best – the idea that some impartial, immoral force could decide that you and Selune would get on like a house on fire, so that’s where you went. That you and Tempus would be best buds, so you go there.
But he wouldn’t lie to himself. People could say a lot of things about him, but he wasn’t the type to accept a comforting lie. He liked that idea because it was his best shot.
He didn’t like the gods, and he was pretty sure most of them wouldn’t like him – authority figures rarely did. And if there was a moral judgement at the end… well, it was too late for that. And the idea of doing good to right your wrongs because you feared punishment always seemed to be too little too late, in his mind. And he wasn’t about to change his stance on gods.
So he was met with the conundrum. He could die at any time. And likely would. He had no illusions of immortality after today. And he didn’t know what would happen then – but he was pretty sure it wouldn’t be good.
So, was it all worth it?
At that moment the door swung open, knocking the entry bell, and in strode a dwarf. Unlike most of the other folk in town, this one was armed. Loghren noted the footman’s mace looped to his belt, and how it swayed in time with the man’s walk as to not bang against his knee – a man used to his weapon, Loghren reckoned. He had a heavy scale hauberk on, though Loghren also noted the smear of dirt across its otherwise gleaming front. His black, spade shaped beard didn’t quite cover the fresh cut at the corner of the man’s lip.
The man went straight to the bar, his money sliding across not a half-second later. “The usual, Harry.”
The barman nodded his head to the dwarf, and tapped a cask marked with an apple. A cider man. Loghren could respect that. The man took his drink and ambled over to a table close to Loghren’s own. It wasn’t until the man sat down, adjusted his armour to sit more comfortably, and sipped his drink, before he spoke.
“You lookin’ for somethin’ boy? ‘cause if you keep starin’ the way you are, am’ likely to think yer’ interested in somethin’ am’ not sellin’.” Even then, Loghren hadn’t seen the dwarf look at him once.
He laughed diplomatically. If he hadn’t been in so sombre a mood, he might’ve thrown his mug in the dwarf’s face, but it wasn’t that sort of day. “Nah, it’s not that. Just noting that you look like shit. Rough day?”
The dwarf nodded tiredly and took a few moments to drink and order his response. “Aye lad. The kind o’ day that makes ya’ wonder why yer’ doing it.”
Loghren rested his head against the panelling on the wall and scoffed. “I’m having one of those days myself. What are you? Town guard? Watcher outpost?”
The dwarf finally sent a look his way, appraising him and his companion. His eyes focused a little more, but he didn’t change his tone. “Something like that. As close a thing as a lawman you get in this sort of place. We don’t pay enough o’ the kings taxes to warrant Watchers.” He paused for a moment, then twisted his body so he was facing Loghren more fully.
“You one o’ those sellswords we hired to kill those gnolls?”
Loghren nodded whilst gulping down the last of his ale.
“I told them. I said, ‘if yer not gonna give me the gold to hire more men, we’ll have gnolls up to our arses within a year’ and they didn’t want to hear nothin’, but sure enough when the gnolls come knocking, they fork over a bloody fortune to fix it.” The dwarf spoke like this was a complaint he had made often and wasn’t really satisfied that he’d been right. Loghren nodded along, though he couldn’t relate.
“Looks like you ran into a bit of trouble yourself.” Loghren replied, motioning with his empty cup to the man’s lip. “Did some of the gnolls attack whilst we were gone?” The man seemed surprised by the question, then touched a finger to his wounded mouth and let out an exasperated chuckle.
“Selune no, no I fucking wish. Dealing with a bloody domestic dispute, of all things.” Loghren gave him a sceptical look, and motioned for barmaid. “Oh yeah? What happened?”
The dwarf hesitated, a look of apologetic frustration on his face. “Ah, I’m not really sure I can say… airing folks dirty laundry out like that… I’m sure your gnoll-killing is a far more exciting tale.”
The barmaid arrived, and Loghren smiled warmly at her. “An ale for myself, and another cider for…?” The dwarf looked surprised, and quickly offered up the answer, “Kallor.” The barmaid nodded and left to get their drinks. Loghren leaned out of his chair and offered his grimy hand out. The dwarf shook it appreciatively. “Loghren.”
“Well, Kallor. How about this. I’m leaving tomorrow. So you tell me about your thing, and I’ll tell you about my thing. And we can get piss drunk and say whatever we damn well please, and we’ll never have to see each other again.”
Kallor sat back in his seat, his fingers tracing the rim of his tankard in idle thought. Then he pulled himself up and dragged his seat to Loghren’s table. Merric stirred, but quickly settled back into an exhausted sleep.
The drinks arrived, and Loghren paid for both. Kallor began.
“Alright. So, as I said, I was in a bit of a foul mood about the gnolls. I mean, that’s what I got into this line of work for. I wanted some bloody excitement. Live like the bloody dwarves my da’ used to tell me about. And here it comes, right up to ma’ doorstep, and the bastard mayor pays some poxed-damned sellswords-“ he paused and added, “no offence to yerself,” then continued, “and I’m doing the same shit for the same ungrateful bastards I always am.”
He took a moment to drink, then continued his tale. “As I said, domestic dispute. The Sepler’s boy comes runnin’ into my jailhouse, jabbering about the house next door an’ how they’re screamin’ bloody murder, and he heard banging and missus’ Ipwood crying. I know mister Ipwood, an’ I don’t like mister Ipwood. The man’s a useless prick at the best o’ times.”
Loghren listened with rapt interest. This all seemed a little alien to him. His memories from back in the squeeze helped him colour in the details himself, but it had been a long time since he’d thought about this sort of thing.
“So there I go, and I can hear them shoutin’ from the doorstep, so I knock and they don’t answer. I let ma ’self in, and there they are – the room, my you, is in a right fuckin’ state. And lady Ipwood looks like she went a round with an ogre, and mister Ipwood has a hold of her wrist. So I do what any of us wood,” he stopped again and met Loghren’s eye, his own looking glassy and excited as he recounted his day. He slammed his fist into his palm. “so I tackle the bastard! And there I am, punching his lights out, when missus Ipwood blindsides me with a slap so hard ma’ ancestors felt it!”
He spread his hands in shocked exasperation, and Loghren looked a little confused. “But I thought-“ Loghren started, but Kallor was in the swing of his tale. “Aye, I thought so too. She’s screamin’ at me to get off her husband, when he was damn near doin’ the same to her a minute before! So then mister Ipwood starts struggling to buck me off, so I butt him in the nose and set him out. Then a’ scramble to ma’ feet to deal with missus Ipwood – an I’m trying to talk sense into her. I said, “Jenny, he’s spendin’ his night wi’ me, an’ if she goes for me again she’ll be doing the same – ya’ see, we got two cells now, so I wasn’t bluffing none.”
“She’s seething, but the lady sees sense an’ starts begging me not to take him. Talking about how this is just how they deal with their problems, an’ I said, ‘No Jenny, not in my fuckin’ town it ain’t.’ and I start dragging Ben – mister Ipwood – out of the house. I think it’s all done with, when Jenny jumps on ma’ pissing back and we all go down. Had to drag both o’ the nutty bastards across the village, and get them into their damned cells. I’m damn glad Ben didn’t give me no more trouble either, ‘cause I’d have used my bloody mace to solve it.”
Loghren stared at him, bewildered. Kallor nodded, understanding his silence. “Aye lad. Some people are bloody mad. And all that, at the end of it, I’ve got the two of them wishing me the pox, a sore fucking mouth, and no gratitude.”
He swept a hand across his face, and moved on to his second cider. “Sometimes, I reckon this town’ll be the bloody death o’ me.”
Loghren let out a breath he felt like he’d been holding since the man began talking, and looked down into his drink.
“Pelor’s balls, you couldn’t pay me enough to deal with that. We don’t get none of that doing what we do.”
Kallor nodded his head emphatically. “Aye. What I wouldn’t give to have simple problems,” he shook his mace at his side, “and simple solutions.” Loghren grinned, and held up his cup. “To simple solutions.” Their cups hit hard, sending cider and ale over their hands, but neither noticed nor cared.
“Your turn lad.”
Loghren began his tale, about how they had armed up for the day – taking the time to describe some of the Falcons – and how they had planned to attack during the day, gnolls were mostly nocturnal so it was the best chance. He stopped to give Kallor some of his background, about how long he’d been with the Falcons, and how he had never really considered dying in battle and confided his thoughts about the nature of gods, and the afterlife, to give him a better view of how the story would play out. Then, as best he could, he described the attack. How he, Hlammat and Yuric tried to stick together – there were lot of bloody gnolls, so the Falcons had decided to stay in teams of four; three would kill every gnolls they came across, and protect the fourth who would set fire to the tents, not only would it trim their numbers down, but the chaos would stop them from rallying and using their superior numbers to turn the tide of battle.
Kallor was leant forward in his seat, cider forgotten in his hands, taking in every detail – even probing for details every so often when Loghren glossed over something.
When he had started the story, Loghren’s aim was to convey the narrative of his thoughts. Of how he had felt during, and after the battle, and how he was having doubts as to whether living as dangerous a life as his was worth it; as he spent longer and longer describing the gritty details of the fighting, Kallor questioning his moves and hissing when he spoke of taking hits, he got lost in the excitement of the memory. By the time he reached the point in the tale wherein he got separated from his group, and surrounded by gnolls, he too was sat forward in his seat, speaking with bold flourishes of his hands to add to the tale. “And there comes Merric, my knight in shining-fucking-armour, like he’s on a damned crusade!” Kallor looked at Merric, whom in his stupor lifted his head at the mention of his name and raised his scabbarded blade as an answering cheer – but that was all he managed before his chin dropped against his chest again.
Loghren recounted the rest of the mission, and how the rest of the Falcon’s had been so damn tired they had set up camp next to the battlefield, whilst Loghren and Merric had returned to the village to drink themselves stupid. And when he said that, he remembered his introspections – shocked that he’d forgotten them really. He forcibly quashed the triumphant tone in his voice, and added onto the end of the story. “But I’d never really considered I could’ve been killed before. I know it sounds stupid, but I hadn’t. And I was sitting here, watching these folk,” he gestured with his cup around the tavern, “and was wondering whether it was all worth it, knowing that I could die at any time.”
Kallor’s enraptured expression shifted so suddenly it looked fake, and said in genuine surprise, “Worth it? Bloody hell lad! That sounded fucking incredible! Selune praise, if that ain’t the best gods damned story I’ve ever heard.” Loghren sat back, and went quiet for a minute, considering the dwarf’s words. Before he could come to a conclusion, Kallor ordered another round and asked for another tale of his work.
So he obliged him.
The two men talked and drank for hours, and by the time the tavern keeper was ready to close shop, the two were staggering down the street – each with one of Merric’s massive arms over their shoulders, looking damned foolish with a good half of Merric’s legs dragging in the dirt behind them. Loghren had started back toward the Falcon’s camp, and neither he nor Kallor had thought far enough ahead to notice Kallor didn’t live there.
When the thought finally did occur to Kallor, Loghren looked at him with the intense perplexion only capable of the very seriously drunk, and answered, “I thought you were joining the Black Falcons.” And they stopped, in the near-pitch black night, a good two miles out of the village, and they both made a valiant attempt to recall if that conversation had actually taken place. Neither of them was sure, so Loghren started walking again.
And they never went back.
Words to Live By
We come upon a dark room, what was once a tavern – now abandoned and devoid of furnishings. Lit by a crackling bonfire in the firepit that was once the centrepiece of many a happy gathering. This was not such an occasion.
The men had managed to salvage a couple of stools and a chair. Then they had cleared out. Nearly twenty killers lurked around just outside the building, yet not a sound could be heard but the words of the people inside. One figure was sat in the chair, hands bound behind its back, head hanging forward with blood and drool running down its chin. Stood with his back to the door was an orc, almost as large as the door itself, with an anvil of a jaw and skin of mottled olive. The third was a bare-faced dwarf, his hair shaved to black fuzz; he sat in front of the fire, a wickedly curved knife in his hand, looking as if he were preparing to skin a buck. The last was a boy, no older than sixteen, with scraped knuckles and messy brown hair, half-matted to his scalp by dry blood.
The boy had inadvertently placed himself between the dwarf and the figure in the chair, and he spoke to the dwarfs back. His voice shook with uncertainty, but he was doing his best to put some steel in it.
“Velgrim wouldn’t like this, Odain.”
The dwarf didn’t respond for a long moment, twisting his knife above the flames, to warm it up evenly. “Odain isn’t here, lad.” His voice was barely above a whisper, and came out calm and strong.
Loghren ran a nervous hand through his hair, and fought an urge to look back at the bound figure. “Fuck. I know. It’s just… shit, I don’t know. Isn’t this going too far?”
Odain stood up from his stool, leaving his knife at the edge of the firepit, and turned to face Loghren. “What were you expectin’ when you brought him in here? You caught the cunt. Why didn’t you cut his throat then an’ there?” The dwarf’s words weren’t chastising, his voice gentle and urging Loghren to a conclusion he should already have made.
Loghren broke eye contact and turned to the side, so he wasn’t looking at anybody. His hand went to his face again, and he winced when his fingers touched the cut near his ear. “I guess I figured he knew where their camp was. That he could tell us where the others are.”
Odain nodded, and moved closer to Loghren. Like he was approaching a frightened dog. “Aye lad. Aye. And you were right to. But this piece of shit isn’t gonna tell us just cause we asked ‘im nicely.” As if to punctuate his statement, the bound man mumbled something through his swollen lip and broken teeth. Loghren had already done a number on him.
“No, Velgrim wouldn’t like it. But he’d still do it. And he’d expect us to do it for him.”
Loghren nodded along weakly, as if unhappy that the words made sense. But then the nods turned to shakes of his head, and he replied, “But we ain’t monsters. Sure we do our share of killin’, but the gods take a harsh view of this shit.”
Odain seized Loghren’s arm, and spun him hard so they were facing each other. His other hand grabbed Loghren’s mail shirt and pulled him down to eye level. “Since when the fuck have we concerned ourselves with the opinions of those cunts? There’s a god for every pissing thing, lad. No matter what you do you’re pissing one of them off.” He released Loghren’s arm and thrust his finger in their captive’s direction, and he waited until Loghren willed himself to look at the man.
“That fucker right there knows where our men are. And if he don’t tell us, they could be getting the same treatment right now. It don’t matter how you feel about it, it’s what’s gotta be done. You understand that, right? You gotta do whatever it takes to keep your mates alive. Even if it means damning yourself to every bastard god in the land. And you better remember that, Loghren.” Odain locked eyes with Loghren, his voice filled with the desperate need to convey the lesson – like a father trying to get through to a bull-headed son.
There was a long silence, as Loghren met his eyes and worked through his thoughts. At last, he straightened up – Odain wisely removing the hand from his armour – and nodded resolutely to the dwarf. “I understand.” Odain smiled his hideous smile, grim and satisfied all at once, then gave Loghren a pat on the shoulder before he turned away.
Loghren’s hardened eyes flickered to Hlammat – the orc at the door, who nodded in solemn agreement. Loghren stepped back himself, giving Odain space.
The dwarf picked up the blade, it’s edge glowing a vicious orange, and walked over to the captive, who seemed to have gathered enough of his wits to see the scarlet blade moving in his direction. His feet scuffed weakly against the floor, suddenly desperate to move away, but gaining no purchase. Odain steadied the man with a firm hand across his throat.
“Now that that’s settled… we can begin.”
And the man screamed. And begged. And broke.
And Loghren did not look away.