They were your typical collection of almost-hardasses, the kind who had some early success in the smaller pits and now wanted to bite off a large chunk of trouble and see if they could chew it up. Most of these guys end up getting swallowed themselves. Or just plain get spit out. Some of the ghosts we had haunting the town used to be guys like these; now their shades can’t sleep. We can. We’ve learned to ignore them.
Can’t ignore the living, though. They’re the ones with the money, and when you’re looking for a bit of it the honest way during a time when there’s little of it to go around, even a group of potential goblin-fodder like the self-styled Knights of the Unicorn get taken seriously. To a point. Word of advice, my friends. If you’re going to hire out, look for guys like these. The good ones aren’t any more or less lucky or skilled then the evil ones, but their IOU’s don’t get paid off in the form of cold steel against the windpipe. This should be self-evident, but I’m continually surprised at the number of men who keep signing on with the obviously morally deranged.
You can always tell the ones who enjoy looting crypts and the like from the ones who like to risk their lives the old-fashioned way by going to war. The looters – good, bad, and all points in-between – wear bracelets upon which are mounted uniform collections of strange dice. The bracelets have been called “andre nortons” since time immemorial, but nobody knows why. Word is neither sages nor dragons have been able to come up with a consistent reason to explain the rolling rhymes the dice make from time to time. The dice are just one of the mysteries of the universe. Nobody seems to choose to wear them. A guy’ll just wake up one day and bam! there’s an andre norton on his wrist and a sudden urge to find an orc’s ass and kick it. I hope it never happens to me. I think – hope, rather – that I’m too old.
I’d done some henchman work when I was younger. It was with a pick-up group of adventurers from the south who’d followed the rumors of the Halls of the Lich-King. The Lich got killed a generation or two ago, but his Halls – located inconveniently a couple of days out of town in a very dangerous part of the hellsplit (foothills to the north) – still serve as home to whichever orc or goblin or kobold tribes have grown enough to need a fortress. Logically, my town shouldn’t exist. We should have been overwhelmed several times over by the evils the Halls attract. But there always seem to be adventurers that show up at the right time. It’s another of those incalculable things we just accept, like the andre nortons. Makes no sense, but there it is. The time I got hired by the Knights of the Unicorn was no different: a raid on a farm, rumors of a wizard opening up long-undisturbed lower levels of the Halls, more rumors of the building of an army for whatever crazy reason, and lo! the Knights arrived and started hiring.
I needed money, had some sword-experience from my early days as a soldier, and had learned a few “special” skills in relation to locks and traps from my much younger days as a henchman to that pick-up group I just mentioned. I swallowed my pride, made my introduction, and the next day was part of the party heading for the Halls. Was I worried? Yes. More often than not, victory over whatever evils stalked the Halls was at the expense of the lives of everyone involved. There’s lots of ways to root out evil, but far too many of them involve dying in the process.
But like I said, I needed the money. And while these guys looked less impressive than the usual group that came through, they didn’t feel less impressive. I’m not going to say I imagined an itch on my wrist – if I had, I would have run out of town that day. But it felt like these guys might come out okay. Coming out okay usually translates to a nice sum of cash not just for the henchmen but for the town. Nobody – and I mean nobody – can party like a group of spelunkers who come out on top and ahead of death. So I was worried, but I was hopeful.
Next Chapter: The Knights of the Unicorn