Hopping on the bandwagon, a bit. These are the opinions of C. Cook (medium grim edition) and do not necessarily reflect the views of her producer or the network.
Ah. My company. I say “mine” although they aren’t. My company is in Dale right at this very moment in danger and doubt. My men. Lads whose brothers fought with me before moving up, and then the ones that were my charge, before I let myself get skewered and Broddi ran off. I love those men like my own brothers, and I think they felt the same. It came so naturally fighting with them, seeing as how we played at soldiers when we were sprogs on the docks. I was Dafydd’s sister, and I think that’s how they did it. Dafydd’s sister got to give commands because Dafydd wasn’t here.
Anyhow. You’re asking about the company I am currently affiliated with. I am not proud of mercenary work. That’s what this is; mercenary. I am being paid to feed and to fight. That, at present, is the only option if I wish to stay in form for the day when I return to the Lake. There is little intrinsic honor in being a mercenary. Da would be shamed if he were to hear; I know it. But I won’t have you thinking that I would sign with any cohort I find to be lacking in specific honor. Far from it.
Now. I start with a story that isn’t about the Wayfarers. It’s about the day Dafydd’s funeral boat burned and Da went back to his command. He had to write his words out because my hearing had muffled to an indistinct blur. I must have shouted when I told him that everyone thought it wrong for him to go back when we needed him home. He said, honor is about you and nobody else. It doesn’t matter what other people do, so long as they don’t hurt anyone, but for him, he had a choice. He’d stood with kin when honor demanded he do so, and now he must stand with his homeland. He said it didn’t matter how other girls would take being alone with Ma and deaf, but it did matter how I chose to bear my doom and my duties. He said I had to make him proud, and Bren, Wes, and Dafydd were all counting on me to bring glory to the Cook name now, and that wouldn’t get done if I was always worrying about how other people were behaving badly and making them an excuse to be less than my best.
That’s the point, really. I have some standards that these folk don’t. So you asking me what I think – really think – comes hard when I try my best not to sit in judgment over other folk. Not even I live up to my own notions of good and right, not at all. Definitely not while I go with kin-blood on my hands.
Enough prevarication. On with it. We start at the head of the chain of command, though you must understand this chain has a lot of loose links and a few knots. Oendir. He means well, which is why I signed on. The fact that I would take a mercenary contract at all speaks to my belief in his honorable intentions and his determination to be a force of good and justice in Arda. Now, I don’t know him in any real sense of knowing. That’s all right. He makes mistakes that are sometimes hard for me to watch. It’s hard not to be impatient with his… idiosyncratic style of command and organization. But then, if I were in charge of this company, I’d have tossed Arvorn out on his arse without giving him a chance, and I’d never have let Fletcher or Bailey try their hand at command. He makes his men better people. Perhaps he’ll make me better too.
Now, about Arvorn. If ever there was a man who couldn’t find his moral center with a map and a native guide, that’s him. When I met him, I was sure he’d betray us all, sell us to slavers, then invest the profits in an army of orcs. He seems the type. However, we are products of our upbringing, and there are moments which give me reason not to despair of him utterly. If we are to seek justice in this world, we must believe that even someone raised in the pits of Umbar or Mordor or wherever the cack he came from will recognize the same good and evil that those of us in better places can see. We agree often these days. I’m not sure if I like that or not. I hope he hasn’t been corrupting me on the sly with his witchery. If I find out he has, I’ll kill him, same as I killed… never mind that.
Right. I don’t hold with witchery, but there are those with a better sense of the unseen bits of Arda. Gisala’s halfway to wise woman, by my sights, and will probably be all the way in a decade. She takes no crap and is nobody’s victim. I like that. I like that she is who she is and doesn’t apologize all the time. I like that she had every reason to give up and didn’t, and doesn’t. She sees much. She’s one of the few people whose words I treat with weight. That’s how you treat wise women, see? Respect. Or else. Doesn’t do to offend the ancestors and the spirits by mistreating their go-betweens. I suppose she and Oendir are courting now. I will not speculate as to the details, as it is none of my business and irrelevant.
Kemp, now. There’s a project. I like him, though he will insist on behaving without decorum at the least appropriate times. But he’s so untouched by danger and darkness, so innocent to the ugliness that Arda can have. I’d not see that shine dulled any more than it has been. He learned sign and hears for me when Thragan’s not around. I cannot tell you what this means to me here in this land where people seem content for the deaf and blind to remain invisible and exiled. He lives with his girl Kait. They aren’t wed. I haven’t the foggiest idea why not. Doesn’t anyone observe the proprieties in Bree? What if he got her with child and left her with a bastard? It’s irresponsible. Fletcher is a bad influence. But again, I remember what Da said. It’s not my business until someone gets hurt.
Fletcher… ah, Fletcher. What to say about him? He is amiable and acquits himself well enough for an amateur soldier. He is now faithful to his lady, and plans to wed her honestly. This is positive. I find other elements of his character troubling. Most troubling. He is too fond of coin for my tastes, and seems willing to profit off of anything at all, no matter how unsavory. He would have made us whoremongers if Oendir hadn’t stopped him. Pimps, or no better than. Coin bought with the selling of flesh to men of ill repute. What’s more, I don’t think he sees anything wrong with it, and this troubles me. Deeply. Perhaps Nidhil will be a good influence. I differ with Arion, who finds him beyond redemption, at least. He has shown improvement. And I find him good company, and respectful. Few men here are as ready to treat the opinions of a woman as having merit; for this, I count him a friend. Huanling likes him.
A word about Nidhil. She reminds me somewhat of Arion, my Gondorian, inasmuch as the marble facade hides a keen wit and razor-sharp humor. She plays to win and takes no prisoners. I would have her on my side. If she ever goes up against the Eye, he should be very, very afraid. She is perhaps the first girlish girl I have ever been able to respect.
Thragan is, for all intents and purposes, my brother. I had forgotten how good it was to have brothers – real brothers. I count him same as flesh and blood, though he’s from Gondor. We have differing opinions at times on the definition of honorable behavior, but mostly these differences are those of minor points. He understands patriotism, and duty, and professionalism in the field. He can be trusted. He’s got a knack for weaseling details out of a person for sure. I count him as one of the few men I can face without my guard up and armour on. He has saved my life several times, and I would give mine for his. What’s blood to that? … No. It isn’t like that. I am betrothed! Does that mean nothing to you? Breelanders.
We’ve lost so many, fallen by the wayside or killed in battle. Dinefled, Kieth, that… elf, whatisname, that horrid Dale-woman. Anyhow. The reason I go here is Aster. They’ve forgotten Aster. Aster… I know that friendship made little sense to anyone who knew us, so keep in mind what Da said. My honor is mine, and hers is her own business. But let me tell you about her, so she doesn’t simply pass out of memory. Plenty seem willing to forget her like she never was. Aster cares, perhaps too much, and despite her best intentions. She’s stronger than she thinks she is, and has a nobility of soul that’s been tarnished by who-knows-what. If you’ve met her, you’ll be staring at me like I’m daft about now, because she’s slave to the bottle. I couldn’t free her from it, and in the end, she left to follow her doom. That woman goes to fight, and perhaps she will die, and for no other reason than because she cares if people she doesn’t know personally get hurt. She was my bane and my friend. I hope she finds what she’s looking for before she goes to her ancestors. I will look for her in the next life, and see to it that if she goes without burial treasure, she shares some of mine.
Alainn, now. Not an easy person, that one. Hedgehog. She’ll go soft over whoever we’re staying with, but prickles at any of us she finds fault with. I find it difficult to forgive those things she said to Thragan, though she can’t have know what those words were doing to him. For that reason, and for the sake of discipline, I did not strike her. Now, that said, she has qualities that are not without use or merit. Her ability to connect with the locals has proved time and again helpful to the mission. Without her aid, we’d have starved ten times by now and been beaten to death by a town full of angry Dunlendings. She buys excellent undergarments that fit. She at least knows to get out of the way when there’s fighting, which is more than I can say for some of the support personnel we’ve had. She’s at her best when she’s got responsibilities to carry and lists to complete.
Synnova. We’re warming slowly, but warming. Most of our companionship is the silent accord of battle, where we act as bookends to the line. You think all Dale-folk know each other and prefer each other’s company? Not so. We may look similar, but we’re different people. She has walls around her walls, and I’d rather attack than defend. I wear my heart on my sleeve, for good or ill. She’s got hers hidden somewhere. That’s her business. I don’t know how she got here or what her life was before now, but I respect who she is and what she does. It’s an honor to stand with her before the wicked and depraved foes we face.
Then there’s Beacher. I have no idea why the commander keeps putting an entertainer in command, no idea at all. It confuses me, and it is difficult at times not to feel somewhat slighted. But this is not Dale, and not everyone signs or, more to the point, is willing to listen to a woman, no matter how experienced in combat. Thragan must be sawbones first before leader. Rennec, who seduced the company for a time, has been shown a craven traitor. I don’t know why this shocks people when he was always willing to sell his soul to the highest bidder and say anything to get his way. He lead me into dishonor and disgrace, betraying allies who had done us no wrong. We are well rid of him. Perhaps I should simply kill him when next we meet and spare us all further grief. But as to lieutenants, Arrowheart’s options are, in a word, limited. Bailey, I must admit, improves with practice. He remembers to sign, which is rare here. Most rare. He tries, which matters. I have never known him to be anything other than brave, if not always characterized by discipline. How could he be? He’s not had the training. I should offer advice, perhaps, if he’d not take it for criticism. He’s so touchy. Breathe on him and he wilts. I don’t see why. He’s good people with a great deal of potential.
And Will. Can’t discuss Bailey without Cutter. I will not comment on why. Again, it is not my job to enforce anyone else’s behavior, so long as nobody is being harmed. Cutter seems a decent sort. Smiley. Sometimes, he skims right over people’s pain, though, like he’d rather not see it. Fair enough. Perhaps he’s got enough grief in him already that he doesn’t want more on top of it. He doesn’t say much, and under the smiles he’s immovable as a tree. Normal trees, not the walking kind. I’ve known him for years and still don’t know him. Same as Bailey, come to think of it. They keep an orphan boy. He is well cared for and improves under their guidance.
Huanling. Bet you didn’t see that coming, eh? But he’s a Wayfarer too, combat tested and staunch as any man, and twice as good. There is no greater joy or honor one can have than the loyalty and companionship of a good dog. Huan could have better taste, but he has chosen me and I do right by him. He is the best of us all. The best. No, that’s not just because all dogs are like that. Some dogs are mangy curs without an ounce of dignity or self-respect. Some dogs are little lap-warmers that do nothing but decorate silly women. Some dogs have affection, but will chew up your things and mess up your house. Huanling is a noble creature of unparalleled intelligence and a boundless capacity for selflessness and discipline. He is a rare beast whose like will never again be found in the annals of Arda, a truly exceptional fellow. He is my comrade, my ally, my tentmate, and my closest friend. And if you so much as think of kicking him, I’ll cut your foot off, see if I don’t.
Well. This brings me to the newer folk. They’re blurs now, and I’m waiting to see what I think. Arvorn’s son seems…. Arvorn-like. Sons and fathers. Despite his woefully poor parenting, Attanamir seems largely unobjectionable and salvageable. I shall see how he campaigns before I say more. So. Mathdor and Feygil, I barely know. Ask me in a few months, or go meet them yourself. They look like they’ll last, but who’s to say? This is no Spring picnic, no matter how you cut it.
And me. Not fair to say all these sharp things without being honest about the source. I am here, and my country needs me home. I can’t get back. I killed kin to save kin. Her ashes rest even now in a sack under my jacket in fulfillment of the blood-debt I now owe for her murder. While I prance about the world and see its wonders, good men fall and die. I speak of honor and service, but I have failed in both. Consider the source, and take this all for what it is; reflections on ripples. If you want to know these people, go get to know them yourself. I need to get on with patrolling the perimeter so I can see the market when it opens. I hear they make the most fantastic pottery here. I shall buy some for my family.