Had to take some time to figure out how I wanted some of this to go. There were some surprises here, one, with the relationship between Jack & Aolynn. I was at first trying to decide between pure friendship and romance, but I realized that is what is ALWAYS done. So, I decided to use some of my own personal views on relationships between people, that place beyond friendship that we don't really have a word or even a concept for in the English language. Soul friend (anam cara) is the closest I could find for it.
Also, it turns out that Aolynn is half-Elven. Who knew? Okay, so, now for the outline.
The Green Company descends into the smoking ruins of the brigand camp and begins the process of salvaging what they can. The leader’s tent holds a chest that is locked, and Jack is called on to inspect it to make sure it isn’t trapped. He discovers the trap and figures out how to disarm it. Jack notices that they create two distinct piles. When he asks Aolynn about this,m she explains that most of the spoils are stolen and the bulk of what they collect is going to be given to the locals, either handed out as they can, donated to temples or handed over to the jarl of these lands, a man they trust. The smaller pile is theirs, mostly what was stolen from them, and other coin and supplies that they might need.
Saeth returns with several horses and they load up before heading to another site to regroup. Once encamped out of sight of the bandit stronghold, they settle in and begin to rest, repair their gear and eat. Among the things they took for themselves is some armor for Jack and a few weapons for him to try. Saeth attempts to teach him how to use them, and it is discovered that he is an abysmal failure with the sling and broad sword. He is decent with a short sword and bow, and particularly good with knives, both up close and thrown.
As he works, Jack is struck by the almost concentrated casualness of the company at the moment compared to how intense things were just a few hours ago. Saeth assures him that tomorrow will be hard enough, and today won’t be a picnic either. For the rest of the morning and early afternoon, he learns how to sword fight and use the bow. By the time the party finishes cooking a late lunch of pottage that they serve in bread bowls, he is blistered and sore.
Jack is surprised by how thick the stew is, and how salty it is compared to what he is accustomed to. The coarseness of the bread is also new to him, and how gritty the cider is. He also notices that each member of the company prays over their meal, so he waits until they are done before he eats.
Once he’s done eating, Jack thinks he’s going to have a hard time getting to sleep on the thin bedroll he is given, but he is asleep seconds after laying down. All too soon, Saeth awakens him for her shift as sentry, and begins teaching him the art of moving silently and being unseen. He takes to it quickly, having learned the urban equivalent as a kid, though he is still a rank amateur by this world’s standards. He drops like a rock when he goes back to bed and wakes up groggy the next morning to a breakfast of bread and cheese before beginning his first day in the saddle.
Traveling by horseback is a completely new experience for Jack, and by midday he is sore in entirely new places. The company follows the narrow road for the first part of the day, then sets off across country when the road turns south. Lunch is eaten in the saddle, and the company alternates between a walk and a trot. By the time the company stops during the late afternoon, they have covered about 30 miles. Jack is assigned to collect firewood, then spars with Markus until they eat. He takes the first shift with Saeth, who continues his training.
The next day sees another five hours in the saddle through grassy woodlands with no roads, using the sun and other landmarks as their guide. Aolynn begins teaching Jack sleight of hand, and he begins to train himself once more in the art of the lift. Near the middle of the day, they are approached by a messenger from Jarl Bolverk, requesting their presence immediately. Runjolf turns the party north, and they begin to ride hard.
The next day, they cover another fifty miles, putting them well into the highlands of Erinheim. Jack finds himself exhausted at the end of each day, but able to handle the rigors of riding more readily with each day.
His fourth day of riding finds the Green Company approaching the jarlstead of Hadrun Hold. An ancient hall surrounded by more recent buildings, within a walled structure about a stony hill. The jarl’s warriors greet Runjolf as an old friend, and the party is escorted to the hall at the top of the hill straightaway.
It is here that Anatacia’s fiancé is introduced, a young noble from the eastern cities who represents the epitome of the more “refined” nobility. He is offended by the state of the party when they approach, unwashed, smelling of horses and covered with road dust. His immediate demand to have them removed offends the jarl and earns him a sharp word as he rises and embraces Runjolf as an old friend. He explains that no knight can do what needs to be done, that this is bloody work that needs the hands of hard men on it, not perfumed, silk-swaddled boys putting on airs. When the party arrives, the jarl looks old and tired, but their arrival seems to revive him and instill him with new hope.
That evening, the party eats at the jarl’s table. One the meal has ended, the tables are cleared away and a skald entertains the hall for a while. As the party begins to relax, an apparition of Malazin appears and threatens to punish the jarl for his insolence in attempting to move against him, then unleashes a Hel hound into the hall. The jarl’s men and the Green Company engage it but seem to have little effect on it. Only Saeth and Aolynn seem to be able to harm it, leading them to realize that it is a true summoning and can only be dispelled by breaking the summoner’s control over it. With the rest of the company engaged in containing the hound, Jack pulls one of his own throwing knives and hurls it at the “apparition”, realizing that it is probably not an illusion but a person. The knife breaks the illusion and releases the hound from the summoner’s control, which makes it turn on them. The summoner releases the hound and attempts to flee. The company chases the summoner down and catches him right before he releases a carrier pigeon. Cornered, the agent kills himself with Jack’s knife, leaving the party with what appears to be a dead end.
The party checks the agent’s quarters, and finds some evidence of what his job was. Saeth is sent to check the stables while Jack and Aolynn search the room. Runjolf asks the jarl to close the gates of the castle and watch for anyone sneaking out.
Jack and Aolynn discover a hidden compartment with a codebook and instructions received from Malazin, as well as gold and gems in payment for the steward’s loyalty. Saeth discovers that the steward had a horse saddled and ready to leave. Among the notes was a set of instructions for where to meet emissaries of Malazin if necessary, as well as a seal so that they might know him, and a description of the men he was to meet. Jack proposes that they follow through with the agent’s plan and send the pigeon, reporting success and asking for refuge. Once the emissaries show up, they kill them and track them back to where they came from, which he believes will lead them straight back to Malazin. Runjolf likes the plan, except that he and Markus are too big to be the steward (figuring it is a good bet that the other guys have a decent description of him as well). Jack offers to play the part, seeing as how it wouldn’t be the first time he was bait for the bad guys. The only difference would be that this time, he would be doing it intentionally. Runjolf offers a rare laugh and agrees to present their plan to Bolverk.
Bolverk agrees to the plan, revealing that the men described are Forsaken, former soldiers and tenants who he had declared wolfshead for various reasons, including heresy and Davra worship. The place spoken of is a couple of days ride to the northwest, near the Shattered Lands, an area of badlands that are thought to be cursed. The Forsaken are thought to hide there, but no one is willing to go in to seek them out.
Bolverk agrees to provision the party and urges them to go as soon as possible. Runjolf says they will send the messenger pigeon the night following and depart at the same time, to keep as close to the steward’s plan as possible.
The party seeks their quarters for the night, but Jack finds himself unable to sleep. He leaves his room and finds Aolynn on a balcony. They talk, and he comments on how this must be like coming home, which she says is not true. Being half-Elven, it seemed to her as if no place was home until she joined the Green Company. Now, any place is home, so long as they company is there. She asks Jack what it is like to be so far from his own home. He confesses that he misses his son. And some of the comforts, like air conditioning, soda, and a car. But in the moment, he also feels, for the first time in his life, like he’s doing something worth talking about, and he’s beginning to understand what the Battle Maiden meant when she said she was giving him the chance to truly live. Aolynn comments that small comforts are worthless without things that have meaning, like blood-companions. She uses a word that doesn’t translate to Jack, so she explains what it means, more than friends, not romantic, boon companions who will be there until you die. Even then, she quips, there is no ridding yourself of them, for they often agree to return to other lives together. Without another word, she takes his hand and tells him to shut up and simply enjoy the moment, without expecting anything more than company and the view.
The next day dawns, and after a more hearty breakfast than he’s had in days, Jack finds himself in the exercise yard with Markus, Runjolf and Saeth practicing his sword play and knife work. Though they drive him hard, he soon begins to understand the bond that is growing between them. One of the first things Markus tells him about the sparring field is that he must step into it with the expectation of pain. He is there to learn to kill, and its best lessons hurt. As he practices, he begins to win their approval, especially after he gets his knuckles rapped hard and fights the urge to complain. After the midday meal, Saeth begins teaching him some unarmed skills, showing him the Elven Way of Water and Wind, a fighting art that resembles aikido and judo, with krav maga and KayCee methods added in the mix.
At sunset, they eat another big meal and bed down. Late in the night, Markus wakes Jack up and they go down to the gates. Aolynn joins them after releasing the carrier pigeon. Saeth is already on the trail ahead of them, and will meet them ahead.
(Author’s thoughts: At this point, Jack has embarked on the Road of Trials, and has completed the Departure. He is now fully on the path of Initiation, having accepted the change in his life and his new destiny. On a less mythic side, his outlook on life has been broadened, where friendship and romance are not the only ways to relate to people, and that there are bonds that go deeper than the ones he has been shown. He has also begun to prove his worth, not only to the party, but to himself.)