A cheerful fire crackled in the darkness, illuminating the figures sat around it. Grimlock sat with Greil on one side of the fire while Tarkus and Gregg sat on the other. The night beyond the campfire was impenetrable, hiding even the wide northern border of Rhea’s forest a short distance to the south. Though there had been no incidents on the way out of the forest, the atmosphere of the camp was pervaded with unease. The two Goxhill mercenaries stole regular glances at Grimlock, their nervous eyes drawn to the dripping dragonborn head strung crudely to the other skulls that adorned his armour. The General ignored them completely, staring silently into the night.
Gregg scrutinised the hulking reptile’s new armour, bound carelessly across the old, and tightened his face in disgust – it was filthy, stained brown by blood. Greil observed the situation with a worried expression. After looking into the fire for a moment, he asked Grimlock to leave the camp for a little while. Skullfucker looked surprised, but then shrugged, stood and walked into the darkness. A small exclamation sounded from nearby as Euven was jostled deliberately by the departing dragonborn. Then all was silent. Greil looked at Tarkus and Gregg in turn. They avoided his eyes, but looked up when he spoke, “Let me tell you about Grimlock.”
“I met him in Crewth a year and a half ago. I had been charged with delivering a package to an important local noble, and was travelling to his manor by wagon. It was the second day of the journey and we were in the middle of nowhere. I was one of several passengers, all civilians. Some young farmers, a merchant, a priest. We were talking amicably when we heard a loud crack. A tree fell across the road in front of us, only just visible through the rain. A woman screamed as she saw men approaching… bandits. There were eight or nine of them, armed with crossbows and short swords, and the first to notice me pointed me out to the others.”
“I knew they were after the package – nothing else about me was noteworthy. They surrounded us and demanded I hand it over. But I was proud and overconfident, so I refused, ignoring the fearful glances of my fellow passengers. Three of the bandits began loading their crossbows. I told them to leave if they valued their lives. When the bolts were drawn I struck, hitting them with the most powerful spell I had at the time. I killed three of the bandits in the short fight that followed, using the wagon (and I admit with deep regret, the civilians) as cover. In the end, one of them climbed onto the wagon behind me and smashed me in the back of the head.”
Greil spoke of his past self as if he were someone else, a person he disliked. Gregg watched the Commander with open interest, curious to see what he could learn. Tarkus stared blankly into the fire, his thoughts unreadable. Leaning against a tree beyond the orange illumination of the camp, Euven attempted disinterest as he listened intently. Beyond that, completely hidden in the dark, Grimlock himself caught every word as he lay on his back in the grass. The memories brought a slight smile to his broad features.
“Dazed, I was dragged roughly out of the wagon and dropped onto the road. They searched my robes and found the package without difficulty. I realised as I lay stunned that the other passengers were dead. Soon I would join them. I was so foolish, I hadn’t considered for a moment that I might lose. I heard the sound of the driver being shot down as he fled on foot. The bandits laughed to themselves as they checked the bodies… and as I lay there I wished every kind of horrible death upon them. Had I only known. They began to discuss how slowly they might kill me. There was a sudden noise from nearby. They reacted instantly, firing their crossbows as a large stag appeared from nowhere and bolted towards them.”
“It crashed into the ground dead, and as soon as it did a titanic roar came from nearby. A gigantic reptile barrelled out of the undergrowth and smashed one of the shooters ten feet across the road. I don’t think any of us had ever seen a dragonborn before. The bandits were visibly shaken. They fumbled with their crossbows as it armed itself with a huge axe strapped to its back, then fired. Though two bolts impacted, it barely seemed to notice. It used its axe to decapitate the bandit it had knocked onto the ground then immediately charged another, cut off his legs with a low axe sweep and chopped through his chest like it was bread.”
“After a second crossbow volley had as little effect as the first, the remaining bandits threw down their weapons and fled in terror. The dragonborn bellowed savagely, picked up the body of one of the bandits it had slain and threw it at their backs. Fighting against dizziness, I was able to stand up. I saw that the tossed corpse had missed and was now lodged in a tree ten feet above the ground. I whimpered, expecting nothing less than death at the hands of this unstoppable lizard monster. Instead it completely ignored me, gazed mournfully at the dead stag and said, “It was MY kill.”
Greil smiled quietly to himself at this, though he had yet to convey anything ground-breaking to his audience. Tarkus shrugged to illustrate the pointlessness of the story so far. This didn’t defend Grimlock, it merely stacked up with all the other evidence that the dragonborn was a merciless, bestial killer. Though certain that no personal backstory could change his opinion of the group’s deputy commander, Gregg remained impassive, waiting for Greil to finish rather than judging what he had heard so far.
“I put a hand on the wagon to steady myself and limped to its far side. Standing there for some time, too weak to flee, I nervously watched the dragonborn as it pulled the antlers off the stag. It moved to hang them from his belt, then hesitated and began snapping them into pieces absent-mindedly. Though I desperately wanted to leave, I was held in place by a need to know: what if the package was on one of dead bandits? I could continue as planned and no-one would ever find out that I was bested. But the bodies were near the dragonborn. I didn’t dare to step closer.”
“It seemed to notice me for the first time and walked casually towards the wagon. Crossbow bolts protruded from his arms and chest, leaking dark blood onto the ground. He put a hand on one of the seats and I shrieked the words, “I’ll take you down with me!” He gave me a look, like I was the most pathetic thing he’d ever seen, then shoved the wagon into me. I fell over, he laughed. He continued with what he was doing – apparently he had only walked over so that he could snap wooden boards off the wagon. Once he had obtained several of these, he walked back to the stag and began to set up camp… in the middle of the road.”
“Excuse me… would it be alright if I checked the bodies?” I asked awkwardly.
“One of them stole something from me.”
He began cutting the stag into pieces with his axe, “Don’t touch their heads. Those are mine.”
I didn’t know quite what he meant by that. I checked the bodies and the vicinity but could not find the package. Surveying the corpse-littered scene, I became aware that I was oddly indebted to the dragonborn. I felt it only fair to point out, “You’re bleeding, by the way.”
He glanced to where I gestured, but only shrugged, “It doesn’t matter.”
“I’m hungry.” He looked at me like I was stupid to have needed to ask.
“Right… so-“, I was interrupted as he made me jump by breathing fire onto the wagon planks at his feet, “S-so…”
He interrupted me, “Will you hunt them?”
I didn’t answer straight away, though the cold anger in my gut had already made my decision.
“I must, but not on my own. I’ll hire some mercenaries in town to even the odds.”
He shrugged again, “I’ll come with you.”
He lightly roasted pieces of the stag over the fire and ate them in turn, ignoring me while he dined. It was over in ten minutes, nothing left of the stag but antlers, some bones and discarded skin. By that time I had tended to my wounds as best I could and felt ready to make a move. I began walking away from the camp.
He called after me, “They didn’t go that way.” I looked back and replied, “I’m going to town first, to hire mercenaries. I guess… umm… are you coming?” He looked at me with a puzzled expression, “Town? How do you know it’s that way?”
Though I was walking in one of only two directions offered by the road, and the town was clearly signposted, his question wasn’t as simple to answer as I expected. It turned out that Grimlock didn’t know what roads were. I had to explain to him that they connected human settlements together, why they were better than travelling cross country, why it was worth the effort of building them at all. He didn’t understand trade or vehicles either. I had to explain the purpose of wheels to him.
As a companion he has since proven to be violent, dangerous and unpredictable. He has no morals (though he also has no ambition or any interest in acquiring wealth). He kills innocents without regret if he perceives them to be challenging him, yet will put his life at risk for their benefit and ours without hesitation. He lives for combat, and follows me into battle not because he shares my cause but because he likes battle itself. He doesn’t care who he’s fighting and the odds of victory are not his concern. Despite being a selfish, foolhardy murderer, hundreds of Albans owe him their lives. He is a complete enigma, yet he is the least complicated warrior I know. I have thrown him at monsters, dragons, professional soldiers, powerful spirits, giant demons and fierce, ancient legends that you would have to see to believe, and he survived it all.
Through all of my dark and dismal adventures he has been the only person I can always count on to fight at my side. I’m not asking you to embrace Grimlock Skullfucker. He is reckless, destructive and many of his actions are sickening or thoroughly despicable. What I am hoping that you will learn in time is that, nevertheless, he is necessary. Incredibly necessary. If you are able to tolerate him, you will have his unflinching, fearless loyalty for as long as you share his company. Follow us to the Gols and help us slay this dragon, for doing so will bring fame to the Greil Mercenaries – enough to provide us with work and wealth that will make us comfortable for the rest of our lives. Let me finish by saying that, though we are mere mercenaries, we will fight like devils and you will be proud to say you were here.”
Greil had risen to his feet for the last part of that speech. He sank heavily back to his seat, spent, eyes lowered. Tarkus and Gregg waited a few moments, unsure if there was more to hear, then looked at each other uncertainly. Euven emerged from the black and sat by the fire, perhaps as deep in thought as they. Grimlock himself remained in the darkness, standing with arms crossed, not quite understanding what Greil’s point had been but pleased to have heard a story about himself all the same. When he rejoined his comrades a few minutes later they acknowledged him politely but without warmth. Greil set who would take each watch and the party settled down for the night.