When I first met you, I feared you, for I had heard the rumours and they weren’t pretty.
Then I got to know you. Your compassion saved me, your sympathy broke me, and your songs put me back together again, strange and misshapen but whole once again.
And now, after all that we’ve been through? Well, there’s no one I’d rather have by my side, friend. -- Anon Guest
First impressions are a son of a bitch, sometimes. When one gets the moniker of "the Merciless" tacked on to one's name, certain expectations abound. You know the ones. Black leather. An easy hand with a weapon designed to inflict pain rather than kill. A mountain fastness full of minions and an optional beautiful daughter. That sort of stuff.
You never expect a shining Paladin whose chosen deity is the Goddess of life and creation. And I certainly never expected to meet him in his worst moment. Nor had I expected to meet him in mine.
He was battered, bloody, and captive. Our pack leader thought to ransom him for much gold, and then kill him. And the people who showed up to pay it. I thought that was a recipe for inevitable failure, but that's why I was having my worst day. Gnolls are famous for having low intelligence scores. Less than stellar wisdom. They are the toadies and expendable stupid guards of the world. Not me. I thought about things. I asked questions. Too many questions.
It's why my name was Nub-ear at the time.
I waited for the day, when most of the pack was asleep, to creep into his cage with food and water and what healing herbs I could scrounge. I'd got sunburn from going about in daylight again.
Another thing the believe about Gnolls is that they can't speak Common. I'd picked up a few words. Another mark against me and cause for more bite marks in my hide.
"What do you want, fiend?"
"Hush, hero," I rasped. "Hush. Others hear. Others bite." I dared edge a little closer. "Have meat. Have water. Have... help. Hero want?" He had laid waste to more than two dozen of the pack before two dozen more laid him low.
His eyes ran over me like a horse over a pack. I knew I wasn't in good shape. Underfed. Over-hurt. I had little to my name but my loincloth and my symbol. "You... want to help me."
"Hero," I said. "Help hero... get... help... back. Yes? Merciless hero... get mercy? Give mercy?"
"You can help," he allowed. He looked like he didn't trust me and -frankly- I was used to it.
Runt of the litter. Lowest in the pack. Least wanted everywhere. But I was devoted to my Goddess and I would not turn away from any being who needed help. Even a so-called enemy. I opened myself to my Goddess' will and let Her power flow through me.
I am a loyal follower of the Goddess of Death. Her will is my will. Her word is my law. My body, mind, and spirit are Hers. The blood I shed from my wounds is my sacrifice... It took Tane the Merciless quite some time to deal with that. But that all happened later.
That day, it was Her will that this hero be healed. His time was not yet. He took the meat I had stolen and let me hunt the rats in his cage. He shared the water, too. And he called me 'good'. I remember having trouble with that. We were Gnolls. Nobody in all the wide and varied lands believed that we were good. But he called me 'good'. And though I was loath to admit it... it felt good.
It took me three days to steal the keys from the pack leader, and Tane showed no mercy to those who fought him. The most mercy he had was quick deaths for them all. I... I didn't want to help my pack by then. I was a traitor. I was not a Gnoll. Not a real one.
I was good.
He gave me a pouch of gold and some armour and a cloak and told me to make my own way, after he was free. He told me I was free to do as I wished. I said, "I wish... join you."
It took him four days to surrender to that wish. He argued, "Travelling around with a Gnoll is going to destroy my reputation."
And I said, "As you say, Tane the Merciless." I may not have known much Common, then, but I still could argue. I was growing bold because he didn't hurt me for doing it.
He was good to me. He is good to me. I am good to him. We have become friends. The unlikeliest of friends, but... friends all the same. I'm strong, now. In more ways than one.
The one thing you would expect us to argue about -faith- is one thing we agree on. Death is a part of life. Without one, there can be no other. We do not argue, but we end up having long nights of philosophy, when we're together under the stars.
It is good. And so are we.
[Image (c) Can Stock Photo / Jarrycz]
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