Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best, the most feared and renowned crew of mercenaries this side of Heartwyld.
Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk or a combination of all three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay’s door with a plea for help - the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for.
It’s time to get the band back together.
You’d have guessed from the size of his shadow that Clay Cooper was a bigger man than he was. He was certainly bigger than most, with broad shoulders and a chest like an iron-strapped keg. His hands were so large that most mugs looked like teacups when he held them, and the jaw beneath his shaggy brown beard was wide and sharp as a shovel blade. But his shadow, drawn out by the setting sun, skulked behind him like a dogged reminder of the man he used to be: great and dark and more than a little monstrous.
Finished with work for the day, Clay slogged down the beaten track that passed for a thoroughfare in Coverdale, sharing smiles and nods with those hustling home before the dark. He wore a Watchmen’s green tabard of a shabby leather jerkin, and a weathered sword in a rough old scabbard on his hip. His shield - chipped and scored and scratched through the years by axes and arrows and raking claws - was slung across his back, and his helmet…well, Clay had lost the one the Sergeant had given him last week, just as he’d misplaced the one given to him the month before, and every few months since the day he’d signed on to the Watch almost ten years ago now.
A helmet restricted your vision, all but negated your hearing, and more often than not made you look stupid as hell. Clay Cooper didn’t do helmets, and that was that.
“Clay! Hey, Clay!” Pip trotted over. The lad wore the Watchmen’s green as well, his own ridiculous head-pan tucked in the crook of one arm. “Just off duty at the south gate,” he said cheerily. “You?”
“Nice.” The boy grinned and nodded as though Clay has said something exceptionally interesting instead of having just mumbled the word ‘north’. “Anything exciting our there?”
Clay shrugged. “Mountains.”
“Ha! ‘Mountains”, he says. “Classic. Hey, you hear Ryk Yarsson saw a centaur out by Tassel’s farm?”
“It was probably a moose.”
The boy gave him a skeptical look, as if Ryk spotting a moose instead of a centaur was highly improbably. “Anyway. Come to the King’s Head for a few?”
“I shouldn’t,” said Clay. “Ginny’s expecting me home, and ….” He paused, having no other excuse near to hand.
“C’mon,” Pip goaded. “Just one, then. One drink.”
Clay grunted, squinting into the sun and measuring the prospect of Ginny’s wrath against the bitter bite of ale washing down his throat. “Fine,” he relented. “One.”
Because it was hard work looking north all day, after all.