The pen tapped impatiently. Flecks of dried ink speckled the paper; a contract, written in block font, titled "certificate of employ." The tapper, a scruffy, hard-bitten cutter in leathers, sat alone at his pub bench. He hummed as he tapped, stirringly accompanied the fiddler sawed by the hearth.
A shadow fell on the paper. The cutter quit his tapping, looked up. From the bustle at the bar, a lad had approached. Pimply, clad in dirty wool, with a nicked axe at his belt. A woodcutter's axe.
"You're Saddleback?" said he.
The lad straightened, squared his thin shoulders. "Met your gang at the bar. Said you was looking for hires."
Saddleback frowned, mockingly. "Strong hires, lad. Strong being the operative word. Clear off."
"A've seen larger mice," Saddleback interrupted, jabbing with his pen. "Piss off."
"But–" started the lad, yelped. He was yanked aside, replaced by a figure in a brown cloak and a battered bucket helm. A scent of oil accompanied.
Saddleback looked up, raised an eyebrow. "Ya look more the part. Wanna cut of the venture to Beaugan Funnel?"
A pair or gauntleted hands emerged neath the cloak, briefly revealing a belt bristling with blades and ammunition. They clasped. The knuckles popped dully. "Risk's what?" said the helm, muffled.
"Old Tiber and Fellowes' scouts estimate moderate risk," said Saddleback. His pen rapped on the lip of a pewter stein. "Good loot possible. Earnest payment in beer."
A metal hand waved, dismissive. "White meat," the figure scoffed, departed, clanking.
Saddleback shut his eyes, stretched wearily. His jerkin creaked at the seams. He looked to the bar, where his fellows drank and chortled. One, a man with a metal nose, was speaking eagerly to an ruddy woman in long dreadlocks. He pointed to Saddleback, nodded. Saddleback raised his eyebrows, and the rosy cutter sauntered over.
"Hallo," she slurred, wobbling vaguely.
"Hallo" replied Saddleback, twisting the inkpen between his fingers. "I see old Vindstär accosted ya at the bar."
She bared snarled teeth, a sort of grin. "Aye. Said you're paying drinks for at–" she hiccupped. "Attachés."
"Yeah, well. Going ta–"
"'M going with. Let me sign." She lunged clumsily for the pen. Saddleback yanked it out of reach. "A'think not."
"No lushes in me posse. Split."
The drunk turned a deeper red, tottered away, cursing. Saddleback shot an incredulous look to Vindstär, who had watched, chortling, from the bar. He flashed the lead-nosed man a mean gesture, took up his beer, sucked down the foamy dregs. Though the stein's glass bottom, he spied yet another approaching figure
Saddleback gulped, put down the stein. "Hallo."
"Well met," said the figure, a large man clad in armor bent from plowboards. Rough linen bound his limbs and lower face, and his hands were thick and twisted. He peered over the barrel-like bodyplate with sad eyes. "I am Rile, of Sownbarrow."
"A'm Saddleback. Mean ta come venture with me gang, Rile?"
Saddleback nodded, sniffed. "A'smell salt neath those wrappings, mate," he said, quietly. "Yer'a blighter?"
Rile shifted, uncomfortable. "Yes, but I keep sequestered. "
Saddleback nodded. "A'll ask no more. Ye're welcome, all the same." He pushed the paper forward, tapped it readily. "Pay's an equal share, sanctioned under T&F. Estimated moderate danger and a haul in upper ranges."
"Good. I will go."
"Splendid," said Saddleback. He dipped the pen and proffered it. "Sign there."
Slow, achily, the blighter signed. "There." He nodded. Saddleback took up the contract, blew on the wet ink.
"Master Rile…" he gestured to the bar, to Vindstär and the waiting gang of Cutters. They raised glasses in greeting.
"Welcome to the crew."
Venturing is hard.
Since cutters first cracked tombs* in search of gold, since the world's depths were delved for hidden gold, since the very dawn of venturing-capital, venturing cutters have sought to make their job easier. Arms, armor, tactics, reconnaissance; all, while integral parts of the cutter's trade, could not ease the venturing process so well as one thing: Extra bodies.
Thus, since the first cutters first delved, there have been hirelings. Henchmen, they are called. Hires, attachés. Aids to venturing parties. Be they lowly mercenaries, skilled workers, teamsters, or merely fellow cutters of an especially itinerant bent, a good crew of hirelings rounds out the odd edges of most any venturing gang of merit or success.
To be an attaché is, while neither the safest nor the most secure entry into the venturing profession, often the easiest. Extra fighters are oft desired by any cutter band with a healthy inclination for superior numbers. The quality or longevity of such fighters is often of little matter, as they only need to be paid if they survive. **
Indeed, the most common job afforded to henchmen is also the most deadly: Frontline combattant; a role undertaken only foolishly, under dreadful monetary need, or by terrible wont for danger. Rare is there a venture of high reward which does not involve some form of melee. *** For this reason, cutters are apt to bring on extra hands for the purpose of fighting.
Other hires are brought on for less dreadful services. Typically, they are skilled individuals acquired to perform tasks the cutters cannot. Teamsters, prospectors, craftsmen, hunters, guides; all are useful.
As hirelings are engaged by cutters themselves, often via documents or verbal agreements of dubious repute, banks, cutters' own employers, often frown at their employ. While a cutter is licensed, recognized by, and answerable to their favored bank, the cutter's henchmen are not. This degree of separation and loss of control is intolerable to all but the most laissez faire of monetary institutions, such as Tiber and Fellowes, who actively encourage the bringing-on of auxiliary hires by cutters.
Whatever their employers' stance on attachés, cutters continually engage them. So excessively, in fact, that henchmen and attendants have become an accompanying and significant niche in both venturing economy and folklore.
The great cutters of rumor, the knight-errants, brave cartographers, and dashing scoundrels of popular regard, are all known for having grown the magnitude and ranks of their purses and friendships by the acquisition of hires. Bands of brothers and sisters, be they whatever creed, race, or species, united in venturing pub and consortium by the promise gold and adventure. Rare, bright embers of the terrible, tempting venture rush; brighter than the all those who never shone combined.
By their stories, the lowest, the humble, only further aspire to one day assemble their own motley crews.
I'll probably edit this later and add a d100 list of henchmen, of individuals both tenable and of amusingly low quality.
* To Coastal folk, "tomb" refers not to a buried repository of bodies, but a repository for secrets, wealth, and elements of the terrible past to beautiful, or too hard enduring, to be destroyed.
** And, indeed, certain villainous bands are apt to bump off fresh hires after a job in order to avoid providing payment.
*** Of course, there are plenty enough cutters who will avoid an open fight, it they can. However, there are even more enough who find that a nice group of dumb, disposable henchmen makes fights so easy as to be approachable, rather than worth avoiding.