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... we needed to revise our old belief that the Free Companies exploded into the world at the same time, in a vast orgy of fire and bloodshed. The only other company mentioned was noted to have returned years before the Black Company marched, and in fact, several senior Company noncoms had served as private soldiers in that earlier, unnamed band.

Sleepy discloses long-lost facts about the Free Companies, Water Sleeps, chapter 38

The Free Companies of Khatovar were 12 (or by a less common count, 8) mysterious armed groups associated with the very early history of the Black Company, which was the last of them. The Black Company was the only Free Company identified by name in the Annals. By the lifetime of Croaker the Annalist, the phrase "Free Companies of Khatovar" had long lost its meaning, and he was even uncertain what "Khatovar" referred to. Much of the truth behind these mysteries was finally revealed in the final two Books of Glittering Stone, especially Water Sleeps.

Chronology[]

Near as I’ve been able to find out, when the first Free Company came off the plain, almost six hundred years ago, that event marked the first time our Shadowgate had been used in at least eight centuries.

Murgen, Water Sleeps, ch. 76

According to a tentative statement from Murgen in Water Sleeps, the first Free Company made the trek from Khatovar to the homeworld 600 years before his lifetime. It then returned toward Khatovar. For the next 200 years, the rest of the Free Companies arrived and departed... until the final one, the Black Company, arrived but never departed. Each of the entries of the various Free Companies into the homeworld was recorded by the librarians of Kiaulune, who also recorded the subsequent exits of all but the Black Company.

By apparent coincidence, the Black Company's arrival very roughly corresponded to the same time period as the fall of the Domination in the distant northern continent.

Composition and mission[]

The Free Companies were revealed to be composed mostly of frightened conscripts and disinterested hired soldiers who were commanded by a few loyal priests of Kina, headquartered in the city of Khatovar in what would later be known as the Voroshk world. Before they departed Khatovar, the men were referred to as Bone Warriors or Stone Soldiers, and their families often held wakes for them in the expectation that they would not return. Those who did return were referred to as Soldiers of Darkness. In Murgen's words, the bulk of the men "were not swarms of fanatics" whereas their sponsors, priests, and other leaders seemed to be Kina fanatics. The Black Company was the last of those which entered into the homeworld and the only one not to return to Khatovar as intended. To traverse the glittering plain and reach the homeworld without being killed by the plain's feral shadows, the Companies were equipped with the Lances of Passion as Shadowgate keys.

The Black Company, and evidently those other unnamed Companies which preceded them, were led by a single Captain. They kept Annals written in the same type of script found in the Books of the Dead (the holy scriptures of an older group of Kina-cultists, the Stranglers, which predated all the Free Companies).

The mission of the Free Companies was to choose a location to bring about the Year of the Skulls, an event which would free their imprisoned goddess. They were not originally intended to be conquerors or mercenaries. One or more of these groups is associated with a mass human sacrifice known to have taken place at the Grove of Doom (possibly the Black Company itself). Additionally, the modern-day Taglian wizard Smoke read an ancient tome in which "the book’s author lingered lovingly over impalements and flayings and tortures visited on a generation unlucky enough to have lived when the Free Companies of Khatovar marched out of that strange corner of the world that spawned them" during Shadow Games.

Number and names[]

According to the prologue of The Black Company and chapter 107 of She Is the Darkness there were 12 Free Companies from Khatovar in total which descended from the glittering plateau and into the homeworld. In Dreams of Steel, a tally of 8 lance heads for the Lances of Passion may suggest there were 8 Companies, but this alternative tally is steeped in myth and legend.

The Black Company is the only Free Company of Khatovar whose name survives. Even the Company which immediately preceded them was referred to as "that earlier, unnamed band" by Sleepy, who had finally gained access to some of the Black Company's earliest Annals but still did not uncover the name.

Each of the entries of the various Free Companies into the homeworld was recorded by the librarians of Kiaulune, who also recorded the subsequent exits of all but one: the Black Company. The librarians apparently did not know the names of these groups, however.

The Black Company[]

The Black Company killed thousands at the Grove of Doom, then began a northward journey that would continue for centuries. At some point (perhaps after the Company's devastating loss of leadership at Sham) the band lost sight of its original mission, forgot its goddess Kina, and even forgot that their Lance was actually a Shadowgate key. They became simply a band of mercenaries that migrated slowly northward for generations. In a twist of irony, this particular Free Company would eventually fight to prevent the Year of the Skulls, and would become Kina's most dangerous adversary in the final two Books of Glittering Stone.

Fates of the preceding Free Companies[]

All the other Free Companies – the ones which returned to Khatovar before the arrival of the Black Company – disappeared from history and were presumably disbanded. However some private soldiers from the unnamed, penultimate Free Company became senior members of the Black Company, earning them the designation Soldiers of Darkness. Members of the other Free Companies who remained in Khatovar and their descendants seem to have been wiped out by the unnamed, hostile, rival kingdom which reduced the city of Khatovar to ruins. This occurred before the Voroshk family of sorcerers created their ruling dynasty in that world.

Free Companies from other worlds[]

Kina's desire to be freed from her prehistoric bonds beneath the fortress with no name and the reach of her psychic influence spanned many worlds. The Kina cult in Khatovar was not the only sect to create and send out Free Companies, but according to Murgen in Water Sleeps, they were the first. Kina cults from several of the other 15 worlds linked by the glittering plain were inspired to mobilize and distribute their own Free Companies. After much squabbling, a consensus developed among this multiple-world religious movement that the rites which would bring about the Year of the Skulls should take place in the homeworld. They decided this as vengeance for Rhaydreynak's bloody persecution of the Deceivers, a separate, older group of very important Kina-cultists (but not a Free Company).

Uncle Doj claimed, without evidence, that the Nyueng Bao De Duang were the descendants of a Free Company originating from Hsien (and not Khatovar). But Tobo and Surendranath Santaraksita strongly refuted this, claiming instead that while the Nyueng Bao were indeed Kina-worshipers, they were simply fleeing the religious persecution of Longshadow and the other Shadowmasters in Hsien.

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