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"Leta of the Thousand Sorrows, or, The Triumph of Ruin being a Chronicle of the Black Company on the Long Run, following the Unfortunate Events in Chimney" is a short story of Glen Cook's Black Company series. It was published in the 2022 anthology Keen Edge of Valor edited by Rob Howell & Chris Kennedy. It is the second short story of the On The Long Run story arc, all of which take place during the first 4 years of the 6-year gap between the novels Shadows Linger and The White Rose. Specifically, the narrative takes place between the short stories "Cranky Bitch" and "Wet Dream Fish Story".

The Annalist for the events is Croaker, who records the details of the Black Company's sojourn to a strange clearing in the western wilderness where they are eagerly bedded by supernatural women. Though most of the men are savoring a lustful fantasy come true, they are simultaneously afflicted by a widespread complacency and lack of ambition... all while Whisper and other new Taken continue to hunt them.

Plot summary[]

Eastward through the wilderness[]

The Black Company is fleeing the new Taken, the enforcer-sorcerers of the Lady's Empire, because of their desertion over two months ago during the Battle of Juniper. They are traveling overland, heading eastward. Their advance through the dense forest is slowed down by two different sets of newcomers: Juniperen sailors from the Cranky Bitch, and "lowlifes from Chimney". Croaker has placed himself with the pathfinders at the front, alongside their spiritual leader Darling ("the Company's most precious asset") and the deadly wizard Silent.

The veteran sergeant Elmo tries to cheer up Croaker while they take refreshment at a spring. Since the Company has never spent much time in wilds, the Annalist is miserable because of the swarms of bugs in this wilderness. Elmo reminds him they will indeed find civilization if they keep heading straight east. They are interrupted by Otto and Hagop, who are startled by a strange clearing ahead.

The buried things lie ever restless[]

They find the circular clearing to be oddly devoid of trees, with a strangely-marked grass and odd lumps of earth. As Darling walks upon it, her invisible anti-magic null causes a dozen-yard semicircle of the grass to react by leaning away from her. Silent uses his wizardry to investigate the odd place. Using his finger speech, he reports that long ago, a city stood here, which was destroyed by sorcery. Though they are encountering the residue of this sorcery, it will be safe to camp there. Although Croaker is wary of the Taken being able to see them clearly from their flying carpets in the sky, he reports Silent's findings to Elmo. The sergeant sends a pair of newcomers from Chimney – Zeb and Dagoth – to report back to the man simply known as the Lieutenant (who, despite his name, holds the rank of Black Company Captain).

Leta[]

That night, Croaker awakens to find a strange woman sleeping next to him. Stronger than him, she forces herself upon him like a succubus, then inexplicably fades away. Nearby, a point of light like a firefly betrays the possible presence of the Lady observing the strange encounter. He is uncertain if the whole experience was a realistic dream.

The next day, the main body of the Black Company still does not catch up. The pathfinder group prepares for their arrival in the meantime. That night, the others sleep on the grass of the clearing, while Croaker is revisited by the mysterious sexual counterpart. In the morning, Darling reveals that she is aware of the encounter, so Croaker tells all to her, Elmo, and Silent.

Darling is concerned that Croaker's new partner is an anima: a "small god" and "spirit of the dead city underneath the clearing". If so, she will take more sexual partners for the purpose of making herself more incarnate. Soon, Croaker has inexplicable feelings of guilt about being unfaithful to the Lady... though he was never romantic with her, and can barely even remember her appearance.

Setting up camp in the strange clearing[]

The main body of the Company arrives, including the Lieutenant, Candy (who actually holds the unique rank of Black Company Lieutenant), and the wizards One-Eye and Goblin. They begin converting the clearing into a sizable encampment. Darling is upset, and warns the gathered leadership that the female spirit will begin bedding the men.

The next morning, Jarhead (another newcomer from Chimney) summons Croaker to the Lieutenant's headquarters tent. The Lieutenant and Candy each report having a sexual encounter with Croaker's mystery woman... separately, but at the same time. Croaker also spent time with her. This strange entity is somehow able to exist in multiple places simultaneously. And, despite the lack of verbal communication, they know her name: Leta.

Knitting Letas[]

Leta expands her attentions to four new men (including Elmo) the next night, while still revisiting Croaker, Candy, and the Lieutenant. Darling is increasingly disturbed and exhausted, and trying to keep the men within her null. Meanwhile, Silent is trying to undo the ancient sorcery within the mounds. Without warning, Croaker's eyesight is affected by a temporary, bizarre vision: he sees ghostly threads growing out of the mounds, apparently trying to breach Darling's null. Then, they cease, and begin writhing together to "knit" a Leta. This is now visible to everyone in broad daylight. Silent penetrates a mound with a special silver-tipped spear, but he cannot fully terminate the strange activity. The corporeal Leta walks toward Silent, until she is stopped; she vocalizes for the first time although they know not what she speaks.

Nearby, One-Eye manipulates the sorcery to collect his own new Leta, and runs off with her.

Now, new Letas are continually being knitted into existence by the threads of sorcery. Except for Silent, the men are distinctly unopposed to the presence of dozens of eager sexual partners. As the days pass, Croaker's Leta becomes fully substantial. But, he realizes they have all mostly lost the sense of danger regarding the new Taken who had been tailing them. Though the Letas are non-threatening, the band has become vulnerable due to their newfound lack of situational awareness.

When Croaker panics and tries to cut the ghostly threads himself, Darling stops him and explains she was wrong to be threatened by the Letas. "Croaker's Leta" arrives and is now substantial enough to physically pass through Darling's null. She clearly wants to communicate, but still cannot speak.

The Taken attack[]

The attack which the Black Company had been fleeing finally arrives. From the sky, three Taken aboard flying carpets appear. Two surge forward to strike. But as the Letas stare intentfully, both their carpets break apart in midair, sending the riders careening. One female Taken slams into the ground and is killed; the other is Whisper, who tumbles into the forest after impact.

Modern Taken don't deal well with the unexpected.
The Lady doesn't choose them for flexibility or ingenuity.

Though Croaker is disdainful of the new Taken, the third sorcerer is still airborne, and retrieves the wounded Whisper before she can be killed by the Company in retaliation. In a command staff meeting, Candy – who is "a cat kind of person" – bemoans their lack of dogs, which admittedly would have been useful in tracking her. Despite One-Eye's insufferable bragging, Silent reveals that the Taken were knocked from the sky by the Letas, not by the Company's own wizards. Croaker's Leta smiles proudly and nods her head, indicating that she has learned some of their finger speech.

A noteworthy depletion of ambition[]

Though it is clear now that the Letas are allies, the Company acknowledges that the clearing itself is affecting their energy. Everyone is losing ambition and becoming complacent. It could be their collective downfall.

In his role as physician, Croaker is performing a postmortem on the Taken that was killed. She was very young, attractive, and seems to evoke feelings of familiarity. But before this can be explored, Leta speaks for the first time, warning them: the third Taken is launching an attack. A barrel is sent careening toward them, but when the Letas cause it to explode in midair, flaming oil is sprayed all over the place. Croaker treats non-fatal burn wounds for many hours, with Leta assisting. Three other, smaller objects that were thrown by the Taken are forgotten.

Remote Taking traps[]

Goblin surmises that the attack was somehow intended to prevent the Black Company from examining the dead Taken. Indeed she evokes powerful and irrational emotional connections in Croaker's mind. And that night, the other Taken launches a second oil barrel, with more of the inexplicable smaller objects as well. The oil barrel is burnt up much higher in the sky this time, and the wizards examine 4 of the 6 small egg-shaped objects within Darling's null.

They discover the objects will enslave whomever opens one to the Taken. Croaker's Leta confirms that "two Taken are with us", revealing that two people haphazardly cracked the eggs and are now effectively possessed. To uncover the two persons, Darling walks around the camp, using her null to expose them: a "dullard" named Jago and a camp follower named Iris. They are exorcised of the Taken sorcery by One-Eye.

An attempt to knit a man[]

Later that night, the threads of sorcery from the clearing begin creating something new: a man. Croaker immediately assumes the purpose is to provide Darling with a male partner, so he and soon Silent begin hacking at the threads. Their action aborts the creation, but Croaker's Leta is traumatized. She regains her energy and composure in her usual, preferred way: after having sex with Croaker.

Whisper returns[]

The next morning, Croaker discovers the corpse of the male creation has disappeared, and that all the other Letas have become significantly more intelligent and communicative. As more time progresses, the whole group's complacency increases. The Black Company seems to be in a rut. Though the Letas are guardians, they do seem to be some kind of "sexual vampire" as they use intercourse with the men to increase their collective intelligence and power. When the Letas detect Whisper in the woods, plotting some kind of threat, each takes her partner into their tents in unison for a rendezvous. They are now fully conversant, and that night, they defend the camp from two shadowy intruders with blasts of light. Next they run into the woods and strike at the Takens' camp with thunderous explosions.

Leta reports that Whisper was injured, but survived and escaped along with three others (presumably Taken). Then, all the Letas but Croaker's fade away. Croaker demands an explanation, and Leta reveals the others like her were "harvesters" whose purpose had been fulfilled. She is free to travel with him, and the clearing no longer has its mental hold on the Black Company.

Back on the long run[]

After the group travels eastward for 4 days, Croaker and Darling discuss Leta. It is clear she is an ancient entity that was imprisoned long ago. He wonders if Leta could perhaps be something like the Dominator, but Darling guesses Leta "might be somebody someone like the Dominator wanted to suffer forever. Maybe someone who bruised his tender feelings". Then one night, Leta begins dying. A supernatural thread is rising from her head, stretching back the way they came, toward the clearing. She expresses her love for him, apologizes, and passes away. Croaker breaks down, cursing and weeping. Through his tears, Croaker sees an illuminated spot like one of the Lady's firefly lights outside his tent.

Continuity and trivia[]

  • Candy bemoans their lack of dogs, for the purpose of tracking their injured enemy, Whisper. But in the next short story ("Wet Dream Fish Story") we learn that at least one dog – Ralf (Showboy's scruffy little brown and white terrier) – was with the Company during this time frame and has been since Chimney.
  • Although Journey is not mentioned by name in this narrative, he is certainly one of the 3 unnamed Taken operating alongside Whisper.
  • The tale of supernatural women bedding male adventurers is a recurring theme in ancient literature and may have inspired this narrative. Examples are:
    • Circe in Homer's Odyssey (8th century BCE)
    • Queen Hypsipyle and the women of Lemnos in Apollonius of Rhodes' Argonautica (3rd century BCE)
    • The unnamed "queen with the clew" in chapter XXVIII of the Old Irish tale The Voyage of Máel Dúin (8th century)
    • The Land of Women in the Old Irish tale The Voyage of Bran (late 7th or early 8th century)
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