|“||Soldiers live. And wonder why.||”|
–Croaker, Soldiers Live
Croaker is one of the central figures of the Black Company during the roughly fifty year period of its history explored in the Books of the North, Books of the South, and the Books of Glittering Stone. He was established as the Company's primary physician and also its respected Annalist by the time the Company is in service to the Syndic of Beryl, and, he served in these capacities through the Battle of the Barrowland. It is during this period that he first meets the Lady. Initially terrified of her and her seeming malice, Croaker eventually begins an enduring romance with the Lady, which persists despite dramatic developments.
Following the reduction of the Black Company to merely seven men after the final battle with the Dominator, Croaker is voted to become Captain. He remains in command until being imprisoned in the Cave of the Ancients underneath the Fortress With No Name by Soulcatcher. Upon his release, he no longer considers himself mentally sound, so he surrenders command. He does resume his duties as physician and Annalist until his final encounter with the ancient golem Shivetya. He is the narrator of all three Books of the North, Shadow Games, and Soldiers Live.
Before the AnnalsEdit
Croaker reveals few details about his life before the Company was in service to the Syndic of Beryl. As he travels south in Shadow Games, he writes that he is from Padora, a major trading crossroads south of the Jewel Cities. He recalls hiding under tables as a child when his father would have his frequent, but brief, flashes of explosive rage. He would inherit this, albeit to a lesser extent, from his father. In Dreams of Steel, his wife Lady writes that at the age of approximately 45, his face still bears the scars of a childhood pox, as well as "more than a few memories of acne".
In The White Rose, Croaker reveals that he learned medicine from a "toothless ancient". When he joined the Company in Padora, his friend Elmo had been his sponsor. He was hired to be the Company's physician, and took on the role of Annalist later. His predecessor as Annalist assured Croaker that Silent formerly used to speak, but by the time of Croaker's arrival, Silent had taken his mysterious namesake vow.
Because of his natural curiosity and his role as annalist, Croaker directly inserts himself into many of the Black Company's more significant operations.
Books of the North Edit
The Black CompanyEdit
The Black Company for several years have been in service to the Syndic, the ruler of the coastal city of Beryl on the Southern Continent. However, the contract had long since turned sour, with violence and disorder having spread throughout the city at an accelerating rate.
As chief physician of the Black Company, Croaker is treating Curly, one of his company brothers, for poisoning before questioning him for places that he has been eating outside their Company's quarters. He successfully identifies the Mole Tavern as the location of the poisoners. They have already killed two other sworn brothers – Walleye and Wild Bruce – and Croaker recently saved a third victim, Pokey, before Curly. He reports his findings to the Captain. Subsequently, a strike team led by the platoon sergeant named Mercy and a dozen men are sent to deal with them, with Croaker and the wizard Silent in support. They confront Verus, the tavern owner, and kill and capture many Blues, a faction in Beryl that is opposed to the Syndic.
Croaker survives the city-wide chaos and bloodshed that rips through Beryl in the subsequent days. He is part of the group of Company veterans which stalks through the Paper Tower in search of the forvalaka that has slain dozens and seems to be hunting the Syndic. Tom-Tom is mauled by the monster and his wounds are far too grievous even for Croaker's experienced hands. After the Syndic is killed, the Company honors a new contract with a mysterious legate from the northern empire that is on the other side of the Sea of Torments. They set up camp at the Pillar of Anguish, where Croaker parts ways with his local lover:
|“||I spent a sad, gentle hour with a woman to whom I meant more than I suspected. We shed no tears and told one another no lies. I left her with memories and most of my pathetic fortune. She left me with a lump in my throat and a sense of loss not wholly fathomable.||”|
They all board the gigantic vessel called The Dark Wings and set sail for Opal. The legate mentions the Lady, and Croaker realizes he and the Company are now in the service of an infamous evil sorceress. With his historian's insights, he shares some frightening details about their new employer. The legate is Soulcatcher, one of the fearsome Ten Who Were Taken. As he speaks, the terrifying sounds of the caged forvalaka rattle them all.
The Lady's EmpireEdit
Having traversed the Sea of Torments, the Company arrives in Opal and is apprised of the Empire's grueling war against a powerful Rebel movement. At an aristocratic establishment called the Gardens, Croaker and the other senior Company members meet a native of the city, Raven, and vote to accept or reject him. The group is confronted by Lord Jalena, a very influential Imperial staff general. After they learn that Raven is entangled in some dangerous intrigues, Croaker is his only supporter. Then they witness Raven slay three people aligned with the Limper, including his own wife. They hustle out and march north.
On the route north toward their objective, the fortress at Deal, Croaker searches a burnt-out town with Elmo, Raven, and some others. There, they discover that some of the Limper's drunken men are engaged in torturing and raping civilians. He and Raven forcibly break up the particularly gruesome scene, and rescue a young girl named Darling and her aged grandfather Flick. Two of the Limper's men are killed, and the Captain arrives to defuse the situation.
Croaker insists on personally accompanying Elmo and others in Oar after their supply patrol, headed by Candy, does not report back on time. They discover that two of the Limper's enforcers – Colonel Zouad and Captain Lane – had hired local thugs to kidnap Raven. One of the Limper's enemies among the Taken, Shapeshifter, arrives. Shifter has three Company men assist him in conducting a secret operation to discredit and embarrass the Limper, in addition to dealing a blow to the Rebel. Shapeshifter transforms himself to look like Cornie (a local Rebel informant), and then uses a glamour to disguise the Company brothers: Raven looks like the Rebel general Harden (one of the most important members of the Circle of Eighteen); Elmo looks like Field Major Reef (Harden's chief-of-staff); and Croaker looks like Motrin Hanin (Harden's nephew and a vicious assassin). With this group, Croaker infiltrates a Rebel stronghold where Colonel Zouad is being tortured. The Limper appears in person to attempt to rescue the good Colonel, but is buried beneath the collapsing Rebel structure by Shapeshifter with Croaker's help, exacerbating the enmity between the Company and the Limper.
Croaker next accompanies a party of Company soldiers – along with the wizards One-Eye and Goblin – to the city of Roses. There, with the help of Soulcatcher, they lay a trap for a troublesome Rebel general named Raker. Using several of Raker's hairs, the wizards set up a throne-like pedestal in a busy intersection along with a fortune in gold and silver, offering the bounty to anyone who delivers Raker's head to the pedestal. Tensions mount in Roses as Croaker and his companions watch from the periphery while Raker loses credibility by the day.
Eventually, Raker knifes longtime company man Hagop, and Croaker and Raven go after him. Between the two, they slay Raker, and claim Soulcatcher's bounty for themselves. Soon after, the Limper arrives, claiming that the money was wrongfully taken from his own war chest, and demanding its return. Soulcatcher arrives moments before the situation boils over, and wonders aloud why Limper has abandoned his post in Elm, which suffered a Rebel uprising in his absence. Embarrassed and afraid of being punished by the Lady, the Limper flees, once again having gotten the worst of a run-in with the Black Company.
In the Forest of Cloud, Croaker was able to read some documents recovered by the Company from a Rebel division they had ambushed. Instantly, he recognizes that they have recovered the entire campaign strategy of the top Rebel commander, Whisper, and he commands a more detailed search of the area. Further searching unearths a trove of older documents that contain information from the age of the Domination. He is told by Soulcatcher that the documents contain her own true name, as well as those of three other Taken, and perhaps that of the Lady as well.
Because of Croaker's coup in recovering the documents for the Empire, he is assigned along with Raven to personally deal with Whisper and the Limper. He learns that the Limper has betrayed the Lady, causing the north to fall to the Rebel, because Whisper uncovered his true name. Croaker and Raven lay in hiding with special arrows, and successfully ambush both Whisper and the Limper. Croaker witnesses the personal arrival of the Lady, of whom he is in awe, as well as the Taking of Whisper, the first time the spell had been performed since the Dominator took the last of his own generals during the Domination. He also witnesses Limper being borne away by the Lady for punishment.
Croaker was absent from the Company during the siege of Lords, but joined up with them soon after they fled. During the defense of the Stair of Tear, Croaker and Raven are once again tapped by Soulcatcher for a special forces raid. They accompany Soulcatcher as well as Stormbringer and the Hanged Man to assassinate the Rebel general Harden. Croaker begins to see the Taken's strategy, as they focus on wiping out the Rebel leadership, the so-called Circle of Eighteen, leaving the White Rose Rebellion without the sorcery necessary to battle back against the Lady and her minions. Although Harden is assassinated when he falls into a trap set by Shapeshifter, he hurls his sword in desperation, which fatally wounds the Hanged Man. After Harden's death, Croaker is witness to Soulcatcher and Stormbringer leaving the Hanged Man to die. He is threatened into silence by Soulcatcher, and readily agrees that he saw nothing. However, from this point forward, Croaker is afraid that what he knows will put him in danger.
Next Croaker accompanies a group led by the Lieutenant to capture Feather and Journey, new inductees into the Circle of Eighteen. The Company infiltrates the town where the couple are honeymooning and takes them without trouble. However, during the return trip to Charm, they nearly run afoul of a Rebel regiment, and a mysteriously off-target sorcery, a length of lime-green thread deadly to the touch. They are eventually evacuated by the Howler on his oversize large flying carpet, but Croaker is left with the impression that at least some of the Taken no longer have his best interests at heart.
At the Tower at Charm, Croaker is nearly killed once again when a siege ballista, being set up for the inevitable Rebel assault, goes off without explanation and takes him in the shoulder, severing an artery. Fortunately, a Tower Guardsman at hand applies a tourniquet and rushes Croaker to an Imperial sorcerer-physician. After receiving treatment, Croaker is taken before the Lady. He meets her in the inner tower, an enclosed block of stone which can only be entered at the Lady's invitation. She shows him a comfortable image, from a romantic portrait of the Lady that he had written some time before, and subjects him to a deep probe of his thoughts. Afterward, however, she heals his serious injury and returns him to the Company.
During the Battle of Charm, Croaker is summoned by the Lady once more. She tells him to record events in a factually correct way, so that in at least one account, her story will not be marred by the bias of historians. She also presents him with a magnificent silver bow and a quiver of special black arrows much like the ones he and Raven were issued to incapacitate Limper and Whisper in the Forest of Cloud. At the battle's finale, Croaker personally accompanies the Lady on the backs of black stallions as they pursue the fleeing Soulcatcher. Croaker hits Soulcatcher with several arrows, and then, in a fit of rage, he delivers a massive two-handed sword stroke that decapitates the Taken. He is deeply shaken, however, when he sees Soulcatcher's face for the first time, and discovers that she was, in fact, the Lady's sister. His romantic fascination with the Lady is expelled.
In the aftermath of the battle, Croaker and Silent discover for certain that Darling is actually the reincarnation of the White Rose, the female general who defeated the Dominator and the Lady, and interred them in the Barrowland. It is a secret that is worth far more than their lives. Although it saddens Croaker to part ways with two people he counted as friends, he understands when Raven takes Darling and flees.
Shadows Linger Edit
After Charm, Croaker and the Black Company go about the business of purging the White Rose Rebellion wherever they may still be found. He notes that the Company does not really believe in the Lady's cause, and that after the unimaginable bloodshed of Charm, there seems to be a malaise creeping over the whole brotherhood. They are beginning to lose the spirit that is part of what makes them so formidable. Before he can conjure up a solution to the problem, Croaker is whisked away to a far-off city called Juniper along with a party of Company men, including Elmo and Goblin, at the Lady's request.
In Juniper, Croaker learns about the growing threat of the Black Castle, a strange fortification being constructed by creatures in the service of the Dominator. Using dead bodies, for which they pay a hefty fee, the creatures are planning to construct a portal through which the Dominator can be summoned out of his enchanted barrow, returning at full strength to the world. Croaker is assigned to learn who is selling bodies and put a stop to the whole business. Unfortunately, Croaker discovers that Raven selected Juniper to flee to, and he strongly suspects - correctly - that Raven has been doing the body selling in order to finance his escape from the Lady's empire.
Working more to put the Taken off Raven's trail than anything, Croaker engineers a raid upon a handful of White Rose survivors in Juniper. Although they had also sold a handful of bodies, the Taken quickly determine that the Rebels are not the main source of corpses that is powering the Black Castle. Croaker and his team try to locate Raven, but are unsuccessful, as he first goes into deep hiding, and then escapes from the city. With Raven gone, the Company turn their attention toward isolating the Black Castle. Croaker personally takes control of a roadside observation post along the road up to the fortress. Although several more bodies are delivered, they eventually capture Marron Shed and Lisa Bowalk, the last corpse sellers in business. From Shed, Croaker learns most of the details of what had transpired in Juniper, which he believes were important enough to the Company's dealings and eventual fate that he transcribes Shed's account into the Annals.
The rest of the Black Company arrives in Juniper and, together with the Taken, lay siege to the Black Castle. Croaker runs a field surgery with a good view of the battle and is in a good position to observe most of what occurs during the Battle of Juniper. Near the end of the battle, Croaker receives secret instructions from the Captain by way of Silent, ordering he and most of the 'old' Company brothers to flee the city immediately on a ship headed south, because Limper and Whisper are planning to make good their revenge with the Dominator's threat ended.
The Lieutenant and most of the Company who are either wanted by the Limper or know information dangerous to the Lady manage to escape south to Meadenvil. However, the Captain is unable to slip away, and instead he steals the Lady's carpet and crashes it into the ocean, leaving the Lady without a good means of pursuing the fleeing Black Company. She appears to Croaker in his dreams, asking him to return, but he answers, in essence, that being betrayed by the Taken was the last straw for him and his fellows.
Left with no other real options, the Black Company defect to the side of the White Rose. Making their escape, they encounter the Limper once again, whom they drag from his horse in a carefully staged ambush. Croaker and his comrades hack the Taken to pieces and hang him before fleeing. Six years later, they would learn they were not thorough enough, and underestimated Limper's incredible vitality.
The White RoseEdit
Croaker and other survivors form the core of the New White Rose Rebellion hidden within a cavern called the Hole in the Plain of Fear. There, they slowly organize, building contacts in cities under the Lady's control, in what they consider to be a fairly hopeless campaign to ultimately topple the Lady. In addition to their political strategy, Croaker has also brought the documents recovered from Whisper to their hole, which he works tirelessly to translate and search, in an effort to discover the Lady's true name.
During this time, Croaker begins to receive oil-skin packets containing a narrative written and sent by an unknown party, which detail the work of the wizard Bomanz in the Barrowland. Bomanz is known to have released the Lady from imprisonment, who then turned against her husband and sealed him still more completely, before releasing the Taken into her service. However, the account of Bomanz's work is strikingly personal, and reveals a great deal of new information about his final days, and how the Lady came to be free. Although interesting, Croaker initially cannot see much purpose in the narrative.
Eventually, however, Croaker realizes that some of the documents recovered from Whisper are missing. He believes that the story of Bomanz is being drawn from those documents, and suggests an expedition to the Barrowland. Darling quickly realizes the necessity of the idea, and sends Croaker, along with Goblin and One-Eye, and the mysterious Tracker and Toadkiller Dog, to the Barrowland.
Croaker assumes the fictitious persona of "Candle", a trader from Roses and a veteran of Colonel Lot's Drake Crest brigade. After deceiving the Eternal Guard at the Barrowland, Croaker and his companions discover that the author of the story and the sender of the packets is none other than Raven, returned from faking his death yet again, and frantically researching both the Lady and the Dominator. They also discover that the Great Tragic River is in constant flood and is literally eating away the Barrowland, and that for reasons unknown Raven attempted to penetrate the Barrowland in an astral form. Shortly after, the team's cover is broken and they are seized by Monitor Sweet and his Guardsmen. The wizards use their tricks to effect an escape. But later, Croaker is captured by the Taken while Tracker, Toadkiller Dog, and the wizards continue their escape.
Imprisoned in the familiar fortress at Deal, Croaker is rescued from what promises to be an agonizing death at the hands of Whisper and the Limper only by the direct intervention of the Lady. She soon bears him off to the Tower at Charm. There, she once again probes his deepest memories, and demands to know what sort of monsters he and his companions set loose from the Barrowland. Confused, Croaker has no answers for her.
The Lady offers Croaker a deal. Since it is now too late to stop the Dominator from eventually emerging from his prison, she wishes to search Croaker's document stash for the Dominator's true name, as well as to negotiate at least a temporary peace between her forces and the White Rose. Croaker initially balks, not trusting her motives, but is easily convinced when the Lady offers to personally accompany him into Darling's magic absorption field to do her work in person.
Croaker escorts the Lady back to the Hole, where she poses as a traveling companion who can read TelleKurre and whose name is, in a fit of black humor, 'Ardath' after the Lady's own dead sister. While on the Plain, the Lady and Croaker's relationship grows closer. Croaker believes that, if he had the stones for it, he could have become 'more than a pretend boyfriend' to her. In spite of all of her power, her dark nature, and her near-immortality, the Lady has never had a friend, and is as smitten with Croaker as he continues to be with her, though neither party will admit to it.
Croaker is present at the negotiations between the Lady and Darling, but does not recall their details, as the Lady modifies his memory afterwards. He personally accompanies the Lady, along with the forces of the White Rose and the Empire to the Barrowland to see the matter of the Dominator put to rest. There, he comforts the Lady as she is finally forced to confront - perhaps for the first time - the real possibility of her death. Although both are terrified, they draw strength from one another, and once again the Lady provides him with black arrows that can actually wound the Dominator.
During the battle, Croaker stays right by the Lady's side. When Limper finally betrays her, incorrectly naming her as Credence and shooting her with a crossbow, he goes into a mad fit of rage and 'kills' the Limper once more, kicking his severed head into a pit. After the Lady names Darling's name and in turn is named by Silent, removing both of them as great powers of the world, Croaker defends the Lady's right to live. In the end, when Raven moves to kill the Lady, Croaker even shoots him in the hip.
With the Black Company dramatically reduced to only ten brothers, Croaker is elected as their new Captain by unanimous vote during their official convocation at the Blue Willy inn. He claims that he does not want the job, but it seems that all the others want it even less. As Captain, Croaker, perhaps already being motivated by an unseen, subtle external force, sets the Company on the road south toward their fabled origin, Khatovar.
Books of the South Edit
Shadow Games Edit
On his way south Croaker escorts Lady back to the Tower at Charm, helping her conceal the fact that she is no longer a sorceress. She wishes to join their journey to Khatovar, but has a lot of things to take care of. Croaker is given the rank of general and is named a diplomatic legate answerable only to the Lady herself. To accept these commissions, the Lady insists that he supplies his birth name, but he has been known as Croaker for so long that he actually has to take a moment to remember it. After two weeks in the Tower feeling threatened by the Tower Guard, the Company loses patience and leaves her there. Croaker promises her that he will wait for her at Opal. Lady eventually arrives and they leave her empire together. Outside the imperial borders Croaker officially makes her a soldier of the Company. He also starts having visions of a mysterious figure, surrounded by flocks of ravens, which nobody else notices.
On their way south the Company finds several new recruits. In Gea-Xle they are joined by a group of elite soldiers, called the Nar, led by Mogaba. The Company boards a ship and faces the fearsome river pirates. The Howler who was thought to be dead, is behind the pirates' attack. Shapeshifter who had rejoined the Lady disguised as "Eldon the Seer", intervenes and slaughters many of the Howler's pirates.
Croaker and his men reach further south to the city of Taglios. The Prahbrindrah Drah, its prince, recruits them to defeat the Shadowmasters, a group of powerful sorcerers who are controlling the territories on the way to Khatovar. Croaker organizes a scouting mission without notifying the prince. They are attacked and Croaker is separated from the rest. He follows the strange figure he has been seeing for months to a ghostly-looking forest and receives an arrow with a warning message.
He is eventually reunited with the rest of the Black Company. They return to Taglios and start training an army. They create three legions and appoint their best Gea-Xle recruits, Mogaba, Ochiba, and Sindawe as legion commanders. Afterward they face the Shadowmasters in the Battle of Ghoja Ford. The battle is won and Croaker advances to Dejagore. The Black Company suffers a crushing defeat. Few of them retreat to the city. Croaker is shot with an arrow and loses consciousness.
Dreams of Steel EditThe mysterious figure with the ravens turns out to be Soulcatcher and the Annalist becomes her prisoner. She makes Croaker stitch her severed head back to its place. Croaker is about 45 years old at this time. After recovering from her wounds she steals the Widowmaker armor and orders Croaker to wear it. Disguised as the Widowmaker and Lifetaker they attack the Shadowmasters' army besieging Dejagore. They return to Taglios where Soulcatcher pretends to be Lady. She is kidnapped and Croaker is freed.
He mobilizes some of Lady's soldiers and heads for Dejagore. Shadowspinner who is leading the Shadowmaster army is killed. Mogaba who is commanding the remainders of the Black Company surrenders Dejagore to Croaker. He is eventually reunited with Lady, but their daughter is taken away by the Stranglers.
Books of Glittering Stone Edit
Bleak Seasons and She is the DarknessEdit
About four years later, Croaker the Liberator finishes his preparations and leads the final push against Longshadow, the last of the Shadowmasters. He is victorious in the Battle of Charandaprash and the Siege of Overlook, and his foe Longshadow is captured alive. Soulcatcher is also caught for a time, but manages to trap Croaker, Murgen, Lady, and several others in stasis on the glittering plain. Without its commanders, the Black Company is almost eliminated in the subsequent Kiaulune wars. Sleepy, the Annalist, learns from Murgen's ghost-walking spirit that they are alive on the plain, and Sleepy dedicates herself to freeing the Captured.
Water Sleeps Edit
Like the rest of the Captured, Croaker was immobilized for at least 15 years in the Cave of the Ancients, up until the end of Water Sleeps. He and most of the other Captured were seemingly unconscious for this period. The exceptions were Lady and Murgen, who were able to communicate with the outside world with their disembodied spirits.
Despite being frozen in a death-like trance, Croaker remained the official Captain during the Captivity. The remainder of the Company was meanwhile commanded by its highest-ranking officer, Sleepy. Through her determination and Murgen's guidance, the Company liberated the Captured after more than 15 years worth of covert efforts, using the golden pickax to access the plain safely. Croaker was among the first wave of 5 Captured individuals to be freed (alongside Lady, Murgen, Thai Dei, and the Prahbrindrah Drah). He was guided by his rescuers into the world of Hsien at the end of Water Sleeps.
Soldiers Live Edit
Sometime during the 4-year gap between Water Sleeps and Soldiers Live, Croaker refused to keep the role of Captain, doubting his sanity after so many years unconscious. But he does resume the role of Annalist, effectively swapping roles with Sleepy.
Croaker participates in Sleepy's efforts of defeating Soulcatcher and Kina in Soldiers Live. During the campaign, he becomes the adoptive father of Shukrat and Arkana, two Voroshk teenagers who become part of the Black Company. He also seeks to recover his daughter, Kina's evil pawn, whom he and Lady refer to as "Booboo" as a half-joking attempt to give her a name other than the grim title Daughter of Night. He is eventually successful but at a price. After Croaker destroys Kina with the help of the re-animated wizard Goblin, the enraged Daughter of Night attempts to strangle her mother Lady with a rumel (strangling scarf). In an effort to save his wife, Croaker mortally wounds his daughter, but Lady is left in critical condition.
With the help of Arkana and Soulcatcher (in the form of her white crow), Croaker deposits Booboo's body in the Cave of the Ancients, where he had been trapped, in the hopes that she may possibly be brought out of stasis and saved one day. Beneath the unnamed fortress, Arkana leaves Croaker stranded to make an unsanctioned return to her own world, Khatovar. So the old Annalist spends several weeks communing with Soulcatcher's crow and soon even the golem Shivetya directly. He and Shivetya work out a scheme so that Coaker can keep his promise to the golem to allow it to leave its post as the guardian of the glittering plain. Shukrat finally arrives. She and Croaker, with the aid of Soulcatcher's white crow and some Unknown Shadows, rescue Arkana from her imprisonment at Rhuknavr. This proved to be Croaker's final adventure in the Annals.
After tying up that last loose end, Croaker's plan to honor his agreement with Shivetya is revealed. The Annalist and golem have agreed to switch bodies: Croaker's spirit enters the golem's immortal body, allowing him to endow Lady with her old powers. Meanwhile the golem can finally finish its own days in a mortal man's dying body. Croaker passes on his role as Annalist to both his adopted daughters, laying the pen down and accepting his new role as the undying and all-knowing guardian of the plain.