The Barbarian of Pelor

[This is a character backstory for a medieval fantasy roleplaying game I’m playing]

My adoptive family said that Pelor placed me on the steps of their community center as a test of their faith and compassion. Certainly it was hard to propose another explanation for how an infant such as myself had made it all the way into a town so secluded most members had never seen another race of any kind. As well, there is no doubt that I indeed tested them.

In later years, I have been told that just to look at me one might not be blamed for thinking there was no human blood in me at all. Please don’t say that to me. The music director at the community center, who I sometimes would privately think of as my mother, told me once that I had the prettiest voice of anyone in the village. I loved nothing more, and still love, for that matter, singing the hymns and quoting the words of the Almighty. I keep my book of Pelor on me at all times, although by now I hardly have to pull it out to remember the passage that I’m looking for.

Oh, but I was going to tell you how I tested them. Well, I was always a… an emotional child. I was also large. Before I could talk I could destroy just about anything, and when I was frustrated I did. You can imagine how frustrating it would be, finding it so hard to be quiet and demure as Pelor asks of women.  As far as my family was concerned, I was just “different.” I had to learn from travelers that there was a name for what I was.

I don’t want to give the wrong idea. I owe everything to my family and to Pelor. In time I became better at feminine virtue. I felt free in the woods, so I spent much of my time studying plants and collecting herbs for the local clerics. Even if I couldn’t always keep my face calm, I learned how to keep my actions in check. Whenever I was upset I would repeat scripture to myself in my head, “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city,” is a favorite of mine. Over time I grew to trust that men would take care of me, even though they were mostly smaller and weaker than me, and it was easier to accept my role in Pelor’s grand design.

At 13 years old, I was already as tall as I am today. I not only had to duck to get through doors, my shoulders were so broad that I had to pull them in. It was actually a few days after my birthday that we heard the commotion in the town. I was wearing my simple brown dress, sweeping the floors between the pews when I heard the screams coming outside the door. My body tensed, and I started to feel the strange stirrings in me that I often got when reading the more violent sections of Pelor’s holy text. I breathed deeply and told myself Roman would handle it. He was a fighter that was visiting us at the time. Kind man, but terribly rude. He was so handsome in his armor, and I enjoyed his valorous tales. I wanted to quietly smile at him and make polite little gasps along with the other women who surrounded him in the evenings, but he wouldn’t let me. Instead, whenever he saw me he insisted that I do unladylike things like arm wrestle him and I had to politely excuse myself from his company and listen to my friends retell his tales of adventure afterwards.

So, with effort, I continued to sweep the pews as the chaos continued just outside the double doors. “Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Pelor…”

The fight continued until late afternoon. In the early evening I listened to Josephine tell me the hair-raising tale. A troop of zombies had wandered into town from who knows where. As was expected, the menfolk had come out with pitchforks and torches, led by Roman in his full armor and great sword. After a long battle they had managed to disable them all. Josephine said they’re going to have a bonfire to burn the zombie remains for good measure. I noted my thrill of pleasure at the idea of Roman showing off in the light of a huge fire, and thanked Josephine but told her I was just going to go upstairs to bed.

That night I woke to another scream. This time, it was accompanied by an audible curse that could only be from Roman. I ran to my window and looked down at my hero. Roman look different from when I had seen him before. He wasn’t injured, that would be ridiculous living in the company of a small troop of low-level clerics, but the way he moved, his armor looked heavier than before. He put on the same show of bravado as he always did, but it was easier to see through it after fighting zombies almost all day. He was holding a torch in one hand, so he couldn’t use his two-handed sword properly.

I put one hand to my chest and one hand to my mouth with a gasp as I saw what he had come out to meet. Josephine had described to me what looked like human corpses come to life, which was terrifying enough. This look like a corpse of something that might be human, or might once have been. It was covered in gray flesh hanging loosely on its body like an ill-fitting suit over an empty skeleton. Its arms and legs seemed too long for how thin they were, at the end of its fingers were not nails but claws like the knives I’d use to chop meat to cook for a Sunday night dinner. The gray lifeless eyes of the zombies were not there, but rather they glowed red in the night. I whispered another verse to myself and practiced my breathing, my eyes glued to the window.

Roman and the creature sized each other up for only a second. Then they were on each other. The first thing Roman did was shove his torch at the thing, evidently hoping it would catch alight. It was too quick for him, and sent the torch scattering away. I could see in the dark better than my friends, and I saw Roman’s eyes locked on the glowing red ones of the creature, probably the only thing he could see. Roman moved his hand to wield his great sword, but the thing’s claws raked his beautiful face, leaving deep gouges that just barely missed his eye.

“No!” I shrieked, forgetting myself. I pressed against the glass and watched in an overwhelming mix of emotions I could not begin to describe. The fight seemed to stop for a half second, then I saw the fight had not stopped at all, It was only Roman who was no longer moving. I felt a tear run down my cheek. I knew I was losing control of myself, but I was so full of emotion there was no room for shame.

The greatsword fell out of Roman’s stiff hand, and long arms reached around him to pull him towards the being’s rotting, toothy mouth. Suddenly I was on the ground right in front of Roman and the creature. Everything was out of my head. All of my upbringing and careful training and practice was gone. I screamed every foul word and improper slur directly from the heart of my being and charged the creature, shoving it away from Roman so it fell on the ground.

When I ran out of awful things to say, I just shrieked and sobbed and groaned and roared and gnashed my teeth and and kicked and tore at the creature. My white nightgown was covered in dirt and blood and rot as I placed one foot against the creature’s chin and pulled on its arm. In my frenzy I somehow thought I would simply tear this creature limb from limb. Somewhere behind me I heard a chuckling, then came Roman’s voice, barely a croak. “M-Mary, the- the sword.”

Of course! I tried one more tug at the arm for good measure, then I sprung away and scrambled to grab the greatsword. The thing was up by the time I’d gotten the sword. It opened its mouth to lunge for me, and I lifted the sword over my head with both hands and, with an explosion of fire inside my chest that I will never forget, I brought it down in front of me.

The next morning, I was the talk of the town. It was terrible. The shame I had forgotten during the event was full on me once more. I had betrayed every one of the virtues Pelor had vested in me when he made me a woman. Despite everything I had done and everything I had tried, I had shown myself to be the slave of my emotions.

I hid in my room in my filthy, tattered nightgown, trying not to look at the window I had smashed through the night before. Even my body, a betrayal of Pelor in size and shape alone, was now covered in hideous scrapes and bruises. I was acutely aware of my indelicate size as I sat on my bed with my hands in my lap staring at the floor. “Mary,” said the parishioner, “Roman told us what happened.”

“I have failed you. I have failed Pelor and this community. Give me whatever punishment you see fit, but please don’t throw me out. This is all I have.”

I would’ve continued blubbering, but the parishioner interrupted me. “Mary, Mary. You saved this town. You saved Roman’s life. You have done nothing wrong.”


“I don’t think this is the right place for you Mary.”

“You are throwing me out,” I wailed.

The parishioner pressed his lips together, unsure how to deal with my outburst, “Roman wants to take you as an apprentice.”

I practiced my breathing and recited to myself under my breath.  “No. This is the right place for me,” I muttered.

“You’re welcome back anytime, Mary. You always have a home here.”

So in three days I said goodbye to Josephine, my mother the music director and my other friends, and was off.  My time with Roman was a whirlwind.  It might not be an exaggeration to call it the opposite of my time in the parish.  Whereas I could not bring myself to heel enough to satisfy my village, the people I saw on my travels seemed universally to find me too uptight and religious.  My handsome Roman, contrary to whatever fantasies I may have had about our long trips on the road in only each other’s company, seemed seldom to remember that I was a woman at all.  When other men made loud and obnoxious note of my sex, instead of defending my honor himself, He would just look at me and pantomime swinging an axe.  I can tell you that to this day, I have never raised arms over such small matters.

After a few months of this, the only thing that made sense were the moments of genuine danger, during which I began to feel that Pelor had a different plan for me than for other women. There was no shortage of genuine danger. Traveling with Roman, it began to feel strange if a week went by without some violent conflict in which we had to defend helpless villagers from a supernatural threat. The world outside my parish was a terribly violent place, and I loved it. It felt like hundreds of times that Roman had to chastise me after a fight for throwing my shield at a foe and leaping on top of him.  Fight after fight, I learned to strategize through the fog of adrenaline and blood. At least, strategize enough to decide between wielding my greataxe with two hands or a war hammer in one hand and a shield in the other.  Eventually, my weapons became a part of me, and when anger came over me, it was not mindless rage, but a controlled battle frenzy.

After two years of failing to turn me into a swearing, spitting, brawling sell-sword that he had decided I should be, Roman dropped me off at a church of Pelor in a large city.  Even the weathered priests here did not see where I would fit in. The only thing that made sense were fighting and Pelor, but it was clear that didn’t include Pelor’s worshipers. So, I paid my respects at the shrine and I left, with no one but Pelor to show me the way.

By Sam Munk

Science fiction and Fantasy author with a focus on philosophical inquiry and character-driven drama.

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