For August’s Character of the Month, I chose to do a Paladin.
When Mother Helen, Preceptress of Cobbage, opened her schoolhouse door to find the abandoned infant on her step, she did not hesitate; for Helen had once served the Sisterhood of Calucia, Guardian of Lost Travelers. Though Helen was a sister no longer and the Sisterhood was no more, she took the child in and cared for her as her own daughter; for what was this poor child if not a lost soul? Helen named the child Mara, who grew to be beloved by all in the small village. She was kind, helpful, charitable and humble. She could also lift a bushel of apples at arms’ length by the age of nine; and by fourteen, she could fully drive a fencepost into hard-packed clay with one swing of her hammer.
Despite (or perhaps because of) her great strength, Mara did not lack suitors when she reached the traditional age of marriage two years later; but Mara had no interest in marrying anyone from the village. These were the same boys who were her playmates for the last sixteen years, and she could not see them now as men. Besides, she needed to care for Mother Helen, who had grown infirm with age, and to assume the duties of Preceptress in her stead; for Mara was easily as wise as she was strong, much wiser than a girl of sixteen years should be.
Towards the end of her life, Mother Helen told Mara her own story; how she left the Sisterhood and came to be Preceptress of the small village of Cobbage. Helen was once a novitiate at Glenstrae Abbey, seat of the Sisterhood of Calucia in far-off Dunlaig. The folk of Dunlaig were a superstitious lot who had no use for magic that was not divine, and the Abbess of Glenstrae, Gertrude, was no exception. One dark and moonless night, an elf maiden sought sanctuary at the Abbey. She was in flight from lawless men who wished her harm; yet the Abbess denied her safety. She was fey, after all; and the Abbess decreed that she would find no comfort among the Sisterhood. When they found her body the next morning on the very grounds of the Abbey itself, the Abbess was unmoved. She ordered the corpse buried in the garden, where “at least it would do some good as fertilizer.”
The sisters were in shock. They felt immediately the loss of their Guardian’s favor, for who was more wayward and in need of aid than the poor elf maiden who begged for help and received only scorn? Still, Gertrude was unrepentant and prideful. She would hear no dissent on the matter, though she felt the loss of communion with Calucia more strongly than most.
A fortnight later, the keening started. The elf maiden had risen as a bean sidhe; and she was not done with the Sisterhood of Calucia. Each night for a month she circled the Abbey, keening and wailing; a horrid sight to behold. The sisters pleaded with the Abbess to repent; but Gertrude remained defiant, poisoned by her deep-rooted hatred of all things fey. With no divine magic to hold it at bay, it was only a matter of time before Glenstrae Abbey’s protections failed and the bean sidhe was able to enter what was once consecrated ground. When she did, her unbridled wrath broke fully upon Gertrude most horribly, but left none alive among the Sisterhood.
None but Helen. Cornered by the bean sidhe among the white and silent corpses of her sisters, Helen closed her eyes and called out to Calucia for deliverance. When she opened them, she found the horrid visage of the undead elf mere inches away, staring at her with an expression the young sister couldn’t comprehend. She blinked, and the thing was gone. Mother Helen told Mara she did not know why the creature let her live, if not to tell the tale of what had become of the fallen Sisterhood and of the once-holy Abbey, now fallen to evil and ruin.
Helen died a few nights later. Mara saw to her burial. Over her grave, Mara vowed that she would do what Helen could not. She would atone for the Abbess’s transgressions. She would rebuild Glenstrae Abbey. She would redeem the Sisterhood of Calucia, or she would die in the attempt.
Mara made her intentions known to the village. The blacksmith provided her with armor and a sword; but Mara did not know how to wield a sword; rather, she knew how to swing a hammer. So the smith forged her a hammer instead, a true weapon of war, not a tool for driving fenceposts. Mara accepted it gratefully, and named it “Correction” in honor of the switch Mother Helen occasionally used to chastise pupils who misbehaved.
The road to Dunlaig was long, and Mara encountered many who needed her help along the way. She fixed wagon-wheels for the stranded; planted and plowed for the infirm; defended the weak and powerless; and clothed and fed the needy as best she could, often going without comfort herself. She did this without complaint or recompense as service to the Guardian Calucia in memory of Mother Helen, the woman who cared for her when no one else would.
When she finally reached Glenstrae Abbey, she found it to be a cursed and bleak ruin shunned by all. In the years since the Sisterhood’s destruction others had come here in search of adventure or to loot the valuables of the vaults. All of them perished when the heard the keening wail of the bean sidhe; for the undead creature spared no one foolish enough to willingly enter the Abbey grounds. Now, these cursed souls had risen and become evil things themselves. They surrounded Mara as she strode boldly up to the gates of the Abbey, whispering foul promises of eternal torment; but Mara was unafraid. She shouted her defiance and commanded the undead horde to leave the Abbey, that this would once again be sacred ground. She invoked the name of Calucia, and something wondrous happened.
The undead hordes shrieked in fear and pain. Many of them simply ceased to exist as the power of Mara’s prayer banished their evil forever. Those that remained quailed in fury and terror; but they soon rallied and leapt to the attack. Mara met them head-on with Correction. Within minutes, she was the only thing moving on the grounds of Glenstrae Abbey. The bean sidhe’s minions were utterly destroyed, shattered into oblivion by the holy power of her warhammer.
Mara knelt in prayer and waited. She did not wait long. The restless spirit of the elf maiden appeared, and let out a keening so horrible that Mara felt all of the rage, humiliation and pain of maiden’s death all at once. She could feel the unbridled evil of the scream as a chill upon her soul and knew that she survived only by Calucia’s grace; for it was more than anyone could bear, and Mara knew that all who had heard it before had died on the spot. In the span of one moment, the scream of the bean sidhe aged Mara a full score years; yet Mara, shaken to her core, still stood, somehow alive.
The undead thing rushed at her, furious. Mara did not raise her weapon in defense. She only watched as the hooked claws reached to tear her limb from limb, and she spoke only two words. “I’m sorry.”
The bean sidhe stopped. For a moment, the two women stared at each other; for the undead elf maiden looked then much as she did in life: beautiful and fey. Mara stepped forward and embraced her. The bean sidhe slumped and let out a sigh. Then it vanished.
Mara found herself Abbess of Glenstrae. She spent the next several years rebuilding the convent, doing much of the physical labor herself. She exhumed the bones of the elf maiden and reburied them in a place of honor alongside Mother Helen, whose remains she brought back from Cobbage to rest on Abbey grounds. Her good and charitable deeds regained the favor of Calucia, and the Abbey was soon home to novitiates once more. The Sisterhood of Calucia was born anew.
Reverend Mother Mara is Reaper’s Mother Superior, sculpted by Werner Klocke. I was wondering what miniature I was going to use for a paladin. I seem to have picked up this one in a trade and forgot all about it, which only goes to show that (surprise) I have too many miniatures. She was fun to paint, if not particularly challenging.
Up next: My Season of Scenery submissions! Then on to STAR WARS!!!!!