So, the first of my Fantasy/Fiction/Gaming posts. Extreme geeky-ness ahead, be ye warned.
This was in part inspired by a conversation I had with a friend of mine, in which, when we were discussing ridiculous character concepts, I jokingly said that I would totally play one (setting-specifc jargon aside, the core concept was <sarcasm>”Totally not a crime boss”</sarcasm>, with the trouble of “Actually not a crime boss.”), when said friend objected on the grounds that I would find a way to make it a legitimate character. Because that’s what I do. I take the joke so far it turns around and becomes something real.
So, here is a little something, a joke gone too far. In this case, based on a college joke of a god of puns and illegitimate children, purely so that the favored weapon of his clergy could be the bastard sword.
One of the only constants in this strange world of ours is the fact that the universe likes to laugh. Paeanfuul is evidence to the fact that, on occasion, that laughter can hold a distinctly manic edge.
The being now known as the Punishment was once a mortal man, illegitimate son of some unimportant noble who’s name and line has been lost to the ravages of time. The scripture that is touted by his faithful claim that his father renounced his mother, for she was merely a peasant, a vassal to his noble father, societally more a resource of his lands than a person.
He was raised a miller, content to help his mother pay her taxes and live quietly, but when he came of age, his mother revealed to him the circumstances of his birth. Outraged that he and his mother could be so discarded as to scrape a living out of the soil while his father supped at the table of luxury, he snuck into the noble’s keep during a feast, and publically confronted his father. All could see the familial resemblance in his face, but of course the assembled guests scoffed at him and laughed at his claim. They had little sympathy to spare one such as him, for indeed many of them had dalliances of their own back in their provinces, and spared them less thought than the shoeing of their favored horse.
It is impossible to say whether it was shame, sympathy, or simple cruelty than moved the nobleman, but moved he was, and before the assembled guests he offered his son a deal: Serve as his jester for a year and a day, and he and his mother would know no further want. Should he serve well and with distinction, he would supplant the noble’s heir as his successor. Thinking the peasant boy cowed from damaged pride, the guests laughed long and raucously, so much so that they at first missed the boy agreeing to the terms. A moment of stunned silence later, the laughter redoubled, and he was sent off to the servants’ quarters to find the previous jester’s attire.
He had always been an illegitimate child, but it was this ordeal that turned him into a bastard. Not one to do things halfway, he threw himself into study of his new trade. By the first week, he could juggle. A month in, he was tumbling like a professional. But where he found real joy was in wordplay. It was many months before he considered the subtle art of language mastered, but when he got it, he wielded his silver tongue as surely as any swordsman could wield a blade. He made full use of the peculiar immunity enjoyed by court fools to make mock of the nobility, turning their biting laughter on their fellows for his own amusement. Six months in, he destroyed a courtship with implication and double entendres, mostly to see if he could. At seven months he engendered the seeds of a trade embargo, and inflamed it into border skirmishes by nine. The egos of the noble class turned out to be ever so fragile, and it was his secret pleasure to shatter them from his position of safety.
His father, it is said, fully intended to keep his end of the bargain, pained though he was by his words. When he had not given up after ten months of humiliating performances, he began giving the boy lessons in etiquette, finance, and swordplay alongside his heir. The half-brother, who constantly abused the boy during his trials, replaced the training sword set aside for him with a massive hand-and-a-half broadsword, remarking that “A bastard son should learn with a bastard sword.” Undaunted, he took to his studies as fiercely as he had his foolery.
As winter deepened, and the year drew to a close, the legitimate heir grew ever more worried after the security of his birthright. He spent the final month threatening, haranguing, even attempting to bribe the boy to quit the castle and never return. All of which, naturally, proved ineffective according to the priests’ scripture. So, as such stories often go, he decided to remove the competition by force.
Paeanfuul was lured to his mother’s home by a letter in her handwriting, only to find the mill aflame. Thinking her inside, the young man rushed to rescue her, and braved the flames in his quest. However, she was not inside, and when he attempted to leave, found the door barred from the outside. It is said that his cries that night could be heard in the bedchambers of the keep, and that they carried with them the promise of vengeance.
The next day, as the noble feasted his court in sorrow of the loss, the legitimate son died. Some versions of the story go that he was poisoned, others that he was run through with a bastard sword, even others that he went mad and hurled himself into the bonfire. All agreed that the mother of the bastard son was responsible, and for her crimes she was hung at the crossroads.
The next morning, however the noose hung empty, and the tree was draped in harlequin jester’s clothes.
Within a fortnight, the noble’s wife killed him in his sleep, before hurling herself from a tower. Rumors of disease among the herds tore down the fortunes of the region. The peasantry left as one group, going abroad to practice their trades in safer climes. In a popular version of the myth, they take up motely, becoming the first acolytes of the Groaning God.
Whatever the version, the clergy of Paeanfuul have no small following in the modern day, especially in the Northern Kingdoms and the Terghan Protectorate. It is said that anywhere north of the Sunspin River, you can easily identify a noble bastard by their wealth and carefree lifestyle, mayors and justices all. None in those parts would dare risk the wrath of the Church of the Punishment.
Superstition? Quite likely. However, as with all myths, there are points of truth. For example, the clergy of Paeanfuul are legitimate, being able to produce miraculous feats of divine power on-par with the priesthood of more commonly worshipped gods. So, their god is either an ascended divine force, or there are not yet words to describe the skill of the charlatanism at work.
It is also a matter of history that, several times during the reign of Groelbard (Called “the Regal” by his subjects, and “the Promiscuous” by his detractors) of Upper Crafton, his heirs would find themselves beset on the road by a sole figure in tattered clothes and padded armor, bearing a harlequin mask and a massive hand-and-a-half sword, who would demand their clothes and riches. Those who acquiesced were stripped naked and robbed, then sent on their way, while those who refused were attacked. From the wreckage of their carriages, which were discovered sometime later, the figure had monstrous strength, and the sword it bore could apparently shear through the iron-backed hide shields of the family guard.
Some claim that it was Paeanfuul himself, avenging the other illegitimate children, of which Groelbard’s reign spawned many. Most believe that it was the bastards themselves, using the imagery of the church to strike fear into the hearts of their prey as they turned to robbery to survive. Some state that it was the revenant of the original bastard’s mother, still carrying out her vendetta.
In any case, there is one recorded instance of the figure being defeated. Groelbard the Lesser (The fourth child to bear the name, as a matter of fact), is recorded as saying that he was accosted by the figure that had attacked so many of his kin, and struck him down. He says the figure burst into ash that smelled of millet and flax burning, and all that remained was a rusted sword hilt and a motely cap. While most write this particular case off as the proud boastings of a lying nobleman, it is worth noting that family records reveal that he was so adamant in his version of events that his father disowned him and had him committed to the care of a rather disreputable asylum. He was broken out four years later by a sympathetic nurse, and returned to the family castle to demand his rightful inheritance. The palace guards, not recognizing the wild-eyed lunatic, killed him at the gates. The servants that later retrieved and disposed of the body swore that the faded clothes he wore were once harlequin diamonds.
Food for thought, certainly.
-From “Religions of the North,” a journal by Hadric Luistoter