Marion: Origin Story

More nerdiness revealed.   The origin story of one of my characters from a D&D campaign.

When her brother Maddox left Brookshire as a journeyman, Marion turned to the castle guard to continue her sword training.  Learning from the guard captain wasn’t quite the same– Maddox was a patient teacher who believed in her natural ability, whereas the guard captain merely humored her until she left him alone.  Despite this, by the time she was thirteen, her skill with a blade earned her a reputation amongst the soldiers that actually garnered her father’s attention, though not in the way she hoped. Immediately Lord Barinor threatened less pay for anyone who continued to train his daughter with a weapon. “What man wants a wife who can defend herself?!” he bellowed. Undaunted, she went every day to bully someone, usually a wet-behind-the ears recruit, into giving her a lesson. Threats and withdrawn meals didn’t stop Marion from stealing a pair of breeches, tying her long red hair back, and heading for the garrison whenever she could.

The day she turned fourteen years old, a knight named Sir Garth, hailing from southern Brookshire, arrived at the manor. Marion was excited by the prospect of a real-live knight—they rarely came this far north and if they did, they never stayed long. Marcus, the oldest of the five Barinor children, made sure of it. He excelled at making people feel unwelcome, and ever since he was denied knighthood, he didn’t much like anyone who had won his shield. Fearing the knight’s visit would be short, Marion waited diligently by the stables, dressed in her brother Mathen’s clothes (Maxim, his twin, promised to beat her into rubble if she took his again), her fingers curled around the pommel of a guard’s sword.

“You’re pathetic.”

With a sigh, Marion turned around to face her brother.  “Marcus, do you spend your whole life waiting around a corner to say something smart?  Don’t you have anything better to do?”

“I could ask you the same question.” Marcus unfortunately took after their father, which meant that even if he did manage not to stoop like a hyena over prey, he could only charitably be described as five and a half feet tall. He wore a black cloak with large shoulder pads and a stiff collar, his hair, more orange than red, spiked and wild. “You know why he’s here, don’t you?”

“Because Father thinks his own sons aren’t worth shit?”

Marcus tried to grab her by the front of her jerkin and missed. Marion backed away and brought her sword up. The darkness passed from his face and he laughed. “Go ahead. I hear Sir Garth likes women with a little fight in them.  It’ll make it all the more fun for him.”

“What are you talking about?”

Marcus turned away with a dramatic twirl of his cloak (she hated when he did that) and walked briskly toward the manor, calling over his shoulder, “Oh nothing. How many days do you think Father will lock you up when I tell him where you are and what you’re wearing?”

“Marcus, you dripping pile, I’ll-”

“Mari, don’t.”  A strong pair of hands gripped her shoulders, keeping her from a charge. “Let him go.”

Marion grit her teeth, but obeyed, watching her brother jauntily head inside. “Pom, he’s going to tell on me!”

“Let ‘im,” spat the stableboy. “He’s a coward and yer father’ll prolly give him a smack for being a snitch.  He’s over twenty for Lord’s sakes.”

“I just wanted to spar that knight, just once, and he’ll probably leave tonight and I’ll never have the chance!”

Pom shifted uncomfortably.  At first glance, he seemed typical stableboy fare: tall, gangly, straw-haired.  But under the bad haircut, the maddening acne, and the faintest whiff of horse, he knew things. There was only one reason why a single knight with a lot of land came to a manor that happened to have one daughter just turned marriagable age.  He watched his dear, earnest Marion, taking practice swipes with the stolen blade.

“Why is Mucus such a bastard?” She ranted. “I can’t do a damn thing around here without him interfering in my business. He’s supposed to be the lordling, you’d think he’d have better things to do than prance around in that sissy cape.”

“Seems to me he’s doing exactly what a lordling should be doing.”

“Ha!”

“Anyway if you ask me, I’d be less worried about Mucus and more worried bout what’ll happen to you when Maxim finds you’re wearin’ his breeches.”

“They’re Mathen’s. ‘Sides, I think I look better in ’em than he does.”

“I think you look prettier in a dress.”

Marion sheathed her blade with a smirk. “Oh what now? You gonna kiss me again?”

“Only if you deserve it,” he said, smiling back.

“Only if you can catch me!” Marion took off across the courtyard, tossing her hair, beckoning. He chased her, the girl with breeches and a sword on her hip.

Lord Barinor, a middle-aged man, gray around his ears and round about his stomach, sat across from the knight at the Great Hall’s long table. Ale foam slunk down the sides of their steins and flies alighted on the stale gristle of gnawed mutton bones. Several dogs noisily chomped and licked their gobs, patience straining. There was a signed contract covered in greasy fingerprints. Having availed themselves of large quantities of meat and booze, not for the first time in the weeks since the knight arrived, the men stood and clasped hands, congratulating each other.

The knight was handsome, bearded, and square-jawed. He had seen many battles–even when happy, his eyes had a steely, quiet determination of someone who knew what it meant to win, but not without cost. “Well I’ll tell you, my gut hasn’t been this full this many nights in a row since I left my mam’s teat, I’d wager. Surprised Barinor Manor isn’t chock fulla wandering warriors after your daughter, if this is what they can expect.”

Barinor smiled tightly. The haze of many ales prompted several thoughts about the marriagability of his daughter that fortunately he was not quite drunk enough to say aloud. “You’re too kind.”

“And she’s so quiet, I barely see her around at all.”

“Yes, yes,” said Barinor, quickly pouring Garth more ale. “She’s quiet.” Especially when you lock her up on the opposite end of the manor. . . you can barely hear her cursing from here.

“Tell you what,” Garth said with a belch. “I’ll have my man send the first shipment of silver over within a fortnight.”

“Sir Garth,” said Barinor, “you are as generous as your reputation is enviable.”

“Bah!” snorted the knight dismissively.  “I’m happy the whole business is done with–I’m sick of looking for a woman.  You got four fine sons out of yours, and even twins! I’m betting I can expect the same outta Marion.”

“Certainly! And who’s to say how may sets?”

Picking his teeth contemplatively, Garth stood. “I’m going. My servants will need guidance. It’s been a long time since there was a lady in residence.”

“Of course, of course. See Pom on your way to the stables, he’ll ready your horse.”

After bidding the knight farewell once more, Lord Barinor allowed himself a triumphant laugh. To think he had been discomfited that his fifth living child was a girl! His wife wasn’t to blame–four strong, living sons was quite remarkable–but Sir Garth’s promise of silver from his family’s mine certainly helped the disappointment.

Pom had never hurt an animal and wasn’t about to start now, but it was difficult to resist the urge to burr Sir Garth’s saddle blanket. Maybe then the mare would buck and throw him and the knight would hit his head against a rock and. . . But he had saddled the creature without incident, and soon the knight was well on his way, two weeks after having arrived.

Pom was headed back across the courtyard when he saw her, sitting on a sawhorse outside the garrison quarters, alone. Her long red hair was loose and tangled. She was wearing a dress the color of summer leaves, full length like a woman. She kicked her legs through the fabric. He ran to her.

“Mari! They let you out! I haven’t seen you in days.”

“Yeah well. They figured once it was signed, there was nothing I could do.”

“When. . . when do you go?”

“I don’t know.” Marion sat silent for a moment, her hands balled into fists. “You knew, you knew since the first day he got here, didn’t you?”

Pom nodded.

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Aw hell, Mari, if your own family was keepin’ it from you, how would-”

“You are my family, Pom. You’re the only thing I’ve got.” Marion took his hand, quiet for a moment as she stared at the bustling courtyard, filled with servants carrying baskets of linens, soldiers marching in formation, women beating rugs. “No one thought very much of me. . . thinking I wouldn’t figure it out. I guess they were right. I’m not very smart.”

“That’s not true. . . you just don’t think about things like that.”

“They killed the big sow and her piglets, and all those chickens, and emptied half the larder and the cellars too. Why the hell else would they do it, except to try and convince him to take me?” When she lowered her sleeve from wiping her eyes, she stood, saw who was approaching, and cursed.  “Damn it.”

“Well well well, here she is, the future bride!” Marcus closed the distance between them, his cape billowing behind him like a black cloud.
Marion sighed in resignation. “Go ahead and gloat, I don’t care.”

“Oh, but aren’t you happy? Father managed to find the last man on earth who would have you!”

“So what?” Marion nodded to Pom and the two of them began walking away.  “At least when I go, I’ll be far from you.  And when I’m lady of all the silver mines in Brookshire, I’ll send you a thimble.”

Pom laughed.

Marcus’s face darkened. He trotted to catch up with them. “You don’t care that he’s going to have you all to himself?”

Something about his tone made Marion’s stomach drop. “What, what do you mean?”

“Sir Garth, your new lord and master. He’ll go away for long periods of time, sure, but when he comes back, from months of being around only men in the field, you’ll be his slave.”

“You gutter-licking, stink-minded cur!” Pom barked. “You keep your filthy thoughts to your own self!”

“How dare you, peasant, I’ll have you whipped and hung if you speak to me like that again!”

Marcus raised his arm to strike, but Marion put herself between them, wishing for all the world that she was armed. “If you ever lay a hand on him, I’ll-”

“You’ll what? Answer me, you slag, you’ll do what?”

Before she could answer, Marcus launched himself at his sister, slapping her fiercely about the face. Marion staggered backward, pitifully trying to deflect his blows. He yanked a fistful of her hair down behind her head, forcing her face to tilt towards his quivering snarl. “He’s going to have his way with you, Marion.” Spittle collected at the corners of his mouth, his emerald eyes gleamed. “He’ll use every inch of you and there will be nothing you can do about it because you’ll belong to him.”

A savage yell burst forth from the depths of her soul.  With strength few knew she had, Marion plunged her knee between her brother’s legs and rammed the heel of her palm up into his nose.  He screamed a horrible scream, blood bursting from his broken nose.  He collapsed, his hands clutching his face as he rolled back and forth, his legs kicking wildly as though he had never felt pain in his life.

Marion stood over her brother, the future lord of Barinor Manor, and watched him writhe and gurgle.  In an instant it was over–servants appeared, keeping clear of Marcus’s cowardly flailing, and carried him toward the sick bay.  None of them said a word to her, but Marion could swear she saw the ghost of a smile on one’s lips.

    When they were gone, Marion sank to her knees, her shoulders shaking.  Pom knelt next to her and brushed back her hair.
“I’m sorry, Mari, it happened so fast.  I shoulda stopped him, I shoulda. . .”

With a sharp intake of breath, Marion clamped her hands on either side of his face and fiercely pressed her mouth to his. Startled, he tried to pull away, but she was strong and he found he couldn’t fight her.  Finally she let go, heaving, her forehead pressed against his.

    “I won’t belong to anyone,” she choked, tears making tracks down her cheeks through the dirt and the blood. “Not anyone.” She ran back to the manor, leaving Pom sitting in the dust.

He swallowed a lump in his throat; he had the distinct feeling that she was apologizing.

When Marion entered the stable that night, Marcus’s favorite horse was waiting, saddled and ready. The young woman, a dark cloak draped around her, looked around and there was no one.

“I know you’re here, Pom.  Won’t you say goodbye?” Her eyes searched the dark stalls, but she was greeted with silence.  She pursed her lips together to ward off tears and mounted her brother’s horse. “Thank you.”

She kicked the beast into a gallop and was gone.

Pom was still lying wide awake at dawn when the first echoing yells rose from the manor. One high-pitched screech cut above the rest.

“That bitch! That bitch took my cape!”

Despite his aching chest, Pom managed a smile.

Barinor Manor was searched for three days before Lord Barinor, furious and confounded by his final underestimation of his daughter, had to tell Sir Garth that he had somehow managed to lose the knight’s future bride.

A year later, Pom married a blacksmith’s daughter named Gayla in the little church next to Barinor Manor. It was a fine wedding; Lord Barinor himself gifted the happy couple a barrel of wine that was leftover from some holiday.  On a hilltop overlooking Barinor, a lone figure on horseback stood watching.  When the festivities ended, she rode away, red hair streaming behind her.

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