About Liath Samathran
The Straheim family name was a proud one once, long ago. A line of knights devoted first to Aroden and later his inheritor, Iomedae, the sons and daughters of Straheim were stalwart defenders of their church and nation. Yet none of them shone as brightly as Maximillian Straheim, an annointed paladin of Iomedae.
A man of immense virtue and even-handed temperament, Maximillian was a paragon of his order. He seemed destined to become something even greater, a legend in his own land and beyond, as he marched with his fellow knights to join the first Mendevian Crusade. The people of his hometown were certain that whatever horrors the then newly formed Worldwound held, Maximillian's faith and strength of character would see him through.
Three years later, Maximillian returned, a shadow of the man he once was. His sword and armor were tarnished, his eyes tired and haunted. He no longer seemed to carry the grace of his goddess. Instead, he came home with an infant in his arms.
He never spoke of where the boy came from, or what happened to him at the Worldwound that caused him to fall from grace. He only retired to form of exile in his manor, adopting the child as his own, naming him Markus. He remained faithful to Iomedae, and walked forth in defense of his township when he was needed, but for reasons he kept his own, he never sought atonement for whatever caused his fall.
As generations passed, the inheritors of the Straheim family name had to bear the weight of their forebears shame and the rumors that abounded concerning his fall. The Straheim's gained a reputation as a dour lot, but they were also increasingly driven to prove themselves. Many of Markus' descendants died before their time attempting to redeem the family name by taking part in the Mendevian Crusades or in other conflicts at home or abroad.
Twenty-two years ago, Lukas Straheim became head of the the family. After his brother and sister both gave their lives in the ongoing conflict at Mendev, the burden of carrying on the family name fell upon his shoulders. He had always felt sharply the ever lingering shame that hung over his family, and it was with no small amount of relief that Samathra Vendell, daughter of minor, unlanded, yet still noble house, accepted his proposal to wed. He loved her, but more than that she and her family were the hope he needed.
Lukas was naturally overjoyed when Samathra revealed that she was carrying their child, even more so when she began to suspect they were to have twins.
His joy was shortlived.
His hopes died as the priest called him into the bedroom. Samathra was delirious with grief, screaming her denials at what she had bourne. Lukas thought for that they had lost their children in birth. When he saw them, he wished they had. The small, nascent horns growing from their skulls, the tiny winglets sprouting from their backs, the bend of the legs that ended in hooves...it was clear to anyone whose family had history with the Worldwound. These were demon-spawn. Tieflings. His flesh and blood. His crying children, a son and a daughter, were practically a pronouncement of damnation in his eyes.
Lukas flew into a rage, and would have slain the infants if the priests had not subdued him. They assured him, begrudgingly, that they were not monsters. They were deformed, unsightly, but they were still mere infants.
Samathra was driven mad by the ordeal, and was placed in a sanitarium by her family. She was never again the vibrant, lively woman she once were.
Lukas was eventually calmed enough to be entrusted with his children by the priests. Samathra's family preferred to have nothing to do with them, fully intending to keep them as far from their daughter as possible. They were Lukas' shame alone to bear.
He could not stand the sight of them, and he dared not let them be seen. The truth of their existence was kept secret, for the sakes of both the Straheim and Vendell families. They would never leave the manor, if he had his way. Most of their care was entrusted to the head servant of the house, Vorrus, who had long faithfully served Lukas and his father before him. He then set off for Mendev, to find redemption or death by joining the battle against the Worldwound. He could not remain at the manor with those things. He had barely bothered to confirm their names, half-heartedly, before leaving. Samathra had chosen them. Liath and Naella.
The twins spent the next six years in Straheim manor, never knowing their father or mother, and raised by Vorrus alone, who cared for them when no one else would. They were kept inside and out of sight, but he saw to it that they were cared for and taught as children should. He was amazed at how much they were like normal children, save for their freakish appearance. They played like other children, they cried like other children, they listened in rapt attention as he read to them at night. Both of them were enthralled by the legends and tall tales he read; they shaped how they viewed the outside world. Those bedtime stories were more real to them than what actually lay outside the manor walls. Liath in particular listened attentively whenever Vorrus told tales of great adventure, of stalwart knights, of champions of the gods. He regretted the need to keep them prisoner in their own home.
Then Lukas Straheim returned to his home. He had experienced much in Mendev, and it had changed him. He had seen the new practices beginning to take root on the warfront, tactics of purification and inquisition that would appall the mainstream churches of Iomedae. But Lukas had seen their effectiveness. He had helped.
Outwardly in public, Lukas was a much calmer man, one who was at peace with himself. At home, in private, his anger, his rage showed itself without warning. The children were his burden, his punishment for what he was. He would purify them, and thus the family name, or they would die in the attempt. They were locked away in the cellar, where they would remain for the next six years. He would visit them when the mood took him, to take out his frustrations upon them, to punish them for being.
The first time he struck Naella, Liath hurled himself at his father, biting and clawing like a wild animal. After Lukas was finished with him, Liath never raised his hand against his father again. He knew better than to fight back, after that.
Vorrus was still tasked with their care, but now his duties included drying their tears, tending to their bruises and cuts, and resetting broken bones after their frequent beatings. When Liath and Naella asked what they had done to deserve such treatment, he had no answers to give. Eventually, horribly, they came to accept that this was the correct order of things. They deserved to punished simply because they lived. They were damned things; mere monsters, not people. Liath and Naella became meek, frightened shadows of the children they once were, huddled and shaking next to each other in the corner, ever fearful of their father's next visit. And understanding that it was best to accept what he did. After all, they brought it on themselves.
And still, when his master was not aware, Vorrus read to them as he had before. Now more than ever, those moments were an escape for the twins. Moments where they could imagine that they were in another world, that they were people better than the things they really were.
Vorrus hated the situation, and he finally worked up the courage to betray his master. One day, while Lukas was away on extended business, he smuggled Liath and Naella out of the manor. He bundled them in cloaks, and took them in a wagon directly to Vendells. Surely their mother would take them in if she knew how they were treated.
He did not know that Samathra's condition had not improved. His search for her led them to the sanitarium where she had been kept since giving birth to the twins. He knew she could not care for them in her condition, but he could not resist letting Liath and Naella see their mother at least once. She was bedridden, wasting away. Her eyes focused on things that were not there. She sang songs without melody, to music no one could hear. But when her children were brought before her, she smiled. She called them her "angels", finally returned to her. She begged them to come close, and hugged them as tightly as her weak arms could manage. She begged them to forgive her for letting them go, for casting them out. They asked her why she called them angels. She asked what else could they be with those wings?
Liath and Naella could not understand. Their mother was so different from what they knew of their father. Why was she showing them kindness? Why could they not stay with her? They held onto her tightly, weeping at the first experience of love either of their parents had shown them.
Her brother's arrival cut the reunion short. He was outraged at Vorrus' boldness, at bringing these children to bother his ailing sister. Surely seeing these things would do her no good at all. After all, the twins were the Straheim's problem, not the Vendalls. Vorrus apologized, despairing that this avenue of escape for the children had been cut off. He reluctantly pulled the children away from their mother, all of whom cried and reached out for the other. Samathra only had time to press a locket into Naella's hand.
Vorrus had no choice but to bring them back home, to put them back in their cellar. He regretted ever having taken them out. To give them a taste of the world outside, to show them their mother, and then drag them back into the darkness? That was too cruel.
Samathra died a year later.
Soon afterwards, Lukas' fortunes shifted. Six years after his return. A prostitute he had used to distract himself from his troubles nine months earlier came knocking on his door. She was panicked, frightened, and she was carrying a baby. She didn't know what to do. And she trusted Lukas. He had treated her kindly, thus far.
Lukas knew who the child's father was the moment he looked at him. At first, the old horror and revulsion coursed over him. But then...
No, this one was different. He must have been doing something right. He had purged himself of some of his taint at least, he must have! This one was not as malformed as the others. He only had slightly pointed ears...and one eye was slitted like that of a cat...
Those were easily fixed.
He invited the girl inside, to take shelter. He told her not to worry, and that all was going to be well.
She never left the manor alive.
When Vorrus learned what happened, and what his master was planning, he knew he could stand by no longer. He knew that what little reason Lukas had to keep the twins had just disappeared. He quickly and quietly smuggled Liath and Naella out of the manor. He put them on a wagon, paying the caravan driver to take them to the next city and hand them over to any orphanage that would accept them. Liath and Naella were frightened, and begged him not to go, but Vorrus knew he could not go with them. Lukas would find them easily if he went. But this way they had a chance. He returned to the manor, keeping his master's attention away from the matter of the twins for as long as possible.
Lukas was busy enough with his scheming that it took some time to realize what had happened. He found a simple girl all too eager to marry a knight, no matter what his standing. It would be an embarrassment to admit that he married her barely in time to legitimize "their" son, but that was an easier burden to bear than having demon-tainted tieflings as scions of the Straheim name. Things were finally looking up for Lukas Straheim.
Liath and Naella were not prepared for the world outside. They had seen precious little of it during the journey to see their mother, and it was not at all like the tales Vorrus had told them. They clung to each other fearfully, not quite understanding the change from their cramped prison to the wide open world they now found themselves lost in. The wagon driver could not easily find a place that would take the twins in, and left them to their own devices when he finally left the city, leaving them only a portion of the payment Vorrus had given him as a bit of mercy.
Liath and Naella wandered the streets, avoiding attention where they could, learning to steal when they had to eat. Even so, they did not have the skills needed to survive long on their own, and they both nearly froze to death that very winter before a priest from the local church of Iomedae happened upon them. They recoiled from his hand at first, fearful and remembering how their father invoked Iomedae's name as he tried to "cleanse" them. The priest was eventually able to coax them into trusting him and following him back to the church.
They spent the next six months enjoying the shelter and food freely given to them. Some of the priests worried at the idea of bringing tieflings into a house of Iomedae, but others insisted it was their duty to care for those other institutions would not. Most of the clergy showed the twins kindness, yet a few still whispered that they should be watched carefully, that they could never truly be trusted. After all, the blood of demons ran through their veins.
Liath and Naella were both taught the word of Iomedae, and together they learned and memorized the 11 Acts. The goddess the clergy presented was very different from what their father had spoken of. She seemed far more like the greatest of heroes Vorrus had told them of, in what seemed a lifetime ago.
Naella took to the teachings quickly. She shed the image of herself her father had beaten into her, wishing to reforge herself as something better.
Liath had more difficulty. He could never shake the idea that his blood marked him as a wicked thing. He could never get his father's words out of his head. Even then, he still felt guilty for having been blessed with such a shelter, because one such as he did not deserve it. The suspicious whispers of some of the priests only confirmed that belief.
And yet he wanted to be something more. He wished to be different from what he was. He didn't want to be damned. He desperately wanted forgiveness for having been born a tiefling. He wanted to believe Iomedae would accept him, but that was impossible in his eyes. He was wicked and unworthy by virtue of his blood.
Liath was tormented by these thoughts every night. He prayed, constantly, for Iomedae to show him what he had to do, to simply give him a way to be free of this fate he had been born into.
Finally, during his thirteenth year, he realized what he had to do.
Late one night, he snuck into the empty chapel. He reached out and took the ceremonial longsword from the altar. He flinched as he touched it. He was certain it burned at his touch, he was utterly convinced of it.
He held it in his shaking hands, stuttered a prayer to Iomedae, and reached back to grasp the tiny, useless wings growing from his shoulders.
Naella and the priests woke when they heard Liath's screams. They rushed to the chapel to find him laying before the altar, bleeding out from the small ragged stumps jutting from his back. His little wings lay before him, before the altar, as if in offering. He was still whispering, weakly, "Forgive me." over and over.
The priests were able to save his life, though his wings could not be healed. It was clear now that the boy, and likely his sister, were far more emotionally scarred than they had originally believed. It was decided that they needed more help, and a better environment, than what they could recieve within the city.
Naella held her quiet, shivering brother close as they were taken to a secluded Iomedaean monastery in a forest far from the city. There they would spend the next seven years with the monks and the peace of nature. It was there that Liath's mind and soul finally began to heal, and where he finally found his faith.
He eventually came out of the shell he had withdrawn into following his traumatic attempt at purifying himself. The first step in this was learning to walk again. Without his wings, his center of balance had shifted, and with no toes to help him he often found himself falling flat on his face. The seemingly endless patience the monks and his sister had for him during this actually began to frustrate him. He felt he was being coddled, like a cripple, which in truth, he was. He had to walk with a cane for quite some time.
Liath found himself spending much of his time alone in the woods outside the monastery walls, once the monks were certain he would not try anything rash once he was out of sight. He enjoyed, as much as he enjoyed anything those days, the sound of the wind and birds overhead, of being able to forget all of his troubles until he started moving again, and the phantom ache of his wings and the clumsy imbalance of his limbs made themselves known again. It was during one particularly long, rolling fall down a hillside that he met Bieran.
The old dwarven woodsman looked at the boy in confusion when Liath finally came to a stop. Looking him over and deciding he wasn't too badly hurt, he asked the timid boy if he was alright. Liath quietly nodded as he sat up. Bieran simply replied that that was good, and that he thought satyrs had more grace than that. Liath reluctantly corrected him. Bieran said that they all look alike anyway and continued on with his work.
Liath watched him silently, until the dwarf finally got irritated with the attention. "You lookin' at me, boy?" he asked. Liath lamely shook his head that he wasn't. "You got a lot of nerve lookin' at someone like that lookin' the way you do." Liath simply remained silent, simply accepting the insult. Bieran looked at him, considering, for a while. It was obvious that the boy came from the monastery. And it was painfully obvious that talking wasn't his strong point, nor was any sort of self-confidence. "Well, you going to sit on your ass all day while someone else works for a living or are you going to help?"
Liath wasn't sure how to answer, but he clumsily got up and complied simply because it was what was expected of him. He quietly followed Bieran as the dwarf went on complaining about things he knew little to nothing about, and awkwardly tried to help with what work he was entrusted with. He had trouble keeping his balance on his hooves as he swung an axe too large for his frame, for which Bieran lightly mocked him. He also scraped his arms on his horns trying to lift the axe overhead as Bieran did, which also drew the dwarf's barbed comments. And still Liath did not protest anything he said.
Liath continued to wander down to meet the old dwarf for quite some time, unofficially adding whatever tasks Bieran would trust him with to what duties he and his sister kept at the monastery. It was something to do, and the dwarf was different from everyone else there. He did learn not to ask the monks about some of the more colorful language Bieran used, however.
He got better at swinging an axe, his balance improved greatly, and he was actually finally building a bit of confidence in something he did rather than simply going through the motions. Still Bieran threw light insults at him even as he was commended for a job well done, until Liath finally asked him to, please, stop. Bieran smirked, asking him what he was getting so upset about. Did Liath NOT think he looked like a freak? Liath had no answer to that.
Bieran changed the question. "What about your sister? You don't think she looks like a freak?" Liath snarled for Bieran to shut his mouth, and stopped in shock at his outburst. The dwarf chuckled sadly. "So you think she's just fine but you aren't. You got problems, kid." Bieran asked Liath just what was is about him that he was so ashamed of. After all, he just looked like another damn satyr. Liath explained that it was more than that. That his blood was tainted, cursed.
Bieran laughed. "Blood don't mean $%^&, boy. Look at me! I'd rather be out here than stuck in them damn tunnels o' my youth. Even if it does mean livin' like them @#$%ing elves. You decide who you are, godsdammit. No one else."
It was a perspective that had been gently preached to Liath by priests and monks, but coming from someone who actually lived by those words gave him pause.
He had much to think about then, about what his life had been, and what he wanted it to be. He felt a sense of loss for the first time about his wings, useless though they may have been. And shame as well. If he thought so poorly of himself, what did that say about his sister?
He continued to work with Bieran, talking more freely now, and asking about the world outside the monastery, the church, and the manor that had held him his entire life. It was like Vorrus' stories in a way, though less clean and sterile. They spoke more as equals, though Liath could never match Bieran's stamina for rants and insults. In truth, it was entertaining simply to listen to him complain.
He grew at ease with himself, and at the same time began to grow restless in the daily routine he had lived in for seven years. Life at the monastery was good, but it was beginning to grow stifling. Naella was happier, he thought. She had felt the call of her goddess earlier, and had recently been confirmed as a priestess in Iomedae's name.
He was happy for her, but he also envied her in a way. He remembered his call upon the goddess, and what he had done to draw her attention. He saw the foolishness, and selfishness, of that act now, and the stumps on his back were a constant reminder of his shame. But still he wanted to reforge himself. Still he wanted to become something more than what he was.
One day while working with Bieran, Liath caught a glimpse of something glinting in the underbrush. Liath felt drawn towards it. He made his way towards it, and found an old, mostly tarnished longsword embedded in the ground. It was still in fine condition. It felt right and balanced in his hand. The dwarf furrowed his brow, "That weren't there yesterday. Think you better talk to the monks about that."
When he did, the elder of the monastery smiled, and asked Liath if he was ready to begin his training. The boy finally realized what the sword meant.
Before leaving the monastery, Bieran gave Liath his old cap. "You can pull it over your head if you meet any girls. Might have a chance then."
Three years have passed, and Liath has only recently been confirmed as a paladin in service to Iomedae.
He and his sister keep close when they can, and remain ever protective of each other. They are both also zealous in their faith. Even now they still feel uncomfortable with their blood, and they subconciously fear that weakness in their faith would allow them to become the things their father spent years convincing them they were. Liath has managed to accept what he is, mostly. He regrets the removal of his wings, as if he has somehow diminished himself and also distanced himself from his sister by that action.
Naella was well aware of her brother's shame, and had something made especially for him, to mend whatever rift Liath believed he was responsible for: A piece of armor, a backplate that could be worked into his armor once he acquired it. It would not only fit over his back, but had small steel ornamental wings, like those of an angel, just as their mother once said.
Liath and Naella do not use the Stalheim family name, nor that of the Vendells. For want of something to signify their familial link, they both agreed to choose one during their time at the monastery. Samathran.