Posting here due to it being too long for a PM even when chopped up ... this is one possible character concept for an upcoming campaign, and was written a very long time ago so it surely needs tweaking and editing.
Her earliest memory...
There was fear, and voices in the dark, mingled with the cold and hunger. She could not remember if things had ever been different, or if she had simply been created alone and frightened.
"Ah, th' poor thing. Get her up, Roger."
"Why? She be most likely dead, an' e'en if not y'know we canna be keepin' her. Better t'leave her be."
"Roger! She canna be more'n five or six."
"An' y'think she'll be makin' another year? Debbie, th' cruel thing be t'help her a little, an' give her hope."
"Listen t'her, cryin' like that. That be no corpse -- an' if y'won't be carryin' her, I will."
She was lifted up and moved somewhere, the voices complaining at each other the whole time.
Her next memory...
Now there was light and warmth, and central to it all was food. Roger and Debbie were two presences, still arguing. Debbie wanted Roger to take the girl in, to be his apprentice when she was old enough. Roger, though wavering, maintained that they couldn't feed themselves, so how could they feed a child until she was old enough to make her way?
If they couldn't feed themselves, she shouldn't be eating their food. She dimly remembered a voice chastising her for taking something not hers; was that why she'd been out in the dark and cold? She laid down her spoon and sidled towards the door.
She made all of one step before she fell with a thump. Debbie whirled to her side.
"Ah, poor chil -- oh, Roger... her leg!" Debbie gasped.
What was wrong, why were they staring? She looked at her legs, bare under her ragged shift. The right one was thin, but seemed normal. The other... the other was twisted and withered. How had that happened? She would remember if it had been that way before, wouldn't she? But she couldn't remember anything.
"That's settled, then, innit," said Roger. "She'll never do anythin' but beg. She'll be havin' t'leave in th'morn'." Debbie said nothing, just nodded slowly.
Her life after that...
Six year olds are quick learners. On the crude crutches Roger gave her before apologetically sending her out, she slowly made her way from her helpers' door. She never saw them again, nor knew where to find them, nor even whether she'd thank or kill them for what they'd done.
She spent five years begging. Urchins taunted her, calling her "Bess" after the old lame dog at the Soldier's Gold Inn, a place which did good business during the winter quartering of mercenaries and fell into disrepair for the rest of the year. Sometimes the urchins snatched her bowl of hard won coppers and ran, shouting "Heya, Littlefoot, catch me if'n y'can!" That practice ended when she learned to keep the bowl in her lap and smack the snatchers with a crutch, wielded not with strength but with vigor and precision. Still, she couldn't stop the name calling, and eventually even those who spoke kindly to her called her Bess Littlefoot. She dreamed that one day someone would give her a bezant, a gold coin, and she'd be rich and never have to beg again, and she'd call herself Lady Elizabeth, and be the grandest lady in the court other than the Queen.
And one day...
It was January. Bess the dog had died sometime before. Sam Ramey, innkeep at the Soldier's Gold, paused by the doorway where Littlefoot huddled with her bowl. She looked at him sullenly, as she looked at everyone. But, even though she wasn't the most cheerful of beggars, there was an air about her. He couldn't finger it exactly; it hung in part on her reputation for an unusual amount of honesty, and in part on her -- well, not pride, exactly, but integrity. She kept herself as clean as any beggar could, and she looked a man in the eye, instead of shifting about. He'd exchanged maybe ten words with her in the past two years, though he'd discussed her with patrons on a slow night. It was a source of gentle amusement to him that the town had two lame Besses.
When he seemed unlikely to speak or to give her money, Bess looked down again, burrowing her hands deeper into her armpits.
"Ah, t'hell with it," he said, throwing up his hands. "Come on, you." She looked up, silently. "I mean, th'place seems empty without old Bess in th'corner. If you'll be able to be choppin' up the vegetables an' ither, um, sit-down bits o'work, I'll gi'you a corner t'sleep in an' dinner each day." He held out his hand to her, and warily, she accepted his help in standing. He gave her her crutches -- not Roger's, she had long outgrown those -- and walked her to his inn.
So after that...
Bess became a fixture in her corner at the Soldier's Gold, mending the staff's clothes and preparing food for cooking. She also became more talkative, as she came to accept and mostly trust her good fortune. Yet, she still carefully weighed questions for motive before answering, and volunteered little information beyond her opinion on the weather. Sam's "dinner each day" was, while not extravagant, of much higher quality and quantity than she'd been accustomed to eating, and she filled out until she was slender instead of emaciated. However, her left leg barely changed. Above the knee, it was relatively normal, albeit slightly warped and low on muscle from lack of exercise; below the knee, it was as thin as her wrist, and as twisted as an old branch. She could not walk quickly, and when she did move about her gait was a lurching, dragging parody of a walk. One of the mercenaries had whiled away a slow two weeks carving her a pair of crutches of the proper height, with a swelling of the shaft for an easy grip, but these improved only her comfort, not her mobility.
And in her thirteenth year...
Bess was in the stable, feeding an apple in small portions to one of the mercenaries' horses. She'd saved the apple from her dinner as an excuse to visit the beasts. Animals didn't laugh at her leg; they didn't even notice it. They liked her if she was nice to them, and that was an end to it.
"Ah, y'greedy thing, I'd be thinkin' yer man nivver fed you if I didn't be knowin' a mercenary's horse were his life an' limb," she murmered to the horse, a sturdy gray who whickered and snatched at the rest of the apple.
"Is old Ironhoof spreading tales about me again?" asked a voice behind her. She spun, bracing herself on the stall for balance. "You don't want to listen to that solidguts, or he'll have you feeding him all of Sam's pantry for pity on the poor skeletal thing."
The man who'd spoken was a regular at the inn, but Bess didn't know his name; she paid as little attention as possible to people outside the inn's staff. She groped for her crutches and fled for the door as quickly as she could, mumbling an apology for meddling with the man's horse. She could feel him watching every lurching step, and her cheeks burned. Bess had spent years learning to ignore the jeers, but he'd caught her in an unguarded moment.
"Hey," he said softly, "would you like to ride him?" She stopped, her back stiff. How had he known? She turned, anger at this invasion of her dreams releasing the long pent-up bitterness.
"You'd like t'be seein' that, wouldn't you, like t'be watchin' th'cripple climb on a great big horse an' fall off, y'think you'll be gettin' yer after dinner entertainment for free tonight. I hope yer saddle slips an' y'break yer neck!" Her fine speech was ruined by her inability to flounce out of the stable, and his easy smile.
"No, I just know what it is to want horses. I'll help you up, and Ironhoof won't let you fall. I promise I'll not hurt you."
"What kind o'mercenary be you? That be what mercenaries do, hurt people." She was speaking sharply, letting all the years of pain lash out at this man for the crime of being nice to her without benefit to himself.
"My name's Daniel Carver, though most call me Carver Danny, and I'm like any other man, good some ways and bad others. And I hurt no one without very good reason."
Carver Danny! Hearth talk had revolved around his skill in battle more than once. No stories had suggested that he left his viciousness on the battlefield. But he was talking kindly, and he'd offered her a dream... how much worse could he hurt her, if she remembered that it was bound to be a trick, and didn't let herself hope?
"Well, let's be on with it, then," she said defiantly. It was a less than gracious thank you, but he saddled Ironhoof and led Bess and the horse into the courtyard as cheerfully as if she'd given him a sack of gold and a commendation from the Queen.
"It'll do Ironhoof good to get some exercise, the lazy oaf, even if it is only walking around the courtyard -- don't look so disappointed, girl, I can hardly have you galloping into the winter countryside your first time on a horse."
"I weren't disappointed," she said flatly. "Y'think I'll be stealing yer horse if'n I get th'chance. Well, I know better'n t'try, seein' as how these horses be trained t'kill them as try t'thieve them." She stroked Ironhoof's nose as she spoke.
"Hell and damnation, I thought no such thing, you goose! Sam talks about your honesty as some talk about fine weather: a refreshing change from the ordinary run of things. But Ironhoof here'd be yours just for your feeding him apples. You ready?"
That suddenly, it was time. Bess looked about; no one else was in the courtyard, no faces peered out the door or windows to watch Carver Danny make a fool of a cripple. She nodded uncertainly. Danny set her right foot in the right-hand stirrup, supporting her as her left leg collapsed, and boosted her up.
"Now, you normally mount from the left," he said, "but I don't think that'll work for you yet." She barely heard him. She was on a horse! Ironhoof shifted under her, and pricked his ears back at her. The ground was far away, but she didn't care. She sat in the saddle and wished she never had to come down again. Danny mistook her still silence. "Hey, hey, don't be scared... I'll catch you if you fall. I'm going to walk him a bit, so hold on to the pommel."
Abruptly, Ironhoof was in motion. Bess swayed, clutching at the pommel for balance, and unawares she smiled for perhaps the first time in eight years. Carver Danny, glancing back, was astounded by the change in her face. Why, he mused, clean her up and dress her right and you'd never know she wasn't a young noblewoman -- always assuming she didn't say anything, of course. He led Ironhoof around the courtyard for ten minutes, then took Bess down and stabled the horse once more. The return of sullenness to Bess' face hurt him as even a sword thrust through his side two years before had not.
"Well, since you're such a help with exercising Ironhoof, I'd appreciate your help more often," he said. "The overgrown lummox needs walking twice a day, and you'll be a help just for passing the time with me while I walk him." Bess' suspicions flared again. A child of the streets, she knew what men expected in return for friendliness.
"An' what do y'be wantin' me t'do for you when you're not walkin' th'horse?" she snapped. Danny looked puzzled, then shocked.
"Good lord, girl, I can find grown and willing women for that! Where'd you get such a notion?"
"I --" at last, words failed her. She bowed her head to hide her embarassment, and mumbled, "I'll be seein' you in th'morn." She lurched her slow way out of the stable and back to her pallet. Sam, who'd glanced out earlier to see Bess and Danny, for once did not grumble about her long absence, but handed her a mug of cider and some mending to do.
From then on...
During the months when Carver Danny wintered at the Soldier's Gold Inn, he taught Bess Littlefoot to ride. "Though," as he confided to his friends, "there's little teaching to do. It's as if she were born to the saddle." When they ribbed him about his interest in 'babies' he only smiled. No one said such things in earnest, not to a man who'd more than earned the nickname of "Carver."
Bess never saw his dangerous side. He was her big brother, her mentor, and in her less guarded moments her friend. She learned to smile, and without her realizing it her speech slowly improved. She also took on more demanding tasks at the inn. Sam was amazed, and started paying her wages, saying that she was doing more than old Bess the dog ever had, and even old Bess had had food and a pallet out of him.
Bess didn't think she could be happier than when she rode Ironhoof. It was as if instead of a crippled leg, she had four healthy ones. When she learned to gallop, with Danny beside her on a borrowed horse, running free and graceful and faster than the urchins ever did, she thought her heart would fly off with the hawks and carry her with it.
In her sixteenth year...
Danny was two weeks late returning from the summer campaign. Bess fretted, asking Sam over and over if there'd been any word.
"Damnit, girl, I liked y'better when y'didn't talk," he fumed, exasperated, as he had any number of times over the last few days.
There was a clatter of hooves outside; Bess looked up quickly, but turned away from the door when she realized there were several horses. Danny always came in alone. There were the sounds of horses being led to the stable, and of someone entering the common room. Then a touch on her arm, and Danny's voice.
"Hey there, you going to sit about or you going to come give Ironhoof his welcome-back walking?" Bess turned, eyes narrowed.
"That's it? Two weeks late and no word, and you say nothing more than that?" But he was already ducking out the door, and she couldn't stay inside, not with Ironhoof out there needing her, and her not having ridden for months. She felt as if she only lived in the winter, and she couldn't put off her rebirth another minute. Awkwardly, she got to her feet -- and wasn't that just like Danny, to forget how hard it was for her to get about on her own -- and dragged herself out to the courtyard.
Danny wasn't there, and neither was Ironhoof. She sighed in frustration, and continued her progress into the stable. There the pair stood, looking smug, and two new arrivals stood nearby. One was a roan mare, the other a young black male.
"And who are these beauties?" Bess asked.
"Well, Littlefoot," he replied, using her nickname with his usual fondness, "the roan is Nimblytrots, and she was my friend Brian's 'til I won her at cards -- we're still friends, he won enough money in the rest of the game to buy a better horse -- so I'm going to sell her at market."
"And the black? He's lovely; did you win him, too?" Bess was a bit sharp on this last, as she had long rebuked Danny for his gambling; to her way of thinking, it was a foolish way to lose money or a dishonest way to earn it.
"No, there's a story to him. I was at the siege of Breston these past few months, and when the town fell it turned out the garrison'd been keeping the horses away from those as wanted to eat them. They were planning a sally which never came off. So, since no one person could claim capture of the horses, they went to auction with the rest of the general booty. Turned out this fellow was a bit weak in one leg, and too young for immediate use besides, so no one bid against me. I'm late coming back because I had to go slow enough for him."
"And why'd you bother? You can't sell him honestly for what feeding him's already cost you."
"Well, it's just that he reminded me of you, what with his bad leg and all, and you're always so stiff the first few days in the saddle when I come back, that I thought you'd like to have a practice horse during the summer." He said this diffidently, but with a slight grin at the corners of his face, as if certain she'd be pleased. Pleased? How was she to pay for this beast?
"A practice horse! With a weak leg, he couldn't be bearin' my weight! And I've no saddle b'sides t'be a'ridin' him with!" Danny noticed the slip in her grammar, and knew she was truly upset. Must she always be perverse?
"Now, Bess, he maybe can grow out of the weak leg. You don't weigh much anyhow, and since when do you of all riders need a saddle? He won't be big enough for one for a while anyway, you'll want to let him get his growth before you use all that leather to make something that won't fit. If you really don't want him," he continued, "I can sell him to the knackers." She stiffened and stepped between him and the black.
"You will do no such thing, Daniel Carver, and you know it. He's perfect just as he is, and I'll pay you for him some day, I swear it."
"Pay...? He's a gift, you goose. He's yours, now and forever, and all you have to do is promise to take care of him. I'll arrange with Sam about the feed and stall space."
Incredulously, she reached to stroke the little horse. He lipped at her fingers and tossed his nose up under her chin. She smiled radiantly, forgetting everything but the miracle in front of her, barely hearing Danny ask,
"What's his name, then?" The answer was obvious at once.
"Bezant," she said, still focussed on the horse.
"Bess, he's black. You don't name black horses with golden words." Bess shook her head, speaking into the horse's mane.
"His name is Bezant. I used to dream someone would give me a bezant, and I'd be rich and grand. I didn't know how little one gold coin would buy, or how hard it'd be for a beggar to spend one without being named a thief. And now someone has given me a bezant, and I feel richer than the Queen." Slowly, she continued. "You know, Danny, in all these years, I've never said thank you. Well, I say it now. Thank you for my Bezant." She turned and hugged him, then limped out as quickly as she could to hide the tears he'd never seen in her before.
For the next few years...
Bezant's weak leg did firm up, and Bess trained him to the saddle and bridle. When the two were completely confident together, Sam crustily told her that as long as she was going out riding, she might as well earn her keep by carrying messages for him. Soon she was a familiar sight about the town and nearby countryside, known for speedy delivery and honest dealing. She earned enough to pay for Bezant's upkeep, and had enough left over to buy her room and board from Sam. Sam, however, wouldn't hear of it.
"Nivver charged old Bess for her corner, why should I treat y'differint? B'sides, you be bringin' in th'business for me, that be payment enough." And it was true: people in need of a courier came to the Soldier's Gold, and more often than not stayed for a drink or meal after Bess was dispatched. They told their friends about the reasonable prices and decent food, and for the first time in memory, the inn did a reasonable business during the summer months.
Bess carried her crutches with her, slung on the saddle, and once in a while used them to good effect against would-be bandits. When Danny at length found out about this, he was livid.
"Wood sticks against bandits? You're madder than any mercenary ever was!" He went out that very day and returned with a sword, drilling her ruthlessly both on foot and on horse. When she protested that she need not learn to fight on foot because if unhorsed she was dead anyway, he only snarled and pushed her harder. She at last caught a glimpse of the violence of which he was capable, and began to push herself as well. By the time she
was twenty, Bess had gained enough balance to walk with one cane instead of two crutches. Bezant having been trained along with her, Danny declared that he wouldn't like to fight her on foot and would flee screaming if she were riding.
She scoffed at the idea of his running from anyone, and he informed her that he'd have been dead before he met her if he were unwilling to run from bad odds. She accepted this, but still scoffed to think he would scream as he ran.
For only the second time, Danny was late. He'd even missed her twenty-first birthday (they'd long ago arbitrarily chosen November 26, the day they'd met, as her birthday), and he'd promised the previous spring to be there in time, as he'd promised every spring before since the first time he'd been late. That time he'd returned with Bezant; what was his excuse this time? Certain that only something very important could keep him away, Bess continued her courier's rounds. Sometimes she was away for days, and Sam always fussed on her return, worried about bandits and the like.
"For all this place be peaceful enough, Bess, y'know there be a war on. Out o'luck soldiers go bandit fast enough, 'specially since th'war's gone on so long." She'd just smile and pat her sword, and Bezant if he were close enough.
So when she returned this time, she wondered why Sam did not come bustling out to greet her. She took Bezant to his stall, promising him a walk-down in a few minutes, and limped into the common room. Sam was sitting at the hearth, head bowed. The regulars were all quiet, the casual customers likewise. Bess paused, then clumped over to her usual seat at the fire, laying down her cane and stretching her hands to the warmth. She looked at Sam with concern, wondering if the inn had suffered some financial blow. Slowly he raised his face to her, eyes bright, and choked out the words.
"I'm sorry, Bess. Carver Danny be dead."
She sat numbly, certain she had misheard. Her voice went on without her.
"Dead? You know that's impossible, Danny's charmed, he's just late, is all. He's not -- "
"He is. I seen it meself," spoke up a man at the bar. "I were there, an' I seen the arrow hit him in th'throat where his mail were torn, an' I seen him fall dead on th'spot, an' I'm th'one what brought th'news, an' I be no liar or may Danny's fate be mine." There was a note of ghoulish pride in his voice: the one to see Carver Danny fall! The listeners muttered, and it was certain that the man would receive many drinks in the coming months for the telling of his tale.
In shock, Bess limped back to tend to Bezant. Safely alone in the stables, she let herself go, sobbing so hard it seemed her throat would be torn out. She hadn't been in love with him, but she'd loved him as the family she never had, and she owed him too much for him to die before she could begin to repay him.
She finally re-entered the common room, which had resumed more normal tones now that the news had been delivered to the one most affected. She sat silent, and Sam and the staff were silent as well, as the inn grieved for someone who'd been family.
Bess went about her duties with a new determination. She wouldn't go off to war -- she couldn't bear the thought of dying senselessly for another man's cause as had Danny -- but she would in all other ways live up to Daniel Carver's high opinion of her.
The name of Bess Littlefoot would, she vowed, come to equal that of Carver Danny.
That February, a scullery maid woke Bess in the pre-dawn light. "You'll want to be a'comin'," she said. "It be Sam."
Bess hurried to Sam's room. He had died in his sleep, and suddenly Bess realized just how much Sam Ramey had meant to her.
"Thank you, Sam," she whispered. "I'll do the same for someone as you did for me, someday. Thank you, father."
The Soldier's Gold Inn was sold to pay funeral expenses and wages for the staff while they looked for new work. Bess Littlefoot became a full-time courier with no fixed abode; she stays with those who receive her messages. And next? Who knows?