CONTENT WARNING: This story contains content, including sexual violence, that may not be suitable for some readers. Reader discretion is advised.
The Story of Oldriska Cerny, The Mantis.
Oldriska Cerny (pronounced SAIR-knee) was always unlike the other girls in the Village of Varne. While the others enjoyed watching the cattle graze in pasture, Oldriska was standing aside her father and brothers, as they butchered them. She ran and played with the boys in the forest and fields, played in their fights, and did not always lose.
She was largely admired by the adults in the village, who despite being old-fashioned were able to appreciate her strength. Varne is a village composed of several ranches spread out over miles, each with a pathway to the one central road in the middle of the village. It also is home to one of the largest half-orc populations on The North Coast, due to the people valuing strength and honest hard work. Oldriska could run and work with the best of them. She was no lady, but a rancher and a brawler.
Her family was also proud to have a daughter and sister who could truly take care of herself. Her father and oldest brother worked as butchers for the ranches of the village, and while there was always work, the half-orc butchers seemed to earn more of it. Her mother was a homemaker, making and mending their patchwork clothing, and keeping their small cabin home tidy and clean. Her middle brother was disinterested in the ranches and butchering, and sometimes disappeared into the forest for days at a time. He was the most likely to bring Oldriska along with his friends, or on his camping trips, and it was he who taught her to hold a wooden stick-sword. Her youngest brother, still two years older than she, was smaller and weaker than his other siblings. Unable to work effectively in the labor intensive ranch village, he visited their neighbors, and offered to help clean in exchange for being allowed to borrow and read whatever books they had. He also often helped his father keep track of his earnings and the things the family needed and had.
As she grew up, so did the village. She stopped playing, and started helping her father and brother butcher cattle at the age of 12. Her father suffered a leg injury, leaving him bedridden, and her and her eldest brother to attempt to provide for the family of six. Her middle brother, refusing to work at a ranch, left home for the capital of Northtide to join the army hoping to one day be able to send his family some gold. Her youngest brother, stayed home for a couple years, aiding their father to the best of his ability. He taught the rest of the family to keep track of their gold and goods, and decided also to set off to the capital. He planned to find their middle brother and stay with him if possible, until he could find work.
Oldriska and her older brother worked well together, although the years after her father’s injury were difficult. Two years after her youngest brother left home, her mother and father called her to their bed to give her some news. Her father had received a letter of courtship from David Windsworth, a Lieutenant in the army at Northtide. Oldriska had grown up with David for a few years at least when they were small children before the Windsworths moved to Northtide, something about his mother knowing some noble in the capital. Since then, David had done quite well for himself in the army, and remembered a childhood crush.
Oldriska rejected the proposal at first, arguing with her parents about what they were calling the “arrangement”. The marriage would allow Oldriska to get some gold for the family, and to ensure that her father would be comfortable in his final years. Her parents knew they asked something terrible of her, and that she would not have liked it. Tears welling in her eyes, she knew she could not refuse and let her father die a painful death. Amidst a soggy embrace between the three, she agreed.
Two days later, Lieutenant David Windsworth arrived to bring his betrothed home. He was not the child Oldriska remembered. He had grown stoic and stern looking, and had no sparkle of frivolity left in his eyes. He was curt in taking her, and dropped to the floor a bag of silver and medicine for her parents. She held back tears as she rode away with him. At least he had provided her with a horse, and not taken her in a carriage; this she suspected was an act of kindness towards her. It was the only one she would receive.
They arrived in Northtide without reception and rode directly to the chapel, where they were married before a small audience of officiants. They rode to his home, which was a military dormitory style abode. Made of cut rock, with a small second floor since he was an officer after all. It was not altogether unimpressive however, to Oldriska, it felt akin to a prison…and in more ways than one.
That night was the first time he struck her. He had brought her to his bed, and forced himself upon her. She shoved him back, hard, as she had learned to do with cattle. He fell from the bed, and with a flash in his eyes flung his hand across her cheek. Their eyes met for a moment, glaring, before he stormed out. She froze, and waited. He returned after a while, a bottle in his teetering hand, before slumping into the bed unconscious. Oldriska did not know what to do, so she sat, vigilant, through the night. She asked herself how her life had come to this, and longed to return to her roots.
In the morning, he left to conduct business, and bid her a happy day. She followed him, and found that he was instructing recruits in swordsmanship. She left to purchase a warm honey roll, and returned to feign surprise that she had been able to find him, and offered him the roll while she lingered to observe the training. She had always been a visual learner. She learned to butcher cattle watching her father and brother work. She learned the cuts, where to begin and end them, how deep to drive the blade, when and how to twist flesh from bone, all from watching.
She noticed at one point, David looking at her and smiling, apparently impressed with her interest in the exercises. She asked to try and spar with one of the recruits. His face dropped, and he refused, insisting that it was no place for a lady. She drew closer to him, and with the most fiendish smile she could muster said, “you didn’t want me because I was a lady.” He grinned at her, and she could sense malice in his gaze. He agreed to let her practice, and offered her a dulled longsword. She did surprisingly well, and managed to win three bouts rather quickly without being hit.
Lieutenant Windsworth was not pleased that his recruits were so pitiful, and his wife so proficient, at least not in front of the recruits in the practice yard. He ordered them all away, and took up a practice sword himself. Once the yard was cleared, he insisted that she duel him, and that he would show her. They found that they were evenly matched, and while they fought, two sergeants walking by stopped to watch. Windsworth grew frustrated that he had not won more quickly, and began swinging his sword dangerously with two hands. Oldriska was quick though and, keeping her sword in a single hand, was able to maneuver around her husbands attacks. Finally, with a quick strike, she landed a hit on his chest with the tip of her blade, and the fight was over.
He grabbed her wrist expectantly, causing her to drop the sword, and he went on to grab her shoulder as well, shaking her, shouting at her, and releasing her wrist to raise his arm. It was then that he looked past her to notice the two other soldiers, and lowered his hand, and led her out of the training area with a tight grip on her upper arm. He instructed her to go home, which against her instincts, she did. She looked back to see him speaking quietly and angrily at the other two. She then rushed home, fearful of the unfamiliar city around her.
That evening, David returned. She had been sitting at the table, moving her wrist in circles and patterns, practicing. He sat at the table as well, and poured a glass of strong smelling liquor. “Who do you think you are?” He sneered at her after finishing half the glass and refilling it. “Well!?” He shouted after she had remained silent a moment too long. “I’m Oldriska Cerny…” she said meekly. He finished a large sip and slammed the glass down on the table, “No! You’re Oldriska Windsworth, my wife, and it’s about time you started acting like it!” He put his fingers in his lips and blew a harsh whistle, and the door opened with a slam.
The two sergeants from earlier rushed in, grabbed Oldriska by her arms, and stood her up. David stood and pulled a rag from his pocket. As she began to scream, he shoved it into her mouth and drew his face to the side of hers. “Shut up, bitch.” he whispered, warm breath on her ear, she felt sick, a feeling amplified as he struck her in the ribs. She tried to cough, but was unable. He hit her a handful more times, cracking ribs, and one strike to her face that dazed her.
The other men began to drag her upstairs, kicking and struggling, while David closed the front door and finished his glass. The men carried her to the bedroom, and held her arms down. She kicked and flailed, struggling to no avail. Her chest and face ached, and it hurt to breathe. She felt warm tears streaming down her cheeks, and felt powerless, but not to her detriment. No, Oldriska had known powerlessness before. She grew up around cattle, around older brothers and older boys, all large stubborn creatures that require a strong hand to move. She was struggling and crying, and for all intents and purposes appeared to be out of control. Within however, she could be no farther from distressed. She was hyper-conscious, and hyper-aware of what was going on. She thought for a second that she wished she could not be awake, but quickly dismissed the lapse in focus, and knew that awake and aware was the best she could be right now, just as one must be in the woods.
David lumbered into the bedroom, stripped off his pants, and climbed atop her, forcing her open to him. He pulled a dagger from the belt of one of his nearby accomplices, and cut away her clothing. Oldriska struggled still to make it uncomfortable and uneasy for her assailants, and wished for it to end. Her wish was granted after a terrible three minutes. Windsworth withdrew himself from her, before slapping her across the face several times, staining her skin with blood from a cut caused by his earlier punch.
She lifted her head a bit, then let it fall back to the mattress. Windsworth spit on her chest before rising and began dressing again. The two men holding her arms released her, and began stepping away, asking if they could leave. Windsworth ordered them to wait, and began instructing them to swear to secrecy.
Oldriska opened her eyes to focus on the dagger at the belt of one of the men. Having already made her plan, she leapt up with all the latent adrenaline that had been coursing through her body. The dagger was in her hand, but she saw Windsworth turning to react to her sudden motion. Driven by her survival instinct, eyes drowned in fury, she continued her forward lunge from the bed off the foot directly at him, and began her swing. She knew it would not land in time. Using all the forward momentum she had, she opened her mouth and closed it around the neck of David Windsworth.
The scream that came from his open throat was not at all what she expected to hear, but was halted when she plunged the dagger into the other side of his neck. She pulled away and spat out the flesh from her mouth, blood spraying from the wounds on both sides of his neck. The two other men had taken a step towards her to intervene, but they stopped to draw their arms up to shield their eyes from the bloody spray. Operating as she had learned from her father, she drew the blade around his throat. She knew the pressure. She felt the tip of the blade on bone. She drew it around his throat with a slicing motion she had done hundreds of times before.
The two men put their arms down after they heard a thud. On the floor, was the headless corpse of Lieutenant David Windsworth, his head rolling a short distance from where it fell. Before them, kneeling upright at the foot of the bed was Oldriska. Her face was covered in blood, which ran down her naked chest. Her chest was bruised, and heaved as she struggled to breathe. Blood ran down her legs, still partially wrapped in torn and cut up fabric. She stepped off the bed into the blood pooling on the floor, stood upright, and spit a final piece of flesh from her mouth.
“Leave. Leave the capital. Don’t ever come back.” She said, still holding the dagger. The two men glanced at each other quickly, and ran out of the room, down the stairs, and from the home. Oldriska fell to her knees and clutched her chest, every breath causing agony. She saw the head of her late-husband a short distance away on the floor, eyes frozen in maddening fear. She fell asleep there minutes later, collapsed in the blood on the floor.
The pain in her chest is what awoke her, as soldiers were carrying her out of the house on a stretcher. She opened her mouth to speak, but was unable to do so. She blacked out again, gazing up at the night sky over the capital.
When she next awoke, she found herself laying on a bed of straw, her chest wrapped in bandages, as well as one around her head. She felt sore everywhere she could imagine, a deep soreness she felt sick thinking about. Her nausea was quickly compensated for when she remembered what she had done. She was free now, or so she thought. Looking around, she found herself in a cell, and began to weep.
She cried loudly and fully, ignoring the pain which had since lessened some. She was not sad for what had happened to her, or to David Windsworth; she was sad that she had failed her father, and that she would likely never see him or her mother again.
She estimates that it was about a week she spent in the cell, though she could not know how long she had been asleep for that first night or day. Each day, a hooded man would come and give her water, bread, and a salve to rub over her wounds. She asked where she was, how long she had been here, and what was going to happen to her. The man never said a word.
One day, she awoke to voices, one in particular she thought she knew, but did not know if she truly heard it or if she was going mad. From the dark corridor where the hooded man had come from, came two soldiers. One, obviously a guard, and the other, an officer. Oldriska smiled for the first time since she had come to the capital, and grabbed the bars of her cell, pulling her close enough to return the embrace offered by the officer, a Lieutenant Cerny, her middle brother.
He knew from a letter from their mother and father that Oldriska had been married to Lieutenant Windsworth in the capital and he had been trying to find her. When he heard that Windsworth had been murdered, he knew where to look. He ordered the guard away, and they spoke in privacy.
She told him of her husbands cruelty, and how it was the best way to help father. She told him of the duel, and of the assault she endured. Most of all, she wanted to know what was going to happen to her. Her brother reminded her that she killed a military officer, for which the punishment was usually life in prison or death. She looked as though she might weep, but twisted her face instead into anger. She explained to her brother how she had been wronged, and begged him to help her. He was unsure what he could do, but said he would do what he could.
Her middle brother returned later that week, and told her there was to be a trial, and he would speak on her behalf, as well as her youngest brother, who was an assistant coin counter at a reputable business in the city. She was glad to hear that the rest of her family had fared better than she in the capital.
Four days later, the trial was held. Her brother had arranged for a military escort to bring their parents to the trial, where her father lay in a cart of straw pulled into the great audience hall of the king. Her middle, and youngest brothers were there. There was also many soldiers, whose allegiance was unclear to her. King Krall stood before his throne as people entered and found a seat. The Queen, and his eldest son on either side of him, along with advisors and officials in adjacent seats.
King Krall began the trial by reading the charges and the case, and offering an oath of impartiality, swearing that even though it was one of his soldiers slain, he would not pass unfair or unjust judgement. The congregation was seated, and one of the sergeants who assisted Windsworth rose. He stated that Oldriska was a murderer and a poor wife. He claimed he had seen her beat him in a swordfight, and did not show the proper respect a wife should to her husband. The king offered that even his own wife, the queen bested him in various contests, and that that is not the sign of a poor wife. The sergeant sat, not saying any more.
Oldriska was called upon next to speak her story, which she told. She told of the physical violence, and her reluctance to perform her wifely duties. She also revealed the true reason she married him in the first place, directing the courts attention to her father, who had not gotten any better, however, neither was he worse thanks to the medicine they did receive. She spoke loudly, and proudly, and did not exhibit shame for what she had done. She spoke of the duel, and included that she had also bested several recruits, and that the man who had spoken earlier had helped Windsworth carry out her rape.
The king asked the sergeant if what she was saying was true, and he refuted it. The middle brother rose and spoke, offering that a military man suspected of a crime should be treated as a criminal suspected of a crime, and the king placed the sergeant in manacles. Oldriska included there was another man, who the first man said did in fact flee. When they returned to their barracks, the other sergeant packed his things and left, not wanting to be involved in any of it. The other man, reported the murder, and was part of the reason Oldriska was found, and brought to jail.
The other part of the reason for this trial happening so quickly, was that the Windsworths were related to an upper family in the city, and a group of several of these family members spoke out against Oldriska, labeling her a menace, offering that plenty of citizens to not prefer their jobs but they do so anyway. Oldriska and her family were furious, but could say nothing as this upper family spoke against them.
The trial carried on, with Oldriska accounting her reasons and actions, her middle and younger brothers speaking about her upbringing, learning to fight, and not ever being not allowed to defense herself. She was also very open in admitting she did not love the man, and only acted to support her family. The Windsworths of course refuted her claims about family, noting that it was now their family that suffered a loss. Several soldiers also spoke, adding that Windsworth was a drunk, and he was physically abusive to some of the recruits. Other soldiers argued that a harsh rearing was needed to train good soldiers, but the king would listen to none of that.
King Vlastimil Krall of Northtide, was an intimidating man. He was tall, strong-framed, and had intense blue eyes seated beneath thick dark brows, that reflected years of learned wisdom. He never looked confused, unsure, or concerned. His face was incredibly stoic, revealing only thoughtfulness, throughout the entire affair. Finally, after everyone had spoken their piece, he rose, and began to offer his verdict.
“Oldriska Windsworth,” he began, but was interrupted by a blurted out but sure “No.” from Oldriska. The king raised an eyebrow at her, as if allowing her to continue on. The rest of the court tense and hushed, had not expected the king to allow an interruption unpunished.
“Oldriska Cerny, my liege. I have always been, and will always be, Oldriska Cerny.”
King Krall nodded at her, and began again. The Windsworths jaws dropped, but they remained silent.
“Oldriska Cerny. You have been accused of the murder of Lieutenant David Windsworth. You had plead guilty to the action, your explanation has been heard, your character has been spoken for and against, and now as King of Northtide, I offer to all in attendance my verdict, my words on the matter, which are law, and shall be obeyed.”
The audience customarily and collectively said “Aye.”
The king paused. Normally, he would continue on with a sentence, but he did not speak. The great hall held its breath. He stepped down his row of advisors to speak with a man in armor, with purple and gold adornments. Whispers were shared for a moment, and the king returned to his place before the throne.
“Oldriska Cerny. I, King Vlastimil Krall of Northtide, sentence you to serve in my royal guard for ten years, after which time, you will have earned your pardon, and comfort for your family.”
The Windsworths and soldiers who had spoken for the deceased began to talk and shout, clearly upset by the outcome of the trial, before being hollered to silence by the king.
“Silence! If you take issue with the verdict you may request to speak to me individually, but I will tell you all now, I shall not change my mind. I will not sentence such a spirit to die. Oldriska, you know that you may not again kill within my city, or I will have your head, and there will be no trial. I believe you are dangerous, but you have a good heart, as evidenced by your family. I will send your parents home with excellent medicine, and ensure they never go hungry, or cold. You must stay here in the capital for the duration of your service, unless otherwise instructed. You will learn from the captain of the royal guard, Commander Noury, who you will report to when summoned, and whose word you will follow. He will not mistreat you, nor will he tolerate anyone who does. The royal guard is much more closely managed than the army, which I will be expecting increased discipline from.” The king looked at one of his advisors, who appears obviously to be a general and advisor, and who nodded shamefully in response.
“Thank you all for your time, and your information regarding the matter. Go now in grace, and do good for our city.”
The people filed out of the audience chamber, leaving the great hall to the king, his family, advisors, Oldriska, and her family. Her father and mother were given the goods promised, and her middle brother offered to return them to Varne. The youngest brother also provided their parents with goods, and returned to his work. Oldriska was lead out of the hall by Commander Noury, a short red haired, trim bearded man who spoke softly to her as they walked through the castle. He apologized for her ordeal, and made it very clear what the rules and expectations would be for her as a member of the king’s royal guard. She had lots of questions, and he offered to answer them all.
Oldriska Cerny worked as a royal guard for the ten years she owed. During which time, she bonded with the members of her squad. She was also close with Commander Noury, who was somewhat of a father figure to her, since she was not allowed to leave the capital to visit her own family. She did still see her two younger brothers in the city, and they all looked out for one another.
During her training, she elected not to learn to use a shield, as it slowed her down. Commander Noury was a particularly smart commander, and knew to make use of his soldiers strengths and weaknesses, occasionally allowing modifications to the standard training regimen. Additionally, while other guards would grip their longswords with two hands on occasion, she always held hers with one hand, citing her duel with Windsworth, where using two hands impacts the movement allowed by the body.
She was an agile and capable combatant, who won countless duels with her compatriots. Early along, shortly after she started training with her squad, they asked about her story, which she shared. It earned her the nickname “the mantis”, which she was called by certain people for the majority of those ten years she spent.
At the end of the tenth year, she had an audience with with the king, to receive her official pardon for the murder of Lieutenant David Windsworth. The king offered her to stay in the guard, but she politely declined, wanting to return home, and then see what else the world has to offer to a royally trained swordswoman. The king told her she would always have a place in Northtide should she need it, and she turned her back and left, not planning to return.
Her middle brother was stationed in a distant Town, and she thought she might travel to see him. Her oldest brother remained home in Varne, with her parents, who she visited right after leaving the city. Last she knew, they were doing well. Her youngest brother remained in Northtide, counting coin.
Oldriska now travels Ados in search of the adventures she used to have as a child, and looking to liberate anyone kept somewhere they don’t want to be.
Oldriska Cerny is a 26 year old Human Fighter, using a Duelist fighting style, and a Champion, Fencer, or Weapon Master martial archetype. She uses a single longsword named Prayer, after both the mantis and an activity that she found she enjoyed in her time as a Royal Guard, attending the services at the Chapel of Good with paladins and knights. She would prefer medium armor, as her speed and agility has served her well in her life thus far.
She is particularly adept when dueling 1v1, and is able to maintain her calm and focused internal mentality in the most chaotic and life-threatening situations.
She is wary of women with any visual injuries, as she knows what most often causes them, and would do whatever she is able to help someone out of an abusive situation. She did learn to follow the laws in Northtide however, and would be Lawful or Neutral Good. She does value self-preservation over the law, hence the possibility of Neutral Good, but does her best to follow the rules wherever she is, particularly while in Northtide, and the kingdom of The North Coast.
She introduces herself now as Oldriska the Mantis, preferring not to use the name Cerny around those she does not trust, and knowing that some people had heard the nickname before. When fighting for her life, she has asked her opponents if they know why she is called the mantis, and when they respond that they do not know, she beheads them. Her family’s safety is her primary concern, and she will also send some of the treasure she finds back home.
She keeps her dark brown hair cut short, so she doesn’t need to worry about it while fighting. Her beautiful hazel-green eyes are something people who meet her, or fight her, remember. They appear most often intensely thoughtful and calm, remembering the way the king looked on the day she was saved from execution. One of her ribs did not heal entirely correctly and doesn’t pose a danger (in most cases) but makes constant strenuous activity uncomfortable (long distance running, climbing, swimming, prolonged combat, etc.).
She is asexual, but not aromatic, and since she is still young has lots of time and room for growth, recovery, and relationship building. She has nightmares on occasion, and struggles to sleep some nights, instead staying awake and observing the area around wherever she is, sharpening her blades, or doing other mundane compulsive tasks. She sleeps alone, and away from other people and will not share a room or tent.
She is loyal to the King of Northtide, and whenever she hears word of any news that might benefit the king or the kingdom, she sends a letter to Commander Noury. She often doesn’t stay in one place long enough to receive anything back.
Word of a swordswoman called The Mantis has slowly spread from Northtide in the time since she started her training and was first given the nickname. Mostly a rumor between soldiers of other major cities; some women have started to say they know The Mantis as a form of protection. However, few people in the world actually know Oldriska Cerny…for now.