An old and often quoted saying states that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Its equally old, but less often quoted companion saying states that the aforementioned eye is only one of the many rare components used to produce the smelly and hideously expensive skin lotions, creams, ointments, powders and hairoils necessary to make said beauty available to anybody. Yes, anybody, or at least anybody willing and able to pay the highly reasonable price of five hundred gold pieces per bottle. Anomen Delryn, Warrior Priest of Helm, meditated upon these deep secrets of the universe as he performed his regular routine before the mirror.
Armour, newly polished and gleaming brightly enough to make vampires shrivel into tiny and surprised piles of dust. Check. Beneath said armour, body. Body honed and trimmed to perfection through years of merciless exercises, including some extremely painful ones involving pushups with a younger acolyte perched on your back and the threat of a spiked carpet beneath your trembling abdominals. Check. Almost a pity there was no such thing as transparent armour, it seemed such a shame to cover up a work of art like that. Face. Ruggedly handsome even in its natural state, devastatingly charming and handsome when improved with Creme of Illithid (‘Drains the pores before you can say Mindflayer. Now with New and Improved Secret Formula). Check. Hair. Gleaming chestnut, washed and combed and tenderly saturated with enough essential oils, vitamins and nutrients to feed a family of four for a week. Check. Beard. Well. At least it didn’t contain any remnants from his breakfast.
Anomen sighed. Why, oh why wouldn’t his beard cooperate? It looked weedy rather than majestic. It itched. It grew even slower than the pile of cash in a beggar’s bowl, succumbing to neither pleas nor threats. Of course he could have shaved it off, but that would make him look too boyish and he already had a hard enough time trying to make people take him seriously. Besides, beards were approved of among the clergy, being thought of as symbols for stability, even tempers, generosity and confidence. He could use a bit of that image. Anomen sighed again. The only thing his own beard could be said to symbolise was the triumph of Nature over Technology. No matter how many oils and potions he tried, the beard still remained feeble and weedy looking. Nothing like… But no. He refused to even let himself think about That Woman. She might be his employer, the one who was hopefully going to lead him into glorious adventure and righteous smiting of evil. But she was also decidedly – odd. Anomen sighed again and reached for the curlers slowly being heated over the fire. Gently, with the utmost precision, he applied them to his facial hair.
“Hey, Knight Boy!” The voice was cheerful, and loud with excitement. It stormed into the room, accompanied by the boom of the door being thrown wide open, and metaphorically speaking kicked its shoes off, made itself comfortable and started criticising the furniture. The voice was then succeeded by its owner. Violet Rose Petunia Skullcracker. The woman of your dreams, if your dreams happened to include an exuberant female dwarf, with an ample figure tucked into a shockingly pink dress, merrily twinkling but slightly alarming blue eyes and a luxurious waistlength golden beard, prettily adorned with a smattering of bright pink bows. There was also a very large and scruffy looking black rat perched on her right shoulder, and it was watching Anomen with an expression of mild disdain. This Anomen failed to notice, since he was much too busy trying to put out his flaming beard. His efforts consisted of making shrill screaming noises and batting ineffectually at his face with his copy of ‘How To Be The Perfect Knight? Ask Mr Malvolio Mannerly!’. So far he had only managed to give himself a black eye. Violet hesitated for a moment, then grabbed the jug standing on the washstand and with a mighty battlecry threw the contents into the burning knight’s face.
“That’s one of the people you’ve been travelling with so far, babe?”, the rat asked, wrinkling his pink nose. “Wow, you must be so relieved to have had some style, grace and poise introduced into your company by yours truly.”
“Shush, Fleece”, Violet said sharply. “Anomen, this is Fleece, my new familiar. Fleece, this is Anomen Delryn. He’s a Priest of Helm and almost a knight as well, you know. Do try to be polite.”
“Yeah, yeah”, the rat said, jumping off her shoulder and landing on the dropped book. “Hey, check this out! ‘A Knight should always take good care of his Equipment, keeping it Groomed and Oiled at all times.’ And there are pictures too!”
“Give that back!”, Anomen growled, snatching the book. “That’s private!”
“I’ll say! Very private parts in there. And how about that other one. ‘If possible, the Would-be-Knight should have a tragically flawed past. Noble ladies are suckers for trying to reform pathetic losers like yourself, Gentle Reader.’ Now, call me crazy, but surely that isn’t official Helmite Code of Honour?”
Anomen felt his dignity shrink into a tiny, bleeding wraith of itself.
“Bought-it-as-a-selfhelpbook”, he said very quietly and very quickly. “Did-not-think-to-check-contents-first.” He then tried to scratch his beard again, only to be confronted with pain, panic and overwhelming horror.
“Mirror”, he said, in an altogether too calm voice.
“Ah, Anomen, I really don’t think that would be such a good idea”, Violet protested.
“Fine, suit yourself. It’s still hanging on the wall where you left it, remember?”
And so it was. Slowly, slowly, Anomen edged closer to the mirror, eyes closed. Then, his feet as firmly planted on the floor as possible, he opened his eyes to gaze upon his reflection. The quietness of the room was almost solid enough to touch.
“Any minute now”, Fleece said, “he’s going to start laughing in a really strange and bizarre manner, and then he’s going to go on an insane killing-spree, calling himself something like ‘Beardman’ or ‘The Barber’ or something like that.”
“Fleece?”, Violet said.
“Get in my pocket. Now.”
Anomen was still staring at his reflection. His mouth seemed to be trying to scream, but no actual sounds were forthcoming. “My…my…”, he finally managed.
“Yes?”, Violet asked encouragingly.
“My beard! You burnt off my beard!”
“Well, yes. I suppose. But only half of it.”
“ONLY HALF OF IT!”
“Look, I’m really very sorry”, Violet said, edging away around the table. “How was I supposed to know that would happen? How was I supposed to know I would accidentally make you look like the remains of a forest fire? I’m not helping things here, am I? Look, let’s go talk this over with the others. I’m sure we’ll be able to think of something.”
If Anomen had hoped for some sympathetic looks and kind advice, his hopes were cruelly shot down, flayed and eaten a few minutes later when he and Violet met up with their companions downstairs.
“Indecent!”, yelled Korgan as soon as he laid eyes upon Anomen’s mutilated beard. “Ye dare show yerself around decent women lookin like that? Why, I oughtta…!” The irate dwarf started fumbling for his axe, clearly intending to lop off Anomen’s offensive head. However, he found himself easily restrained, an enormous fist gripping his shoulder.
“Nothing wrong with shaved face!”, Minsc rumbled. “Minsc thinks friend Anomen should shave rest off too, shaved head looks properly fearsome and is hard for evil enemies to grip, also it is nice and cool in summertime, right Boo?” The hamster squeaked in a rather noncommittal fashion, clearly preferring to keep his own fur on if possible. “Also nice tattoo is part of manly hero’s image, scaring cowardly foes with promises of mighty buttkicking. Minsc could help you make one.”
Anomen got a momentary vision of himself entering the Order of the Radiant Heart for his Test of Knightly Worth, his face covered with a hideous purple tattoo, his head shaven. The knights were all snickering behind his back, and then the Prelate accepted him into the Order, under the name of Sir Baldy.
“I. Will. Not. Shave. My. Head.”, Anomen said, every word sounding like it was being pulled between his teeth.
“Of course you won’t have to shave your head”, Violet said a trifle impatiently. “I’ll fix it, no problem. Now let’s see. A simple Growing Charm should do it.” She rolled up the sleeves of her virulently pink dress, flexing her fingers excitedly.
“Ah, mylady… There is no need to exert yourself on my behalf”, Anomen tried. He had seen Violet’s spellcasting before. While undoubtedly powerful, she could also be strangely erratic and he feared that he might end up with an extra head or something even more horrible.
“Oh, don’t be such a baby”, Violet retorted. “ My mistake, and I’m going to fix it, don’t you worry. Boys, hold the patient still if you would.” Minsc and Korgan immediately complied, gripping the surprised cleric by the arms and immobilising him. Minsc was grinning cheerfully, Korgan ominously. “Now, then”, Violet said. “Expandium Continatem Viskerensis!” Purple sparks shot out of her fingertips, hitting Anomen square in the face. To his surprise, he still seemed to be alive, and there was a notable absence of mortal agony. The only thing he could feel was a very slight tickling sensation around his chin. Then he noticed Violet’s smug smile.
“Look!”, the dwarf cried, happily hugging herself. “It worked! It really worked!”
And indeed it had. Anomen’s beard seemed to have taken on a life of its own. It was growing like it had never grown before, pushing itself out of his face like weeds in a palace garden. The hair seemed almost alive, glossy and sleek, vibrant in colour, and it was beautifully thick and lustrous. Already it had grown past his chin, then to his shoulders…
“Er, mylady?”, Anomen queried. “That will be enough I think… Mylady?” A horrible suspicion came to him as he noticed Violet’s rather sickly smile and the nervous way she fidgeted with her pink bows.
“Oops!”, she said.
“Oops?”, Anomen asked. He was trying to sound dangerous but as he opened his mouth strands of beard sneaked their way into it, half choking him. The whiskers had reached his chest by now and were still sprouting as lustily as ever. Then they reached his waist, then his knees, then his ankles. And still the beard kept growing, pushing aside chairs and tables, climbing the walls and covering the floor of the Copper Coronet’s common room. Customers were hastily making their ways towards the exits, having seen the results of Violet’s spells before. Hendak the Innkeeper had closed his eyes and seemed to be saying a prayer.
“Cut it off!”, Violet shrieked. “Cut it quickly or it’ll choke us all!”
“T’aint hardly proper, cutting a body’s whiskers, even if he be a bumbling longlegs like this’un”, Korgan protested, sounding rather prim and offended. “Cutting the head off, now that would be more sporting-like, and he wouldn’t miss it as much.”
“Get chopping or watch my eyes popping!”, Violet retorted, struggling to free herself from a particularly vicious strand of beard that was trying to wrap itself around her throat. Anomen was completely hidden from view by now, there was only an indistinct shape somewhere in the middle of the hair, completely immobilised.
“Aye, well, only for your sake then, girlie”, Korgan said with a shrug. After carefully spitting in both his stocky hands he went to work. Soon his doublebladed axe resembled nothing so much as a silvery blur in the air, the dwarf whistling in time with it as great chunks of facial hair flew in all directions. Minsc had already happily applied his great twohanded sword to the task. The fact that the sword was a sentient one did nothing to reassure Violet, who had already realised that in this case ‘sentient’ had nothing to do with ‘intelligent’.”
“Hey, what’s this?”, Lilarcor complained. “Dammit Minsc, I’m a greatsword, not a pair of scissors. Lets’s see some BLOOD! And then let’s see some more!”
At this there came a muffled moan from the centre of the hairy mass. It was quite obvious that Anomen didn’t much care for the idea of either Minsc or Korgan as barbers.
“No cutting of ears”, Minsc admonished the sword in a stern voice. “Not nice. Also, Boo does not approve, see his little nose twitching with fury.” The hamster had found refuge with Fleece in Violet’s pocket. Both of them were sticking their heads out and surveying the battlefield.
“Nothing wrong with a little bodyhair”, the rat commented, sounding rather offended. “Don’t see why he keeps complaining, he’s much better looking this way.”
“Squeak?”, Boo queried.
“Oh, you know… All covered up, no face, and best of all, no voice.”
“SQUEAK!”, Boo heartily agreed.
Heaps of beard were all over the floor of the Copper Coronet’s common room, pushing chairs and tables aside. The last patrons had wisely retreated when the beard sneaked into the kitchen and crushed two barrels of Hendak’s best ale. Some of the less particular customers had happily drunk all they could catch before realising that hairoil and beer just don’t mix well. By now they were being noisily sick all over the pantry floor and the stench was horrible. Yet the beard seemed to be retreating by now. It still grew, but not as quickly as before and Minsc and Korgan had actually managed to shorten it somewhat. While Anomen was still covered from head to foot, he could at least walk. If anybody attempted to trim the beard however, it immediately reacted, accelerating its growth with an angry hiss. Finally Violet told them to stop trying.
“It’s no use”, she panted, unwrapping pythonlike tendrils of beard from around her waist. “The beard has made up it’s mind, and it doesn’t want to be any shorter than that. Guess maybe all that stuff about magic hair tonics making your hair come alive wasn’t just advertising after all. ”
“MMrrffgh!”, said Anomen.
“Oh, it will still be allright”, Violet hastily added. It was a bit unnerving trying to talk to the cleric. The beard covered him completely and no individual features were visible. “Eventually each hair will age and fall off, and when it does the new hairs should grow back into their proper length. It shouldn’t take more than a couple of months.”
“Yes, well, at least that’s my estimate. Uh, I could help you braid it if you like. Keeps it from getting into the eyes, you know.”
“Cousin Anomen? Is that you?” The new voice belonged to a young squire, pinkfaced and eager to please. He was dressed in the attire of the Order of the Radiant Heart. Violet, Minsc and Korgan turned around to face him. Anomen turned around as well, though which direction he was actually facing was impossible to tell. “Y-you are supposed to present yourself to the Prelate”, the young man stuttered. “The time of the Test is at hand.”
“Now, now”, Violet tried to console him. “Maybe it won’t be that bad.”
“Yeah”, Fleece snickered. “Maybe they will appoint him Furball of the Year.”
The Order of the Radiant Heart was beautiful, serene and stylish. Knights in gleaming armour filled its halls, waiting for the ceremony about to take place. They were ill prepared for the sight of two dwarves and a tattooed giant dragging a huge hairy creature inside, towards the Prelate himself. The beast struggled and tried in vain to resist, making such hideous sounds that more than one knight reflexively reached for his sword.
“Anomen Delryn?”, the Prelate said, his eyebrows almost hitting the roof. “Is that you in there?”
“It’s him”, Violet explained. “There was a teeny, tiny accident see, and well…”
“Now you can’t tell friend Anomen’s face from his backside anymore!”, Minsc boomed cheerfully.
“Yeh mean to say yeh could do it before then?”, Korgan asked innocently. There were some muffled protests from within the heaving mass of beard that contained Anomen. Violet hurried to explain the situation.
“I see”, the Prelate finally said. “Anomen Delryn, your Test shall be postponed until such time as you are able to present yourself to this congregation in a more dignified manner. Please remember to curb your vanity in the future and I am certain you shall do hairy well…very well. Now go forth and smite the hirsute…I mean the heinous. Good Day to you all.” As the Prelate turned to leave, Violet could have sworn she heard him chuckling to himself. She guessed she must have been wrong about paladins having no sense of humour. Now if only Anomen would develop one before the beard retreated far enough to allow him to use his warhammer.
“Right then”, she said in a bright voice. “How about a little trip to check out that Nalia girl’s little invasion problem? I have this sudden craving for country air. Anomen, why don’t you just get some rest and we’ll pick you up when we get back?”
“MMPH!”, Anomen said, in a voice that suggested a craving for air of any possible kind, and also a certain resentment.
“Ah, don’t you worry Mr Mannerly”, Fleece smirked. “She’ll be back and she won’t replace ya for long. You can still pretend to be her Furst Knight if you like, Fur Anomen if you will.”
“Tsk, tsk”, Fleece said in a sad voice. “There’s simply no way of satisfying some people, is there?”
Bad Beard Day
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