Aligare’s Barghest, the Legend Creature of judgement

On the Aligare Lore page, I’ve outlined the twelve Legend Creatures thought to inhabit the land, maintaining balance and lending colour to the place. The most commonly talked about is the Barghest, a giant green-furred dog. He’s a big part of Aligare morality.

The legendary Barghest, in lineart I don't want to muck up with Photoshop.

The legendary Barghest, in lineart I don’t want to muck up with Photoshop.

Aligare’s Barghest is based on the black dog folklore of the British Isles. These monstrous, ghostly dogs go by many names, including barghest, cu sith, or black shuck. Most black dogs are malevolent creatures that stalk lone travellers in the night and cause people to disappear. But a few black dogs are benevolent — like really scary guard dogs who escort travellers instead of eating them. I drew from both versions when imagining my Barghest. There’s also a little Grim Reaper in him, and some Lady Justice, too.

It’s said that if an Aligare being has lied, cheated, stolen or caused harm, they will eventually get the strange feeling that they’re being watched. No one else sees or senses anything unusual, but the victim knows something is up. They’ll catch glimpses of glowing eyes in the shadows. They’ll detect the shape of a dog slinking along behind them — not an ordinary dog, but a beast bigger than a horse. The Barghest is a master of darkcasting magic; it is only seen when it wants to be seen, and it can hide in an ant’s shadow if it wants to.

Eventually, when the victim is alone, the Barghest appears before them. The hound can’t speak, but it’s said that a victim’s sins will come flooding back into their mind as they look up at the judgement creature’s face. If the victim is a sentient person, this is their chance to explain themselves. They have one chance to plead their case, explaining why they committed sins, maybe even promising to rectify the situation. And the Barghest is capable of mercy — but the excuse had better be very good. If he doesn’t like what he hears, the person will vanish without a trace. Some say the Barghest devours his victim on the spot. Others say he banishes them from existence, so it’s like the person and their sins have been erased from the land.

The people of Aligare may genuinely value teamwork and sharing, but there are still temptations. Sentient beings are the most suscteptible to greedy, cruel impulses. So in Aligare’s oral history, on the rare occasion a character acts sinfully, they always vanish mysteriously. Could they have simply gotten lost in the forest, or drowned without a trace? Maybe. Are these historical stories just tall tales invented by the bards? Could be. Or those sinful folk might have met the Barghest and been forced to pay the price for their transgressions. If the benefits of teamwork aren’t enough motivation for a person, then the thought of a scary judge-cum-executioner usually does the trick. If someone still decides to act sinfully, well, they must have a good enough reason to risk meeting the Legend Hound.

I haven’t heard back from the other korvi fellow I sent to Fenwater [with a supply of healing stones], gods only know where she is.

“She wouldn’t have taken your stones? It happens in times like these.”

It did sound as though she had aemet friends in Greenway … A frown marred Ethen’s face, and he said, She can plead her intentions to the Great Hound, I suppose.

Remedy, a story of Aligare, Chapter 19

So the Barghest is mentioned with reverence, and he’s meant to be scary. But Aligare folk don’t really fear him. This isn’t some slavering monster that eats anything he can catch. The Barghest only notices and stalks those who do wrong, and he only renders judgement on those who have knowingly sinned against others. If you have a clear conscience and you always try to do what’s right, then you have nothing to fear.

Tijo bent over a bag of stones now, sorting them with fierce motions. “Nothing is hopeless, Syril. I heard of a young aemet with stipple fever some years ago. She boiled in her skin for two entire days and came out of it fine. Seeing, speaking, remembering everything. If I can make such good fortune happen for those poor souls you found in the fields, then let the Barghest take me if I choose to stand idly by.”

Frankly, if Syril were the Legend hound judging rights and wrongs, he would swallow up all of korvikind for making choices at all, terrible mess of wormy apples that this was.

Remedy, a story of Aligare, Chapter 13

The Barghest also won’t punish any creature for its basic nature. Carnivorous animals must kill to eat. As long as a person kills animals mercifully, and for a good reason like needing food, that’s acceptable, too. And the Barghest allows demons to cause illnesses and bad luck in people, because they’re only nourishing themselves in their own strange way.

So the Barghest is partly there to answer the question, “Why is everyone so nice in these books?” The Aligare world has what we’d consider strong morals and a ridiculously low crime rate — so the Barghest isn’t often needed. But the Legend hound is there in the minds of Aligare folk, providing yet another reason to do the right thing.

One Comment on “Aligare’s Barghest, the Legend Creature of judgement”

  1. […] that metaphor everyone knows — but few fantasy writers use to full potential. And I’ve dabbled with black dog interpretations ever since I first found out about that interesting little clump of British Isles […]

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