Then ye Daemon of ye Myriad Handdes, Dreadd Velsparge, did stryke down ye righteous people, for they wouldde not bow before him. Ye Beaste thenne did place his mark onne ye weak and ye debased, that they wouldde serve his foulnesse forever…
- from Ye Prophecies of Folkirk ye Righteous
Polimanides (Singular: Polimanid) are a strange offshoot of humanity, resembling swarthy, heavily-built humans, but with five sets of arms growing from each shoulder. These arms vary in size and strength, with two pairs of unusually strong limbs, a pair of slightly smaller and more dexterous limbs, and two pairs that tend to be both weak and awkward. The shoulder joints of these folk are complex structures, much larger than those of normal humanity. They have double collarbones and enlarged scapulae to anchor their many arms, which individually lack humanity’s full range of motion.
Strangely unnerving to many of the people that they encounter, these unusual folk are seldom part of mainstream human society; instead, they live an unsettled existence on the fringes of civilization. Dwelling apart from human villages, some Polimanides regard themselves as accursed humans; others think of themselves as a different race, strangely gifted. Whether a gift or a curse, the truth of their origins lies hidden within the legends and epics of ancient times.
The Tale of Polimanus, A Legend of the Golden Age
When the world was a younger place, and filled with wonders, the chaste goddess of the hunt often walked its woodlands in the night’s darkness, for the forests’ solitude and beauty pleased her. One night, the virginal goddess paused in her nocturnal journeys, lingering in a beautiful grotto to hear the music of the place’s inhabitant, a wary nymph. The nymph of the grotto, shy and retreating, could sometimes be coaxed to share her music: Songs filled with the secrets of the forest, and yet so beautiful, they could break a listener’s heart.
Waiting in the peaceful grotto, hoping to hear the shy nymph’s song, the immortal soon grew drowsy, falling into a deep and dream-filled slumber. Despite her woodcraft, she did not suspect that she was not the only listener waiting in the grotto. The youth Polimanus had hidden nearby, also hoping to hear the nymph’s sweet music. Spotting the lovely immortal, the youth was smitten with love, for what man can resist a goddess?
Polimanus approached and gently touched her fair brow, caressing a stray lock that had fallen askew. Despite the gentleness of his nervous caress, the goddess immediately awoke; her anger at the youth’s presumption swelled like a bonfire’s flame. Cursing the man that had touched her, she transformed him into a monster, a creature with dozens of arms. She drove the misshapen youth back into the forest’s depths, decreeing that forever afterward, he and his descendants would be outcasts, hunted as beasts.
And so it has befallen, down to this day.
Many Hands Make Light Work…
Few Polimanides are able to use their limbs to their full potential. While a few are capable of the coordination needed to simultaneously wield several tools or weapons, it is much more common for one or two pairs of arms to be favored, while the others are used only to hold items when the main hands are being used for other purposes. Polimanides typically use one of their smaller arms for such tasks as sewing or buttoning clothing, while one of the stronger arms is favored for heavier labor such as using tools or carrying heavy objects.
With diligent practice, Polimanides are able to train themselves to become “polydextrous”, able to use all hands with equal coordination. Generally, only those that become soldiers, bandits, or entertainers are willing to attempt the strenuous training needed for this. The majority of these folk lack the drive needed to pursue such coordination.
While most Polimanides appear ill-proportioned or subtly misshapen, some women among the many-limbed folk have taught themselves to move with a strange grace and beauty. Mastering the intricate motions and hand gestures of the country dances, they devise elaborate variations of these sensual displays, whirling and twisting bright ribbons and veils almost faster than the eye can follow. In distant lands, where Polimanides are nothing more than a traveler’s tale, these intricate measures may be all that is known of them.
The “Many-Limbed Curse”
The heirs of Polimanus are able to freely interbreed with normal humans, generally producing children that appear completely human. Unfortunately, the genes that carry their many-limbed heritage are recessive and linked to two separate chromosomes, so they can lie dormant for many generations, then spring up unexpectedly. In isolated regions where the Polimanid trait is commonly found in the gene pool, children born with the “Many-Limbed Curse” are often quietly slain by midwives or abandoned in the wild by their superstitious parents. These children are rare: Given two parents that each carry two genes (out of four) bearing the trait, only one in sixteen children would display polimanid arms. Because these genes are uncommon, the appearance of such children is a mystery or a curse to the superstitious rural folk among whom the trait is most often found.
The Warlock of Herthmoor
Some years ago, the isolated village of Herthmoor suffered under a series of brutal witch hunts triggered when several families had children born with the “many-limbed curse”. Because some of the local farmers had recently complained to the Baron in a dispute over a local stream, the superstitious locals concluded that a curse had been placed on them by one of the losing parties in the suit.
A locally-noted “witch finder”, Gudrun Gagensdottir, was summoned to investigate. Known for her relentless pursuit of demonolatry, this methodical beldame soon found evidence that locals had been trafficking with demonic forces. Some of the losing parties in the water dispute had been heard to utter dire threats while in the local pub’s common room; these threats became the starting point of the elderly witch-finder’s investigation. Although local laws limited torture, requiring prior authorization from the Baron, he permitted the investigators to “put the question” to the locals, as they were clearly refusing to cooperate. Faced with “mild” torture, the farmers soon began to accuse each other of all sorts of fiendish behavior.
Shocked by their tales of maledictions and demonic sacrifices, the witch-finder soon concluded that a “Master Warlock” was responsible for these horrific occult activities: Dolkin Paler, the elderly patriarch of one of the local families. Faced with torture, he quickly admitted to preserving his life through sinister rituals and was found guilty of the curse that had stricken the villagers. After the decrepit elder refused to remove “his” curse, claiming he couldn’t, the old man was disemboweled as penalty for his demonolatry.
Although other villagers were implicated in old Dolkin’s coven, few were interested in pursuing further trials after the man’s gruesome execution. Several other villagers were quietly forced to leave the area, their homes and property forfeit. The tales do not indicate what befell the many-handed children, but it can be assumed that they were not permitted to live.
The Many-Handed Outcasts
Polimanides often live alone, living as herdsmen, woodcutters, and other humble occupations. In some areas, they are customarily given the most dangerous and grueling tasks, working as miners, fishermen, or stonecutters. They spend little time with the “normal” members of their community and appear to prefer that.
In other areas, these folk are more common. A few towns have small ghettoes of the many-handed folk. In these places, they are often prohibited from speaking with the rest of the population unless spoken to first; some superstitious and intolerant townsfolk even fear that their “contaminating” touch can cause a woman to bear one of “their kind”. In these places, they are not allowed to eat with “normal folk” or even draw water from the same wells.