Characters Welcome: Elisha Barber

I’m pleased to have E. C. Ambrose here today to talk about Elisha Barber, the hero of a brand-new historical fantasy novel by the same name. Author and hero have known one another for ten years, and it began in blood…

Characters Welcome

About Elisha Barber

England in the fourteenth century: a land of poverty and opulence, prayer and plague, witchcraft and necromancy. Where the medieval barber-surgeon Elisha seeks redemption as a medic on the front lines of an unjust war, and is drawn into the perilous world of sorcery by a beautiful young witch. In the crucible of combat, utterly at the mercy of his capricious superiors, Elisha must attempt to unravel conspiracies both magical and mundane, as well as come to terms with his own disturbing new abilities. But the only things more dangerous than the questions he’s asking are the answers he may reveal…

From E. C. Ambrose…

I first met Elisha framed by sunlight streaming through a doorway, his hands dripping with blood, saying, “My God, I’ve killed them all.”

I wanted to grab him and shake his arm and demand to know whom he had killed and why and what would come of it. He wouldn’t tell me everything right away. Instead, I had to follow him through the dirty streets of medieval London, back to the hospital he despised, an incubator for disease where poor patients went to be ignored by the physicians until they died or were cured of their own accord.

Other men would say the prayers of the nuns aided these cures, but Elisha is skeptical of God and those who serve Him. His unguarded tongue in matters of religion and medicine has brought him the ire the master physician. At the same time, hundreds of citizens owe their health and that of their children to Elisha.

Unfortunately, that skill has lead him to arrogance—as we so often find in medical practitioners of any era—he listens to his patients, but ignores the advice of the learned in favor of more practical knowledge. He can’t read, of course. That surprised me at first, although it’s common enough in his time and place where very few are literate. Sometimes I worry about introducing him to my friends. Will he seem dim-witted, uncouth? Will they be put off by the blood that always edges his fingernails? Cleanliness is not a high virtue, though he does try.

Elisha came to his profession after he watched an angel burn. Well, he claims it was an angel, and sometimes others confirm they saw it, too, but most know that it was just the illusion of Satan trying to deceive the pious citizens who gathered to watch the execution. Just a boy at the time, Elisha didn’t understand why the guards shot the angel with arrows rather than freeing her from the stake, and he vowed that he would be prepared next time, with the skill to heal, and perhaps, with the will to defy those who claim to be his betters.

The trouble is, and I’m not sure that Elisha knows this about himself, he possesses a certain uncanny clarity of thought, an understanding about the body which guides his medical knowledge and gives him a high success rate, and a low tolerance for much of the foolishness that passes for learned medicine. There’s a point in his story where “uncanny” becomes something more—more meaningful, and much more dangerous—and he’ll have to choose how much he’s willing to risk, before he truly knows the rewards or the dangers.

That moment when I first met him changed everything for both of us. For me, it gave me a story to tell, a person to understand and challenge. For him, it ruined the life he knew and shook his confidence, even in the skill of his hands which had guided him for so long.

I’ve known Elisha for more than ten years now. I’ve seen his struggles, his rare victories, his persistence disregard for personal safety if someone else’s life is involved. It’s exciting and somewhat intimidating to introduce him to others for the first time. He’s like the brother nobody knew that I had.


E. C. Ambrose is a newly minted history buff, adventure guide and accidental scholar. In addition to the Dark Apostle series, published works include “The Romance of Ruins” and “Spoiler Alert” articles in Clarkesworld, and “Custom of the Sea,” winner of the Tenebris Press Flash Fiction Contest 2012. The author spends too much time in a tiny office in New England with a mournful black lab lurking under the desk.

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