Avatar of Life
And She Was
Mariam Roan was born Kagali 18, 979, in the small town of Standridge. which boasts a small Mithrandic monastery, home to about 25 monks. Most of the land is owned by Sir Standridge, a Knight of Landsrue.
Her mother, known as Kate the Midwife, has lived in Standridge all her life. She has had a small practice among the women of the village for many years. Although the Mithrandic Church does not officially condone the use of “hedge magic” for healing, her position in the village has always been a respected one. As the Church’s healing powers have waned, she has been called in more and more for cases that are beyond the monks’ skill. Her knowledge of herbs and other non-magical remedies is especially valued.
Josef Roan, once Yassouf idn-al-Ra’oun, is the village smith. He is originally from the far South, and was a follower of the Prophet Ildrahim the Golden. When his brother, Ibrahim, was executed by the local magistrate for petty crimes, Yassouf started walking north, and didn’t stop until he reached Standridge. Here he met Kate, and decided to stay. Their marriage was a nine-days’ wonder, but by now both are accepted as solid members of the community. He allowed the Church to change his name to Josef, and learned what was necessary to be converted, but he is not a true believer.
Josef and Abram, Mariam’s younger brother, run the smithy. Josef, known as a craftsman, has a tendency to add his own decorative and very Southern touches to even the most humble items. This gives them a slightly exotic flavor, and those who live in the area can always recognize a piece made by him. Occasionally he will make scimitars to be sold at some of the larger fairs.
Mariam’s childhood was a happy one. She learned about herbs and healing from her mother, and reading and religion from the Church. Her father affectionately called her his Jasmine Flower, and told her tales in his native Farsi of genies, sandstorms, and wondrous magical caverns filled with riches. Mariam longed to see the country of her father’s birth, but could not bear leaving her home and family.
Life During Wartime
At 15, she fell in love with Jon Cartwright, the wainwright’s son. They were married soon afterwards. All was well until Galoni of 994. That was when Sir Standridge’s herald came down to the village. Sir Standridge was going to war, and all the able-bodied men of the village were to go with him to act as support for his retainers.
No one knew what the war was about, or even who Sir Standridge was fighting for, although everyone assumed it must be for the King. Excitement ran high, and the young men eagerly packed their few belongings for the march. A sober Josef also prepared for the journey, his only consolation being that Abram, at 13, was too young to go. Mariam and Kate fearfully watched him march away with the rest of the men.
Although Jonathan, Jon’s father, went with the others, Jon was left behind. He had recently injured his back in a fall, and he was unable to get out of bed, much less walk. He fretted away his confinement, and although Mariam tried to remain patient with him, she was too worried about her father to coddle him as he felt he deserved. The situation grew worse when Edwina, Jon’s mother, insisted on moving in with them “to take care of her baby boy”.
Edwina, a devout Mithrandist, frequently interpreted Church doctrine more strictly than the monks. As she told Mariam more than once, she “knew what real healing was, and didn’t hold with those who thought they knew better than the Church.” She had never trusted Kate, and it was especially galling to her that Jon had married the daughter of “that hedge witch”, although she was careful not to say so in Mariam’s hearing. As the Church’s magic slipped away, and more townsfolk turned to Kate for help and comfort, her protests became shriller and wilder. She even began to hint that Kate or “that Southerner husband of hers” might have something to do with it. Why, everyone knew that he never attended Church services like everybody else. The townsfolk didn’t pay her any attention, but her hurtful words got back to Mariam, who resented them very much.
There were fights, and tears, and although the situation improved once Jon was back on his feet, Mariam and Jon grew distant. If Edwina had gone back home, they might still have patched things up. But despite Mariam’s hints, Edwina stayed on, saying that her house was too lonely now with Jonathan gone. Jon stood by his mother, as he often did, and Edwina’s victorious smile was simply one more wedge between them.
Mariam tried unsuccessfully to hide her unhappiness from her mother, who counseled her daughter to be patient. She was married now, and she couldn’t be running back home just because things were a little rough. Jon was not a bad man, although Kate thought his mother deserved the title of “witch” more than Kate did. Mariam giggled at that. If the situation hadn’t improved by the time her father came back — Kate hesitated, and then went on more forcefully — when her father came back, he would have a talk with Jon and straighten things out.
Six months went by without news. Finally, one of the young men, Tobias, was brought back on a wagon. He told of terrible battles, where magic bolts split the air and fierce creatures tore men to pieces. Sometimes the air would turn green and then everyone would run, for to breathe that air guaranteed you a slow painful death as your lungs turned to jelly. He had been one of the lucky ones; he had only lost a leg, and they had sent him home.
The town grew quieter after that. While people still sought news from the few travelers who passed that way, they did so hesitantly, bracing themselves for the answers they feared would come.
Give Me Back My Name
In Reap of 995, almost a year after her father had left, Mariam became pregnant. Jon was overjoyed, and Mariam saw that her mother had been right. Jon no longer talked about going off to the war, and his business was doing well. Because so few skilled men had been left behind, his wagons were in demand in Standridge and the nearby towns. Edwina, shrill as ever, was all but ignored as the happy pair planned for the upcoming birth. The day she moved out, complaining to everyone within earshot about her ungrateful son, was one of the happiest days in Mariam’s life.
A month later, Mariam woke one night in a cold sweat, shrieking with pain. Jon ran and got his mother, who prayed over her in a loud voice and stubbornly refused to send for Kate until it was clear that Mariam and her baby would die otherwise. Kate came at a run, but the baby was lost and Mariam was ill for many weeks. Kate tended her daughter until the worst was over, and then left her with Jon, hoping that the two would grow even closer in their mutual sorrow. She took Edwina aside and threatened her with every trumped-up superstition she could think of if Edwina ever dared to set foot in that house again. Edwina, for once too shaken to speak, left and never came back.
But Jon resented Mariam’s need for constant care. His mother had deserted him, or so he thought. Edwina never told Jon what Kate had said to her, although she hinted darkly at the punishments that must befall those who go against the Church’s teachings. If Jon wanted to damn himself and his unborn children, she washed her hands of him. Troubled, Jon often “forgot” to administer the ointments and tisanes that Kate had recommended, and Mariam regained her strength slowly. When she was finally able to tend to her own healing, and realized what Jon had done, matters came to a head. Jon, feeling somewhat guilty, his pride stung by her accusations of neglect, said that her herbs were hedge magic and against the Church, and that all her mother’s so-called healing arts hadn’t been enough to save their baby. Mariam, in her turn, said that they’d been good enough for him when he was ill, and that the Church should be grateful that somebody still knew how to treat the sick, because the Church couldn’t even look after its own any more. In a rage, Jon swept up the contents of her workbench, and, before she could stop him, threw them all into the fire. The flames, now brilliantly colored, gave off an acrid smoke that sent them both stumbling from the room. Mariam, white-faced and coughing, listened dully as Jon forbade her to use her mother’s witchcraft ever again. When Jon took her by the shoulders and shook her, shouting “Do you understand me?”, she had barely enough strength left to nod weakly before collapsing on the floor.
Her relapse kept her in bed for another week. Jon fed her and kept her warm, and let nature take its course. They didn’t speak. Life went on, although the days seemed much greyer than before.
In early Anuyi, Jon died suddenly of respiratory failure, possibly from a severe allergic reaction to an insect bite. Although Mariam mourned him, in many ways his death was something of a relief. The cold silences between them during the past few months had been almost unbearable, and recently he had been spending his evenings, and sometimes his nights, drinking at the local inn. Edwina, however, was inconsolable. Her hysterical cries could be heard at all hours of the day or night, and she clawed at Mariam’s face when she saw her, accusing her of murdering her son. Mariam avoided her after that. But when the neighbors started whispering behind her back, and falling silent when they met her in the street, she knew she could no longer stay. She decided to make her father’s journey, but in reverse. She would walk south until she found something to make her stop. And if she had inherited any of his good luck, she might even find happiness again when she reached the end of her road.
She packed a few things, set her house to rights, and went to say goodbye to her mother. As a parting gift, Kate gave her a new set of mortars and pestles, and some of the herbs from her stores. Mariam promised to write. Both carefully avoided any mention of Jon’s death. After an awkward silence, they embraced, and Mariam set off.
Mariam’s subsequent adventures on the road are described elsewhere on these pages.