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Poem: "Cheques and Balances" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Cheques and Balances"
This poem came out of the September 4, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from siege, siliconshaman, janetmiles, and DW user jjhunter.  It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette.  This poem belongs to The Steamsmith series, and you can read more about that on the Serial Poetry page.  For this poem I researched courtesy titles, substantive titles, Salic Law, the Smith coat of arms, the Smith family history, and heraldic blazoning.



Cheques and Balances


Rori the charlady was cleaning the phos  lamps
beside the door when the mail arrived,
so she carried the mail to the mahogany desk
where Maryam sat with Farasat draped over her feet
like a particularly warm fur rug.
"Letter from your father, m'sir,"
Rori said, flicking that one to the top of the stack.

Maryam weighed the letter in her hand,
its creamy white paper contrasting with her dark skin,
her father's wheel-on-cross seal standing boldly in the scarlet wax.
She slipped her letter opener from its leather sheath
and slid it carefully under the seal, then unfolded the letter.

A flash of vivid color resolved into the Carrington arms:
Argent, on a cross gules between
four peacocks close proper a gear argent
.
A letter written on the official family letterhead
must be momentous indeed.

December 26, 1838

My dearest Maryam,

On the occasion of your 26th birthday,
it is my intention to promote you as my heir
and transfer the Barony from courtesy to substantial title.


Whereupon Maryam dropped the letter in shock,
and Farasat snatched it out of the air
to run through the room with it, so that
Maryam and Rori had to chase after him
before he could devour it.

Finally Maryam managed to reassemble
both the letter and her composure
(somewhat the worse for wear).

Her ancestor Charles Smyth had first been created
Baron Carrington of Wootton in the County of Warwick,
in the Peerage of England; then created Viscount Carrington,
of Burford in the Province of Connaught, in the Peerage of Ireland.
This left John Smith as Viscount Carrington,
with the courtesy title of Baron Carrington for his eldest son.
But John had no son, only Maryam, so when he acknowledged her
as his natural daughter and declared her his heir,
the courtesy title came to her.

Just gaining that much had required a long legal battle,
enlightened times notwithstanding.
Now her father wanted to start giving her
serious responsibility for some of their holdings,
for the substantial title carried the property's income
and all the obligations of a peer to see that it ran properly.

Well, that would put the cat among the pigeons!
Given Maryam's gender and colour and condition of birth,
it would put a veritable cheetah  among the pigeons.

To be sure, it was  a family tradition
to test the heir in practice,
but this was no ordinary circumstance.
They would all be embroiled in a riot of politics
as people argued over Salic Law and
the Germanic Confederation's rule of pure primogeniture
and whatever else anyone might dig up as well.

Yet Maryam could not deny the little zing of excitement
that she felt when contemplating the change.
She knew the county of Warwick, of course,
and her father had taken her to Ireland several times.
Even now she could close her eyes and see
the brown button of Burford town rising
above Connaught's rolling green velvet.

They were her  people, those dour shepherds
and diligent farmers and girls selling flowers in the market.
There were dairies that made unique cheeses
you couldn't find anywhere else, and women who sold Irish lace.
Maryam's father had been asking her advice for years,
and taking it when it was any good, so she'd had
no little input into their lives already.
She had enjoyed taking that share of responsibility
as much as he enjoyed giving it to her.

But if this plan came together, she'd have it all --
the title, the peerage, the lord's income from the land.
She could pour the cheques right back into it if she wanted.
She'd have a place to try out the little innovations
of alchemy and see if they'd work for ordinary people,
not just in an alchemist's house or workshop.
She'd have a chance to be the kind of heir
that would make her father proud.

That made her stop and think, again,
because leading people came with expectations
and Maryam wasn't going to meet all of those.
She'd be a gentleman ... but not exactly a man.
She liked people, but she didn't understand all of them,
and quite a lot of folks didn't understand her.
She'd have figure out how to balance all that, somehow.

Farasat trotted over to Maryam
dragging one of his toys by its wet tassel.
He dropped the cushion at her feet
and gazed up at her expectantly.
Maryam laughed and scratched his ears
and told him he was a mighty hunter.

That made her think that maybe
she could use what experience she had
to make up for whatever she lacked.

Maryam recalled building
the Amazing Carriage of Amber and Jade,
all those tiny little pieces working together.
Society was like that, in a way,
all different kinds of people interlocking like gears,
each part dependent on all the others.
Relationships were like that, too, even
the give and take between Farasat and Maryam,
for he was a companion and a coworker, not just an ornament.

People weren't exactly pets,
but some of the same principles applied:
Make it easy to do the right thing,
and hard to do the wrong thing
.
People weren't machines, either,
but again there were principles in common:
Find a way to get it to do what you want
while letting it do what it wants
.

Not even an alchemist
could carry the whole world alone,
but Maryam was determined to hold up
her little corner of it ...

and nobody's prejudice was going to stand in her way.

* * *

Notes

1) phos -- light; a molecule consisting of one atom of aer (Air) and one of pyra (Fire).  It makes excellent but expensive lamps.

2) Matters of inheritance and titles are handled somewhat differently in nether-Britain than in historic-Britain.  There are conflicting laws about precedence and eligibility on issues of birth order, condition of birth, gender, ethnicity, senior title holder's choice, monarch's prerogative, and other sundries sprawled across the erratic tapestry of European nations.  This makes it possible, with enough funds and influence, to make a case for getting one's way when it wouldn't be allowed without such manipulation.

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11 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
ideealisme From: ideealisme Date: October 20th, 2012 11:12 pm (UTC) (Link)

My gut reaction

This bends my head in all sorts of ways. Maryam is the product of an appropriative relationship (or maybe in the alternative universe, less so, I dunno) between a wealthy white nobleman and an enslaved African woman. She inherits a peerage which gives her back the power she has lost through her mother's enslavement. And yet in order to gain that peerage, someone was violently and forcibly deprived of their land through conquest. The "dour shepherds and women selling Irish lace" are not enslaved, it is true, but they have been dispossessed and oppressed, courtesy of Maryam's father's ancestors.

Somebody always loses, I guess :)

Just a quick gotcha:

above Connaught's rolling green velvet.

Some of it is green, but the land is generally quite poor and always has been. West of Galway it looks a bit lunar and wild. That's why Cromwell kicked a lot of troublesome Irish over there.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connacht#Physical_geography

It's beautiful and stark and bare and treeless - if you ever have the chance to visit, you should :)
ideealisme From: ideealisme Date: October 20th, 2012 11:26 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: My gut reaction

And I will be happy to donate a small sum towards a follow-up poem that concerns how Maryam will handle the fact that her inheritance is shortly to be directly affected by the worst disaster in Irish history.

I grant that an alternate universe might allow for change, but am also aware that nothing in that storyline has been altered so far, so there is no reason for this dreadful event not to occur.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 26th, 2012 02:52 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: My gut reaction

>>And I will be happy to donate a small sum towards a follow-up poem that concerns how Maryam will handle the fact that her inheritance is shortly to be directly affected by the worst disaster in Irish history.<<

As of the latest poem, it's 1838. Queen Victoria is on the throne but still largely under the influence of her mother and older advisors. Maryam has just caught the Queen's attention. In historic-Earth, the blight hit in 1845-46 primarily.

There's a substantial amount of activity in the planned storyline that will happen between now and then, so it's not practical to skip ahead that far. However, if you want to put a donation on the Irish famine subplot, I can mark that accordingly in my records. I do have advance notes for some things that are planned to happen.

>>I grant that an alternate universe might allow for change, but am also aware that nothing in that storyline has been altered so far, so there is no reason for this dreadful event not to occur.<<

Well, the blight itself will hit. Might be a little earlier, or around the same time; naval traffic is a bit different. The response will be tremendously different, because of some subtle shifts in historic characters (nether-Victoria is NOT inclined to sit around with her thumb up her royal arse while a million of her citizens starve to death) and the addition of literary ones (Maryam and her father won't leave their tenants to die, and will nag the living hell out of peers who try). They also have alchemy to employ, which was not available in the historic situation. So rather than a fast wipeout, it turns into an intense problem-solving challenge. That's most of what I know at this stage; I expect more of the salient details to emerge as the story develops further.

Feel free to help lay the groundwork and foreshadowing for this. There were repeated failures of the potato crop through much of the 1830s due to a couple of previous diseases. Maryam is likely to make a visit to her holdings after her father's declaration, so it's the kind of thing that might come to her attention then. Up to this point she's probably heard of it as a background issue of "crop trouble."
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 26th, 2012 02:25 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: My gut reaction

>> Maryam is the product of an appropriative relationship (or maybe in the alternative universe, less so, I dunno) between a wealthy white nobleman and an enslaved African woman. <<

Sort of. Sarah's parents were both slaves brought from Africa. Sarah is a free woman working as a servant. Both the class difference and the racial difference remain, though. John was utterly devoted to his wife, and utterly devastated by her death. Sarah, who liked him and felt sorry for him, offered physical comfort in hopes of putting him back together again. An act of compassion rather than coercion, love, or lust. They were both seriously disconcerted that the union proved fruitful. Neither of them were willing to follow the common advice of their respective peers; instead they made their own solution. Maryam's unusual upbringing is a result of that. It cost them a lot of friends -- but the ones they kept were worth keeping.

>>She inherits a peerage which gives her back the power she has lost through her mother's enslavement.<<

Partly. It's one of those situations where you have to work twice as hard to be thought half as good, when your peers have everything handed to them on a platter. The political shift is just enough to make some things possible, but not necessarily easy or approved.

*chuckle* But the irony is, despite her perceived disadvantages, Maryam truly is a genius and can just do five times as well and still eventually come out ahead. That's a major part of the storyline coming up fairly soon. The black, baseborn woman turns out as the best British gentleman of her generation.

>>And yet in order to gain that peerage, someone was violently and forcibly deprived of their land through conquest. The "dour shepherds and women selling Irish lace" are not enslaved, it is true, but they have been dispossessed and oppressed, courtesy of Maryam's father's ancestors.<<

The situation with Ireland is not quite as dire, although it does still depend on the landlords. Bad ones can cause a great deal of harm. Good ones can make for quite livable conditions. It's still exploitative, but not downright genocidal as it was in historic-Earth. The United Kingdom in nether-Earth is more integrated and less inclined to eat itself alive. So when things go wrong, it's more likely to turn into an argument than a massacre.

>>Some of it is green, but the land is generally quite poor and always has been. West of Galway it looks a bit lunar and wild. That's why Cromwell kicked a lot of troublesome Irish over there.<<

What I've seen in pictures shows much of the same wet-paint green that Ireland is known for, including the pictures in the link. If you can find some images that show the barrens as such, I could use that for future reference. Are there any wildlife refuges, maybe?

>> It's beautiful and stark and bare and treeless - if you ever have the chance to visit, you should :)<<

Not likely in this life, alas, but Ireland remains a home of my heart for all time.
ideealisme From: ideealisme Date: November 6th, 2012 10:19 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: My gut reaction

Sorry, I've only got to see these two comments now. I'll respond in a week or two and donate since I promised! but right now I'm up to my neck in writing and have no free time. Interesting replies and I'll get back to you.

As for pics - here you go. It's greener further east but the land is not very rich anywhere in the west, really

http://www.connemaranationalpark.ie/gallery.html
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 21st, 2012 11:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>> Make it easy to do the right thing,
and hard to do the wrong thing.

A principle that many of our current leaders could stand to spend some time contemplating! <<

Yea, verily. I once said that if you want to encourage people to eat healthier food, then make it easier for farmer's markets to get zoning and rezone fast-food restaurants off the beaten path. The response to that was overwhelmingly negative.

>> I also particularly liked the bit about needing to reassemble both the letter and her composure. Always like a good Zeugma :) <<

This series seems to mix subtle literary humor with slapstick, another example of blending cultural motifs.
starcat_jewel From: starcat_jewel Date: October 21st, 2012 10:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, that would put the cat among the pigeons!
Given Maryam's gender and color and condition of birth,
it would put a veritable cheetah among the pigeons.


*snerk* Excellent turn of phrase!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 21st, 2012 11:18 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

One of the fun things about Farasat is that he takes ordinary cat motifs and makes them larger-than-life. He's a cat the size of a large dog and much faster. So things that are cute with a housecat get a lot more dramatic with him.
starcat_jewel From: starcat_jewel Date: October 21st, 2012 11:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Like this? (The second picture especially.)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 22nd, 2012 12:48 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Yes, exactly!
thnidu From: thnidu Date: October 22nd, 2012 04:24 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Teh massive cute!

(But it looks to me like some of the pictures have been squashed horizontally to fit in the column without maintaining aspect ratio.)
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