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.
* * *
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.