Mireza didn't have a name until she was more than twenty years old.
Up until then, she was just "you there!" or "girl!" or, when she overheard others talking about her, "the Hag-girl." She has no memory of being left with the Varisian caravan in the bed of a days-old infant in the middle of the night, of being taken from that bed to be nursed when she began to wail, or of the screams and tears of despair from the woman who suckled her when the morning light revealed her mismatched eyes and the bereft mother realized what had become of her own child. The woman would have dashed the changeling to pieces in her anger and grief if her cries hadn't brought the caravan leader to the scene.
Ionacu was a pragmatic man. Snatching up the terrified infant before it could come to any harm, he put the woman in her place with hard reason: She'll bear another child to replace the one that was lost; it's not the changeling's fault she was born to a hag; the child is gone, no matter what they do, so they might as well make the best of the bargain and find some use for the substitute. He took the changeling away and gave it to an aged widow to feed on goat's milk squeezed from a cloth until she could be weaned.
As soon as the girl could walk and follow instructions, she was set to tending the caravan's goat herd. She had food and shelter; she had clothing enough to keep her warm; what she never had was human contact or affection. The other children stayed far away, as she watched them play with hungry eyes from her place among the goats.
She matured more slowly than the human children, staying childish and gawky in form when the other girls were rounding out, but there finally came a day when she noticed one of the caravan boys watching her tending the goats. After several days, she worked up the nerve to smile. They were in a salacious situation within a copse of trees when they were discovered by one of the Varisian women. She shouted in anger and threw stones -- not at the changeling, strangely, but at the boy. Didn't he know what hags did after mating? Did he want to be killed and eaten as her mother had devoured her father? Chasing the boy away as he tripped over his pants, the woman ignored the changeling altogether, as if she were nothing more than a natural hazard like poison ivy or a hornet nest that he should have known better than to approach.
It was only a few days later that she sat bolt upright in the middle of the night, a keening song filling her head with wanderlust. She flung herself against the walls and doors of the wagon she slept in to no avail; as always, they were locked from the outside. Ionacu had been prepared for this, as well. In the morning, when he opened the padlock, a group of men caught her as she tried to dash out the door and carried her to a cage.
The cage was in Ionacu's own wagon, a much more comfortable one than the one on which she was used to sleeping on the bare floor. He had a bed, a table and chair, shelves on the walls. He wasn't unkind. She was fed regularly by his own hand, and no one was allowed in to gawk at her in her imprisonment. She doesn't know how long she was in there, the song in her head driving her mad with its allurement and her inability to respond as she was driven. When she was sore and bruised from throwing herself against the bars, she spent hours collapsed on the floor, sobbing, barely aware of anything around her.
One evening, as she was in this despairing state, Ionacu brought her plate and lingered to watch her. For the first time, he spoke directly to her as he did to other humans, and it was such a novel experience it startled her out of her reverie. "It's for your own good," he told her softly. "You wouldn't like what you found if you answered that call ... what would be done to you. You're a skinny little thing, but you're not painful to look at. You don't want that slim little frame to grow hunched and twisted or your smooth skin to turn green and warty." He stared at her glassily for a few seconds before clearing his throat and going on. "She'll give up summoning you before too much longer. Then you'll be free and won't have to worry about her again."
Two days later, she woke up from an exhausted sleep in the early morning light to an eerie silence. The usual sounds of the caravan waking up and going about its business were there, but the summoning song in her head was gone, leaving behind a gnawing emptiness. Ionacu rolled out of his bed and peered into her cage; she looked up at him, blankly, bereft. "There," he nodded, taking the key ring off its hook on the wall. "Told you so. Back to the goats, girl."
From that day, she stumbled through her daily routine, eating, sleeping, tending the goats, half-stunned by the persistent silence in her head. The utter absence kept her awake at night, as she lay on the floor of her wagon, staring up into the dusty corners. In the moonlight, night after night, she watched as a spider spun a web, its graceful and measured movements soothing and hypnotic to her raw nerves. One night, her eyes flashed with interest, and she sat up to stare. In the moonlight falling through the barred windows, the threads of the web seemed to shine like runes which she suddenly understood. The patient spider paused a moment, its front legs poised delicatedly in mid-air, then scuttled down the wall to approach her. The changeling nodded in agreement. She would spin her web and bide her time; with patience and planning, she would be free.
The following day, she was ready and alert, watching for her chance. When one of the men struck an errant hammer blow that smashed his thumb, she rushed in, darting out with her hand and speaking a word in a strange tongue that restored the shattered nail and broken flesh almost before he had finished cursing in pain and anger. Ionacu was delighted. His long gamble had paid off, and her natural bloodline had outed at last; he had himself a hedge witch in the making.
The girl's wagon was improved with the addition of a bed behind a hanging curtain and a table with two chairs. Her serviceable wardrobe was supplemented with colorful scarves and strings of beads befitting a diviner. Most importantly, a medium needed a name; the outside of her wagon was painted with inducements to seek the supernatural aid of Mireza, with a list of prices to be paid to Ionacu for the privilege. After the dust and cobwebs had been swept out, the spider wove itself a new web in a corner above her bed.
Despite the advertisement, Mireza had no skill as a diviner, but with the tutoring of Ionacu, she developed enough talent at bluffing and at making vague statements that could be interpreted in various fashions that she was successful in passing herself off as one. Her most attention-getting line was delivered when visitors commented on her mismatched eyes: "One eye sees the future and the other, the past." Her ability to heal injuries was real enough, and it made Ionacu a tidy extra profit as the caravan passed through the Ustalavan countryside. She developed other talents that enabled her to fulfill her own prophecies of weal or woe and thus add to her reputation, and the cost of love potions and cursing rivals was painted onto the price list on her wagon.
After many months, when the caravan set up outside the city of Carrion Hill, Mireza's web was spun and ready. The spider as it danced reminded her of the way Ionacu had stared at her in the cage, speaking of her skin and figure. One evening, when he came to her wagon to collect her earnings, she surreptitiously cast the spell that so many lovelorn clients paid so well for. He crossed the wagon in a stride and crushed her lips to his; she was pliant in his arms. He awoke early in the morning to find her sitting on the edge of her bed and waiting.
"I want to leave," she said. Angrily, he refused, listing all the things he had done for her, all the other things he intended to do for her now that she'd taken him into her bed. "I want to leave," she repeated, "and until you let me go, you will sicken and waste away." The color drained away from his face as he realized that she had put the same blight on him as he slept that he had collected coin for her to put on others.
When the caravan left Carrion Hill, Mireza stayed behind, in her pocket enough coin to rent a room and Ionacu's worn ring, given to her as pledge that she was a free woman and not a runaway. She set herself up as a fortune teller and healer. The spider had its choice of corners. Ionacu's gold ring was strung on a chain around her neck, the symbol of her liberty and the success of her plan.
In the first week after she had hung out her sign, a dark, stern man in the uniform of the Crows opened her door. Commander Garus was taking it upon himself to check up on the new fortune teller, aware of the often-well-earned reputation of the profession as charlatans and pick-pockets preying on the desperate and gullible. Mireza turned on all the considerable charm her small, slight form, pale skin, and exotic mismatched eyes could muster, meekly assuring the man that she desired only to make enough to live on by assisting the lovelorn to happiness and the wronged to justice without interfering in the affairs of the police. She recognized in him a man like Ionacu, an authority figure better on her side than against her. She assured him that, should any crimes or other illegal activity be brought to her attention in the course of her business, she would inform the Crows at the earliest opportunity, and she has kept her word, often passing on rumors and festering rivalries that have assisted the Crows in keeping peace in the city, if only after pocketing her fee for the consultation. The commander has often found her useful as well in going places where the presence of the Crows would cause wagging tongues to be still and gathering information in regard to certain cases in the lower two-thirds of the city, in exchange for a supplement to her income from fortune telling.
She quickly became moderately successful in the superstitious town, thanks to her ability to detect the surface thoughts of her clientele and tell them what they desired to hear, and there is never any shortage of unrequited lovers longing for consummation or angry rivals wanting revenge. Her notoriety grew until she drew the attention of some of the town's more vaunted personalities. She was able to diagnose and heal a somewhat embarrassing disease Rupman Myre had somehow acquired without the unpleasant publicity involved in going to a temple, and recently Old Man Marshan had come to her for the chance to appear ten years younger for a mysterious assignation. In both cases, her reputation for not asking questions or showing undue curiosity about her clients' situations served her well; in truth, while she can successfully feign compassion, she has little feeling for the problems of those who come to her for help. She spent too much time shunned and alone in her childhood to have any natural empathy for her fellow beings; without bearing them any ill will, she sees them as a means to an end, that end being the support and moderate comfort of herself and the spider.
She has lived well in Carrion Hill, better than she ever dreamed she would when she was tending goats, but the way the spider is always moving its web from one corner to another reminds her that if a web stays in one place too long, it loses its efficacy; prey learns to avoid it, and cleaning women knock it down. One day they will leave again and spin a new web elsewhere; whether she is running away from something or toward it, she does not know.
Spells stored by familiar:
Level 0: arcane mark, bleed, dancing lights, daze, detect magic, detect poison, guidance, light, mending, message, putrefy food and drink, read magic, resistance, spark, stabilize, touch of fatigue
Level 1: cure light wounds, diagnose disease, fumbletongue, ill omen, mage armor, reduce person, unnatural lust, vocal alteration, youthful appearance
Level 2: blindness/deafness, calm emotions, detect thoughts, disfiguring touch, touch of idiocy
Level 3: dispel magic, rain of frogs, reckless infatuation, unadulterated loathing
Level 4: dimension door, secure shelter
Hero Lab® and the Hero Lab logo are Registered Trademarks of LWD Technology, Inc. Free download at http://www.wolflair.com