Freebie Mondays: Pieces of the Past – Mazrah and her Mom

Freebie Mondays: Pieces of the Past – Mazrah and her Mom

My husband runs a Dungeons and Dragons game on Twitch every Tuesday that has come to be known as Winds of Chaos. Due to my work schedule (and load), I’ve been unable to participate as a regular player (though I have done a cameo and hope to do more in the future). As a writer, I can, however, participate in other ways! I decided to help the players in the campaign (who are all good friends of mine) bring key moments in their characters’ past to life. As an added bonus, it makes a great writing exercise for me!

The first story featured Kiona, the party’s wild magic sorceress. Next up is Mazrah, a half-orc thief played by ItsWuf. Wuf asked for a scene featuring the differences in Mazrah’s parents’ philosophies. As an orc, Mazrah’s mother holds a less strict set of morals than her human father. Viewers have already been able to see Mazrah interact with her father in the past, so this gives everyone a chance to see what her mother was like before she left!
. . .

They were sitting in the center of the table, three ripe green apples. One for each member of the family. Though beneath their glossy green skin their flesh would be pale, soft and juicy, from a distance they seemed as shiny as the tiny gems sometimes fixed to the hilts of rich guards’ sword hilts. Mazrah stared at the apples with eyes wide as saucers.

They weren’t supposed to have these. Not if they didn’t pay.

Her mother had stolen those apples, each and every one of them. She plucked them from a stand in the farmer’s market as the two of them walked past, then slipped them one by one into the pouch concealed at her belt. No one else saw, and Mazrah only noticed because she had been pressed to her mother’s hip, worried about being accosted by one of the market’s other patrons.

Mazrah was not considered a particularly welcome sight by most of the other villagers, but they tended to treat her better when she traveled with her father. Mazrah suspected the apples might have something to do with that, but she hadn’t quite managed to put it all together yet.

She stared at those little green fruits as though they might suddenly burst into flames. So intent was her contemplation that the sound of her mother clearing her throat nearly sent Mazrah skittering from the room.

“They’re only apples, child,” her mother chided, though she grinned and shook her head. “They don’t hold the answers to the universe.”

Mazrah drew three hurried breaths through her nose to calm the rapid pounding of her heart, but the sight of her mother’s smile always helped her relax, no matter the worries that weighed on her mind. “Father says it’s wrong not to pay,” she protested, finally voicing the words she had swallowed since the market. They had been bubbling on the back of her tongue for so long, it was a relief to finally speak them. “It’s the only way to make the villagers treat us fairly.”

Mazrah’s mother didn’t answer right away. Instead she looked her daughter up and down, her eyes both searching and appraising.

Mazrah had grown familiar enough with this scanning gaze that it no longer frightened her. But she knew whenever that gleam entered her mother’s eye that there was something on her mind, and a lecture was sure to follow.

At last the orc woman breathed a soft sigh and settled into one of the chairs at the table. She motioned for Mazrah to sit next to her, and waited for her daughter to climb dutifully into the indicated chair.

Mazrah’s eye level was only a little above her mother’s knees now. When they sat at the table, she had a better view of the apples than her mother’s face, but she tried to ignore them. Her mother didn’t have sit-down conversations unless they were important, unlike her father, who seemed to take every opportunity for a heart-to-heart chat.

“Do the villagers treat us fairly, Mazrah?” she asked, her tone pointed. “Is that what you think?”

Rather than offer the first answer that popped into her head, Mazrah considered her mother’s question for a long moment before speaking. She felt the weight of expectation in her mother’s gaze, but it did not change the way she felt about her response.

This question, after all, was not that hard to answer.

“No,” she said softly, shaking her head. The villagers disliked her mother – possibly even feared her. So they assumed the worst every time they saw a member of Mazrah’s family. Her father had ideas about changing those perceptions, and he worked hard to implement them every day. But Mazrah sensed the behavior of their neighbors weighed on her mother. Perhaps it was even why she took the apples.

As if to confirm her suspicions, Mazrah’s mother sighed. “Your father has a strong heart, Mazrah,” she said softly. “Aye, indeed, that’s why I love him so much.” She paused and a sad but fond smile curled her lips. “But living in a place like Blycross has somewhat blinded him to the realities of the larger world.”

Again, an extended silence stretched between them. But Mazrah remained still, barely even daring to breathe. She sensed there was more her mother wanted to say.

“People are cruel, Mazrah, deep down in the core of their hearts. It’s because they know the world is hard and unforgiving. So they take every opportunity to remind themselves and, especially, others. Blycross isn’t a clan working together to serve a single purpose. It’s a group of disparate families trying to convince each other they’re all better than everyone else. Playing by their rules doesn’t make sense because, frankly, their rules are pointless.

“At the end of the day, my dear daughter, you’ve got to put food on the table. You need a fully belly, a quick mind and nimble fingers if you want to survive what the world is going to throw at you.

“Who’d I hurt by taking these apples? Those farmers still had plenty to spare, and they’ll have a nice stack of coin at the end of the day. Their partners and their children will have a feast or three waiting for them when they get home. They won’t notice a handful of missing fruits. But you and I and your father, we’ll be nourished by these apples. They’ll give us health we might not otherwise have.”

Mazrah sat in silence again for a while after her mother finished speaking. Her father wasn’t home yet but, if he was, she imagined he would have a lot to say. Every time he took her to market he stressed the importance of paying a fair price for the produce and products available. After all, as a craftsman himself, if he wanted the villagers of Blycross to pay fair prices for his goods and services, it was only fair that he return the gesture.

Keeping his soft but firm words firmly in mind, Mazrah turned her wide eyes upward to meet her mother’s gaze and said, “Father just finished a commission for them a few days ago.”

She could swear there was a slight tick in her mother’s right side when she said it, as if the orc had been about to snarl, but caught herself at the very last moment. Instead, she smirked. “And how much did he charge them, my dear child? I keep telling  your father that his prices are too low. His services are worth more. Especially if the people around here are going to degrade him in the streets.” She murmured something that Mazrah recognized as the orcish language, though she hadn’t yet learned the full extent of it. Probably this was some curse or another, one her parents didn’t yet want her to know, so she refrained from asking her mother to repeat it.

“Consider this, child,” her mother said, fixing her in the center of her sharp gaze again. “If your father had charged as much as he should have, it would easily have covered the cost of these apples. So it’s only fair that we take them as the missing part of the fee.”

Mazrah shifted uncomfortably in her chair. Her father would not agree with this; she knew without asking. But she was less concerned about what her father would say and more concerned about what she should think. After all, she could hardly refute her mother’s wisdom. And it was true that the people of Blycross were rarely kind to Mazrah or her parents, so it made little sense to be kind to them in return.

“I can see you’re still confused, my dear Mazrah.” Her mother’s voice was soft this time, and her meaty hand felt huge when it came to rest on Mazrah’s small knee. But her smile was warm and her voice when she spoke again was soft and soothing, so Mazrah relaxed as she listened.

“Forget about Blycross, child, and think of the lands that lay beyond it. Someday, you might have to go out into those unforgiving wilds and fend for yourself. And what kind of mother would I be if I didn’t prepare you for that? Out there, not everyone agrees about how the world should work – such as what the price of an apple should be. Out there, people take what they need to survive without caring where it comes from. If you can’t keep up, Mazrah, then people are going to leave you behind.

“You must ask yourself what you need, my dear girl. And then you must ask yourself how you’re going to get it. Here in Blycross there is plenty, and often more than one place to find what you need. But in the wilds, there might only be one way to ensure your survival. And at the end of the day, you need to make sure you have it. So you must charge enough for your services to make sure you can plan ahead. And if a barrier stands  between you and the thing that will keep you alive, sometimes you have to knock it down and take what you need. Better that than to die wondering where you went wrong.”

Death was not a concept Mazrah’s oricish mother had ever shied away from sharing with her, but it was still just a little behind Mazrah’s comprehension. Though she had glimpsed the wide open fields and distant forests that lay beyond her homeland, Mazrah had never been close enough to imagine what those places might be like or what might await her there. Only her mother’s stories ever included such regions, and those seemed like faerie tales that couldn’t possibly be real.

Still, she could see her mother’s point. Playing by the rules might be important when the rules kept everyone safe. But survival had an entirely different set of rules. And if one day she needed to live by them, it might be good to know what they were – just in case.

“Always know what your skills are worth, Mazrah,” her mother said as she rose from her chair, and Mazrah sensed their serious conversation was drawing to a close. “And never forget that your life is more precious than anything else. It’s the one thing you can never get back – at least not on your own.”

While the idea of dying terrified Mazrah too much for her to contemplate long, one thing her orcish mother had done very well was instill in her a sense that life was a one-time opportunity. And she had long since learned how to keep walking the path so that her journey would not be cut short.

So she filed this new information into the deep recesses of her young brain and nodded to indicate to her mother that she had done so. Then she accepted the gleaming green apple her mother shoved into her hand and shuffled to her room to devour it.

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