Her Last Possession

A/N: A plot bunny that's been stirring in my head since I first played ACI. Mariam name is Aramaic, one of the dominant languages in Syria, meaning uncertain or maybe bitter.

The shadows of Dalmascus steadily grew longer, and the previous dip in market place traffic vanished, as citizens emerged from the shadows where they had taken refuge from the worst of the day's heat. The market place of any city as large as Dalmascus was controlled chaos. Merchants bellowed out their wares, the high pitched shrieks of babes and small children pierced over the noise of the crowd on occasion.

Mariam's cries and please were a part of the crowd. Business, if you care to call it that, had not been good. It had been 2 days since her last loaf of bread, and she was determined to have another loaf in hand by tonight. Of course, she mused, it wouldn't matter if she devoured that bread that morning. Trying to secure the next meal was always a priority.

Occasionally she would hear the soft prayers murmured by scholars as they softly shuffled near. The sharp warnings of a guard caused her stomach to drop in fear, worried they would chase her off, or worse. Mouth watering scents like the power of spices, soft smells baking bread, fresh produce of certain varieties (depending on the season) giving a faint scent mingled with the smell of sweat, grit, the body odor of hundreds crammed together, manure and sewage. Occasionally a whiff of perfume from a wealthy consumer could be caught, or the incense from the inside of temples or even clinging to the robes of scholars and priests.

At first she though he was such a person, first glance at his garb spoke of this. Closer inspection spoke otherwise. Firstly, he was alone, and scholars rarely traversed alone. His stance was different, his head was high and eyes were scanning the crowd instead of bent in prayer, his steps were large and graceful, almost arrogant compared to the humble pace of the local scholars.

Mariam had her target, and weaved through the crowd in efficiency that experience had earned her. As she got close, she noted the pristine color of the man's clothes, and intricate detail. Some weapons were easy to pick out, like the sword at his side. Based on the bulge of fabric, the woman was convinced more weaponry lay hidden in the layers of cloth. A dangerous man, yes, but no more so then many a men she had approached, as long as everything remained sheathed. Weapons cost money, so the stranger had to be well-funded. "Please, sir, just a few coins?"

Blocking his path with herself, she tried to make eye contact, only to find his face shadowed by his hood. "My family is sick and dying," she explained mournfully. This was true, mostly. The full truth was that her family was either dead or, in the case of her surviving son, missing since he joined Saladin's army, which realistically translated into dead. Too weak for prostitution, and too low status to be accepted in any temple, and all around too old and unappealing for remarriage, Mariam found her life at the mercy of the masses.

Her target brushed past her, intent on whatever it is he had been after, Mariam noted the lack of incense in his robes. His frame was more muscular too. Certainly not a scholar, but the woman already knew that.

Swiftly, she place herself in front of him again, attempting to persuade, "Please sir, just a few coins!" Honestly, the price of his sword could easily buy her bread for the year. A few coins meant nothing to men like these, but meant a full belly and another day to live for beggars such as herself.

Again, he brushed past her, too stingy to part with the smallest fraction of his finances. Irritated, she swooped in front of him once more and demanded, "No, you don't understand, I have nothing."

He paused, casting a glance to the sided. He was persistent, but poverty left Mariam infinitely more so. Ready to plead again, abruptly the muscled man dashed past her, nearly knocking the poor citizen off her feet. When she caught her bearings, she found the foreigner scurrying, to her legitimate surprise, up a wall. Whatever the man was, Mariam felt no guilt at unleashing her fury in the form of sending a decent-sized rock hurling towards his white hood. Her aim was better than she thought, the man ended up releasing the ledge and crashing into the stall below. She didn't have to see the hooded man's face to fear his own anger coil like a snake. At this, she decided to melt into the swarming crowds, letting the currents carry her toward the poor district.

Better to go without bread for the night than to face the wrath of the well armed stranger, in order to protect the one thing that Mariam could claim possession to: her life.