Epitaph for a Wise Woman

We played another session of Epitaph by Marc Hobbs, this time set mostly in villages in Imperial Russia. Our departed is Miroslava Valerievna, a village wise-woman who uses tarot cards to diagnose and brews magical soups to cure.

Miroslava was born in the village of Czelmic in 1654. Her father told us how difficult she was as a child, and how at three years old, she would refuse to walk except in the early morning hours while he was occupied with chores. One day, he notices another set of tracks next to hers and leaves a bowl of porridge out for their invisible companion. After that, Miroslava walked more easily and frequently.

Overhead shot of group of people sitting around a table covered in dishes while a warm glowing light shines from the right.
Epitaph cover courtesy of Less Than Three Games.

Her uncle Iosef ran the village tavern. One day when she was eight, he sent her to clean out the storage area. Inside, she found a set of Tarot cards with the major arcana blank. As she looked at one card, a vision of herself as an adult appeared on it as it became the World card. She learned from this that Fate would guide her to wherever she needed to go. When she was eleven, she became lost in the woods, collecting plants and herbs. She was saved by a large, bearish, fur-trimmed Russian man who lived alone in the forest. Afterward, he appeared on one of her cards as the Hermit, and Miroslava felt the weight of magic in the world and what that could make possible.

As a teenager, her friends and family suggest many suitors, however none worked out, each ending in some comedic mishap. She saw then the truth of the Fortune Tarot: life is chaotic, so one must become the center of the storm. The first time she ever concocted a potion to help someone, was when she was twenty-five and working for the village apothecary. A woman waiting to see the apothecary confessed her loneliness and troubles to her, so Miroslava decides to make her a special soup, adding various herbs to bring good fortune, which soon follow. It’s funny, she thinks, how she’s never been able to recreate that exact soup, and she’s unsure which ingredient actually helped the woman.

We catch up with Miroslava when she is fifty-four and looking for an apprentice so she can pass on the wisdom in her sheaf of magical soup recipes. She chooses a bright-eyed teen girl who’s always caring for others with kindness, her younger siblings, her elders, her parents. She knows once she’s taught Gariazanel that her legacy will be secured, Fate once again showing her the way. Thirteen years later, Gariazanel brings home a girl from the poor house, Lyamina, and asks if she can be allowed to teach her, to take her as her own apprentice. Miroslava makes like the decision is difficult, but she sees that Gariazanel is growing into her role and that her legacy will spread beyond this generation. Five years later, she’s ready to leave them alone for a time and goes to the university in Kyiv. We hear from Vira Ivanenko, a scientist and debunker of superstitions, how Miroslava came to the city and had everyone at her feet without meriting any of it. Vira herself worked twice as hard as anyone and still struggled to be accepted, and Miroslava’s “magic” only made it less likely they would take a woman scientist seriously.

Miraculously, or she would likely say fortuitously, Miroslava lived another thirty-five years to die, back in Czelmic, at the age of 107, surrounded by her students and their students and many villagers. At the funeral, the villagers speak about how she outlived everyone who was alive when she was a child, which surely must be attributed to the way Fate always put her just where she needed to be. Lyamina plants yarrow at her gravesite, since that was the first plant she was asked to fetch for her. One day, not long after the funeral, strange footprints and a bowl of porridge are found on her tombstone. And Gariazanel makes her best impression of the friendship soup every year on the anniversary of Miroslava’s death and hands it out to the village.