Tabula Rasa

chapter 2.

Many years later, he hears of what transpired far away in a place called Salem, Massachusetts. He is not shocked. Yet, when he had lived in Reuestadt, he had never imagined that such a fate might befall its denizens.

Hohenheim Elric walks through what remains of the fields, head lowered, and he can imagine that he sees the gallows swaying with the echoes of life, just as he can imagine that he hears the murmurs stirring, or the loud voice of the preacher, or the crowds screaming and cheering—mocking those who had fallen. He pictures his wife standing beside him, eyes hidden, hands together in front of her waist, expression somber.

She never cried, not even once, and he supposes she must have thought him weak for the tears that streamed down his face and wet his beard. They never spoke of the hangings save for one time, and that had been when Mary had explained to her husband that she did not lack compassion. God would judge all justly in the end, she assured.

The girl may have come to rebel against much of the religion that had perforated her childhood, but at heart, she was still Gnostic, religious; to some degree, she always adhered to the idea of a Higher Power. Asceticism was woven into her sinews, her spirit and soul, the eyes as dry as deserts, and she swore that all life would exit from the demiurge's grasp; then, soul, mind, and body would coalesce into one wholeness.

Hohenheim remembers her words and nearly allows himself a dangerous smile in appreciation of the bitter irony he now sees within them.

Yes, he thinks when he comes to the place where the dais once stood, it was well and good to appreciate spirit and soul before life, wasn't it, Dante? God judges all justly, unless it's you who stand before Him.

And he wonders, still, if either of them ever believed—or do continue to believe—in this supreme entity, this Truth behind and above Truths, or if their rotten hearts and souls offer only rotten prayers—recitations that have no more substance and meaning than the movement of a struck knee. After so many years of lies, Hohenheim cannot help questioning whether the ones who were the most deceived turned out to be, ultimately, themselves.

He thinks it is better not to know.

Ilse Schmetterling must have been forty or more, with a number of teeth missing and a face that never failed to match the hue of a beet, but she was quick with chatter and good at telling stories, and Hohenheim rather enjoyed her company even before he began treating her son's wounds.

The Schmetterling family lived two villages over, residing in a place where the climate was no different save for the stark absence of ascetic traditions—traditions which seemed to make the air throughout Reuestadt feel so much stuffier than it would have otherwise. Hohenheim counted himself as a religious man, but he rather liked the grainy, salt-of-the-earth approach that he had encountered from rough and rowdy wanderers during his journeys on Earth, and it was no less pleasant to discover similar sensibilities within Amestris.

Rodrick Schmetterling was a high-spirited boy, though some might have called him demon-possessed. He was full of energy and, consequently, wearing a large and bloody sore on one leg. Looking at it, Hohenheim could not help but think of the amount of tsking Reuestadt's populace would indulge in if they could see the mark of feckless childhood play. Manners and etiquette. He pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose and inspected the wound. I much prefer scrapes and laughter, myself.

"They said they're going to wait and cut it off," the boy confided in the man when the family and all townsfolk had left the room. The pretense of boldness he had exhibited earlier vanished in a hurry, replaced by gulping and tremulous words. His face was drenched and soggy with sweat and tears. "A-after it gets gangre—"

"They'll do no such thing. I'll see to that."

Hohenheim reasoned he had the authority, after all. He had been invited to treat the inhabitants of Reuestadt's neighbouring villages upon having achieved "commendable" success with regards to much of Reuestadt itself, including success with Mary's father, Reverend Theobald, who was prone to chills and phlegm-choked coughs.

Ever since the day he had come into conflict with Mary, Hohenheim had not directly spoken with the girl, although he more than suspected that this was intentional on her behalf. He could not avoid her entirely, given that he was still fond of going to church and arguing theology with the patrons of the congregation, and while he had no way of knowing if this was deliberate or not (he could only assume not), the young lady seemed to turn up every which way he went. She appeared in the town square, the commonwealth, the market, church (of course), and now that he was dealing with a medical situation, Mary was nearby.

Hohenheim knew she must have come to the realization that she had acted irrationally, but rather than admit her error, she sulked in childish silence. Appropriate enough, given that she was a child. But naturally, Hohenheim wasn't about to remind her of that fact, given the strife he had initially caused by bringing her age and immaturity up for discussion. She had a right to be offended, as she was old enough for marriage, but that didn't mean Hohenheim felt like taking a wife at all, let alone one who was of an age to be whipped as well as kissed. Attractive though she was, she would have been a weight thrown around his ankles, keeping him from doing what he needed to do and going where he needed to go.

And this didn't satisfy his inner question of why he had remained in Reuestadt for three long months, but if his hands could be put to use in healing, then it was of no consequence either way.

He cleaned Rodrick's wounds and left instructions for them not to be bound or dressed; nature herself would heal the injury if it was simply left to drain. Hohenheim had always said as much, although people on Earth commonly disagreed with him, and he had encountered some rather large conflicts on account of his so-called "preposterous" views. His notions had found better success and slightly less skepticism here in Reuestadt, and he feasted upon it as a leech to blood.

Controversy was well and good. Paracelsus thrived off of controversy and used debates to improve his own arguing techniques. Nevertheless, sometimes it was nice to be accepted, and his work in Reuestadt had typically been met with success and approval. He told himself not to become spoiled; one success could easily be followed by a failure, but nonetheless, he was growing to enjoy his life in Amestris.

Hohenheim exited the room so as to snatch a breath, a moment of respite, and perhaps a scattering of thoughts...and then he saw her again.

Hell's youthful seraph waited before the balustrades, hands resting just below her waist, sylphlike fingers curling around a lean wrist.

Mary was taffeta and slimness, minor curves and soft perfumes; she was not a rich girl, and she lived in a culture defined by minimalistic wants, yet Hohenheim had no trouble envisioning this creature in damask and silk. Mary was the queen of her own world and somehow, it showed—or, rather, it was felt; she had an air about her, an elegance, and it seemed as if the world bowed to this. Each house became her court. When she stood within a hallway, the modest walls rose, becoming an imperial chamber, and it mattered little whose abode she strode throughout, for in the end, they all became her castles.

"Good day," said Hohenheim, calmly.

"Good day, sir." The words were light; each syllable faded into the air as soon as it was uttered. A smirk found her face in one smooth glissade, then infiltrated the endless blue within her eyes; within the faint light of the small, stuffy residence, the girl's eyes sparkled with an almost inhuman lustre. "Did you override the orders of the other doctors?"

"I prevented nonsense and injustice from prevailing, if that's what you mean to suggest."

A high-pitched giggle ensued. "You'll make as many enemies in this world as you did within your own, you know."

"I'm quite looking forward to it."

Hohenheim hardly knew the appropriate replies to distribute at this unexpected encounter; in the face of such a meeting, his stance and countenance habitually froze, growing rigid and severe, and his replies shortened to curt one-liners muttered without thought or attention to detail. Nevertheless, he counted himself as fortunate that stutters and other signs of awkwardness never leapt forth to mar his portrayal of self, as those would have been far more chagrining than any stiffness apparent in his muscles.

"A certain marriage proposal is still in place, Mister Paracelsus," Mary stated glibly, and for all the emotion dropped within the sentiment, she could have been offering a remark on the day's weather instead of a betrothal. "Your fever has been gone for a long while. I hope it has not robbed you of all your senses, as well."

"Some colleagues of mine would say I had none to begin with."

"Just so. Come to me when you realize that a woman's bosom makes a better companion in bed than a book filled with stories of severed body parts and leaking sores."

He wanted to ask her why she was so intent of having him of all people, but such an inquiry was many worlds away from his limited skills with social interaction; Paracelsus could cross worlds, mend bodies, and debate with the greatest philosophers on any sphere, yet when a being of the delicate sex murmured to him in the language of emotions, then he was naught more than a babe who had forgotten how to communicate before he had even learned.

Hohenheim knew, at least, that this woman could have made herself into his most formidable foe, had she but the notion to do so. It was not as though he understood her—the workings of her mind or heart; within those, there were too many phrases he could never hope to decipher. Thus Mary was dangerous, if she conceived of aspiring after his undoing.

I would never see it coming, he realized with a sizeable slice of assurance.

Mary had already turned to go, taking with her the scent of powder and the birthing bed—for she had assisted in delivering an infant a few houses over—and the stairs of the Schmetterling household creaked beneath her feet; with her colourful presence departed, the balcony shifted to a lesson in the drab shades of the colour brown.

"Wait," Hohenheim called after her, amazed by the sudden insistence with which his voice and mind refused to cooperate.

When the girl turned—skirts gathering around her ankles, dusk gathering around her visage—Hohenheim's mind found itself reciting an old maxim detailing suggestions for the proximity of one's friends versus one's enemies.

Yin and yang. Innocence and evil. Science and religion. Ignorance and enlightenment. At fourteen, Mary carried a sliver of each, and Hohenheim saw them, just as he saw reflected within her eyes a shadow of himself: through a looking glass, darkly.

He could have ignored her. He honestly could've spared her no attention; she was but a child, after all. However, some facet of her being had magnetized him into wanting to associate with her, to walk alongside her, to converse with her, and to show off to this young lady. If Mary's mind was acute and open to clarity, then the gaps in her knowledge might be easily replaced by shoals of facts. The temptation to educate her—to make a disciple of her—proved far too appetizing.

Jesus had disciples, the man's mind supplemented, nudging the idea forward. Men, they were, though. And this is a woman. A woman you had thought you might've loved.

But Hohenheim knew well enough that "love" was a concept he'd never found success in studying, analyzing, or mapping. He might say and think he loved this child, yet for all he knew, he may have loved only a side of her: the way sunlight glinted on her eyes when they watered, or her smiles, or possibly a witty saying she had conjured. It might have been that he loved the idea of what he could do with her, how truly he could make her believe in him, or perhaps (and this, he decided in the later years, was the actuality of the matter) he loved his fragmented, exalted physiognomy, as beheld through the tint of idolization.

But who says I must treat her as a woman? She is a girl. A student she can be, irrespective of what sex her body favours.

"You will accompany me on my travels. Someday I shall leave Reuestadt. I may even return to Earth. If I do so...when I do will come with me. These are not questions. Accept them, or else I'll not stand before your father and cup your hand in mine."

At first, there was silence.

Even the stairs and eaves of the sunless house refused to sing, and the quietness stretched along the length of the roof, sailing the waves of the shadows and wending its way between the guests who had dragged their strange personal convictions into the quarters of a peasant family. No ground was sacred, Hohenheim realized then and there. Mary and he were both employed in the medical profession, and they would ultimately cross paths time and time again. Practicality endorsed the concept of crossing as friends, not foes: settling the chess game by marrying off the king and queen.

And why, Hohenheim wondered at length, ought he reject his first ally in this world?

When the grin capered onto the face of Mary Theobald, then movement and sound returned to existence; Hohenheim's senses seemed to suddenly activate, altering so that all the black and brown of the world blurred and melted away, leaving only this girl—this lantern of hope, truth among falsehoods, this aurora in the night sky, bedecked with clothing which was frankly too far above her rank and station in life.

That, Hohenheim had gathered, had been her mother's doing. The plump, comely woman knew a thing or two about maintaining the appearance of wealth, even if it meant foregoing a meal or three every so often.

"I'm not rich, you know," he admitted. "So if your concern is for a man to provide you with luxuries, then you'll find yourself coveting other women. My life is a quest for knowledge. It is not a journey for glamour; I may search in books. I may travel while sitting at my desk. Or I may walk the roads, paying visits to hovels, and if you choose to accompany me, then you're like as not to find your petticoat stained."

"So be it," said Mary. She took a step upwards. "As long as you don't waste your years drowning in liquor, paying visits to whorehouses, and filling me with children, then we have no cause for disagreement." Her eyes were bright even when twilight alone touched them. "I want to be something in this world. I want to be someone. I'd rather look over a man's shoulder while he reads than lie beneath him idly while he gets his pleasure off of me."

If one could say nothing else about the girl, she did possess an uncanny talent for mustering exactly the words Hohenheim yearned to hear.

"Oll korrect," he agreed, finally and simply.

He partially expected her to run up the stairs and fling her arms around his broad neck. To his satisfaction, she did not. She kept her distance, betraying her creed of stoicism only by keeping the phantom grin firmly affixed to her features. If anyone were to walk in on them now—and this being someone else's home, a person might—they would surely think them both mad in their methods for courting one another. Hohenheim was accustomed to being regarded as such, however. He fancied that Mary had best accept this banner as well.

Throughout other rooms, voices were murmuring, and the first candles of evening were being lit. Hohenheim could perceive their glow in the foyer.

He did hope that this marriage would prove a worthy investment.

If it did not, then he would have to put the girl away, and he knew nothing about the customs for divorce in Amestris.

"Perfect," Mary said.

For the time being, it was.

________"I would've had you one way or the other," she says some fourteen years later. Her smile is no longer innocent, either genuinely or in a feigned sense. Now, a crocodile could not mimic the malice she has trained her face to display. "I knew my cycle, and I knew how you liked to sip your absinthe."

Hohenheim ignores her, preferring to focus on writing the script for his growing Alphabet of the Magi. He has many projects well underway, including his novel, Die grosse Wundartzney, and he doesn't have time for his wife's prattling. There is philosophy to focus on, and medicine, and alchemy; always alchemy.

"I also know what I could've slipped into your drink. You're not the only one who knows a thing or two about chemicals, husband." She herself is well into her cups, already having poured herself another copious helping of la Fée Verte; her slotted spoon tinkles like a chime tossed by a discontented gust of wind as she taps the glass's interior. "I don't think you would've allowed everyone to know you had sired a bastard. You would have made the honourable choice, I trust."

What she announces may be tantamount to deception and rape, but the woman is not troubled. Of course not. She is never happy with any of her creations, yet she is never troubled by any of her follies.

"I really would have gone that far," she insists, and on his paper, Hohenheim pens the words, 'alterius non sit qui suus esse potest'. He wonders if she notices that he's not bothering to argue with her; there's no time for that, and he lacks the patience. His attention is better spent elsewhere, he reasons. "And all for wisdom and power. I hope you don't make me regret my choice any more than I already do."

And the man's own thoughts are an echo turned backwards: I too hope you don't make me regret my choice any more than I already do, but he is silent, still writing, and behind him, there comes the sound of a glass fracturing.

With an apologetic ting, the absinthe spoon strikes the floor.

In the summer, they were wed.

The buds had opened to become flowers, and the air of Reuestadt was thickening with humidity, seeming to weigh more and more each day. Theophrastus Philippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim and Mary Lorelei Nordica Theobald never went to the church for their rites. As with some Puritanical cultures on Earth, much of Amestris—including Reuestadt—held that marriage was a civil union, and weddings were performed in the privacy of one's home.

Hohenheim had only recently purchased his own house: mere weeks before, he had been a kind of vagabond physician, waiting with his patients until their ills were cured. Now, he had walls about himself, and he consecrated those walls by breaking down further barriers around himself, and what better way to do that than with a union of souls? True to Mary's suspicions, the man was already beginning to amass rumours, both good and bad, and the murmurs of other physicians and the town's religious authorities buzzed around him like agitated bees, yet he took everything in stride.

People would love him and people would hate him; that was inevitable. At least he was getting noticed, one way or another. And better still, each person who had found their way into his care had subsequently recovered and returned to health, leaving a track record which spoke for itself. Even so, Hohenheim was smarter than to let himself become too comfortable with his success; one loss of life—likely due in the winter, when the mean and meager aspects of life would find prevalency—could undo his reputation as a superb healer.

Someone under my care will eventually die, he reminded himself. It cannot be avoided. A fact of life. It happened on Earth. It will happen here. I must brace myself.

But now was not a time to be dwelling on something so negative.

Today was a day for merriment and joy; Hohenheim's young bride stood across from him, garbed in a violet bodice and skirt, over which she wore a white apron; her hair was knotted in a bun at the nape of her neck, and over it she wore a matching white bonnet. Her eyes were darting, curious and anxious, and her upper teeth seemed to be doing a fine job of acquainting themselves with her lower lip. When Hohenheim peered downwards, he could catch a glimpse of the chewed crescents crowning each of her fingers.

Much too hot for all this clothing, Hohenheim thought irascibly. He himself was clad in a collared linen shirt, a black doublet with padded shoulders, stockings, breeches, and leather shoes. For this occasion, he wore neither a cloak nor a felt hat, but a marriage was formal enough that one expected the participants to don black clothing. Mary had staunchly refused, maintaining that black gave her an unsightly pallor. Hohenheim had gone along with custom, albeit grudgingly.

Mary had been discontent over the civil nature of the wedding.

No matter how often her father—a reverend, no less—reminded her that marriage was not counted as a sacrament (only baptism and communion were regarded as such), she insisted that in certain parts of the world, a great ceremony might honour this event. The girl wanted to wear a white dress; she wanted the whole town (and more) to sit in attendance while the clergy asked her to say her vows. Instead, Mary was stuck in Hohenheim's modest house; she never walked the aisle of the church where her father presided, and magistrates organized the documents which bound husband and wife together.

The house itself was unimpressive, naturally.

Tall, yet not very spacious. Cramped. Little more than wood and clay, thatched and muddy; there was a main room, a basement, a kitchen, and two bedrooms. Scant furnishings, and nothing worth noting in the plain architecture. The exterior boasted better sights than the interior, as there were pillars on the front porch, stables, a wide backyard, and a fence for livestock. As the final touches were added to the papers, Hohenheim mused to himself that he might need to purchase some cows and horses. He didn't know; he'd never had any luck with distributing his money in any efficient manner, though perhaps Mary would be helpful in that respect.

"Promise you'll take me to Earth," she said as soon as her family and the few gathered townsfolk had departed to go about their day. Hohenheim's eyes traversed the lengths of the drying signatures on their wedding certificates. They hadn't so much as kissed yet. "Please," she insisted. "I can't stand it. I can't stand here. There's a whole world out there that I want to see. Help me cross the bridge to this other place and—"

"In time," he replied. "I came to this planet to study it, and I mean to do so. You want to see the 'whole world', yet there's a whole world right beneath your fingertips which you don't seem very intent on exploring. Arrays? Alchemy? The place where science and magic intersect and wonders become possible?"

"Of course I'd like to study alchemy, but it's forbidden. It allowed people to get too powerful. Many wars have been blamed on it. I could go on and on! There's an entire body of religion dedicated to shunning alchemy, and short of overthrowing that—"

"We have a basement, my dear girl," Hohenheim pointed out, interrupting her for a second time. "You supply your share of the books and the chemicals necessary and I'll supply mine. Now listen, Mary: I agreed to wed you even though it was against my better judgment. I've always valued being single and free to roam and do as I please. But when I took certain aspects of our lives into consideration, I realized that we might settle upon a mutually beneficial relationship with one another. You'll see to it that my science prospers, and I'll see to it that you understand that science inside and out."

"Equivalent exchange?" Mary said. A thin blonde eyebrow raised. Midday had come and gone, but the heat was still overwhelming; sweat drenched both of their faces, and the girl's freckled cheeks were glistening with perspiration. "That's a tenet of alchemy, isn't it?"

"Indeed. Alchemy's ideals are applicable to everyday life, and I believe we've just demonstrated this. I've made a name for myself here. Now, I'm married to the preacher's daughter. Who would think me anything but an upstanding citizen so long as I continue to hand out my cures for ailments? What goes on in a man's own basement is his business, and none will know. I'm simply..." He reached up and adjusted his spectacles. "...researching."

Mary shook her head. Now that they were alone, she took the opportunity to remove her bonnet and bun, freeing her hair. Fingers ran through fair blonde strands, straightening them. "I don't see how you hope to hide it. I'm sure people will smell it on you."

"I have my ways."

The teenager shrugged. "As you say. I'll find you the tomes you need. Fine enough. But if you find a noose around your neck, it won't have been my fault. And where am I to go while you're adventuring in the pages of your novels? I have no such hiding place. You'd best not forget your promise to take me to Earth, to take me sight-seeing." An unspoken or else flitted about the words, but Hohenheim ignored the perceived addition. "This house is too small..."

The house was as massive as any other house in Reuestadt, and more massive than some, but Hohenheim did not attempt to refute Mary's critique of its physical qualities. Rather, he said,

"This is only stone and clay and wood. It's not our house. Our house is this world and the other—the Gate, science, mathematics, the body and the mind and soul. Our house is in books and travels, beneath a page or beneath a stone. That is our house, Mary. Where we lay our heads at night is of no consequence."

"An admirable sentiment from a man who has so far impressed me considerably," Mary said after a long pause, and a smirk eased one side of her lips upwards. Despite the compliment behind her statement, there was an underlying sulky sound. Maybe it was only her age making it seem that way, Hohenheim considered. "I really hope all your lofty beliefs ring true, Paracelsus."

Already, a bad feeling had begun to creep into Hohenheim's spine; she cannot handle this, his mind nattered, but he ignored it.

Mary was a strong girl. A smart girl. A girl who asked a great deal out of life. She didn't merely settle. She didn't merely accept. She had challenged him. She would challenge him. Keep him on his toes. He needed that, and she needed what he alone could provide. He was the Doors of the Truth: The Gate. He was her passage, her ticket. Hohenheim could not help but imagine his child wife as the seeker in the Flammarion woodcut—sticking her neck through the cosmos and peering at the workings of the universe beyond.

"We may not change the world," Hohenheim admitted. Broad, boxy fingers closed around Mary's delicate hand; the index finger lifted, pressing down upon the golden band encircling one digit. "But we can try. And in the trying, we may make something excellent."

From the look in her eyes, he could tell she was envisioning castles, jewels, riches and lands of endless green: kingdoms, majesty, and creatures straight out of fantasy stories told to child. A life of prosperity; a life of discoveries. A life of understanding the celestial components of the universe, the microcosm and the macrocosm.

She appeared so thirsty. Hungry. Yearning. Searching.

But is she ready for this?

Of course she is. Of course. Filled with vigour, young, openminded, and bright. I could not have asked for a better pupil.

Fingers smoothed over the ring, stroking it again and again absently, all the while keeping her hand locked within the clammy, sweat-slick grip.

"I love you," said Mary. Three words of binding. Three words, and they sounded like an expression of gratitude more than any outpouring of warmth.

"I love you, too," Hohenheim parroted. It was expected. It was the only response to be given when two were spending their lives in one another's company. This was customary. Whether he knew what love was or not, if he made this into his mantra, then surely it would contain honesty.

Equivalent exchange, he decided. It must be right. It all goes back to equivalent exchange.