The Little Mother
The Little Mother, of the League, was recognised as an exemplar of Prosperity by the Highborn Assembly of the Virtuous, fifty years before the formation of the Empire. Her status was later confirmed by the first Imperial Synod.
The actual history of the Little Mother is unclear, and attempts to pin down a date for her life by scholars have proved difficult. She is usually depicted as an older woman with cambion blood, almost invariably smiling, simply dressed but with one or two discreet references to wealth. The oldest Church of the Little Mother is found in Sarvos, and there is some evidence it may date back to around 150BE, thus probably placing the life of the Little Mother sometime in the second century before the foundation of the Empire. Much of what modern Imperial scholars know about her is apocryphal; the most commonly quoted source is Genevier de Sarvos' "Life of the Little Mother" written in 34BE and reprinted many times since.
She is believed to have begun her life as a talented merchant prince in early Sarvos, at a time when the city was still nominally part of Highguard. She made a small fortune, but did nothing with it. Several sources describe her as being "rich in wealth, but poor in joy" and living "a life full of distractions, but empty of meaning."
In early middle age, she "changed her face upon the world entirely", giving up day-to-day control of her business to a business partner and deciding to build something new from scratch. The official histories credit a visit to Bastion, the White City of her forebears, which she undertook initially as part of a straightforward trade agreement but which quickly became a spiritual pilgrimage. She returned to Sarvos "possessed of a surety of purpose and love for life she had never before possessed". She changed her name and began to live as a woman in the Church that she founded. As part of her new life, she began a policy of adopting those children orphaned by fate and circumstance - with no children of her own, she raised many like they were part of her family.
Having effectively abandoned her fortune, she relied on charitable donations to fund her church and her work with orphaned children. She is credited with redefining the idea of charity in the League. Rather than presenting herself as a beggar, she strode calmly through the halls of the rich and powerful presenting herself as an equal. She had an unparalleled ability to find people who, like herself, felt that their lives were lacking a spiritual dimension. She did not frame her requests for funding in terms of desperation, or overly flatter the rich people with whom she dealt, but in terms of investing in the future - not only of the children they would help but of Sarvos itself.
The children of the Little Mother - and there were many! - were not coddled. In return for their second chance in life, they worked hard and in the process learned a trade that would serve them well when the time came for them to leave her care. Younger children were taught reading, writing, and mathematics, as well as principles of hard work, probity, and prudence. Older children would spend a portion of each day in a practical industry - weaving and carpentry, jewellery, brewing, and baking being most common. Several of the projects she helped to organise were deeply practical; there are foundation stones in the older parts of Sarvos that were laid by teams of young teenagers under the direction of the Little Mother.
As her charges grew older, she would use her trade contacts to find secure apprenticeships for every child under her direction, finding each of them a place in the world. Once they left to build their own destinies - and here the tales get inspirational in tone - they never forgot her and the lessons she taught. They repaid her investment in kind, investing a portion of their money and time in creating a network of orphanages - the Churches of the Little Mother - spread across Sarvos, and eventually beyond - first to Tassato, then to Bastion, and then to Siroc.
She espoused the principle of opportunity - that giving people the opportunity to work hard was the kind of charity that those who pursued Prosperity should embrace. Her view was that the true purpose of a priest of Prosperity was not to embrace those who had worked hard but rather to help those who lacked the tools or the skills to find their own virtue. Her teachings reminding those she dealt with that an investment in the orphans of the Sarvos was an investment in the future of Sarvos survived long after her death. As her charges become industrious and prosperous in their turn, and eventually had families of their own, they passed on these principles. Slowly but surely they shaped the face of Sarvos and Tassato - and by extension the League.
Her name is a matter of interest for some scholars, but most priests consider uncovering it to be unnecessary - she is the Little Mother. She was originally known as the "Little Mother of Sarvos". References to her as the "Little Mother of the League" begin from around 30YE. There is some evidence that this slow change in identity from a patron of Sarvos to a patron of the League as a whole was the work of early supporters of the new nation. Churches of the Little Mother were built in Temeschwar despite some quiet scepticism from Maria Ivanova, Boyar of Temeschwa, but within a few scant years they had been accepted as part of the political and spiritual landscape of the northern city. Missionaries from Temeschwar built further churches in Kalpaheim and Delev in the same way that her missionaries had spread her renown to Highguard and the Brass Coast, and by 100YE there were churches of the Little Mother in all nations of the Empire.
The Little Mother Today
There are churches of the Little Mother throughout the Empire, and several in other nations including Sumaah, Sarcophan, and the Principalities of Jarm. All such churches are connected to or serve directly as orphanages and schools.
The largest concentration of her churches is unsurprisingly in the League, especially in Sarvos and Tassato. She is obviously regarded as an inspiration by many League citizens (a surprising number of whom can trace their lineage back to a child raised by her priests). Her teaching about commitment to decent work for decent pay and her keen understanding of the reckoning created when an orphan child is raised mesh well with national sensibilities. During the long war in Holberg, churches there took in scores of displaced orphans, many of whom have now come of age, igniting renewed interest in her teachings there.
In the Marches, tales including her often frame her as a steward, taking in those with nowhere to go and helping them learn how to work a field, so that they might themselves one day become successful. Several monasteries in eastern Upwold predate the formation of the Empire, and continue to encourage her message of prosperity throughout the nation.
In Highguard, she is regarded as a patron of the benefactors. Some Highborn priests are at pains to remind their League counterparts that she would probably have described herself as a Highborn, and point to her keen understanding of how to invest in people as evidence that she understood the benefactor's art.
She is also a popular inspiration to many Navarr, some of whom point out the resonance between her teachings and the philosophy of the Great Dance. She helped people who were in a bad place to find new lives for themselves by changing their circumstances. Likewise, she is held up in Urizen as a fine example of the Net of the Heavens in action; a single individual influencing the lives of many other people and thereby shaping a nation.
Given her wide renown, it is sometimes seen as a little strange that the Little Mother is an exemplar rather than a paragon - especially as she seems to have much more influence over the Empire than many paragons. There are certainly supporters, especially in the League, who would like to see her elevated to the status of a paragon.
While she has been recognised as having five of the signs, she is one short of the number required to be recognised as a paragon. There are no records that she ever experienced a past-life vision. There are no credible stories of her performing any miracles - indeed many of those who honour her memory would be angered at the suggestion she achieved anything by means other than extremely hard work. Whether she has achieved liberation is a matter for debate; there is a record of a past life vision in 201YE experienced by a Varushkan boyar named Oksana Veroneva Trioskovar but her accounts were disputed at the time and the only known accounts of the vision were lost when the Lepidean library was destroyed by Emperor Nicovar in 209YE.
- The Little Mother directly inspired generations of orphans raised in her care, who in turn spread her teachings to successive generations, as well as the priests who carried on her work looking after the desperate.
- Her benevolence is clear. Not only did she help those who might otherwise have fallen by the wayside to find a place for themselves in society, she helped shape the meritocratic philosophies of the League and arguably the Empire.
- Her legacy lies in the many churches, orphanages, schools, and other charitable organisations that exist in the Empire today.
- The spiritual awakening she underwent at Bastion, which gave her a new outlook and direction and led directly to her virtuous acts, is an obvious pilgrimage.
- Her philosophy of hard work repaid, and of the value of using wealth rather than hoarding it, lead many pre-Imperial citizens to salvation. Her heirs have continued to bring the unvirtuous to virtue.
The Little Mother In Dramaturgy
One of the ways knowledge of the Little Mother was spread was through plays, and to this day she often appears in theatrical works and dramaturgic rituals alike - sometimes by name, and sometimes as in an allegorical role. She often makes appearances in works of theatre and opera from pre-Imperial Sarvos. A common trope was to have the protagonist of the work, invariably an orphan down-on-their-luck and turned to casual theft, encounter the Little Mother in her chambers or counting-house. She would catch them in the act of theft, but, instead of punishment, she would offer them forgiveness - if only they would help her with a few chores. Invariably, the tasks the wayward youngster are given teach them the value of hard work and a just reward. Once they have proven themselves, she sends them on their way with a generous tithe of coin. At the end of the play - once they have spun straw into gold, bested the eternals of Autumn at a wager, or won the heart of the Prince they desire, they invariably return to the Little Mother to pay her back in kind, and more besides. In this way, she often acts a chorus figure, ending the play with some maxim and a cheerful smile... before another lost child falls through her window, and it all begins again.
Inspirational Tomb of the Little Mother
The first Church of the Little Mother still stands In Sarvos. Over the centuries it has sprawled across several connected buildings, and now stands as one of the largest orphanages and schools in the Empire. The chapel has been consecrated with true liao, providing pilgrims with a profound awareness of the value of hard work, and what it can achieve. The Little Mother herself is said to be interred beneath the floor of the beautiful old church where she first taught her children the power of Prosperity. It is a site of pilgrimage for followers of the Way from across the Empire and beyond, many of whom come here specifically to volunteer their time or their money in support of the charitable work done by the priests. During the recent invasion of Sarvos by the Grendel, the Church of the Little Mother was left largely unmolested - it is not clear if this was intentional or if the orcs were simply unaware of its significance.
The Basilica of the Little Mother
The Basilica of the Little Mother was built in 15YE in the White City by the Custodes Clavium with extensive investment from League citizens and priests. A beautiful structure of white granite, it is much more than a place of pilgrimage and, like other churches of the Little Mother, operates as an orphanage - the largest outside of Sarvos. The prelate of the Little Mother is often a League bishop, but throughout its long history there have been prelates from every nation except the Imperial Orcs.
Prelate of the Little Mother is an Imperial title that provides 15 liao and 30 votes in the Imperial Synod. The current prelate is Bishop Marianne di Sarvos, who has served the people of the Empire for 32 years after stepping down as Cardinal of Prosperity to take the prelacy. She is largely disinterested in (and occasionally critical of) the politics of the Synod, spending most of her waking hours running the orphanage and offering support to priests of the Little Mother across the Empire. Born in the reign of Empress Deanne, there is a rumour that she intended to stand down on her 70th birthday but that with the death of her favoured successor - Bishop Ynez di Caricomare - she has resolved to continue until she can no longer discharge her duties, or a suitably devout and hard working candidate can win her respect.