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Rivertown: A History

posted Sep 4, 2012, 6:00 PM by Ben Kreucher   [ updated Sep 4, 2012, 6:00 PM ]

The next morning, Maria walked into the kitchen and sat at the table, ready for breakfast.  Grandfather put a plate of pancakes in front of her.

“Grandpa, why did you stop your story?” she asked, after swallowing her first bite.

“Because, my dear, you were asleep.”

“Oh.”   She chewed her lip, “Could you tell me more today?”

“If you have the time.”

“I always have time for you.” 

“What about your chores?”

“Can’t they wait until the story is finished?”

He gave her a stern look.

“Please,” she begged.

“Okay,” he relented while scrubbing the frying pan.  “Sit with me on the porch and listen closely.”

After she finished her pancakes, Grandfather washed her plate and set it on the rack to dry.  Then he took her hand and led her outside where they sat in his rocking chair. 

Usually, Grandfather went straight back into the field to work.  “What about your chores?” Maria asked.

He smiled warmly, “They can wait until after the story.  Where did we leave off?” he asked his granddaughter.

“You were telling me about Rivertown.”

“Ah,” he began to reminisce.  “Most families in Rivertown were farmers and shepherds, though some fished the local river.  Master Kraat was the blacksmith and Noah Kard owned the single inn and tavern in the whole village, the Twin Eagle. 

“We didn’t just raise sheep and goats, but cattle too.  Each family traded with other families for the goods they needed.  For example, my family would grow corn and beans and trade the surplus with Lewis Towns who raised bear-ox.”

“Bear ox?” Maria asked. 

Grandfather smiled, “The largest cattle in the land.  They may be stubborn, but they’re also extremely protective of their herd .”

Maria pondered that a moment and Grandfather gave her time before continuing, “The village survived on friendship and trade.  Everyone knew everyone else.  Even the distant farms came together on Sundays for church.  During holidays we’d spend the day in the town square dancing and feasting.  Everyone would bring what they could spare and we’d take a day off to enjoy the company of others.”

“Like Easter and Christmas?”

“Yes, Maria, but other holidays as well; enough to take our minds off work at least twice a month.”

“Were all the celebrations the same?”

“During the winter months, we’d clear out the pews in the church and dance inside with great fires roaring in pits.  During the summer months, merchants would roll into town with their wagons and peddle their wares .”

“Was it exciting?  Did they have tales of adventure and knights?”

“They would bring wares from faraway places for trade: books, porcelain, silk, dyes, even a clock on occasion,” Grandfather hedged.  “The most important thing they brought, however, was news.  News from outlying villages: what the weather was like in Old Tree Village or how many wolves were prowling around the Black Forest.  Sometimes, even rumors from Grameray or Tarador.  Mostly just politics.  Though, they would occasionally spot a leopard or two in the trees.”

“Did that scare you, Grandpa?” Maria asked her eyes wide with apprehension.

“We were used to leopards and wolves trying to pick off a sick cow or a newborn lamb.  It just meant the Nightwatchmen had to be more vigilant in their patrols.”

“Night watch men?” Maria asked.

“The Nightwatchmen patrolled the edges of the village, keeping bears, wolves, coyotes, foxes, and the occasional leopard away.  They were trained militia, though, hardly more useful than the shepherds or farmers in a real fight. 

“There wasn’t a boy in the village that couldn’t use a sling when he was four, a short bow by eight, and a long bow at fifteen.  But the Nightwatchmen were our first line of defense.  Scouts in the trees surrounded the village and would relay messages back to the militia on the ground and, if there ever was a serious threat, they’d rouse the village.”

“Did they ever need to?”

“It’s always better to be safe than sorry.  Every grandfather and great-grandfather would tell anyone willing to listen stories of old wars.  Wars fought against evil men, vile creatures, even demons.  Most of us didn’t take them seriously.  They were tall tales used to frighten little boys into behaving.”

“What kind of creatures?”

“You don’t want to know, Maria.”

“Oh yes I do, Granddad.  I really do.”  She looked earnestly into his blue eyes.

He sighed, “Orcs, trolls, goblins, minotaurs, giants, and ogres.  Old threats from the oldest stories.” 

“What were they like?”

“According to the legends, orcs ate men and liked human flesh better than deer meat.  Every orc stood six-and-a-half feet tall, with broad shoulders and grey skin.  They had beady eyes and boar tusks or tiger fangs protruding from their mouths; though the most ferocious had both.  Not as smart as men, orcs were twice as strong and twice as aggressive.  Perhaps their lack of intelligence contributed to their lack of fear.  They were almost fearless in battle. The grandfathers cautioned, though, that anything an orc feared, you should, too.”

“And goblins?” 

“Goblins stood hunched over, barely four feet tall.  They rarely ventured out of their dark caves, except to steal children or cattle.  With long, greasy black hair, greenish gray skin, and pointed ears, they looked slimy and fit to live in swamps, not caves.  Their faces were squished with fury.” 

Maria’s eyes were wide. 

“I thought you wouldn’t like it.”  He smiled sadly down at her.

“No, Grandfather, I just… did they tell you about magic?”  She said the last word in a whisper, almost too afraid to say it or be heard saying it.  She looked around quickly, making sure they were alone.

Grandfather laughed, “Only the grandmothers would discuss magic.  The grandfathers told us tales of battles and horrible creatures to scare us.  The grandfathers would spin out the fantastic tales at length. 

“But the grandmothers swore magic was real.  Obviously we never truly believed their tales about fairies, sorceresses, and wizards.  We were more ready to believe the stories about battles with orcs and goblins than wizards and magic.”

“Why?”

“Because magic is a funny thing.  You can’t see it.  Not many understand it.  People fear what they can’t see and don’t understand.”

“But what about magicians?  They do magic.  Nobody seems afraid of them.”  Maria smiled, “A traveling man visited in the early spring and did many marvelous tricks: sawing his assistant in half, putting two rings together, juggling fire, pulling a rabbit out of a hat, and for his final trick, he released ten white doves from his previously empty hands.  They had appeared out of thin air!”

“That sounds like quite a show.”  Grandfather laughed. 




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