The Edge of the Water – Part Two

by Jul 12, 2003Stories

They were both very busy. It started out as a few letters, a few words in spare moments here and there. They would meet beneath a tree at the edge of one of the fields, or near the bottom of the stone steps–acceptable places for an unrelated, unmarried young man and woman to be seen together. Relian was always tired from practice, but always on time. She taught him his letters first, one by one, and then his name.

“Your young sister has a pupil, now,” Trewyn had told Auren when he returned from a month long garrison with his unit. “And he seems quite the lovely young man.”

“Is that so?” Auren intoned gravely, before seizing Aliana by the waist and spinning her about as a roguish grin played at his lips. “Mind you don’t get into any trouble!”

“It’s Relian,” she said, trying–and failing–to maintain a resolute scowl. “You know him, don’t you?”

Relian?” Auren said, setting her down, a wholly different expression on his handsome face.

“Yes, Relian…has he got a curse on him, or something?”

“No, it’s just…” Auren shook his head, his eyes distant. “You don’t often see that kind of skill with a blade, especially not in a boy his age.” His smile returned, and he said, “Well, he seems a decent enough young man, at any rate. Let me know if he gives you any trouble.” He looked prepared to give her another whirl about the room, when, to Aliana’s great relief, Trewyn announced that dinner was ready.

The small wooden house was always a pleasant place in the summers. Aliana liked the feeling of crowding about the table, discussing the events of each day, the reassuring rhythm of each week’s tasks and chores. Ceorth, now fifteen, was staying in the barracks with the other boys who were training as Riders; seldom at home, he was delighting in his newfound independence. And Èothren, their father, was staying in Minas Tirith, visiting with some prominent scribes who made their home there. Often it was only Aliana, Auren, and Trewyn who gathered in the evenings–Aliana liked the company, the feeling that here were two people who had just recently passed over the threshold of adulthood, and one yet waiting to see what the world had in store for her.

* * *

As his eye grew more steady as it flickered across the written pages, and his fingers grew stronger about the quill, Relian let her know his story, piece by piece. The son of roaming herdsmen, he had scarcely ever known a solid roof above his head. Cold was always near, and danger from the lingering traces of chaos which remained, even after the Great War. He was never far from the horses, from their warm smells, the shift of their hooves on the raw earth, their graceful twitching ears and large, dark eyes. He felt he knew the beasts of his family’s herd as well as he knew his strong, quiet father and mother.

He was the eldest. Three sisters and two brothers; two more had been lost as infants. He had always wanted to be a cavalryman–in the stories and songs the Riders had always seemed the most noble. He wanted the weight of the mail over his shoulders, the bristle of spearpoints and colored flags. Most of all he wanted the beautiful certainty of the forward charge, the purpose and direction as sure as that of a well-loosed arrow. Much better than living in the wind and following the whims of the herd.

With his father’s reluctant blessing, he had ridden to Edoras nearly a year ago. He was assigned to a unit and outfitted as a soldier. He had some skill with a blade.

“And now I am writing,” he said to Aliana one day with a gleam in his eye. He ran a roughened fingertip delicately along the edge of the yellow parchment, as if to remind himself of what it was. “That is the one thing I never imagined.”

* * *

For as far back as anyone could remember, the people of Rohan had written no books. All the history and wisdom of the land was held in legend and song, passed down through generations, growing and deepening with each retelling. It seemed odd, then, and entirely unnatural to a great many Rohirrim that some people would want to freeze such knowledge with ink and paper and store it away between leather covers for whomever should come poking about.

Aliana’s father’s official title was Head Archivist. It sounded quite grand, but in truth the Archive of Edoras was only in its infancy. The Great War had brought Rohan out of its long isolation, renewing and strengthening its friendship with the kingdom of Gondor. Traders and travelers went back and forth between the capitals of Edoras and Minas Tirith. A handful of those who had seen the great rooms of scrolls and books in the White City returned with the notion that Rohan ought to have a similar institution. After all, weren’t its heroes just as great, its tales just as worthy of remembrance?

And it was just as important, Èothren often said, that the Archive hold histories of the world beyond Rohan’s borders–the names and deeds of the Kings and Stewards of Gondor, the legends of the departing elves, perhaps even the rhymes of the strange little hole-dwellers of the north. It would all be there in time, he said, for the people of the plainslands to enjoy and to learn from.

Permission had been granted; a few rooms a Meduseld had been set aside for work-space and the storage of documents. As far as Aliana knew, King Èomer considered the building of the Archive a worthy enough endeavor, though she was not even sure whether her King could read or write, himself. Probably, she thought. She hoped.

And so it was that Aliana and her father and a handful of other learned Rohirrim spent their days amongst books and scrolls and ink, with new parchment and copies of manuscripts on gracious loan from Gondor. So it was that they became the first Scribes of Rohan.

* * *

“So you like him, do you?” Trewyn asked as she warmed a kettle of soup on the hearth.

The question caught Aliana by surprise. Trewyn was often so quiet that it was easy to forget how direct she could be, as well. Her fair face reflected the glow of the embers as she waited for her sister-in-law’s response. Aliana stared into the depths of the new batch of ink she was mixing, across the room from the fire.

“Do I like who?”

“Who do you think?” Trewyn smiled. She brushed an errant strand of hair out of her eyes in a graceful movement. She always cut a graceful figure–even stooping over a steaming pot, she was lovely. “Your student. Your horse-herder.”

“You said so yourself, Relian seems a lovely young man.”

“And what do you think, my dear?”

Aliana stopped mixing and looked at Trewyn. She spent entire days among words, and yet sometimes it was hard to grasp the proper ones.

“He surprises me. All the time.”

Trewyn’s eyes were a question as she tasted a dipperful of the soup.

“In many ways he’s had a hard life, out on the plains, with the horses,” Aliana continued. “And you would think that that kind of a hard life would make him a hardened man. But he’s not. He’s got a soft voice. He’s like a child, sometimes, so curious. But he’s smart–learns very quickly. He reads fairly well, now, and to see him with a sword, you’d think he’d been fencing since before he could walk…”

“So you do like him?”

Aliana thought of all she had seen of Relian, all she learned of him over these past two months.

“Yes…I think I do. I like him very much.”

Trewyn set down her spoon and crossed the distance to where Aliana sat.

“Will you marry him, do you think?” she asked. There was something unreadable in her expression.

Aliana was taken aback once again. Though it was true she was of an age, marriage still seemed a distant country, much less tangible than the scratching of quills on paper and the smell of ink.

“I don’t know. I suppose anything’s possible.” She smiled. “There are certainly iller prospects than wedding a boy like Relian, though.” She thought of his careful hands, his steady-eyed grin.

“You’d be a Rider’s wife, then,” Trewyn said slowly.

“I would, I suppose.” Aliana was puzzled. “Just like you. Just like most of the women around here,” she added.

“And I am a Rider’s daughter, and a Rider’s granddaughter, and a Rider’s sister.”

“I know that.”

“I know you know.” Trewyn stared off at a point beyond Aliana’s shoulder. Her hands fidgeted uncharacteristically with the ties of her apron. “It’s not as hard as it was in my mother’s and grandmother’s time, when dark things were creeping in and pressing at every border. When every time a man rode off with his company, you knew it very well might be the last time you saw him. But it’s still lonely. Your brother’s gone for months at a time, sometimes, just as he’s gone again, now. You know that.

“It’s a lot of waiting, Ali, and a bit of worrying.” Trewyn brought her gaze back down to meet her sister-in-law’s. “The world still isn’t as safe as we’d like it to be. It never will. It…” She shook her head. “It…I don’t know. That’s just how it is.” She turned her back to Aliana and went back to the hearth.

Aliana watched her for some moments. This was Trewyn, usually so wry and light-witted, even enigmatic. But then again, Aliana had never heard her give complaint. Pretty young Trewyn, stoic and strong-limbed as an old tree. Aliana caught a glimpse of what her world must be like.

“If I were a Rider’s wife,” Aliana said slowly, “I’d live at Edoras year-round, in a house near here. And you would have to come and help me, always, because I’m good for nothing but scorching food and tangling threads.”

Trewyn turned again, and crossed over to Aliana once more. There was that familiar almost-smile playing at the corners of her lips, this time.

“It would be good to have a sister here, even if she is inept,” she murmured. “I’ve been thinking of all these things a bit more…” And then she seized Aliana’s smudgy hand and pressed it between both of hers. “Because I am going to have a child.” Trewyn’s almost-smile broadened into a genuine one. “Don’t tell Auren you knew before he did.”

“Of course not,” Aliana laughed. One more surprise. These were surprising times. “Of course not.”

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Found in Home 5 Reading Room 5 Stories 5 The Edge of the Water – Part Two

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