The Forests of Evenlear, Part Three: Havenwing & History
After the scrumptious breakfast of scones and sausage that Aunt Monria served me, my first order of business was to return to my room and write a letter to my parents, informing them of my safe arrival. I then had the rest of the day to myself, and decided to spend it familiarizing myself with my new home city. Donning a thick shawl to keep off the chill, I left the mansion and walked across the grounds and out the gate into the town of Havenwing. It was market day, Aunt Monria had told me, which promised more excitement in addition to the pure enjoyment of exploration.
My aunt and uncle's house was in Havenwing's wealthiest neighborhood, surrounded by other estates of similar size and grandeur. I made my way northward down the wide, well-maintained sidewalk beside the street, enjoying the pleasant racket created under the hooves of horses and wheels of wagons. As I came to the first major cross-street, I looked west and could see the roofs and turrets of Havenwing's municipal buildings (one of which housed Uncle Oruc's office), the church, and the school. A touch of nervousness fluttered up in my stomach as I saw the school and thought of tomorrow. The building was so tall and imposing... and I was supposed to be a teacher there.
Don't think about that today, I reprimanded myself, Just wait until tomorrow.
I crossed the street and continued north, the road taking me downhill into the more middle-class area of town. Here the houses and gardens were much less grand, though more charming and welcoming, I thought--more like home. The mojority of passersby all seemed to be heading in the same direction, so I followed the general movement onto the next street over, where the open market filled the avenue with color, noise, and life.
Colorful awnings and canopies stretched over all manner of stall, where vendors called to or bartered with customers. Flute music drifted and mingled through the crowd to a lively beat timed by some sort of percussive instrument. Five-legged iron basins stood like sentinels, their bowls filled with blazing chunks of coal. Most of them had attracted small gatherings of people, who stood warming their hands and talking.
I made my way slowly down the street, taking in as much as I could. This was unlike the market days in Castlebrook, which were quieter, less gaudy affairs, but something about this appealed to me. The assault on my sense was new and exciting. Perhaps, I thought, I was born for city life.
Towards the middle of the afternoon it began to rain lightly, so I returned to my aunt and uncle's house. Aunt Monria was occupied with guests--a ladies' committee of some kind, the maid told me--so I went up to my room with the intention of reading until dinner.
A Tale of Windweneth implored me for a re-read from its place on the back of the writing desk. I almost acquiesced, too, but nervously picked up Evenlear: A Brief History instead. All day I had forced myself to push aside and ignore all thoughts of tomorrow. But spending a little time reviewing to keep things fresh in mind couldn't hurt, I decided.
I laid down on the bed, propping my head in my hand, and opened the book. By now I almost knew it by heart.
The people of Evenlear were scattered over a broad expanse of territory. All dwelt in one or other of the nearly two hundred Clearings we held in the midst of thousands of square miles of forest. Our country did not have borders as most people think of them. At least, if we did, no one remembered them. Rather, the nation of Evenlear existed within the bounds of the Clearings--areas up to seventy miles in diameter, connected by carefully guarded roads cut through the woods that surrounded us. Each Clearing was led by a governor, who in turn submitted to the authority of the king (who was, in all truth, only a sort of figurehead over the more democratic methods of our government). Any necessary business between Clearings was conducted via the highways through the woods. No one from Evenlear actually ventured off of the roads into the woods. Ever.
My eyes strayed from the page as I thought about last night, and my fleeting glimpse of the forest.
Evenlear had not always been as it was now. Four centuries ago it had been much like any other country: the borders around its territory were clearly defined, and its terrain comprised a variety of woodlands and open country--though the woods were generally avoided by most people, out of superstition. There had been peace in those days... peace without fear.
Then the so-called superstitions had proved themselves to be well-grounded fears, when the invaders came. From the deep forests they had appeared, bringing terror and violence with them. Creatures of unknown race nad origin--whether goblin, troll, ogre, hob, or something else entirely, no one knew--rampaged out of hte woods in droves, burning towns, raiding farms, looting homes, killing all in their path.
Evenlear's army had rallied and stood against the enemies, but to no avail. They were outnumbered. Squadrons who marched into the woods never returned.
After a thousand Evenlearian soldiers had been lost, the king ordered the commanders to forbid missions into the woods. Only invaders who ventured out into the open country were engaged. Still, the losses were great, prompting the king to forbid anyone to pass within a mile of the tree line. The military losses decreased after that, as did the enemy raids, and the king's edict stayed in place for decades.
But forests grow, and with no one allowed to pass within a mile of them they quickly began to spread and take over the landscape. In their efforts to avoid the danger of the forests, the Evenlearians were allowing it to eat their world alive. By the time a king came to power who was willing to face the danger and lift the orders to keep away from the woods, only small areas of open country were left around the cities of Evenlear. Less than two hundred such clearings remained.
Since that time, it had been a never-ending battle just to hold on to what little open ground remained. The forests had grown to irrevocable size, and the unknown enemies they harbored made conquering them a foolhardy dream.
But of course, that was not the history I would be teaching my pupils. No, that history was best left unspoken-of. As long as children were taught a proper fear of the woods (for reasons that were left vague and unexplained) that was enough. I would teach them history, but it would be the history of Evenlear's politics, her technological developments, her culture... even the history of her fashions, of all nonsense.
We, the citizens of Evenlear, were destined to spend our years just as our fathers and our fathers' fathers had: living our lives in the Clearings, in fear--and denial--of the world that kept us hopelessly surrounded.