#7: At the South Gate

The somewhat surly South-Gate stable-keeper knows of no companies making easterly soon. One apparently left a bit more than a week ago, before even I had received the letter; though as that company was all women, they might not have agreed to share the road with me anyway. After accepting (in a somewhat peremptory manner, I thought) my apology, Piper informed me of a mercantyler that had stayed at the Peach, who means to undertake an easterly course within the next few days; I've spoken to him, and he will let me accompany his wagon for a fee that he considers modest (but which I suspect is an amusingly inverted form of highway robbery), but the going will be slow at the pace of a merchant's wagon, and I cannot know how trustworthy he is. Unless I find some better opportunity forthwith, though, he remains my best option.

Certainly from here at the South Gate, the road stretching off through peaceful plains and bucolic woods seems no more threatening than is that harmless path from Trestlebridge along which I traveled, scarcely more than a month ago. Such hopes I had then for Bree, after the dull lusterlessness of Trestlebridge. Music and mirth, the company of charming people, plentiful commissions reaping both bounties of silver and plaudits for my talent and skill, and above all, a respite from tedium. Now as I look out at the plodding stones of the road leading east, the thought of leaving Bree brings me no joy, but neither does it evoke dread of loss, for so much has Bree been a disappointment that some separation may indeed make its appeal again revitalized.

In that entire month, apart from one ill-considered tryst, I've had but one song, and one dance, and not a single kiss, nor have I the slightest expectation of romantic entanglements. That one dance was with Odelynne, as fair and admirable a lass as one could hope to meet, and I vowed that I would win from her a second dance, but that hope is but the guttered flame of a candle that cannot stand against the darkness now. Even at the remove of intended separation, her affable companionship exceeds anything Trestlebridge could offer; I ought to be grateful for that. But does not the slightest taste not sate but indeed whet the appetite? Our talk of bartering lessons in swordplay for lessons in writing seems forgotten now, and I have given up the wearing of the sword, clumsy and cumbersome a thing it is. Piper might perhaps tease me that I only took it up as a pretext for Odelynne's companionship, and I cannot know whether this is true, but whether it be or not, either way it now seems equally futile. And the final bite of the axe that felled any hopes seems to be this letter -- how bitterly displeased Liffey would be to know that, despite all my protestations and explanations, Odelynne seems convinced Liffey is 'my lass'. Perhaps Piper felt compelled to once again gossip about that ill-considered evening Liffey and I shared; but for all that Liffey and I alone know the truth of that evening, and the frigid turn her tone to me took after it, well might the hens in their gossip imagine it to be some tale of star-crossed lovers, as might be told in a mummer's dance.

Indeed, even if I do find a way to venture to Ost Guruth, and even if the journey prove not too discommoding or perilous, nor the company in that hostile land so unwelcoming as Liffey said I would find it, what then? I cannot think how to reconcile the sense of need in her letter with the brusque way she spoke to me before she left, save only to think that she is not only so desperate for some contact that she would write thus, but also, that she had tried many others before having to settle for me. Indeed, perhaps the very reason for that sense of deep hurt and anguish is that she has already reached out to others, and gone unanswered, and she must perforce settle for writing to me. How, then, should she react to the sight of me answering her letter? I might aspire to some gratitude and perhaps even friendship, but I ought to be prepared for knife-edged words of disdain and dismissal once more, and a hard lonely road back to Bree feeling even more whittled to a nub, with no comfort save the hope that behind all the ingratitude there was some good I'd done.

Was it truly so much beyond reason to hope that my time in Bree would be about wine, women, and song?