The Glorious History of Aathenaar, Part Seven: A Tale of Two Rivals
With peace instituted throughout the world of Coventra, civilization had the opportunity to flourish. And so it did for thousands of years, as war never again dragged its bitter claw across the land.
But, as such things sometimes transpire, tensions settled below the surface, so that neighboring regions would grin to each other’s faces while awaiting the opportunity to stab each other, in a purely metaphorical sense.
Such a thing happened with Aathenaar and Freedampton. The two towns were each other’s nearest neighbors, standing less than two leagues apart. But in temper they could not have been more distant. Where the people of Aathenaar were humble, those of Freedampton were haughty. Freedamptonites were lazy while Aathenaarians were industrious. And Aathenaar’s populace lived in homes made of the district’s fine mud, while Freedampton’s had to live in houses of garish stone or wood, with windows that exposed one’s most private moments to the entire world.
“How many Freedamptonites does it take to play a game of backgammon?” went a popular Aathenaar joke at the time. “Thirteen: two to play, two to shout out their instructions, four to roll the dice, two to move the pieces, two to pay everybody’s wages, and one to work the doubling cube.”
Freedamptonites would counter by facetiously claiming that Aathenaarians were so fundamentally subnormal that they found it impossible to deliver a joke in fewer than five breaths—a patently absurd suggestion, since so gifted were the Aathenaarians in the art of joke-telling that they could deliver the entire backgammon punchline in no more than two.
Of course, this rivalry had implications beyond mere hurt feelings. In trade, for example, both villages were fierce competitors, with Freedampton’s merchants claiming superiority of their occa wood and tocic stone to Aathenaar’s excellent selection of muds, while Aathenaar made the obvious questions about Freedampton’s offerings’ permanence and about the ethics of extracting those materials whatsoever.
Despite the wisdom of Aathenaar’s position, other merchants were dazzled by the Freedamptonite’s glib words and tawdry showmanship. Freedampton experienced a boom of wealth such as had never been seen.
Occasionally a Freedamptonite, no doubt drunk from his revelries, would make the trek to Aathenaar, dressed as quite the dandy in the finest silks, for no purpose but to gloat of his wealth. The people of Aathenaar would typically greet this boastfulness by reaching down to grab two handfuls of mud and splattering it across his garments, but as often as not, the immodest Freedamptonite would simply strip his muddy clothes and declare “Keep it! I have dozens more at home!”
While Aathenaarians agreed that they always got the better of these exchanges, the intrusions were nevertheless a distraction from the peaceful and efficient life the town had become accustomed to.
Early one morning the town was awoken by a cry such as no one had ever heard before. Most residents grumbled at this new turn that Freedampton’s incitements had taken, but those who investigated discovered that the noise came from a very different source: A young Aathenaarian woman named Cilla.