Hal looked at his companion and in a sense, his rival, and smiled.
“Let me ask you a question,” he said “who do you think has the greatest respect for the ways of Goddess, the Cult or the Gribbin?” This was a strange question, delivered with an ironical twist of the lip and a lift of the eyebrow! Surely, thought Gwen, the Cult were the epitome of fanatical adherence to ‘the way’. How could Hal think of those wild people in the woods as in any respect their equal?
“You talk in riddles, to instruct children,” she said, “talk sense man!” Hal threw back his head and laughed, raising an arm in mock defence against her angry blue eyes.
“Riddles you say!” he spluttered inadvertently showering her with damp breadcrumbs. “Don’t take offence, just let me explain.
Our land is ruled by custom as you know, each month with its Festival, each Guild with its rules, all people knowing their name and station in life, each taking what they need and no more, in harmony with the will of the Goddess. It was not always so.
Many years ago, before The Fall, men commanded in all things, much as the out-Freyin do now among their own people.”
“As you are wont to do,” interrupted Gwen mockingly.
“Peace, I ask you, give me the time to tell it my way!” begged Hal. “After The Fall and the loss of all those abilities to travel fast, speak at a distance, build fantastic buildings, like those in the Dead-lands, create weapons, grow, store, and eat strange and wonderful foods”
“Yes, yes and fly and have hundreds of babies, I know all these stupid stories” said Gwen. “What has this to do with the Gribbin?”
“Some of those who remained alive, after the collapse of the old civilisation which we call the ‘Fall’, were Travellers” Hal resumed, patiently, “Small bands of people who moved through the land, working a crop, then disappearing into the woods for months, before coming to another place where many hands were needed.
These Travellers were disliked and harassed by the petty rulers of the land but when the chaos and famine culled the unlucky and the unfit, after the Fall, many Travellers survived to became the first families of Gribbin.
These people have a profound reverence for the Forest and all the plants and animals that live there. Some say it is they and not the Cult, who are the true followers of the Goddess.”
“Where did the Cult groups come from then?” asked Gwen.
“All the Frey-farms had a similar beginning,” said Hal. “When the old civilisation fell apart some family farms survived, but most were lost, together with the bigger holdings, to bands of starving Townsmen.
The Townsmen could not support themselves, even when they seized rich well-sited land and those farms fell into disuse.
There were some groups of individuals who had always tried to farm in harmony with Nature, these were the founder members of what became the Cult.
When the Fall came, they were in a better position to survive. They lived on small farms, with a full range of crops and animals, which was thought of as backward in those pre-Fall days, but they had enough people and genetic diversity in their crops and animals to flourish when things settled down.
By then, the incompetents had either died or crawled back to face their own chaos in the Towns. The successful small farms became the earliest Frey-farms and are now run by the Cult.”
“And the towns, what of the Towns,” demanded Gwen, engrossed by the tale at last.
“Most of the pre-Fall Towns are in the Dead-lands,” responded Hal, “What we know as Towns now are small communities, open and intermingled with fields and gardens for the most part, with a scattering of essential craftsmen and artisans workshops at the centre.