Riverkeepers they once were, Riverlords they began to call themselves, forgetting that they kept, not dominated, tended, not owned.
I chanced upon this podcast episode, “The Riverkeeper”, this morning on the newsletter, Read in Case of Emergency. That word, “Riverkeeper”, gripped my imagination. The work done by such a real-life riverkeeper is, clearly, very important and makes for a fascinating read, but what I was intrigued by was the possibility of something more.
The thought of a Riverkeeper, or group of Riverkeepers, being a sort of office or title held by protectors of rivers started to mix with what I had been considering about the Lord Warden of the Marches. One could imagine, perhaps, a drainage basin which was sufficiently secluded but which held a sizeable population centred on the river delta that led to the sea. That peoples, let’s call them, the Anduin, rely heavily on the health of the river that feeds the river delta and runs into the sea. There are many species of fish that live near the river delta and thrive there, and most of their agriculture is found in the river delta.
Yet, say there is (and always has been) a threat to the rivers. A dark force, the Still (or perhaps, the Sludge? but that is maybe too blunt), constantly encroaches upon the rivers. The Anduin say that the river, which grants life, was a work of an ancient angel, whose work the Still hated, for he had been spurned. Ever bitter, he sought to destroy all that the angel had created, and waged war against the rivers day and night. All forms of creatures and all manner of evils he devised, and the Anduin were forced to form means of protected each tributary from the encroachment of the Still. So the Riverkeepers arose, first organically when certain strong men and women were told to brave the upstream and to protect the headwaters, and then, over the years, becoming an office.
In the years that have passed, these offices have fallen into decay. The nobility of the Riverkeepers has degenerated into the proud but petty squabblings of minor lords. From stewards, they became haughty, and began taxing the downstream folk. They deemed themselves Riverlords, rulers of the river, but also begin to fight amongst themselves for power. But downstream, matters also had become worse. Complacency and forgetfulness over many generations have resulted in a leadership in the delta that forgot the contribution of the Riverkeepers to their well-being. The taxation of the upstream (the tributes that they had to pay for the tributaries) was almost unbearable.
The ties that bound upstream and downstream for hundreds of years begin to decay. New voices begin to clamour with all sorts of possibilities. And all this while, the Still bides its time and hovers, waiting to strike.