Orientation by Celeritas

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Story Notes:

For B2MEM 2011, Day 21: The words West and East are often used in the works of Tolkien. Write a story or poem or create an artwork that uses these words as the central focus, whether as cardinals, regions, or as metaphors.


I may have fudged on the "central focus" bit.

Ossian Old-Buck sighed as he peered down the sights of the level to try and determine just how tall the nearest hill-top was.  He’d had a year’s experience in the field when he was apprenticed, but this was quite different, for there was no one here to check his ciphering, and should his precious Book of Triangles be sullied in the field…


Not to mention young nephews asking impertinent questions!


“What’re you doing now?”


Ossian tried his best not to break his concentration.  “Seeing how tall that hill is.  It’ll help with making sure we have the same area of land for the newest families.  Hand me that slate, will you?”


The child obliged and Ossian began to write down the figures that the transit had pointed to, then began to flip through the book.


“This is a good deal duller than I’d thought.”


Ossian tried to smile.  “We’ll be on our way again in no time, I assure you!”


“Yes, after we’re done waiting for our cousin to come back with the chain.  And all for what?  A toe on the map?”


“You’re the one who volunteered to help us,” said Ossian, as he began figuring.


“I hadn’t seen you in five years!”


He had a point, there.  The King had been trying to get them to do a better survey of their land ever since he’d ceded it to them.  He’d had his surveyors go out and mark the boundaries on the maps, but that was it.  Truth be told, the hobbits had seen little point in them, for families owned the land, not people, and they all knew each other perfectly well and who was going to get into dispute over a little bit of land, anyhow?


But then the Man they’d talked to most recently had talked about maps, and how one hadn’t been done of this land in years, and Ossian remembered, before they’d moved, encountering an Elf who’d had one and oh!—how clever it was!  So he volunteered for the job, and had been gone at court, learning advanced figuring and how to use the tools, and all sorts of other things, and had come back to find his settlements, family, and even his own name changed.


Just two years ago, you see, a bunch of Stoors had come up from the south, and somehow they had a Buck clan, too, and they were fussing over land—amongst themselves, and against them.  So, instead of taking the break he’d wanted, Ossian had to start on his map-making straightaway.  Those who had missed him so badly simply had to come with.


“Well,” he said, “I appreciate the sentiment.  Do you want to see what this will look like when it’s all done?”  He recorded his figure in the note-book he had hung round his neck, and began to sketch on the slate.


“See, there’s the bounds between our land and the King’s, and our home’s somewhere here”—he made a spot nearer the bottom—“and the Tooks’ somewhere here,”—nearer the top—“and all this land up here still unsettled!”


“How comes it we’re at the bottom?”


“Why, because we came from the east, and the east is always at the bottom of maps.  If we wanted to move nearer the top, we’d have to settle in the west.”


“That’s silly.  You’re making the map; why don’t you make east at the top?”


He remembered asking, when he was first at the court, why west was always at the top of maps, but the Men’s explanation about powers and drowned lands (how could a land drown?  Flood, yes, but drown?) had muddled his brain.  What was it that his father had said whenever he’d had any impertinent questions like that?


“That’s how it’s always been done, my lad.”

Chapter End Notes:

This takes place very shortly after the first settlements of the Shire--after the initial wave of Fallohides, in came a number of Stoors.  This allowed me to dither on the source of the name "Oldbuck."

For the name Ossian--Tolkien said that Brandybuck names in the late Third Age tended to have a somewhat "Celtic" feel to them.  I wanted something sufficiently different that it would feel foreign, but would still have some sort of nominal tie to later practices.  Somehow the name of the fake national bard of Scotland seemed to work.

Plus, I have the toughest time with male Brandybuck names.

On land ownership--hobbits are only just starting to settle, so concepts of land ownership are pretty new.  I tried to show some of that by suggesting that property was communal within the family; later, as they settle further and move from the extended to the nuclear family, land property will be seen in increasingly individualized terms. 

The Book of Triangles, incidentally, is a massive table of trigonometry figures, which functions are incredibly helpful in surveying.  The chances of these actually surviving well enough to be reliable without a printing press to keep cranking them out is pretty low, but long-lived Numenorean mathematicians, plus scribes, might take care of that.  I think they're also trying to push administrative functions like surveying on the hobbits because they simply don't have the people to do that anymore.

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