The Other Bank of the River
by Camila Fernandes
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To David, the true author of this story
East and West were separated by a torrential river. That which the river separated, a single
bridge united. There had been others, but time had taken it upon itself to knock them down, and
no one had taken it upon himself to reconstruct them and, thus, only one remained. It was curved
and built from stone, very old, unsecure. No one worried about this, since few had motive to
cross from one bank to the other.
It isn't that East was enemy of the West. Neither were they great friends. There wasn't much
that the eastern people wanted to do with the western. In the East, they planted much and sowed
much; long stretches of generous land were covered with gardens and orchards. On the West
bank, the woods were dominated by skilled hunters and the mountain herds bred vigorously in
the hills. One side bought what the other produced. But, for this purpose, everyone agreed that a
large ferry boat going back and forth in the river delta, there where the capitols stood, was
sufficient. For the rest, the little stone bridge was enough.
It was this bridge that Haric needed to cross to marry a woman called Merissa, one he had never
His friends ridiculed his fate.
"What's wrong with the women here that you must arrange a wife on the other side of the river?"
"He is certainly bewitched," scoffed another, "because everyone says that they're all witches
there, bearded like goats and stubborn as mules!"
He smiled and did not reply. He knew that every fool repeated every stupidity he heard, always
twice as big as when he heard it the first time. But it was true that he had never seen the women
of the West. The Levantine girls were suave and quiet, of rosy skin and clear eyes, raised with
modesty and clothed with refinement. They were admired by people of all lands. There they had
families of good lineage, bearing adequate brides for the son of a rich builder like himself.
But the planned wedding had nothing to do with maintaining bloodlines. It had to do with
alliance. For a long time, his father had done business with the men of the other side. He
intended to take his people and raise in the West the solid houses whose technique his
stonemasons and artisans dominated and, in that way, prosper more each day. But those people,
like his own, were proud and reserved. In order to do good business, it was necessary to offer the
utmost proof of trust and good faith. He needed partners who were no less than brothers.
Marrying his own son with the daughter of his partner was the most guaranteed alliance.
"Don't pay attention to everything you hear, my son. I wouldn't allow them to arrange a bad
marriage. Your bride is a good lady and should make you happy. Just don't be alarmed by the
customs of those on the other side. They are very different from us. They are obstinate and a
little rude, but honest.
And so it was. It is said that the two peoples had arrived in that region together, in a very distant
time. But it cannot be said that they were the same people. For many years there was rivalry,
pride and, it is said, even war. The Occidentals were a strange people, of smaller stature, black
hair, and golden skin. The women, like the men, were boisterous and unruly, but lovers of truth.
For that reason, the son trusted his father and said nothing of his fears. He worried he would
never learn to love a lady whom he had not chosen. Would she be beautiful? Sweet? Wise?
Perhaps he would need other women to live contentedly. Only time could turn maybes into