When I entered the town of Cliving for the first time my entire expectation of Reeve Athelwald would be to find a craven wastrel of a man, someone like Sithric at Stangard who was obviously working counter to the interests of his people and the wider Realm. I leave Cliving confused. Athelwald may over-cautious, even cowards, when one looks at things strategically. There is no doubt however that he is personally very brave. Moreover he is courteous and caring, and exhibits concern for his people. And yet, something nags.
The conclusion of my business with Athelward’s hunter did not aid my already negative impression of Athelward. After a bit of this and that he eventually revealed he was on a mission to track down some orcs that had attacked Cliving, and peremptorily informed us to go and do his job. Well, I have no objections to getting rid of some orcs, so off I went to stop them bothering the folk of Rohan. Only the orc commander, while we were fighting, kept shouting about why he had been ordered not to attack Cliving and was the attack on Cliving the reason he was being hunted. One cannot trust orcs and yet … ordered not to attack Cliving.
So, onto Cliving it was. Amongst other things one meets a guard there who gives you the reward for killing the orcs – and it appears the guards don’t like the hunstman either. It was the first note that rang odd – it sounded just like a conversation I could have at Ethengels. Still, the “ordinary men” might be true Rohirrim and the rot still be at the top.
Athelwald, when I met him, was courteous. He gave a pretty speech about being sorry for Thane Mildreth’s loss, is quite open about us meeting her daughter, and even asks us to speak to his guard-captain to see if there is anything we can do to help. Mildreth’s daughter is a little sad with her griefs, but reports to us she is well and feels safe, and that Athelwald has been an upstanding gentleman. One suspicion at least laid to rest.
There are then a series of differing quests in and around Cliving. Within the walls there is an assassination attempt being investigated – which leads into a murder investigation. It ends up with three possible suspects, and one has to make a decision as to which is most likely to have committed it. The person is then held for further questioning – an interesting choice since there is no way of knowing the “right” one. There is also a little love story that provides an amusing diversion. Without the walls the Reeve wants us to help evacuate some crofters to within the walls of Cliving.
We also meeting with a captain who chaffs at his orders not to ride forth against the orcs – his orders are to guard the western entrance to the town. All but one of his men wish to make the ride, and we go along. It is a rather good little instance, but at the conclusion the captain is summoned to the Reeve. The Reeve asks our opinion, and he decides to promote the man who did not take part in the ride to the post of Captain, and to make the former captain his own personal bodyguard – hardly a demotion. Indeed, one can argue it puts him into a position of influence. Yet … he also takes someone who rode out against the orcs from the field.
The Reeve however then does something utterly unexpected – he asks us to join him on an outing against the orcs. Me and him. Quite a few orcs get slain in the process, and it is clear that Athelwald is both a capable warrior and no base coward. Afterwards he offers for all of us to stay in Cliving – though we refuse.
Curiously he then asks us to help train his daughter as a Shield-Maiden. This opens a short series of quests where we take an impetuous young woman and start to make her realise the difference between saga and reality – and one leaves her with a sense she will be a credit to her people and country. Finally Athelwald makes an offer of marriage to Thane Mildreth – which she rejects – and there are quests from both sending us onto Faldham, the last town of Norcrofts.
So I leave Cliving, not sure what to make of the Reeve. He is certainly not in open league with the enemy, nor was there any obvious evidence of the influence of Grima Wormtongue. It is quite possible that he is just excessively cautious, seeing his primary duty to defend the folk of Cliving and making the rest of Norcrofts and unhappy (but in his view necessary) sacrifice. He would not be the first military commander who was never convinced he had enough strength. Cliving is certainly enviably located for defence on a steep hill with several layers of fortification. It is a large town – the largest so far we have encountered in Rohan, and it is bustling with activity. It appears prosperous, and even peaceful.
Certainly the evidence against the Reeve is hardly conclusive. The screeching of an orc before its death is hardly reliable – and besides it might be a good military choice not to force a timid, cautious Reeve from his roost by attacking him directly. His decision to concentrate all forces in Cliving might even make a certain degree of sense if he believes there to be a large enemy host about – the separate forces of Norcrofts might be insignificant separated but make a host of its own together. Alternatively perhaps he is just over-cautious and over-timid, if not actually cowardly.
Yet … something does not quite feel right. In Cliving we met with four Rohirrim – members of Eomer’s company that we first actually met all the way in Rushgore back in the Great River region. When Athelward hears who they are from he plans to hold a great feast – but the Riders choose to slink away feeling uneasy about the entire situation. Like them, I am happy to leave Cliving behind me. It is filled with good people, but I feel my character will be glancing backward now and then to see if he is followed.