What is it that makes teenage friendships so intense? Is it the way we cross from one state to another? I remember the very last time I played make believe with my best friend. The stories that had engrossed us for hours suddenly failed to interest me. I left her in her room and went out and helped her father dig up potatoes. I knew then that it was over, forever.
Is it the sheer rate of change, forcing us through growing pains so different from the steady upward momentum of childhood? My first falling-out was incomprehensible; I couldn’t quite believe that my best friend would choose another over me. Or my first betrayal, when I inadvertently revealed a friend’s secret to our classmates, and the way she turned from me, as if trusting me had been a mistake.
Or is it the intimacy? The notes in class, the secrets shared in the dark at a sleepover, the easy way we hugged or giggled or touched, because we belonged to each other in a way no one else did?
I know these examples are not universal. They are dictated by gender, culture, background, and most of all, dumb luck. When we are young, we are grouped by location and age, and expected to make friends among our peers. If we’re lucky, we do. If we’re not, we keep going until we can escape and find our people.
The Harm Tree is a story told by two friends, Torny and Ebba. When we first meet them, they have been thrown together by chance. They bond because they are both outsiders and they find something familiar in each other’s company. They care for each other, but they are preoccupied by memories of home and dreams for the future. When events conspire to separate them, they don’t even have time to say goodbye.
Torny, headstrong, impulsive, finds herself in the company of Galen, a veteran of the bloody civil war that took place nine years before. Bound by a vow she made to a dead man, Torny comes to realise that Galen is guided by his own restless ghosts, making him an unreliable navigator in the shifting landscape, where the past is never as dead and buried as you think. When Galen abandons her, she is found by Fenn. A thrall, Fenn seems to need rescuing, but it is his knowledge of dealing with spirits that helps Torny survive the dangerous intersection of past and present, the living and the dead, so that she can reach home in one piece.
Meanwhile, quiet Ebba has caught the eye of the warrior-priest Grimulf, who seeks to convert the people of Arngard to the new religion. In Ebba he sees saintly potential, as well as a means to extend his own power. But Ebba has grown up steeped in what Grimulf considers heresy, and if she is to survive, she needs to learn as much as she can about the religion she is supposed to embody. Berengar, a young nobly-born soldier, is horrified to discover her heretical roots, but decides to help her despite his own strongly held religious beliefs. As the two learn from each other, Grimulf’s sinister intent leads them closer to Ebba’s home, and Ebba’s homesickness is replaced with unease at the thought of her family, ruled by a patriarch every bit as unbending as Grimulf himself.
When I wrote The Harm Tree, I knew Torny and Ebba had to part, but I wondered whether I was making a stupid mistake – after all, it’s the closeness of friends in most stories that makes their friendship memorable. Having someone by your side who you can rely on; isn’t that what we want the most from our friends?
Maybe, but that is not always what we get. Especially in young adulthood, when our lives are marked by such shifts and changes. Sometimes our friends can’t be beside us, and we must do what we can. We make friends of necessity, who help us to find our way through unfamiliar landscapes.
If we are lucky, like Torny and Ebba, we may finally find ourselves once again face to face with old friends. But who’s to say, when we do, whether we will still be who we were? Maybe the hardships of the road will have changed us utterly. Maybe the choices we have had to make will have hardened us to one another. There will have been betrayals. Some things will be lost forever. But maybe, too, we will learn something. Maybe we will discover that a friend is an anchor, a lifeline back to ourselves. They tell us who we are, and how much more we can be. Because we belong to each other, in a way no one else can, or will, ever.
The Harm Tree by Rose Edwards is published in July by UCLan Publishing.
This is a guest post by Rose Edwards and the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the FCBG.