South was having problems. They left the same time as the other groups, and spent the first three days as required walking a straight line to put sufficient distance between them and the original village. The problems began on the first day, as they passed the outskirts. Elder started having stomach pains. At first they all thought, including Elder, that it was just nerves. After taking several breaks, they realized they had to make a decision. The village counsel was clear on this. No member may slow the group. The purpose was to find new earth that would support the entire village for at least another generation. If one member of the search party became ill, or fell to attack, or did not make it to their nightly rendezvous point, the directions were clear. Leave him, and continue.
When Elder, whose name used to be John before being selected, had agreed with his parents to submit his name to the council, he never dreamed he would be chosen. Surely there were many boys more fit than he to carry this lofty burden. He was the youngest, and the only boy in his family. His older sisters were in the processing of selecting their mates for the second half of their lives, and they had their fate already chosen. John’s father was one of better-respected metal workers in the community, coming from a long, lone line of expert craftsman. None of their line had ever been chosen to be a voyager, to venture out into the territory to find new earth filled with abundant minerals with which they could continue their prosperity.
When John had first submitted his name, as all boys were required to do, he had never expected to be chosen so he hadn’t even allowed himself to imagine what it would be like. To venture with two other boys in one of the main directions, in search of a new source. The actual tests that he’d gone through were much easier than he’d anticipated. Of course, the actual metal working tests were easy, as his family had long taught boys those skills from a very early age. Where he excelled much more than expected was in reading soil, and reading the land and the elements, as if he was in some kind of primordial communication with them.
A metal worker usually doesn’t need these skills, as the sources are identified, and the village is established. Skills of reading the land and the earth are only needed in a great while, and are not routinely taught to the young. Because John had demonstrated such a talent for this, he was chosen unanimously by the council. The families of the other two boys that were in John’s group were happy when they learned of John’s talents. Surely his skills would bring the boys home safely after the six-month ordeal.
That was three days ago, and Elder, having shed his given name, was on his knees, doubled over, clenching his stomach in excruciating agony. Eldest and Younger looked on in disbelief and horror. Their orders were clear. They must leave him. Because they had all sworn their lives in the name of the village, they had taken a solemn oath. And because, after this oath, their lives, and happiness, and even physical comfort were only incidental to the success of the mission, they knew they must do the unthinkable.
They must leave Elder, alone, writhing in pain.
He looked up, and summoned enough courage to disregard his suffering. He slowly looked each of them in the eyes.
“You must go. Find a new source. I will recover, and I will catch up. You will see. Go. Now.” Exhausted by the supreme effort it took to ignore the pain long enough to speak, Elder slumped forward, close to unconsciousness.
He was fifteen.
To be continuedâ€¦.