The first group to leave was simply called West. West was comprised of three youths; one aged fourteen, and two aged fifteen. This was the year that youths began their training at metal work. The typical journeyman was a period of a few to several years. There wasn’t any rush, as in this old village, the only path to metal work mastery was to inherit the shop of your superior. And that was usually only through his death.
They had only one task. Walk towards the setting sun until they found soil that was suitable enough to keep their village healthy and profitable for at least another generation. They were not to return for at least six months, regardless of what they found. Three other groups had also been dispatched. Although this seems a cruel way to treat a village’s precious youth, it would be much crueler to allow the village to die off completely. Not just for them, but for all the other surrounding villages that depended on their metal work for their horses, and farming. They would suffer as well. There were four groups, each with three boys, and all the villages were depending on them.
Before leaving, they had been trained in the ancient art of soil divining. Not dissimilar to finding a source of water, the boys were trained in the old art of determining if the soil contained enough elements to support a metal working village. They had been taught, and tested severely before being sent out on their quest. They each had a small collection of rocks of different sorts, several tiny vials of different oils, and a peculiar looking balance. When assembled the device would indicate the content of the soil, and if it had the ingredients that would allow the boys to go home, and the village to feel safe knowing they would survive yet another generation.
The awoke every morning at sunrise, and their rules were simple. They would walk together until midday, when the sun was directly overhead. They would then fan out, with the two older boys breaking right and left, and the youngest boy walking due west. Each boy would pause every hour, and measure the content of the soil. They would then record their measurements, and their location in a small bound parchment that was prepared for them by the village elders. When the sun was at three hands above the horizon, and sinking fast, they would converge and meet together just as the sun was disappearing. They would make their camp, and prepare for the next day.
Each boy was trained in the art of extracting water from the plants, and trapping small animals for food. They would take notes where there were abundant sources of water for their return trip. After three months of walking into the setting sun, they would turn around, and head back to the village. If all groups returned safely, the village elders would spend a sufficient amount of time with the boys’ notes, and determine the next location for the village.
They were on their fourth day, the day where the elders had told them it was safe to begin reading the soil. They had to move a sufficient distance from the village to ensure that their interpretation of the earth was pure. The sun was just reaching the apex, and they were preparing to split, for the first time.
“So, we meet back in a few hours, right?” Asked the younger.
“Yep.” Replied the eldest.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be fine.” Added the elder. The eldest was older than the elder by only a few weeks, but nonetheless, he was the eldest.
They stopped, looked out into the still flat and undiscovered land, with the slow hills rising just a few days off in the distance.
“What lives in hose hills?” asked the younger.
“We’ll find out when we get there,” said the elder. The eldest only grinned.
They stopped, looked at each other, and split up. It was the first time that any of the boys had ever been alone in an unfamiliar environment. The younger began to silently weep, yet bravely kept walking forward, not looking back. He chastised himself or crying, but he didnâ€™t know that the others were doing the same.
Several days up ahead in the distance, just as the hills slowly rose up out of the flat earth, a solitary figure stood watching. Waiting. Wondering.
To be continuedâ€¦.