Five hundred years ago, chaos reigned in the land. From the followers of the goddesses, Sola, Luna and Erda, a group of believers were called. They retreated to a hidden valley in the mountains. The goddesses ordered them to form a community and wait for a call to return to the outer world. A narrow pass over the mountain called the Gap guarded the place they people called Sanctuary.
During their isolation talents arose. Some became Healers and were able to treat and diagnose illness by touch. Sensitives who could read the emotions of others and on occasion read or send thoughts were born. Singers of great power who with their voices could guide and direct others arose. Elders appeared and they could lead and use the voice of command. Teachers who held traces of all the talents and who could tell if a child bore a talent. Of those with the talents there were no more than ten to twenty who bore each gift. Once there had been talented called Seers but there had been no one with a touch of more than one talent for more than twenty years.
The remaining people were commoners. They were divided into four groups. Caretakers cared for the running of the town and those with gifts. Rangers guarded the boundaries of the valley and the slopes. The farmers cared for the land. The herders tended the animals. Many of the commoners prayed one of their children would show a talent.
As the years passed hierarchies developed. The Elders became the rulers. Of the ones gifted as Teachers, there were seldom more than one and during some generations none.
Twice the call to return to the world was heard. Each time the Elders found a way to prevent the dispersal and to keep the number of the community to less than fifteen hundred commoners.
“Enough said. You’ll soon wish you’d let someone else do the chore. Elder John complained the whole way.”
David arched an eyebrow. “Why him?”
“He knew I wanted to see you and he suspects…Tell you later.” Paul’s lips tightened.
David knew Paul wouldn’t speak until he was ready. He wondered what Paul planned. He’d been isolated from his friend and could no longer read Paul’s emotions or hear his thoughts.
“We’ll talk later.” Paul grasped David’s arm and pulled him toward the stone hut. “Elder John and I will spend the night and leave at sunrise. I’ll be back in time to prepare for being invested.”
David stared at the ground. Jealousy pierced his thoughts. He should have stood on the stage of the meeting house too.
His hands fisted and he forced his throat to open. “I’m happy for you.” And he was but the news dropped more acid to erode his self-confidence.
Elder John stepped into view. Heaving gasps rocked his rotund body. He slumped on the stone bench outside the hut. “Have you a place for a weary old man to rest. Preferably prone.”
David clasped the older man’s hand. The elder had always treated him with kindness. John had even broken the community’s rules to aid David’s mother before he and his twin sister had left the isolated cottage to enter the village school. Her banishment had meant no one could visit or help but Elder John had brought gifts of food and clothing. There had been others who came in secret.
David helped John to his feet and opened the door into the hut built from rocks taken from the hillside. A row of double-decker cots stood along one wall. A fire burned on the hearth.
John sat on a cot. The frame creaked and David prayed the legs would hold. He took the pack Paul handed him and pulled out a block of cheese and a loaf of bread. After adding water, lamb and vegetables to the kettle over the fire he walked to the door. He gestured to his friend. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
Paul paused at the door. “Later.”
“Because I’ll need an answer from you.”
“Then watch the stew while I check the flock and feed the dogs.” The eerie howl of a lobo sounded in the distance. David shuddered. Wild beasts had grown less wary during the past year. He studied the herd and saw they’d moved toward the hut. Then he filled the dog’s trough. With his chores done he returned to the hut.
They sat at the wooden table on backless benches. David filled bowls with stew and placed them near the bread and cheese Paul had cut. Once they finished the meal Elder John bade farewell to the Goddess Sola and welcome to the Goddess Luna.
David built up the fire. While sipping on a mug of tea he listened to tales of the happenings in the village and reports from the Rangers about the increase of predatory beasts. David mentioned the record number of births among the sheep and goats.
Elder John nodded. “Soon the increases will be a problem.”
“Why?” David asked.
“Even among the villagers the number of births increase. For years no more than four or five infants were born. Your year was the last with a low birth rate. Last year the infants numbered thirty.”
Paul scowled. “But according to Chief Elder Jeremiah the goddesses haven’t answered his pleas for guidance.” He leaned forward. Excitement glowed in his blue eyes. “My father hasn’t listened.”
“Why not?” David asked.
“Stubborn pride and fear,” John said. “He likes matters to remain as they are.”
“Gabriel, Ruth and Deborah will be invested, too,” Paul said.
David lowered his head to hide the sadness coiling in his gut. Left out. Discarded. The one who didn’t fit. He gulped a deep breath. “How is my sister?”
“Wonderful,” Paul said.
David’s hands clenched. So the love between the two remained strong and a fool’s dream. As a Healer Deborah was forbidden marriage.
John grinned. “Your twin has more stamina than the other Healers. She’s a match for your mother.”
David tried to smile. The news should have pleased him but his spirits sank. He would never be part of his friends’ life again. “Mother will be pleased.”
“She knows. I told her. Have you visited her?”
“I visit her at least once a month. She misses Deborah.”
Elder John yawned. “I’m for bed. Don’t spend the night talking.” He rolled his poncho to use as a pillow and retreated to one of the cots.
David and Paul walked to the eye stone. Moonlight entered the hole and illuminated most of the circle stone. David carried a blanket and his staff. “I’ll sleep here tonight.”
“Why?” Paul asked.
“I heard a lobo howl. I may need to protect the flock.” He placed his staff on the ground.
Paul rested his head against the base of the eye stone. “You’ll have the flocks in the pens in time for the festival, won’t you?”
“Why wouldn’t I? I’m not prepared to be banished.”
“Good. I’m going to call for Sanctuary to disband.”
“Are you sure this is the right time?” David tried to keep alarm from his voice.
“Change is needed. You heard what Elder John said about the increased population.”
David grasped his staff. “They won’t listen. There will be anger and fear stirred by those words.”
Paul leaned forward. “We need to know what the world is like beyond the Gap. This was the only entrance David had heard of into the valleys beyond the mountains. Are there people? Have they continued to worship the goddesses?”
“Forcing everyone to leave is drastic. A scouting party would be best. Men from the Rangers have the skill to live off the land.”
Paul frowned. “You’ve changed. Wasn’t leaving Sanctuary all you used to talk about.”
David nodded. He had wanted to leave and find his father to help his mother’s sadness.
“Are you with us?”
David lay back and stared at Luna’s growing crescent. Leaving the community meant being declared a rebel. Rebels were dragged to the Gap and told to run while the villagers threw rocks. His father had been named one for marrying. The irony was, after the birth of the twins, his mother had retained her powers to heal.
A chill washed through him. Fear, not for himself but for his friends rose. Did Paul think his status as the Chief Elder’s son would protect him?
David closed his eyes and listened to Paul talk about his plans. How could he commit himself to the ideas of a dreamer? But how could he let his friends throw their lives away?