On my way back home, I stumbled across a poster. It was advertising freedom and glory and riches, all you needed to do was find the edge of the world. Awesome, I thought, let me just get a rope to hang myself with, it’d have the same result, but cheaper and faster. The further I went, the more I noticed the strategy these posters had been put up with: Low, and in streets leading to the poorer districts. If you were walking home with your head hanging after being rejected from a job, you’d see them. You’d see them and die in the search of glory, just so that the king could clean up the streets from people who were no longer needed.
I arrived at home angrily. Mom, Dad, Grandpa and my brothers were waiting at the table already. We didn’t talk until we finished eating, at which point grandpa finally asked what’s wrong. I told him how the king was a lying bitch who wanted to kill his citizens, and announced I’d go to the forest to catch some bugs and calm down.
The forest was no doubt the nicest part of all of Valand. Once you got past the artificial ever-same spruce part which was there to provide fire and building wood, that is. In these deep woods, all sorts of creatures would bounce around, some weird, like the glowing bugs, some creepy, like the little tree climbing monkey with its huge eyes, and probably some dangerous, although none seemed to take interest in someone with a lantern and a campfire. If only I could come here during the day, I thought and sat down to listen to the sounds of the forest.
There was the occasional flapping of wings, and one bird was singing. I had only seen it once, but it always sang for me in the evenings. Wind was rustling through the sea of leaves, though I barely could hear it these days. Either the wind had gotten weaker, or my hearing worse. Some insects were buzzing towards my torch, though I had already collected all of them. The campfire was happily crackling away, warming not just me, but also the squirrel I had befriended over the many times I’ve been here. But there was something more. Something big, moving slowly. It walked with a strange rhythm, bum-bum-but … bum-bum-but. Did it have three legs? Maybe a bear that escaped from a trap by biting off its own leg?
— There you are, my grandpas voice said as the squirrel fled the scene.
— Grandpa! What are you doing here?
— I needed to talk to you. You know, with the edge of the world…
— It’s not the first time they’re sending out explorers to it.
— Oh, so generations of kings have been dickheads?
— When I was young, I was on this search. And I found the edge.
— Yes. The edge is not what you expect. It’s not the end. There is more. The king knows this, we told him. He wants to find a trade route.
— Haven’t you found one?
— Not really. We were sailing against the wind for most of it, and wrecked out ship as we came to the edge. We came back on a raft, driven by the wind.
— Did the king not reward you for finding it?
— He did. The captain became a nobleman. The mates became rich. I, the kitchen boy, got free food from the royal kitchen until I founded my own family.
— Alright. So I guess I shouldn’t be judging him this harshly.
— I think you should go on the search yourself.
— You make machines. A machine could go against the wind much easier. The boat could even be shallower as it’d need no keel.
— But I like it here!
— Do you?
— Your job, the air in the city?
— Well, it’s not that bad, is it?
— You’ve done nothing but complain about your job for 3 years now.
— But I know how it works! No-one else can do it as well as I do! It would be irresponsible to the entire kingdom if I left it now!
— Johso is nearly done with his apprenticeship. He’ll manage.
— He fucked up a machine this night.
— Two, actually. He fixed the other one.
— And how do you know that?
— He came by this morning and told me. He felt bad for not admitting it to you.
I didn’t respond.
— How long has it been since you have found a new bug in this forest?, asked grandpa.
— Maybe two years now. Why do you ask?
— How long has it been since you’ve seen something breathtaking?
— I don’t know.
— How long has it been until you ventured out further than Ausfield?
— Why do you keep asking me these questions?
— Because when you were little, you’d get so much joy out of new things. Dad and I would take you out to the light house and the forest and the fields, and you were always happy when we took you out to the unknown. And look at you know: Always angry when coming home, disappointed that nothing new happened. I tell you, you need to get out there, to the edge, and find something new!
— But can’t I just go past Ausfield and then see something new?
— There’s nothing new on this island Past Ausfield, there is a bit over a week of travel, then you have the sea again. You can surround this entire kingdom with everyone in it in two, maybe three months.
— And there isn’t another island anywhere?
— If there was, we’d know of it by now. But we only know of the edge. If there is anyone else, it’s beyond the edge.
I went quiet again and stared into the flames. Grandpa did likewise.