The wreckage of dozens of greenfields lie scattered all over the North. When wind blows away soil from a greenfield, that fertile earth sometimes lands in a pocket or sheltered place in the outlying countryside, creating what the Haslanti call an emerald. Many of the emeralds are quite small, capable of supporting only one or two small homesteads. Other emeralds are much larger, supporting a small walled village and, in a few cases, a town. An emerald is a fleeting thing, however. Many last just a few decades, though a few have been carefully managed for 100 years.
Without husbandry, gales pick up the soil and dump it somewhere else, leaving behind bare rock.
When an emerald is discovered, the first order of business is to transplant a number of trees from a greenfield to the emerald and establish a windbreak before winter arrives. This is delicate work, but it must be done speedily, and it must be followed with the construction of a house and a protective wall for the inhabitants. New homesteads must be defended from animals, barbarians and even Fair Folk, so that crops and a small herd of sheep or reindeer can be introduced. Settling an emerald is precarious: too many people and animals can overuse the plot; then the wind will blow away the unanchored soil.
Too few animals and people, and the plot cannot be protected against incursions.
Most emeralds support a dozen families; a particularly large one feeds the city of Fair Isle. This greenery in the tundra serves much the same purpose as oases in the deep South: the emeralds form stopping points on trade routes, fortresses against nomadic barbarians and places of retreat from the bustle of the League’s towns and cities.
Life in the emeralds is hardscrabble. Gales may pick up your father and grandfather’s work and hurl it a thousand miles away. Changes in weather can dry out the land. Spring thaws replace fertile soil with mud. Taxes paid to the League for protection can leave your family with almost nothing.
And, in winter, residents are largely isolated.
And yet, emeralds are critical to the League’s survival.
Greenfields contain limited land and resources — foodstuffs and property cannot be endlessly divided in each succeeding generation. Emeralds provide an escape valve for restless younger sons and daughters who want land and wealth.
Two unusual professions exist in the emeralds. Green men are professional ecosystem managers. Traveling between different communities, they collect and distribute insects, mosses, lichens, plants and small animals to help each emerald become a more complete and biologically diverse world. Soil-stealers make a living out of raiding smaller emeralds to enslave people and cart away fertile earth and useful animals. Tales of large emeralds used as bandit camps abound in Haslanti stories and literature.