It was dark, unusually so as the moon hid away in its heavenly palace and did not bathe the land with its meagre light. It was dark yet he could not rest, he could not delay a moment longer on his journey.
He had crossed great oceans, lush meadows, barren deserts and saw cities larger than he could have ever imagined possible. All in a great hunt that now brought him to the great Northern Mountains, whose very peaks were fabled to be the great spines on an impossibly large beast.
What he hunted he could not quite say, a feeling, an idea, a place or a thing. Whatever it was he did not know. All he knew was that he must wander, he must hunt and when he at last found it, he had faith that his great journey would at last come to an end.
He had long ceased counting how long he had been wandering. It felt like several lifetimes at least. The wrinkles on his hands and the aches in his bones every sunrise when he awoke were the only real tell of how long it had been.
It was cold this far north, much colder than his old bones could comfortably endure. This was but one of the reasons he could not stop this night, despite the treacherous footing. He feared that if he did not find shelter that he would not rise with the sun, he feared that he would not rise at all.
Pushing onward through a mostly barren landscape he was suddenly assaulted by a blisteringly cold wind. The wind carried with it ice and the promise of a numbing slumber that would stretch on for eternity. He gripped his fur cloak tight around himself as a shivering chill shot down his back and marched on.
He had spent so much time walking throughout his life that even though the cold stole the strength from his limbs the effort was as easy as breathing. Flakes of snow began appearing in the wind and his fingers began to feel as if they were part of the staff that he used to help him find his way through this black night.
Ahead he noticed a darker smudge taking up a significant portion of the barely visible horizon. Or what at least passed for a horizon with the sky-scraping mountains far to the even more inhospitable north. Quickly he realised his only salvation from this black night would be there. He hoped that he would find some shelter in whatever the darker smudge was.
Was it even something real? His eyes had fooled him before many years ago in the scorching desserts far, far to the south when thirst and heat threatened his very sanity. His eyes were also not as they once were, his world was beginning a slow but inexorable retreat to things only a stone throw away from him. The world beyond that becoming blurry and indistinct. He had little choice though but to head in that direction, it was vital that his quest continue, he must find what he was looking for.
It took some time battling through the wind to get there. As he got closer, he realised that he was headed towards a large wooded area. His old heart began to race at the thought of starting a fire and heating some life back into his limbs. What he wouldn’t give to be back in those sanity stealing desserts.
By this time the wind had begun howling and several times mighty gusts threatened to knock him from his feet. He stumbled into the wooded area and was sheltered from the worst of the wind, the howling becoming slightly subdued. His body felt heavy, heavier than it had ever felt before but still he persisted. There was no time to stop, not yet.
He began to look for some fallen sticks and branches to start a fire with but found he could not uncurl his fingers from the claw like grip they had around his staff. It was then that he realised just how hungry he was, he would need to eat something to find the strength to build his fire, his salvation.
He shuffled over to the base of a large tree, a pine tree he assumed though the dark made it hard to be sure. He walked around to the side sheltered from the direction of the wind and managed to pry lose his fingers from his staff with not a little amount of effort. Shivering, he tried to rub some warmth back into them, but this was a futile attempt at most.
Sitting down with his back to the tree trunk a flood of exhaustion threatened to overtake him there and then, but he resisted it.
Not yet he told himself.
He began to rummage through his humble pack in search of some of the salted meat he had left. When his propping fingers found the meat his heart stopped, it felt as cold as ice and it almost stung his already numb fingers. He needed a fire to melt the frozen meat before he could eat it. But now that he sat down, he could not find the strength to get back up to his feet. It felt as if iron was flowing through his limbs instead of blood.
Panic gripped his heart as a grim fear began to take hold in his mind. His journey was not over, he had not found what he was looking for. He tried in vain to rise but the attempts were futile, and they were using up what little strength he had left. He had spent most of his entire life on this journey, left the lands of his home and all that he knew. He would not allow his journey to end here, he could not. He struggled and struggled to rise but it was no use, it was as if the earth has seeped into his body. The wind howled louder now, as if in mocking triumph.
He tried one last time to rise but once again failed to lift himself more than a few inches. He slumped back down against the tree.
This cannot be it he railed, but he did not even have the energy to speak.
Tears began to run down his face only to freeze to ice halfway down. At least the shivering had stopped, his bones ceasing their rattle.
Some time passed, or a lot of time, he could not tell. He was tired now, more tired than he thought possible and somehow, he began to feel almost warm and had he the energy he would of taken off his fur cloak as it felt uncomfortably clammy.
His breathing became shallower and shallower and he found his thoughts drifting back to his past. To all the faces he had met along his journey, both the ones he liked and the ones he hated but there was one face he could not see in his minds eye no matter how hard he tried. His thoughts drifted further back to his home and all the people he had left behind when he began his great journey but still one face eluded him. He thought of all the regrets he had but his great journey had called him, and he had to answer it. Home had nothing for him after that day, after the colour of his world was taken away from him.
He lost consciousness, for how long he could not tell, when he awoke the wood had a strange glow to it. It had snowed and now the snow illuminated the wooded area enough that he could make out his surroundings. He felt so weak now that even breathing was effort. He knew that it would not be long now, he knew that he would soon fail his great journey and he would never find what he set out seeking for a lifetime ago. Even crying was beyond him now.
Something to his right caught his eye and the sharp intake of breath he took stung his lungs.
It could not be, could it? How?
It was her. Walking up to him, it was her. As beautiful and as radiant as the first day he ever laid eyes on her. His heart thumped in his chest like a drum as she approached him. She smiled her beaming smile, the one that made him fall in love with her all those years ago. He felt tears run down his face anew as he stared into the face he longed to see for longer than he could say, his wife’s face. A face he had not seen since the day the great plague had taken it away from him on that cruellest of all nights and life lost all colour. That beautiful, beautiful face.
‘Sarana,’ he whispered, barely audible to even his ears.
‘It is ok my love, I am here now. It is ok, your journey is at an end. You have found that which you seek.’
‘Rest now my love, rest. I am here with you now.’
The feeling of a great and unbearable burden suddenly felt lifted from his shoulders and he felt almost weightless. Staring into his wife’s face and with a smile of his own Jareth closed his eyes, never to open them again.
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