"Complete and utter madness!" Morgana cried alarmed. A tremor shook her slim frame, her face had gone ashen giving her a sickly appearance. She hadn't taken well the news of Arthur's imminent travels despite his best efforts to calmly break the news. His equable demeanor was at a breaking point. Obviously, he hadn't considered his sister's potential outburst.
"Alright. This isn't--" Morgana patted the front of her long, flowing skirt trying to compose herself. Masking the wobble in her voice with cool detachment, she asked, "Are you absolutely sure?" Arthur nodded slowly, afraid he might startle another burst of emotion from her. In the face of Arthur’s decision, she promptly listed every reason why it was a terrible idea to wander into the Lands of Ice. If he was of sound mind, he wouldn't go, she said.
Her eyes, often lively and inquisitive had darkened with sorrow, so deep, it was a sure punch to Arthur's guts, and for an agonizing moment he contemplated staying. Only, he knew there was nothing else he could do. Arthur had exhausted all his choices long ago. He needed to leave the village. With that in mind, he ignored her sadness and trampled the guilt that flared inside him.
"I worry," she said, bit her lip. She always had. Morgana was afraid Arthur wouldn't be able to find his way back home. Back to her. That he'd be lost to an unknown fate like so many others who'd walked those icy paths. It was easy to stray from the main road, to wander and succumb to cold and dread between the slopes and mountains. To fall prey to the snowy mirage ahead.
"Morgana, I promise you I'll come back," Arthur said, silencing her worries. They both knew it was too late to change his mind.
On a pale morning, before the sun warmed the earth, they said goodbye. Morgana, full of resignation, sent him off with a blessing and gifted him an amulet she'd spent an entire night making. She fastened a thin chain around his neck with shaky hands. An arrowhead she carved out of tree bark hung from it, and a sigil had been patiently engraved right on the middle.
"For protection," she said, hugged him tight before letting go, reluctant.
"Thank you. I promise," he said, touching the amulet, hugging her once more, unsure of when he'd see her again.
The village was quiet, desolate in the early hours but for small group that had gathered around him, those who mattered stood by his side, said their farewells and wished him luck. Promising to take care of Morgana.
He left with the first crow of the roosters.
In his heart, hope had blossomed, hot and bright. He would come back.
They had always been survivors.
Snow stretched all around him, ice crystals fell from the sky. It was a vast and bewitching sight. A blue-white immensity lined with icy pine trees. During the day, walking on the terrain was arduous, a tiring task that often left him with sore muscles, and at night, wild beasts roamed. An overnight blizzard had made the snow on the ground grow thicker, his feet were sinking with every step he took while the snow came up above his ankles. In those conditions, his fight for survival was even more grueling. Still, he wouldn't give up.
A part of him had gotten used to life out in the open, having elks as companions, listening to the owls' midnight talks, and sleeping on caves and tunnels he found that protected him from the inclement weather.
"What do you think? Shall we continue or do we stop here?" Arthur wondered out loud, the wind drowned out his voice.
A red fox, with deep golden eyes stalked forward, ahead of him without looking back. Arthur supposed that was all the answer he could expect.
Some days back he'd found it on the prowl, hunting for prey that wasn't there. He was hungry, tired, and Arthur couldn't leave him. Sharing his provisions with the fox and taking care of its hurt foot was a sure way to ensure its loyalty. It hadn't left Arthur's side since.
He rubbed his hands together bringing them close to his face to blow his hot breath on them trying to warm them up. The cold had begun to seep through his gloves. It was good fortune he hadn't suffered from frostbite yet. One thing less to worry about.
He kept on walking. There was nothing else to do, just walk, walk, walk.
Nighttime was fast approching when Arthur had to stop. His clothes were wet, his feet ached and his side hurt from exertion. The fox walked a circle around him before settling in close. Arthur smiled despite the conditions and his weakened body. They'd stopped by a shore. Snowy mountains and lush trees bordered both sides of the river, the thick blanket of snow he stood on was endless.
Above him the sky was navy and bright with little dots, silver stars that served as guides to travelers much like himself. He rubbed his eyes and stared up at the firmament, breathing in the chilly air, filling his lungs until they hurt. Green and purple lights shone bright illuminating his path. They danced above, mixing and caressing the stars. Arthur took a moment to admire the lights. Bathing him in their luminosity.
He laughed, uncontrolled, happy with relief.
He'd finally reached the Valley of Lights.