Just Across the Valley

How long had he walked, he didn’t know. Exhaustion took him. He had to stop and sit. He might freeze for the cold  bit through his clothes. He sat. It didn’t seem that far away, he had only to across the valley floor. He could see the other side. If strength were with him now, the distance could easily be overcome.

There was a time when youth surrounded him. Nothing could be wrestled from the strength within or without. Fear, never a companion, courage would harness the power needed to vanquish. Age took it all away when he wasn’t looking. The companion had changed.

She was there, waiting, just across the valley. The cabin would be warm and her arms even warmer. She prayed for him to find his way. Her champion, who had campaigned for her against all the others too win her heart. Her lover, for whom she now pined and in her dreams’ saw his return.

War had taken so much away from all of them. Family and friends gone, so many alone and the winter wind blew. It blew through the naked trees and covered the forest floor. The herds slaughtered and fields bare, the plenty gone like its tillers. Only the crows called now.

The cold had frozen the blood from his shoulder and stopped the bleeding. His hand brought snow to an open mouth in the hope of quenching a thirst. The snow brought no satisfaction for the hunger, either in his belly or his heart. The eyes saw the beauty stretched across the valley. The white broken only by sprouts of green from the Cedar, Spruce and Fir. The cabin sat hidden amongst them. It wasn’t far.

He couldn’t let the end come now, not after all the effort and sacrifice. He needed her more than life itself. He pulled on the staff to lift him away for the frozen seat. The legs were brittle and averse to the request now demanded. His will won and they moved ever so slowly, but they moved. The downhill slope pulled each step forward. Some to quick causing a stumble and an impact that should have been avoided.

The blood had begun to run again. He changed hands on the staff allowing the other to put pressure on the wound. The pressure slowed the flow, but brought its accomplice, pain. Neither helped other than too distract him from fatigue. The bottom of the hill was near, as was she and the cabin. He peered through the trees thinking to see smoke from a chimney. Across the valley she waited, now a mere half mile away.

Out in the open the cold would be deeper as the sun had begun to set behind the mountain. He sighted his line across the valley. It would be dark before he got there. He hoped for a moon and its light. He knew he could make it then. The valley floor now graced the soles of his feet.

He stepped from the trees into a bitter and howling wind. The drifting snow straddled his way. He leaned to it and pushed. The wind froze his flesh, made ice around his eyes and beard. His lungs cracked with each breath. Its wetness blew back to grow the ice.

His legs failed and brought him to his knees. Wraiths ran past as he clung to the staff. He saw her and called “Annie.” Did she hear him? She was just across the valley.

David Hutchison100_0036hobn (4)