Third Trial of a Dragon Knight
By Robert William Shmigelsky
The dragon knight apprentice's blue sabatons planted themselves firmly on the ground. The wintry blue horizon contracted before him, he looked up and watched as the knights that had brought and dropped him off here, flew away and disappeared back into the welcoming arms of the storm.
Feeling the chill of cold bones, the stung flesh underneath his armor, the apprentice folded his arms into his chest, braced against the cold, shivered and looked at the storm.
The frost storm swirled and wailed around him with a tangled vortex of gray, semi-translucent wind currents, confusing even for his eyes. As if funneling straight into his ears the storm muffled his own thoughts. Beyond the storm his ashen-gray eyes could just barely pierce the veil and glimpse the darkened silhouettes of the mountains belonging to the Storm Frost Mountain Maze.
He swung swiftly around and looked up behind him. He stood at the feet of the mightiest mountain of them all: Mount Frostmourne.
The mountain stood at the heart of the mountain maze. Freshly bestowed his shining new pair of mithril dragon boots with tiny white Pegasus wings attached at the heels, he was dropped here, at the start of the maze, to find his way out. To do that he would have to use what he obtained in the previous two trials: how to see and utilize wind patterns and how to fly.
The apprentice shouted at himself to get at it. Despite being fitted in full mithril armor wrought and enchanted for the harshest winters, he knew he would not be able to last out here forever.
Getting to it, he closed his eyes, dulled his other senses and heightened his sense of hearing. He listened intently. In his mind he saw and heard the convoluted medley of overlapping wind currents churning violently around him. Like the paper mazes he used to draw on spare pieces of parchment when he was a boy, he tried to spot the one and only one lane, in this case a single current of wind, which he could leap on and ride all the way out of the mountain maze. The problem was, like the other mazes, that lane was marred by countless incorrect paths leading to dead ends or back to where he started.
No matter how long he searched he could not find the pattern he sought. And so he did what he did when he was a boy playing with his paper mazes.
With one and only one thought etched in his mind, the determination to find his way out of the mountain maze guiding his hand, the apprentice jumped.
A current of wind caught him and threw him across and he flew up into the air.
As the storm propelled him forward, the apprentice rode the wind this way and that as his senses guided him.
He made his way roughly in one direction: west back where they had taken him - towards the mouth of the mountain maze.
Making his way slowly but steadily into the storm, towards his distant but hidden destination and the golden glimmer of familiar sights, the apprentice zigzagged his way out of the vale and Mount Frostmourne disappeared behind him.
He found himself in the valleys of ice. Traversing his way through the tornado-like vortex of wind currents, the apprentice made his way down this valley then down that valley as he tried to visualize the path they would have taken from the mouth of the mountain maze. The other knights had flown him over the mountains, something which he could not do alone. Although he had tried his best to memorize the path he would have to take to find his way back, even from high up, the mountain maze was heavily shrouded by the storm.
He recalled the long hours he had spent between trials listening to the sky and riding the high winds. From the mere complexity of the challenge before him, he knew now no amount of training could have prepared him for the task at hand. That meant all he had to rely on was his inner being and perseverance.
And perhaps a little luck.
But no matter which current of wind he took he could not find his way out of the mountain maze. Although he could in time make his way down the path he had chosen, the general direction he wanted, the mountains blocked him, foiling him at every turn.
The apprentice began to worry, but kept panic far from his mind. If he didn't find his way out of the mountain maze not only might he freeze to death if the others did not find him in time - he would fail himself, those that counted on him and not fulfill his destiny of becoming a knight like his father and his father before him.
He pushed his doubt aside: he could not afford to let it distract him. If he couldn't listen and ride the wind, he knew he wouldn't be able to find his way out of the mountain maze in time.
He continued to try to find the path leading out of the mountain maze, but the mountains continued to foil him. After countless hours of trying, he almost began to think the mountain maze was alive and was playing one epic mind game with him.
Worry crept back in; panic set in slightly. Again, he thought: if he did not find his way out he would fail - or worse.
The mountains continued to give then take away until finally panic permeated. His face stiffened, pressed down upon by the storm swirling against his skin, which could no longer hold back the cold. It chilled his flesh and he felt the sting as it slowly turned his hands and feet to frost. Ice beginning to encase his armor, his thoughts formed faster and he quickened his movements as he sped through the air, causing him to zigzag faster and faster. His thoughts quickly became indiscernible.
The apprentice snapped out of it: he realized this wasn't getting him anywhere.
He dropped down to the ground. He closed his eyes and listened. In his mind, he saw and heard the countless wind patterns swirling and wailing around him. He banished the rest of the world from his mind and the Storm Frost Mountain Maze disappeared from sight. It was only him standing there, listening intently, and the wind churning beside him.
Countless strands of wind continued to swirl around him. His spirit quickly followed each of them and rode them to their end. When they did not lead to the destination he sought, one by one he erased them from his mind until there was one and only one current of wind left.
He rode that current and, in the back of his mind, he saw the mouth of the mountain maze stretch open before him.
Seeing the path he sought, not even bothering to open his eyes, the apprentice leapt up into the air and caught that current of wind.
Labels: Robert William Shmigelsky