The swirling clouds of sand had made the way forward extremely difficult to discern. They would make incremental forward progress along what they thought was the path, only to be forced to backtrack when finding themselves surrounded by rocks on all sides. Hope of ever finding the whereabouts of the wizard while embroiled in this diabolic, unnatural storm seemed remote.
The party had quickly found that it was impossible to sleep while the wind screamed so furiously, and they were now into their second day without any true rest. They could lie against an outcropping, cover themselves in spare clothes, and at least lend their sore feet some relief, but even at the point of exhaustion, as they were, the raging storm kept them awake.
Kevin seemed to be faring the worst physically; his elderly body could barely stand upright against the gusts pouring through the tight mountain passes, and his already-frail lungs were constantly wracked by painful coughing fits. Neither Karl-Anthony nor Ricky had asked him to utilize his skill of foresense to guide them towards the wizard who, it was clear now, was fully cognizant of their plans to overthrow him.
Karl-Anthony’s resolve had been wavering ever since they had encountered, and departed from, the dry riverbed. Now, in the face of a storm that showed no signs of relenting, he allowed the flame of hope within him to be extinguished. Whoever it was that had prevented the arrival of winter in Minnesota, he was too powerful to be overcome. They would meet death, here on these isolated peaks, and the kingdom would be left without its king. A new one would be installed, but for how long could he resist the might of the true king who resided in the secret places of the mountains where no man or beast could reach him?
Consumed by these thoughts, Karl-Anthony allowed his legs to collapse underneath him. It was foolish to continue to expend energy when the single possible outcome was death; the end would be met whether they made it another mile or failed to make it another foot. His eyes, already squinted nearly shut to try to peer through the dense tan-gray sand, closed fully, and he slumped against a nearby sheet of rock.
Ricky turned and saw the state his companion was in. “My king?” he asked, his gentle voice made nearly inaudible by the wind. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s no use, Ricky,” Karl-Anthony said through dry lips. “The journey is over. We have failed.”
“Don’t say that!” Ricky admonished. “Kevin has told me that we are nearly to our goal.”
Karl-Anthony knew this was a lie; Kevin no longer had voice to speak with, so damaged was his throat by the sand. Karl-Anthony smiled faintly at Ricky’s attempted encouragement, but made no effort to raise himself to his feet. “My only regret is that I will never again witness the gentle falling of snowflakes upon my lands,” he murmured.
“You will live to see it again, my lord!” Ricky exclaimed, grasping his king’s face in his hands. “Think of the hot chocolate you still have yet to drink, think of your cozy fireplace back in the castle, think of your favorite red scarf and mittens hanging by the door!”
Even in his deep despair, Karl-Anthony allowed these memories to enter his mind, and his smile widened. He could almost taste the rich chocolate flavors of his hot chocolate, imported from the southern lands at great cost. The sounds of violent wind were replaced with the inviting, crackling sounds of a gently glowing fire. In his thoughts, he donned his scarf and mittens, preparing for a meditative walk through the wondrous, snowy paths of the castle’s garden. His present disheartenment vanished, replaced by complete serenity. In the confines of his mind, winter had returned.
He was just preparing to tell Ricky that he would be able to manage another leg of the journey when he heard sounds of astonishment coming from his advisor. Opening his eyes, he saw the sandstorm receding away from them. It went further and further away, and diminished further and further in intensity, until there was no remnant of it, not a single grain of sand.
“Old man, was this your work?” Karl-Anthony asked, both surprised and joyous.
Kevin still could not speak, but shook his head in answer. He seemed just as shocked as the other two.
“Look!” Ricky exclaimed, pointing at a point in the distance. “Up ahead, there is a wide flatness among the rocks. A flame burns there! Could that be the abode of the sorcerer?”
Karl-Anthony stared into the distance. Indeed, there seemed to be a fire burning far ahead. It would have to be manmade, for there was no plant growth whatsoever at this high altitude, nor was there any possible source of ignition. “It may well be indeed,” he replied. “The dispersal of the storm can only be a good omen. Let us venture forth at once! This strange saga may be nearing its end.”