Karl-Anthony bustled about his bedchamber, throwing a few articles of clothing and some non-perishable foodstuffs into a woolen sack. Ricky stood to the side, watching his king with increasing dismay. “You mean to trek to the abode of the wizard king as a common traveller? Should you not be assembling your army?”
Stopping to stare at his advisor, Karl-Anthony responded, “Whoever this wizard is, he is no king. If the rumors are true, he may believe himself so, he may even call himself so, but in the land of Minnesota, there is only one king, and that is me.
“Apologies, my lord,” Ricky said, lowering his head slightly.
“We cannot bring an army with us into the Cloudy Mountains,” Karl-Anthony continued, resuming his packing for the journey. “The mountain paths are too steep. Our horses cannot make it. And to march an entire army up to the wizard’s front door, laying bare our intentions…to do such a thing would only ensure that my kingdom would never again see the falling of snow!” He put one more item in the sack, then tied shut its top. “Retrieve the old sage. You know the way there. His expertise in the arcane will be invaluable. Quick! With each second that passes, the wizard’s curse upon this land can only grow more powerful.”
Ricky nodded and raced from the chamber. Karl-Anthony sighed and sat heavily on the edge of his bed. By all rights, he should have been enjoying a warm beverage, a crackling fire in the grate, and a cozy blanket at that very moment. Instead, he was about to charge recklessly up the steep slopes of the Cloudy Mountains in pursuit of a man who might exist only in the minds of the kingdom’s uneducated lower classes.
The whole business seemed rather foolish at times, but those feelings were easily dismissed when Karl-Anthony recalled his childhood in the castle as a young prince. Each of his most cherished memories from that time were tied to the winter season in some way, and now, all of that was being taken away from him and from all his subjects. He would not allow that to happen, he thought to himself as he absent-mindedly gripped the sword at his side.
Ricky had reappeared at the top of the stairs. “I left Kevin in the main hall. He is weak, very weak, and there is a long road ahead of him.”
Karl-Anthony rose from his bed and slung the sack over his shoulder. “I will have the cooks prepare him a meal before we set out. It has been many years since he has been properly fed.”
The three men stood at one of the side entrances of the castle. It was pitch black outside, the moon obscured by clouds. “Good. We have attracted little attention,” Karl-Anthony said.
“Surely the court knows of your departure?” Ricky asked, surprised.
“They think that I am making a diplomatic visit to the northern Canadian kingdoms. When asked why I didn’t simply send a diplomat in my place, I told them that it concerned matters of the utmost secrecy. They had no reason to doubt my words.” Karl-Anthony ignored the concerned look on Ricky’s face and instead turned to address the third member of their party. “How fast can you go?”
“As fast as my king requires of me,” Kevin answered, bowing as low as his frailty would allow him. “Already I am rejuvenated from the meal, and now having been properly shod, you may find that my pep has not entirely deserted me.”
“Then we shall be off,” Karl-Anthony said, stepping forward and pushing open the gate in the castle wall that had been unbarred for them. He was followed by Ricky and Kevin down an unlit road lined with dark houses. “By my estimation, we can reach the base of the mountains in a day’s time, travelling at a moderate speed. But after that, the way becomes less clear. There are many paths through the mountains, and we do not know which one will take us to the wizard.”
“Perhaps our companion will be able to aid us when that time comes,” Ricky said, lugging a pack that was just as large as his king’s.
Kevin smiled cryptically as his walking stick crunched against the level gravel road. “I have been sensing wizardry from the Cloudy Mountains for some time now. My hope is that the sense will become more acute was we draw nearer to our goal, and that I am not rendered too weak by the journey to be of adequate help.”
They were silent for some time after that, until they were outside of the city walls and into open fields dotted with the occasional peasant’s shack. “All around us should be white,” Karl-Anthony muttered. “Instead, all is made brown by the swing of autumn’s scythe, not to be green again for many months.”
“At least we are not encumbered by freezing temperatures,” Ricky supplied.
“Bah! My body craves the cold,” Karl-Anthony replied bitterly. “And when all is finished, my body will again feel its icy fingertips.”