• Brent Streeter

Beyond the Mountains

Photo by Daniel Frank: https://www.pexels.com/photo/empty-cave-287229/

The gentle autumn winds blew through the humble village of Freyford nestled up against the slopes of the great Wyvern-spine Mountain range, bringing with them a showering of crisp leaves in vibrant hues. Life in Freyford was hard but simple. The folk had little contact with the outside world apart from the odd traveling merchant that peddled their wares to the more secluded places of the Southlands. They were content with keeping with their own customs and traditions, and few ever desired to leave the tranquility.

One such tradition that all were expected to follow was that no soul was ever to venture into and beyond the mountains, for they were deemed sacred and belonged to the realm of the gods, and the gods did not take kindly to mortal intrusion.

Iwan rested against his crook as he sat perched atop a rock while keeping a disinterested watch over the small flock of sheep that grazed in the meadow below. He gave a heavy sigh and glanced up at the mountains that rose up behind the village in the distance. He had once viewed the image before him as something of beauty and magnificence, but now it felt like a cage. He had just come into his manhood and like most young men yearned for the world beyond the confines of his small village.

He had approached the council of elders on the matter, pleading with them to allow him to venture out into the world. But his plight had been met with strong objections and stern reasoning that his place was with the village and that in time he would come to understand and accept it like those before him. He was headstrong and upon walking out of the council chamber had begun to plan his departure. If the elders would not allow him to leave, then he would seek out a higher power that perhaps could. They would not be able to deny him his wish if he came back with the blessing of the gods, nobody would.

Come sunset, he made his way back to his home and had supper with his family. He did his best not to dwell on how they would react when they found him gone in the morning. He washed up and went to sleep early, needing all the rest he could get before he left.

The time came for him to depart, and he snuck out the house. There was a chill to the late-night air, and he hurried to the location where he had cached the supplies he had prepared for the journey. He donned thick furs and boots needed for the cold and threw the pack over his shoulders. He gave one final look at the village shrouded in darkness and set off.

Iwan was fit and by the time the sun began its descent once more, he had left behind the grassier terrain interspersed with conifer trees and now camped on the edge of the tree line, the snowier region of the mountain extending its fingertips to where he huddled beside his fire staving off the cold. He looked towards the peaks, but found them cloaked in low-hanging clouds that looked rather ominous. He contemplated turning back, but decided against it. If he did not see this through, he would regret it for the rest of his life.

He slept poorly that night, and the climb the following day pushed him to his limits. By midday, the weather had turned for the worst and a blizzard had sprung from nowhere. He was pelted by icy winds and snow and could feel his strength fading, and his pack and clothes felt unbearably heavy. He stumbled at one point and fell to the ground, he looked about desperately for any signs of a place to wait out the storm, panic beginning to take root. Through the swirling and howling gusts of the blizzard, he spied the beginnings of a set of stone steps. Determination took hold of Iwan and despite his frozen body’s protests he rose and pushed forward. His resolve was tested, but against all odds, he persevered.

The blizzard fell away abruptly and before him stood a wide stone landing with a simple stone basin, beyond it two monolithic doors of granite were wedged between the peaks, blocking the pass. Before the gate, a gnarled and wizened old man donned in wispy gray robes sat cross-legged. Resting across his lap was a staff with glyphs carved into the wood.

Iwan stepped forward, challenging the keeper of the gate, “Is this the realm of the Gods?”

The keeper looked up from his seated position atop the steps before the gate and studied the young man that stood before him, “Yes, of a sort. However, it is not what you would have expected, I’d imagine. It never is.”

“How so?” Demanded Iwan.

The keeper gestured with his staff for Iwan to step forward and peer into the basin, which stood between them. Iwan obliged the keeper. Within its swirling and ever-shifting waters, an image took shape. Iwan stumbled back, shocked by what he had seen. The basin had shown him the body of a young man that lay frozen and crumpled amidst a growing mound of snow, the body was his own.

Iwan whispered in horror and disbelief, “I am dead?”

The keeper gave a small nod in confirmation, “Indeed so.”

Iwan felt a wash of sorrow come over him, “What do I do now?” He asked the keeper.

The keeper brought the butt of his staff down with a loud crack, and the gates swung open. He gestured that Iwan may pass beyond, “That is up to you, I merely open the way forward.”

Iwan studied the now open portal, “What lies beyond these mountains?”

“That I do not know.”

The keeper waited patiently, Iwan took a deep breath and passed through and began his descent down the mountain and heard the gates close shut behind him.