They could not believe what they saw. Some of the wounded rubbed their eyes while others rubbed their torsos where they had felt their courage drop.
It was this disbelief that began to scare away that fragile and effervescent ether that had breezed between them. That thing called Hope tended to linger only where it was welcome.
They had all known that without another battle they would make it back in time, and, being ahead of the front, they knew they could avoid confrontation.
They had seen what the winds could do. This small band of wounded had become all that was left to save the realm. If they could stop the battle from happening, all would be spared the horrors of the North wind.
Grief shook them, as now the band of wounded could see the invading army far ahead of them, marching its way towards the capital city.
The invading arsenal glimmered in the light of the setting sun and drew dark silhouettes against the sky. The clouds sifted between the fading shades of orange in a chilling way.
That invisible glow that they had all felt lift them from beneath their chests now began to fade. The wounded began to feel despair, and as the light of that ethereal being called Hope faded once more, it saw something that gave it the power to stay.
“I will go,” he said, surprising himself as much as the others. “I am the least wounded– it has to be me.”
The other wounded briefly looked up, but then their heads fell shaking side to side. “They are an entire day ahead of us, and at your pace, you are no faster than the cart.”
They all knew that their mission had to be completed. They had to race the invading army to the capital city in time to stop the battle, in time to save the realm from the furry of the winds.
“I know you are right,” the least wounded said. “You and the oxen can get there just as quickly as I could. That is why you must all hurry there. Get to the capital city before the battle starts. Then buy me as much time as possible.”
“Where are you going?” The one with the crutch asked.
“There,” the least wounded said, looking up and raising his hand to point above the path that they had come. There, at the end of his finger, visible in the clouds and bearing over them, over the path they had traveled with the cart and the oxen, and over the battlefield from where they had fled, was the icy peak that the elders called the Mountain of Trace.
“Stay strong,” the wounded all said.
Darkness of the next day had already fallen by the time the wounded bunch made it to the outskirts of the capital city. They panted and squinted their eyes.
Camps of readying soldiers dotted the land in front of them, their campfires glowing in specs that appeared to mirror the stars above. Over one hill, the band of wounded could see the large pieces of war weaponry being placed along the flanks of the city. The invasion would soon begin.
“If we go around, we can beat them to the back gate,” one said, and the other wounded agreed.
“We can’t,” the wounded with the crutch said. “If we warn only one side, the other side will still attack. We have to convince both of our sides.” The wounded looked around at each other, and nodding slowly, silently agreed on what to do. They readied the cart, boarded it, and made their way to the front line.
Darkness had already fallen by the time the least wounded made it to the base of the mountain. He looked up at the peak and understood he would not be able to climb to its summit in time. That was not his intention.
“Who dares approach my throne!” a great wind bellowed.
“Only a meek one humbled to help!” the wounded one replied.
“I am a god and you are a wounded mortal. How can you help?”
“I know how to end the war! I will build you a weapon to end this once and for all!”
Daylight was breaking. The soldiers at the front of the line had grown restless and eager for the fight to start. The heavily armed cohorts peered angrily at the band of the wounded who stood before the gates of the city in their attempt to block the battle.
“Alright!” the warlord of the invading forces shouted. “We gave you your night of peace, it is time to see who the mighty are now!” The forces that were gathered outside the capital city walls banged their swords against their shields and held their javelins in the air.
“Wait!” The wounded one with the crutch shouted. “You heard what we said! If we fight we will all be doomed. Look at us. We are all the wounded who survived the battle, near the mountains. We are not one armies’ wounded who are left. We are the only wounded who are left. We each belong to different armies, and all of us are pleading for an end to this war!”
“Then what chance have we anyway!” the invading warlord shouted back. “If this power of the North wind is upon us, I would rather fight and die than live in fear of it!” The invaders cheered.
“We have a chance!” The one on the crutch shouted back. “There was another of us. Another one of us who went to the mountains. He was on his way to Trace.”
“Oh, yeah?” the warlord said, raising an eye brow and coughing a laugh. “What army did this other one belong to? The one you trust? What army does this other one have to invade the mountain Trace?”
The wounded ones looked at each other. They shook their heads, and then they nodded.
“He wasn’t with any of us,” the one on the crutch said. “We did not know what side he belonged to.”
The least wounded had promised to create a new weapon for the snow maker. He closed his eyes and felt the little ethereal spirit that had lingered inside him.
He clenched his teeth as he jabbed the magical blade into the ice, forcing to appear a spider web of cracks. The jagged shapes that were formed evoked fear in his mind as he saw jagged and icy shards fall before him. He stood back and gazed upon his terrible creation. The crack grew deeper and spread like twisted and gnarled wood of a dying tree. Sounds like wood cracking in a fire distorted the cold view.
The least wounded had done what he thought was best.
The god of the Boreas, who was pacing behind, paused. He peered at the pile of shaven ice that was growing rapidly before him. The cracks within the ice continued to grow at an increasingly violent pace. The block of mystical ice began to shatter outright, and the pile of the white glistening weapon grew.
The god laughed. “Yes!” he shouted. “Yes!” he laughed again. “This will do it!”
“My reinforcements will arrive at sunset tonight,” the warlord bellowed at the city gate and the wounded who stood in front of it. “When these other forces arrive, my army will be able to conquer you and whatever other force it comes across. You have until sundown to prepare to meet your fate.”
Giant piles of glistening shards were forming to fill the hall. The hovering blade chiseled away. The great figure appeared in a shadow that blew in from the balcony. He rested his crown of wind onto his table of ice. He walked towards the growing, white mound.
“This is perfect,” the god said. The lord of the northern wind gently picked a shard from the growing pile and held up the small flake of ice. He admired its sharp cut angles. “Yes,” he said. “This will do. Now is the time.”
The sky grew darker. Time had run out. The soldiers of the invading forces swelled in numbers. They drew back their bows. They readied their javelins. They thrashed their swords in the air. They awaited the call to charge.
The wounded ones in front of the gate leaned on each other so each could stand. Not one of them, they had silently agreed, would enter the battle on their knees. They would all meet their fate standing.
The sky began to swirl above them. A horrific wind could be heard charging toward the battle.
“Charge!” the warlord shouted. A mortal furry unleashed as a horde of invaders poured towards the front gate of the city.
Suddenly many were knocked from their feet by a gust from the North.
Others flew from the ground in an updraft from a direction not before known.
A third wind high above brought with it something that shimmered in the light. The shimmering grew, and the pieces of ice began to fall from the heavens.
The soldiers gasped. They stopped. They stood still. They marveled.
Falling from high above them, blowing towards them and suddenly all around them, were the brilliantly sparkling flurries of snow.
These flakes were not like the snowfalls that besieged the fields of the other battles. These were different. Each one was different.
The snow flakes were jagged and crystalline, but they were soft, gentle, and flowed like sheets of cotton being laid on the ground.
The tiny white stars and shapes each danced their own path through the air, and each glittered in its own way as it hit the light.
Soon it was realized: these flakes of ice were not identical razors and blades. They were unique. They were individual. From the harshness of their similarity came the tranquility of their differences.
The ground became a white cloud, and the trees around the scene glittered. The soldiers stared.
One by one, they dropped their weapons.
Mortality comes with fragility. Its imperfection bares forth not failure, but identity. This ethereal truth, while it may seem familiar on its surface, is unique to its beholder. It has jagged pieces that can be difficult to accept, but its stunning individuality brings courage to those who welcome it.
That simple-truth is hidden in the smallest of places, be it in a simple word, a tiny box filled with trials, or in a sparkling fleck falling from the sky.
And so it lifts us.
And so it inspires us.
And so it snows.