Out in the open, there were two things Kayeen could not bear: the cold and the brightness. As he came closer to the southern end of the forest, both of these assailed his senses. His first plan had been to head out immediately after collecting his sword and the provisions he had been laying aside. This plan ended as he neared the edge of the forest. The protection of the mist held at bay the cold and as that protection waned, so did his resolve. Reluctantly, he settled into a small cave even though he knew the delay would cost him his head start. Sleep did not come easy and when he found himself still lying in that cave, cold and wet, two hours before dawn, Kayeen gave up. He repackaged his sleeping roll, pulled out a strip of dried meat, and continued on. The cold he walked into that morning was worse than the dead of winter within the forest. He knew in his mind how bad it would be, but an intellectual understanding could never compete with the harshness of reality. Not only was it cold, it was bleak. Kayeen had spent a life in a perpetual fog and he was used to shades of grey. He expected the outside world to be vibrant with the colors his parents reminisced about when they bemoaned their lot. Instead, there was the bluish sky of false dawn, the brown and grey of a dead and rocky landscape, and the occasional dirty white of a dusting of snow being pushed along, west to east, by the harsh wind.
Kayeen pulled his coat tight against the wind and trudged on. As the sun began to rise, it transformed the grey sky into a glorious blue. This far north there was almost never enough moisture in the air to cloud the sky. The relatively flat terrain also did little to impede his view. Few other places on earth could display the majesty and nearness of the heavens, but Kayeen did not see it. All he saw was the bright glare of the sun ahead of him and to the left. He adjusted his hood to try and block that intense glare and kept his gaze on his feet as he continued southward.
He was not walking long when Kayeen came to the one thing that broke the monotony of the landscape. At first, the tree was little more than a speck on the horizon. It wasn’t until he got closer that Kayeen began to appreciate its immensity. It was huge. The wind was as strong here as anywhere but it seemed to have almost no effect on the giant’s branches. As Kayeen watched it, this lonely oak seemed to call to him. At the same time, it also stirred up fear. No tree should be able to survive a winter this far north. Not even grass grows in the prime of summer yet this tree was standing tall and strong and proud.
Kayeen gripped the hilt of his sword and angled his walk so that the tree passed far to his right. He was passing it by when warmth and relief seemed to flow up from his hand that still gripped the sword at his side. There was a destiny ahead of him. There was a world to conquer.
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