It began with a question. A question half made in jest, half made in hope.
It was a question to which there was only one answer, given without consideration, without reservation.
Four there were who set out from the Court of Old Archers. Only three completed the journey.
The snow fell silent last night, blanketing the city in a thousand clichés made for more clever tongues. Some welcomed it with open arms, others, I am sure, were not so sanguine.
We set forth, feet clomping through snow-covered streets, not towards the castle, not towards the realms of man. No, our goal that evening was something other. We sought the heights. Some impulse drove us there, some ineffable desire to conquer the wild places filled us.
Snowballs flew through the air, a means of making light the arduous task to come. The wind tugged and pulled, drawing heat away.
Cars rattled past in the night, their tires making a mockery of that which our footwear could not grip. We left them behind, turning onto a road unmarked by tire or feet. The only hint that something else had come before were the marks of foxes and rabbits.
The silence became absolute. Three stolid shapes trudged through the half-light of the snowfield. Steps curled up before us, their presence only tangible on the face, the tops lost in snow.
A hill, wild and majestic, graced with mist and fog and falling snow rose ahead. The path before us wound its way zigging and zagging up its sheer sides.
The smiles have slipped our faces. There is only labour now. We climb. Through slips and slides, pumping hearts and muffled breath, we dare the heights.
We are soaked through to the bone but once this journey has begun there is no turning back. Silence greets us as the wind slips away. The path grows narrow. My heart beats faster. I have never been comfortable with heights and I am reminded of this as I make the climb.
We reach the tops of the steps and step from step and grass to wind and snow swept rocks. The path broadens, but becomes more treacherous.
The city gleams all around us, save for one direction. We pause for a moment and admire the glorious tableau around us, a shining jewel in the night.
There is only one direction that blocks the city lights, one direction in which our destination lies. Fog and mist whip their way across its scarred face.
The mist opens, just for a moment and the peak pierces the night sky. Two towers, the only hint of humanity’s presence on this weather scourged hill, stand proud from the bare rock. At an unspoken word we continue our journey, our tracks swiftly fading behind us.
The wind picks up, no longer blocked by the bulk of rock and earth. It howls and pulls at our ears. It steals breath and sound, insistent and jealous in its cries.
The pathway, unmarked and noticeable only as a thread of white through the pockmarked surface, straightens out, pointing arrowlike towards a cleft in the rocky peak.
We brace hands and feet, hauling, climbing our way through the cleft. The cleft ends and we stand. The city extends all around us, veiled one moment by snow and fog, the next clear as any other day.
Triumph fills us. We seem the first to have climbed this hill. The only to have dared its heights this night.
A muffled voice puts paid to that notion. A fellow explorer joins us at the top. He has ascended another path. We feel diminished until one among our number notes that we were the first and we took the harder path.
We gaze upon this new world as the wind howls. Unbidden a tune emerges from between lips, a conjuring of a remembered movie.
We linger there, for minutes, secure in the knowledge of what we have done, of what we have accomplished. Victory tastes sweet, pure, and it sounds of silence.
Our pathway up was filled with stony silence, of private wrestling with inner demons. The way down is different.
We descend in jubilation. Snowballs fly afresh, laughter fills the silence.
Weariness fills our limbs as we make our way back home, but it feels righteous.
We dared. We dared and won.
The hill lies conquered.