I have to settle for uploading another old text today, since I am in Budapest over the weekend and would feel sorry for my company if I were to sit down and write for hours right now. This text was written as part of my NaNoWriMo-challenge back in 2007. I finished the text, but not the challenge. We´ll see if this year will see my revenge. Feel free to leave a comment!
Stories are told on cold nights when the moon is high in the sky and nightmares and the fantastic unknown stalk close by the windows of human dwellings, careful not to step into the light cast by fires and candles. Stories grant peace and occupation to frightened minds and give everyone something to think about apart from the fear of shadows and glaring, haunting eyes in the sunforsaken hours between twilight and chilly dawn.
This particular tale is a very old one – so old that in our day I would be surprised if anyone human could remember it enough to retell it fully. In fact I am very much strengthened in this assumption by the fact that I, in my striving to put this story to paper truthfully, had to consult someone very dear to me but who could in no reasonable way be called even something close to “human”. With his help this writing down of the story that could maybe be considered the most beautiful of them all was at last possible, and I want to thank him deeply for all the help and time he offered me in this. You will notice that this tale carries some differences in relation to some of the others in this collection. The reason, I guess, is that it has been told and retold so many times that it has acquired the character of a fairy tale, whence the others are merely documentations of more or less fantastic events.
In the time and era of this tale, as you are about to see, the borders between realities were not yet firmly secured and no one really doubted the fact that humans were not alone in dreaming and thinking and shaping the world. By this I do not mean that anyone was not surprised when this long suspected fact was sometimes direly proven before their very eyes – they were, I can knowingly assure you – but they accepted it as part of their view of life and seldom tried to deny it. That is why something like this cannot happen anymore; people are too afraid to open their eyes in front of the unknown to be able to see what really lies beyond the edge of their knowledge. Everything has a fixed explanation nowadays, and questing for answers with danger of losing everything is no longer in question. But the destination of this particular journey is in fact very real.
I will not tell you where to find it, lest I accomplish no more than adding to the already swelling pile of “common knowledge” that is so effectively dulling the curiosity of human dreamers worldwide even as I scratch pen against paper, writing this for you to read. No, I will not. But I will go as far as telling you that where I am sitting right now, candle burning in a room otherwise wrapped in winter darkness, is a place very, very close to the sacred spot where the subject of this story finally finds his answers. This I tell you only to convince you further not to doubt my word when I sacrifice my time to open your eyes to some of the mysteries of your world – and I hope sincerely that my efforts will not have been in vain. Now to my story.
The summer was long advanced in this particular village by the start of the chain of events that would at length mark the beginning of an adventure. A young couple was about to get married and everyone was eagerly preparing for the festivities – and not least for the ceremony itself.
A tradition was upheld in this village, that the shift of seasons at the end of summer and winter was always marked by the uniting of a man and a woman in loving marriage; this symbolizing the coming together of Queen Summer and King Winter twice a year when time was right for the one to pass the sceptre of season domination to the other. When the first leaf of autumn fell to the ground, and not until then, was the ceremony to start and the bridegroom to step up to the Autumn Bride by the forest altar to be with her united for the rest of their remaining lives. This both for their shared happiness and for the luck and well being of the village, which relied on the ceremony to grant them the favours of the Greater Unknown in securing their harvest and protecting their families.
It was not common for couples to be married at any other time of the year in this village, since no one wanted to miss the honour and blessing of being Autumn wed or Spring wed, and thus it was a great privilege for a couple to be at last admitted to the altar, perhaps after several years of waiting. This young pair had been chosen to be Autumn wed this year not only because of their obvious and limitless love for each other, but also because of their curious resemblance to the Queen and King of the Seasons themselves; the young bride-to-be wore her sunny, blossomy red hair long and often entwined with colourful flowers and she was never far from heartily laughter that reminded the villagers of a dancing brook in high summer’s swirl, while her future husband had hair like silvery ice on the mountain peaks, reflecting the sun’s light like half frozen crystal water in a wintry lake. His eyes were like the cold blue sky on a frosty day and though he was often quiet and thoughtful, there was a passion and a strength burning in those eyes that sometimes broke through his silent surface and swept him up like a winter storm – and those moments had grew even more common since he met her. They were meant for each other, no one doubted that.
The preparations for the ceremony were in high progress and the whole village was doing their best to make this year’s festivities something really special – like they did every year, but always, in some way, seemed capable of succeeding with in the end. The bride had been working for days on her wedding dress, in which time she had seen no one except her closest family. The bridegroom had been finished with his own ceremonial garments for some time, as tradition prescribed, and was now taking long walks through the wilds every day, searching for the perfect wedding gift to give to his bride in the name of the sacred bond they were about to tie.
In the likeness of the Winter King’s courting of the Summer Queen when they come together at the close of each year, at which occasion he brings her wonderful gifts in the form of turning the leaves golden for her and summoning glistering ice rain down over the two of them and the rest of the world, the Autumn bridegroom must bring the bride a gift of autumn – something worthy that must represent the love he felt for her. This he could do first when the turning of seasons had just begun, since no autumn gifts could reasonably be found before that time. And when he had found his sign of autumn and love, the ceremony would take place the very following day – like the gifts of the Winter King, the returning of the bridegroom with the ceremonial gift marked the beginning of the period between Summer’s End and Wintercome.
I suspect that my source for this story knew the name of this young man – yes, I think he remembered it very well indeed – but for reasons I can only guess he refused to tell it to me and that I will respect and thereby leave it at that.
Anyway, the young man wandered for days and days around the borders of the village, searching for the first sign of autumn, but without luck. His future bride was soon to be finished with her preparations, and the festivities had all but begun. Autumn had been late in coming before and at first no one worried about it too much, but when the weeks went by and the weather showed no signs of changing from the sunny state of high summer and not even the early mornings saw the smallest suggestion of ice on the surface of the villagers’ water buckets, people begun to get anxious. Why did not Summer’s End begin? What caused this strange delay in the turning of seasons?
The future bridegroom became more and more certain that something was not in order, and begun to fear that the marriage would never come to pass. What if the first leaf never fell? He would never have his beloved bride if he could not find a proper autumn gift to seal their bond; anything less than such a gift would be unworthy and would certainly bring dishonour to her name. Her family would never ever permit her to step up to the altar as anything less than a proper Autumn bride, and in case he could not find his ceremonial gift they would consider it a sign from the higher forces that he did not have their blessing in becoming part of the Autumn couple.
One night, draped in desperation, he went to consult the village elder. He was told that nothing in the likeness of this had happened since the beginning of known time, and that the elder suspected that something was terribly amiss with the greater scheme of things.
“If you want your bride”, the old man said, “seek then the place where Summer and Winter meet – the sacred spot where spring and autumn begin.” He looked him deep in the eye and then handed him his beautifully carved walking stick. “Take this and everyone will know that you have my blessing.”
The young man met his future bride at sunfall by the large oaken tree in the hilltop clearing on which the forest altar stood. She was wearing the wonderful dress in which she hoped to one day stand bride, and her hair danced freely in the warm, late summer breeze. He told her of the journey he must make and held her tight when she cried wide eyed at this terrible revelation. He told her never to fear for him and not to be sad, and under no circumstances doubt his promise that he would soon return to her.
Even with tears in her eyes she was more beautiful to him than anything else he had ever laid eyes upon, and he swore to himself that for her he would do anything. He told her that, and he told her that he loved her. And with those words, and after holding her close one last time, he started to untangle himself from her embrace to begin his journey. Before he managed to force himself to say goodbye, though, she took hold of his shoulders and looked deep into his eyes in a way that only she in the whole world could do. She smiled sadly and forced back the tears momentarily.
“Remember this”, she said, fighting to keep her voice steady, “I love you and will not have anyone other than you. You are my reason to keep on breathing.” She stroked the side of his face with a tear wet hand, lovingly. She seemed to summon her last vestige of willpower and continued: “I do not care whether you find the most fantastic autumn gift in the world, or if you come back with only a moth eaten leaf or even empty handed. Just to see you back alive will make me the happiest person in the world, and whatever gift you bring back with you will be worth more to me than the sun in the sky or all the diamonds on the surface of the sea at night. This because I love you. Nothing matters apart from that. Nothing. Because love makes all other things seem small and simple. Remember that, and return to me safely and soon. I will wait for you. I will wait for you here, right on this hilltop.”
She kissed him passionately and let him go. He looked at her and felt how tears started to fill his own eyes. But before she could see this, he turned and started down the hill, back turned to the village that was his home.
The Autumn bride watched him leave, tears finally running down her face and falling to the ever green grass at her feet. She stood there still when the sun disappeared behind the larger hills at the horizon, and when the full moon rose it was to see her sitting by the large oak tree, gazing in the direction in which he had disappeared. The leaves of the oak were deep green like the soft grass beneath her, and the air was warm. No sign of Summer’s End she could see, and no sign of her beloved. She promised quietly to wait for him there, beneath the rustling branches of the oak on the hill. She promised to rise first when it was to step up to the altar in front of her and be united with her love at his return. When the first leaf fell from the tree by which she was sitting, she would know that he had found what he was seeking and was on his way back to her.
Nowhere he came did he see the slightest sign of autumn, even though he wandered for days. Dressed for rough weather and prepared for almost anything, he visited village after village asking for the way to the place where autumn begins. He was treated with respect due to his being sent by the elder of his own village, but nobody seemed to know anything about how to find the place he was looking for. Everyone he met, though, was also worried by the fact that no winter seemed to be approaching this year.
This way he wandered aimlessly for many days and nights, sometimes finding shelter under a roof by evening and sometimes not. He kept always the picture in his mind of his beloved one standing on the hilltop, gazing longingly after him. He wanted so much to return to her but knew that if he could find no sign of autumn to present to her and the villagers for the ceremony, he would never be allowed to be with her. If the higher forces had judged him unworthy of this honour, he would have to find out why and if there was something he could do to change their minds.
He met with many different people during his journey, all very helpful but none who could tell him anything truly useful. He had begun to mistrust when finally he came to a place where a tall forest loomed over a small collection of houses. He was exhausted from his wanderings and was just about to ask for a place to rest when an old, bearded man stepped up to him and told him he recognized the staff he was carrying. The young man told him that he had been given the staff by his village elder and also revealed his mission.
The old man eyed him for a long moment, much like the village elder had done, and said finally that he knew the place that he was searching for. He told him that the way there was long and a bit dangerous, but that the place was real and fully possible to reach if one dared to seek it out. He pointed in the direction of the high mountain peaks beyond the forest.
“I have not seen the place with my own eyes, but I believe the old stories about it being hidden among those cliffs, because every spring and fall I see the proof of it clearly.” He gave the young man a serious look. “It is down those slopes over there that the changes come charging before they are visible anywhere else. It is from up there that the season of Summer’s End should have poured down upon us a long time ago now.”
So without staying in the little village to rest even for the night, the young man bid the older one farewell and entered the dark forest, walking steadily towards the mountains far, far away. He had a new hope in his heart now that he knew where he was going, and worried little about how he was going to climb those slopes once he got there. Again he recalled the face of his bride-to-be, and smiled happily when he thought about how he soon again would hold her in his arms.
Back in the village, the one he was longing for was sitting still under that oak, refusing to talk to anyone and always searching the distant forest edge for any sign of him coming back up the slope towards her. Sometimes her gaze strayed upwards to the branches that sang and danced between her and the summer skies, but no red leaf could be seen and no chilly wind ever played in the greenery around her. Her heart sank but stayed always true to the promise she had made, though every day that went by saw her face even more hardened, as though the frost that refused to present itself to the grass and the water had anyway reached out and honoured at least the silent Autumn bride with its icy touch.
It took him several days of hard travelling to reach the slopes of the mountains. He paused here for a day to rest and to contemplate where to go from here. How was he going to find out which mountain trail to follow to reach the point among the cliffs that some called “the place where spring and autumn begin”? He thought about it for many hours, and decided at last that if he wanted to find the source of autumn and spring, he should look out for spots where the flowers and weeds grew the thickest; in the places that spring reached first the vegetation should have had the longest time to grow and spread, whence in all other places it should be more, but maybe not obviously, sparse.
He started up the trail and searched eagerly for any sign of change in the undergrowth. He thought after a while that he had found what he was searching for, as some patches of green were stained with colour due to collections of small, blue flowers, and followed heartily every sign that he found. These signs led him higher and higher up among the rocky slopes and heights, and when he at length turned and looked back, he could see the whole world stretch itself out far, far below him. All was green as far as he could see.
He imagined for a second that he could see the hilltop outside his own village home, and thought that he could see the shape of his beloved standing there, looking at him from afar. Of course this was just a dream, but when he again turned to his task of climbing this the highest of mountains the thought crossed his mind for the first time that the peaks might kill him – that there was a risk that he would not return alive to see her smile again or to feel her loving embrace. The thought chilled him terribly, but when he again looked down at the blue flowers that guided his path he pushed it aside with force. Of course he would return safely. Of course he would.
There was a strange sensation in the air that grew the higher he climbed. Some kind of tension that he did not like, but which was not really frightening either. He continued his climb, which was getting harder for every step he took due to the sparse foothold and the thorny vegetation that sometimes blocked his path. The blue flowers grew thicker here, and he knew he was getting very close to his goal. The peaks above him no longer seemed as distant as before, at the same time as the landscape below him had grown frighteningly small and far away. A fall from this point would certainly prove fatal, and he tightened his grip on the branches of the small trees that grew on the steep trail.
At last he reached the top of a rocky cliff and drew in a breath of relief. He had been fighting the heights for several days with little or no rest in the intervals between climbing, and was tired in both body and soul from the struggle. One day a careful but intense rain had fallen, soaking the steep mountainside and turning the trail to slippery mud. He had been forced to seek shelter within a shallow cave between some gray rocks to avoid the risk of falling all the way down to earth, and every hour that went by with the rain showing no sign of ceasing, his mood and mind darkened at the thought of how much time he was losing. At length the downpour stopped, but still he had to wait in that cave until the next morning when the trail was once again solid and safe.
Another day, or another night to be more precise, he had stood in hiding against a wall of stone to avoid the attention of a stalking something that he could hear faintly in his closeness, but which he could see nothing of except for its cunning, yellow eyes. The beast – or beasts, he could not be certain of the number – either missed him or decided against attacking for some other, unknowable reason, and although he got no sleep that night at least the morrow found him alive and unharmed, and he could continue his climbing wandering, stumbling like a sleep walker. When now he dragged himself up onto the high plateau that had been his unreachable goal ever since he left solid ground, he was half delirious and half afraid of what might face him on the other side.
He lay still on the flat surface for a long time, breathing heavily and quickly until his heart slowed down and he felt more like himself again. Then he rose to a sitting position, took a deep breath and crawled to the far edge to see what lay beyond the plateau on the other side. The sight that met him caused him to let out a sigh of relief – then his repressed exhaustion got the better of him and he collapsed on the stone surface, unconscious before his head hit the ground.
What he had seen stretching before him was not more cliffs only, but a panorama of bright colours and mist clad peaks. He had reached the top of the mountain that was said to hold the meeting place of seasons, and only a small drop separated his vantage point from endless voids of long forgotten wilds. A stream sang quietly close by, just below the cliff on which he lay, and the ground below was covered in bluish moss and rough, short grass that seemed to have gotten its colour from moonlight. Much of the landscape consisted of rock undressed in either of these, and the trees that grew sparsely but none the less existed here and there in this place were small and strangely shaped, as though their struggle to survive this far above the world had forced them to twist painfully around themselves to find shelter from the fierce winds that haunted this borderland between earth and sky and played the eerily mist draped peaks of nearby looming mountains like unworldly phantom flutes. This was a place of forgotten magic, but its cold and otherworldly spirit made it also a place of nightmare, and it was in such haunted dreams the young man twisted for long hours before he was awakened at dawn by the unmistakable howling of a wolf somewhere in the distance.
After lying still a while after waking, listening terror struck for signs of beastly pursuit, he rose on shaky legs to once again take in the beauty and endlessness of this place towards which he had been striving for so many days. The brook sang still beneath him, and in the distance the wind had begun its ghostly playing of mountain flutes, as if to greet him welcome to this the end of sane, merciful reality.
A terrible thirst came over him, and suddenly the sound of dancing water seemed almost irresistible to his tired ears – and so he begun to climb down from the high place on which he stood, taking care not to fall even though the distance was no more than a couple of meters, letting himself drop the last few inches down to solid ground. The moss was crisp under his feet and the prints he left, making his way over the frozen plain, remained there for many years, even after he had forgotten the music of the place; this place above world never forget anything or any man’s visit.
The wind was strong here, in the shelter of no tree or cliff, but he was well dressed and did not suffer much from the cold – at first. It was day when he first trod this strange land, even though the sun did little to warm or comfort these high places. Its light played beautifully in the dance of the lively brook, but the water’s swirl made it impossible for his reflection to fasten itself on the silvery surface. This, though, did not hinder him from quenching his thirst with handfuls from this burningly freezing source, and soon he felt refreshed and suddenly more as one with his surroundings.
With new opened eyes he started his wandering anew, not knowing for what he was looking but hoping that when it presented itself to him he would be aware of its importance to his purpose. The ground sloped slightly upwards, and soon the music of the brook was left far behind and below. Even the plateau on which he had rested was soon below him, and even though the air grew colder still with every step, he saw no sigh of snow as far as his gaze could reach. The little blue flowers grew everywhere here, no thicker or sparser in any one place which caused him to think that as least he had found the right place. But what was he supposed to learn here?
Soon the cold began to get the better of his thick winter garb, and he felt chill creep into his bones. He struggled on, more and more depending on his staff to keep him standing upright. His gaze fixed upon one of the high peaks that lined the open space that he was fighting, and it was towards this peak that he unconsciously set his path when it was all he could do to remain putting on foot in front of the other.
He did not realize it at first, but the reason the peak had first caught his attention was that it stood out against everything else because of its colour; whilst all else was shrouded in pale green and blue, the top of this particular height was shiningly white. It was covered in snow. The insight took the breath out of him, and for a while he stopped and just stood there, looking up at the whiteness with a thousand thoughts running through his head. Why was the snow resting silently on that one peak, when it was nowhere else to be found in the whole world?
Despite his numb limbs and confused thoughts, he fought on against the dark cloudiness that now had begun to line his vision. The dizziness increased until all he saw was the top of that peak, tightly surrounded by a dark tunnel of black clouds that expanded all the time. At last the cold got him, and his benumbed legs would not support him anymore. He fell to his knees, eyes still on the distant snow, consciousness fast slipping away.
But right before he lost connection to reality, when his vision was mostly covered with a veil of blackness and the wind that shouted all around was outvoiced by the ringing in his own head, he thought for an instant that he saw a shape standing on that faraway peak, rising out of the snow as if one with it. And though the distance was great and he was inches from fainting, he knew by the aura of majesty and omniscience shrouding this appearance that he was in the presence of King Winter himself.
Awestruck and half doubting his own senses, he bowed in front of the royal incarnation of the winter he had sought for so long. Time seemed to have stopped; he knew he was still going to faint – a dangerous thing in these cold lands – but he got the feeling that he was given time to ask the one question which had driven him this far from home and safety.
“Why have you not come?”, he whispered, the words barely escaping his frozen lips as he again looked up at the cold majesty standing on the peak, gazing down at him. “Why have you not come?”
The king of Winter let time pass, let his eyes take in this boy dying in the cold, before answering. Then the young man heard the wind’s roaring take the shape of words, resounding painfully in his head. Still the shape on the peak did not move, but there was no question of who was speaking.
“You could not possibly understand, but since you have made this long journey not made by many in this time, I will tell you. There is one in this world, only one, whom I love. She is beautiful and breathes life itself, and everywhere she goes she makes wonderful things grow. I have always thought that I was a worthy groom to her, that when we met at fall after being separated for one whole season, I was able to present her with gifts suitable for Her divine presence. But I was wrong. What is golden leaves to one who can create flowers from dead soil? What worth is there in an intricate flake of crystal snow to one who makes the air smell of sun on the ocean, to one who invokes joy of life in every soul? To her, the music of the northern wind in a storm must seem like nothing, she who conjures the song of birds and the laughter of playing children. Thus I have settled not to disturb her life-full reign with my bothersome and contemptible attempts at declaring my love to her another time. Thus I have settled for quiet longing and grieving, for I will never be her equal and thus will never be more than a loathsome bother to her.”
The young man blinked and looked up at the King in silent and sudden surprise. He wondered for the split of a second whether the world had gone totally mad.
“But”, he said, and remembered the tender words of his own beloved at his departure, “do you not know that she loves you? Just to see you back will fill her with joy, and whatever gift you bring her will be worth more to her than the sun in the sky and all the diamonds on the surface of the sea at night. Do you not know that love makes all other things seem small and simple, and that if given with love the smallest snowflake can be worth more than all the riches in the world?”
At this, the fierce northern wind became quiet, and for the split of a second the young man could see the eyes in the face of the faraway majesty widen in sudden realization. The boy’s eyes widened too, but in surprise and frightening insight.
“You did not know this, did you?”
Then everything started to spin as the time and the world suddenly started again. The young man cast one last gaze up the peak, but there was nothing there – only the quiet, eternal snow resting there, sleeping, sleeping. Darkness dragged him down into silence, but he did not feel anything. All of his body was already numb from the cold, and even his mind was so clouded that he did not even reflect upon what fainting in this biting wind would mean. Then he did not think about anything at all.
They came together in the middle of the open, under the clear sky. The sun, at the sight of the two of them together, let go its focus of the world in relaxation, knowing that its full attention was needed no more for this season. At once the light that radiated from it grew slightly fainter and took on a more chilly quality, making the ground and vegetation seem even more pale and frozen.
This cold light shone down upon the barren landscape where seasons were said to start, and made ice crystals gleam like diamonds upon the trail of snow and frost that followed in the wake of the king of Winter, where he made his way down from his wintry peak. Flowers withered and died where he went by, crust-like spider webs of ice spread in his tracks every time he set down his foot.
She, the goal of his journey down from the far mountaintop, stood patiently waiting for him in the middle of this barren landscape, a silent smile on her lips. The road she had walked was marked by a trail of small, pale-blue flowers that spread out like the hem of a wide dress around her where she now stood. Red never still hair flowed down her shoulders, crowned with a wreath of eternally fresh summer flowers in warm colours and white. Her light dress billowed around her in the cold wind that he brought with him, and in her right hand she held a plain wooden staff overgrown with green ivy and decorated with flowers and feathers at the top.
He walked up to her, silvery hair flowing behind him as he went, robes the colour of winter night draping his majestic form and his head crowned with a circlet of frost covered ice. He stopped one step away from her, and there they stood, looking each other in the eye. He did not beam as she did, but a lively spark in his eyes made his otherwise stern expression melt a little, and if one looked very close, his face could be seen to soften by a faint but fond smile.
So there the seasons met – Winter standing in snow and frost a pace away from Summer who resided among a million of blue flowers. The king opened his outstretched hand, slowly, and revealed a single maple leaf, golden and gleaming in the fading sunlight. The queen looked at it for a long time and then, while lifting her gaze and looking deep into his eyes, accepted the gift with a delighted smile illuminating her whole face.
Now also the king let his face mirror his inner joy at seeing her again at last, after all this time. She took the golden leaf and held it up for the wind to catch it, still smiling. Then she reached out for him, and together they walked off from this barren plain, down the mountain and out into the world. With his right hand on her shoulder, protectively, lovingly, he led her through the world, showing her how his essence turned trees ablaze and puddles into mirrors; forests became dreamlike and silent, and everything gained a dull shell of ice inlaid with tiny, shining gems.
They would have the whole period between Summers End and Wintercome to explore and laugh together before they would have to part for another season, and they intended to make it worth the while. They took turns holding the wooden staff, sometimes holding it together, and so the weather shifted – so the seasons changed.
When he woke there was snow everywhere, but by some unknowable design the place where he lay was not shrouded in snow, but in warm little blue flowers. He struggled to his feet, regaining his grip on the staff he had dropped to the ground when he fell. Confused and dizzy he looked around. No sign of life could be seen anywhere, and the world was covered in white, ice-cold snow as if winter had come to this place while he was unconscious.
Then, right before he started walking, he looked down on the blue flowers and saw something. A golden maple leaf, stuck in the vegetation and waving frantically in the wind, lay among the flowers as if waiting for him. He picked it up and looked at it for a long time. It reminded him of something, vaguely. Something that he had seen in a dream. But he could not recall what the dream had been about, and so he put the leaf safely against his chest under his warm clothes, and got going.
Staggering he made his way back the same way that he had come – the going was harder now with all the ice and snow on the ground, and the air was unquestionably colder than before. When he had reached the plateau from where he had first gazed down on this strange world, just before he started to descend the mountainside, he cast one final gaze over his shoulder, on the distant peak where he thought himself to have seen snow when it was to be seen nowhere else. Now, though, he was not really sure which one of all the peaks that was the one he had noticed; now all the peaks were dressed in white, none distinguishable from the other. With a sigh he started down the steep path, wonderingly shaking his head.
Everywhere he came the world had changed. The mountain trail was covered in snow and wintry already, but the farther he got from the mountain the less wintry the weather got. However, there was no doubt that Winter would catch up, for even though the season itself had not reached far from the mountain yet, it was evident that Summer was over for this year. Fall had come to the world at last, with Winter in its wake. It would not be long before the season of Wintercome started, and the leaves were already turning golden and crimson – but none of them as golden as the one he kept with him.
He passed all the villages again on his way back, and all the people he met looked a bit strangely at him when he returned, but he did not understand why since he did not think about how much he looked like Winter himself, coming down from the legendary mountain with Fall in his wake. And so he did not linger anywhere too long to spend thoughts on such matters, and the journey back was swifter than it had been when he first travelled the road, in the other direction.
She had been sitting by the tree for so long that she had lost count of the days. The sun had been her only companion by day, and the moon had been the only one to watch over her at night. She never lost hope, but her spirit became heavy and she almost felt as if she was on with the tree. Then, finally one evening, so soundlessly and suddenly that she nearly did not notice, it happened. She looked up towards the green branches, and all of a sudden one of the leaves broke loose from the others and glided down to land on her knee. It was first then that she noticed that its colour was not green, but fiery yellow. She picked it up and turned it between her fingers, at first not really realizing what this meant.
Then the insight dawned on her and slowly, slowly, not really daring to in fear that she would be wrong, she looked up. At first she did not see anything, and her heart sank. But then a shape could be seen moving up the forest hill. He looked worn and tired, and his silvery hair was tangled and strewn with leaves and dirt, but when he laid eyes upon her, sitting there by the tree like the embodiment of Summer in front of him, he smiled.
When he reached inside his coat and withdrew the golden leaf, unharmed by the rough journey and still shining as brightly as before, she rose from beneath the tree and ran towards him, laughing with tears streaming from her eyes. They embraced, and then he stroked her face with his left hand, while he used the right to put the golden leaf, his gift of Autumn, in her hair.
The ceremony begun before long and did prove to outshine all previous weddings held in this particular village. The bridal couple was more beautiful and more representative to the change of seasons than any couple before them, and no couple had ever been as happy or loved each other as much as these two did. The golden leaf gleamed beautifully in her hair as they said their vows, and all thought that it was the most wonderful autumn gift ever – but she herself did not think about it much, since all her attention was on him, her beloved one who had returned to her from afar. For love makes things like golden leaves seem small and simple.
And Summers End passed over into Wintercome, with snow, cold nights and short days. Winter reigned fair as he always did, guarding the world well until his beloved Summer was once again ready to take up the sceptre, or the wooden staff which is what it really is. She watched him from afar, from a spot hidden in the mountains where blue flowers grow forever, and longed for the short time in Spring when the two of them would again be together, when she would be the one to give him gifts and show him wonderful things all over the world.
Everything was as it should be. The years went by, new generations grew up and new beliefs spread over the world, obscuring or replacing the old ways as it has always been. And never ever again did one of the seasons delay because it doubted its importance to the other.