Climbing rough mountain trails, Haaken leaned against his knee and turned to look at the monastic citadel. The ramparts of the monastery rose above a veil of evergreens, only to be overshadowed by the rugged slopes beyond.
He had been beyond the ancient stone sanctuary walls before, but never like this. Staring back he could discern the shadows of the other students along the walls. He wondered at their thoughts. The travels were only undertaken by those who had already passed through the Halls, and he was still many years from attempting that trial.
So this could not be the same.
Perhaps it was only an errand, as Dokar had said. Dokar said many things. Usually riddles poured from his mouth wearing the raiment of banal speech. Wisdom that had to be excavated from the soil the mundane.
A place without substance in his mind. More distant than the farthest horizon he had every laid eyes upon.
The wind whipped against the humble satchel holding the fruit of the gardens he had gathered with Satukel. Common herbs he had tended since he was a child, but a precious rarity outside the sanctuary he had been told.
Right Views. Right Resolve. Right Speech. Right Action. Right Effort. Right Attention. Right Meditation.
These words were burned into his bones. They were what the olds ones lacked. The guides not present to guard against the decay of the virtues.
Charity. Temperence. Generosity. Humility. Zeal. Kindness. Love.
Without the Sevenfold-Path to guide the soul, pursuit of the virtues would lead to corruption of the virtues and bring suffering into the world. Such as when his pride had angered the troll and Tamris had payed the price in pain. The troll's death was on his head, and so was the suffering Tamris had to undergo. He had not cleaved to the path, and let his passion lead him. Tamris still followed him as if she were his shadow. The weight of it was hard to set down, anger still burned in his chest, when he thought of the action he had not taken. The path that would have lead around.
Lessons. All life, all breath was instruction, if only one could humble oneself and study it.
He had been given a task, he would perform it.
He turned from the monastery and continued climbing through the forest. The mountain breeze was bitter with the smell of bruised pine. By late afternoon he passed the timberline, and after two days of scaling glacial slopes he crested the roof of the Kodar Mountains. On the far side of the range, the forests extended beneath scudding clouds. How many vistas such as this, he wondered, must he cross before he found Frostbark? How many ravine-creased horizons must he exchange before he arrived?
Descending granite escarpments, he entered the wilderness.