Roland crossed the wilderness alone.
For many months he had wandered the great emptiness, all that remained of his once vibrant and beautiful country. Nature was reclaiming what was lost to concrete and progress and achievements of the mind, wild brush and herb pushing through cracks in the dead streets, weeds and ivy stretching and climbing and covering over inanimate and unfeeling mortar. Only ghosts of life tarried; only a vast carcass, hulled by the free-roaming beast, bore witness to a world that was no more.
Thirty years it had been since the burning of this land, when the number of souls forever released was incalculable. Nothing of ease or luxury remained, no system of transactions, no security. What was left of man was reduced to primitivism, and in small packs they struggled to grasp an existence solely comprised of danger and survival. They plied the land, and learned, though countless more died. It was now as it must have been at the beginning of things. The bonds of ego and pride and self-love were erased, and every eye saw, every mind comprehended, a power that lay far beyond them.
Roland survived in an enclave of less than social creatures who nonetheless understood the imperative of commune, and taught one another to sow and reap and weave and build. Summers scorched; winters brought unbroken thoughts of death; springs lightened one’s burden, for a time. There he subsisted, counting the days as they moved further from the one that brought such judgment and punishment. Marking the milestones that he once took for granted; falling into hopeless dreams.
This year, as summer deepened, Roland left the enclave. The sack he carried contained his hard-earned clothing, blankets, a few unwieldy shaving tools, and tiny pouches of seeds should he ever wish to settle in another area. The seeds were not his idea, yet he received them in graciousness, a dull remnant of manners from a doomed society.
He traveled, owning no compass, no map, praying—that ancient word—for a sense of direction that would not betray him. He knew how time passed. He knew the exact day, as he always had. Therefore Roland was not surprised when he neared his destination in harmony—that precious thing!—with the new-fallen snow and bitter, blue nights.
The structures of his once-proud city were crumbling, victim to the haughty flora, inhabited by bird and rodent and dog. Dead and rotted leaves were strewn about; the trees stood naked and shivering. Roland knew the land, he knew the paths and decaying signposts, and he labored under the weight of memories long ago forsaken for peace of mind.
Yes. Here it was.
Roland shrugged off his sack. Tiny snowflakes, gray and sodden, drifted in the evening air.
It was here he scampered with his brothers to be the first to the tree. Here he learned to give. Here he grew to understand a meaning of that wonderful day filled with a promise unmatched by anyone or anything else. It was here his family resided, though now the walls were decimated heaps, and their bones had long scattered with the wind.
He was not with them, when everything changed.
Roland sat upon the frosted ground. It was so very cold. He was so very tired.
“Please have snow,” he whispered, “and…mistletoe, and…presents…”
They were his first words spoken since leaving the enclave, and he could not go on; tears, hot and sad, trembled in his eyes. He was so, very tired. In his solitude, in which every day seemed the end of the world, Roland slipped into a snowy haze of remembrance and grief. His battered devotion to a still-silent Lord glowed faintly as one last ember in the deepest part of his soul.
And so at last, the end of his journey, in the final resting place of those he loved; together once more on this night in which man’s greatest light and hope emerged, long ago.
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