He stood at the first step gazing upwards, his eyes crinkled in the corners as he squinted. The sun reflecting off of the snow was bright enough that he felt he was going blind, the wind cold enough blowing through his tattered clothing that he thought he would freeze.
Doubt raced across his mind, uncertainty plagued him. And then, he lifted his right foot and placed it on the first step. “Only six thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine to go.” He muttered, the words coming out as nothing more than a huff of chilled air.
He counted as he walked, something to keep him sane, something to take his mind off of Martha and how much he missed her. They had moved to the small town, bought a small house, for the simplicity of it. When she had gathered too many herbs while on her evening walks they had discussed thoroughly running a small shop to sell potions and other nick-nacks. Just things to keep them afloat and in the life they wanted.
He had never expected the theft and robbery. Never expected the fear and terror that coursed through his veins every time an unexpected stranger walked into his shop or home, robbed them blind, and he was helpless to stop it.
He had experience fighting. Experience defending his home as a soldier who used to work near Falkreath. The bandits that had come through there, the supposed Dark Brotherhood members that resided near there. And yet in his own home, defending his wife, he was helpless, useless even.
At step 356 he was ripped out of his own thoughts, his mind torn away from thoughts of his lovely Martha when he heard it.
No, yell was no accurate. The fearsome territorial growl that vibrated through the earth and shook his feet. It had to be the volume of the growl and not fear. He was sure of it.
Harold peered into the snow, his eyes barely adjusting to the way it drifted lazily from the sky when he saw something move. Relief surged through him first. It was a teeny tiny thing, lost in the snow almost as he was.
And then it moved closer, two legs on the ground, two arms used for support at times. More than two eyes, and fur as white as the snow around them. It growled again and he let out a terrified yelp as he ran.
Common sense fled him, and instead of turning around and running back down the 356 steps he knew were safe he ran past the troll (for it was a troll upon closer inspection), past the corpses of those who had surely met the troll before him, and up the mountain side.
As he ran the growling grew fainter, his breathing grew heavier, and he never stopped counting the number of steps. “six” huff of breath “forty” puff of breath “three.” Groan as he collapsed knee first into the snow. He hadn’t even reached a thousand and already his body was tired, his legs unwilling to go further.
He wanted to lay in the snow, face first, and breathe in the cold. Let it suffocate him until he no longer had any concerns.
With a deep and mournful sigh, he pushed himself to his feet and continued onward. He could give up, could let it all go and never finish his quest. But then Martha would be left alone to fend for herself, wondering where he went.
And so he continued traipsing up the mountain, counting each step along the path as he went, until finally…..
He saw it. The building was huge, stone layered upon stone with grand windows and doors. The building was magnificent, awe inspiring, wonderful.
And the path of 7000 steps was a complete and utter sham. He had only gone 742 steps up the cliffside of a mountain.