She was close. Terrana could feel it in her pounding heart, her aching bones, her fingertips as, numb from the cold, they fumbled with the grappling hook. The mountain's peak was near; the unforgiving winds that buffeted the Gnorbu princess's frame told her as much. Soon she could begin the final phase of her training. After that, her master would allow her to make the actual journey of a prospective fighter. If Terrana could conquer this peak, she could conquer her final test. Soon she would be a true warrior.
The young princess, trying to control her shivering as not to fall off the edge of the narrow crevice she clung to, squinted upwards at the distant mountain top. It seemed to have shot up farther into the heavens. Had she been making any progress? Ridiculous! She scoffed at her sudden weakness. What reason had she to doubt herself? She was a renowned fighter in Shenkuu! Many bowed to her in the streets as she took her morning stroll! Surely this test, in the end, would prove easy to her. I'll be up there before sunset... she thought.
Terrana blew warm breath onto her hands briefly (though this did little to restore the feeling in them), then swung the grappling hook far ahead of her. She gave it a quick tug; it was stuck solid on the marker above. Smirking, Terrana grabbed hold of the rope with both hands. As quickly as she could, she began to pull herself up towards the distant flag.
"'Hand over hand'..." she muttered her master's words to herself. "'One touching the other'..." A great wind tossed her away from the mountain side, making her eyes burn. Terrana clung to the rope, then gritted her teeth as she collided with the mountain again. After a minute, the wind died down enough for her to continue her trek. After regaining her composure, Terrana started again. She reached up to grasp higher up the rope. Come on...
Her hands grasped air. Terrana opened her eyes in surprise. She tried again, but still her fingers could not find the rope. She felt the strength melting away from her, from her fingers to her shoulder blade. Then, to her horror, she started to lose her grip.
Sweat! Her trek up to this point had been hectic, and she had built up a lot of perspiration. It must have frozen and formed ice on her gloves! Terrana tried to dig her feet into the surface, but the ice merely made them slip wildly. Her fingers lost hold of the rope. The princess slid down the wall of ice and tumbled downward. Terrana started to see spots; the view of the peak above slowly melted into darkness.
She couldn't find the strength to scream.
The sudden warmth of silk sheets and feather pillows shocked Terrana to her senses. She opened her eyes slowly. An aging Mynci leaned over her. She recognized him; he was a doctor that her father consulted frequently. He had been their medical adviser for years. He patted her cheek gently. "My lady Terrana, do you wake?"
Terrana tried to sit up, but found no strength to rise. The Mynci smiled. "Thank Fyora you return to us, my princess!"
She furrowed her brow. She couldn't remember anything after the fall. When--and how-- did she make her way back to the palace? Surely she didn't drag herself back... The Princess asked him, her voice weak, "How did I..?"
"You landed in a snow drift, princess. A few peasants traveling into town stumbled upon you and quickly brought you back here. Luckily, you've not suffered injuries that good medical care and rest can't fix." He stroked his scraggly white mustache. "You've been unconscious for a few days."
Terrana gasped. Days! She had failed her training, she was certain. And she had been so close...
Hot tears streamed down her face. Terrana bit her lip, but could not fight back a soft sob. "No..."
The Mynci's gentle eyes saddened. Quickly he dug into his pocket and pulled out a faded handkerchief. He dabbed at the princess's wet cheeks. "Princess..."
"I was so close!" she cried out, "I-I was almost..!" Her once strong frame trembled with hiccuping sobs.
"Sssh..." the old pet cooed. "There's always next time--"
"There won't be a next time!" Terrana glared. She clenched her fists. "I've failed! I disgrace my Father, my master... myself." She held out her hand to the Mynci. "These look like good, strong hands... but they couldn't hold on to a simple rope!"
Hesitantly, the Mynci took Terrana's hand in his own shriveled paws, the color of old cheese. He looked intently at them, eyebrows knitting together in deep thought. After what seemed like ages, he held her hand up to her. "Do you know what I see, Princess?"
She blinked at him, sniffing. "Wh-What?"
He smiled. "I see hands that have scaled the tallest towers of the Shenkuu Palace. I see hands that have worked themselves to extremes to follow the teachings of all great warriors before them." He wiped her eyes again. "And I see a courageous young lady who will one day be among such honored warriors. You've worked so hard. You deserve to become a warrior, my lady."
Terrana scoffed. "They were able to climb up the mountain. They climbed into the sky, for Fyora's sake!"
The frail Mynci suddenly took on the look of a hardened soldier. His eyes seemed to peer deep into Terrana's soul. "You will not suddenly toss your dreams into the wind, will you, Princess?"
She looked down at hers and the Mynci's hands. How was it that his were so gentle, and yet appeared to hold so much power? The Princess was suddenly reminded of her master, looking at this ancient Mynci. Quietly, Terrana looked up at him and said, "Do you... think I can climb to the top?"
He gave her a toothy grin, and rose off of his stool beside her bed. "You will climb to the heavens, Princess Terrana." He hobbled towards the bedroom door, then looked back at her. "But only if you believe in yourself." The Mynci went out into the hall, quietly shutting the door behind him.
Terrana looked around at the scrolls hanging around the room. Faded ink paintings of armored warriors in victory stances peered down at her.
These were pets she had admired from an early age. For hours, Terrana would pore over books about the adventures these great warriors had. She had probably read them all about a hundred times. And how many times had she insisted her siblings play 'War' with her? For how long had she begged her father, the Emperor, to let her study under the wise teacher she had come to admire so? It seemed like just yesterday.
The warriors appeared to be waiting for her answer.
Terrana gazed back at them. Perhaps these great figures had also experienced such grievous failure in their lifetimes? Perhaps they'd found the courage within themselves to try again? Was it possible?
Finally, she closed her eyes. "I will..." she muttered. "I can do this..." The Princess repeated these words until she drifted off into a deep sleep.