A barren land of salt and snow; a castle where underground paths twist and turn in endless circles and a reclusive king has not shown his face in years; a forest where few things are what they seem. An unnamed hero must navigate through these places as he takes on the task of tracking down a supposed witch, in a story that blends dream and reality, rumor and truth, danger and hope.
The End of the Trail is a novelette that has a lot going for it. It thrust you into a cold world of salt, among superstitious folks who tell wild tales and have many misconceptions. It's not a nice place. Neither is the weather. It's brutal. I loved the way I was able to feel the cold seeping through my skin as I read. Very descriptive prose. We are introduced to a nameless man, a reader, a lord, who happens to be bitter. And who can blame him? He has lost many relatives, and some of the neighbors have speculations on what his parents did with the deceased children. Would you eat your own dead kids or starve? Was that ever an option? Who knows. The salt drillers, fishermen, petty merchants, and the gossiping women of the cold have stories for everything and everyone. (This actually reminded me of the town a grew up in. Except that it was super hot instead of cold.) This is the type of land and time where survival is a way of life:.
It was better to fall asleep to death and have your body buried by your family, than to drown in freezing water.
A year is three months of mild summer and nine months of uncompromising winter.
Rumor this and rumor that. A true fact: No one has seen the king in years. Our hero is then summoned to the castle by a thin man. He doesn't know what to expect or who he's going to see. He does meet the 'young' queen. His mission: to track a witch. There have been many rumors about this witch. None of them good. He is cautious entering the forest, the weight of the world rests on his shoulders. His mission is almost impossible to complete in such harsh conditions. But the reward of a new, warm, better life that awaits him if he succeeds is a good enough motivator to help him get through the thick of it all. He might or might not come out of the forest alive.
Like I said above, I liked the poetic way the story was told. At times I had to stop and think about a certain thought or phrase. I don't just mean the more poetic lines of thought, but what seemed like simple ones too:
She chuckled without making a sound.
These characters are nameless, and the story itself is timeless. So are the themes. Deception. Love. Danger. Courage. Honor. Sacrifice. I would have liked to have read more, to have seen our hero deal with the consequences of his decisions, or if he had any later on. It's left to our imagination. And if you really think about it, most of the story has been left to our hero to suppose about since he never really knows what awaits him or what's true or not. Snow and salt are extremely deceptive in their own right. Perfect setting for a story about how appearances can fool. The mood of the story resembles the one of the narrator and the atmosphere. Bleak. It fits well.
This tale is a decent read. And it does a good job of seamlessly merging you into the setting without having to waste time trying to ease you into it. The same can be said about the passages relating to our hero's past. It swirls around like snow drizzle but gets its point across. A good read. Beautiful and poetic.