After a day and a night, the wind died down and the whirling white of snow settled onto the frozen ground. Stephan stopped dead in his tracks, caught completely off-guard by the sudden change. He could not feel his limbs or his face, and all night he had continued trudging forward, lifting his heavy feet because of his single goal. The strange calm dislodged even that from his head.
The black sky was deep, like the human eye, and the stars nestled in it were sharp, like piercing glances. It seemed so near he thought he could reach up and touch the velvet blackness. He tried, standing on his tiptoes and reaching with stretched fingertips. Surely, he was only inches away….He stood on a small plateau. He had climbed the slopes for many days, guided by that single, unrelenting desire. It returned to him now and, looking around, he discovered a monument erected on the barren landscape. It was a statue of an old man. In one hand it held a net, the shaft of which was formed of a silvery metal, the mesh of which was crafted from fine threads of gold.
Stephan stumbled forward and grabbed the shaft. The statue held it tight and would not release it. The wizened face, wrathful and wild, stared at him with unchanging eyes.
After a long time pulling futilely at the shaft, Stephan stepped back. He was almost unable to think, consumed by his need to remove the net, but in time he remembered the coin he had acquired by many journeys. He rummaged stiffly in his coat and brought it forth. The Miser’s Mite bore an ugly face and the inscription: Everything has a cost. He placed the coin in the statue’s open palm.
A crack like ice breaking resounded across the plateau, disappearing into the frozen silence. The coin had vanished. Trying the net, Stephan found it slid grudgingly from the old man’s grip.
Now Stephan studied the sky again, looking from star to star with a feverish intensity. Which was it? He had used his only coin; he had only this one chance. When he had first gazed upward, he had been certain of his choice, but now he studied each carefully, unsure of himself.
Muttering a prayer, he raised the net and caught the star he had chosen, a diamond of soft yellow fire. He was afraid to remove it from the netting. His heart’s desire lay within his grasp—if he had chosen correctly.
He clutched the yellow star in his hand. The net vanished and returned to the old man’s grasp. Stephan forced himself to open his fingers. Inside the diamond he glimpsed her face.
“Elena!” he cried. Warmth flooded his limbs.
Her face filled with joy. She tried to speak, but he could not hear her.
“I told you I would not forget you,” he said. He kissed the diamond, imagining that he kissed her lips. “One more task—one more—and we will be together forever.”
With all the tiny motions of her imprisoned body, she communicated her love, and Stephan knew he would not fail to release her.