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With some consternation, Emma watched as Josiah ascended the rocky slope with the ease of a mountain goat. Her footing wasn't as sure, and more than once she grasped for Josiah's hand whenever the terrain became too steep.

As Emma continued, she noticed her ears pop with the high altitude. The wind became colder, the snow deeper, and the air thinner.

"Emma, keep up," Josiah ordered. "Yer falling behind."

"I'm coming as fast as I can," she panted.

With a sigh of impatience, Josiah turned to watch as Emma struggled in her long skirts and oversized capote. "This snow ain't even deep enough to bother with snowshoes!" he chided.

Gasping for breath, Emma came to a halt. "Please, couldn't we stop for a rest?"

"I reckon, but only fer a moment or two," he reluctantly conceded. "Don't sit in the snow, Emma! You'll git yer clothes wet!"

"How much further to the summit?" she panted, leaning against a tree for support.

"We ain't even halfway," Josiah wryly grinned. "It ain't like you to tire out so quick."

"You were snoring last night," smiled Emma, "so I had trouble sleeping!"

"Now that you've found yer second wind," mocked Josiah, "set yer feet to moving!"

The rock-strewn slopes grew more difficult the higher they climbed, so that Josiah had to stop more than once for Emma to find her breath.

"We're almost there," he encouraged his tired wife.

Hanging to Josiah's strong hand, Emma finally reached the mountain's summit. The gusts at the top were fierce, causing the hood on her capote to wildly flap at her back.

"Ain't it a view?" Josiah grinned, his face full to the wind.

Emma could barely hear him, for the blast howled so loudly she could scarcely hear herself think. Squinting, Emma looked down from their high precipice. Far below them, she could see the valley floor, covered in white and looking as rugged and as wild as anything she had ever seen. Her eyesight couldn't see trees or rocks from this distance, but she was very aware of the sheer size of the mountains.

Josiah tapped Emma's shoulder and then pointed upward to something behind her. "Hollowtop!" he shouted above the wind.

Turning, Emma gasped at the tall peak of Hollowtop Mountain soaring above them. It dwarfed the summit beneath her feet, giving her a feeling of vertigo as she looked upward.

An eagle's cry brought a grin to Josiah, and he watched the bird soar above the mountains as it searched for its prey.

"I grew up in these here mountains, 'an in wilds like these," Josiah told Emma, his eyes fixed on the eagle. "It's a grand life, living as you please 'an going where you want. Look, Emma," he swept his hand across the view, "there ain't none to tell us what to do, or where to go. We can do whatever we want, whenever we want. There ain't a man, woman, nor child as fer as the eye can see." Josiah turned to Emma. "You don't have to keep to the white man's ways, cause there's none here to see but me."
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