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Start of Chapterrelease: 07 May 2021

I can't stand it in this village any longer. My name is Noel Forstschlag. I am now sixteen years old and ready to discover the world. But my parents forbid me to enter the forest without the accompaniment of an adult.   Anna, my best friend, encourages me to explore the forest and the world with her on our own. Together we discover things we never would have dared to dream of.

Westwald Story (English): Aktuelle Arbeit

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Westwald Story (English): Text

About the english Version

I am not a native English speaker, nor an expert in the English language. That is why the wording and phrasing could be wrong sometimes. If you find something unusual or grammar issues, feel free to contact me.

Best Regards

Nils Weber

Westwald Story (English): Text

Way Home

I slowly stagger across the ground with my boots. The earth is softened by the rain. Father and I are on the way to bring wood to our camp in the village. We need it for the annual village festival.
My father is a lumberjack and responsible for the entire wood supply in our village. His name is Lars Forstschlag, and my name is Noel Forstschlag. I turned sixteen just a few days ago. For a long time, I thought that this is something good until my father pointed out the responsibilities that come with getting older.
At age sixteen, we attain our majority and become new workers for the community. From now on, I must support my father at work every day. I am not convinced, though, and have other goals.
I always wanted to be a great explorer, who travels to every place in the world. Unfortunately, I do not know how many places there are and how large the world is. I have spent my whole life in this village and the forest that surrounds us almost completely.
“Noel! Faster, please! You are dreaming again. We are already late, and you know how your mother reacts when the carefully prepared food gets cold. After all, it is already noon,” father calls out to me. He is a bit further ahead.
“Yes, I'm coming!” I reassure him. “The ground is too soft. I feel like I'm sinking in with all the wood on my back.”
Father is less bothered by the weight of the wood. Due to his daily work in the forest, he has a correspondingly strong stature - unlike me. As usual, he wears dark green trousers and a red-black checked shirt.
He looks through the treetops into the sky and replies, “We haven't had such heavy rain in a long time. The ground may be muddy and difficult to walk on, but the water reservoirs in the village are now filled again. There are always two sides to the coin, my son.”
He smiles at me. Instructive sayings are his specialty. It seems as if he is just waiting to tell me the next wisdom of life, which are always terminated with “my son”.
When I catch up with him, I nod and we continue the way. Although my father is a keen advisor, he constantly eludes my questions of the world beyond our village. He is always saying, “You are still too young for this, my son!” But I cannot take it any longer!
The story of the communities in the forest is one of those examples. I only know that my village is called Valan and is named after the head of the council, Valan Brenshar. Next to our village are two more villages, which are called Sunas and Istal, and have their names from the other two council leaders, Istal and Sunas Brenshar. All three of them are brothers – triplets, to be precise.
We call the forest, which surrounds our village the Westwald and I always ask myself, “If this is the western forest, what is east of it? The eastern forest? Or something completely different?”
The only thing I can see beside the forest are the mountains, which extend from our village over the treetops and the sea in the west. I often wonder if there are other people outside the forest.
Father wants to tell me everything on my eighteenth birthday – before that, I am too young, he beliefs. But I cannot stand those last two years! I want those answers now!
Me and the other children have often tried to sneak out of the forest, but there was no end in sight. Many paths lead from the village. The wooden path is the transport route for the wood. Since the wooden place is located a little bit south of the village, it is also my father's daily commute. That is where we are at this moment.
The young people's explorations take place on the Valan path, which is in the northeast of the village. Adults take this route more often than us, children and return with food and objects that do not come from the three villages. It is a test of courage for us to explore the path. If someone no longer dares to go further, they will leave a personal mark of small stones by the wayside. My mark is a sun.
Currently, I have the lead. I reached a spot where the Valan path intersects with another path. Since I had been on the road for a while and it was dawning, I decided to turn back. Next time I will make it even further. I just have to start a little earlier.
Unfortunately, the most complicated part of this is that the adults must never notice. My parents will ground me when they hear about the courage test. Dad is strict on this matter. I feel like he is aware of my infinite interest in the world out there. I often ask him about this. But I never get a satisfying answer. Again, because he thinks I'm too young to know. This reminds me that I have not spoken to him about this in a while.
I look in his direction and ask, “Say, father, where does the coal and iron that Anna's father always uses in his forge come from?”
“Not again!” he moans. “I have told you many times before that you have to be patient with this matter. For now, you have to familiarize yourself with the basics of working in the village.”
Exactly as expected. I hope the gods forgive me for the following little lie, “Anna's father said it comes from the people behind the forest. They live in the mountains that can be seen from the village.”
Dad stops immediately, stares at me in horror, and says, “He said WHAT? Do not believe this! Just be patient! I will tell you about everything soon. Trust me, this is only for your best! We will go to Anna after the meal. You've got a meeting with her, haven't you? I will talk to her father about this! Telling you such nonsense is not okay.”
Father shakes his head and continues to stagger through the muddy ground. I almost forgot the meeting with Anna. Hannelore's departure is imminent. She is an Azurosa and will be prepared for the feast tomorrow at the village festival. They are small, colorful birds that we breed in the village. Anna and I have cared for Hannelore since she was born and begged our parents not to slaughter her. However, wolves recently plundered many supplies and killed some Azurosa.
Torwald, our hunter, is now in charge of the village safety. We call him the 'wolf whisperer'. He is the only one who knows the home of the wolves. Sometimes he brings leftover food to the pack, whereby they usually leave us alone. Amazing how he has these wild animals under control. He has brought one to the village before, who was specially equipped with a leather muzzle. Anna even stroked his fur a few times. Council leader Valan was far from pleased, though, and banned the wolf quite quickly.
Anna and her father are our neighbors. Her mother died four years ago. It was a difficult time for them, but I have always tried my best to cheer them up. Anna has a cheeky personality and finally laughs again. She is sixteen years old like me and was born only two months earlier. Her thirst for knowledge has no boundaries. While I want to discover the world out there as a whole, she is caught up in exploring even the smallest little details. We share the goal to escape the village and find out what is hidden behind the forest.
“And there we are,” my father says, stretching. “I hope we will arrive in time.”
We have almost reached the village clearing. The village square as its centre is visible now. Next to it is the inn, where the adults usually meet in the evening and recover from the long working day. It is the meeting place for council meetings. Important decisions for the future are made there. Children are not allowed to participate. The adults even set up guards so we cannot listen.
Next to the inn is the church. Faith and religion are other important aspects of the village. My mother teaches me the doctrine of the gods every day. “They watch over us and give strength to those in need,” she says. Anna and my father are skeptical toward the gods, but I passionately believe in them. Unfortunately, my persuasive work has failed, as Anna and my father always need proof of everything. But how should I do that? How do I prove that I feel or dream of the gods?
Arriving at our village, we turn directly to the circular path. It surrounds the village and most of the houses are placed on it. At the wayside, there is a variety of village traps, which are used to protect us from dangerous animals. There are stumbling blocks that make noise when touched, and pits that do not always work as the incident with the wolves in the barn has shown. Once I almost fell into one myself, as they are hard to see if you do not know what area they are in. Since some pitfalls are equipped with wooden piles, they can be dangerous. But as far as I can remember nothing has happened to anyone, yet. Adults, as usual, are vigilant and careful.
I can see the camp in front of us. We're almost there, to the delight of my entire body. It is a building right next to our house. In front of it is a variety of wood and tools, which are scattered on the floor and tables. My father has lost all order in his camp for several years. He plans to fix it within the next few weeks. I have to help him with this, as always. As much as I like to help my father, I would rather be on the discovery course. Unfortunately, there is nothing left to explore in the work of a lumberjack anymore. I have already seen everything of interest to me.
My favorite exploration are the heart leaf trees in our forest. The heart leaf trees are marked by their conspicuously shaped green heart leaves and their heartlike crown, which give them their name. They have a twisted, brown trunk. The wood of those trees is stable, stays dry even in rain, and doesn't soften, which makes it perfectly suited for construction. My father doesn't like the heart leaf trees much, though, as they are difficult to cut. I am fascinated by their black spade fruits, which are shaped like an inverted heart. The fruits have a disinfecting effect on wounds and accelerate the healing process. The trees are exciting objects of investigation for explorers like Anna and me. There is more to see in the world out there that the adults keep us from. I can no longer stand these bans.
“We did it, Noel. I am proud that you have persevered so well,” my father interrupts my thoughts once again. “I will take the wood from you right away. Next time we take the cart, then the transport will be easier.”
A broad grin is spreading on my father's face.
“Why haven't we used the cart today?” I reply slightly indignantly, gasping for air.
“That would have been too easy. For your first time, I wanted you to experience how our ancestors transported wood back then. You always want to be an explorer. Today you could discover how work was done before our time.”
My father laughs loudly. I remain silent. Using the delusion of discovery for his purposes is not a new event. Some time ago he was looking for his favorite wooden axe, Judy. He suggested that I could discover her for him. In the end, I found her in the depths of his messy camp.
When the wood is stowed away, we go to our house. I can smell my mother's food. It is time for a warm vegetable soup.

Westwald Story (English): Text

Vegetable Soup

Our home is not a trove for an explorer. It is entirely made of wood and is almost rectangular in shape, like almost every other house in our village. It never gets cold in the Westwald. Although the temperature is always comfortable, the wooden walls are still insulated with a thick layer of straw to keep the warmth inside.
We open the door to our house. A warm breeze welcomes us, as we step into the dry living area. “There you are at last! You are late!” complains mother straightaway. “Today I made the vegetable soup you two love so much.”
I am happy about the dish and smile at her exhausted. I love this soup. It is a secret family recipe.
The name of my mother is Selena. She wears a slim long dress, which is held together by loops. Her blonde hair runs straight down her shoulders up to her chest. “Noel, you look exhausted!” my mother says and stares angrily at my father. “Lars, I told you not to overdo it on his first day!”
“He will do it. He is going to become a real Forstschlag now!” my father replies promptly and throws his wet clothes on the hanging line.
I follow his example and sit down at our dining table where the hot meal is waiting.
“Father let me carry the wood without a cart. That is why it took us so long,” I say frustrated.
Mother looks angrily at my father and says, “I beg your pardon? You let the poor boy carry the wood on his back? You always have to overdo it!”
“As I said, Selena, he will do it. He is a Forstschlag. Now let us finally eat something, I'm starving over here,” father shuts off the ensuing discussion by putting a ladle of soup on his plate. One more time I follow his example.
“Mother, shall I also put a ladle on your plate?” I ask her politely.
“Sure, my son,” she smiles at me and hands me over her plate.
After a long period of silence, my mother says, “Lars, I have read the letter. We must speak again. Even if you do not agree, we should finally tell Noel more, don't you think?”
Father swallows and replies surprised, “What? Absolutely not, Selena! We agreed that we will wait until the children turn eighteen.”
“What is it all about? What do you want to tell me?” I ask into the room, confused. “Do you finally want to tell me something about the world outside the forest? Can I finally see it?”
I feel my heart beating faster with excitement. Is it finally time? Mother seems concerned about father's reaction. All of a sudden, he hits the table, causing his soup to almost slop over the plate.
“Selena, now you, too. Anna's father is already telling the children nonsense,” he snuggles angrily with vegetable soup in his mouth.
“What? Norbert told something? Does Anna already know?” my mother asks joyfully.
“No, of course not!” my father takes her hope. “That's what I assume! He said there are people outside the forest. I do not know why he mentioned this. I will talk to him when I take Noel to Anna.”
“We waited so long. The children deserve to know the truth,” my mother says.
“Yes! We deserve it!” I support her.
“Selena! No! The boy will endure these two years,” father tries to bring the conversation to an end.
I reply, “I will certainly not stand up to that. I finally want to know what is out there! Why should we wait two more years? It makes no sense at all!”
“You want to know what is out there?” father continues, looking at me with a serious expression on his face. “Just imagine the worst!”
He raises his hand and continues his speech, “It is far more terrible. Here in the village is your home. Here you have peace, friends, a community, food — everything a person needs to live. I can no longer bear this eternal desire for the outside world.”
Father gets up and disappears into the next room. Terrible? What does he mean by that? Confused, I ask mother, “Is that true?”
She looks deep into my eyes and smiles, “Your father is exaggerating a little bit. Terrible is the wrong word. It is unlike anything that you can imagine, Noel. But the gods have blessed you. I am sure that you will withstand all dangers and temptations that lurk there for you. You are still young and have to make a lot of your own decisions, including wrong ones. I will teach your father that too. But we better cease the subject for now.”
I get up with an affirmative tone and carry the dishes into the kitchen area. “I'm doing the dishes today. You can rest, mother,” I tell her. 
She replies, “You are too good to me, Noel. Thank you very much.”
While my mother lies down on the cozy bale of straw in the living area, I move with a bucket to the water reservoir. It is right next to the house. A container made of iron and other kinds of metals stands in front of every household in the village. It collects the rainwater and filters it to a potable condition. Anna always says that there are many germs and harmful substances in rainwater. But with the help of the container, the water is completely dissolved from them. How the water storage system works is even unknown to Anna. It was not invented in our village. She once planned to dismantle the storage facility to take a closer look at it, but her father, Norbert, caught her doing it, unfortunately. Anna and I need to find out where they come from.
When the dishwashing is done, I go to my room.
“Noel! We have to leave soon. Don't rest too long,” my father intercepts me. I nod to him, disappear in my room, and lie down on my bed.
There is nothing to discover here. There are a bed, a closet and a small table with a chair. At the table, I used to do my schoolwork. These times are over now, as we do not go to school from the age of sixteen.
As mentioned, from this age we start to help our parents at work. On the one hand, I am glad that I no longer need to see Mrs. Hammelblatt almost every day. On the other hand, I am sad because I feel that I am not learning something new every day anymore.
However, compared to Anna, I feel good. She has already come to the point where she thinks up homework on her own to maintain the feeling of school. Especially in calculating, she is unbeatable.
“Noel, are you ready? We have to go, otherwise, you will be late,” father warns me.
Slowly, I get out of bed and say goodbye to my mother, “See you later!”
I hug her on the straw bale.
“See you later, Noel!” she replies. “Greetings to Norbert and Anna from me.”
Mother seems weak recently. I have often asked her how she is feeling, but she always answers, “I've been sleeping poorly. That happens in old age.”
Since then, I have promised her that I will worship the God of Light every night for her. He is the god of peace and healing. His name is Stellux. I have been asking him to improve my mother's situation for two weeks but without much success.
Mother always says that some things are immutable and predetermined. They serve a greater purpose and cannot be influenced by prayers. But is a sleeping problem part of it? I will come back to that at a more favourable time. Now it is time for Anna. I am happy to see her.

Westwald Story (English): Text


We are in front of the house of the Funkenblitz family – the house of Anna, Norbert, and Luise, her deceased mother. She died suddenly at the age of thirty-eight from another pregnancy. The tragic event happened in the fourth month: a miscarriage. She did not recover from it and died.
I was twelve years old when it happened and had to deal with the subject of dying for the first time. According to my mother's stories, after death we come to one of the six realms of the gods, depending on how we behaved during our lifetime.
“Life is a test for all living beings in the world,” she says. “Those who are always sincere, selfless, and helpful come to the realm of Stellux, the God of Light. Dark, violent, and malevolent figures go into the realm of Goldark, the God of Death. Selfish and quick-tempered people are in the realm of Meltana, the fire goddess. The earth god Anaragai maintains all calm and balanced living beings, as well as those who have stood up for nature. The water goddess Laquine takes the inquisitive, manipulative, and those who have dedicated their lives to the sea. Vales is the God of Thunder and Vis is the God of Wind. Both rule over the last realm and maintain those who are future-oriented as well as those who are enthusiastic about the sky.”
The fact that life is a test changed my mind. I asked myself, “What realm do I want to go to after my life?” Unfortunately, mother had not told me more details about the individual realms and their differences. Mother strives for the realm of Stellux. Since I have the feeling that Stellux also suits me best, I decided to concentrate on this path. Thereby, I have been more careful to be sincere and helpful to everyone and everything.
“Look, Noel!” father tries to get my attention. “The door of the house is already open.”
Father is right. The door to Anna's house is slightly leaned and not completely closed.
“Could something has happened?” I ask father anxiously.
“Ah, I do not think so. But let us go in cautiously,” he reassures me. “Maybe they just did not close the door properly, or they left the house only for a short time?”
Slowly, my father opens the door and shouts, “Norbert? Anna? Are you home? Hello?”
Together we listen to a reaction. Nothing. The only sound we hear is Norbert's hand-forged clock at the wall. Click. Clack. Click. Clack - an annoying tone. Every time I sleep here, it is a torture at night. Anna always says that I will get used to it someday, but it did not happen until now. Since Norbert gave this watch to Luise for her birthday, it is out of question to remove it.
“Boo!” a voice gives us a scare and laughs. “We are at the forge. Dad is showing Valan his latest creations.”
It is Anna! She has red, shoulder-length hair and a few freckles on her face. Her slim, pale body is covered in a brightly colored summer dress. This is her favorite dress. Luise sewed it for her and attached butterflies made of fabric in different colors to the beige base tone.
“Anna!” I exclaim happily. “We thought something has happened to you. The door was still open!”
“Yeah, right!” she replies with a laugh. “What should happen in such a boring place like our village?”
“That is exactly how it is,” interjects father like a teacher. “It's safe here in the village and innumerable dangers are lurking in and behind the forest that we should better not face.”
“Nonsense, Mr. Forstschlag,” Anna reacts with a yawning gesture. “I know the villages by heart. The world outside is waiting to be explored and understood by me.”
“Not you, too! Noel and you really match,” grumbles father. “Let us go to Norbert and Valan.”
Along the way, I tell Anna about my hard day at work. The forge yard is behind the house. Even from the distance, we can already hear Norbert and Valan.
“I cannot continue my work without any further material, Valan!” Norbert mentions angrily. “We urgently need to do something about this.”
“I am aware of that. But under no circumstances will we engage with the trade,” Valan replies. “That would destroy everything we have built!”
I no longer understand the next words. It seems like they started whispering. My father waves to them and says, “Norbert! Valan! Nice to see you! I am dropping Noel off for the meeting with Anna. They want to say goodbye to Hannelore.”
“Lars! Nice to meet you here! We need to discuss something as a matter of urgency!” Norbert says depressed.
“Let's go to my house for that,” suggests Valan, looking at me and Anna. “The children should not be there.”
“Anna, Hannelore is in the stable,” Norbert says to his daughter.
“Yes, yes, daddy, I understand,” Anna waves him away, annoyed. “We're supposed to go. Come on, Noel! Let's visit Hannelore and enjoy the day!”
She turns around, makes a gesture with her hand that I should follow her, and we leave the forge. What did Valan mean by saying that the trade would 'destroy' everything? And with whom do they trade? With other people outside the forest?
“Did you hear your father's conversation, too?” I ask Anna.
“Sure!” she replies as she hops down the path.
“Didn't that make you curious? You are always so interested. What did they talk about? Do you already know the issue?” I continue the conversation.
“Father doesn't get any more iron or new coal,” she says while turning to me. “He has been looking slightly worried because of it for the last few days. I could not get more out of him. But if we do not get any more material, regardless of where it comes from, then my father will no longer be able to work.” Anna looks momentary depressed and worried.
“I just do not understand why they hide it from us. I do not want to wait two more years anymore,” I curse.
“Oh, Noel, let it be! They will never tell us on their own! We need to find out ourselves!” she smiles at me. “I can see it in front of me, 'Noel and Anna explore the world. Our personal adventure!'”
I am fascinated how relaxed she is. It always seems as if she overwrites negative situations with a positive mindset. This trait has been more pronounced since the death of her mother, Luise. I cannot imagine what would happen if Anna is no longer there to encourage me.
“You are right!” I grin. “So do we head on the Valan path today?”
She sticks her finger in the air and replies, “Yes, Mr. Explorer, but first we need to take care of our Hannelore. Do we want to take her with us? We could help her escape!”
“You want to release her? But then the villagers won't have enough to eat, and we will be in a lot of trouble!” I comment worriedly.
“Hannelore is so small. There is no difference. We just tell them that she ran away,” Anna suggests.
“Anna! Our parents will be incredibly angry!” I am trying to convince her. “And on top of that, they will know we have been in the forest. I do not even want to imagine what lectures father will give me if he finds out.”
“Oh, come on!” she says. “What are a couple of lectures, and argumentative fathers versus preserving an animal's life. That is in the sense of Stellux, isn't it?”
She likes to use my faith against me to convince me of her plans. Unfortunately, she almost always gets through with it. I agree and we get Hannelore out of the stable. The little Azurosa female has pink plumage and tiny blue feathers on her head and rump. Rather unusual for a bird is that the Azurosa do not fly. Their wings are too small, and their yellow beak is too big for that. After a little hug, Anna lifts Hannelore and carries her in her arms, which she often does. We move along the edge of the village so that we are not seen by the adults. There are a lot more shrubs and bushes for hiding along the way so I am confident that we will succeed. A great discovery awaits us!

Westwald Story (English): Text

Valan Path

It's afternoon. Anna, Hannelore, and I hide in a bush at the beginning of the Valan path.
“So then, Noel,” Anna grins at me, “the adventure begins!”
With Hannelore still in Anna's arms, we sneak slowly through the bushes until we cannot be seen from the village any longer.
“Look there!” Anna points to a pile of stones. “Isn't this the symbol of little Lucas? He hasn't dared to move any further yet?”
Anna giggles and kneels in front of the stones, which are shaped like a hammer. Then she looks further ahead to another collection of stones.
“Noel, look over there! This is Annika's. The two really haven't come that far yet,” she continues.
“Today we will do it!” I answer confidently. “We will finally see what the world behind the forest looks like.”
“And Hannelore will become free!” she adds, pointing her finger in the air again.
I do not like that we took Hannelore with us. It feels like cheating. We promised our parents that we would sacrifice Hannelore for the village festival. But it is impossible to stop Anna. It is as hopeless as convincing her of the six gods my mother and I believe in.
We continue to walk along the Valan path. I know this part of the trail quite well. I had the courage to venture into the forest a total of twenty times. Anna is close with eighteen attempts. With every try, we dare to go a little further. But today is the first time that Anna and I try it together. This makes it more comfortable and I am not afraid. She exudes such an incredibly catching happiness.
“Anna! Wait a minute!” I interrupt her walk and point to a bush at the side of the path. “Look! I found this bush last time. It looks different from the others. Have you noticed it too?“
“Oh! Give me a moment,” she replies and walks over to the shrub. “It’s a Nilidiri bush. My father told me about them. They have elongated thin leaves and once planted they grow incredibly quickly. But you can best recognize them by their blue, slightly shimmering flowers.“
“Do you think that these little green berries which are hanging on the bush are edible?” I ask her while grabbing a fruit.
“Stop! No!” she interrupts me and grabs my hand. “The berries are edible, but Dad says that they are disgusting and have a little side effect.”
“Side effect?” I wonder.
“Well, these are Nilidiri berries. They cause negative feelings in you. If you eat them, you will experience great sorrow, hatred, or fear,” she replies.
“Oh! That does not sound delicious at all!” I reply with surprise.
The most impressive thing about Anna is her readiness of mind. She rarely forgets anything she once acquired.
“This is worth a discovery entry!” I shout out and unpack the little notebook that I always carry in my side pocket.
“Right!” Anna confirms and laughs. “The first discovery from the adventures of Noel and Anna.”
With a pencil, I draw a rough image of the Nilidiri-Bush in my book and write down the most important features.
“Let us move on!” Anna encourages me. “There are more discoveries out there waiting for us.”
Hannelore hardly moves under Anna's arm. She has a high level of trust in her. Anna has been caring for Hannelore since she hatched from the egg. They developed a great bond.
We continue to follow the Valan path. After some time we come across another stone marker.
“Here we are!” Anna mentions and walks with long strides toward her stones. “Here is my heart sign. From here the area is unknown to me. How far are you ahead?”
“It is a bit further,” I answer her. “I came to a crossroad last time.”
“Oh, right. You are brave!” Anna remembers.
Right now, she is the brave one of the two of us. She walks so happily and relaxed along the Valan path.
“Together we don't need to be afraid anymore!” she continues and looks back. “The village is gone. I cannot see it any longer.”
I also turn around. She is right. I remember that I was running at the last attempt. It was already dark, which leads to a new, fearful look of the forest. Mother always says that I should continue to believe in the light if it is dark because pure faith and trust in Stellux will always protect me.
Anna and I continue to move along the Valan path. “Oh my god! What is this?” Anna exclaims excitedly.
I follow her field of vision tensely as she vanishes into the bushes. Quickly, I try to catch up with her.
“It is unbelievable! I have never seen anything like it before,” she says astonished.
“What a huge flower!” I add in amazement when I see it.
“We made a new discovery! Time for an explorer's entry, Noel!” she orders and continues her investigation. “Knee-high flower. Four long, white petals and a reddish color inside. Really beautiful!”
Anna sets off Hannelore and immerses herself further into the appearance of the flower.
“Do you think that it always looks like this? Perhaps the four petals make it a rare specimen? This can only be concluded if we find more of them!” Anna says.
Now she is completely engrossed in her activity. I put the plant in my explorer's notebook, while she investigates the surrounding area, closely followed by Hannelore. It looks as if Hannelore is tied to an imaginary leash.
“Darn it! I cannot find a second one! We have to follow the path and keep our eyes open!” Anna says as she comes back to me. 
I agree, and we are back on the Valan path. Now that Anna has noticed that Hannelore is following her, she decides not to carry her anymore.
“There! The Crossroad! We found it!” I say, pointing into the distance.
We walk together to the crossroad. The Valan path continues straight, and the unknown path crosses it with a shallow slope.
“Here's your mark,” Anna says. “What are we doing now? Do we continue along the Valan path or do we follow the other way?”
“Taking the Valan path is the safer choice. After all, we only have to go straight ahead on the way back,” I reply to her. “But I'm curious to know what is hidden on the other path.”
Before we can make a decision, our conversation is interrupted by a quiet rustle.
“What is that?” Anna whispers, turning in the direction where the noise is coming from.
“We better hide!” I suggest and take her by the hand.
I drag her into a bush nearby. Anna picks up Hannelore and locks her beak.
“Shush! You have to be incredibly quiet now,” she admonishes Hannelore.
We look closely. Nothing can be seen so far, but the rustling is getting louder. Suddenly, a figure appears at the edge of the unknown way.
“Who is that?” Anna whispers.
I know this silhouette from somewhere and try to recall who it could be. At last, when the bow appeared on his back, I recognize him.
“That's Torwald, the hunter from the village!” I say to her. “Where do you think he is going? To the wolves?”
“We follow him and find out!” Anna replies confidently.
“Do you think this is a good idea?” I ask surprised. “What if he discovers us?”
“Hannelore and I are masters in the art of stealth,” she says.
That is a lie. Nevertheless, I am sure that I will not be able to deter them from their plan. I have no choice but to follow Anna and Hannelore. The excitement is rising in me. Where does he go? Maybe he moves out of the forest?

Westwald Story (English): Text


Slowly, the day draws to a close. We continue to follow Torwald, although it will be dark soon. Finding one's bearings in the forest at night is impossible without aids. I hope that we will reach an end in foreseeable future. We try to maintain a sufficient distance as we walk behind him. He has not turned around once so far. For safety reasons, we remain ducked in the bushes at the side of the path.
“Do you think he's going out of the woods?” I whisper to Anna.
“I think he is walking to the wolves,” she replies. “After all, it is Torwald. If you look closely, you can see that he carries something on his back next to his bow. These are probably food remnants from the village.”
“If he is walking to the wolves indeed, we should better keep a distance!” I suggest. “They can smell us from several hundred meters.”
“About two kilometers,” Anna corrects me. “So they would probably smell us now. But if that's really meat in Torwald's backpack, we do not have to worry. Either way, I am not turning around now!”
That is true. As soon as Anna has got something on her mind, she can no longer be dissuaded. I really hope the wolves are more interested in the backpack than they are in us.
My tension is rising, and I am sweating. We have never been that far from the village and the day will end soon. Oh, great Stellux, please support us, so that everything ends happily! My journey of discovery has only just begun!
“Noel, look!” Anna exclaims excitedly and points into the distance. “There's a cave! Torwald wants to go to the cave! Is this the home of the wolves?”
“Please be quiet, Anna! Or do you want Torwald to discover us?” I whisper to her. “But you are right - this must be the home of the wolves.”
“Hannelore! Take cover!” she whispers to the Azurosa. Hannelore is extremely nervous but does not leave Anna's side.
Together we move closer to see what is happening. Torwald now stands in front of the cave and calls in. Unfortunately, we cannot understand a single word.
“How many wolves do you think there are?” Anna asks quietly.
“I think Torwald said that it is an excessively big pack,” I reply.
“Excessively big? Then it must be greater than ten!” Anna replies. “I'm so excited!”
I understand Anna. This is the most exciting thing we have seen so far. We have tried to sneak into the tavern once before, but the adults caught us in the end. Guards were posted everywhere. As a result, we missed the opportunity to overhear the council meeting. But now we are finally on the way to find out more!
“They emerge!” Anna comments. One wolf after another runs out of the cave and jumps at Torwald. They are so strong that he sinks completely to the ground. 
“It looks like they are trying to eat him!” I say. “I cannot see him anymore.”
“I think they are just greeting him. Look! He is getting up again,” Anna corrects me.
Torwald gets up and pets some of the animals. In addition, more wolves are coming out of the cave.
“I think there are more than ten wolves,” I note.
“That can't be!” Anna replies with surprise. “I count over thirty! According to our textbooks, a normal pack of wolves should not contain more than twelve members.”
But before we can discuss this, a figure comes out of the cave! She wears a dark cowl with a hood and is barely recognizable.
“Anna, do you see what I see? Who is that?” I ask impressed. “Is this enough evidence that there are more people outside the villages?”
“That's a woman, isn't it?” Anna asks. “She has a feminine appearance.”
She appears petite and has a slender waist, but we cannot see much more due to her cowl.
Torwald dumps his backpack and some leftover food falls out. In the next instant, the whole pack rushes to the meal. They growl at each other and a fight ensues. Suddenly there is a howl, and another wolf appears. He has a scar that runs over the entire right half of his head.
“Isn't that the wolf that was in our village?” Anna asks.
“You're right!” I reply.
Sometimes I wonder how she can remember so much. It is a miracle that I recognized Torwald before her when we met him.
“What was his name again? Wait, it will come into mind in a moment,” she continues. “Lucky! His name is Lucky! I even stroked him a few times back then!”
Lucky slowly moves toward the rest of the pack. The other wolves avoid him and move away from the meal so that he can reach it.
“Fascinating!” Anna says. “That must definitely be the alpha leader!”
“Alpha leader?” I ask ignorantly. 
“Noel! Have you ever paid attention to biology teaching?” She responses irritably. “The alpha leader is the leader of the pack.”
“I see! That explains why they all let him feed,” I say.
I did not always pay attention in class. Sometimes I get lost in my thoughts. But Anna is there for such cases. I smile.
“What's so funny?” Anna asks puzzled, as she stares at me.
“Oh, it is nothing,” I reply. “I am just happy that you are with me.”
“Um,” Anna swallows, slightly embarrassed, “now is not the time for compliments! We are on a discovery mission!”
Anna does not like it when I pay her a compliment. I have been friends with her for a long time, but whenever I say something flattering, she stonewalls. I will not tell her more about my feelings. What if she does not share them? That would destroy our friendship.
“Incredible! Noel, take a look and stop dreaming!” she brings me back into the action. “Torwald! He hugs the unknown woman! And – are they kissing? Yikes!”
Anna makes a disgusted gesture. A clear sign that I better stop deepening my feelings for her.
“Are they a couple?” I wonder. “Torwald has lived alone in the village since we were little. Perhaps his wife was living with the wolves the whole time?”
“Why should she do that?” Anna counters. “Was she rejected? The story is getting more and more interesting!”
We continue the observation. Torwald grabs into his pocket and takes something out, which looks like a water bottle. The unknown woman hugs him and is presumably thankful about the modest gift. Unfortunately, her cowl blocks the view and makes it impossible to see much more. Torwald opens the bottle while the woman slightly removes the robe from her feet. 
“I can't believe my eyes! Do you see what I see, Noel?” Anna asks surprised. “Her legs are green and her feet look so unusual!”
I agree with an affirmative sound. “I have to get closer! I cannot see anything from here,” Anna complains and stalks up on the occurrence.
Carefully, I sneak behind her. We are closer to the action now than I prefer.
“Can you see more now?” I ask Anna. 
I sit with Hannelore in the bushes and mutely worship all the gods that come to mind, hoping that our curiosity ends well.
“That can't be!” Anna replies, bewildered.
“What is happening?” I ask.
“Her legs! Her feet!” Anna says, taking a deep breath. “They look like plants. These are not feet at all. These are roots!”
“Huh?” I inquire and try to catch a better field of vision.
Now I see it. Her legs may be human, but her green skin is rough, like bark almost. And the feet – they look like roots, which penetrate the soil.
Anna and I continue to stare at the woman. Then Torwald tips the water over her legs.
“Um,” Anna throws in, clearly confused, as she tilts her head to one side. “Is he watering her?”
“I, I think so,” I reply.
I am just as confused as Anna. There are so many questions on my mind. What happened to this woman? Is she human? If she is not, what is she then? What is her relationship with Torwald?
“Crack!” a branch makes a noise as it falls from a bush. Anna loses her balance and audibly tumbles on the path.
“Oh, damn it!” she whispers, trying to get up again.
She got a small, bleeding scratch on her left arm. Even worse is, that she has eye contact with the alpha leader. She seems paralyzed by the look.
Quickly, I grab Hannelore and shout to her, “Anna! We need to get away from here! Run!”
She looks over at me and nods. We run away through the bushes. None of us dares to turn around. I dodge the shrubs and branches as best I can. The Azurosa female gets some lashes from the branches and chucks loudly. Suddenly, I stop and Anna runs straight from behind against me, causing all three of us to fall to the ground.
“Noel!” Anna curses my name. “Why did you stop? Do you want them to catch up with us?”
“Too late!” I say, pointing to the area in front of us. “They already have!”
In front of us is Lucky. The alpha leader looks us deep into the eyes with a slightly ducked head. Two other wolves stand right next to him.
“Wolves really can run up to 60 kilometers per hour,” Anna says intrigued. It seems as if she does not fully perceive the danger of the situation.
We look around and notice that we are surrounded by the wolves. For a moment, I am upset. I should have stayed at home. Father was right that the world out here is simply too dangerous for us. Stop! No! That is not the attitude that Stellux has. There is always hope, I just need to believe in it.
“What do we have here?” a female voice asks and interrupts me in my mental confusion.
We turn around. It is the unknown woman. She stands close enough that I can see her face. She looks old due to the numerous wrinkles, which are distributed across her face. Her entire body is, as far as I can see through the cowl, covered with a variety of leaves and flowers. They all look like they have not been provided with enough water for a long time. What does she want from us?

Westwald Story (English): Text


It dawns. The wolf pack has formed an impenetrable circle around us. My gaze is on Anna, who is frozen, staring at the mysterious stranger next to us.
“What are you going to do with us?” she asks in an uncertain voice.
“You have been eavesdropping on us secretly, haven't you?” the strange woman replies to her.
I join the conversation and answer before Anna starts speaking, “We just followed Torwald. Honestly! We thought there was a chance he might get us out of the forest.”
“What on earth do you two want outside of the forest? Where are your parents? You are not allowed to leave the forest!” Torwald enters the scene with a quick temper.
“We are explorers!” replies Anna.
Torwald looks surprised and says, “Pardon? Explorers? Grow up first! Your–”
“Torwald, enough!” the unknown woman interrupts him by raising a stretched hand in his
direction before he can finish his sentence. “I understand them.”
I am amazed. Does she defend us against Torwald's accusations?
“You know, I, too, once wanted to go out into the world,” she tells us and walks over to one of the nearby trees. She touches it with her flat hand. “I wanted to know them all – every single tree, every shrub, every creature. But my people forbade it to me.”
“Why?” Anna asks.
“I am a nature guardian. Your people call us dryads. We serve the god Anaragai. I am called Nihidakka Aldikki. But you can just call me Nika,” she continues with a smile on her face.
“The children should not know about this. Let us end the conversation here and I will take you back to the village!” Torwald interrupts the story and approaches her. She turns to him and touches his cheek with her right hand.
“My Love, don't you understand? They are like me!” She explains to Torwald, who looks deep into her eyes. “If I had not fled then, would we have ever met?”
Torwald briefly closes his eyes and snorts. “Well, I might take you out of the forest – but not today!” he gives in. “It is already getting dark and I am expected in the village to help prepare tomorrow's festival.”
“Thank you, my dear,” Nika thanks him with a kiss on the cheek. Anna is disgusted once again.
Torwald wants to get us out of the forest? I cannot believe it. A few minutes ago, I was firmly convinced that we were being eaten by a pack of wolves. That is the work of Stellux! The hope has paid off.
“Anna! Did you hear that?” I whisper to her. “They want to get us out of the forest! We did it!”
I notice that she is no longer next to me. She is – I do not trust my eyes – moving toward the wolves, and not to any wolf, but to the alpha leader, Lucky.
“Are you insane? What are you doing?” I call after her.
“Beware, young lady!” Nika shouts to her with a warning. “He can be unpredictable.”
Anna ignores us and moves closer toward the alpha leader. This is typical for her. But I like it. I never act without thinking about the consequences first. We complement each other quite well.
“Don't you see that?” Anna replies a moment later. “He's hurt! Here! On the paw!”
She points to the right front of the wolf. Lucky licks the paw continuously.
“I have read that licking a paw can be a sign of injury” she explains. “Licking will relieve the itching. Positive messenger substances reach the brain.”
Time for another lesson from Ms. Funkenblitz. Where does she store all this information in her head? A look at Torwald and Nika shows me that I am not the only one who is astonished.
She has reached the wolf. Lucky stares at her and takes a step backward. Anna makes herself small and carefully holds out her right hand to him. Does she bow down to him? I remember a book from my school days that described such behavior.
“It takes years to win a wolf's trust. Especially this one's! Anna, please let it be! When he was in the village, I had him on a leash, and he had a muzzle. That was a completely different situation!” demands Torwald and comes closer to Anna and Lucky.
“I managed to stroke him back then, too. I just need to avoid looking into his eyes. That is a threat to him,” Anna continues her lesson. “If I show him the side of my body, however, it's a provocation. I have to get to his paw somehow so I can see what is wrong with it.”
Lucky sniffs at her hand. He does not fall back. He allows the touch of the paw.
“I do not believe what I see,” Torwald says beside me in amazement.
Nika also moves a few steps closer. She has a smile on her face and says, “He likes the girl. I can feel it. He will do nothing to her.”
She grabs Torwald's hand, which rests tensely at his bow. He lowers the hand and takes a deep breath.
“There! I found it! I knew it!” Anna concludes her diagnosis. “He has a splinter of wood in his paw! Probably from the chase. I will remove it for him.”
She pulls out a bag from her leg, which was hidden under her dress. Has she been wearing it all the time? It seems to be attached to her leg with a buckle. I have never noticed that before.
“Luckily, father always advises me that I should never leave the house without a small first aid kit,” she says with a smile, and then turns to the paw again. “It is all going to be fine. Look! I also have a wound.”
She shows the wolf the injury on her left arm. True! Anna has a wound from the fall earlier that put us in this situation in the first place. She then pulls pliers out of the bag and starts the treatment.
“Carefully, very carefully!” she mumbles in concentration. “Just a little yank and it is gone. Then you will be better again.”
She pulls out the splinter of wood. Lucky flinched briefly but calmed down immediately as Anna was making a few pleasant noises. The treatment was successful.
“Oh, stop it!” Anna says with a smile.
The alpha leader throws her to the ground and licks her face, happily.
“We have to go now!” the hunter interrupts the cheerful mood. “It is already late. Your parents must be desperately looking for you. I will tell them that I've taught you a little about hunting.”
Torwald is right. Anna and I agree to his suggestion, and say goodbye to Lucky, the rest of the wolf pack, and Nika. What an adventure! As soon as I am home, I will fill in more pages in my discovery diary. Tomorrow, as promised, Torwald will take us out of the forest. The adventure is within our grasp!

Westwald Story (English): Text


The night has come. Torwald walks with a torch a few steps in front of Anna and me. He is, like many adults in our village, an expert in lighting a fire.
We are back on the Valan path. In the distance, I can already see the lights from the village. The torches for the night are lit. My parents and Norbert are looking for us for sure. I am worried about my mother. She often panics when something is wrong. The last time I was not home on time, she sat in the house covered in tears and was gasping, desperately waiting for my return. I was with Anna at the lookout point in our village and we forgot the time. The western side of our village is not surrounded by the forest. There is a tiny hill. My father and Anna's father built benches and a table there.
That day we wondered what could be behind the water. We like to sit there and stare at the sea. One day we will surely discover something special!
At school, we learned a lot about the sea and its inhabitants. Our teacher told us about fish and sea monsters. She recommended avoiding the sea because of this. Like everything outside the village, the sea is simply too dangerous for us.
“Someone is coming up to us! Look!” Anna says, pointing with her hand along the dark Valan path.
Except for the torches, I do not see anything in the distance. Then I notice that the light is moving. I see outlines from humans. They are running toward us.
“Anna! Anna!” echoes a voice through the silence of the forest. It's Norbert.
“Dad?” Anna replies. “It is Dad! Daddy!”
She runs happily toward her father. The bond between them is strong. Her father certainly missed her longingly. Since the death of Luise, Anna has been everything he has and loves.
When Anna reaches her father and embraces him sensually, I look along the path. More people are approaching. I reckon that father is among them. My mother Selena is at home. He does not let her out in such a situation. Without having checked the risk, it is too dangerous. He is overcautious.
“Leave the talking to me, Noel,” Torwald asks me with a stern look from the side. “No matter what is said. I will take care of the situation. Do not interfere!”
I nod. That sounds like he expects a bigger conflict. What unsettles him? Before I can think about it, we reach Anna and Norbert. Father and village leader Valan Brenshar are with them, together with three other men.
“Noel!” my father says. “Where in the world have you been? Your mother is worried. Why do you do this to her?”
In the corner of my eye, I see Anna giving me a pitying glimpse. She knows my father and his angry attitude well. Before I can answer, Torwald nudges me from behind. Right. I will let him do the talking.
He explains, “Calm down, Lars! I only went hunting with them a little. They also wanted to contribute something to the village festival.”
“On the hunt?” my father asks. “And what do you need the poultry for when you are hunting?”
He points to Hannelore, who forages nearby Anna. I look over at Torwald, who is also considering the female Azurosa. Damn it! He is not prepared for this question.
“Of course, we need an Azurosa on the hunt, Mr. Forstschlag. They are hunting support!” Anna intervenes.
The experienced men exchange questioning glances.
Norbert asks his daughter, “How do you come up with that, my darling? I have never heard that before.”
“Well, daddy! No wonder! Ultimately, I am the one in our family who studies our textbooks every day. I read it in my non-fiction book, 'An Azurosa for life'. I got it as a present from our teacher, Ms. Hammelblatt, for a better understanding of breeding.”
Norbert looks astonished at my father and Valan. He seems to believe his daughter. The other men still look surprised but do not question the explanation. Anna is known for her knowledge of the village and the animals. No one else has studied as many books as her. An excellent trick from Anna. Torwald is reassured to have everything under control again.
“Azurosa, no matter what!” Valan takes the floor. “The fact is, Torwald, you disregarded the laws of our community. I am extremely disappointed,” Valan Brenshar shakes his head and looks depressed at the ground.
He supports himself with a walking stick. He has had pain in his joints for some time. He is one of the oldest residents in our village community. Most of his hair has fallen out. His long beard looks as if he cut it off his head and sewn it onto his chin. We do not know each other well. I greet him now and then and he likes to tell the children stories. Nine times out of ten, they end with, “Never leave the village. It is too dangerous there!” It is always the same.
“Valan! That needs to result in a punishment,” my father urges angrily. “Especially in the current situation, it was more than negligent to take the children on a trip to the forest.”
“I agree with Lars,” Norbert adds.
A punishment? In the current situation? I try to understand and remember Norbert and Valan's conversation before we had left that afternoon. It was about the lack of resources for the forge. How are these things related? Why is it dangerous? Are they preparing for a fight? A shiver runs down my spine and I get goosebumps. Is the dryad Nika the danger, and Torwald is secretly protecting her? The others do not seem to know anything about the dryad. No! Earlier she appeared friendly and helpful.
“You are right!” Valan says. “Torwald, I am reluctant to say this, but you have broken the rules again. I will lock you into our dungeon for the time being.”
“Huh? You cannot do that!” replies Torwald.
He advances a few steps and stretches out his hand with spread splayed fingers. No one expected this punishment. Norbert and my father also seem surprised by the severity of the punishment.
Torwald must not enter the dungeon! Anna and I look at each other with concern. He is our way out of the forest! Damn! No one has ever been thrown into the dungeon. Anna's eyes and my own cross again. We agree that Torwald must be saved. It is the only chance to find a way out of the forest. How do we do that? Our fathers will certainly keep a close eye on us over the next few days. The situation is tense.
We are on our way back. I notice Torwald, who is mumbling in front of us, swearing into his beard and shaking his head at times. He is accompanied by two adults. Presumably, Valan is worried that he might flee.
Anna has Hannelore on her arm again and walks next to her father, Norbert. She looks groggy and tired. Her dress shimmers in the light of the torch her father is carrying. It had to endure a lot today. Luckily, no one noticed the injury on her arm.
When we arrive at our village, I say goodbye to Anna and Hannelore.
“See you tomorrow, Noel!” she replies.
“We will see about that,” my father interrupts. “We still have a serious word to talk to each other, my son!”
He grabs me roughly by the arm and we walk to our house. I roll my eyes and look at Anna. She smiles and raises her hand, moving her thumb and forefinger against each other.
At home, my mother comes up to me with tears in her eyes and calls out for me, “Noel! Oh, Stellux, thank you for hearing me! There you are at last!”
“I am sorry, mother.” I apologize and fall into her arms depressed. “We were out with Torwald. He showed us how to hunt!”
After a tight hug, she looks at me and says, “Torwald? Please stay away from him, Noel. The man brings nothing but trouble!”
Mother is afraid that an accident will happen to me. I would love to tell her what we experienced today. But that would result in house arrest and a personal guard until I am eighteen.
“I am very disappointed, my son!” father says. “You lied to me this lunchtime. Norbert did not talk to you about the things outside the forest. Lying is certainly not a quality that Stellux demands, is it?”
His gaze turns to my mother. He does not believe in the gods but has received enough information from my mother. He is successfully using it against me. I hate lying. But it was a white lie. Stellux is with me. I am certain of it.
Father continues his speech vociferously, “And in the end, you put not only yourself but also Anna in danger. I thought you were more grown-up. You betrayed my trust, my son.”
“Lars, please!” mother reacts and stands protectively in front of me. “The boy has been through a lot today and is tired. It is already late. I will put him to bed.”
“Selena, I beg you!” he reacts angrily, briefly swinging his left hand into the air. “You can't let the boy get away unscathed every time. That's just not possible anymore!”
Mother ignores my father's words and wraps her right arm around me. We go to my room.
“Don't worry! I will talk to your dad. But please promise me that you will take more care of yourself, so I don't always have to worry about you, okay?” she asks me politely with a calm voice.
I nod to her affirmatively and reply, “All right, mother.”
“Very good, Noel,” she rejoices and smiles at me. “Then please get ready for bed very quickly.”
Mother argues with father in the living room. I undress and wash myself with the bucket and rag that my mother provided. Afterwards, I put on my nightgown and go to bed yawning.
The day was exciting. There are many questions in my head. How do we free Torwald from the dungeon? What about Nika? What is a dryad? Are there more unknown beings in the world? Is Anna already in bed? With every thought, I get more tired and slowly fall asleep.

Westwald Story (English): Text


An unknown room. My field of vision is blurred. I rub my eyes and blink. It does not lead to any improvement. Worried, I look around and try to perceive more. My body feels heavy and sluggish.
When I look down at myself, I notice that I am in armor. I saw some of them at Norbert's forge.
The field of view is clearer now. Where am I? It all looks bright and white around me. Far and wide are no trees or the village in sight.
Suddenly, there is a blast in the distance. What just happened? I turn in the direction from which the noise came. A crowd runs toward me with panicked faces. They are unfamiliar to me. I look around for the source. Nothing. I cannot see far enough, so I start moving against the current of the crowd to find the source. Every step feels exhausting due to the heavy armor. It reminds me of yesterday when I carried the wood into the camp for my father.
The color in my field of vision changes. It darkens until I can see a black field in front of me. Still no trace of the source. Then a point of light appears in the distance. I try to focus it with my eyes, but it moves back and forth too quickly.
“Help! Somebody help me!” a shrill voice shouts from the distance.
I cannot tell whether it is a male or a female voice. Without hesitation, I increase my walking pace. The armor makes a sprint difficult. I try to track down the voice. It grows with every step and the calls for help are clearly understandable now.
“You! You over there! Are you here to help? You look like a brave hero,” the point of light says.
It noticed me. When I examine the point more closely, I am amazed to see that it is a speaking point of light. There is no one behind it. Its outward appearance looks distorted and pulsates hectically.
I stand in front of it and say, “What happened? Where did the blast come from?”
“It all happened so suddenly!” it replies panicky. “They came! They are here! Our neighbors are still there, the Barhain family – they are buried in their house.”
“Who are 'they'? Who came?” I ask the point of light astonished.
“Alpakals! They are in the houses. Please save the couple Barhain! They also have two children! Please!” the point of light begs me.
Before I can answer, it has disappeared. What is going on? When I think about the rescue, I get a familiar feeling again! I will save them! But what are Alpakals?
A large house made of stone appears before my eyes. How did they manage to stack stones at these heights? I remember how laborious it was to renovate my father's lumberjack hut a few months ago. If we had used stones instead of wood as our material, we would still not be finished.
I take a deep breath. A cold shiver runs down my spine. I reflexively grab to the right and clutch a sword grip. A sword? I pull the weapon out of its scabbard and look at it. Once again, there is a familiar feeling. I swing around with the sword a few times. I practiced sword art with Norbert and Anna, but I do not remember mastering it.
The entrance is adorned with stone stairs. I walk slowly up the stairs and keep my eyes open for anything unusual. Silence. No breeze or creaking wood in the distance. Nothing can be heard except for my own steps. The door of the house is made of wood. Only the handle and some other small parts are made of metal. I remember Norbert's lessons in the forge. It is bronze. At second glance, I notice that the door is ajar. I remain embattled, keeping my sword close at hand.
I push the door slightly and walk in. Although no light source is visible inside the house, I can still see clearly. Why? I take a closer look. Amazing! I am the source! I generate light in a radius of a few meters around me. How is that possible? 
I examine the entrance area of the house. Also the walls are made of stone. Two out of three sections are completely buried under fallen stones. I keep looking around. 
There are pictures on the remaining walls. Hanging between two abstract pictures, there is a picture of four people – a woman, a man, and two children, which catches my eye. This must be the Barhain family. I try to memorize their faces. The father has a long black beard and a scar on his right eye. The mother has long blond hair and a dark patch of skin on her chin. Or is there a water stain on the picture? The children are young – two sons, who are close in age. I assume that at least one of them must be about eight years old. One of the boys has short black hair. His face is pale and shows no emotion. His brother has wavy hair and unusually long eyebrows. Both boys have a blue and a red eye, which I have never seen before.
A scream interrupts my observations. It sounds shrill through the entrance area. I cringe. It sounds somewhat feminine and comes from the freely accessible area of the house. The building fascinates me, but I must not forget that the family is in danger.
I hurry into the next room, which is a kitchen. A dining table adorns the center. On the sides, there are cupboards, which fill the void with dishes and other kitchen utensils. Once again, I am fascinated by the design. When the family is saved, I need to come back and take a closer look.
The next room is a storage room. Did the scream come from here? Several shelves with a wide variety of food products adorn the, otherwise, empty area. The room is marginally visible through my light.
I shout into the darkness, “Hello? Is anyone there? I am here to help!”
After a brief silence, a female voice is calling, “It's too late! We can no longer escape. They have already surrounded us.”
“Who is here? Where are you?” I reply. “If you move into the light, I will take you out of here.”
For a moment, there is silence again. Then, a sobbing sound from one of the rear shelves, and finally, a head emerges out of the shadow. It is a middle-aged woman with bright, unkempt hair. She looks bad with fright, but I can identify her as Mrs. Barhain. The skin spot was just a water stain.
“Who, who are you?” she asks, puzzled. “You have a sword. Can you fight? You must help us!”
I reply, “My name is Noel. I am –”
For a brief moment, I stop. Who am I right now? Am I a fighter? A hero? Why is everyone telling me this? I do not understand.
“I'm here to save your family, Mrs. Barhain,” I add.
“My, my family?” she stammers. 
She stumbles in my direction and collapses just before me. I catch her at the last moment and press her gently to me. Hopefully, my armor is not too uncomfortable.
She sobs again and continues with a steadier voice, “Then I beg you! Save my children! Save my husband! They are buried on the upper floors! It is only a matter of time before they chase them.”
I ask her, “From whom are they being hunted?”
“You don't know?” she replies, stunned. “The Alpakals, the harbingers of doom. They came to hunt us all down.”
“Alpakal? What is that?” I continue my questioning.
She looks puzzled and says, “You are not from here, are you? Alpakals are servants of demons! Evil creatures of the night!”
She continues her explanation, but I do not understand all of her terms. What should these beings be? Animals? 
Another noise disturbs the silence, and the earth begins to shake. It sounds like stones are breaking and falling. Mrs. Barhain winces a lot in my arms. I stay calm this time and turn toward the kitchen, but there is nothing to be seen.
“They are here! I can feel them feeding on my fear. I, I must not be afraid!” she tries to comfort herself.
Feeding on her fear? What kind of creatures are they? I never read something about demons. My mind is not afraid right now. Instead, it is dominated by confusion and open questions.
“Please! You must save them! I will wait here for you!” she requests.
She is right. I must save them! For a moment, I am thinking of Anna. She would have been on the upper floor long before me. I smile to myself and do not lose any more time.
“I will find your family,” I reassure Mrs. Barhain before I leave the chamber.
Back in the kitchen, I look around. Suddenly something happens! A shadow rushes through the entrance area! For a short moment, I see him. Where did he go? It was not a person's shadow. It was smaller, about waist-high, and has a resemblance to a wolf with its four legs, a head, and a tail.
I notice that my heart is beating faster. I need to calm down and keep a cool head.
As I am slowly moving back to the entrance, I pray to Stellux, “Oh, Stellux! I ask you to join me. I must free this family from these eerie creatures.”
A feeling of warmth flows through me. “I can do it! I am a hero!” I keep telling myself.
One of the buried areas has been cleared. An incredible force was necessary to move all these stones. This is not the work of an ordinary wolf. The path leads over several muddled stones up to the upper floor. Step by step I make my way to the next floor and hope that my weight will not bring down any more stones under me.
On the upper floor, the ground is made of wood. The boards are older, and cracks run through the hallway floor. I pause for a moment to listen. I notice a tapping on the floor. It is fast and comes from one of the other rooms. I am ready to fight, even if I don't know what to expect.

Westwald Story (English): Text


I examine the environment. The corridor is long, and the right side is buried. The house has collapsed in various places. From the outside, the damage couldn't be seen. It is just inside.
The tapping on the wooden floor comes from the left. A wall separates me from the threat. It sure is an Alpakal. With my sword raised, I walk slowly down the corridor with the utmost caution, but due to the armor I make some noise.
At the end of the hallway, the path splits. I choose the left path. The tension runs through my whole body, and the beating of my heart is louder than the tapping of the Alpakal. I hope that he does not notice me. Shining like a little candle does not look like an advantage to me right now. I am trying to come up with a way to turn off the light, but I don't know how. I think to myself, “Lights out!”, hoping that something happens, but I have no success. It stays bright. At least I can see the Alpakal because of it.
With a lifted blade, I walk around the corner. Another long corridor is in front of me and straight on the left I catch an open door. The tapping has stopped. I listen again to the silence and stand still. Suddenly, a shrill, loud tone fills the calm. It is booming in my head. Reflexively, I close my ears with my hands. I break out in sweat and my heart beats faster and faster. What is happening? Where does this sudden panic come from? I kneel down pressing my hands harder on my ears. The sound ends. I take a deep breath and try to calm myself down.
Suddenly, a man from the adjoining room sobs and moans, “No! Please, don't! No!”
I am trying to regain control of my body. With all my courage, I enter the room quickly. There is the Alpakal! I can see him! He is in front of the stranger with all four legs, a stretched body, and the weight on his rear.
With a neck of unusual length, he is focusing on his prey. The outline of the head is like that of a wolf, with one crucial difference, it has no fur but shredded skin flaps. They are everywhere on his body. At the rear, there are long tentacles, and he is encased by a purple flame.
The stranger is terribly frightened and whimpers. At first glance, I can identify him as Mrs. Barhain's spouse. The Alpakal is so focused that he does not notice my presence. His skin shimmers and he makes strange noises.
Purple wave-like clouds appear on Mr. Barhain's body. The Alpakal gradually absorbs them. With each absorption, its flames ignite more and more. Mr. Barhain suffers and writhes in pain. I am fascinated by the event. No! I must intervene! Mr. Barhain is in danger! I need to remind myself.
With an impulse of bravery, I step forward to the Alpakal and hit the beast's neck with my sword. The head sinks to the floor and the beast's flame goes out. The rest of the body twitches convulsively and steps back and forth until it is falling to the ground. Is it dead? It was easier than expected. I take a quick breath of air while Mr. Barhain seems to recover.
When I speak to him about what has happened, I notice something snaking up my feet. I look down at myself and make eye contact with the red eyes of the Alpakal's head. Impossible! Suddenly, an elongated tongue winds around my neck. Panicked, I grab the head while dropping the sword. It is slippery and damp, which makes it difficult to hold.
In the time I am trying to come up with a plan, his tongue wraps around my neck several times. With an open mouth and sharp white teeth, the head tries to reach my throat. With all my strength I am trying to push the mouth away from me, but the noose around my neck tightens. My heart is pounding. What should I do now?
I am clawing my way into the skin of the head. With a desperate scream, I try to push the head higher. The pain is rising. Meanwhile, the neck remnants of the Alpakal twitch back and forth.
I bend forward and try desperately to reach his tongue with my mouth. A few centimeters are missing. I pull it a little bit toward me with my own tongue and bite with all my strength. It feels like I am chewing on one of father's belts.
In the nick of time, I manage to cut the noose and throw the vile head to the ground with force. He suddenly comes back in my direction. At the same time, Mr. Barhain rams a dagger directly into his temples with a powerful blow. The Alpakal no longer moves.
The danger is banished, and I fall to my knees exhausted. What kind of place is this? What are these terrible beings?
“Thank you. You saved my life,” I reply, removing the rest of the tongue from my throat.
“I wanted to ambush him,” Mr. Barhain explains, “but I underestimated that scream. I could not move. I was panic-stricken. He started sucking me out. I felt it. He was in me! If you had not intervened, it would have been my end. In fact, you saved my life first.”
Mr. Barhain smiles and reaches out his hand to help me up again.
“We must not waste any more time! There are more Alpakals here and my sons are still somewhere on this corridor!” he adds. “We should split up! I take the right area. Do not forget that you always have to hit these beasts in the head if you want to eliminate them!”
“All right!” I reply, preparing myself to continue the search of the left corridor. I have a lot of questions about this place and the Alpakals. But there is currently no time for that. Mr. Barhain has already rushed into the darkness with his dagger. I comb the corridor. There is another room on the right a few steps ahead of me. I sneak briefly to the edge and get inside. There is no one to be seen. A bed and some cupboards fill the area. Then there is a clatter. It comes from the corridor. Again, I catch up a quick tapping across the wooden floor. I turn around quickly and leave the room.
At the same moment, another Alpakal is jumping at me from the left side of the darkness. He chucks me on the ground and tries to attack with his neck outstretched and his mouth open. I hold my sword horizontally over me. His neck is too short. He does not reach me. However, the danger has not been eliminated. The neck lengthens. How is this possible? I rip my sword through his neck before it is too late. He is beheaded. I am rolling to the side and jump up. Swiftly, I hunt the wooden floor for the head.
Where is he? Where is he? There! Right in front of me! I have him! He rushes across the ground quickly. He gets closer and closer and stares at me with his red eyes. Before he reaches me, I ram the sword deep into his skull, right down into the wood. Sweat-bathed, I hold the handle tightly. I brace myself. Is it over? It is hard to imagine what would happen if two of these things came up to me at the same time.
I feel a slight pain in my right hip. The claws of the Alpakal have drilled deep between the armor when we were falling.
I am resting a moment. But the calm is not permanent. Suddenly, a boy screams from the back corridor, “Back off! Leave me alone, you monster!”
I press my foot on the head of the Alpakal and remove the sword. Afterward, I rush to a large living area with a staircase. It leads to a higher floor. Upstairs is a boy. He throws one object after another at the Alpakal to interrupt his advance. The neck of this Alpakal is much shorter. I assume that they can increase and decrease the size of their necks. I sneak to my next victim, but this shrill tone resounds. No, not again! Quickly, I hold my ears, get down on my knees, and breathe in and out to remain calm.
The boy screams, also sinking to the ground. I try to suppress any panic in my body. My muscles cramp. And the Alpakal makes its way to its prey on the upper floor.
I grab an object, which came from above and toss it at him with all my power. A stroke of luck! I hit the Alpakal on the head and he collapses instantly, causing him to fall down the stairs. Despite the hard blow, he stands up again and stares at me with his red eyes. His neck is slowly lengthening. He twists it and his head rotates several times around its axis. With a hiss, he flutters his tongue out. These things are disgusting.
I take advantage of the situation and get up with all my strength. Swinging my sword, I advance toward him, and miss! The Alpakal is evaded. A second attempt also fails. He is fast. With every stroke, he tries to snap at me. I take a step back. The length of his neck seems to have a limit. Therefore, he approaches with his whole body.
I stop my attacks and move on to defense. The Alpakal draws in his neck and dares to jump. He comes toward me with extended claws and I move to the left. My back collides with a closet. Before he reaches the ground, he snaps at me with his neck stretched out. A few millimeters were missing, otherwise, he would have killed me. I take advantage when he keeps his head still and push the point of my sword into the roof of his mouth from below. He sinks to the ground with a high-pitched shriek. Exhausted, I detach myself from the closet and examine the Alpakal's body. He is dead!
I move past him to the stairs. My eyes move briefly back to the corridor to preempt new dangers. I cannot defeat another Alpakal. I lost too much power. I walk up the stairs and look at the objects that the boy has thrown at the Alpakal. There are various tools, books, and a bust of stones among them. I remember that Valan Brenshar has such a bust, with his own likeness. On one of the books, I recognize a title, “Galvanna – more than a vision.”
Arriving at the top, I search for the boy. He sits with his arms entangled, frightened in a corner. The Alpakal's scream hit him hard. I approach him and fall to my knees.
“Hey, boy. What is your name?” I ask him kindly and with a smile on my face.
He raises his head, looks at me in tears, and replies, “Go away! I am alone. I am alone forever!”
“I have to disagree with you, little man,” I reply, gently grabbing him on the shoulder. “I am here and am impressed with your bravery.”
With his different colored eyes, he looks at me and says, “My name is Vared Barhain. It is so dark everywhere. I cannot find my brother and my parents. They are probably already dead!”
“Even in the darkest hour, there is light if you passionately believe in it, little man,” I encourage him. “I have already found your parents. When I left them, they were fine. We should go to them.”
I reach out to Vared to help him up. Slowly and exhausted, we walk down the stairs. I listen carefully into the darkness to be forearmed for new dangers. 
In the corridor, we pass the motionless Alpakal. I put my hand on my wound. The pain is intense but bearable. 
At the end of the corridor, we can see the shape of a small person in the distance. It must be Vared's brother and therefore the last missing person in the Barhain family. We move toward him. As he becomes visible through my light, I take a closer look at him. His face looks as emotionless as on the picture. He carries a small knife in his left hand. It is full of blood, which is slowly dripping onto the wooden floor.
“Silas, you're alive!” Vared shouts, running toward him. “Where are mother and father? What happened?”
“They are already downstairs. I said I would get you,” he replies bland.
The boy shall get us? Alone? That is unusual. What if an Alpakal finds him?
“Your father leaves you alone even though these things are running around here?” I ask, amazed.
“They cannot hurt me because they cannot feel me. I am not afraid,” he replies, still emotionless.
“My brother, Silas, feels nothing. Neither pain, fear, nor positive feelings. He had this illness since he was born, you know?” Vared adds.
He does not feel anything? How awful! But it makes sense that he might appear safe in this situation. The Alpakals are attracted by fear. A person who has no feelings is invisible to them. 
“I stabbed three or four of them. They were in the corridor,” he says, pointing behind him while waving his knife.
The boy is scary. When I think about the trouble I had with these beings, we should better leave the place as soon as possible and catch up with their parents. I ask the two boys to follow me and we meet Mr. and Mrs. Barhain in front of the house. Relieved, both run to their children and hug them. I look around. It is bright again. But except for blurred white, there is nothing to see in the distance.
“We are very grateful for your courage and bravery, young man,” Mr. Barhain says. “What is your name?”
“His name is Leon, darling,” his wife replies before I can speak.
“No, not Leon,” I correct her. “My name is Noel, Noel Forstschlag.”
Suddenly, everything is bright and the field of view fades away. I can only hear my own words, a sustained noise, “My name is Noel, Noel Forstschlag.”

Westwald Story (English): Text


“Noel, Noel Forstschlag!” a familiar voice says.
I stretch myself, slowly opening my eyes and see my mother. She looks at me in panic.
“Mother!” I reply with a sleepy voice.
“Noel! You are finally awake,” she replies with relief. “You must not frighten me! You are covered in sweat. Did you have a nightmare?”
Sweat? I look around in my bed. Mother is right. The whole bed and my clothes are wet. A nightmare? I try to remember the dream. Nothing. Someone called for me, again and again. That was probably mother. Crap! What did I dream of?
“Unfortunately, I cannot remember,” I reply, leaving the bed to get dressed.
Once I remembered a dream well. Stellux appeared to me. He spoke to me! That was a year ago. At the time, he asked what I wanted most. Of course, I replied that I long for the world outside the forest. He asked me what I would offer in return. My answer was reckless. I said that I would give him my right arm.
I should be careful with such statements. At that time, Stellux taught me that goals and aspirations must be in harmony with oneself. They must not take you over. Otherwise, the darkness will haunt you and perish your soul. Since then, I have kept remembering these words. I must not achieve my goal at my own or someone else's expense.
Of course, my father and mother will be sad when I leave the village. But I will return and relate all my adventures. I am sure they will be pleased – at least my mother. Although at first, father would give a lengthy homily saying that I should be lucky not to have died in all the dangers out there. There is no doubt about that.
Adults withhold a lot of things from us and I have no idea why. There is a lot of stuff that we use, which is not from our village. I would love to be with Anna in the mountains, which we always see from the village glade. When we get up there, we will certainly see the whole world!
“Your father would like to take you with him on his transport today,” my mother explains to me when I got dressed. “Tonight is the big village festival. He has promised Valan that he will get some goods from Istal in advance. Then we can better prepare the festival before the residents from the other two villages will join us in the evening.”
I look at my mother in dismay and curse, “A transport to Istal? This is more than double the distance to the lumberjack camp! We will be certainly not back before the afternoon.”
Annoyed, I throw my clothes onto the bed.
“You are sixteen years old now, Noel. The work does not rest on any day. Everyone in the village is doing their part to ensure that we all lack nothing. You did not plan anything else today anyway, did you?”
“No, you are right, mother. I will help him,” I answer her, giving in.
I do not tell her about my plans. Of course, I have planned something else. Torwald is stuck in the dungeon and Anna is already been plotting a rescue mission. The best way to do this is to follow my parents' wishes and then try to reach Anna to rescue Torwald. If I now oppose my parents, it will mean that I become imprisoned. After all that happened yesterday, my father is still angry with me.
Together we move into the kitchen. Father is already waiting for me in his work outfit and looks at me with shining eyes.
“Are you ready, my son?” he asks in a motivating voice. “It is a nice, sunny morning and we have an important transport to carry out for the village community.”
It is clearly visible, that he is suppressing the anger from last night. I suspect that mother spoke to him yesterday. She has a good grip on him. For father, harmony in the family is important, even if it does not look like it at times.
“Today we are going to take the cart!” I urge father. “Otherwise we won't be back until tomorrow on condition that I don't collapse somewhere along the way.”
He bursts out laughing and says, “All right, my son. It would be too much to carry anyway. We also need to deliver a load of wood and some tools from Norbert to Istal. Then we save ourselves another trip and kill two birds with one stone. That is real efficiency, my son.”
I nod silently and prepare to leave.
Mother calls me again, “Noel, my dear, can you please bring this letter to Mrs. Weizenacker? She asked for the recipe for my vegetable soup. Please give her my best, okay?”
“Of course, mother,” I agree to her assignment.
The Weizenacker family is the most famous family in Istal. They have a huge farm and grow a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and wheat. The Weizenacker's supply the entire village community with food, just as we provide wood for all of them. Everyone has their own task in the village. That's what my mother told me when I grew up.
I go to the warehouse next to our house with my father and we load the necessary wood onto the transport cart until it is full to the brim.
“That should be enough,” signals my father. “We still have to wait for the tools. Norbert should be here in a minute.”
“More than that won't fit in anymore,” I say.
Father smiles and says, “The tools are just a sack. They will still fit in!”
As I examine father's optimism more closely on the cart, a voice sounds, “A bag of fresh tools, just as ordered.”
It is Anna! I turn around and face her smile. Behind her is Hannelore, her faithful companion. Today Anna is wearing a plain, bright green dress. She walks to the cart and throws the sack in. It fit, indeed.
“Here you go, gentlemen,” she says while taking a bow. “To make sure that the tools arrive at their destination, I will accompany you, of course.”
“This is completely out of the question!” father prohibits with a matching hand sign. “Transport work is something for men. You are not dressed properly enough to leave the village. Even less when this fowl is coming with us!”
“Oh, Mr. Forstschlag,” she counters, raising her index finger with a smile next to her head. “Special order from Mr. Brenshar himself. He asked me to get a beautiful bouquet of flowers from Istal for him so that we can commemorate the deceased at today's village festival. If that is a problem, you should discuss it with him.”
She pauses her speech for a short moment, tilts her head to the side, and asks father, “Is it a problem?”
Father doesn't like to be defeated. But Anna has come up with exactly the right argument that father cannot refuse: a request from Valan Brenshar himself.
“No! Of course, it's fine,” he chuckles.
Did she plan all of this? She must have planned it! After all, it is Anna Funkenblitz. I cannot resist a broad grin.
“Well then, what are we waiting for? Go! Go!” she animates us, clapping her hands several times over her head.
As our eyes cross, she waves happily at me. My father secures the goods with ropes and moves to the front handle of the cart. 
“I will take the left and you can take the right side, my son,” he says to me. I follow his request and the transport begins.

Westwald Story (English): Text


The path to Istal is right next to the lumberjack path. We call it the community path. It connects not only Valan and Istal, but also Sunas and thus the entire village community.
Istal is located just south of Valan and again to the south of it is Sunas. All villages are linked through a two-hour walk. Well, I anticipate that we will need three hours with the cart. After all, it is filled with wood and can only be pushed very cumbersomely.
Thankfully, Anna is here. It is a welcome change from my father's homily. At a convenient moment, we can also talk about Torwald. Certainly, she has already forged out a plan.
After the first difficult steps on the community path, I am looking over at Anna. She walks next to us and swings around with her arms. Hannelore is right behind her. She is picking treats from the forest path.
“Be careful, there are some small sinkholes,” my father says. He points with his hand, a few steps in front of us, on the ground. “There are many of them along the way. We should avoid them. Otherwise, there is a high risk that the cart will be damaged.”
“All right,” I reply.
“Wait a minute,” Anna interrupts. “The sinkholes look kind of unusual. Let me take a look.”
In an instant, she approaches the sinkhole and starts crouching. With her hand, she cleans the ground of small, loose undergrowth and similar small parts that would make the examination difficult for her.
“I think these are some kind of footprints. The shape would fit. It has to be a plantigrade,” she says.
“A plantigrade? What is that?” I ask her. 
Father and I share looks. She likes to use any terms from her books.
“Plantigrades are living beings that have their entire foot on the ground when moving. Like us, for example,” she explains, smiling over at us. “Wolves are a counterexample. They are digitigrades. This means that the movement only takes place via the fingers and toes so that other parts do not touch the ground. This leads to paw prints, for example.”
I am still wondering how she remembers all these things. My father is surprised too. When I look at him more closely, he even seems restless. 
He lets go of the cart handle, moves to the print, and speaks to Anna, “Are you sure? The sinkhole is large for an animal. Show it to me!”
My father kneels next to Anna.
“Indeed,” he confirms, examining the environment.
Off the road, he sifts another footprint through a fallen tree and gets down on his knees again.
“There's another one here,” he exclaims.
Anna hurries, closely followed by Hannelore, to the second one.
“What can this be? Did it also knock the tree over? It must have been huge. I mean, look at the footprints,” she adds, observing the wider forest ground. “See! Here is something else! A black powder.”
Anna picks it up and smells it. In the next moment, she coughs heavily.
“Yuck! There is a burnt smell. I think it is soot!” she says. “Strange! It does not look burned here. The plants and trees should have caught fire.”
“Not when mainly the air has burned,” my father responds.
“The air?” Anna asks, looking at my father in disbelief. “But air cannot burn, can it? That does not make any sense. It does not ignite during a campfire.”
“Not a campfire,” my father looks dreamily into the swath left by the foreign animal, “but an Ignaeria!”
Anna and I look at each other, wondering what he means.
“So, you know the animal? What is an Ignaeria, father?” I ask him.
“Huh?” he replies, astonished. After a moment of silence, he shakes his head. “No, I don't know. I was just thinking loudly. Forget what I said. We must move on! We still have a long way to go.”
He moves back to the cart and grabs the handle.
“Let us move on, my son.” He calls on me, making a gesture with his hand.
It is again typical for him to avoid the question.
Anna rushes to the front of the cart, raises her palm to signal a 'Stop!' and says, “You have to tell more now when you gossip like that! What is an Ignaeria? Is it an animal? Or is it a, a monster? Like the big sea monsters that live in the water?”
“Anna, please! We are in a hurry and have a job to do. I have already told you too much. I will discuss the incident with Valan and the others when we return. You don't have to worry,” he continues to get rid of Anna and gets the cart moving with a good jolt.
Anna moves to the side and lifts her index finger in the air to continue her thoughts, “If you do not tell me, I will just bother by myself.”
It is that time again. Anna is in her element. My father lets out a sigh.
“It seems to be a large being that burns the air. The 'how' is still unclear due to the stubbornness of adults. The 'where?' is also questionable. After all, we do not know where it is right now. Does it live in the forest? In due course, we could follow the tracks,” Anna ponders.
“You will not do that! Yesterday, you have already caused enough trouble with your eternal curiosity,” father grumbles. “It is not a game! The world out there is more dangerous than you think. You can classify the Ignaeria in the category 'extremely dangerous to fatal'!”
“Oh! So, it is a carnivore?” Anna says in amazement.
“Isn't the village in danger? We should alert everyone quickly and set up more guards!” I add with concern.
“Leave this matter to me, please. Do not worry! In the villages and the surrounding area, we have always been safe, and this will not change. Just focus on our transport task!” father tries to end the conversation.
It is foreseeable that father will not want to talk about it any further. A glance at Anna shows me that the Ignaeria preys on her mind. She seems absorbed in thought.
An Ignaeria. I am pondering, too. It is frightening that such a being is wandering through the forest at this very moment. Whether Torwald, as our hunter, knows this being? Can he protect us from it? He also protected us from the wolf-plague. But he was banished from Valan indefinitely to the dungeon. How is he supposed to help us when this Ignaeria invades our village? For me, this is just another reason to free him in a timely manner. Anna certainly sees it the same way!
No one speaks for a while. Dad enjoys the silence and Anna is lost in her thoughts. Again and again, she stops briefly and examines new plants at the side of the road. I would like to take a closer look at the different species with her as I did yesterday on the Valan path, but father would be upset if we stopped for it. He will never understand our tremendous interest in nature.
After a while, we finally grind to a halt and father says, “We're taking a short break. Anyone can take a swig and do a biobreak if necessary. We will not stop a second time before we arrive in Istal. It is not that far away anymore. Just an hour, then we will be there.”
Father fetches some bags with fresh water from his carrier bag and offers them to us. They are made of leather. I seize the break and take a swig. Pulling is exhausting. Well, still not as bad as yesterday when we strapped the wood to our back.
“I will quickly head to the forest to do a biobreak,” father adds. “You won't budge until then, will you? I rely on you, my son!”
I agree and he slowly disappears behind the bushes and trees in the forest.
“Your father can be really pesky!” Anna sighs, rolling her eyes. “How do you bear with him all day?”
“It did look like you had kept him in hand,” I praise her and start grinning. “I can still learn a lot from you!”
Anna giggles and says, “Well, I try my best. But he really is a stubborn person.”
“I hope we are through this soon! We must absolutely go to Torwald and get him out of the dungeon! We were so close to achieving our goal,” I say to her.
“Yes! Above all, it is very unusual that he was put in the dungeon!” she whispers, looking around to check if my father is coming back. “I overheard a conversation between Valan and my father yesterday. Allegedly, Torwald is a Galvanna spy! At least that is what Valan said.”
“A Galvanna spy?! What is that supposed to be?” I ask, astonished.
“Well, if only I knew,” she replies, smoothing back her beautiful red hair. “A spy is someone who secretly obtains information. I reread one of my books! But I could not find the term Galvanna anywhere.”
Galvanna. Deep down, this term seems familiar to me, but I cannot bring it to my mind.
“It might be a village?” I suggest. “Or it could have something to do with Nika, this dryad?”
“That's just what I was thinking,” she replies. “But it just does not add up in my head. We must confront Torwald with this. I already have a plan!”
Before she can tell me her plan, father is appearing in the nearby bushes.
“I will tell you later,” she whispers to me.
“Are you ready?” my father asks with a toothy grin as if he had just experienced something great, looking forward to pulling the cart. “Here we go! We are almost there!”
He packs the small bags back into his carrier bag and puts it on. He then grabs the cart handle again and invites me to pull.
Impressive that Anna has already concocted a plan. What could it be? There are many unanswered questions in my head. The experience with the dryad Nika, the far too high punishment for Torwald, and the fact that he is a Galvanna spy. What does this portend? Then there is this creature, the Ignaeria, who is walking around in the forest. Something tells me that all these things are interrelated. But how?

Westwald Story (English): Text


We have reached Istal. With a liberating swing, I drop the cart grasp and cheer, “Finally we are here!”
“Don't get too excited, my son!” father admonishes me. “The wood has to be unloaded and after a short break we need to recharge the materials for the village festival.”
“Have fun!” Anna interposes, giggling. “Hannelore and I will be collecting some flowers from the field for Valan.”
I look at her enviously and turn to the wood. It is already waiting for me to be unloaded. Little by little I carry it together with my father off the cart and place it on the delivery place of Istal. It is the collection point for the exchange of goods between the villages.
“Lars!” it sounds behind us. “Great to see you! And Noel is also here! Have you grown again? You are almost as tall as your old father.”
It is Wolfgang Weizenacker, the husband of Wilhelmine Weizenacker. This reminds me that I must not forget to give Wilhelmine my mother's recipe. I should pay her a visit when we have finished the unloading.
“Wolfgang!” father greets him with a strong handshake. “How is the harvest going? Is everything prepared for the festival?”
“The sacks of harvest are already there. There are also two full bags of bucklbread and fresh bucklmeat,” Wolfgang replies.
The bags are huge and crammed. My hopes for a more pleasant way back are gone in an instant.
The bucklbread and bucklmeat come from Sunas, the third village. The manufacturing is strange. Buckl are fat, human-sized, four-legged animals with a hump on their back, which are bred in the pasture. Their meat is very tasty, but the best part is the poop. I know that sounds yukky. But if you feed a full-grown buckl with wheat, nutrient-rich, odorless droppings come out, which are then baked into bread. Bucklbread is a delicacy in our villages! You quickly forget that it is made of their excrements. Anna could also explain why it is odorless in the end and what happens to the feces, but I was never interested in the details. The tasty bucklbread is the essential part, the rest doesn't matter!
“That was the last one, Noel!” my father announces, pointing to the empty cart. “You can take a rest now. Or do you want to come along? I will take the tools to the workshop with Wolfgang.”
“I need to take the recipe to Mrs. Weizenacker,” I explain to father.
“Oh, you are right, my son!” he replies. “I almost forgot about that. Then take care of that first.”
“My wife will surely be happy!” Wolfgang says. “Wilhelmine is in the fields with Willy and Winfried.”
Willy and Winfried - two very annoying brats - are the children of the Weizenacker family. They are seven and nine years old and are always struggling and squabbling.
I thank Wolfgang and hurry to the fields.
After a short hike, I reach my destination in the west. The fields extend over an area as large as the village itself. Behind them is a steep abyss. You have a panoramic view from there.
In the distance, I can already see Mrs. Weizenacker in one of the fields. Anna is also there, but further to the south on the flower meadow. She is seeking beautiful flowers for the graves of the deceased.
With quick steps, I move toward Wilhelmine.
From a distance, I can already hear her cursing, “Willy! Winfried! Stop fighting with the zucchini! We still want to eat them!”
The children are running through the field with loud roars of battle as if they were armed with freshly forged swords from Norbert.
“Hello, Mrs. Weizenacker! How are you?” I ask her politely.
“Oh, Noel!” she replies with surprise and turns to me. “So you're here too. I met Anna just a few minutes ago.”
“A robber! A robber!” Willy and Winfried shout as they come running toward me, still armed with their zucchinis.
While I block the not particularly painful attacks with my right hand, I continue the conversation with Mrs. Weizenacker, “I came to give you the vegetable soup recipe from my mother. Please! Here you go!”
I hand her the folded paper and she happily accepts it.
“That is wonderful! Thank you, Noel!” she replies. “Look, boys, now we can make even superior things out of the zucchinis! So – damn it, put them in the basket!”
Her mood changes rapidly. Willy and Winfried follow their mother's request without protest. She keeps them in hand.
“Sorry for the behavior of my boys. They just don't know how to behave,” Wilhelmine continues. “Anna is in the flower meadow in case you want to see her. She seemed downcast and lost in thought when I was talking to her. Maybe you can cheer her up a little?”
Anna is depressed? I look over at the field of flowers. Anna kneels on the ground in front of some purple flower together with Hannelore. Is she crying?
“I'll look in on her,” I answer Wilhelmine, and leave.
I have not seen Anna in tears for a long time. Where does the sudden sadness come from? Wasn't she in an incredibly good mood when she left father and me? Maybe Wilhelmine is wrong. After all, it is hard to see from a distance. But what do I do if she was right? I used to hug her at moments like this when we were younger. However, she has recently become more and more reserved.
I decide to call her from a distance beforehand, so that she doesn't feel caught or surprised, “Anna! Have you found the right flowers yet?”
She cringes and brushes a tear away before she turns to me.
“What are you doing here?” she replies, appalled. “Are you afraid that your father will give you more work?”
“I had to take a recipe from my mother to Mrs. Weizenacker,” I explain, examining her face. At first glance, it seems normal. But looking at it more closely, I realize that her eyes are reddened.
“Are you okay? You look sad,” I go into it.
Astonished, she pauses briefly and looks again toward the purple flowers.
“You see everything, don't you?” she says, giggling. “A true explorer.”
She picks some flowers before she continues, “Yes, I was sad for a moment. I used to be in this field with my mother. She showed me all the different flowers and explained them to me. Only this one she could not elucidate.” Anna pointed to the purple flower. “Mother did not even know their name. There are no writings of them in our books. She told me that she received those flower seeds from a friend. She broadcasted the seeds here on this meadow. These flowers are the most beautiful she has ever seen in this world. She often put one of the flowers in my hair and said, 'One day, when you are grown up, you will be as beautiful as this flower.' Whenever I am back here, I miss her very much. It is like she's back with me, you know? I would give my right arm if she could put one of these flowers in my hair just one more time.”
A few tears roll down her cheeks. I get down on the ground and pick a flower.
She turns to me and asks, “What are you doing?”
While she looks at me with her tearful cheeks, I stick the flower in her shiny red hair. “I am not your mother,” I answer her, “but she was right. You deserve the flower.”
I smile at Anna and my heart starts beating incredibly fast. She really is the most beautiful person in this world. For a moment there is absolute silence and we just look at each other. It is like time stands still.
“Well, I…” Anna breaks the calm and looks to the side. She is blushing. “Thank you.”
She adds the flowers in her hand to the bouquet.
“I will call them Luisinen! What do you think?” she asks, wiping the last tears from her face.
“I think that is a wonderful idea. I am certain that your mother is happy about it right now,” I reply, staring into the clear, cloudless sky.
Anna is smiling. She also looks up to the sky and adds, “I hope so. I hope so.”
The silence returns. I would like to take her by the hand. Tell her what she means to me - but I cannot. First, I must be sure that she feels the same way. Otherwise, I would unnecessarily endanger our friendship.
“Oh no!” Anna shouts, looking at one of the Luisine's. “There's a little slimy Venuxir in the bed. He will destroy the flowers. We need to catch him quickly.”
Anna approaches the worm-like animal. It is sitting on one of the flowers.
“A Venuxir?” I ask. “Why would he destroy the flowers? Does the worm eat them?”
Anna sighs loudly and says annoyed, “Noel, you have to read more. Forest Insects Volume 1, page 43 'The double-edged worm Venuxir. No worm is as dangerous and at the same time useful for the plant kingdom as he is. As he moves with worm-typical ring and longitudinal muscles, he excretes a warm, gaseous substance to protect his body from overheating. The substance then, due to the lower outside temperature, passes into a firmer, solid-like state. This so-called Venux-secretion is highly toxic to the plant world and can likely lead to the death of the plant.' Got it?”
“Oh, that sounds horrible,” I say in amazement. “But why should the worm be useful for the plants if his secretion is highly toxic?”
“Think about it, Noel. If you collect the Venux-secretion, you can use it to fight unwanted weeds, and the plants you want to grow have more opportunities to evolve freely,” explains Anna, pulling out a glass-shaped container from her bag. “Let us catch the Venuxir! We can use it to remove the weeds from the graves in the village. By the time we are at home, he will certainly have created a lot of Venux-secretion.”
She reaches for the worm, which is already pulling a trail of mucus behind it and packs it into the container. The next moment, the purple glowing Luisine collapses and turns piceous.
“Oh! The flower is already dead!” I say, surprised, as I write down the discovery in my diary. The Venuxir. An impressive insect, which has a major impact on the flora.
Anna grabs the bouquet she has collected. She looks happier again. For a moment, we have eye contact. The flower in her hair is beautiful. Well, snap out of it, Noel! These feelings are inappropriate now.
“Anna! Noel!” a voice echoes from the village.
It is father. He waves to us and calls out, “Are you ready? We want to move on! We still have a lot to do today.”
Anna replies, “We are coming, Mr. Forstschlag!”
She asks me to follow her. One last time I look out over the horizon and enjoy the view of the sea. We leave the flower bed together with Hannelore. I am not looking forward to transporting the cart back to Valan.
“When we are back,” I say to Anna, “will we take care of Torwald?”
“Of course!” she replies with a smile. “After all, we want to see the end of the forest, don't we?”
“Yes, of course! But I am afraid my father won't let me out so easily. I am supposed to prepare the village festival with him,” I reply.
“And that is exactly our chance!” Anna explains. “Everyone will be distracted. I already have an idea of how I can convince your father. Let that be my concern. Now it is time to head back. I hope you are fit enough to pull the cart?”
The spitefulness in her question is unmistakable.
“Ha, ha, ha,” I react frustrated. “I am afraid, that it will be even heavier than on the way before.”
If we manage to free Torwald, he will finally lead us out of the forest. In the end, we will see what the adults are hiding from us. I feel my excitement increasing with every thought. Today is the day I have always been waiting for!

Westwald Story (English): Text


It is already afternoon when we return from Istal. And I was right. The way back was more exhausting. All the way father talked about his preparations and taught me various village rules, while I had trouble keeping the cart in motion.
Anna and Hannelore escorted us singing. It sounded very harmonious and drowned out father's lessons.
Now I am putting the goods in the storage room of the inn.
“These were the last, my son,” father says. “We have done an excellent job for the village community.”
“My prayers were finally answered,” I reply relieved.
“Don't make such a fuss! It was not that exhausting. I already have a few other things in mind for you. We must set up the furniture for the village festival. Afterward, we can help in the inn until the celebration begins. After all, it won't be long before the other villages will arrive,” father points out.
“Stop, stop, stop!” Anna interrupts. “I am afraid I have to contradict you! I need Noel for the time before the village festival. The bouquet for my mother and the other deceased is not ready yet. The associated materials are on the edge of the village. You do not want to let me check them alone, right? With all the wolves and Ignaeria these days?”
“You want Noel to play your protector? How exactly is he supposed to do that?” father asks spitefully.
“Oh. Isn't he the right man for the job?” Anna asks. “I am surprised. I thought he would be the best. After all, he is a true Fortschlag, isn't he? Who would be better suited for this than a Forstschlag?”
Anna is fascinating me. That is another point for her.
Father harrumphs, looks at me for a moment, and says, “Of course he is! After all, he is my son!”
He comes up to me and pulls a knife and holder from his belt. “Here, my son! Take this knife just in case. Norbert only sharpened it for me yesterday. So please be careful and think of everything I have taught you.”
“Um, ok,” I confirm in surprise and tie the holder along with the knife to my belt.
“And I beg you! Do not go into the forest or do any other nonsense!” he adds. “I want to see you in time for the festival in the village square! Understood?”
“Of course, Mr. Forstschlag! We would never do anything like that!” Anna confirms. “Yesterday was an exception.”
She rolls her eyes, raises her eyebrows, and smiles over at me.
“I am really serious about this!” father adds.
I am glad that Anna did the talking. Considering what we are planning to do, I would not have been able to lie to father without any problems. I still have a bad conscience about yesterday's lie.
A moment later Anna, Hannelore, and I leave.
“You see,” Anna winks at me and says once father can no longer see and hear us, “it was not a problem at all.”
“Do these ideas always come to you spontaneously or are you planning them?” I ask, astonished.
She shrugs her shoulders and replies, “Well, how do I put this? I am sorry to say this, but your father isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer.”
I cannot help but laugh. She is right. Even I do not reckon that my father will eventually replace Valan as the ringleader. He gets angry too easily, which is not a good trait for a leader. But he has other good qualities such as his extraordinary strength.
“How do we do it?” I ask Anna. “Do you think Valan himself has the key to the dungeon?”
“I'm afraid so!” Anna replies, somewhat worried. “He may be old, but he's not nearly as easy to outsmart as your father. We should confront Torwald first. I want to know what's up with the Galvanna spy!”
“Do you think we can get into the dungeon without difficulties? What if Valan has positioned a guard?” I put in thoughtfully.
“I think that's unlikely. They must all prepare for a festival. After all, everything has to be ready in a few hours when the residents of Istal and Sunas arrive. They cannot spare a man,” Anna explains. “Let me put the flowers in front of the stones.”
We pass a small stone construction on the way to the church. Anna deposits the flowers there, protected from the wind, for later. Not much later we reach our destination.
“The entrance is at the side of the church. Father went down there with me from time to time. We cleaned the bars and other metallic objects from rust and dirt,” Anna explains. “I think it's the first time this dungeon has ever been in use.”
I add, “I've never been down there. Honestly, I have suppressed the fact that such a facility exists in our village.”
“Yes, it is unusual anyway that our people built something like this. I was always positive that there are more people outside the forest. I just don't understand why adults make such a secret about it. We absolutely must liberate Torwald and finally get out of this forest. I want to see it with my own eyes,” Anna says with determination.
I agree with her with wordless signals and we enter the stairs at the side entrance that leads down to the dungeon. The excitement is rising. How will Torwald react when he sees us? What if he is guarded? Maybe Torwald has already fled? And how do we release him without the key?
The dungeon consists of an underground corridor. Burning torches adorn the walls. It smells of tar and burnt stuff.
I cough and curse, “It stinks horrible and I can hardly breathe. How dare they lock up Torwald in here? That's not right!”
“Wood tar and carbon dioxide,” Anna explains as she raises her hand with her index finger outstretched. “The wood tar is needed for the torches, as you may know. The carbon dioxide is caused by incineration. There are air shafts on the side walls.”
Anna points to holes in the walls. A glimmer of sunlight shines through.
“Without these air ducts, no one could survive down here. As far as I know, when carbon is burned without oxygen, very toxic carbon monoxide is produced,” she continues.
“Well, two questions about that,” I reply to her lesson. “Is there anything that isn't in your books? And who, oh Stellux, wrote down all these things? I do not know of anyone in the village who is capable of this. The books were not written in our village, were they?”
“I agree! Ms. Hammelblatt always said that the books store the traditions of our ancestors. But some information seems more advanced than the village itself. Just like with the technology of the water storage in our houses,” she explains. “One thing is not in my books by the way – Galvanna! What is or are Galvanna?”
“Your curiosity is persistent,” comes a sound from a corner of the corridor. It is, without doubt, Torwald. “If you release me, maybe I'll tell you what Galvanna is all about.”
Anna and I approach Torwald, who is lying weak in a corner of his cell. Next to him is a container of water and a filthy, half-eaten meal.
“How about you tell us now? After all, you won't be able to get out of here without our help,” Anna replies provocatively.
Torwald rises from the ground with all his strength and effort. He approaches the grid and says, “Well, ok ... but you must promise me that you will try everything to get me out of this dungeon afterward. All right?”
“If it's just that,” Anna makes a waving gesture and rolls her eyes. “That's why we're here anyway.”
“I trust you, children,” Torwald says, leaning against the wall with one hand. “Nika was hunted by people from Galvanna some time ago. They wanted to kill her for what she is ... a dryad. I found her gravely wounded in the forest. We fled, but they found us, and I was forced to do a trade. If I provide them with information about our village, they will leave Nika in peace. I had no choice, children. I did not understand why they wanted to know so many details about our village anyway. But Valan noticed it and –”
“Hold on! Just a second!” I interrupt Torwald's speech. “So it is true? There really are other people out there? Galvanna is – another village?”
Torwald sighs loudly and replies, “Roughly speaking, you can see it that way. But Galvanna is not like any of our three villages.”
“It's a more progressive village, isn't it? Do the weird things from our village come from there?”
Torwald nods weakened. He is using all his last reserves for talking to us.
“Children, it's important that I come out of the dungeon urgently. I'm afraid I made a mistake and the whole village may be in danger. You must go to Nika immediately. She will know what to do. Please!”
“The village is in danger? But why?” I reply concerned. “And by whom? People from Galvanna?”
Before Torwald can respond to my question, we hear voices from the stairs.
“Hide and then get out of here!” Torwald warns us. “Find Nika! She is at the Dagar-Cave with the wolves! She is the only one who can do something fast enough.”
Anna and I nod and hide near the entrance. We crouch behind a bowl full of wood tar, which is used to light the torches. Hannelore follows us purposefully to avoid the strangers.
Two adults from our village step into the corridor. One of them says, “Torwald. What is the traitor life like? I have good news for you. Valan has permitted me to look personally after your little dryad friend tomorrow. It will be my pleasure to trim her a little.”
A dark laugh follows. The next moment Anna is patting me on the shoulder. She has Hannelore in her arms. She signals a “now“ and leads the way. I try to catch up. We sneak upstairs step by step.
Done! We are out.
“Oh Stellux, why have we been getting into such precarious situations lately?” I ask, out of breath.
“If you want to achieve a lot, you have to risk a lot,” Anna replies. “Also a quote from my books.”
“I sort of expected it,” I add, laughing.
She grins, falling on the grass with Hannelore, and says, “Galvanna! So it's true! There are people outside the village community. And on top of that, they are more progressive than we are! I have to get to know them and learn from them.”
“Um, you are aware of what Torwald just said about Galvanna?” I ask critically. “They are dangerous! A danger to our village!”
“Well, I know! But I don't understand why. Why are they excluded from our community, unlike Sunas and Istal? Why do they want information about us? This is crazy. Each answer raises more questions. Damn!” Anna curses “We have to hurry to Nika and the wolves! And all this before the village festival!”
“That's true,” I welcome her plan. “What are we waiting for?”
Anna, me, and the faithful Azurosa female walk back to the Valan path. It is time for a reunion with the dryad Nika and the wolves.

Westwald Story (English): Text


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