How the Joachimsthal woodskeeper found himself before the Wolf Court
In the Ore Mountains, there are places where time refuses to be held by the ticking clocks and space respects no bounds. Sometimes, you pass from one valley to another in the blink of an eye, unaware of how you got there. And at times, you ascend hillsides, through forests and meadows, ever higher and higher, until, exhausted by day's end, you can barely make out the peaks on the horizon.
One early morning, the secretary of the Přebuz cooperative set out towards the Devil's Hill, following the stream's course, heading to a meeting in Rotava. Just then, a dense fog descended upon him, right past the last cottage of Krásná Lípa, so thick that no matter which way he ventured, his feet led him unfailingly to Tajch, almost soaking his shoes. It wasn't until he circled around the Stone Mushroom four times and, one by one, implored each of the spirits, that he was released from his bewilderment, and emerged from the white blankness. All the way in Nejdek, though, where only a public anti-alcohol lecture was taking place there and organizers refused to let him in.
In the Ore Mountains, there are also places where time would rather not be held and space would prefer to skirt the bounds, but they must obey. The Lord of the mountains, by his powers, opens gates and guarantees safe passage to the initiated beings under his law. For those who know where to step, they can, at justthe right time, enter the Valley among real valleys and, within a few moments, shorten their journey from Javorník to Výsluní, or from Velký Špičák to Smolné Pece. Or even from Hell's Rock all the way to the Saxon Schneeberg.
The woodskeeper of Joachimsthal was particularly fond of that gate, for from there, Zwickau was within a stone's throw. By virtue of his office, he had the right to requisition. First, he was making the jump to oversee that the finer logs from the estate holdings were being properly loaded onto the wagons, and on the side, he sought out cheap seedlings to patch up the gaps in the planting records. Later he added swindels with free-fallen timber sales, and finally, he started conspiring with the dealer Thum, bringing him in his briefcase jewlery and watches pilfered from mountain cottages in the surrounding districts. With these ill-gotten gains, he fueled his gambling passion and all the operators of slot machines, from Vejprty to Ostrov.
As the mounting cases compelled the High Forester to declare vigilance, patrols around the cottages intensified, and every woods worker was under instructions from above to keep a watchful eye on the trails. Under such conditions, our woodskeeper, armed with a shotgun and a stocking pulled over his face, first made rounds by several isolated petrol stations. However, when he encountered the supervisor at the Nová Role station, who, along with his work gang, had stopped by for a few bottles to properly commemorate his fiftieth, he barely escaped the rowdy men with his skin intact. It was only the birdshot in the legs of the boldest that allowed him to flee into the woods. Ever since, he feared robbing in places where someone unexpected might suddenly intervene.
His area of action thus shrank significantly, in contrast to his passion for gambling. The Christmas bonuses for goosed-up surpluses scarcely appeased his most ravenous creditors. When times were at their worst, he remembered the widow of his predecessor, who lived in the cottage 'Na Valech,' not far from the forestry office. The woodskeeper occasionally stopped by for a cup of coffee and some gossip on his way home and knew that she kept her ancient collection of jewelry in an ornate wooden box, carefully locked in her writing desk. And so, he began to hatch a dark plan.
On that fateful day, when a crisp frost blanketed the damp January snow, he set out for a friendly visit to her. He sat, conversed, had a sip, expressed his thanks, and seemingly headed home. As a parting gift to her graying dog Hasan, he discreetly left four slices of poisoned baloney. After leaving a clear trail of footprints in the snow from the cottage to his own home, he grabbed his shotgun, pulled a stocking over his face, and set off through yards, fences, and narrow alleys back towards his prey.
The widow, without a second thought, opened the door at the knock, thinking the visitor had simply forgotten something. However, the menacing shadow thrust her inside with the butt of the weapon, and callously dragged her to the attic of the cottage, where he left her bound, with a tight gag in her mouth. Downstairs, the perpetrator could then work methodically and undisturbed. From a hiding spot among the old porcelain, he deftly retrieved a key, which he used to unlock the writing desk. He placed the wooden-inlaid box with the jewelry into his briefcase. Then, he scattered the contents appropriately and left the rest of the room appropriately disheveled, creating the impression of a random search. He then discreetly set off along the stretched road to Suchá, aiming to reach beneath Hell's Rock before the moonrise.
As the opportune moment neared, he stepped onto the meadow beneath the Rock and, guided by the radiant moon and the distant Klínovec tower, found the right direction from the Soft Spot. With his word of passage, he unlocked the path and strode into the Valley among real valleys, where the world lost its outlines in the soft white shadows piercing through veils of mist, reflecting back and forth from the snow and clouds. The woodskeeper pressed on towards the light, through drifts against the biting wind, further towards the light of the full moon, which served as his beacon.
However, just as he finished uttering his entry words, the old widow in the attic breathed her last, choked by the gag pulled too tight. In her final moments, her soul cried out against this injustice and called for a higher intervention.
And so, the woodskeeper arrived at the light. Amidst the chilling emptiness stood three white-glowing wolves of the Mountain Court, within whose jurisdiction he found himself on his journey. Cínovec bore the Book of Laws and presented the charges. Klínovec, responsible for the accused's defense, argued his case and sought the most favorable explanations for the matter. Měděnec weighed everything, including the perpetrator's confession and repentance, and delivered the judgment:
100 years of posthumous service as a bound spirit and an additional year for each further dishonest day.*
The woodskeeper, thoroughly frozen in body and soul, stumbled out the mist back on the outskirts of Joachimsthal. Without a word, he packed up his few remaining earthly possessions and vanished forever from the town, ahead of both creditors and human investigators. Some claim that for a while, he worked in the bark-beetle clearings of Šumava, while others heard of him from the Jeseník nurseries, where he was said to be tirelessly venturing into the woods in all weather to take care of the seedlings. One thing is certain: He hasn't been heard of since the last major windstorm.
However in recent years, around Horní Halže, Kovářská, and Přísečnice, especially when wet snow falls, people have begun to see the Pale Woodskeeper. He drives campers off from the protective zones, chases animals away from poachers, and lures thieves, ruffians, and trappers into dark bogs with his briefcase full of shiny jewelry, which then melts into water in the warmth of a room. If you encounter him, be on your guard and wish him a speedy parole.
* An interesting legal detail: Only the deliberate robbery-murder of Hasan the dog was ultimately deemed a severe felony, justifying an exceptional penalty, as he perished in strychnine convulsions about an hour before his owner. Concerning the widow's death, the court failed to establish a clear intent to kill, and the act was assessed as a 'mere' aggravated form of robbery.
How the Fox spellbound the Echo
The waters that flow from the Ore Mountains and hills into the Ohře River are accustomed to noise. Today, they gurgle over stones beside coal quarries, railway lines, and factory operations. But even in the old times, they turned the wheels of mills, stoked furnaces, and worked hammers, remembered to this day in the names of many mountain villages and towns. In Nové Hamry, for instance, since the 16th century, the echoes of water hammers striking iron and tin forgings, chiseled, mined, and smelted from the surrounding rocks, resounded. Around the confluence of the Rolava and White Brook, a row of forges, wire mills, and foundries sprung up. In the most illustrious of these, the Owl Foundry, perched high atop Court Hill, Kristoph Schürer, master of the glassblowing craft, created the first cobalt blue goblets for the festive table of the Šliks, those enterprising and rebellious forefathers of today's Dollar, under whose coat of arms the local mining, smelting, and coinage first began to flourish.
Likewise have there always been places in mountains where noise is strictly forbidden. Where healing waters gush from the rocks, the forests are only allowed to whisper softly - and all proper colonnades and promenades prescribe quiet and calm in their regulations. Yet, we eventually reach the border where the fairytale valley fades away and the spas yield to pipes and chimneys. The Teplá River merges with Ohře, trains whistle over the precipice, and through the misty air, the trumpets of stations and factories begin to echo.
The real trouble began when foreman Patera brought an old anti-aircraft siren to the apprentices in the Mechanics' Club. He found it in the estate of a half-forgotten aunt with a similar nickname. The boys immediately sensed an opportunity and, with expert supervision, swiftly dismantled, repaired and lubricated the siren and, under the cover of the regional 'Action For New Rain Gutters,' hooked it up.
The aging principal Švarc had been in his position for twenty years and could hardly hear what anyone managed to shout into his ear during the day. He didn't notice the siren at all, and when its military nature was mentioned, he simply launched into a lengthy diatribe about injuries of his own and of others', sustained during parachute training. Patera had already gained the support of the PE teacher Lerma by involving him in the Regional Early Warning System and secured the cooperation of the chemist Codruková with a promise of installing new insulation windows in the laboratory classroom. And the janitor was pleased that it was scaring away the birds.
And so at the end of each school day, a plaintive tone began to wail from beneath the purple roof of the Trade School, Construction Branch, in response to the blaring signal 'End of shift' from the power plant on the other side of the valley, usually just as the Ore Mountain Express announced its crossing over the viaduct to Marienbad. As long as everyone kept their order, the situation could still be tolerated. But the apprentices, a restless lot, started to compete with the power plant to see who could honk first, and at the immediate and unforgiving response from the power station, they even had the well-known nerd Tadeáš calculate precisely how long each siren had to travel, given that p = 1014 hPa.
After a brief period of racing for the first, everyone was honking whenever they felt like it. Discipline was fading, students were fleeing the classroom as early as quarter past two, before they even had a chance to learn that during the reign of Charles IV, Loket was the administrative center of the region, while it was his father, John of Luxembourg, who annexed Cheb to the Crown of Bohemia. On Fridays, the workers steadfastly set aside their tools at the first sound of the siren, calculated by the prognostic department to lift the pigeons in the square in front of the school just at the moment when the habitual truants from the fourth grade would be beseeching the benevolent Patera for the remote control.
Echoes of irregular sirens, honks, and train horns thus echoed through the whole valley, just as nature, under the Saint Martin's snow, was preparing for its slumber.
The Fox, unable to find peace in the tumult even after stuffing her den with straw and jute sacks from the old cooperative warehouse, had finally had enough one day. She climbed up to the bare hillside, just below Čihadlo, where the Soft Spot lies. She dispersed the clouds, leaned into the sun, gave a little push, and the valley curved and flipped before her, so that now all the honking and ringing of the shift signals resounds throughout the valley, always exactly the same, on time and all at once. With that, the competition lost its appeal, the commotion fell into predictable tracks, and the fox could finally doze off in peace until spring.