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The Interlopers

chapter one

Enemies

One winter night a man stood in a forest in the Carpathian Mountains. He was carrying a rifle and it seemed that he was waiting and listening for some wild animal. But Ulrich von Gradwitz was looking for a human enemy.

Ulrich had a lot of land. This land was full of all different kinds of wild animals, but he always guarded carefully one particular area of this land. It was mountainous and not many animals lived there. So why did Ulrich guard this land so carefully?

Many years ago Ulrich’s grandfather and a neighbour, Heinrich Znaeym, had both wanted the same portion of land. They went to court and Ulrich’s grandfather won the case. Heinrich Znaeym, however, did not accept the court’s decision; he continued to hunt on the land. The two families began fighting. Ulrich and Heinrich Znaeym’s grandson, Georg, hated each other passionately. When they were boys they wanted to kill each other. Now they were men, and they each wanted the other to suffer.

This night Ulrich and his forest guards were out looking for Georg and his men. It was a stormy night and the wind was strong. Ulrich saw deer running from the contested area of land. Normally, during a storm deer stay in one place, so he knew that his enemy was near.

He told his guards to wait at the top of a hill and walked off into the woods and down the hill by himself. He listened carefully for the sound of branches breaking.

‘I hope,’ he said to himself, ‘I will meet Georg Znaeym tonight man to man. If I kill him here, no one will ever know.’

At that moment, as Ulrich walked around the trunk of a gigantic tree, he came face to face with Georg Znaeym.

The enemies stared at each other for a long, silent moment. Each man had a rifle in his hand, each man had hate in his heart, and each man had murder in his thoughts. But it is difficult for a civilised man to shoot his neighbour in cold blood. They had to say something. At this moment, however, the wind blew particularly hard and there was a crash: a gigantic tree fell on top of the two men. Ulrich von Gradwitz could not move. One arm was probably broken and the other arm was partly under the trunk. His legs were under a large branch. His face was badly cut, and he had to blink several times to move the blood from his eyes.

Almost next to him lay Georg Znaeym, alive and fighting to move. Ulrich could see that he was in almost the same condition.

Ulrich was both happy to be alive and angry at his situation. Georg was almost blind from the blood that flowed into his eyes from cuts on his forehead. He stopped moving for a moment to listen, and then he laughed angrily.

‘So you weren’t killed,’ said Georg, ‘but you’re caught anyway. That’s very funny: Ulrich von Gradwitz caught in his stolen forest. Now that is real justice!’

And he laughed again angrily and ironically.

‘I’m caught in my own forest,’ replied Ulrich. ‘When my men come to release me, you’ll be sorry that you were caught poaching here in my forest.’

Georg was silent for a moment; then he answered quietly.

‘Are you sure that your men will find you first? I have men, too, in the forest tonight. They’re near, and they’ll find me first. When they pull me out, perhaps, by accident of course, they’ll push the trunk on top of you. Your men will find you dead under this tree. Then, because I am a gentleman, I shall send my condolences to your family.’

‘That’s a good idea,’ said Ulrich angrily and ironically. ‘I told my men to follow me after ten minutes. Seven of those ten minutes have gone by already, and when they come I’ll remember your idea! Only I can’t decently send condolences to your family: after all, you were poaching on my land.’

‘Good,’ growled Georg, ‘good. We shall fight to the death, just you and I and our guards, with no interlopers. Death and damnation to you, Ulrich von Gradwitz.’

‘The same to you, Georg Znaeym, forest-thief, poacher.’

But both men knew that it was a question of chance which man’s guards would come first.

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