“Oh yes, it’s so great to be here, in the heart of the Carpathians! I was very inspired to pick this route, the beauty of the mountain landscape exceeds my expectations! Now I’m going to keep on exploring these ancient ruins and hopefully discover more interesting facts about them. See you later, my dear friends and subscribers, and don’t forget to visit my websites regularly for updates on my Eastern European trip!”
Viktor ended his social media post of the day, shut down his laptop and looked around with the air of a truly satisfied man, and how could he not be happy since he was finally doing the thing he had longed for many years? He had finally gathered enough funds to start traveling across Europe, and after four months of thrilling experiences, he was still only halfway on his journey. He was free from his boring office job and he was very confident that he would earn enough money from his travel blog to allow him to continue his nomadic lifestyle for years to come. The world was at his feet and that first European tour was going only to be only the first of an extraordinary series of adventures!
For the time being he was in the middle of the forest, admiring the ruins of an ancient citadel he had heard about from several locals he had talked to the day before in the village situated at a distance of approximately 8 kilometers from the ruins. After walking through the ancient site for about a quarter of an hour he was about to leave and return to the village, but even if he didn’t think those ruins were as impressive as the locals had described, he still wanted to leave his mark, to make a sign that he had been there and take some pictures of his work of art.
After all, it was Monday afternoon and there was absolutely no one but him at the site; it seemed that all the tourists had chosen more popular destinations, while the locals had work to do and they were probably bored of coming to the ruins again, so Viktor was confident that no one would catch him in the act of scratching his name on a boulder which was lying right in the center of the fortress. Without further hesitation, he took out his pocket and started his work.
Half an hour later the job was done. He had left his name, Viktor N., for the future generations to see! “Nice piece of work,” he said to himself while he was taking some pictures of the boulder with his iphone. “Some people may not like this, but who cares about them? There are others who did the same as me, even several decades ago. Some of us want posterity to know that they have been among the lucky people who came here from a foreign country and visited this site. I will show these pictures to my friends and I hardly wait to see the envy on their faces when they realize that during a few months I have been to more places that they will manage to visit throughout their entire lives!”
Once the job was done it was time for Viktor to conquer other territories, but first he had to walk back to the village on the same forest path he had used to reach the ruins. He started his walk at a brisk pace, as he was beginning to feel a little hungry and he was eager to return to the motel where he had found accommodation the night before. He was young, wild and carefree! All he needed to end this productive day in the mountains was a hot meal and a couple of beers, and after a well deserved rest he was going to continue his fascinating journey the next day.
Thirty minutes into his journey back to the village and Viktor noticed a changein the weather conditions. All of a sudden the sky was getting darker and darker and the wind was blowing with more and more power. Viktor was surprised as the weather application on his iphone had indicated that it was going to be a nice day with clear sky and warmer temperatures than it was usual for the middle of April.
“Well, I guess I’d better hurry up”, said Viktor in a loud voice as he started recording himself on his phone. “I have my raincoat and I have enough provisions to spend the night in the woods, but I would definitely prefer a juicy steak and a comfortable bed tonight!”
He had hardly finished speaking when he heard a loud noise behind him. It seemed like a wolf howling; Viktor turned around quickly and froze with fear. There was indeed a big grey wolf howling at him growling at him only ten meters behind. Viktor was absolutely petrified: Where did that beast come from? How was he going to defend himself from it? He had been informed that the risk of stumbling upon dangerous wild animals was extremely low in that area because there were hardly any bears or wolves left in the forest after being heavily hunted during the previous decades. And yet, there was face-to-face with a threatening wolf who was ready to charge at him at any moment!
A few dozen seconds passed, but they seemed like hours toViktor. “Damn it!”, he said to myself, “I have nothing but this pocket knife. I should have taken at least a club with me. How could I be so careless?” However, the beast didn’t seem too eager to launch an attack at him; it was just staring and growling at him, as if only guarding him and trying to warn him not to try to run away as he stood no chance of escaping. And then Viktor started hearing other noises; he soon saw what was causing them. Out of nowhere the silhouette of a medieval knight in full armor riding a white horse appeared in front of his eyes. “How strange< but also how lucky!” said Viktor in his mind. “He’s probably a guy working in the tourism industry. I can see that he has a genuine sword and he’s a carrying a spear in his left hand. He’s my salvation, he can surely kill the wolf with the spear!”
Nevertheless, to his great surprise, the wolf didn’t try to attack the warrior; on the contrary, it made a few step backs like a docile dog, while the knight stopped right in front of Viktor and dismounted right in front of him. They were now standing face-to-face, but the knight’s face was still hidden behind his helmet. Viktor was relieved, and he started to talk:
“Hi man, I’m so glad to see you! I thought that big grey back was going to maul me; you came at the right time to save me!”
“Don’t be that glad”, the knight replied, “because I am not here to save you, but to take you to your judgement place.”
“Judgement place? Is this some kind of sick joke? What do you want to judge me for? What have I done wrong?”
“You have desecrated a holy site of our ancient people when you scratched your name right in the middle of our citadel. You have committed a sacrilege for which you deserve to pay the ultimate price, but we’re going to give you the chance of a fair trial first!”
“We? A fair trail? For simply carving my name on a boulder? I think you’re out of your mind. I’m going to continue my journey, and I warn you to stay out of my way because I have a gun in my pocket! Now, will you please allow me to leave? Thank you!”
“Not so fast, boy! Take a look around! We have some company, and believe me, my companions are not going to let you leave this forest very soon!”
Viktor looked around and once again he was stunned: he was surrounded by about individuals in dark cloaks and wearing hoods on their heads. He had been so absorbed by his conversation with the knight that he hadn’t noticed them coming. He realized he was doomed; his only chance was to try to negotiate with them.
“Look guys, if you want to rob me I will give you everything I have, just let me leave. You can take my laptop, my rucksack and all my belongings, maybe you can leave my passport and a few bucks. I can’t see your faces, I don’t know who you are, I just want to get out of here; please, just let me live!”
“No, man, we won’t let you just go away,” said one of the men in black in a threatening tone. You think you can desecrate a holy site and then just leave as if nothing had happened? No, you fool! You have made our Gods angry with your reckless action, it’s time to get your well deserved reward! If we don’t sacrifice you tonight, the Gods will unleash the anger on this land and release the restless souls of our ancestors at midnight, and there will be a lot of bloodshed until the sun rises at 5:30 tomorrow morning! There’s only one thing we can do to appease the Gods, and that is to offer them your blood tonight! But we are fair and honest people, so we’ll give you a chance to speak right now! What have you got to say in your defense?”
By that time Viktor could do nothing but curse in his mind the day in which he decided to come to the Carpathians and especially his own stupidity. How could he do such a foolish thing? How could he be so reckless and ignorant to desecrate a symbol of an ancient civilization? How were they going to punish him? Were they going to hang him or burn him at the stake, maybe? He was absolutely horrified, but at the same time ashamed of himself. He finally gathered his strength and found the courage to speak:
“Look guys, ancient people, ghosts or whatever you are! I know that my fate is sealed and I realize that I have no excuse for desecrating your holy site, but please give me a chance to redeem myself. I promise you that if you let me live I will never ever do such a horrible thing again and I will tell all the people I meet that it is wrong to defile any place by scratching their name on rocks, trees or anywhere else. They have to respect the cultural and sites they visit and help preserve the instead of spoiling them. Believe me, I have learned my lesson and I will always treat the places I visit with the respect they deserve from now on!”
The guys in the black cloaks and the armored knight started talking at a slow voice; it seemed that they were arguing about what to do next. Eventually, they ended their debate and the knight spoke:
“Well, Viktor, if that’s your real name, it’s getting dark now and we have to go to our houses, so we’re going to tell you the truth about ourselves: We aren’t ghosts, we are nothing but a group of vigilantes who are guarding our precious fortress. You are not the first individual who has scratched his or her name on those boulders; we saw you do it and we decided to teach you a lesson just like we did with the other foreigners we caught red-handed, so don’t worry, there isn’t going to be any trial and you will live to see the next day. The whole story about the angry Gods and the spirits of the ancestors is our way of scaring the individuals who come here and do things they should be ashamed of.
We decided to tell you the truth because we think that you were genuine when you apologized and you are truly ashamed of what you did earlier. If you had denied your facts and continued to look for excuses we would have probably continued this scary game, but we would have eventually set you free. No one has ever been sacrificed in
our community, as far as we know, but those who come here and don’t behave themselves deserve a little scare. Now, let us take you for a drive back to the village; we’ll drop you right outside the forest, from there you only have to walk a few hundred meters to the village! And, just for your curiosity, that wolf belongs to me, and I hope you agree with me that I’m quite a good trainer!”
Viktor felt a huge relief. After being dropped at the margin of the forest, he went straight to the motel and had a deep sleep. The next day he decided to cancel his journey; he went straight back home. His desire for adventure had vanished for a while. Will he ever return to that mysterious country in the heart of the Carpathians? He doesn’t know yet if he has the strength to do it, but if he ever comes back he will behave like a responsible men and always treat ancient sites with respect!
Image credit: My own picture.