A Road To Iron Forest
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You will not find Iron Forest on any map.
Not because it does not exist. But because those who have been there will not map it. They will never forget the route, and if they want to show it to others, they will find another way of doing this.
Huge are the trees in that forest. Sharp as arrowheads are their leaves, like the balls of flails are their fruit, and like steel armor is their bark. The forest shines and dazzles in the sun, rings and clatters in the disturbing wind; a ferocious storm brings down tree trunks, and with a frightening sound they strike one another and come crashing down. Leaves of steel rust and fall, the rust nourishes this soil; the roots of the trees thirstily drink the underground springs where not water but smelted gold flows.
Many a path intertwines in Iron Forest, and toward every end of the world they lead. One path leads toward the throne, another toward the gaol, a third toward the temple, a fourth toward the scaffold, and many many of the paths, toward the nameless stone. But the longest of the paths leads back home.
He who has been to Iron Forest will never return the same. The road across the forest is perilous: the branches sway in the wind and lash the traveler with steel leaves, leaving a multitude of scars on his body. But if someone makes it through the entire forest alive, he will become hard as steel — and as cold.
Huge are the trees in that forest, and human blood flows through their trunks instead of sap.
But you will not find Iron Forest on any map. These are but legends, and they are far from your life, just as your life is far from them. You are the fourth child born in the family of Johann Plate, a rich landowner from Wolmeck. Your fate, despite its favor, has not been generous with momentous accomplishments: peaceful years — blessed to a ploughman but dull to a brave heart!
Our story will begin with a death. Gustav Plate, your father’s elder brother, passed away at the age of fifty-six. In this world, he was a strong and dismal man, who has seen a lot, sinned a lot and redeemed a lot. What awaits him in the other world none will dare guess. He was not unwilling to enjoy feasts, wine and many other amusements, but he was extremely taciturn, and his eyes could compare in heaviness to a flail. These circumstances, combined with Gustav’s many scars, gave rise to jokes that he went to Iron Forest once. At times it was hard to say, though, if those were indeed jokes.
Our story will begin with one death but continue with many.
Gustav’s estate was divided in accordance with his will. Felsen Castle with adjoining villages passed into your brother’s ownership, other relatives partitioned the estate of Ludahof, the land and a fortune of several thousand guldens. You inherited just a sword and a small casket. You opened the latter to find two objects.
The one was a metal oak leaf similar in size to a real one. At first it seemed a decoration to you. But your hand, which knew both silver and steel, told you it was not made of the former but of the latter. Then, an awkward turn of the leaf in the hand cost you a deep cut! That was just a drop of blood, though. But who would make a decoration that could wound? Curious, you scrutinized the leaf closer. Its veins were so thin, its folds and inequalities so fanciful, and the spots and play of colors were so unlike engraving that there was no doubt left: this was not made by a human hand…
The other object inside the casket was a map.