The threads of fate. They are not like a tapestry, for they create no meaning from their chaos. What does it mean to die? Nothing, for in infinite other universes departing from the same point, never to meet again, one lives on, as a young man called Eike Kusch will discover. But that lies in the future of this place, where the threads of fate seem to intertwine with even more complexity than elsewhere, thanks to the intervention of a jinni named Homunculus in the fate of this town and its inhabitants. Yet that too belongs to times to come. Now is the time for the first step, for the foundation of the place which will shape the destinies of so many to come. Lebensbaum.
The balding man stood at the top of the hill, taking in the surroundings. It had been a long time since he had returned to Westphalia, to the lands around Olpe, the city where he had been born. With his career in the army of the Holy Roman Emperor, he had had no time for sentimental visits to his home town. But this… this was different. Now that he had been ennobled and given this land in exchange for twenty years of faithful service, he once again had business here. He was now a knight: he would build a castle and rule over this territory. Not, he had to admit, that it was a great territory – some farms and this uncultivated land, where the castle would surely have to stand. But where?
He slowly turned his gaze towards a tree, amazed at how much he had forgotten of this place in the years since he had left it. The beauty of it was astonishing. Life, nourished by the frequent rain (although today the sun shone), was everywhere – even in this one tree teemed with it. Birds in the branches, insects on the trunk. A tree of life. Ein Lebensbaum. Now, that would be a good name for this area. Had it always been so beautiful?
Konrad was surprised by his emotional response to his birthplace. He had been accustomed to thinking of himself as a strong, stoic man, as a soldier should be. He had even managed to hold back his tears when Rudolf, his comrade of many years, not to mention closest friend, had fallen in battle some months ago. Yet here, everything seemed different. He felt himself a soldier no longer. It was as though he was again the mere boy who had left this region so many years ago to seek his fortune.
And this fortune he had attained. Now came the construction of his castle here, near this tree, on this hill, the establishment of a village around it, and - finally - a peaceful existence. But that lay in the future. For now, he was going to sit on the ground and enjoy the stillness.
The stillness was abruptly interrupted by the calls of a man walking up the hill. "Well, hello. What brings you to –?" The voice broke off. "Konrad? Konrad Brum? Why, don't you recognise me? It's me, Werner Franssen. From Olpe. You must remember, we lived in the same street when we were young."
A smile played on Konrad's lips. "Of course I do. We used to play at soldiers together and drive the neighbours half-mad with our noise."
"And you always said you were going to be the real thing one day." Werner said. "We both did. Hah. And here I am a builder."
"Well, I made it." Konrad drew himself up. "Obrist Konrad Brum, in the service of Friedrich III. And a noble now. Actually, I was thinking of building a new home for myself here."
There was a look of shock on Werner's face, and enthusiasm in his words. "You don't say? Hey, do you think that I could be of any help in building the castle? It's just that work's been slow lately, and my men and I could really do with a big project like this."
Konrad grinned. It wasn't an expression to which he was accustomed, but this was after all the land of youth. "I can't think of anyone I'd rather have do it."
"Thank you, Konrad. You're a true friend." Werner said solemnly.
A wave of sadness came over Konrad, and he thought again of Rudolf, who had not so long ago pronounced those same words, as he lay dying. Konrad had sworn to take the news of Rudolf's death to his wife and children…
"Anything the matter?" Werner queried.
Konrad forced a smile, trying to push the image of Rudolf's wife's face from his mind. "No, nothing. I'd better head back to Olpe. It's not long till nightfall, after all."
"Well, if you don't have anything else planned, how about staying with me? By way of repayment for the work you've given us."
Konrad shook his head. "Don't be like that. You're the one doing me a favour."
"No, you don't understand." Werner protested. "Because of you, my family will have something to eat for the next year or two, until the castle is built. We need this. Having you to stay is the least I can do."
"Are you sure your family will cope with having another mouth to feed?" Konrad asked.
"Of course, of course. Everything will be fine. Now come on, it's getting dark."
Konrad let himself be led off. "Back home," he muttered to himself as he went. "How strange."