(an Austrian legend)
Once upon a time not far from the Village of Kitzbuhl, in the Austrian Alps, there stood a magnificent forest. To one side of the forest lived a man named Sebastian and his family; on the other side lived Karl and his.
Karl’s great-great grandfather had purchased that forest many years before, but Sebastian came to believe the forest belonged to him. He took Karl to court to sue him for ownership, and Karl sued him in return. And year after year, one man or the other went to court to fight for legal ownership of the forest — Karl had no proof, and Sebastian had none, naturally. And this went on for many years.
One day Sebastian grew tired of the fight, but he desperately wanted to own that forest, and so he went to see the judge and offered him a generous bribe.
A week later, when the men arrived in court, the judge announced, “This is my final verdict. There shall be no more court dates. The forest belongs to Sebastian, and that is that!”
Karl was devastated. He began to weep right there in court, but the judge’s decision was firm and final. There was no going back.
Karl trudged home, knowing all was lost. He was feeling sadder than sad. He had not just lost the forest; he had lost everything, for he had spent his life’s savings suing Sebastian.
He could not stop lamenting his great misfortune.
“I’ve been cheated,” he told everyone he saw. He complained in pubs, in the fields, when he skied on mountains and when he walked into town.
“I am the rightful owner of the forest and I was robbed!” he insisted. He could not stop himself — no matter where he went and no matter who was by his side, this was the conversation he insisted on having.
His wife was in despair as well. She stopped friends at the market to tell them of how they had been cheated. His children were unhappy, too. At school they told stories of the forest that had once been theirs until Sebastian came along and stole it.
And so began a feud between the two families, and before long everyone in the village took a side.
Some said Sebastian was the rightful owner.
“Look,” they said, “the judge made his decision. There is no arguing with that! Everyone knows our judge is fair and wise!”
But other villagers did not agree.
“Judges can be swayed,” they said, “and this judge was not fair. The land should rightfully belong to Karl.”
Soon everywhere Sebastian went, he overheard rumors and whispers and arguments, and before long he too was in despair.
“I cannot bear this!” Sebastian groaned to his wife. “I’m tired of hearing all this noise.”
“I hope you’ll put a stop to it,” his wife said. “Tell the people Karl has not been injured, and we are the rightful owners. That’s that!”
Sebastian went everywhere defending his right to his forest and complaining about Karl’s stories.
But this only further divided the camps. Before long, friends stopped talking to friends. Children who had once been playmates became bitter enemies. Women in the market stopped speaking to each other. As time passed, the feud spread until even neighboring villagers began to take sides.
Sebastian thought he would go mad!
The judge became unhappy at the rumors that were spreading about him, so he went to his friends and asked, “I made a good judgment, don’t you agree?”
Some of his fellow judges nodded sagely, for they believed their fellow judge was a good man, fair and wise.
But others had noticed the judge was wearing fancier clothes, his house was growing larger and larger, and his wife had jewels that must have cost a small fortune. They wondered at that. Perhaps, they began to suspect, he had taken a bribe.
Once suspicions start, suspicions grow, and soon the judge’s reputation was in trouble.
Eventually, Sebastian decided he had had enough.
He marched to Karl’s house, knocked on the door and said, “Listen, I have had enough! By all the devils, if I have unlawfully won the forest, may it sink a thousand yards into the earth!”
He had barely finished speaking when he felt the rumbling beneath his feet, and an earthquake struck, and with it came a terrible thunderstorm. When the earthquake and the storm had passed, the forest had sunk beneath the earth, and waves of water rolled over it.
And so the forest belonged to no one, and the feuding ended. In its place now stands a beautiful and peaceful lake, deep and dark and still.