The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Chapter Two (Part 7)

Just starting? Be sure to check out The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Foreword and Disclaimer first, so you know what’s going on.

The station was crowded with mid-morning travellers as the train pulled in. Joe and Karl found it much easier getting off the train than it had been getting on, and they quickly made their way to the parking lot. Joe was surprised when Karl stopped next to a small, cheap-looking car splashed with mud. Karl pulled a set of keys from his pocket and opened the driver’s-side door. “It is not locked,” he told Joe. “Please get in.” Joe obediently climbed into the small car. Karl turned the ignition and drove away from the station.

Occasionally, Karl would point out something of interest along the way, but mostly they drove in silence. Joe tried his best to enjoy the scenery. Before long, they were beginning to get away from the paved streets and onto gravel roads. As the little car sped along, splashing through puddles left by newly-melted snow, Joe was surprised at how well-kept the quiet roadways were. He remarked on this to Karl.

“You will find that Norway has a very extensive road system,” Karl responded. “We take pride in the fact that nearly every Norwegian household owns an automobile. Therefore, we tend to care for our roads very well.” He paused and smiled at Joe. “I read that once in an American travel brochure,” he confessed. “But it is true. We have very good roads here, even those that are unpaved.” As he said this, Karl suddenly made a sharp turn to the right, onto a pair of faint dirt tire tracks that Joe hadn’t even seen from the gravel road. The small car, which was never intended for off-road travel, was bounced and tossed along the trail as it curved its way back into the hills. Joe held on to the door of the car with one hand and put the other over his head in an attempt to keep from hitting the roof with each bump and hole in the road.

After twenty grueling minutes, Joe spotted a group of about fifteen or twenty trailers up on a small hill. The area bustled with activity as the little car drove closer, and Joe wondered just how big this castle project was.

Karl stopped the car near one of the trailers and motioned for Joe to follow him as he climbed out of the car. Joe got out and walked behind Karl into the trailer. Inside, Karl pointed to a stack of sketches on a drafting table. “Those are the basic sketches for the plans you will create. The notes and directions are explicit and straightforward; you should have no trouble following them. You will find the necessary drafting instruments in that cabinet, there, next to the table, and anything else you need can be supplied.”

“Anything?”

“Anything related to your task, Mr. Stadtler,” Karl continued. “Now, I expect that you are tired from the journey. You will find a fold-out cot against the wall to your left. Some food will be brought to you later. For now, review the sketches, then get some rest. You will be expected to start working tomorrow morning. I will see you then,” he said as he walked out the door.

“Hey, Karl, wait a minute—” Joe called. The only answer he got was the sound of a key turning. Joe tested the doorknob: it was solidly locked.

The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Chapter Two (Part 6)

Just starting? Be sure to check out The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Foreword and Disclaimer first, so you know what’s going on.

Joe had finally dozed, but woke as the plane began its descent into Oslo. He was surprised to find that the Norwegian was wide awake, still watching him—and still smiling.

“Did you enjoy the sleep, Mr. Stadtler?”

Not at all, thought Joe. “Yes,” he answered aloud. “Yes, I did.”

“I am glad,” said the Norwegian, “because the train benches are not nearly so comfortable and make a poor place to sleep. Do not worry, though; the ride will be much shorter.”

“That’s reassuring.” Joe was finding it more and more difficult to hide his sarcasm.

The airplane landed on a private strip near the railway staion, and Joe was led down from the plane to a man with graying hair, waiting with his single piece of luggage. “Please come quickly, Mr. Stadtler,” the man said, handing Joe his case. “The train departs shortly.” Joe hurried behind the gray-haired man, then stopped and turned around when he realized that the Norwegian from the plane wasn’t following them.

“Aren’t you coming?” Joe called over the noise of the station. He was not thrilled about being “handed off” to yet another strange foreigner, still with no answers.

“No, Mr. Stadtler, I am afraid I cannot. I have business here in Oslo. However, I wish you a safe journey.”

“Same to you, Karl—” Joe began, but was cut off as the man he’d just met grabbed him by the arm. “Please hurry, Mr. Stadtler,” the man shouted. “One thing our trains are known for is their punctuality. We must not be late.” The pair rushed through the crowd, dodging their way to the boarding platform. A recorded voice called out in Norwegian, and Joe was pulled up onto the train just as it began moving.

Once on board the train and seated, both had a chance to catch their breath. After resting a few minutes, Joe began to ask questions.

“Where are we going?”

“First, Mr. Stadtler, I think it’s only fair to introduce myself. The man extended his hand. “My name is Karl.”

Joe had finally had enough. “I don’t believe this!” he exclaimed, standing and throwing his hands in the air. This drew surprised glances from the other passengers, but Joe ignored them and continued, his face reddening, “You people are all ridiculous. Your stone play-castle is a little strange, but I could have handled that. But then you’ve got a two-week deadline—which is completely unrealistic—and wave a gun at me. Worse yet, you can’t even be bothered to give me real names, or at least make up good fake ones!”

“But, Mr. Stadtler,” the Norwegian said slowly, unfazed by this outburst, and keeping his hand out to Joe, “my name is Karl. I am Karl Lund.”

Sitting down, Joe mumbled an apology and took Karl’s hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Karl.”

“Yes, a pleasure. Now, to your question: We are taking this train to Tønsberg. From there, I will take you by car to where you shall complete your work. Aside from that, I will not discuss any details until we reach our destination.”

Karl was unrelenting on this point. The trip took less than an hour, and though he would talk gladly and freely about any other subject—he was especially eager to share the beauties of Norway—Joe couldn’t pry a thing from him about the castle.

The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Chapter Two (Part 5)

Just starting? Be sure to check out The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Foreword and Disclaimer first, so you know what’s going on.

The flight was long and boring. Though he had seemed talkative enough in the limo, Joe couldn’t seem to get a word out of “Karl” once they were seated on the plane.

“So, Karl, how about if you tell me more about this castle?”

No reponse.

“Who wants it built, anyway?”

Still nothing. Karl simply sat with his arms folded and a smile on his face.

“Why do I have only two weeks to build it? Are you sure this isn’t some big joke? Have you forgotten already how to speak English?” Joe began to get frustrated with the Norwegian, and soon gave up trying to get him to answer. He spent the next few hours trying to pass the time by sleeping.

The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Chapter One (Part 4)

Just starting? Be sure to check out The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Foreword and Disclaimer first, so you know what’s going on.

The Norwegian remained silent until they were in the limousine and headed for the airport. When he finally spoke, he went straight to business.

“There are a few items of which you should be aware and to which you will agree, Mr. Stadtler.” The man kept the friendly look, but his tone was serious.

“Wait a minute here—you haven’t even bothered to introduce yourself.”

The Norwegian apologized. “You may call me Karl.”

Joe scowled, and muttered, “Can’t you guys be a little creative?”

“Very well, my real name is Jan.”

“Yan? As in, Yan Can Cook?”

“No… it’s Jan, J-A-N, Jan as in… well, perhaps you should just call me Karl.”

“Fine. It’s nice to meet you, ‘Karl.'”

“Yes. As I was saying, there are several guidelines you must understand. By being in this vehicle, you are agreeing to follow them. First, you will not reveal to anyone the nature of your work.”

“Yeah—Top Secret. I got that from Karl—the other Karl—yesterday on the phone.”

“Second,” the ‘Karl’ in the car ignored the comment, “You will do all your work in the studio we provide for you. Third, you will not leave Norway until the project is completed—”

“Stop.” Joe interrupted. “No deal. The guy on the phone yesterday couldn’t stop emphasizing ‘a stone castle with authentic materials.’ Maybe you don’t know much about historical construction, but I do. A structure like that used to take up to two decades to build. Even using all modern equipment, we’re talking six months to a year to build any decent-sized stone castle, not to mention the time to draw out the plans.”

“Actually, Mr. Stadtler, you will have the project completed in two weeks. That is one of our terms.”

Joe shook his head coolly. “I should have listened to my gut. You’re either naive or crazy; either way, it can’t be done. Tell your driver to stop. I’m getting out.”

The Norwegian hadn’t stopped smiling. “I’m afraid I can’t let you do that, Mr. Stadtler. You see, your skills come highly recommended. We haven’t time to find another man of your talents. Besides, most of the plans have already been sketched; you will only have to make the final draft from them. And you will have as many laborers as you need to complete the project on time.”

“I’m sure you’ll manage. Let me out.”

Looking as friendly as ever, the man reached into a compartment next to the seat. From it he pulled a pistol. Pointing it at Joe, he asked politely, “Won’t you please reconsider?”

Raising his hands, Joe protested, “Woah, hang on there, Karl—I think I can be convinced. No need for that.”

“Good,” said the Norwegian cheerfully. “Here we are!” Joe looked out the window and saw that they were at the airport, stopping near a small jet.

Things like this aren’t supposed to happen to architects, he told himself as he was escorted onto the plane.

The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Author’s Aside (Part 3)

Just starting? Be sure to check out The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Foreword and Disclaimer first, so you know what’s going on.

Back in late 1993 or early 1994—just after senior year of High School—I got a postcard from Becky Lund, who was spending a year in Norway as an exchange student. The simple postcard showed a castle tower with “Tønsberg” as the caption. On the back, she wrote that I, calling myself a “writer,” should write and tell her the little castle’s story, instead of expecting her to do all the work of explaining it to me. Only after I sent my version would she tell me the correct one.

My response started as a simple two-page short story, bordering on slapstick and referencing current events of the time. But as I reworked it, it started to grow, become a little more serious—though not completely—and have a real chance at becoming an interesting novel.

Alas, life got in the way, I never finished the novel—and, as serves me right, never did get to hear the truth about Slotsfjellet castle in the Norwegian town of Tønsberg. Now, almost twenty years later, perhaps the story will get finished and the truth will come out!

 

Update: Becky says it was Jan 1994, which is much more precise than my vague memories of “late 1993 or early 1994.”

The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Chapter One (Part 2)

Just starting? Be sure to check out The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Foreword and Disclaimer first, so you know what’s going on.

At eleven forty-five the next morning came a knock at the door of Joe Stadtler’s twenty-third-floor apartment. Believing the previous day’s phone call to be at best a prank, he had not done any packing, or even given it much thought, really. Still, the call had been just odd enough that Joe wasn’t very surprised to open the door and find a tall, blond man in his late thirties standing in the hallway. “Are you Mister Stadtler?” the man asked in a heavy Norwegian accent—clearly not the voice he had spoken to yesterday.

“You’re early,” said Joe accusingly, without inviting him in. The Norwegian smiled.

“The limousine is waiting downstairs. You will not bring many belongings; most of what you need will be supplied when you arrive in Norway. If you will get your things, we will go now, please?”

Joe closed the door and left the man standing outside the apartment. He stood quietly for a moment, hands in his pockets, bemused at the audacity of the situation. After several minutes had passed, Joe looked out through the peephole: the Norwegian was still waiting.

Shaking his head in disbelief, Joe let out a wry chuckle. On the one hand, the whole proposition was absurd. On the other hand, he had to admit that he was intrigued—the fact that someone had actually arrived at his door showed that these men were serious, even if a bit ridiculous. And of all the places I’ve been, I’ve never travelled to Norway, he thought, trying to justify the decision he was about to make.

With a deep breath, Joe made his way back to his bedroom, where he began packing a few things into a small suitcase—enough for a day or two at most. This was purely a business trip, he reasoned with himself; he would go to see what they had in mind, determine whether it was actually even feasible, and if so, he’d return to his studio to start designing.

When Joe finally reopened the door with his packed suitcase in hand, the man was standing there with the same grin, just as he’d been when the door closed. Joe shut and locked the apartment door as he went out. “Well?” he said to the Norwegian, who was still smiling. The tall man didn’t say a word, but turned and walked toward the elevator.

The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Chapter One (Part 1)

Just starting? Be sure to check out The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Foreword and Disclaimer first, so you know what’s going on.

“Forget it. I’m not interested.” Over the years, Joe Stadtler had received—and was well‑known for being able to meet—some unusual requests, but this was perhaps one of the more peculiar. “Who is this?”

“You will be paid very well,” said the voice on the other end of the line. “That is,” continued the caller, with a slight accent that Joe couldn’t place, “if you agree to our terms.”

“Is this some sort of joke?” he asked, barely hiding his annoyance. “Who is this?”

“Oh, believe me, Mr. Stadtler, this is no joke. It is a very important matter indeed. We sought you out personally.”

“Then tell me who this is,” pressed Joe.

“That is not your concern yet, Mr. Stadtler,” the voice was pleasant and very firm, “but you may, if you like, call me Karl.”

Joe gave in. “All right, Karl,” he said, drawing the name out to emphasize his irritation at being given a fake name.

“Now, our terms. Number one, you must tell no one what you do.” He’s got to be kidding, thought Joe. He just asked me to build a stone castle—does he think no one will notice?

“Okay, I won’t tell a soul.” He drummed his fingers on the drafting table. “What else?”

“Number two, you will be paid ten million dollars for your services. Materials and workers will be provided, and all other costs will be covered.”

Joe was silent, but not impressed. Usually he told the client what the cost would be, not the other way around. “Ten million dollars,” he finally repeated.

“That is correct. The amount is not negotiable.”

This guy is not only a nut, he’s a filthy rich nut. I suppose that makes him “eccentric.” Though he had no intention of pursuing this deal past the end of the conversation, for now Joe played along: “I think that could be a reasonable amount,” he answered aloud.

“Good. We will send someone tomorrow to pick you up and transport you to the airport. A private jet will then fly you to Norway.”

With that, the game was over. “What? Norway? Look, I’m a serious architect—I don’t just drop everything to go flying across the ocean to build fantasy castles.”

“You have until noon tomorrow.” There was a click before the silence, and Joe found himself cursing a dead receiver.