Three knocks sounded against the mayor’s door. A gray-haired man opened it.
“Schneider. Yes, Wilhelm’s uncle. Please come in.”
“How is he doing? I haven’t seen him in such a long time. Not since…”
“That’s what I want to talk about. Wilhelm’s not doing so well. The old wound still gives him problems.”
“I’m not blaming you. Could you please tell me what happened then?”
“Fine. Please have a seat.”
“Thank you.” Paper and writing utensils stood ready to record.
“Have you already heard the whole story?”
“Parts of it.”
“Good, then you’ve already heard that Erika killed a sheep.”
“We had also heard from one of our other citizens that she had killed two of her own family members. She was a great danger for us all. And what if she had killed a child?”
“I didn’t want to set myself against Wilhelm, but as mayor, it is my duty to keep the village safe.”
“Wilhelm didn’t want to give her up. I wanted to take her without force, but that wasn’t working.”
The paper filled up quickly.
“A second sheep had been found dead shortly thereafter, so we finally decided to take her. I went with three other citizens to Wilhelm’s house. His parents didn’t know what to do. Steffi looked at Erika nervously, but Wilhelm was completely transformed.”
“You probably know that Wilhelm had been very sickly and weak since his childhood. He always suffered from some ailment. Instead of physical strength, he had success in academics. When we came for Erika, he stood in front of her like a warrior and wouldn’t let us pass. Erika screamed, ‘Didn’t do! Didn’t kill sheep!”
“Did she kill it?”
“None of us had witnessed it, but as wild as she was, the probability was very high. As I said, the safety of the people is important. Wilhelm didn’t understand that at all. He always took his foundlings very seriously.”
“And he was wounded because of her.”
“We reached for her, and suddenly he fought against us. When he was young, he had always been bullied by the other children. He couldn’t defend himself. But for her, he suddenly grew as strong as ten men. He broke my nose—see, it’s still crooked,” the mayor paused, pointing to his nose. “Then he cried out, ‘Run, princess! Run away! Go back to your forest and keep your freedom!’ She really did run, and to get to her, we had to go through Wilhelm.” The mayor threw a quick glance at his guest. “And you must know, we didn’t want to do it, but…”
“You had to threaten him with force,” Helmut Schneider prompted.
“The knife didn’t belong to me. One of the others had it. Wilhelm couldn’t do a thing against the knife, and I’m still sorry about it to this day, but the girl was gone. We never found her.”
“You’re sorry because of Wilhelm or because you never found the girl?”
The mayor didn’t answer. He stared at the paper that his guest had filled with Wilhelm’s story. “Who are you?” he asked suddenly.
“You know who I am. Helmut Schneider. Wilhelm’s uncle.”
“No. Who are you really? What do you want from me? There’s something hidden behind your words. Why are you writing all of this down?”
Helmut Schneider stopped writing. “Fine. I work for a foreign magazine. A new one called National Geographic.”
“What’s that? A French magazine? Does Wilhelm know what you’re doing?”
“It’s an American one. And no, Wilhelm knows nothing about it.”
“And you want to tell the story of the wild girl. Without letting Wilhelm know.” His voice was cold.
“To be quite honest, yes, and because of that, I have to find her.”
The mayor stood up. “I’ll say nothing further to you. You want to insinuate that we’re the ones who have done her wrong, but you don’t realize that you’re doing the same thing. Yes, we wanted to put her in the asylum, but you want to make money off her. You want to make a spectacle of her for the whole world to see. Please leave.”