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It was late evening when K. arrived. The village lay deep in snow. There was nothing to be seen of Castle Mount, for mist and darkness surrounded it, and not the faintest glimmer of light showed where the great castle lay. K. stood on the wooden bridge leading from the road to the village for a long time, looking up at what seemed to be a void.
Then he went in search of somewhere to stay the night. People were still awake at the inn. The landlord had no room available, but although greatly surprised and confused by the arrival of a guest so late at night, he was willing to let K. sleep on a straw mattress in the saloon bar. K. agreed to that. Several of the local rustics were still sitting over their beer, but he didn’t feel like talking to anyone. He fetched the straw mattress down from the attic himself, and lay down near the stove. It was warm, the locals were silent, his weary eyes gave them a cursory inspection, and then he fell asleep.
But soon afterwards he was woken again. A young man in town clothes, with a face like an actor’s — narrowed eyes, bly marked eyebrows — was standing beside him with the landlord. The rustics were still there too, and some of them had turned their chairs round so that they could see and hear better. The young man apologized very civilly for having woken K., introduced himself as the son of the castle warden, and added: ‘This village belongs to the castle, so anyone who stays or spends the night here is, so to speak, staying or spending the night at the castle. And no one’s allowed to do that without a permit from the count. However, you don’t have any such permit, or at least you haven’t shown one.’
K. had half sat up, had smoothed down his hair, and was now looking up at the two men. ‘What village have I come to, then?’ he asked. ‘Is there a castle in these parts?’
‘There most certainly is,’ said the young man slowly, as some of those present shook their heads at K.’s ignorance. ‘Count Westwest’s castle.’
‘And I need this permit to spend the night here?’ asked K., as if to convince himself that he had not, by any chance, dreamed the earlier information.
‘Yes, you need a permit,’ was the reply, and there was downright derision at K.’s expense in the young man’s voice as, with arm outstretched, he asked the landlord and the guests: ‘Or am I wrong? Doesn’t he need a permit?’
‘Well, I’ll have to go and get a permit, then,’ said K., yawning, and throwing oﬀ his blanket as if to rise to his feet.
‘Oh yes? Who from?’ asked the young man. ‘Why, from the count,’ said K. ‘I suppose there’s nothing else for it.’ ‘What, go and get a permit from the count himself at midnight?’ cried the young man, retreating a step.
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