THE MOTLEY MOUNTAINS. White cliffs shimmer above vibrant flowers far from the eyes of eager tourists. In the distance we can just make out the towering ridge of Scărișoara-Belioara, considered by some to be part of the Gilău mountain range, reaching one thousand three hundred meters into the sky. It stands a long dusty journey away, down a valley and along the crystalline waters of the Poșaga. Steep slopes, plateaus, and gorges plunge off King’s Plains, waterless and abounding in the soft greens of bearberry bushes and gentle hues of savin junipers. Canyons carved by running water have, by mid-August, become dry and parched, and grasshoppers remain the only creatures still jumping among the shriveled, crackling grasses. Visible from afar is an enormous cave worn by ancient waters into a white cliff face dozens of meters up in the air – the jewel of King Béla’s natural mountain fortress. The sun shines through a gaping oval hole in the cavern’s ceiling, casting its shape around the sides of the cave hour by hour. The floor grows thick with a strange non-stinging nettle known as Upright pellitory.

Scărișoara-Belioara is a renowned nature preserve where gently bleating sheep munch on the rarest of wild-growing plants. A picturesque land. Below the cliffs, slopes are dotted with haystacks and elven cottages, here and there inhabited by people and white dogs – sentinels of silence, wooden huts and cool rushing water. Roads here are only for the surefooted. We arrive at a house as light fades. The door creaks open: it is unlocked, uninhabited. Just as in the fairytales, it stands awaiting the weary pilgrim. Inside, a kerosene lamp, a wooden bowl, a table and bench, a coffin-like bed lined with sheep wool, an icon in a dusky corner. We drink our fill of water from the brook and fall contentedly asleep in a dark house beneath white mountain walls.