The Strong Arm
Part 4 out of 6
"Good," cried the Baron, nodding his head in approval, "the worthy
Abbot, however, trusts not only in God, but in walls three cloth yards
thick. The monastery stands by the river and partly over it. The
besieged monks will therefore not suffer from thirst. Their larder is
as amply provided as are the vaults of this castle. The militant Abbot
understands both defence and sortie. He is a master of siege-craft
inside or outside stone walls. How then do you propose to sack and
hang, good Segfried?"
The knights were silent. They knew the Monastery was as impregnable as
the castle, in fact it was the only spot for miles round that had never
owned the sway of Baron von Grunewald, and none of them were well
enough provided with brains to venture a plan for its successful
reduction. A cynical smile played round the lips of their over-lord, as
he saw the problem had overmatched them. At last he spoke.
"We must meet craft with craft. If the Pope's Ban cast such terror
among my good knights, steeped to the gauntlets in blood, what effect,
think you, will it have over the minds of devout believers in the
Church and its power? The trustful monks know that it has been launched
against us, therefore are they doubtless waiting for us to come to the
monastery, and lay our necks under the feet of their Abbot, begging his
clemency. They are ready to believe any story we care to tell touching
the influence of such scribbling over us. You Segfried, owe me some
reparation for this morning's temporary defection, and to you,
therefore, do I trust the carrying out of my plans. There was always
something of the monk about you, Segfried, and you will yet end your
days sanctimoniously in a monastery, unless you are first hanged at
Treves or knocked on the head during an assault.
"Draw, then, your longest face, and think of the time when you will be
a monk, as Ambrose is, who, in his day, shed as much blood as ever you
have done. Go to the Monastery of Monnonstein in most dejected fashion,
and unarmed. Ask in faltering tones, speech of the Abbot, and say to
him, as if he knew nought of it, that the Pope's Ban is on us. Say that
at first I defied it, and smote down the good father who was reading
it, but add that as the pious man fell, a sickness like unto a
pestilence came over me and over my men, from which you only are free,
caused, you suspect, by your loudly protesting against the felling of
the monk. Say that we lie at death's door, grieving for our sins, and
groaning for absolution. Say that we are ready to deliver up the castle
and all its contents to the care of the holy Church, so that the Abbot
but sees our tortured souls safely directed towards the gates of
Paradise. Insist that all the monks come, explaining that you fear we
have but few moments to live, and that the Abbot alone would be as
helpless as one surgeon on a battle-field. Taunt them with fear of the
pestilence if they hesitate, and that will bring them."
Segfried accepted the commission, and the knights warmly expressed
their admiration of their master's genius. As the great red sun began
to sink behind the westward hills that border the Rhine, Segfried
departed on horseback through the castle gates, and journeyed toward
the monastery with bowed head and dejected mien. The gates remained
open, and as darkness fell, a lighted torch was thrust in a wrought
iron receptacle near the entrance at the outside, throwing a fitful,
flickering glare under the archway and into the deserted court. Within,
all was silent as the ruined castle is to-day, save only the tinkling
sound of the clear waters of the effervescing spring as it flowed over
the stones and trickled down to disappear under the walls at one corner
of the courtyard.
The Baron and his sturdy knights sat in the darkness, with growing
impatience, in the great Rittersaal listening for any audible token of
the return of Segfried and his ghostly company. At last in the still
night air there came faintly across the plain a monkish chant growing
louder and louder, until finally the steel-shod hoofs of Segfried's
charger rang on the stones of the causeway leading to the castle gates.
Pressed behind the two heavy open leaves of the gates stood the warder
and his assistants, scarcely breathing, ready to close the gates
sharply the moment the last monk had entered.
Still chanting, led by the Abbot in his robes of office, the monks
slowly marched into the deserted courtyard, while Segfried reined his
horse close inside the entrance. "Peace be upon this house and all
within," said the deep voice of the Abbot, and in unison the monks
murmured "Amen," the word echoing back to them in the stillness from
the four grey walls.
Then the silence was rudely broken by the ponderous clang of the
closing gates and the ominous rattle of bolts being thrust into their
places with the jingle of heavy chains. Down the wide stairs from the
Rittersaal came the clank of armour and rude shouts of laughter. Newly
lighted torches flared up here and there, illuminating the courtyard,
and showing, dangling against the northern wall a score of ropes with
nooses at the end of each. Into the courtyard clattered the Baron and
his followers. The Abbot stood with arms folded, pressing a gilded
cross across his breast. He was a head taller than any of his
frightened, cowering brethren, and his noble emaciated face was thin
with fasting caused by his never-ending conflict with the world that
was within himself. His pale countenance betokened his office and the
Church; but the angry eagle flash of his piercing eye spoke of the
world alone and the field of conflict.
The Baron bowed low to the Abbot, and said: Welcome, my Lord Abbot, to
my humble domicile! It has long been the wish of my enemies to stand
within its walls, and this pleasure is now granted you. There is little
to be made of it from without."
"Baron Grunewald," said the Abbot, "I and my brethren are come hither
on an errand of mercy, and under the protection of your knightly word."
The Baron raised his eyebrows in surprise at this, and, turning to
Segfried, he said in angry tones: "Is it so? Pledged you my word for
the safety of these men?"
"The reverend Abbot is mistaken," replied the knight, who had not yet
descended from his horse. "There was no word of safe conduct between
"Safe conduct is implied when an officer of the Church is summoned to
administer its consolations to the dying," said the Abbot.
"All trades," remarked the Baron suavely, "have their dangers--yours
among the rest, as well as ours. If my follower had pledged my word
regarding your safety, I would now open the gates and let you free. As
he has not done so, I shall choose a manner for your exit more in
keeping with your lofty aspirations."
Saying this, he gave some rapid orders; his servitors fell upon the
unresisting monks and bound them hand and foot. They were then
conducted to the northern wall, and the nooses there adjusted round the
neck of each. When this was done, the Baron stood back from the
pinioned victims and addressed them:
"It is not my intention that you should die without having time to
repent of the many wicked deeds you have doubtless done during your
lives. Your sentence is that ye be hanged at cockcrow to-morrow, which
was the hour when, if your teachings cling to my memory, the first of
your craft turned traitor to his master. If, however, you tire of your
all-night vigil, you can at once obtain release by crying at the top of
your voices 'So die all Christians.' Thus you will hang yourselves, and
so remove some responsibility from my perhaps overladen conscience. The
hanging is a device of my own, of which I am perhaps pardonably proud,
and it pleases me that it is to be first tried on so worthy an
assemblage. With much labour we have elevated to the battlements an
oaken tree, lopped of its branches, which will not burn the less
brightly next winter in that it has helped to commit some of you to
hotter flames, if all ye say be true. The ropes are tied to this log,
and at the cry 'So die all Christians,' I have some stout knaves in
waiting up above with levers, who will straightway fling the log over
the battlements on which it is now poised, and the instant after your
broken necks will impinge against the inner coping of the northern
wall. And now good-night, my Lord Abbot, and a happy release for you
all in the morning."
"Baron von Grunewald, I ask of you that you will release one of us who
may thus administer the rites of the Church to his brethren and receive
in turn the same from me."
"Now, out upon me for a careless knave!" cried the Baron. "I had
forgotten that; it is so long since I have been to mass and such like
ceremonies myself. Your request is surely most reasonable, and I like
you the better that you keep up the farce of your calling to the very
end. But think not that I am so inhospitable, as to force one guest to
wait upon another, even in matters spiritual. Not so. We keep with us a
ghostly father for such occasions, and use him between times to wait on
us with wine and other necessaries. As soon as he has filled our
flagons, I will ask good Father Gottlieb to wait upon you, and I doubt
not he will shrive with any in the land, although he has been this
while back somewhat out of practice. His habit is rather tattered and
stained with the drippings of his new vocation, but I warrant you, you
will know the sheep, even though his fleece be torn. And now, again,
good-night, my Lord."
The Baron and his knights returned up the broad stairway that led to
the Rittersaal. Most of the torches were carried with them. The
defences of the castle were so strong that no particular pains were
taken to make all secure, further than the stationing of an armed man
at the gate. A solitary torch burnt under the archway, and here a guard
paced back and forth. The courtyard was in darkness, but the top of the
highest turrets were silvered by the rising moon. The doomed men stood
with the halters about their necks, as silent as a row of spectres.
The tall windows of the Rittersaal, being of coloured glass, threw
little light into the square, although they glowed with a rainbow
splendour from the torches within. Into the silence of the square broke
the sound of song and the clash of flagons upon the oaken table.
At last there came down the broad stair and out into the court a figure
in the habit of a monk, who hurried shufflingly across the stones to
the grim row of brown-robed men. He threw himself sobbing at the feet
of the tall Abbot.
"Rise, my son, and embrace me," said his superior. When Father Gottlieb
did so, the other whispered in his ear: "There is a time to weep and a
time for action. Now is the time for action. Unloosen quickly the bonds
around me, and slip this noose from my neck."
Father Gottlieb acquitted himself of his task as well as his agitation
and trembling hands would let him.
"Perform a like service for each of the others," whispered the Abbot
curtly. "Tell each in a low voice to remain standing just as if he were
still bound. Then return to me."
When the monk had done what he was told, he returned to his superior.
"Have you access to the wine cellar?" asked the Abbot.
"What are the strongest wines?"
"Those of the district are strong. Then there is a barrel or two of the
red wine of Assmannshausen."
"Decant a half of each in your flagons. Is there brandy?"
"Then mix with the two wines as much brandy as you think their already
drunken palates will not detect. Make the potation stronger with brandy
as the night wears on. When they drop off into their sodden sleep,
bring a flagon to the guard at the gate, and tell him the Baron sends
it to him."
"Will you absolve me, Father, for the--"
"It is no falsehood, Gottlieb. I, the Baron, send it. I came hither the
Abbot Ambrose: I am now Baron von Stern, and if I have any influence
with our mother Church the Abbot's robe shall fall on thy shoulders, if
you but do well what I ask of you to-night. It will be some
compensation for what, I fear, thou hast already suffered."
Gottlieb hurried away, as the knights were already clamouring for more
wine. As the night wore on and the moon rose higher the sounds of
revelry increased, and once there was a clash of arms and much uproar,
which subsided under the over-mastering voice of the Black Baron. At
last the Abbot, standing there with the rope dangling behind him, saw
Gottlieb bring a huge beaker of liquor to the sentinel, who at once sat
down on the stone bench under the arch to enjoy it.
Finally, all riot died away in the hall except one thin voice singing,
waveringly, a drinking song, and when that ceased silence reigned
supreme, and the moon shone full upon the bubbling spring.
Gottlieb stole stealthily out and told the Abbot that all the knights
were stretched upon the floor, and the Baron had his head on the table,
beside his overturned flagon. The sentinel snored upon the stone bench.
"I can now unbar the gate," said Father Gottlieb, "and we may all
"Not so," replied the Abbot. "We came to convert these men to
Christianity, and our task is still to do."
The monks all seemed frightened at this, and wished themselves once
more within the monastery, able to say all's well that ends so, but
none ventured to offer counsel to the gaunt man who led them. He bade
each bring with him the cords that had bound him, and without a word
they followed him into the Rittersaal, and there tied up the knights
and their master as they themselves had been tied.
"Carry them out," commanded the Abbot, "and lay them in a row, their
feet towards the spring and their heads under the ropes. And go you,
Gottlieb, who know the ways of the castle, and fasten the doors of all
the apartments where the servitors are sleeping."
When this was done, and they gathered once more in the moonlit
courtyard, the Abbot took off his robes of office and handed them to
Father Gottlieb, saying significantly: "The lowest among you that
suffers and is true shall be exalted." Turning to his own flock, he
commanded them to go in and obtain some rest after such a disquieting
night; then to Gottlieb, when the monks had obediently departed: "Bring
me, an' ye know where to find such, the apparel of a fighting man and a
Thus arrayed, he dismissed the old man, and alone in the silence, with
the row of figures like effigies on a tomb beside him, paced up and
down through the night, as the moon dropped lower and lower, in the
heavens. There was a period of dark before the dawn, and at last the
upper walls began to whiten with the coming day, and the Black Baron
moaned uneasily in his drunken sleep. The Abbot paused in his walk and
looked down upon them, and Gottlieb stole out from the shadow of the
door and asked if he could be of service. He had evidently not slept,
but had watched his chief, until he paused in his march.
"Tell our brothers to come out and see the justice of the Lord."
When the monks trooped out, haggard and wan, in the pure light of the
dawn, the Abbot asked Gottlieb to get a flagon and dash water from the
spring in the faces of the sleepers.
The Black Baron was the first to come to his senses and realise dimly,
at first, but afterwards more acutely, the changed condition of
affairs. His eye wandered apprehensively to the empty noose swaying
slightly in the morning breeze above him. He then saw that the tall,
ascetic man before him had doffed the Abbot's robes and wore a sword by
his side, and from this he augured ill. At the command of the Abbot the
monks raised each prostrate man and placed him against the north wall.
"Gottlieb," said, the Abbot slowly, "the last office that will be
required of you. You took from our necks the nooses last night. Place
them, I pray you, on the necks of the Baron and his followers."
The old man, trembling, adjusted the ropes.
"My Lord Abbot----" began the Baron.
"Baron von Grunewald," interrupted the person addressed, "the Abbot
Ambrose is dead. He was foully assassinated last night. In his place
stands Conrad von Stern, who answers for his deeds to the Emperor, and
after him, to God."
"Is it your purpose to hang me, Baron?"
"Was it your purpose to have hanged us, my Lord?"
"I swear to heaven, it was not. 'Twas but an ill-timed pleasantry. Had
I wished to hang you I would have done so last night."
"That seems plausible."
The knights all swore, with many rounded oaths, that their over-lord
spoke the truth, and nothing was further from their intention than an
"Well, then, whether you hang or no shall depend upon yourselves."
"By God, then," cried the Baron, "an' I have aught to say on that
point, I shall hang some other day."
"Will you then, Baron, beg admittance to Mother Church, whose kindly
tenets you have so long outraged?"
"We will, we do," cried the Baron fervently, whispering through his
clenched teeth to Segfried, who stood next him: "Wait till I have the
upper hand again." Fortunately the Abbot did not hear the whisper. The
knights all echoed aloud the Baron's pious first remark, and, perhaps,
in their hearts said "Amen" to his second.
The Abbot spoke a word or two to the monks, and they advanced to the
pinioned men and there performed the rites sacred to their office and
to the serious situation of the penitents. As the good brothers stood
back, they begged the Abbot for mercy to be extended towards the new
converts, but the sphinx-like face of their leader gave no indication
as to their fate, and the good men began to fear that it was the
Abbot's intention to hang the Baron and his knights.
"Now--brothers," said the Abbot, with a long pause before he spoke the
second word, whereupon each of the prisoners heaved a sigh of relief,
"I said your fate would depend on yourselves and on your good intent."
They all vociferously proclaimed that their intentions were and had
been of the most honourable kind.
"I trust that is true, and that you shall live long enough to show your
faith by your works. It is written that a man digged a pit for his
enemy and fell himself therein. It is also written that as a man sows,
so shall he reap. If you meant us no harm then your signal shouted to
the battlements will do you no harm."
"For God's sake, my Lord...." screamed the Baron. The Abbot, unheeding,
raised his face towards the northern wall and shouted at the top of his
"So die SUCH Christians!" varying the phrase by one word. A
simultaneous scream rose from the doomed men, cut short as by a knife,
as the huge log was hurled over the outer parapet, and the seventeen
victims were jerked into the air and throttled at the coping around the
Thus did the Abbot Ambrose save the souls of Baron von Grunewald and
his men, at some expense to their necks.
The proud and warlike Archbishop Baldwin of Treves was well mounted,
and, although the road by the margin of the river was in places bad,
the august horseman nevertheless made good progress along it, for he
had a long distance to travel before the sun went down. The way had
been rudely constructed by that great maker of roads--the army--and the
troops who had built it did not know, when they laboured at it, that
they were preparing a path for their own retreat should disaster
overtake them. The grim and silent horseman had been the brains, where
the troops were the limbs; this thoroughfare had been of his planning,
and over it, back into Treves, had returned a victorious, not a
defeated, army. The iron hand of the Archbishop had come down on every
truculent noble in the land, and every castle gate that had not opened
to him through fear, had been battered in by force. Peace now spread
her white wings over all the country, and where opposition to his
Lordship's stubborn will had been the strongest, there was silence as
well, with, perhaps, a thin wreath of blue smoke hovering over the
blackened walls. The provinces on each bank of the Moselle from Treves
to the Rhine now acknowledged Baldwin their over-lord--a suzerainty
technically claimed by his Lordship's predecessors--but the iron
Archbishop had changed the nominal into the actual, and it had taken
some hard knocks to do it. His present journey was well earned, for he
was betaking himself from his more formal and exacting Court at Treves
to his summer palace at Cochem, there to rest from the fatigues of a
campaign in which he had used not only his brain, but his good right
arm as well.
The palace which was to be the end of his journey was in some respects
admirably suited to its master, for, standing on an eminence high above
Cochem, with its score of pinnacles glittering in the sun, it seemed,
to one below, a light and airy structure; but it was in reality a
fortress almost impregnable, and three hundred years later it sent into
a less turbulent sphere the souls of one thousand six hundred Frenchmen
before its flag was lowered to the enemy.
The personal appearance of the Archbishop and the smallness of his
escort were practical illustrations of the fact that the land was at
peace, and that he was master of it. His attire was neither clerical
nor warlike, but rather that of a nobleman riding abroad where no enemy
could possibly lurk. He was to all appearance unarmed, and had no
protection save a light chain mail jacket of bright steel, which was
worn over his vesture, and not concealed as was the custom. This jacket
sparkled in the sun as if it were woven of fine threads strung with
small and innumerable diamonds. It might ward off a dagger thrust, or
turn aside a half-spent arrow, but it was too light to be of much
service against sword or pike. The Archbishop was well mounted on a
powerful black charger that had carried him through many a hot contest,
and it now made little of the difficulties of the ill-constructed road,
putting the other horses on their mettle to equal the pace set to them.
The escort consisted of twelve men, all lightly armed, for Gottlieb,
the monk, who rode sometimes by the Archbishop's side, but more often
behind him, could hardly be counted as a combatant should defence
become necessary. When the Archbishop left Treves his oldest general
had advised his taking an escort of a thousand men at least, putting it
on the ground that such a number was necessary to uphold the dignity of
his office; but Baldwin smiled darkly, and said that where _he_
rode the dignity of the Electorship would be safe, even though none
rode beside or behind him. Few dared offer advice to the Elector, but
the bluff general persisted, and spoke of danger in riding down the
Moselle valley with so small a following.
"Who is there left to molest me?" asked the Archbishop; and the general
was forced to admit that there was none.
An army builds a road along the line of the least resistance; and
often, when a promontory thrust its rocky nose into the river, the way
led up the hill through the forest, getting back into the valley again
as best it could. During these inland excursions, the monk, evidently
unused to equestrianism, fell behind, and sometimes the whole troop was
halted by command of its chief, until Gottlieb, clinging to his horse's
mane, emerged from the thicket, the Archbishop curbing the impatience
of his charger and watching, with a cynical smile curling his stern
lips, the reappearance of the good father.
After one of the most laborious ascents and descents they had
encountered that day, the Archbishop waited for the monk; and when he
came up with his leader, panting and somewhat dishevelled, the latter
said, "There appears to be a lesson in your tribulations which
hereafter you may retail with profit to your flock, relating how a good
man leaving the right and beaten path and following his own devices in
the wilderness may bring discomfiture upon himself."
"The lesson it conveys to me, my Lord," said the monk, drily, "is that
a man is but a fool to leave the stability of good stout sandals with
which he is accustomed, to venture his body on a horse that pays little
heed to his wishes."
"This is our last detour," replied the Elector; "there are now many
miles of winding but level road before us, and you have thus a chance
to retrieve your reputation as a horseman in the eyes of our troop."
"In truth, my Lord, I never boasted of it," returned the monk, "but I
am right glad to learn that the way will be less mountainous. To what
district have we penetrated?"
"Above us, but unseen from this bank of the river, is the castle of the
Widow Starkenburg. Her days of widowhood, however, are nearly passed,
for I intend to marry her to one of my victorious knights, who will
hold the castle for me."
"The Countess of Starkenburg," said the monk, must surely now be at an
age when the thoughts turn toward Heaven rather than toward matrimony."
"I have yet to meet the woman," replied the Archbishop, gazing upward,
"who pleads old age as an excuse for turning away from a suitable
lover. It is thy misfortune, Gottlieb, that in choosing a woollen cowl
rather than an iron head-piece, thou should'st thus have lost a chance
of advancement. The castle, I am told, has well-filled wine vaults, and
old age in wine is doubtless more to thy taste than the same quality in
woman. 'Tis a pity thou art not a knight, Gottlieb."
"The fault is not beyond the power of our Holy Father to remedy by
special dispensation," replied the monk, with a chuckle.
The Elector laughed silently, and looked down on his comrade in kindly
fashion, shaking his head.
"The wines of Castle Starkenburg are not for thy appreciative palate,
ghostly father. I have already selected a mate for the widow."
"And what if thy selection jumps not with her approval. They tell me
the countess has a will of her own."
"It matters little to me, and I give her the choice merely because I am
loth to war with a woman. The castle commands the river and holds the
district. The widow may give it up peaceably at the altar, or forcibly
at the point of the sword, whichever method most commends itself to her
ladyship. The castle must be in the command of one whom I can trust."
The conversation here met a startling interruption. The Archbishop and
his guard were trotting rapidly round a promontory and following a bend
of the river, the nature of the country being such that it was
impossible to see many hundred feet ahead of them. Suddenly, they came
upon a troop of armed and mounted men, standing like statues before
them. The troop numbered an even score, and completely filled the way
between the precipice on their left and the stream on their right.
Although armed, every sword was in its scabbard, with the exception of
the long two-handed weapon of the leader, who stood a few paces in
advance of his men, with the point of his sword resting on the ground.
The black horse, old in campaigns, recognised danger ahead, and stopped
instantly, without waiting for the drawing of the rein, planting his
two forefeet firmly in front, with a suddenness of action that would
have unhorsed a less alert rider. Before the archbishop could question
the silent host that barred his way, their leader raised his long sword
until it was poised perpendicularly in the air above his head, and,
with a loud voice, in measured tones, as one repeats a lesson he has
learned by rote, he cried, "My Lord Archbishop of Treves, the Countess
Laurette von Starkenburg invites you to sup with her."
In the silence that followed, the leader's sword still remained
uplifted untrembling in the air. Across the narrow gorge, from the
wooded sides of the opposite mountains, came, with mocking cadence, the
echo of the last words of the invitation, clear and distinct, as if
spoken again by some one concealed in the further forest. A deep frown
darkened the brow of the fighting archbishop.
"The Countess is most kind," he said, slowly. "Convey to her my
respectful admiration, and express my deep regret that I am unable to
accept her hospitality, as I ride to-night to my Castle at Cochem."
The leader of the opposing host suddenly lowered his upraised sword, as
if in salute, but the motion seemed to be a preconcerted signal, for
every man behind him instantly whipped blade from scabbard, and stood
there with naked weapon displayed. The leader, raising his sword once
more to its former position, repeated in the same loud and monotonous
voice, as if the archbishop had not spoken. "My Lord Archbishop of
Treves, the Countess Laurette von Starkenburg invites you to sup with
The intelligent war-horse, who had regarded the obstructing force with
head held high, retreated slowly step by step, until now a considerable
distance separated the two companies. The captain of the guard had seen
from the first that attack or defence was equally useless, and, with
his men, had also given way gradually as the strange colloquy went on.
Whether any of the opposing force noticed this or not, they made no
attempt to recover the ground thus almost imperceptibly stolen from
them, but stood as if each horse were rooted to the spot.
Baldwin the Fighter, whose compressed lips showed how loth he was to
turn his back upon any foe, nevertheless saw the futility of
resistance, and in a quick, clear whisper, he said, hastily, "Back!
Back! If we cannot fight them, we can at least out-race them."
The good monk had taken advantage of his privilege as a non-combatant
to retreat well to the rear while the invitation was being given and
declined, and in the succeeding flight found himself leading the van.
The captain of the guard threw himself between the Starkenburg men and
the prince of the Church, but the former made no effort at pursuit,
standing motionless as they had done from the first until the rounding
promontory hid them from view. Suddenly, the horse on which the monk
rode stood stock still, and its worthy rider, with a cry of alarm,
clinging to the animal's mane, shot over its head and came heavily to
the ground. The whole flying troop came to a sudden halt, for there
ahead of them was a band exactly similar in numbers and appearance to
that from which they were galloping. It seemed as if the same company
had been transported by magic over the promontory and placed across the
way. The sun shone on the uplifted blade of the leader, reminding the
archbishop of the flaming sword that barred the entrance of our first
parents to Paradise.
The leader, with ringing voice, that had a touch of menace in it,
"My Lord Archbishop of Treves, the Countess Laurette von Starkenburg
invites you to sup with her."
"Trapped, by God!" muttered the Elector between his clinched teeth. His
eyes sparkled with anger, and the sinister light that shot from them
had before now made the Emperor quail. He spurred his horse toward the
leader, who lowered his sword and bowed to the great dignitary
"The Countess of Starkenburg is my vassal," cried the Archbishop. "You
are her servant; and in much greater degree, therefore, are you mine. I
command you to let us pass unmolested on our way; refuse at your
"A servant," said the man, slowly, "obeys the one directly above him,
and leaves that one to account to any superior authority. My men obey
me; I take my orders from my lady the countess. If you, my Lord, wish
to direct the authority which commands me, my lady the countess awaits
your pleasure at her castle of Starkenburg."
"What are your orders, fellow?" asked the Archbishop, in a calmer tone.
"To convey your Lordship without scathe to the gates of Starkenburg."
"And if you meet resistance, what then?"
"The orders stand, my Lord."
"You will, I trust, allow this mendicant monk to pass peaceably on his
way to Treves."
"In no castle on the Moselle does even the humblest servant of the
Church receive a warmer welcome than at Starkenburg. My lady would hold
me to blame were she prevented from offering her hospitality to the
"Does the same generous impulse extend to each of my followers?"
"It includes them all, my Lord."
"Very well. We will do ourselves the honour of waiting upon this most
By this time the troop which had first stopped the Archbishop's
progress came slowly up, and the little body-guard of the Elector found
themselves hemmed in with twenty men in the front and twenty at the
rear, while the rocky precipice rose on one hand and the rapid river
flowed on the other.
The _cortege_ reformed and trotted gently down the road until it came
to a by-way leading up the hill. Into this by-way the leaders turned,
reducing their trot to a walk because of the steepness of the ascent.
The Archbishop and his men followed, with the second troop of
Starkenburg bringing up the rear. His Lordship rode at first in sullen
silence, then with a quick glance of his eye he summoned the captain to
his side. He slipped the ring of office from his finger and passed it
unperceived into the officer's hand.
"There will be some confusion at the gate," he said, in a low voice.
"Escape then if you can. Ride for Treves as you never rode before. Stop
not to fight with any; everything depends on outstripping pursuit. Take
what horses you need wherever you find them, and kill them all if
necessary, but stop for nothing. This ring will be warrant for whatever
you do. Tell my general to invest this castle instantly with ten
thousand men and press forward the siege regardless of my fate. Tell
him to leave not one stone standing upon another, and to hang the widow
of Starkenburg from her own blazing timbers. Succeed, and a knighthood
and the command of a thousand men awaits you."
"I will succeed or die, my Lord."
"Succeed and live," said the Archbishop, shortly.
As the horses slowly laboured up the zigzagging road, the view along
the silvery Moselle widened and extended, and at last the strong grey
walls of the castle came into sight, with the ample gates wide open.
The horsemen in front drew up in two lines on each side of the gates
without entering, and thus the Archbishop, at the head of his little
band, slowly rode first under the archway into the courtyard of the
On the stone steps that led to the principal entrance of the castle
stood a tall, graceful lady, with her women behind her. She was robed
in black, and the headdress of her snow-white hair gave her the
appearance of a dignified abbess at her convent door. Her serene and
placid face had undoubtedly once been beautiful; and age, which had
left her form as straight and slender as one of her own forest pines,
forgetting to place its customary burden upon her graceful shoulders,
had touched her countenance with a loving hand. With all her
womanliness, there was, nevertheless, a certain firmness in the finely-
moulded chin that gave evidence of a line of ancestry that had never
been too deferential to those in authority.
The stern Archbishop reined in his black charger when he reached the
middle of the courtyard, but made no motion to dismount. The lady came
slowly down the broad stone steps, followed by her feminine train, and,
approaching the Elector, placed her white hand upon his stirrup, in
mute acknowledgment of her vassalage.
"Welcome, prince of the Church and protector of our Faith," she said.
"It is a hundred years since my poor house has sheltered so august a
The tones were smooth and soothing as the scarcely audible plash of a
distant fountain; but the incident she cited struck ominously on the
Archbishop's recollection, rousing memory and causing him to dart a
quick glance at the countess, in which was blended sharp enquiry and
awakened foreboding; but the lady, unconscious of his scrutiny, stood
with drooping head and downcast eyes, her shapely hand still on his
"If I remember rightly, madame, my august predecessor slept well
beneath this roof."
"Alas, yes!" murmured the lady, sadly. "We have ever accounted it the
greatest misfortune of our line, that he should have died mysteriously
here. Peace be to his soul!"
"Not so mysteriously, madame, but that there were some shrewd guesses
concerning his malady."
"That is true, my Lord," replied the countess, simply. "It was supposed
that in his camp upon the lowlands by the river he contracted a fever
from which he died."
"My journey by the Moselle has been of the briefest. I trust,
therefore, I have not within me the seeds of his fatal distemper."
"I most devoutly echo that trust, my Lord, and pray that God, who
watches over us all, may guard your health while sojourning here."
"Forgive me, madame, if, within the shadow of these walls, I say 'Amen'
to your prayer with some emphasis."
The Countess Laurette contented herself with bowing low and humbly
crossing herself, making no verbal reply to his Lordship's remark. She
then beseeched the Archbishop to dismount, saying something of his need
of rest and refreshment, begging him to allow her to be his guide to
When the Archbishop reached the topmost step that led to the castle
door, he cast an eye, not devoid of anxiety, over the court-yard, to
see how his following had fared. The gates were now fast closed, and
forty horses were ranged with their tails to the wall, the silent
riders in their saddles. Rapid as was his glance, it showed him his
guard huddled together in the centre of the court, his own black
charger, with empty saddle, the only living thing among them that
showed no sign of dismay. Between two of the hostile horsemen stood his
captain, with doublet torn and headgear awry, evidently a discomfited
The Archbishop entered the gloomy castle with a sense of defeat tugging
down his heart to a lower level than he had ever known it to reach
before; for in days gone by, when fate had seemed to press against him,
he had been in the thick of battle, and had felt an exultation in
rallying his half-discouraged followers, who had never failed to
respond to the call of a born leader of men. But here he had to
encounter silence, with semi-darkness over his head, cold stone under
foot, and round him the unaccustomed hiss of women's skirts.
The Countess conducted her guest through the lofty Knight's Hall, in
which his Lordship saw preparations for a banquet going forward. An
arched passage led them to a small room that seemed to be within a
turret hanging over a precipice, as if it were an eagle's nest. This
room gave an admirable and extended view over the winding Moselle and
much of the surrounding country. On a table were flagons of wine and
empty cups, together with some light refection, upon all of which the
Archbishop looked with suspicious eye. He did not forget the rumoured
poisoning of his predecessor in office. The countess asked him, with
deference, to seat himself; then pouring out a cup of wine, she bowed
to him and drank it. Turning to rinse the cup in a basin of water which
a serving-woman held, she was interrupted by her guest, who now, for
the first time, showed a trace of gallantry.
"I beg of you, madame," said the Archbishop, rising; and, taking the
unwashed cup from her hand, he filled it with wine, drinking prosperity
to herself and her home. Then, motioning her to a chair, he said
seating himself: "Countess von Starkenburg, I am a man more used to the
uncouth rigour of a camp than the dainty etiquette of a lady's boudoir.
Forgive me, then, if I ask you plainly, as a plain man may, why you
hold me prisoner in your castle."
"Prisoner, my lord?" echoed the lady, with eyebrows raised in
amazement. "How poorly are we served by our underlings, if such a
thought has been conveyed to your lordship's mind. I asked them to
invite you hither with such deference as a vassal should hold toward an
over-lord. I am grievously distressed to learn that my commands have
been so ill obeyed."
"Your commands were faithfully followed, madame, and I have made no
complaint regarding lack of deference, but when two-score armed men
carry a respectful invitation to one having a bare dozen at his back,
then all option vanishes, and compulsion takes its place."
"My lord, a handful of men were fit enough escort for a neighbouring
baron should he visit us, but, for a prince of the Church, all my
retainers are but scanty acknowledgment of a vassal's regard. I would
they had been twenty thousand, to do you seemly honour."
"I am easily satisfied, madame, and had they been fewer I might have
missed this charming outlook. I am to understand, then, that you have
no demands to make of me; and that I am free to depart, accompanied by
your good wishes."
"With my good wishes now and always, surely, my Lord. I have no demands
to make--the word ill befits the lips of a humble vassal; but, being
"Ah! But, being here----" interrupted the Archbishop, glancing keenly
"I have a favour to beg of you. I wish to ask permission to build a
castle on the heights above Trarbach, for my son."
"The Count Johann, third of the name?"
"The same, my Lord, who is honoured by your Lordship's remembrance of
"And you wish to place this stronghold between your castle of
Starkenburg and my town of Treves? Were I a suspicious man, I might
imagine you had some distrust of me."
"Not so, my lord. The Count Johann will hold the castle in your
"I have ever been accustomed to look to my own defence," said the
Archbishop, drily; adding, as if it were an afterthought, "with the
blessing of God upon my poor efforts."
The faintest suspicion of a smile hovered for an instant on the lips of
the countess, that might have been likened to the momentary passing of
a gleam of sunshine over the placid waters of the river far below; for
she well knew, as did all others, that it was the habit of the fighting
Archbishop to smite sturdily first, and ask whatever blessing might be
needed on the blow afterwards.
"The permission being given, what follows?"
"That you will promise not to molest me during the building."
"A natural corollary. 'Twould be little worth to give permission and
then bring up ten thousand men to disturb the builders. That granted,
remains there anything more?"
"I fear I trespass on your Lordship's patience but this is now the end.
A strong house is never built with a weak purse. I do entreat your
lordship to cause to be sent to me from your treasury in Treves
thousand pieces of gold, that the castle may be a worthy addition to
The Archbishop arose with a scowl on his face, and paced the narrow
limits of the room like a caged lion. The hot anger mounted to his brow
and reddened it, but he strode up and down until he regained control of
himself, then spoke with a touch of hardness in his voice:
"A good fighter, madame, holds his strongest reserves to the last. You
have called me a prince of the Church, and such I am. But you flatter
me, madame; you rate me too high. The founder of our Church, when
betrayed, was sold for silver, and for a lesser number of pieces than
you ask in gold."
The lady, now standing, answered nothing to this taunt, but the colour
flushed her pale cheeks.
"I am, then, a prisoner, and you hold me for ransom, but it will avail
you little. You may close your gates and prevent my poor dozen of
followers from escaping, but news of this outrage will reach Treves,
and then, by God, your walls shall smoke for it. There will be none of
the Starkenburgs left, either to kidnap or to murder future
Still the lady stood silent and motionless as a marble statue. The
Elector paced up and down for a time, muttering to himself, then smote
his open palm against a pillar of the balcony, and stood gazing on the
fair landscape of river and rounded hill spread below and around him.
Suddenly he turned and looked at the Countess, meeting her clear,
fearless grey eyes, noticing, for the first time, the resolute contour
of her finely-moulded chin.
"Madame," he said, with admiration in his tone, "you are a brave
"I am not so brave as you think me, my Lord," she answered, coldly.
"There is one thing I dare not do. I am not brave enough to allow your
Lordship to go free, if you refuse what I ask."
"And should I not relent at first, there are dungeons in Starkenburg
where this proud spirit, with which my enemies say I am cursed, will
doubtless be humbled."
"Not so, my Lord. You will be treated with that consideration which
should be shown to one of your exalted station."
"Indeed! And melted thus by kindness, how long, think you, will the
"It will be of the shortest, my Lord, for if, as you surmise rumour
should get abroad and falsely proclaim that the Archbishop lodges here
against his will, there's not a flying baron or beggared knight in all
the land but would turn in his tracks and cry to Starkenburg, 'In God's
name, hold him, widow, till we get our own again!' Willingly would they
make the sum I beg of you an annual tribute, so they might be certain
your Lordship were well housed in this castle."
"Widow, there is truth in what you say, even if a woman hath spoken
it," replied the Archbishop, with a grim smile on his lips and
undisguised admiration gleaming from his dark eye. "This cowardly world
is given to taking advantage of a man when opportunity offers. But
there is one point you have not reckoned upon: What of my stout army
lying at Treves?"
"What of the arch when the keystone is withdrawn? What of the sheep
when the shepherd disappears? My Lord, you do yourself and your great
military gifts a wrong. Through my deep regard for you I gave strict
command that not even the meanest of your train should be allowed to
wander till all were safe within these gates, for I well knew that, did
but a whisper of my humble invitation and your gracious acceptance of
the same reach Treves, it might be misconstrued; and although some
sturdy fellows would be true, and beat their stupid heads against these
walls, the rest would scatter like a sheaf of arrows suddenly unloosed,
and seek the strongest arm upraised in the melee sure to follow.
Against your army, leaderless, I would myself march out at the head of
my two-score men without a tremor at my heart; before that leader,
alone and armyless, I bow my head with something more akin to fear than
I have ever known before, and crave his generous pardon for my bold
The Archbishop took her unresisting hand, and, bending, raised it to
his lips with that dignified courtesy which, despite his disclaimer, he
knew well how, upon occasion, to display.
"Madame," he said, "I ask you to believe that your request was granted
even before you marshalled such unanswerable arguments to stand, like
armoured men, around it. There is a tern and stringent law of our great
Church which forbids its servants suing for a lady's hand. Countess, I
never felt the grasp of that iron fetter until now."
Thus came the strong castle above Trarbach to be builded, and that not
at the expense of its owners.
THE ARCHBISHOP'S GIFT
Arras, blacksmith and armourer, stood at the door of his hut in the
valley of the Alf, a league or so from the Moselle, one summer evening.
He was the most powerful man in all the Alf-thal, and few could lift
the iron sledge-hammer he wielded as though it were a toy. Arras had
twelve sons scarce less stalwart than himself, some of whom helped him
in his occupation of blacksmith and armourer, while the others tilled
the ground near by, earning from the rich soil of the valley such
sustenance as the whole family required.
The blacksmith thus standing at his door, heard, coming up the valley
of the Alf, the hoof-beats of a horse, and his quick, experienced ear
told him, though the animal was yet afar, that one of its shoes was
loose. As the hurrying rider came within call, the blacksmith shouted
to him in stentorian tones:
"Friend, pause a moment, until I fasten again the shoe on your horse's
"I cannot stop," was the brief answer.
"Then your animal will go lame," rejoined the blacksmith.
"Better lose a horse than an empire," replied the rider, hurrying by.
"Now what does that mean?" said the blacksmith to himself as he watched
the disappearing rider, while the click-clack of the loosened shoe
became fainter and fainter in the distance.
Could the blacksmith have followed the rider into Castle Bertrich, a
short distance further up the valley, he would speedily have learned
the meaning of the hasty phrase the horseman had flung behind him as he
rode past. Ascending the winding road that led to the gates of the
castle as hurriedly as the jaded condition of his beast would permit,
the horseman paused, unloosed the horn from his belt, and blew a blast
that echoed from the wooded hills around. Presently an officer appeared
above the gateway, accompanied by two or three armed men, and demanded
who the stranger was and why he asked admission. The horseman, amazed
at the officer's ignorance of heraldry that caused him to inquire as to
his quality, answered with some haughtiness:
"Messenger of the Archbishop of Treves, I demand instant audience with
The officer, without reply, disappeared from the castle wall, and
presently the great leaves of the gate were thrown open, whereupon the
horseman rode his tired animal into the courtyard and flung himself
"My horse's shoe is loose," he said to the Captain. "I ask you to have
your armourer immediately attend to it."
"In truth," replied the officer, shrugging his shoulders, "there is
more drinking than fighting in Castle Bertrich; consequently we do not
possess an armourer. If you want blacksmithing done you must betake
yourself to armourer Arras in the valley, who will put either horse or
armour right for you."
With this the messenger was forced to be content; and, begging the
attendants who took charge of his horse to remember that it had
travelled far and had still, when rested, a long journey before it, he
followed the Captain into the great Rittersaal of the castle, where, on
entering, after having been announced, he found the Count of Bertrich
sitting at the head of a long table, holding in his hand a gigantic
wine flagon which he was industriously emptying. Extending down each
side of the table were many nobles, knights, and warriors, who, to
judge by the hasty glance bestowed upon them by the Archbishop's
messenger, seemed to be energetically following the example set them by
their over-lord at the head. Count Bertrich's hair was unkempt, his
face a purplish red, his eye bloodshot; and his corselet, open at the
throat, showed the great bull-neck of the man, on whose gigantic frame
constant dissipation seemed to have merely temporary effect.
"Well!" roared the nobleman, in a voice that made the rafters ring.
"What would you with Count Bertrich?"
"I bear an urgent despatch to you from my Lord the Archbishop of
Treves," replied the messenger.
"Then down on your knees and present it," cried the Count, beating the
table with his flagon.
"I am Envoy of his Lordship of Treves," said the messenger, sternly.
"You told us that before," shouted the Count; "and now you stand in the
hall of Bertrich. Kneel, therefore, to its master."
"I represent the Archbishop," reiterated the messenger, "and I kneel to
none but God and the Emperor."
Count Bertrich rose somewhat uncertainly to his feet, his whole frame
trembling with anger, and volleyed forth oaths upon threats. The tall
nobleman at his right hand also rose, as did many of the others who sat
at the table, and, placing his hand on the arm of his furious host,
"My Lord Count, the man is right. It is against the feudal law that he
should kneel, or that you should demand it. The Archbishop of Treves is
your overlord, as well as ours, and it is not fitting that his
messenger should kneel before us."
"That is truth--the feudal law," muttered others down each side of the
The enraged Count glared upon them one after another, partially subdued
by their breaking away from him.
The Envoy stood calm and collected, awaiting the outcome of the tumult.
The Count, cursing the absent Archbishop and his present guests with
equal impartiality, sat slowly down again, and flinging his empty
flagon at an attendant, demanded that it should be refilled. The others
likewise resumed their seats; and the Count cried out, but with less of
truculence in his tone:
"What message sent the Archbishop to Castle Bertrich?"
"My Lord, the Archbishop of Treves requires me to inform Count Bertrich
and the assembled nobles that the Hungarians have forced passage across
the Rhine, and are now about to make their way through the defiles of
the Eifel into this valley, intending to march thence upon Treves,
laying that ancient city in ruin and carrying havoc over the
surrounding country. His Lordship commands you, Count Bertrich, to
rally your men about you and to hold the infidels in check in the
defiles of the Eifel until the Archbishop comes, at the bead of his
army, to your relief from Treves."
There was deep silence in the vast hall after this startling
announcement. Then the Count replied:
"Tell the Archbishop of Treves that if the Lords of the Rhine cannot
keep back the Hungarians, it is hardly likely that we, less powerful,
near the Moselle, can do it."
"His Lordship urges instant compliance with his request, and I am to
say that you refuse at your peril. A few hundred men can hold the
Hungarians in check while they are passing through the narrow ravines
of the Eifel, while as many thousands might not be successful against
them should they once reach the open valleys of the Alf and the
Moselle. His Lordship would also have you know that this campaign is as
much in your own interest as in his, for the Hungarians, in their
devastating march, spare neither high nor low."
"Tell his Lordship," hiccoughed the Count, "that I sit safely in my
Castle of Bertrich, and that I defy all the Hungarians who were ever
let loose to disturb me therein. If the Archbishop keeps Treves as
tightly as I shall hold Castle Bertrich, there is little to fear from
"Am I to return to Treves then with your refusal?" asked the Envoy.
"You may return to Treves as best pleases you, so that you rid us of
your presence here, where you mar good company."
The Envoy, without further speech, bowed to Count Bertrich and also to
the assembled nobles, passed silently out of the hall, once more
reaching the courtyard of the castle, where he demanded that his horse
be brought to him.
"The animal has had but scant time for feeding and rest," said the
"'Twill be sufficient to carry us to the blacksmith's hut," answered
the Envoy, as he put his foot in stirrup.
The blacksmith, still standing at the door of his smithy, heard, coming
from the castle, the click of the broken shoe, but this time the rider
drew up before him and said:
"The offer of help which you tendered me a little ago I shall now be
glad to accept. Do your work well, smith, and know that in performing
it, you are obliging an envoy of the Archbishop of Treves."
The armourer raised his cap at the mention of the august name, and
invoked a blessing upon the head of that renowned and warlike prelate.
"You said something," spoke up the smith, "of loss of empire, as you
rode by. I trust there is no disquieting news from Treves?"
"Disquieting enough," replied the messenger. "The Hungarians have
crossed the Rhine, and are now making their way towards the defiles of
the Eifel. There a hundred men could hold the infidels in check; but
you breed a scurvy set of nobles in the Alf-thal, for Count Bertrich
disdains the command of his over-lord to rise at the head of his men
and stay the progress of the invader until the Archbishop can come to
"Now, out upon the drunken Count for a base coward!" cried the armourer
in anger. "May his castle be sacked and himself hanged on the highest
turret, for refusing aid to his over-lord in time of need. I and my
twelve sons know every rock and cave in the Eifel. Would the
Archbishop, think you, accept the aid of such underlings as we, whose
only commendation is that our hearts are stout as our sinews?"
"What better warranty could the Archbishop ask than that?" replied the
Envoy. "If you can hold back the Hungarians for four or five days, then
I doubt not that whatever you ask of the Archbishop will speedily be
"We shall ask nothing," cried the blacksmith, "but his blessing, and be
deeply honoured in receiving it."
Whereupon the blacksmith, seizing his hammer, went to the door of his
hut, where hung part of a suit of armour, that served at the same time
as a sign of his profession and as a tocsin. He smote the hanging iron
with his sledge until the clangorous reverberation sounded through the
valley, and presently there came hurrying to him eight of his stalwart
sons, who had been occupied in tilling the fields.
"Scatter ye," cried the blacksmith, "over the land. Rouse the people,
and tell them the Hungarians are upon us. Urge all to collect here at
midnight, with whatever of arms or weapons they may possess. Those who
have no arms, let them bring poles, and meanwhile your brothers and
myself will make pike-heads for them. Tell them they are called to,
action by a Lord from the Archbishop of Treves himself, and that I
shall lead them. Tell them they fight for their homes, their wives, and
their children. And now away."
The eight young men at once dispersed in various directions. The smith
himself shod the Envoy's horse, and begged him to inform the Archbishop
that they would defend the passes of the Eifel while a man of them
Long before midnight the peasants came straggling to the smithy from
all quarters, and by daylight the blacksmith had led them over the
volcanic hills to the lip of the tremendous pass through which the
Hungarians must come. The sides of this chasm were precipitous and
hundreds of feet in height. Even the peasants themselves, knowing the
rocks as they did, could not have climbed from the bottom of the pass
to the height they now occupied. They had, therefore, no fear that the
Hungarians could scale the walls and decimate their scanty band.
When the invaders appeared the blacksmith and his men rolled great
stones and rocks down upon them, practically annihilating the advance
guard and throwing the whole army into confusion. The week's struggle
that followed forms one of the most exciting episodes in German
history. Again and again the Hungarians attempted the pass, but nothing
could withstand the avalanche of stones and rocks wherewith they were
overwhelmed. Still, the devoted little band did not have everything its
own way. They were so few--and they had to keep watch night and day--
that ere the week was out many turned longing eyes towards the
direction whence the Archbishop's army was expected to appear. It was
not until the seventh day that help arrived, and then the Archbishop's
forces speedily put to flight the now demoralised Hungarians, and
chased them once more across the Rhine.
"There is nothing now left for us to do," said the tired blacksmith to
his little following; "so I will get back to my forge and you to your
And this without more ado they did, the cheering and inspiring ring of
iron on anvil awakening the echoes of the Alf-thal once again.
The blacksmith and his twelve sons were at their noon-day meal when an
imposing cavalcade rode up to the smithy. At the head was no other than
the Archbishop himself, and the blacksmith and his dozen sons were
covered with confusion to think that they had such a distinguished
visitor without the means of receiving him in accordance with his
station. But the Archbishop said:
"Blacksmith Arras, you and your sons would not wait for me to thank
you; so I am now come to you that in presence of all these followers of
mine I may pay fitting tribute to your loyalty and your bravery."
Then, indeed, did the modest blacksmith consider he had received more
than ample compensation for what he had done, which, after all, as he
told his neighbours, was merely his duty. So why should a man be
thanked for it?
"Blacksmith," said the Archbishop, as he mounted his horse to return to
Treves, "thanks cost little and are easily bestowed. I hope, however,
to have a present for you that will show the whole country round how
much I esteem true valour."
At the mouth of the Alf-thal, somewhat back from the small village of
Alf and overlooking the Moselle, stands a conical hill that completely
commands the valley. The Archbishop of Treves, having had a lesson
regarding the dangers of an incursion through the volcanic region of
the Eifel, put some hundreds of men at work on this conical hill, and
erected on the top a strong castle, which was the wonder of the
country. The year was nearing its end when this great stronghold was
completed, and it began to be known throughout the land that the
Archbishop intended to hold high revel there, and had invited to the
castle all the nobles in the country, while the chief guest was no
other than the Emperor himself. Then the neighbours of the blacksmith
learned that a gift was about to be bestowed upon that stalwart man. He
and his twelve sons received notification to attend at the castle, and
to enjoy the whole week's festivity. He was commanded to come in his
leathern apron, and to bring with him his huge sledge-hammer, which,
the Archbishop said, had now become a weapon as honourable as the two-
handed sword itself.
Never before had such an honour been bestowed upon a common man, and
though the peasants were jubilant that one of their caste should be
thus singled out to receive the favour of the famous Archbishop, and
meet not only great nobles, but even the Emperor himself, still, it was
gossiped that the Barons grumbled at this distinction being placed upon
a serf like the blacksmith Arras, and none were so loud in their
complaints as Count Bertrich, who had remained drinking in the castle
while the blacksmith fought for the land. Nevertheless, all the
nobility accepted the invitation of the powerful Archbishop of Treves,
and assembled in the great room of the new castle, each equipped in all
the gorgeous panoply of full armour. It had been rumoured among the
nobles that the Emperor would not permit the Archbishop to sully the
caste of knighthood by asking the Barons to recognise or hold converse
with one in humble station of life. Indeed, had it been otherwise,
Count Bertrich, with the Barons to back him, were resolved to speak out
boldly to the Emperor, upholding the privileges of their class, and
protesting against insult to it in presence of the blacksmith and his
When all assembled in the great hall they found at the centre of the
long side wall a magnificent throne erected, with a dais in front of
it, and on this throne sat, the Emperor in state, while at his right
hand stood the lordly Archbishop of Treves. But what was more
disquieting, they beheld also the blacksmith standing before the dais,
some distance in front of the Emperor, clad in his leathern apron, with
his big brawny hands folded over the top of the handle of his huge
sledge-hammer. Behind him were ranged his twelve sons. There were deep
frowns on the brows of the nobles when they saw this, and, after
kneeling and protesting their loyalty to the Emperor, they stood aloof
and apart, leaving a clear space between themselves and the plebeian
blacksmith on whom they cast lowering looks. When the salutations of
the Emperor had been given, the Archbishop took a step forward on the
dais and spoke in a clear voice that could be heard to the furthermost
corner of the room.
"My Lords," he said, "I have invited you hither that you may have the
privilege of doing honour to a brave man. I ask you to salute the
blacksmith Arras, who, when his country was in danger, crushed the
invaders as effectually as ever his right arm, wielding sledge, crushed
A red flush of confusion overspread the face of the blacksmith, but
loud murmurs broke out among the nobility, and none stepped forward to
salute him. One, indeed, stepped forward, but it was to appeal to the
"Your Majesty," exclaimed Count Bertrich, "this is an unwarranted
breach of our privileges. It is not meet that we, holding noble names,
should be asked to consort with an untitled blacksmith. I appeal to
your Majesty against the Archbishop under the feudal law."
All eyes turned upon the Emperor, who, after a pause, said:
"Count Bertrich is right, and I sustain his appeal."
An expression of triumph came into the red bibulous face of Count
Bertrich, and the nobles shouted joyously:
"The Emperor, the Emperor!"
The Archbishop, however, seemed in no way non-plussed by his defeat,
but, addressing the armourer, said:
"Advance, blacksmith, and do homage to your Emperor and mine."
When the blacksmith knelt before the throne, the Emperor, taking his
jewelled sword from his side, smote the kneeling man lightly on his
broad shoulders, saying:
"Arise, Count Arras, noble of the German Empire, and first Lord of the
The blacksmith rose slowly to his feet, bowed lowly to the Emperor, and
backed to the place where he had formerly stood, again resting his
hands on the handle of his sledge-hammer. The look of exultation faded
from the face of Count Bertrich, and was replaced by an expression of
dismay, for he had been until that moment, himself first Lord of the
Alf-thal, with none second.
"My Lords," once more spoke up the Archbishop, "I ask you to salute
Count Arras, first Lord of the Alf-thal."
No noble moved, and again Count Bertrich appealed to the Emperor.
"Are we to receive on terms of equality," he said, "a landless man; the
count of a blacksmith's hut; a first lord of a forge? For the second
time I appeal to your Majesty against such an outrage."
The Emperor replied calmly:
"Again I support the appeal of Count Bertrich."
There was this time no applause from the surrounding nobles, for many
of them had some smattering idea of what was next to happen, though the
muddled brain of Count Bertrich gave him no intimation of it.
"Count Arras," said the Archbishop, "I promised you a gift when last I
left you at your smithy door. I now bestow upon you and your heirs
forever this castle of Burg Arras, and the lands adjoining it. I ask
you to hold it for me well and faithfully, as you held the pass of the
Eifel. My Lords," continued the Archbishop, turning to the nobles, with
a ring of menace in his voice, "I ask you to salute Count Arras, your
equal in title, your equal in possessions, and the superior of any one
of you in patriotism and bravery. If any noble question his courage,
let him neglect to give Count of Burg Arras his title and salutation as
he passes before him."
"Indeed, and that will not I," said the tall noble who had sat at
Bertrich's right hand in his castle, "for, my Lords, if we hesitate
longer, this doughty blacksmith will be Emperor before we know it."
Then, advancing towards the ex-armourer, he said: "My Lord, Count of
Burg Arras, it gives me pleasure to salute you, and to hope that when
Emperor or Archbishop are to be fought for, your arm will be no less
powerful in a coat of mail than it was when you wore a leathern apron."
One by one the nobles passed and saluted as their leader had done.
Count Bertrich hung back until the last, and then, as he passed the new
Count of Burg Arras, he hissed at him, with a look of rage, the single
The Count of Burg Arras, stirred to sudden anger, and forgetting in
whose presence he stood, swung his huge sledge-hammer round his head,
and brought it down on the armoured back of Count Bertrich, roaring the
The armour splintered like crushed ice, and Count Bertrich fell prone
on his face and lay there. There was instant cry of "Treason! Treason!"
and shouts of "No man may draw arms in the Emperor's presence."
"My Lord Emperor," cried the Count of Burg Arras, "I crave pardon if I
have done amiss. A man does not forget the tricks of his old calling
when he takes on new honours. Your Majesty has said that I am a Count.
This man, having heard your Majesty's word, proclaims me blacksmith,
and so gave the lie to his Emperor. For this I struck him, and would
again, even though he stood before the throne in a palace, or the altar
in a cathedral. If that be treason, take from me your honours, and let
me back to my forge, where this same hammer will mend the armour it has
broken, or beat him out a new back-piece."
"You have broken no tenet of the feudal law," said the Emperor. "You
have broken nothing, I trust, but the Count's armour, for, as I see, he
is arousing himself, doubtless no bones are broken as well. The feudal
law does not regard a blacksmith's hammer as a weapon. And as for
treason, Count of Burg Arras, may my throne always be surrounded by
such treason as yours."
And for centuries after, the descendants of the blacksmith were Counts
of Burg Arras, and held the castle of that name, whose ruins to-day
attest the excellence of the Archbishop's building.
COUNT KONRAD'S COURTSHIP
It was nearly midnight when Count Konrad von Hochstaden reached his
castle on the Rhine, with a score of very tired and hungry men behind
him. The warder at the gate of Schloss Hochstaden, after some cautious
parley with the newcomers, joyously threw apart the two great iron-
studded oaken leaves of the portal when he was convinced that it was
indeed his young master who had arrived after some tumultuous years at
the crusades, and Count Konrad with his followers rode clattering under
the stone arch, into the ample courtyard. It is recorded that, in the
great hall of the castle, the Count and his twenty bronzed and scarred
knights ate such a meal as had never before been seen to disappear in
Hochstaden, and that after drinking with great cheer to the downfall of
the Saracene and the triumph of the true cross, they all lay on the
floor of the Rittersaal and slept the remainder of the night, the whole
of next day, and did not awaken until the dawn of the second morning.
They had had years of hard fighting in the east, and on the way home
they had been compelled to work their passage through the domains of
turbulent nobles by good stout broadsword play, the only argument their
opposers could understand, and thus they had come through to the Rhine
without contributing aught to their opponents except fierce blows,
which were not commodities as marketable as yellow gold, yet with this
sole exchange did the twenty-one win their way from Palestine to the
Palatinate, and thus were they so long on the road that those in
Schloss Hochstaden had given up all expectation of their coming.
Count Konrad found that his father, whose serious illness was the cause
of his return, had been dead for months past, and the young man
wandered about the castle which, during the past few years, he had
beheld only in dreams by night and in the desert mirages by day,
saddened because of his loss. He would return to the Holy Land, he said
to himself, and let the castle be looked after by its custodian until
the war with the heathen was ended.
The young Count walked back and forth on the stone paved terrace which
commanded from its height such a splendid view of the winding river,
but he paid small attention to the landscape, striding along with his
hands clasped behind him; his head bent, deep in thought. He was
awakened from his reverie by the coming of the ancient custodian of the
castle, who shuffled up to him and saluted him with reverential
respect, for the Count was now the last of his race; a fighting line,
whose members rarely came to die peaceably in their beds as Konrad's
father had done.
The Count, looking up, swept his eye around the horizon and then to his
astonishment saw the red battle flag flying grimly from the high
northern tower of Castle Bernstein perched on the summit of the next
hill to the south. In the valley were the white tents of an encampment,
and fluttering over it was a flag whose device, at that distance, the
Count could not discern.
"Why is the battle flag flying on Bernstein, Gottlieb, and what means
those tents in the valley?" asked Konrad.
The old man looked in the direction of the encampment, as if the sight
were new to him, but Konrad speedily saw that the opposite was the
case. The tents had been there so long that they now seemed a permanent
part of the scenery.
"The Archbishop of Cologne, my Lord, is engaged in the besiegement of
Schloss Bernstein, and seems like to have a long job of it. He has been
there for nearly a year now."
"Then the stout Baron is making a brave defence; good luck to him!"
"Alas, my Lord, I am grieved to state that the Baron went to his rest
on the first day of the assault. He foolishly sallied out at the head
of his men and fell hotly on the Archbishop's troops, who were
surrounding the castle. There was some matter in dispute between the
Baron and the Archbishop, and to aid the settlement thereof, his mighty
Lordship of Cologne sent a thousand armed men up the river, and it is
said that all he wished was to have parley with Baron Bernstein, and to
overawe him in the discussion, but the Baron came out at the head of
his men and fell upon the Cologne troops so mightily that he nearly put
the whole battalion to flight, but the officers rallied their panic-
stricken host, seeing how few were opposed to them, and the order was
given that the Baron should be taken prisoner, but the old man would
not have it so, and fought so sturdily with his long sword, that he
nearly entrenched himself with a wall of dead. At last the old man was
cut down and died gloriously, with scarcely a square inch unwounded on
his whole body. The officers of the Archbishop then tried to carry the
castle by assault, but the Lady of Bernstein closed and barred the
gate, ran, up the battle flag on the northern tower and bid defiance to
the Archbishop and all his men."
"The Lady of Bernstein? I thought the Baron was a widower. Whom, then,
did he again marry?"
"'Twas not his wife, but his daughter."
"His daughter? Not Brunhilda? She's but a child of ten."
"She was when you went away, my Lord, but now she is a woman of
eighteen, with all the beauty of her mother and all the bravery of her
"Burning Cross of the East, Gottlieb! Do you mean to say that for a
year a prince of the Church has been warring with a girl, and her
brother, knowing nothing of this cowardly assault, fighting the battles
for his faith on the sands of the desert? Let the bugle sound! Call up
my men and arouse those who are still sleeping."
"My Lord, my Lord, I beg of you to have caution in this matter."
"Caution? God's patience! Has caution rotted the honour out of the
bones of all Rhine men, that this outrage should pass unmolested before
their eyes! The father murdered; the daughter beleaguered; while those
who call themselves men sleep sound in their safe castles! Out of my
way, old man! Throw open the gates!"
But the ancient custodian stood firmly before his over-lord, whose red
angry face seemed like that of the sun rising so ruddily behind him.
"My Lord, if you insist on engaging in this enterprise it must be gone
about sanely. You need the old head as well as the young arm. You have
a score of well-seasoned warriors, and we can gather into the castle
another hundred. But the Archbishop has a thousand men around
Bernstein. Your score would but meet the fate of the old Baron and
would not better the case of those within the castle. The Archbishop
has not assaulted Bernstein since the Baron's death, but has drawn a
tight line around it and so has cut off all supplies, daily summoning
the maiden to surrender. What they now need in Bernstein is not iron,
but food. Through long waiting they keep slack watch about the castle,
and it is possible that, with care taken at midnight, you might
reprovision Bernstein so that she could hold out until her brother
comes, whom it is said she has summoned from the Holy Land."
"Thou art wise, old Gottlieb," said the Count slowly, pausing in his
wrath as the difficulties of the situation were thus placed in array
before him; "wise and cautious, as all men seem to be who now keep ward
on the Rhine. What said my father regarding this contest?"
"My Lord, your honoured father was in his bed stricken with the long
illness that came to be his undoing at the last, and we never let him
know that the Baron was dead or the siege in progress."
"Again wise and cautious, Gottlieb, for had he known it, he would have
risen from his deathbed, taken down his two-handed sword from the wall,
and struck his last blow in defence of the right against tyranny."
"Indeed, my Lord, under danger of your censure, I venture to say that
you do not yet know the cause of the quarrel into which you design to
precipitate yourself. It may not be tyranny on the part of the
overlord, but disobedience on the part of the vassal, which causes the
environment of Bernstein. And the Archbishop is a prince of our holy
"I leave those nice distinctions to philosophers like thee, Gottlieb.
It is enough for me to know that a thousand men are trying to starve
one woman, and as for being a prince of the Church, I shall give his
devout Lordship a taste of religion hot from its birthplace, and show
him how we uphold the cause in the East, for in this matter the
Archbishop grasps not the cross but the sword, and by the sword shall
he be met. And now go, Gottlieb, set ablaze the fires on all our ovens
and put the bakers at work. Call in your hundred men as speedily as
possible, and bid each man bring with him a sack of wheat. Spend the
day at the baking and fill the cellars with grain and wine. It will be
reason enough, if any make inquiry, to say that the young Lord has
returned and intends to hold feasts in his castle. Send hither my
Captain to me."
Old Gottlieb hobbled away, and there presently came upon the terrace a
stalwart, grizzled man, somewhat past middle age, whose brown face
showed more seams of scars than remnants of beauty. He saluted his
chief and stood erect in silence.
The Count waved his hand toward the broad valley and said grimly:
"There sits the Archbishop of Cologne, besieging the Castle of
The Captain bowed low and crossed himself.
"God prosper his Lordship," he said piously.
"You may think that scarcely the phrase to use, Captain, when I tell
you that you will lead an assault on his Lordship to-night."
"Then God prosper us, my Lord," replied the Captain cheerfully, for he
was ever a man who delighted more in fighting than in inquiring keenly
into the cause thereof.
"You may see from here that a ridge runs round from this castle,
bending back from the river, which it again approaches, touching thus
Schloss Bernstein. There is a path along the summit of the ridge which
I have often trodden as a boy, so I shall be your guide. It is scarce
likely that this path is guarded, but if it is we will have to throw
its keepers over the precipice; those that we do not slay outright,
when we come upon them."
"Excellent, my Lord, most excellent," replied the Captain, gleefully
rubbing his huge hands one over the other.
"But it is not entirely to fight that we go. You are to act as convoy
to those who carry bread to Castle Bernstein. We shall leave here at
the darkest hour after midnight and you must return before daybreak so
that the Archbishop cannot estimate our numbers. Then get out all the
old armour there is in the castle and masquerade the peasants in it.
Arrange them along the battlements so that they will appear as numerous
as possible while I stay in Castle Bernstein and make terms with the
Archbishop, for it seems he out-mans us, so we must resort, in some
measure, to strategy. On the night assault let each man yell as if he
were ten and lay about him mightily. Are the knaves astir yet?"
"Most of them, my Lord, and drinking steadily the better to endure the
dryness of the desert when we go eastward again."
"Well, see to it that they do not drink so much as to interfere with
clean sword-play against to-night's business."
"Indeed, my Lord, I have a doubt if there is Rhine wine enough in the
castle's vaults to do that, and the men yell better when they have a
few gallons within them."
At the appointed hour Count Konrad and his company went silently forth,
escorting a score more who carried sacks of the newly baked bread on
their backs, or leathern receptacles filled with wine, as well as a
stout cask of the same seductive fluid. Near the Schloss Bernstein the
rescuing party came upon the Archbishop's outpost, who raised the alarm
before the good sword of the Captain cut through the cry. There were
bugle calls throughout the camp and the sound of men hurrying to their
weapons, but all the noise of preparation among the besiegers was as
nothing to the demoniac din sent up by the Crusaders, who rushed to the
onslaught with a zest sharpened by their previous rest and inactivity.
The wild barbaric nature of their yells, such as never before were
heard on the borders of the placid Rhine, struck consternation into the
opposition camp, because some of the Archbishop's troops had fought
against the heathen in the East, and they now recognised the clamour
which had before, on many an occasion, routed them, and they thought
that the Saracenes had turned the tables and invaded Germany; indeed
from the deafening clamour it seemed likely that all Asia was let loose
upon them. The alarm spread quickly to Castle Bernstein itself, and
torches began to glimmer on its battlements. With a roar the Crusaders
rushed up to the foot of the wall, as a wave dashes against a rock,
sweeping the frightened bread-carriers with them. By the light of the
torches Konrad saw standing on the wall a fair young girl clad in chain
armour whose sparkling links glistened like countless diamonds in the
rays of the burning pitch. She leaned on the cross-bar of her father's
sword and, with wide-open, eager eyes peered into the darkness beyond,
questioning the gloom for reason of the terrifying tumult. When Konrad
strode within the radius of the torches, the girl drew back slightly
"So the Archbishop has at last summoned courage to attack, after all
this patient waiting."
"My Lady," shouted the Count, "these are my forces and not the
Archbishop's. I am Konrad, Count of Hochstaden."
"The more shame, then, that you, who have fought bravely with men,
should now turn your weapons against a woman, and she your neighbour
and the sister of your friend."
"Indeed, Lady Brunhilda, you misjudge me. I am come to your rescue and
not to your disadvantage.. The Archbishop's men were put to some
inconvenience by our unexpected arrival, and to gather from the sounds
far down the valley they have not ceased running yet. We come with
bread, and use the sword but as a spit to deliver it."
"Your words are welcome were I but sure of their truth," said the lady
with deep distrust in her tone, for she had had experience of the
Archbishop's craft on many occasions, and the untimely hour of the
succour led her to fear a ruse. "I open my gates neither to friend nor
to foe in the darkness," she added.
"Tis a rule that may well be commended to others of your bewitching
sex," replied the Count, "but we ask not the opening of the gates,
although you might warn those within your courtyard to beware what
comes upon them presently."
So saying, he gave the word, and each two of his servitors seized a
sack of bread by the ends and, heaving it, flung it over the wall. Some
of the sacks fell short, but the second effort sent them into the
courtyard, where many of them burst, scattering the round loaves along
the cobble-stoned pavement, to be eagerly pounced upon by the starving
servitors and such men-at-arms as had escaped from the encounter with
the Archbishop's troops when the Baron was slain. The cries of joy that
rang up from within the castle delighted the ear of the Count and
softened the suspicion of the lady on the wall.
"Now," cried Konrad to his Captain, "back to Schloss Hochstaden before
the dawn approaches too closely, and let there be no mistake in the
Archbishop's camp that you are on the way."
They all departed in a series of earsplitting, heart-appalling whoops
that shattered the still night air and made a vocal pandemonium of that
portion of the fair Rhine valley. The colour left the cheeks of the
Lady of Bernstein as she listened in palpable terror to the fiendish
outcry which seemed to scream for blood and that instantly, looking
down she saw the Knight of Hochstaden still there at the foot of her
wall gazing up at her.
"My Lord," she said with concern, "if you stay thus behind your noisy
troop you will certainly be captured when it comes day."
"My Lady of Bernstein, I am already a captive, and all the Archbishop's
men could not hold me more in thrall did they surround me at this
"I do not understand you, sir," said Brunhilda coldly, drawing herself
up with a dignity that well became her, "your language seems to partake
of an exaggeration that doubtless you have learned in the tropical
East, and which we have small patience with on the more temperate banks
of the Rhine."
"The language that I use, fair Brunhilda, knows neither east nor west;
north nor south, but is common to every land, and if it be a stranger
to the Rhine, the Saints be witness 'tis full time 'twere introduced
here, and I hold myself as competent to be its spokesman, as those
screeching scoundrels of mine hold themselves the equal in battle to
all the archbishops who ever wore the robes of that high office."
"My Lord," cried Brunhilda, a note of serious warning in her voice, "my
gates are closed and they remain so. I hold myself your debtor for
unasked aid, and would fain see you in a place of safety."
"My reverenced Lady, that friendly wish shall presently be gratified,"
and saying this, the Count unwound from his waist a thin rope woven of
horse-hair, having a long loop at the end of it. This he whirled round
his head and with an art learned in the scaling of eastern walls flung
the loop so that it surrounded one of the machicolations of the
bastion, and, with his feet travelling against the stone work, he
walked up the wall by aid of this cord and was over the parapet before
any could hinder his ascent. The Maid of the Schloss, her brows drawn
down in anger, stood with sword ready to strike, but whether it was the
unwieldiness of the clumsy weapon, or whether it was the great celerity
with which the young man put his nimbleness to the test, or whether it
was that she recognised him as perhaps her one friend on earth, who can
tell; be that as it may, she did not strike in time, and a moment,
later the Count dropped on one knee and before she knew it raised one
of her hands to his bending lips.
"Lovely Warder of Bernstein," cried Count Konrad, with a tremor of
emotion in his voice that thrilled the girl in spite of herself, "I lay
my devotion and my life at your feet, to use them as you will."
"My Lord," she said quaveringly, with tears nearer the surface than she
would have cared to admit, "I like not this scaling of the walls; my
"God's truth, my Lady, and you are not the first to so object, but the
others were men, and I may say, without boasting, that I bent not the
knee to them when I reached their level, but I have been told that
custom will enable a maid to look more forgivingly on such escapades if
her feeling is friendly toward the invader, and I am bold enough to
hope that the friendship with which your brother has ever regarded me
in the distant wars, may be extended to my unworthy self by his sister
Count Konrad rose to his feet and the girl gazed at him in silence,
seeing how bronzed and manly he looked in his light well-polished
eastern armour, which had not the cumbrous massiveness of western mail,
but, while amply protecting the body, bestowed upon it lithe freedom
for quick action; and unconsciously she compared him, not to his
disadvantage, with the cravens on the Rhine, who, while sympathising
with her, dared not raise weapon on her behalf against so powerful an
over-lord as the warlike Archbishop. The scarlet cross of the Crusader
on his broad breast seemed to her swimming eyes to blaze with lambent
flame in the yellow torchlight. She dared not trust her voice to answer
him, fearing its faintness might disown the courage with which she had
held her castle for so long, and he, seeing that she struggled to hold
control of herself, standing there like a superb Goddess of the Rhine,
pretended to notice nothing and spoke jauntily with a wave of his hand:
"My villains have brought to the foot of the walls a cask of our best
wine which we dared not adventure to cast into the courtyard with that
freedom which forwarded the loaves; there is also a packet of dainties
more suited to your Ladyship's consideration than the coarse bread from
our ovens. Give command, I beg of you, that the gates be opened and
that your men bring the wine and food to safety within the courtyard,
and bestow on me the privilege of guarding the open gate while this is
Then gently, with insistent deference, the young man took from her the
sword of her father which she yielded to him with visible reluctance,
but nevertheless yielded, standing there disarmed before him. Together
in silence they went down the stone steps that led from the battlements
to the courtyard, followed by the torch-bearers, whom the lightening
east threatened soon to render unnecessary. A cheer went up, the first
heard for many days within those walls, and the feasters, flinging
their caps in the air, cried "Hochstaden! Hochstaden!" The Count turned
to his fair companion and said, with a smile:
"The garrison is with me, my Lady."
She smiled also, and sighed, but made no other reply, keeping her eyes
steadfast on the stone steps beneath her. Once descended, she gave the
order in a low voice, and quickly the gates were thrown wide, creaking
grumblingly on their hinges, long unused. Konrad stood before the
opening with the sword of Bernstein in his hands, swinging it this way
and that to get the hang of it, and looking on it with the admiration
which a warrior ever feels for a well hung, trusty blade, while the
men-at-arms nodded to one another and said: "There stands a man who
knows the use of a weapon. I would that he had the crafty Archbishop
before him to practise on."
When the barrel was trundled in, the Lady of Bernstein had it broached
at once, and with her own hand served to each of her men a flagon of
the golden wine. Each took his portion, bowing low to the lady, then
doffing cap, drank first to the Emperor, and after with an enthusiasm
absent from the Imperial toast, to the young war lord whom the night
had flung thus unexpectedly among them. When the last man had refreshed
himself, the Count stepped forward and begged a flagon full that he
might drink in such good company, and it seemed that Brunhilda had
anticipated such a request, for she turned to one of her women and held
out her hand, receiving a huge silver goblet marvellously engraved that
had belonged to her forefathers, and plenishing it, she gave it to the
Count, who, holding it aloft, cried, "The Lady of Bernstein," whereupon
there arose such a shout that the troubled Archbishop heard it in his
"And yet further of your hospitality must I crave," said Konrad, "for
the morning air is keen, and gives me an appetite for food of which I
am deeply ashamed, but which nevertheless clamours for an early
The lady, after giving instruction to the maids who waited upon her,
led the way into the castle, where Konrad following, they arrived in
the long Rittersaal, at the end of which, facing the brightening east,
was placed a huge window of stained glass, whose great breadth was
gradually lightening as if an unseen painter with magic brush was
tinting the glass with transparent colour, from the lofty timbered
ceiling to the smoothly polished floor. At the end of the table, with
her back to the window, Brunhilda sat, while the Count took a place
near her, by the side, turning so that he faced her, the ever-
increasing radiance illumining his scintillating armour. The girl ate
sparingly, saying little and glancing often at her guest. He fell to
like the good trencherman he was, and talked unceasingly of the wars in
the East, and the brave deeds done there, and as he talked the girl
forgot all else, rested her elbows on the table and her chin in her
hands, regarding him intently, for he spoke not of himself but of her
brother, and of how, when grievously pressed, he had borne himself so
nobly that more than once, seemingly certain defeat was changed into
glorious victory. Now and then when Konrad gazed upon Brunhilda, his
eloquent tongue faltered for a moment and he lost the thread of his
narrative, for all trace of the warrior maid had departed, and there,
outlined against the glowing window of dazzling colours, she seemed
indeed a saint with her halo of golden hair, a fit companion to the
angels that the marvellous skill of the artificer had placed in that
gorgeous collection of pictured panes, lead-lined and cut in various
shapes, answering the needs of their gifted designer, as a paint-brush
follows the will of the artist. From where the young man sat, the girl
against the window seemed a member of that radiant company, and thus he
paused stricken speechless by her beauty.
She spoke at last, the smile on her lips saddened by the down turning
of their corners, her voice the voice of one hovering uncertain between
laughter and tears.
"And you," she said, "you seem to have had no part in all this stirring
recital. It was my brother and my brother and my brother, and to hear
you one would think you were all the while hunting peacefully in your
Rhine forests. Yet still I do believe the Count of Hochstaden gave the
heathen to know he was somewhat further to the east of Germany."
"Oh, of me," stammered the Count. "Yes, I was there, it is true, and
sometimes--well, I have a fool of a captain, headstrong and reckless,
who swept me now and then into a melee, before I could bring cool
investigation to bear upon his mad projects, and once in the fray of
course I had to plead with my sword to protect my head, otherwise my
bones would now be on the desert sands, so I selfishly lay about me and
did what I could to get once more out of the turmoil."
The rising sun now struck living colour into the great window of
stained glass, splashing the floor and the further wall with crimson
and blue and gold. Count Konrad sprang to his feet. "The day is here,"
he cried, standing in the glory of it, while the girl rose more slowly.
"Let us have in your bugler and see if he has forgotten the battle call
of the Bernsteins. Often have I heard it in the desert. 'Give us the
battle call,' young Heinrich would cry and then to its music all his
followers would shout 'Bernstein! Bernstein!' until it seemed the far-
off horizon must have heard."
The trumpeter came, and being now well fed, blew valiantly, giving to
the echoing roof the war cry of the generations of fighting men it had
"That is it," cried the Count, "and it has a double significance. A
challenge on the field, and a summons to parley when heard from the
walls. We shall now learn whether or no the Archbishop has forgotten
it, and I crave your permission to act as spokesman with his Lordship."
"That I most gratefully grant," said the Lady of the Castle.
Once more on the battlements, the Lord of Hochstaden commanded the
trumpeter to sound the call The martial music rang out in the still
morning air and was echoed mockingly by the hills on the other side of
the river. After that, all was deep silence.
"Once again," said Konrad.
For a second time the battle blast filled the valley, and for a second
time returned faintly back from the hills. Then from near the great
tent of the Archbishop, by the margin of the stream, came the answering
call, accepting the demand for a parley.
When at last the Archbishop, mounted on a black charger, came slowly up
the winding path which led to the castle, attended by only two of his
officers, he found the Count of Hochstaden awaiting him on the
battlements above the gate. The latter's hopes arose when he saw that
Cologne himself had come, and had not entrusted the business to an
envoy, and it was also encouraging to note that he came so poorly
attended, for when a man has made up his mind to succumb he wishes as
few witnesses as possible, while if he intends further hostilities, he
comes in all the pomp of his station.
"With whom am I to hold converse?" began the Archbishop, "I am here at
the behest of the Bernstein call to parley, but I see none, of that
name on the wall to greet me."
"Heinrich, Baron Bernstein, is now on his way to his castle from the
Holy Land, and were he here it were useless for me to summon a parley,
for he would answer you with the sword and not with the tongue when he
learned his father was dead at your hand."
"That is no reply to my question. With whom do I hold converse?"
"I am Konrad, Count of Hochstaden, and your Lordship's vassal."
"I am glad to learn of your humility and pleased to know that I need
not call your vassalage to your memory, but I fear that in the darkness
you have less regard for either than you now pretend in the light of
"In truth, my Lord, you grievously mistake me, for in the darkness I
stood your friend. I assure you I had less than a thousand rascals at
my back last night, and yet nothing would appease them but that they
must fling themselves upon your whole force, had I not held them in
check. I told them you probably outnumbered us ten to one, but they
held that one man who had gone through an eastern campaign was worth
ten honest burghers from Cologne, which indeed I verily believe, and
for the fact that you were not swept into the Rhine early this morning
you have me and my peaceful nature to thank, my Lord. Perhaps you heard
the rogues discussing the matter with me before dawn, and going angrily
home when I so ordered them."
"A man had need to be dead and exceedingly deep in his grave not to
have heard them" growled the Archbishop.
"And there they stand at this moment, my Lord, doubtless grumbling
among themselves that I am so long giving the signal they expect, which
will permit them to finish this morning's work. The men I can generally
control, but my captains are a set of impious cut-throats who would
sooner sack an Archbishop's palace than listen to the niceties of the
feudal law which protects over-lords from such pleasantries."
The Archbishop turned on his horse and gazed on the huge bulk of
Schloss Hochstaden, and there a wonderful sight met his eye. The walls
bristled with armed men, the sun glistening on their polished
breastplates like the shimmer of summer lightning. The Archbishop
turned toward the gate again, as though the sight he beheld brought
small comfort to him.
"What is your desire?" he said with less of truculence in his tone than
there had been at the beginning.
"I hold it a scandal," said the Count gravely, "that a prince of the
Church should assault Christian walls while their owner is absent in
the East venturing his life in the uplifting of the true faith. You can
now retreat without loss of prestige; six hours hence that may be
impossible. I ask you then to give your assurance to the Lady of
Bernstein, pledging your knightly word that she will be no longer
threatened by you, and I ask you to withdraw your forces immediately to
Cologne where it is likely they will find something to do if Baron
Heinrich, as I strongly suspect, marches directly on that city."
"I shall follow the advice of my humble vassal, for the strength of a
prince is in the sage counsel of his war lords. Will you escort the
lady to the battlements?"
Then did Count Konrad von Hochstaden see that his cause was won, and
descending he came up again, leading the Lady Brunhilda by the hand.
"I have to acquaint you, madame," said the Archbishop, "that the siege
is ended, and I give you my assurance that you will not again be
beleaguered by my forces."
The Lady of Bernstein bowed, but made no answer. She blushed deeply
that the Count still held her hand, but she did not withdraw it.
"And now, my Lord Archbishop, that this long-held contention is
amicably adjusted," began Von Hochstaden, "I crave that you bestow on
us two your gracious blessing, potentate of the Church, for this lady
is to be my wife"
"What!" cried Brunhilda in sudden anger, snatching her hand from his,
"do you think you can carry me by storm as you did my castle, without
even asking my consent?"
"Lady of my heart," said Konrad tenderly, "I did ask your consent. My
eyes questioned in the Rittersaal and yours gave kindly answer. Is
there then no language but that which is spoken? I offer you here
before the world my open hand; is it to remain empty?"
He stood before her with outstretched palm, and she gazed steadfastly
at him, breathing quickly. At length a smile dissolved the sternness of
her charming lips, she glanced at his extended hand and said:
"'Twere a pity so firm and generous a hand should remain tenantless,"
and with that she placed her palm in his.
The Archbishop smiled grimly at this lovers' by-play, then solemnly,
with upraised hands, invoked God's blessing upon them.
THE LONG LADDER
Every fortress has one traitor within its walls; the Schloss Eltz had
two. In this, curiously enough, lay its salvation; for as some Eastern
poisons when mixed neutralise each other and form combined a harmless
fluid, so did the two traitors unwittingly react, the one upon the
other, to the lasting glory of Schloss Eltz, which has never been
captured to this day.
It would be difficult to picture the amazement of Heinrich von
Richenbach when he sat mute upon his horse at the brow of the wooded
heights and, for the first time, beheld the imposing pile which had
been erected by the Count von Eltz. It is startling enough to come
suddenly upon a castle where no castle should be; but to find across
one's path an erection that could hardly have been the product of other
agency than the lamp of Aladdin was stupefying, and Heinrich drew the
sunburned back of his hand across his eyes, fearing that they were
playing him a trick; then seeing the wondrous vision still before him,
he hastily crossed himself, an action performed somewhat clumsily
through lack of practice, so that he might ward off enchantment, if, as
seemed likely, that mountain of pinnacles was the work of the devil,
and not placed there, stone on stone, by the hand of man. But in spite
of crossing and the clearing of his eyes, Eltz Castle remained firmly
seated on its stool of rock, and, when his first astonishment had
somewhat abated, Von Richenbach, who was a most practical man, began to
realise that here, purely by a piece of unbelievable good luck, the
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