"There is no question as to that," answered the Count.
"Then it will please me well if you promise to apologise to his Lordship the Archbishop of Treves. That his Lordship will be equally pleased, I very much doubt."
"Will your Majesty command me in open Court to apologise?"
"I shall request you to do so. I must uphold the Feudal law."
"Then I beseech your Majesty to command me, for I am a loyal subject, and will obey."
"God give me many such," said the Emperor fervently, "and bestow upon me the wisdom to deserve them!"
He extended his hand to the Count, then touched a bell on the table beside him. The officer who had conducted Winneburg entered silently, and acted as his guide back to the thronged apartment they had left. The Count saw that the great crimson curtains were now looped up, giving a view of the noble interior of the room beyond, thronged with the notables of the Empire. The hall leading to it was almost deserted, and the Count, under convoy of two lancemen, himself nearly as tall as their weapons, passed in to the Throne Room, and found all eyes turned upon him.
He was brought to a stand before an elevated dais, the centre of which was occupied by a lofty throne, which, at the moment, was empty. Near it, on the elevation, stood the three Archbishops of Treves, Cologne, and Mayence, on the other side the Count Palatine of the Rhine with the remaining three Electors. The nobles of the realm occupied places according to their degree.
As the stalwart Count came in, a buzz of conversation swept over the hall like a breeze among the leaves of a forest. A malignant scowl darkened the countenance of the Archbishop of Treves, but the faces of Cologne and Mayence expressed a certain Christian resignation regarding the contumely which had been endured by their colleague. The Count stood stolidly where he was placed, and gazed at the vacant throne, turning his eyes neither to the right nor the left.
Suddenly there was a fanfare of trumpets, and instant silence smote the assembly. First came officers of the Imperial Guard in shining armour, then the immediate advisers and councillors of his Majesty, and last of all, the Emperor himself, a robe of great richness clasped at his throat, and trailing behind him; the crown of the Empire upon his head. His face was pale and stern, and he looked what he was, a monarch, and a man. The Count rubbed his eyes, and could scarcely believe that he stood now in the presence of one who had chatted amiably with him but a few moments before.
The Emperor sat on his throne and one of his councillors whispered for some moments to him; then the Emperor said, in a low, clear voice, that penetrated to the farthest corner of the vast apartment:
"Is the Count of Winneburg here?"
"Yes, your Majesty."
"Let him stand forward."
The Count strode two long steps to the front, and stood there, red- faced and abashed. The officer at his side whispered:
"Kneel, you fool, kneel."
And the Count got himself somewhat clumsily down upon his knees, like an elephant preparing to receive his burden. The face of the Emperor remained impassive, and he said harshly:
The Count, once more upon his feet, breathed a deep sigh of satisfaction at finding himself again in an upright posture.
"Count of Winneburg," said the Emperor slowly, "it is alleged that upon the occasion of the last meeting of the Council of State for the Moselle valley, you, in presence of the nobles there assembled, cast a slight upon your over-lord, the Archbishop of Treves. Do you question the statement?"
The Count cleared his throat several times, which in the stillness of that vaulted room sounded like the distant booming of cannon.
"If to cast the Archbishop half the distance of this room is to cast a slight upon him, I did so, your Majesty."
There was a simultaneous ripple of laughter at this, instantly suppressed when the searching eye of the Emperor swept the room.
"Sir Count," said the Emperor severely, "the particulars of your outrage are not required of you; only your admission thereof. Hear, then, my commands. Betake yourself to your castle of Winneburg, and hold yourself there in readiness to proceed to Treves on a day appointed by his Lordship the Archbishop, an Elector of this Empire, there to humble yourself before him, and crave his pardon for the offence you have committed. Disobey at your peril."
Once or twice the Count moistened his dry lips, then he said:
"Your Majesty, I will obey any command you place upon me."
"In that case," continued the Emperor, his severity visibly relaxing, "I can promise that your over-lord will not hold this incident against you. Such, I understand, is your intention, my Lord Archbishop?" and the Emperor turned toward the Prince of Treves.
The Archbishop bowed low, and thus veiled the malignant hatred in his eyes. "Yes, your Majesty," he replied, "providing the apology is given as publicly as was the insult, in presence of those who were witnesses of the Count's foolishness."
"That is but a just condition," said the Emperor. "It is my pleasure that the Council be summoned to Treves to hear the Count's apology. And now, Count of Winneburg, you are at liberty to withdraw."
The Count drew his mammoth hand across his brow, and scattered to the floor the moisture that had collected there. He tried to speak, but apparently could not, then turned and walked resolutely towards the door. There was instant outcry at this, the Chamberlain of the Court standing in stupefied amazement at a breach of etiquette which exhibited any man's back to the Emperor; but a smile relaxed the Emperor's lips, and he held up his hand.
"Do not molest him," he said, as the Count disappeared. "He is unused to the artificial manners of a Court. In truth, I take it as a friendly act, for I am sure the valiant Count never turned his back upon a foe," which Imperial witticism was well received, for the sayings of an Emperor rarely lack applause.
The Count, wending his long way home by the route he had come, spent the first half of the journey in cursing the Archbishop, and the latter half in thinking over the situation. By the time he had reached his castle he had formulated a plan, and this plan he proceeded to put into execution on receiving the summons of the Archbishop to come to Treves on the first day of the following month and make his apology, the Archbishop, with characteristic penuriousness, leaving the inviting of the fifteen nobles, who formed the Council, to Winneburg, and thus his Lordship of Treves was saved the expense of sending special messengers to each. In case Winneburg neglected to summon the whole Council, the Archbishop added to his message, the statement that he would refuse to receive the apology if any of the nobles were absent.
Winneburg sent messengers, first to Beilstein, asking him to attend at Treves on the second day of the month, and bring with him an escort of at least a thousand men. Another he asked for the third, another for the fourth, another for the fifth, and so on, resolved that before a complete quorum was present, half of the month would be gone, and with it most of the Archbishop's provender, for his Lordship, according to the laws of hospitality, was bound to entertain free of all charge to themselves the various nobles and their followings.
On the first day of the month Winneburg entered the northern gate of Treves, accompanied by two hundred horsemen and eight hundred foot soldiers. At first, the officers of the Archbishop thought that an invasion was contemplated, but Winneburg suavely explained that if a thing was worth doing at all, it was worth doing well, and he was not going to make any hole-and-corner affair of his apology. Next day Beilstein came along accompanied by five hundred cavalry, and five hundred foot soldiers.
The Chamberlain of the Archbishop was in despair at having to find quarters for so many, but he did the best he could, while the Archbishop was enraged to observe that the nobles did not assemble in greater haste, but each as he came had a plausible excuse for his delay. Some had to build bridges, sickness had broken out in another camp, while a third expedition had lost its way and wandered in the forest.
The streets of Treves each night resounded with songs of revelry, varied by the clash of swords, when a party of the newcomers fell foul of a squad of the town soldiers, and the officers on either side had much ado to keep the peace among their men. The Archbishop's wine cups were running dry, and the price of provisions had risen, the whole surrounding country being placed under contribution for provender and drink. When a week had elapsed the Archbishop relaxed his dignity and sent for Count Winneburg.
"We will not wait for the others," he said. "I have no desire to humiliate you unnecessarily. Those who are here shall bear witness that you have apologised, and so I shall not insist on the presence of the laggards, but will receive your apology to-morrow at high noon in the great council chamber."
"Ah, there speaks a noble heart, ever thinking generously of those who despitefully use you, my Lord Archbishop," said Count Winneburg. "But no, no, I cannot accept such a sacrifice. The Emperor showed me plainly the enormity of my offence. In the presence of all I insulted you, wretch that I am, and in the presence of all shall I abase myself."
"But I do not seek your abasement," protested the Archbishop, frowning.
"The more honour, then, to your benevolent nature," answered the Count, "and the more shameful would it be of me to take advantage of it. As I stood a short time since on the walls, I saw coming up the river the banners of the Knight of Ehrenburg. His castle is the furthest removed from Treves, and so the others cannot surely delay long. We will wait, my Lord Archbishop, until all are here. But I thank you just as much for your generosity as if I were craven enough to shield myself behind it."
The Knight of Ehrenburg in due time arrived, and behind him his thousand men, many of whom were compelled to sleep in the public buildings, for all the rooms in Treves were occupied. Next day the Archbishop summoned the assembled nobles and said he would hear the apology in their presence. If the others missed it, it was their own fault—they should have been in time.
"I cannot apologise;" said the Count, "until all are here. It was the Emperor's order, and who am I to disobey my Emperor? We must await their coming with patience, and, indeed, Treves is a goodly town, in which all of us find ourselves fully satisfied."
"Then, my blessing on you all," said the Archbishop in a sour tone most unsuited to the benediction he was bestowing. "Return, I beg of you, instantly, to your castles. I forego the apology."
"But I insist on tendering it," cried the Count, his mournful voice giving some indication of the sorrow he felt at his offence if it went unrequited. "It is my duty, not only to you, my Lord Archbishop, but also to his Majesty the Emperor."
"Then, in Heaven's name get on with it and depart. I am willing to accept it on your own terms, as I have said before."
"No, not on my own terms, but on yours. What matters the delay of a week or two? The hunting season does not begin for a fortnight, and we are all as well at Treves as at home. Besides, how could I ever face my Emperor again, knowing I had disobeyed his commands?"
"I will make it right with the Emperor," said the Archbishop.
The Knight of Ehrenburg now spoke up, calmly, as was his custom:
"'Tis a serious matter," he said, "for a man to take another's word touching action of his Majesty the Emperor. You have clerks here with you; perhaps then you will bid them indite a document to be signed by yourself absolving my friend, the Count of Winneburg, from all necessity of apologising, so that should the Emperor take offence at his disobedience, the parchment may hold him scathless."
"I will do anything to be quit of you," muttered the Archbishop more to himself than to the others.
And so the document was written and signed. With this parchment in his saddle-bags the Count and his comrades quitted the town, drinking in half flagons the health of the Archbishop, because there was not left in Treves enough wine to fill the measures to the brim.
In the ample stone-paved courtyard of the Schloss Grunewald, with its mysterious bubbling spring in the centre, stood the Black Baron beside his restive horse, both equally eager to be away. Round the Baron were grouped his sixteen knights and their saddled chargers, all waiting the word to mount. The warder was slowly opening the huge gates that hung between the two round entrance towers of the castle, for it was the Baron's custom never to ride out at the head of his men until the great leaves of the strong gate fell full apart, and showed the green landscape beyond. The Baron did not propose to ride unthinkingly out, and straightway fall into an ambush.
He and his sixteen knights were the terror of the country-side, and many there were who would have been glad to venture a bow shot at him had they dared. There seemed to be some delay about the opening of the gates, and a great chattering of underlings at the entrance, as if something unusual had occurred, whereupon the rough voice of the Baron roared out to know the cause that kept him waiting, and every one scattered, each to his own affair, leaving only the warder, who approached his master with fear in his face.
"My Lord," he began, when the Baron had shouted what the devil ailed him, "there has been nailed against the outer gate; sometime in the night, a parchment with characters written thereon."
"Then tear it down and bring it to me," cried the Baron. "What's all this to-do about a bit of parchment?"
The warder had been loath to meddle with it, in terror of that witchcraft which he knew pertained to all written characters; but he feared the Black Baron's frown even more than the fiends who had undoubtedly nailed the documents on the gate, for he knew no man in all that well-cowed district would have the daring to approach the castle even in the night, much less meddle with the gate or any other belonging of the Baron von Grunewald; so, breathing a request to his patron saint (his neglect of whom he now remembered with remorse) for protection, he tore the document from its fastening and brought it, trembling, to the Baron. The knights crowded round as von Grunewald held the parchment in his hand, bending his dark brows upon it, for it conveyed no meaning to him. Neither the Baron nor his knights could read.
"What foolery, think you, is this?" he said, turning to the knight nearest him. "A Defiance?"
The knight shook his head. "I am no clerk," he answered.
For a moment the Baron was puzzled; then he quickly bethought himself of the one person in the castle who could read.
"Bring hither old Father Gottlieb," he commanded, and two of those waiting ran in haste towards the scullery of the place, from which they presently emerged dragging after them an old man partly in the habit of a monk and partly in that of a scullion, who wiped his hands on the coarse apron, that was tied around his waist, as he was hurried forward.
"Here, good father, excellent cook and humble servitor, I trust your residence with us has not led you to forget the learning you put to such poor advantage in the Monastery of Monnonstein. Canst thou construe this for us? Is it in good honest German or bastard Latin?"
"It is in Latin," said the captive monk, on glancing at the document in the other's hand.
"Then translate it for us, and quickly."
Father Gottlieb took the parchment handed him by the Baron, and as his eyes scanned it more closely, he bowed his head and made the sign of the cross upon his breast.
"Cease that mummery," roared the Baron, "and read without more waiting or the rod's upon thy back again. Who sends us this?"
"It is from our Holy Father the Pope," said the monk, forgetting his menial position for the moment, and becoming once more the scholar of the monastery. The sense of his captivity faded from him as he realised that the long arm of the Church had extended within the impregnable walls of that tyrannical castle.
"Good. And what has our Holy Father the Pope to say to us? Demands he the release of our excellent scullion, Father Gottlieb?"
The bent shoulders of the old monk straightened, his dim eye brightened, and his voice rang clear within the echoing walls of the castle courtyard.
"It is a ban of excommunication against thee, Lord Baron von Grunewald, and against all within these walls, excepting only those unlawfully withheld from freedom," "Which means thyself, worthy Father. Read on, good clerk, and let us hear it to the end."
As the monk read out the awful words of the message, piling curse on curse with sonorous voice, the Baron saw his trembling servitors turn pale, and even his sixteen knights, companions in robbery and rapine, fall away from him. Dark red anger mounted to his temples; he raised his mailed hand and smote the reading monk flat across the mouth, felling the old man prone upon the stones of the court.
"That is my answer to our Holy Father the Pope, and when thou swearest to deliver it to him as I have given it to thee, the gates are open and the way clear for thy pilgrimage to Rome."
But the monk lay where he fell and made no reply.
"Take him away," commanded the Baron impatiently, whereupon several of the menials laid hands on the fallen monk and dragged him into the scullery he had left.
Turning to his men-at-arms, the Baron roared: "Well, my gentle wolves, have a few words in Latin on a bit of sheep-skin turned you all to sheep?"
"I have always said," spoke up the knight Segfried, "that no good came of captured monks, or meddling with the Church. Besides, we are noble all, and do not hold with the raising of a mailed hand against an unarmed man."
There was a low murmur of approval among the knights at Segfried's boldness.
"Close the gates," shouted the maddened Baron. Every one flew at the word of command, and the great oaken hinges studded with iron, slowly came together, shutting out the bit of landscape their opening had discovered. The Baron flung the reins on his charger's neck, and smote the animal on the flank, causing it to trot at once to its stable.
"There will be no riding to-day," he said, his voice ominously lowering. The stablemen of the castle came forward and led away the horses. The sixteen knights stood in a group together with Segfried at their head, waiting with some anxiety on their brows for the next move in the game. The Baron, his sword drawn in his hand, strode up and down before them, his brow bent on the ground, evidently struggling to get the master hand over his own anger. If it came to blows the odds were against him and he was too shrewd a man to engage himself single-handed in such a contest.
At length the Baron stopped in his walk and looked at the group. He said, after a pause, in a quiet tone of voice: "Segfried, if you doubt my courage because I strike to the ground a rascally monk, step forth, draw thine own good sword, our comrades will see that all is fair betwixt us, and in this manner you may learn that I fear neither mailed nor unmailed hand."
But the knight made no motion to lay his hand upon his sword, nor did he move from his place. "No one doubts your courage, my Lord," he said, "neither is it any reflection on mine that in answer to your challenge my sword remains in its scabbard. You are our overlord and it is not meet that our weapons should be raised against you."
"I am glad that point is firmly fixed in your minds. I thought a moment since that I would be compelled to uphold the feudal law at the peril of my own body. But if that comes not in question, no more need be said. Touching the unarmed, Segfried, if I remember aright you showed no such squeamishness at our sacking of the Convent of St. Agnes."
"A woman is a different matter, my Lord," said Segfried uneasily.
The Baron laughed and so did some of the knights, openly relieved to find the tension of the situation relaxing.
"Comrades!" cried the Baron, his face aglow with enthusiasm, all traces of his former temper vanishing from his brow. "You are excellent in a melee, but useless at the council board. You see no further ahead of you than your good right arms can strike. Look round you at these stout walls; no engine that man has yet devised can batter a breach in them. In our vaults are ten years' supply of stolen grain. Our cellars are full of rich red wine, not of our vintage, but for our drinking. Here in our court bubbles forever this good spring, excellent to drink when wine gives out, and medicinal in the morning when too much wine has been taken in." He waved his hand towards the overflowing well, charged with carbonic acid gas, one of the many that have since made this region of the Rhine famous. "Now I ask you, can this Castle of Grunewald ever be taken—excommunication or no excommunication?"
A simultaneous shout of "No! Never!" arose from the knights.
The Baron stood looking grimly at them for several moments. Then he said in a quiet voice, "Yes, the Castle of Grunewald can be taken. Not from without but from within. If any crafty enemy sows dissension among us; turns the sword of comrade against comrade; then falls the Castle of Grunewald! To-day we have seen how nearly that has been done. We have against us in the monastery of Monnonstein no fat- headed Abbot, but one who was a warrior before he turned a monk. 'Tis but a few years since, that the Abbot Ambrose stood at the right hand of the Emperor as Baron von Stern, and it is known that the Abbot's robes are but a thin veneer over the iron knight within. His hand, grasping the cross, still itches for the sword. The fighting Archbishop of Treves has sent him to Monnonstein for no other purpose than to leave behind him the ruins of Grunewald, and his first bolt was shot straight into our courtyard, and for a moment I stood alone, without a single man-at-arms to second me."
The knights looked at one another in silence, then cast their eyes to the stone-paved court, all too shamed-faced to attempt reply to what all knew was the truth. The Baron, a deep frown on his brow, gazed sternly at the chap-fallen group.... "Such was the effect of the first shaft shot by good Abbot Ambrose, what will be the result of the second?"
"There will be no second," said Segfried stepping forward. "We must sack the Monastery, and hang the Abbot and his craven monks in their own cords."
"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 us."
"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 escape."
"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 sword."
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 execution.
"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 voice:
"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 inner wall.
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 her."
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, cried:
"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 approaching him.
"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 peril."
"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 mendicant."
"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 bountiful hostess."
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 castle.
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 guest."
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 stirrup-iron.
"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 the Rittersaal.
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 prisoner.
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 here——"
"Ah! But, being here——" interrupted the Archbishop, glancing keenly at her.
"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 him."
"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 defence."
"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 your province."
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 archbishops."
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 woman."
"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 process take?"
"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 request."
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 foot."
"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 Count Bertrich."
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 off.
"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, said warningly:
"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 table.
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 the invaders."
"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 Captain.
"'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 his assistance."
"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 granted."
"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 remained alive.
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 farms."
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 sons.
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 hot iron."
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 Emperor.
"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 Alf-thal."
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 word, "Blacksmith!"
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 word "ANVIL!"