COBB: The False Knight

Cobb’s False Knight: 5. Plotting — Deep and Deadly

Inheritances. There’s an old German saying, “Wenn’s ums Erben geht, besser frueh handeln, als zu spaet…” (“When it’s a matter of inheritance, it’s better to act early, than too late …”) There’s a fairytale castle Iocked in a bitter dispute about the matter of who inherited it. A story from the middle ages? No, the dispute erupted in Lower Saxony only last year (Burghardt, “Adel vernichtet,” SZ-Magazin).

Marienburg Palace is the home castle of the Welf family, the current head of which, Ernest August von Hannover, born on 1954, willed the castle to his son, Ernest August, born in 1983. These days, it’s not threats with soldiers, it’s legal battles.

Schloss Marienburg bei Pattensen by Raycer (2018). CC BY-SA 4.0, Jump to panorama. Jump to snow covered.

The head of the Welf family is suing the Prince of Liechtenstein for allegedly conspiring with his son to defraud Ernest August senior of his property, believe it or not. Ernest August Junior has, as opposed to his father, not often appeared in the Boulevarde press, while Ernest August Senior was given the nickname “Priegel Prinz” (The bashing prince) or even “Pinkel Prinz” (The peeing prince, in reference to the result of drinking binges) because of many drunken escapades resulting in court appearances.

Unfortunately, however, he married a very beautiful Russian “commoner”, Ekaterina Malysheva, in 2017, which, in the eyes of Ernest August Senior, brought about all sorts of complications relating to the future inheritance of the family fortune. In 2005, around 20,000 art objects from the castle’s vast collection were auctioned, for 44 Million Euros.

I remember seeing the interior decades ago: tapestries, battle standards from the Thirty Years War, Battle drums, knight armour, muskets, pikes… A fairytale hilltop castle balcony overlooking the River Leine below and the distant city of Hannover.

Ernest August Senior is now trying to sell the castle to the State for a single Euro. A plot to disinherited his son, who married the commoner?? Ah, the problems related to owning castles. The upkeep, well, keeping up the keep. Oiling the drawbridge, that peeling wallpaper in the royal lounge, the rising damp. In the case of this particular castle, all that peeing after too many drinking binges, I wonder? Things might have been more straightforward in the Middle Ages. You marry me, I get your Castle and all the soldiers? Or else? What will the lovely Electra DO?


CHAPTER 5

PLOTTING — DEEP AND DEADLY

While the scene which we have just recorded had been transpiring at the hunter’s cot, Sir Pascal Dunwolf had been making himself known and felt at the castle. During the previous evening he had done nothing more than attend to the quartering of his troop, and to making the acquaintance of the baroness and her fair daughter, with a passing salutation to Ernest von Linden. He had delivered to Lady Bertha his commission from the grand duke, by which he was empowered to possess Deckendorf Castle, and assume entire control of the fortress, together with whatever of military force there might be within its walls. She had received it and read it, and handed it over to Ernest, remarking that he was now her chief reliance, and she must refer to him the surrender of the castle. The young captain had looked the document over; had marked the salient points, and made sure that Leopold’s sign-manual was attached and then, with a low bow, passed it back to its owner, saying that he recognised the authority, and would promptly turn over the command whenever the knight was ready to assume it.

The knight’s presence was extremely chilling and disagreeable to the ladies, and they could not hide it. Nor could Dunwolf fail to see, and he did not press his company upon them, nor did he at the time manifest to them any ill-feeling on account thereof. They retired to their own apartments, while he gathered together his chief officers in the great banqueting hall, where they held high wassail far into the night. Ernest had been invited to join them, but without hesitation, had respectfully declined.

It was quite late in the day — past nine o’clock — when Sir Pascal made his appearance from his drunken sleep; so he was not ready for business until near noon. It was very near high twelve when Ernest von Linden, walking with Electra in the little private flower garden beneath the windows of the baroness, was saluted by an orderly, and informed that “the lord of the castle” wished to see him in the armory.

And who is “the lord of the castle?” asked our Hero, unable to hide his deep indignation.

“Be careful! O for my sake be careful!” whispered Electra. “That man is terribly vengeful, as his dark and forbidding face plainly shows. Do not anger him.”

He promised her that he would exercise due caution — that he would not let his passions betray him; and then, having handed her to the foot of the stairs leading to her mother’s apartments, he turned and thanked the orderly for his information — said information being that the noble knight, Sir Pascal Dunwolf, was present lord of the castle — and having thanked him, he signified to him that he was ready to follow his lead.

Ernest found Sir Pascal in the large armory, with a score or more of the officers and men-at-arms of the castle about him.

We may state here that the force of the castle, under our youthful captain’s command, consisted of five-and-forty men-at arms, about equally divided into cannoneers, arquebusiers, and pikeman, the latter being trained to the use of the crossbow and the javelin, for, though firearms had come into general use, the modern cross-bow of steel, with short, steel arrows, or bolts, was still held as an effective weapon in the hands of men capable of properly using it. Then there were six corporals, three sergeants, and a lieutenant — forty-five men all told.

Sir Pascal Dunwolf was evidently feeling far from well. His eyes were bloodshot and inflamed, and he carried his hand over and anon to his forehead, as though he had an ache there.

“Captain von Linden,” he said, hoarsely and brusquely, “you are ordered to report to me with your command, I think you will remember.”

“Excuse me, sir. I am ordered to turn over to you my command, which I am ready
to do.”

“It is one and the same thing, Captain. When your command is turned over, you will, of course, come with it to me, as you are of the military force of the castle.”

“Not at all, Meinherr,” said Ernest, respectfully, but with emphasis. I am an officer of the Baroness von Deckendorf, by her appointed and by her commissioned.”

“By a woman! How can a woman grant a military commission, I would like to know? Whoever heard of such a thing? Franz!” to his lieutenant, “did ever you hear of such a thing as a woman’s giving a military commission?”

“Never, Meinherr,” was the prompt response, as in duty bound.

“What do you think now, my youthful Captain? Where do you stand?”

“I would refer you to Elizabeth of England, Sir Pascal.”

“Ah!– but — ugh! — she was a queen — a queen, on the throne of a great nation.”

“Exactly; and the Lady Bertha, was Baroness of this powerful fortress — so recognised by the Archduke Rudolph, father of our present ruler, and by the Emperor Ferdinand. If you wish for further proof, I will refer you to the grand duke himself.”

“I will be my own judge, young sir,” retorted the knight, angrily; and, mark you; I hold you to service under me. You will disobey me at your peril!”

Our hero bowed, but held his peace. He was too indignant to trust his tongue with speech. As briefly and quick as possible he gave the knight an inventory of the force and the arms and the ammunition of the castle, together with the horses and the forage; also he gave him the steward’s account of the provisions on hand. His heart ached as he did it — not for himself, but for the baroness. Surely the grand duke could not have known the situation. If he had, he would never have given this man such power, in such a place. And further, his heart was sore when he thought of his journey to the court of the grand duke. How could he got away if Sir Pascal should forbid him? And that thing he was certainly likely to do. He must report to the baroness, and with her confer. She could be strong and resolute upon occasion.

He had turned to leave, when the knight again addressed him:

“Captain, you understand that you will report to me for duty.”

“I will confer with my lady, Meinherr, and by her orders I shall be governed. You are certainly soldier enough to see and acknowledge the propriety of that.”

Dunwolf was upon the point of making an angry response, when his lieutenant, Franz, plucked him by the sleeve, and whispered into his ear. A little later he swallowed his wrath as best he could, and said to the stubborn youth:

“Be it as you will for the present, but remember — the means for enforcing obedience are in my hands, and I think you will give me the credit of knowing how to use them.”

With this Ernest left the armory, and made his way at once to the apartment of the baroness, whom he found anxious to see him.

In as few words as possible to told the story of his late interview with Sir Pascal, at the same time assuring her that he had been respectful through the whole trial. After a few questions had been asked and answered, the lady gave herself for a little time to thought, neither Ernest not Electra disturbing her. At length she said, in a calm, resolute tone:

“Ernest, I must send you to Baden-Baden tomorrow. I shall give you no written instructions nor messages. I shall trust you to tell the story to the grand duke, and I have faith to believe that he will do justice. Some time during the day I will see Sir Pascal, and make known my plan. Should he oppose me, I think that I can make him see that it will be for his interest to submit. Further, I shall demand that you be left entirely to me. You can be making your preparations, for I am confident that no opposition will be made to your departure.”

Later in the day, by the baroness’s request. Sir Pascal met her in one of the salons. He was exceedingly polite, and was inclined to be effusive; but she did not unbend from her true dignity.

“Sir Pascal,” she said, after she had waved him to a seat, and had seated herself, “it is my purpose to send Captain von Linden, on the morrow, to Baden-Baden. I give you notice of my intent, first, because you are in charge of the fortress, and second, that you may, if you desire, send by his hand any message you may have to transmit.”

“Dear lady,” said the knight, with a perceptible quiver of the nether lip, “there is no need that you should trouble yourself. I shall be sending messengers of my own almost every day, and any message you have for the capital I will gladly forward for you.”

“You are very kind, sir but I prefer to select my own courier. I shall despatch Ernest on the morrow. Of course, you will not prevent me from so doing.”

“I fear I must, madam,” said the knight, with a strong effort to appear calm. “Captain von Linden is an important officer, and I cannot spare him so soon after taking command here.”

“Whose officer do you consider Captain von Linden?” the baroness asked, with calm, unruffled dignity.

“Of course, dear lady, we must regard him as subject to my orders. Where would be our military discipline if there could be two commanders in the fortress? He shall be at your service at all proper times, but I must consider him as owing fealty to me.”

“Very well, sir,” said the lady, rising from her seat as she spoke and standing proudly erect. “We will not argue the matter. I will go myself to Baden-Baden; for most surely you will not claim that I am under your command.”

“Perhaps not, madam,” the knight returned, plainly showing his temper, “but I fancy I could find means of preventing you from doing so foolish a thing as that. You will remember that the castle is under my command, and those only will pass the gate who have my permission.”

The eyes of the baroness fairly blazed, yet she did not lose an atom of her dignity. Drawing herself up to her proudest stature she said, with her hand extended, without a finger quivering:

“Sir Pascal Dunwolf, I shall send a message to Baden-Baden. If Ernest von Linden cannot go, I will go. If you attempt to prevent me, I will call on my tried and trusty retainers to stand by me. Of men-at-arms and officers capable of bearing arms, I have within these walls fifty-six. You will say they are now your men; but let me civil them to my aid and you will see whose men they are. You have, counting yourself, ten men less than that. Then from my battlements I will summon my true henchmen from the town. Beware, sir! If you push me to it, you will find yourself in a sorry plight! I beg you not to forget that I am, in my own right, a baroness of the empire, with all the powers and privileges of a feudal lord. Now, sir, think this matter over. Reflect upon it, and when you are ready to make known your final determination, let me know.”

She bowed as though to dismiss him; but he did not offer to go. As she started to turn away he put out his hand and begged her to remain.

“Dear lady,” he said, with a great gulp. “I was wrong. I see it now, and I beg you will overlook my error, an error not of the heart, but of judgment. If you will give your message to Captain von Linden, he will carry it for you. Let me hear that I am forgiven.”

The baroness ought to have known the man better than she did. She should have known that such a man — a man with that face, and those treacherous eyes — was not to be trusted under any circumstances. But she had strained herself up to so high a pitch, and had endured so much, that the reaction was weakening; and she was so greatly relieved when he had apparently surrendered, that she felt only gratitude.

“You are forgiven, Sir Pascal, gladly forgiven.” And with that she turned away. She wished to find a purer atmosphere, and regain her breath.

The dark-visaged knight stood where the baroness had left him until she had disappeared from sight, and when the door had been closed behind her his countenance underwent a wondrous change. It was like the settling of a thunder-cloud over a broken landscape.

“Aye!” he muttered, between his clenched teeth, and compressed bloodless lips, “you may send your gallant young captain, and he shall freely set forth upon his journey. But — let him look to himself on the road! By my life! I could not ask for a better opportunity to make an end of that impediment!”

An hour later Sir Pascal was closeted with two of his stoutest and most trusty troopers — most trusty, because they were his tools — both of them culprits whom a word from his lips would consign to the rack and the wheel! — two murderers they were, whom he had saved from exposure on condition that they would give themselves to him, body and soul. And they had done it. And during the night that followed, these two men — Roger Vadas and Otto Orson were their names — fully armed, and well mounted, left the castle by a postern, the knight standing by to watch their departure and give them their final instructions.

Haying seen his two cut-throats depart — being well-assured that no other eyes had been watching — Sir Pascal re-entered the keep, and having reached his private chamber, he summoned his page.

The Dwarf, Sebastián de Morra, at the Court of Felipe IV (1644). Diego Velázquez (Museo del Prado)

And this page is worth an introduction. Balthazar was his name. He was a dwarf, slightly hump-backed, not far from five-and-thirty years of age. He was from the mountains of Tyrol, as swarthy as a Moor; with features sharp and angular; a pair of eyes intensely black, that gleamed like sparks of fire; and his height not quite four feet. He was clad in a quaint garb of velvet and silk, with embroidery of gold and silver; in his bonnet, of bright crimson velvet, was a triple plume of red and white ostrich feathers; and in a crimson girdle, of knitted silk, he wore a silver-hilted dagger. Bodily he was lithe and agile, turning a summersault with entire ease, and performing tricks of legerdemain that might have astonished an Indian juggler.

“Balthazar,” said the knight, when he had assured himself that no other ears were near, “how do you and Lieutenant Franz stand in the sum and substance of your playing? Didn’t he rather get the best of you at the dice last night?”

“Look ’e my dear master, much revered,” piped the dwarf, with serio-comic expression, “if you mean to mend my fortunes, I can honestly assure you, there was never a more fitting occasion. My purse is as empty as is your lieutenant’s head.”

“Well, well, we will try to mend the matter for you. But, really, my noble Festus, you should be more careful in your play with Franz. Did you use your own dice, or his?”

“We used his, my lord; but, hark ye,” said the page, with a finger laid significantly against the side of his nose, “we will use mine on the next occasion; for he has promised me my revenge. Ho! let the doughty warrior look to himself.”

“That is right, Balthazar. And now listen; you know the former commander here — Captain von Linden?”

“Yes.”

The knight cast a quick glance around the apartment, and then in a low, guarded tone, he said:

“Captain von Linden proposes that tomorrow morning he will set out for the court of the grand duke. The proud lady of this old pile of granite has a big chapter of complaints made up lo send; and I am not ready, just yet, that our good Leopold — Heaven save him! — should receive them, to which end I have sent Vadus and Orson out upon the road to overhaul the youth and borrow his dispatches.”

“And you want me to clip his wings,” suggested the dwarf.

“Exactly. He has three pistols — two large ones, which he carries in his holsters, and a smaller affair, with two barrels, richly mounted with silver, which he carries in his bosom, or in a pocket of the vest. I want the charges of those playthings drawn out. Be sure and leave the priming.”

“Aye,” cried the little rascal — “I’ll do better than that, Not only will I leave the priming intact, but I will down a charge of paper in each of the three barrels corresponding with the charges withdrawn.”

“Good! And now for good and sufficient cause for your visit. Here are two letters, for two officers of Leopold’s court. I told the young fellow that I should have one or two messages to send by him, and these will make my promise good. The rest I must leave with you. Let me give you one caution: Von Linden is a man of keen penetration, and quick of wit. You will have to be wary. I would not have him set forth with those pistols fully charged on any account. I am told he is an unerring shot, and wonderfully quick to act.”

“Let me alone for that, my master. But, look ye: I might work with more spirit if I knew how much you were to give me.”

“I’ll tell you,” said the knight, after a moment’s thought, — “when you shall come to me, and assure me upon your honour, that the barrels of Captain Von Linden’s pistols are empty of powder and ball, I will give you, in shining gold, a sum just double that which you owe to Franz, let it be more or less.”

“All right! It is a bargain. Give me the letters, and consider the work done. I shall not fail.” With that Balthazar took the two letters, carefully superscribed, bound, and sealed, and having accepted a draught of wine, he departed.

On the following morning, while he was dressing, Ernest von Linden was interrupted in his toilet by a rap upon his door, which he had locked upon retiring. He went and opened it and gave entrance to Sir Pascal’s hunchback page.

The fellow came in without ceremony, with the two letters in his hand.

“A plague on all early risers, say I!” he exclaimed, rubbing his eyes, as though to get them fairly open. “Here must I, just in the very sweetest chapter of my morning’s nap, be bundled out of bed to bring your honour these two lotters, which old Evil-Eye says you have promised to deliver as directed.” A quick, furtive glance, under shadow of his overhanging brows while he spoke, revealed to him the three pistols lying upon the light stand at the head of the bed.

Ernest could not repress a smile at the dwarf’s intensely comical and humorous manner. He took the letters, and promised that he would deliver them as addressed, and then asked if the knight had any verbal orders.

“Nothing of importance. He isn’t out of bed yet. He bade me bring these immediately, as he thought you might be early on the road. Shall I tell him that you will see him before you go?”

“That depends upon how much longer he remains in his bed. I am very nearly dressed as you see; and I plan to set forth as soon as I have eaten my breakfast.”

“Then I doubt if you see his bibulous majesty today. However, I guess there’s nothing of importance. He won’t send for orders, — be, sure of that. A pleasant journey to you, fair sir; and give my love to all the pretty frauleins who inquire for me.”

“I will not fail,” said the captain with a light laugh; and with that the dwarf made a low bow, and departed.

Ten minutes later Earnest took up his pistols, and examined them critically. Into the pans of the larger pair he put fresh priming, the other having been primed on the previous evening. Then he went out, carefully locking the door behind him, and putting the key into his pocket; and then away to his breakfast.

Five minutes had elapsed after the young captain’s departure, when the hunchback page glided out from a deep alcove near at hand, and crept to the door. From his pocket he took Several skeleton keys; but only one was needed. At the very first trial the bolt was thrown back, the door was noiselessly opened, and the dwarf glided into the chamber.

He was there not many minutes; for his fingers were exceedingly nimble, and his manipulations sure. By-and-by he came forth with an evil smile lurking about his lips; he closed and relocked the door behind him; and then away to claim at the hands of his master the golden means whereby he was to be enabled to take his revenge at dice upon Lieutenant Franz.


Notes and Reference

  • sign-manual: “a personal signature, especially that of a sovereign or official on a public document” (Dictionary.com).
  • high wassail: revelrous drinking.
  • arquebusier: Infantryman armed with an arquebus. “The arquebus (/ˈɑːrk(w)ɪbəs/ AR-k(w)ib-əs) derived from the German word Hakenbüchse (‘hook gun’), was a form of long gun that appeared in Europe and the Ottoman Empire during the 15th century.” (Wikipedia; see illustration,)
  • postern: back or side entrance (lexico.com). Example image of castle postern.
  • keep: fortified tower within a castle.
  • Balthazar: In the Bible, one of the three wise men (gave the gift of myrrh, which evidently prefigures the death of Christ).
  • dwarf: Court dwarfs were employed from early times, as early as the Egyptian empire (See for e.g, Thompson, “Dwarfs in the Old Kingdom in Egypt,” in Bulletin of the Australian Centre for Egyptology, v. 1, 1991). Sebastián de Morra, painted by Velázquez, was one of the most famous in Europe.
  • bibulous: partial to alcohol.
  • legerdemain: (/ˌlɛdʒədɪˈmeɪn/) skilful use of the hands in conjuring.
  • Felix … Festus: names of the successive Roman procurators of Judea from ca 52-58 CE, the latter of whom stands in judgement of Paul (Acts 26).
  • doughty: Brave and persistent (lexico.com).
  • chargespriming: When a flintlock pistol of the time (“first half of the seventeenth century”) is fired, a piece of flint attached to a spring-loaded hammer (or “cock”) strikes a piece of steel causing a spark that ignites an amount of priming or detonating powder, which in turn ignites the main charge of gunpowder. Thus if the charge is removed and the priming left intact, there will be a fizz but no bang.

Burghardt, Peter. “Adel vernichtet” (“Nobility Destroyed”), SZ-Magazin, 17 Feb 2019.

This work CC BY-SA 4.0

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