Confusion in the Castle. The plot thickens, while dastardly villains conspire. Two assassins already dead in the forest, replacements dispatched. Guns that shouldn’t have been working, but which our hero had repaired… History is of course full of foul assassinations. Have you heard of any that occurred in that part of Germany? There were perhaps a few. Not with guns that shouldn’t have been working, but perhaps with guns which should not even have been there …
I don’t mean Stauffenberg’s failed attempt to eliminate Hitler of course, he had tried to do that with a bomb. No, far more recent. In the 1970s, the “Baader Meinhof Gang“, a nasty and extreme bunch of nutcase terrorists that had called themselves the “Red Army Faction” had been causing mayhem. They murdered a Federal Attorney General by the name of Buback and tried to kill an American general by firing a rocket propelled grenade at his car.
Bomb threats and sightings here and there resulted in trigger happy police with machine guns all over Germany. When many of them had finally been captured, the hard core having been placed in the high security wing of Stuttgart prison, the concern was that those inside had still been orchestrating terror plots via secret messages transported by their legal counsels.
In the opinion of some in power, they had to go. How do you kill known terrorists in maximum security wings of several prisons? Some say, a “suicide plot” was hatched. On the 18th of October, 1977, gang leaders Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan-Karl Raspe allegedly shot themselves inside their cells, in different cells, at exactly the same time, with pistols that had allegedly been concealed behind skirting boards.
A fourth, Irmgard Modeller, survived the attempt. Some say that they had been murdered. How could anyone have got multiple guns past metal detectors and body searches? To hide them in holes dug into concrete walls and behind skirting boards? You can see why some suspected a plot by the authorities to rid themselves of a perceived (and probably quite real) ongoing threat to state security…
Now what will Cobb’s replacement assassins do? Make it look like Ernest von Linden killed himself? While poisoning is perhaps the preferred method of assassinating any possible threat to today’s Russian Mafia state, it was always seen as the preferred method of killing for females. Kaiser Otto III was possibly poisoned in the year 1002 by a woman whose husband he had put to death. She had allegedly sent him a pair of gloves, the insides of which she had laced with poison, but this was never proven. He died of a sudden fever at the age of just 22.
Should our hero be careful about what he eats and drinks or wears while inside Electra’s castle?
Let us now look back and see what Sir Pascal Dunwolf had been doing the while that we have been with Ernest on his adventurous journey.
To the very summit of the highest pinnacle of the castle the knight made his way as soon as the youth had departed, and here watched in order to make sure that here had been no deception—that he was really and truly going towards the capital, and not into the opposite mountain. Having satisfied himself that all was right in that direction, he came down and ate his breakfast, after which he took a stroll on the battlements, with his lieutenant for a companion.
“My dear Franz, you are looking unusually glum this morning. What has happened to give you such a turn?”
“Pshaw! It’s nothing, Meinherr. I am not feeling just right; that’s all.”
”You have not had a bout with Balthazar so early as this, have you?”
“Eh! Who told you that? Has the little traitor betrayed me?”
“Easy, easy, Lieutenant. The little rascal has told me nothing. In fact, I have not set eyes on him since I arose.”
“Hold! I’ll make a clean breast of it. I last evening gave Balthazar a piece of work to do for me, promising him, if he was successful, that I would bestow upon him the wherewith to enable him to take revenge on you at dice. He did the work—did it completely—and I gave him the money before I was out of bed this morning. And now, hark ye: If in my present undertaking I succeed as I think I shall, I will give you far more than I gave to him.”
“Ha! you have the young tiger on the hip [at a disadvantage], eh?”
“Aye. What did you suppose I sent Roger and Otto in the forest for?”
“I knew what you sent them for, but I did not know what their chances of success were.”
“Ha—they have a sure thing. The boy’s wings are clipped entirely—the charges of his pistols withdrawn, and they so left that no human eye can detect the work without trial.”
“Good! With him out of the way our work is wonderfully simplified. And now for our renowned chieftan—Thorbrand. You have not yet heard from him?”
“No, and I am a little anxious. He was to have reported to me immediately on my arrival.”
“Very likely he has been detained away. A man upon whose head is fixed the price of a prince’s ransom cannot go and come at will.”
“But,” said the knight, with a dubious shake of the head, “the old inn-keeper at Hasslach told me that Thorbrand in company with his chief lieutenant—Wolfgang—stopped with him only two nights before our arrival, and that they were on their way towards this castle. He said, further, that they spoke of me—that is, spoke of an expected arrival from Baden-Baden, about which they were somewhat anxious. So, you see, the chieftain must be somewhere near here.”
“It cannot be,” ventured Franz, “that— he— would—”
“What do you mean?” cried Dunwolf, as his subaltern came to a dead stop. “Do you mean to ask if Thorbrand could prove treacherous? By all the bones of all the saints! If I thought he could do that— But, pshaw! Why do I doubt? By our compact he has everything to gain and not a thing to lose; while I— all! it would be a very sore thing for me were I to fail in this.”
“If Thorbrand is true, and the barons of Wurtemberg keep faith with us, failure is impossible,” said the lieutenant with entire assurance.”
“You are right. Thorbrand will soon show himself, I have no doubt; and meantime I must think of other matters. The sooner I secure the hand of the heiress the better for me.”
“And the better for me, I trust, added the other, significantly.
“Yes, my true heart—I will make it a golden occasion for you, never fear. And with that the twain descended into the court, the knight remarking, on the way down:
“By the way,— this, I believe, is Sabbath day. Suppose we give Father Alexis an opportunity to manifest himself.”
The lieutenant thought the plan a good one. They ought, he said, to assume the garb of sanctity once in a while.
Sir Pascal had brought with him a priest—a man of middle age, reared in camps, who had spent several years of his life in the saddle as a trooper, and who could now lead in a religious service, or in the wassail of high carnival. He was a short, thick necked, rotund specimen of humanity, not absolutely evil at heart, and incapable of a great crime, but ready and willing to serve the master who fed and clothed him, and never curtailed his allowance of wine, even though such service might rend the heart strings of another.
Towards the middle of the forenoon the herald sounded the call for the assembling of all who heard within the chapel, and the priest in full canonicals, accompanied by a choir he had selected from among the musical ones of the troopers, made his way to the altar, and in due time commenced the service.
The baroness and Electra, when they had been told what was going forward, considered what they had better do. It had been their custom, in pleasant weather, to attend mass in the old church in the village; and when they could not go out, good Father Paul would come up to the castle and perform mass in the chapel. Of course, they could not, with Ernest absent, go to the village; nor would they ask Father Paul to come to them; so, after talking the matter over for a time they concluded that they would call together the female servants, and attend the service of the strange priest. And this they did.
Sir Pascal received them very politely at the chapel entrance; and, moreover, they became interested, despite their prejudices, in the strange priest’s homily. Yet his fervid speech, his brilliant flights of fancy, and his pleasing pictures of life, did not blind them to his entire lack of true godliness. His discourse was rather flippant than sincere, and strained for effect, and they were glad when it had been brought to an end, and they were permitted to return to their own apartments.
“Mamma,” said the daughter, “did you mark how Sir Pascal looked at us?”
“I did, my child; and I thought when marked I the evil glance he gave us, that nothing would induce me to remain here if Ernest were not very soon to return.”
“But, would the bad man suffer us to leave, do you think?”
“I should not ask him. There are methods of leaving the castle without disturbing sentinel or warder.”
“Certainly, l know. Were you ever in the underground passes, mamma?”
“Once. Shortly before your father went away to his death he took me through them.”
“Does Ernest know the secret?”
“Yes. He is thoroughly instructed. There are passages which I do not understand; but I have a key to them all, which your father had prepared on purpose for me. Ernest knows every secret, I believe; and for that reason I have felt no anxiety about instructing you.”
While the ladies had been making their way back to their apartments Sir Pascal had ascended to the summit of the tower overlooking the path which the young captain had taken, out upon which he now looked for the return of the two bravos. If they had done their work as they ought they should be on their way back by this time. But he saw nothing of them. After remaining until he had become weary, he descended, and sent up a servant, whom he directed to keep strict watch for the return of two messengers he had sent out, and to give him intelligence instantly when they were seen.
The hours passed; the knight ate his dinner; after which he went up to take a look from the tower. He found the lookout awake and watchful, but with nothing at all to report. Ten minutes or more he stood peering away down the mountain path; and then, nervous and uneasy, he again descended, and considered over the matter.
It was now past two o’clock in the afternoon. Certainly, his men should have done their work, and returned, long ere this. If they had stopped, and intercepted Von Linden at the point he had laid down for them, they would have met him within two hours after he had set forth. Certainly, they should have had him in their hands by nine o’clock. Then they should have dispatched him at once, and returned before noon.
While he was thus discussing the matter within himself, his hunchback page came in.
“Balthazar! Look me in the eye. Now tell me, did you draw the charges from Captain von Linden’s pistols?”
“Why do you ask me a question like that? I have a mind not to answer you. But, as I see you are in trouble, I will relieve you.”
And he then went on and told the story of his morning’s adventure. When he had done, his master exclaimed:
“I believe you, sirrah. But why don’t my men return?”
“Look ye, brave sir,” the page replied, with a look of keen intelligence, “you should remember that we are dealing with a man who has his wits about him. I can swear that he left this castle this morning without a grain of powder, saving only the priming, and without a bullet in either one of his pistols; for I kept my eye upon him from the time I drew the charges to the moment of his leaping into the saddle; but who shall say how far he rode in ignorance of his defenceless condition? I am told that the old wolves in this forest are bold and fearless, and that often a veteran will sit on his haunches while horse and rider come very near to him. Suppose the captain should have had an experience of that kind—what more likely than that he should have drawn a pistol and thought to fire upon the brute?”
Dunwolf wanted to hear no more. Bidding the dwarf to hold his peace, he hastened away to the barracks, where he called out two of the most reliable of his sworn men—men sworn to stand by him to the bitter end, let him lead where he would, so that he led them to plunder. These men—Zillern and Walbeck by name—were directed to saddle and bridle their horse immediately, and report to him at the great gate.
And at the gate he awaited them. When they came he told them what they were to do. Roger Vadas and Otto Orson had been sent out upon the road early that morning, on a particular mission. They should have returned long ago.
“You know the paths toward Zell?” said the knight.
Yes, they knew them well.
“Then ride on till you find those men, or some trace of them. In the deep vale, beyond the first mountain, they were to stop. A small stream of water runs through it. Search well and carefully in that neighborhood.”
The sun was setting, and Sir Pascal was fairly beside himself with anxiety, when his two messengers last sent out returned. They found him in the apartment which he had appropriated as an office, and his hunchback page was with him.
“Well,” as he saw one of the men making a search in his pocket, “what have you to tell me?”
“Meiherr,”answered the man called Zillern—the same who had been searching in his pocket—”we found nothing until we had reached the top of the high ridge that snakes down from the Schwarzwolf Mountains, and there, on the grass, by the wayside, I picked up these bits of paper, which, as you can see, have never been wet by either dew or rain, but which have certainly—”
Before he could finish the sentence the dwarf had sprung nimbly forward, and taken the crumpled bits of paper from his hand.
“Oho! D’ye see, my lord and master? The very paper I tore from one of the gallant captain’s—”
The knight gave him a rap on the side of the head to stop his tongue, and then bade the trooper go on with his story. The truth was already breaking upon him. If the captain had reloaded his pistols the summit of that spur, the end was easy to guess; for not only would he be efficiently armed, but he would have had a warning that would lead him to be on his guard, and give him to know the mission of Vadas and Orson the moment he should see them.
“Go on,” he said to Zillern, clutching his hands tightly in his effort to hide his deep agitation.
“Well, Meinherr, after I had picked up the paper we kept on down into the valley, and when we came to the brook, there, by the side of the path, we found the men we were looking for, both of ’em shot through the heart!”
“Aye, Meinherr, by a hand that must have been wonderfully steady, and with a keen pair of eyes behind it. Orson’s pistols had both been fired, but neither of Vadas’s, though he had drawn one from his holster. We put the bodies out of sight, and covered them with leaves and brushwood, leaving them to be got tonight.”
Dunwolf took a turn across the room, after the story had been told, and when he stopped he had so far regained his composure that he spoke very calmly.
“Look ye, my men,” he said, with a strong glance in their coarse, brutal faces, “can you hold your tongues?”
They asserted their undoubted ability in that direction.
“Because,” the knight continued, “I want you to maintain an utter silence about what you have this day heard and seen in relation to those two men. If you are asked where you have been, simply say that you have been on business for the governor, and suffer them to ask no more questions. We will have the bodies buried where they are. Do you think you can smuggle out a couple of spades without exposing them?”
“Aye, sir, we can do that; and if you would give us a bottle of good old wine, it would help us. It’s a kind of dubersome work, and a bit of something to shorten the time would make it easier.”
Without question Sir Pascal turned to the sideboard behind him, and brought forth a bottle that had never been opened. This the men took, and went their way, promising that the bodies should be buried, and that none others should be the wiser.
“Now, my master, what will you do?” demanded the dwarf, when he and the knight had been left alone.” He exercised a jester’s privilege of freedom when he felt in the mood, and as his wits were keen and his advice often of value, no offence was taken.
“What can I do?” was the response, spoken half to himself.
“Of course,” pursued Balthazar, “the youngster will make his way straight to Baden-Baden.”
“Aye, and there’s the mischief.”
“The mischief I don’t see, my lord. If you fear he will fill the ears of the grand duke with his complaints, I can inform you that he will not do any such thing.”
“How? Not do it?” cried the knight, with a violent start.
“He cannot do it; for his majesty isn’t there. Oho! see what I learned for you by remaining a night behind you when you left the capital! The grand duke has gone to Heidelberg. That I can swear.”
“Von Linden may keep on after him.”
“I don’t believe it, sir. He will learn at Baden-Baden that the chances are in favor of his losing the prince, even at Heidelberg, for I don’t think he intended to stop there.”
“In the name of wonder how did you learn all this?”
“Why, don’t you know that Leopold’s page is my very dear friend? He told me all about it.”
“But how could you have seen him if he had gone to—”
“Pshaw! There it is. He didn’t go, and he was full of wrath. His master wouldn’t take him.”
“Balthazar, you are a jewel! You have given me great relief.”
“And now, Meinherr, let me advise you to clip that young gentleman’s wings with your own hands. Don’t trust any more of your troopers.”
“O! don’t you understand? I do not mean that you are to shed his blood. Are there not strong dungeons somewhere beneath this ancient pile where he can be put behind bolts and bars that will hold him safely?”
“Balthazar, if ever Franz empties your purse again come to me and I will fill it. I don’t offer it now, because I know you broke him at your last essay.”
“Oho! he has been complaining to you, then.”
“No, no; I laughed at his sober face, and he confessed the truth. Ah! who is this?”
It was Franz himself, come to inform his chief that he had just passed two men out at the smaller postern with spades. He hoped he had done right.
Sir Pascal relieved his mind at once, after which they sat at the table, and Balthazar waited upon them, filling their glasses as they drank, and at the same time taking his own glass as he liked’.
Later the knight called his officers, with Father Alexis, to join him at supper, and there he made a night of it.
* * *
On the following morning—the morning of Monday—Sir Pascal made arrangement with his lieutenant for the keeping of the men-at-arms who belonged to the castle away from the gates. He wished them during the day and the night, and for another day and another night, to be under the charge of his own men. He was anxious that Von Linden, when he returned, should be brought directly to him, and, if it were possible, he wanted his coming to be kept a secret from the young man’s friends. Franz promised that he would do all that lay in his power.
Dunwolf gave the youth one day of tarrying in Baden-Baden, and if he should conclude to return speedily to Deckendorf, he would come on Tuesday.
Twice during the two days—Monday and Tuesday—Sir Pascal saw the baroness, and once he met the daughter. On these occasions he was very polite, and, what was of greater moment to them, he allowed them to pass without forcing upon them his conversation.
As Tuesday’s sun drew near to its setting the dark-browed knight paced up and down his office in a depth of anxiety that would not let him remain seated. At the very slightest sound he stopped and listened, and as nothing came of it, he uttered an oath and resumed his walk. At length, however, his terrible anxiety was relieved by Balthazar, who came down from the turret with the light of gladness in his wicked eyes.
“Your man is coming my lord,” said the dwarf.
“Where is he now?”
“He broke cover not five minutes ago, and his horse is walking up the hill. He will be at the gate in ten minutes from the present moment.”
“Make haste. Send Franz to me; and then call Zillern and Walbeck—the men who went in search—”
“All right, my lord; I know them. Is that all?”
“That is all at present. Fly for once, my lad.”
The dwarf glided out with wonderful agility, and five minutes later the lieutenant was in the room.
“To the gate, Franz; and when Captain von Linden arrives bring him hither. I leave it to your own wits to invent the best method of bringing him.”
“I will find a way, sir.”
“Let half a dozen safe men be on the watch, at a respectful distance, so that if a forcible arrest should become absolutely necessary, it can be done without failure. Mark you: He must not be permitted to see the women.”
The lieutenant promised that he would look well to it, and then took his leave. As he went out, the men Zillern and Walbeck, came in—the same who had been sent in search of Vadas and Orson, They were armed with short, heavy clubs of ironwood—just the weapon for the work they had to do.
Dunwolf had not quite the heart to order the youth’s assassination within those walls. He would seize him and lock him up where no human being could find him, after which he could consider at his leisure. Perhaps, when he had made the heiress of Deckendorf his wife, he might set him free.
The two ruffians had scarcely received their instructions, and effectually concealed themselves, when the jingle of the lieutenant’s spurs was heard in the adjacent hall.
Notes and Reference
- on the hip: at a disadvantage (originally a wrestling reference) (Collins Dictionary).
- bravos: assassins, murderers (New Century Dictionary).
- Zell: located in the Central Black Forest.
- dubersome: doubtful, tough, cumbersome.
- essay: attempt.
“Who were Germany’s Red Army Faction Militants?” BBC News, 19 Jan, 2016
This edition © 2020 Furin Chime, Oliver Raven
Categories: COBB: The False Knight