COBB: The False Knight

Cobb’s False Knight: 9. The Trap is Sprung

The German word for “dungeon” is “Verlies“. An unusual word, originating in Low German and Dutch, meaning loss, or leaving. Verlies sounds like the past form of “verlassen“, which means to leave. A place where you leave people, to an awful fate? There were dungeons like that in Germany. A famous one you can visit today is in Penzlin Castle in Mecklenburg, where alleged witches were tortured to death. There were more recent places, which are just as terrible. Some we barely even know about…

Alte Burg Penzlin – dungeon (so-called witch cellar). Photograph by Norbert Radtke

In today’s Poland, there is a village on the former German state of Upper Silesia which is now called Ludwikowice-Milkow. A small, quiet place. Hardly worthy of visiting. The former German name was Ludwigsdorf-Moelke.

A coal mining area, it was declared a military and exclusion area when it was given to Poland after the war in exchange for territory ceded to the Soviet Union. This lasted for more than ten years, while the probable reason for secrecy was investigated and then obliterated.

There are many mine shafts in the area. But one was only excavated in the early 1940s. Strange, for it to have been dug, far from any known coal seams. A brand new pithead building appeared in an allied aerial surveillance photo. A tower with a lift to access area half a kilometre below. Why was it built? At a time when resources such as building materials had become scarce?

Those who had been forced to work there, to excavate the tunnels, were inmates of the nearby concentration camp at Gross Rosen. Today, only a memorial marks their fate. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, were forced to dig tunnels in a project that some say was to provide Germany with purified uranium for an atomic bomb (see, for e.g., Tuft, ‘Secret Nazi Nuclear Bunker’).

When allied forces approached, the SS blew up the tunnels. Many say, with the forced labourers still inside. After the war, the Soviet Union filled in the half kilometer deep new mine shafts and dismantled the pithead building. Strange, because all the surrounding pits remain open. Only this one has been filled in. Half a kilometre deep. Tiny ventilation shafts are the only remaining access. Remote controlled cameras have been tried, but nobody has even been able to access what is left of the tunnels below. Or those who were abandoned in them. Verlassen. As in a Verlies. Or dungeon.

The horror of what forced labourers had to endure there is unimaginable, but it was very real. A museum now tries to capitalise on tourism, with the little that remains on the surface, like the bottom ring of an old cooling tower, added to the power station when electricity output was increased during the war. Some even claimed that this concrete “Stonehenge” was a landing facility for UFOs. A wrought iron slogan across the entrance reads “Museum Molke, Ludwigsdorf Riese“. It was only added recently and made to resemble the “Arbeit Macht Frei” slogan at the gates of Auschwitz.

However, the Ludwigsdorf tunnels and the new mine shaft were not a part of nearby “Project Riese”. Some are still accessible, many are partly flooded, but those connected to that new mine shaft built in the early 1940s are completely sealed. Their purpose is still a mystery, however proximity to the upgraded power station lets you wonder if there was any truth to rumours of centrifuges having been used in chambers connected by the tunnels under the shaft to enrich uranium. Nazi Germany used Uranium mined at Leopoldshall in Saxony Anhalt. (See ‘Project Riese‘, Wikipedia)

Sorry to diverge so much from our story and Ernest Von Linden’s plight in the castle dungeon. Let’s hope that at least he can escape…


CHAPTER 9

THE TRAP IS SPRUNG

The sun was just sinking to rest as Ernest von Linden rode over the draw-bridge of the castle on his return from Baden-Baden. At the gate he was met by lieutenant Franz, who expressed a great deal of satisfaction at seeing him.

“Captain, you have arrived just in season. There is a terrible fright in the village on account of the famed robber, Thorbrand, and a deputation of the villagers are at this present moment with the governor. They came inquiring for you. Her ladyship, the baroness, is anxious that they should have protection. We were told by one of your men that you were coming up the hill, and I was sent to ask you to come in. I think there is no doubt that Thorbrand is lurking somewhere in the neighborhood. You are acquainted with the various defiles and fastnesses, and your council is needed.”

“Who sent for me?” was the youth’s first question.

Had the man hesitated Ernest would have taken the alarm; but he did not. He answered promptly and with every appearance of truth:

“Sir Pascal sent me, sir; but it was the lady who suggested it, when she was told that you had been seen at the foot of the hill.”

The lieutenant was so earnest and wore such a look of truth in his face that the young captain could not disbelieve him. For a moment the thought of treachery occurred to him; but he did not fear. It was vastly different in the castle from his situation in the forest; and, further, he was well armed, and should be on his guard.

“You say the villagers are still in the castle?”

“Yes, six or seven of them; and the old inn-keeper heads the deputation.”

With that Ernest slipped from his saddle; and having taken off his saddle-bags and thrown them over his left arm, he gave up his horse to an orderly who stood at hand ready to take him, and then signified his readiness to follow his guide.

Lieutenant Franz was an accomplished liar. On the way across the broad court he asked Ernest concerning matters in Baden-Baden, speaking as to a trusted friend, and blandly smiling while he spoke. He kept up the chat until the vestibule was reached, where he politely opened the door, allowing the other to pass in first. As he followed and closed the door behind him, he said smiling still:

“We shall find them this way, sir, and very glad they will be to see you.”

A single moment at this point our hero hesitated. His guide was smiling altogether too much, he thought; and the last smile he fancied, had something sinister in it. But why should he fear? Surely no harm could come to him while he had his wits and his strength. Yet, when he had made up his mind to go forward he felt in his bosom to make sure that his double-barrelled pistol was within easy reach.

The lieutenant had turned to the left towards a room which he—Ernest—had been wont to use as a study and a private sitting room; and upon reaching the door, which opened inward, he pushed it open, and, as before, stepped aside for his companion to pass in first. Von Linden did not stop to think, but went quickly on, nor did he fully realize the situation until the door had been closed behind him, and his conductor had come to his side.

”Why, where are the villagers? Where is the baroness?” cried Franz, by way of giving his chief the cue.

“Tut! tut!” exclaimed Sir Pascal, as the entrapped youth put his hand into his bosom and exposed the butt of his pistol. “What in the world are you thinking of? Do you fancy we mean to do you harm?”

Ernest had already taken a survey of the apartment, and discovered that the lieutenant was at his side, the knight before him, and not another soul, that he could see, was present.

”Sir Pascal Dunwolf, what does this mean? Why have I been brought hither? Answer me, or I will force you to speak at the muzzle of the—”

He had snatched the pistol from his bosom and cocked both hammers, and was raising it to an aim as he spoke; but before he could finish his sentence he heard a rushing sound behind him, and on the next instant a pair of strong hands had caught his arms from behind and held them, while a second pair, equally strong, proceeded to bind them fast. Ernest was very strong—much stronger than the average of even strong men—but, he could do nothing towards overcoming a power thus unexpectedly and unfairly brought into operation against him.

Dunwolf’s two ruffians had been hidden away behind a tall case of books directly back of where the youth had stood, and at a signal from their master they had acted—had acted so entirely in concert, and so adroitly that no human being, though he had been a giant, could have overcome their combined efforts towards capture. At the very first onset they had their victim at their mercy, he not having had a thought in that direction.

As soon as Ernest realized that further struggling would be worse than useless, he gave over his efforts, and proudly lifted his head. His wrists had been tightly bound behind him, but he had not been gagged; he saw, however, as one of the ruffians stepped into sight, that means for closing his mouth had been prepared. From this he turned his gaze upon the treacherous knight, who stood directly before him. Dunwolf was the first to speak.

“Well, young gentleman, I trust your mission to the grand duke was a success.”

Bitter, burning words were crowding upon the victim’s lips for utterance, but a moment’s reflection told him that he would only lower himself by giving way to his passion. Doubtless his enemy could beat him in the exchange of vile epithets. In the end he spoke more simply and calmly than he could have believed possible a few seconds before.

“Sir Pascal Dunwolf,” he said, looking the man straight in the eye, and without a quiver of either voice or person, “will you kindly inform me what, this means? What object have you in view in thus entrapping me?”

“My object, young sir, is to prevent you from doing any more mischief. You have already put to death two of my best men.”

“Pshaw! Be a gentleman, if you can; and remember that one of the chief qualifications for that character is truth.”

“Eh! what do you mean by that?”

“You know very well what I mean. When you say that 1 put to death two of your best men, you are speaking the worst kind of falsehood known— the twisting of stern truth into a contemptible lie.”

“How! Do you call me a liar?”

“I call you nothing. I tell you what you do; and you kuow that I speak truly.”

“Enough! You have sealed your own fate. Oho! You were determined to go and see the grand duke. Did you see him?”

The knight did not wait for an answer, but as he spoke he made a sign to his two executioners, and on the instant they proceeded to the work that had been given them to do. A thick scarf—a kind of Turkish shawl—was thrown over the prisoner’s head, brought down over his mouth and nose, and then securely and tightly knotted at the back of his neck. Then his sword was taken from him—his pistol he had dropped—after which the ruffians took him by the arms, one on each side, and awaited further orders.

By this time the sun had been for quite a time below the horizon, and in order to see plainly it was necessary to light candles. This the lieutenant did with flint and steel; and when he had done it his chief sent him out to see that the way was clear. He was gone several minutes, but his report was favourable when he came back.

“Go on,” said Dunwolf to his two brutal familiars. “Look to your hold upon him. He may be stronger and quicker than you think.”

If the prisoner was strong at that moment, he was not likely to remain so a great while, for the compress over his mouth and nostrils was so nearly air-tight that he could scarcely breathe. By a mighty effort—an effort that exhausted the last atom of muscular power—he managed to draw enough into this lungs to keep up a sluggish circulation, but he felt that he could not live a great while so. They must have been simple brutes who could thus wantonly put him to useless torture; their ignorance could not excuse them.

As Dunwolf spoke the grips of the ruffians closed more tightly upon Ernest’s arms; and they looked and acted as though they found pleasure in giving pain to another. They pulled him roughly around, and followed the lieutenant from the room out into the passage beyond, where, when their chief had come out and taken the lead, they turned to the right, very soon arriving at the head of a flight of descending stairs, down which they went, reaching a point that would have been utter darkness but for Franz’s candle.

Here a better light was procured—a large torch, or flambeau—which was lighted by the candle, and which the knight then took into his own hand, bidding the others follow carefully as he should lead. He had been over the way he was to go within a few hours, so knew it well.

And Ernest knew it. He knew he was being conducted down into the dungeons beneath the great tower. They were deep, dark, noisome crypts, partly hewn from the native rock, with walls so massive and brazen doors so thick and so strong, with triple plates and many bolts, that no human might or skill could prevail against them. As boy he had gazed into their dismal depths with horror; as man he had thought how dreadful imprisonment therein must be, little dreaming that he should ever be doomed to the terrible fate.

“Look out!” cried the guide, as he came to a pass where the vaulted roof was so low that he was forced to stoop.

In a moment more a double accident happened. One of the ruffians—he who held the prisoner’s right arm—found his head in contact with the low-hanging rock, and as a terrible imprecation broke from his lips, Ernest felt his own head brought up against the same obstruction. He uttered a quick, smothered groan, then bowed his head and was led on. The accident had proved a blessing—perhaps it had saved his life; for the thick, heavy muffler had caught against a projecting point of rock, lifting it so as to partially uncover his mouth. He was careful to make no sound, fearing that the gag would be replaced if he did. O, how grateful that breath of air was Until that moment it had seemed to him that he must give up. He could feel that his face was swollen, that his eyes were starting from their sockets, and that the last atom of strength was gone. Now, however, he filled his lungs to their utmost, and very soon felt his vitality returning.

The next flight of stairs—a descent of rough rock, broken out from the native ledge on which the keep was built—after passing the low arch where the heads had been bumped, was the last. At the bottom they found themselves in a sort of well, or circular hallway, from which ran two narrow, vaulted passages, in opposite directions. Dunwolf turned to the right, and as the others followed, only one of the familiars could walk by the prisoner’s side, but the other came close behind, with a hand upon his shoulder, ready for action in case of need.

Would they go to the utter extremity? the captive asked himself. He knew well the dungeon that lay at the end of that passage—one of the darkest and strongest of the strong places beneath the castle—a dungeon mostly hewn from the foundation rock, with only a single wall—that in front—of masonry. He knew it well. He had looked into it many times, but with never a thought of abiding therein.

Yes,—to that dungeon the knight made his way. The door was open, and our hero could see that it had been opened very recently, as he saw the finger-marks on the moist surface. Here the knight stopped, standing aside so that the man Walbeck could pass in with the prisoner.

The dungeon was very nearly square, not far from ten feet on a side—making it of fair size; the roof arching, and of heavy masonry. As has been already stated, the walls on three sides were of the native rock, the place having been hewn out from the solid ledge—only that side on which was the door was masonry. The door was of bronze, very thick, and firmly riveted, and armed on the outside with ponderous cross-bars and massive bolts. In the wall opposite the door had been cut an alcove, the bottom of which was about knee-high from the floor, and broad enough for a bed—also long enough; but that was all; there was no bed save the hard rock. There was nothing of wood in the place. Two seats were of stone—one a narrow shelf projecting from one of the other walls; the second, a moveable block that had been left from the debris of the builders.

The Prophet, Emil Nolde, 1912 (cropped). Art Institute of Chicago. Public Domain (Wikiart).

At a sign from Dunwolf the muffler was taken from the prisoner’s head; after which the false knight said:

“Look ye, Meinherr—I am about to leave you in this snug, cosy place, where you will have an opportunity to reflect upon the past and make resolves for the future. I have no desire to give you unnecessary suffering. Your liberty is the only thing that I will take from you. In due time, you shall have food and drink brought to you; and a bed of good, clean straw; together with such other articles as may be needful for your comfort. And now I have one caution for you; your life I do not want; but if you make the first sign of a movement against any person sent to wait upon you, you will be shot down on the instant; or, if the man by you attacked chooses to defend himself and overcome you, the heaviest irons I can find shall be placed upon your limbs, and you be chained to yonder bolt, which I fancy was put there for that especial purpose. Are you ready, on those terms, to have the bond taken from your arms?”

The youth answered simply in the affirmative, whereupon, at a sign from their chief, the familiars cast off the lashing from his wrists, thus freeing his limbs from restraint. His hands had become numb and swollen from the tightness of the cord, but the sense was one of great relief, nevertheless.

“If I might ask a single favor at your hands, sir, I should be glad,” the prisoner said, respectfully.

“Ask it,” returned the knight, evidently, impressed by the youth’s humble bearing.

“I have never been subjected to the ordeal, sir; but I can fancy that the most terrible infliction of solitary confinement must be a never-ending darkness. If you would let me have one poor candle, and replace it when it is consumed, I will ask no more. Or, I will leave you to supply what else you will.”

“You shall have the candle, Captain. I will send one down when I send your supper and your bed; and you shall have a flint and steel, and punk-wood.

With that the ruffians left the dungeon, after which the door was shut and the ponderous fastenings made secure. Then came the dull echo of falling feet, growing less and less in the distance, until in the end, the prisoner was left alone with his thoughts, listening only to his own breathing, and the beating of his burdened heart. The darkness was utter. Truly, its continuance for a long time would be dreadful. It was too dark even for sleep. With his eyes tightly closed he could feel it like a pall, chilling him to the marrow. But he knew it was not for long, and he did not worry.

He remembered where the seats were, and having found the wall, he felt his way to one of them, and sat down. His first thought thereafter was of his wrists. Already the pain had become less, and after a little rubbing and laying them for a time against the chill, damp rock, the numbness was gone, and his hands were free and well.

Of sleep he had not thought at all; yet, when the pain was gone, a sense of fatigue gradually overpowered him. He had slept but very little during the previous night, spent at the inn at Baden-Baden; he had been early on the road, and had ridden during the long day, and no wonder that his lids were now heavy. He was thinking of Electra—of the baroness—of the outrage of which he was now the victim; and anon his thoughts became confused—sadly mixed—and—with his head pillowed against the hard rock, he fell asleep.

And as he slept he dreamed. He dreamed that he was again on the road, on his homeward way from Baden-Baden. As he approached the castle, he saw the many windows and embrasures and loopholes brilliantly lighted. It had been until that scene, broad daylight; but now it was night, and the grim old castle lifted its walls and turrets into the surrounding darkness like a huge monster, with a thousand eyes of bright flame. Anon the pound of music came to his ears, and the voice of song. He spurred on his jaded steed, and when he had gained the court he asked the first whom he met what was the occasion of the revel.

He was told that it was a wedding. Then, as he would have pushed on in hot haste, two ugly looking men, with heads like wolves, appeared in his path and barred his passage. On the instant he drew a pistol, and aimed at the nearest. He pulled the trigger, but only a flash in the pan followed. Upon that the monsters set up a loud, horrible laugh, at which he drew his sword and attacked them; and a wonderful thing followed. At the first sweep of his blade, both the wolves’ heads fell, cut off at one and the same stroke, after which he spurred on.

He did not stop to leave his saddle; but as the uproar increased, and the song grew louder, he spurred on up the broad stone steps into the vestibule, his faithful beast obeying his slightest touch. And so he rode on until he had gained the open doorway of the great hall; and there he saw the wedding party. It was his darling being married to Sir Pascal Dunwolf. A short, fat, bacchanal priest had just pronounced the final words, and the new-made wife fell to the floor like one dead. As he would have plunged forward, with his reeking sword still in his hand, he felt a tremendous blow on the back of his head; a thunderbolt seemed to burst above him, and—

He awoke. A bright light was in the dungeon, and the two ruffianly troopers who had captured and bound him and led him to his prison, one of whom stood before him, and the other was putting straw into the niche in the wall.

“Mercy on me! how you sleep, Meinherr! That door made noise enough to wake a dead man. There’s your supper—bread and meat, and three eggs; likewise a bottle of wine and a jug of water; and there’s other things. I guess you’ll make out.”

“The candle—have you—”

“O! we didn’t forgot; there’s three of em in that bucket, and a candlestick to hold em up. How’s that?”

The prisoner asked no questions. He simply thanked the men for their kindness, and having lighted one of his candles, he intimated to them that they might go.

“Upon my life, you take it sort of easy, Meinherr.”

“Why should l do otherwise? I am out of harm’s way here, with no watch to stand, and nobody to trouble me. If I can have enough to eat and drink, what more can I ask?”

“By the great Jericho! there’s something in that!” the follow muttered. His intellect was just fit to grasp it, and he could appreciate it. ‘

Yes, the youth did take it easy. After the soldiers were gone, and bolted and barred the door behind them, he went to the corner of the dungeon at the foot of the niche, where he went down upon his knees, holding the candle close to the floor, apparently in search of something which he was very eager to find. Whatever it was, he quickly found it, as was evident from the exclamation of satisfaction that escaped him.

Then he returned to the little stone ledge, where he had laid his supper, and proceeded to eat a hearty meal, vastly better satisfied with the situation, if appearances were to be relied upon, than was the man who had brought it about.


Notes and Reference

  • defiles: noun, from ‘defilade’, which is a protection (in this case, in terms of the castle’s fortifications) against ‘enfilading fire’, or particular directions of artillery attack. See Wikia Military
  • noisome: disgusting, ill-smelling (Century Dictionary.
  • familiar: close to the sense, “a person attached to the household of a high official” (finedictionary.com)
  • punk-wood: ‘punk’ apparently reduced from ‘spunk’, same L. root as ‘sponge’ (spongia), a kind of tinder made from a fungus, or by timber affected by a fungus, so as to become light and porous, thus easily lit (Century Dictionary).
  • pall: from L. pallium: robe, mantle, cloak.
  • anon: soon.
  • embrasure: In fortification: “An aperture with slant sides in a wall or parapet, through which cannon are pointed and discharged; a crenelle” (finedictionary.com).
  • loophole: hole in a fortified wall for observation or firing (finedictionary.com).
  • reeking: generally means strongly smelling, of course. However, derives from German, Icelandic, Danish words for vapour, smoke, steam, etc., so perhaps better read here as an unreal, metaphorical sense, along the lines of ‘steaming’.
  • By the great Jericho!: 2 Sam. X. 4,5: ‘Wherefore David took Hanun’s servants, and shaved off the one half of their beards,… and sent them away… And the king said, Tarry at Jericho until your beards be grown, and then return.’ Thus, a place of tarrying, hence ironical reference to a prison or to a place far away (such as Jericho).

Ben Tuft, ‘Secret Nazi nuclear bunker discovered in Austria by filmmaker‘, Independent, 2014.

This edition © 2020 Furin Chime, Oliver Raven

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