Full Online Books
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knights Of The Cross - Part 5 - Chapter 5
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
The Knights Of The Cross - Part 5 - Chapter 5 Post by :framerw47 Category :Long Stories Author :Henryk Sienkiewicz Date :July 2011 Read :2958

Click below to download : The Knights Of The Cross - Part 5 - Chapter 5 (Format : PDF)

The Knights Of The Cross - Part 5 - Chapter 5


The prince was the first to take the floor at the consultation and spoke as follows:

"It is bad that we have no writing nor testimony against the counts. Although our suspicions may be justified, and I myself think that they and nobody else captured Jurand's daughter, still what of it? They will deny it. And if the grand master asks for proofs, what shall I show him? Bah! even Jurand's letter speaks in their favor."

Here he turned to Zbyszko:

"You say that they forced this letter from him with threats. It is possible, and undoubtedly it is so, because if justice were on their side, God would not have helped you against Rotgier. But since they extorted one, then they could extort also two. And perhaps they have evidence from Jurand, that they are not guilty of the capture of this unfortunate girl. And if so, they will show it to the master and what will happen then?"

"Why, they admitted themselves, gracious lord, that they recaptured her from bandits and that she is with them now."

"I know that. But they say now that they were mistaken, and that this is another girl, and the best proof is that Jurand himself disclaimed her."

"He disclaimed her because they showed him another girl, and that is what exasperated him."

"Surely it was so, but they can say that these are only our ideas."

"Their lies," said Mikolaj of Dlugolas, "are like a pine forest. From the edge a little way is visible, but the deeper one goes the greater is the density, so that a man goes astray and loses his way entirely."

He then repeated his words in German to de Lorche, who said:

"The grand master himself is better than they are, also his brother, although he has a daring soul, but it guards knightly honor."

"Yes," replied Mikolaj. "The master is humane. He cannot restrain the counts, nor the assembly, and it is not his fault that everything in the Order is based upon human wrongs, but he cannot help it. Go, go, Sir de Lorche, and tell him what has happened here. They are more ashamed before strangers than before us, lest they should tell of their outrages and dishonest actions at foreign courts. And should the master ask for proofs, then tell him this: 'To know the truth is divine, to seek it is human, therefore if you wish proofs, lord, then seek them.' Order the castles to be summoned and the people to be questioned, allow us to search, because it is foolishness and a lie that this orphan was stolen by bandits of the woods."

"Folly and lies!" repeated de Lorche.

"Because bandits would not dare to attack the princely court, nor Jurand's child. And even if they should have captured her, it would be only for ransom, and they alone would inform us that they had her."

"I shall narrate all that," said the Lotaringen, "and also find von Bergow. We are from the same country, and although I don't know him, they say that he is a relative of Duke Geldryi's. He was at Szczytno and should tell the master what he saw."

Zbyszko understood a few of his words, and whatever he did not, Mikolaj explained to him; he then embraced de Lorche so tightly that the knight almost groaned.

The prince again said to Zbyszko:

"And are you also absolutely determined to go?"

"Absolutely, gracious lord. What else am I to do? I vowed to seize Szczytno, even if I had to bite the walls with my teeth, but how can I declare war without permission?"

"Whoever began war without permission, would rue it under the executioner's sword," said the prince.

"It is certainly the law of laws," replied Zbyszko. "Bah! I wished then to challenge all who were in Szczytno, but people said that Jurand slaughtered them like cattle, and I did not know who was alive and who dead.... Because, may God and the Holy Cross help me, I will not desert Jurand till the last moment!"

"You speak nobly and worthily," said Mikolaj of Dlugolas. "And it proves that you were sensible not to go alone to Szczytno, because even a fool would have known that they would keep neither Jurand nor his daughter there, but undoubtedly would carry them away to some other castle. God rewarded your arrival here with Rotgier."

"And now!" said the prince, "as we heard from Rotgier, of those four only old Zygfried is alive, and the others God has punished already either by your hand or Jurand's. As for Zygfried, he is less of a rascal than the others, but perhaps the more ruthless tyrant. It is bad that Jurand and Danusia are in his power, and they must be saved quickly. In order that no accident may happen to you, I will give you a letter to the grand master. Listen and understand me well, that you do not go as a messenger, but as a delegate, and write to the master as follows: Since they had once made an attempt upon our person, in carrying off a descendant of their benefactors, it is most likely now, that they have also carried off Jurand's daughter, especially having a grudge against Jurand. I ask therefore of the master to order a diligent search, and if he is anxious to have my friendship, to restore her instantly to your hands."

Zbyszko, hearing this, fell at the prince's feet, and, embracing them, said:

"But Jurand, gracious lord, Jurand? Will you intercede also in his behalf! If he has mortal wounds, let him at least die in his own home and with his children."

"There is also mention made of Jurand," said the prince, kindly. "He is to appoint two judges and I two also to investigate the counts' and Jurand's actions, according to the rules of knightly honor. And they again will select a fifth to preside over them, and it will be as they decide."

With this, the council terminated, after which Zbyszko took leave of the prince, because they were soon to start on their journey. But before their departure, Mikolaj of Dlugolas, who had experience and knew the Teutons well, called Zbyszko aside and inquired:

"And will you take that Bohemian fellow along with you to the Germans?"

"Surely, he will not leave me. But why?"

"Because I feel sorry for him. He is a worthy fellow, but mark what I say: you will return from Malborg safe and sound, unless you meet a better man in combat, but his destruction is sure."

"But why?"

"Because the dog-brothers accused him of having stabbed de Fourcy to death. They must have informed the master of his death, and they doubtless said that the Bohemian shed his blood. They will not forgive that in Malborg. A trial and vengeance await him because, how can his innocence be proven to the master. Why, he even crushed Danveld's arm, who is a relative of the grand master. I am sorry for him, I repeat, if he goes it is to his death."

"He will not go to his death, because I shall leave him in Spychow."

But it happened otherwise, as reasons arose whereby the Bohemian did not remain in Spychow. Zbyszko and de Lorche started with their suites the following morning. De Lorche, whose marriage to Ulryka von Elner, Father Wyszoniek dissolved, rode away happy and, with his mind entirely occupied with the comeliness of Jagienka of Dlugolas, was silent. Zbyszko, not being able to talk with him about Danusia also, because they could not understand each other very well, conversed with Hlawa, who until now had known nothing about the intended expedition into the Teutonic regions.

"I am going to Malborg," he said, "but God knows when I shall return.... Perhaps soon, in the spring, in a year, and perhaps not at all, do you understand?"

"I do. Your honor also is surely going to challenge the knights there. And God grant that with every knight there is a shield-bearer!"

"No," replied Zbyszko. "I am not going for the purpose of challenging them, unless it comes of itself; but you will not go with me at all, but remain at home in Spychow."

Hearing this, the Bohemian at first fretted and began to complain sorrowfully, and then he begged his young lord not to leave him behind.

"I swore that I would not leave you. I swore upon the cross and my honor. And if your honor should meet with an accident, how could I appear before the lady in Zgorzelice! I swore to her, lord! Therefore have mercy upon me, and not disgrace me before her."

"And did you not swear to her to obey me?" asked Zbyszko.

"Certainly! In everything, but not that I should leave you. If your honor drives me away, I shall go ahead, so as to be at hand in case of necessity."

"I do not, nor will I drive you away," replied Zbyszko; "but it would be a bondage to me if I could not send you anywhere, even the least way, nor separate from you for even one day. You would not stand constantly over me, like a hangman over a good soul! And as to the combat, how will you help me? I do not speak of war, because these people fight in troops, and, in a single combat, you certainly will not fight for me. If Rotgier were stronger than I, his armor would not lie on my wagon, but mine on his. And besides, know that I should have greater difficulties there if with you, and that you might expose me to dangers."

"How so, your honor?"

Then Zbyszko began to tell him what he had heard from Mikolaj of Dlugolas, that the counts, not being able to account for de Fourcy's murder, would accuse him and prosecute him revengefully.

"And if they catch you," he said, finally, "then I certainly cannot leave you with them as in dogs' jaws, and may lose my head."

The Bohemian became gloomy when he heard these words, because he felt the truth in them; he nevertheless endeavored to alter the arrangement according to his desire.

"But those who saw me are not alive any more, because some, as they say, were killed by the old lord, while you slew Rotgier."

"The footmen who followed at a distance saw you, and the old Teuton is alive, and is surely now in Malborg, and if he is not there yet he will arrive, because the master, with God's permission, will summon him."

He could not reply to that, they therefore rode on in silence to Spychow. They found there complete readiness for war, because old Tolima expected that either the Teutons would attack the small castle, or that Zbyszko, on his return, would lead them to the succor of the old lord. Guards were on watch everywhere, on the paths through the marshes and in the castle itself. The peasants were armed, and, as war was nothing new to them, they awaited the Germans with eagerness, promising themselves excellent booty.

Father Kaleb received Zbyszko and de Lorche in the castle, and, immediately after supper, showed them the parchment with Jurand's seal, in which he had written with his own hand the last will of the knight of Spychow.

"He dictated it to me," he said, "the night he went to Szczytno". And--he did not expect to return."

"But why did you say nothing?"

"I said nothing, because he admitted his intentions to me under the seal of confession."

"May God give him eternal peace, and may the light of glory shine upon him...."

"Do not say prayers for him. He is still alive. I know it from the Teuton Rotgier, with whom I had a combat at the prince's court. There was God's judgment between us and I killed him."

"Then Jurand will undoubtedly not return ... unless with God's help!..."

"I go with this knight to tear him from their hands."

"Then you know not, it seems, Teutonic hands, but I know them, because, before Jurand took me to Spychow, I was priest for fifteen years in their country. God alone can save Jurand."

"And He can help us too."


He then unfolded the document and began to read. Jurand bequeathed all his estates and his entire possessions to Danusia and her offspring, but, in case of her death without issue, to her husband Zbyszko of Bogdaniec. He finally recommended his will to the prince's care; so that, in case it contained anything unlawful, the prince's grace might make it lawful. This clause was added because Father Kaleb knew only the canon law, and Jurand himself, engaged exclusively in war, only knew the knightly. After having read the document to Zbyszko, the priest read it to the officers of the Spychow garrison, who at once recognized the young knight as their lord, and promised obedience.

They also thought that Zbyszko would soon lead them to the assistance of the old lord, and they were glad, because their hearts were fierce and anxious for war, and attached to Jurand. They were seized with grief when they heard that they would remain at home, and that the lord with a small following was going to Malborg, not to fight, but to formulate complaints.

The Bohemian Glowacz, shared their grief, although on the other hand, he was glad on account of such a large increase of Zbyszko's wealth.

"Hej! who would be delighted," he said, "if not the old lord of Bogdaniec! And he could govern here! What is Bogdaniec in comparison with such a possession!"

But Zbyszko was suddenly seized with yearning for his uncle, as it frequently happened to him, especially in hard and difficult questions in life; therefore, turning to the warrior, he said on the impulse:

"Why should you sit here in idleness! Go to Bogdaniec, you shall carry a letter for me."

"If I am not to go with your honor, then I would rather go there!" replied the delighted squire.

"Call Father Kaleb to write in a proper manner all that has happened here, and the letter will be read to my uncle by the priest of Krzesnia, or the abbot, if he is in Zgorzelice."

But as he said this, he struck his moustache with his hand and added, as if to himself:

"Bah! the abbot!..."

And instantly Jagienka arose before his eyes, blue-eyed, dark-haired, tall and beautiful, with tears on her eyelashes! He became embarrassed and rubbed his forehead for a time, but finally he said:

"You will feel sad, girl, but not worse than I."

Meanwhile Father Kaleb arrived and immediately began to write. Zbyszko dictated to him at length everything that had happened from the moment he had arrived at the Forest Court. He did not conceal anything, because he knew that old Macko, when he had a clear view of the matter, would be glad in the end. Bogdaniec could not be compared with Spychow, which was a large and rich estate, and Zbyszko knew that Macko cared a great deal for such things.

But when the letter, after great toil, was written and sealed, Zbyszko again called his squire, and handed him the letter, saying:

"You will perhaps return with my uncle, which would delight me very much."

But the Bohemian seemed to be embarrassed; he tarried, shifted from one foot to another, and did not depart, until the young knight remarked:

"Have you anything to say yet, then do so."

"I should like, your honor ..." replied the Bohemian, "I should like to inquire yet, what to tell the people?"

"Which people?"

"Not those in Bogdaniec, but in the neighborhood.... Because they will surely like to find out!"

At that Zbyszko, who determined not to conceal anything, looked at him sharply and said:

"You do not care for the people, but for Jagienka of Zgorzelice."

And the Bohemian flushed, and then turned somewhat pale and replied:

"For her, lord!"

"And how do you know that she has not got married to Cztan of Rogow, or to Wilk of Brzozowa?"

"The lady has not got married at all," firmly answered the warrior.

"The abbot may have ordered her."

"The abbot obeys the lady, not she him."

"What do you wish then? Tell the truth to her as well as to all."

The Bohemian bowed and left somewhat angry.

"May God grant," he said to himself, thinking of Zbyszko, "that she may forget you. May God give her a better man than you are. But if she has not forgotten you, then I shall tell her that you are married, but without a wife, and that you may become a widower before you have entered the bedchamber."

But the warrior was attached to Zbyszko and pitied Danusia, though he loved Jagienka above all in this world, and from the time before the last battle in Ciechanow, when he had heard of Zbyszko's marriage, he bore pain and bitterness in his heart.

"That you may first become a widower!" he repeated.

But then other, and apparently gentler, thoughts began to enter his head, because, while going down to the horses, he said:

"God be blessed that I shall at least embrace her feet!"

Meanwhile Zbyszko was impatient to start, because feverishness consumed him,--and the affairs of necessity that occupied his attention increased his tortures, thinking constantly of Danusia and Jurand. It was necessary, however, to remain in Spychow for one night at least, for the sake of de Lorche, and the preparations which such a long journey required. He was finally utterly worn out from the fight, watch, journey, sleeplessness and worry. Late in the evening, therefore, he threw himself upon Jurand's hard bed, in the hope of falling into a short sleep at least. But before he fell asleep, Sanderus knocked at his door, entered, and bowing, said:

"Lord, you saved me from death, and I was well off with you, as scarcely ever before. God has given you now a large estate, so that you are wealthier than before, and moreover the Spychow treasury is not empty. Give me, lord, some kind of a moneybag, and I will go to Prussia, from castle to castle, and although it may not be very safe there, I may possibly do you some service."

Zbyszko, who at the first moment had wished to throw him out of the room, reflected upon his words, and after a moment, pulled from his traveling bag near his bed, a fair-sized bag, threw it to him and said:

"Take it, and go! If you are a rogue you will cheat, if honest--you will serve."

"I shall cheat as a rogue, sir," said Sanderus, "but not you, and I will honestly serve you."

Zygfried von Loeve was just about to depart for Malborg when the postman unexpectedly brought him a letter from Rotgier with news from the Mazovian court. This news moved the old Knight of the Cross to the quick. First of all, it was obvious from the letter that Rotgier had perfectly conducted and represented the Jurand affair before Prince Janusz. Zygfried smiled on reading that Rotgier had further requested the prince to deliver up Spychow to the Order as a recompense for the wrong done. But the other part of the letter contained unexpected and less advantageous tidings. Rotgier further informed him that in order better to demonstrate the guiltlessness of the Order in the abduction of the Jurands, the gauntlet was thrown down to the Mazovian knights, challenging everybody who doubted, to God's judgment, i.e., to fight in the presence of the whole court. "None has taken it up," Rotgier continued, "because all saw that in his letter Jurand himself bears testimony for us, moreover they feared God's judgment, but a youth, the same we saw in the forest court, came forward and picked up the gauntlet. Do not wonder then, O pious and wise brother, for that is the cause of my delay in returning. Since I have challenged, I am obliged to stand. And since I have done it for the glory of the Order, I trust that neither the grand master nor you whom I honor and heartily love with filial affection will count it ill. The adversary is quite a child, and as you know, I am not a novice in fighting, it will then be an easy matter for me to shed his blood for the glory of the Order, especially with the help of Christ, who cares more for those who bear His cross than for a certain Jurand or for the wrong done to a Mazovian girl!" Zygfried was most surprised at the news that Jurand's daughter was a married woman. The thought that there was a possibility of a fresh menacing and revengeful enemy settling at Spychow inspired even the old count with alarm. "It is clear," he said to himself, "that he will not neglect to avenge himself, and much more so when he shall have received his wife and she tells him that we carried her off from the forest court! Yes, it would be at once evident that we brought Jurand here for the purpose of destroying him, and that nobody ever thought of restoring his daughter to him." At this thought it struck Zygfried that owing to the prince's letters, the grand master would most likely institute an investigation in Szczytno so that he might at least clear himself in the eyes of the prince, since it was important for the grand master and the chapter to have the Mazovian prince on their side in case of war with the powerful king of Poland. To disregard the strength of the prince in face of the multitude of the Mazovian nobility was not to be lightly undertaken. To be at peace with them fully insured the knights' frontiers and permitted them better to concentrate their strength. They had often spoken about it in the presence of Zygfried at Malborg, and often entertained the hope, that after having subdued the king, a pretext would be found later against the Mazovians and then no power could wrest that land from their hands. That was a great and sure calculation. It was therefore certain that the master would at present do everything to avoid irritating Prince Janusz, because that prince who was married to Kiejstut's daughter was more difficult to reconcile than Ziemowit of Plock, whose wife, for some unknown reason, was entirely devoted to the Order.

In the face of these thoughts, old Zygfried, who was ready to commit all kinds of crimes, treachery and cruelty, only for the sake of the Order and its fame, began to calculate conscientiously:

"Would it not be better to let Jurand and his daughter go? The crime and infamy weigh heavily on Danveld's name, and he is dead; even if the master should punish Rotgier and myself severely because we were the accomplices in Danveld's deeds, would it not be better for the Order?" But here his revengeful and cruel heart began to rebel at the thought of Jurand.

To let him go, this oppressor and executioner of members of the Order, this conqueror in so many encounters, the cause of so many infamies, calamities and defeats, then the murderer of Danveld, the conqueror of von Bergow, the murderer of Meineger, Godfried and Hugue, he who even in Szczytno itself shed more German blood than one good fight in war. "No, I cannot! I cannot!" Zygfried repeated vehemently, and at this thought his rapacious fingers closed spasmodically, and the old lean breast heaved heavily. Still, if it were for the great benefit and glory of the Order? If the punishment should fall in that case upon the still living perpetrators of the crimes, Prince Janusz ought to be by this time reconciled with the foe and remove the difficulty by an arrangement, or even an alliance. "They are furious," further thought the old count; "but he ought to show them some kindness, it is easy to forget a grievance. Why, the prince himself in his own country was an abductor; then there is fear of revenge...."

Then he began to pace in the hall in mental distraction, and then stopped in front of the Crucifix, opposite the entrance, which occupied almost the whole height of wall between the two windows, and kneeling at its feet he said: "Enlighten me, O Lord, teach me, for I know not! If I give up Jurand and his daughter then all our actions will be truly revealed, and the world will not say Danveld or Zygfried have done it but they will lay the blame upon the Knights of the Cross, and disgrace will fall upon the whole Order, and the hatred of that prince will be greater than ever. If I do not give them up but keep them or suppress the matter, then the Order will be suspected and I shall be obliged to pollute my mouth with lying before the grand master. Which is better, Lord? Teach and enlighten me. If I must endure vengeance, then ordain it according to Thy justice; but teach me now, enlighten me, for Thy religion is concerned, and whatever Thou commandest I will do, even if it should result in my imprisonment and even if I were awaiting death and deliverance in fetters."

And resting his brow upon the wooden cross he prayed for a long time; it did not even for a moment cross his mind that it was a crooked and blasphemous prayer. Then he got up, calmed, thinking that the grace of the wooden cross sent him a righteous and enlightened thought, and that a voice from on high said to him: "Arise and wait for the return of Rotgier." "So! I must wait. Rotgier will undoubtedly kill the young man; it will then be necessary to hide Jurand and his daughter, or give them up. In the first instance, it is true, the prince will not forget them, but not being sure who abducted the girl he will search for her, he will send letters to the grand master, not accusing him but inquiring, and the affair will be greatly prolonged. In the second instance, the joy at the return of Jurand's daughter will be greater than the desire to avenge her abduction. Surely we can always say that we have found her after Jurand's outrage." The last thought entirely calmed Zygfried. As to Jurand himself there was no fear; for he and Rotgier had long before come to an understanding that in case Jurand were to be set free, he could neither avenge himself nor harm them. Zygfried was glad in his terrible heart. He rejoiced also at the thought of God's judgment which was to take place in the castle at Ciechanow. And as to the result of the mortal combat he was not in the least alarmed. He recollected a certain tournament in Koenigsberg when Rotgier overcame two powerful knights, who passed in their Andecave country as unconquerable fighters. He also remembered the combat near Wilno, with a certain Polish knight, the courtier Spytko of Melsztyn, whom Rotgier killed. And his face brightened, and his heart exulted, for when Rotgier to a certain extent was already a celebrated knight, he first had led an expedition to Lithuania and had taught him the best way to carry on a war with that tribe; for this reason he loved him like a son, with such deep love, that only those who must have strong affections locked up in their hearts are able to do. Now that "little son" will once more shed hated Polish blood, and return covered with glory. Well, it is God's judgment, and the Order will at the same time be cleared of suspicion. "God's judgment...." In the twinkling of an eye, a feeling akin to alarm oppressed his old heart. Behold, Rotgier must engage in mortal combat in defence of the innocence of the Order of the Knights of the Cross. Yet, they are guilty; he will therefore fight for that falsehood.... What then if misfortune happen? But in a moment it occurred to him again that this was impossible. Yes! Rotgier justly writes: "That by the help of Christ who cares more for those who bear the cross than for a certain Jurand or the wrong done to one Mazovian girl." Yes, Rotgier will return in three days, and return a conqueror.

Thus the old Knight of the Cross calmed himself, but at the same time he wondered whether it would not be advisable to send Danusia to some out of the way, distant castle, from which in no possible manner the stratagems of the Mazovians could rescue her. But after hesitating for a moment he gave up that idea. To take overt action and accuse the Order, only Jurandowna's husband could do that. But he will perish by Rotgier's hand. After that, there will only be investigations, inquiries, correspondence, and accusations from the prince. But this very procedure will greatly retard the affair, and it will be confused and obscured, and it goes without saying, it will be infinitely delayed. "Before it comes to anything," said Zygfried to himself, "I shall die, and it may also be that Jurandowna will grow old in the prison of the Knights of the Cross. Nevertheless, I shall order that everything in the castle be prepared for defence, and at the same time to make ready for the road, because I do not exactly know what will be the result of the meeting with Rotgier: Therefore I shall wait."

Meanwhile two of the three days, in which Rotgier had promised to return, passed by; then three and four, yet no retinue made its appearance at the gates of Szczytno. Only on the fifth day, well-nigh toward dark, the blast of the horn resounded in front of the bastion at the gate of the fortress. Zygfried, who was just finishing his vesper prayer, immediately dispatched a page to see who had arrived.

After a while the page returned with a troubled face. This Zygfried did not observe on account of the darkness, for the fire in the stove was too far back to illuminate the room sufficiently.

"Have they returned?" inquired the old Knight of the Cross.

"Yes!" replied the page.

But there was something in his voice which alarmed the old knight, and he said:

"And Brother Rotgier?"

"They have brought Brother Rotgier."

Then Zygfried got up and for a long while he held on to the arm of the chair to prevent himself from falling, then in a stifled voice he said:

"Give me the cloak."

The page placed the cloak on his shoulders. He had apparently regained his strength, for he put on the cowl himself without assistance, then he went out.

In a moment he found himself in the courtyard of the castle, where it was already quite dark; he walked slowly upon the cracking snow toward the retinue which was coming through the gate. He stopped near it where a crowd had already gathered, and several torches, which the soldiers of the guard brought, illuminated the scene. At the sight of the old knight the servants opened a way for him. By the light of the torches could be seen the terrified faces, and the whispering of the people could be heard in the dark background:

"Brother Rotgier...."

"Brother Rotgier has been killed...."

Zygfried drew near the sleigh, upon which the corpse was stretched on straw and covered with a cloak; he lifted one end of it.

"Bring a light," he said, whilst drawing aside the cowl.

One of the servants brought a torch which he held toward the corpse and by its light the old knight observed the head of Rotgier; the face was white as if frozen and bandaged with a black kerchief fastened under the beard, evidently for the purpose of keeping the mouth closed. The whole face was drawn and so much altered that it might be mistaken for somebody else's. The eyes were closed, and around them and near the temples were blue patches, and the cheeks were scaly with frost. The old knight gazed at it for a long while amid complete silence. Others looked at him, for it was known that he was like a father to Rotgier, and that he loved him. But he did not shed even a single tear, only his face looked more severe than usual, but there was depicted in it a kind of torpid calm.

"They sent him back thus!" he said at last.

But he immediately turned toward the steward of the castle and said:

"Let a coffin be prepared by midnight, and place the body in the chapel."

"There is one coffin left of those which were made for those Jurand killed; it wants only to be covered with cloth, which I shall order to be done."

"And cover him with a cloak," said Zygfried, whilst covering the face of Rotgier, "not with one like this but with one of the Order."

After a while he added:

"Do not close the lid."

The people approached the sleigh. Zygfried again pulled the cowl over his head, but he recollected something before leaving, and he asked:

"Where is van Krist?"

"He also was killed," replied one of the servants, "but they were obliged to bury him in Ciechanow because putrefaction set in."

"Very well."

Then he left, walking slowly, entered the room and sat down upon the same chair where he was when the tidings reached him; his face was as if petrified and motionless and he sat there so long that the page began to be alarmed; he put his head halfway in the door now and then. Hour after hour passed by. The customary stir ceased within the castle, but from the direction of the chapel came a dull indistinct hammering; then nothing disturbed the silence but the calls of the watchmen.

It was already about midnight when the old knight awoke as from sleep, and called the servant.

"Where is Brother Rotgier?" he asked.

But the servant, unnerved by the silence, events and sleeplessness, apparently did not understand him, but looked at him with fear and replied in a trembling voice:

"I do not know, sir...."

The old man burst out into laughter and said mildly:

"Child, I asked whether he is already in the chapel."

"Yes, sir."

"Very well then. Tell Diedrich to come here with a lantern and wait until my return; let him also have a small kettle of coals. Is there already a light in the chapel?"

"There are candles burning about the coffin."

Zygfried put on his cloak and left.

When he entered the chapel, he looked around to see whether anybody else was present; then he closed the door carefully, approached the coffin, put aside two of the six candles burning in large brazen candlesticks in front of him, and knelt down before it.

As his lips did not move, it showed that he was not praying. For some time he only looked at the drawn yet still handsome face of Rotgier as though he were trying to discover in it traces of life.

Then amid the dead silence in the chapel he began to call in suppressed tones:

"Dear little son! Dear little son!"

Then he remained silent; it seemed as though he were expecting an answer.

Then he stretched out his hand and pushed his emaciated talon-like fingers under the cloak, uncovered Rotgier's breast and began to feel about it, looking everywhere at the middle and sides below the ribs and along the shoulder-blades: at last he touched the rent in the clothing which extended from the top of the right shoulder down to the armpit, his fingers penetrated and felt along the whole length of the wound, then he cried with a loud voice which sounded like a complaint:

"Oh!... What merciless thing is this!... Yet thou saidst that fellow was quite a child!... The whole arm! The whole arm? So many times thou hast raised it against the Pagans in defence of the Order.... In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Thou foughtest falsely, and so succumbed in a false cause; be absolved and may thy soul...."

The words were cut short on his lips which began to tremble, and deep silence reigned once more in the chapel.

"Dear little son! Dear little son!"

Now there was something like a petition in Zygfried's voice, and at the same time it seemed as he lowered his voice as though his petition contained some important and terrible secret.

"Merciful Christ!... If thou art not condemned, give a sign, move thy hand, or give one twitch of the eye, for my old heart is groaning within my breast.... Give a sign, I loved thee, say one word!..."

And supporting himself with his hands upon the edge of the coffin, he fastened his vulture-like eyes upon the closed eyelids of Rotgier and waited.

"Bah! How couldst thou speak?" said he, at last, "when frost and evil odor emanate from thee. But as thou art silent, then I will tell thee something, and let thy soul, flying about here among the flaming candles, listen!"

Then he bent down to the face of the corpse.

"Dost thou remember how the chaplain would not permit us to kill Jurand and how we took an oath. Well, I will keep that oath, but I will cause thee to rejoice wherever thou art, even at the cost of my own damnation."

Then he retreated from the coffin, replaced the candlesticks, covered the corpse with the cloak, and left the chapel.

At the door of the room, overpowered with deep sleep, slept the servant, and according to Zygfried's orders Diedrich was already waiting inside. He was of low stature thickly set, with bowed legs and a square face which was concealed by a dark cowl falling to his arm. He was dressed in an untanned buffalo jacket, also a buffalo belt upon his hips from which was hanging a bunch of keys and a short knife. In his right hand he held a membrane-covered lantern; in the other, a small kettle and a torch.

"Are you ready?" inquired Zygfried.

Diedrich bowed silently.

"I gave orders for you to bring with you a kettle with coal in it."

The short fellow was still silent; he only pointed to the burning wood in the fireplace and took the iron shovel standing at the fireside, and filled the kettle with the burning coal, then he lit the lantern and waited.

"Now listen, dog," said Zygfried; "you have never revealed what Count Danveld commanded you to do; the count also ordered the cutting out of your tongue. But you can still motion to the chaplain with your fingers. I therefore forewarn you, if you show him even with the slightest motion of your hand what you are to do now by my command, I shall order you to be hanged."

Diedrich again bowed in silence, but his face was drawn on account of the terrible, ominous recollection; for his tongue was torn out for quite another reason than what Zygfried said.

"Now proceed, and lead to the underground cell where Jurand is."

The executioner grasped the handle of the kettle with his gigantic hand, picked up the lantern and then left. At the door they passed by the guard who was asleep, descended the stairs, and turned, not toward the principal entrance, but directed their steps to the small corridor in the rear of the stairs, extending through the whole width of the edifice, and terminating in a heavy iron door which was concealed in a niche in the wall. Diedrich opened it and they found themselves again in the open air in a small courtyard surrounded on its four sides by high walled granaries where they kept their stores in case the castle should be besieged. Underneath one of these stores, on the right, was an underground prison. There was not a single guard standing there, because even if a prisoner should succeed in breaking through from the underground prison, he would then find himself in the courtyard which only gave exit through the door in the niche.

"Wait," said Zygfried, and leaning against the wall, he rested, for he felt that something was the matter with him; he was short of breath, as though his breast was too much tightened under the straight coat of mail. In plain terms, considering what had happened, he felt his old age, and his brow under the cowl was covered with drops of perspiration; he therefore stopped for a moment to recover breath.

The night following the gloomy day became extraordinarily clear and the little courtyard was brightly illuminated by the rays of the moon which caused the snow to glisten with a yellowish tint. Zygfried inhaled with pleasure the cool invigorating air, but he forgot that on a similar bright night Rotgier left for Ciechanow whence he did not return alive.

"And now thou liest in the chapel," he murmured to himself.

Diedrich thought that the count was talking to him; he therefore lifted up his lantern and threw its light upon his face which had a terrible and cadaverous appearance, but at the same time it looked like the head of an old vulture.

"Lead on," said Zygfried.

Diedrich lowered the lantern again which cast upon the snow a yellow circle of light and they proceeded. In the thick wall of the storehouse there was a recess in which several steps led to a large iron door. Diedrich opened it and went down the stairs in the deep dark aperture, raising the lantern so as to show the way to the count. At the end of the stairs there was a corridor in which, to the right and left, were exceedingly low doors leading to the cells of the prisoners.

"To Jurand!" said Zygfried.

And in a moment the bars creaked and they entered, but there was perfect darkness in the cell. But Zygfried, who could not see well in the dim light from the lantern, ordered the torch to be lighted, and in a moment he was enabled by its bright light to see Jurand lying on the straw. The prisoner's feet were fettered, but the chains on the hands were somewhat longer so as to enable him to carry food to his mouth. Upon his body was the same coarse sackcloth which he had on when he was arraigned before the court, but now it was covered with dark blood-stains, because, that day when the fight ended, only when maddened with pain the frantic knight was entangled in the net, the soldiers then tried to kill him, struck him with their halberds and inflicted upon him numerous wounds. The chaplain interfered and Jurand was not killed outright, but he lost so much blood that he was carried to prison half dead. In the castle they expected his death hourly. But owing to his immense strength he prevailed over death, although they did not attend to his wounds, and he was cast into the terrible subterranean prison, in which during the daytime when it thawed drops fell from the roof, but when there was frost the walls were thickly covered with snow and icicles.

On the ground on the straw lay the powerless man in chains, but he looked like a piece of flint shaped in human form. Zygfried commanded Diedrich to throw the light directly upon Jurand's face, then he gazed at it for a while in silence. Then he turned to Diedrich and said:

"Observe, he has only one eye--destroy it."

There was something in his voice like sickness and decrepitude, and for that very reason, the horrible order sounded more terrible, so that the torch began somewhat to tremble in the hand of the executioner. Yet he inclined it toward Jurand's face, and in a moment big drops of burning tar began to fall upon the eye of Jurand, covering it entirely from the brow down to the projecting cheek bone.

Jurand's face twitched, his grey mustachios moved, but he did not utter a single word of complaint. Whether it was from exhaustion, or the grand fortitude of his terrible nature, he did not even groan.

Zygfried said:

"It has been promised that you shall be freed, and you shall be, but you shall not be able to accuse the Order, for your tongue, which you might use against it, shall be torn out."

Then he again signaled to the executioner who replied with a strange guttural sound and showed by signs that for this he roust employ both hands, and therefore wanted the count to hold the light.

Then the old count took the torch and held it in his outstretched, trembling hand, but when Diedrich pressed Jurand's chest with his knees Zygfried turned his head and looked at the hoarfrost covered wall.

For a while resounded the clank of the chains, followed by the suppressed panting of a human breast which sounded like one dull, deep groan--and then all was still.

Finally Zygfried said:

"Jurand, the punishment which you have suffered you have deserved; but I have promised to Brother Rotgier, whom your son-in-law has killed, to place your right hand in his coffin."

Diedrich, who had just got up from his last deed, bent again upon the prostrate form of Jurand, when he heard Zygfried's words.

After a little while, the old count and Diedrich found themselves again in that open courtyard which was illuminated by the bright moon. When they reentered the corridor, Zygfried took the lantern from Diedrich, also a dark object wrapped up in a rag, and said to himself in a loud voice,

"Now to the chapel and then to the tower."

Diedrich looked keenly at the count, but the count commanded him to go to sleep; he covered himself, hanging the lantern near the lighted window of the chapel and left. On his way he meditated upon what had just taken place. He was almost sure that his own end had also arrived and that these were his last deeds in this world, and that he would have to account for them before God. But his soul, the soul of a "Knight of the Cross," although naturally more cruel than mendacious, had in the course of inexorable necessity got accustomed to fraud, assassination and concealing the sanguinary deeds of the Order, he now involuntarily sought to cast off the ignominy and responsibility for Jurand's tortures, from both himself and the Order. Diedrich was dumb and could not confess, and, although he could make himself understood with the chaplain, he would be afraid to do so. What then? Nobody would know. Jurand might well have received all his wounds during the fight. He might have easily lost his tongue by the thrust of a lance between his teeth. An axe or a sword might have easily cut off his right hand. He had only one eye; would it be strange therefore that the other eye was lost in the fracas, for he threw himself madly upon the whole garrison of Szczytno. Alas! Jurand! His last joy in life trembled for a moment in the heart of the old Knight of the Cross. So, should Jurand survive, he ought to be set free. At this, Zygfried remembered a conversation he had had once with Rotgier about this, when that young brother laughingly remarked: "Then let him go where _his eyes will carry him_, and if he does not happen to strike Spychow, then let him _make inquiries on the road." For that which had now happened was a part of the prearranged programme between them. But now Zygfried reentered the chapel and, kneeling in front of the coffin, he laid at Rotgier's feet Jurand's bleeding hand; that last joy which startled him was only for a moment and quickly disappeared, for the last time, from his face.

"You see," he said, "I have done more than we agreed to do. For King John of Luxemburg, although he was blind, kept on fighting and perished gloriously. But Jurand can stand no more and will perish like a dog behind the fence."

At this he again felt that shortness of breath that had seized him on his way to Jurand, also a weight on his head as of a heavy iron helmet, but this only lasted a second. Then he drew a deep breath and said:

"Ah! My time has also come. You were the only one I had; but now I have none. But if I lived longer, I vow to you, O little son, that I would also place upon your grave that hand which killed you, or perish myself. The murderer who killed you is still alive...."

Here his teeth clinched and such an intense cramp seized him that he could not speak for some time. Then he began again, but in a broken voice:

"Yes, your murderer still lives, but I will cut him to pieces ... and others with him, and I will inflict upon them tortures even worse than death itself...."

Then be ceased.

In a moment he rose again and approaching the coffin, he began to speak in quiet tones,

"Now I take leave of you ... and look into your face for the last time; perhaps I shall be able to see in your face whether you are pleased with my promises.... The last time."

Then he uncovered Rotgier's face, but suddenly he retreated.

"You are smiling, ..." he said, "but you are smiling terribly...."

In fact, the frozen corpse, which was covered with the mantle, had thawed. It may be from the heat of the burning candles, it had begun to decompose with extraordinary rapidity, and the face of the young count looked indeed terrible. The enormously swollen, and livid mouth looked something monstrous, the blue and swollen curled lips had the appearance of a grinning smile.

Zygfried covered that terrible human mask as quickly as possible.

Then he took the lantern and left the chapel. Here again, for the third time, he felt shortness of breath; he entered the house and threw himself upon his hard bed of the Order and lay for a time motionless. He thought he would fall asleep, when suddenly a strange feeling overpowered him; it seemed to him that he would never again be able to sleep, and that if he remained in that house death would soon follow.

Zygfried, in his extreme weariness, and without hope of sleep, was not afraid of death; on the contrary he regarded it as an exceedingly great relief. But he had no wish to submit himself to it that evening. So he sat up in his bed and cried:

"Give me time till to-morrow."

Then he distinctly heard a voice whispering in his ear:

"Leave this house. It will be too late to-morrow and you will not be able to accomplish your promise. Leave this house!"

The count got up with difficulty and went out. The guards were calling to one another from the bastions upon the palisades. The light emanating from the windows of the chapel illuminated the snow in front with a yellow gleam. In the middle of the court near the stone wall were two black dogs playing and tugging at a black rag. Beyond this the courtyard was empty and silent.

"It is yet necessary this night!" said Zygfried. "I am exceedingly tired, but I must go.... All are asleep. Jurand, overcome by torture, might also be asleep. I only am unable to sleep. I will go. I will go, for there is death within, and I have promised you.... Let death come afterward; sleep will not come. You are smiling there, but my strength is failing me. You are smiling, you are apparently glad. But you see that my fingers are benumbed, my hands have lost their strength, and I cannot accomplish it by myself ... the servant with whom she sleeps will accomplish it...."

Then he moved on with heavy steps toward the tower situated near the gate. Meanwhile the dogs which were playing near the stone wall came running up and began to fawn upon him. In one of them Zygfried recognized the bulldog which was so much attached to Diedrich that it was said in the castle that it served him as a pillow at night.

The dog greeted the count, it barked low once or twice; and then returned toward the gate acting as though it had divined his thoughts.

After a while Zygfried found himself in front of the narrow little doors of the tower, which at night were barred on the outside. Removing the bars, he felt for the balustrade of the stairs which commenced quite near the doors and began to ascend. In his absentmindedness he forgot the lantern; he therefore went up gropingly, stepping carefully and feeling with his feet for the steps.

Having advanced a few steps, he suddenly halted, when below quite near him he heard something like the breathing of a man, or beast.

"Who is there?"

But there was no answer, only the breathing grew quicker.

Zygfried was not a timid man; he was not afraid of death. But the preceding terrible night had quite exhausted his courage and self-control. It crossed his mind that Rotgier or the evil spirit was barring his way, and his hair stood up on his head and his brow was covered with cold sweat.

He retreated to the very entrance.

"Who is there?" he asked, with a choked voice.

But at that moment something struck him a powerful blow on his chest, so terrible that the old man fell through the door upon his back and swooned. He did not even groan.

Silence followed, after which there could be seen a dark form, stealthily issuing from the tower and making off toward the stable which was situated on the left side of the courtyard near the arsenal. Diedrich's big bulldog followed that figure silently. The other dog also ran after him and disappeared in the shadow of the wall, but shortly appeared again with its head to the ground, scenting as it were the trail of the other dog. In this manner the dog approached the prostrate and lifeless body of Zygfried, which it smelled carefully, then crouched near the head of the prostrate man and began to howl.

The howling continued for a long while, filling the air of that sombre night with a new kind of dolefulness and horror. Finally the small door concealed in the middle of the gate creaked and a guard armed with a halberd appeared in the courtyard.

"Death upon that dog," he said, "I'll teach you to howl during the night."

And he aimed the sharp end of the halberd so as to hit the animal with it, but at that moment he observed something lying near the little open door of the bastion.

"Lord Jesus! what is that?..."

He bent his head so as to look in the face of the prostrate man, and began to shout:

"Help! Help! Help!"

Then he rushed to the gate and pulled with all his strength at the bell-rope.


If you like this book please share to your friends :

The Knights Of The Cross - Part 6 - Chapter 1 The Knights Of The Cross - Part 6 - Chapter 1

The Knights Of The Cross - Part 6 - Chapter 1
PART SIXTH: CHAPTER I Although Glowacz was somewhat anxious to hasten to Zgorzelice, he could not make the progress he wished, because the road was exceedingly bad. A general thaw had followed the severe winter, keen frost, and immense snowdrifts which covered whole villages. Luty (February), in spite of its name,(110) by no means showed itself formidable. First there were thick, continuous fogs, succeeded by torrential rains, which melted the white snowdrifts before one's eyes; and in the intervals there were very high winds as is usual in the month of March; then the tempestuous clouds were suddenly torn asunder by

The Knights Of The Cross - Part 5 - Chapter 4 The Knights Of The Cross - Part 5 - Chapter 4

The Knights Of The Cross - Part 5 - Chapter 4
PART FIFTH: CHAPTER IV The prince did not object to the duel, because, according to the customs of that time, he had no power to do so. He only prevailed upon Rotgier to write a letter to the master and to Zygfried von Loeve, stating that he was the first to throw down the gauntlet to the Mazovian knights, in consequence of which he appeared at a combat with the husband of Jurand's daughter, who had already challenged him once before. The Teuton also explained to the grand master, that if he appeared at the duel without permission, he did it