The fifteen nobles, who formed the Council of State for the Moselle Valley, stood in little groups in the Rittersaal of Winneburg’s Castle, situated on a hill-top in the Ender Valley, a league or so from the waters of the Moselle. The nobles spoke in low tones together, for a greater than they were present, no other than their over-lord, the Archbishop of Treves, who, in his stately robes of office, paced up and down the long room, glancing now and then through the narrow windows which gave a view down the Ender Valley.
There was a trace of impatience in his Lordship’s bearing, and well there might be, for here was the Council of State in assemblage, yet their chairman was absent, and the nobles stood there helplessly, like a flock of sheep whose shepherd is missing. The chairman was the Count of Winneburg, in whose castle they were now collected, and his lack of punctuality was thus a double discourtesy, for he was host as well as president.
Each in turn had tried to soothe the anger of the Archbishop, for all liked the Count of Winneburg, a bluff and generous-hearted giant, who would stand by his friends against all comers, was the quarrel his own or no. In truth little cared the stalwart Count of Winneburg whose quarrel it was so long as his arm got opportunity of wielding a blow in it. His Lordship of Treves had not taken this championship of the absent man with good grace, and now strode apart from the group, holding himself haughtily; muttering, perhaps prayers, perhaps something else.
When one by one the nobles had arrived at Winneburg’s Castle, they were informed that its master had gone hunting that morning, saying he would return in time for the mid-day meal, but nothing had been heard of him since, although mounted messengers had been sent forth, and the great bell in the southern tower had been set ringing when the Archbishop arrived. It was the general opinion that Count Winneburg, becoming interested in the chase, had forgotten all about the Council, for it was well known that the Count’s body was better suited for athletic sports or warfare than was his mind for the consideration of questions of State, and the nobles, themselves of similar calibre, probably liked him none the less on that account.
Presently the Archbishop stopped in his walk and faced the assemblage. “My Lords,” he said, “we have already waited longer than the utmost stretch of courtesy demands. The esteem in which Count Winneburg holds our deliberations is indicated by his inexcusable neglect of a duty conferred upon him by you, and voluntarily accepted by him. I shall therefore take my place in his chair, and I call upon you to seat yourselves at the Council table.”
Saying which the Archbishop strode to the vacant chair, and seated himself in it at the head of the board. The nobles looked one at the other with some dismay, for it was never their intention that the Archbishop should preside over their meeting, the object of which was rather to curb that high prelate’s ambition, than to confirm still further the power he already held over them.
When, a year before, these Councils of State had been inaugurated, the Archbishop had opposed them, but, finding that the Emperor was inclined to defer to the wishes of his nobles, the Lord of Treves had insisted upon his right to be present during the deliberations, and this right the Emperor had conceded. He further proposed that the meeting should be held at his own castle of Cochem, as being conveniently situated midway between Coblentz and Treves, but to this the nobles had, with fervent unanimity, objected. Cochem Castle, they remembered, possessed strong walls and deep dungeons, and they had no desire to trust themselves within the lion’s jaws, having little faith in his Lordship’s benevolent intentions towards them.
The Emperor seemed favourable to the selection of Cochem as a convenient place of meeting, and the nobles were nonplussed, because they could not give their real reason for wishing to avoid it, and the Archbishop continued to press the claims of Cochem as being of equal advantage to all.
“It is not as though I asked them to come to Treves,” said the Archbishop, “for that would entail a long journey upon those living near the Rhine, and in going to Cochem I shall myself be called upon to travel as far as those who come from Coblentz.”
The Emperor said:
“It seems a most reasonable selection, and, unless some strong objection be urged, I shall confirm the choice of Cochem.”
The nobles were all struck with apprehension at these words, and knew not what to say, when suddenly, to their great delight, up spoke the stalwart Count of Winneburg.
“Your Majesty,” he said, “my Castle stands but a short league from Cochem, and has a Rittersaal as large as that in the pinnacled palace owned by the Archbishop. It is equally convenient for all concerned, and every gentleman is right welcome to its hospitality. My cellars are well filled with good wine, and my larders are stocked with an abundance of food. All that can be urged in favour of Cochem applies with equal truth to the Schloss Winneburg. If, therefore, the members of the Council will accept of my roof, it is theirs.”
The nobles with universal enthusiasm cried:
“Yes, yes; Winneburg is the spot.”
The Emperor smiled, for he well knew that his Lordship of Treves was somewhat miserly in the dispensing of his hospitality. He preferred to see his guests drink the wine of a poor vintage rather than tap the cask which contained the yield of a good year. His Majesty smiled, because he imagined his nobles thought of the replenishing of their stomachs, whereas they were concerned for the safety of their necks; but seeing them unanimous in their choice, he nominated Schloss Winneburg as the place of meeting, and so it remained.
When, therefore, the Archbishop of Treves set himself down in the ample chair, to which those present had, without a dissenting vote, elected Count Winneburg, distrust at once took hold of them, for they were ever jealous of the encroachments of their over-lord. The Archbishop glared angrily around him, but no man moved from where he stood.
“I ask you to be seated. The Council is called to order.”
Baron Beilstein cleared his throat and spoke, seemingly with some hesitation, but nevertheless with a touch of obstinacy in his voice:
“May we beg a little more time for Count Winneburg? He has doubtless gone farther afield than he intended when he set out. I myself know something of the fascination of the chase, and can easily understand that it wipes out all remembrance of lesser things.”
“Call you this Council a lesser thing?” demanded the Archbishop. “We have waited an hour already, and I shall not give the laggard a moment more.”
“Indeed, my Lord, then I am sorry to hear it. I would not willingly be the man who sits in Winneburg’s chair, should he come suddenly upon us.”
“Is that a threat?” asked the Archbishop, frowning.
“It is not a threat, but rather a warning. I am a neighbor of the Count, and know him well, and whatever his virtues may be, calm patience is not one of them. If time hangs heavily, may I venture to suggest that your Lordship remove the prohibition you proclaimed when the Count’s servants offered us wine, and allow me to act temporarily as host, ordering the flagons to be filled, which I think will please Winneburg better when he comes, than finding another in his chair.”
“This is no drunken revel, but a Council of State,” said the Archbishop sternly; “and I drink no wine when the host is not here to proffer it.”
“Indeed, my Lord,” said Beilstein, with a shrug of the shoulders, “some of us are so thirsty that we care not who makes the offer, so long as the wine be sound.”
What reply the Archbishop would have made can only be conjectured, for at that moment the door burst open and in came Count Winneburg, a head and shoulders above any man in that room, and huge in proportion.
“My Lords, my Lords,” he cried, his loud voice booming to the rafters, “how can I ask you to excuse such a breach of hospitality. What! Not a single flagon of wine in the room? This makes my deep regret almost unbearable. Surely, Beilstein, you might have amended that, if only for the sake of an old and constant comrade. Truth, gentlemen, until I heard the bell of the castle toll, I had no thought that this was the day of our meeting, and then, to my despair, I found myself an hour away, and have ridden hard to be among you.”
Then, noticing there was something ominous in the air, and an unaccustomed silence to greet his words, he looked from one to the other, and his eye, travelling up the table, finally rested upon the Archbishop in his chair. Count Winneburg drew himself up, his ruddy face colouring like fire. Then, before any person could reach out hand to check him, or move lip in counsel, the Count, with a fierce oath, strode to the usurper, grasped him by the shoulders, whirled his heels high above his head, and flung him like a sack of corn to the smooth floor, where the unfortunate Archbishop, huddled in a helpless heap, slid along the polished surface as if he were on ice. The fifteen nobles stood stock-still, appalled at this unexpected outrage upon their over-lord. Winneburg seated himself in the chair with an emphasis that made even the solid table rattle, and bringing down his huge fist crashing on the board before him, shouted:
“Let no man occupy my chair, unless he has weight enough to remain there.”
Baron Beilstein, and one or two others, hurried to the prostrate Archbishop and assisted him to his feet.
“Count Winneburg,” said Beilstein, “you can expect no sympathy from us for such an act of violence in your own hall.”
“I want none of your sympathy,” roared the angry Count. “Bestow it on the man now in your hands who needs it. If you want the Archbishop of Treves to act as your chairman, elect him to that position and welcome. I shall have no usurpation in my Castle. While I am president I sit in the chair, and none other.”
There was a murmur of approval at this, for one and all were deeply suspicious of the Archbishop’s continued encroachments.
His Lordship of Treves once more on his feet, his lips pallid, and his face colourless, looked with undisguised hatred at his assailant. “Winneburg,” he said slowly, “you shall apologise abjectly for this insult, and that in presence of the nobles of this Empire, or I will see to it that not one stone of this castle remains upon another.”
“Indeed,” said the Count nonchalantly, “I shall apologise to you, my Lord, when you have apologised to me for taking my place. As to the castle, it is said that the devil assisted in the building of it, and it is quite likely that through friendship for you, he may preside over its destruction.”
The Archbishop made no reply, but, bowing haughtily to the rest of the company, who looked glum enough, well knowing that the episode they had witnessed meant, in all probability, red war let loose down the smiling valley of the Moselle, left the Rittersaal.
“Now that the Council is duly convened in regular order,” said Count Winneburg, when the others had seated themselves round his table, “what questions of state come up for discussion?”
For a moment there was no answer to this query, the delegates looking at one another speechless. But at last Baron Beilstein shrugging his shoulder, said drily:
“Indeed, my Lord Count, I think the time for talk is past, and I suggest that we all look closely to the strengthening of our walls, which are likely to be tested before long by the Lion of Treves. It was perhaps unwise, Winneburg, to have used the Archbishop so roughly, he being unaccustomed to athletic exercise; but, let the consequences be what they may, I, for one, will stand by you.”
“And I; and I; and I; and I,” cried the others, with the exception of the Knight of Ehrenburg, who, living as he did near the town of Coblentz, was learned in the law, and not so ready as some of his comrades to speak first and think afterwards.
“My good friends,” cried their presiding officer, deeply moved by this token of their fealty, “what I have done I have done, be it wise or the reverse, and the results must fall on my head alone. No words of mine can remove the dust of the floor from the Archbishop’s cloak, so if he comes, let him come. I will give him as hearty a welcome as it is in my power to render. All I ask is fair play, and those who stand aside shall see a good fight. It is not right that a hasty act of mine should embroil the peaceful country side, so if Treves comes on I shall meet him alone here in my castle. But, nevertheless, I thank you all for your offers of help; that is all, except the Knight of Ehrenburg, whose tender of assistance, if made, has escaped my ear.”
The Knight of Ehrenburg had, up to that moment, been studying the texture of the oaken table on which his flagon sat. Now he looked up and spoke slowly.
“I made no proffer of help,” he said, “because none will be needed, I believe, so far as the Archbishop of Treves is concerned. The Count a moment ago said that all he wanted was fair play, but that is just what he has no right to expect from his present antagonist. The Archbishop will make no attempt on this castle; he will act much more subtly than that. The Archbishop will lay the redress of his quarrel upon the shoulders of the Emperor, and it is the oncoming of the Imperial troops you have to fear, and not an invasion from Treves. Against the forces of the Emperor we are powerless, united or divided. Indeed, his Majesty may call upon us to invest this castle, whereupon, if we refuse, we are rebels who have broken our oaths.”
“What then is there left for me to do?” asked the Count, dismayed at the coil in which he had involved himself.
“Nothing,” advised the Knight of Ehrenburg, “except to apologise abjectly to the Archbishop, and that not too soon, for his Lordship may refuse to accept it. But when he formally demands it, I should render it to him on his own terms, and think myself well out of an awkward position.”
The Count of Winneburg rose from his seat, and lifting his clinched fist high above his head, shook it at the timbers of the roof.
“That,” he cried, “will I never do, while one stone of Winneburg stands upon another.”
At this, those present, always with the exception of the Knight of Ehrenburg, sprang to their feet, shouting:
“Imperial troops or no, we stand by the Count of Winneburg!”
Someone flashed forth a sword, and instantly a glitter of blades was in the air, while cheer after cheer rang to the rafters. When the uproar had somewhat subsided, the Knight of Ehrenburg said calmly:
“My castle stands nearest to the capital, and will be the first to fall, but, nevertheless, hoping to do my shouting when the war is ended, I join my forces with those of the rest of you.”
And amidst this unanimity, and much emptying of flagons, the assemblage dissolved, each man with his escort taking his way to his own stronghold, perhaps to con more soberly, next day, the problem that confronted him. They were fighters all, and would not flinch when the pinch came, whatever the outcome.
Day followed day with no sign from Treves. Winneburg employed the time in setting his house in order to be ready for whatever chanced, and just as the Count was beginning to congratulate himself that his deed was to be without consequences, there rode up to his castle gates a horseman, accompanied by two lancers, and on the newcomer’s breast were emblazoned the Imperial arms. Giving voice to his horn, the gates were at once thrown open to him, and, entering, he demanded instant speech with the Count.
“My Lord, Count Winneburg,” he said, when that giant had presented himself, “His Majesty the Emperor commands me to summon you to the court at Frankfort.”
“Do you take me as prisoner, then?” asked the Count.
“Nothing was said to me of arrest. I was merely commissioned to deliver to you the message of the Emperor.”
“What are your orders if I refuse to go?”
A hundred armed men stood behind the Count, a thousand more were within call of the castle bell; two lances only were at the back of the messenger; but the strength of the broadcast empire was betokened by the symbol on his breast.
“My orders are to take back your answer to his Imperial Majesty,” replied the messenger calmly.
The Count, though hot-headed, was no fool, and he stood for a moment pondering on the words which the Knight of Ehrenburg had spoken on taking his leave:
“Let not the crafty Archbishop embroil you with the Emperor.”
This warning had been the cautious warrior’s parting advice to him.
“If you will honour my humble roof,” said the Count slowly, “by taking refreshment beneath it, I shall be glad of your company afterwards to Frankfort, in obedience to his Majesty’s commands.”
The messenger bowed low, accepted the hospitality, and together they made way across the Moselle, and along the Roman road to the capital.
Within the walls of Frankfort the Count was lodged in rooms near the palace, to which his conductor guided him, and, although it was still held that he was not a prisoner, an armed man paced to and fro before his door all night. The day following his arrival, Count Winneburg was summoned to the Court, and in a large ante-room found himself one of a numerous throng, conspicuous among them all by reason of his great height and bulk.
The huge hall was hung with tapestry, and at the further end were heavy curtains, at each edge of which stood half-a-dozen armoured men, the detachments being under command of two gaily-uniformed officers. Occasionally the curtains were parted by menials who stood there to perform that duty, and high nobles entered, or came out, singly and in groups. Down the sides of the hall were packed some hundreds of people, chattering together for the most part, and gazing at those who passed up and down the open space in the centre.
The Count surmised that the Emperor held his Court in whatever apartment was behind the crimson curtains. He felt the eyes of the multitude upon him, and shifted uneasily from one foot to another, cursing his ungainliness, ashamed of the tingling of the blood in his cheeks. He was out of plaice in this laughing, talking crowd, experiencing the sensations of an uncouth rustic suddenly thrust into the turmoil of a metropolis, resenting bitterly the supposed sneers that were flung at him. He suspected that the whispering and the giggling were directed towards himself, and burned to draw his sword and let these popinjays know for once what a man could do. As a matter of fact it was a buzz of admiration at his stature which went up when he entered, but the Count had so little of self-conceit in his soul that he never even guessed the truth.
Two nobles passing near him, he heard one of them say distinctly:
“That is the fellow who threw the Archbishop over his head,” while the other, glancing at him, said:
“By the Coat, he seems capable of upsetting the three of them, and I, for one, wish more power to his muscle should he attempt it.”
The Count shrank against the tapestried walls, hot with anger, wishing himself a dwarf that he might escape the gaze of so many inquiring eyes. Just as the scrutiny was becoming unbearable, his companion touched him on the elbow, and said in a low voice:
“Count Winneburg, follow me.”
He held aside the tapestry at the back of the Count, and that noble, nothing loth, disappeared from view behind it.
Entering a narrow passage-way, they traversed it until they came to a closed door, at each lintel of which stood a pikeman, fronted with a shining breastplate of metal. The Count’s conductor knocked gently at the closed door then opened it, holding it so that the Count could pass in, and when he had done so, the door closed softly behind him. To his amazement, Winneburg saw before him, standing at the further end of the small room, the Emperor Rudolph, entirely alone. The Count was about to kneel awkwardly, when his liege strode forward and prevented him.
“Count Winneburg,” he said, “from what I hear of you, your elbow-joints are more supple than those of your knees, therefore let us be thankful that on this occasion there is no need to use either. I see you are under the mistaken impression that the Emperor is present. Put that thought from your mind, and regard me simply as Lord Rudolph one gentleman wishing to have some little conversation with another.”
“Your Majesty” stammered the Count.
“I have but this moment suggested that you forget that title, my Lord. But, leaving aside all question of salutation, let us get to the heart of the matter, for I think we are both direct men. You are summoned to Frankfort because that high and mighty Prince of the Church, the Archbishop of Treves, has made complaint to the Emperor against you alleging what seems to be an unpardonable indignity suffered by him at your hands.”
“Your Majesty my Lord, I mean,” faltered the Count. “The indignity was of his own seeking; he sat down in my chair, where he had no right to place himself, and I persuaded him to relinquish his position.”
“So I am informed that is to say, so his Majesty has been informed,” replied Rudolph, a slight smile hovering round his finely chiselled lips. “We are not here to comment upon any of the Archbishop’s delinquencies, but, granting, for the sake of argument, that he had encroached upon your rights, nevertheless, he was under your roof, and honestly, I fail to see that you were justified in cracking his heels against the same.”
“Well, your Majesty again I beg your Majesty’s pardon”
“Oh, no matter,” said the Emperor, “call me what you like; names signify little.”
“If then the Emperor,” continued the Count, “found an intruder sitting on his throne, would he like it, think you?”
“His feeling, perhaps, would be one of astonishment, my Lord Count, but speaking for the Emperor, I am certain that he would never lay hands on the usurper, or treat him like a sack of corn in a yeoman’s barn.”
The Count laughed heartily at this, and was relieved to find that this quitted him of the tension which the great presence had at first inspired.
“Truth to tell, your Majesty, I am sorry I touched him. I should have requested him to withdraw, but my arm has always been more prompt in action than my tongue, as you can readily see since I came into this room.”
“Indeed, Count, your tongue does you very good service,” continued the Emperor, “and I am glad to have from you an expression of regret. I hope, therefore, that you will have no hesitation in repeating that declaration to the Archbishop of Treves.”
“Does your Majesty mean that I am to apologise to him?”
“Yes,” answered the Emperor.
There was a moment’s pause, then the Count said slowly:
“I will surrender to your Majesty my person, my sword, my castle, and my lands. I will, at your word, prostrate myself at your feet, and humbly beg pardon for any offence I have committed against you, but to tell the Archbishop I am sorry when I am not, and to cringe before him and supplicate his grace, well, your Majesty, as between man and man, I’ll see him damned first.”
Again the Emperor had some difficulty in preserving that rigidity of expression which he had evidently resolved to maintain.
“Have you ever met a ghost, my Lord Count?” he asked.
Winneburg crossed himself devoutly, a sudden pallor sweeping over his face.
“Indeed, your Majesty, I have seen strange things, and things for which there was no accounting; but it has been usually after a contest with the wine flagon, and at the time my head was none of the clearest, so I could not venture to say whether they were ghosts or no.”
“Imagine, then, that in one of the corridors of your castle at midnight you met a white-robed transparent figure, through whose form your sword passed scathlessly. What would you do, my Lord?”
“Indeed, your Majesty, I would take to my heels, and bestow myself elsewhere as speedily as possible.”
“Most wisely spoken and you, who are no coward, who fear not to face willingly in combat anything natural, would, in certain circumstances, trust to swift flight for your protection. Very well, my Lord, you are now confronted with something against which your stout arm is as unavailing as it would be if an apparition stood in your path. There is before you the spectre of subtlety. Use arm instead of brain, and you are a lost man.”
“The Archbishop expects no apology. He looks for a stalwart, stubborn man, defying himself and the Empire combined. You think, perhaps, that the Imperial troops will surround your castle, and that you may stand a siege. Now the Emperor would rather have you fight with him than against him, but in truth there will be no contest. Hold to your refusal, and you will be arrested before you leave the precincts of this palace. You will be thrown into a dungeon, your castle and your lands sequestered; and I call your attention to the fact that your estate adjoins the possessions of the Archbishop at Cochem, and Heaven fend me for hinting that his Lordship casts covetous eyes over his boundary; yet, nevertheless, he will probably not refuse to accept your possessions in reparation for the insult bestowed upon him. Put it this way if you like. Would you rather pleasure me or pleasure the Archbishop of Treves?”
“There is no question as to that,” answered the Count.
“Then it will please me well if you promise to apologise to his Lordship the Archbishop of Treves. That his Lordship will be equally pleased, I very much doubt.”
“Will your Majesty command me in open Court to apologise?”
“I shall request you to do so. I must uphold the Feudal law.”
“Then I beseech your Majesty to command me, for I am a loyal subject, and will obey.”
“God give me many such,” said the Emperor fervently, “and bestow upon me the wisdom to deserve them!”
He extended his hand to the Count, then touched a bell on the table beside him. The officer who had conducted Winneburg entered silently, and acted as his guide back to the thronged apartment they had left. The Count saw that the great crimson curtains were now looped up, giving a view of the noble interior of the room beyond, thronged with the notables of the Empire. The hall leading to it was almost deserted, and the Count, under convoy of two lancemen, himself nearly as tall as their weapons, passed in to the Throne Room, and found all eyes turned upon him.
He was brought to a stand before an elevated dais, the centre of which was occupied by a lofty throne, which, at the moment, was empty. Near it, on the elevation, stood the three Archbishops of Treves, Cologne, and Mayence, on the other side the Count Palatine of the Rhine with the remaining three Electors. The nobles of the realm occupied places according to their degree.
As the stalwart Count came in, a buzz of conversation swept over the hall like a breeze among the leaves of a forest. A malignant scowl darkened the countenance of the Archbishop of Treves, but the faces of Cologne and Mayence expressed a certain Christian resignation regarding the contumely which had been endured by their colleague. The Count stood stolidly where he was placed, and gazed at the vacant throne, turning his eyes neither to the right nor the left.
Suddenly there was a fanfare of trumpets, and instant silence smote the assembly. First came officers of the Imperial Guard in shining armour, then the immediate advisers and councillors of his Majesty, and last of all, the Emperor himself, a robe of great richness clasped at his throat, and trailing behind him; the crown of the Empire upon his head. His face was pale and stern, and he looked what he was, a monarch, and a man. The Count rubbed his eyes, and could scarcely believe that he stood now in the presence of one who had chatted amiably with him but a few moments before.
The Emperor sat on his throne and one of his councillors whispered for some moments to him; then the Emperor said, in a low, clear voice, that penetrated to the farthest corner of the vast apartment:
“Is the Count of Winneburg here?”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
“Let him stand forward.”
The Count strode two long steps to the front, and stood there, red- faced and abashed. The officer at his side whispered:
“Kneel, you fool, kneel.”
And the Count got himself somewhat clumsily down upon his knees, like an elephant preparing to receive his burden. The face of the Emperor remained impassive, and he said harshly:
The Count, once more upon his feet, breathed a deep sigh of satisfaction at finding himself again in an upright posture.
“Count of Winneburg,” said the Emperor slowly, “it is alleged that upon the occasion of the last meeting of the Council of State for the Moselle valley, you, in presence of the nobles there assembled, cast a slight upon your over-lord, the Archbishop of Treves. Do you question the statement?”
The Count cleared his throat several times, which in the stillness of that vaulted room sounded like the distant booming of cannon.
“If to cast the Archbishop half the distance of this room is to cast a slight upon him, I did so, your Majesty.”
There was a simultaneous ripple of laughter at this, instantly suppressed when the searching eye of the Emperor swept the room.
“Sir Count,” said the Emperor severely, “the particulars of your outrage are not required of you; only your admission thereof. Hear, then, my commands. Betake yourself to your castle of Winneburg, and hold yourself there in readiness to proceed to Treves on a day appointed by his Lordship the Archbishop, an Elector of this Empire, there to humble yourself before him, and crave his pardon for the offence you have committed. Disobey at your peril.”
Once or twice the Count moistened his dry lips, then he said:
“Your Majesty, I will obey any command you place upon me.”
“In that case,” continued the Emperor, his severity visibly relaxing, “I can promise that your over-lord will not hold this incident against you. Such, I understand, is your intention, my Lord Archbishop?” and the Emperor turned toward the Prince of Treves.
The Archbishop bowed low, and thus veiled the malignant hatred in his eyes. “Yes, your Majesty,” he replied, “providing the apology is given as publicly as was the insult, in presence of those who were witnesses of the Count’s foolishness.”
“That is but a just condition,” said the Emperor. “It is my pleasure that the Council be summoned to Treves to hear the Count’s apology. And now, Count of Winneburg, you are at liberty to withdraw.”
The Count drew his mammoth hand across his brow, and scattered to the floor the moisture that had collected there. He tried to speak, but apparently could not, then turned and walked resolutely towards the door. There was instant outcry at this, the Chamberlain of the Court standing in stupefied amazement at a breach of etiquette which exhibited any man’s back to the Emperor; but a smile relaxed the Emperor’s lips, and he held up his hand.
“Do not molest him,” he said, as the Count disappeared. “He is unused to the artificial manners of a Court. In truth, I take it as a friendly act, for I am sure the valiant Count never turned his back upon a foe,” which Imperial witticism was well received, for the sayings of an Emperor rarely lack applause.
The Count, wending his long way home by the route he had come, spent the first half of the journey in cursing the Archbishop, and the latter half in thinking over the situation. By the time he had reached his castle he had formulated a plan, and this plan he proceeded to put into execution on receiving the summons of the Archbishop to come to Treves on the first day of the following month and make his apology, the Archbishop, with characteristic penuriousness, leaving the inviting of the fifteen nobles, who formed the Council, to Winneburg, and thus his Lordship of Treves was saved the expense of sending special messengers to each. In case Winneburg neglected to summon the whole Council, the Archbishop added to his message, the statement that he would refuse to receive the apology if any of the nobles were absent.
Winneburg sent messengers, first to Beilstein, asking him to attend at Treves on the second day of the month, and bring with him an escort of at least a thousand men. Another he asked for the third, another for the fourth, another for the fifth, and so on, resolved that before a complete quorum was present, half of the month would be gone, and with it most of the Archbishop’s provender, for his Lordship, according to the laws of hospitality, was bound to entertain free of all charge to themselves the various nobles and their followings.
On the first day of the month Winneburg entered the northern gate of Treves, accompanied by two hundred horsemen and eight hundred foot soldiers. At first, the officers of the Archbishop thought that an invasion was contemplated, but Winneburg suavely explained that if a thing was worth doing at all, it was worth doing well, and he was not going to make any hole-and-corner affair of his apology. Next day Beilstein came along accompanied by five hundred cavalry, and five hundred foot soldiers.
The Chamberlain of the Archbishop was in despair at having to find quarters for so many, but he did the best he could, while the Archbishop was enraged to observe that the nobles did not assemble in greater haste, but each as he came had a plausible excuse for his delay. Some had to build bridges, sickness had broken out in another camp, while a third expedition had lost its way and wandered in the forest.
The streets of Treves each night resounded with songs of revelry, varied by the clash of swords, when a party of the newcomers fell foul of a squad of the town soldiers, and the officers on either side had much ado to keep the peace among their men. The Archbishop’s wine cups were running dry, and the price of provisions had risen, the whole surrounding country being placed under contribution for provender and drink. When a week had elapsed the Archbishop relaxed his dignity and sent for Count Winneburg.
“We will not wait for the others,” he said. “I have no desire to humiliate you unnecessarily. Those who are here shall bear witness that you have apologised, and so I shall not insist on the presence of the laggards, but will receive your apology to-morrow at high noon in the great council chamber.”
“Ah, there speaks a noble heart, ever thinking generously of those who despitefully use you, my Lord Archbishop,” said Count Winneburg. “But no, no, I cannot accept such a sacrifice. The Emperor showed me plainly the enormity of my offence. In the presence of all I insulted you, wretch that I am, and in the presence of all shall I abase myself.”
“But I do not seek your abasement,” protested the Archbishop, frowning.
“The more honour, then, to your benevolent nature,” answered the Count, “and the more shameful would it be of me to take advantage of it. As I stood a short time since on the walls, I saw coming up the river the banners of the Knight of Ehrenburg. His castle is the furthest removed from Treves, and so the others cannot surely delay long. We will wait, my Lord Archbishop, until all are here. But I thank you just as much for your generosity as if I were craven enough to shield myself behind it.”
The Knight of Ehrenburg in due time arrived, and behind him his thousand men, many of whom were compelled to sleep in the public buildings, for all the rooms in Treves were occupied. Next day the Archbishop summoned the assembled nobles and said he would hear the apology in their presence. If the others missed it, it was their own fault–they should have been in time.
“I cannot apologise;” said the Count, “until all are here. It was the Emperor’s order, and who am I to disobey my Emperor? We must await their coming with patience, and, indeed, Treves is a goodly town, in which all of us find ourselves fully satisfied.”
“Then, my blessing on you all,” said the Archbishop in a sour tone most unsuited to the benediction he was bestowing. “Return, I beg of you, instantly, to your castles. I forego the apology.”
“But I insist on tendering it,” cried the Count, his mournful voice giving some indication of the sorrow he felt at his offence if it went unrequited. “It is my duty, not only to you, my Lord Archbishop, but also to his Majesty the Emperor.”
“Then, in Heaven’s name get on with it and depart. I am willing to accept it on your own terms, as I have said before.”
“No, not on my own terms, but on yours. What matters the delay of a week or two? The hunting season does not begin for a fortnight, and we are all as well at Treves as at home. Besides, how could I ever face my Emperor again, knowing I had disobeyed his commands?”
“I will make it right with the Emperor,” said the Archbishop.
The Knight of Ehrenburg now spoke up, calmly, as was his custom:
“It is a serious matter,” he said, “for a man to take another’s word touching action of his Majesty the Emperor. You have clerks here with you; perhaps then you will bid them indite a document to be signed by yourself absolving my friend, the Count of Winneburg, from all necessity of apologising, so that should the Emperor take offence at his disobedience, the parchment may hold him scathless.”
“I will do anything to be quit of you,” muttered the Archbishop more to himself than to the others.
And so the document was written and signed. With this parchment in his saddle-bags the Count and his comrades quitted the town, drinking in half flagons the health of the Archbishop, because there was not left in Treves enough wine to fill the measures to the brim.
Written by Robert Barr