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The Minstrel of
He was called Ronald, this tall handsome man with blue eyes and fair hair; he had a noble bearing and was a master of song.
The knight at the Castle of Neuenahr had made a great feast, and Ronald was sitting on the drawbridge playing his harp and singing. The guests stopped their noisy conversation within doors, and knights as well as noble ladies listened breathless to the unseen singer. The proud lord of the castle bade his page bring the traveller in. Thus the tall handsome man, the blue-eyed, fair-haired stranger with the noble bearing, appeared before the high company. The knights looked at him with wonder, and many a handsome lady regarded him with admiration covertly.
Among the high company there was a beautiful young girl, the daughter of the knight, whose birthday was being celebrated. The lord of the castle rose from his richly carved stool, and made a sign to the singer who was bowing graciously to the knights and ladies and lower still to the master of the castle.
"Give us a song, musician, in honour of our child who is seventeen years old to-day."
The musician fixed his glance in silent admiration on the maiden. She dropped her eyes, and a lovely blush covered her cheeks. He seized his harp, and after a few chords, began to sing a song of homage. Sweetly sounded the music, and even sweeter the flattering words. The maiden flushed a deeper crimson and cast down her eyes. Once when the harper in his song compared her to a star lighting a wanderer's path, she glanced up, and their eyes met; but hers sank quickly again. She seemed to waken out of a dream when the song ended amid loud applause. She saw her father lifting up a massive goblet and handing it to the singer, saw how the latter raised it first to her, afterwards to her father and his guests, and then put it to his own lips. The maiden felt she was no longer mistress of her heart which was beating as it had never done before.
"You might teach my Rothtraut to play the harp," cried the proud lord of the castle, who was in a very lively humour, having partaken freely of wine. She heard it as in a dream, and the musician bowed, murmuring that he was not worthy to receive so signal an honour.
He remained however at the castle. Lovely Rothtraut felt afraid in her heart like a trembling child crossing a bridge leading to flowery meadows; she had no mother in whom she could confide those fears for which she could find no words. She therefore yielded to her father's desire, wishing to amuse him during the long, lonely evenings by playing and singing. Singing came naturally to her, for a nightingale seemed to slumber in her bosom, but she found more difficulty with the harp. Her slender fingers drew many a discordant sound from the strings, and often her father, comfortably seated in his armchair, laughed heartily at her, which made the maiden blush with shame. Her large eyes would wander from the harp to the musician's face; but her confusion only became worse when her eyes timidly met his. He was very patient with all her imperfect efforts, never blaming her but on the contrary praising all her modest attempts beyond their merits. Then he would sing a song of his own and play some deep chords which seemed to thrill the air. The knight would listen entranced, and the maiden felt love's blissful pain in her heart. She did not know what it was, or how he had long since sung himself into her soul, and her tender heart trembled at love's first revelation. The passion possessed her more and more; it spread its power over these two hearts, and soon in the quiet garden of the castle, Ronald clasped the daughter of the proud knight to his heart.
Love's first rapture is often followed by sorrow however, and beautiful Rothtraut had yet to experience it.
It once happened that the knight surprised his child in the musician's arms. His anger knew no bounds, and like a beast of prey he rushed at the singer, when his daughter, suddenly become a woman, placed herself bravely between her father and her lover. Her confession went to his heart like a dagger, for with trembling lips and glowing cheeks, the maiden acknowledged the secret of her love.
Pale but firm the singer stood before the knight.
"I am only a wanderer but not a dishonourable one. Do not destroy with a rough hand the flower which God has planted in our hearts, but give me time. I will set out on my journey and will take up arms for my beloved. And when I come back as a nobleman, you will give me your daughter who loves me. Either I shall return as a knight, or you will never see me again."
The lord of the castle looked at him sternly, while his daughter stood weeping, holding Ronald's hand. "Good-bye, maiden. Do not forget me, Rothtraut!" He was gone, and a wailing cry burst from the lips of the unhappy girl.
To atone for many a wrong against Pope and Church, and also to fulfill a solemn vow, the Emperor Barbarossa started on a crusade in his old age. Many knights and heroes joined him. and his great army marched through several countries until they came to the Levant. Then they journeyed on to Syria where the great hero's career ,ended. Barbarossa was drowned, and the eyes of his followers turned to Henry, his son, as their leader. The latter, who became emperor under the name of Henry VI. was a very capable general; he was also a lover of music, and is said to have composed many a melody which remains with us to the present day.
Many supposed that it was not the royal minstrel who composed the songs, but that they came from the hand of Ronald who was now as skilled with his sword as with his harp, and who had become a great favourite of the emperor. He was a powerful warrior, and had already overthrown many a Saracen. Once when the crusaders had gained a glorious victory, he composed a song in honour of it, and sang it himself on his harp. The song went the round of the camp, and the singer became a great friend of the emperor. But even such favour did not drive the shadow from Ronald's soul, and often when he was singing one .of his most beautiful songs to Henry, he would suddenly break off and rush out of the tent in great grief. One day the emperor found out what he had long guessed, and made Ronald confess his story to him.
Some days afterwards the crusaders began the storming of Acre, the impregnable fortress of the Saracens. Ronald was fighting by Henry's side. A Saracen dashed his falchion at the king's head, but Ronald with a mighty blow clove the infidel's skull in two. In the evening of the same day Henry called all his warriors together, and dubbed the brave champion knight with his own hand. Ronald of Harfenstein was to be his name, and a lyre lying on a falchion and a sword, were to be his arms. The emperor promised to build him a castle on the borders of the Rhine, which was to be called Harfeneck.
Plague broke out in the camp, and many a gallant crusader fell victim to it. Among them was the emperor himself, whose death caused unspeakable grief to Ronald.
One day a weary crusader was seen riding along the banks of the Rhine. Wherever he passed, the people asked him if it were true that Barbarossa was not drowned in the Holy Land, but was living in the Kyffhäuser Mountain, and would soon come back to his own neglected kingdom. The crusader barely answered their questions, but urged on his tired steed along the Rhine. At last the silvery waters of the Ahr appeared before him, and he saw the gables of the castle. The rider joyously spurred on his horse, and rode up through the forest to the fortress where once he had sat on the drawbridge as a poor traveller.
The late guest was ushered up to the lord of the castle.
The knight, now a bent old man, rose from a melancholy reverie to greet the unknown stranger.
"I am Ronald, and have become a knight through the grace of the Emperor Henry in the camp at Acre, and how I have come to win your daughter Rothtraut."
"Win her from death, for it robbed me of her two months ago," said the proud lord of the castle, turning his head aside in deep grief. Then a despairing groan thrilled through the chamber. Harsh words passed between those two, one a man in his disconsolate sorrow, the other a repentant father.
Ronald strode off to the lonely corner of the garden, and the newly dug up earth showed him the place where Rothtraut lay. There he remained late into the night, till darkness had surrounded him and black night had settled on his soul. Then he turned and went away, never to come back again.
In the East whence the crusaders had now returned, .everyone talked of the heroic deeds accomplished by Richard the Lion-hearted. The Saracens well knew the fearless leader and the German knight who fought at his side. Richard valued his bravery, even though he was still a young knight. He meant to make him one of his vassals when he returned to his own country. But his desire was never fulfilled, for the thrust of a hostile lance which he had so often escaped, pierced the knight's heart. So the minstrel of Neuenahr found a grave in the Holy Land; the race of Harfenstein became extinct with the first of the line, and the castle was never built.Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine