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The Count of Windeck
The Counts of Windeck were a powerful race in the valley of the Sieg. Count Conrad was the last of the race.
In his youth, some people say he thought too much of love and wine. Save for this fault he was a brave knight, and broke many a lance in the tournaments during summer.
He also went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre.
In his declining years he lived secluded from the outer world in his old family stronghold, where his daughter Bertha, pure and as lovely as an angel, did the honours of the house.
Their life was quiet and peaceful, until a terrible event occurred which brought death to both of them. The legend runs as follows: –
Heinrich of Waldenfels, the devoted friend of the old knight, loved Bertha dearly and wished her to become his wife.
The old father refused his suit firmly but regretfully. He told the unfortunate lover that he had dedicated his dear daughter to the veil since her childhood, and no power on earth would induce him to break his promise. Moreover all preparations had been made, he had communicated with the Abbess of the convent of Rheindorf, and within a week's time his daughter, the last of his raoe, was to retire from the world.
Count Waldenfels rode home half in sorrow, half in wrath.
But on the following morning a white sheet of paper fluttered down to him from Bertha's apartment, and he quickly sent her an answer.
She loved him with all her heart, and shrank from sacrificing her happiness for such an arbitrary vow, as her father had made.
When night approached, and valley and castle were wrapped in darkness, she let down a rope-ladder from her lover.
When all was silent a knight climbed up that fragile support as swiftly and as nimbly as a squirrel.
He swung himself into Bertha's apartment, and soon re-appeared carrying his sweetheart in his arms.
A fiery charger was waiting near the castle. At the approach of its master, it neighed joyfully. Hearing this, Count Waldenfels turned pale, for he saw a light being kindled in the old father's room.
With the utmost speed he lifted Bertha into the saddle, and sprang lightly up behind her. The good horse flew as swift as an arrow through the dark forest and along the river.
Bertha, clinging lovingly to her knight, wept softly, thinking of the grief she would cause her father, for she loved him tenderly.
Soothing and comforting words however soon calmed her. Her lover assured her that they would before .dawn reach his castle, where everything was ready for the wedding. Only a few hours more, and God's blessing would bind them together for life.
Suddenly a horn sounded in the stillness of the night, and the distant clatter of horses' hoofs made the ground tremble.
"We are betrayed!" whispered the knight, and a woeful sound rose from the lips of the terrified maiden.
The charger galloped with the utmost speed. "Only half an hour more, my darling! A little bridge leads across the river, and when we are on the other shore we wilt loosen the stakes and rid ourselves of our pursuers." This he said in haste.
"Oh have mercy, beloved one," said the lady, looking up to him imploringly, "I would rather choose death than know you to be the murderer of my father."
At last the bridge was reached. But just in front of it the steed paused and reared; neither spur nor whip would induce it to go on. The pursuers came nearer and nearer. Not a moment was to be lost.
Once more Count Waldenfels dug the spurs deeply into his horse's flanks. The animal jumped, and with a sudden start rushed madly into the river, throwing its riders into the dark waves. The rushing waters closed over them, and they were seen no more.
On the following morning the two bodies were found by the Count of Windeck's servants. The dead knight was holding his lovely bride close folded in his arms. The grief of the old father was terrible to see.
He threw himself upon them and cried out, "Oh Lord, Thy hand lies heavily on the sinner. If I had revealed to them that they were brother and sister, both my children would be still alive."
Three days later, they buried the count beside his children.
The river had thus saved love from shame and disgrace. A whirlpool still marks the scene of this family tragedy.Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine