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Count Conrad Bayer, the descendant of a very noble Rhenish race, lived in his castle at Boppard. He was still a young man, full of vigour and life, good-natured and capable of very tender feelings; but he was often ruled by his impetuosity and youthful wilfulness. Unfortunately he was surrounded by a circle of hunting and drinking companions, and the good instincts slumbering in his soul were frustrated by these dangerous associates.
He once saw a maiden at a neighbouring castle, whose beauty and grace charmed him so much, that he determined to win her hand. The fathers of this youthful couple had lived on very friendly terms, and the young knight was always welcomed heartily at this castle.
Maria (so the maiden was called) began to feel a warm affection for the daring hunter, and soon they had exchanged vows of eternal fidelity. The marriage was to take place in a short time, and Maria's bliss was complete.
Not so with Conrad. His wild friends had congratulated him in scornful speeches; they were displeased that the merry life at the castle should be at an end, at least should be to a certain degree restricted; they pointed out to him that he was throwing away his golden freedom for ever, and tried to convince him with jests and sneers that he was going to allow himself to be tightly chained down, just at the best time of his life. The young knight listened to them at first with a smile on his face. The picture of his betrothed drove away the troubled future which was prophesied to him; but as they continued to talk and persuade him, the haughty self-esteem of youth was awakened in his breast, driving out all nobler thoughts.
One day the young countess was expecting her betrothed, but he did not come; instead, she received a note saying that he considered himself still too young to bear the yoke of marriage, and that he wished to be released from his promise. This piece of news was a thunder-bolt to the poor maiden, who had no suspicion of his infidelity.
The count was one day riding through the forest, sunk in deep thought, for he had become very sorrowful now in spite of the redoubled merriment at his banquets. He did not notice that a strange knight with a veiled visor had come suddenly towards him. He pulled up his horse, much astonished at this audacity, and demanded the knight's name and errand, and the reason why he thus accosted him.
"My sword will answer you," said the strange knight in a peculiar voice. "I am Maria's avenger, come to accuse you of a breach of faith, and to call God's judgment down on you. Prepare for a struggle to the death."
The proud challenge roused the knight's anger, but the sound of the stranger's voice moved him deeply; the arms on his shield surely belonged to those of his former betrothed. He thought it must be her brother, who had been away fighting in the Holy Land, and the count now wished to avoid the combat. But his opponent came on, and made ready to attack him. It was but a short contest; the stranger's weak arm could only resist for a short time. A blow from Conrad took effect, and he fell without a murmur to the ground. The victor hurried to loosen his helmet, but on doing so, a cry of horror escaped his lips. There lay Maria whom he had so cruelly deserted, the blood flowing from her mouth. "I sought death from your hand, as life was a burden since your love for me was dead," she gasped forth in a dying voice. The knight in despair, strove to staunch the ebbing life-blood of the maiden, but in a few moments her spirit passed away, and he threw himself on her dead body in a paroxysm of grief.
The rejoicings and the gay banquets were now over for ever at the castle in Boppard, and silence reigned in the forest, where oft the bugle-horn had resounded. A convent called Marienburg now stood on that dreadful spot in the forest where the terrible deed had been committed. Knight Conrad had founded it, and had bequeathed all his goods to it in atonement for his evil doings. But he himself had gone to the Holy Land, and had joined the crusaders in the struggle for the possession of the Holy Sepulchre. He fought without armour and performed wonders of bravery in the thickest of the fight. But he was pierced by a lance during the siege of a town, and he died with the name of his betrothed on his lips.Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine