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The Wine Trial
On a rocky height below the little town of Brohl stands a square tower over 60 feet high. This is all that remains of the baronial keep of Rheineck, which rose on the site of a former Roman watch-tower. Legend has twined a pleasant story round this lonely keep. It speaks of a knight, an archbishop, a maiden, and a butt of Assmannshausen wine. Sir Kunz von Schwalbach was a daring and rapacious knight, and in the Ahr-district, he administered the law of the strong arm with much zeal and not a little success. His wife, who probably strove in vain to soften the harsher traits of his character, had been laid to rest in the chapel of the castle some years before. Adelgunde, a pretty maid, and a daughter of a brother of Kunz, had early been left an orphan, and ruled as mistress in the castle of Rheineck. Anselm, a pious but at the same time stern man, occupied at this time the see of Cologne. The citizens of Cologne bore their burden of taxes with increasing anger, until one day some new imposition changed their discontent to open rebellion, and Anselm was compelled to fly from his residence, accompanied by a few faithful companions. "Whither should they fly?" asked some one in dejection. Then Ansehn bethought himself of Castle Rheineck which belonged to his archbishopric, and which had long been held as a fief by the Schwalbach family. There the archbishop resolved to live till his flock should repent of the error of their ways "Knight Kunz, uncle of my dutiful ward is indeed a sorry rascal," remarked the pious man. "He prays little, and plunders much. He is also suspected of being the daring freebooter who robbed the archbishopric by seizing our cargo of wine. Assmannshäuser it was too." And, knitting his brows, Anselm studied the foaming waves in the wake of his little vessel.
At Rheineck Sir Kunz sat holding a private colloquy with a can full of the delicious Assmannshausen wine. He was smiling roguishly to himself when squire Jörg, captain of his armed retainers .entered, and announced that a ship flying the flag of the Archbishop of Cologne lay below. In wrath the knight jumped up from his oaken chair. Then for some minutes his bad conscience smote him sorely. Soon his lighter disposition got the mastery, and with cheerful composure, he ordered that the travellers from the holy city should be welcomed to the castle.
A dignified reception was therefore accorded to Anselm and his followers. By chivalrous hospitality to his worthy overlord, the gracious guardian of his niece Adelgunde, Kunz thought to make amends for certain past grievous offences. That evening the guests sat in cheerful mood round the joyous board. After tasting with due appreciation various wines presented by his host, the archbishop casually remarked, "Knight Kunz, could you not give us a glass of Assmannshäuser to finish this excellent entertainment? By the mass, I have taken a drop of that excellent wine as a night-cap for years." The knight, with well-concealed hypocrisy, assuming a most pious expression, replied that his cellars contained wine from Walporzheim and from Ingelheim, but he was sorry to say, not a drop from Assmannshausen. That wine, as everybody knew, was the private property of the Archbishopric of Cologne. Anselm seemed to have resigned himself to the fact that at Rheineck he must dispense with his customary glass of his favourite wine before retiring to rest. But a brilliant idea having occurred to him, it so happened that he managed to steer himself by remote passages and stairs towards the castle-cellars. What was the word of Kunz worth? Not a farthing. Why not see for himself? Perhaps he might discover a whole cargo of Assmannshäuser. Thus philosophising he groped along the walls, and suddenly his outstretched hands laid hold of a female head, covered with rich tresses. While a suppressed cry of alarm echoed in the narrow passage, father Anselm whispered some soothing words and pressed a kiss on the lips so temptingly near. Then he led the lady to a flickering fire-lamp not far away. The light fell on the blushing countenance of the fair Adelgunde. The frightened maiden confessed to her guardian that she was attached to Squire Jörg, and that it was usual for them to meet there and exchange confidences of an evening. "The young man's taste is good," said her spiritual adviser (still deeper became the crimson on Adelgunde's cheeks) "And Jörg thinks Assmannshäuser tastes excellent, eh? Now tell me, where the cask is. You are astonished my child at my omniscience. Your lips betrayed you; as I touched them by chance in the dark just now" (Here Father Anselm raised his eyes to heaven in a pious manner), "I felt the sweet aroma of Assmannshäuser", he continued, "and that was caused I suppose by the lips of your young knight." The maiden could have shrunk into the earth for shame, and in a very compliant frame of mind, she showed her guardian the great cask concealed in the deepest part of the cellarage. How long his reverence stayed there it would be sacrilegious to say, but next morning at all events he was not present at mass. About mid-day a deputation of Cologne citizens appeared at Rheineck, and in the name of the city begged their archbishop for forgiveness on account of the late rebellion, and offered to take the oath of allegiance for themselves and their fellow-subjects. They were graciously received, and Anselm resolved to return home at once. At his departure however he assumed a stern bearing and thus addressed his host, "I have just been informed, sir knight, and indeed everybody in Cologne, lay or clerical, maintains it, that the godless person who in autumn robbed the church of a cargo of wine was no other than our own liege-man, Kunz von Schwalbach of Rheineck." Kunz maintained that he was innocent, and again expressed his fidelity to his patron. The archbishop however insisted on the immediate confiscation of the wine, and gave the knight to understand that he should at once appear before the ecclesiastical court at Cologne, and with the aid of lawyers and witnesses clear himself of the charge of robbing the church. Then the mighty cask was sealed, and Anselm and his companions took it with them to Cologne. The wrath of the lord of Rheineck was fearful in its loud vehemence, but Squire Jörg comforted him, and finally Kunz pledged his knightly word to his young friend, promising that, if he came out of this business at Cologne with his head safe on his shoulders, he would give Jörg the beautiful maiden, Adelgunde, in marriage. With a merry heart Adelgunde heard of this bargain.
In the chapter-room at Cologne the twelve worthy judges had taken their seats. Adelgunde, as being impartial in her regard for her uncle and her guardian, gave, by the command of the archbishop, a silver beaker filled with the famous wine to each of the judges. Appealing to their knowledge as connoisseurs, and to their incorruptibility as churchmen, Anselm asked them to judge whether the wine came from the Moselle, the valley of the Aft, or from Assmannshausen. The conscientious judges raised the beakers to their lips, sipped, and drew in the comers of their mouths. Again they tasted, and finally all shook their heads over the miserable liquor. They came to the unanimous conclusion that this sour wine was very different stuff from true Assmannshäuser. Father Anselm gnashed his teeth, while the triumphant knight was fain to embrace Adelgunde and Squire Jörg.
Some weeks later there was a happy marriage at Rheineck. Knight Jörg, accompanied by his young bride on a richly caparisoned steed, had set out for his paternal abode. Adelgunde's guardian had been present himself to tie the nuptial knot, and now he and his host were comfortably seated before some sparkling wine. In the festive mood which the occasion had called forth Anselm asked the knight to confess to him how he managed to change the sealed Assmannshauser to miserable wine, tasting as sour as vinegar. In return he would confess how he had discovered the butt of Assmannshäuser in the castle-cellars. The knight laughed, and made a sign to his servant who immediately placed before the topers a can of wine, and once more Anselm sipped his favourite beverage. "Now", said Anselm, "that is indeed the very wine to which the obedient Adelgunde guided her guardian." Then Kunz thumped the oaken board till the glasses rattled, and expressed himself by terrible curses against such double-dealing. But the archbishop reproved him for his wicked anger, since the pious child had merely obeyed her spiritual adviser. Knight Kunz slapped his knee. "Pious child did you say? It was she who prepared the beakers presented to your learned judges at Cologne with wormwood and vinegar."
Anselm sat silent for a while, and then shook his reverent head. Soon knight and archbishop laughed heartily. The knight presented to his overlord the remaining half of the cask of wine, trusting he might enjoy many a soothing draught before retiring to rest. The archbishop stretched out his hand, and Sir Kunz, of his own free will, made a vow that from that time forward he would never rob his patron of his esteemed Assmannshauser.Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine