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When the wanderer has left the "city of the Muses," Bonn, he perceives to the left the mighty summits of the Seven Mountains. The rocky point of one of these hills is still crowned by the tower and walls of an old knight's castle. A most touching legend is related of the mountain with the terrible name.
In the first centuries after the birth of the world's Redeemer, the Germans on the left side of the Rhine accepted willingly the doctrines of the Cross; Maternus, a disciple of the great Apostle, had brought them over from Gaul. At first the pious messenger of Christ worked among the heathen tribes in vain. They persisted in their paganism, and even prevented the priests from coming into their country.
At that time there was a terrible dragon living in the hollow of the rock, which even now is called the Dragon's hole. He was of a hideous form, and every day he used to leave his den and rage through the forests and valleys, threatening men and animals. Human strength was powerless against this monster; the people thought that an angry deity had his abode in this terrible beast, so they bestowed godlike honours on him, sacrificing criminals and prisoners to him.
A tribe of heathens lived at the foot of the mountain. These men, desirous of war, often made raids on the neighbouring countries, carrying fire and sword among their Christian brothers. They once crossed the water, plundering the land and making prisoners of the people. Among the latter there was one most lovely maiden, whose beauty and grace inflamed two of the leaders so much, that each of them desired to have her for himself. One was called Horsrik the Elder, a famous chieftain, known to have the strength of a bear and the wildness of a tiger; the other, Rinbold, of a less rough nature, but .of equal bravery.
The beautiful maiden turned aside shuddering when she saw the two chiefs' glaring eyes, contending for possession of her. All round were their men intoxicated with victory. The struggle for the Christian maid affected the two leaders more than the division of the booty. Soon the angry words of the two opponents found an echo in the hearts of the men standing round.
Horsrik, the much-feared fighter, claimed her, and was received with cheers. Rinbold, the proud young chieftain, claimed her also, – great applause greeted him. The former glared sternly, grasping his club in a threatening manner. The high-priest, an old man with silver-white hair and stern features, stepped in between the two combatants, and in a voice surging with anger he said:
"Cursed be every dissension for the possession of this stranger! A Christian must not disunite the noblest of our tribe. A daughter of those we hate, she shall fall to nobody's share. She, the author of so much strife, shall be sacrificed to the Dragon, and shall be dedicated to Woden's honour at the next rising of the sun."
The men murmured applause, Horsrik more than the rest. The maiden held her head upright. Rinbold, the proud young chieftain, looked sorrowfully at her angel-like face.
Early the following day before the sur had poured his bright beams on the earth, the valley showed signs of life. Through the dusk of the forest a noisy procession moved upwards towards the highest point, the priest in the middle, behind him the prisoner, pale but resolute. Silently, for her Lord's sake, she had allowed the priest to bind her forehead as a victim, and to place consecrated flowers in her loose flowing hair. Many a sympathetic look from the crowd had been cast at the steadfast maiden. The young chieftain was stricken with pain at the sight ,of her death-like countenance.
There stood the projecting rock which had often been dishonoured by human blood. The fanatical priests wound ropes round the maiden's body, and then tied her to St. Woden's tree which overhung the precipice. No complaint escaped the Christian's white lips, no tears glistened in her .eyes which were glancing up at the morning sky. The throng of people moved off, waiting silently in the distance to see what would happen.
The first rays of the sun streamed over the mountain; they lighted up the wreath of flowers in the maiden's hair, playing about her lovely face, and crowning it with glory. The Christian maid was awaiting death, as a bride awaits her bridegroom, her lips moving slightly as in prayer.
A gloomy sound came up from the depths. The Dragon started from his den, spitting fire on his path. He cast a look at his victim there on the spot which his blood-thirsty maw knew so well. He raised his scaly body, thus letting his sharp claws be more visible, moved his snaky tail in a circle, and showed his gaping mouth. Snorting the monster crawled along, shooting flames out of his bloodshot eyes.
A shudder of death crept over the maiden at the sight of this awful beast. Tremblingly she tore a sparkling golden crucifix from her breast, held it towards the monster piteously, and called on her Lord in a heart-rending voice. Wonder of wonders! Raising himself, as if struck by lightning, the monster turned, dashing himself backwards over the jagged stones into the waters below, and disappearing in the river among the failing rocks.
Wondering cries arose from the waiting heathens. Astonishment and wonder were depicted on every face. In quiet submission, her eyes half-closed, the maiden stood, praying to Him who had saved her. The cords fell from her sides; two strong arms caught her and carried her into the midst of the astonished crowd. She raised her eyes and perceived the younger of the two chieftains. His rough warlike hand had seized hers. The young man bent his knee as if to a heavenly being, and touched her white fingers with his lips, Loud applause greeted him on all sides.
The old priest came forward, the people waiting in great expectation. "Who had saved her from certain destruction? Who was the God who so visibly aided His own?" asked he solemnly of the Christian. With bright eyes the maiden answered triumphantly:
"This picture of Christ has crushed the Dragon and saved me. The salvation of the world and the welfare of man lies in Him." The priest glanced at the crucifix with reverent awe.
"May it soon lighten your spirit and those of all these people round," said the maiden earnestly. "It will reveal greater wonders than this to you, for our God is great."
The maiden and all the other prisoners were conducted back to their own country. But the former soon returned again, accompanied by a Christian priest. The voice of truth and innocence worked wonders in the hearts of the heathens. Thousands were converted and baptized. The old priest and Rinbold were the first who bowed their heads in submission to the new doctrine. Great rejoicings were held among the tribe when the maiden gave her hand to the young chieftain. A Christian temple was erected in the valley, and a splendid castle was built on the summit of the rocks for the newly-married couple. For about ten centuries their descendants flourished there, a very powerful race in the Rhine countries.Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine