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- The Dove in the Eagle's Nest - 40/59 -
The snow melted, the torrent became a flood, then contracted itself, but was still a broad stream, when one spring afternoon Ebbo showed his brother some wains making for the ford, adding, "It cannot be rightly passable. They will come to loss. I shall get the men together to aid them."
He blew a blast on his horn, and added, "The knaves will be alert enough if they hope to meddle with honest men's luggage."
"See," and Friedel pointed to the thicket to the westward of the meadow around the stream, where the beech trees were budding, but not yet forming a full mass of verdure, "is not the Snake in the wood? Methinks I spy the glitter of his scales."
"By heavens, the villains are lying in wait for the travellers at our landing-place," cried Ebbo, and again raising the bugle to his lips, he sent forth three notes well known as a call to arms. Their echoes came back from the rocks, followed instantly by lusty jodels, and the brothers rushed into the hall to take down their light head-pieces and corslets, answering in haste their mother's startled questions, by telling of the endangered travellers, and the Schlangenwald ambush. She looked white and trembled, but said no word to hinder them; only as she clasped Friedel's corslet, she entreated them to take fuller armour.
"We must speed the short way down the rock," said Ebbo, "and cannot be cumbered with heavy harness. Sweet motherling, fear not; but let a meal be spread for our rescued captives. Ho, Heinz, 'tis against the Schlangenwald rascals. Art too stiff to go down the rock path?"
"No; nor down the abyss, could I strike a good stroke against Schlangenwald at the bottom of it," quoth Heinz.
"Nor see vermin set free by the Freiherr," growled Koppel; but the words were lost in Ebbo's loud commands to the men, as Friedel and Hatto handed down the weapons to them.
The convoy had by this time halted, evidently to try the ford. A horseman crossed, and found it practicable, for a waggon proceeded to make the attempt.
"Now is our time," said Ebbo, who was standing on the narrow ledge between the castle and the precipitous path leading to the meadow. "One waggon may get over, but the second or third will stick in the ruts that it leaves. Now we will drop from our crag, and if the Snake falls on them, why, then for a pounce of the Eagle."
The two young knights, so goodly in their bright steel, knelt for their mother's blessing, and then sprang like chamois down the ivy- twined steep, followed by their men, and were lost to sight among the bushes and rocks. Yet even while her frame quivered with fear, her heart swelled at the thought what a gulf there was between these days and those when she had hidden her face in despair, while Ermentrude watched the Debateable Ford.
She watched now in suspense, indeed, but with exultation instead of shame, as two waggons safely crossed; but the third stuck fast, and presently turned over in the stream, impelled sideways by the efforts of the struggling horses. Then, amid endeavours to disentangle the animals and succour the driver, the travellers were attacked by a party of armed men, who dashed out of the beechwood, and fell on the main body of the waggons, which were waiting on the bit of bare shingly soil that lay between the new and old channels. A wild melee was all that Christina could see--weapons raised, horses starting, men rushing from the river, while the clang and the shout rose even to the castle.
Hark! Out rings the clear call, "The Eagle to the rescue!" There they speed over the meadow, the two slender forms with glancing helms! O overrun not the followers, rush not into needless danger! There is Koppel almost up with them with his big axe--Heinz's broad shoulders near. Heaven strike with them! Visit not their forefathers' sin on those pure spirits. Some are flying. Some one has fallen! O heavens! on which side? Ah! it is into the Schlangenwald woods that the fugitives direct their flight. Three-- four--the whole troop pursued! Go not too far! Run not into needless risk! Your work is done, and gallantly. Well done, young knights of Adlerstein! Which of you is it that stands pointing out safe standing-ground for the men that are raising the waggon? Which of you is it who stands in converse with a burgher form? Thanks and blessings! the lads are safe, and full knightly hath been their first emprise.
A quarter of an hour later, a gay step mounted the ascent, and Friedel's bright face laughed from his helmet: "There, mother, will you crown your knights? Could you see Ebbo bear down the chief squire? for the old Snake was not there himself. And whom do you think we rescued, besides a whole band of Venetian traders to whom he had joined himself? Why, my uncle's friend, the architect, of whom he used to speak--Master Moritz Schleiermacher."
"Moritz Schleiermacher! I knew him as a boy."
"He had been laying out a Lustgarten for the Romish king at Innspruck, and he is a stout man of his hands, and attempted defence; but he had such a shrewd blow before we came up, that he lay like one dead; and when he was lifted up, he gazed at us like one moon-struck, and said, 'Are my eyes dazed, or are these the twins of Adlerstein, that are as like as face to mirror? Lads, lads, your uncle looked not to hear of you acting in this sort.' But soon we and his people let him know how it was, and that eagles do not have the manner of snakes."
"Poor Master Moritz! Is he much hurt? Is Ebbo bringing him up hither?"
"No, mother, he is but giddied and stunned, and now must you send down store of sausage, sourkraut, meat, wine, and beer; for the wains cannot all cross till daylight, and we must keep ward all night lest the Schlangenwalden should fall on them again. Plenty of good cheer, mother, to make a right merry watch."
"Take heed, Friedel mine; a merry watch is scarce a safe one."
"Even so, sweet motherling, and therefore must Ebbo and I share it. You must mete out your liquor wisely, you see, enough for the credit of Adlerstein, and enough to keep out the marsh fog, yet not enough to make us snore too soundly. I am going to take my lute; it would be using it ill not to let it enjoy such a chance as a midnight watch."
So away went the light-hearted boy, and by and by Christina saw the red watch-fire as she gazed from her turret window. She would have been pleased to see how, marshalled by a merchant who had crossed the desert from Egypt to Palestine, the waggons were ranged in a circle, and the watches told off, while the food and drink were carefully portioned out.
Freiherr Ebbo, on his own ground, as champion and host, was far more at ease than in the city, and became very friendly with the merchants and architect as they sat round the bright fire, conversing, or at times challenging the mountain echoes by songs to the sound of Friedel's lute. When the stars grew bright, most lay down to sleep in the waggons, while others watched, pacing up and down till Karl's waggon should be over the mountain, and the vigil was relieved.
No disturbance took place, and at sunrise a hasty meal was partaken of, and the work of crossing the river was set in hand.
"Pity," said Moritz, the architect, "that this ford were not spanned by a bridge, to the avoiding of danger and spoil."
"Who could build such a bridge?" asked Ebbo.
"Yourself, Herr Freiherr, in union with us burghers of Ulm. It were well worth your while to give land and stone, and ours to give labour and skill, provided we fixed a toll on the passage, which would be willingly paid to save peril and delay."
The brothers caught at the idea, and the merchants agreed that such a bridge would be an inestimable boon to all traffickers between Constance, Ulm, and Augsburg, and would attract many travellers who were scared away by the evil fame of the Debateable Ford. Master Moritz looked at the stone of the mountain, pronounced it excellent material, and already sketched the span of the arches with a view to winter torrents. As to the site, the best was on the firm ground above the ford; but here only one side was Adlerstein, while on the other Ebbo claimed both banks, and it was probable that an equally sound foundation could be obtained, only with more cost and delay.
After this survey, the travellers took leave of the barons, promising to write when their fellow-citizens should have been sounded as to the bridge; and Ebbo remained in high spirits, with such brilliant purposes that he had quite forgotten his gloomy forebodings. "Peace instead of war at home," he said; "with the revenue it will bring, I will build a mill, and set our lads to work, so that they may become less dull and doltish than their parents. Then will we follow the Emperor with a train that none need despise! No one will talk now of Adlerstein not being able to take care of himself!"
Letters came from Ulm, saying that the guilds of mercers and wine merchants were delighted with the project, and invited the Baron of Adlerstein to a council at the Rathhaus. Master Sorel begged the mother to come with her sons to be his guest; but fearing the neighbourhood of Sir Kasimir, she remained at home, with Heinz for her seneschal while her sons rode to the city. There Ebbo found that his late exploit and his future plan had made him a person of much greater consideration than on his last visit, and he demeaned himself with far more ease and affability in consequence. He had affairs on his hands too, and felt more than one year older.
The two guilds agreed to build the bridge, and share the toll with the Baron in return for the ground and materials; but they preferred the plan that placed one pier on the Schlangenwald bank, and proposed to write to the Count an offer to include him in the scheme, awarding him a share of the profits in proportion to his contribution. However vexed at the turn affairs had taken, Ebbo could offer no valid objection, and was obliged to affix his signature to the letter in company with the guildmasters.
It was despatched by the city pursuivants -
The only men who safe might ride;
Their errands on the border side and a meeting was appointed in the Rathhaus for the day of their expected return. The higher burghers sat on their carved chairs in the grand old hall, the lesser magnates on benches, and Ebbo, in an elbowed seat far too spacious for his
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