'Ekkehard' is a historical romance novel set in the 10th century that is based on the life of the famous sequence poet and monk from St. Gallen Ekkehard II. This carefully crafted e-artnow ebook is formatted for your eReader with a functional and detailed table of contents. Extract: 'The next day, the Duchess crossed the Bodensee in the early glow of the morning-sun, accompanied by Praxedis and a numerous train. The lake was beautifully blue; the flags floated in the air, and much fun was going on, on board the ship. And who could be melancholy, when gliding over the clear, crystal waters; past the green shores with their many towers and castles; snowy peaks rising in the distance; and the reflection of the white sails, trembling and breaking in the playful waves?'
Joseph Victor von Scheffel (1826-1886) was a German poet and novelist. He is best known for his works Gaudeamus, Lieder aus dem Engeren und Weiteren (1868), a collection of joyous and humorous songs, the subject-matter of which is taken partly from German legends and partly from historical subjects and Ekkehard, a historical romance first published in 1855.
CHAPTER I. Table of Contents
Hadwig, the Duchess of Suabia.
It was almost a thousand years ago. The world knew as yet nothing of gunpowder or the art of printing.
Over the Hegau there hung a gloomy leaden grey sky, corresponding to the mental darkness, which, according to general opinion, oppressed the whole time of the middle ages. From the lake of Constance white mists floated over the meads, covering up the whole country. Even the tower of the new church at Radolfszell was thickly enveloped, but the matinbell had rung merrily through mist and fog like the words of a sensible man, which pierce the cloudy atmosphere, that fools create.
It is a lovely part of Germany which lies there, between the Blackforest and the Suabian lake. All those who are not too strict and particular with poetical similes, may be reminded of the following words of the poet:
"Ah fair is the Allemannic land
With its bright transparent sky;
And fair is its lake, so clear and blue
Like a bonny maiden's eye;
Like yellow locks, the corn-clad fields
Surround this picture fair:
And to a genuine German face
This land one may compare."
--though the continuation of this allegory might tempt one to celebrate either of the Hegau mountains, as the prominent feature on the face of this country.
Sternly the summit of the Hohentwiel, with its craggy points and pinnacles rises into the air. Like monuments of the stormy stirring Past of our old mother Earth those steep picturesque mountain-pyramids rise from the plains which were once covered by undulating waves, as the bed of the present lake is now. For the fish and sea-gulls it must have been a memorable day, when the roaring and hissing began in the depths below, and the fiery basaltic masses, made their way, rising out of the very bowels of earth, above the surface of the waters. But that was long, long ago, and the sufferings of those, who were pitilessly annihilated in that mighty revolution, have long been forgotten. Only the hills are there still to tell the weird tale. There they stand, unconnected with their neighbours, solitary and defiant; as those, who with fiery glowing hearts break through the bars and fetters of existing opinions, must always be. Whether they in their inmost heart have still a recollection of the glorious time of their youth, when they greeted this beautiful upper world, for the first time with a jubilant cry, who knows?
At the time when our story begins, the Hohentwiel was crested already by stately towers and walls. This fortress had been held during his lifetime by Sir Burkhard, Duke of Suabia. He had been a valiant knight, and done many a good day's fighting in his time. The enemies of the Emperor, were also his, and so there was always work to do. If everything was quiet in Italy, then the Normans became troublesome, and when these were fairly subjugated, perhaps the Hungarians would make an invasion, or some bishop or mighty earl grew insolent and rebellious, and had to be put down. In this way Sir Burkhard had spent his days more in the saddle than in the easy-chair, and it was not to be wondered at, that he had gained for himself the reputation of great valour and bravery.
In Suabia it was said that he reigned like a true despot; and in far off Saxony the monks wrote down in their chronicles, that he had been an almost "invincible warrior."
Before Sir Burkhard was gathered to his forefathers, he had chosen a spouse for himself, in the person of the young Princess Hadwig, daughter of the Duke of Bavaria. But the evening-glow of a declining life is but ill matched with the light of the morning-star. Such a union is against nature's laws and Dame Hadwig had accepted the old Duke of Suabia, merely to please her father. It is true that she had nursed and tended him well, and held his grey hairs in honour; but when the old man laid himself down to die, grief did not break her heart.
When all was over, she buried him in the vault of his ancestors, erected a monument of grey sandstone lo his memory, placed an everburning lamp over his grave, and sometimes, not too often, came down there to pray.
Thus Dame Hadwig lived now all alone in the castle of Hohentwiel. She remained in possession of all the landed property of her husband, with the full rights to do with it what she pleased. Besides this she was lady patroness of the bishopric of Constance and all the cloisters near the lake, and the emperor had given her a bill of feoffment signed and sealed by his own hand, by which the regency of Suabia remained her own, as long as she kept true to her widowhood. The young widow possessed a very aristocratic mind and no ordinary amount of beauty. Her nose however was a trifle short, the lovely lips had a strong tendency to pout, and in her boldly projecting chin, the graceful dimple so becoming to women, was not to be found. All those whose features are thus formed, unite to a clear intellect, a not over tender heart, and their disposition is more severe than charitable. For this reason the Duchess in spite of her soft beautiful complexion, inspired many of her subjects with a sort of trembling awe.--On that misty day mentioned before, the Duchess was standing at one of her chamber-windows, looking out into the distance. She wore a steelgrey undergarment, which fell down in graceful folds on her embroidered sandals; and over this a tightfitting black tunic, reaching to the knees. In the girdle, encircling her waist, there glittered a large precious beryl. Her chestnut brown hair was confined within a net of gold thread, but round her clear forehead some stray curls played unrestrainedly. On a small table of white marble, stood a fantastically shaped vessel of dark green bronze, in which some foreign frankincense was burning, sending its fragrant white little cloudlets up to the ceiling. The walls were covered with many-coloured finely woven tapestry.
There are days when one is dissatisfied with everything and everybody, and if one were suddenly transported into paradise itself, even paradise would not give contentment. At such times the thoughts wander gloomily from this to that subject, not knowing on what to fix themselves,--out of every corner a distorted face seems grinning at us, and he who is gifted with a very fine ear, may even hear the derisive laughter of the goblins. It is a belief in those parts that the universal contrariety of such days, arises from people having stepped out of bed with their left foot foremost; which is held to be in direct opposition to nature.
Under the spell of such a day, the Duchess was labouring just now. She wanted to look out of the window, and a subtle wind blew the mist right into her face, which annoyed her. She began to cough hastily, but no doubt if the whole country had lain before her bathed in sunshine, she would have found fault with that also.
Spazzo the chamberlain had come in meanwhile and stood respectfully waiting near the entrance. He threw a smiling complacent look on his outward equipment, feeling sure to attract his mistress's eye to-day, for he had put on an embroidered shirt of finest linen and a splendid sapphire coloured upper-garment, with purple seams. Everything was made in the latest fashion; and the bishop's tailor at Constance had brought the articles over only the day before.
The wolf-dog of the knight of Friedingen had killed two lambs of the ducal herd; therefore Master Spazzo intended to make his dutiful report and obtain Dame Hadwig's princely opinion, whether he should conclude a peaceful agreement with the dog's master, or whether he were to bring in a suit at the next session of the tribunal, to have him fined and sentenced to pay damages. So he began his well-prepared speech, but before he had got to the end, he saw the duchess make a sign, the meaning of which could not remain unintelligible to a sensible man. She put her forefinger first up to her forehead, and then pointed with it to the door. So the chamberlain perceived that it was left to his own wits, not only to find the best expedient with regard to the lambs,--but also to take himself off as quickly as possible. With a profound bow he withdrew accordingly.
In clear tones Dame Hadwig called out now: "Praxedis!"--and when the person thus named did not instantly make her appearance, she repeated in sharper accents, "Praxedis!"
It was not long before Praxedis with light, graceful steps entered the closet. Praxedis was waiting-maid to the Duchess of Suabia. She was a Greek and a living proof, that the son of the Byzantine Emperor Basilius had once asked the fair Hadwig's hand in marriage. He had made a present of the clever child, well instructed in music and the art of the needle, together with many jewels and precious stones, to the German duke's daughter, and in return had received a refusal. At that time one could give away human beings, as well as buy and sell them. Liberty was not everybody's birthright. But a slavery, such as the Greek child had to endure, in the ducal castle in Suabia, was not a very hard lot.
Praxedis had a small head with pale delicate features; out of which a pair of large dark eyes looked into the world, unspeakably sad one moment and in the next sparkling with merriment. Her hair was arranged over her forehead in heavy braids, like a coronet. She was very beautiful.
"Praxedis, where is the starling?" said Dame Hadwig.
"I will bring it," replied the Greek maid; and she went and fetched the black little fellow, who sat in his cage, with an important impudent air, as if his existence were filling up a vast gap in the universe. The starling had made his fortune at Hadwig's wedding-feast. An old fiddler and juggler had taught him with infinite pains, to repeat a Latin wedding-speech, and...