Title Thumbnail

The Boy and the Baron

Adeline Knapp

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
One sunny forenoon in the month of May, something over six hundred years ago, some children were playing under the oak-trees that grew in little companies here and there in a pleasant meadow on a high plateau. This meadow was part of a great table-land overlooking a wide stretch of country. It was hedged along the west with white-thorn, setting it off from the tillage on the other side, and on the east it dipped to the bank of a little stream fringed with willows and low bushes. The south side descended in a steep cliff, and up and down its slope the huts of a little village seemed to climb along the stony path that led to the plateau. Farther away lines of dark forest stretched off out of sight, in solid walls that looked almost black over against the bright green of meadow and field and the rich brown of the tilled land. On all sides were mountains, covered with trees or crowned with snow, from which, when the sun went down, the wind blew chill. Beyond the stream a highway climbed the valley, and the children could see, from their playground, the place where it issued from the edge of the wood. They could not follow its windings very far beyond the plateau, however, for it soon bent off to the left and wound up a narrow pass among the hills. Toward the north, and far overhead, rose the grim walls and towers of the great castle that watched the pass and sheltered the little village on the cliffside. Those were rude, stern times, and the people in the village were often glad of the protection which the castle gave from attacks by stranger invaders; but they paid for their security, from time to time, when the defenders themselves sallied forth upon the hamlet and took toll from its flocks and herds. It was “the evil time when there was no emperor” in Germany. Of real rule there was none in the land, but every man held his life in his own charge. Knights sworn to deeds of mercy and bravery, returning from the holy war which waged to uphold Christ’s name at Jerusalem, were undone by the lawlessness of the times, and, forgetful of all knightly vows, turned robbers and foes where they should have been warders and helpers. The lesser nobles and landholders were become freebooters and plunderers, while the common people, pillaged and oppressed by these, had few rights and less freedom, as must always be the case with peoples or with single souls where there is no strong law, fended and loved by those whom it is meant to help. The children under the oak-trees played at knights and robbers. Neighboring the meadow was the common pasture, where tethered goats and sheep, and large, slow cattle, stood them as great flocks and caravans to sally out upon and harry. Now and again a party would break forth from one clump of trees to raid their playmates in a pretended village within another. Of storming castles, or of real knights’ play, they knew naught; for they were of the common people, poor working-folk sunk to a state but little above thraldom, and heard, in the guarded talk of their elders, stories only of the robber knights’ dark acts, never of deeds daring and true, such as belong to unspotted knighthood.