Barbarossa - George Upton




Life in the Castle

After the battle at Legnano, the Emperor's old friend Conrad, who had almost miraculously escaped every danger, returned to Castle Felseck. Those were sad days for him and his wife, for their two young heroes had fallen in the first battle for the Emperor. They did not complain, however, of their sorrowful bereavement. Their children had been taken from them in the very flower of their youth, but they made no public show of grief. The Emperor's companion-in-arms, formerly so active and impetuous, spent his time quietly in the desolate halls of his castle, and consequently had more time to look after the interests of his dependents than when every tumult of war called him away from his home. The fierce passion which used to flame in his eyes in camp and on the battlefield gave place to gentleness and compassion.

His wife, always a mother to every one of their dependents, a nurse for the sick, a consoler for the sorrowing, was now doubly eager to serve them for that bitter grief which only a mother can feel made her all the more sympathetic. Every day she went down the steep road from the castle to those lowly abodes where care and sorrow were usually the only guests. Her servants went with her, carrying food for the hungry and delicacies for the sick and infirm. She provided clothes for the needy, made by her own hands in her solitary hours. The two found their highest consolation in dispensing aid and happiness to all around them, for it is more blessed to give than to receive." The tears of gratitude and the hearty "God bless you," from those they assisted, richly repaid them. God, indeed, beheld their acts of mercy.

He, who is all goodness and love, was so pleased as they untiringly carried out His precepts and imitated His example, that He filled their hearts with the highest happiness. A few years after their bereavement He sent them two little sons, faithful likenesses of those they had lost. The first-born brothers lived again in them, and soon the traces of grief disappeared from Conrad's brow as the lovely little ones embraced him, pulled his beard in childish wantonness, or ran their chubby little hands through his blond hair. Sometimes he would toss them upon his knees, after they had clambered up with a boisterousness that seemed like misbehavior, but was only their clumsy way of showing their affection. As soon as they were old enough it was their chief delight to play in the sunshine the livelong day, to frolic in the castle yard and the garden, to catch the brilliant butterflies, and pluck lovely flowers for welcome gifts to their mother. It was their delight also to visit the stalls where their father's battle horses were now resting undisturbed, mount his favorite steed, and imitate his exploits with the help of the groom.

During these years the castle grew more cheerful. Stranger knights often arrived and met with a hospitable welcome. Indeed, it had never been refused, but because of the family's trouble, they had rarely visited the knight. More and more frequently also his old friends —for he had no enemies near him—came to see him. Every one felt the highest esteem for this brave man who had all the knightly virtues. It was only those barbarous marauders who could not endure goodness, lofty purpose, and just conduct, whose strength was never used in defence of innocence but always for oppression and plunder, who shunned Felseck. As Conrad once more assumed the responsibilities of life he did not overlook the welfare of his dependents. His simple manner of life enabled him to fill his treasury with his savings, and he used them to help those who had been unfortunate and who could not meet their taxes or other obligations.

Conrad also looked strictly after the education of his boys. The mother sowed the seeds of virtue in their tender hearts, and awoke their reverence for God in their earliest youth. When they admired the beauty and diversity of the flowers, and the lovely hues of the butterflies, and questioned her with eager words about them, she told them of the creative power and the wisdom and goodness of the Almighty; of His care for all His creatures; of His boundless love for them, and of His delight in their welfare. She told them that the bright stars, upon which they gazed so wonderingly, and the happy life of the animals revealed His glory and His care, and that the birds always praised Him in their songs. In this manner she aroused in their souls the sense of divine power and goodness.

Their father sought to cultivate their minds and impress them with the importance of the duties of life. He enriched their knowledge of nature. He explained to them what the relations of one human being to another should be, and told them that every one has his duties as well as his rights, and that while they had duties toward the animals, their highest and most sacred duties were to their fellowmen. He did not teach them to treat their inferiors as if they were hardly human—much less as barely deserving a share of the abundant mercies of the Almighty—but as divinely created and intended to rise to higher things. He taught them in the true Christian sense that all men are brothers—all children of God, the one Father, and that if He did not suffer all to have an equal share in His beneficence, if it happened that one had more than another, still each had what was necessary to his real happiness. He told them that even where one had more, it was often the cause of bitter sorrow to him, from which the one having less was spared. Thus there was compensation for all. He impressed it upon them also that it was wrong for men to make this disparity, which God permitted, still greater by robbery, force, or oppression, and that they should seek to equalize it so that the suffering caused by life's various misfortunes should be reduced as much as possible.

"We need each other in this world," said he one day to them; "and the poor, who have few desires, often need the rich less than the rich need them. What might happen to us if a powerful stranger knight should attack our castle and we were here alone? He would scale the walls with little exertion; he would murder, plunder, and burn until nothing was left. But suppose he should attempt it now! At one blast of the warder's horn my good servitors, whom I have protected when they were in trouble, would rush to our defence, drive off the assailants and send them home with broken heads. So it is all over the world. One is servant to the other, from the lowest menial to the Emperor, the first and highest person in the Empire. He cares alike for all, banishes all disturbers of the peace, decides justly, and makes laws which all must obey if they wish to be happy. Whoever disturbs this order or violates the laws richly deserves punishment, for he is thereby destroying the happiness of others. Oh, if you had only been with me in that far-off land where force is the only law, where one obeys the will of one master to-day and of another to-morrow, you would have seen how miserable people can be, and have thanked God that you live in a land where all obey fixed laws, and where every one knows what he must do and what is expected of him. Even the Emperor himself cannot act entirely alone. He needs the help of others. He who would be a true knight must be ever mindful of his calling,—must protect innocence, resist enemies, and courageously maintain justice and support the law. Above all, he must keep untarnished the shield and escutcheon inherited from his ancestors, whose portraits upon the castle walls look down upon him and his deeds and judge him. By their self-sacrifice and faithful performance of duty they earned what all enjoy, and it would be criminally ungrateful were we to forsake the path of virtue they followed."

Such counsels as these still more deeply impressed the boys because the living examples of their truth were ever before them. They saw their father impartially awarding justice, protecting innocence, and rescuing the oppressed. When they gladly went with their mother to the homes of the needy and the abodes of the sick, and consoled them and distributed material comfort, the lessons of love and compassion were indelibly impressed upon their hearts.

With like eagerness and faithfulness they devoted themselves to exercises for the strengthening of the body, for their father once said to them: "He who would do good must not merely know how to do it but also be able. While one should love peace, he should also be ready for war, for not every one is peaceful." The boys devoted themselves with the utmost zeal to the use of arms and practised a certain number of hours a day under their father's or some trusted attendant's supervision. They ran, exercised on the bars, stretched their limbs, and strengthened themselves by severe tests. They travelled the woods in light clothing, paying no heed to storms, or winds, or the heat of the sun. They cooled themselves in a forest brook, hardened themselves for the fatiguing exercise of the day, and returned home refreshed and invigorated. Then they practised hurling the light javelin at a mark, until they could use the heavy spear without straining themselves. They wielded the battle-axe, mace, club, and broadsword, as if they were giving the finishing blow to an adversary on the field. How delighted they were when they were allowed to mount the war-horse and practise the actual maneuvers of battle! They were strong and agile, hardened against the effects of weather, capable of great endurance, afraid of no dangers, strong in body and soul, and qualified for the performance of knightly duty.

During this peaceful period, which lasted several years, there was little opportunity to practise their attainments except in the pleasant but sometimes perilous chase, but soon knight Conrad's weapons were taken from the armory and the castle resounded to the tramp of armed men. Fate ordained that the old knight Barbarossa, who had spent nearly his whole life on the battlefield, should not die peacefully at home. From that far-distant Eastern land where in youth he and Conrad had fought for the Holy Sepulchre, suddenly came the evil tidings that Jerusalem, which had been in Christian possession eighty-eight years, had again been taken by the Sultan Saladin. Of all the conquests, which had cost so many lives, only Antioch and Tyre remained to the Christians. The Crescent was victorious everywhere, and persecutions were renewed, as in the period before Godfrey of Bouillon had rescued the country.

The complications between the Pope and the Emperor were settled at once. Frederick's old heroic spirit was aroused, and he looked forward to an expedition to the Holy Land as a fitting close to his life's work. At an assembly of princes held at Mayence a crusade was decided upon.

How could Conrad help joining it? Was he not the Emperor's brother-in-arms? Had they not once, amid disasters of every kind, sworn to fight together and to help each other to the last breath? Could he remain behind and rest at ease, while the Emperor, who was no younger than he, was in the field? No! To have stayed at home would have been a stain upon his escutcheon. He went with a force to Regensburg, the rendezvous of the Crusaders, and by his side rode his two stalwart sons, barely twelve and thirteen years of age, but, notwithstanding their youth, exultant and eager to face any danger.