George The Triller
by Charlotte M. Yonge
‘Why, Lady dear, so sad of cheer?
Hast waked the livelong night?’
‘My dreams foreshow my children’s woe,
Ernst bold and Albrecht bright.
‘From the dark glades of forest shades
There rushed a raging boar,
Two sapling oaks with cruel strokes
His crooked tusks uptore.’
‘Ah, Lady dear, dismiss thy fear
Of phantoms haunting sleep!’
‘The giant knight, Sir Konrad hight,
Hath vowed a vengeance deep.
‘My Lord, o’erbold, hath kept his gold,
And scornful answer spake:
‘Kunz, wisdom learn, nor strive to burn
The fish within their lake.’
‘See, o’er the plain, with all his train,
My Lord to Leipzig riding;
Some danger near my children dear
My dream is sure betiding.’
‘The warder waits before the gates,
The castle rock is steep,
The massive walls protect the halls,
Thy children safely sleep.’
‘T is night’s full noon, fair shines the moon
On Altenburg’s old halls,
The silver beams in tranquil streams
Rest on the ivied walls.
Within their tower the midnight hour
Has wrapt the babes in sleep,
With unclosed eyes their mother lies
To listen and to weep.
What sudden sound is stirring round?
What clang thrills on her ear?
Is it the breeze amid the trees
Re-echoing her fear?
Swift from her bed, in sudden dread,
She to her lattice flies:
Oh! sight of woe, from far below
Behold a ladder rise:
And from yon tower, her children’s bower,
Lo! Giant Kunz descending!
Ernst, in his clasp of iron grasp,
His cries with hers is blending.
‘Oh! hear my prayer, my children spare,
The sum shall be restored;
Nay, twenty-fold returned the gold,
Thou know’st how true my Lord.’
With mocking grace he bowed his face:
‘Lady, my greetings take;
Thy Lord may learn how I can burn
The fish within their lake.’
Oh! double fright, a second knight
Upon the ladder frail,
And in his arm, with wild alarm,
A child uplifts his wail!
Would she had wings! She wildly springs
To rouse her slumbering train;
Bolted without, her door so stout
Resists her efforts vain!
No mortal ear her calls can hear,
The robbers laugh below;
Her God alone may hear her moan,
Or mark her hour of woe.
A cry below, ‘Oh! let me go,
I am no prince’s brother;
Their playmate I–Oh! hear my cry
Restore me to my mother!’
With anguish sore she shakes the door.
Once more Sir Kunz is rearing
His giant head. His errand sped
She sees him reappearing.
Her second child in terror wild
Is struggling in his hold;
Entreaties vain she pours again,
Still laughs the robber bold.
‘I greet thee well, the Elector tell
How Kunz his counsel takes,
And let him learn that I can burn
The fish within their lakes.’
‘Swift, swift, good steed, death’s on thy speed,
Gain Isenburg ere morn;
Though far the way, there lodged our prey,
We laugh the Prince to scorn.
‘There Konrad’s den and merry men
Will safely hold the boys–
The Prince shall grieve long ere we leave
Our hold upon his joys.
‘But hark! but hark! how through the dark
The castle bell is tolling,
From tower and town o’er wood and down,
The like alarm notes rolling.
‘The peal rings out! echoes the shout!
All Saxony’s astir;
Groom, turn aside, swift must we ride
Through the lone wood of fir.’
Far on before, of men a score
Prince Ernst bore still sleeping;
Thundering as fast, Kunz came the last,
Carrying young Albrecht weeping.
The clanging bell with distant swell
Dies on the morning air,
Bohemia’s ground another bound
Will reach, and safety there.
The morn’s fresh beam lights a cool stream,
Charger and knight are weary,
He draws his rein, the child’s sad plain
He meets with accents cheery.
‘Sir Konrad good, be mild of mood,
A fearsome giant thou!
For love of heaven, one drop be given
To cool my throbbing brow!’
Kunz’ savage heart feels pity’s smart,
He soothes the worn-out child,
Bathes his hot cheeks, and bending seeks
For woodland berries wild.
A deep-toned bark! A figure dark,
Smoke grimed and sun embrowned,
Comes through the wood in wondering mood,
And by his side a hound.
‘Oh, to my aid, I am betrayed,
The Elector’s son forlorn,
From out my bed these men of dread
Have this night hither borne!’
‘Peace, if thou ‘rt wise,’ the false groom cries,
And aims a murderous blow;
His pole-axe long, his arm so strong,
Must lay young Albrecht low.
See, turned aside, the weapon glide
The woodman’s pole along,
To Albrecht’s clasp his friendly grasp
Pledges redress from wrong.
Loud the hound’s note as at the throat
Of the false groom he flies;
Back at the sounds Sir Konrad bounds:
‘Off hands, base churl,’ he cries.
The robber lord with mighty sword,
Mailed limbs of giant strength–
The woodman stout, all arms without,
Save his pole’s timber length–
Unequal fight! Yet for the right
The woodman holds the field;
Now left, now right, repels the knight,
His pole full stoutly wields.
His whistle clear rings full of cheer,
And lo! his comrades true,
All swarth and lusty, with fire poles trusty,
Burst on Sir Konrad’s view.
His horse’s rein he grasps amain
Into his selle to spring,
His gold-spurred heel his stirrup’s steel
Has caught, his weapons ring.
His frightened steed with wildest speed
Careers with many a bound;
Sir Konrad’s heel fast holds the steel,
His head is on the ground.
The peasants round lift from the ground
His form in woeful plight,
To convent cell, for keeping well,
Bear back the robber knight.
‘Our dear young lord, what may afford
A charcoal-burners’ store
We freely spread, milk, honey, bread,
Our heated kiln before!’
Three mournful days the mother prays,
And weeps the children’s fate;
The prince in vain has scoured the plain–
A sound is at the gate.
The mother hears, her head she rears,
She lifts her eager finger–
‘Rejoice, rejoice, ‘t is Albrecht’s voice,
Open! Oh, wherefore linger?’
See, cap in hand the woodman stand–
Mother, no more of weeping–
His hound well tried is at his side,
Before him Albrecht leaping,
Cries, ‘Father dear, my friend is here!
My mother! Oh, my mother!
The giant knight he put to flight,
The good dog tore the other.’
Oh! who the joy that greets the boy,
Or who the thanks may tell,
Oh how they hail the woodman’s tale,
How he had ‘trilled him well!’
[Footnote: Trillen, to shake; a word analogous to our rill, to shake the voice in singing]
‘I trilled him well,’ he still will tell
In homely phrase his story,
To those who sought to know how wrought
An unarmed hand such glory.
That mother sad again is glad,
Her home no more bereft;
For news is brought Ernst may be sought
Within the Devil’s Cleft.
That cave within, these men of sin
Had learnt their leader’s fall,
The prince to sell they proffered well
At price of grace to all.
Another day and Earnest lay,
Safe on his mother’s breast;
Thus to her sorrow a gladsome morrow
Had brought her joy and rest.
The giant knight was judged aright,
Sentenced to death he lay;
The elector mild, since safe his child,
Sent forth the doom to stay.
But all to late, and o’er the gate
Of Freiburg’s council hall
Sir Konrad’s head, with features dread,
The traitor’s eyes appal.
The scullion Hans who wrought their plans,
And oped the window grate,
Whose faith was sold for Konrad’s gold,
He met a traitor’s fate
Behold how gay the wood to-day,
The little church how fair,
What banners wave, what tap’stry brave
Covers its carvings rare!
A goodly train–the parents twain,
And here the princess two,
Here with his pole, George, stout of soul,
And all his comrades true.
High swells the chant, all jubilant,
And each boy bending low,
Humbly lays down the wrapping gown
He wore the night of woe.
Beside them lay a smock of grey,
All grimed with blood and smoke;
A thankful sign to Heaven benign,
That spared the sapling oak.
‘What prize would’st hold, thou ‘Triller bold’,
Who trilled well for my son?’
‘Leave to cut wood, my Lord, so good,
Near where the fight was won.’
‘Nay, Triller mine, the land be thine,
My trusty giant-killer,
A farm and house I and my spouse
Grant free to George the Triller!’
Years hundred four, and half a score,
Those robes have held their place;
The Triller’s deed has grateful meed
From Albrecht’s royal race.
The child rescued by George the Triller’s Golden Deed was the ancestor of the late Prince Consort, and thus of our future line of kings. He was the son of the Elector Friedrich the mild of Saxony, and of Margarethe of Austria, whose dream presaged her children’s danger. The Elector had incurred the vengeance of the robber baron, Sir Konrad of Kauffingen, who, from his huge stature, was known as the Giant Ritter, by refusing to make up to him the sum of 4000 gulden which he had had to pay for his ransom after being made prisoner in the Elector’s service. In reply to his threats, all the answer that the robber knight received was the proverbial one, ‘Do not try to burn the fish in the ponds, Kunz.’
Stung by the irony, Kunz bribed the elector’s scullion, by name Hans Schwabe, to admit him and nine chosen comrades into the Castle of Altenburg on the night of the 7th of July, 1455, when the Elector was to be at Leipzig. Strange to say, this scullion was able to write, for a letter is extant from him to Sir Konrad, engaging to open the window immediately above the steep precipice, which on that side was deemed a sufficient protection to the castle, and to fasten a rope ladder by which to ascend the crags. This window can still be traced, though thenceforth it was bricked up. It gave access to the children’s apartments, and on his way to them, the robber drew the bolt of their mother’s door, so that though, awakened by the noise, she rushed to her window, she was a captive in her own apartment, and could not give the alarm, nor do anything but join her vain entreaties to the cries of her helpless children. It was the little son of the Count von Bardi whom Wilhelm von Mosen brought down by mistake for young Albrecht, and Kunz, while hurrying up to exchange the children, bade the rest of his band hasten on to secure the elder prince without waiting for him. He followed in a few seconds with Albrecht in his arms, and his servant Schweinitz riding after him, but he never overtook the main body. Their object was to reach Konrad’s own Castle of Isenburg on the frontiers of Bohemia, but they quickly heard the alarm bells ringing, and beheld beacons lighted upon every hill. They were forced to betake themselves to the forests, and about half-way, Prince Ernst’s captors, not daring to go any father, hid themselves and him in a cavern called the Devil’s Cleft on the right bank of the River Mulde.
Kunz himself rode on till the sun had risen, and he was within so few miles of his castle that the terror of his name was likely to be a sufficient protection. Himself and his horse were, however, spent by the wild midnight ride, and on the border of the wood of Eterlein, near the monastery of Grunheim, he halted, and finding the poor child grievously exhausted and feverish, he lifted him down, gave him water, and went himself in search of wood strawberries for his refreshment, leaving the two horses in the charge of Schweinitz. The servant dozed in his saddle, and meanwhile the charcoal-burner, George Schmidt, attracted by the sounds, came out of the wood, where all night he had been attending to the kiln, hollowed in the earth, and heaped with earth and roots of trees, where a continual charring of wood was going on. Little Albrecht no sooner saw this man than he sprang to him, and telling his name and rank, entreated to be rescued from these cruel men. The servant awaking, leapt down and struck a deadly blow at the boy’s head with his pole-ax, but it was parried by the charcoal-burner, who interposing with one hand the strong wooden pole he used for stirring his kiln, dragged the little prince aside with the other, and at the same time set his great dog upon the servant. Sir Konrad at once hurried back, but the valiant charcoal- burner still held his ground, dangerous as the fight was between the peasant unarmed except for the long pole, and the fully accoutered knight of gigantic size and strength. However, a whistle from George soon brought a gang of his comrades to his aid, and Kunz, finding himself surrounded, tried to leap into his saddle, and break through the throng by weight of man and horse, but his spur became entangled, the horse ran away, and he was dragged along with his head on the ground till he was taken up by the peasants and carried to the convent of Grunheim, whence he was sent to Zwickau, and was thence transported heavily ironed to Freiburg, where he was beheaded on the 14th of July, only a week after his act of violence. The Elector, in his joy at the recovery of even one child, was generous enough to send a pardon, but the messenger reached Freiburg too late, and a stone in the marketplace still marks the place of doom, while the grim effigy of Sir Konrad’s head grins over the door of the Rathhaus. It was a pity Friedrich’s mildness did not extend to sparing torture as well as death to his treacherous scullion, but perhaps a servant’s power of injuring his master was thought a reason for surrounding such instances of betrayal with special horrors.
The party hidden in the Devil’s Cleft overheard the peasants in the wood talking of the fall of the giant of Kauffingen, and, becoming alarmed for themselves, they sent to the Governor of the neighboring castle of Hartenstein to offer to restore Prince Ernst, provided they were promised a full pardon. The boy had been given up as dead, and intense were the rejoicings of the parents at his restoration. The Devil’s Cleft changed its name to the Prince’s Cleft, and the tree where Albrecht had lain was called the Prince’s Oak, and still remains as a witness to the story, as do the moth-eaten garments of the princely children, and the smock of the charcoal-burner, which they offered up in token of thanksgiving at the little forest church of Ebendorff, near the scene of the rescue.
‘I trillirt the knaves right well,’ was honest George’s way of telling the story of his exploit, not only a brave one, but amounting even to self-devotion when we remember that the robber baron was his near neighbour, and a terror to all around. The word Triller took the place of his surname, and when the sole reward he asked was leave freely to cut wood in the forest, the Elector gave him a piece of land of his own in the parish of Eversbach. In 1855 there was a grand celebration of the rescue of the Saxon princes on the 9th of July, the four hundredth anniversary, with a great procession of foresters and charcoal-burners to the ‘Triller’s Brewery’, which stands where George’s hut and kiln were once placed. Three of his descendants then figured in the procession, but since that time all have died, and the family of the Trillers is now extinct.
Charlotte Mary Yonge