"Guiomar and Ottilia", an embedded tale in Henry the Fourth of France. By Alicia LeFanu. 4 vols. London: A. K. Newman, 1826. 3: 120-44.

"In the reign of Henry the Fowler,[1] the prize of beauty was universally adjudged to the Wildgrave of Waldorf's fair daughter, commonly styled 'the proud Ottilia.'[2]

"This lady had all the aversion to wedlock so universal among the damsels of fabulous history; but the manner in which she got rid of her numerous lovers was altogether extraordinary. Without formally refusing them her hand, she imposed certain conditions, which were only known to the lover himself, and sent him to the town of Hamel to fulfill them.[3] Many knights had disappeared from the circles of Germany in this manner; and those who survived were distinguished by a profound melancholy, and never returned to lay claim to the hand of Ottilia.

"The emperor, fearing the whole country would be depopulated at this rate, spoke to the wildgrave to remonstrate with his daughter.

'It is not I that send them to the pass of Hamel, father,' the beauteous delinquent replied--'it is their own ungovernable wishes. Is there a severer one, among the numerous wrongs of poor weak woman, than that principle among mankind which forbids us even the negative liberty of refusal, and brands a maid as cruel, merely because she refuses to become a slave?'

'Thou art as wise as beautiful,' said the doating father, as Ottilia, at the conclusion of this speech, bent her seraph head to kiss his hand; and returning to the emperor, he told him he could say no more to a child who, while she looked like an angel, disputed like a doctor.

"Perceiving that at court she was looked on coldly, Ottilia persuaded her father to withdraw with her to his beautiful sylvan domains; and there, with a female companion, or her bow and arrow, she spent whole days in the woods--a lovely huntress, a beauteous Amazon.

One day that, with her faithful attendant Edith, she explored the mountain passes, and bounded, with printless steps, along the healthful glade, a slight bridge, that had hitherto afforded them a safe passage across a mountain stream, gave way unexpectedly, and Edith screamed as she saw her mistress floating in the gulf below. Like the fabled nymphs of ancient story, about to be transformed into some swan or fluttering sea mew, Ottilia flung her white arms above her head, and screamed for help and mercy. A youth darted from the opposite bank, and plunging without hesitation into the stream, snatched her, when just sinking, from the peril that surrounded her, and bore her beauteous burden unharmed to land.

"While Edith was busily wringing the water from her garments and fair tresses, the maiden opened her eyes, and they met those of the stranger, bent over her in the most anxious and fond solicitude; 'his eyes were like light in the morning's blue stream'--they penetrated to the damsel's heart, and all her frozen coldness was gone for ever.--'Stranger,' said she, as she accepted his offered assistance to return home, 'you have this day done a service to one who will not prove ungrateful.'

'I demand no thanks,' the lovely youth replied.

'Yet still we are your debtors,' Ottilia resumed; 'and what I owe shall be paid you by my father.'

'Forgive me, lady, I may not approach your castle,' the stranger said.

'How! do you know it then?'

'I know it well, and its inhabitants: you are the fair one whose fiat sent so many brave men to death; and therefore you are called "the proud Ottilia."

'Am I so hateful then!' the maid exclaimed; and for the first time the name in which she had gloried grated harshly in her ears.

"They had now reached the castle gate. The knight bowed, and left her; but his form ever flitted before her memory--bright as some divinity of the stream--proud, proud as herself, and therefore alone worthy to love her!

"Edith perceived the slow consuming fire that was preying on her mistress, and undertook her relief. The beauty of Ottilia had, even in this remote scene, collected a crowd of admiring youths; and a tournament had been proclaimed in a neighbouring city to her honour.

"By indefatigable perserverance, Edith learned the name and residence of sir Guiomar, the proud and beautiful knight of the crystal stream, and sending him a glove in her mistress's name, signified to him, that it would give her pleasure, if he would combat for her on that day.[4]

"The answer of the knight was short and cold.--'He was not of rank and riches sufficient to grace his arms with the name of the lady Ottilia in the tournament.'

"To put the finishing stroke to the mortifications of the once-proud Ottilia, accident revealed to her the degrading step Edith had taken, and she thought no woods deep enough to conceal her shame and her defeat.

"Yet even in these deep woods the spirit of love followed her, and she was startled by fnding her own name inscribed on many a tree--'Ill-fated youth, whosoever thou art,' Ottilia sighed (for love had taught her pity), 'I forgive thy temerity, and guess thy sorrows by my own!' The noise, as of some one at work upon the trees, startled her, and advancing, she beheld the figure indelibly impressed upon her mind--sir Guiomar!--'He loves me then!' the conscious beauty said; 'oh why need I ever have doubted of those conquering charms? but Love will fear,' and she quickened her pace to come up with him.

"The knight, who had made haste to conceal all trace of his employment, obviously sought to shun the interview.--'You have torn my secret from me,' he said. 'Why am I to be lured by a smile, then to be dismissed--my humble name and fortune despised?'

"The knight paused. Ottilia wept. He endeavoured to preserve his dearly-loved freedom, but neglected his own real means of safety--flight. Ottilia followed up her advantage, and in the course of the next half-hour, the heart of the proud and noble knight was entirely at her disposal.--'What avails it?' said Guiomar, with passionate bitterness--'Ottilia, you have only woven a web to entangle us both. Never will your father, who has consented to your rejection of so many proud and noble barons, allow you to unite your fate with mine--for know that I am poor, unknown, illegitimate.'

"This last information acted as a thunderstroke upon Ottilia, yet still, neither she nor her beloved could consent to resign hope. At length sir Guiomar resumed--'There is but one way--the pass of Hamel; the wildgrave and you are both engaged to grant the boon of the knight who shall accomplish that adventure.'

'Oh, not the pass of Hamel!' exclaimed Ottilia, and she hung in fearful supplication upon his arm.

'How now, lady! you did not send the men to certain death who attempted it, did you?' exclaimed the knight, and his look became terrible beyond description.

'The pass of Hamel, since it must be so,' murmured the heart-stricken Ottilia; 'and oh, may you return successful and claim me!'

'Is there any direction you can give me,' resumed sir Guiomar, with a half-smile, 'which may render the adventure easier to me than to my predecessors?'

'Continue to skirt the western wood, and obey the injunction you will receive there. I know not myself what the direction means,' continued the damsel, 'but it is more than I have ever said to any other.'

"Sir Guiomar set out on his fated quest. The sun was setting upon the western wood in all its glory. By the light of its radiance, he thought he discovered a damsel hanging upon one of the trees, and shaken backwards and forwards by the wind. Eager to see if he could yet render her any assistance, he hastened onwards, when he found, in the fair object of his search, one of the most beautiful nymphs his eyes ever beheld, gently balancing herself upon the boughs of one of the trees, which was agitated by the breath of a zephyr; her glittering tresses and robes of green gave her the appearance of a woodland fairy--she was, in fact, one of the nymphs who, in the days when the simplicity of belief invited them, haunted the waving forests of the north. In her hand she held a golden mace, which she offered to sir Guiomar.--'Warrior, will you take my mace?' she said; 'you will want it in your future quest: but first, you must promise not to forsake her who leads you to honour and glory.'

"A short time before, sir Guiomar would have scorned to delude a maiden, had she all the treasures of the world to offer; but now both passion and pride beat high at his heart; and either are sufficient to allow the enemy of the world to enter. Fired with the hope of easily accomplishing his quest, he scrupled not any vows to obtain from the woodnymph her golden mace, and having procured it, proceeded to Hamel, thinking mo more of her.

"Arrived there, sir Guiomar baited his steed at the finest hostelry the town afforded; but was surprised at the melancholy and desolation of the place, which might have been taken for the City of Silence, and breathed the sadness of the grave.

"Impatient to learn the meaning of these unpleasant impressions, he arose, and made a circuit around the town. It was inhabited, though but thinly, and sadness appeared upon every countenance; all the townsfolk wore mourning--the matrons were clad in black--the virgins in white or yellow--and the youths wore black scarves wound round their arms.

"Ædel, his faithful squire, had attended him; and early in the morning sir Guiomar sounded his horn. Hastily mine host came running into his chamber--'Peace, sir,' he cried, 'as you are a true knight--no horn, drum, or pipe, must ever sound in this fated city.'

'Nay,' said the knight, 'it breathes indeed the silence of the grave; is it for wrongs unredressed? I pray you possess me of them.'

"The landlord resumed--'This is the city of wail, and this the street of sorrow: through this street the future strength of the city passed, never to return.'

"The curiosity of the knight being now wound up to the utmost, the host gave him the following solution.

'Seven summers are now passed, since a wild boar of monstrous size ravaged the neighbourhood and even threatened the town of Hamel. In vain our spirited youth issued forth to encounter him with lance and shield--his eyes gleamed with the fires of death, and his hide seemed plates of iron. At length a stranger presented himself, and undertook to rid the town of this scourge. The amptmann's fair daughter was to be his reward. The stranger was black but comely; his black armour sparkled with rubies, which shewed like gouts of blood; and round his neck was slung a bugle, which was made of beaten gold.

'We thought the stranger would, like those who had gone before him, have couched his spear, and sought the savage in his den; but he only sounded his horn, and the wild boar rushed out impetuously from his covert, nor checked his furious career till he was drowned in the river Weser. The Black Huntsman then claimed his reward; but the amptmann's fair daughter shrank from the fiery glare of his eye, and the burghers maintained that without her consent the contract was void.

'Thrice the Black Huntsman claimed his reward, and thrice he was refused. On the third time he sounded his horn. Forth at its blast came running the children of the city--all the little innocents under the tender age of seven. Oh, then you might have heard the father's cries, the mother's wail, the sister's shriek for little brothers lost!--in vain--with headlong speed they followed the demon's horn. He led them through the streets of the city, until they came to one of the gates, and so on out of the gate to the side of a little hill. At his touch the hillside opened, and the children, to the number of one hundred and thirty, entered in; the Black Huntsman himself followed last, and the hill was closed up for ever.

'Wonder not then, sir knight, that no drum, pipe, or horn may be sounded through this sad city. Many knights have tried to unlock the secrets of the cave, and have perished in the attempt. The fair damsel, Zemida, the cause of all our wo, disappeared on that fatal day, and never was heard of more. Yet some aver, that to this hour she lives in the western forest, protected by demon might, and gifted with supernatural powers--that she bears in her hand a golden mace, and that the knight to whom her free love shall give it, shall, with three strokes, break open the demon's cave, and liberate the lost children of Hamel.'

"At these words the heart of sir Guiomar leaped with joy; he hastily quitted the hostelry, without thinking of paying his reckoning, and in a few minutes was before the hill that rose to the south of the city.

"The warrior held in his hand the golden mace, and prepared to strike and do the deed of mercy; but habit made him look at his sunbright sword, and the enemy whispered greater glory in his ladye's sight, by first summoning the Black Huntsman to single combat.

"Slave to the owner of the mace, the Black Huntsman was compelled to appear. Sir Guiomar stepped back a moment in admiration of his gallant bearing, and as he looked and gazed, gave his soul to a fiend. They fought, and sir Guiomar conquered; but as he stooped to raise his prostrate foe, the dark huntsman slipped from his grasp, and stood at a little distance, in the guise of a lovely youth, bearing the purple wound inflicted by a wild boar in his side. Sir Guiomar darted forward to seize him--again the phantom eluded the nervous grasp--his stature enlarged--his limbs became firmer--he shone a noble hunter in the prime of life, cinctured by a belt of sparkling stars.

'Yield thee, whatso'er thou art! said Guiomar.

"Amazement! the belted hunter faded in air, and a radiant youth stood in his place, with laurelled head, sunny locks, and a bow and quiver.

"Lastly, the Black Huntsman resumed his natural shape--'Forbear, sir Guiomar,' he said; 'I have been followed, worshipped, but never can be destroyed. Resume your mace too--strike if you will, but hear me. If, as you propose, you open the magic cave, you confer a thankless boon on the most ungrateful of people, and return to your proud beauty whose father will still refuse her to you, even after your successful quest. If, on the contrary, you yield me the mace, I will grant you the three wishes of your soul: nay, you need not name them--I read them, proud slave of passion, in your eyes--that you may win rank equal to the wildgrave of Waldorf--that nought living may withstand your displeasure--and that Death himself may keep from you till called for. It is done--thus I sign your brow; and only claim, in return, the right, both here and hereafter, to bear you company.'

"The Black Huntsman signed his brow, and sir Guiomar found himself transported into the chamber of his hostelry. He flung off his shield, that shone like a steel mirror, and by its reflection thought he perceived a till now unfelt wound in his forehead; he tried to wash it off, but discovered the blood-mark was only the effect of the black hunter's sign. No effort would wash it off, so he covered it with a strip of black silk; and so lovely was the aspect of sir Guiomar, that it became the mode at court to admire even the demon's mark upon his brow.

"False to Ottilia, to Zemida, and to himself, the wretched dupe of pride, which, seeming at first to have an honest source, had gradually grown and expanded to a poisonous weed, sir Guiomar returned not to his first love, but hastened to Henry's court, there determined to await the completion of the first prophecy, and claim his bride when his rank should be equal to hers. Fortune smiled gaily on his side; the illegitimacy of his birth was lost in a flood of splendour, for it was discovered he owed his birth to the emperor; charmed with his exquisite mien, the sovereign proposed to legitimate him, and make him one of the princes of the empire.

"The heart of sir Guiomar throbbed high--'Excellent demon,' he whispered to himself, 'this is beyond thy promise.' But murmurs and mutiny arose--the council complained of their sovereign; and the emperor, to appease them, resigned his first thought of making a prince of Guiomar, and contented himself with investing him and his heirs in perpetuity with the lands and barony of Rammelsburg, in the Hartz country, which was exactly the same rank as that of the wildgrave of Waldorf.

"This had been the extreme point of Guiomar's wishes: but how differently do we see a thing when viewed from the summit of earthly grandeur, or from the lowly vale of humility! For the first time Guiomar began to suspect foul play in the demon's promises. Had he left all to a gracious and all-wise superintending Providence, he would, even in this world, have been elevated to its highest grandeurs, and been set among the princes of the land; but he had chosen to dictate for himself, and his reward was an inferior condition, which his lofty hopes taught him already to despise. He however hastened to claim the hand of Ottilia; and the love-subdued bride, blest in his presence, never once thought of asking him if he had executed the conditions imposed at the pass of Hamel. He conducted her to his barony of Rammelsburg, and led her with rapture through his wild waving woods; but he started and turned pale on observing a green-robed damsel slowly waving to and fro on one of the boughs, and breathing the following melancholy chant:

'I never will woo thee,
Yet still shall pursue thee.
There is a bird within the grove,
That bird is thy deserted love.
There is a voice upon the hill,
That voice it is Zemida's still.
Thou shalt see wonders on the main--
Proofs of Zemida's power again.
Thou shalt see fiery palaces--
Zemida forms th' abodes of bliss.
Whate'er delights thine eye or ear,
Shall still proclaim Zemida near.
Zemida's voice the concert wakes,
Zemida's voice the forest shakes;
        Zemida's power
       Adorns thy bower;
       Her voice can quell
       The demon spell.
Ah, lost one! art not punish'd yet?
Then waste in vain desire and vain regret.'

'Saw you aught?' said the terrified Guiomar--a question that has been often repeated since by the barons of Rammelsberg; but the green nymph was invisible to his timid bride, who had soon found new sources of wo, in finding that a hopeless passion had seized possession of Guiomar's soul. It was too true; Zemida every where pursued him with the wonders of her power. If he wandered in the woods, a self-spread banquest arose to his wondering sight--if he listened to the dash of waters, Zemida's immortal notes mingled in the roar. Many of the wondrous rarities that adorn the palace of Rammelsberg date from the period of the visits of the woodnymph: but she, in her turn, now delighted in mocking his passion; and when the self-devoted wretch, lost alike to shame and gratitude, pursued her with loud supplications through the woods, she flitted before him with a shout of laughter, and looked disdain at him from the topmost boughs.

"A year had elapsed, and a mortal bride could no longer please him; the pangs of unsatisfied love awakened long dormant curiosity in the bosom of Ottilia.--'Will you answer my quesitons, love?' she cried, leaning her fair tresses on his shoulder, and looking up with eyes that seemed to say--'Can my unknown rival be fairer than I am?'--'Whence comes this constant gloom, that neglects alike me and my little Albert? In what strife did you receive the wound for which you cover a portion of your fair and open brow? And who is that black horseman, who, when we go out with hound and horn, ever hunts and hawks by your side?'

"The guilty hate to be questioned, and supply the place of innocence by a stubborn pride. Guiomar had prayed that his displeasure might silence all who would offend him and now, in secret, invoked the demon's second promise. Oh, horror! from his mouth and nostrils breathed forth flames of fire, and his terrified bride sunk, scathed and consumed by their fury.--'Ottilia!' he exclaimed.

"Ottilia replied no more. He cast himself on the body--in the bitterness of his soul he invoked death!

'Ha! is it thus with you?' exclaimed a voice. 'You have called Death, sir Guiomar, and he comes to claim you!'

"Thus were literally fulfiled the three wishes of the first baron of Rammelsberg; and, from that period, the Black Huntsman has continued a messenger of wo to his descendants."

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Editor's notes:

1.  Henry the Fowler (876-936); first king of the Saxon dynasty in Germany, he reigned from 919-936.[back to text]

2.  Wildgrave (variant: waldgrave) is an aristocratic title which signifies authority over game and forests. [back to text]

3.  Lefanu is clearly alluding to, and in key respects echoing, the story of the pied piper of Hamelin (or Hameln), a story that purports to deal with an event that took place in 1284; both tales, for instance, specify that 130 children are taken. The story was recounted in written documents from the fourteenth century forward and was invoked by such contemporaries of Lefanu's as J. W. Goethe and the brothers Grimm.  Goethe's poem "Der Rattenfänger" was published in 1803, and the Grimms' "The Children of Hameln" appeared in Deutsche Sagen (1816-1818). [back to text]

4.  In the thirteenth-century Vulgate Cycle of Arthurian romance, Guiomar is the cousin of Guenevere and lover of Morgan le Faye. [back to text]