The Hunting Lodge at the Katzbach River

(A prose treatment was done by Peschel, p. 1ff)

Count Peter Wlast, a Wendisch man from a German fiefdom on the Baltic Sea coast, had been tasked to court the Russian noblewoman Maria for his liege. However, he instead managed to win both the noblewoman and her treasures for himself, fled with her, and settled down in Poland during the time of Bolesław III. Among these treasures, there was also the hand of Stephen the Martyr, which Maria had received this from her mother (a Greek woman from Constantinople). He gifted the hand to the duke, and in return received the city of Kostenblut as well as a stretch of land in Upper Silesia. Part of this land was Goldberg and its surrounding areas.

One beautiful summer day, he visited this region in order to hunt. He ventured into the Katzbach river valley while accompanied by his servants and miners. Then he suddenly beheld the Rabendocken rocks before him. When he inquired after the meaning of those marvelous rock formations, he learned how the pub of Seifenthal valley had been transformed into them. He thus decided to take a closer look at the rock cliffs, and wanted to spur his horse into the Katzbach.

Abruptly, the waves of that river rose up to a wild torrent, and it seemed nearly impossible to swim through those waters with a horse. Then, suddenly, a tall, scrawny, grey-headed man who carried a white staff in his right hand confronted him from the other shore, and called out with a terrible voice: “Go back, brazen one!” This did not prevent the count from spurring his steed into the Katzbach and swimming to the other side. But when he had reached the other shore, the old man was gone. Instead, a massive boar emerged from the valley of the gold panners and raced towards the area where the count and his entourage (who had now caught up to him) had gathered.

Everyone now followed the boar in wild pursuit. The valley grew narrower and narrower, and soon the boar could no longer be seen, since the path took so many twists and turns. Suddenly, the horse made a jump to the side, which almost would have vaulted both horse and rider into the stony riverbed of the Katzbach. It had shied before an ugly dwarf wearing a grey doublet. He stared at the shocked count out of an elevated opening in the rock with small, rolling eyes, and spoke: “Beware of venturing further. My father has already warned you against doing so at the Rabendocken rocks. Leave my beautiful, blue-eyed sister alone!” Then the count threw his hunting spear after the creature, but he fled up the mountain with the speed of an arrow, and his mocking laughter was still audible out of the thicket of the forest for a long time.

Meanwhile, the barking of the hounds approached again, and the squires joyfully shouted that they had found the traces of the boar again. Thus, the hunt went ever onwards. In this manner, they eventually reached a beautiful forest meadow, which was surrounded by tall spruce and fir trees. One of the huntsmen advised the count to rest here and abandon the pursuit of the boar. For it might be possible that the boar had not been a true animal, but some kind of apparition sent by the Devil which intended to lead them to who knows where. This made sense to the count, and he pledged that, if he returned to Goldberg safe and sound, he would erect a church on the Nikolaiberg hill out of gratitude for his rescue. (This is the funeral church, which still stands to this day.)

Then one of the squires stepped before the count and said: “Behold, my lord, at the boundaries of the forest there is a beautiful maiden sitting on a spruce tree trunk. She seems to have suddenly emerged from the ground of this enchanted region, for no one has seen her arrive. And now she sits there, and acts as if she did not see us, and weaves a wreath out of the flowers from the meadow.”

The count looked around for her, and was suddenly overcome by a great longing and great desire for the beautiful blonde, blue-eyed maiden which made him forget all warnings about the infernal hauntings of the Katzbach valley. He strode towards her and asked her with a friendly voice who she was and what she was doing here. She replied without shyness that she lived in this valley together with her mother, and pointed towards a small, moss-covered hut, which somehow nobody had noticed before. They had traveled here from distant lands, settled down here, and named this location “Neuländl” (“little new land”), as it had appeared to them like a new, beautiful land.

The count took the beautiful woman by the hand, and let himself be led into the cramped hut by her. Inside, the only decoration was a beautifully carved boar’s head. When he asked where her mother was, he learned that she had gone into the forest in order to gather berries. The count, who was no longer the master of his overwhelming emotions, urged her to give him a kiss. However, she resolutely refused, and said that whoever she touched would be connected to her forevermore.

Then, suddenly, a squire burst in and said that the ugly dwarf had appeared on the meadow and startled the horses. The count hurried outside, but everything was quiet. And when he asked about what precisely had happened, his people were unclear whether they had seen the dwarf or the boar. Meanwhile, the girl had followed the count, and talked him out of the notion that any sorcery had happened here, and claimed that she and her mother had never seen anything uncanny in this area. In this manner, her words dispersed the count’s rising suspicion that the girl might have been an evil sorceress, and possibly even the ugly dwarf’s sister. He thus promised her that he would come back, and returned to Goldberg while secretly planning to build a hunting lodge in this valley.

But the following night, he had an ugly dream. He beheld himself within the arms of the beautiful, strange woman, and then his wife Maria stepped towards him. She looked pale and distorted, and put a grinning skull into his shaking hand. Upon waking, he consoled himself that perhaps his wife was doing the same to him on his castle on the Zobtenberg mountain.

He thus hurriedly sent masons and carpenters into that area so that they could build a small mansion there as quickly as possible. However, his astonishment was great when they had already returned by noon. They told him that they did not need to build a mansion, for they had discovered the most beautiful hunting lodge imaginable in place of the moss-covered hut. But the region was otherwise forlorn and abandoned.

Thus, the count could no longer doubt that he was dealing with an evil sorceress, and decided to let go of her. Unfortunately, he still decided to see her one more time, and thus again steered his horse to the valley of Neuländl. He found everything like it had been yesterday, and only the hunting lodge stood before him like it had grown out of the earth. He stepped inside, and the beautiful girl met him on the stairs, took him by his hand, and let him into a beautiful chamber adorned with marvellous figures. On the wall at the other end, the boar which had mocked him so the other day was attached in the most prominent position.

The count now wanted to turn back, for he could no longer have any doubts that the beautiful woman was no human being, but some manner of sorceress.[15] But she looked at him with such sweet glances and enmeshed him into her embraces in such a manner that he would have needed to be of a different character than he was to resist her enticements. He still weakly thought of his distant wife, but the sinful passions were too strong in him to allow the memory of her to rescue him from the nets of the beautiful girl. Furthermore, she told him that they could not form a bond of matrimony with each other anyway. For she was a daughter of the forest spirit of the Giant Mountains, and thus immortal. Thus, she was only able to join a bond of the hearts with a mortal human, and not one sanctioned by the church, for she was not a Christian and could never become one.

Thus, he was convinced by the clever sorceress to become unfaithful to his wife, as he thought that he would not become bound in any way to the former. However, his thoughts changed when she later told him that, while they were not bound by the bonds of matrimony, he was nevertheless bound by blood to her from now on and forevermore. She would follow him with every step, and her revenge would be assured if he did anything against her will. With these words, she vanished. The count, however, was almost bereft of his senses from the turmoil of his emotions and the pangs of his conscience when he raced back to Goldberg from the enchanted palace. When he passed the Rabendocken, he heard the mocking laughter of the dwarf, who shouted to him that they were now related, and he thus no longer had any reason to fear him.

Once he had returned to Goldberg, his valet approached him with the presumably joyful news that his wife Maria had arrived from the Zobten mountain during his absence. However, instead of hurrying to her and welcoming her, the count began shaking as if he was suffering from frostbite. Finally, he revealed to his confidant that he had let himself be seduced by the beautiful woman from the forest and had become unfaithful to his wife.

The servant, however, tried to instill courage in him and told him that he should be unafraid, for Hell would have no power over him as long as he stayed near this devout woman. Thus, he went to her. She had not yet expected him and was on her knees, praying for his safe return. But when she jumped up to embrace him when he entered the room, the forest woman stood between them. However, she was no longer in her earlier, lovely countenance, but appeared as a fiercely-looking demon, whose glares - intent on revenge - made the count’s blood freeze in his veins.

But the count took heart, made the sign of the cross, and commanded her to leave the room, for as a spirit of Hell, she had no power over his devout wife. And as the latter then held him in a forgiving embrace, the forest woman spoke with infernal laughter: “So take her then. I return your oath to you, for you do not deserve to be loved by an immortal woman!” With these words, she laid her hand over the heart of the retreating Maria,1) and immediately the latter dropped dead with a loud cry of pain.

But when the count threw himself over the lifeless body of his unfortunate wife in despair, something roared next to him. And behold, the abominable dwarf stood there and spoke: “The hour of our revenge has arrived! You have insulted the immortals. Every day, you will cry for death a hundred times in the blackest night, but death will not come, and no pity shall reach into the darkness of your jail!” Immediately after he had spoken those words and vanished, the room filled with armed men. The knight Tobias, who had been sent by Wladislav II to arrest him, had arrived. For Peter had been unwise enough to joke about doubting the fidelity of the wife of Wladislav, who was Agnes, the daughter of the German Emperor Henry V. She thus had spurred on her husband to take black revenge against Peter. He was dragged away, thrown into prison, blinded in both eyes (1145), and robbed of all his possessions.

However, in the following year, when the weak and cruel Wladislaw and his scheming spouse had to flee Poland, he managed to regain his possessions with the aid of the brother of the duke, Boleslaus IV. He returned to Poland in 1148, but he did not regain his eyesight (though this allegedly did happen according to a dark legend). And he died on February 20th (or April 22nd) of 1053, and was interred in the St. Vincent Church in Breslau, which he had built. He had done more for the spread of Christianity in Silesia and Poland than any other man, for he had constructed 77 churches as well as several monasteries with his own funds.


Source: Grässe, J. G. T. Sagenbuch des preussischen Staats. Zweiter Band. 1869, p. 301ff.

Notes & commentary: The Faerie Lover


1)
This was likely his second wife, who was also called Maria and was the daughter of a French duke. For the Russian Maria, who was the daughter of the duke of Jarospelk Wladimir, had died shortly after their marriage vows.