“I trust your Highness may long be spared to us,” replied Dessauer, gravely; “but, Prince Karl, in default of an heir to your body (of which there is yet no reason to despair), wherefore may not your Highness devise the realm back to the ancient line?”
“The line of Dietrich is extinct,” said the Prince, booking up sharply.
“So says Duke Casimir, hoping to succeed to your shoes, when he could not to your helmet and your sword. But I have my suspicions and my beliefs. There is more in the parchments of yonder library than has yet seen the light.”
Suddenly the Prince recollected me, standing patiently by.
“But we waste time, Dessauer; we can speak of ancestors and successors anon. I and Hugo Gottfried want you to take up your ancient role. Do you mind how you snicked Axelstein, and clipped Duke Casimir of his little finger at the back of the barn, when we were all lads at the Kaiser’s first diet at Augsburg?”
Old Dessauer smiled, well pleased enough at the excellence of the Prince’s memory.
“I have seen worse cuts,” he said; “Casimir has never rightly liked me since. And had the Black Riders caught me, over to his dogs I should have gone without so much as a belt upon me. He would have kept them without food for a week on purpose to make a clean job of my poor scarecrow pickings.”
“And now this young spark,” said the Prince, “for the sake of a lady’s eyes, desires to do your Augsburg deed over again with Duke Casimir’s nephew. So we must give him a man with quarterings on his shield to go along with him.”
“I am too old and stiff,” said Dessauer, shaking his head mournfully, yet with obvious desire in the itching fingers of his sword-hand; “let him seek out one of the brisk young kerls that are drumming at the blade-play all the time down there in the square by the guard-rooms.”
“Nay, it is to be principals only; there is to be no fighting of seconds. The Count has specially desired that there shall be none,” said the Prince; “therefore, go with the lad, Dessauer.”
“No fighting of seconds!” cried the Councillor, in astonishment, holding up his hands. And I think the old swordsman seemed a little disappointed. “Well, I will go and see the lad well through, and warrant that he gets fair-play among these wolves of the Mark.”
“Faith, when it comes to that, he is as rough-pelted a wolf of the Mark as any of them!” laughed the Prince.
THE WOLVES OF THE MARK
The Hirschgasse is a little inn across the river, well known to the wilder blades of Plassenburg. There they go to be outside the authority of the city magistrates, to make rendezvous with maids more complaisant than maidenly, to fight their duels, and generally to do those things without remark which otherwise bring them under the eye of the Miller’s Son, as they one and all call (behind his back) the reigning Prince of Plassenburg.