The Forsaken Bride

This is a follow-up to The Lorelei.

By Lewis Spence
From Hero Tales and Legends of the Rhine [1915]

There is a later and more popular legend of the Lorelei than the foregoing.

According to this tale Lorelei was a maiden of surpassing beauty who dwelt in the town of Bacharach in medieval times. So potent were her attractions that every gallant on whom her eye rested fell hopelessly in love with her, while her ever-widening fame drew suitors in plenty from all parts of the country. The dismissed lovers wandered disconsolately in the neighbouring forests, vowing to take their lives rather than suffer the pangs of unrequited passion; while occasionally the threat was fulfilled, and a brave knight would cast himself into the Rhine and perish for love of the cold and cruel maid. Thus her fatal beauty played havoc among the flower of German chivalry. But she, dowered with virtue and goodness, as well as with more transient charms, trembled when she saw the effect of her attractions on her many lovers, and secluded herself as closely as possible.

The truth was, she had given her heart into the keeping of a young knight who, after plighting his troth with her, had ridden away to the wars, his military ardour and desire for glory triumphing over his love. Years had gone by, yet he did not return, and Lorelei thought that he had perished on the field of battle, or had taken another bride and forgotten her. But she remained true to him in spite of his long silence, and spent her days in tears and prayers for his safety.

Meanwhile she was besieged by an ever-increasing band of suitors, to whom her retiring disposition and sorrowful mien but made her the more desirable. Then it began to be rumoured abroad that she was a sorceress, who won the hearts of men by magic art and with the aid of the Evil One. The rumour was spread broadcast by jealous and disappointed women who saw their menfolk succumb to the fatal charms of the Maid of Bacharach. Mothers noticed their sons grow pale and woe-begone because of her; maids their erstwhile lovers sighing out a hopeless passion for the beautiful Lorelei; so they brought against her accusations of sorcery, which in those days generally led to the death of the victim by burning. So grievously did these malign whispers add to the already heavy burden of the maid that she surrendered herself to be tried, hardly caring whether or not she were found guilty. She was summoned before the criminal court held at Rhens by the Archbishop of Cologne, and charged with practising the black art in order to ensnare men’s affections.

However, when she appeared before the court her beauty so impressed the assembly, and even the old Archbishop himself, that none could believe her guilty. Her lovely face bore the imprint of innocence, her grief touched every heart, and on all sides she was treated with the greatest respect and kindness. The old prelate assured her that she would not be judged harshly, but begged to hear from her own lips that she was innocent of the foul charge brought against her. This assurance she gave with artless simplicity, and a murmur of approval went up from the crowd. The sympathy of those present–for even her accusers were melted–and the kindness of the aged Churchman who was her judge moved her to confess her unhappy love-story.

“I pray thee,” she concluded wearily, “I pray thee, my lord, let me die. I know, alas! that many true knights have died for love of me, and now I fain would die for the sake of one who hath forsaken me.”

The prelate, moved almost to tears by the pathetic story, laid his hand on the head of the weeping maid.

“Thou shalt not die, fair maiden,” he said. “I will send thee to a convent, where thou mayst live in peace.” And calling to his side three trusty old knights, he bade them conduct Lorelei to the convent across the river, and charge the abbess to treat her with the greatest kindness. Having blessed the maid once more, he bade them go. On their way to the convent they must needs pass the rock since known as the Lorelei-berg, and the girl, who had maintained a pensive silence all the way, now observed that she would fain ascend the rock and look for the last time at the castle of her betrothed knight.

Her escort would have courteously assisted her, but she, with the agility of youth, easily outstripped them, and stood alone on the summit, surveying the fair scene before her. A light barque was sailing up the river, and as she gazed on it Lorelei uttered a loud cry, for there in the bow stood her truant lover! The knight and his train heard the shriek and beheld with horror the maiden standing with outstretched arms on the very edge of the precipice. The steering of the boat was forgotten for the moment, and the frail craft ran on the rocks. Lorelei saw her lover’s peril and, calling his name, leapt into the tide.

Nothing more was seen of the lovers; together they sleep the sleep of death beneath the waters of the Rhine.

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