by Meg Grimm, the Story Spinner
From the start, the owl had followed the dark enchanter Reinhard into Wolfhagen and to fortress ruins several miles north of Wolfhagen Castle.
There, the evil Reinhard had called upon dark powers to create his spell. Through the windows of the Great Hall of the castle, the owl had watched how it was administered. With the wizard’s vile kiss.
The owl had managed to save one noble daughter from the enchantment, but what would become of the land now that the remainder of the duke’s family was under the wizard’s control? There were not so many knights and brave men left to help them, since Reinhard had summoned creatures of the shadows to begin capturing men on their way back to the villages and hamlets. All the strongest men were now imprisoned in the old dungeon of the fortress, now including the young man who had danced with Lady Margaretha all evening.
Although the maiden had told the owl of the threat to his own life in this region, the creature alighted on her balcony once more and called to her until she awoke.
“Do you wish to be killed?” she scolded him, carrying him inside. Her eyes were drowsy with sleep. “Little owl, do you wish to break my heart?”
He did not know how he could help her, but he had to try. She put him to bed beside her and fell back to sleep. The owl kept watch over her all through the night.
The next morning, Margaretha awoke and prepared for the day, but before she could leave her room for breakfast, her six sisters knocked on the door.
“Margaretha,” all six said at once in eerie unison. “Count Aldershof commands you to stay in your room.”
Panic flooded Margaretha. She ran to the door, but it would not open.
“Greta! Giselle!” She called out all their names. “Wait, please!” It was no use. She stormed back into her chambers. “So, Count Aldershof does wish us harm. Little owl, are you still here?”
The owl fluttered down from her bedpost.
“You must find Duke Wilhelm, the Earl of Lichtheim. He knows that Count Aldershof may be up to evil. He will save me if he understands that I am in trouble. We must tell him before he comes to the castle and is trapped himself.” She looked around and retrieved the veil she had worn the last evening. “Take this. Perhaps he will understand. Oh, sweet friend, I hope he understands! You do, do you not?”
The little owl did understand, but he had no way to tell her so except to reach out a talon and accept the veil from her hand. Perhaps if he did alert Duke Wilhelm of her peril, the young man might find a way to help. The owl was certain Duke Wilhelm would indeed rescue Lady Margaretha if he could.
“Wilhelm’s hair is the color the sun at first light,” the lady was saying. “He is young and tall. His banners are white and yellow.”
She opened her curtains, and away flew the owl.
When deep darkness descended upon the land, the little owl was waiting in the old fortress ruins. He suddenly sailed through the air and dipped into the narrow stairwell that led to the crumbling dungeon. Inside the dank corridors, he saw that he would not be able to help Duke Wilhelm after all. The man would have to fend for himself, for the prisoners there were held not by chains but by dark magic that encircled their wrists and ankles. The little owl could not pick locks on magic.
The fowl dropped to the feet of the young earl. “An owl,” Wilhelm whispered in wonder. Stunned, his eyes went to the milky white veil in the bird’s sharp grip as it fluttered to the floor behind it.
Wilhelm looked into the creature’s eyes. “Lady Margaretha has sent you? We must rescue her, my friend, and all of Wolfhagan! You must help me! Is Aldershof here now?"
The owl bobbed his head.
“Aldershof!” Wilhelm shouted. His voice echoed through the dark chambers, rousing the other prisoners. “Face me as a man! Release this cowardly magic and best me with your sword!”
The owl was impressed with the plan. On and on came Wilhelm’s jabs at the fiend.
All at once, the dark power binding the earl to the dripping walls let go, and he stumbled forward.
A sinister voice floated through the corridor. “I am here, Earl of Lichtheim. I have my sword, but where is yours?”
Wilhelm rushed up the stairs toward the voice. The little owl half-hopped, half-flew behind him.
Up in the large, open space at the top of the stairs, Reinhard Aldershof stood under the moonless sky with sword unsheathed. He was wearing armor. Jagged peaks of the old walls surrounded him. Shadows were falling swiftly, and soon Wilhelm would not be able to see at all. Reinhard could navigate in the darkness much easier after his years dabbling in the dark arts.
Wilhelm glanced down at the small ball of fluff. “You must be my eyes, little one,” he whispered. “I cannot do this without you.”
The wizard had not yet noticed the owl. The creature crept into the shadows while Wilhelm approached the wizard.
“Why do you not give me my sword? Do you know you cannot beat me in a fair fight?”
The wizard seethed. “Such arrogance will cost your life. What will become of Lichtheim then?”
Instantly, Wilhelm’s sword flew through the air from somewhere in the darkness. Wilhelm darted out of the way. It clanged to the stone floor where he had been standing. While he rushed to it, Reinhard charged.
The owl let out a sharp whooting squeal at Wilhelm’s right. Wilhelm swung his sword up in that direction, slamming the metal into the crashing sword of Reinhard just in time. Wilhelm shoved the wizard backward and regained his footing.
The battle ensued. Reinhard maneuvered more nimbly than Wilhelm expected. The wizard landed several quick blows before Wilhelm could attack. Soon enough, Wilhelm took the upper hand, forcing his opponent to parry his strikes instead.
Meanwhile, the owl flew to an old slitted window of the fortress wall holding the lady’s veil at the ready.
All at once, movement from the shadows caught the bird’s attention. While the sword fight raged, shadow creatures were moving in. It was not to be a fair fight after all. He would have to help Wilhelm soon, and he had a plan.
One shadow creature had moved so near to Wilhelm that he noticed it. When he glanced to the side, Reinhard was upon him striking hard blows, all blocked, but barely. The wizard’s face was engulfed with rage.
All of a sudden, the shadow creature grasped Wilhelm’s ankle. The man stumbled to his knees.
Just as Reinhard raised his sword for a fatal blow, the little owl came swooping between them. He dropped the lady’s veil over Reinhard's face. When Reinhard’s spare hand flung to it, Wilhelm plunged his own sword up into the scoundrel’s chest.
The tall man lumbered backward and fell to the ground, motionless. The shadow creature released its hold on Wilhelm and vanished. By the time the young earl retrieved his sword and removed the soiled veil from Reinhard's head, the villain was dead.
The black clouds above dissipated, and with them all the mysterious, conjured shadow creatures and the dark magic. Pale moonlight lit the land. The other men came rushing from the dungeon, and the little owl alighted on Wilhelm’s waiting arm.
The next morning, Margaretha found she could open her bedchamber door. She quickly dressed and rushed through the corridors of the castle to the Great Hall. She intended to confront the wizard herself and break her family free from their trance in any way she could. Expecting to find the evil count in their company, she gasped when she saw a dirty and disheveled Wilhelm standing before her father instead.
Margaretha ran to where her sisters were gathered listening. They were all bright-eyed.
“We are so sorry!” – they whispered to her, but not in unison. “We were under a spell!”
They told her that the evil Count Aldershof was dead, except he was really no count at all but an evil wizard named Reinhard, and all of his enchantments were no more.
When Margaretha turned her attention to Wilhelm and her father, she was overjoyed to see the little owl sitting on Wilhelm’s arm. Wilhelm was explaining to her father that his mother had once told him of a time when owls were the protectors of the realms of men. With their ability to see in the darkness, they kept kings aloof of mischief and malevolent magicians. Wilhelm believed the young fowl had appeared in Wolfhagen just when he was most needed. To Margaretha’s astonishment, the older duke agreed.
As Wilhelm and her father talked, Margaretha’s heart raced with pleasure to hear her father's praises for Wilhelm's bravery. But dismay suddenly struck her as she realized what was sure to happen next. Her father said the words before she had time to block the sting.
“For your courage,” Duke Henrich said in a loud voice, “Duke Wilhelm Burgstaller, Earl of Lichtheim, I offer you the hand of my eldest daughter Giselle in marriage!”
Margaretha’s breath caught. Her six sisters giggled. Their father held out his hand for Giselle. “Come forward, my dear.”
Wilhelm stood as still as Margaretha. He cleared his throat, not sure what to say. What would happen if he dishonored the elder duke and one of his daughters?
The owl nudged Wilhelm’s shoulder.
“Oh, yes,” he whispered, quickly pulling out a tattered but recognizable veil from inside his coat.
He had hoped to win Lady Margaretha’s hand from the moment he saw her. He knew the Duke would want all of her older sisters married first, so he had waited, and waited, frequently visiting the castle of Wolfhagen, always hoping to find at least some of the older girls married when he returned. He could not have been more surprised when Margaretha noticed him, too, and returned his affection. In a trembling voice, he spoke to Duke Heinrich not as the warrior who had rescued his land, but as a man in love.
“Your Grace, it would be an honor to marry any one of your beautiful daughters, though if you wish to thank me, please allow me this one humble request. I only ask that you grant me the honor of marriage to the owner of this veil.”
Duke Heinrich beheld the torn silk. Confusion washed over his features.
“She has saved your land, and she has saved my life,” Wilhelm said.
The older duke was clearly taken aback. “Who is this woman?”
Wilhelm turned his gaze upon Margaretha. She drew forward as if pulled by magic, but a far greater magic than the wizard’s darkness.
“Margaretha?” Her father’s eyes swept over her in amazement. “Margaretha has saved us?” He took her into his own arms before she could reach Wilhelm. “My beloved daughter. My youngest pearl.”
For a moment, Margaretha thought he would deny Wilhelm’s request. But he released her and presented her to the young man.
“We shall call the banners. There will be a wedding!” Duke Heinrich announced.
The Great Hall erupted with cheering, and Margaretha threw her arms around Wilhelm right in front of everyone.
Margaretha’s sisters were soon also given in marriage to suitors of their choice from the party of Count Alderhof’s prisoners. The men were perceived quite differently now after Wilhelm reported of how they had rushed from the dungeon weaponless yet prepared to defend the region to the death.
In the merriment of those days, only Wilhelm and Margaretha noticed when the little owl disappeared. They wondered if they would ever see their friend again and worried he would be met with some trouble in the land. Their concerns did not last for long, for the young fowl returned in a few weeks’ time for their wedding. He brought with him his whole family and the remaining owl tribes that had once been banned from the lands of men.
Duke Heinrich was pleased to see the owls. He readily invited them to stay. Now his realm would always be protected from supernatural threats. The people of Wolfhagen were told to treat the owls with honor and kindness, and they did. Wolfhagen became known as the Kingdom of the Owls. Travelers always entered it with great awe and wonder.
For many hundreds of years, the owls lived in Wolfhagen until the people in other lands forgot about their own bans. Even then, many owls stayed on in the region, having a deep loyalty to the place. Their descendants live there to this day inhabiting the nearby Waldecker forest and protecting the people in the vicinity of the original boundaries of Wolfhagen from supernatural evils that imperil them.
Wilhelm and Margarthea returned to Wilhelm’s land of Lichtheim to one day rule there, and they took with them their own personal protector, the little owl. They had many sons and daughters and lived happily ever after.
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*In folklore, owls were often associated with witches and wizards. To the Christians, they became a symbol of the occult. I like owls, so I wanted to write a story that redeems them.
*When my husband and I visited Germany for our honeymoon, we spotted castle ruins on a hill and decided to explore. I had not planned to hike, so all I could do was put on sneakers with my dress. Visions filled my head as I imagined who might have lived there hundreds of years before and what their lives were like. I kept visualizing a young princess in a pink dress. Cliché, I know. But this fictitious story is inspired by that castle, the Weidelsburg, as I imagined it in its earliest, glory days. If I could read German, I could have created a tale more historically accurate. The way Germany’s geography is organized remains one of the most confounding things I’ve tried to understand. The organization of their nobility is only slightly less difficult! The ruins of Weidelsburg that still stand are from when the castle was rebuilt in a later century. Nevertheless, enjoy the pictures!
Copyright by the author Meg Grimm.