Sunday, July 13, 2008


The crowd became eager and excited. They said that if the king were present, he would surely pardon the young man who did not commit any crime.

But all became quiet when distant shouting announced the approach of the king's archers, escorting the prisoner. The procession soon appeared in the market square. A funeral fraternity, the members of which were dressed in long black cloaks and black masks with openings for the eyes, preceded it. The people were afraid of these gloomy figures and became silent. They were followed by a detachment of well built Lithuanian soldiers, armed with crossbows, and dressed in elk-skin jerkins; these were the king's guards. Behind them one could see the halberds of another detachment of soldiers. In the center, between the clerk of the court, who was going to read the sentence, and the father Stanislaw of Skarbimierz who was carrying a crucifix, walked Zbyszko.

All eyes now turned toward him. He was dressed in his white jacket embroidered with golden griffins and ornamented with golden thread. In these magnificent clothes he looked like a young prince, or the page of a wealthy court. His broad shoulders and chest and his powerful haunches indicated that he was already a full-grown man; but above that strong figure of a man, appeared a childish face with down on the upper lip. It was a beautiful face like that of a king's page, with blond hair evenly cut over the eyebrows and falling on the shoulders. He walked erect, but was very pale. From time to time he looked at the crowd as if he was dreaming; he looked at the church towers, toward the flocks of jackdaws, and at the bells, ringing his last hour; then his face expressed amazement that the sobbing of the women, and all this solemnity was for him.

Finally, he saw the scaffold and the executioner's red figure on it. He shivered, made the sign of the Cross and the priest gave him the crucifix to kiss. A few steps further a bouquet of flowers, thrown by a young girl, fell at his feet. Zbyszko stooped, picked up the bouquet and smiled at the girl who began to cry. But evidently he thought that, amidst these crowds and in the presence of these women, waving their kerchiefs from the windows, he must die courageously and at least leave behind him the reputation of "a brave man;" therefore he gathered his courage and will to the utmost.

With a quick movement, he threw his hair back, raised his head still higher and walked proudly, almost like a tournament winner claiming the prize.

The procession advanced slowly, because the crowd was dense and unwillingly made way. In vain the Lithuanian guard, marching in front, shouted: "Eyk szalin! Eyk szalin!” (out of a way). The people did not wish to understand these words, and surrounded the soldiers more closely.

Although about one-third of the burghers of Krakow were Germans, still there were heard on all sides, threats against the Knights of the Cross: "Shame! Shame! May they perish, those wolves! Must they cut off children's heads for them! Shame on the king and on the kingdom!" The Lithuanians seeing the resistance, took their crossbows from their shoulders, and menaced the crowd, but they did not dare to attack without orders. The captain sent some men to open the way with their halberds and in that manner they reached the knights standing around the scaffold.

They stepped aside without any resistance. The men with halberds entered first, and were followed by Zbyszko, accompanied by the priest and the clerk of the court. At that moment something unexpected happened. From among the knights, Powala stepped forward with Danusia in his arms and shouted: "Stop!" with such a powerful voice, that the retinue stopped at once. Neither the captain, nor any of the soldiers dared to oppose the lord and knight, whom they were accustomed to see every day in the castle and often in confidential conversation with the king. Finally, other knights, equally distinguished, also began to shout with commanding voices: "Stop! Stop!" In the meantime, the Lord of Taczew approached Zbyszko and handed Danusia to him.

Zbyszko caught her in his arms and pressed her to his chest, bidding her farewell; but Danusia instead of nestling to him and embracing him, immediately took her white veil from her head and wrapped it around Zbyszko's head, and began to cry in her tearful, childish voice:

"He is mine! He is mine!"

"He is hers!" shouted the powerful voices of the knights. "To the castellan!"

A shout, like the roar of thunder, answered: "To the castellan! To the castellan!" The priest raised his eyes, the clerk looked confused, the captain and his soldiers dropped their arms; everybody understood what had happened.

There was an old Polish and Slavonic custom, as strong as the law, known in Podhale region, around Krakow, and even further. If a young girl threw her veil on a man conducted to death, as a sign that she wished to marry him, by so doing she saved his life. The knights, farmers, villagers and townsmen all knew this custom; and the Germans living in the old cities and towns, had heard about it. The old man, Macko, almost fainted with emotion; the knights having pushed away the guards, surrounded Zbyszko and Danusia; the joyful people shouted again and again: "To the castellan! To the castellan!"

The crowd moved suddenly, like the waves of the sea. The executioner and his assistants rushed down from the scaffold. Everybody understood that if castellan resisted the custom, there would be a riot in the city. In fact the people now rushed to the scaffold. In the twinkling of an eye, they pulled off the cloth and tore it into pieces; then the beams and planks, pulled by strong arms, or cut with axes, began to crack, then crash, and a few moments later there was not a trace left of the scaffold.

Zbyszko, holding Danusia in his arms, was returning to the castle, but this time like a true victor. With him were marching joyfully the best knights in the kingdom while thousands of men, women and children were shouting and singing, stretching their arms toward Danusia and praising the beauty and courage of both. At the windows of surrounding buildings wealthy women were clapping their hands, and everywhere one could see faces covered with tears of joy. A shower of flowers, ribbons and golden scarves were thrown to the lucky youth and he, beaming, with his heart full of gratitude, embraced his sweet lady and from time to time kissed her hands. This sight made the townswomen feel so tender, that some of them threw themselves into the arms of their lovers, telling them that if they were encountered to death, they also would be freed. Zbyszko and Danusia became the beloved children of the knights, burghers and common people. Macko who needed assistance to walk, was almost beside himself with joy. He wondered why he had not even thought about this means of help. Powala of Taczew in the midst of celebrations told the knights that this legal precedent had been discovered or reminded by Wojciech Jastrzembiec and Stanislaw of Skarbimierz, both experts in the written laws and customs. The knights were all amazed at its simplicity, saying among themselves, that nobody else would have thought about that custom, because the city was inhabited by Germans, and it had not been used for a long time.

Everything, however, still depended on the castellan. The knights and the people went to the castle, which was occupied by Krakow’s dignitary during the king's absence. The clerk of the court, the _ksiondz_ Stanislaw of Skarbimierz, Zawisza, Farurej, Zyndram of Maszkow and Powala of Taczew explained to him the power of the custom and reminded him of what he had said himself, that if he found "law or pretext," then he would release the prisoner immediately. And could there be any better law, than the old custom which had never been abolished?

The Lord of Tenczyn answered that this custom applied more to the common people and to robbers, than to the nobles; but he knew the law very well, and could not deny its validity. Meanwhile he covered his mouth with his hand and smiled, because he was very pleased. Finally he went to the lobby accompanied by Duchess Anna Danuta, a few priests and the knights.

Zbyszko having seeing him, lifted Danusia to him and the old castellan placed his hand on her golden hair and benevolently inclined his gray head. The assembled people understood this sign and shouted so that the walls of the castle were shaken: "May God bless you! Long life, just lord! Live and judge us!"

Then the people cheered Zbyszko and Danusia when a moment later, they both fell at the feet of the good Duchess Anna Danuta, who had saved Zbyszko's life, because she, together with the scholars, had found the remedy and had taught Danusia how to act.

"Long life to the young couple!" shouted Powala of Taczew.

"Long life!" repeated the others. The castellan, hoary with age, turned toward the duchess and said:

"Gracious lady, the engagement must be performed immediately, because the custom requires it!"
"The engagement will take place immediately," answered the lady, whose face was irradiated with joy; "but for the wedding, they must have the consent of Jurand of Spychow."

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