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A Trip down the Rhine

Michael Eisan was born Michael Greissen Frein in the Palatine region of Germany (Pfalz) sometime around 1730, exactly where or when we do not know.  One thing we do know is that he would have had to take a boat down the Rhine to Amsterdam before setting sail across the ocean to the New World. On the way, he would have passed many castles and vineyards, stopping at custom houses to pay tolls and taxes.

In 2014, I visited German and took a trip with my sister Margo on a paddle wheeler up the Rhine. Here are some photos of that trip.


A custom house


And here’s an excerpt of Michael’s voyage journey down the Rhine from Chapter 40 of The Loyalist.

The low flat river barge snakes along the Rhine on its way to Amsterdam. It passes through a deep gorge, where, above them, the terraced hills are topped with castles that glower down at the river menacingly. At almost every village, the barge is stopped and a tax is collected from the bargeman. Michael watches him pay and knows his meagre allowance is seeping away by dribs and drabs.

The villages they pass through remind him of his own and fill him with an intense longing for home. This surprises him. In all his years as a soldier he has never indulged in such sentimentality. He tries to ignore it.

At a great cliff overlooking the river, the bargeman tells that dwarves live in caves in the rock.

“Listen,” he says. “You can hear them murmuring.”

Sure enough there is a strange sound coming from the rock.

Anna is spell-bound, listening to the bargeman’s story.

Michael scoffs at the childish tale. “You don’t really believe such nonsense, do you?” he says to her.

She looks at him sadly. “I love to hear stories. I tell them to Peter all the time.”

Peter looks at her expectantly. “Tell me one now, Mama.”

“Do you see that castle?” she asks. Michael and Peter both look up at an old ruin on the top of a cliff. There are briars growing around its crumbling stones.

“That is where Briar Rose lives,” Anna says, mysteriously.

“Who is she?”

“Ah, I am getting ahead of myself. I should begin at the beginning. A long time ago, when the castle was new, a King and Queen lived there. They had no children and they longed for a child. One day, when the Queen was bathing, a frog crept out of the water and promised her that her wish would be fulfilled. A year passed by and the frog’s words came true. The Queen had a beautiful little girl and the King was so joyful that he had a great feast and invited everyone in his kingdom, including the fairies. There were thirteen of them, but it would have been unlucky to have thirteen, so he left one out.”

“Why is thirteen unlucky?” Peter asks.

“There were thirteen people at the Lord’s Last Supper, that’s why,” Michael says.

Anna nods, though she doesn’t look too happy about being interrupted. “Each of the fairies gave the baby a magic gift, like virtue, beauty and riches, everything in the world that she could wish for. When the eleventh fairy had given her gift, the thirteenth fairy appeared, angry at not having been invited. She went straight to the baby and said, ‘The Princess shall prick herself with a spindle in her fifteenth year and fall down dead.’ Then she left. But the twelfth fairy still hadn’t given her gift, so she said, ‘Your daughter will not die, but she will fall into a deep sleep that will last a hundred years.’” Anna pauses.

Even Michael is engaged in the story now.

“Well, the King wanted to save her so he ordered all the spindles in the kingdom to be burned, and the princess grew up to be so beautiful, modest, kind and clever that everyone who met her loved her. Now it happened that when she turned fifteen, her father and mother were away and she was left alone in exploring the castle. She wandered all over the place exploring until she came to an old tower. There at the top of a winding staircase, she reached a little door. There was a rusty key in the lock, so she went in and found an old woman spinning flax.

“‘Good day, Granny,’ the princess said. ‘What are you doing?’ she asked because she had never seen such a thing. Before the old woman had time to answer, the Princess reached for the spindle, pricked her finger and fell into a deep sleep. Everyone in the castle fell into a deep sleep too: the courtiers, the horses in the stable, the dogs in the yard, the servants and the cook at the hearth. Even the King and Queen, when they came home, stepped into the hall and fell asleep.” Anna pauses. “Round the castle a hedge of briar roses began to grow, and every year it grows higher still.”

Anna doesn’t speak for the longest time.

“Then what happened, Mama?” Peter asks.

“I don’t know,” she says. “A hundred years hasn’t passed yet.”

“Oh, Anna,” Michael says. “That’s not fair.”

“What do you mean?” she asks. “You saw the castle. It’s still waiting for the prince to come.” She smiles a little, mischievous smile.

Michael looks back but the river has made a turn and he cannot see the castle anymore. He shakes his head. “Peter wants to know how the story ends,” he says.

“Then you’ll have to finish it for him,” she says.


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