This book is set in German Baron States of the Middle Ages during the reign of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph. However, I was unable to tell whether it was the time of Rudolph I (1273-1291) or Rudolph II (1576-1612). At first I thought that it might be the latter, but after reading the book I decided that it could be the former. Baron Conrad Vuelph of Castle Drachenhausen is one of the robber barons of medieval Germany who makes his living robbing the merchants who were passing through the forests near his land. For years, his family has been in a blood feud with that of Baron Frederick Roderburg from the nearby Castle Trutz-Drachen.
One day, Baron Conrad takes his men out to raid a caravan. His wife, Baroness Mathilda, pleads with him not to do it but give up stealing from others. He almost listens but finally goes. Unfortunately, the merchants had asked for safety from Baron Frederick who gives Conrad what appears to be a mortal wound. When he is brought home for dead and seen by his wife, she faints and a little later, after giving birth to their child whom she names Otto after her brother, dies from the shock. But Conrad is not dead. After he recovers, he takes the child to the monastery of the White Cross at St. Michaelsburg, under the care of Abbott Otto, his brother-in-law, where the child spends the next twelve years.
In the meantime, Conrad takes his revenge by killing Frederick. Then, when little Otto is twelve, his father comes to take him home and raise him to be his successor. However, when his father leaves to swear allegiance to the new Emperor Rudolph, Frederick’s son, Baron Henry, attacks the castle and kidnaps Otto, cutting off his right hand so that he could never wield a sword against a Roderburg, to get back at Conrad. However, Henry’s daughter Pauline falls in love with Otto and helps him escape. But Henry and his men give chase. Will he find safety? And, though fitted with a silver hand to replace the one he lost in captivity, will he grow up to continue the fighting or choose a different life?
While this book was originally written in 1888 about a time several hundreds of years before, it is a timeless story that still has appeal for those who enjoy reading about the Middle Ages. Like those by G. A. Henty, Pyle’s books emphasize the development of character in spite of difficult circumstances. The courage of the stern but loving father which allows Otto’s safe return to the monks who place him under the emperor’s protection and the loyalty of Conrad’s men in risking their lives to help him save the boy are both very touching. Other editions of the book exist, but the one from Dover Publications includes the 55 original illustrations by the author. We did this as a family read aloud, and everyone liked it.