The first book of Witiko ended with Wladislaw(W), together with Witiko, retreating to Prague after the inconclusive battle at Mt. Wysoka. Wladislaw(W) allows free passage to those that do not want to fight alongside him, but those that stay must prepare for a siege and a battle. Wladislaw(W) holds counsel with those that decide to stay. Stifter seems to enjoy writing these formal meetings where important decisions are made as several have appeared in the book so far; he loves the formal structure of them, I feel, and he portrays them being held in a controlled manner—I’m convinced they would be more raucous than he portrays. After giving a summary of his leadership and his aims for the battle, Wladislaw(W) decides to visit King Konrad in Germany to ask for assistance in the coming siege. He is reluctant to call on outside help but feels it is necessary. Witiko is to accompany him on this misssion, whilst the defence of Prague is passed to Wladislaw(W)’s brother, Diepold.
It is not long after Wladislaw(W)’s departure before the enemy troops arrive headed by Konrad von Znaim. The siege begins but Diepold organises some attacks on enemy troops beyond the city. They know the local terrain better than the enemy and in one midnight attack they hope to draw the enemy into some marshland.
After some time they found three men standing in the grass. The men were surprised and taken along as prisoners. Soon they reached some campfires and the challenge came: “Konrad!”
They charged the enemy shouting “Wladislaw!”
The guards posted there were slain as were others nearby. They advanced to some tents, slaying or dispersing all who emerged or leaped up from the ground. Screams spread through the camp. Diepold forbade his men to set anything ablaze so they wouldn’t be illuminated by the glare. The numbers fleeing increased; whenever a group resisted, many were slain, others pushed back. Diepold was always hot on their heels, slashing with his sword. No space was permitted to arise between the pursued and the pursuers. Diepold charged into the enemy’s confusion like an ocean wave raging against the sandy shore, sweeping everything before it.
Diepold and his men manage to return to the city. The enemy soon start to attack the city with catapults, burning arrows, and other flammable materials whilst Diepold attempts more nightime attacks on the enemy. Here is another quote of the fighting during a raid.
They fought man to man with their swords, even their sword grips; they thrust, stabbed, hacked, striking at limbs and bodies with axes, clubs, spears, and poles. The shadow of death descended on many eyes; its darkness overtook many who would never again see father, mother, sisters and neighbours, while others sank down in the hurly-burly with shattered limbs or other severe wounds.
Meanwhile Wladislaw(W) entreats Konrad of Germany for help. Stifter gets another chance to describe all the formal conversations that this involves, the arguments and counter-arguments, but in the end Konrad agrees to help. Diepold manages to withstand the siege and on the arrival of Wladisalw(W) and Konrad of Germany the enemy armies disperse so that no further fighting is required…for now.
Before he can return home there is a small matter of a trial for Witiko; earlier on he had let some enemy troops escape when out scouting; he is not found guilty of treason but he did transgress military law. He gets a small fine and a slap on the wrist. Witiko then returns to Plan. At home he embarks on loads of visits to all the people we met in Book One. There is also a romantic interlude where he proposes to Bertha, whom he also first met in Book One, and they kiss. But Witiko has to prove himself as a worthy man first, by fighting in the battle expected the following year. Much of the rest of Book Two is taken up with Witiko’s wanderings; he leaves Heinrich’s house, he is ambushed, he accompanies Bishop Zdik to the city of Passau, he travels down the Danube to Vienna where he meets his mother, who is a guest of the Margrave of Austria. Witiko returns to Plan and through the winter months he prepares an army in order to be ready for battle in the spring.
Stifter’s style can sometimes be maddening; we get no psychological insight to any of the characters, not even Witiko, but we also have no idea, when he goes wandering, where he is heading to, or why. Sometimes an explanation, of sorts, comes after the events. Also, the conversations are all so stilted, or if we wish to be kinder we may say they’re stylised. In the formal assemblies and counsels this may be understandable but all of the characters speak like it all of the time. What follows is an example of his prose and dialogue. Stifter certainly captures the pedantic, boring language that was, most probably, used in a medieval courtroom. Many such sections of text are contained in Witiko, so if you’re tempted to read the book it would be useful to see if you can cope with this without falling asleep. I must admit I found it quite amusing.
Gervasius rose from his seat, and the duke resumed his.
From his chair he said, “Say the words I gave you to tell Konrad, Duke of Znaim and of the Premysl Line.”
Gervasius spoke, “You said: Konrad, lay down your weapons, submit to Duke Wladislaw, son of Wladislaw, ask for pardon for your guilt and you shall continue unmolested as a legitimate branch of the sacred Premysl Line.”
“Who heard those words you have spoken?” Wladislaw asked.
“The men you gave me as an escort, Zwest, Wecel, Zdelaw, Bohuslaw, and Casta heard the words I have spoken,” Gervasius said.
“Those men should speak,” Wladislaw commanded.
“I heard his words,” Zwest attested.
“I heard his words,” Wecel added.
“I heard his words,” Zdeslaw said.
“I heard his words,” Bohuslaw spoke.
“I heard his words,” Casta spoke.
“What words did Konrad, Duke of Znaim reply?” Wladislaw asked.
“Konrad, Duke of Znaim, replied,” Gervasius said, “I have been elected as the legitimate Duke of Bohemia and Moravia by the high nobles of these lands and must carry out my office. I shan’t submit to being slain, blinded or imprisoned in some castle by Wladislaw.”
“Do the other men also attest that Konrad, Duke of Znaim, said these words?” Duke Wladislaw asked.
“He said them,” Zwest attested.
“He said them,” Wecel added.
“He said them,” Zdeslaw said.
“He said them,” Bohuslaw spoke.
“He said them,” Casta spoke.
“Chancellor Bartholomaeus, write these words on the parchment,” Wladislaw ordered.
There was silence for a while.
“Have you written these words?” Wladislaw asked
“I have written them,” Bartholomeaus replied.
So, Book Three to go. I’m expecting more fighting, more wandering, more scintillating dialogue and maybe a wedding.
This was read as part of German Literature Month IX.