(Originally posted February 2018)
I translated this particular version of the tale from Récits historiques et légendaires d’Alsace, collected by Robert Wolf. 1922.
Not far from Cernay lies a great, desolate plain called the Ochsenfeld1 cattlefield. There, come evening, a faint clatter of weapons can often be heard. It is here that the armies of the infamous sons of Louis the Debonair who betrayed their father on this land in 8332are enchanted and imprisoned in immense subterranean caverns. Travelers out too late must often submit, until they reach the lands of Cernay and of Thann, to the worrisome company of warriors outfitted in a heavy cuirass.
One day, as a countryman was passing by the field, a warrior suddenly emerged from the earth and announced the era when he and his comrades would be delivered from the spell pronounced against them. Then, just as suddenly, he disappeared. In the Middle Ages, the entire army was also sometimes seen passing through the air, especially during a full moon3.
1. German for “cattlefield” due to its purpose back in the Middle Ages, Ochsenfeld has persisted as the name of the plain between Thann and Mulhouse. It’s a place rich with history and old battles.↩
2. Here comes a brief history lesson. Once upon a time, an Emperor named Louis the Debonaire, or Louis the Pious, had three grown sons–Lothaire, Pepin, and Louis–and laws of inheritance already spelled out. Then he remarried and had a fourth son, Charles, and was so taken with him, he decided to give him an inheritance of his own, including Alemannia, of which Alsace was a part. Now, this Emperor’s eldest son, Lothaire, did not like the idea of inheriting less, and so he went to war against his father, persuading his brothers to join him.
The Field of Lies, also called the Field of Blood, was the legendary location (now disputed) where the Emperor’s own army and other allies, one by one, were persuaded to give him up to his sons and their armies. In other words, there was a lot of betrayal going on. Sons against their father, armies against their emperor, the pope against his ally, and so on and so forth.↩
3. I find this tale similar to tales of the Wild Hunt, in which an army of the ghostly dead rises to ride during thunderstorms or during the full moon, led by Odin or Wodan or another powerful figure.
This tale also reminds me of a less kind version of the tale of King Arthur and his sleeping armies, waiting to rise in a time of need as Britain’s “once and future king.”
Another version of this tale of the sleeping warriors at Ochsenfeld says that the warriors asleep beneath the plain did not belong to Lothaire and the other traitorous sons of the emperor but to Charles, the last-born and promised king of this region. In that version, warriors who die are said to join the sleeping army, waiting to rise again not from a curse of shame or guilt, but as an honor for those good men who die in battle. These are called the Ochsenfeldritter in German, and the knights of the Ochsenfeld, in French.↩
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