Essays: On The Road (And A Little Off)


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Construction of the castle at Bad Baden was begun in the

tenth century by the original Prince Rupert, a man the Bad

Baden Castle Guidebook referred to as "bold". By modern

standards he would be described as a villainous, uncouth,

untrustworthy, shifty, murdering psychopath.

He had come into his holdings as a consequence of his

brigandage and strong-arm thuggery along the highways left by

the receding Roman Empire, eventually amassing enough

treasure from unwary travelers and extorting enough labor from

the local peasantry to begin to build the Keep.

The keep was a huge cubelike structure of enormous

blocks of hewed stone. It stood twenty meters high and was

twenty meters on each side. The roof of the keep was flagged

stone set upon massive timber beams. This was so no Greek

fire launched from below could start the roof ablaze.

In addition the keep occupied a high promontory and was

positioned so as to be directly in the way of the only possible

route of attack. Inside the keep Prince Rupert the First had dug

a well down into the springs from which flowed the sulfur baths

for which the castle and the town below were named. Though

foul-tasting, it and the two years' supply in the granary

prevented besiegers from starving the keep's residents into

submission. Waste disposal was handled by the simple

expedient of dumping it on the attackers' heads.

The keep had remained invulnerable for ten centuries, but it

had taken three successive Ruperts to get it built. Subsequent

Princes had built a wall which enclosed the entire hilltop

behind the keep and it was behind these walls that the palace

had eventually been built six hundred years later. In all that time

there had always been a Prince Rupert of Bad Baden in


Over the centuries the Princes had been subject to the

various moderating influences of their female relations, with the

result being that each successive generation became more

prosperous and also more civilized, marrying well and
producing heirs. It was the production of an heir which had

brought the Duchess to Bad Baden on this April morning,
Prince Rupert's thirty-ninth birthday.

If Rupert the First had been called Rupert the Bold, the

Duchess's nephew could be best described as Rupert the

Reluctant. Throughout his childhood, his schooling, and now

his oncoming middle life he had been distinguished only by a

singular lack of passion for any thing, activity, or person he


"Well, he'll buck up once he's in school," his father

Rupert had said.

"Oh, he'll come out of his shell when he's in business and

develops a taste for the boardroom brawl," had said his Uncle

Dieter, heartily gnashing the teeth old Rupert One had

genetically bequeathed.

"He just needs a woman to bring out the man inside," the

Duchess had mused.

But though he had graduated (unremarkably) in the middle

of his form, and though he attended his board meetings

regularly and on time, and though he dutifully showed up at all

the cotillions, balls, and soirees held each year for the purposes

of furthering various lines and ambitions, Rupert kept himself to


He had been, when he was a tyke, an avid model

railroad enthusiast. One day, while he was playing with

his trains, his father had asked what he thought he might like to

study in school.

"When I grow up, I'd like to drive the train," had said

Rupert. His father had laughed as if that were the funniest thing

he had ever heard. Then he had patiently explained that when

Rupert was grown, he would someday have to be the Prince.

"May I be the Prince and also drive the train?" Rupert had


"I'm afraid not, my little man. It is because you have

been chosen by fate to be the Prince, and the people in the

town and on the farms all around will depend on you to help

them and care for them. And that will take all of your time.

You wouldn't want to let them down, would you?"

"No, Papa," Rupert had said, and that afternoon he had

put his trains away.

to be continued