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concerning Orthon l'Archer

    Orthon l’Archer (Otho the Archer) is a short romance, set in Germany on the banks of the Rhine in 1340, based apparently on stories Dumas heard during his trip to Germany and probably also on the Chronique of Jean Froissart, which Dumas also used for the contemporaneous Comtesse de Salisbury and Bâtard de Mauléon.
     Dumas used a perfunctory melodramatic plot which keeps veering off in unexpected directions as he showcases his German tales. The Landgrave (Prince) Ludwig of Godesburg, struck by the resemblance of his son to a friend of his wife's, decides that he has been cuckolded and his son is not his. He packs his wife off to a nunnery, and ships his son, Otho, to a monastery. On route, Otho escapes, diving into the Rhine, and disappears. He swims to shore, acquires a longbow and arrows, and sets off with some other archers to attend the "Festival of the Bow" held annually by Prince Adolph of Cleves. En route, Otho and his companions spend the night at a haunted castle, for which Dumas produces a first rate ghost story that has little to do with the rest of the novel. At Cleves, Otho demonstrates superhuman skill at archery, and Prince Adolph affably agrees to take him into his service as an archer. Adolph's daughter, the Princess Helena, is attracted to the archer, and breaks her engagement with the Count of Ravenstein.
     The Count, annoyed, challenges the aging Prince Adolph to single combat, or failing that, to general warfare, and arrays his forces before Cleves. Helena and Otho meet, giving Helena an excuse to tell Otho a charming chapter-long story about how a dead knight was miraculously restored to life to save the honor of one of her ancestors, arriving on a boat drawn by a swan. Inspired, Otho deserts Adolph's forces, acquires a war horse and a suit of armor, and, thus disguised, returns by boat to Cleves and challenges the Count to single combat.
     Otho defeats the Count, and departs unrecognized. He slips back into his guise as an archer, and returns to Cleves. The Count, whom Dumas portrays as a sensitive, new age sort of feudatory liege, neither hangs nor beats his archer for deserting the face of the enemy, but suggests mildly that perhaps Otho would be happier if he took service under some other noble. Otho is on the point of departing when he encounters his father's old friend, Count Karl, who, in the meantime has persuaded Ludwig that his wife's suspect friend is actually his wife's bastard brother, and that his suspicions are groundless. Ludwig extracts his wife from the nunnery, is reconciled with Otho, who is then free to return to Cleves, marry Helena, and, presumably, live happily ever after.

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