The story takes place in Germany during the thirteenth century. Pyle calls this period a time "of ignorance, of superstition, of cruelty, and of wickedness." He paints scenes of two settings that conflict directly with one another: the chaotic world of the castle and the orderly world of the monastery. At the castle, Baron Conrad's world, people are boisterous and aggressive. The Baron himself robs those travelers who dare to traverse the wild and dangerous area outside the castle's stronghold. The castle's lookout lives in Melchior Tower with his family, far away from the castle's gentry, and rings a huge alarm bell to alert the Baron when potential victims have wandered into the area. In contrast, the monastery is surrounded by vineyards, gardens, and well-kept fields. Sunlight streams into the courtyard, and peacefulness prevails. Although they prefer to live in isolation from the rest of the world, the monks seek to help passersby rather than do them harm. Within these two worlds, Otto, the Baron's son, grows to manhood. He takes the values of the monastery to heart and, in doing so, proves that he differs from the residents in his father's castle.

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