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Castle Falkenstein near Freiburg
The broken little Ring

     The high-road leading from the homely little town of Freiburg winds its way through the Kirchgartner Valley to the so-called "Kingdom of Heaven." At the entrance the valley stretches out into fresh green meadows through which a rippling stream flows; then it gradually becomes narrower, and on both sides there are mighty overhanging rocks and wooded precipices; the stream no longer murmurs on its way but becomes a rushing torrent. On the heights, surrounded by a circle of wretched little huts, rise the ruins of a square tower, which command an extensive view of the country. This was the old watch-tower of the proud stronghold, Falkenstein; the castle itself stood a long way back in a wild romantic valley, or rather a gorge, which long ago was known by the name of Hällenthor or "the Gates of Hell." Above the precipices of this gorge the Knight of Falkenstein had erected an impregnable stronghold, which up to the present time is still called "the Old Robber's Castle."

     There is a legend told about the builder of this little fortress which runs as follows: – Heaven had poured her blessings richly on this knight, and had endowed him with all manly virtues, only withholding one gift which unfortunately was a great source of grief to him. He had been denied a child to inherit his castle and carry down his name to posterity. The knight could not be reconciled to this sad fate as his noble lady had become. His dark melancholy thoughts only increased as time wore on, and the desire of his heart still remained unfulfilled. His beautiful young wife strove to console him and to prove to him that all hope was not yet over, for God had once given a little son, John, to a man and wife in their old age. Her husband however thought differently, and was more inclined to upbraid Heaven. This he often did in the secret depths of his heart and even sometimes openly, which sorely afflicted his wife.

     But she did not cease imploring him to be reconciled with the Higher Powers, and soon her fervent prayer was answered. A voice came whispering strange fancies in the knight's ear, telling him to make his peace with Heaven, and that to do so, he must make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The proud count shuddered with horror at the idea of this terrible penance, but at last he resolved to thwart his own desires and get rid of this great sorrow which had taken hold of him, and thus bring peace and tranquillity to his troubled soul.

     It was a severe blow to his faithful wife, and she only consented with a heavy heart. Before starting on this long and perhaps perilous journey, he took off his wedding ring, broke it in two, and gave one half to his sorrowful wife.

     "If within seven years I have not returned," said he, greatly moved, "then you may look upon me as dead, and consider that our marriage ties are no longer binding." Thus he departed, bidding his weeping wife a mournful farewell.

     The Count of Falkenstein joined the crusade of the Emperor Barbarossa, and his name and sword became renowned and feared among the Infidels. But misfortune followed him even to this far-off land. He was wounded at last and fell into the hands of the Turks, :and was brought before the Sultan in chains; like many others before him, he was given the choice of conversion or imprisonment. Twelve times a year, when the new moon first appeared, this chivalrous prisoner was once more asked by his mighty master if he would renounce his faith, and each time the offer was firmly refused.

     Years passed on and no release came, and the wretched count marked with horror how time was slipping by.

     A ray of light at last streamed into his dark prison, and one fine day he at last found himself free. He wandered about in the unknown desert land, his heart set on seeking the coast; his only food was roots and wild berries. He strayed on and on, always moving in the direction of the setting sun.

     At last weary and foot-sore he lay down, hoping to renew his strength by a little much-needed sleep.

     But in his dreams the Wicked One appeared to him, and whispered with a sneer that on the morrow the seventh year would be up, and that his wife was going to wed a neighbouring knight who had long wooed her.

     The count rose up in despair, and not being able to resist the tempting voice at his side, he made a terrible compact with the Evil Spirit who promised to bring the unhappy knight to his home before the morrow, leaving his soul untouched if he promised to sleep throughout the long journey.

     The Evil One then changed himself into a lion. The knight mounted his back and this strange pair set off flying through the air. Lands and seas lay far below them. Soon sleep mercifully spread her wings over our unhappy knight, and he knew nothing more until a passing vulture suddenly roused him by the powerful flap of its wings. He looked downward horrified, and far below lay his castle . . . the bells were ringing, and a marriage procession was just returning from the ancient little church. Uttering a wild piercing roar the Evil Spirit dashed him down and fled.

     The count joined the bridal-train without making himself known, and even took part in the great banquet. The bride observed the strange guest who had uninvited thus entered the halls, and who never turned his sorrowful eyes from her lovely face.

     When the stranger had emptied the goblet which he had drunk to her health, he handed it to a servant, desiring him to present it to his mistress. The latter took the cup, and glancing in she perceived the half of a ring.

     Thrusting her hand into her bosom, she pulled forth the other half and threw it joyfully into the goblet. Thus the two halves were again united, and the happy young wife was again folded in the arms of the husband from whom she had so long been separated.

     A year later she bore him a lovely child. The numerous descendants of this family still wear a vulture with out-stretched wings on their arms in remembrance of their ancestor.

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