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The Ring of Fastrada
This too leads us back to the time of story the great Emperor Charles, whose life has come down to us with a halo of glory.
Charlemagne's favourite residence was Aix-la-Chapelle, but he also held court in Helvetia. His imperial stronghold stood on the shores of the Lake of Zfirich. In its neighbourhood there was a high pillar which the emperor had erected to mark the place where Felix and Regula had died as martyrs for the Christian faith. A small bell was attached to this monument, which everybody in distress and want might ring if they wanted relief. As often as Charles held his court in Zfirich he himself appeared at the pillar when the bell was rung, and listened to the complaints and petitions of his subjects.
One day the sound of the bell was heard, yet nobody could be perceived near the pillar. On the following day about dinner-time the same thing happened, the bell rang, yet no one was there. The emperor, curious to know what this meant, commanded one of his pages to hide in the bushes behind the pillar.
When mid-day approached the boy noticed that a serpent crept out of the sand, wriggled up to the pillar, and set the bell a-ringing. This astonishing fact was at once communicated to the emperor, who came without delay to the spot. He was very much surprised at seeing such an unusual applicant, but he said with great earnestness, "Every one who comes to me shall find justice, be it man or beast."
The serpent bent low before the monarch, and then crept back into its den. Charlemagne followed, anxious to learn the reason of its strange behaviour. He was surprised when, on looking into the dark hole, he saw an ugly toad sitting on the serpent's eggs, and filling nearly the whole space with its hideous form.
The emperor bade his attendants kill the intruder at once.
In a short time Charlemagne had nearly forgotten the strange incident.
But one day when he was sitting at dinner the serpent unexpectedly entered the hall, and crept up to the emperor's seat. Bowing low three times it lifted its head and dropped a precious stone into the emperor's goblet. It then disappeared as quickly as it had come.
Charlemagne took the stone out of the cup, and saw to his amazement that it was a precious diamond. He ordered it to be mounted in a golden ring, which he presented to his well-beloved wife, Fastrada.
The jewel possessed a wonderful quality. Fastrada had always been loved tenderly by her imperial husband, but after the diamond ring adorned her slender finger, a sweet charm seemed to bind her still more strongly to him.
To many people this great love of the emperor for his wife seemed too absorbing, almost superhuman, and when death ruthlessly snatched her from the side of Charlemagne, everybody believed that it was a judgment from heaven.
The monarch was inconsolable at this great bereavement. He spent days and nights in unspeakable grief by her corpse. The rumour was, that his sorrow was so intense that he refused to permit the remains of his wife to be duly buried. The charm the living Fastrada had exercised over him seemed to linger even after her death.
The Archbishop of Rheims, the pious Turpin, heard of the emperor's sorrow, and he offered fervent prayers to God for help. Soon afterwards he had a strange dream. He saw the wonderful ring on Fastrada's finger glittering with a thousand lovely colours and surrounding the emperor with a magic light. The bishop was now sure that the precious stone was the cause of the superhuman love the emperor bore to his wife.
On the following day before sunrise Turpin, the venerable old bishop, got up and went into the room where Charlemagne had again spent a night in bitter grief by the remains of his beloved wife. He was kneeling by the uncovered bier in fervent prayer when the bishop entered. Turpin went straight up to the body, and making the sign of the cross he took the cold waxen hand of Fastrada for a moment in his. Without being observed by the mourning emperor, he slipped the enchanted ring gently from her finger. As he had guessed the emperor at once rose, and kneeling down before the bishop, kissed his hand in adoration. Then he rose and bade Turpin have the remains of his wife buried that same day. So it happened that Fastrada's remains were brought to their last resting place in the Church of St. Albans at Mayence.
From that time the emperor was attached with rare devotion to the old Archbishop of Rheims.
He would not allow him to leave his side, but requested that Turpin should always live near him. The pious man was also nominated first councillor of the Empire.
Turpin used his high position only for the welfare of the empire, and did a great many good works.
Sometimes however he felt a pang of regret at the manner in which he had acquired the high favour of his lord, and it seemed to him very unfair.
Once when he accompanied the monarch on one of his journeys in Western Germany, he threw the ring into a spring from which it could never more be brought up again.
From that moment Charlemagne felt himself irresistibly drawn to that particular part of his extensive dominions.
He erected a stronghold there, and a flourishing township soon surrounded this palace. Later on it was called Aix-la-Chapelle, and became the favourite residence of the great emperor.
Within its walls he liked best to rest from the burden of affairs of State, and sometimes the old ruler could be seen sitting by the margin of the spring in which Fastrada's ring lay buried, recalling the sweet memories of past days.