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  • Writer's pictureFolkloristan

The Stone Cross in the Teufelsthal Valley


There once was a devout and good-natured girl named Emmeline who lived in quiet, rather monastic solitude with her aunt, Frau Klara.[1] She was wholly separated from all the world, remote from all worldly things. Frau Klara once lived among the throngs of people and found that all allures of such a life were not worth the splendors that are promised to be revealed to us one day.[2] Thus, she lived her life according to such measures in her later years, and so did her ward.

The lonely house inhabited by the two hermits was in a gloomy region at the foot of the wild Owl Mountains[3], and it had a beautiful garden. An old, faithful servant took care of the household duties fit for a man. Emmeline had never seen the wider world, and even her childhood had passed away in these rough regions. She knew nothing other than the cherry trees and the tall lindens which shadowed the small house, as well as the stone cross which stood between spruce trees at the foot of a coarse rock. Frequently, old Kurd[4] had told her that a young knight had slain his cousin out of greed in a duel.

She often sat here, and stared into the small, bright pond which was located in front of the memorial, enjoying the flocks of birds, and listening to the stag which approached the waters daily and slowly walked up and down along its shores. This was her world, and she only knew about the life and activities beyond the mountains of her valley from the tales of old Kurd. He told of tournaments, how the knights sat on high, splendid horses, and how they wore mirror-bright armor with marvelously decorated helmets on which tall heron feathers bobbed up and down. But no stranger’s foot touched their region, and her barely-grasped vision dissolved in the image of old Kurd, the only man she had ever known.

One year after another flew past for her in this manner, lightly and joyfully. The trees had flowered and borne fruit eighteen times in her life, and she knew of no other desire than to support Frau Klara in her work. In this manner she became a true beauty who was richly supplied and adorned by nature, and whose heart was pure and unsullied. Frau Klara was a wise woman, and had taught her many things. She could read and write and knew all of the tales in the Bible.[5] She celebrated her nineteenth birthday, and Kurd had woven a basket for her and filled it with flowers so that she could tie them together. She thanked him in gratitude, and went to the cross beneath the spruces in order to weave a wreath and put it into the water so that it would stay green, flower, and stay fresh.

She sat there all alone when she heard the barking of many dogs in the distance, and a dull assemblage of voices reached her ears. She startled and trembled, for this was the first time that she was disturbed here. Suddenly, the stag which visited the pond daily rushed past with the greatest hurry. He was already exhausted and wheezing, and was followed by many dogs who raced after him at great speed.

Suddenly, men’s voices echoed above her, and she beheld the shapes of men on top of the cliff which rose above the cross. A young knight with long waves of blond hair was prominent among them, and a dutiful squire kept him away from the precipice where he wanted to kneel down: “For God’s sake, noble lord! In living memory no one dared to go into this valley, not since your grandfather slew the noble Albert at the site of that cross!”

The startled Emmeline fled, and rushed into the hut, where she told her aunt of the apparition and the overheard words with a breathless voice. Then Klara realized that the grandson of their archenemy, the Knight of Kynau,[6] had appeared before her trembling ward. Fearing that new pursuit might threaten them, she hurriedly embarked from the hermitage together with her ward and only left old Kurd behind - without suspecting what impression the appearance of the knight had made in the heart of the innocent Emmeline.

And Gottfried von Kynau, who was the liege lord of the entire Weistritz Valley,[7] had indeed taken notice of the fleeing maiden, as well as the hut hidden beneath the trees. Indeed, since Emmeline had looked up to him with startlement but also astonishment, and initially hesitated whether she should flee or stay, her gaze and her face had left a deep impression on him. This left him no peace in his castle, though the fear of his squire that an infernal haunting had appeared before him in that infernal valley made him initially hesitant to make any further attempts to go there. In secret, he hurried away from the castle, and soon he found himself at the same spot where his gaze had pursued the fleeing stag, and where such a friendly apparition had startled him. Furtively he glanced towards the hut between the trees, but he did not behold the lovely shape of the maiden. Then he climbed down from the rock, and wandered along the shores of the pond towards the hut.

Before the entrance there was an arbor of linden trees, which was the work of old Kurd. Everything was empty and quiet, and no friendly voice prompted him to enter when he knocked at the door. Slowly, and with a hesitating hand he attempted to open the door. It was unlocked, and he stepped into a small entry hall, and beyond it the living room. Here, too, everything was empty. A chair, a table, a few beds were everything that his gaze could behold. But inevitably and with dread, a portrait hanging on the wall pulled his gaze towards it. A knight was depicted, who was thrusting his sword into the chest of an unarmored foe who kneeled before him. At some distance, a noblewoman with tear-stained eyes held a small boy into the air so that the small one had to witness the murder. Above the painting there was the inscription: “The blood of those who have spilled the blood of humans shall have their own blood spilled by humans in turn”, and beneath the same: “God shall avenge the sins of the fathers among the children until the third and fourth generation.”

More with grief than despair did Gottfried realize that he was in the house of the lineage that was his bitter enemy by necessity, and which his grandfather had insulted so deeply. He knew likewise that the lonely cross was witness to the perpetrated misdeed, and linked to this house where the unfortunate descendants of the murdered man had sought a simple and hidden refuge. The maiden, whose appearance had moved him so much, had been a scion of that unfortunate lineage. But it was clear to him: He could, he must atone what his ancestor had shattered if such reconciliation could be accepted, and he blessed the day of the hunt which had led him there and allowed him to discover the maiden.

Then footsteps thudded through the house, and an old man in a common vest stood before him. It was Kurd. “You are Gottfried von Kynsberg”,[8] said the old one to him, “and seek the granddaughter of the man who was murdered by your grandfather - perhaps to slay the final scion of the lineage hated so much by your bloodline. Your hopes are in vain. We suspected your return, and Emmeline with her aunt Klara has fled from your wrath. You shall find her nowhere.”

But the young man assured that such depravity never crossed his mind. He had heard a dark legend about his ancestor’s misdeed, but he did not know the gruesome details of what happened. He had no intention of bringing doom to the maiden, but atone for the crime of his grandfather. He would be glad to offer his hand to the wronged girl as recompense, for her gaze, her shape were so clear in his mind that he would know and find her in any region as if he had known her for years.

Kurd replied: “Never will Klara give the last scion of her lineage to the archenemy of the Falkenbergs[9] as a wife. Never shall the Knight of the Kynsberg lead Emmeline to the blood-stained Kynsburg. Hear of your ancestor’s depravity! Your grandfather Wilibald was lord of the region of Kinau - including Kynsburg Castle - up to the large black coal pit.[10] But Albert von Falkenberg owned the larger portion of the Owl Mountains and the Meistritz Valley. Then your grandfather became greedy and desired the valley, and he declared a feud[11] against the noble Albert - who was his cousin, no less! - without cause. One day, he lured him here into this Teufelsthal[12] under the pretense of peacefully negotiating with him, and provoked the unarmored man to a duel when he believed himself to be alone with him. Then he ignominiously thrust his sword into the latter’s chest. Albert’s wife, who was driven by a sense of foreboding to follow him, witnessed the horrible death of her husband from afar - as shown on that painting.”

“Without any great resistance, Wilibald subsequently took possession of all lands which belonged to Albert, and Albert’s wife suffered the rest of her life in the dungeons of Kinsburg Castle. Albert’s son Enewold, a boy of seven years and his younger sister Klara were saved. They fled with the help of a young squire, and were secretly raised in a monastery near Breslau. At the altar of the church of Saint Elisabeth, before the face of God and the Holy Virgin Mary, young Enewold and his sister Klara swore revenge and eternal enmity while clasping the hand of the young squire who had saved them. And so that the horrible deed should remain vivid in the children of Albert, the squire commissioned this panting. They did not find revenge, for Enewold fell during a crusade and left behind his sister Klara, his wife, a Frelin von Seidlitz,[13] and his daughter. The mother, too, joined her ancestors, and now Klara could do nothing else but to raise the lost daughter of an unfortunate lineage, and educate her far from the world and all worldly things as she had promised it to the mother on her deathbed so that she could later be dedicated to God in a monastery.[14]

The squire, who had saved Klara and her brother, even brought them to this hidden refuge. For it was me, and the desire for revenge and the deep hatred have not yet dwindled. Hurry from here! Nothing evil shall happen to you here, for Kurd shall not sully his hands with blood, but Emmeline is far gone, and you shall never see her again.”

“I will atone”, shouted Gottfried, “what my ancestor has perpetrated. I offer my heart, my hand to the lovely apparition which I saw here from atop that rock next to the cross of Albert of Falkenberg!”

“Never!” replied Kurd. “If you were to lead her home to the proud Kinsberg Castle, could you prevent her from gazing into the castle dungeons where her wailing grandmother ended her life between their walls? Could you thwart her from looking at the desolate Falkenberg where the castle of her ancestors stood, and which was razed in living memory by your father? There can never be atonement! Once more, leave this place!”

Grieving, Gottfried slunk out of the hut, climbed up the rock cliff, and lurched towards his castle. The next morning, the rising sun saw him already on the road to Breslau,[14] only accompanied by his squire, in order to atone for his devastation in a monastery in a manner similar to Emmeline.[15]

The next morning, the bells of the St. Elisabeth’s Church[16] solemnly rang their invitation to the Lord’s service. Gottfried had dressed himself splendidly and hurried to hear the mass. The Lord’s House was thronged. But when the priest who had read the sermon raised the holy host[17] and everyone sank to their knees, Gottfried suddenly noticed Emmeline sitting at an elevated position next to her aunt. And she, too, had turned her gaze towards him - to the young man whom she had first seen during her lonely existence, and whose image was shining within her mind. Blushing, she lowered her eyes. But this blushing, and the initially joyful but then hesitant gaze revealed to Gottfried what was occurring within the heart of the maiden - and his own heart rapidly beat in joy in response.

The faithful squire was tasked with following the women, and soon discovered their apartment. He also learned the news that Klara and her young niece would leave Breslau early in the morning, accompanied by a young knight. Where they planned to go, he did not learn, and neither did he ascertain whether the young knight was intended to be the husband for the beautiful Emmeline. Gottfried quickly decided to follow her and discover where she would stay.

But Klara had likewise noticed the knight, and spotted how her niece had blushed. She recognized the appearance of her archenemy in his grandson, and became aware that Emmeline was not nurturing the feelings of revenge that were still smoldering within her own heart. It was thus quickly decided to not wait until the morning for their journey, but to travel to the castle of Knight Ehrhard von Zedlitz,[18] which was near Zobtenberg Mountain.[19] And Ehrhard, who was close to the Falkenberg lineage through ties of gratitude, readily agreed to accompany them at night, for path and trail were well known to him.

While Gottfried still dwelled in sweet dreams, Emmeline was already far away from the gates of Breslau. And the squire, who had been sent forth, returned early with the news that Emmeline was no longer within Breslau’s walls - but nobody could say where she had been brought. Then Gottfried jumped on his horse, and restlessly wandered forth, straying around the entirety of Silesia and the surrounding lands. But in vain, for there was no news to be found of Emmeline and her aunt.

Two years had passed when Gottfried rode back into his castle at Kinsberg, exhausted from the vain searches and just as sad and despairing as he had been when he had left it. Numbly he listened to the news that boars were roaming the region near the Falkenberg and terrified the area with their depredations. Suddenly, the thought came to him that perhaps Kurd still lived in the hut and could give him news. Thus, he gathered the squires for a boar hunt in the Teufelsthal valley. But those made the sign of the cross and pleaded with him to give up these thoughts. For the Teufelsthal was more terrible than ever before, as horrible figures dwelled within and appeared in a threatening manner to the gazes of those who lost their way and ended up there. But Gottfried had only one thought in his mind, and quickly he raced towards the wilderness on his steed, accompanied by two squires.

Arriving on the heights of the Falkenberg mountain, he looked into the eerie valley. The small hut was gone, and a large house stood at the spot. The steed was left behind, and the knight climbed down the rocky cliff face above the cross, accompanied by his squires. Then he heard voices from the direction of the stone cross - a threatening one from a man, a wailing one from a girl. The sound of the female voice moved him marvelously, and everything that he had more than two years ago reawakened in him.

He silently crept closer in order to listen to the speakers. As soon as he had pushed the branches aside and looked down, he beheld Emmeline kneeling down next to the cross. She had pleadingly raised her hands against a threatening, horrible figure of a man who stood above her and was armed with a dagger. Seeing this, sliding towards them, and cutting the man threatening the maiden down was the work of a moment’s notice, and the smoking blood sprayed over the gray cross.

But he had already been noticed, and horrible figures pushed out of the house, towards the pond and into his direction. Then Emmeline screamed: “Save yourself! Bandits and murderers dwell in the house. And you killed their leader!” - “Whether I live or fall, I shall only do so with you, Emmeline!”, shouted the knight, grabbed the trembling girl with a strong arm, and quickly and desperately climbed up the rock. The squires followed him, ready to sell their blood and their lives dearly for their lord. Love and faithfulness quickened their steps and strengthened their feet and arms, and the height was climbed before the threatening shapes could come closer. When they reached their horses, Gottfried climbed up on his steed together with his precious find, and they hurried down the Falkenberg in a speedy trot. They raced across the Stenzelberg mountain, along the valley of the Weistritz, and towards Kinsberg Castle in a manner that the inhabitants of the valley thought that the Wild Huntsman rode past them on this bright morning. The horrible figures of the Teufelsthal valley ran after them in desperate haste, pursuing him and his treasure, until they gave up the pursuit and collapsed wheezing at the foot of the Stenzelberg. But Gottfried brought Emmeline up into his Castle Kinsberg hale and hole, and here the saved woman told him how she had vanished and been concealed for him for so long:

“In the night when I had to flee with Frau Klara towards the Castle of Erhard von Zedlitz, bandits found us and killed Knight Erhard. Then they abducted us and carried us to a castle which was ablaze with flames. This was the hideout of the leader of the bandits, but a brave knight had set it on fire. Driven away in this manner, the bandits hurried into the Teufelsthal, which was well-known to and beloved by me, and where they hoped for the greatest safety. Disguised as horrible, devilish figures, they roamed the valley and made use of the fear and dread which the name of the valley instilled in wanderers and the people living nearby. In this manner, they plied their evil trade in the valley for two years. They abducted many noble knights and women during the night, and mistreated and murdered them there. Us, too, awaited this horrible fate, and perhaps an even more dreadful fate was in store for me.”[20]

“But then God gave me an idea. Since my former acquaintance with the Teufelsthal valley was known to them,[21] I claimed that there was a great treasure lying beneath the stone cross, which could only be lifted by a pure girl after two years, on the day of Saint Walpurga,[22] between eight and nine o’clock in the morning. In this manner I preserved myself, sighed and prayed for two years, and hoped for God that he would send a savior who would save me from the claws of the villains before this time was up. My aunt could only stand the fear and sorrow for one year. She departed from this Earth in sorrow, but still maintained hope that I would have a better fate. For she had a premonition that you, Knight, would become my savior. And she ordered me to tell you that she deeply regretted her previous acrimony, and gave you her blessing. Faithful Kurd had fallen earlier under the daggers of the bandits. It was on Walpurgis Day when the brute pulled me to the stone, and threatened to murder me if I wouldn’t help with lifting the treasure. His dagger was already above me when you appeared!”

When Gottfried heard this narrative, he summoned his men, climbed up his steed, surrounded the Teufelsthal, and had all the bandits captured. Only a few of them escaped the sword and his revenge. Even today, people show the remains of the great castle dungeons where the bandits received the payment for their deeds. But Emmeline became the wife of Gottfried, and thus the shades of her grandfather and her grandmother were reconciled. For now a fortunate line blossomed on the castle which had once seen the tears and the sorrow of her grandmother.


 

Footnotes:

[1] “Frau” is the equivalent of the English-language “Mrs.”, i.e. an adult woman. I decided to let “Frau” stand for flavor’s sake.

[2] I.e. Heaven and the afterlife, with the “promise of revelation” possibly referring to Judgment Day. Thus, Frau Klara was worried that staying among other people would be a danger to her soul.

[3] The Owl Mountains - “Eulengebirge” in German and “Góry Sowie” in Polish - now lie within the Lower Silesian Voivodeship of Poland, close to the Czech border.

[4] The above-mentioned old servant.

[5] I do have to wonder if her heart was really as “pure as unsullied” as the tale claims if she really knew all of the tales in the Bible. The Song of Solomon alone ought to be good for some… contemplation of other things, not to mention all the other vivid descriptions of the sins that people in the Bible got up to.

[7] The Weistritz (Bystrzyca in Polish) is one of the tributaries of the river Oder, which it flows into a few kilometers to the north of Wrocław (Breslau). It is not clear whether “the entire Weistritz valley” covers the whole of the river, or only the part that flows through the mountains.

[8] The Kynsberg is the hill on which Kynsburg Castle stands, though the story is inconsistent with the spelling. Now generally known as Grodno Castle, this castle was erected near the end of the 13th century to fortify the border to Bohemia to the south. It is located next to Zagórze Śląskie/Kynau.

[9] There are a number of places that are or were called “Falkenberg” (“falcon mountain”), but the closest seems to be modern-day Sokolec, which lies about 15 km to the southeast of the Kynsburg.

[10] Mining has a centuries-long history in the Owl Mountains, but I have not been able to identify which coal mine this refers to.

[11] In medieval Germany - and, indeed, much of Europe - feuds were a common, formal way for nobles to “settle” disputes with other nobles. However, it was generally expected that there ought to be a cause that triggered the dispute - declaring a feud without cause was generally considered bad form. Feuding was only made illegal during the Diet of Worms in 1495, and even after that, enforcement was spotty at best.

[12] While the story doesn’t make it explicit, it is likely that the Teufelsthal (“Devil’s Valley”) gained its name thanks to a reputation for being haunted. Based on later hints in the story, it seems to have been located somewhere near Sokolec/Falkenberg.

[13] The Seidlitz family was an old Silesian noble dynasty dating back to at least the 13th century.

[14] I.e. Emmeline was supposed to join a convent as a nun later on.

[15] Apparently he, too, intended to join a monastery and become a monk.

[16] The St. Elisabeth’s Church dates back to the 14th century, and is one of the most iconic buildings in the old town of Wrocław. From 1525 to 1945 it was the main Protestant church of the city, but was afterwards rededicated as a Catholic church.

[16] The blessed altar bread that is distributed as part of the rite of Eucharist.

[17] Presumably another scion of the Seidlitz dynasty, and thus a relative of Emmeline on her mother’s side.

[18] Another spelling for the Ślęża or Zottenberg Mountain, which lies about halfway between Breslau and the Kynsburg. See “The Men in Zottenberg Mountain” for more on this mountain, and what lurks within.

[19] She feared rape, in other words. This kind of narrative usually tends to emphasize that the maiden is still a virgin when she escapes the villains after a long time of captivity, and thus the tale goes out of the way to tell us how she managed to prevent being raped.

[20] While the story does not elaborate, presumably Klara or Emmeline told them of the valley as a possible hideout in exchange for their lives, once the bandits’ castle had been destroyed. Too bad about old Kurd, though…

[21] Saint Walpurga was an 8th century Anglo-Saxon missionary to the Frankish Empire. Her feast day is May 1st. Walpurgis Night - the eve of Walpurgis Day - is, of course, the night when witches are abroad.

 

Commentary:

Well, this all ended rather conveniently for Gottfried. Truth to be told, I’d be rather more impressed with him if he had offered to give back the stolen fief to Emmeline without the precondition of marriage, thus not only righting an old wrong but putting her on a more equal footing with him before the marriage. But I guess this thought never crossed his horny little mind. And thus, he got to play the part of the big damn hero for the still-virginal (and thus “eligible for marriage”, by the twisted standards of the time) girl, who now had no kin to oppose the marriage or otherwise look out for her interests before they tied the knot.

That the bandits would fall for her treasure tale might strike modern readers as odd. However, by the standards of German folklore, this would actually have been one of the less convoluted preconditions for lifting a treasure, and thus might be believable to people who believed in treasure tales - and criminals are a famously cowardly and superstitious lot, after all. Still, I do wonder if Emmeline had offered any justification for why she supposedly had to wait two years before the treasure could be lifted, instead of it being lifted on the very next Walpurgis Day.

 

This is a translation of a German folktale contributed by Jürgen Hubert.

It is a part of our series, Folklore Worldwide. We are currently open to submissions from around the world, and you are welcome to send us your stories!

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