Breton Fairy Tales: The Secret of the Resurrection of La Rose

The Magic Rose

Breton fairy tales are often a mixture of Roman Catholic, Celtic and other pagan elements that blend together providing  mystery and romance with more than a hint of danger and darkness. The story presented here is a retelling of a Breton folktale called The Magic Rose from Legends and Romance of Brittany by Lewis Spence (1) and tells the rather sombre tale of the transition through life of its protagonist, La Rose.  In many ways it appears to be a traditional fairy tale and like many fairy tales it is not quite what it seems for there is a hidden secret.

La Rose

The story begins in Brittany where an aging married couple had two sons.  The older son had a more adventurous and outgoing personality and went off to Paris to find his fortune.   The younger son, whose name was La Rose, had a more cautious and shy personality and remained at home,  preferring to live with his parents much to their discontent. His mother and father were beginning to feel their age and began to worry about their son.  They wanted him to take a wife to ease the burden on them.

To begin with he would not listen to their appeals but eventually he gave in and found a young woman he loved greatly and they married.  To begin with all was well but after few months sadly his wife fell sick and died. La Rose was heartbroken and every evening he would visit the cemetery and weep beside her grave into the night.

The Spectre and the Magic Rose

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One evening while he knelt at his wife’s grave he became aware of a tall dark spectral figure standing before him as he wept.  Looking up in shock at the ghastly figure which pointed at him and said in a rasping voice, “Tell me!  Why do you weep?”

“I weep for my dead wife!” answered La Rose.

“Would you have her alive again?” asked the spectre.

“Indeed, I would!  I would do anything to have her back again!”

“Then listen now!” said the spectre, “Come back to this place tomorrow at the same time. Bring a pick-axe and some clothes for your wife and you may see your heart’s desire.”  With that the dark spectre dissolved into the night.

The next evening at the same time La Rose went to his wife’s grave at the cemetery with a pick-axe and clothes, just as the spectre had said and knelt and wept over her grave.  As he wept he became aware of the dark spectre looking down at him. “Strike the grave with the pick-axe and you will see the earth peal aside to reveal the body of your wife wrapped in her shroud,”  said the spectre.

He then handed La Rose a small silver casket saying, “This contains a rose.  When your wife is free of earth pass this under her nose three times.  She will then awaken as if from a long and deep slumber.”

La Rose watched in awe as the spectre dissolved into the night.  Quickly he struck the pick-axe into his wife’s grave and immediately the earth peeled back and revealed her lying in her shroud.  Following the spectre’s instructions he took the rose from the silver casket and passed it under her nose three times. Just as the spectre had told him and to his astonishment and absolute joy, his wife sighed, sat up and said, “Why I seem to have had such a long deep sleep!”

La Rose gave his wife the clothes he had brought and she quickly dressed and they returned home.  His parents were overjoyed to see their daughter-in-law whole and well again.

The Passing of his Parents

His father was not a well man and he had reached a great age and sadly he fell ill and passed away.  His mother was heart broken. She too was of a great age and the grief of her husband’s passing was too much for her and she too expired.  La Rose wrote to his brother informing him of the sad news and requesting him to return home to receive his share of the family inheritance.  Unfortunately his brother wrote back saying he could not return to Brittany but would give no reason. Reluctantly, La Rose decided to travel to Paris to sort out the family affairs with his brother.

Broken promises

His wife did not want him to go and he was reluctant to leave but feeling he had no choice he told her he must go and promised that he would write to her everyday.  When he arrived he found his brother to be seriously ill and in need of intensive nursing which he delivered himself day and night. Because of the seriousness and intensity of this he forgot to write to his wife as he had promised and she had no news whatsoever of events in Paris and his brother’s health.

Days passed and weeks turned into months and still La Rose forgot to write to his wife. All this time she remained in Brittany worrying and fretting. She had no idea what could be wrong and she dreaded that some courier should appear on her doorstep with bad news.  Every day she took to sitting by her window weeping while looking out hoping to either see him coming down the road, or the dreaded sight of a courier.

The False Captain

It so happened that a regiment of soldiers were posted to the town and the captain was lodged in the inn directly over the road from the home of La Rose and his wife.  The captain was a handsome young man whose curiosity was aroused by the sight of a woman weeping through the window. He was saddened and intrigued by the sight of such a beautiful woman in such grief and set about to learn more about her.  The more he learned and the more he saw her weeping in the window the more he desired her.

Learning about her husband’s absence in Paris he wrote a letter falsely informing her that her husband had died and had it delivered by courier to her.  On reading it she was grief stricken. In this vulnerable state the captain wasted no time in insinuating himself into her affections. After an appropriate period of mourning he proposed marriage to her and she accepted.  The wedding went ahead and they became man and wife. Shortly after the regiment was sent to another town and she accompanied her new husband there.

La Rose Returns

Shortly, after her marriage, the brother of La Rose recovered from his life threatening illness.  Now being free of the burden of providing his nursing care La Rose remembered his wife and his promise to her.  At last, able to complete his family business with his brother he rushed back to Brittany eager to see his wife again.  Can you imagine the shock he had when he discovered the door of his home locked and barred and the house empty? He went to see his neighbours who told him about how his wife had grieved for him.  They told him of how a courier had arrived with a letter informing her of his death and her subsequent marriage to the captain. La Rose was devastated and spent many days moping and weeping for his wife. Eventually he pulled himself together and resolved to go after her and so enlisted in the same regiment as the false captain in the hope it would place him near to her.

The Regiment

He was a talented scribe and soon the quality and finesse of his handwriting brought him to the attention of one of the lieutenants who made him his secretary.  Although he had hoped to catch a glimpse of his wife he was yet to do so to his disappointment. Then one day the captain who had married his wife visited the lieutenant on regiment business.   He noticed the quality of the handwriting of La Rose who was working at his desk and asked if he could borrow him for a few days to help him with paperwork and correspondence.

A False Accusation

It so happened that while assisting the false captain he saw his wife but she did not recognise him at all.  La Rose of course knew her and now he knew who her new husband was. Nevertheless, he refused to let it show and kept his identity from them.  The captain was delighted with the service La Rose had given and as a reward invited him to dine with him and his wife one evening.

The false captain had a servant who was dishonest and had stolen a silver dish.  Fearing the theft was about to be discovered he secreted the dish into one of La Rose’s pockets.  When the silver dish was missed the servant then accused La Rose who was searched and the stolen item found.   Although La Rose protested his innocence he was court marshaled and sentenced to be shot and taken to prison to await his execution.

Père La Chique

As you will understand La Rose was feeling miserable and despondent at the way of the world.  An old veteran of the regiment named Père La Chique would bring him his meals and seemed friendly and kindly towards him.  This cheered and encouraged La Rose greatly and he made friends with him. One day, knowing his execution would be soon he said to La Chique,  “Père, my friend I have two thousand francs that I am sure you could use to the good.  If you will promise to do something for me when I am gone you can have them!”

Père was a man who liked his liquor and was always short of money so he readily agreed.  La Rose reached into his pocket and pulled out the little silver casket that the spectre had given him so long ago.  Handing it to Père he said, “After I have been shot and they have buried me bring a pick-axe and strike it in the ground over my grave.  The earth will peel back and you will see me lying there in my burial shroud, dead. Pass the rose under my nose three times and I will wake as if I have been in a very deep slumber.  Make sure you bring me some clothes to wear.”

Père agreed and took the money and the rose.  Soon after La Rose was taken out and shot. Père now with a pocketful of money set about his favorite pastime in style.  He went from one inn to another drinking and merrymaking with his friends. Now and then he remembered his promise to La Rose but only for a short time.  However, after a few more drinks he either forgot again, or thought to himself that La Rose was surely better off dead than suffering the grief and weariness of the world and carried on with his drinking.

Of course with so much money in his pocket many of his old friends appeared and he found himself surrounded by new ones whom he spent his money on.  When all of the money was gone they all disappeared and left him to reflect on his behaviour. Feeling ashamed he again remembered his promise to La Rose.

Resurrection

Finding himself a pick-axe and some clothes for his dead friend he went to the cemetery to carry out his promise.  Striking the earth with the pickaxe the earth peeled back, just as he had been told. When he looked in the grave and saw his dead friend wrapped in his shroud his nerve failed him and he ran off.  After a stiff drink he summoned the courage to return. Taking the rose from the silver casket he passed it under the nose of La Rose three times. La Rose sat up and yawned as if he had been in a deep slumber just like he said he would.  Hastily, he took the casket and the rose back and dressed himself and the two of them left the cemetery.

After his resurrection, without money and no roof over his head, La Rose was obliged to look for ways to earn a living.  He took many menial, low-paid jobs to make ends meet and one day while wandering the streets looking for work he heard the beating of a drum.  He followed it to the town square where the Town Crier stood on the steps of the town hall about to make an announcement.

The Crier told the crowd that had gathered that the King was looking for men to act as guards for three nights  at the local chapel and was prepared to pay handsomely for suitable recruits. Naturally, this piqued the attention of La Rose thinking it sounded too good to be true.  Indeed it was for the Crier went on to explain that the King’s daughter had been transformed into some kind of terrible monster and was imprisoned there.

Nevertheless, La Rose was desperate and decided he would apply, which he did and was accepted.  The captain of the guard then warned him that all those who had guarded the chapel between eleven o’clock in the evening and midnight had never been seen again and no trace of them had ever been found.  Naturally, La Rose was dismayed and thought about quitting the post but decided he would give it a try anyway as life to him at this time seemed not worth living.

The First Night

The guard duties were duly allotted to the new recruits and it fell to La Rose that he take the third turn at guarding the chapel.  The first guard went on duty on the first night and was never found in the morning. On the second night it was the same with the second guard.  The third night came and La Rose fearfully took up his post in the sentry box at the chapel. As time wore on he could feel fear creeping up on him and again he thought of running.  He was about to do so when terrible voice called him by his name. He froze to the spot as the voice cried, “La Rose! La Rose! Where in the world are you now, La Rose?”

“Who is it that is calling my name?” answered La Rose trembling .

“Listen to me carefully and you will come to no harm!  Very soon the most terrible beast will leap out of the chapel and it will look to kill you.  At the stroke of eleven place your musket against the sentry box and climb on top of the box and the beast will not harm you.”

When he heard the chapel clock strike eleven he placed his musket against the sentry box and climbed on top.  Just as he had done so he heard a terrible howling and the most fearsome beast leapt out of the chapel with flames issuing from its mouth and nostrils, crying, “Sentry, sentry, sentry, where are you, sentry? I will devour you when I find you!”  

As it cried out it seized the musket in its teeth and tore it into a thousand pieces and then vanished.  La Rose looked down from the top of the sentry box terrified. When the beast had gone he climbed down to look at the crumbled remains of his musket.

He was the only sentinel who had ever survived one night guarding the chapel.  When the news was given to the king he was delighted and full of hope. He knew that to break the spell that held his daughter the same sentry must survive three consecutive nights at the chapel between the eleven and twelve o’clock at night.

The Second Night

The next night La Rose took up his station at the chapel equipped with a new musket.  Time passed and again he heard the same voice he had heard the night before. This time it told him to place his musket against the door of the chapel and hide behind the sentry box.  La Rose did exactly as he was told. At the stroke of eleven the beast leapt screaming from the chapel and grabbed his musket and bit it into thousands of pieces and then quickly returned to the chapel leaving him unharmed.

The Third Night

The third night came and once again La Rose heard the voice.  This time it told him that when the beast issued from the chapel he should run to the back of the building.  There he would see a leaden tomb which he should hide behind. Behind the tomb he would find a small bottle.   When the beast came for him he was to throw the contents of this over the head of the beast.

When the clock struck eleven he heard the dreadful scream of the beast as it burst through the chapel door.  Standing to one side La Rose waited until it was clear of the doorway then darted behind it through the door and ran to the back of the chapel.  Just as the voice had advised him he found a leaden tomb which he hid behind and behind the tomb he found a small bottle and pulled out its stopper.

The beast quickly turned and gave chase and was about to leap over the tomb when La Rose stood up to face it and threw the contents of the bottle over its head.  The beast howled horribly and thrashed and writhed on the floor. The chapel shook but eventually everything calmed down and stood before him was the most beautiful princess.

The King’s Daughter

La Rose then took the princess to the Old King who was delighted to have his daughter back.  He was so grateful that he begged him to marry his daughter which La Rose was also pleased to agree to.  So La Rose married the Old King’s daughter and a little while later the Old King decided he would retire and abdicated making his son-in-law the new King.

The New King

It came to pass that one day as the new king it was his duty to inspect the regiments of his army.  As he inspected the regiment that he had served in he found it was the false captain standing at the head of the lines of  soldiers who were all stood to attention in his honour. As he inspected the lines of soldiers he told the Colonel that he thought someone was missing. The Colonel admitted that there was indeed one man missing but told him that the missing man was an old veteran who really was not much use for anything.  It was thought he lowered the tone of the regiment so he had been left behind to clean the barracks. La Rose told the Colonel that he would like to see him and Père La Chique was brought before him trembling. He then ordered the false captain to step forward and ripped the epaulettes from his shoulders and placed them on the shoulders of Père La Chique making him the new captain.

Then he ordered that a great fire was to be set around two stakes.  Then he ordered the false Captain and his wife who he deemed had so easily forgotten him to be tied to the stakes and they were burned alive together. Perhaps this may seem a rather harsh treatment for his first wife who La Rose had once loved, resurrected and then forgot about and indeed, maybe it was, but it is not what it seems.  Nevertheless, La Rose as the King and together with his Queen, lived a long and happy life thereafter.

The Secret

You see the thing about the world of  fairy tales is that there maybe magic and there may be love but the world inside the tale grotesquely mirrors the world outside which also has magic and love.  It also has pain and grief and injustice and somehow we all have to deal with what the world gives us, face our demons and rise again, which is also mirrored in the folktale, but that is not the secret. You see, only the reader can find that and it is a powerful secret to know once it is understood.

© 23/10/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 23rd, 2018 zteve t evans

(1)  CHAPTER VI: BRETON FOLK-TALES – The Magic Rose – Legends and Romances of Brittany – by Lewis Spence – [1917]

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Breton Folktales: The Grateful Dead and the Man of Honour

Breton folktales often have magical and supernatural elements interwoven with death and tragedy in the story line which creates a dark, sombre but compelling story.   Death is ever present in the world and there are many chilling tales of the evil or resentful dead but there are also some that tell of the grateful dead.  These are the dead who return from the afterlife to help a living person who helped them in some way after had they died. How can the living possibly help a person who is dead?   In answer to this question, presented here is a folktale from Brittany that is a retelling of a story collected by Lewis Spence (1) and tells how a living man was repaid for paying off the debts of a dead man as well as paying for his funeral to ensure he received a Christian burial.

The Man of Honour and the Grateful Dead

The story begins in a coastal town in Brittany with a maritime merchant who traded with many foreign ports so successfully that he built up a massive fortune.  This merchant had a son named Iouenn who also wanted to make his way in life in the same way his father had.   His father was delighted and set him up with a trading ship and filled it with all kinds of valuable merchandise from Brittany.  He gave his son plenty of good advice and Iouenn sailed off to foreign ports to trade and make his fortune and then return home with his profits.

The ship had a safe voyage and after many days sailing docked at a port where Iouenn intended to sell his goods.  He went ashore carrying letters of introduction from his father and very soon sold his merchandise at a good profit and found himself in possession of a large sum of money.  He decided to spend a few days in the port looking around and sightseeing and one day as he strolled through the narrow streets he came upon a pack of stray dog such as are often seen roaming the streets of many towns and cities unchained.  They appeared to be snarling and growling and biting and pulling on an object that was laid in the street.  Curious as to what they were doing he cautiously approached and was horrified to see they actually worrying at the corpse of a man.

This shocked Iouenn greatly and he went round making inquiries about the fate of the unfortunate person.  He was told that the man had died owing a great debt and as there was no money to pay for a good Christian funeral and burial the custom in those parts was that the corpse be thrown into the streets for the dogs and other beasts to scavenge.  Iouenn was shocked that such a terrible indignity could be inflicted upon the dead and after chasing the dogs away, out of the kindness of his heart he paid the debts and for a proper Christian burial.

The Black Ship

After this he resolved he would not stay in the port a day longer and bid his captain make the ship ready for voyage and sailed for home.   They had not sailed far when one of the sailors cried out the presence of a strange ship on the horizon heading their way and from it they hear a terrible wailing of many souls.  The ship was attired all in black and had a most sinister appearance prompting Iouenn to remark to his captain,

“This is a most curious vessel!  Why is all attired in black and why are those on board setting up such a wail.”

As the black ship approached Iouenn hailed it asking those on board what troubled them.

“Sir, we are charged with a most grim and unhappy task. There exists not far from this spot an island occupied by a gigantic serpent.  For seven years our people must have had to pay an annual tribute of a royal princess and her you find us in the process of transporting yet another poor victim to her doom!”

Iouenn was shocked and said,

“Where is the royal princess you speak of?”

And then a great wail went up from all aboard the black ship as the royal princess stepped on deck.  She was in a terrible way wringing her hands and sobbing uncontrollably.  Iouenn was struck by her beauty and his heart went out to her and he vowed he would never let her be sacrificed to the monstrous serpent.   He made discreet inquiries with the captain of the black ship and learned that if a sufficient bribe was offered then the captain would hand the princess over to him.   He gave over the last of the money he had made from his trading and the Princess was passed over to his ship and he sailed on home with her aboard.

He had a safe and uneventful voyage home and his father was delighted to welcome him home.  That delight turned to anger when Iouenn told him of how he had spent the money he had made from trading the merchandise his father had given him.  His father refused to believe that the lady who he had brought back with him was in any way a royal princess and told him he was fool spending money on a dead man’s debts and banished him from his home.

Iouenn Weds the Princess

Many angry and bitter words were exchanged between the two, but nevertheless, Iouenn left his family home and married the Princess.  She presented her husband with a fine gold chain and cross to wear around his neck as a wedding present and together they set up a small humble home and were very happy together.    As time passed the couple were blessed with a son and then Iouenn had a stroke of luck.  One of his uncles who was also a merchant trader doing business overseas asked him to take charge of cargo ship full of valuable merchandise he wanted to trade in the eastern lands.  Iouenn was glad for the opportunity to increase his family’s fortunes and readily accepted.   Soon the ship was ready and he embarked on the voyage in fair weather and high hopes taking with him a small portrait of his wife and their son which he kept on a shelf in his cabin.

Iouenn and the King

The winds were favourable and soon his ship reached the city of his wife’s birth and where her father still ruled and had grown very old.   As is the custom in many ports the harbourmaster came aboard to check the ship and its cargo.  While on board he noticed the portrait of Iouenn’s wife and recognized her immediately as the Princess of the city and daughter of its present ruler.   Completing his business on board he went straight to the King to tell him what he had seen.  On hearing this news the King went immediately to the harbour and boarded the ship demanding of Iouenn knowledge of his daughter. Iouenn not knowing who his daughter was could not tell him anything.   The king flew into a rage and ordered that he be flung in jail and the ship be burnt and the cargo seized and impounded

While languishing miserably in prison Iouenn made friends with the jailor and told him the story of how he had met his wife.  On hearing this, the jailor went to the King and told him the story. The King was overjoyed to hear his daughter still lived and after seeking a pledge from Iouenn to bring his daughter home he ordered that a new ship be commissioned and fitted out for the voyage back to Iouenn’s home port and that he would return again with his daughter.  As a precaution the King sent two of his ministers to accompany Iouenn should he decide to renege on the agreement.   The ship sailed in a fair wind making good progress across the sea and soon made Iouenn’s home port and docked.

The Evil Minister

Iouenn took the two ministers to see his wife and their son who were safe and well and explain to them what had happened.  Now the Princess was familiar with one of the ministers for he had loved her and sought her hand in marriage of old.  She knew the devious and evil nature of his character and fearing he plotted some act of treachery she asked her husband to remain at her side during the voyage.  However, Iouenn loved to be on the bridge with the captain watching and learning of the operation of the ship.

One starry evening he stopped to lean against the side of the vessel and gaze in wonder at the night sky.   Lost in thought he did not hear the stealthy approach of the evil minister who grasping his two legs quickly flung him overboard into the foamy sea. Deliberately waiting a few minutes the devious minister then let out a cry of

“Man over Board!”

The captain ordered the ship to sail back looking for Iouenn but the clouds now covered what starlight there was and nought could be seen in the black of the night and the victim was not found.   The Princess now convinced her husband had perished was distraught and stayed in her cabin wailing and grieving.  It so happened that despite the shock of finding himself submerged in the cold water Iouenn quickly gathered his wits and began swimming and luckily he was a strong and excellent swimmer.  Despite having no idea which way to go he kept calm and decided to strike out in one direction and hope for the best.

Having given up all hope of finding Iouenn the ship turned around and the captain set course for the port of the Princess’s father.  When the ship finally sailed into the harbour there was great joy and festivities at the return of the Princess.  Her father was so pleased to have her back he readily gave his consent for her marriage to the treacherous minister who he credited fully for her return.  However, the Princess was still devastated by the loss of her husband and kept finding excuses to keep putting the wedding off.  Deep inside her some vague  flicker of hope remained and she remembered her husband’s body had never been found.

Marooned

Indeed, her husband with little other choice had struck out swimming in one direction and just as his strength was failing had come across a single small bare island of rock which he scrambled upon.  The only shelter on this barren place was a small niche in the rock which he could squeeze into in times of bad weather which were frequent.  For the next three years marooned on the island he lived on shellfish and the  occasional fish the sea would throw into one of the rock pools, which he would gladly consume raw.

During those three years his beard and hair had grown long and matted and all of his clothes had rotted from his body leaving him naked, cold and wildly unkempt and he roamed round and round his tiny kingdom like some wild and strange mad man.   All that remained of his past life was the gold cross and chain he wore around his neck.

One lonely night as he sat in his rocky niche eating a meager supper of shellfish when he was startled to hear the eeriest sound he had ever heard in his life that cut through the silence like a knife.  Crouching low and peering out over the ocean he heard the terrible sound again and then his blood ran cold as he realized there were words in that unearthly wailing and it was calling his name.  Surely no human could have uttered such ghastly words but he found himself listening to the weird voice in horror.

The Corpse

‘Iouenn! Iouenn! Iouenn! Cold, cold, cold!”

wailed the voice again and again,

“So cold!”

before dying out in a horrible groan and starting up again.  This continued through the night to die out just before dawn.

The next night the same terrible voice was heard again and although he was no coward he dare not show himself or answer the voice.  The third night as the voice began its wailing he determined he would do something so stepping from his hideout he cried out,

 “Who is it that disturbs my peace? Show yourself!”

From out of the sea and across the rocky shore a hideously naked man came crawling wailing his ghastly cry,

“Cold, cold cold, so cold,”

the ghastly man wailed and fixed Iouenn with a glassy stare.

‘In God’s name who are you?”

cried Iouenn

The man let out a ghastly laugh,

“So you do not remember me, but I remember you too well, Iouenn.  I am the wretch you drove the dogs from and so kindly gave a Christian burial to.  You paid my debts and saved me and now I come to save you.  Do you wish to leave this rock?”

rasped the man as blood and poison oozed from wounds on his body.

“That I do as God is my witness!”

replied Iouenn.

“Then you need to know that against her will your wife is to marry the minister who threw you overboard.  If you are quick you can stop this and I will help if you promise to give to me a share of all that belongs to you and your wife.  This must be handed over within a year and a day.  If you accept now I will carry you to the King’s palace in time to stop the wedding.  Do you accept?”

Iouenn agreed immediately and the living corpse told him to climb upon his back, which he did.  Immediately it ran into the sea and began swimming at great speed with him on its back.  Very soon they reached the port where his wife’s father had his palace and the corpse set him on shore.  The corpse looked at him through glassy eyes and said,

“One year and one day!”

and plunged back into the sea and was gone.

Iouenn at the Gates

Such was the terrible state of neglect endured by Iouenn during his lonely stay on the island he was now in an unrecognisable state and looked barely human.  In the morning when the King’s gatekeeper opened the palace gate he was shocked to find something that resembled a wild animal crouching forlornly outside begging for help.

Calling the palace servants to see what he had found they threw him scraps and crusts of bread which he ate ravenously.  One of the ladies-in-waiting was passing by and seeing the strange wild looking thing that Iouenn had become she went to the Princess and told her of the wild man at the gates.   The Princess with her curiosity aroused went down to see for herself.  On seeing the wild thing before her she immediately saw the gold cross and chain around his neck and recognized it as the wedding present she had given Iouenn and knew him to be her husband.  Iouenn and his wife embraced with great joy and she led him into the palace and fed him and bathed and clothed him in fine clothes.

The Lost Key

This being the morning that the Princess was due to marry the evil minister great preparations had been made for the much awaited event.  The Princess went down to the assembled company to speak to them and asked them for advice.  She asked whether it would be better to look for an old key which had been lost which fitted a the lock to her treasure chest or instead make use of a new key which was available but did not fit.  Of course the treasure chest was her heart and the keys were her husband and the evil minister.

Unanimously they agreed that it was better to search for the key that fitted.  With that she introduced her husband who stepped forward now arrayed in fine clean clothes saying,

“Here is the key I lost and I have found!”

The evil minister trembled and turned pale as a sheet but the King, her father thumped the table in rage and cried,

“Build a fire for this vagabond and cast him upon it!”

The Princes and Iouenn were shocked and dismayed and all present stared in shock as they thought he meant Iouenn, but the King stood and pointed to the evil minister whose guilt had been revealed by the Princess.  As the company stood and applauded the King’s command his guards rushed to obey and the evil minister was led off the fire.

The Grateful Dead

So it was that Iouenn lived with the Princess in the palace in joy and happiness.  There was one event that spoiled this and that was the death of their young son.  However, their grief was quickly assuaged with the birth of a second baby boy and once again they were happy.   In his happiness Iouenn had completely forgotten about his time on the island and the debt he owed to the dead man who had saved him.   Then one grey November evening while he and his small family were sat happily around the fire together they were disturbed by three loud knocks struck upon the door.  Upon the third the door flew open and in strode the awful form of the living corpse that had saved Iouenn from the island.  It stood before Iouenn with dead glassy eyes and in a rasping voice said,

“Iouenn, do you remember our pact?  I have come for payment!”

Iouenn, although trembling and in shock remembered the pact he had made with the living corpse and asked his wife to bring him the keys to their treasure chest so that he may pay his dues.  As she handed the keys over the dead one sneered and waved her away in disgust.

“It is not your treasure I have come for, Iouenn it is this!”

he rasped pointing at the baby boy in his cradle  sleeping sweetly.

“Not my baby! You cannot have him!”

cried the Princess.

“Are you a man of honor, Iouenn?  A man of honor pays his debts.  Remember your promise on the island, remember your debt!”

“Yes, it is true I promised but remember how I saved you from the dogs!”

cried Iouenn.

“All I ask is what I am owed, and I am not asking for all the infant, just a share!”

“Have you no heart, wretched thing?  As honor with me is above all things I will grant your wish!”

and he undressed the infant and laid him naked and helpless upon the table as the dead thing directed.

“Now with your sword cut off the portion you believe is my due,”

rasped the corpse

“Wretch, it would have been better to have been left to perish alone on the island than endure this!”

He raised the sword to strike and was about to bring it down when the corpse raised its hand and stepped forward commanding him to stop.

“Stop, do the child no harm!  I can see clearly that you are a man of honour and have not forgotten your promise.  Neither have I forgotten you saved me from the dogs and paid for me to have a Christian burial.   Through you I now live in Paradise only because you paid for me my debts out of the goodness of your heart which allowed me to a proper burial.  Clearly you would honour your promise but in gratitude for the service you gave me I say that we are even and the debt is paid.  Now, I say goodbye until we meet again in heaven!” and with that the corpse walked out of the door and was gone.

From then on Iouenn and his wife and son lived very happily and when the old King died and because of the respect the people had for him as a man of honour he was made King.  So it was that Iouenn’s act of kindness which allowed the soul of a person he had not known to enter Heaven was repaid to him in his lifetime by the grateful dead themselves.

© 02/08/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Information

Copyright August 2th, 2017 zteve t evans

Breton folktales: The Cursed Comorre

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Breton Folktales

Breton folktales have much in common with other European folktales and yet still retain their own unique characteristics.  The rugged forests and heaths with the mysterious standing stones and the ancient towns and villages, the wild sea coast, the church and paganism all bleed into one another creating incredible stories of morals to live by, adventure, life and death passing through wildness and darkness into light.

This is a folktale from Brittany I have curated, edited and adapted from a number of sources but the major influence has been Folk Tales of Brittany, by Elsie Masson, [1929], and the story of The Castle of Comorre a Breton folktale which she collected.  It tells of the plight of Tréphine, the daughter of the King of Vannes who had the misfortune to marry Comorre, also known as Conomor a Breton nobleman with an evil reputation.   Comorre is thought to one of the original sources of the Bluebeard character in folk tales.  Although the story is clearly fictional  the main characters do have a degree of historical basis.  Tréphine was a semi-legendary saint and the daughter of Waroch I who was the King of Vannes, who was a contemporary of Comorre, so there is so historical basis to the story though it has been embellished and exaggerated over the centuries and this is my version.

The Cursed Comorre

The King of Vannes daughter

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Pixabay – ClkerFreeVectorImages – Public Domain

There was once a king who ruled over the land of white corn and lived in his castle in the town of Vannes in Brittany. He had an only daughter that he loved with all of his heart.  Her name was Tréphine and called the white dove and she was the most beautiful princess in the whole of Brittany.  She was as pure as snow and had never, ever committed a mortal sin.  To her father she was everything and he would have given away all of his riches, castles and land and everything he owned rather than see his Tréphine unhappy.

There came a day when messengers came to him from the nearby land of the black corn that was ruled by a rich and powerful Count by the name of Comorre.   The messengers bowed low and presented the King with many gifts of honey and fine cloths, animals and jewels and then solemnly informed the King of Vannes that the Count Comorre desired the hand of his daughter, the Princess Tréphine, in marriage.  They told him that when the last festival was held in Vannes the Count had disguised himself as an ordinary soldier and mingled and mixed with the people of Vannes as they celebrated.  During those celebrations he had see the Princess Tréphine for the first time and had fallen deeply in love with her.

Count Comorre

The King of Vannes was devastated and filled with grief for although he knew she would one day marry, he hoped it would be to a man she loved.  Count Comorre although rich and powerful had a bad reputation and known for his cruelty and found joy in doing evil.  Even as a child his cruelty was legendary and when he was going into the town his own mother would ring the castle bells to warn the townsfolk he was on his way. The older he got the more cruel and evil he became. He rejoiced in wickedness of all kinds and his subjects were terrified of him and hated him, always avoiding him for fear he should pick on them.  When he grew into a young man he had four wives in quick succession each of whom he quickly tired of and were found dead in strange circumstances.

So when Count Comorre’s messengers stood before the King of Vannes asking for his daughter’s hand in marriage the King was filled with fear for his daughter. He did not want her to marry him of all men.  The King politely told the messengers that he thought his daughter much too young to marry hoping this would be enough.  Count Comorre’s messengers were prepared for such a reply and had received their orders from the Count himself. Roughly and rudely they told the King that permission must be granted immediately and the Princess Tréphine was to return with them to the Count without delay or a state of war would exist between them.  They warned him that  Count had assembled a vast and mighty army and would fall upon Vannes and take the Princess Tréphine for his wife and the crown of the city too.  Then they taunted the King telling him to refuse if he dared.

War is threatened

Now the King of Vannes knew Count Comorre was not bluffing and that his army was no match for such a fight,  Nevertheless anger flared in his heart and he bravely refused the request defying the evil Count  Comorre.  The messengers turned and rode furiously back to their lord with the King’s reply.

Three days past and then news came to the King of Vannes that a vast army led by  Count Comorre was approaching the city to attack.  The King mustered his knights, cavalry and foot soldiers and marched out to meet him.

Saint Gildas

Saint Gildas the Christian holy man, saw this and was alarmed at the sight of these two armies preparing to make war and slay each other.  The cloak the saint wore had once covered the boat that had brought him over the sea to Brittany and the staff he carried was made from its mast and a halo glowed around his head.  He went looking for the princess and found her praying and he begged her to stop the battle. Fearfully he told her that many men from both sides would die unless she agreed to the marriage and she could save many Christians by marrying Comorre despite his evil ways.

“If only I were a beggar girl I could marry any beggar of my choice,” she cried, “this tyrant will surely kill me like he has killed all his other wives!”

“Have no fear,” said Saint Gildas, “ I will give you this silver ring and it will warn you if there is a plot against you for it will turn as black as night.  Take it and save your fellow Christians from death!” He told her.

The wedding

So to save so much death and bloodshed she took the ring and consented to marry Count Comorre.  Saint Gildas rode at once to the battle and riding between the two armies he stopped them before the fight had begun, telling Count Comorre and the King of Vannes that Princess Tréphine had consented to the marriage.  The King  was devastated and would gladly have died rather than allow it.  Comorre was ecstatic and promised the King that his behavior would change for the better and that he loved Tréphine with all his heart. At last the King agreed and the wedding went ahead.  The most lavish wedding and feast was given and Comorre carried off his innocent young wife back to his castle like a hawk may carry a pure white dove in its talons.

During the first few months of marriage a great change came over the Count and he grew gentler and less wicked.  His dungeons were emptied and not once did he put anyone to death.  His subjects were surprised and pleased commenting at the change and thinking it would not last, but those who knew waited and kept their tongues.  Tréphine went to the chapel every day to pray on the burial vaults of his four previous wives.  She prayed to God for them and for herself not to suffer their fate.

Comorre leaves for Rennes

It was at this time that a messenger came to the Count telling him that all the rulers of Brittany had been summoned to a meeting in Rennes and he would be expected to attend as was his duty.  Comorre did not really want to go but felt compelled by his position to attend.  Just before he left he called Tréphine to him and handed to her the keys to the entire castle and told her to go and do as she liked within the castle. With that he left for Rennes with a retinue of his best knights.

Comorre returns

Comorre was kept at Rennes for six months and during that time thought of Tréphine constantly and missed her greatly.  On his return he hurried up to her chambers and entering her room was shocked to find her making a satin hood which she was embroidering with silver thread for a baby. When he saw what she was doing he grew pale and asked, “And whose child is that for?”

Tréphine looked up from her work and smiled thinking he would be pleased and said, “Why ours of course for I am with child!”

The ghosts of Comorre’s wives

Cormorre glared at her darkly and turned and abruptly left the room without another word.  Tréphine felt a strange sensation on her finger and looked down at the ring and to her fear saw it had turned as black as night.  Terror entered into her heart and she knew she was now in mortal danger.    As silently and stealthily as she could she made her way to the chapel and there prayed beside the burial vaults of her murdered predecessors. Hiding herself between the vaults she knelt in prayer while the chapel clock struck the hours and after what seemed like an age midnight struck  As the last stroke struck and to her terror she saw four black wraiths rising from the vaults.  Tréphine backed slowly away but the ghosts advanced and in fear she dropped to her knees.

alexandre_iii_28dictionnaire_infernal29The ghosts speak

One of the ghosts pointed at her and in a voice from beyond the grave said, “Beware, lost creature, Beware!  Count Comorre seeks your death!”

“But what have I done to deserve death?” Tréphine said trembling.

“You will be the mother of his child very soon and the prophecy foretells that the son of Count Comorre will destroy his father!” Answered the deathly voice.

“God above, is there no escape for me!” She cried.

“Return to your father in the land where the white corn grows,” replied the ghost.

“But how could I ever get across the courtyard with those great guard dogs Comorre has on the loose at nights?”

“Give the dogs this poison that killed me!” said the wraith handing her a vial,

“And how am I to get over the castle wall?”

“Use this rope that throttled me!” said another ghost handing her a rope.

“How will I find my way in this black night?”

“Use this fire that burnt me!” said the third.

“And how shall I walk so far when I am trembling with fear?”

“Lean on this staff that broke my skull!” said the fourth placing the staff in her hand.

Escape

So with the poison the rope, the fire and the staff she made her way to the courtyard. Throwing the poison for the dogs to devour she then made her way across the dark courtyard using the fire  and climbed over the castle wall using the rope.  Once over the wall she made off down the road towards her father’s city of Vannes using the staff for support.

The search for Tréphine

Commore had spent the night brooding about the prophecy and in the morning sent his servants to fetch Tréphine to him.  They searched high and low but no trace of her could they find.  Furious, Comorre ran to the top of his highest tower and looked out to where the four winds blew. Towards the midnight he saw a raven.  Looking towards sunrise he saw a swallow flying.  He looked toward midday and saw a seagull soaring so he turned towards sunset, There he saw a white dove fleeing and he knew it was Tréphine and where she was going.  Running to the stables he quickly saddled his horse and calling his servants to follow with hounds rode off in pursuit.

The shepherd’s hut

Tréphine had reached the edge of the forest that surrounded Comorre Castle but seeing the ring on her finger had turned black she knew Comorre was in close pursuit.  Running across a moor looking for shelter she came across an old shepherd’s hut.  Tentatively she knocked on the door but when no answer came she softly opened the door and looked in. All she could see was an old magpie in a cage on a shelf on the wall.

Tréphine stayed in the hut for the rest of the day but when night fell she left the hut and made her way across fields of flax guided by the fire and aided by the staff that the wraiths had given her.   For two days Comorre searched high and low but could not find her along the road.  Finally he found the shepherd’s hut and saw the old magpie and heard it imitating Tréphine’s voice crying and praying and he knew she had been there.

A baby is born

Telling his servants to loose the dogs they soon picked up her scent and ran yelping after her.  Leaping on his horse Comorre followed them with his servants coming along behind. With fear driving her on Tréphine ran for her life knowing she was nearing Vannes, her father’s castle but the exertion of the run was telling on her now and she knew she had to rest.  Finding a glade in the woods she stopped and rested and there to her absolute joy the most beautiful baby boy was born.  She named him Trémeur and he would live to be a holy saint and a great king but her time on earth at that moment was not so certain.

The falpsm_v51_d613_rough_legged_hawkcon

As she rested in the glade with the baby boy in her arms she saw a falcon swoop down and perch of on a nearby branch. Seeing it wore a ring of gold on one foot she knew it to be one of her father’s and she knew it by name and called it down to her. The bird flew down to land close beside her. Taking off her silver ring she gave it to the falcon who took it in its claw and she said, “Take this to my father as swift as you can.  Give it to my father and he will know my life is in grave danger.  Guide him back to me quickly for I fear my life will be ended as soon Comorre finds me!”

The falcon understood and flew like an arrow straight to King of Vannes.  The King was eating breakfast with Saint Gildas and the falcon flew in through the window  and dropped the ring into his drinking cup.  The king seeing the ring and knowing it urged the falcon to lead him to his daughter.

The death of Tréphine

But at that moment in the glade one of Comorre’s hounds picked up her trail and yelped and Tréphine knew her time was short.  Wrapping the baby boy in her cloak she hid him in the hollow of a tree and stepped back into the glade to face Comorre.  The dogs came yelping into the glade and Comorre followed on a great black horse.  Seeing her he cried out in anger and spurred his horse forward and sweeping out his sword cut her head off with one blow.  Riding round her headless body with a smile of satisfaction on his face he then turned and spurred his horse for home.

The King finds his daughter

Back in the castle in Vannes the King saw the ring and told the Saint that something terrible was happening to his daughter and they had to hurry to save her.   Telling his servants to raise his knights and saddle their horses he begged Gildas to come with him.

Gildas readily agreed and the company followed the falcon to the glade.  There the King of Vannes saw the terrible sight he had feared.  Lying in the glade was the headless body of his daughter.  Dismounting and falling to his knees the king cried and mourned for his daughter and all the rest of the company formed a protective ring around their king and his dead daughter. Gildas called them all to be silent and the sound of a crying baby was heard.  H went to the hollow tree and brought out the baby giving it to the King.

Gildas resurrects Tréphine

“On your knee and pray with me!” commanded Gildas and the entire company dropped to their knees in prayer.  When he had finished he motioned for them to stay kneeling and he rose and placed the severed head of Tréphine on to her neck and again prayed and then commanded, “Rise up whole,”  and to everyone’s surprise and delight she returned to life whole and one.  Tréphine rose and Gildas then gave her the baby and told her they must now return to the castle of Comorre for there was a task that had now to be done.

Tréphine was given a horse and she carrying the baby rode at the head of the company to Comorre.  The company rode like thunder but none could overtake Tréphine and her son and they soon reached the castle of Count Comorre.

Comorre had seen them coming from afar and had ordered that the drawbridge be brought up.   The company stopped outside the gates unable to enter and Gildas now rode to the head.  He dismounted and stood before the gates and cried, “Comorre!  See, I bring you back your wife and son that God in his grace has given you!  Will you take them back?

The prophecy is fulfilled

But no answer came from the castle and Gildas repeated the words twice more.  Still no answer came from the castle.  Then Gildas took the new born baby from Tréphine and placed  him standing upon the ground and a second miracle was seen.  The child strode towards the edge of the moat stooped and taking a handful of sand threw it against the castle and then raising his hands and looking up to heaven he called out “Justice shall be done!”  Instantly the skies resounded like thunder and the walls of the castle cracked and the walls disintegrated into a heap of rubble before their eyes and the once mighty stronghold of Count Comorre was reduced to ruin burying him and all those who followed him under rubble.  With Comorre and his followers now dead the King of Vannes took his daughter, Tréphine and his grandson with Gildas back safely to his castle now glad of heart that evil had been vanquished.  So the great fear of the prophecy that drove Comorre to kill his wives finally caught up with him and was now fulfilled by his own son.

© 26/04/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright 26/04/2016 zteve t evans

King Arthur and the Legend of the Ermine of Our Lady

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KIng Arthur and Flolo – Public Domain

The Coat of Arms of the Duchy of Brittany

The former Duchy of Brittany was a small feudal state in medieval times before it became part of France.  Like most other such states it had its own Coat of Arms.   Curiously, the Duchy’s featured the white winter coat of the stoat which was often known as  ermine. There are at least two legends as to how this came about.  The first concerns Anne de Bretagne the last independent ruler of the duchy and the other King Arthur, the King of Britain. This work deals with the Arthurian version.

This legend goes back to the time King Arthur ruled Britain.  As well as being a mighty warrior and leader of men he was also a good and wise king who was devoted to God and the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Hugh O’Reilly tells the The Legend of the Ermine of Our Lady which explains how this came to be.

The Loss of Gaul

The story takes place during the time when the Emperor of Rome was Leo I and Gaul was ruled by Flolo, a Tribune of Rome.  It tells how Flolo was an unjust and cruel ruler who persecuted Christians and frequently blasphemed against the Virgin Mary ordering the desecration and destruction of her statues, shrines and relics.

During this period Arthur had lost control of Gaul and was back in Britain at his court.  It was said to be towards the end of summer when a knight stood up in his court and called Arthur a coward because he had lost Gaul to his enemies.  He told Arthur that he would now die without being King of the fair and that beautiful land that the Pope himself had given him.

Arthur’s vow

Angry and embarrassed Arthur swore before God and the Virgin Mary that he would retake Gaul and be its King once again.  He vowed that within twelve months he would challenge Flolo man to man. Arthur set about planning and preparing his army for the invasion of Gaul.  By the  time Spring came Arthur had assembled a mighty invasion force and moved it across the sea into Gaul.

In Spring-time the land of Gaul was a marvelous place with oceans of sunshine and lush greenery and it was indeed a most beautiful land.  Arthur was expecting fierce resistance in its defense but no army appeared to confront him.  Bemused, Arthur sent five hundred of his warriors and two thousand archers to seek out the defending army but all they could report was that everywhere they went people fled from them.  Now unlike Flolo, Arthur was not a cruel man and he began to regret that his arrival with such a huge and warlike host of armed men had frightened the local people. They were simple peasants who worked the land for their living and they themselves were victims of the cruelty of Flolo and he felt sorry for them.  Just as he was pondering what he should do he heard the sound of trumpets and a party of messengers rode into his camp.

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King Arthur – Public Domain

Flolo’s challenge

They were the heralds of Flolo who he had sent to lay down a challenge.  The herald announced that his master proposed that to save needless bloodshed,  instead of the two armies meeting in open battle Arthur should appoint a champion who would fight him man to man to the death.  The winner would rule Gaul.

Flolo was a giant of a man with incredible strength and endurance and was completely fearless in battle.  As a sleight to Arthur he had challenged him to pick his bravest, strongest and best warrior to fight for him, rather than face him himself.  The herald was carrying Floro’s gauntlet and threw it contemptuously at Arthur’s feet.

Arthur accepts

Arthur’s knights clamoured to be his champion but Arthur silenced them.  He told them that he would fight Flolo and it was he alone who could be King of Gaul. Arthur told the herald to go back to Flolo and tell him that he himself would fight him to the death.  There would be no quarter asked and none would be given and that God alone would grant the most righteous victory.  So with the terms agreed the place of the combat was to be the Island of Notre Dame of Paris.

In the morning Arthur knelt in prayer to God and the Holy Virgin Mary that he may acquit himself with honour and courage and for protection.  Flolo appealed to the god Bacchus for strength and courage and the death of Arthur. Both men then mounted their warhorses and faced each other waiting for the signal from the herald.  The herald stood in the middle of the field waiting for the two to be ready and then blew on a trumpet to let the fight begin.

Fight to the death

Flolo spurred his horse forward and Arthur did the same.  The points of both men’s lances crashed against their shields as they met head on knocking both from their horses.  With lance and shield splintered to shards  both men scrambled to their feet and began raining sword blows at each other.  Both managed to deflect the deadly blows until the height and strength of Flolo gained a brief advantage and blow to Arthur’s head split his iron helmet and brought him to his knees knocking the senses from him.

Appearance of the Holy Mother

Arthur’s followers groaned thinking their King must surely die.  Flolo raised his sword for the final blow but that blow never came.  To the astonishment of all the Holy Mother Mary appeared with a cloak of ermine around her shoulders which she quickly threw over Arthur’s shield.  So pure and white was the ermine cloak that Flolo was temporarily blinded and stunned with terror.  Arthur, although wounded seized his chance and with his last strength took off the head of his enemy with his sword, Excalibur.

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Coat of Arms of the former Duchy of Brittany – Public Domain

Ermine

Not until the fight was over did Arthur learn from his knights of the apparition of the Virgin Mary.  To give thanks and to honor her he ordered that a Church be built on the island. Today the Church of Notre Dame of Paris is said to stand on that same spot.  Arthur then ordered that his nephew, Hoel, the sixth Duke of Brittany should incorporate the cloak of ermine on his Coat of Arms also.  According to legend from that day on ermine was always borne on the  Coat of Arms of the Duchy of Brittany.

© 17/02/2016 zteve t evans

 References and Attributions

Copyright February 17th, 2016 zteve t evans