Comorre

Comorre

In the old times, it is said that the city of Vannes was far larger and finer than it is in our days, and that instead of a prefect, it was ruled by a king, whose will was law. I do not know what his name was; but from all I have heard, it seems that he was a man who lived in the fear of God, and of whom no one had ever found occasion to speak an evil word.

He had been early left a widower; and he lived happily with his only daughter, said to be the most beautiful creature in the whole world. She was called Tryphyna, and those who knew her have asserted that she came of age unsullied by a single mortal sin. So that the king her father would have willingly sacrificed his horses, castles, and farms, rather than see Tryphyna made unhappy.

However, it came to pass, that one day ambassadors from Cornouaille were announced. They came on the part of Comorre, a powerful prince of those times, who ruled over the land of Black-Wheat as Tryphyna's father ruled that of the White.1

After offering presents of honey, flax, and a dozen of little pigs, to the king, they informed him that their master had visited the last fair at Vannes disguised as a soldier, and there beholding the beauty and modesty of the young princess, he had determined at all hazards to have her in marriage.

This proposal filled both the king and Tryphyna with great grief; for the Count Comorre was a giant, and said to be the wickedest man that had ever been on the earth since the days of Cain.

From his earliest youth he had been used to find his only pleasure in working mischief; and so malicious was he, that his mother herself had been accustomed to run and ring the alarm-bell whenever he left the castle, to warn the country people to take care of themselves. When older, and his own master, his cruelty was greater still. It was said that one morning, on his way out, he tried his gun upon a lad tending a colt at pasture, and killed him. And at other times, when returning unsuccessful from the chase, he would let loose his dogs upon the poor peasants in the fields, and suffer them to be pulled down like beasts of prey. But, most horrible of all, he had married four wives in succession, each of whom had died off suddenly without receiving the last Sacraments; and it was even said that he had made away with them by the knife, fire, water, or poison.

So the King of Vannes replied to the ambassadors that his daughter was too young and too weak in health to think of marrying. But Comorre's people answered roughly, after their manner, that the Count Comorre would listen to no such excuses, and that they had received orders, if the young princess was not sent back with them, to declare war against the King of Vannes. The king replied, that they must do as they liked about that. Then the most aged among the envoys lighted a handful of straw, which he flung to the winds, declaring that thus should the anger of Comorre pass over the country of White-Wheat; and so they departed.2

Tryphyna's father, being a courageous man, did not allow himself to be disheartened by this threat, and called together all the soldiers he could muster to defend his territories.

But in a few days he heard that the Count of Cornouaille was advancing upon Vannes with a powerful army; and it was not long before he came in sight with trumpets and cannons. Then the king put himself at the head of his people, and the battle was on the point of beginning; when St . Veltas 3  came to find Tryphyna, who was praying in her oratory.

The saint wore the cloak which had served him as a vessel for crossing the sea, and carried the walking-staff which he had fastened to it as a mast to catch the wind. A halo of glory hovered round his brow. He announced to the young princess that the men of Vannes and Cornouaille were on the point of shedding each other's blood, and asked her whether she would not stay the death of so many Christians by consenting to become the wife of Count Comorre.

“Alas, then, God demands from me the death of all my peace and happiness,” cried the young girl, weeping. “Why am I not a beggar? I could then at least be wedded to the beggar of my choice. Ah, if it is indeed the will of God that I espouse this giant, whom I dread so much, say for me, holy man, the Office for the Dead; for the count will kill me, as he has his other wives.”

But St. Veltas replied,

“Fear nothing, Tryphyna. See here this ring of silver, white as milk; it shall serve you as a warning; for so surely as Comorre is plotting any thing against you, it will become as black as the crow's wing. Take courage, then, and save the Bretons from death.”

The young princess, reassured by this present of the ring, consented to St. Veltas's request.

Then the saint hurried without loss of time towards the opposed armies, that he might announce the good tidings to their chiefs. The King of Vannes, notwithstanding his daughter's resolution, was very unwilling to consent to the marriage; but Comorre promised so fairly, that at last he accepted him as son-in-law.

The nuptials were celebrated with such festivities as have never been seen since within the two dioceses. The first day six thousand noble guests sat down to table; and on the second they received as many poor, whom the bride and bridegroom , forgetful of their rank, waited on at table, with napkins on their arms.4  Then there was dancing, at which all the musicians of Lower Brittany were engaged; and wrestling-matches, in which the men of Brévelay contended with those of Cornouaille.

At last, when all was over, every one went home to his own country; and Comorre carried off with him his young bride, as a sparrow-hawk that has pounced upon a poor little yellow-hammer.

However, during the first few months his affection for Tryphyna softened him more than might have been expected. The castle-dungeons remained empty, and the gibbets held no pasture for foul birds of prey. The count's people whispered low,

“What ails our lord, then, that he thirsts no more for tears and blood?” But those who knew him better waited and said nothing. Tryphyna herself, notwithstanding the count's kindness towards her, could never feel easy or happy in her mind. Every day she went down to the castle-chapel, and there, praying on the tombs of Comorre's four dead wives, she besought God to preserve her from a violent death.

About this time a grand assembly of Breton princes took place at Rennes, and Comorre was obliged to join it. He gave into Tryphyna's keeping all the castle keys, even those of the cellars; told her to amuse herself as she liked best, and set out with a great retinue.

It was five months before he returned, full of anxiety to see Tryphyna, of whom he had thought often during his absence. And in his haste, unwilling to lose time by announcing his arrival, he rushed up into her room, where she was at that moment engaged in making an infant's cap, trimmed with silver-lace.

On seeing the cap, Comorre turned pale, and asked for what it was designed. The countess, thinking to rejoice his heart, assured him that they would shortly have a child; but at this news the Prince of Cornouaille drew back in horror, and after looking at Tryphyna with a dreadful countenance, went suddenly out, not speaking a word.

The princess might have taken this for one of the count's frequent caprices, had she not perceived, on casting down her eyes, that the silver ring had turned black. She uttered a cry of terror; for she remembered the words of St. Veltas, and knew that she must be in imminent peril. But she knew not wherefore, neither could she tell how to escape it. Poor woman! all day long, and during part of the night, she employed herself in pondering what could be the reason of the count's displeasure; and at last, her heart growing heavier, she went down into the chapel to pray.

But scarcely had she finished her rosary, and risen to depart, when the hour of midnight struck. At that instant she beheld the four grave-stones of Comorre's four wives rise slowly up, and they themselves come out swathed in their funeral shrouds.

Tryphyna, more dead than alive, would have escaped; but the phantoms called to her:

“Take care, poor lost one; Comorre waits to kill thee.”

“Me!” cried the countess; “and how have I offended, that he seeks my death?”

“You have told him you will shortly be a mother; and he knows, thanks to the evil one, that his first child will be his destroyer. Therefore it was that he took our lives also.”

“My God! and have I fallen into hands so cruel?” cried Tryphyna, weeping. “If it is so, what hope remains for me? what can I do?”

“Go back to your father in the land of White-Wheat,” said the phantoms.

“How can I fly?” returned the countess; “the giant dog of Comorre guards the gate.”

“Give to him this poison, which killed me,” said the first.

“How can I get down the high wall?” asked the young wife.

“Let yourself down by this cord, which strangled me,” replied the second.

“But who will direct me through the darkness?” asked the princess.

“This fire, which consumed me,” replied the third.

“How can I take so long a journey?” once more asked Tryphyna.

“Make use of this staff, which crushed my temples,” said the last.

Comorre's wife took the staff, the torch, the cord, and the poison. She silenced the dog, she scaled the lofty wall, she penetrated the darkness, and took the road to Vannes, where her father dwelt.

Comorre, not being able to find her the next morning when he rose, sent his page to search for her in every chamber; but the page returned with the tidings that Tryphyna was no longer in the castle.

Then the count went up the donjon-tower, and looked out to the four winds.

To the north he saw a raven that croaked; to the sunrise a swallow on the wing; to the south a wailing sea-mew; and to the west a turtle-dove that sped away.

He instantly exclaimed that Tryphyna was in that direction; and having his horse saddled, set out in pursuit.

His unfortunate wife was still upon the border of the wood which surrounded the count's castle; but she was warned of his approach by seeing the ring grow black. Then she turned aside over the common, and came to the cabin of a poor shepherd, whose sole possession was an old magpie hanging in a cage.

The poor lady lay concealed there the whole day, bemoaning herself and praying; and when night came on, she once more set forth along the paths which skirt the fields of flax and corn.

Comorre, who had kept to the high road, could not find her; and after travelling two days, he returned the same way as far as the common. But there, as ill-luck would have it, he entered the shepherd's hut, and heard the magpie trying to recall the melancholy wailings it had listened to, and murmuring, “Poor Tryphyna! poor Tryphyna!” Then Comorre knew the countess had passed by that way, and calling his hunting-dog, set him on the track, and began to pursue her.

Meanwhile Tryphyna, pressed by terror, had walked on unresting, and was already drawing near to Vannes. But at last she felt herself unable to proceed; and turning into a wood, lay down upon the grass, where she gave birth to a son miraculously lovely, who was afterwards called St. Trever.

As she held him in her arms, and wept over him, half sorrowfully and half in joy, she perceived a falcon ornamented with a collar of gold. He was perched upon a neighbouring tree; and she knew him for her father's bird, the king of the land of White-Wheat. Calling him quickly by his name, the bird came down upon her knees; and giving him the warning-ring she had received from St. Veltas, she said, “Fly, falcon, hasten to my father's court, and carry him this ring. When he sees it, he will know I am in urgent danger, and will order his soldiers to horse. It is for you to lead them hither to save me.”

The bird understood, and taking the ring, flew like a flash of lightning in the direction of Vannes.

But almost at the same instant Comorre came in sight with his stag-hound, who had incessantly tracked Tryphyna; and as she had no longer the ring to forewarn her of approaching danger, she remained unconscious of it till she heard the tyrant's voice cheering on his dog.

Terror froze the marrow in her bones, and she had only just time to wrap the infant in her mantle and hide it in the hollow of a tree, when Comorre appeared upon his horse at the entrance of the pathway.

Seeing Tryphyna, he uttered a cry like that of a wild-beast, and throwing himself upon the unhappy victim, who had sunk upon her knees, he severed her head from her shoulders by one stroke of his hunting-knife.

Believing himself now at once rid of mother and child, he whistled back his dog, and set off on his return to Cornouaille.

Now the falcon arrived at the court of the King of Vannes, who was then dining; and hovering over the table, let fall the silver ring into his master's cup. He had no sooner recognised it, than he exclaimed:

“Woe is me, some misfortune must have befallen my daughter, since the falcon brings meback her ring. Let the horses be made ready, and let St. Veltas be our companion; for I fear we shall but too soon stand in need of his assistance.”

The servants obeyed promptly; and the king set forth with the saint, who had come at his prayer, and a numerous retinue. They put their horses to their full speed, and followed the course of the flying falcon, who led them to the glade where lay the dead Tryphyna and her living child.

The king then threw himself from his horse, and uttered cries that might have made the very oaks to weep; but St. Veltas silenced him.

“Hush!” said he, “and join with me in prayer to God; He can even yet repair all.”

With these words, he knelt down with all those who were present, and after addressing a fervent prayer to Heaven, he said to the dead body, “Arise!”

Tryphyna obeyed.

“Take thine head and thy child,” added the saint, “and follow us to the castle of Comorre.”

It was done as he commanded.

Then the terrified escort took horse once more, and spurred onwards towards Cornouaille. But however rapidly they rode, Tryphyna was ever in advance; holding her son upon her left arm, and her head on her right.

And thus they came before the castle of the murderer. Comorre, who saw them coming, caused the drawbridge to be raised. St. Veltas drew near the moat, and exclaimed, with a loud voice,

“Count of Cornouaille, I bring thee back thy wife, such as thy wickedness has made her; and thy son, as God has bestowed him on thee. Wilt thou receive them beneath thy roof?”

Comorre was silent. St. Veltas repeated the same words a second, then a third time; but still no voice replied. Taking, therefore, the infant from his mother's arms, he placed him on the ground.

Then was beheld a miracle which proved the Omnipotence of God; for the child walked alone, and boldly, to the edge of the moat, whence gathering a handful of the sand, he flung it towards the castle, crying out,

“God is just!”

At that instant the towers shook with a great tumult, the walls gaped open, and the whole castle sank down in ruins, burying the Count of Cornouaille, and all those who had abetted him in sin.

St. Veltas then replaced the head of Tryphyna on her shoulders, and laying his hands upon her, the holy woman came back to life; to the great content of the King of Vannes, and of all who were there present.

Note

According to the legend of Albert de Morlaix, Comorre was not buried in the castle ruins, but succeeded in making his escape; but, at the instance of Guerok, the Breton Bishops met in council “to cut off this rotten branch from the body of the Church. They assembled at the mountain called Menez-Brée, near Louargat, between Belle Isle and Guingamp, not daring to meet in any town, through the terror inspired by this tyrant; who, having killed King Johava, and his son Jugduval, did what he pleased throughout the whole of the Low Country” (Basse Bretagne ).

The Bishops thundered from their place of meeting a deadly excommunication against Comorre; who shortly after, according to the historian Le Bault, suffered the punishment of Arius; or, as others say, “vomited forth at the same instant his blood and his soul.”


1 The Breton name for Vannes, Gwen-ed, signifies literally White Wheat.

2 This form of declaring war, preserved by tradition, is curious, and, as far as we know, peculiar to Brittany. Amongst the ancient Romans they cast upon the enemy's territory a javelin scorched at the fire; in the middle ages the iron gauntlet was thrown, or the finger was gnawed; the savages of North America sent, like the Scythians, bundles of arrows, the number of which indicated that of the combatants; but burning straw flung upon the enemy's land is a peculiar symbol, which we have never noticed elsewhere.

3 The Breton name of St. Gildas.

4 This custom still exists in Brittany.