Keris

Keris

In the olden times a king named Grallon reigned over the land of Cornouaille. He was as good a man as any son of Adam, and gave a cordial welcome at his court to all who had in any way distinguished themselves, were they plebeian or noble in their birth. Unfortunately his daughter was an ill-conducted princess, who, in order to evade his parental rule, had taken herself off to live at Keris, some few leagues from Quimper.

One day, whilst King Grallon was out hunting in a forest at the foot of Menéhom, he and all his followers lost their way, and came at last before the cell of the holy hermit Corentin. Grallon had often heard tell of this saintly man, and was delighted to find he had discovered his retreat; but as for the attendants, who were dying with hunger, they looked with any thing but satisfaction upon the humble cell, and whispered discontentedly amongst themselves that they should certainly have to sup on pious prayers.

Corentin, enlightened by God's grace, perceived their thoughts, and asked the king whether he would accept a little refreshment. Now Grallon, who had eaten nothing since cockcrow that morning, was extremely willing; so the saint, calling the king's cupbearer and cook, desired them to prepare his majesty a good repast after his long abstinence.

Then, leading them both to a fountain which bubbled near his cell, he filled with water the golden pitcher carried by the first, and cut a morsel from a little fish swimming in the basin, which he gave to the second, desiring them both to spread the board for the king and all his train. But the cupbearer and the cook began to laugh, and asked the holy man if he could possibly mistake the king's courtiers for miserable beggars, that he presumed to offer them his scraps of fish-bone and his frog-wine. Corentin quietly besought them not to be disturbed, for that God would provide for all.

Consequently they resolved to follow out the saint's directions, and found, to their astonishment, his words come true. For while the water he had poured into the golden pitcher came out a wine as sweet as honey and as hot as fire, the morsel of fish became an ample meal for twice as many guests as the king's suite contained.

Grallon was told by his two servants of this miracle; and they moreover showed him, as a greater wonder, the very same little fish from which Corentin had cut a portion, swimming safe and sound in the fountain, as whole as if the saint's knife had never come near him.

At this sight the King of Cornouaille was struck with admiration, and exclaimed to the hermit, “Man of God, this place is not for you; for He who is my Master as well as yours has forbidden us to hide a light beneath a bushel. You must leave this hermitage, and come with me. You shall be Bishop of Quimper, my palace shall be your dwelling-place, and the whole city your possession. I will build a monastery for your disciples at Landevenec, and the abbot shall be chosen by yourself.”

The good king kept his promise; and giving up his capital to the new Bishop, he went to dwell himself in the town of Is.

This town then stood upon the very spot now covered by the Bay of Douarnénèz. It was so large and so beautiful, that when the people of old times were seeking for a title worthy of the capital of France, they could find nothing better than to call it Par-is, that is to say, The like of Is. It was lower than the sea itself, and was defended from all fear of inundation by huge dikes, with doors to open occasionally and let the tide in or out. Grallon's daughter, the Princess Dahut, carried the silver keys which locked these doors suspended round her neck, from which fact the people generally called her Alc'huèz, or more shortly Ahèz.1 Now she was a great magician, and had adorned the town with numberless works of art far surpassing the skill of any human hand. All the Korigans 2  throughout Cornouaille and Vannes had assembled at her call to make the dikes and forge the iron doors; they had plated the palace all over with a metal resembling gold (Korigans being clever workers in metal), and had fenced in the royal gardens with balustrades glittering like polished steel.

They it was that kept Dahut's beautiful stables in such perfect order,—those stables that were paved with black, red, or white marble, according to the different colours of the horses in the stalls. And to the Korigans also was intrusted the care of the harbour, where the sea-dragons were kept; for by her powerful art had Dahut gained a wonderful ascendency over the monsters of the deep, so that she had placed one at the disposal of each inhabitant of Keris, that it should serve him like a horse, on which he might safely go across the waves to fetch rich treasure from another shore, or to attack the ships of foreign enemies. So these citizens were rich to that degree they actually measured out their corn in silver vessels. But wealth had hardened and perverted their hearts; beggars were hunted like wild-beasts from the city, for they could not endure the sight of any in their streets but merry prosperous folks dressed out in smart apparel. Our Lord Himself, had He appeared amongst them clad in sackcloth, would have been driven away. The only church remaining in the city was so forsaken, that the very beadle had lost the key of it; nettles grew upon its steps, and against the door-posts of the principal entrance birds had built their nests. The people of the place spent their days and nights in public-houses, dancing-rooms, or theatres; the one only object of their lives being apparently to ruin their immortal souls.

As for Dahut, she set them the example; day and night it was a gala in the palace. Gentlemen, nobles, and princes came from the remotest lands to visit this far-famed court. Grallon received them with courtesy, and Dahut with something more. If they were good-looking, she bestowed on them a magic mask, by means of which they were enabled to keep private appointments with her in a tower standing near the floodgates.

There they might remain talking with her until the hour when the sea-swallows, beginning their flight, passed before the tower-windows; when Dahut hastily bade them farewell, and, in order that they might go out, as they came, unseen, she once more brought forth her magic mask; but, alas, this time it closed upon them of its own accord with a strangling embrace. Then a black man took up the dead body, threw it across his horse like a sack of wheat, and went to fling it down the precipice between Huelgoat and Poulaouën. This is indeed only too true; for even to this day can be heard from the depths of the ravine the melancholy wailing of these wretched souls at evening hour. May all good Christians bear them in remembrance at their prayers!3

Corentin, who heard of all the goings-on at Keris, had many a time warned Grallon that the forbearance of God was drawing to a close;4  but the king had lost all his power, and dwelt quite solitary in one wing of his palace, like a grandfather who has made over all his property to his heirs; and as for Dahut, she cared nothing for the threats or warnings of the saint.

Well, one evening, when she was keeping festival as usual, she was informed that a powerful prince from the very ends of the earth had arrived to see her, and he was instantly announced.

He was a man of vast stature, clad from head to foot in scarlet, and so bearded that even his two eyes, glittering as stars, could scarcely be seen. He began by paying compliments in rhyme to the princess—no poet or minstrel could have conceived the like; and then he went on talking with such brilliant wit, that the entire assembly were struck dumb with astonishment. But what moved the friends of Dahut with the greatest wonder was to find how far more skilful than themselves this stranger was in sin. He was familiar, not only with all that human malice has invented since the creation of the world, in every region where mankind has dwelt, but with all that it ever shall invent until the moment when the dead shall rise again from their cold graves to stand before the judgment-seat of God. Ahèz and her court perceived that they had found their master, and one and all resolved to put themselves under the teaching of the bearded prince.

By way of beginning, he proposed to them a new dance, danced in hell by the Seven Deadly Sins. So he called in for the purpose a musician he had brought with him. This was a little dwarf, clad in goat-skin, and carrying a sort of bagpipe under his arm.

Scarcely had he begun to play before Dahut and her courtiers were seized with a sort of frenzy, and began to whirl about like the waves of the sea in a furious storm. The stranger instantly took advantage of the confusion to snatch the silver keys of the floodgates from the princess's neck, and to vanish from the saloon.

Meanwhile Grallon sat all solitary in the great gloomy hall of his own lonely palace. He was near the hearth; but the fire was almost out. His heart grew every moment more and more heavy with sad thoughts, when all at once the great folding-doors flew open, and St. Corentin appeared upon the threshold, with a halo of glory round his brow, his pastoral staff in his hand, and a cloud of incense floating all about him.

“Rise, great king,” said he to Grallon; “take whatever precious things may still be left you, and flee away; for God has given over to the power of the demon this accursed city.”

Grallon, terrified, started up; and calling to some faithful old servants, took what treasure he possessed; and mounting his black horse, followed after the saint, who shot like an arrow through the air.

As they passed before the dikes, they heard a wild roar of waters, and beheld the bearded stranger, now restored to his own demoniac form, opening the floodgates with the silver keys he had taken from the Princess Dahut. The sea already streamed like a torrent on towards the devoted city; and the white waves, rearing their foamy crests above the lofty roofs, seemed rushing to its overthrow. The dragons chained within the harbour roared with terror, for even the beasts could feel their end at hand.

Grallon would fain have uttered a cry of warning, but St. Corentin once more entreated him to fly, and he plunged onwards at full gallop towards the shore; on, on through streets and squares and high roads, ever followed by the raging ocean, with the horse's hind hoofs always in the surge. So passed he by the palace of Dahut herself, who darted down the marble steps, her wild locks floating on the breeze, and sprang behind her father on the saddle. The horse stood still suddenly, staggered, and already the water mounted to the old king's knees.

“Help, help, St. Corentin!” he cried in terror .

“Shake off the iniquity you carry at your back,” replied the saint, “and, by the help of God, you shall be saved.”

But Grallon, who was, after all, a father, hesitated what to do. Then St. Corentin touched the princess on the shoulders with his pastoral staff, and she sank downwards to the sea, disappearing in the depths of the gulf, called after her the Gulf of Ahèz.

The horse, thus lightened of his load, made a spring forwards, and so gained Garrec Rock, where to this very day may be seen the print-marks of his iron shoes.5

The first act of the king was to fall upon his knees, and pour forth thanks to God; then turning towards Keris,6  he tried to judge how great was the danger from which he had been so miraculously rescued, but in vain he sought the ancient Queen of Ocean.

There, where had stood but a few moments before a harbour, palaces, treasures of wealth, and thousands of people, was to be seen nothing now but a smooth bay, on whose unruffled surface the stars of heaven looked calmly down; but beyond, in the horizon, just over the last ruins of the submerged dikes, there appeared the great red man, holding up with a triumphant air the silver keys.

Many are the forests of oak that have sprung up and withered since this awful warning; but through every generation fathers have told it to their children until this day. Up to the time of the great Revolution, the clergy of the different river-side parishes were wont to embark every year in fisher-boats, and go to say Mass over the drowned city. Since that time this custom has been lost, with many another one; but when the sea is calm, the remains of the great town may clearly be seen at the bottom of the bay, and the neighbouring downs are full of relics which bear witness to its wealth.


1 Good or bad, these etymologies of Ahèz and Par-is are accepted by the Bretons. The last word is even treasured in a proverb,

“Since the town of Is was drowned,

The like of Paris is not found.”

2 See the Korigans of Plauden, p. 31.

3 This legend still finds credence. The spot is shown, not far from Carhaix, whence Grallon's daughter caused her lovers' bodies to be thrown; and some antiquaries are also of opinion that Dahut often visited this town, which has received from her its name of Ker-Ahèz (town of Ahèz); at any rate, the old paved road which leads from the Bay of Douarnénèz to Carhaix proves beyond a doubt that there was frequent intercourse between Keris and this city.

4 All that follows is more properly ascribed to St. Corentin's disciple Gwenolé.

5 The peasantry still show the marks.

6 There appears to exist incontestable evidence of a city named Is lying buried beneath the Bay of Douarnénèz; and the relics which have been discovered from time to time prove beyond all doubt that art had been brought to very high perfection in those early times. It was supposed to date about the fourth century.