The Castle Of Comorre
A Folk Tale from Brittany
Long ago in the town of Vannes there lived a king who had an only daughter. Her name was Trephine. She was the loveliest princess in all of Brittany and all the lands that lay beyond. Moreover, she had never committed a mortal sin. And so the king, her father, would rather have lost all his castles, farms, and horses than to have seen Trephine unhappy.
One day ambassadors came to the King of Vannes from the country of Cornouaille, from Count Comorre, a powerful ruler at that time. They brought with them gifts of honey, linen thread, and a dozen suckling pigs and gave them to the king, telling him that Count Comorre wished to marry the Princess Trephine. They said that their master had visited the last fair disguised as a soldier, that he had seen the young princess and had fallen in love with her.
The request for her hand caused the princess and her father the deepest grief. For you must know that Comorre was a wicked and mighty tyrant. He loved to do evil. In deed he was so cruel that when he was a mere boy whenever he went forth from the castle his mother used to rush to the alarm bell in the tower and ring it to warn the townsfolk that he was coming. As he grew older he became more wicked every day so that he was feared and hated by all. But worst of all he had already had four wives whom he had killed.
Therefore the King of Vannes told the ambassadors that his daughter was too young to marry. But the Northerners declared roughly, as was their way, that Comorre would not accept any such excuse, and that he had commanded them to declare war on the King of Vannes if permission were not granted to take the princess back to the castle of the Count. Let the king say no at the peril of his crown.
The king was a brave man, and with fury in his heart he declared that Trephine should not go. Then quickly he gathered together all his soldiers and his knights to defend his country. Thus did he defy the evil Comorre.
Scarcely had three days passed before Count Comorre marched down on Vannes at the head of his mighty army. The king went forth with his array of knights and soldiers to meet him.
Now when Saint Gildas saw these armed hosts making ready for a bloody fray he went to find the princess who was praying in her oratory. The saint was wearing the mantle that he had used as a boat to sail over the sea, and he was carrying the staff that had been the mast. A fiery aureole was glowing around his head.
Gildas entering the oratory petitioned the princess to avert the battle. He said that the men of Brittany were about to fall upon one another's throats and that she could prevent the death of many Christians if she would agree to marry Comorre.
"Alas, why am I not a beggar maid!" exclaimed the princess, wringing her hands. "Then at least I could marry the beggar of my choice! But if I must marry this oppressor then say for me the offices of the dead. I know the Count will slay me as he has slain his other wives."
But Saint Gildas replied, "Fear nothing, Trephine. Here is a silver ring as white as silk. It will warn you if Comorre plots villainies against you, for it will then turn as black as a raven's wing. Take courage and save the Bretons from death."
And so the young princess consented to marry Comorre.
The saint went at once to the two armies and told them of Trephine's decision. The king received the news with sorrow. He did not wish to give his consent to the marriage, in spite of his daughter's resolve. But Count Comorre made him so many promises that at last he agreed to accept him as a son-in-law.
The wedding was celebrated with great festivities. The first day six thousand guests were feasted, and the next day as many more, and the newly married couple waited on them at table.
At last when all the soup pots were emptied and the barrels drunk down to the dregs, the guests went home, and Comorre carried off his young bride as a hawk carries off a little white dove.
Now it happened during the next few months his love for Trephine made Comorre gentler than you would have expected from the wickedness of his nature. The dungeons of the castle were empty and no one was put to death.
"What has happened to our Count that he no longer revels in tears and bloodshed?" many of his unhappy subjects asked each other. But those who knew him better waited and said nothing.
Trephine was not happy in spite of her husband's kindness. Every day she went to the chapel of the castle and prayed on the tombs of the four wives of whom the Count was widower. She prayed to God to preserve her from death.
At this time there was a gathering from far and wide of Breton princes at Rennes, and Comorre was compelled to go. On his departure he gave the princess all his keys, even the cellar keys, and, telling her to do as she liked, he set out with a retinue of horsemen and men-at-arms.
He did not return for six months, and he came back to the castle eager to see the princess, who during his absence had been constantly in his thoughts. He went quickly to her room and as he entered he saw that she was making a baby's satin hood covered with silver embroidery.
When he beheld her work he grew pale and asked, "For what child are you making that?"
The princess who thought that it would bring him great happiness answered, "In a short time, Count, a child will be born to us."
Not a word said Comorre in reply, but his countenance grew dark with anger and after having darted a terrible look at the princess abruptly left the room.
Trephine glanced down and noticed that her little silver ring which the saint had given her had turned black. She uttered a cry of terror for she remembered Saint Gildas' words and she knew that grave danger threatened her.
Night was falling and she fled to the chapel. She remained there as the hours tolled crouching by one of the tombs of the dead wives. Midnight struck. As the last note sounded the princess saw four ghostlike figures slowly moving toward her. All but dead with terror she tried to flee, but one of the wraiths addressed her in sepulchral voice:
"Beware, beware, lost creature! Comorre is on the watch to kill you!"
"To kill me!" exclaimed the princess. "What have I done to make him wish me dead?"
"He knows that you will soon be the mother of a child and it has been foretold that his son will be the cause of his destruction," answered the ghostly creature.
"Heaven help me! What can I do to escape from his cruelty?" cried Trephine, wringing her hands.
"Go back to your father in the land of the white corn," said the spectre.
"But how can I escape?" asked the princess. "Comorre's great dog keeps watch in the courtyard."
"Give the dog the poison that killed me," said the first ghostly wife.
"And how shall I get over the high wall?" asked Trephine trembling.
"Use the rope that strangled me," replied the second phantom.
"Who will direct me in the darkness?" the princess asked.
The fire that burnt me," the third spectre answered.
How shall I walk so far?" asked poor Trephine with anguish in her heart.
"Take this staff that cleft my brow," said the last ghostly wife.
The princess took the staff, the fire, the rope, and the poison, and thanking the ghostly shades she fled in haste. She prevented the dog from attacking her, she got over the great wall, the fire lighted her in the darkness, and leaning on the staff she took the road to Vannes where lived the king, her father.
When the wicked Comorre could not find the princess the next morning he sent searchers throughout the castle. All came back reporting that no trace of the princess could be found.
Then Comorre climbed to the top of the lofty central tower and looked toward the four winds. Toward the midnight he saw a raven croaking, toward the sunrise he saw a swallow flying, toward the midday a sea-gull hovering, but toward the sunset he saw a white dove fleeing.
"That is Trephine," he said to himself.
And he saddled his horse and set out in pursuit.
The princess by this time was on the outskirts of the forest which surrounded the castle of Comorre, but she was warned of his approach for she saw her ring again turn black. She ran across a heath and reached a shepherd's hut where there was no one but an old magpie in the cage.
There the princess lay all day in hiding. But when night fell she continued on her way by paths that ran along the flax fields, guided by the fire and supported by the staff.
For two days Comorre did not find her, then he turned back through the heath. There, alas, he found the shepherd's hut and heard the magpie imitating the princess' moans and crying in its rasping voice, "Poor Trephine, O Poor Trephine!"
So Comorre knew at once that the princess had passed that way. He called his hound and put him on the scent, then leaped upon his steed and followed.
In the meantime, the princess, winged by fear, was fleeing. She was near Vannes and her father's castle. She came to a bosky wood and feeling she could go no farther she stopped to rest. And there in the glade a beautiful child was born to her. It was he who later became the great king and saint, Tremeur.
As the princess clasped the child in her arms she saw a falcon on a nearby tree. On his foot was a golden ring, which she recognized as belonging to her father. She called the falcon by name and he flew down onto her lap. Then she gave him the saint's silver ring.
"Falcon," she said, "fly to my father and give him this ring. When he sees it he will know I am in grave danger, and you must direct him and his soldiers how to come to me."
The bird understood, took the ring, and flew away to Vannes.
But at this very moment Comorre appeared on the road with his hound which was following Trephine's scent. Poor Trephine! She had given her ring to the falcon and she was not warned of Comorre's approach until she heard the tyrant's voice urging on the dog.
Quickly the princess wrapped the child in her cloak and hid him in the hollow of a tree. Barely had she done so when Comorre on his hairy horse rode up beside her.
When he saw Trephine he uttered a wild cry and drawing his cutlass quickly struck off her head. Then satisfied that he had destroyed her he called his hound and cantered back to the castle.
Meantime the falcon had reached the court of the King of Vannes. The king was dining with Saint Gildas. As the falcon flew over the table he let the ring fall into the king's drinking cup. The king took it out and exclaimed:
"Some evil has befallen our daughter, the falcon has brought back her ring. Saddle the horses at once. Let Gildas come with us. I fear we shall need his help."
Quickly the horses were made ready and a great company set out with the king and Saint Gildas to find the princess. They followed the falcon's flight, galloping till they came to the glade where the princess lay dead. There they found her, and her child hidden in the tree.
The king got down from his horse weeping bitterly and all within his retinue were overcome with grief.
But Gildas imposed silence.
"Upon your knees," directed he, "and pray to God with me. The evil may yet be undone." So saying he knelt with all there present and after having uttered fervent prayer he addressed the princess. "Rise up," commanded he.
And Trephine obeyed and taking her head the saint set it on her shoulders and she was alive again.
"Take thy child," again the saint directed, "and come with us to the castle of Comorre."
And the princess did as the saint had bidden and with the king and his terrified attendants sped swiftly to the castle of the Count. But however swift the horses sped the princess carrying her son was swifter. Thus they reached the stronghold of Comorre.
Comorre beheld them coming from afar and hastened to pull up the drawbridge. And when Saint Gildas and the princess drew near the moat the saint cried in a loud voice:
"Comorre! Comorre! I am bringing back your wife alive, and behold your son as God gave him unto you! Will you take them under your roof?"
Gildas repeated the same words twice, then thrice, but no voice answered. He took the baby from his mother's arms and placed him standing on the ground. Then lo! A miracle was seen. The child walked to the brink of the moat, and stooping took a handful of sand and threw it against the castle walls. Lifting his arms toward Heaven he called out in a ringing voice:
"Justice shall be done!"
Immediately the towers of the castle fell over with the noise of thunder, the walls split open and in an instant all the mighty stronghold of Comorre toppled into ruin, burying the tyrant and all his wicked followers beneath the stones.
Then the king took the princess and her son and with Gildas and all that great company returned to Vannes, rejoicing.
Sources And Further Reading
Sacred Texts Folk Tales of Brittany by Elsie Masson