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Comorre






Source: Breton Legends

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.

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.

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 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. Then there was
dancing, at which all the musicians of Lower Brittany were engaged;
and wrestling-matches, in which the men of Brevelay 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 me back 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-Bree, 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."





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