The Groac'h Of The Isle Of Lok
Source: Breton Legends
Every one who knows the land of the Church (Lanillis), knows also that
it is one of the loveliest parishes in the diocese of Leon. To say
nothing of green crops and corn, its orchards are famed from all time
for apples sweeter than the honey of Sizun, and plum-trees of which
every blossom ripens into fruit. As for the marriageable maidens,
they are all models of discretion and housewifery; at least so say
their nearest relations, who of course know them best.
In olden times, when miracles were as common in these parts as
christenings and burials now, there dwelt in Lanillis a young man
called Houarn Pogamm, and a damsel whose name was Bellah Postik.
They grew up together in love, as in age and stature; but every one
that they had to care for them being dead, one after the other, and
they left portionless, the two poor orphans were at last obliged to
go into service. They ought, indeed, to have been happy, for they
served the same master; but lovers are like the sea, that murmurs ever.
"If we had only enough to buy a little cow and a lean pig," said
Houarn, "I would take a bit of land of our master; and then the good
father should marry us, and we would go and live together."
"Yes," replied Bellah, with a deep sigh; "but the times are so
hard. The cows and pigs were dearer than ever at Ploudalmazeau the
last fair. Providence must surely have given up caring for the world."
"I am afraid we shall have to wait a long time," said the young man;
"for I never get the last glass of the bottle when I drink with the
rest of them."
"Very long," replied the maiden; "for I never can hear the cuckoo."
Day after day it was the same story; till at last Houarn was quite out
of patience. So one morning he came to Bellah, as she was winnowing
some corn in the threshing-floor, and told her how he had made up
his mind that he would set out on his travels to seek his fortune.
Sadly troubled was the poor girl at this resolve, and she said all
she could to dissuade him from it; but Houarn, who was a determined
young fellow, would not be withheld.
"The birds," said he, "fly hither and thither till they have found
a field of corn, and the bees till they meet with flowers that
may yield them honey; is it for man to be less reasonable than the
winged creatures? I also will go forth on my quest; what I want is
but the price of a little cow and a lean pig. If you love me, Bellah,
you will no longer oppose a project which is to hasten our marriage."
Bellah could not but acknowledge that there was reason in his words;
so with a sigh and a yearning heart she said,
"Go then, Houarn, with God's blessing, if it must be so; but first
let me share with you my family relics."
She led him to her cupboard, and took out a little bell, a knife,
and a staff.
"There," said she, "these are immemorial heirlooms of our family. This
is the bell of St. Koledok. Its sound can be heard at any distance,
however great, and will give immediate notice to the possessor's
friends should he be in any danger. The knife once belonged to
St. Corentin, and its touch dissolves all spells, were they of the
arch-fiend himself. Lastly, here is the staff of St. Vouga, which
will lead its possessor whithersoever he may desire to go. I will
give you the knife to defend you from enchantments, and the little
bell to let me know if you are in peril; the staff I will keep,
that I may be able to join you, should you need my presence."
Houarn accepted with thanks his Bellah's gifts, wept awhile with her,
as belongs to a parting, and set out towards the mountains.
But it was then just as it is now, and in all the villages through
which he passed, the traveller was beset by beggars, to whom any one
with whole garments was a man of rank and fortune.
"By my faith," thought he, "this part of the country seems fitter
for spending a fortune than for making one: I must go farther."
He went onwards therefore towards the west, till at last he arrived
at Pontaven, a pretty town, built upon a river bordered with poplars.
There, as he sat at the inn-door, he overheard two carriers, who,
as they loaded their mules, were talking together of the Groac'h of
the Isle of Lok.
Houarn inquired who or what that might be; and was told that it was the
name of a fairy who inhabited the lake in the largest of the Glenans,
and who was said to be as rich as all the kings of the earth
together. Many had been the treasure-seekers that had visited her
island, but not one of them had ever returned.
The thought came suddenly into Houarn's mind that he too would try
the adventure. The muleteers did all they could to dissuade him. They
were so loud in their remonstrances, that they collected quite a
crowd about him, crying out that it was downright unchristian to
let him run into destruction in that way; and the people would even
have kept him back by force. Houarn thanked them for the interest
they manifested in his welfare, and declared himself ready to give
up his design, if only they would make a collection amongst them
which would enable him to buy a little cow and a lean pig; but at
this proposition the muleteers and all the others drew back, simply
repeating that he was an obstinate fellow, and that it was of no use
talking to him. So Houarn repaired to the sea-shore, where he took
a boat, and was carried to the Isle of Lok.
He had no difficulty in finding the pond, which was in the centre
of the island, its banks fringed by sea-plants with rose-coloured
flowers. As he walked round, he saw lying at one end of it, shaded by
a tuft of broom, a sea-green canoe, which floated on the unruffled
waters. It was fashioned like a swan asleep, with its head under
Houarn, who had never seen any thing like it before, drew nearer with
curiosity, and stepped into the boat that he might examine it the
better; but scarcely had he set foot within it when the swan seemed
to awake, its head started from amongst the feathers, its wide feet
spread themselves to the waters, and it swam rapidly from the bank.
The young man gave a cry of alarm, but the swan only made the more
swiftly for the middle of the lake; and just as Houarn had decided on
throwing himself from his strange bark, and swimming for the shore,
the bird plunged downward head foremost, drawing him under the water
along with it.
The unfortunate Leonard, who could not cry out without gulping down
the unsavoury water of the pool, was silent by necessity, and soon
arrived at the Groac'h's dwelling.
It was a palace of shells, far surpassing in beauty all that can be
imagined. It was entered by a flight of crystal steps, each stair of
which, as the foot pressed it, gave forth a concert of sweet sounds,
like the song of many birds. All around stretched gardens of immense
extent, with forests of marine plants, and plots of green seaweed,
spangled with diamonds in the place of flowers.
The Groac'h was reclining in the entrance-hall upon a couch of
gold. Her dress was of sea-green silk, exquisitely fine, and floating
round her like the waves that wrapped her grotto. Her black locks,
intertwined with coral, descended to her feet; and the white and red
of her brilliant complexion blended as in the polished lining of some
Dazzled with a sight at once so fair and unexpected, Houarn stood
still; but with a winning smile the Groac'h rose, and came forward
to meet him. So easy and flowing were her movements, that she seemed
like a snowy billow heaving along the sea, as she advanced to greet
the young Leonard.
"You are welcome," said she, beckoning him with her hand to enter;
"there is always room here for all comers, especially for handsome
At this gracious reception Houarn somewhat recovered himself, and
entered the hall.
"Who are you? Whence come you? What seek you?" continued the Groac'h.
"My name is Houarn," replied the Leonard; "I come from Lanillis; and
I am in quest of the wherewithal to buy a little cow and a lean pig."
"Well, come in, Houarn," said the fairy; "and dismiss all anxiety
from your mind; you shall have every thing to make you happy."
While this was passing she had led him into a second hall, the walls
of which were covered with pearls; where she set before him eight
different kinds of wine, in eight goblets of chased silver. Houarn made
trial of each, and found all so much to his taste, that he repeated
his draught of each eight times; while ever as the cup left his lips,
the Groac'h seemed still fairer than before.
She meanwhile encouraged him to drink, telling him he need be in no
fear of robbing her, for that the lake in the Isle of Lok communicated
with the sea, and that all the treasures swallowed up by shipwrecks
were conveyed thither by a magic current.
"I do not wonder," cried Houarn, emboldened at once by the wine and
the manner of his hostess, "that the people on shore speak so badly
of you; in fact, it just comes to this, that you are rich, and they
are envious. For my part, I should be very well content with the half
of your fortune."
"It shall be yours if you will, Houarn," said the fairy.
"How can that be?" he asked.
"My husband, the Korandon, is dead," she answered, "so that I am now
a widow; if you like me well enough, I will become your wife."
Houarn quite lost his breath for very wonderment. For him to marry
that beautiful creature! to dwell in that splendid palace! and to
drink to his heart's content of the eight sorts of wine! True, he
was engaged to Bellah; but men easily forget such promises,--indeed,
for that they are just like women. So he gallantly assured the fairy
that one so lovely must be irresistible, and that it would be his
pride and joy to become her husband.
Thereupon the Groac'h exclaimed that she would forthwith make ready
the wedding-feast. She spread a table, which she covered with all
the delicacies that the Leonard had ever heard of, besides a great
many unknown to him even by name; and then proceeding to a little
fish-pond at the bottom of the garden, she began to call, and at
each call up swam a fish, which she successively caught in a steel
net. When the net was full, she carried it into the next room, and
threw all the fish into a golden frying-pan.
But it seemed to Houarn as though there was a whispering of little
voices amidst the hissing of the pan.
"What is that whispering in the frying-pan, Groac'h?" he asked.
"It is the crackling of the wood," said she, stirring the fire.
An instant after the little voices again began to murmur.
"What is that murmuring, Groac'h?" asked the bridegroom.
"It is the butter in the frying-pan," she answered, giving the fish
But soon the little voices cried yet louder.
"What is that cry, Groac'h?" said Houarn.
"It is the cricket in the hearth," replied the fairy; and she began to
sing, so that the Leonard could no longer hear any thing but her voice.
But he could not help thinking on what he had noticed: and thought
brought fear, and fear, of course, repentance.
"Alas!" he cried, "can it then be possible that I have so soon
forgotten Bellah for this Groac'h, who is no doubt a child of
Satan? With her for my wife, I shall not even dare to say my prayers
at night, and shall be as sure to go to hell as an exciseman."
While he thus communed with himself, the fairy brought in the fried
fish, and pressed him to eat, while she went to fetch him twelve new
sorts of wine.
Houarn sighed, took out his knife, and prepared to begin; but scarcely
had the spell-destroying blade touched the golden dish, when all the
fish rose up in the form of little men, each one clad in the proper
costume of his rank and occupation. There was a lawyer with his bands,
a tailor in blue stockings, a miller all white with flour, and so on;
all crying out at once, as they swam in the melted butter,--
"Houarn, save us, if thou wouldst thyself be saved."
"Holy Virgin! what are these little men singing out from amongst the
melted butter?" cried the Leonard, in bewilderment.
"We are Christians like thyself," they answered. "We too came to seek
our fortunes in the Isle of Lok; we too consented to marry the Groac'h;
and the day after the wedding she did with us as she had done with
all our predecessors, of whom the fish-pond in the garden is full."
"What!" cried Houarn, "a creature so young and fair, and yet so
"And thou wilt soon be in the same condition, subject thyself to be
fried and eaten by some new-comer."
Houarn gave a jump, as though he felt himself already in the golden
frying-pan, and ran towards the door, thinking only how he might
escape before the Groac'h should return. But she was already there,
and had heard all; her net of steel was soon thrown over the Leonard,
who found himself instantly transformed into a frog, in which guise
the fairy carried him to the fish-pond, and threw him in, to keep
her former husbands company.
At this moment the little bell, which Houarn wore round his neck,
tinkled of its own accord; and Bellah heard it at Lanillis, where
she was busy skimming the last night's milk.
The sound struck upon her heart like a funeral knell; and she cried
aloud, "Houarn is in danger!" And without a moment's delay, without
asking counsel of any as to what she should do, she ran and put on
her Sunday clothes, her shoes and silver cross, and set out from the
farm with her magic staff. Arrived where four roads met, she set the
stick upright in the ground, murmuring in a low voice,--
"List, thou crab-tree staff of mine!
By good St. Vouga, hear me!
O'er earth and water, through air, 'tis thine
Whither I will to bear me!"
And lo, the stick became a bay nag, dressed, saddled, and bridled,
with a rosette behind each ear, and a blue feather in front.
Bellah mounted, and the horse set forward; first at a walking
pace, then he trotted, and at last galloped, and that so swiftly,
that ditches, trees, houses, and steeples passed before the young
girl's eyes like the arms of a spindle. But she complained not,
feeling that each step brought her nearer to her dear Houarn; nay,
she rather urged on her beast, saying,
"Less swift than the swallow is the horse, less swift the swallow
than the wind, the wind than the lightning; but thou, my good steed,
if thou lovest me, outstrip them all in speed: for a part of my heart
is suffering; the better half of my own life is in danger."
The horse understood her, and flew like a straw driven by the whirlwind
till he arrived in the country of Arhes, at the foot of the rock
called the Stag's Leap. But there he stood still, for never had horse
scaled that precipice. Bellah, perceiving the cause of his stopping,
renewed her prayer:
"Once again, thou courser mine,
By good St. Vouga, hear me!
O'er earth and water, through air, 'tis thine
Whither I will to bear me!"
She had hardly finished, when a pair of wings sprang from the sides
of her horse, which now became a great bird, and in this shape flew
away with her to the top of the rock.
Strange indeed was the sight that here met her eyes. Upon a nest
made of potter's clay and dry moss squatted a little korandon,
all swarthy and wrinkled, who, on beholding Bellah, began to cry aloud,
"Hurrah! here is the pretty maiden come to save me!"
"Save thee!" said Bellah. "Who art thou, then, my little man?"
"I am Jeannik, the husband of the Groac'h of the Isle of Lok. She it
was that sent me here."
"But what art thou doing in this nest?"
"I am sitting on six stone eggs, and I cannot be free till they
Bellah could not keep herself from laughing.
"Poor thing!" said she; "and how can I deliver thee?"
"By first saving Houarn, who is in the Groac'h's power."
"Ah, tell me how I may do that!" cried the orphan girl, "and not a
moment will I lose in setting about my part in the matter, though I
should have to make the circuit of the four dioceses upon my bare
"Well, then, there are two things to be done," said the korandon. "The
first, to present thyself before the Groac'h as a young man; and the
next, to take from her the steel net which she carries at her girdle,
and shut her up in it till the day of judgment."
"And where shall I get a suit of clothes to fit me, korandon?"
"Thou shalt see."
And with these words the little dwarf pulled out four hairs from
his foxy poll, and blew them to the winds, muttering something in an
under-tone, and lo, the four hairs became four tailors, of whom the
first held in his hand a cabbage, the second a pair of scissors, the
third a needle, and the last a smoothing goose. All the four seated
themselves cross-legged round the nest, and began to prepare a suit
of clothes for Bellah.
Out of one cabbage-leaf they made a beautiful coat, laced at every
seam; of another they made a waistcoat; but it took two leaves for
the trunk-breeches, such as are worn in the country of Leon; lastly,
the heart of the cabbage was shaped into a hat, and the stalk was
converted into shoes.
Thus equipped, Bellah would have passed any where for a handsome
young gentleman in green velvet lined with white satin.
She thanked the korandon, who added some further instructions;
and then her great bird flew away with her straight to the Isle of
Lok. There she commanded him to resume the form of a crab-stick; and
entering the swan-shaped boat, arrived safely at the Groac'h's palace.
The fairy was quite taken at first sight with the velvet-clad young
"Well," quoth she to herself, "you are the best-looking young fellow
that has ever come to see me; and I do think I shall love you for
three times three days."
And she began to make much of her guest, calling her her darling,
and heart of hearts. She treated her with a collation; and Bellah
found upon the table St. Corentin's knife, which had been left there
by Houarn. She took it up against the time of need, and followed the
Groac'h into the garden. There the fairy showed her the grass-plots
flowered with diamonds, the fountains of perfumed waters, and, above
all, the fish-pond, wherein swam fishes of a thousand colours.
With these last Bellah pretended to be especially taken, so that she
must needs sit down upon the edge of the pond, the better to enjoy
the sight of them.
The Groac'h took advantage of her delight to ask her if she would not
like to spend all her days in this lovely place. Bellah replied that
she should like it of all things.
"Well, then, so you may, and from this very hour, if you are only
ready at once to marry me," proceeded the fairy.
"Very well," replied Bellah; "but you must let me fetch up one of
these beautiful fishes with the steel net that hangs at your girdle."
The Groac'h, nothing suspecting, and taking this request for a mere
boyish freak, gave her the net, saying with a smile, "Let us see,
fair fisherman, what you will catch."
"Thee, fiend!" cried Bellah, throwing the net over the Groac'h's
head. "In the name of the Saviour of men, accursed sorceress, become
in body even as thou art in soul!"
The cry uttered by the Groac'h died away in a stifled murmur, for
the exorcism had already taken effect; the beautiful water fay was
now nothing more than the hideous queen of toadstools.
In an instant Bellah drew the net, and with all speed threw it into a
well, upon which she laid a stone sealed with the sign of the cross,
that it might remain closed till the tombs shall be opened at the
She then hastened back to the pond; but all the fish were already out
of it, coming forth to meet her, like a procession of many-coloured
monks, crying in their little hoarse voices, "Behold our lord and
master! who has delivered us from the net of steel and the golden
"And who will also restore you to your shape of Christians," said
Bellah, drawing forth the knife of St. Corentin. But as she was
about to touch the first fish, she perceived close to her a frog,
with the magic bell hung about his neck, and sobbing bitterly as he
knelt before her. Bellah felt her bosom swell, and she exclaimed,
"Is it thou, is it thou, my Houarn, thou lord of my sorrow and my joy?"
"It is I," answered the youth.
At a touch with the potent blade he recovered his proper form, and
Bellah and he fell into each other's arms, the one eye weeping for
the past, the other glistening with the present joy.
She then did the like to all the fishes, who were restored each of
them to his pristine shape and condition.
The work of disenchantment was hardly at an end, when up came the
little korandon from the Stag's-Leap rock.
"Here I am, my pretty maiden," cried he to Bellah: "the spell which
held me where you saw me is broken, and I am come to thank you for
He then conducted the lovers to the Groac'h's coffers, which were
filled with precious stones, of which he told them to take as many
as they pleased.
They both loaded their pockets, their girdles, and their hats; and
when they had as much as they could carry, they departed, with all
whom she had delivered from the enchantment.
The banns were soon published, and Houarn and Bellah were married. But
instead of a little cow and a lean pig, he bought all the land in the
parish, and put in as farmers the people he had brought with him from
the Isle of Lok.
Next: The Four Gifts