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The Palace Of The Proud King

Source: Breton Legends

The children slumber sweetly in their curtained beds; the brown dog
snores upon the broad hearth-stone; the cows chew the cud behind their
screen of broom; and the fading fire-light quivers on the grandsire's
old arm-chair.

This is the time, dear friends, when we should make the sign of
the cross, and murmur a prayer in secret for the souls of those
that we have loved. Hark! midnight is striking from St. Michael's
church,--midnight of Holy Pentecost.

This is the hour when all true Christians lay down their heads upon
their quiet pillows, content with that which God has given them,
and sleep, lulled by the gentle breathing of their slumbering children.

But as for Perik Skoarn, no little children had he. He was a daring
young fellow, but as yet quite solitary. When he saw the gentry from
the neighbourhood coming to Mass on Sundays, he envied them their
handsome horses with the silver-plated bridles, their velvet mantles,
and their embroidered silken hose. He longed to be as rich as they
were, that he also might have a seat covered with red leather in the
church, and be able to carry the fair farmers' daughters to the fair
seated on his horse's crupper.

This is the reason Perik walked upon Lew-Drez, at the foot of
St. Efflam's down, whilst all good Christians slept upon their beds,
watched over by the Holy Virgin. Perik is a man hungering after
greatness and luxury. The longings of his heart are countless, like
the nests of the sea-swallows in the sandy cliffs.

The waves sighed sadly in the dark horizon; the crabs fed silently
upon the bodies of the drowned; the wind that whistled in the rocks
of Roch-Ellas mimicked the call-cry of the smugglers of Lew-Drez;
but Skoarn still paced the shore.

He looked upon the mountain, and recalled the words of the old beggar
at Yar Cross. That old man knew all that had happened in these parts,
when these our ancient oaks hung yet as acorns on their parent trees,
and our oldest ravens still slumbered in the egg.

Now the old beggar of Yar had told him, that here, where now stretch
the downs of St. Efflam, a famous city formerly extended; its ships
covered the wide ocean, and it was governed by a king, whose sceptre
was a hazel-wand that fashioned every thing according to his wish.

But the king and all his people were punished for their pride and
iniquity; for one day, by God's command, the strand rose upwards
like the bubbling of a boiling flood, and so engulfed the guilty
city. But every year, upon the night of Pentecost, a passage opens
through the mountain with the first stroke of twelve o'clock, and
shows an entrance to the monarch's palace.

The all-powerful hazel-wand may be discovered hanging in the furthest
hall of this magnificent abode; but those who seek it must make haste,
for as the final stroke of midnight sounds upon the ear, the passage
closes once again, to open no more until the following Pentecost.

Skoarn had well remembered all the tale of the old beggar at the
Cross of Yar, and for this reason he treads at such unwonted hour
the sands of the Lew-Drez.

At length a sharp stroke came dashing from the belfrey of
St. Michael. Skoarn trembled; he looked eagerly, by the pale starlight,
at the granite mass which heads the mountain, and beheld it slowly
open, like the jaws of an awakening dragon.

Skoarn rushed into the passage, which at first seemed dark, but
gradually gleamed with a blue light, like that which hovers nightly
over church-yard graves; and thus he found his way into a mighty
palace, the marble front of which was sculptured like the church of
Folgoat or of Quimper-on-the-Odet.

The first hall he entered was all full of chests heaped, like the
corn-bins after harvest, with the purest silver; but Perik Skoarn
wanted more than silver, and he passed it through. The clock sounded
the sixth stroke of midnight.

He found a second hall, set round with coffers crammed with gold, as
stable-racks are crammed with blossoming grass in the sweet month of
June. But Skoarn wanted something better still, and he went on. The
seventh stroke sounded.

The third hall to which he came had baskets flowing over with white
pearls, like milk in the broad dairy-pans of Cornouaille in the early
spring. Skoarn would gladly have had some of these; but he heard the
eighth stroke sounding, and he hurried on.

The fourth hall was all glittering with diamond caskets, shedding
brighter light than all the furzy piles upon the hillocks of Douron
on St. John's eve. Skoarn was dazzled, and hesitated for a moment;
then rushed into the last hall as he heard the church-clock for the
ninth time.

But there he stood still suddenly with wondering admiration. In
front of the hazel-wand, which hung in full sight at the further end,
were ranged a hundred maidens most fair to look upon; they held in
one hand wreaths of the green oak, and in the other cups of glowing
wine. Skoarn had resisted silver, gold, pearls, and diamonds; but he
was overpowered by the vision of these beauteous maidens, and he stood
still to gaze at them, and at the sparkling cups they presented to him.

The tenth stroke sounded, and he heard it not; the eleventh, and he
still stood motionless. At last, just as he was about to hold out
his hand to receive the cup from the maiden next to him, the twelfth
was heard, as mournful as the great gun of a ship at wreck among
the breakers.

Then Perik, terrified, would fain have turned, but time for him was
over. The doors all closed, the hundred fair young girls were now so
many granite statues, and all was once more folded up in darkness.

This is the way our fathers tell the tale of Skoarn. You see now what
will happen to a youth who suffers his heart too readily to open at
seduction's voice. May all the young take warning by his fate. It
is well to walk sometimes with eyes cast downwards to the earth,
for fear we should be led into the paths of evil and sin.

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Previous: The Four Gifts

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