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The Castle Of Kerglas

from The Lilac Fairy Book





Peronnik was a poor idiot who belonged to nobody, and he would
have died of starvation if it had not been for the kindness of
the village people, who gave him food whenever he chose to ask
for it. And as for a bed, when night came, and he grew sleepy, he
looked about for a heap of straw, and making a hole in it, crept
in, like a lizard. Idiot though he was, he was never unhappy, but
always thanked gratefully those who fed him, and sometimes would
stop for a little and sing to them. For he could imitate a lark
so well, that no one knew which was Peronnik and which was the
bird.

He had been wandering in a forest one day for several hours, and
when evening approached, he suddenly felt very hungry. Luckily,
just at that place the trees grew thinner, and he could see a
small farmhouse a little way off. Peronnik went straight towards
it, and found the farmer's wife standing at the door holding in
her hands the large bowl out of which her children had eaten
their supper.

'I am hungry, will you give me something to eat?' asked the boy.

'If you can find anything here, you are welcome to it,' answered
she, and, indeed, there was not much left, as everybody's spoon
had dipped in. But Peronnik ate what was there with a hearty
appetite, and thought that he had never tasted better food.

'It is made of the finest flour and mixed with the richest milk
and stirred by the best cook in all the countryside,' and though
he said it to himself, the woman heard him.

'Poor innocent,' she murmured, 'he does not know what he is
saying, but I will cut him a slice of that new wheaten loaf,' and
so she did, and Peronnik ate up every crumb, and declared that
nobody less than the bishop's baker could have baked it. This
flattered the farmer's wife so much that she gave him some butter
to spread on it, and Peronnik was still eating it on the doorstep
when an armed knight rode up.

'Can you tell me the way to the castle of Kerglas?' asked he.

'To Kerglas? are you really going to Kerglas?' cried the woman,
turning pale.

'Yes; and in order to get there I have come from a country so far
off that it has taken me three months' hard riding to travel as
far as this.'

'And why do you want to go to Kerglas?' said she.

'I am seeking the basin of gold and the lance of diamonds which
are in the castle,' he answered. Then Peronnik looked up.

'The basin and the lance are very costly things,' he said
suddenly.

'More costly and precious than all the crowns in the world,'
replied the stranger, 'for not only will the basin furnish you
with the best food that you can dream of, but if you drink of it,
it will cure you of any illness however dangerous, and will even
bring the dead back to life, if it touches their mouths. As to
the diamond lance, that will cut through any stone or metal.'

'And to whom do these wonders belong?' asked Peronnik in
amazement.

'To a magician named Rogear who lives in the castle,' answered
the woman. 'Every day he passes along here, mounted on a black
mare, with a colt thirteen months old trotting behind. But no one
dares to attack him, as he always carries his lance.'

'That is true,' said the knight, 'but there is a spell laid upon
him which forbids his using it within the castle of Kerglas. The
moment he enters, the basin and lance are put away in a dark
cellar which no key but one can open. And that is the place where
I wish to fight the magician.'

'You will never overcome him, Sir Knight,' replied the woman,
shaking her head. 'More than a hundred gentlemen have ridden past
this house bent on the same errand, and not one has ever come
back.'

'I know that, good woman,' returned the knight, 'but then they
did not have, like me, instructions from the hermit of Blavet.'

'And what did the hermit tell you?' asked Peronnik.

'He told me that I should have to pass through a wood full of all
sorts of enchantments and voices, which would try to frighten me
and make me lose my way. Most of those who have gone before me
have wandered they know not where, and perished from cold,
hunger, or fatigue.'

'Well, suppose you get through safely?' said the idiot.

'If I do,' continued the knight, 'I shall then meet a sort of
fairy armed with a needle of fire which burns to ashes all it
touches. This dwarf stands guarding an apple-tree, from which I
am bound to pluck an apple.'

'And next?' inquired Peronnik.

'Next I shall find the flower that laughs, protected by a lion
whose mane is formed of vipers. I must pluck that flower, and go
on to the lake of the dragons and fight the black man who holds
in his hand the iron ball which never misses its mark and returns
of its own accord to its master. After that, I enter the valley
of pleasure, where some who conquered all the other obstacles
have left their bones. If I can win through this, I shall reach a
river with only one ford, where a lady in black will be seated.
She will mount my horse behind me, and tell me what I am to do
next.'

He paused, and the woman shook her head.

'You will never be able to do all that,' said she, but he bade
her remembered that these were only matters for men, and galloped
away down the path she pointed out.

The farmer's wife sighed and, giving Peronnik some more food,
bade him good-night. The idiot rose and was opening the gate
which led into the forest when the farmer himself came up.

'I want a boy to tend my cattle,' he said abruptly, 'as the one I
had has run away. Will you stay and do it?' and Peronnik, though
he loved his liberty and hated work, recollected the good food he
had eaten, and agreed to stop.

At sunrise he collected his herd carefully and led them to the
rich pasture which lay along the borders of the forest, cutting
himself a hazel wand with which to keep them in order.

His task was not quite so easy as it looked, for the cows had a
way of straying into the wood, and by the time he had brought one
back another was off. He had gone some distance into the trees,
after a naughty black cow which gave him more trouble than all
the rest, when he heard the noise of horse's feet, and peeping
through the leaves he beheld the giant Rogear seated on his mare,
with the colt trotting behind. Round the giant's neck hung the
golden bowl suspended from a chain, and in his hand he grasped
the diamond lance, which gleamed like fire. But as soon as he was
out of sight the idiot sought in vain for traces of the path he
had taken.

This happened not only once but many times, till Peronnik grew so
used to him that he never troubled to hide. But on each occasion
he saw him the desire to possess the bowl and the lance became
stronger.

One evening the boy was sitting alone on the edge of the forest,
when a man with a white beard stopped beside him. 'Do you want to
know the way to Kerglas?' asked the idiot, and the man answered
'I know it well.'

'You have been there without being killed by the magician?' cried
Peronnik.

'Oh! he had nothing to fear from me,' replied the white-bearded
man, 'I am Rogear's elder brother, the wizard Bryak. When I wish
to visit him I always pass this way, and as even I cannot go
through the enchanted wood without losing myself, I call the colt
to guide me.' Stooping down as he spoke he traced three circles
on the ground and murmured some words very low, which Peronnik
could not hear. Then he added aloud:

Colt, free to run and free to eat.
Colt, gallop fast until we meet,

and instantly the colt appeared, frisking and jumping to the
wizard, who threw a halter over his neck and leapt on his back.

Peronnik kept silence at the farm about this adventure, but he
understood very well that if he was ever to get to Kerglas he
must first catch the colt which knew the way. Unhappily he had
not heard the magic words uttered by the wizard, and he could not
manage to draw the three circles, so if he was to summon the colt
at all he must invent some other means of doing it.

All day long, while he was herding the cows, he thought and
thought how he was to call the colt, for he felt sure that once
on its back he could overcome the other dangers. Meantime he must
be ready in case a chance should come, and he made his
preparations at night, when everyone was asleep. Remembering what
he had seen the wizard do, he patched up an old halter that was
hanging in a corner of the stable, twisted a rope of hemp to
catch the colt's feet, and a net such as is used for snaring
birds. Next he sewed roughly together some bits of cloth to serve
as a pocket, and this he filled with glue and lark's feathers, a
string of beads, a whistle of elder wood, and a slice of bread
rubbed over with bacon fat. Then he went out to the path down
which Rogear, his mare, and the colt always rode, and crumbled
the bread on one side of it.

Punctual to their hour all three appeared, eagerly watched by
Peronnik, who lay hid in the bushes close by. Suppose it was
useless; suppose the mare, and not the colt, ate the crumbs?
Suppose--but no! the mare and her rider went safely by, vanishing
round a corner, while the colt, trotting along with its head on
the ground, smelt the bread, and began greedily to lick up the
pieces. Oh, how good it was! Why had no one ever given it that
before, and so absorbed was the little beast, sniffing about
after a few more crumbs, that it never heard Peronnik creep up
till it felt the halter on its neck and the rope round its feet,
and--in another moment--some one on its back.

Going as fast as the hobbles would allow, the colt turned into
one of the wildest parts of the forest, while its rider sat
trembling at the strange sights he saw. Sometimes the earth
seemed to open in front of them and he was looking into a
bottomless pit; sometimes the trees burst into flames and he
found himself in the midst of a fire; often in the act of
crossing a stream the water rose and threatened to sweep him
away; and again, at the foot of a mountain, great rocks would
roll towards him, as if they would crush him and his colt beneath
their weight. To his dying day Peronnik never knew whether these
things were real or if he only imagined them, but he pulled down
his knitted cap so as to cover his eyes, and trusted the colt to
carry him down the right road.

At last the forest was left behind, and they came out on a wide
plain where the air blew fresh and strong. The idiot ventured to
peep out, and found to his relief that the enchantments seemed to
have ended, though a thrill of horror shot through him as he
noticed the skeletons of men scattered over the plain, beside the
skeletons of their horses. And what were those grey forms
trotting away in the distance? Were they--could they be--wolves?

But vast through the plain seemed, it did not take long to cross,
and very soon the colt entered a sort of shady park in which was
standing a single apple-tree, its branches bowed down to the
ground with the weight of its fruit. In front was the korigan--
the little fairy man--holding in his hand the fiery sword, which
reduced to ashes everything it touched. At the sight of Peronnik
he uttered a piercing scream, and raised his sword, but without
appearing surprised the youth only lifted his cap, though he took
care to remain at a little distance.

'Do not be alarmed, my prince,' said Peronnik, 'I am just on my
way to Kerglas, as the noble Rogear has begged me to come to him
on business.'

'Begged you to come!' repeated the dwarf, 'and who, then, are
you?'

'I am the new servant he has engaged, as you know very well,'
answered Peronnik.

'I do not know at all,' rejoined the korigan sulkily, 'and you
may be a robber for all I can tell.'

'I am so sorry,' replied Peronnik, 'but I may be wrong in calling
myself a servant, for I am only a bird-catcher. But do not delay
me, I pray, for his highness the magician expects me, and, as you
see, has lent me his colt so that I may reach the castle all the
quicker.'

At these words the korigan cast his eyes for the first time on
the colt, which he knew to be the one belonging to the magician,
and began to think that the young man was speaking the truth.
After examining the horse, he studied the rider, who had such an
innocent, and indeed vacant, air that he appeared incapable of
inventing a story. Still, the dwarf did not feel quite sure that
all was right, and asked what the magician wanted with a bird-
catcher.

'From what he says, he wants one very badly,' replied Peronnik,
'as he declares that all his grain and all the fruit in his
garden at Kerglas are eaten up by the birds.'

'And how are you going to stop that, my fine fellow?' inquired
the korigan; and Peronnik showed him the snare he had prepared,
and remarked that no bird could possible escape from it.

'That is just what I should like to be sure of,' answered the
korigan. 'My apples are completely eaten up by blackbirds and
thrushes. Lay your snare, and if you can manage to catch them, I
will let you pass.'

'That is a fair bargain,' and as he spoke Peronnik jumped down
and fastened his colt to a tree; then, stopping, he fixed one end
of the net to the trunk of the apple tree, and called to the
korigan to hold the other while he took out the pegs. The dwarf
did as he was bid, when suddenly Peronnik threw the noose over
his neck and drew it close, and the korigan was held as fast as
any of the birds he wished to snare.

Shrieking with rage, he tried to undo the cord, but he only
pulled the knot tighter. He had put down the sword on the grass,
and Peronnik had been careful to fix the net on the other side of
the tree, so that it was now easy for him to pluck an apple and
to mount his horse, without being hindered by the dwarf, whom he
left to his fate.

When they had left the plain behind them, Peronnik and his steed
found themselves in a narrow valley in which was a grove of
trees, full of all sorts of sweet-smelling things--roses of every
colour, yellow broom, pink honeysuckle--while above them all
towered a wonderful scarlet pansy whose face bore a strange
expression. This was the flower that laughs, and no one who
looked at it could help laughing too. Peronnik's heart beat high
at the thought that he had reached safely the second trial, and
he gazed quite calmly at the lion with the mane of vipers
twisting and twirling, who walked up and down in front of the
grove.

The young man pulled up and removed his cap, for, idiot though he
was, he knew that when you have to do with people greater than
yourself, a cap is more useful in the hand than on the head.
Then, after wishing all kinds of good fortune to the lion and his
family, he inquired if he was on the right road to Kerglas.

'And what is your business at Kerglas?' asked the lion with a
growl, and showing his teeth.

'With all respect,' answered Peronnik, pretending to be very
frightened, 'I am the servant of a lady who is a friend of the
noble Rogear and sends him some larks for a pasty.'

'Larks?' cried the lion, licking his long whiskers. 'Why, it must
be a century since I have had any! Have you a large quantity with
you?'

'As many as this bag will hold,' replied Peronnik, opening, as he
spoke, the bag which he had filled with feathers and glue; and to
prove what he said, he turned his back on the lion and began to
imitate the song of a lark.

'Come,' exclaimed the lion, whose mouth watered, 'show me the
birds! I should like to see if they are fat enough for my
master.'

'I would do it with pleasure,' answered the idiot, 'but if I once
open the bag they will all fly away.'

'Well, open it wide enough for me to look in,' said the lion,
drawing a little nearer.

Now this was just what Peronnik had been hoping for, so he held
the bag while the lion opened it carefully and put his head right
inside, so that he might get a good mouthful of larks. But the
mass of feathers and glue stuck to him, and before he could pull
his head out again Peronnik had drawn tight the cord, and tied it
in a knot that no man could untie. Then, quickly gathering the
flower that laughs, he rode off as fast as the colt could take
him.

The path soon led to the lake of the dragons, which he had to
swim across. The colt, who was accustomed to it, plunged into the
water without hesitation; but as soon as the dragons caught sight
of Peronnik they approached from all parts of the lake in order
to devour him.

This time Peronnik did not trouble to take off his cap, but he
threw the beads he carried with him into the water, as you throw
black corn to a duck, and with each bead that he swallowed a
dragon turned on his back and died, so that the idiot reached the
other side without further trouble.

The valley guarded by the black man now lay before him, and from
afar Peronnik beheld him, chained by one foot to a rock at the
entrance, and holding the iron ball which never missed its mark
and always returned to its master's hand. In his head the black
man had six eyes that were never all shut at once, but kept watch
one after the other. At this moment they were all open, and
Peronnik knew well that if the black man caught a glimpse of him
he would cast his ball. So, hiding the colt behind a thicket of
bushes, he crawled along a ditch and crouched close to the very
rock to which the black man was chained.

The day was hot, and after a while the man began to grow sleepy.
Two of his eyes closed, and Peronnik sang gently. In a moment a
third eye shut, and Peronnik sang on. The lid of a fourth eye
dropped heavily, and then those of the fifth and the sixth. The
black man was asleep altogether.

Then, on tiptoe, the idiot crept back to the colt which he led
over soft moss past the black man into the vale of pleasure, a
delicious garden full of fruits that dangled before your mouth,
fountains running with wine, and flowers chanting in soft little
voices. Further on, tables were spread with food, and girls
dancing on the grass called to him to join them.

Peronnik heard, and, scarcely knowing what he did drew the colt
into a slower pace. He sniffed greedily the smell of the dishes,
and raised his head the better to see the dancers. Another
instant and he would have stopped altogether and been lost, like
others before him, when suddenly there came to him like a vision
the golden bowl and the diamond lance. Drawing his whistle from
his pocket, he blew it loudly, so as to drown the sweet sounds
about him, and ate what was left of his bread and bacon to still
the craving of the magic fruits. His eyes he fixed steadily on
the ears of the colt, that he might not see the dancers.

In this way he was able to reach the end of the garden, and at
length perceived the castle of Kerglas, with the river between
them which had only one ford. Would the lady be there, as the old
man had told him? Yes, surely that was she, sitting on a rock, in
a black satin dress, and her face the colour of a Moorish
woman's. The idiot rode up, and took off his cap more politely
than ever, and asked if she did not wish to cross the river.

'I was waiting for you to help me do so,' answered she. 'Come
near, that I may get up behind you.'

Peronnik did as she bade him, and by the help of his arm she
jumped nimbly on to the back of the colt.

'Do you know how to kill the magician?' asked the lady, as they
were crossing the ford.

'I thought that, being a magician, he was immortal, and that no
one could kill him,' replied Peronnik.

'Persuade him to taste that apple, and he will die, and if that
is not enough I will touch him with my finger, for I am the
plague,' answered she.

'But if I kill him, how am I to get the golden bowl and the
diamond lance that are hidden in the cellar without a key?'
rejoined Peronnik.

'The flower that laughs opens all doors and lightens all
darkness,' said the lady; and as she spoke, they reached the
further bank, and advanced towards the castle.

In front of the entrance was a sort of tent supported on poles,
and under it the giant was sitting, basking in the sun. As soon
as he noticed the colt bearing Peronnik and the lady, he lifted
his head, and cried in a voice of thunder:

'Why, it is surely the idiot, riding my colt thirteen months
old!'

'Greatest of magicians, you are right,' answered Peronnik.

'And how did you manage to catch him?' asked the giant.

'By repeating what I learnt from your brother Bryak on the edge
of the forest,' replied the idiot. 'I just said--

Colt, free to run and free to eat,
Colt, gallop fast until we meet,

and it came directly.'

'You know my brother, then?' inquired the giant. 'Tell me why he
sent you here.'

'To bring you two gifts which he has just received from the
country of the Moors,' answered Peronnik: 'the apple of delight
and the woman of submission. If you eat the apple you will not
desire anything else, and if you take the woman as your servant
you will never wish for another.'

'Well, give me the apple, and bid the woman get down,' answered
Rogear.

The idiot obeyed, but at the first taste of the apple the giant
staggered, and as the long yellow finger of the woman touched him
he fell dead.

Leaving the magician where he lay, Peronnik entered the palace,
bearing with him the flower that laughs. Fifty doors flew open
before him, and at length he reached a long flight of steps which
seemed to lead into the bowels of the earth. Down these he went
till he came to a silver door without a bar or key. Then he held
up high the flower that laughs, and the door slowly swung back,
displaying a deep cavern, which was as bright as the day from the
shining of the golden bowl and the diamond lance. The idiot
hastily ran forward and hung the bowl round his neck from the
chain which was attached to it, and took the lance in his hand.
As he did so, the ground shook beneath him, and with an awful
rumbling the palace disappeared, and Peronnik found himself
standing close to the forest where he led the cattle to graze.

Though darkness was coming on, Peronnik never thought of entering
the farm, but followed the road which led to the court of the
duke of Brittany. As he passed through the town of Vannes he
stopped at a tailor's shop, and bought a beautiful costume of
brown velvet and a white horse, which he paid for with a handful
of gold that he had picked up in the corridor of the castle of
Kerglas. Thus he made his way to the city of Nantes, which at
that moment was besieged by the French.

A little way off, Peronnik stopped and looked about him. For
miles round the country was bare, for the enemy had cut down
every tree and burnt every blade of corn; and, idiot though he
might be, Peronnik was able to grasp that inside the gates men
were dying of famine. He was still gazing with horror, when a
trumpeter appeared on the walls, and, after blowing a loud blast,
announced that the duke would adopt as his heir the man who could
drive the French out of the country.

On the four sides of the city the trumpeter blew his blast, and
the last time Peronnik, who had ridden up as close as he might,
answered him.

'You need blow no more,' said he, 'for I myself will free the
town from her enemies.' And turning to a soldier who came running
up, waving his sword, he touched him with the magic lance, and he
fell dead on the spot. The men who were following stood still,
amazed. Their comrade's armour had not been pierced, of that they
were sure, yet he was dead, as if he had been struck to the
heart. But before they had time to recover from their
astonishment, Peronnik cried out:

'You see how my foes will fare; now behold what I can do for my
friends,' and, stooping down, he laid the golden bowl against the
mouth of the soldier, who sat up as well as ever. Then, jumping
his horse across the trench, he entered the gate of the city,
which had opened wide enough to receive him.

The news of these marvels quickly spread through the town, and
put fresh spirit into the garrison, so that they declared
themselves able to fight under the command of the young stranger.
And as the bowl restored all the dead Bretons to life, Peronnik
soon had an army large enough to drive away the French, and
fulfilled his promise of delivering his country.

As to the bowl and the lance, no one knows what became of them,
but some say that Bryak the sorcerer managed to steal them again,
and that any one who wishes to possess them must seek them as
Peronnik did.

From 'Le Foyer Breton,' par Emile Souvestre.





Next: The Battle Of The Birds

Previous: The Stones Of Plouhinec



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