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The Groac'h Of The Isle Of Lok

from The Lilac Fairy Book





In old times, when all kinds of wonderful things happened in
Brittany, there lived in the village of Lanillis, a young man
named Houarn Pogamm and a girl called Bellah Postik. They were
cousins, and as their mothers were great friends, and constantly
in and out of each other's houses, they had often been laid in
the same cradle, and had played and fought over their games.

'When they are grown up they will marry,' said the mothers; but
just as every one was beginning to think of wedding bells, the
two mothers died, and the cousins, who had no money, went as
servants in the same house. This was better than being parted,
of course, but not so good as having a little cottage of their
own, where they could do as they liked, and soon they might have
been heard bewailing to each other the hardness of their lots.

'If we could only manage to buy a cow and get a pig to fatten,'
grumbled Houarn, 'I would rent a bit of ground from the master,
and then we could be married.'

'Yes,' answered Bellah, with a deep sigh; 'but we live in such
hard times, and at the last fair the price of pigs had risen
again.'

'We shall have long to wait, that is quite clear,' replied
Houarn, turning away to his work.

Whenever they met they repeated their grievances, and at length
Houarn's patience was exhausted, and one morning he came to
Bellah and told her that he was going away to seek his fortune.

The girl was very unhappy as she listened to this, and felt sorry
that she had not tried to make the best of things. She implored
Houarn not to leave her, but he would listen to nothing.

'The birds,' he said, 'continue flying until they reach a field
of corn, and the bees do not stop unless they find the honey-
giving flowers, and why should a man have less sense than they?
Like them, I shall seek till I get what I want--that is, money to
buy a cow and a pig to fatten. And if you love me, Bellah, you
won't attempt to hinder a plan which will hasten our marriage.'

The girl saw it was useless to say more, so she answered sadly:

'Well, go then, since you must. But first I will divide with you
all that my parents left me,' and going to her room, she opened a
small chest, and took from it a bell, a knife, and a little
stick.

'This bell,' she said, 'can be heard at any distance, however
far, but it only rings to warn us that our friends are in great
danger. The knife frees all it touches from the spells that have
been laid on them; while the stick will carry you wherever you
want to go. I will give you the knife to guard you against the
enchantments of wizards, and the bell to tell me of your perils.
The stick I shall keep for myself, so that I can fly to you if
ever you have need of me.'

Then they cried for a little on each other's necks, and Houarn
started for the mountains.

But in those days, as in these, beggars abounded, and through
every village he passed they followed Houarn in crowds, mistaking
him for a gentleman, because there were no holes in his clothes.

'There is no fortune to be made here,' he thought to himself; 'it
is a place for spending, and not earning. I see I must go
further,' and he walked on to Pont-aven, a pretty little town
built on the bank of a river.

He was sitting on a bench outside an inn, when he heard two men
who were loading their mules talking about the Groac'h of the
island of Lok.

'What is a Groac'h?' asked he. 'I have never come across one.'
And the men answered that it was the name given to the fairy that
dwelt in the lake, and that she was rich--oh! richer than all the
kings in the world put together. Many had gone to the island to
try and get possession of her treasures, but no one had ever come
back.

As he listened Houarn's mind was made up.

'I will go, and return too,' he said to the muleteers. They
stared at him in astonishment, and besought him not to be so mad
and to throw away his life in such a foolish manner; but he only
laughed, and answered that if they could tell him of any other
way in which to procure a cow and a pig to fatten, he would think
no more about it. But the men did not know how this was to be
done, and, shaking their heads over his obstinacy, left him to
his fate.

So Houarn went down to the sea, and found a boatman who engaged
to take him to the isle of Lok.

The island was large, and lying almost across it was a lake, with
a narrow opening to the sea. Houarn paid the boatman and sent
him away, and then proceeded to walk round the lake. At one end
he perceived a small skiff, painted blue and shaped like a swan,
lying under a clump of yellow broom. As far as he could see, the
swan's head was tucked under its wing, and Houarn, who had never
beheld a boat of the sort, went quickly towards it and stepped
in, so as to examine it the better. But no sooner was he on
board than the swan woke suddenly up; his head emerged from under
his wing, his feet began to move in the water, and in another
moment they were in the middle of the lake.

As soon as the young man had recovered from his surprise, he
prepared to jump into the lake and swim to shore. But the bird
had guessed his intentions, and plunged beneath the water,
carrying Houarn with him to the palace of the Groac'h.

Now, unless you have been under the sea and beheld all the
wonders that lie there, you can never have an idea what the
Groac'h's palace was like. It was all made of shells, blue and
green and pink and lilac and white, shading into each other till
you could not tell where one colour ended and the other began.
The staircases were of crystal, and every separate stair sang
like a woodland bird as you put your foot on it. Round the
palace were great gardens full of all the plants that grow in the
sea, with diamonds for flowers.

In a large hall the Groac'h was lying on a couch of gold. The
pink and white of her face reminded you of the shells of her
palace, while her long black hair was intertwined with strings of
coral, and her dress of green silk seemed formed out of the sea.
At the sight of her Houarn stopped, dazzled by her beauty.

'Come in,' said the Groac'h, rising to her feet. 'Strangers and
handsome youths are always welcome here. Do not be shy, but tell
me how you found your way, and what you want.'

'My name is Houarn,' he answered, 'Lanillis is my home, and I am
trying to earn enough money to buy a little cow and a pig to
fatten.'

'Well, you can easily get that,' replied she; 'it is nothing to
worry about. Come in and enjoy yourself.' And she beckoned him
to follow her into a second hall whose floors and walls were
formed of pearls, while down the sides there were tables laden
with fruit and wines of all kinds; and as he ate and drank, the
Groac'h talked to him and told him how the treasures he saw came
from shipwrecked vessels, and were brought to her palace by a
magic current of water.

'I do not wonder,' exclaimed Houarn, who now felt quite at home--
'I do not wonder that the people on the earth have so much to say
about you.'

'The rich are always envied.'

'For myself,' he added, with a laugh, 'I only ask for the half of
your wealth.'

'You can have it, if you will, Houarn,' answered the fairy.

'What do you mean?' cried he.

'My husband, Korandon, is dead,' she replied, 'and if you wish
it, I will marry you.'

The young man gazed at her in surprise. Could any one so rich
and so beautiful really wish to be his wife? He looked at her
again, and Bellah was forgotten as he answered:

'A man would be mad indeed to refuse such an offer. I can only
accept it with joy.'

'Then the sooner it is done the better,' said the Groac'h, and
gave orders to her servants. After that was finished, she begged
Houarn to accompany her to a fish-pond at the bottom of the
garden.

'Come lawyer, come miller, come tailor, come singer!' cried she,
holding out a net of steel; and at each summons a fish appeared
and jumped into the net. When it was full she went into a large
kitchen and threw them all into a golden pot; but above the
bubbling of the water Houarn seemed to hear the whispering of
little voices.

'Who is it whispering in the golden pot, Groac'h?' he inquired at
last.

'It is nothing but the noise of the wood sparkling,' she
answered; but it did not sound the least like that to Houarn.

'There it is again,' he said, after a short pause.

'The water is getting hot, and it makes the fish jump,' she
replied; but soon the noise grew louder and like cries.

'What is it?' asked Houarn, beginning to feel uncomfortable.

'Just the crickets on the hearth,' said she, and broke into a
song which drowned the cries from the pot.

But though Houarn held his peace, he was not as happy as before.
Something seemed to have gone wrong, and then he suddenly
remembered Bellah.

'Is it possible I can have forgotten her so soon? What a wretch
I am!' he thought to himself; and he remained apart and watched
the Groac'h while she emptied the fish into a plate, and bade him
eat his dinner while she fetched wine from her cellar in a cave.

Houarn sat down and took out the knife which Bellah had given
him, but as soon as the blade touched the fish the enchantment
ceased, and four men stood before him.

'Houarn, save us, we entreat you, and save yourself too!'
murmured they, not daring to raise their voices.

'Why, it must have been you who were crying out in the pot just
now!' exclaimed Houarn.

'Yes, it was us,' they answered. 'Like you, we came to the isle
of Lok to seek our fortunes, and like you we consented to marry
the Groac'h, and no sooner was the ceremony over than she turned
us into fishes, as she had done to all our forerunners, who are
in the fish-pond still, where you will shortly join them.'

On hearing this Houarn leaped into the air, as if he already felt
himself frizzling in the golden pot. He rushed to the door,
hoping to escape that way; but the Groac'h, who had heard
everything, met him on the threshold. Instantly she threw the
steel net over his head, and the eyes of a little green frog
peeped through the meshes.

'You shall go and play with the rest,' she said, carrying him off
to the fish-pond.

It was at this very moment that Bellah, who was skimming the milk
in the farm dairy, heard the fairy bell tinkle violently.

At the sound she grew pale, for she knew it meant that Houarn was
in danger; and, hastily, changing the rough dress she wore for
her work, she left the farm with the magic stick in her hand.

Her knees were trembling under her, but she ran as fast as she
could to the cross roads, where she drove her stick into the
ground, murmuring as she did so a verse her mother had taught
her:

Little staff of apple-tree, Over the earth and over the sea,
Up in the air be guide to me, Everywhere to wander free,

and immediately the stick became a smart little horse, with a
rosette at each ear and a feather on his forehead. He stood
quite still while Bellah scrambled up, then he started off, his
pace growing quicker and quicker, till at length the girl could
hardly see the trees and houses as they flashed past. But, rapid
as the pace was, it was not rapid enough for Bellah, who stooped
and said:

'The swallow is less swift than the wind, the wind is less swift
than the lightning. But you, my horse, if you love me, must be
swifter than them all, for there is a part of my heart that
suffers --the best part of my heart that is in danger.'

And the horse heard her, and galloped like a straw carried along
by a tempest till they reached the foot of a rock called the Leap
of the Deer. There he stopped, for no horse or mule that ever
was born could climb that rock, and Bellah knew it, so she began
to sing again:

Horse of Leon, given to me, Over the earth and over the sea,
Up in the air be guide to me, Everywhere to wander free,

and when she had finished, the horse's fore legs grew shorter and
spread into wings, his hind legs became claws, feathers sprouted
all over his body, and she sat on the back of a great bird, which
bore her to the summit of the rock. Here she found a nest made
of clay and lined with dried moss, and in the centre a tiny man,
black and wrinkled, who gave a cry of surprise at the sight of
Bellah.

'Ah! you are the pretty girl who was to come and save me!'

'To save you!' repeated Bellah. 'But who are you, my little
friend?'

'I am the husband of the Groac'h of the isle of Lok, and it is
owing to her that I am here.'

'But what are you doing in this nest?'

'I am sitting on six eggs of stone, and I shall not be set free
till they are hatched.'

On hearing this Bellah began to laugh.

'Poor little cock!' she said, 'and how am I to deliver you?'

'By delivering Houarn, who is in the power of the Groac'h.'

'Ah! tell me how I can manage that, and if I have to walk round
the whole of Brittany on my bended knees I will do it!'

'Well, first you must dress yourself as a young man, and then go
and seek the Groac'h. When you have found her you must contrive
to get hold of the net of steel that hangs from her waist, and
shut her up in it for ever.'

'But where am I to find a young man's clothes?' asked she.

'I will show you,' he replied, and as he spoke he pulled out
three of his red hairs and blew them away, muttering something
the while. In the twinkling of an eye the four hairs changed into
four tailors, of whom the first carried a cabbage, the second a
pair of scissors, the third a needle, and the fourth an iron.
Without waiting for orders, they sat down in the nest and,
crossing their legs comfortably, began to prepare the suit of
clothes for Bellah.

With one of the leaves of the cabbage they made her a coat, and
another served for a waistcoat; but it took two for the wide
breeches which were then in fashion. The hat was cut from the
heart of the cabbage, and a pair of shoes from the thick stem.
And when Bellah had put them all on you would have taken her for
a gentleman dressed in green velvet, lined with white satin.

She thanked the little men gratefully, and after a few more
instructions, jumped on the back of her great bird, and was borne
away to the isle of Lok. Once there, she bade him transform
himself back into a stick, and with it in her hand she stepped
into the blue boat, which conducted her to the palace of shells.

The Groac'h seemed overjoyed to see her, and told her that never
before had she beheld such a handsome young man. Very soon she
led her visitor into the great hall, where wine and fruit were
alway





Next: The Story Of The Hero Makoma

Previous: The Four Gifts



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