The Witch-dancer's Doom
: The Diamond Fairy Book
A BRETON LEGEND.
LONG, long ago, in the days of good King Arthur, Count Morriss dwelt in
the old chateau of La Roche Morice, near Landerneau, in Brittany. With
him lived his beautiful niece, Katel. Although charming in face and
figure, this maiden had a somewhat uncanny reputation. For it was
said--and with reason--that she was a witch.
The Count h
d often urged Katel to marry, but in vain. The lady had no
mind to lose her freedom. Dancing was the one passion of her life.
"When," said she, "I can find a knight who shall be able to dance
continuously with me for twelve hours, with no break, to him I promise
to give my hand!"
This scornful challenge was proclaimed by heralds in every neighbouring
town and hamlet. In response came many wooers to attempt the impossible
task. Those whom Katel favoured she made her partners at the rustic
fetes and open-air dances which were then in vogue. In the soft-swarded
meadows, by sunlight or starlight, the dancers would meet, and, to the
dreamy music of the pipes, eager couples would whirl until the hills
around began to blush in the light of the early dawn. The wildest,
giddiest, yet most graceful of the throng was Katel, who danced madly on
until one by one her partners sank fainting upon the ground, and death
released them from the heartless sorceress who had lured them into her
Thus perished many suitors, until the cruel maiden became an object of
general hatred and horror. When her doings came to the ears of the
Count, he sternly forbade her to attend any more of the dances. In order
to enforce her obedience, he shut her up in a tower, where, said he, she
was to remain until she should choose a husband from among such suitors
as still persisted in offering her marriage.
Now, Katel had a wizened little page, no bigger than a leveret, and as
black as a raven's wing. This creature she summoned to her one morning
before dawn, and, with her finger at her lips, she said to him: "Be
swift and silent! My uncle still slumbers. Get thee gone by the ladder,
and his thee to the castle of Salauen, who is waiting for a message from
her he loves. The guards will allow thee to pass; take horse, ride like
the wind, and tell Salauen that Katel calls him to deliver her from this
tower before the day dawns."
The infatuated young knight obeyed the summons immediately. In an
hour's time he was assisting the lady to mount his horse, after having
got her in safety down the rope-ladder. As, from the window of the
donjon, the dwarf watched them ride away, he chuckled to himself:
"Ha! ha! And so they are off to the great ball held to-day in the
Martyrs' Meadow! Ah, my dear Salauen! before another sun shall rise your
death-knell will be tolled!"
When Katel and her gallant cavalier arrived at the Martyrs' Meadow, they
excited general surprise and admiration. Some, however, shook their
heads forebodingly, as they heard that Salauen, now Katel's affianced
lover, was to be her partner, for they knew that the brave young knight
must needs fall a victim to her spell.
The ball began. Some of the most skilful pipers in the land had been
engaged for the occasion, and they played gavottes, rondes, courantes,
and many other dances, without intermission. But Katel waited until
night came and the torches were lit. Then she took Salauen's hand and
they began to dance together.
"Round again! Once more! Ha! ha!" laughed the witch-maiden, as they spun
along. "What! are you tired already? Do you give in so soon as this?"
"Never--while I am with you!" was the fervent reply. The fatal spell
had begun to work.
Thus on they whirled, yet more swiftly than before, so that the other
dancers stood aside to watch them. After a time, however, Katel observed
that her partner was gradually becoming weaker, and that he would soon
be unable to keep pace with her.
"Courage!" exclaimed she, in a bantering tone. "We cannot stop yet; it
wants but a very short time to midnight, and then I shall be yours!"
Salauen, although almost exhausted, strained every nerve and muscle in a
frantic, final effort to continue the dance. Round the field they flew,
at lightning speed; but it was for the last time. The knight's knees
shook--his breath came more quickly--then with difficulty he gasped out
"Oh, Katel! have mercy! I can do no more! Katel, my love, have I not won
But as he sank lifeless upon the grass Katel turned coldly away. His
fate was nothing to her. At that moment the clock in a neighbouring
tower struck twelve. All the lights flickered and expired; darkness
reigned supreme. And through the darkness, shrilling high above every
other sound, rang the mocking laugh of the impish dwarf.
"What!" exclaimed Katel derisively, glancing angrily at the worn-out
pipers, who had at last paused in their wild music, "exhausted already
by such slight exertions? I wish the Evil One would send me some
musicians and dancers worthy of me! Of what use are these miserable,
As she uttered the words, stamping her foot in her fury, a weird, red
light gleamed in the sky; there was a terrible peal of thunder, and a
strange stir in the trees. Then suddenly, in the centre of the field,
appeared two phantom forms, at the sight of whom the panic-stricken
by-standers would fain have fled. To their horror, however, they found
flight impossible; they were rooted to the spot!
One of the phantoms was attired in a red garment, covered with a black
cloak. Beneath his arm he held a large double pipe, coiled around which
were five hissing, writhing serpents. The other stranger, who was
exceedingly tall, was dressed in a tightly fitting black suit, and
heavy, red mantle, while upon his head waved an imposing tuft of
The ghostly piper began at once to play an unearthly dance-tune, so wild
and maddening that it made all the hearers tremble. His tall, grim
companion seized Katel by the waist, and the couple whirled round to the
mad measure, which grew ever faster and more furious. In an instant the
torches were relit. A few others joined in the dance; not for long,
however. Katel and her phantom were soon the only dancers. Shriller
still shrieked the pipes, faster yet grew the music, more and more
swiftly spun the feet. Ere long the witch-maiden felt that her strength
was deserting her; the torches swam before her eyes, and, in the last
extremity of terror, she struggled to release herself from the iron grip
which held her so relentlessly.
"What! so soon tired?" cried the spectre, jeering at her. "Do you give
in so soon as this? Come! round once more! Ha! ha!"
Thus was Katel treated as she had treated others. She had no breath
left wherewith to answer; her last hour had come. She made one more
wild, despairing bound, then fell to the ground in the throes of death.
At the same moment, the phantoms vanished. There was a vivid
lightning-blaze, a terrific crash of thunder; then fell black darkness
hiding everything. A tempestuous wind arose, and rain fell in torrents.
* * * * *
When the storm had cleared, and the morning sun shone out, those who
found courage to visit the spot beheld the forms of Katel and her lover
Salauen lying dead upon the shrivelled turf.
Ever since that time, the spot has been shunned by all, and still, by
their firesides on the winter nights, the peasants tell the tale of
Katel, the witch-dancer, and her fearful fate.