Once on a time there was a king who had three sons. Two of whom were fine, handsome young men, and the third was a hunchback whose name was Alain. His father did not love him, but sent him off to the kitchen with the cooks while the two older brothers ate with him at his own table and went with him everywhere.
One day the old king sent for his three sons and said to them, "I am getting old, children, and I want to spend the rest of my days in peace and quiet. I wish to give up my crown and the administration of my kingdom, to that one of you three who will bring me the finest piece of linen. Set out, then, travel far away, and return in a year and a day."
The three brothers started off on three different routes. The two elder brothers had each a fine horse to carry him, and pockets full of gold and silver. They went first to see their sweethearts and bid them good-bye. But there they forgot their quest, and led merry lives as long as their money lasted.
The hunchback, who had received only a six-franc piece from his father, and no horse, walked bravely on. When he was hungry he gnawed a crust of bread, gathered hazel-nuts, whortleberries, and wild mulberries from the bushes along the road, and drank out of the hollow of his hand from the wayside springs.
One day as he was crossing a great moor he heard a clear, fresh voice singing an old song. He stopped to listen, and said, "I must see who it is that sings like that;" and he followed the sound of the voice. He soon came on a young girl of great beauty, who addressed him thus, "Good morning, Alain, youngest son of the king of France."
"You know me, then?" asked the astonished prince.
"Yes, I know you; I even know where you are going and what you seek; your father has told you and your two brothers that he will give up his crown and his kingdom to that one of you three who will bring him the finest piece of linen: is it not so?"
"It is quite true," replied Alain, more and more astonished.
"Well, your two brothers have gone to see their sweethearts, and are having a good time with them, without caring anything about the search for the fine linen. You, who have no ladylove, have resolutely set to work, and you deserve to succeed. Come with me to my castle, and I will tell you what to do."
Alain followed her to what she called her castle, but which was only a miserable hut of mud and clay. He remained there some time with her, and, before he left, she gave him a little box, not larger than his fist, and said to him,
"It is time for you to return home. Take this little box to your father."
Alain returned with his box. When he reached the court of his father's palace, he saw his two brothers at the windows, quite happy and content with themselves. They had returned, with their horses laden with fine pieces of linen.
"See! Alain has come, too," they cried; "he comes without the smallest piece of linen, as ugly and miserable as when he set out, and has not even lost his hunch by the way!"
The two elder brothers then spread out their linens before their father. They were very fine and expensive.
"And you, Alain," said his father, "do you refuse to compete? For you have brought nothing."
Then Alain drew the small box from his pocket, and presented it to his father, saying, "Take this box, father, and open it."
The old king took the box, opened it, and at once there fell out of it a piece of white linen, smooth to the touch, soft and shining as silk. And for more than an hour, piece after piece fell out, so that the box seemed inexhaustible.
"Alain has won!" said the king. "My crown is his!"
"There is sorcery in this," said the two elder brothers, much put out, "and there must be three trials."
"I agree," said the king, who was displeased at the idea of leaving his crown to a hunchback.
"Give us another test," they cried.
"Very well; to him who brings me the finest horse."
And the three brothers set out, each by himself. The two older ones went, as before, to see their ladyloves, and the hunchback took once more the road across the moor, where he had met the beautiful young girl who had gained him his first victory. When, after much trouble, he reached it, he heard the same voice singing its song. "All's well," said he, comforted and full of hope. And he hastened toward the singer's clay house.
"Good morning," said he, as he entered; "I have come to see you again."
"Good morning, young son of the king," replied the young girl; "I know why you have come! Your brothers, beaten in the first contest, have demanded that there shall be three, and the second test is to bring to your father the finest horse."
"That is true; but how can I get a fine horse without money?"
"You got the finest linen without money; why should you not also have the finest horse without money? Remain here with me till the time comes to return, and do not be at all uneasy."
Alain took courage and remained with the young girl. When the day arrived, she gave him another box, bidding him be sure not to open it till he should be in the courtyard of his father's palace.
Then he departed. But he had not gone far when he yielded to curiosity. He opened his box to see what was in it; and at once a beautiful horse jumped out - swift as lightning - and disappeared in a moment. At this he began to cry. What should he do now? He resolved to return to the young girl, as he had not gotten very far from her house, and tell her of his misfortune. His kind friend gave him a second box, bidding him again not to open it till he should be in the courtyard of his father's palace, and holding it between his knees.
This time he did not open it. When he reached the court of the palace, his two brothers had been there already some time, and each of them had a magnificent horse. When they saw Alain arrive, they cried,
"Here is the hunchback at last, but he has no horse!"
"I have a box, as before," answered Alain, drawing his box from his pocket.
"Your fine horse is in that, no doubt," said they.
"Perhaps," said Alain.
"Open it, then, that we may see your mouse."
Alain put his box between his knees, opened it, and at once he found himself in the saddle on a superb horse with a golden bridle on his head, fiery and spirited, and with sparks flying from his four feet, his nostrils, and his eyes.
"Alain has won it this time, too," cried the old king, filled with astonishment; and Alain's victory was indeed so apparent that his brothers did not dream of disputing it. But they cried out spitefully,
"Now for the third trial. What shall it be, father?"
"Well," said the king, "this time to him who shall bring the most beautiful princess."
Then the three brothers set out again at once. The two elder ones went as before to see their fair ladies, and Alain returned to his mysterious friend in the great moor.
"Good morning, young son of the king," said she, seeing him return. "Your father has said that his crown shall be given to that one of his three sons who shall bring him the most beautiful princess."
"Yes," said the prince, "and I do not even know a princess."
"That makes no difference; stay here with me till the time comes to present yourself to your father, and have faith in me."
So Alain remained again with his friend, and when the time was come, she said to him, "Here is a hen with a linen cloth on her back; return with it to your father's house, and be very sure not to lose the hen and the linen."
"But shall I have no princess, then?"
"Go on with your hen, and trust me for the rest."
So Alain set out with the hen. But as he was going through a dark forest, she flew away, and then he began to cry. A lovely princesses suddenly appeared beside him.
"Why do you weep thus?" she said.
"I have lost my hen!" said Alain.
"I will find her for you."
And sure enough, the hen came back at a sign from the princess, and the hen still had her linen on her back. The princess touched the hen with the end of a white wand she had in her hand, and at once the hen was changed into a fine gilded carriage drawn by six superb horses. At the same time Alain saw his hunch disappear, and became a rather handsome young man, well dressed, and seated in the coach by the side of the princess. Another woman, a maid, was seated on the coachman's seat, holding the reins and driving the coach.
In this way they came to the king's palace. The two elder brothers had already arrived, and were waiting for the hunchback at the windows, each having a lovely princess by his side.
When Alain entered the courtyard with his splendid, shining coach and his two companions, it seemed as if the sun himself had driven in there. The two elder brothers and their princesses almost burst with envy at seeing their youngest brother return as he did, and covered their faces with their hands. But the old king, formerly so cross and full of pains, brightened up, and slowly walked down to the court to receive Alain and his princess.
"My crown and my kingdom are yours, Alain," he cried. Then he gave his hand to the princesses to help them alight, and led them into the palace.
The two elder sons and their princesses hid themselves for shame and envy, but they had to come to a great feast which the old king ordered to be prepared. All the court and the great men of his kingdom were invited. But during the feast, Alain's beautiful princess made such a good impression on all others that in the end Alain's brothers and their princesses ran away and appeared no more.
Soon afterward the marriage of Alain and his beautiful princess was celebrated, and the holidays and plays and feasts lasted for about a month.
[A Breton story]
One day the marquis of Coat-Squiriou was returning from Morlaix, when he beheld lying on the road a little fellow of four or five years of age. He leapt from his horse, picked the child up, and asked him what he did there.
"I don't know," replied the little boy.
"Who is your father?" asked the Marquis.
"I don't know," said the child for the second time.
"And your mother?" asked the kindly nobleman.
"I don't know."
"Where are you now, my child?"
"I don't know."
"Then what is your name?"
""I don't know."
The marquis told his serving-man to place the child on the crupper of his horse, as he had taken a fancy to him and would adopt him. He called him N'Oun Doare, which signifies in Breton, "I do not know." He educated him, and when his schooling was finished took him to Morlaix, where they put up at the best inn in the town. The adopted son had now grown into a tall, handsome youth, and so pleased was the marquis with him that he wanted to give him a little present, a sword. So they went out into the town and visited the armourers' shops in search of a suitable weapon. They saw swords of all kinds, but N'Oun Doare would have none of them, till at last they passed the booth of a seller of scrap-metal. A rusty old rapier which seemed fit for nothing was hanging there.
"Ha!" cried N'Oun Doare, "that is the sword for me. Please, buy it."
"Why, don't you see what a condition it is in?" said the Marquis. "It is not a fit weapon for a gentleman."
"Nevertheless the only sword I wish for," said N'Oun Doare.
"Well, well," said the Marquis, and bought the rusty old sword, and then they returned to Coat-Squiriou.
Next day N'Oun Doare examined his sword and discovered that the blade had the words "I am invincible" engraved on it.
Some time afterward the Marquis said to him: "It is time that you had a horse. Come with me to Morlaix and we will buy one." They set out for Morlaix. In the market-place they saw many fine animals, but N'Oun Doare was content with none of them. On returning to the inn, however, he saw what looked like a broken-down mare. She was standing by the roadside.
"That is the horse for me!" he cried. "Please, buy it for me."
"What!" cried the Marquis, "that broken-down beast?"
But N'Oun Doare persisted, and at last the Marquis bought the animal against his own judgement.
The man who sold it was a cunning-looking fellow who whispered as he put the bridle into N'Oun Doare's hand: "You see the knots on the halter of this animal?"
"Yes," replied N'Oun Doare; "what of them?"
"Only this, that each time you loosen one, the mare will at once carry you about 300 kilometers from where you are."
The Marquis and his ward returned once more to the château, N'Oun Doare riding his new purchase. Then it entered into his head to untie one of the knots on the halter. He did so, and at once descended in the middle of Paris - which is a long way from Brittany.
Several months afterward the marquis had occasion to go to Paris, and one of the first people he met there was N'Oun Doare, who told him of his adventure.
The Marquis was going to visit the king, and took his protégé along with him to the palace, where he was well received.
Some nights afterward the youth was walking with his old mare outside the walls of Paris, and noticed something that glittered very brightly at the foot of an ancient stone cross that stood where four roads met. He approached it and saw it was a crown of gold, set with the most brilliant precious stones.
He at once picked it up. Then the old mare, turned its head and said to him: "Take care; you will repent this."
Greatly surprised, N'Oun Doare thought that he had better replace the crown, but a longing to possess it overcame him, and although the mare warned him once more, he finally decided to take it, come what may. Then he put it under his mantle and rode away.
Now the king had confided to his care part of the royal stables, and when N'Oun Doare entered them, their darkness was at once lit up by the radiance of the crown he carried.
So well had the Breton lad attended to the horses under his charge that the other squires had become jealous. When they now noticed the strange light in N'Oun Doare's part of the stable, they mentioned it to the king, who in turn spoke of it to the Marquis of Coat-Squiriou. The Marquis asked N'Oun Doare about the light, and the youth replied that it was an enchanted thing in his possession that did it at intervals.
One night his enemies decided to examine into the matter more closely, and, looking through the keyhole of the stable, they saw that the wondrous light which had so puzzled them shone from a gold crown. They ran at once to tell the king, and, next night N'Oun Doare's stable was opened with a master key and the crown taken to the king's quarters. It was then seen that an inscription was engraved on the diadem, but in such strange characters that no one could read it. The magicians of the capital were called into consultation, but none of them could decipher the writing.
At last a little boy of seven years of age was found. He said that it was the crown of the princess Golden Bell. The king then called on N'Oun Doare to approach, and said to him, "You should not have hidden this thing from me. Go and find the princess Golden Bell, for I want her to become my wife. If you fail I shall put you to death."
N'Oun Doare left the royal presence in a perturbed state of mind. He went to seek his old mare with tears in his eyes.
"I know why you grieve," said the mare. "You should have left the golden crown alone, as I told you. But do not repine; go to the king and ask him for money for your journey."
The lad got the money from the king and set out on his journey. Arriving at the seashore, he saw a little fish cast up by the waves on the beach and almost at its last gasp.
"Throw that fish back into the water," said the mare.
N'Oun Doare did so, and the fish, lifting its head from the water, said, "You have saved my life, N'Oun Doare. I am the king of the fishes, and if ever you need my help, call my name by the sea-shore and I will come." With these words the Fish-King vanished beneath the water.
A little later they came on a bird struggling vainly to escape from a net in which it was caught.
"Cut the net and set that poor bird free," said the wise mare.
On N'Oun Doare doing so, the bird paused before it flew away and said:
"I am the king of the Birds, N'Oun Doare. I will never forget how you helped me, and if ever you are in trouble and need my aid, you have only to call me and I shall fly swiftly to help you."
As they went on their way, N'Oun Doare's wonderful mare crossed mountains, forests, vast seas, and streams with a swiftness and ease that was amazing. Soon they beheld the walls of the Château of the Golden Bell rising before them, and as they drew near they could hear a most confused and terrible noise coming from it. The noise shook N'Oun Doare's courage and made him rather fearful of entering it. Near the door a strange being was hung to a tree by a chain. The being as many horns on his body as there are days in the year.
"Cut that unfortunate man down," said the mare. "Will you not give him his freedom?"
"I am too much afraid to approach him," said N'Oun Doare. He was alarmed at how the man looked.
"Do not fear," said the sagacious animal, "he will not harm you in any way."
N'Oun Doare did so, and the stranger thanked him most gratefully, bidding him, as the others whom he had rescued had done, if he ever needed help to call on Grifescorne, for that was his name, and he would be with him at once.
Enter the château boldly and without fear," said the mare, "and I will wait for you in the wood over there. After the princess Golden Bell has welcomed you, she will show you all the curiosities and marvels of her dwelling. Tell her you have a horse without an equal, for it can dance most dances of every land. Say that your horse will do it to divert her if she will come and look at it in the forest."
Everything fell out as the mare had said, and the princess was delighted and amused by the mare's dancing.
"If you were to mount her," said N'Oun Doare, "I guess she would give you quite an experience!"
After a moment's hesitation the princess mounted the horse. In an instant the adventurous youth was by her side, and the horse sped through the air, so that in a short space they found themselves flying over the sea.
"You have tricked me!" cried the infuriated damsel. "But do not imagine that you are at the end of your troubles." She added, "you will have cause to lament more than once before I wed the old king of France."
They arrived promptly at Paris. There N'Oun Doare presented the lovely Princess to the monarch, saying, "Sire, I have brought to you the princess Golden Bell that you want to make your wife."
The king was dazed by the wondrous beauty of the princess, and was eager for the marriage to take place at once. But this the royal maiden would not hear of, and declared petulantly that she would not be wed until she had a ring which she had left behind her at her château, in a cabinet of which she had lost the key.
Summoning N'Oun Doare, the king charged him with the task of finding the ring. The unfortunate youth returned to his wise mare, feeling much cast down.
"Why," said the mare, "foolish one! Do you not remember the king of the birds that you rescued? Call on him, and maybe he will aid you as he promised to do."
N'Oun Doare did as he was bid, and at once the royal bird was with him and asked how he could help him. On N'Oun Doare explained his difficulty, and the Bird-King summoned all his subjects, calling each one by name. They came, but none of them appeared to be small enough to enter the cabinet by way of the keyhole, which was the only means of entrance. The wren was decided to be the only bird with any chance of success, and he set out for the château.
Eventually, with much difficulty and the loss of the greater part of his feathers, the bird got the ring, and flew back with it to Paris. N'Oun Doare hastened to present the ring to the princess.
"Now, fair one," said the impatient king, "why delay our wedding any longer?"
"There is one thing that I wish," she said, pouting discontentedly, "and without it I will do nothing."
"What do you desire? You have only to speak and it shall be brought."
"Well, transport my château with all it contains opposite to yours."
"What!" cried the king, struck with amazement. "Impossible!"
"Well, then, it is just as impossible that I should marry you, for without my château I shall not consent."
Once again the king gave N'Oun Doare what seemed an insurmountable task.
"Now I am as good as lost!" lamented the youth as they came to the château and he saw its massive walls towering above him.
"Call Grifescorne to your assistance," suggested the wise mare.
With the aid of Grifescorne and his subjects, N'Oun Doare's task was again accomplished, and he and his mare followed Grifescorne's army to Paris, where they arrived as soon as it did.
In the morning the people of Paris were amazed to see a wonderful palace with golden towers flashing in the sun, rising opposite to the royal residence.
"We shall be married at last, shall we not?" asked the king.
"Yes," replied the princess, "but how shall I enter my château and show you its wonders without a key? For I dropped it in the sea when N'Oun Doare and his horse carried me over it."
Once more the youth was charged with the task, and through the aid of the fish-king was able to get the key, which was cut from a single diamond. None of the fishes had seen it, but at last the oldest fish, who had not appeared when his name was pronounced, came forward and produced it from his mouth.
With a glad heart the successful N'Oun Doare returned to Paris, and as the princess had now no more excuses to make. A wedding day was fixed and the ceremony was celebrated with much splendour.
To the astonishment of all, when the king and his betrothed entered the church N'Oun Doare followed behind with his mare. At the end of the ceremony the mare's skin suddenly fell to the ground, disclosing a maiden of the most wonderful beauty.
Smiling on the bewildered N'Oun Doare, the damsel gave him her hand and said: "Come with me to Tartary, for the king of that land is my father, and there we shall be wed with great rejoicing."
Leaving the amazed king and wedding guests, the pair quitted the church together. More might have been told of them, but Tartary is a far land and no news of them has of late years reached Brittany.