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Wendy Mewes writing about Brittany


An elderly couple lived near the dolmen in a small house with a tall holly tree outside. One night they sat by the hearth exhausted. Jérôme was a woodsman and he was complaining of the weariness in his joints after a day of cutting down trees. His wife Gertrude said he needn’t think he was the only one suffering as she had been digging up potatoes and was just as tired as he was. It wasn’t right that they should be toiling like this day after day at their age, she reflected miserably.

“Aye, it all goes back to the first woman, Eve,” said Jérome.

“You’re right,” his wife replied. “If it hadn’t been for her insatiable curiosity we’d all be living in Paradise.”

“Too true, alas,” he replied with a sigh.

At that moment they heard a peculiar noise outside, some disturbance that shook all the leaves of the holly tree. They looked out and saw to their amazement that a small, pretty fairy had come down from the tree and was approaching them. She was wearing a garland of holly leaves and had little red berries as earrings and a necklace of seeds – she was the Fairy of the Holly Tree.

She spoke to them kindly.

“I heard your worries and I’ve come to help you. Here is a store of gold coins that will take care of all your needs and never run out. You need never work again! All I require in return is that you help me bury this covered pot in the Roche aux Fées and that you never seek to know what it contains. And you must never breathe a word to another soul about it.” Her tone turned solemn. “Be warned! If ever you seek to see inside the pot, all your good fortune will vanish at once and your happiness will be lost.”

The old people, amazed at their luck, swore an oath immediately and helped the fairy to carry out her task of burying the pot inside the monument. Then she returned to her tree and they were able to start enjoying their new-found wealth, in a state of great happiness.

The first few days passed in a daze of eating and drinking, and buying useful things for their house. They sat  at table for whole days feasting their friends and neighbours. But as the weeks went by, they began to tire of this idle existence, having been used all their lives to the structure of toil and production. Boredom soon set in.

Every day they walked past the Roche aux Fées, and Gertrude never failed to speculate about what might be in that covered pot they had buried. She was sure that it must contain a great secret as the fairy had made such a to-do about leaving it alone. Jérome bid her be silent, knowing that such ideas could only lead to trouble, but his wife turned the same questions over and over in her mind, night and day, believing that an enormous treasure must be in the pot.

“Just think what we could do!” she said to her husband. “With a real treasure we could buy grand houses and lands, which is hardly to be thought of with only a few gold coins! All they’re good for is to die of boredom.”

She kept up a veritable barrage of complaints like this, all with the object of provoking Jérome to some action, but without success. She even pretended to wake in the night hearing noises coming from the Roche aux Fées, terrible sounds that clearly portended ill for them. Perhaps they’d be accused of a terrible crime, or perhaps they’d be damned for agreeing to such a pact with the fairy!

Finally she herself rose one night, got dressed and went out of the house and across to the Roche aux Fées. She fell on her knees and began scratching away the earth where the pot was buried. Her husband had followed her, but he made no attempt to intervene. Gertrude eagerly pulled out the pot, took off the cover and turned it upside down. They both let out a cry of surprise. For what fell from the pot was not the treasure they had expected, but ashes and bones.

The unfortunate pair both began to cry when they realised their gold coins had already disappeared from the purse in Gertrude’s pocket. She scooped the contents of the pot back in, put the cover on and then buried it again in the same place. Then they went back home and she sat in the corner by the hearth sobbing tears of frustration. While they were both still steeped in gloom, the fairy of the holly tree appeared in the doorway.

“And so,” she said, “have you both kept your promises?”

“Yes,” replied Gertrude at once. “Go and look and you’ll see the pot is still in its place.” She thought perhaps she could deceive the fairy in this way.

“It’s a lie!” said the fairy. “You failed to overcome your curiosity, and so through your own fault you are poor again like before. Do you remember the conversation you were having when I first appeared? Does it become you now, Gertrude, to lay such blame on Eve?”

The Fairy of the Holly Tree from Legends of Brittany (2012).

One of the many legends surrounding the remarkable megaliths of Brittany.

Roche aux Fées

Roche aux Fées

This magnificent dolmen at Essé in Ille-et-Vilaine is perhaps the most impressive in Brittany with measurements of 19.5m long, 4.7m wide and 4.1m high. The lintel stone alone weighs about 20 tons. Not surprisingly it has attracted many legends and hence the traditional name ‘Fairies’ Rock.’

It is said that fairies built this monument to honour their dead. They carried the huge stones under their arms and on their heads for a long way – if a single one fell to the ground, the Devil ensured they had to leave it and go back and get another. This explains the many large stones littered in the surrounding countryside.

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