The Piper French folktale

The sea-breeze blew from the shore of the Black Water, and the stars were getting brighter to look at. The young maidens had gone homewards to the little farms, carrying on their fingers the metal rings their friends had bought them at the fair. The youths went across the common, singing their songs. At last their sonorous voices could no more be heard; the light dresses of the damsels were no longer to be seen; it was night.

Nevertheless, here was Lao, with a merry company, at the entrance of the lonely heath, – Lao, the celebrated piper, had come expressly from the mountains to lead the dance at the fair of Armor. His face looked like a March moon, his black locks floated as they would on the wind, and he held under his arm the pipe whose sounds had even set in motion a number of old women in their sabots. These women came along with him. When they came to a crossroad where there rises a granite cross all overgrown with moss, the women stopped, and said,

"Let us take the pathway leading towards the sea."

Master Lao pointed out the belfry-tower of Plougean over the hill, and said, "That is the point we are making for; why not go across the heath?"

The women answered, "Because a city of Korigans rises in the middle of that heath, and one must be pure from sin to pass it without danger."

"Korigans?" said Lao. One of the women reminded him of it, "Korigans, a race of black dwarfs living in the commons near meadows and wheat-fields." But Lao laughed aloud. "By heaven!" said he, "I have travelled by night-time all these roads, yet I have never seen your little black men counting their money by moonlight, as they tell us at the chimney-corner. Show me the road leading to the Korigan city, and I will go and sing to them the days of the week."

But the women all exclaimed, "Don't Lao. Some things in this world it is better to be ignorant of, and other things we ought to fear. Leave the Korigans alone to dance about their granite dwellings. They have the whistling of the wind across the heath to dance to, and the singing of the night-bird."

"Well, then," said the mountaineer, "I would like them to listen to my music. I will go across the common playing some of my best Cornouaille airs."

So saying, he put his pipe to his lips, and striking up a cheerful strain, he set off boldly on the little footway that stretched like a white line across the gloomy heath.

The women hurried terrified down the hill.

But Lao walked straight on and played on his pipes. As he advanced, his heart grew bolder, his breath more powerful, and the music louder. He had already crossed just half the common when he saw the Menhir [a large upright standing stone] rising like a phantom in the night, and further on he saw the dwellings of the Korigans.

Then he seemed to hear an ever-rising murmur. At first it was like the trickling of a rill, then like the rushing of a river, and then the roaring of the sea; and different sounds were mingled in this roar - sometimes like stifled laughs, then furious hissing, the mutterings of low voices, and the rush of steps on the withered grass.

Lao began to breathe less freely, and his eyes glanced right and left over the common. It was as if the tufts of heath were moving, all seemed alive and whirling in the gloom. All took the form of hideous dwarfs, and voices were clearly heard. Suddenly the moon rose, and Lao cried aloud.

To left, to right, behind, before, everywhere, as far as the eye could reach, the common was alive with running Korigans. Bewildered, Lao drew back to the Menhir and leant against it, but the Korigans saw him and came round with cries like those of grasshoppers.

"It is the piper of Cornouaille who has come here to play for the Korigans."

The little men surrounded him and shrieked, "You belong to us, Lao. Pipe then, piper, and lead the dance of the Korigans."

Lao resisted in vain. Some magic power mastered him, he felt the pipe approach his lips, and he played and danced in spite of himself. The Korigans surrounded him with circling bands, and every time he would have paused they cried in chorus,

"Pipe, piper, pipe, and lead the dance of the Korigans."

Lao went on thus the whole night, but when the stars grew paler in the sky, the music of his pipes waxed fainter, his feet had greater difficulty in moving from the ground. At last the dawn of day spread palely in the east, the cocks were heard crowing in the distant farms, and the Korigans disappeared. Then the mountain piper sunk down breathless at the foot of the Menhir. The mouth-piece of his pipes fell from his shrivelled lips, his arms dropped on his knees, and his head on his breast to rise no more. Voices murmured in the air,

"Sleep, piper! You have led the dance of the Korigans, so you shall never lead the dance for anyone any more."