One evening the head archer of the house of Hautpoul on the Black Mountain,
came upon the wild shores of the Arnette River. A vague uneasiness overtook
him and he could not shake the feeling. His favorite past time was hunting
and he possessed numerous of heads of wolves, boar and deer that he had
slain. As the last rays of the sun began to fade a marvelous sight appears
before him. A few feet away is a woman of stunning beauty. Her shoulders are
covered by her golden hair as she joyfully plays in the currents with a
child, her daughter, who is her picture image. In her hand is a golden comb,
studded with jewels and diamonds so intricate that it could not have been
made by mortals. .
The archer recognizes her as the faery Saurimonde. Few have ever seen her,
but her beauty is legendary as is the golden comb, which is said to have
been crafted by the devil and is the key to untold riches. The archer
remembers the songs of the troubadours and how her name has been celebrated
from the courts of the Count of Toulouse to Montpellier where the King of
Aragon called his poets to praise her golden curls and golden comb.
While he watches, she leaves the cool, refreshing river, climbing up on a
nearby rock with her child and she starts brushing her daughter's hair with
the bejeweled comb. The archer makes a sudden move and Saurimonde and her
child disappear into a garlanded honeysuckle which serves as their palace
right before his eyes.
Later that night, the head archer paces the floor of the castle Hautpoul. He
cannot shake the image of the beautiful faery woman and the overwhelming
desire to possess the golden comb.
Time passes and the head archer becomes more and more obsessed by this
vision. Hunting no longer holds any attraction for him, and his friends all
flee, fearing that he is mad. But he never tells anyone his secret.
One anxious night, he takes down the cross bow that has been long since
forgotten. Like a madman he runs down the steep slopes that slide away from
the black walls of the city. He careens among the rocks and the bushes to
the same place at the river that he stumbled upon years ago. To his ultimate
surprise, she is there! He, the head archer, who has never missed his
target, the cunning hunter who never returns empty-handed, raises his bow
and the arrow goes sailing past her. She mocks his clumsy efforts to her
daughter and they both laugh.
He returns again and again to attempt to steal the golden comb and always it
is the same outcome. Finally, after being defeated at every turn, the head
archer climbs up the steep path carved by large stone slabs to the church of
St. Saveur (St Salvayre, a high viewing point south of Carcassonne). Meeting with the abbot, he confesses his story and asks just how
he might attain the precious implement. The abbot tells him that indeed, she
must be the daughter of the devil and that to obtain the golden comb he must
take his crossbow to their good Count of Toulouse, which adorns the
center of the city, and have it blessed.
After having made the journey, the head archers sets out for the river the
next evening. Saurimonde is there, more beautiful than ever, her delightful
body covered only with the lightest of veils and her golden hair flowing
loose about her. She has no fear now and her clear, smiling eyes seek out
her clumsy enemy.
A coldness descends and Saurimonde with comb in hand calls to her daughter
to come out of the water. This is the chance that the head archer has been
waiting for. With a fierce and greedy gleam in his eye, he aims his shot
and then unleashes the bolt. It flies through the air straight and true.
Heavens! A cry is heard. Saurimonde wails as she throws the golden comb into
the river's depths. She picks up the body of her child whose blood is
spilling onto her pearly skin. Amidst her sobs she starts to curse the
miserable head archer.
“Woe to you! Murderer of my child, you were once a great river and now
you will become a trickle of a stream!”
No one ever saw her again...
The head archer tried in vain for the rest of his days to find the golden
comb, but because of his crime he never did. Instead, he lost everything he
had and descended into darkness and misery. The once bountiful river dried
up to a small stream and then faded away into legend.
(Henri Tournier, Castle Aiguefonde by Mazamet-1899 -
published in the Revue du Tarn, vol XVII,
* * * * * * * *
The heroine of the story that we are writing now is a lot more earthy,
erotic and human (well, human in the the beginning), although she retains a
love for the river and the ethereal seductiveness of the faery woman from
whom her name comes. Next time we will tell the tale of Saurimonde the
sorceress, a fascinating and terrifying legend that has interesting
parallels with the Basque witch goddess Mari, queen of thunderstorms.