The Sea-Wolf of Brittany
Deborah L. Davitt
In Carhaix, Conomor stood as king of
Brittany and Cornwall—but called himself
a prefect, as he and his people both
still dreamed of lost Roman laws and virtues.
Rome would have seen him as a petty king,
little more than a warlord, struggling
to hold his borders against enemies,
half his time spent on ships in the salt-spray
of the Channel, guarding merchant vessels
laden with Cornish tin, source of his wealth—
or, just as often, harrying foreign
ships, slaying their crews, seizing their cargoes.
The past haunts the present, a drift of ancient scent.
Wolf-pelts hung silver from his shoulders, cloaked
his shirt of sturdy mail, and at his side
hung a sword wrought of good, solid iron.
When he leaped from his ship to another,
he bared his teeth and howled; the sun glossed his
hair and beard, turning raven black to blue.
The sea-wolf, they called him, along the coast,
And none could deny his skill or power.
Neighboring kings feared his might, and offered
marriage alliances, sending daughters
to do what force of arms couldn’t manage:
to tame a wolf who wore a human’s skin.
Wolf-lord with raven hair; war-leader, fell corsair.
His first bride, from Naoned, he found fair,
and felt the first blush of love when he lay
with her in bed. Yet his darling lady
had orders from her noble family:
search his keep for anything that might give
them advantage in either war or trade.
With keys in hand, relics of a past age,
she searched from the donjon to the cellars,
and, locked deep beneath the keep, found a shrine
to all the ancient gods of Rome and Gaul;
here Neptune, there Nodens, the divine source,
the well-spring of Conomor’s earthly might.
In darkness, old gods dream of antique glory’s gleam.
She begged leave to visit her family,
and her groom agreed; but in their embrace,
she disclosed to them all that she had seen.
They rallied the bishop and their levies,
and, given a just cause, broke their treaty
to attack that corsair lord, with an eye
towards taking the sea and tin trade from him.
Conomar didn’t bother to fight fair;
he and his men ambushed their camp at night,
slew guards, fired tents, slaughtered all they found,
killed the bishop with a prayer on his lips;
then, weeping, Conomar killed his pale bride.
Faith conceals men’s greed; thin pretexts make men bleed.
In the instant of her death, he was blessed
by his old gods, or cursed by the new one.
His wolf-pelts wrapped around, fused with his skin,
and he howled to the night sky in despair.
His men, well-trained, never broke or fled him—
They captured the beast, found a man at dawn.
Then rumor swarmed across the land like bees,
buzzing of dishonor and heresy,
murder, infamy, and foul deeds. Yet his
enemies had been defeated, and his
power grew; the nobles of Frankia
feared what he might do, and sought new accords.
Bane’s sting or boon’s dew, often depends on point of view.
A second treaty-wife was sent, this one
from Rouen; wary, the sea-wolf refused
to grant his lady the keys, symbol of
a chatelaine, and her right as his wife.
She wept at this dishonor, till he gave
way, relented, but warned her not to stray.
Her father, the Duke, had ordered her to
find all the truth that she could find about
her bounden lord; instead, she found altars.
Returning from a daring raid, he found
her among the gods, and took both the shape
they’d given him and the life from her frame.
Divided loyalties craft divine cruelties.
A third bride now, a Merovingian
princess more in love with god than the world;
pale, she denied her groom and denounced him,
clung to the cross at the foot of her bed.
Leaden with guilt, not knowing in his heart
if he had now willingly slain two wives,
Conomar left her for the ocean’s waves,
and took his keys with him. But this bride stole
the fatal key, and crept down to the shrine.
And there she found his truest treasure: books
of ancient learning, parchment legacy.
She burned those tomes, shattered his marble gods.
Try to deny, defy, but is your truth a lie?
Before he could return from his raiding,
his wife called her brother, kin, to her aid,
and they put the sea-wolf to bay, pursued
him across rocky cliffs, drove him over;
he fell to the sharp stones, teeth of the surf.
A storm gathered and howled, driving them back,
taking revenge for his broken body.
He never took his human form again;
he followed his betrayers’ trail, half-beast,
and, deep in the forest, tore them apart.
Guilty, angry, and immortal, he coursed
from Brittany to Gévaudan; in time
the world remembered only convenient
truths and half-told tales, and gave the wolf a new name.
This poem retells the legend of Bluebeard, but also links it to the legend of the werewolf of Gévaudan—and as you might expect, Deborah L. Davitt has a fascination for history, mythology, and understanding the world in terms of both. She was raised in Nevada, but currently lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and son. Her poetry has received Rhysling, Dwarf Star, and Pushcart nominations; her short fiction has earned a finalist showing for the Jim Baen Adventure Fantasy Award (2018) and has appeared in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Compelling Science Fiction, and Galaxy’s Edge. For more about her work, including her Edda-Earth novels, please see www.edda-earth.com.