Undine is a novella, it is not in copyright in a few translations but it is a little long to put here.
Listen or read a condensed version here: www.storynory.com/2013/06/06/undine/
Or read the full text at Sur La Lune one of the best fairy tale websites out there.
Hans Christian Andersen
FAR out in the ocean, where the water is as blue as the prettiest cornflower, and as clear as crystal, it is very, very deep; so deep, indeed, that no cable could fathom it: many church steeples, piled one upon another, would not reach from the ground beneath to the surface of the water above. There dwell the Sea King and his subjects. We must not imagine that there is nothing at the bottom of the sea but bare yellow sand. No, indeed; the most singular flowers and plants grow there; the leaves and stems of which are so pliant, that the slightest agitation of the water causes them to stir as if they had life. Fishes, both large and small, glide between the branches, as birds fly among the trees here upon land. In the deepest spot of all, stands the castle of the Sea King. Its walls are built of coral, and the long, gothic windows are of the clearest amber. The roof is formed of shells, that open and close as the water flows over them. Their appearance is very beautiful, for in each lies a glittering pearl, which would be fit for the diadem of a queen.
The Sea King had been a widower for many years, and his aged mother kept house for him. She was a very wise woman, and exceedingly proud of her high birth; on that account she wore twelve oysters on her tail; while others, also of high rank, were only allowed to wear six. She was, however, deserving of very great praise, especially for her care of the little sea-princesses, her grand-daughters. They were six beautiful children; but the youngest was the prettiest of them all; her skin was as clear and delicate as a rose-leaf, and her eyes as blue as the deepest sea; but, like all the others, she had no feet, and her body ended in a fish’s tail. All day long they played in the great halls of the castle, or among the living flowers that grew out of the walls. The large amber windows were open, and the fish swam in, just as the swallows fly into our houses when we open the windows, excepting that the fishes swam up to the princesses, ate out of their hands, and allowed themselves to be stroked. Outside the castle there was a beautiful garden, in which grew bright red and dark blue flowers, and blossoms like flames of fire; the fruit glittered like gold, and the leaves and stems waved to and fro continually. The earth itself was the finest sand, but blue as the flame of burning sulphur. Over everything lay a peculiar blue radiance, as if it were surrounded by the air from above, through which the blue sky shone, instead of the dark depths of the sea. In calm weather the sun could be seen, looking like a purple flower, with the light streaming from the calyx. Each of the young princesses had a little plot of ground in the garden, where she might dig and plant as she pleased. One arranged her flower-bed into the form of a whale; another thought it better to make hers like the figure of a little mermaid; but that of the youngest was round like the sun, and contained flowers as red as his rays at sunset. She was a strange child, quiet and thoughtful; and while her sisters would be delighted with the wonderful things which they obtained from the wrecks of vessels, she cared for nothing but her pretty red flowers, like the sun, excepting a beautiful marble statue. It was the representation of a handsome boy, carved out of pure white stone, which had fallen to the bottom of the sea from a wreck. She planted by the statue a rose-colored weeping willow. It grew splendidly, and very soon hung its fresh branches over the statue, almost down to the blue sands. The shadow had a violet tint, and waved to and fro like the branches; it seemed as if the crown of the tree and the root were at play, and trying to kiss each other. Nothing gave her so much pleasure as to hear about the world above the sea. She made her old grandmother tell her all she knew of the ships and of the towns, the people and the animals. To her it seemed most wonderful and beautiful to hear that the flowers of the land should have fragrance, and not those below the sea; that the trees of the forest should be green; and that the fishes among the trees could sing so sweetly, that it was quite a pleasure to hear them. Her grandmother called the little birds fishes, or she would not have understood her; for she had never seen birds.
“When you have reached your fifteenth year,” said the grand-mother, “you will have permission to rise up out of the sea, to sit on the rocks in the moonlight, while the great ships are sailing by; and then you will see both forests and towns.”
In the following year, one of the sisters would be fifteen: but as each was a year younger than the other, the youngest would have to wait five years before her turn came to rise up from the bottom of the ocean, and see the earth as we do. However, each promised to tell the others what she saw on her first visit, and what she thought the most beautiful; for their grandmother could not tell them enough; there were so many things on which they wanted information. None of them longed so much for her turn to come as the youngest, she who had the longest time to wait, and who was so quiet and thoughtful. Many nights she stood by the open window, looking up through the dark blue water, and watching the fish as they splashed about with their fins and tails. She could see the moon and stars shining faintly; but through the water they looked larger than they do to our eyes. When something like a black cloud passed between her and them, she knew that it was either a whale swimming over her head, or a ship full of human beings, who never imagined that a pretty little mermaid was standing beneath them, holding out her white hands towards the keel of their ship.
As soon as the eldest was fifteen, she was allowed to rise to the surface of the ocean. When she came back, she had hundreds of things to talk about; but the most beautiful, she said, was to lie in the moonlight, on a sandbank, in the quiet sea, near the coast, and to gaze on a large town nearby, where the lights were twinkling like hundreds of stars; to listen to the sounds of the music, the noise of carriages, and the voices of human beings, and then to hear the merry bells peal out from the church steeples; and because she could not go near to all those wonderful things, she longed for them more than ever. Oh, did not the youngest sister listen eagerly to all these descriptions? and afterwards, when she stood at the open window looking up through the dark blue water, she thought of the great city, with all its bustle and noise, and even fancied she could hear the sound of the church bells, down in the depths of the sea.
In another year the second sister received permission to rise to the surface of the water, and to swim about where she pleased. She rose just as the sun was setting, and this, she said, was the most beautiful sight of all. The whole sky looked like gold, while violet and rose-colored clouds, which she could not describe, floated over her; and, still more rapidly than the clouds, flew a large flock of wild swans towards the setting sun, looking like a long white veil across the sea. She also swam towards the sun; but it sunk into the waves, and the rosy tints faded from the clouds and from the sea.
The third sister’s turn followed; she was the boldest of them all, and she swam up a broad river that emptied itself into the sea. On the banks she saw green hills covered with beautiful vines; palaces and castles peeped out from amid the proud trees of the forest; she heard the birds singing, and the rays of the sun were so powerful that she was obliged often to dive down under the water to cool her burning face. In a narrow creek she found a whole troop of little human children, quite naked, and sporting about in the water; she wanted to play with them, but they fled in a great fright; and then a little black animal came to the water; it was a dog, but she did not know that, for she had never before seen one. This animal barked at her so terribly that she became frightened, and rushed back to the open sea. But she said she should never forget the beautiful forest, the green hills, and the pretty little children who could swim in the water, although they had not fish’s tails.
The fourth sister was more timid; she remained in the midst of the sea, but she said it was quite as beautiful there as nearer the land. She could see for so many miles around her, and the sky above looked like a bell of glass. She had seen the ships, but at such a great distance that they looked like sea-gulls. The dolphins sported in the waves, and the great whales spouted water from their nostrils till it seemed as if a hundred fountains were playing in every direction.
The fifth sister’s birthday occurred in the winter; so when her turn came, she saw what the others had not seen the first time they went up. The sea looked quite green, and large icebergs were floating about, each like a pearl, she said, but larger and loftier than the churches built by men. They were of the most singular shapes, and glittered like diamonds. She had seated herself upon one of the largest, and let the wind play with her long hair, and she remarked that all the ships sailed by rapidly, and steered as far away as they could from the iceberg, as if they were afraid of it. Towards evening, as the sun went down, dark clouds covered the sky, the thunder rolled and the lightning flashed, and the red light glowed on the icebergs as they rocked and tossed on the heaving sea. On all the ships the sails were reefed with fear and trembling, while she sat calmly on the floating iceberg, watching the blue lightning, as it darted its forked flashes into the sea.
When first the sisters had permission to rise to the surface, they were each delighted with the new and beautiful sights they saw; but now, as grown-up girls, they could go when they pleased, and they had become indifferent about it. They wished themselves back again in the water, and after a month had passed they said it was much more beautiful down below, and pleasanter to be at home. Yet often, in the evening hours, the five sisters would twine their arms round each other, and rise to the surface, in a row. They had more beautiful voices than any human being could have; and before the approach of a storm, and when they expected a ship would be lost, they swam before the vessel, and sang sweetly of the delights to be found in the depths of the sea, and begging the sailors not to fear if they sank to the bottom. But the sailors could not understand the song, they took it for the howling of the storm. And these things were never to be beautiful for them; for if the ship sank, the men were drowned, and their dead bodies alone reached the palace of the Sea King.
When the sisters rose, arm-in-arm, through the water in this way, their youngest sister would stand quite alone, looking after them, ready to cry, only that the mermaids have no tears, and therefore they suffer more. “Oh, were I but fifteen years old,” said she: “I know that I shall love the world up there, and all the people who live in it.”
At last she reached her fifteenth year. “Well, now, you are grown up,” said the old dowager, her grandmother; “so you must let me adorn you like your other sisters;” and she placed a wreath of white lilies in her hair, and every flower leaf was half a pearl. Then the old lady ordered eight great oysters to attach themselves to the tail of the princess to show her high rank.
“But they hurt me so,” said the little mermaid.
“Pride must suffer pain,” replied the old lady. Oh, how gladly she would have shaken off all this grandeur, and laid aside the heavy wreath! The red flowers in her own garden would have suited her much better, but she could not help herself: so she said, “Farewell,” and rose as lightly as a bubble to the surface of the water. The sun had just set as she raised her head above the waves; but the clouds were tinted with crimson and gold, and through the glimmering twilight beamed the evening star in all its beauty. The sea was calm, and the air mild and fresh. A large ship, with three masts, lay becalmed on the water, with only one sail set; for not a breeze stiffed, and the sailors sat idle on deck or amongst the rigging. There was music and song on board; and, as darkness came on, a hundred colored lanterns were lighted, as if the flags of all nations waved in the air. The little mermaid swam close to the cabin windows; and now and then, as the waves lifted her up, she could look in through clear glass window-panes, and see a number of well-dressed people within. Among them was a young prince, the most beautiful of all, with large black eyes; he was sixteen years of age, and his birthday was being kept with much rejoicing. The sailors were dancing on deck, but when the prince came out of the cabin, more than a hundred rockets rose in the air, making it as bright as day. The little mermaid was so startled that she dived under water; and when she again stretched out her head, it appeared as if all the stars of heaven were falling around her, she had never seen such fireworks before. Great suns spurted fire about, splendid fireflies flew into the blue air, and everything was reflected in the clear, calm sea beneath. The ship itself was so brightly illuminated that all the people, and even the smallest rope, could be distinctly and plainly seen. And how handsome the young prince looked, as he pressed the hands of all present and smiled at them, while the music resounded through the clear night air.
It was very late; yet the little mermaid could not take her eyes from the ship, or from the beautiful prince. The colored lanterns had been extinguished, no more rockets rose in the air, and the cannon had ceased firing; but the sea became restless, and a moaning, grumbling sound could be heard beneath the waves: still the little mermaid remained by the cabin window, rocking up and down on the water, which enabled her to look in. After a while, the sails were quickly unfurled, and the noble ship continued her passage; but soon the waves rose higher, heavy clouds darkened the sky, and lightning appeared in the distance. A dreadful storm was approaching; once more the sails were reefed, and the great ship pursued her flying course over the raging sea. The waves rose mountains high, as if they would have overtopped the mast; but the ship dived like a swan between them, and then rose again on their lofty, foaming crests. To the little mermaid this appeared pleasant sport; not so to the sailors. At length the ship groaned and creaked; the thick planks gave way under the lashing of the sea as it broke over the deck; the mainmast snapped asunder like a reed; the ship lay over on her side; and the water rushed in. The little mermaid now perceived that the crew were in danger; even she herself was obliged to be careful to avoid the beams and planks of the wreck which lay scattered on the water. At one moment it was so pitch dark that she could not see a single object, but a flash of lightning revealed the whole scene; she could see every one who had been on board excepting the prince; when the ship parted, she had seen him sink into the deep waves, and she was glad, for she thought he would now be with her; and then she remembered that human beings could not live in the water, so that when he got down to her father’s palace he would be quite dead. But he must not die. So she swam about among the beams and planks which strewed the surface of the sea, forgetting that they could crush her to pieces. Then she dived deeply under the dark waters, rising and falling with the waves, till at length she managed to reach the young prince, who was fast losing the power of swimming in that stormy sea. His limbs were failing him, his beautiful eyes were closed, and he would have died had not the little mermaid come to his assistance. She held his head above the water, and let the waves drift them where they would.
In the morning the storm had ceased; but of the ship not a single fragment could be seen. The sun rose up red and glowing from the water, and its beams brought back the hue of health to the prince’s cheeks; but his eyes remained closed. The mermaid kissed his high, smooth forehead, and stroked back his wet hair; he seemed to her like the marble statue in her little garden, and she kissed him again, and wished that he might live. Presently they came in sight of land; she saw lofty blue mountains, on which the white snow rested as if a flock of swans were lying upon them. Near the coast were beautiful green forests, and close by stood a large building, whether a church or a convent she could not tell. Orange and citron trees grew in the garden, and before the door stood lofty palms. The sea here formed a little bay, in which the water was quite still, but very deep; so she swam with the handsome prince to the beach, which was covered with fine, white sand, and there she laid him in the warm sunshine, taking care to raise his head higher than his body. Then bells sounded in the large white building, and a number of young girls came into the garden. The little mermaid swam out farther from the shore and placed herself between some high rocks that rose out of the water; then she covered her head and neck with the foam of the sea so that her little face might not be seen, and watched to see what would become of the poor prince. She did not wait long before she saw a young girl approach the spot where he lay. She seemed frightened at first, but only for a moment; then she fetched a number of people, and the mermaid saw that the prince came to life again, and smiled upon those who stood round him. But to her he sent no smile; he knew not that she had saved him. This made her very unhappy, and when he was led away into the great building, she dived down sorrowfully into the water, and returned to her father’s castle. She had always been silent and thoughtful, and now she was more so than ever. Her sisters asked her what she had seen during her first visit to the surface of the water; but she would tell them nothing. Many an evening and morning did she rise to the place where she had left the prince. She saw the fruits in the garden ripen till they were gathered, the snow on the tops of the mountains melt away; but she never saw the prince, and therefore she returned home, always more sorrowful than before. It was her only comfort to sit in her own little garden, and fling her arm round the beautiful marble statue which was like the prince; but she gave up tending her flowers, and they grew in wild confusion over the paths, twining their long leaves and stems round the branches of the trees, so that the whole place became dark and gloomy. At length she could bear it no longer, and told one of her sisters all about it. Then the others heard the secret, and very soon it became known to two mermaids whose intimate friend happened to know who the prince was. She had also seen the festival on board ship, and she told them where the prince came from, and where his palace stood.
“Come, little sister,” said the other princesses; then they entwined their arms and rose up in a long row to the surface of the water, close by the spot where they knew the prince’s palace stood. It was built of bright yellow shining stone, with long flights of marble steps, one of which reached quite down to the sea. Splendid gilded cupolas rose over the roof, and between the pillars that surrounded the whole building stood life-like statues of marble. Through the clear crystal of the lofty windows could be seen noble rooms, with costly silk curtains and hangings of tapestry; while the walls were covered with beautiful paintings which were a pleasure to look at. In the centre of the largest saloon a fountain threw its sparkling jets high up into the glass cupola of the ceiling, through which the sun shone down upon the water and upon the beautiful plants growing round the basin of the fountain. Now that she knew where he lived, she spent many an evening and many a night on the water near the palace. She would swim much nearer the shore than any of the others ventured to do; indeed once she went quite up the narrow channel under the marble balcony, which threw a broad shadow on the water. Here she would sit and watch the young prince, who thought himself quite alone in the bright moonlight. She saw him many times of an evening sailing in a pleasant boat, with music playing and flags waving. She peeped out from among the green rushes, and if the wind caught her long silvery-white veil, those who saw it believed it to be a swan, spreading out its wings. On many a night, too, when the fishermen, with their torches, were out at sea, she heard them relate so many good things about the doings of the young prince, that she was glad she had saved his life when he had been tossed about half-dead on the waves. And she remembered that his head had rested on her bosom, and how heartily she had kissed him; but he knew nothing of all this, and could not even dream of her. She grew more and more fond of human beings, and wished more and more to be able to wander about with those whose world seemed to be so much larger than her own. They could fly over the sea in ships, and mount the high hills which were far above the clouds; and the lands they possessed, their woods and their fields, stretched far away beyond the reach of her sight. There was so much that she wished to know, and her sisters were unable to answer all her questions. Then she applied to her old grandmother, who knew all about the upper world, which she very rightly called the lands above the sea.
“If human beings are not drowned,” asked the little mermaid, “can they live forever? do they never die as we do here in the sea?”
“Yes,” replied the old lady, “they must also die, and their term of life is even shorter than ours. We sometimes live to three hundred years, but when we cease to exist here we only become the foam on the surface of the water, and we have not even a grave down here of those we love. We have not immortal souls, we shall never live again; but, like the green sea-weed, when once it has been cut off, we can never flourish more. Human beings, on the contrary, have a soul which lives forever, lives after the body has been turned to dust. It rises up through the clear, pure air beyond the glittering stars. As we rise out of the water, and behold all the land of the earth, so do they rise to unknown and glorious regions which we shall never see.”
“Why have not we an immortal soul?” asked the little mermaid mournfully; “I would give gladly all the hundreds of years that I have to live, to be a human being only for one day, and to have the hope of knowing the happiness of that glorious world above the stars.”
“You must not think of that,” said the old woman; “we feel ourselves to be much happier and much better off than human beings.”
“So I shall die,” said the little mermaid, “and as the foam of the sea I shall be driven about never again to hear the music of the waves, or to see the pretty flowers nor the red sun. Is there anything I can do to win an immortal soul?”
“No,” said the old woman, “unless a man were to love you so much that you were more to him than his father or mother; and if all his thoughts and all his love were fixed upon you, and the priest placed his right hand in yours, and he promised to be true to you here and hereafter, then his soul would glide into your body and you would obtain a share in the future happiness of mankind. He would give a soul to you and retain his own as well; but this can never happen. Your fish’s tail, which amongst us is considered so beautiful, is thought on earth to be quite ugly; they do not know any better, and they think it necessary to have two stout props, which they call legs, in order to be handsome.”
Then the little mermaid sighed, and looked sorrowfully at her fish’s tail. “Let us be happy,” said the old lady, “and dart and spring about during the three hundred years that we have to live, which is really quite long enough; after that we can rest ourselves all the better. This evening we are going to have a court ball.”
It is one of those splendid sights which we can never see on earth. The walls and the ceiling of the large ball-room were of thick, but transparent crystal. May hundreds of colossal shells, some of a deep red, others of a grass green, stood on each side in rows, with blue fire in them, which lighted up the whole saloon, and shone through the walls, so that the sea was also illuminated. Innumerable fishes, great and small, swam past the crystal walls; on some of them the scales glowed with a purple brilliancy, and on others they shone like silver and gold. Through the halls flowed a broad stream, and in it danced the mermen and the mermaids to the music of their own sweet singing. No one on earth has such a lovely voice as theirs. The little mermaid sang more sweetly than them all. The whole court applauded her with hands and tails; and for a moment her heart felt quite gay, for she knew she had the loveliest voice of any on earth or in the sea. But she soon thought again of the world above her, for she could not forget the charming prince, nor her sorrow that she had not an immortal soul like his; therefore she crept away silently out of her father’s palace, and while everything within was gladness and song, she sat in her own little garden sorrowful and alone. Then she heard the bugle sounding through the water, and thought—“He is certainly sailing above, he on whom my wishes depend, and in whose hands I should like to place the happiness of my life. I will venture all for him, and to win an immortal soul, while my sisters are dancing in my father’s palace, I will go to the sea witch, of whom I have always been so much afraid, but she can give me counsel and help.”
And then the little mermaid went out from her garden, and took the road to the foaming whirlpools, behind which the sorceress lived. She had never been that way before: neither flowers nor grass grew there; nothing but bare, gray, sandy ground stretched out to the whirlpool, where the water, like foaming mill-wheels, whirled round everything that it seized, and cast it into the fathomless deep. Through the midst of these crushing whirlpools the little mermaid was obliged to pass, to reach the dominions of the sea witch; and also for a long distance the only road lay right across a quantity of warm, bubbling mire, called by the witch her turfmoor. Beyond this stood her house, in the centre of a strange forest, in which all the trees and flowers were polypi, half animals and half plants; they looked like serpents with a hundred heads growing out of the ground. The branches were long slimy arms, with fingers like flexible worms, moving limb after limb from the root to the top. All that could be reached in the sea they seized upon, and held fast, so that it never escaped from their clutches. The little mermaid was so alarmed at what she saw, that she stood still, and her heart beat with fear, and she was very nearly turning back; but she thought of the prince, and of the human soul for which she longed, and her courage returned. She fastened her long flowing hair round her head, so that the polypi might not seize hold of it. She laid her hands together across her bosom, and then she darted forward as a fish shoots through the water, between the supple arms and fingers of the ugly polypi, which were stretched out on each side of her. She saw that each held in its grasp something it had seized with its numerous little arms, as if they were iron bands. The white skeletons of human beings who had perished at sea, and had sunk down into the deep waters, skeletons of land animals, oars, rudders, and chests of ships were lying tightly grasped by their clinging arms; even a little mermaid, whom they had caught and strangled; and this seemed the most shocking of all to the little princess.
She now came to a space of marshy ground in the wood, where large, fat water-snakes were rolling in the mire, and showing their ugly, drab-colored bodies. In the midst of this spot stood a house, built with the bones of shipwrecked human beings. There sat the sea witch, allowing a toad to eat from her mouth, just as people sometimes feed a canary with a piece of sugar. She called the ugly water-snakes her little chickens, and allowed them to crawl all over her bosom.
“I know what you want,” said the sea witch; “it is very stupid of you, but you shall have your way, and it will bring you to sorrow, my pretty princess. You want to get rid of your fish’s tail, and to have two supports instead of it, like human beings on earth, so that the young prince may fall in love with you, and that you may have an immortal soul.” And then the witch laughed so loud and disgustingly, that the toad and the snakes fell to the ground, and lay there wriggling about. “You are but just in time,” said the witch; “for after sunrise to-morrow I should not be able to help you till the end of another year. I will prepare a draught for you, with which you must swim to land tomorrow before sunrise, and sit down on the shore and drink it. Your tail will then disappear, and shrink up into what mankind calls legs, and you will feel great pain, as if a sword were passing through you. But all who see you will say that you are the prettiest little human being they ever saw. You will still have the same floating gracefulness of movement, and no dancer will ever tread so lightly; but at every step you take it will feel as if you were treading upon sharp knives, and that the blood must flow. If you will bear all this, I will help you.”
“Yes, I will,” said the little princess in a trembling voice, as she thought of the prince and the immortal soul.
“But think again,” said the witch; “for when once your shape has become like a human being, you can no more be a mermaid. You will never return through the water to your sisters, or to your father’s palace again; and if you do not win the love of the prince, so that he is willing to forget his father and mother for your sake, and to love you with his whole soul, and allow the priest to join your hands that you may be man and wife, then you will never have an immortal soul. The first morning after he marries another your heart will break, and you will become foam on the crest of the waves.”
“I will do it,” said the little mermaid, and she became pale as death.
“But I must be paid also,” said the witch, “and it is not a trifle that I ask. You have the sweetest voice of any who dwell here in the depths of the sea, and you believe that you will be able to charm the prince with it also, but this voice you must give to me; the best thing you possess will I have for the price of my draught. My own blood must be mixed with it, that it may be as sharp as a two-edged sword.”
“But if you take away my voice,” said the little mermaid, “what is left for me?”
“Your beautiful form, your graceful walk, and your expressive eyes; surely with these you can enchain a man’s heart. Well, have you lost your courage? Put out your little tongue that I may cut it off as my payment; then you shall have the powerful draught.”
“It shall be,” said the little mermaid.
Then the witch placed her cauldron on the fire, to prepare the magic draught.
“Cleanliness is a good thing,” said she, scouring the vessel with snakes, which she had tied together in a large knot; then she pricked herself in the breast, and let the black blood drop into it. The steam that rose formed itself into such horrible shapes that no one could look at them without fear. Every moment the witch threw something else into the vessel, and when it began to boil, the sound was like the weeping of a crocodile. When at last the magic draught was ready, it looked like the clearest water. “There it is for you,” said the witch. Then she cut off the mermaid’s tongue, so that she became dumb, and would never again speak or sing. “If the polypi should seize hold of you as you return through the wood,” said the witch, “throw over them a few drops of the potion, and their fingers will be torn into a thousand pieces.” But the little mermaid had no occasion to do this, for the polypi sprang back in terror when they caught sight of the glittering draught, which shone in her hand like a twinkling star.
So she passed quickly through the wood and the marsh, and between the rushing whirlpools. She saw that in her father’s palace the torches in the ballroom were extinguished, and all within asleep; but she did not venture to go in to them, for now she was dumb and going to leave them forever, she felt as if her heart would break. She stole into the garden, took a flower from the flower-beds of each of her sisters, kissed her hand a thousand times towards the palace, and then rose up through the dark blue waters. The sun had not risen when she came in sight of the prince’s palace, and approached the beautiful marble steps, but the moon shone clear and bright. Then the little mermaid drank the magic draught, and it seemed as if a two-edged sword went through her delicate body: she fell into a swoon, and lay like one dead. When the sun arose and shone over the sea, she recovered, and felt a sharp pain; but just before her stood the handsome young prince. He fixed his coal-black eyes upon her so earnestly that she cast down her own, and then became aware that her fish’s tail was gone, and that she had as pretty a pair of white legs and tiny feet as any little maiden could have; but she had no clothes, so she wrapped herself in her long, thick hair. The prince asked her who she was, and where she came from, and she looked at him mildly and sorrowfully with her deep blue eyes; but she could not speak. Every step she took was as the witch had said it would be, she felt as if treading upon the points of needles or sharp knives; but she bore it willingly, and stepped as lightly by the prince’s side as a soap-bubble, so that he and all who saw her wondered at her graceful-swaying movements. She was very soon arrayed in costly robes of silk and muslin, and was the most beautiful creature in the palace; but she was dumb, and could neither speak nor sing.
Beautiful female slaves, dressed in silk and gold, stepped forward and sang before the prince and his royal parents: one sang better than all the others, and the prince clapped his hands and smiled at her. This was great sorrow to the little mermaid; she knew how much more sweetly she herself could sing once, and she thought, “Oh if he could only know that! I have given away my voice forever, to be with him.”
The slaves next performed some pretty fairy-like dances, to the sound of beautiful music. Then the little mermaid raised her lovely white arms, stood on the tips of her toes, and glided over the floor, and danced as no one yet had been able to dance. At each moment her beauty became more revealed, and her expressive eyes appealed more directly to the heart than the songs of the slaves. Every one was enchanted, especially the prince, who called her his little foundling; and she danced again quite readily, to please him, though each time her foot touched the floor it seemed as if she trod on sharp knives.
The prince said she should remain with him always, and she received permission to sleep at his door, on a velvet cushion. He had a page’s dress made for her, that she might accompany him on horseback. They rode together through the sweet-scented woods, where the green boughs touched their shoulders, and the little birds sang among the fresh leaves. She climbed with the prince to the tops of high mountains; and although her tender feet bled so that even her steps were marked, she only laughed, and followed him till they could see the clouds beneath them looking like a flock of birds travelling to distant lands. While at the prince’s palace, and when all the household were asleep, she would go and sit on the broad marble steps; for it eased her burning feet to bathe them in the cold sea-water; and then she thought of all those below in the deep.
Once during the night her sisters came up arm-in-arm, singing sorrowfully, as they floated on the water. She beckoned to them, and then they recognized her, and told her how she had grieved them. After that, they came to the same place every night; and once she saw in the distance her old grandmother, who had not been to the surface of the sea for many years, and the old Sea King, her father, with his crown on his head. They stretched out their hands towards her, but they did not venture so near the land as her sisters did.
As the days passed, she loved the prince more fondly, and he loved her as he would love a little child, but it never came into his head to make her his wife; yet, unless he married her, she could not receive an immortal soul; and, on the morning after his marriage with another, she would dissolve into the foam of the sea.
“Do you not love me the best of them all?” the eyes of the little mermaid seemed to say, when he took her in his arms, and kissed her fair forehead.
“Yes, you are dear to me,” said the prince; “for you have the best heart, and you are the most devoted to me; you are like a young maiden whom I once saw, but whom I shall never meet again. I was in a ship that was wrecked, and the waves cast me ashore near a holy temple, where several young maidens performed the service. The youngest of them found me on the shore, and saved my life. I saw her but twice, and she is the only one in the world whom I could love; but you are like her, and you have almost driven her image out of my mind. She belongs to the holy temple, and my good fortune has sent you to me instead of her; and we will never part.”
“Ah, he knows not that it was I who saved his life,” thought the little mermaid. “I carried him over the sea to the wood where the temple stands: I sat beneath the foam, and watched till the human beings came to help him. I saw the pretty maiden that he loves better than he loves me;” and the mermaid sighed deeply, but she could not shed tears. “He says the maiden belongs to the holy temple, therefore she will never return to the world. They will meet no more: while I am by his side, and see him every day. I will take care of him, and love him, and give up my life for his sake.”
Very soon it was said that the prince must marry, and that the beautiful daughter of a neighboring king would be his wife, for a fine ship was being fitted out. Although the prince gave out that he merely intended to pay a visit to the king, it was generally supposed that he really went to see his daughter. A great company were to go with him. The little mermaid smiled, and shook her head. She knew the prince’s thoughts better than any of the others.
“I must travel,” he had said to her; “I must see this beautiful princess; my parents desire it; but they will not oblige me to bring her home as my bride. I cannot love her; she is not like the beautiful maiden in the temple, whom you resemble. If I were forced to choose a bride, I would rather choose you, my dumb foundling, with those expressive eyes.” And then he kissed her rosy mouth, played with her long waving hair, and laid his head on her heart, while she dreamed of human happiness and an immortal soul. “You are not afraid of the sea, my dumb child,” said he, as they stood on the deck of the noble ship which was to carry them to the country of the neighboring king. And then he told her of storm and of calm, of strange fishes in the deep beneath them, and of what the divers had seen there; and she smiled at his descriptions, for she knew better than any one what wonders were at the bottom of the sea.
In the moonlight, when all on board were asleep, excepting the man at the helm, who was steering, she sat on the deck, gazing down through the clear water. She thought she could distinguish her father’s castle, and upon it her aged grandmother, with the silver crown on her head, looking through the rushing tide at the keel of the vessel. Then her sisters came up on the waves, and gazed at her mournfully, wringing their white hands. She beckoned to them, and smiled, and wanted to tell them how happy and well off she was; but the cabin-boy approached, and when her sisters dived down he thought it was only the foam of the sea which he saw.
The next morning the ship sailed into the harbor of a beautiful town belonging to the king whom the prince was going to visit. The church bells were ringing, and from the high towers sounded a flourish of trumpets; and soldiers, with flying colors and glittering bayonets, lined the rocks through which they passed. Every day was a festival; balls and entertainments followed one another.
But the princess had not yet appeared. People said that she was being brought up and educated in a religious house, where she was learning every royal virtue. At last she came. Then the little mermaid, who was very anxious to see whether she was really beautiful, was obliged to acknowledge that she had never seen a more perfect vision of beauty. Her skin was delicately fair, and beneath her long dark eye-lashes her laughing blue eyes shone with truth and purity.
“It was you,” said the prince, “who saved my life when I lay dead on the beach,” and he folded his blushing bride in his arms. “Oh, I am too happy,” said he to the little mermaid; “my fondest hopes are all fulfilled. You will rejoice at my happiness; for your devotion to me is great and sincere.”
The little mermaid kissed his hand, and felt as if her heart were already broken. His wedding morning would bring death to her, and she would change into the foam of the sea. All the church bells rung, and the heralds rode about the town proclaiming the betrothal. Perfumed oil was burning in costly silver lamps on every altar. The priests waved the censers, while the bride and bridegroom joined their hands and received the blessing of the bishop. The little mermaid, dressed in silk and gold, held up the bride’s train; but her ears heard nothing of the festive music, and her eyes saw not the holy ceremony; she thought of the night of death which was coming to her, and of all she had lost in the world. On the same evening the bride and bridegroom went on board ship; cannons were roaring, flags waving, and in the centre of the ship a costly tent of purple and gold had been erected. It contained elegant couches, for the reception of the bridal pair during the night. The ship, with swelling sails and a favorable wind, glided away smoothly and lightly over the calm sea. When it grew dark a number of colored lamps were lit, and the sailors danced merrily on the deck. The little mermaid could not help thinking of her first rising out of the sea, when she had seen similar festivities and joys; and she joined in the dance, poised herself in the air as a swallow when he pursues his prey, and all present cheered her with wonder. She had never danced so elegantly before. Her tender feet felt as if cut with sharp knives, but she cared not for it; a sharper pang had pierced through her heart. She knew this was the last evening she should ever see the prince, for whom she had forsaken her kindred and her home; she had given up her beautiful voice, and suffered unheard-of pain daily for him, while he knew nothing of it. This was the last evening that she would breathe the same air with him, or gaze on the starry sky and the deep sea; an eternal night, without a thought or a dream, awaited her: she had no soul and now she could never win one. All was joy and gayety on board ship till long after midnight; she laughed and danced with the rest, while the thoughts of death were in her heart. The prince kissed his beautiful bride, while she played with his raven hair, till they went arm-in-arm to rest in the splendid tent. Then all became still on board the ship; the helmsman, alone awake, stood at the helm. The little mermaid leaned her white arms on the edge of the vessel, and looked towards the east for the first blush of morning, for that first ray of dawn that would bring her death. She saw her sisters rising out of the flood: they were as pale as herself; but their long beautiful hair waved no more in the wind, and had been cut off.
“We have given our hair to the witch,” said they, “to obtain help for you, that you may not die to-night. She has given us a knife: here it is, see it is very sharp. Before the sun rises you must plunge it into the heart of the prince; when the warm blood falls upon your feet they will grow together again, and form into a fish’s tail, and you will be once more a mermaid, and return to us to live out your three hundred years before you die and change into the salt sea foam. Haste, then; he or you must die before sunrise. Our old grandmother moans so for you, that her white hair is falling off from sorrow, as ours fell under the witch’s scissors. Kill the prince and come back; hasten: do you not see the first red streaks in the sky? In a few minutes the sun will rise, and you must die.” And then they sighed deeply and mournfully, and sank down beneath the waves.
The little mermaid drew back the crimson curtain of the tent, and beheld the fair bride with her head resting on the prince’s breast. She bent down and kissed his fair brow, then looked at the sky on which the rosy dawn grew brighter and brighter; then she glanced at the sharp knife, and again fixed her eyes on the prince, who whispered the name of his bride in his dreams. She was in his thoughts, and the knife trembled in the hand of the little mermaid: then she flung it far away from her into the waves; the water turned red where it fell, and the drops that spurted up looked like blood. She cast one more lingering, half-fainting glance at the prince, and then threw herself from the ship into the sea, and thought her body was dissolving into foam. The sun rose above the waves, and his warm rays fell on the cold foam of the little mermaid, who did not feel as if she were dying. She saw the bright sun, and all around her floated hundreds of transparent beautiful beings; she could see through them the white sails of the ship, and the red clouds in the sky; their speech was melodious, but too ethereal to be heard by mortal ears, as they were also unseen by mortal eyes. The little mermaid perceived that she had a body like theirs, and that she continued to rise higher and higher out of the foam. “Where am I?” asked she, and her voice sounded ethereal, as the voice of those who were with her; no earthly music could imitate it.
“Among the daughters of the air,” answered one of them. “A mermaid has not an immortal soul, nor can she obtain one unless she wins the love of a human being. On the power of another hangs her eternal destiny. But the daughters of the air, although they do not possess an immortal soul, can, by their good deeds, procure one for themselves. We fly to warm countries, and cool the sultry air that destroys mankind with the pestilence. We carry the perfume of the flowers to spread health and restoration. After we have striven for three hundred years to all the good in our power, we receive an immortal soul and take part in the happiness of mankind. You, poor little mermaid, have tried with your whole heart to do as we are doing; you have suffered and endured and raised yourself to the spirit-world by your good deeds; and now, by striving for three hundred years in the same way, you may obtain an immortal soul.”
The little mermaid lifted her glorified eyes towards the sun, and felt them, for the first time, filling with tears. On the ship, in which she had left the prince, there were life and noise; she saw him and his beautiful bride searching for her; sorrowfully they gazed at the pearly foam, as if they knew she had thrown herself into the waves. Unseen she kissed the forehead of her bride, and fanned the prince, and then mounted with the other children of the air to a rosy cloud that floated through the aether.
“After three hundred years, thus shall we float into the kingdom of heaven,” said she. “And we may even get there sooner,” whispered one of her companions. “Unseen we can enter the houses of men, where there are children, and for every day on which we find a good child, who is the joy of his parents and deserves their love, our time of probation is shortened. The child does not know, when we fly through the room, that we smile with joy at his good conduct, for we can count one year less of our three hundred years. But when we see a naughty or a wicked child, we shed tears of sorrow, and for every tear a day is added to our time of trial!”
Next in importance to the Domovoy, but far superior to him in poetic interest, is the Rusalka. The Rusalkas are female water-spirits, who occupy a position which corresponds in many respects with that filled by the elves and fairies of Western Europe. The origin of their name seems to be doubtful, but it appears to be connected with rus, an old Slavonic word for a stream, or with ruslo, the bed of a river, and with several other kindred words, such as rosá, dew, which have reference to water. They are
generally represented under the form of beauteous maidens with full and snow-white bosoms, and with long and slender limbs. Their feet are small, their eyes are wild, their faces are fair to see, but their complexion is pale, their expression anxious. Their hair is long and thick and wavy, and green as is the grass. Their dress is either a covering of green leaves, or a long white shift, worn without a girdle. At times they emerge from the waters of the lake or river in which they dwell, and sit upon its banks, combing and plaiting their flowing locks, or they cling to a mill-wheel; and turn round with it amid the splash of the stream. If any one happens to approach, they fling themselves into the waters, and there divert themselves, and try to allure him to join them. Whomsoever they get hold of they tickle to death 6. Witches alone can bathe with them unhurt.
In certain districts bordering on the sea the people believe, or used to believe, in marine Rusalkas, who are supposed, in some places, as, for instance, about Astrakhan, to raise storms and vex shipping. But as a general rule the Rusalkas are looked upon in Russia as haunting lakes and streams, at the bottom of which they usually dwell in crystal halls, radiant with gold and silver and precious stones. Sometimes, however, they are not so sumptuously housed,
but have to make for themselves nests out of straw and feathers collected during the "Green Week," the seventh after Easter. If a Rusalka's hair becomes dry she dies, and therefore she is generally afraid of going far from the water, unless, indeed, she has a comb with her. So long as she has a comb she can always produce a flood by passing it through her waving locks.
In some places they are fond of spinning, in others they are given to washing linen. During the week before Whitsuntide, as many songs testify, they sit upon trees, and ask for linen garments. Up to the present day, in Little-Russia, it is customary to hang on the boughs of oaks and other trees, at that time of year, shifts and rags and skeins of thread, all intended as a present to the Rusalkas. In White-Russia the peasants affirm that during that week the forests are traversed by naked women and children, and whoever meets them, if he wishes to escape a premature death, must fling them a handkerchief, or some scrap torn from his dress.
On the approach of winter the Rusalkas disappear, and do not show themselves again until it is over. In Little-Russia they are supposed to appear on the Thursday in Holy Week, a day which in olden times was dear to them, as well as to many other spiritual beings. In the Ukraine the Thursday before Whitsuntide is called the Great Day, or Easter Sunday, of the Rusalkas. During the days called the "Green Svyatki," at Whitsuntide, when every home is adorned with boughs and green leaves, no
one dares to work for fear of offending the Rusalkas. Especially must women abstain from sewing or washing linen; and men from weaving fences and the like, such occupations too closely resembling those of the supernatural weavers and washers. It is chiefly at that time that the spirits leave their watery abodes, and go strolling about the fields and forests, continuing to do so until the end of June. All that time their voices may be heard in the rustling or sighing of the breeze, and the splash of running water betrays their dancing feet. At that time the peasant-girls go into the woods, and throw garlands to the Rusalkas, asking for rich husbands in return, or float them down a stream, seeing in their movements omens of future happiness or sorrow.
After St. Peter's day, June 29, the Rusalkas dance by night beneath the moon, and in Little-Russia and Galicia, where Rusalkas (or Mavki as they are there called) have danced, circles of darker, and of richer grass are found in the fields. Sometimes they induce a shepherd to play to them. All night long they dance to his music: in the morning a hollow marks the spot where his foot has beaten time. Sometimes a man encounters Rusalkas who begin to writhe and contort themselves after a strange fashion. Involuntarily he imitates their gestures, and for the rest of his life he is deformed, or is a victim to St. Vitus' dance. Any one who treads upon the linen which the Rusalkas have laid out to dry loses all his strength, or becomes a cripple; those who desecrate theRusalnaya (or Rusalkas') week by working are
punished by the loss of their cattle and poultry. At times the Rusalkas entice into their haunts both youths and maidens, and tickle them to death, or strangle or drown them.
The Rusalkas have much to do with the harvest, sometimes making it plenteous, and at other times ruining it by rain and wind. The peasants in White-Russia say that the Rusalkas dwell amid the standing corn; and in Little-Russia it is believed that on Whit-Sunday Eve they go out to the corn-fields, and there, with joyous singing and clapping of hands, they scamper through the rye or hang on to its stalks, and swing to and fro, so that the corn undulates as if beneath a strong wind.
In some parts of Russia there is performed, immediately after the end of the Whitsuntide festival, the ceremony of expelling the Rusalkas. On the first Monday of the "Peter's Fast" a figure made of straw is draped in woman's clothes, so as to represent a Rusalka. Afterwards a Khorovod is formed, and the assembled company go out to the fields with dance and song, she who holds the straw Rusalka in her hand bounding about in the middle of the choral circle. On arriving at the fields the singers form two bodies, one of which attacks the figure, while the other defends it. Eventually it is torn to pieces, and the straw of which it was made is thrown to the winds, after which the performers return home, saying they have expelled the Rusalka. In the Government of Tula the women and girls go out to the fields during the "Green Week," and chase the
Rusalka, who is supposed to be stealing the grain. Having made a straw figure, they take it to the banks of a stream and fling it into the water. In some districts the young people run about the fields on Whit-Sunday Eve, waving brooms, and crying, "Pursue! pursue!" There are people who affirm that they have seen the hunted Rusalkas running out of the corn-fields into the woods, and have heard their sobs and cries.
Besides the full-grown Rusalkas there are little ones, having the appearance of seven-year-old girls. These are supposed, by the Russian peasants, to be the ghosts of still-born children, or such as have died before there was time to baptize them. Such children the Rusalkas are in the habit of stealing after death, taking them from their graves, or even from the cottages in which they lie, and carrying them off to their subaqueous dwellings. Every Whitsuntide, for seven successive years, the souls of these children fly about, asking to be christened. If any person who hears one of them lamenting will exclaim, "I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," the soul of that child will be saved, and will go straight to heaven. A religious service, annually performed on the first Monday of the "Peter's Fast," in behalf of an unbaptized child will be equally efficacious. But if the stray soul, during seven years, neither hears the baptismal formula pronounced, nor feels the effect of the divine service, it becomes enrolled for ever in the ranks of the Rusalkas. The same fate befalls those babes
whom their mothers have cursed before they were born, or in the interval between their birth and their baptism. Such small Rusalkas, who abound among the Little-Russian Mavki, are evidently akin to our own fairies. Like them they make the grass grow richly where they dance, they float on the water in egg-shells, and some of them are sadly troubled by doubts about a future state. At least it is believed in the Government of Astrakhan that the sea Rusalkas come to the surface and ask mariners, "Is the end of the world near at hand?" Besides the children of whom mention has been made, women who kill themselves, and all those who are drowned, choked, or strangled, and who do not obtain Christian burial, are liable to become Rusalkas. During the Rusalka week the relatives of drowned or strangled persons go out to their graves, taking with them pancakes, and spirits, and red eggs. The eggs are broken, and the spirits poured over the graves, after which the remnants are left for the Rusalkas, these lines being sung:--
Do not destroy the soul,
Do not cause it to be choked,
And we will make obeisance to thee.
On the people who forget to do this the Rusalkas will wreak their vengeance 7. In the Saratof Government the Rusalkas are held in bad repute. There
they are described as hideous, humpbacked, hairy creatures, with sharp claws, and an iron hook with which they try to seize on passers-by. If any one ventures to bathe in a river on Whit-Sunday, without having uttered a preliminary prayer, they instantly drag him down to the bottom. Or if he goes into a wood without taking a handful of wormwood (Poluin), he runs a serious risk, for the Rusalkas may ask him, "What have you got in your hands? is it Poluin or Petrushka (Parsley)." If he replies Poluin, they cry, "Hide under the tuin (hedge)," and he is safe. But if he says,Petrushka, they exclaim affectionately, "Ah! my dushka," and begin tickling him till he foams at the mouth. In either case they seem to be greatly under the influence of rhyme.
In the vicinity of the Dnieper the peasants believe that the wild-fires which are sometimes seen at night flickering above graves, or around the tumuli called Kurgáns, or in woods and swampy places, are lighted by the Rusalkas, who wish thereby to allure incautious travellers to their ruin; but in many places these wandering "Wills o' the Wisp " are regarded as being the souls of unbaptized children, and so small Rusalkas themselves. In many parts of Russia the Rusalkas are represented in the songs of the people as propounding riddles to girls, and tickling and teasing those who cannot answer them. Sometimes the Rusalkas are asked similar questions, which they answer at once, being very sharp-witted.
source: Songs of the Russian People, by W. R. S. Ralston, 
By Helena Nyblom
It was a summer's day, hundreds of years ago, and the world was a beautiful as it is today. The forest was just as green, the meadows were covered in flowers, and the roses and lilac bushes in the gardens gave out the same wonderful scent. Over all this splendor arched the same blue sky and the summer clouds scudded across it.
At that time there was a castle on an island in the middle of a lake. Firm and stately the red stone walls rose with a radiant golden roof crowning them.
Now the sun was just about to set and the whole sky glowed like a golden sea. Not a soul was to be seen, the castle stood closed and forbidding, only a nightingale sang her song from a high lime-tree in the garden from behind the castle. All was still, not a murmur was heard. the forest was reflected in the still, clear water of the lake. The scent of summer hung heavily, but no one was there to notice it.
Suddenly a little door of the castle opened, and a young girl stepped out. Carefully she went down the steep steps, walked across the courtyard, went through a gate in the wall to the pier which jutted out into the lake. At the end of the pier she stopped and looked across the water.
She was Agneta, the daughter of the lord of the castle, his only child and comfort for the loss of her mother who had died many years earlier. She stood quite still watching the flaming red sun sink into the lake, and asked herself what it must be like in the magical realm of the clouds which changed their form and colour every moment.
But then something happened that brought her attention closer. At her feet the water stirred as a strange form swam towards the pier - was it a large fish, or was it a man? Agneta was about to run back to the castle when the strange figure raised its hands, and revealed a face of such deep sorrow that she stood there and asked in a quivering voice: "Who are you? And how did you get here?"
Large dark eyes looked back at her like the sad eyes of a doe, and around his mouth was a strange smile, but he gave no answer.
"Just tell me who you are!" Agneta repeated. "If I can help you, I will gladly do so, and if I cannot help you myself, perhaps my father can for he is a powerful man."
Then the stranger began to speak: "no, you. You alone can give me peace and happiness."
His voice was mild and gentle like a breeze rustling in the sails of a ship. And again he raised his arm in supplication. Agneta had never seen a more beautiful face. Heavy, wet locks framed his cheeks, his purple lips opened to a gentle smile. Most wondrous of all, though, were his eyes. Agneta had never thought eyes could express such sorrow and tenderness. They were like the depths of the sea, which had so often captivated her gaze - one moment dark and mysterious, the next filled with glistening sunlight.
Agneta stepped on to the furthest stones at the edge of the water. "Tell me who you are" she demanded a third time.
Then he replied with a soft voice: "I am the sea king and have lived for hundreds of years in this lake. Long before the castle of your father was built, this was my kingdom. I saw how the scrub on the shore grew into a forest, which now reaches to the sky. Long ago the lake was much bigger and reached far into the land, but it shrank, as does everything that comes into contact with human beings. And nonetheless there is not a lake in the whole wide world as beautiful, as still and as deep as this one."
"Is it not strange down there among the reeds and the water-plants and all the creatures of the lake?" asked Agneta.
"You humans always think like that about places you don't know," the sea king answered. "Actually it's beautiful down there! Much more beautiful than up here on earth. The sun shines twice as clear through the water without burning. And when storms and rain rattle at your houses up here, the bottom of the lake is quiet and still. But much as I'd like to describe my realm, I can only give you a faint impression of what it is really like. you have to see it yourself to believe it."
"But we humans cannot live at the bottom of the lake," sin Agneta, and took another step closer to the water.
"That's just what you think, because you have never tried it," said the sea king with a laugh. "I could take you down into the depths without harming you. And I could show you things more wonderful than you can possibly imagine".
He had laid his hands on her little pearly shoes, and looked at her pleadingly.
"No, I don't dare!" sighed Agneta. "My father would get worried and start searching for me. And I want to go home now before the sun sets. Good night!"
"Will you just leave me like that?" called the sea king in a voice full of pain. "Shall I just return to my realm as lonely as ever? At least give me a keepsake to comfort me on my way. Give me the lime blossom you carry in your hand. As long as the scent lasts I shall believe you are close to me."
Agneta stretched out her hand with the lime blossom and said: "Gladly will I give you that. Here, take it."
The sea king reached out for the blossom and took hold of Agneta's hand. Then he reached for her waist and lifted her up in his arms. She struggled and cried, but he dived down into the depths with her. At the same moment the sun set and soon the clouds paled and night fell.
When Agneta did not come, her father became terribly anxious. He sent a whole party of servants into the park and forest to search for her, but in vain. Finally a little boy found Agneta's pearly shoe by the stones of the pier, and this brought sorrow and tears to the old knight. He feared she had drowned and for days the lake shore was searched in the hope of at least finding her lifeless body. But even this wish was not granted.
Within a few years he aged, and was indifferent to all that happened around him. Usually he walked up and down the pier. On sunny days he looked into the depths of the lake, and some nights he stayed there in the moonlight, moving like a shadow, or standing like a stone, staring hopelessly into the dark waters.
Agneta though had not drowned. She lived in the depths with the sea king and was happy. At first she had been afraid when the sea king pulled her to the depths, but as soon as she reached the bottom, her fear disappeared and the king seemed even more handsome than before. As a water-lily only shows its beauty when swimming on the waves, so the sea king only revealed his true nature in the depths.
And he had not promised too much. Around her little waves sounded like harps. At night when the moon rose the water shimmered like silver, and when the sun rose, everything was illumined in enchanting colours. In a moment thousands of blue sparks lit up, then the light flamed like gold, or glowed turquoise. Then again everything became pale and flowed in lilac streams like summer clouds in the sky.
Wandering among all the strange flowers that grew on the floor of the lake, she would pick a whole bunch and made herself a crown. But when she smelled them, she noticed they had no scent. Like birds of the air, fish glided over her head. There were whole schools of golden fish bright with sunlight, there were carp with red fins, silvery trout and strange silly burbot, motionless in the water with only their gills moving as if talking to themselves.
Now the sea king led her deeper still.
"This is my banqueting hall," he said, "and this is were we shall celebrate our wedding."
She looked around and found herself in a deep green vale. High above her a crystalline green dome seemed to arch with a great golden lamp in the centre. This was the sun shining through the waters.
Then the sea king reached for his harp and said: "Now I shall play for you."
At the first note Agneta thought her heart would break. The sound was wonderful and painful at the same time, and her eyes filled with tears. But when the sea king began to sing, all sorrow and pain vanished, and all joy as well, for everything was forgotten. She forgot her father's castle and her happy childhood. She forgot her father's love and the memory of her mother. She forgot that she had grown up on earth and had once looked up at the sky. She forgot the summer roses in the castle gardens and she forgot the snowflakes of winter, the incense in the church, and the candles on the altar. The only thing she remembered was the sea king, and she longed for nothing else but to be at his side for the rest of her life and to hear him playing.
When he had finished playing, he said to her: "Now you shall be my queen and stay with me for ever. Do you wish for that, my dear Agneta?"
"Yes, yes!" she cried.
The sea king made her a crown of white water-lilies and set it on her head, and from that moment on, she was his queen.
In time she got to know the whole kingdom of the sea king. It was much bigger than she imagined. Following a river, it was even possible to reach the sea. What joy it gave them both when the sea king embraced her waist and they glided along the river like birds flying through the air. The reeds at the water's edge bowed low as they passed. The river became broader and broader until it opened into the wide, infinite sea.
But Agneta was not allowed to come to the surface of the water, for the sea king feared that she would remember everything she had left behind on the earth, and that she would long for it again.
For seven years Agneta was the wife of the sea king and in that time gave birth to seven sons. All seven were like their father, and had the same big, dark eyes. The youngest was still in the cradle.
One Sunday morning, Agneta stood at the reed cradle and sang for the little one while the other children were outside playing among the waves. She did not know it was Sunday, for all the days, all the years had become the same. But now she distinctly heard the sound of bells - "ding, dong, ding, dong"- reaching to the very bottom of the lake. She lifted her head and listened.
"Those are bells!" Agneta thought. "I have heard those before… but where?"
And suddenly the image of a church rose before her inward eye, the arches, the candles at the altar, the loud organ. With a sigh she left the cradle, went to the sea king and asked him: "Let me go up to the church! Please let me go! It has been such a long time since I've been there."
The sea king looked at her in alarm. How had she suddenly remembered her earlier life?
"You want to go to church? Why specially today?" he asked.
"I suddenly feel such a longing for it," she answered. "I feel as if I would die if you don't let me go."
"Fine, you shall go," replied the sea king. "But you first have to promise me to come back before evening. All your children will long for the hour of your return."
"Of course I'll return!" said Agneta and smiled. "Do you think I could be happy without you, without the children, without the youngest in his cradle?" And she bent down and kissed her sleeping boy.
"Good. Then follow me," said the sea king. Like an arrow he shot up to the surface with her, and he sat her on the end of the castle pier. Then he disappeared back into the depths.
Agneta's head was suddenly all mixed up. She shaded her eyes with her hand, for the sun was so much stronger than she was used to, and everything around had such clear and bright colours. When she looked again, she recognized her father's castle, rising strong and mighty as at the time she had left, and from the gardens around the park came the scent of lime-blossoms and roses. The swallows flew swiftly over her head with loud cries, and the sound of bells filled the air. Now she saw the church - the door was open - and as quick as she could she ran there.
The service had begun. Among the people kneeling down was an old man, dressed in the fine garb of a knight. His beard was long and white, and his face was buried in his hands. But Agneta recognized him immediately. It was her father. She saw how the tears ran down his hands and his chest laboured as he breathed, and she knew why he was so sad. At the back of the church where she stood, she sank to her knees and wept as if her heart would break.
The service lasted a long time. The clouds of incense rose and the candles on the altar burnt low, the organ played louder and louder, and song filled the building. But then it was as if a cloud passed outside. The church became dark, and Agneta saw how the pictures of the saints turned away. Then she noticed that the church door had opened, and the sea king stood there.
"Agneta" he whispered, "come with me. You have been away for so long."
She did not answer, but buried her face in her hands. then he touched her shoulder and she felt a shudder of fear go through her body.
"Agneta," he pleaded with a soft voice. "Your children are longing for you! Don't let them wait for you in vain."
She shook her head and folded her hands.
"Agneta," he said again, this time his voice sounded so sad that she could hardly bear to listen. "The little one in the cradle is longing for you. He is crying, because he cannot see you."
Now Agneta turned to face the sea king. Her face was white with pain, but she said with a strong voice. "They shall wait in vain. You, too, can wait in vain for as long as you want. None of you will make me return to your realm. Leave me!"
The sea king sighed so deeply, that all the candle flames in the church quivered.
"Agneta, look at me" he pleaded.
But she did not raise her face. She kneeled on the spot as still as a statue. Then the sea king slowly departed. Agneta felt a cold draft as he opened the door. As soon as he had left, the pictures of the saints turned to her again. The sun shone out from behind the clouds and filled the church with its warm rays, and everyone stood to leave. When Agneta's father came to the church door, he stood rooted as if seeing a ghost. Was it possible? Could it be his long-lost daughter?
Agneta went to him and threw her arms around him, saying: "Yes, it's me, your Agneta. I was away for a long time in the castle of the sea king, but now at last I have returned to earth, and will stay here."
And hand in hand, rejoicing, father and daughter went outside into the warm sunshine.
by Mara Freeman
Long ago, on an island at the northern edge of the world, there lived a fisherman called Neil MacCodrum. He lived all alone in a stone croft where the moorland meets the shore, with nothing but the guillemots for company and the stirring of the sand among the shingle for song.
But in the long winter evenings he would sit by the peat-fire and watch the blue smoke curling up to the roof, and his eyes looked far and far away as if he was looking into another country. And sometimes, when the wind rustled the bent-grass on the machair, he seemed to hear a soft voice sighing his name.
One spring evening, the men of the clachan were bringing their boats full of herring into shore. They swung homeward with glad hearts, and their wives lit the rushlights, so that the wide world dwindled to a warm quiet room. Neil MacCodrum was the last to drag his boat up the shingle and hoist the creel of fish upon his back. He stood a while watching the seabirds fly low towards the headland, their wings dark against the evening sky, then turned to trudge up the shingle to the croft on the machair.
It was as he turned, he saw something move in the shadows of the rocks. A glimmer of white and then - he heard it between birds' cries - high laughter like silver. He set down the creel, and with careful steps he neared the rocks, hardly daring to breathe, and hid behind the largest one. And then he saw them - seven girls with long dark flowing hair, naked and white as the swans on the lake, dancing in a ring where the shoreline met the sea.
And now his eye caught something else - a shapeless pile of speckled brown skins lying heaped like seaweed on a boulder nearby. Now Neil knew that they were selkie, who are seals in the sea, but when they come to land, take off their skins and appear as human women.
Humped low so he would not be seen, Neil MacCodrum crept towards the pile of skins, and slowly slid the top one down. But scarcely had he rolled it up and put it under his coat, than one of the selkie gave a sharp cry. The dance stopped, the circle broke, and the girls ran to the boulder, slipped into their skins and slithered into the rising tide, shiny brown seals that glided away into the dark night sea.
All but one.
She stood before him as white as a pearl, as still as frost in starlight. She stared at him with great dark eyes, then slowly she held out her hand, and said in a voice that trembled with silver:
"Ochone, ochone! Please give me back my skin."
He took a step towards her and she stared at him with large brown eyes that held the depths of the sea. "Come with me," he said, "I will give you new clothes to wear."
The wedding of Neil MacCodrum and the selkie woman was set for the time of the waxing moon and the flowing tide. All the folk of the clachan came, six whole sheep were roasted and the whiskey ran like water. Toasts overflowed from every cup for the new bride and groom, who sat at the head of the table: MacCodrum, beaming and awkward, unused to pleasure, tapped his spoon to the music of fiddle and pipe, but the woman sat quietly beside him at the bride-seat, and seemed to be listening to another music that had in it the sound of the sea.
After a while she bore him two children, a boy and a girl, who had the sandy hair of their father, but the great dark eyes of their mother, and there were little webs between their fingers and toes. Each day, when Neil was out in his boat, she and her children would wander along the machair to gather wild parsnips and berries, or fill their creels with carrageen from the rocks at low tide. She seemed settled enough in the croft on the shore, and in May-time when the air was scented with thyme and roseroot and the children ran towards her, their arms full of wild yellow irises, she was almost happy. But when the west wind brought rain, and strong squalls of wind that whistled through the cracks in the croft walls, she grew restless and moved about the house as if swaying to unseen tides, and when she sat at the spinning-wheel, she would hum a strange song as the fine thread streamed through her fingers. MacCodrum hated these times and would sit in the dark peat-corner glowering at her over his pipe, but unable to say a word.
Thirteen summers had passed since the selkie woman came to live with MacCodrum, and her children were almost grown. As she knelt on the warm earth one afternoon, digging up silverweed roots to roast for supper, the voice of her daughter Morag rang clear and excited through the salt-pure air and soon the girl was beside her holding something in her hands.
"O mother! Is this not the strangest thing I have found in the old barley-kist, softer than the mist to my touch?"
Her mother rose slowly to her feet, and in silence ran her hand along the speckled brown skin. It was smooth like silk. She held it to her breast with one hand, and put her other arm around her daughter, and walked back with her to the croft in silence, heedless of the girl's puzzled stares. Once inside, she called her son Donald to her, and spoke gently to her children:
"I will soon be leaving you, mo chridhe, and you will not see me again in the shape I am in now. I go not because I do not love you, but because I must become myself again."
That night, as the moon sailed white as a pearl over the western sea, the selkie woman rose, leaving the warm bed and slumbering husband. She walked alone to the silent shore and took off her clothes, one by one, and let them fall to the sand. Then she stepped lightly over the rocks and unrolled the speckled brown parcel she carried with her, and held it up before her. For one moment maybe she hesitated, her head turning back to the dark, sleeping croft on the machair; the next, she wrapped the shining skin about her and dropped into the singing water of the sea.
For a while a sleek brown head could be seen in the dip and crest of the moon-dappled waves, pointing ever towards the far horizon, and then, swiftly leaping and diving towards her, came six other seals. They formed a circle around her and then all were lost to view in the soft indigo of the night.
In the croft on the machair, Neil MacCodrum stirred, and felt for his wife, but his hand encountered a cold and empty hollow. He knew better than to look for her and he also knew she would never come to him again. But when the moon was young and the tide waxing, his children would not sleep at night, but ran down to the sands on silent webbed feet. There, by the rocks on the shoreline, they waited until she came - a speckled brown seal with great dark eyes. Laughing and calling her name, they splashed into the foaming water and swam with her until the break of day.
For more stories by Mara Freeman, visit her site.
Long ago, on a wild Scottish coast, a fisherman spent all day at sea, but he caught only a few very small fish.
As the sun began to set, the fisherman still had only a meager catch, but when night fell, he rowed to shore and beached his little boat.
As he walked toward his little cottage across the pebbly beach, he heard beautiful voices singing a sweet, high, lyrical and lovely tune, a song more beautiful than any he had ever heard.
He turned toward the sound and saw what few have ever seen. There, near the water, a dozen Selkie people were laughing and playing and singing. The fisherman could not believe his eyes. Few ever saw the seal folk who now and then cast aside their skins, and took on human forms to play onshore.
The fisherman stood and stared but when the Selkie people noticed him, they quickly dived into the sea, and slipping beneath the rolling waves, they disappeared.
"I must a been dreamin'," said the fisherman aloud, and again he turned toward his cottage. But something nagged at him, so he turned again, and this time he noticed something sleek and shiny lying on a rock. He walked closer, and now he saw: It was a seal skin.
"No one will ever believe I've seen the Selkies unless I show them this," he said, and so he leaned over and picked up the skin and slung it over his shoulder.
And as he walked, he whistled, and then he suddenly stopped. "My, what a fine penny I'll earn by selling this."
And just as he said this, he heard footsteps close behind him, and fearing a thief, he quickly turned to look.
Now there was no thief behind him. No indeed. It was an exquisitely beautiful young woman standing there, but she was weeping so hard, it nearly caused the fisherman's heart to break.
"Beautiful lady," he said, "why do you weep?"
She sniffed and looked into his eyes. "Kind sir," she said, choking back tears, "you have my sealskin. Kindly give it back, for I belong to the Selkies, and I cannot live under the sea without my skin."
The fisherman could not stop staring. You see, he had fallen in love at first sight, and because he was a young man, and terribly headstrong, he thought he must keep her with him. He clutched the sealskin to his chest, pressing it to his pounding heart.
"Dear lady," he said gently, "be my wife, for I have fallen madly in love with you, and without your sealskin, you'll have to live on land. I'll make you happy, that I promise."
"Please sir," she cried, "my folk will be so worried. I must go home. Never could I be happy on land."
But the young man was stubborn. He was that way. So he smiled as sweetly as he could, bowed his head and bent down on one knee. "Dear woman, my cottage is a cozy place. I'll keep you warm by the fire, I'll feed you plentifully all the fresh fish you could ever wish to eat. I promise you will live a happy life on land as my bride."
The young woman felt helpless without her skin. "I fear I must go home with you until you will return my skin," said she, and saying this, he took her hand and led her to his home.
For many weeks the fisherman kept the sealskin with him for he feared his bride-to-be would steal it and slip away. But after a while, the sweet lady began to settle in to this life on land, and when the fisherman saw she felt happy, he stuffed the skin inside a crevice in the chimney. "There my girl will never find it," he said to himself.
Another month went by, and they married, and time passed very nicely indeed. They led a happy life, for though the fisherman was stubborn, he was also kind and generous. He truly loved his wife, and he always worked hard to make her happy.
After a while the Selkie woman grew to love her stubborn husband, and sometimes she would sing to him. Those nights he was the happiest man in the world.
And as the years passed, the couple had seven children, and the Selkie woman loved these lads and lassies with all her heart.
Most of the time the family was very happy, though every once in a while the children would find their mother on the beach, gazing wistfully out to sea. They would circle her and ask, "Mother, why do you look so sad?"
And she would shake her head and kiss their foreheads. "Never you mind," she told her children, "I've only been dreaming too long."
One day the fisherman and the three eldest children went out in their boat to catch fish. The next three walked to the village to buy some bread and milk and the mother and her youngest son stayed home alone.
Now the mother looked out the window and watched the waves crashing onshore. Far in the distance she noticed, on the slick, black rocks, a band of seals playing and barking. She sighed deeply, and her eyes filled with tears.
Her youngest son ran to her side. "Mother, what's wrong?" he asked. "Whenever you look out to sea, you grow so sad."
Without thinking she turned and said, "I'm sad because I was born in the sea. It's the home to which I never can return because your father hid my sealskin."
Now the boy, like all children in Scotland, had heard tales of the Selkie folk, so right away he knew what his mother must be, and he ran to the fireplace, reached up and pulled the sealskin from its hiding place. He held it out to his mother.
"How did you find it?" she asked, astonished at the sight of her skin.
"One day I was here alone with father," said the boy, "and he took this from its hiding place and stared at it. I knew it was special, and now I understand what it is."
The woman embraced the sealskin, and then she reached for her child and embraced him. "My darling," she whispered, "I will always love you," and then, clasping sealskin to her heart, she ran outside and down to the sea.
She slipped into her skin and dived into the bracing water.
Soon after that moment, as they were heading home the fisherman and his children rowed past a group of seals. As they passed, the fisherman noticed a sleek young seal gazing at the boat, a strange expression on her face. And just as they were motoring out of sight, he heard that seal cry, a plaintive sound, and then she disappeared underwater.
When the fisherman arrived home, he learned what had happened, and he felt his heart breaking in two. But he understood his son was a loving boy. He was braver and more generous than the fisherman had ever been.
Forever afterwards the fisherman and the children missed the Selkie Woman, but knowing she was happy in the world where she belonged gave them a measure of joy.
I heard a mother lull her bairn,
and aye she rocked, and aye she sang.
She took so hard upon the verse
that the heart within her body rang.
"O, cradle row, and cradle go,
and aye sleep well, my bairn within;
I ken not who thy father is,
nor yet the land that he dwells in."
And up then spake a grey selchie
as aye he woke her from her sleep,
"I'll tell where thy bairn's father is:
he's sittin' close by thy bed feet.
"I am a man upon the land;
I am a selchie on the sea,
and when I'm far frae ev'ry strand,
my dwelling is in Sule Skerry.
"And foster well my wee young son,
aye for a twal'month and a day,
and when that twal'month's fairly done,
I'll come and pay the nourice fee."
And when that weary twal'month gaed,
he's come tae pay the nourice fee;
he had ae coffer fu' o' gowd,
and anither fu' o'the white money.
"Upon the skerry is thy son;
upon the skerry lieth he.
Sin thou would see thine ain young son,
now is the time tae speak wi' he."
"But how shall I my young son know
when thou ha' ta'en him far frae me?"
"The one who wears the chain o' gowd,
`mang a' the selchies shall be he.
"And thou will get a hunter good,
and a richt fine hunter I'm sure he'll be;
and the first ae shot that e'er he shoots
will kill baith my young son and me."
Once upon a time, a French count and his son went on a boar hunt. Near nightfall, the two stopped to light a fire in the woods. As they were warming themselves, a wild boar charged out from behind the trees. The count's son, Raymond, immediately drew his sword and struck the beast. But the blade glanced off the boar and stabbed the count instead.
Raymond cried out in horror and rushed to the aid of his father. But it was too late; the count was dead.
Raymond wept with sorrow. Not only did he mourn the death of his father, but he also feared that his younger brothers would accuse him of murdering the count, for they were jealous of the inheritance that would be coming to Raymond when his father died.
In grief and despair, Raymond mounted his horse and fled the scene. Soon he came to a moonlit glade. A fountain bubbled in the middle of the glade. Its silvery waters flowed over the pebbly ground and around the feet of three women. Each woman had long, wavy hair and wore a shimmering white dress.
Raymond could not believe his eyes - was this a vision of angels?
One of the women, amused by the look of astonishment on Raymond's face, stepped lightly towards him.
"Who are you?" said Raymond. "And where do you come from?"
"I am Melusine, said she, and she put her finger to Raymond's lips. "Ask me not where I come from, and I will not have to lie to you. Just come sit by me and we will talk."
Raymond was enchanted by Melusine. He was flattered that she wanted to know him better. As he sat with her all night, he told her about the terrible accident that had just occurred.
"Return to your castle as if nothing had happened,"said Melusine. "All the huntsmen have gotten separated from one another. When you arrive alone, no one will suspect that you were actually with your father when he died. Since his body will be found near the dead boar, everyone will think he fell on the animal's tusk."
Raymond was calmed by Melusine's advice. He had never talked with anyone who was more wise or charming. At dawn, as the fountain glimmered with rosy sunlight, he asked her to marry him.
"I will marry you," she said, "but only if you give me the land near this fountain and build a castle here for me. Then you must let me spend every Saturday in my castle alone. No one can intrude upon me that day."
Raymond agreed to Melusine's strange request. Then he returned home. He followed her advice, and all was well. No one ever suspected that he had killed the count.
Soon afterwards, Raymond came into his great fortune, and he married Melusine. After the splendid marriage ceremony, she said, "Now remember. You must never intrude on my privacy on Saturdays. If you do, we will be separated forever."
Melusine named her castle Lusignan, and the villagers called her the Lady of Lusignan. She was greatly loved and admired by all even though, over the years, she gave birth to many monstrous looking children.
No one could figure out why Raymond and Melusine's children were all so hideous. Raymond wondered if his wife's secret had anything to do with the children's strange appearances. Their first son had one red eye and one green eye. Their second son had one eye higher on his face than the other. Another son had long claws and was completely covered with hair. And another had a boar's tusk protruding from his jaw.
In spite of their deformities, all of their sons grew up to be outstanding men. Some went into the priesthood; some became warriors. Though Raymond was puzzled about his children's odd appearances, he was proud of their great accomplishments.
Indeed, Raymond felt very lucky. His love for his beautiful wife never diminished. He tried his best to be good to Melusine, and he always kept his promise not to disturb her on Saturdays.
One Saturday, however, one of Raymond's jealous brothers came for a visit. "Where is Melusine?" he asked.
"You know she keeps only to herself on Saturdays," said Raymond.
"Ah, you must listen to me," said his brother. "Some are spreading strange stories about her. You should follow her one Saturday and find out what she does."
"Oh no. I would never do that," Raymond said. "She will leave me if I spy on her."
"But everyone is trying to guess her secret," said Raymond's brother. "Some say a prince visits her castle on Saturdays. Some say she is a witch and meets with other witches on Saturdays."
Raymond ordered his brother to leave him in peace. But once he was alone, he could not banish suspicious thoughts from his mind. By Saturday, he was burning with desire to know Melusine's secret. Soon after she left the
house, he decided to sneak over to her private quarters. He crept through the woods to the castle of Lusignan. When he arrived, he stood alone in the woods to watch for her.
Raymond saw no sign of Melusine or anyone else for that matter. No witches cackled; no foreign prince cavorted with her on the castle grounds. Indeed, there was a lonely feeling in the air: The fountain waters were still; the birds, silent.
Raymond almost went home. But his brother's words tortured him. He crept closer to the castle, then slipped through the front door. There was no sign of Melusine in the empty passageways; no sign of her in the empty kitchen quarters or the great hall.
Raymond tiptoed up a winding staircase. He did not find Melusine in her bedroom chambers or in the spinning room. Finally, the only room he had left unexplored was Melusine's dressing room.
The door to the room was locked. With his heart pounding, Raymond peeped through the keyhole. Then he gasped in horror.
Melusine was bathing in a large bathtub. The entire lower half of her body had changed into the huge blue tail of a fish! The scales of the fish tail shone in the sparkling sunlight.
Melusine was laughing with joy as she splashed about in the tub.
Trembling with shock, Raymond scrambled down the stairs. He ran out the front door and raced through the woods.
When he arrived home, Raymond had resolved never to tell anyone what he had just seen. Oddly enough, his horror of losing his beloved wife was greater than his horror of discovering her astonishing fish tail.
Raymond spent the rest of that evening trying to compose himself. When Melusine returned, just past the stroke of midnight, he greeted her as if nothing unusual had occurred.
Time passed, and Melusine did not seem to know that Raymond had peeked through the keyhole of her dressing room door. But one day terrible news reached the castle. One of their sons-the on with the boar's tusk-had attacked a nearby monastery and killed over a hundred monks. One of those murdered was his own brother.
When Raymond heard of the disaster, he sunk into a deep sorrow. What grieved him most was that one of his sons had died at the hands of another. At first, he wondered if this was punishment for his having accidentally killed his father. But then he began to wonder if perhaps this horrible event was punishment for Melusine's secret.
Once this suspicion took hold, Raymond could not shake it loose. Finally, when Melusine was trying to comfort him, he blurted out, "Away from me, you hateful serpent, destroyer of my kindred!"
Upon hearing these words, Melusine fainted.
Immediately, Raymond was filled with regret, and he desperately tried to revive his wife. When she woke, she began weeping. She embraced him and said, "Oh, my love, I must leave you now, for my privacy has been violated. You have stolen my deepest secret."
And with a wail of agony, Melusine rushed out of her house, leaving her footprint on the last stone that she touched.
That night in the nursery, a maid beheld a glimmering figure standing near the cradle of Raymond's youngest child. The figure looked like Melusine, though from the waist down she had a scaly blue fish tail.
The children's maid was so captivated by her vision that she was unable to cry out for help. At dawn she watched the mermaid kiss her child good - bye, then slip away. Melusine never again returned.
The castle of Lusignan stood empty in its lonely spot near the great fountain. For many centuries thereafter, villagers believed it to be haunted by the ghost of the vanished countess who was half human and half fish.
source: Mermaid Tales From Around The World, By Mary Pope Osborne
Long ago, Johnny Croy of Volyar was the bravest, boldest and bonniest man in all of Orkney.
Many a fair lass cast longing glances towards young Johnny, but never a one did he care for.
Now it happened that one day Johnny went to seek driftwood on the shore on the west side of Sanday. The tide was well out, and he was threading his way through the big boulders under the crags.
Suddenly he heard the most lovely voice singing a strange sweet tune.
For a moment he stood dumbfounded with the beauty of the music. It came from the other side of a big point of the crag and when Johnny peeped around it, he saw a wonderful sight. On a weed-covered rock sat a mermaid, combing her long hair. Like brightest gold it shone and flowed down over her white shoulders like sunshine over snow. A silvery, glistening petticoat hung down from her waist, the train of it folded together so that it lay behind her like the tail of a fish.
And all the while she combed, she sang her bewitching song.
Johnny Croy was overcome with love for this beautiful creature.
She sat with her back to the sea, and he got down and crept quietly among the boulders to get between her and the water. Every glance he cast at her made his heart burn all the more.
Quietly he crept up, coming within a few feet of her.
Still she combed, and still she sang. Then Johnny sprang forward, threw his arms around her, and kissed her. She leaped to her feet - for two pretty white feet were under the silvery petticoats - and gave Johnny such a wallop that he was thrown flat on the rocks.
Gathering here shimmering train over her arm, she ran down to the sea. As Johnny scrambled to his feet, he spied the sea maid’s golden comb on the sand. She was out in the water now, staring at him with all her eyes, angry at being so rudely kissed, yet with love growing fast in her heart. She knew well that only if she could take a mortal lover could she keep her youth and beauty.
Johnny held up the golden comb and cried, "Thanks to thee, my bonny lass, for this love-token!"
The mermaid gave a bitter cry.
"Alas, alas! My golden comb! Oh, give me back my golden comb! To lose it will shame me before all my people! Oh, give me back my golden comb!"
"Oh no, my sweet!" says Johnny. "Come you and live on land with me, for never can I love another now."
"Not so," replied the mermaid. "I cannot live in your cold land. I cannot bide your black rain and your white snow. And your hot sun and smoky fires would wizen me up in a week. Come with me, my bonny lad. I’ll make you a chief among the Finfolk. Come away, come away with me."
"Oh, no," said Johnny. "You cannot entice me – I was not born yesterday. But come you to my stately house at Volyar. There I have plenty of gear; I have cows and sheep. I will make you mistress of all my store. Never shall you want for what I can give you."
But the mermaid shook her head.
"Come, come now with me, my bonnie man. I will set you in a crystal palace under the sea. There the sunbeams never blind, there the winds do not blow, and the raindrops never fall. Oh, come away with me, and be my love, and we shall both be happy as the day is long."
"It is for the lass to follow the lad," said Johnny Croy. "Just come away and bide with me, my darling Gem-de-Lovely." So there they stood, each tempting the other. And the longer they gazed, the better they loved. But at last Gem-de-Lovely saw folk coming far airway. Bidding Johnny farewell, she swam out to sea, singing mournfully, "Alas, alas. My golden comb. Alas, my bonnie man."
Johnny watched her go, her golden locks shining over her white shoulders like sunbeams glinting over sea-foam. Then he went home with a sore heart but carrying the treasured golden comb.
His mother was a Spae-Wife - a wise woman - and Johnny Croy told her his tale and asked her advice.
"Great fool that you are!" said his mother sharply. "To fall in love with a sea maid when any land lass would be glad of you! But men will be fools all the world over. To bring this sea wife to you, you must keep her comb well hidden; it is her dearest treasure. Keep it, and you have power over her. But be wise, my son. Take my advice. Cast the comb into the sea, and forget her. The folk of the sea are not of God’s people."
But Johnny Croy could not do that.
"Then," said Grannie Croy, "she may make a bright summer for you, but it will end in a woeful winter. I have seen that you will ride your own road, though you sink in the quagmire at its end. Only one I can save – I would it were you, my son. But what will be, will be."
Well, Johnny went about his work like one bewitched, thinking all the while of his Gem-de-Lovely and the cautionary words of his mother. But he put the comb up safely for all that.
Then came a night when he could not sleep for thinking of his lost love. Towards morning he dozed and at day-break was wakened by beautiful music.
He lay a while as if enchanted - it was the voice that he had last heard at the shore.
Opening his eyes he saw that Gem-de-Lovely was sitting at the foot of the bed, the most beautiful being that ever gladdened a man’s eyes. Her face was so fair, her hair so gleaming, and her dress so splendid that Johnny took her for a vision and tried to say a prayer. But never a word of prayer came to his lips.
"My bonnie man," said the mermaid, "I’m come to ask again for my golden comb. I’m come to see if you will live with me in my crystal palace under the waves."
"‘No," said Johnny. "No, that I cannot do. But unless you bide with me now and be my loving wife, my heart will surely break."
"I will make you a fair offer," said Gem-de-Lovely. "I will be your wife. I will live here with you for seven years, if you will swear to come with me and all that’s mine, to see my own folk at the end of that time." At that, Johnny jumped out of bed, fell on his knees before her, and swore to keep the bargain.
And so they were married.
Gem-de-Lovely shivered and shook as they came to the kirk and stuffed her hair in her ears as the priest prayed. But folk soon forgot that, for a bonnier bride was never seen in Orkney. Her face was as lovely as the dawn; her dress shone with silver and gold; and every pearl in her necklace was as big as a cockle shell.
Gem-de-Lovely was a frugal, loving wife to Johnny Croy. She baked the best bread in the island and brewed the strongest ale. She was the best spinner in all the countryside and for seven years everything at Volyar was in good order. The sheep and the cattle thrived and the barns were full. All things went merry as a Yuletide from one year to the next. But all good things must end; and the seventh year drew to a close.
Then, you may believe there was a stir in making ready for a long sea voyage. Johnny said little, but he thought much.
Gem-de-Lovely was brisk and busy and wore a far-away look. By now, the pair had seven bonny bairns, all as strong and well-favoured as their parents. Each of them in turn had been weaned in Grannie Croy’s little house and now she had the youngest sleeping in her own room.
And what do you think Grannie Croy did on the eve of the day when the seven years ended?
She rose in the midnight and blew up the ashes in the fire. She made a cross of wire and heated it red-hot in the glowing embers. And then she laid the red-hot cross on the bare seat of the babe who screeched like a demon all the while.
In the morning when they were fully equipped, Gem-de-Lovely walked down to the boat. And she was a picture. Stately and splendid as a queen in her shining dress with the great pearls gleaming on her neck, she came to the beach.
There was her Goodman, Johnny Croy with her six eldest bairns.
But there also was Grannie Croy, sitting on a stone with the tear in her eye.
Gem-de-Lovely sent up the servants to Grannie Croy’s little house to bring the seventh bairn down in his cradle. Back they came, telling her that the four of them could not budge it one inch.
A cloud came over her beautiful face. She ran up to the house and tried to move the cradle - not an inch would it budge.
She flung back the blanket to lift the babe out in her arms. But the moment she touched him she felt a dreadful burning and started back with a wild scream. Down to the beach she ran, her head hanging and the tears streaming from her deep blue eyes. And all the while, Grannie Croy sat on the stone with the tears on her cheek and a half-smile on her lips.
As the boat pushed off, they heard Gem-de-Lovely lamenting sore.
"Alas, alas, for my bonnie boy! Alas, that I must leave one to live and die on dry land!"
The wind blew, the sail filled and the boat turned to the west and swiftly disappeared. Johnny Croy and his fair wife and their six eldest bairns inhere never more seen in Orkney.
But Grannie Croy nursed up the babe that was left and named him Corsa Croy - Croy of the Cross. He grew up the bravest, the boldest and the bonniest man in the islands.
When his grandmother died, Corsa Croy took to the sword. Far over seas he advent on crusade to fight the Pagans in the Holy Land. And men said that enemies fell before his blade like thistles to the reaping-hook.
Corsa Croy became rich and famous. He married a great earl’s daughter and settled in the south country. He and his wife had many bairns and long life and happiness, for the descendants of the sea-folk are always handsome and always lucky.
Zennor folks tell the following story, which, according to them, accounts for a singular carving on a bench-end in their Church.
Hundreds of years ago a very beautiful and richly attired lady attended service in Zennor Church occasionally—now and then she went to Morvah also;—her visits were by no means regular,—often long intervals would elapse between them.
Yet whenever she came the people were enchanted with her good looks and sweet singing. Although Zennor folks were remarkable for their fine psalmody, she excelled them all; and they wondered how, after the scores of years that they had seen her, she continued to look so young and fair. No one knew whence she came nor whither she went; yet many watched her as far as they could see from Tregarthen Hill.
She took some notice of a fine young man, called Mathey Trewella, who was the best singer in the parish. He once followed her, but he never returned; after that she was never more seen in Zennor Church, and it might not have been known to this day who or what she was but for the merest accident.
One Sunday morning a vessel cast anchor about a mile from Pendower Cove; soon after a mermaid came close alongside and hailed the ship. Rising out of the water as far as her waist, with her yellow hair floating around her, she told the captain that she was returning from church, and requested him to trip his anchor just for a minute, as the fluke of it rested on the door of her dwelling, and she was anxious to get in to her children.
Others say that while she was out on the ocean a-fishing of a Sunday morning, the anchor was dropped on the trap-door which gave access to her submarine abode. Finding, on her return, how she was hindered from opening her door, she begged the captain to have the anchor raised that she might enter her dwelling to dress her children and be ready in time for church.
However it may be, her polite request had a magical effect upon the sailors, for they immediately "worked with a will," hove anchor and set sail, not wishing to remain a moment longer than they could help near her habitation. Sea-faring men, who understood most about mermaids, regarded their appearance as a token that bad luck was near at hand. It was believed they could take such shapes as suited their purpose, and that they had often allured men to live with them.
When Zennor folks learnt that a mermaid dwelt near Pen-dower, and what she had told the captain, they concluded—it was, this sea-lady who had visited their church, and enticed Trewella to her abode. To commemorate these somewhat unusual events they had the figure she bore—when in her ocean-home—carved in holy-oak, which may still be seen.
Source: Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 2, by William Bottrell, , at sacred-texts.com
IN the happy days of old, better men lived on earth than now, and the Heavenly Father revealed many wonders to them which are now quite concealed, or but rarely manifested to a child of fortune. It is true that the birds sing and the beasts converse as of old, but unhappily we no longer comprehend their speech, and what they say brings us neither profit nor wisdom.
In old days a fair mermaid dwelt on the shores of the province of Lääne. She often appeared to the people, and my grandfather’s father, who was reared in the neighbourhood, sometimes saw her sitting on a rock, but the little fellow did not venture to approach her. The maiden appeared in various forms, sometimes as a foal or a calf, and sometimes under the form of some other animal. In the evening she often came among the children, and let them play with her, until some little boy mounted her back, p. 50 when she would vanish as suddenly as if she had sunk into the ground.
At that time old people said that in former days the maiden was to be seen on the borders of the sea almost every fine evening in the summer, sitting on a rock, and combing her long fair hair with a golden comb, and she sang such beautiful songs that it melted the hearts of her listeners. But she could not endure the gaze of men, and vanished from their sight or fled into the sea, where she rocked on the waves like a swan. We will now relate the cause of her flying from men, and no longer meeting them with her former confidence.
In old times, long before the invasion of the Swedes, a rich farmer lived on the coast of Lääne with his wife and four sons. They obtained their food more from the sea than from the land, for fishing was a very productive industry in their days. The youngest son was very different from his brothers, even from a child. He avoided the companionship of men, and wandered about on the sea-shore and in the forest. He talked much to himself and to the birds, or to the winds and waves, but when he was in the company of others he hardly opened his mouth, but stood like one dreaming. p. 51 When the storms raged over the sea in autumn, and the waves swelled up as high as a house and broke foaming on the beach, the boy could not contain himself in the house, but ran like one possessed, and often half-naked, to the shore. Neither wind nor weather harmed his robust body. He sprang into his boat, seized the oars, and drove like a wild goose over the crest of the raging billows far out to sea, without incurring any harm by his rashness. In the morning, when the storm had spent its fury, he was found sound asleep on the beach. If he was sent anywhere on an errand, to herd cattle in summer, or to do any other easy employment, he gave his parents only trouble. He lay down under the shadow of a bush without minding the animals, and they strayed away or trampled down the meadows and cornfields, and his brothers had often to work for hours before they could find the lost animals. The father often let the boy feel the rod severely enough, but it had no more effect than water poured on the back of a goose. When the boy grew up into a youth, he did not mend his ways. No work prospered in his negligent hands; he hacked and broke the tools, wearied out the draught cattle, and yet never did anything right.
His father sent him to neighbouring farmers to work, hoping that a stranger’s whip might improve the sloven, but whoever had the fellow for one week on trial sent him back again on the next. His parents rated him for a sluggard, and his brothers dubbed him “Sleepy Tony.” This soon became his nickname with everybody, though he had been christened Jüri.1 Sleepy Tony brought no one any good, but was only a nuisance to his parents and relatives, so that they would gladly have given a sum of money if anybody would have rid them of the lazy fellow. As nobody would put up with him any longer, his father engaged him as servant to a foreign captain, because he could not run away at sea, and because he had always been so fond of the water from a child. However, after a few weeks, nobody knows how, he escaped from the ship, and again set his lazy feet on his native soil. But he was ashamed to enter his father’s house, where he could not expect to meet with a friendly reception, so he wandered about from one place to another, and sought to get his living as he could, without working. He was a strong handsome fellow, and could talk very agreeably if he liked, although he p. 53 had never been accustomed to talk much in his father’s house. He was now obliged to use his handsome appearance and fine tongue to ingratiate himself with the women and girls.
One fine summer evening after sunset it happened that he was wandering alone on the beach when the clear song of the mermaid reached his ears. Sleepy Tony thought to himself, “She is a woman, at any rate, and won’t do me any harm.” He did not hesitate to approach nearer, to take a view of the beautiful bird. He climbed the highest hill, and saw the mermaid some distance off, sitting on a rock, combing her hair with a golden comb, and singing a ravishing song. The youth would have wished for more ears to listen to her song, which pierced his heart like a flame, but when he drew nearer he saw that he would have needed just as many eyes to take in the beauty of the maiden. The mermaid must have seen him coming, but she did not fly from him, as she was always wont to do when men approached. Sleepy Tony advanced to within ten paces of her, and then stopped, undecided whether to go nearer. And oh, wonderful! the mermaid rose from the stone and came to meet him with a friendly air. She gave him her hand in p. 54 greeting, and said, “I have expected you for many days, for a fateful dream warned me of your arrival. You have neither house nor home among those of your own race. Why should you be dependent upon strangers when your parents refuse to receive you into their house? I have known you from a child, and better than men have known you, for I have often watched over and protected you when your rashness would otherwise have destroyed you. I have often guarded the rocking boat with my hands, when it would otherwise have sunk in the depths. Come with me, and you shall enjoy every happiness which your heart can desire, and you shall want for nothing. I will watch over and protect you as the apple of my eye, so that neither wind nor rain nor frost shall touch you.”
Sleepy Tony stood for a time uncertain what to answer, though every word of the maiden was like a flaming arrow in his heart. At last he stammered out an inquiry as to whether her home was very far away. “We can reach it with the speed of the wind, if you have confidence in me,” answered the mermaid. Then Sleepy Tony remembered many sayings which he had heard about the mermaid, and his heart failed him, and he asked for three days to p. 55 make up his mind. “I will agree to your wish,” said the mermaid, “but lest you should again be doubtful, I will put my gold ring on your finger before we part, that you may not forget to return. When we are better acquainted, this pledge may serve as an engagement ring.” She then drew off the ring, placed it on the youth’s little finger, and vanished as if she had melted into air. Sleepy Tony stood staring with wide-open eyes, and would have supposed it was all a dream, if the sparkling ring on his finger had not been proof to the contrary. But the ring seemed like a strange spirit, which left him no peace or rest anywhere. He wandered aimlessly about the shore all night, and always returned to the rock on which the maiden had been sitting; but the stone was cold and vacant. In the morning he lay down for a short time, but uneasy dreams disturbed his sleep. When he awoke, he felt neither hunger nor thirst, and all his thoughts were directed towards the evening, when he hoped to see the mermaid again. The day waned at last, and evening approached, the wind sank, the birds in the alder-bushes left off singing and tucked their tired heads under their wings, but that evening he saw the mermaid nowhere.
He wept bitter tears of sorrow and trouble, and reflected bitterly on his folly in having hesitated to seize the good fortune offered to him the evening before, when a cleverer fellow would have grasped at it with both hands. But regret and complaint were useless now. The night and the day which followed were equally painful to him, and his trouble weighed upon him so much that he never felt hunger. Towards sunset he sat down with an aching heart on the rock where the mermaid had sat two evenings ago. He began to weep bitterly, and exclaimed, sobbing, “If she does not come back to me, I will live no longer, but either die of hunger on this rock, or cast myself headlong into the waves, and end my miserable life in the depths of the sea.”
I know not how long he sat thus on the rock in his distress, but at last he felt a soft warm hand laid upon his forehead. When he looked up, he saw the maiden before him, and she said tenderly, “I have seen your bitter suffering and heard your longing sighs, and could not withdraw myself longer, though the time does not expire till to-morrow night.”
“Forgive me, forgive me, dear maiden,” stammered Sleepy Tony. “Forgive me; I was a mad p. 57 fool not to accept the proffered happiness. The devil only knows what folly came into my head two nights ago. Carry me whither you please. I will oppose you no longer, and would joyfully give up my very life for your sake.”
The mermaid answered smiling, “I do not desire your death, but I will take you living as my dear companion.” She took the youth by the hand, led him a few paces nearer to the sea, and bound a silk handkerchief over his eyes. Immediately Sleepy Tony felt himself embraced by two strong arms, which raised him up as if in flight, and then plunged headlong into the sea. The moment the cold water touched his body, he lost all consciousness, and knew nothing more of what was happening around him; nor was he afterwards able to tell how long this insensibility lasted.
When he awoke, he was to experience something stranger still.
He found himself lying on soft cushions in a silken bed, which stood in a beautiful chamber, with walls of glass covered on the inside with curtains of red satin, lest the glaring light should wake the sleeper. Some time passed before he could make out whether he was still alive, or whether he was in p. 58 some unknown region of the dead. He rocked his limbs to and fro, took the end of his nose between his fingers, and behold, he was quite unchanged. He was dressed in a white shirt, and handsome clothes lay in a chair in front of his bed. After lying in bed for some time, and feeling himself all over to make sure that he was really alive, he got up and dressed himself.
Presently he coughed, when two maids entered, who greeted him as “his lordship,” and wished to know what he would like for breakfast. One laid the table, and the other went to prepare the food. In a short time the table was loaded with dishes of pork, sausage, black puddings, and honey, with jugs of beer and mead, just the same as at a grand wedding-feast. Sleepy Tony, who had eaten nothing for several days before, now set to work in earnest, and ate his fill, after which he laid down on the bed to digest it. When he got up again, the waiting-maids came back, and invited his lordship to take a walk in the garden while her ladyship was dressing. He heard himself called “your lordship” so often, that he already began to feel himself such in reality, and forgot his former station.
In the garden he met with beauty and elegance at every step; gold and silver apples glittered among the green leaves, and even the fir and pine cones were of gold, while birds of golden plumage hopped among the twigs and branches. Two maids came from behind a bush, who were commissioned to show his lordship round the garden, and to point out all its beauties. They went farther, and reached the edge of a pond where silver-feathered geese and swans were swimming. A rosy flush as of dawn filled all the sky, but the sun was not visible. The bushes were covered with flowers which exhaled a delicious odour, and bees as large as hornets flew among the flowers. All the flowers and shrubs which our friend beheld here were far more beautiful than he had ever seen before. Presently two elegantly dressed girls appeared, who invited his lordship to meet her ladyship, who was expecting him. But first they threw a blue silken shawl over his shoulders. Who would have recognised the former Sleepy Tony in such a guise?
In a beautiful hall, as large as a church, and built of glass like the bedroom, sat twelve fair maidens on silver chairs.1 Against the wall behind them was a p. 60 dais on which two golden thrones were placed. On one throne sat the august queen, and the other was unoccupied. When Sleepy Tony crossed the threshold, all the maidens rose from their seats and saluted him respectfully, and did not sit down again until desired to do so. The lady herself remained seated, bent her head to the youth in salutation, and signed with her finger, upon which Sleepy Tony’s attendants took him between them, and conducted him to their mistress. The youth advanced with faltering steps, and did not venture to lift his eyes, for he was dazzled with all the unaccustomed splendour and magnificence. He was shown to his place on the golden throne next to the lady, and she said, “This young man is my beloved bridegroom, to whom I have plighted myself and whom I have accepted as my consort. You must show him every respect, and obey him as you obey me. Whenever I leave the house, you must amuse him and look after him and guard him as the apple of my eye. You will be severely punished if you neglect to carry out my orders exactly.”
Sleepy Tony looked round him like one dazed, for he did not know what to make of the adventures of the night, which were more wonderful than p. 61 wonder itself. He continually turned the question over in his mind as to whether he was awake or dreaming. The lady noticed his confusion, and rose from her throne, took him by the hand, and led him from one room to another, all of which were untenanted. At last they arrived at the twelfth chamber, which was rather smaller, but handsomer than the others. Here the lady took her crown from her bead, cast aside the gold-embroidered mantle, and when Sleepy Tony ventured to raise his eyes, he recognised that it was the mermaid at his side, and no strange lady. Oh, how quickly his courage rose and his hopes revived! He cried out joyfully, “O dear mermaid!”—but the maiden laid her hand on his mouth, and spoke very earnestly, “If you have any regard for your own happiness or for mine, never call me by that name, which has only been given to me in mockery. I am one of the daughters of the Water-Mother. There are many sisters of us, but we all live apart, each in her own place, in the sea, or in lakes and rivers, and we only see each other occasionally by some fortunate chance.” She then explained to him that she had hitherto remained unmarried, but now that she was an established ruler, she must assume the dignity p. 62 of a royal matron. Sleepy Tony was so bewildered with this unimagined good fortune that he did not know how to express his happiness. His tongue seemed paralysed, and he could not manage to say more than Yes or No. But while he was enjoying a capital dinner and delicious beverages, his tongue was loosened, and he was not only able to talk as well as before, but to indulge in many pleasant jests.
This agreeable life was continued on the next and on the third day, and Sleepy Tony thought he had been exalted to heaven in his living body. But before retiring to rest the mermaid said to him, “To-morrow will be Thursday, and every week I am bound by a vow to fast, and to remain apart from every one. You cannot see me at all on Thursdays until the cock has crowed thrice in the evening. My attendants will sing to you to pass the time away, and will see that you want for nothing.”
Next morning Sleepy Tony could not find his consort anywhere. He remembered what she had told him the evening before, that he must pass this and all future Thursdays without her. The waiting-maids exerted themselves to amuse him in every p. 63 possible manner; they sang, played, and performed elegant dances, and then set before him such food and drink that no prince by birthright could have enjoyed better, and the day passed quicker than he had expected. After supper he laid himself to rest, and when the cock had crowed three times, the fair one returned to him. The same thing happened on every following Thursday. He often implored his beloved to allow him to fast with her on Thursdays, but all to no purpose. He troubled his consort again on a Wednesday with this request, and allowed her no rest; but the mermaid said, with tears in her eyes, “Take my life, if you please; I would lay it down cheerfully; but I cannot and dare not yield to your wish to take you with me on my fast-days.”
A year or more might have passed in this manner, when doubts arose in the mind of Sleepy Tony, which became always more tormenting, and allowed him no peace. His food became distasteful to him and his sleep refreshed him not. He feared lest the mermaid might have some other lover in secret besides himself, in whose arms she passed every Thursday, while he was obliged to pass his time with the waiting-maids. He had long ago discovered the room in which the mermaid hid herself p. 64 on Thursdays, but how did that help him? The door was always locked, and the windows were so closely hung with double curtains on the inside that there was not an opening left as large as a needle’s eye through which a sunbeam, much less a human eye, could penetrate. But the more impossible it seemed to penetrate this secret, the more eager grew his longing to get to the very bottom of it. Although he never breathed a word of the weight upon his mind to the mermaid, she could see from his altered manner that all was not as it should be. Again and again she implored him with tears in her eyes not to torment both himself and her with evil thoughts. “I am free from every fault against you,” she declared, “and I have no secret love nor any other sin against you on my conscience. But your false suspicion makes us both miserable, and will destroy the peace of our hearts. I would gladly give up every moment of my life to you if you wished it, but I cannot allow you to come near me on my fast-days. It cannot be, for it would put an end to our love and happiness for ever. We are able to live quietly and happily together for six days in the week, and how should the separation of one day be so heavy that you cannot bear it?”
She talked in this sensible way for six days, but when the following Thursday came, and the mermaid did not show herself, Sleepy Tony lost his wits, and behaved as if he was half-mad. He knew no peace, and at last one Thursday he refused to have any one with him. He ordered the waiting-maids to bring him his food and drink, and then to leave him directly, so that he remained alone like a spectre.
This great alteration in his conduct astonished everybody, and when the mermaid heard of the matter, she almost wept her eyes out of her head, though she only gave way to her grief when no one was present. Sleepy Tony hoped that when he was alone he might have a better opportunity of inspecting the secret fasting chamber, and perhaps he might find some crack through which he could spy upon what was going on. The more he tormented himself, the more depressed became the mermaid, and although she still maintained a cheerful countenance, her friendliness no longer came from the heart as before.
Some weeks passed by, and matters remained at a standstill, neither worse nor better, when one Thursday Sleepy Tony found a small space near the window where the curtains had slightly shifted, so p. 66 that he could look into the chamber. The secret chamber had no floor, but looked like a great square tank, filled with water many feet deep. Herein swam his much-loved mermaid. From her head to her middle she was a beautiful woman, but from the navel downwards she was wholly a fish, covered with scales and provided with fins. Sometimes she threshed the water with her broad fish’s tail and it dashed high up.
The spy shrunk back confounded and made his way home very sorrowfully. What would he not have given to have blotted the sight from his memory! He thought of one thing and another, but could not decide on what to do.
In the evening the cock crowed three times as usual, but the mermaid did not come back to him. He lay awake all night, but the fair one never came. She did not return till morning, when she was clad in black mourning garments and her face was covered with a thin silk handkerchief. Then she said, weeping, “O thou unhappy one! to have brought our happy life to an end by thy folly! Thou seest me to-day for the last time, and must return to thy former condition, and this thou hast brought upon thyself. Farewell, for the last time.”
There was a sudden crash and a tremendous noise, as if the floor was giving way beneath his feet, and Sleepy Tony was hurled down stunned, and could not perceive what was happening to himself or about him.
No one knows how long afterwards it may have been when he recovered from his swoon, and found himself on the sea-shore close to the rock on which the fair mermaid had sat when she entered into the bond of friendship with him. Instead of the magnificent robes whieh be had worn every day in the dwelling of the mermaid, he found himself dressed in his old clothes, which were now much older and more ragged than he could possibly have supposed. Our friend’s happy days were over, and no remorse, however bitter, could bring them back.
He walked on till he reached the first houses of his village. They were standing in the same places, but yet looked different. But what appeared to him much more wonderful when he looked round, was that the people were all strangers, and he did not meet a single face which he knew.
The people all looked strangely at him, too, as though he was a monster. Sleepy Tony went on to the farm of his parents, but here too he p. 68 encountered only strangers, who knew him not, and whom he did not know. He asked in amazement for his father and brothers, but no one could tell him anything about them. At length an infirm old man came up, leaning on a stick, and said, “Peasant, the farmer whom you ask after has been sleeping in the ground for more than thirty years, and his sons must be dead too. How comes it, my good old man, that you ask after people who have been so long forgotten?” The words “old man” took Sleepy Tony so much aback that he was unable to ask another question. He felt his limbs trembling, turned his back on the strange people, and went out at the gate. The expression “old man” left him no peace; it fell upon him with a crushing weight, and his feet refused him their office.
He hurried to the nearest spring and gazed in the water. The pale sunken cheeks, the hollow eyes, the long grey beard and grey hair, confirmed what he had heard. This worn-out, withered form no longer bore the slightest resemblance to the youth whom the mermaid had chosen as her consort. Now he fully realised his misery for the first time, and knew that the few years that p. 69 he appeared to have been absent had comprised the greater part of his life, for he had entered the mermaid’s house as a vigorous youth, and had returned as a spectre-like old man. There he had felt nothing of the course of time or of the wasting of his body, and he could not comprehend how the burden of old age had fallen upon him so suddenly, like the passing of a bird’s wing. What could he do now, when he was a grey stranger among strangers?
He wandered about on the beach for a few days, from one farm to another, and good people gave him a piece of bread out of charity. He chanced to meet with a friendly young fellow, to whom he related all the adventures of his life, but the same night he disappeared. A few days afterwards the waves cast up his body on the shore. It is not known whether he threw himself into the sea, or was drowned by accident.
After this the behaviour of the mermaid towards mankind entirely changed. She sometimes appears to children only, most often in another form, but she does not permit grown-up people to approach her, but shuns them like fire.
Source: The Hero of Esthonia by W. F. Kirby in two volumes [London, 1895]
ON a fine summer's evening, an inhabitant of Unst happened to be walking along the sandy margin of a voe. [a] The moon was risen, and by her light he discerned at some distance before him a number of the sea-people, who were dancing with great vigour on the smooth sand. Near them he saw lying on the ground several seal-skins.
As the man approached the dancers, all gave over their merriment, and flew like lightning to secure their garments; then clothing themselves, plunged in the form of seals into the sea. But the Shetlander, on coming up to the spot where they had been, and casting his eyes down on the ground, saw that they had left one skin behind them, which was lying just at his feet. He snatched it up, carried it swiftly away, and placed it in security.
On returning to the shore, he met the fairest maiden that eye ever gazed upon: she was walking backwards and forwards, lamenting m most piteous tones the loss of her seal-skin robe, without which she never could hope to rejoin her family and friends below the waters, but must remain an unwilling inhabitant of the region enlightened by the sun.
The man approached and endeavoured to console her, but she would not be comforted. She implored him in the most moving accents to restore her dress; but the view of her lovely face, more beautiful in tears, had steeled his heart. He represented to her the impossibility of her return, and that her friends would soon give her up;,and finally, made an offer to her of his heart, hand, and fortune.
The sea-maiden, finding she had no alternative, at length consented to beoome his wife. They were married, and lived together for many years, during which time they had several children, who retained no vestiges of their marine origin, saving a thin web between their fingers, and a bend of their hands, resembling that of the fore paws of a seal; distinctions which characterise the descendants of the family to the present day.
The Shetlander's love for his beautiful wife was unbounded, but she made but a cold return to his affection. Often would she steal out alone and hasten down to the lonely strand, and there at a given signal, a seal of large size would make his appearance, and they would converse for hours together in an unknown language; and she would return home from this meeting pensive and melancholy.
Thus glided away years, and her hopes of leaving the upper world had nearly vanished, when it chanced one day, that one of the children, playing behind a stack of corn, found a seal-skin. Delighted with his prize, he ran with breathless eagerness to display it before his mother. Her eyes glistened with delight at the view of it; for in it she saw her own dress, the loss of which had cost her so many tears. She now regarded herself as completely emancipated from thraldom; and in idea she was already with her friends beneath the waves. One thing alone was a drawback on her raptures. She loved her children, and she was now about to leave them for ever. Yet they weighed not against the pleasures she had in prospect: so after kissing and embracing them several times, she took up the skin, went out, and proceeded down to the beach.
In a few minutes after the husband came in, and the children told him what had occurred. The truth instantly flashed across his mind, and he hurried down to the shore with all the speed that love and anxiety could give. But he only arrived in time to see his wife take the form of a seal, and from the ledge of a rock plunge into the sea.
The large seal, with whom she used to hold her conversations, immediately joined her, and congratulated her on her escape, and they quitted the shore together. But ere she went she turned round to her husband, who stood in mute despair on the, rock, and whose misery excited feelings of compassion in her breast. "Farewell," said she to him, "and may all good fortune attend you. I loved you well while I was with you, but I always loved my first husband better."
The water-spirit is in Shetland called Shoopiltee; he appears in the form of a pretty little horse, and endeavours to entice persons to ride on him, and then gallops with them into the sea.
Source: "The Fairy Mythology - Illustrative of the Romance and Superstition of Various Countries" by Thomas Keightley 
Long, long ago a king of Persia had a hundred wives, but none had given him a child. One day a servant rushed into the king's chambers. "Your majesty," he cried, "there's a merchant at the door with an enchanting slave girl!"
"Let them in, " said the king.
The merchant brought in the slave girl. When he removed a blue silk veil from her face, the king's chambers seemed lit by a thousand torches. The girl's hair fell down her back in seven heavy braids that touched her ankles; her eyes were so bright they would heal the sick.
"Praise Allah!" said the king. He gave the merchant ten thousand gold coins in exchange for the slave. Then he sent the merchant away. "Please tell me your name," he said to the girl. "And tell me the name of your native land."
The slave girl did not look at the king, nor speak. She only stared sorrowfully into the distance.
A fire burned in the king's heart. He desperately wanted to win the love of the sad girl. "We must mend her broken heart," he told his servants. "Treat her with great honor. Anoint her with scents and give her the palace room with the windows overlooking the sea."
At the mention of the sea, the girl lifted her eyes and a faint smile flickered across her face.
The servants took her to her palace room and treated her with great kindness. And each day the king visited her and tried to win her trust. "Please, tell me your name," he said, "and tell me the name of your native land."
But the girl always remained silent.
Day after day, the fire in the king's heart burned brighter and brighter. He thought of nothing but how to win the slave girl's love. He called together all the singers in the kingdom and ordered them to sing music for the sad girl.
The singers sang wonderful songs; they delighted everyone, except the girl. She sat alone, unmoved, her head lowered, her heart broken.
Next the king sent for all the dancers in his kingdom and ordered them to dance for the sad girl.
The dancers danced for many hours; they delighted everyone, except the girl. She sat alone, unmoved, her head lowered, her heart broken.
Soon the king's heart began to break also. "Please," he begged the girl one day, "you must tell me what you want. I will give you anything."
It was no use. The slave girl would neither look at him nor speak to him.
Finally the king could bear it no longer. "Heart of my heart," he said to the slave girl, "do you not know that I love you? For weeks I have borne your silence and your coldness, and now I fear I will soon die of grief."
The girl slowly raised her eyes. "Great-hearted king," she said. "I swore never to speak again, but your kindness has softened my resolve. I've kept silent because I am angry about being a slave. I miss my mother, my brother, and the land of my birth."
"Praise Allah!" said the king. "You have spoken your heart! Now tell me about your land and your people! What is your name? How did you come to be a slave?"
"My name is Princess Julnare. My land is the Land - Under - the - Sea. My people are the children of the sea. One night I left my home in the waters and climbed to the shore for a visit. In the moonlight, the warm breeze wooed me to sleep. When I -woke, a slave merchant had captured me."
The king took the girl's hands in his own. "Princess Julnare," he said, "please forgive the ways of men."
"I do forgive them-because of you," she said. "And because your kindness is so great, I will give you a child."
The king felt lifted from the very earth by his joy. He hurried out to his people to spread the good news. He gave a hundred thousand gold coins to the poor as a token of his gratitude to Allah.
The next year a plump, rosy-faced boy was born to Princess Julnare. The prince shone with the brightness of the full moon.
When the king saw his son, his joy knew no bounds. He ordered seven days of celebration, and during those days he gave gifts to the poor and released all prisoners and freed all his slaves.
On the eighth day, Princess Julnare named her son Smile - of - the - Moon. After the naming ceremony, she drew her husband to her. "I will not be completely free of sorrow until I see my family again," she said. "I beg you to allow me to send for my mother, Queen Locust of the Sea, and my brother, the Prince of the Sea. I want them to bless our child."
"Of course!" said the king. "But how do I bring your family from the sea?"
"I will do it, " she said. "You may go in the next room and watch." The king hid in the next room and watched his wife place two pieces of sweet-smelling wood upon a fire. When the smoke began to rise, she whistled, then murmured strange magic words.
At once, the sea opened. Out of its depths rose a handsome youth with rose-colored cheeks and sea-green hair. Next rose an old woman with white hair and a ruby crown.
The two sea people walked upon the surface of the water until they came to the palace. Then they leapt upwards - as light as foam-and flew through the window to Princess Julnare and kissed her with tears of great joy.
The princess took her baby boy and placed him in the arms of his uncle. The prince lifted the baby high into the air, kissed him a thousand times, and bounced him up and down.
Then as the king watched from his hiding place, he saw a terrible sight: The prince suddenly leapt through the window with the tiny baby, and he disappeared down into the sea!
The king screamed in horror. He flew into the next room. "My son! My son!" he cried. "I've lost my son!"
"Wait, " whispered Princess Julnare. She pointed at the waves out her window.
They parted. The sea opened. And the prince emerged with Smile - of - the - Moon in his arms.
The young prince leapt from the sea through the palace window, and the king saw that his son was sleeping peacefully in his uncle's arms. In fact, the baby was smiling like the moon itself
"Oh, King, were you frightened when I jumped into the sea with this small one?" said the prince.
"Yes, uncle of my son," said the king. "I despaired he would drown and I would never ever see him again."
The prince smiled. "From now on, you need never fear your son might drown," he said. "For the rest of his life he'll be able to leap into the sea without harm. I have given him the same birthright as all the children of the sea."
The prince handed the boy to the king. Then he drew a cloth bag from his belt and poured its contents upon the carpet.
The king gasped. Before him were pearls the size of pigeons' eggs and the thousand fires of a thousand underwater jewels. The room was ablaze with the sort of fantastic lights one only sees in dreams.
"My mother and I must depart now," said the Prince of the Sea. "We yearn for our native land."
Princess Julnare bid her mother and brother a tearful good-bye. They promised to return from time to time. Then they leapt through the window and disappeared below the ocean waters.
From that day on, the Sea Princess of Persia lived happily with the King of Persia. And their little Smile - of - the - Moon grew up to be very brave and very wise.
Source: Mermaid Tales From Around The World, Mary Pope Osborne