I do not know what haunts me,
The air is cool and in twilight
There sits a lovely maiden
It falls through her comb in a shower,
The boatman in his small skiff is
I think the waves must fling him
Her beauty was her undoing. Lorelei was not willfully seductive, but men could not resist her charms, and she could not resist their advances. She was bringing scandal and disgrace to the respectable town of Bacharach-on-the-Rhine.
There was even talk that she must be a witch or a woman possessed of the devil. The bishop, however, would not hear of an execution without due process, and he summoned her to his court. His questions were at first stern and severe. Her answers were simple and sincere. The bishop's severity, his piety, and his priesthood, however, did not prevail, and in the end he pronounced her free of all guilt.
"I cannot continue like this!" she cried. "My eyes are the destruction of every man who looks into them. I have loved only one man, and he abandoned me and left for a distant land. Please let me die!"
But the good bishop could not bring himself to pronounce a death sentence. Instead, he proposed that she dedicate herself to God, and called three knights to accompany her to the convent. Arrangements were made forthwith, and the three knights were soon underway with their beautiful ward.
When their path led them past a high cliff overlooking the Rhine, Lorelei had one last request of her escorts. "Please," she said, "let me climb the cliff and have one last look into the Rhine." Unable to deny her this wish, the three knights tethered their horses, and the four of them climbed to the top of the cliff.
Standing at the edge of the precipice, Lorelei said, "See that boat on the Rhine. The boatman is my lover!" And with no further warning, she jumped from the cliff into the Rhine.
The three knights also met their death there, without a priest and without a grave.
Who is the singer of this song? A boatman on the Rhine, And we always hear the echo Of the Three-Knight-Stone:
As though there were three of us.
The Water Maid
At the time when there was nothing in the Harz but virgin forest, a knight came here to hunt. Before he could orient himself, he became lost, and he wandered about for several days without finding a path.
Finally he came upon a beautiful castle situated in a large meadow and surrounded with water. A pathway led to a drawbridge, which had been suspended.
He called out; he whistled; he waited. He didn't hear anything from within. It was as though the castle had died out.
"Wait," he thought. "The castle cannot be empty. Someone will have to appear shortly. Just sit here and wait until someone comes." So he sat and waited, but the castle remained silent. Finally his patience wore out, and he was just making preparations to leave when he saw a beautiful girl emerge from the forest and walk toward the bridge.
"Wait," he thought. "She knows her way around here. She is going inside." And that is what happened. When she was within a few steps of him, he spoke to her, telling her that he had lost his way in the Harz Forest, that he had camped out eight days in the open, and that he was eager at last to spend a night under a proper roof. He had already sat here for three hours asking for admission, but no one had shown himself or let himself be heard. Further, he asked if she would be so good to ask permission for him to enter once she was inside.
She said that that would not be necessary. He could come with her. She did not need to ask anyone for permission, for she herself was in charge here. With that she stepped on a stone that was mortared into the earth in front of the bridge, and the bridge immediately descended. Then she took out a large key and unlocked the gate. Together they walked though a large courtyard and into the castle.
She led the knight into a beautiful room and asked him to make himself comfortable. She told him that before anything else, she wanted to go and prepare a proper evening meal. Surely he would like something hot to eat, she said, adding that she too was hungry. Because she had no servants, she would have to take care of everything by herself.
With that she left the room. A short time later she returned with a beautiful roast, cakes, and many other delicious things. She set the table and invited her guest to help himself. He did not need to be asked a second time.
After they had eaten, they sat together and talked with one another. The knight said that he felt sorry for the friendly girl, because she lived here all alone, observing that time must pass very slowly for her.
"Oh no," she said. "Time does not pass slowly for me," adding that nonetheless she sometimes did wish for company, but if she did not have any, she could still manage just fine.
The knight answered that if she did not mind, he would stay here a few days and keep her company.
The hostess replied that she would be happy if he would do so.
The guest remained one, two, three days, and they became so accustomed to one another that in the end the knight asked her if she did not want to become his wife. The girl was pleased with this, and she said that she would love to do so, if he would only promise her that every Friday she would be able to go out and do whatever she wanted to, and that he would not try to follow her or look after her. This he promised her, and they became a couple.
They lived together a long time, satisfied with one another. They produced lovely children, and in their happiness they lacked nothing.
One day a strange knight came and was given lodging. It was on a Friday, and he asked about the lady of the house, because she had not made an appearance. The master of the house told him that his wife was never to be seen on a Friday, and that he -- in keeping with his promise -- had never sought after her. With that the strange knight asked what kind of a housewife would not tell her husband where she could be found. Nothing good could come from such behavior.
This conversation so alarmed the master of the house that he immediate set out to find his wife. After a long search, he finally came to the cellar, where he found a door. Opening it, he saw his wife, half fish and half human, swimming in a small pond. When she saw her husband, she cast a sad and serious glance at him, and then disappeared.
The bewildered man went back upstairs to tell the strange knight what he had experience, but he too had disappeared. Now the poor man realized that he and his wife had been cruelly deceived and victimized by the stranger.
He grieved so much for his good wife that he died soon afterward. The lovely children also died one after the other, and the castle fell into ruins. It is not even known where it formerly stood. Only the story remains.
What is a Mermaid?
In folklore, a supernatural, sea-dwelling creature; from the waist up, a mermaid is a beautiful, alluring woman and from the waist down she has the body and tail of a fish, complete with scales. The mermaid is frequently described as appearing above the surface of the water and combing her long hair with one hand while holding a mirror in the other. While grooming herself she is likely to sing with a voice so enchanting that men cannot resist it. Mermaids, in the numerous tales told of them, often foretell the future, sometimes under compulsion; give supernatural powers to human beings; or fall in love with human beings and entice their mortal lovers to follow them beneath the sea. Most mermaids are kind and gentle but some are cruel (there are tales that depict some mermaids as drinkers of blood). A similarity exists between many mermaid stories and those told about the Sirens. In Irish folktales, one is named Merrow, a mermaid who warns fishermen of coming storms.
The Mermaid of Zennor
The village of Zennor lies upon the windward coast of Cornwall. The houses cling to the hillside as if hung there by the wind. Waves still lick the ledges in the coves, and a few fishermen still set out to sea in their boats.
In times past, the sea was both the beginning and the end for the folk of Zennor. It gave them fish for food and fish for sale, and made a wavy road to row from town to town. Hours were reckoned not by clocks but by the ebb and flow of the tide, and months and years ticked off by the herring runs. The sea took from them, too, and often wild, sudden storms would rise. Then fish and fisherman alike would be lost to an angry sea.
At the end of a good day, when the sea was calm and each boat had returned with its share of fish safely stowed in the hold, the people of Zennor would go up the path to the old church and give thanks. They would pray for a fine catch on the morrow, too. The choir would sing, and after the closing hymn the families would go
Now, in the choir that sang at Evensong there was a most handsome lad named Mathew Trewella. Not only was Mathew handsome to the eyes, his singing was sweet to the ears as well. His voice pealed out louder than the church bells, and each note rang clear and true. It was always Mathew who sang the closing hymn.
Early one evening, when all the fishing boats bobbed at anchor, and all the fisher families were in church and all the birds at nest, and even the waves rested themselves and came quietly to shore, something moved softly in the twilight. The waves parted without a sound, and, from deep beneath them, some creature rose and climbed out onto a rock, there in the cove of Zennor. It was both a sea creature and a she-creature. For, though it seemed to be a girl, where the girl's legs should have been was the long and silver-shiny tail of a fish. It was a mermaid, one of the daughters of Llyr, king of the ocean, and her name was Morveren.
Morveren sat upon the rock and looked at herself in the quiet water, and then combed all the little crabs and seashells from her long, long hair. As she combed, she listened to the murmur of the waves and wind. And borne on the wind was Mathew's singing.
"What breeze is there that blows such a song?" wondered Morveren. But then the wind died, and Mathew's song with it. The sun disappeared, and Morveren slipped back beneath the water to her home.
The next evening she came again. But not to the rock. This time she swam closer to shore, the better to hear. And once more Mathew's voice carried out to sea, and Morveren listened.
"What bird sings so sweet?" she asked, and she looked all about. But darkness had come, and her eyes saw only shadows.
The next day Morveren came even earlier, and boldly. She floated right up by the fishermen's boats. And when she heard Mathew's voice, she called, "What reed is there that pipes such music?"
There was no answer save the swishing of the water round the skiffs.
Morveren would and must know more about the singing. So she pulled herself up on the shore itself. From there she could see the church and hear the music pouring from its open doors. Nothing would do then but she must peek in and learn for herself who sang so sweetly.
Still, she did not go at once. For, looking behind her, she saw that the tide had begun to ebb and the water pull back from the shore. And she knew that she must go back, too, or be left stranded on the sand like a fish out of water.
So she dived down beneath the waves, down to the dark sea cave where she lived with her father the king. And there she told Llyr what she had heard.
Llyr was so old he appeared to be carved of driftwood, and his hair floated out tangled and green, like seaweed. At Morveren's words, he shook that massive head from side to side.
"To hear is enough, my child. To see is too much."
"I must go, Father," she pleaded, "for the music is magic."
"Nay," he answered. "The music is man-made, and it comes from a man's mouth. We people of the sea do not walk on the land of men."
A tear, larger than an ocean pearl, fell from Morveren's eye. "Then surely I may die from the wanting down here."
Llyr sighed, and his sigh was like the rumbling of giant waves upon the rocks; for a mermaid to cry was a thing unheard of and it troubled the old sea king greatly.
"Go, then," he said at last, "but go with care. Cover your tail with a dress, such as their women wear. Go quietly, and make sure that none shall see you. And return by high tide, or you may not return at all."
"I shall take care, Father!" cried Morveren, excited. "No one shall snare me like a herring!"
Llyr gave her a beautiful dress crusted with pearls and sea jade and coral and other ocean jewels. It covered her tail, and she covered her shining hair with a net, and so disguised she set out for the church and the land of men.
Slippery scales and fish's tail are not made for walking, and it was difficult for Morveren to get up the path to the church. Nor was she used to the dress of an earth woman dragging behind. But get there she did, pulling herself forward by grasping on the trees, until she was at the very door of the church. She was just in time for the closing hymn. Some folks were looking down at their hymnbooks and some up at the choir, so, since none had eyes in the backs of their heads, they did not see Morveren. But she saw them, and Mathew as well. He was as handsome as an angel, and when he sang it was like a harp from heaven -- although Morveren, of course, being a mermaid, knew nothing of either.
So each night thereafter, Morveren would dress and come up to the church, to look and to listen, staying but a few minutes and always leaving before the last note faded and in time to catch the swell of high tide. And night by night, month by month, Mathew grew taller and his voice grew deeper and stronger (though Morveren neither grew nor changed, for that is the way of mermaids). And so it went for most of a year, until the evening when Morveren lingered longer than usual. She had heard Mathew sing one verse, and then another, and begin a third. Each refrain was lovelier than the one before, and Morveren caught her breath in a sigh.
It was just a little sigh, softer than the whisper of a wave. But it was enough for Mathew to hear, and he looked to the back of the church and saw the mermaid. Morveren's eyes were shining, and the net had slipped from her head and her hair was wet and gleaming, too. Mathew stopped his singing. He was struck silent by the look of her -- and by his love for her. For these things will happen.
Morveren was frightened. Mathew had seen her, and her father had warned that none must look at her. Besides, the church was warm and dry, and merpeople must be cool and wet. Morveren felt herself shriveling, and turned in haste from the door.
"Stop!" cried Mathew boldly. "Wait!" And he ran down the aisle of the church and out the door after her.
Then all the people turned, startled, and their hymn-books fell from their laps.
Morveren tripped, tangled in her dress, and would have fallen had not Mathew reached her side and caught her.
"Stay!" he begged. "Whoever ye be, do not leave!"
Tears, real tears, as salty as the sea itself, rolled down Morveren's cheeks.
"I cannot stay. I am a sea creature, and must go back where I belong."
Mathew stared at her and saw the tip of her fish tail poking out from beneath the dress. But that mattered not at all to him.
"Then I will go with ye. For with ye is where I belong."
He picked Morveren up, and she threw her arms about his neck. He hurried down the path with her, toward the ocean's edge.
And all the people from the church saw this.
"Mathew, stop!" they shouted. "Hold back!"
"No! No, Mathew!" cried that boy's mother.
But Mathew was bewitched with love for the mermaid, and ran the faster with her toward the sea.
Then the fishermen of Zennor gave chase, and all others, too, even Mathew's mother. But Mathew was quick and strong and outdistanced them. And Morveren was quick and clever. She tore the pearls and coral from her dress and flung them on the path. The fishermen were greedy, even as men are now, and stopped in their chase to pick up the gems. Only Mathew's mother still ran after them.
The tide was going out. Great rocks thrust up from the dark water. Already it was too shallow for Morveren to swim. But Mathew plunged ahead into the water, stumbling in to his knees. Quickly his mother caught hold of his fisherman's jersey. Still Mathew pushed on, until the sea rose to his waist, and then his shoulders. Then the waters closed over Morveren and Mathew, and his mother was left with only a bit of yarn in her hand, like a fishing line with nothing on it.
Never again were Mathew and Morveren seen by the people of Zennor. They had gone to live in the land of Llyr, in golden sand castles built far below the waters in a blue-green world.
But the people of Zennor heard Mathew. For he sang to Morveren both day and night, love songs and lullabies. Nor did he sing for her ears only. Mathew learned songs that told of the sea as well. His voice rose up soft and high if the day was to be fair, deep and low if Llyr was going to make the waters boil. From his songs, the fishermen of Zennor knew when it was safe to put to sea, and when it was wise to anchor snug at home.
There are some still who find meanings in the voices of the waves and understand the whispers of the winds. These are the ones who say Mathew sings yet, to them that will listen.
Realms Of Fantasy Site Map