Tuesday, 22 July 2008
The Water Table
It is said that there were once spirits of the seas and rivers. Among the river spirits were the nixies. These were capricious creatures, made of the river. Without the river the nixie would turn to water and sink into the earth. Slowly that water would find it's way back to the river where the nixie would be reborn.
Still, they are not without their own power, for they not only command the river, but know the magic of it. I read of a man once, Jack Stone who came across the nixies in the 18th century. He amazingly survived, though he never spoke of it but once afterwards, it seems. I found his account in an old book and this is what he wrote;
"It was summer when it happened. I was free for a few days having help't out at the farms and earned enough to keep me for a short while. I was unwed at the time and paid no attention to thoughts of love. The widow Paskins had me to tea once and sat me on the sopha in her parlour where she tried to interest me in her daughter. The girl was fair and charming, but I wasn't interested having enough to think on.
Well with this free time, I thought I'd go fishing for a little while and see if I could catch something for my supper. A trout perhaps or if I were lucky the Great Pike that was said to live in the river Fallbeck. My grandma told me to beware of the nixies, but I thought at the time it were all nonsensical and pshaw'd. Still, I did agree to keep with me my little iron crucifix that my mamma give me as a boy.
The day dawned lovely, cool and bright with the promise of a hot day to come. I took my fishing rod and my net and went down to the Fallbeck. There was a weeping willow there on the bank where I used to lay when I were a boy. I'd watch'd otters and kingfishers from under the shelter of the drooping branches, laying on my front in the grass. I'd took with me a loaf of good bread, a hunk of cheese and a bottle of beer for my lunch. I'd also got a book that I'd borrowd off the Parson a while back and he'd not ask'd for it yet.
I set up my rod and line, plac'd my net where I could get to it easily and lay down in the shade of the willow. At first, I watch'd the otters play on the far bank. They amus'd me greatly and gave me great sport to watch them. After a while, my head drooped and it seem'd that I slept. I was wok'd by a song sweetly sung. At first I believ'd myself a-dreaming, but then awoke and saw a young lady sat on the bank with her back to me. She was naked, but her long hair seem'd to cover her. Her hair was mossy green and even her skin seem'd to have moss grow upon it faintly. She sang softly and so sweetly that I harkened to it. As I listened it seemed as if all my troubles fell away and the world was a kinder place than it had any right to be.
After a while, I sat up and the young woman turned her head and caught my glance upon her.
"Master Stone, did I wake ye?" she asked me.
I told her that I had rather be woke by her singing as by all the church bells in England, for that she sang so sweet that it was as if I still dream'd. She seem'd pleas'd by this and slipt into the water, turning to face me and asking if she would give me the first thing that came to greet me when I reach'd home. I told her that I could not for I did not know what might greet me first - if anything.
She smil'd so sweetly upon me and said that she would give me herself to wife if I would give her the first thing that came to meet me when I got home.
"And if you shall not," she added, "Then I shall demand as my right a feast of living food on a table of water."
I told her I had no need of a wife, for I was content enough with my own company.
"Are you to reject me Jack Stone? Me, a nixie and a princess among nixies?" she asked in a chilly voice.
What could I do but agree to her love for she would have me to wed, whether I would or no?
But I could not give her the first thing to greet me at home without knowing what it was. She demanded then, as her right - a feast of living food on a table of water. This would be tricky, for she requir'd not plants but meats.
Still, I agreed and she commanded that I return at dusk - when the sun is not set and the moon not yet risen, there on the river bank to meet with her. If I could not provide what she asked, she would take me into the river forever. But if I could provide for her, she would come with me and be wed, tho' not in a Christian church, for all faeries are ware of God's things, being neither God's creations nor the Devil's own.
I pack'd up my rod and line, took what I had brought with me and went home. As I approach'd the door, the little daughter of my dear brother ran to meet me. I almost wept then for joy that I had not promis'd the nixie this darling child. I enter'd my home carrying the little child in my arms, while she play'd as she so often did with my hair. I told my brother of my predicament then and he sigh'd unable to think of a solution. But his good wife Becky, as had been Miller Sharpe's daughter afore she wed my brother, did laugh us out of countenance.
Go, fetch six living trout from Squire Banstock. Bring them in a pail of water. Do you my husband, go fetch the ice man and bid him bring a block of ice to the river bank at dusk. Let him carve that ice in the shape of a fine table as would befit a noble mansion. Upon the table, place a dish of cold steel and put the trout therein. That will serve the nixie well enough, I trow.
I kiss't Becky and left instantly for the Squire's hall where I purchas'd six trout and carry'd them home in a pail of cool water. I met with my brother and the ice man on the bank of the river later in the afternoon. The sun had not yet set and the moon had not yet risen. The ice man, Butcher Kegan's son, Gulliver had carved the ice most finely into a table with elegant legs and had also provided an ice chair.
I had brought a dish of cold steel in which I poured the water and placed the trout in the dish. They swam happily enough as much as they could. As the close of day drew on, my brother and Gulliver took their leave, tho' they did not go far. At dusk, the nixie arose out of the river, clad in weeds and crowned in wild lotus flowers. Without a word, she washed upon the bank and flowed to the ice chair. The day had been warm and the air was already melting the table and chair. Even as the table melted and waves of water pour'd over it's edges, the nixie ate the trout, swallowing them whole. Then she stood and whisper'd a word I could not hear. The weeds turned to mossy-green velvet and the lotus flowers in her hair turned to a diadem. We were wed then by the river and she came away with me to my home. Every morning she went to the river and every afternoon she came home to me. That is all, I say no more. What needs to be said in the face of love?"
I can add no more than this. It is said, in a separate account, by Sal. Atticum the great natural philosopher of the late 18th century that any faerie can wed a human, but forfeits their faerie powers and can become human, whereupon they then become mortal and die as humans do. Even so, I return to Jack Stone's own comment - What needs to be said in the face of love?