Monday, 21 July 2014

A Havsrå’s Fortune

Here comes the second story in Folk Tales of the Sea People!
I would have shared this sooner, but I spent the past week trying to troubleshoot my laptop and to spare the technical details, it died and I have a new one now (which arrived today!)

So here it is, story number two, with painting number three...

A Havsrå’s Fortune, June 2014

A Havsrå’s Fortune

There was once a Havsrå, who lived in the waters of the northern shore. She spent her days seated upon the rocks, singing to herself and watching the sea for ships.
The northern shore was dangerous and many a ship had sunk in her time, though through the Havsrå’s aid, very few sailors had lost their lives. Not one of them knew they owed their survival to the Havsrå, for a human would forget her the moment he turned his gaze away: it was part of the Havsrå’s curse.

Though humans would never recall her, many water-folk visited the Havsrå, for along with her curse she had the gift of reading the future. Many a love-struck Mermaid came her way, wishing to know if she was destined to be with her love. Vodyanoy came for guidance on their business, and Nymphs begged to know if they should meet their true love.
It was true for all Havsrå that they had both the curse and the gift, but it was also true that no Havsrå should tell her own fortune, for ill-luck would surely abound. It was part of the curse.

The Havsrå of this tale was named Nerida, and unlike the Nymphs that came to her, she was not beautiful. Nerida’s hair was dull-black and her skin pallid, her eyes were dim and colourless. Unlike the Mermaids, she had no tail; instead she had a pair of legs like those of the humans, stocky and straight. Compared to her beautiful clients, Nerida was quite unremarkable. Her most striking feature was her expression, for it was dreamy and kind, yet often sad.

Nerida envied the love-struck Mermaids and beautiful Nymphs. Their futures were filled with happiness, their companions generous and loving. Nerida had no companion, as Havsrå were a race of women; if she wished a husband, Nerida would have to entice a human to her. Yet there was her curse: a human man would forget about her the instant he turned his eyes away.
It is because of this that Havsrå were a very rare sight indeed, even for the sea-folk.

Near to Nerida’s dwelling was a beautiful waterfall, which tumbled down the cliffs and into the sea. Within it lived a Fossegrimm, named Lyr, who played his fiddle all day long. Lyr did not like to leave his waterfall, and sometimes his music distracted the human sailors and caused them to wreck their ships, so he and Nerida were on poor terms. But on calm days, when no ships were around, the jaunty notes of his fiddle reached Nerida on her rock and she would listen and hum along.
Sometimes, Lyr’s music reminded Nerida of her loneliness. At times she hoped that he would cause a ship to sink, and that a sailor would drown and become a Draug, so that she might make him her own. Yet Nerida loved humans, and did not truly wish them harm.
As another mermaid sought her fortune, Nerida wondered at her own. She wished to know if she might find a love, or if she would live and die alone. But as looking at her own fortune would bring ill-luck, she knew that she must not.

There came a day when, upon the tide, Nerida saw a handsome young fisherman. His boat was painted sky-blue and he sang as he heaved in his nets, voice rich and melodic. As Nerida watched, he became tangled in his net and fell into the water. Nerida dived into the sea at once and swam to his rescue. She untangled the man from his net and helped him out of the icy water, back onto the boat. The fisherman shivered, and she found a blanket in the cabin, which she wrapped around him.
“Who are you?” asked the fisherman.
Nerida smiled sadly at him. This handsome man, with his golden curls and brown eyes and strong hands, would forget her soon. “I am Nerida, guardian of the seas here.”
“A Havsrå, hm?” The fisherman smiled. “What good luck I have. Let it be known that Johannes the fisherman will always remember the kindness of a Havsrå. I shall bring you fine things from the land, by way of thanks!”
Johannes did not know of the Havsrå curse. Nerida wished that she could stay a while with the young fisherman, and that he would remember his gratitude to her, so she might have a chance at attracting him. Though she knew she was not beautiful, she had hope.
But the curse remained intact, for the moment Nerida left the boat, Johannes had forgotten her.
When she returned to her rock, she could hear Lyr’s music along the cliffs. Today the Fossegrimm played a slow, regretful tune. It made Nerida sad, and she dived back into the water to return home. She did not want to listen to such music today.

Nerida rescued Johannes once again, a month later when a sudden storm came upon the sea. His little boat struggled in the waves and was tossed against the rocks. Before Johannes drowned, Nerida caught him in her arms and swam with him to the shore, which lay not far from Lyr’s waterfall. Johannes had hit his head when the boat sank, and as he lay slumbering on the sand, Nerida sang a gentle lullaby to him. Nearby, up in the waterfall, the sound of Lyr’s fiddle rose to join her song, soft and lilting. Nerida felt grateful to the Fossegrimm for his fitting accompaniment.
Johannes awoke to find the Havsrå watching him with affection in her eyes. His confusion was evident, for he sat up and passed a hand over his face, not knowing were he was or who he was with.
Nerida ceased to sing, and a moment later Lyr’s fiddle fell silent.
“I am glad you awoke, Johannes,” said Nerida.
“Who are you? How do you know my name?” asked Johannes. Remembering the storm, he asked. “What happened to my ship?”
Nerida sighed. It had been too much to hope that Johannes would remember her. “Your ship sank in the storm,” she replied. “I am the Havsrå of these seas. My name is Nerida. We met before when you were caught in your nets and fell overboard.”
“How could I forget you?” wondered Johannes. “Had you rescued me, I would remember.”
A feeling of sadness swept over Nerida. “Perhaps you forgot due to the cold,” she said quietly.
“Well,” said Johannes, “I shall not forget this time.” He took Nerida’s hand and kissed it. “Thank you, Nerida. You saved my life twice, and I am forever grateful.”

Nerida did not make haste to leave Johannes this time. She languished in the idea that, were she to spend much longer with him, he would remember her. Nerida begged Johannes to tell her of life on the land, and he told her stories and made her laugh.
“You have a lovely smile,” Johannes told her. “And such a beautiful laugh.”
Unused to compliments, Nerida blushed and turned her gaze away. “Thank you, Johannes.”
Johannes chuckled. “Please do not become coy with me, Nerida.” He touched her cheek and gazed into her eyes, liking their colourlessness and dreamy gaze. “Why, your eyes are like pearls,” he uttered, smiling.
Nerida’s heart pounded in her chest, for Johannes had become so close that he could kiss her. From the waterfall, a slow, romantic song began to play. Nerida smiled, glad for once that Lyr resided there, and had sensed the mood of the moment.
But the gently-played fiddle did not entice Johannes to kiss the Havsrå. Instead, it distracted him.
“What is that music?” he asked. Johannes turned away and looked up at the waterfall. “Music from a waterfall, how strange,” he mused.
“Oh, it’s an illusion,” said Nerida, not wanting to reveal Lyr’s presence.
Johannes looked back at her. “Who are you?” he asked. “Were you washed up by the storm too?”
Heart aching, Nerida shook her head. “I saw you here, and came to see if you were hurt.”
“I’m fine, thank you, though I doubt my boat survived the storm.” Johannes bid her good day, and strode from the beach.
Sadly, Nerida watched him leave. Then she turned toward the waterfall. Lyr’s music had stopped once Johannes walked away, and now Nerida was angry. Had the Fossegrimm not lifted bow to string, she and Johannes could still be together.
“Must you always play?!” she shouted up into the rapidly-falling water.
A few feet above, a handsome head poked out of the water. “I thought you liked the music,” said Lyr. His dark hair was wet and he pushed it back from his face to reveal lively green eyes. “You looked so close with your sweetheart. I thought a love song would make you happy.”
“It does not! You know well that a human will forget me in an instant, should he gaze away. Your music took his attention from me, and now he is gone.”
“I am sorry, Nerida,” Lyr bowed. “Though he would not have turned away, had he truly been enchanted by you. Forgive me for causing you grief.”
His words pained the Havsrå, who turned her back on him. “He had not a chance to become enchanted, for you began to play your accursed fiddle.”

Nerida stomped back into the water and went home to mope. Lyr’s words had bothered her. Was she unable to enchant any man? Nerida thought she loved Johannes, but did Johannes love her? Did she have a future with the handsome young fisherman?
Nerida had to know.
Forgetting the curse, Nerida went to her looking-pool and sought her own fortune. Images formed before her eyes, colours took shape and scenes playing out within the water. She saw Johannes on his boat and she saw herself upon the rocks. She saw Lyr, playing his fiddle in the waterfall, hair in his eyes and a bright smile upon his lips. Then she saw the great storm come, and Johannes thrown from his boat. She saw herself swim to his rescue.
Nerida turned from her looking-pool. It had not shown her what was to come, but what has already passed. Perhaps, she thought, it was not that ill-luck came to a Havsrå that looked at her own fortune, but that a Havsrå was unable to tell her own fortune, that being ill-luck in itself.

Nerida continued to watch the sea from her rock. She saved a great many lives that stormy season, though seldom saw Johannes. Sometimes she thought she sighted him, upon a new boat painted red and white, but he fished with friends now and she could not be certain it was him.
The storms were so loud that Nerida rarely heard Lyr’s fiddle anymore, of which she was pleased. The sound of it reminded her of being on the beach with Johannes, and Lyr’s interruption. Thinking of the Fossegrimm was a nuisance, though he tended to stick in her mind whether she heard his music or not. Nerida found his presence there troubling. 

Toward the end of the stormy season, a storm came that was worst than any Nerida had ever seen. The Havsrå had to cling to her rock to prevent the sea from pulling her back in, and she watched the waves desperately, hoping that no foolish humans were out upon the water. All she saw was the grey of the waves and the white crests upon them as the waters surged and the wind blew and thunder crashed overhead.
And then, amidst the choppy waves, she saw it: the red and white hull of a capsized boat. Nerida’s heart lurched in fear and she leapt into the water, swimming strongly towards the boat.
She did not find fishermen struggling to surface the water, nor did she find drowned bodies sinking to the ocean floor. The storm surge had washed the fishermen away.
Nerida found their bodies on a beach, far along the coast, after much searching. Among them was Johannes, his brown eyes now lifeless and his golden hair tangled with seaweed. Nerida felt wretched and knew that this was her doing. Had she not sought her own fortune, Johannes might not have died.

For a long time after that, Nerida stayed beneath the sea, mourning the death of the handsome fisherman. With nobody to rescue them, many sailors drowned and the humans came to say it was the worst year for sea-farers in all history. When sea-folk came to seek their fortune, Nerida turned them away. They would have to make decisions for themselves, she said.

When Nerida finally resurfaced, the stormy season was long gone. She sat on her rock, and gazed listlessly out to sea. Nerida knew the truth now: she was destined to spend her life alone. That was her fortune.
The Havsrå sang a sad, lonely song as she watched the calm ocean. Over the cliffs came the sound of Lyr’s fiddle, the music gentle and melancholy. Sighing, Nerida ceased to sing, for she truly had no heart for it that day.
Lyr’s music became sadder, almost mournful.
Nerida could not bear it. She started to cry. She cried for the loss of Johannes and all the other good human men who had been taken by the sea that season. She cried for herself, that she would always be alone.
The Havsrå swam to Lyr’s waterfall, tears remaining in her eyes, and climbed up onto the rocks beside it.
“Must you accompany my every mood with your fiddle?!” she called out.
The music stopped. Lyr stuck his head out from the water at the bottom of the waterfall, and then he stepped onto the rocks before her. He was slender, taller than she expected, and held a fiddle within his long-fingered hands. “You are mistaken, Nerida,” he stated, his bright eyes bearing a gloomy expression. “I was playing not for your mood, but my own.”
Nerida stared at him. She had not seen the Fossegrimm’s full appearance before, as he had never left the waterfall completely until now. The Havsrå had always assumed him to be short and squat, for all she had ever seen of him had been his head.
“What reason have you to be miserable?” she asked. “You have not lost your love in the storm, nor seen men die at the hands of the sea, unable to save them.”
“I have seen a great many men die,” replied Lyr. He plucked at the strings of his fiddle and tightened the pegs. “And I have not lost my love, for my love has never cared for me.”
“Then carry on,” Nerida sighed, and wondered how long Lyr had borne his heartache. “But not too sadly, please, for it is painful to hear such sadness from your strings.” She sat at the edge of the waterfall and dangled her toes in the water.
“For you my dear, I shall play a happy song, and it shall lift both our spirits,” said Lyr, lifting his bow. He played a cheerful tune, leaping around and showing off his talents with music that rose and fell in pitch like the waves of the sea. The music did indeed make Nerida feel better. She smiled at Lyr’s sprightly antics, eyes following him as he leapt from rock to rock. Lyr caught her expression and smiled back handsomely. His music took on a slow, mysterious tone and he ceased to dance about, instead strolling slowly towards her. Nerida watched him with curiosity; she had not heard such a tune before but it made her heart race.
“My lady,” called Lyr, above the soothing, caressing notes of his fiddle. “Would you care for a foolish Fossegrimm?”
Nerida recalled what she had seen within her looking-pool: Lyr fiddling and smiling, just as he did now. Had it shown her the future after all? She had certainly been found by ill-luck.
Lyr’s music became sad again, for Nerida did not reply.
“I hoped too much,” the Fossegrimm murmured. “If I could court you but for one week, I could be satisfied.” He glanced at her. “Fossegrimm are lonely fellows too, dear Havsrå. For only men are born Fossegrimm, and we mostly live our lives alone.”
Nerida knew it well, though had never given Lyr’s situation much thought. A handsome-faced one such as he could have any maiden that passed by the waterfall, she always thought. Lyr should not want for anything.
The Fossegrimm ceased to play. “If you would answer me, I would be grateful,” he said, hands hanging uselessly at his sides, his fiddle held loosely.
Nerida studied him, heart a little troubled. It was true that Lyr played upon her mind often, and that his music touched her strongly. He was playful and handsome, but he angered her and bothered her at times, too. Yet, all he asked was one week of courtship. Would it ease her loneliness?
“One week,” she agreed. “That is all.”
“That will be all I need,” smiled Lyr, elated. He lifted his fiddle once again and played happily, resuming his dance around the rocks. After a time, Nerida got to her feet and danced with him.

Their week of courtship went surprisingly smoothly, and Nerida became fond of the cheerful Fossegrimm. Lyr seemed unaware of his handsomeness and thought himself plain, whilst he believed Nerida to be beautiful, which she knew she was not. They swam together beneath the waterfall, and every day Lyr played her a new, merry song upon his fiddle. By the end of the week, Nerida had begun to sing along with Lyr’s enchanting music.
“Another week?” she suggested, smiling, when their courtship was up. Lyr readily agreed, and his smile was so bright that Nerida thought one day she might grow to love him.

Three months had passed, and still Lyr courted Nerida, ever the smiling gentleman. One day, she visited him at the waterfall with a special message. She could already hear his cheery fiddle as she approached the flowing mass of water. It filled her with joy, and a happiness she thought she would never experience.
“Lyr!” she called, gazing up the waterfall.  The music stopped, and moment later his head popped out, and he grinned at the sight of her.
“Nerida, I did not expect to see you so early,” he smiled widely.
“I couldn’t wait any longer, I had to tell you,” she called back. “I love you!”
Lyr’s expression became one of elation. “You love me? And I you! Sweet Nerida, I am coming!” Lyr emerged at the side of the waterfall and began to clamber down the rocks, his fiddle slung on a rope over his back.
Without warning the rope snapped, and the fiddle fell onto the rocks below, splintering into a thousand pieces. Letting out a soft cry, Lyr fell down behind it. By some will of fate, his body plummeted into the water instead of falling onto the rocks. He did not resurface.
Nerida swam to pull him out, worried he was injured by the fall. But though she reached Lyr’s body, all the life had gone from it. For a Fossegrimm’s soul resides within his fiddle, and it is said that should the fiddle be destroyed, the soul will depart and the Fossegrimm will die. So happened to Lyr.
Nerida clung to his body and wept, knowing she had caused this. A Havsrå was not to know her fortune, and she had tried to see her own, thus destroying it.

Nerida spent the rest of her days alone within the waterfall, singing songs of mourning and lamenting on her foolishness. And that is why, should you hear a waterfall sing, you must turn away, lest a lonely Havsrå capture your heart, and her ill-fortune take your life.

And so ends story number two! I borrowed some mythical beings from Scandinavian folklore for this one :) Well, it would be a little boring if I'd only written about Selkie and Mermaids, wouldn't it?

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