|A Raft on the Lagoon, July 2014|
A Raft on the Lagoon
Long ago, not far from here, there was a lagoon, which has long since merged with the sea. Close to that sea there lived a Human sailor, who often sailed upon it with his little raft, which he had built himself. The sailor’s name was Irving, and his heart lay with a lovely Mermaid named Nerissa.
As Irving’s house was so close to the water, Nerissa was happy with the idea of marrying Irving, and when he proposed it so, her parents gave their blessing. Happily, they planned their wedding day, unaware that Irving had a rival for Nerissa’s affections in the shape of his best man, Conway.
Conway was also a sailor, and he was a very jealous man. He decided that he could not allow Irving and Nerissa to marry, for he wanted Nerissa for himself.
So a week before the wedding, when Nerissa had taken a trip away to prepare, Conway sabotaged Irving’s raft.
Irving did not notice that anything was wrong until the raft began to take on water, and by then it was too late. His little raft broke apart beneath his feet, and though Irving could swim well, rope became tangled about his legs and the raft pulled him down beneath the water. Irving’s last thoughts before he died were of his darling Nerissa, and that his life had certainly been brought to an end by an enemy. Irving’s dying wish was to exact revenge upon whoever had caused his death.
Nerissa was heartbroken at the loss of her husband to be. Conway was the first to step forward and offer his condolences. He patted Nerissa’s hand and promised to take care of her in Irving’s stead. Conway did not know that Nerissa was of the sea, though if he did he may not have treated her so well, for he was a greedy man and would have sold her for a great sum. Nerissa, though she could not tell why, never felt ready to admit the truth to Conway.
It was not long after Irving’s death that Conway proposed marriage to Nerissa, and though she turned him down, he persisted. Nerissa eventually accepted, albeit reluctantly.
On that day, a Draug appeared on the lagoon. His features were skeletal, his eyes sunken and his skin decayed and grey, mouth an eternal grin where most of his lips had rotted away. He sailed upon the lagoon on a little raft, and the only sound he made was that of wailing and sighing. For any that looked close enough to see the ghostly raft with its ghoulish passenger, the Draug’s identity was clear: it was Irving, back from the dead. He sighed for the distance death had placed between himself and his love, and he wailed for the souls he must reap in order to earn a happy place in eternity where he might wait for Nerissa.
Slowly, Draug-Irving began to cause the deaths of those that sailed upon the lagoon. Though his image was enough to frighten many away, there always came a brave and brazen young sailor willing to pitch his sails in a race against the Draug. But Draug-Irving on his spirit-raft was always that little bit faster, and one by one the sailors that raced him had their souls reaped and transported to the Otherworld.
The lagoon was deemed unsafe, and many a body was dredged up from its depths. The Merfolk that lived nearby kept a distance from the waters of the lagoon, not wanting to become involved with the Draug or the Humans on the surface, who might blame them for the deaths. They warned Nerissa to leave her life on the shores and return to the sea. Yet Nerissa liked the land, for it reminded her of Irving, and Conway treated her well.
One day, as Nerissa swam in the lagoon, Draug-Irving appeared to her. Though he was in a sorry state, Nerissa knew instantly that it was him.
“Irving!” she cried. “My darling!”
But the Draug could only sigh and groan.
“Oh…” Nerissa realised that he could not speak, and reached for his raft. Draug-Irving shook his head: if Nerissa touched the ghostly raft, she would die. “What happened to you, my darling Irving?” she wondered sadly.
Draug-Irving could only wail and point to the shore.
“I know, we were going to marry and live together,” Nerissa nodded, not comprehending Draug-Irving’s intention. “Our house was right on the shore, and we were going to have many children, and we were going to teach them to swim and to build rafts, and to speak to the fish and sail upon the sea.”
Draug-Irving groaned, pointing at the shore with more vigour. Nerissa glanced back and realised he was pointing at Conway’s house, a little way further from the water.
“Oh, yes. I am marrying Conway,” she nodded. “I am sorry my darling. He was most persistent. Without you, I felt it my only choice, though Conway does not want children.” Nerissa sighed.
Another wail escaped Draug-Irving’s mouth, and he sighed too. He placed his hand upon his heart, and disappeared.
“Wait!” called Nerissa. “Come back!”
But Draug-Irving did not return. He waited in the doorway to the Otherworld, pained and watching his love secretly. Seeing her had strengthened his determination to earn his happiness in eternity, through which he must either reap souls or destroy the one who had caused his death. Draug-Irving knew in his death that his killer was Conway, and intended to have his enemy die at the first opportunity.
However, Conway knew of Draug ways from the tales of other Humans, who had heard the truth from Mer-folk. He had already guessed that the Draug upon the lagoon was the spirit of Irving, and therefore Conway avoided sailing upon the lagoon at all costs.
When Nerissa told Conway that she had met Draug-Irving, he became worried.
“I do not want you to swim in the lagoon any longer,” he said.
“But I enjoy it,” said Nerissa.
“I do not care. Do not go there again, it is dangerous.” Conway turned away, signalling that his decision was final.
Nerissa, however, was not so easily dissuaded. She thought Humans were very backward in their ways, as most Human men believed themselves the rulers of Human women. Among Mer-folk, people were equal.
So whenever she was sure Conway had left to sail upon the sea, Nerissa went to swim in the lagoon. Many Humans thought she was mad, particularly as the lagoon was considered so deadly.
Draug-Irving appeared to Nerissa almost every time she swam, though their conversation was always short.
“I am soon to marry Conway,” Nerissa sighed one day.
Draug-Irving sighed too. He did not want his love to marry another, particularly not his murderer. Had Conway not interfered, he and Nerissa would now be married.
“I know, darling Irving, it should have been us,” Nerissa agreed. “I wanted to sail over the lagoon for our wedding procession, so that my family might watch secretly from beneath the water, but Conway refuses. He is frightened that the boat may sink.”
Draug-Irving’s face distorted into what Nerissa had come to know as a frown, and he nodded.
“Oh darling, I am sorry. I did not wish to bring up painful memories,” Nerissa pouted. “I still wonder what caused your lovely little raft to sink, for it was the most water-tight vessel I ever saw.”
Lifting his hand as he had many times, Draug-Irving pointed at Conway’s house, and wailed.
Nerissa looked at Conway’s house. “Yes, it is Conway’s house, and soon it will be my home...” Then she looked at her dead husband to be, thoughtful. He had been particularly persistent about Conway’s house, and always pointed there when they talked of his death. “…Your raft did not sink by accident, did it?” she asked fearfully.
Draug-Irving groaned angrily and jabbed his finger towards Conway’s house.
“Irving…Did Conway have something to do with your death?”
The Draug’s eyes rolled and he jabbed his finger towards Conway’s house one final time, head lolling as he tried to nod.
“He did...” Nerissa frowned. Conway had tricked not only her, but her love, and for that she would not forgive him. “Do not worry, dear Irving,” she said, voice trembling with anger. “I shall help you. Conway will be yours to do with as you wish.”
Draug-Irving placed a hand over his heart, and Nerissa smiled. “I know, I love you too,” she said sweetly. “This time next week shall be the wedding, my love. Be ready, for I shall bring Conway here.”
When Conway returned from working on the sea, he found Nerissa waiting for him at the dock.
“Nerissa, my dear, how glad I am to see you.”
Nerissa smiled at him, hiding her anger. “Hello dear Conway. I simply could not wait for you to return home, so I thought I would come to meet you.”
“How wonderful. We can walk there together,” said Conway, offering his arm.
“Yes.” Nerissa linked arms with him and smiled. “We shall be wed before the week is up.”
“Indeed we shall. Are you ready to become my wife?” Conway asked.
Nerissa allowed herself to giggle. “Oh Conway, what a silly question.” She smiled. “But I do have one thing to ask, nay, to beg of you. It would make me so extremely happy.”
“Of course, what is it my dearest?”
“It is about our wedding procession,” said Nerissa. “I know we have talked of it before, but I really do wish to ride with you across the lagoon, in a lovely little boat.”
“No, Nerissa. It is a silly idea.”
“But why? Do you not think it would be beautiful?” Nerissa asked.
“It is too late now,” Conway shook his head. “We would have to find a boat, and have it dressed for a wedding procession.”
Nerissa smiled. “I already asked within the town. We can borrow a boat, and my friends will decorate it for us.”
“My answer remains the same,” Conway replied stiffly.
“You would not allow me this one little wish?” asked Nerissa. “Dear, if you are unable to grant me a tiny wish such as this, perhaps I am misguided in consenting to marry you.”
Conway frowned. “Do you mean you shall not marry me if I do not allow your procession across the lagoon?”
“If that is how you wish to put it.”
They walked together in silence for a few moments. Eventually, Conway spoke up again. “Very well, you shall have your wish. We shall sail across the lagoon before we proceed to the church.”
Nerissa smiled brightly and hugged Conway’s arm. “Thank you, dear! You have made me very happy.” Deep down, she felt triumphant. Conway did not know what she had planned for him.
Conway meanwhile, had decided that he would not be under threat if he sailed with Nerissa. After all, the Draug would not harm his love.
The wedding day came, and Conway and Nerissa met at the shore of the lagoon, dressed for their union. Nerissa’s Human friends had dressed a little red boat with white flowers and lace, and it looked beautiful. She climbed into it with Conway and they set off across the lagoon.
Conway was clearly on edge, but Nerissa was relaxed. She smiled at him. “Isn’t this lovely?”
“Hm,” Conway glanced this way and that, nervous. “Yes.”
They had been sailing for several minutes before the man began to feel calm. He smiled suddenly, thinking himself silly for having worried so much. Of course nothing would happen!
But then Nerissa stood from her seat and leaned forward, pointing. “Look, Conway, there he is,” she smiled.
Up ahead, the ghostly raft appeared, with Draug-Irving upon it.
Conway gasped in fright, and stopped rowing. “Irving!” he exclaimed.
“How did you know it was Irving?” asked Nerissa, still smiling. “It could be any old Draug, but you think it him?”
Conway was too frightened to think up a response. He began to turn the boat around.
“Oh, you should not do that, my dear,” Nerissa smiled, and Conway noticed the gleam of danger in her eyes.
“Why?” he asked fearfully.
“You never turn around when you are in a race.” Nerissa sat down again.
“We are not racing, we are getting away from that thing,” Conway snapped, terrified.
Nerissa laughed. “But we are racing. I agreed with my darling Irving that we should race him across the lagoon. It looks as though he is winning.”
Utterly terrified, Conway began to row furiously towards the ghostly raft.
“Much better,” Nerissa grinned. She leant down to toy with the hem of her dress, and whilst Conway was not looking, she tangled his boots with the lace her friends had spread about the boat. Then she straightened, and waved to the raft.
Draug-Irving lifted his hand and turned the raft about.
“W-What is he doing?!” Conway gasped in horror, dropping the oars. “We shall collide if he does not stop!”
The raft sped toward them.
“That is the idea, murderer,” Nerissa uttered softly.
Conway’s eyes widened as he realised he had been found out.
“Do not be so surprised, the truth would have come out some day,” Nerissa smiled. “And so it ends, Conway. Over we go.”
The boat was only small, and Nerissa capsized it easily. But whilst she swam clear of the vessel, Conway found himself entangled.
Draug-Irving’s raft collided with the little boat with a horrible crack, and beneath it, Conway was knocked unconscious. Drowning, he sank to the bottom of the lagoon, where he died. Draug-Irving caught Conway’s soul and cast it into the Otherworld, where it would be doomed.
Draug-Irving’s work was done: he was freed from the shackles of Draugdom and could pass into eternity. But as he prepared to leave, a hand grabbed the edge of the raft.
Nerissa climbed onto the ghost-raft. “You must not go without me,” she said. She took him into her arms and he realised that she had decided to follow him into death long ago. As the raft began to sink, Nerissa kissed what remained of his lips. Then the little ghost-raft disappeared beneath the water, taking its passengers with it.
Upon the shore, those who had been watching the wedding procession gasped in shock, some fainting. What they saw was testament enough to the truth: they knew now that it was Conway who had caused Irving’s tragic death.
A year later, a small crowd gathered at the shore: Nerissa’s Human friends, who had come to pay their respects on the anniversary of her death. As they gazed across the lagoon, they witnessed a remarkable thing. For out on the lagoon, there sailed a ghostly little raft, and upon it stood Irving and Nerissa, spectral and pale, yet the most strikingly lovely bride and groom that any did see.The raft sailed smoothly across the water, ethereal and beautiful, until it disappeared into a ray of sunlight, never to be seen again.
Well, Conway got his just desserts. And Nerissa and Irving finally gained what they desired. Is this a happy ending? I suppose it is, kind of!
Read more Folk Tales of the Sea People