marble stairs and leaves
leading into the canal
once boats rowed along
today the steps look so odd
perhaps a mermaid’s escape
Old Carp and the Mermaid
Many long years ago, ours was a fishing village. The men and boys would pull their boats out in the evening and with lamps tied to a pole sail into the middle of the lake and throw their nets, over and over again until they had a full haul, or dawn appeared. The mermaids would look after them, warning them if a storm was near.
Everyone has heard that mermaids are cruel selfish creatures, and that may be true of the sea creatures, I can’t say. However, lake mermaids are completely different. Our village used to celebrate the mermaids in September in honor of Jade. Jade, was the King of the merfolks own daughter. She was as lovely as a moon beam, had a voice as subtle as the wind and as sweet as a clear true bell. This is the story of how Jade saved her love from Old Carp, but don’t let me get ahead of myself!
Jameson, the old Count’s son, had decided that he too would be a fisherman. He was a sensitive lad, with dark somber eyes and blonde hair. His father was very upset that his son wished to renounce his inheritance to become a lowly fisherman, but Jameson just quietly insisted. He sailed each evening with a group of fishermen, the boat belonged to his best friend Giorgio. The fishermen sang as they threw out their nets. Jameson had the truest voice among them.
Jade with the other mermaids often rose to hear the fishermen sing and when Jameson sang, they would add their voices. The women and children at home in the village would sleep peacefully when the men and mermaids sang at night, because they knew the fishermen were safe.
Jade after a time grew to love Jameson and he her, though they knew their love was impossible. She’d look for him each night among the fishermen and when he sang she’d harmonize her voice to his. Both the fishermen and mermaids would stop singing and listen in delight.
On the deepest part of the lake, the fishermen refused to sail and the merfolk refused to swim. That was because a terrible creature lived there. Some said it was a dragon, others a huge serpent, but what really lived there was an ancient carp who’d grown larger than either a dragon or a serpent! He was a rancorous old fish and hated fishermen among all humans. He also hated the merfolk for having befriended the fishermen, he felt they were traitors. If I think about it, I suppose he had his good reasons, what do you think?
In any case, he never the really deep waters and the fishermen stayed away from his home, until one night in September. Enchanted by Jade’s and Jameson’s singing, Giorgio and his crew drifted onto the deepest part of the lake, the mermaids drifting with them. Old Carp, found the sound of those two voices to be terribly irritating. Slowly he rose to find out what all the ruckus was about. He couldn’t believe his eyes! Mermaids and fishermen right there in his home!
One of the mermaids saw him coming and gave the alarm! But it was far too late. Old Carp went right up against the bottom of the fishermen’s boat capsizing it throwing everyone into the water. Each mermaid grabbed a fisherman and Jade searched for her Jameson.
Old Carp was an angry sort, but he didn’t eat men, however he did like to drown them if he could. The mermaids were really too quick for him, but Jade had had problems getting to Jameson who’d drunk a lot of lake before she got to him and unlike the other fishermen was dead weight in his faint. Still, she was in shallower water and thought she was safe.
Old Carp, he’d come out of his depth and was near the shore where Jade was swimming and grabbed the end of her tail with every intension of pulling them back to the bottom of the lake with him. She of course would not drown, but Jameson surely would! She cried for help and battled fiercely to free her tail.
The mermaids’ cries of alarm had reached the King’s palace below the lake and his soldiers were swimming to help the maids and the men. Hearing Jade’s call, 5 of the king’s mermen swam to her aid. She had been able to keep Jameson’s head above water, but the damage to her tail and the pain were making her faint. With a fierce pull, she was able to break Old Carp’s hold, just as the soldiers arrived to assist her. Old Carp swam rapidly back to his home, pretty pleased with himself.
With the last of her strength, she swam into the moat canal of the Fortress. There were some stairs that led from the water to the center of the village. She pulled herself and Jameson up the stairs and laid beside him on the land. With her last strength she rubbed his breast, he vomited up the water he’d swallowed and began to breathe again though he was blue. The end of Jade’s beautiful tail was nearly gone. Villagers, soldiers, merfolk and fishermen surrounded them looking on with horror and curiosity.
The doctor soon came with the Count right behind him. The King with his healer also soon arrived. Sadly, the doctor and the healer shook their heads; their art could not save the two young lovers. A cry of painful mourning went up among the people of the lake and the village. The old women pulled at their hair and the mermaids keened in their pain.
Down from the mount the good lake witch flew to see what had happened. Her heart went out to the people and the young lovers and so she began to wave her arms and sing. The people stopped their wailing as the sound of her imperious voice rose as loud as a summer thunder-storm. Lightening flew from the sky and waves rocked the lake as though it were the sea. Then she went to Jade and pulled her tail. And lo! She had two legs like a human. The scaly tail she placed around Jameson’s chest and head. And lo! He began to breathe, his color again true and he opened his eyes. The merfolk and the villagers were so happy that they decided to feast and although the King was sad that his daughter could no longer live in his palace, he was thankful she was alive.
Jade and Jameson married and the mountain witch looked on from her high home sending them good fortune. Their children, which were half merfolk and half human could breathe underwater and visited with their grandfather often which made him very happy.
Jameson became Count when his father passed on to the next realm and was always a very good, wise and sensitive ruler. He was particularly sensitive to the problems of the fishermen as you can imagine and from time to time he would still go out fishing and singing with his Jade by his side.