A talented young girl begins catching more than fish.
|The string swayed slightly under a gentle breeze, while Fraulein Adeline hummed to herself. She could not forget how her voice captivated the most beautiful men in the village, how proud her father looked when she sang, nor all the furtive glances she took from jealous wives.
And why shouldn't they be jealous?
She smiled, believing she could almost hear even the wind singing back to her from across the top of the water. Adeline's line grew limp, and so she continued to hum as she pulled her slack in. Relaxed against the cool air and breathing easy breaths, she let her eyes fall closed.
To Adeline's joy and surprise alike, a fair sized bass jumped and landed in the weeds at the edge of the bank.
"Oh, you've given up too easily! I decline your resignation."
She smiled, leaned forward, and watched the fish lie motionless.
"Well, go on then. Lose fair and square."
The fish lay still, moving only its gills. The young girl watched and waited for him to right himself. She swayed in the cool and gentle breeze. The fish's mouth occasionally opened, as if he were pausing to say something and then thinking better of it. The sun brought the green and silver which ran along his body to life, glistening first this way and then another.
“Herr, you are simply too forward.”
Adeline leaned toward the fish, scrunching her face into a taunt as children sometimes do.
“I take my leave of you.”
The wind picked up harder and, as if he could understand her, the fish flopped itself back into the pond.
Adeline had just turned fifteen and knew that her father would expect her to marry soon, but she was not worried. Adeline would have her choice of any man she wanted. She moved easily among them with her talent and grace, and especially with her beauty. Her skin lay pale like the finest ivory and softer than sky. Her eyes shone such a deep green that a man could (and many did) fall so far into them as to be trapped forever. She stood taller than most women and yet still more slender, with tender blonde hair falling in pigtails to her thighs. Even Adeline fell in love with herself upon occasion.
Her father bore no exception to his daughter's charm, bending to her wishes like a willow branch. Everything he could provide for his daughter (within his meager means) was hers as she asked for it. Today, though, he had an agenda of his own.
“Ah, Babyen! My dearest Adeline, where are your fish?”
“I caught nothing, my beloved father, but a love for the Autumn breeze.”
“Have no worries, my Babyen. Would you believe that Dreogan has brought us a rabbit? You truly are the son of your father, and a fine young man, now.”
“Thank you,” the tall and strong Dreogan answered, “and I only hope I can be so strong and lucky as to raise a family as beautiful as yours, Herr.”
“What a surprise!” Adeline said quickly. “And what is the occasion, Herr Dreogan?”
“There is no occasion, Fraulein. I simply hunted more than my family could eat and remembered how excellent your father has been to me, and how excellent his daughter can sing.”
“Ah, yes, Babyen, can you sing a song for Dreogan? He has, after all, brought us a fine dinner.”
“Oh, father,” she whined while nodding to each of them in turn, “Herr Dreogan. I am afraid I have had a small rasp in my voice since yesterday, and that if I do not rest my voice it my grow worse instead of better. I will have to oblige you two fine men another time.” With that, she smiled and curtsied. “May I be excused to rest after this hard day, my beloved father?”
“If you don't think that will be too difficult for you, my Babyen, then rest as much as you please. Do bring this home and start a stew for me, and thank Herr Dreogan before you go.”
“Oh, Herr Dreogan, this will make the finest stew. I do hope to see you again!” Even as Adeline bid this farewell, she was already walking away.
Both men, defeated, watched her walk away.
Adeline's fishing hole lay just on the edge of the forest. She returned with her line and hooks, having no intentions of playing hard-to-get with her prey. A creek ran along the treeline, wide, muddy, and waist deep most of the way through. She knew a crossing that would keep her clothes and her well-kept hair out of the water, and only one hundred yards past it was a small pond buried just into the treeline. She was not sure how deep it was, but knew that other children would sometimes dive into it from the trees and never touch the bottom. Dreogan's older brother had drowned this way, though the pond was no wider across than three feet and the water was still despite being fed by the creek. Because of this, any child who was not afraid to swim in the pond was scared instead of the consequences of his parents finding out he did so. Thus did the pond become a favored and quiet fishing whole.
“When the wind should blow my way,
and when the sky should hear me pray
and answer with a warm regard,
my Babyen will yield her heart.
My love in all eternity,
my Babyen, please come to me...”
That voice! Adeline had never heard anything like it, had never imagined that she would hear someone sing so beautifully. She ran forward to her pond to see what man could make such sound.
The girl was far from disappointed. The man was tall and young, with black hair and a strong chin. He wore expensive clothes with buttons and lace, and his figure was strong and agile.
Adeline slowed to walk as she approached the pond and saw the man pulling in a fish as he sang. A bass much like the one she missed yesterday, it flopped through the air as he threw it into a wooden bucket.
“Excuse me, Herr, but I believe you are a stranger here!”
The man was startled for a second, and then several seconds more when he saw the fair girl who accosted him.
“Fraulein! I beg your pardon?”
“I should be the one to decide who and how I pardon, and you should be kind enough to introduce yourself to a lady before you fish her pond.”
“Haha, how could I be so rude! I am Daegal, and I was hither unaware that this pond was property to anyone.”
“It is for the people of my village, and I speak for them when I say that you are not from my village, Herr Daegal.”
“No, Fraulein, and they are right for saying so. I've come from afar to visit, you see – I heard a tale from a traveler that in this part of the world, there was a young lady with a talent and beauty that could compare to my own. Then I heard from the towns of this part of the world that there was such a woman in this village. So, you see, I have come to this village to find her, and make my own mind of these tales.”
“You have come to the right place, Herr, but I am afraid there is no comparison. I heard you sing as I approached, and I know that you cannot compare to the beautiful Adeline.”
“Ah, but surely you heard someone else, Fraulein. My singing is famous across the world, and there is none better.”
Adeline smiled and thought for a moment. “If it was not you that I heard sing, Herr, then you would not recognize the song that I heard?”
“No, you are right that I would not.”
“And if you do recognize the song and it is your own, and your voice was the voice I heard, then you are wrong, and you then know that the fair Fraulein Adeline is truly beyond compare, is this right?”
Daegal returned the smile, happy to play Adeline's game.
“Nearly, Fraulein. If I did recognize my own song and know that you heard my voice, then I would know only that you believe this fair Adeline to have a talent beyond mine.”
“Then, most famous Herr Daegal, I offer against your confidence this challenge. If you do in fact recognize your own song, then you must at least admit that I was right if you will not admit you were wrong. And for forcing me to prove that I am right that I heard your voice and I do not believe that your voice better than hers, then if the song I sing is your song then you will give me your fish.”
“A wager! My, you are an amazing young woman. I accept your terms, Fraulein, but only on the condition that you will, if I do not recognize my own song, accept and forget this contest and join me to swim in the beautiful waters of your village before leaving me to fish them unaccosted.”
“We have a deal, Herr Daegal. Now, I believe it went like this- “
Adeline poised herself to sing, closing her eyes with her hands held together. Soft, slow, and quiet, like a wind whispered kiss across the neck of one's lover, she sang,
“My love, in all eternity
my Babyen, please come to me...”
When she opened her eyes, Draegal stood with his bucket held toward her.
“You trickster, you temptress, oh you scoundrel, you are Fraulein Adeline herself!”
“Yes, Herr Daegal, I have been her the whole time!”
“You have won your wager, fair girl, and my heart as well. Please have this, or anything else I could ever give you.”
“You are too kind, Herr Daegal. Your are beautiful in talent and virtue as well, and I am sure I would love to hear you sing again.”
“Ah, then let us swim! And I shall sing as much as you like, Fraulein Adeline!”
“Oh, Herr.” She smiled and shook her head, replying, “I should have the love of any man I could want, you cannot win my company nor affection so easily.”
“You are most right, Fraulein. Let me, then, implore you to let me try again to take your heart? Surely you can be won some other way?”
“Meet me, Herr, at this spot tomorrow. Come with your line and hook, and we will make a new wager.”
“Are you to wager your heart, my dear?”
“Only my hand, Herr. We will each catch one fish, and if your fish is bigger than mine then you shall afford my hand in marriage.”
“And what should you expect should I lose, Fraulein Adeline? What could I give that could compare but my own arm and leg?”
“If I should win, Herr Daegal, then you shall afford my travel and leisure to any places I should wish for an entire year, and whatever I will to have or do when I am there.”
It was Daegal's turn to shake his head. Smiling, he replied, “This is a small village, is it not?”
“That,” she replied, with her hands on her hips and a determined expression on her face, “is a fact, Herr Daegal.”
“Dreogan! Herr Dreogan!”
The young man was working in the mill, preparing boards for his father's barn.
“Fraulein! I did not expect to see such a fair face here.” He turned from his work to wipe the sweat from his brow and return her short hug. “To what do I owe such a sure pleasure?”
“Oh, Herr Dreogan,” she quipped playfully, “you are too kind. I simply remembered that I promised to sing for you, and would not wish to neglect such a fair obligation after you lent so strongly to a splendid stew.”
“Fraulein, such kind justice is not necessary, I had forgotten all ab-”
“Oh but I just must return the favor. In fact, I learned a new song just today that is simply the most beautiful thing I have ever heard.”
“I am truly blessed to have your company today, Adeline. Will you sing for me now?”
“I would love nothing more than to sing for such a fine man as you at such fine work as this, but I still have the slightest bit of rasp left unhealed. I have heard a cure, though, and if you can deliver this cure for me I can finally oblige you my debt.”
“Anything, just say the word!”
“I caught the rasp while fishing, this is what I told your aunt. And your aunt told me, she said that I must give back to nature to be cured. Dreogan, oh fine Dreogan, I need to tie a fish on a string and leave it in the pond where I was fishing, but I must hide the string so that nobody can see it!”
“I've never heard of such a thing, why d-”
“I asked the same thing, but I know as well as you that your aunt would never tell such lies. I am not so skilled that I can catch a big enough fish to suit this cure, and I worry that I may never be able to sing your song.”
“I suppose I cannot leave such a beautiful voice to be unheard forever, nor disappoint so fair a lady. Whatever you need, I will oblige,most beautiful Adeline.”
“Oh, thank you, Herr Dreogan!” she exclaimed, leaning into him and kissing his cheek. “Only you could catch a big enough fish to solve my woes.”
Adeline finished explaining how her “cure” should be prepared, then parted ways with a kiss to his other cheek.
It had been a long day, but Dreogan was exceptionally pleased to finally pull in one of the biggest bass he had seen in months.
Surely this will please her, and she will remember me when she decides to choose a husband.
Dreogan knew the pond too well, but had never gone back since he watched his brother drown. He had yet seen it countless times in his nightmares, full of monsters and the bodies of loved ones not yet past, or the bodies of people he did not yet know. Much like these nightmares, Dreogan walked into the forest opening to find somebody floating in the water.
“Ho! Come out of there, I beg you! This is no place to swim!”
The figure didn't move.
“I said come out of there!”
Dreogan covered the distance to the bank in no time, and pulled the person toward him. He was deathly pale with dark hair, and he wore finer clothes than Dreogan had ever seen. A sudden chill came over him.
The body frolled while Dreogan pulled it to him. The man's face bore the chiseled jaw and piercing eyes that his brother had worn before he died. The man grabbed his hands with the strength of a dead man, then began a slow descent into the pond's depths.
Dreogan could only cry.
“Herr Daegal! Herr Daegal!” Adeline ran the whole way to the pond, replaying her plan over and over again.
“Fraulein! I'm afraid I have started without you, and that you are in for a difficult contest.”
Daegal laid with his head against a tree and a scarf over his head, a complacent smile on his face and an enormous bass hanging from the tree above him.
“This is no fair, you cheater! You did no come into the village for the night, how do I know you have not been fishing all night and throwing the little ones back?
“You have my word, on all my honor, Fraulein.” He grinned. “Is that not good enough?”
“Oh, you! I should-”
“You should very well hope you are a talented fisherman.”
“Fine. So long as I catch a bigger fish from this pond, I still win our wager?”
“My word is my pride.”
Adeline scaled carefully around the bank of the pond to the root she had described to Dreogan. She began looking for the line.
“What are you doing, Fraulein? Did you mean to lose this wager all along?”
“Not at all, Herr, I had simply prepared for your cunning.”
Adeline found the line, tied off just under the surface. It did not come up without much effort, which pleased Adeline.
“Oh, fair Fraulein, do you mean to say you cheated too?”
She smiled wide, pulling the enormous weight up closer and closer. Dreogan's fish was so heavy that she had to be careful not to break the line.
Daegal smiled, closed his eyes, and laid back down.
Between her hands she felt the slimy, pale tissue of Dreogan's face, his eyes eaten out by animals and pieces of his skin missing. His hair came loose where she held it and his mouth hung open, forever open. She threw it back in and fell backwards in panic.
“What have you done? What have you done!?”
Adeline screamed, and finally opened her eyes to face the stranger. He was no longer under his tree, nor was he approaching her. In face, Adeline could not find him at all.
“I do not believe that was a fish, which means that I win and you shall be my bride.”
She turned to face him, but still could not see him.
“Where are you! Come to me!”
“Yes, my Babyen.”
The wind picked up to a light breeze, then a cool whip, until it chilled like Bitenfrost and stung like needles. Dark clouds blew in with it, obscuring the sun until the glade would have been lit as well with candles. The pond began to steam, and then boil. Daegal emerged from its violent waters, crawling out onto the bank His head was bald and his skin was a smooth grey, and he had two short horns which curved backwards. His ears were pointed and wrinkled like his face. His nose was crooked. His eyes were solid black. His lips were thin above a black goatee. His muscles were bare and sinewy while his nails were so long they curled into themselves like the horns of a goat. His hands and toes were webbed, his feet were clawed. He was eight feet tall and his teeth were each two inches long, with his mouth long enough to accommodate them. He had gills between his ribs, and his loin hung down to his knees. The Nøkken rose slowly to his feet, watching young Adeline while she shook and cried. Then he began to sing.
“My love, in all eternity,
my Babyen, swim with me...”