Don't Ever Look At A Mermaid

English Story From Cornwall

        Once there was a young fisherman called Lutey, who one day met a mermaid face - to - face.  Now, that's a rare thing to happen to anyone.  And it's rarer still to meet a mermaid and live to tell about it. But Lutey did.

        Lutey lived in a cottage overlooking the sea, together with his wife, three lively sons, and a large, brown, lolloping, and most affectionate dog named Towser.  And it just so happened that one morning Lutey went for a stroll on the beach, with Towser lolloping at his heels.

        The tide was out, and the rippled sands were still wet.  The waves were lap - lap - lapping as they rolled ashore.  Then, all of a sudden, Lutey heard a strange, mournful cry: "Aaa-ooooo!"  The sound came from behind a pile of rocks that jutted out onto the shore.   What could it be?

        He hurried forward.  Behind the rocks was a shallow pool, fringed by more rocks and separated from the sea by a wide stretch of sand.  Lutey gasped. He couldn't believe what he saw.  There, on one of the rocks, sat a mermaid.  She was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. Her skin was as white and smooth as marble.  Her hair was long and golden.  And she had a wonderful, curving, greenish-blue tall that shimmered softly in the morning sun.

        As soon as she saw him, she called out, "Have pity, good man, and help me."

        Lutey knew that mermaids were unlucky creatures.  He knew the fishermen's saying: "Don't ever look at a mermaid!"  But she was so beautiful he couldn't take his eyes off her.

        "My name is Lutey," he said, "but who are you?  And how can I help you?"

        "I am Morvena," she answered.  "And I've been sitting here so busy combing my hair and gazing at myself in the water that I didn't notice the tide go out.  Now I can't get back to the sea unless ... unless, Lutey, you carry me across the sands.  If you do, I'll pay you well."

        Lutey laughed.  "What can you possibly give to me?"

        "I can give you three wishes," she answered.

        "Three wishes!  Oh!  I know what I want.  I've often thought about it!" exclaimed Lutey.  "Not money. No.  Nothing like that."

        "Think carefully," said the mermaid.  "Very carefully.  Then choose what you want."

        "What I would like," said Lutey quietly, "is the power to heal people when they're sick, the power to make them well and strong again."

        "A healer.  The gift is yours," she said.  "And what else?"

        I would like," he said, "the power to break wicked spells that make folk so angry they end up quarreling and hurting one another."

        "A peacemaker.  The gift is yours.  And one more?"

        I would like these powers to continue after I die," said Lutey.  "I would like them to pass down through my family, forever."

        "The gift is yours," said the mermaid.  "So now carry me to the sea."

        She - reached out her white arms and wrapped them around Lutey's neck.  But as he lifted her, Towser began to whine.  It was a long, low, eerie whine.

        Lutey became afraid.  "How can I know you won't harm me?" he asked.

        Morvena touched her hair and took out a golden comb, all

    delicately patterned and set with tiny pearls.  "Take this as a token," she said.  Then she smiled at him, and Lutey forgot his fear.

       "That's a real beauty!" he said as he slipped the golden comb into his trouser pocket, where he kept various odds and ends-some string, a pocketknife, and so on.

        Then Morvena began to sing.  She sang about secret caves and enchanted palaces under the sea.  She sang about a life free from pain, death, and sadness.  As though in a dream, Lutey began to walk across the sands, his dog, Towser, following and whining.  But Lutey had ears only for the mermaid's songs.

        Lutey reached the sea and waded in. But now Towser didn't follow.  He stayed at the water's edge, still whining.

        Lutey waded on, and when the water came to the top of his legs, he said to the mermaid, "Now you can swim off," he said.

        "Deeper, deeper," sang Morvena.  "Take me deeper."

        Lutey waded out farther until the water reached his waist.  "Now swim off," he said.  

        But Morvena only sang, "Deeper, deeper ... take me deeper."

        Lutey waded out until the water reached his shoulders.  I can go no farther," he said, trying to lower her into the water.  But she wrapped her arms more tightly around his neck and wound her tail about his legs.

        "Come, come ... come with me," she sang in his ear.  She sang and sang, until the only thing Lutey wanted was to go with her.

        And then Towser barked.  Again and again he barked, loud and fierce, until the shore echoed with his barking.  At last Lutey heard him and looked back.  He saw his large, brown, lolloping, and most affectionate dog by the water's edge.  Lutey looked beyond and saw his three lively sons and his own dear wife standing by the cottage door.

        "Let me go!" he cried.  I cannot leave my family to come with you!"

        But Morvena only tightened her grasp and tried to pull Lutey's head down into the water.  Lutey struggled, but though the mermaid was light and seemed quite fragile, her power was greater than his.

        Yet there was something Lutey could do.  He felt in his trouser pocket and pulled out his knife.  He flicked it open and held it above the water.  "By the power of iron," he cried, "let me go."

        Immediately the mermaid loosened her hold.  "Ah, Lutey," she sighed, "you were cleverer than I thought.  You knew that the power of iron is greater than all enchantments."  Slowly she swam around him. "Farewell, my lovely man," she said.  "Farewell for nine long years ... and then we shall meet again."  And saying that, she sank beneath the waves.

        Lutey was trembling all over.  It seemed as if his strength had been sucked out of him.  But he took a deep breath, slipped his pocketknife back into its usual place, and waded toward land.

        When he reached the shore, there was Towser lolloping around him, leaping up and wagging his tail and licking him all over.  Lutey patted him fondly.  "Good dog!" he said.  "Without you I would have been lost!"

        Of course, when Lutey reached his cottage, soaked to the skin, his wife was surprised.

        What happened?" she asked.

        "It's a long story," answered Lutey.  "Wait until I'm warm and dry, and then I'll tell it."

        A little later, sitting by the fire, Lutey told his wife and his wide - eyed sons about his experience with the mermaid.  At the end, he took the golden comb out of his pocket.

        "So it really happened," whispered his wife.  "But the three wishes - I wonder, will they come true?"

        They did.  Lutey discovered that whenever anyone fell sick, somehow he knew what herbs and juices and powders to mix together to make the right medicine.  Even his touch had healing power.

        Besides this, whenever quarrels and fights broke out, people came to Lutey, and somehow he knew the truth and could make peace among them.

        News of Lutey's gifts spread far and wide.  Men, women, and children traveled many miles to seek his help.  Lutey gave it freely, so he never grew rich.  He just stayed a fisherman who loved the sea, and as his sons grew older, they too became fishermen.

        Nine years passed.  Nine happy years.  But then, late one evening, Lutey went out fishing with Tom, his eldest son, in their small boat.

        The sea was calm and still ... until, without any warning, a gigantic wave came rolling toward them.  Lutey and Tom held on tight while the wave tossed their small boat up and down.  As soon as the wave had passed, a mermaid rose up from the water.  It was Morvena.

        "The time has come," she sang.  "Now you are mine, Lutey, my lovely man."

        Slowly, silently, Lutey rose to his feet, plunged into the water, and was gone.  And slowly, silently, the mermaid too sank beneath the waves.  The last Tom saw of her was her long golden hair floating across the water, and then that disappeared as well.

        Lutey himself was never seen again.  But from that time on, Tom, his eldest son, had the gift of healing, and he too became a peacemaker.  And these gifts passed down through Lutey's family - even to this day.

        But Morvena claims a high price for those gifts.  Every nine years, as regularly as the sea tides, one of Lutey's descendants is lost at sea and never returns.  Perhaps they all go to join Lutey and the mermaid in the enchanted world underwater.  No one knows for sure.

From: Mystical Birds And Beasts From Many Lands
By: Margaret Mayo
Illustration: Jay Ray