The Mystery Of Melusine

French



        Once upon a time, a French count and his son went on a boar hunt.  Near nightfall, the two stopped to light a fire in the woods.  As they were warming themselves, a wild boar charged out from behind the trees.  The count's son, Raymond, immediately drew his sword and struck the beast.  But the blade glanced off the boar and stabbed the count instead.
        Raymond cried out in horror and rushed to the aid of his father.  But it was too late; the count was dead.

        Raymond wept with sorrow.  Not only did he mourn the death of his father, but he also feared that his younger brothers would accuse him of murdering the count, for they were jealous of the inheritance that would be coming to Raymond when his father died.

        In grief and despair, Raymond mounted his horse and fled the scene. Soon he came to a moonlit glade.  A fountain bubbled in the middle of the glade.  Its silvery waters flowed over the pebbly ground and around the feet of three women.  Each woman had long, wavy hair and wore a shimmering white dress.

        Raymond could not believe his eyes -  was this a vision of angels?

        One of the women, amused by the look of astonishment on Raymond's face, stepped lightly towards him.

        "Who are you?" said Raymond.  "And where do you come from?"

        "I am Melusine, said she, and she put her finger to Raymond's lips.  "Ask me not where I come from, and I will not have to lie to you.  Just come sit by me and we will talk."

        Raymond was enchanted by Melusine.  He was flattered that she wanted to know him better.  As he sat with her all night, he told her about the terrible accident that had just occurred.

        "Return to your castle as if nothing had happened,"said Melusine.  "All the huntsmen have gotten separated from one another.  When you arrive alone, no one will suspect that you were actually with your father when he died.  Since his body will be found near the dead boar, everyone will think he fell on the animal's tusk."

        Raymond was calmed by Melusine's advice.  He had never talked with anyone who was more wise or charming.  At dawn, as the fountain glimmered with rosy sunlight, he asked her to marry him. 

        "I will marry you," she said, "but only if you give me the land near this fountain and build a castle here for me.  Then you must let me spend every Saturday in my castle alone.  No one can intrude upon me that day."

        Raymond agreed to Melusine's strange request.  Then he returned home.  He followed her advice, and all was well.  No one ever suspected that he had killed the count.

        Soon afterwards, Raymond came into his great fortune, and he married Melusine.  After the splendid marriage ceremony, she said, "Now remember. You must never intrude on my privacy on Saturdays.  If you do, we will be separated forever."

        Melusine named her castle Lusignan, and the villagers called her the Lady of Lusignan.  She was greatly loved and admired by all even though, over the years, she gave birth to many monstrous looking children.

        No one could figure out why Raymond and Melusine's children were all so hideous.  Raymond wondered if his wife's secret had anything to do with the children's strange appearances.  Their first son had one red eye and one green eye.  Their second son had one eye higher on his face than the other. Another son had long claws and was completely covered with hair.  And another had a boar's tusk protruding from his jaw. 

        In spite of their deformities, all of their sons grew up to be outstanding men.  Some went into the priesthood; some became warriors.  Though Raymond was puzzled about his children's odd appearances, he was proud of their great accomplishments.

        Indeed, Raymond felt very lucky.  His love for his beautiful wife never diminished.  He tried his best to be good to Melusine, and he always kept his promise not to disturb her on Saturdays.

        One Saturday, however, one of Raymond's jealous brothers came for a visit.  "Where is Melusine?" he asked.

        "You know she keeps only to herself on Saturdays," said Raymond.

        "Ah, you must listen to me," said his brother.  "Some are spreading strange stories about her.  You should follow her one Saturday and find out what she does."

        "Oh no. I would never do that," Raymond said.  "She will leave me if I spy on her."

        "But everyone is trying to guess her secret," said Raymond's brother. "Some say a prince visits her castle on Saturdays.  Some say she is a witch and meets with other witches on Saturdays." 

        Raymond ordered his brother to leave him in peace.  But once he was alone, he could not banish suspicious thoughts from his mind.  By Saturday, he was burning with desire to know Melusine's secret.  Soon after she left the

house, he decided to sneak over to her private quarters.  He crept through the woods to the castle of Lusignan.  When he arrived, he stood alone in the woods to watch for her.

        Raymond saw no sign of Melusine or anyone else for that matter.  No witches cackled; no foreign prince cavorted with her on the castle grounds. Indeed, there was a lonely feeling in the air: The fountain waters were still; the birds, silent.

        Raymond almost went home.  But his brother's words tortured him.  He crept closer to the castle, then slipped through the front door.  There was no sign of Melusine in the empty passageways; no sign of her in the empty kitchen quarters or the great hall.

        Raymond tiptoed up a winding staircase.  He did not find Melusine in her bedroom chambers or in the spinning room.  Finally, the only room he had left unexplored was Melusine's dressing room.

        The door to the room was locked.  With his heart pounding, Raymond peeped through the keyhole.  Then he gasped in horror.

        Melusine was bathing in a large bathtub.  The entire lower half of her body had changed into the huge blue tail of a fish!  The scales of the fish tail shone in the sparkling sunlight.

        Melusine was laughing with joy as she splashed about in the tub.

        Trembling with shock, Raymond scrambled down the stairs.  He ran out the front door and raced through the woods.

        When he arrived home, Raymond had resolved never to tell anyone what he had just seen.  Oddly enough, his horror of losing his beloved wife was greater than his horror of discovering her astonishing fish tail.

        Raymond spent the rest of that evening trying to compose himself.  When Melusine returned, just past the stroke of midnight, he greeted her as if nothing unusual had occurred.

        Time passed, and Melusine did not seem to know that Raymond had peeked through the keyhole of her dressing room door.  But one day terrible news reached the castle.  One of their sons-the on with the boar's tusk-had attacked a nearby monastery and killed over a hundred monks.  One of those murdered was his own brother. 

        When Raymond heard of the disaster, he sunk into a deep sorrow.  What grieved him most was that one of his sons had died at the hands of another.  At first, he wondered if this was punishment for his having accidentally killed his father.  But then he began to wonder if perhaps this horrible event was punishment for Melusine's secret.

        Once this suspicion took hold, Raymond could not shake it loose. Finally, when Melusine was trying to comfort him, he blurted out, "Away from me, you hateful serpent, destroyer of my kindred!"

        Upon hearing these words, Melusine fainted.

        Immediately, Raymond was filled with regret, and he desperately tried to revive his wife. When she woke, she began weeping.  She embraced him and said, "Oh, my love, I must leave you now, for my privacy has been violated. You have stolen my deepest secret."

        And with a wail of agony, Melusine rushed out of her house, leaving her footprint on the last stone that she touched. 

        That night in the nursery, a maid beheld a glimmering figure standing near the cradle of Raymond's youngest child.  The figure looked like Melusine, though from the waist down she had a scaly blue fish tail.

        The children's maid was so captivated by her vision that she was unable to cry out for help.  At dawn she watched the mermaid kiss her child good - bye, then slip away.  Melusine never again returned.

        The castle of Lusignan stood empty in its lonely spot near the great fountain.  For many centuries thereafter, villagers believed it to be haunted by the ghost of the vanished countess who was half human and half fish.

From: Mermaid Tales From Around The World
By: Mary Pope Osborne
Illustration: Troy Howell