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The Water Maid

2006-07-09 01:17

  At the time when there was nothing in the Harz but virgin forest, a knight came here to hunt. Before he could orient himself, he became lost, and he wandered about for several days without finding a path.

  Finally he came upon a beautiful castle situated in a large meadow and surrounded with water. A pathway led to a drawbridge, which had been suspended.

  He called out; he whistled; he waited. He didn't hear anything from within. It was as though the castle had died out.

  “Wait,” he thought. “The castle cannot be empty. Someone will have to appear shortly. Just sit here and wait until someone comes.” So he sat and waited, but the castle remained silent. Finally his patience wore out, and he was just making preparations to leave when he saw a beautiful girl emerge from the forest and walk toward the bridge.

  “Wait,” he thought. “She knows her way around here. She is going inside.” And that is what happened. When she was within a few steps of him, he spoke to her, telling her that he had lost his way in the Harz Forest, that he had camped out eight days in the open, and that he was eager at last to spend a night under a proper roof. He had already sat here for three hours asking for admission, but no one had shown himself or let himself be heard. Further, he asked if she would be so good to ask permission for him to enter once she was inside.

  She said that that would not be necessary. He could come with her. She did not need to ask anyone for permission, for she herself was in charge here. With that she stepped on a stone that was mortared into the earth in front of the bridge, and the bridge immediately descended. Then she took out a large key and unlocked the gate. Together they walked though a large courtyard and into the castle.

  She led the knight into a beautiful room and asked him to make himself comfortable. She told him that before anything else, she wanted to go and prepare a proper evening meal. Surely he would like something hot to eat, she said, adding that she too was hungry. Because she had no servants, she would have to take care of everything by herself.

  With that she left the room. A short time later she returned with a beautiful roast, cakes, and many other delicious things. She set the table and invited her guest to help himself. He did not need to be asked a second time.

  After they had eaten, they sat together and talked with one another. The knight said that he felt sorry for the friendly girl, because she lived here all alone, observing that time must pass very slowly for her.

  “Oh no,” she said. “Time does not pass slowly for me,” adding that nonetheless she sometimes did wish for company, but if she did not have any, she could still manage just fine.

  The knight answered that if she did not mind, he would stay here a few days and keep her company.

  The hostess replied that she would be happy if he would do so.

  The guest remained one, two, three days, and they became so accustomed to one another that in the end the knight asked her if she did not want to become his wife. The girl was pleased with this, and she said that she would love to do so, if he would only promise her that every Friday she would be able to go out and do whatever she wanted to, and that he would not try to follow her or look after her. This he promised her, and they became a couple.

  They lived together a long time, satisfied with one another. They produced lovely children, and in their happiness they lacked nothing.

  One day a strange knight came and was given lodging. It was on a Friday, and he asked about the lady of the house, because she had not made an appearance. The master of the house told him that his wife was never to be seen on a Friday, and that he —— in keeping with his promise —— had never sought after her. With that the strange knight asked what kind of a housewife would not tell her husband where she could be found. Nothing good could come from such behavior.

  This conversation so alarmed the master of the house that he immediate set out to find his wife. After a long search, he finally came to the cellar, where he found a door. Opening it, he saw his wife, half fish and half human, swimming in a small pond. When she saw her husband, she cast a sad and serious glance at him, and then disappeared.

  The bewildered man went back upstairs to tell the strange knight what he had experience, but he too had disappeared. Now the poor man realized that he and his wife had been cruelly deceived and victimized by the stranger.

  He grieved so much for his good wife that he died soon afterward. The lovely children also died one after the other, and the castle fell into ruins. It is not even known where it formerly stood. Only the story remains.

  Germany The Harz is a forested, mountainous region in north central Germany. Its highest mountain, the Brocken, is —— according to legend —— the site of a great gathering of witches on the eve of the first day in May each year.

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