PHILOMENA AQUITAINE - MERMAID TALE
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The Enchanted Comb
By the shores of Grimney Lake was a small stone cottage, that stood isolated from all the houses in Riverfleet Dwellings. In the single room of the cottage lived a young girl called Adeliza and her old grandmother. Despite being poor, they never went hungry for they knew where to gather the sweetest berries, they caught the plump bronze fish that swam in Grimney Lake and had a coop of fat blue hens that laid warm eggs for their breakfast. Their garden was full of beautiful flowers and sweet scented herbs, which they sold to travelers as they passed on their way to Farfell Monastery.
Grimney Lake was a beautiful place, especially when the suns of Grimney shone brightly and the lake glittered silver and gold. What Adeliza loved best, however, was when the warm sunshine woke the exquisite mermaid of Grimney Lake and Cassandra rose lazily from it's surface. Mermaids love to be admired, and Adeliza's admiration was nothing short of worship. Cassandra basked in the young girl's admiration as if it were the sun and would gently wave her gleaming tail in a friendly greeting. Adeliza believed that her deity deserved more than just her admiration and so she gathered the most fragrant blossoms and scattered them on the lake for Cassandra. The mermaid was well pleased with this offering and glided elegantly through the crystal waters and took the flowers back to hair rock to braid them into her hair.
This friendship of sorts continued as Adeliza grew from a pretty child into an attractive women, with violet eyes and chestnut hair. However, as Adeliza grew into a woman, her grandmother grew old and weak, until gradually she died the quietest of deaths. Adeliza mourned her passing but despite her increasing loneliness, she would not leave her little cottage. She had a way with plants and soon her flowers gained a reputation in Grimney for being the loveliest in the land. People began to make journeys to the lake, just to buy her pretty posies for their loved ones and Adeliza grew to love the sound of footsteps approaching, bring company and stories from across the land. She still visited Cassandra weekly, presenting her with the best of the blooms and in return Cassandra would sing:
“Sweet flower girl my friend,
My thanks I give to you.
May our friendship never end,
Across my sparkling lake of blue.”
One day as Adeliza was putting together a wreath of flowers for Cassandra, the sound of footsteps jolted her. As she scurried to the door there was a purposeful knock and it opened. Before her stood a dark, handsome man dressed immaculately in scarlet.
“Are you Adeliza, the flower girl?” he demanded.
“I am indeed, good sir,” she curtsied, hardly daring to look into his face.
“I am Franzoga Drogaen,” he said imperiously. “I need some flowers for my lady love. Give me the best you possess and you shall be richly rewarded.”
For the first time, Adeliza allowed her eyes to move up to to Franzoga's face. It was proud but beautiful, blue-black curls framed his olive skin that lit up emerald eyes. Her heart began to beat wildly in a way she had never felt before. Franzoga noticed her trembling.
“Are you unwell?” Franzoga's voice became tender.
“No, no,” Adeliza squeaked and ran out into her garden to cut flowers for his bouquet.
After he left, Adeliza breathed a sigh of relief but the strange feelings this stranger had aroused within her could not be escaped. Adeliza found herself wondering where he had gone, whether his lady love had liked her flowers and if the lady in question was very beautiful, most of all she longed for him to return. It was a full moon cycle later that she heard his steps on her path again, she did not know how she recognised his tread but her body trembled in anticipation.
“Good morrow, fair flower girl,” he greeted her cheerfully. “The Lady Seraphina adores you flowers and I am here to fetch some more for her. Make seven of your prettiest posies,that is sure to impress her.”
“Will you take a small glass of mead while you wait? It is from the Monks of Farfell.”
Franzoga drank the mead, while Adeliza went to gather her pretty lillikins, rosewort and starblooms to make the Lady Seraphina's posies. He followed her to her garden and watched as she walked amongst the flowers; poor Adeliza's heart beat like a caged bird under his gaze. She wished that he would not stay but she dreaded him leaving. Franzoga seemed unaware of her distress as he asked her the name of the various flowers in her sweet garden. It was with a agonizing relief that she handed him the bunches of flowers and watched him leave.
Once he was out of sight she ran to the lake sobbing. Seeing her young friend so unhappy, Cassandra swam over to her and urged her to still her tears.
“Oh, it's no use,”Adeliza wept. “He is so far above me.”
“That is what he thinks,” Cassandra said soothingly.
“It is the truth and he shall never forget it!”
“Forget? Forget? Yes, that is what is needed,” the mermaid smiled and disappeared beneath the lake.
Adeliza watched the ripples where her friend had once been and attempted to dry her tears. The golden gleam of Cassandra's hair reappeared and her elegant features were triumphant. In her hand there was a silver comb studded with blue and pink pearls. She held it out to Adeliza.
“The answer to your woes, sweet flower child.”
“It is very pretty, but I don't think that I will make him love me just by combing my hair
“This is not an ordinary comb, it's enchanted,” Cassandra explained. “Comb your beloved's hair with this comb, and he will fall fast asleep. Once he wakes, he will remember nothing and you can create his memories with your words. It will last until the moons are at their fullest.”
The comb gleamed in the scarlet of the twin sunset, Adeliza reached out for it. Her eyes widened as she touched the shining teeth. She trembled with the possiblities. All Adeliza had to do, was for Franzoga to return.
The warm summer cooled into crisp autumn before Franzoga returned to the shores of Grimney lake to buy more blooms for Lady Serafina. The exquisite lady herself had insisted on his staying in Gollema, to stay by his side and laugh at her less fortunate admirers. Franzoga was not the sole recipient of Serafina's pert smile though; his constant rival was the wealthy Count Arrigatine who showered Serafina with furs and jewels as Franzoga did with flowers and silk gowns. The merchants of Gollema rubbed their hands with glee as they saw the love rivals approaching and the blue-haired Lady Serafina, never sated in her thirst for gifts, made their pockets grow fat. Although Serafina shone in her jewels and beautiful dresses, there were no flowers in Gollema to match the beauty of Adeliza's. Franzoga began to dream of the sweet garden, away from the dark, narrow alleys of Gollema but he did not trust Serafina not to marry Count Arrigatine in his absence. Lady Serafina became restless, bored with the gifts from Gollema and turned her attention to a different admirer who had brought her shoes from a gifted cobbler in Toraz. Count Arrigatine saw her love of the shoes and set off with speed towards Toraz and Franzoga headed towards Grimney Lake although he was dimly aware that his was satisfying his desire to return to the calm of the little garden rather than Serafina's love of flowers.
When the little stone house became visible in the distance, Franzoga felt the warmth of welcome recognition. As though on a malevolent spirits command, the blue skies turned a bruised purple and a storm raged. Franzoga arrived at Adeliza's home soaked and shaking. She ushered him in with tender concern. He shivered as she bustled around, bringing him honey-sweetened hayberry tea and searching through an enormous chest for some dry clothes of her dead father's. She blushed deeply as he changed behind her, imagining the warm skin free of damp clothes that were now drying by her fire.
“Do you have a comb?” Franzoga asked, now dressed like a simple woodcutter but still as beautiful a man as Adeliza had ever seen. “The storm has tangled my hair dreadfully.
Adeliza trembled. There were two combs in the house, her simple one of gnartleshell and the enchanted mermaid comb. Her fingers lingered on the honest gnartleshell but her eyes fixed on the gleam of the pearls of the enchanted comb. All she desired, she could have by this comb and her heart surrendered to temptation.
“Here,” she said holding the silver comb. “Let me comb your hair for you.”
“If you insist,” Franzoga said suppressing a sneeze. “But do be gentle.”
The teeth of the combs glowed a ethereal amaranthine light as Adeliza ran it through Franzoga's black curls. Almost immediately his eyelids drooped and he fell fast asleep. Adeliza covered her sleeping love with a blanket and sat by him, watching as he drifted through dreamless sleep. She quietly folded up his rich clothes and hid them deep in the oak chest. Outside the storm dropped, ending as quickly and unexpected as it had started.
The red fingers of dawn stroked Franzoga's face, waking him with it's gentle warmth. His lashes fluttered open like a baby bird trying flight for the first time. He looked around perplexed and tried to remember where he was; he was unsuccessful. Franzoga tried to remember his name and was again unsuccessful, it was as though all his memories had been drawn from his mind and yet he did not feel afraid. He looked across to where Adeliza slept in the armchair opposite him. Franzoga thought how sweet and pretty she looked asleep but could not remember her name, he reached over and touched her hand. The violet eyes opened wide and met his. Franzoga smiled and thought that her eyes were even lovelier than he had imagined.
“Good morning,” he said. “Do you know who I am?”
“Then perhaps you would enlighten me, my pretty lady,” Franzoga asked. “I don't know who I am or where this place is.”
“You are by the shores the silver lake of Grimney,” Adeliza said, her heart beating wildly. “You are home, dear husband.”
“Dear wife! How could I forget your lovely face? Pray tell me my name and yours.”
“You are the woodcutter Francis Drogge and I am your wife Adeliza.”
“Of course! Of course!”
With Adeliza's lies forming memories in his mind, Franzoga Drogaen spent a happy month living as Francis Drogge. He loved his young wife to distraction and was never happier than watching her tending to the flowers in her garden. She baked him fat bronze fish stuffed with sweet herbs and honey cakes with rosewort petals. He carved her intricate lovespoons with a skill that surprised them both. At night they sat, huddled together under warm blankets to watch the stars dance above them. Adeliza watched with dismay as the moons grew fatter.
The last morning before the moons had completely waxed, Franzoga woke from a vivid dream that made him uneasy. He felt as though the dreams were indeed memories seeping back into his mind. He looked over at Adeliza and felt comforted as he saw her lying beside her. Adeliza fluttered awake as Franzoga woke her with a tender kiss.
“I had such strange dreams last night,” he confided in her over breakfast.
“Really?” Adeliza felt sick as her heart pounded.
“In my dream I was a rich man, in love with a cruel beauty with hair the blue of your prettiest poppies. What a strange dream, I am glad it was not true.”
“A strange dream indeed,” Adeliza replied, close to tears. “Talking of poppies, I must take some down to Cassandra.”
The mermaid smiled at the delicate blue flowers and proceeded to plait them in her hair as Adeliza explained her predicament. Cassandra took her eyes from her mirror and stared at her friend in amazement.
“I has been a whole month, surely you are bored of him by now?” Cassandra asked.
“A month! How can you say such a thing. I shall love Franzoga for as long as I live, if not longer.”
“How extraordinary,” Cassandra remarked. “I had a cousin who swore to love a mortal for all eternity, it is not a story that has a happy ending.”
“But we are not talking about mermaids, we are talking about two humans in love,” Adeliza said impatiently. “What am I to do?”
“Well, I suppose you could comb his hair with the enchanted comb again. If in doubt, I always turn to a comb.”
So Adeliza returned to her stone cottage and waited until the suns began to set to comb Franzoga's black locks. The months passed much the same, as the mooned waxed she combed the memories out of Franzoga's hair and the month was passed in quiet, domestic felicity. Each time she grew more uneasy and after six months she knew it could go on no longer. Love under false pretenses can only remain sweet for a little time. As sunset fell and the full red moons burned in the sky, she left the enchanted comb where it laid and combed Franzoga's hair with the staid gnartleshell one for the last time. The moonlight hit Franzoga's head and in a tumble the enchantment broke. He stood up hastily and grabbed Adeliza by the wrists.
“Fie! Witch! What spell is this you have weaved? Answer me,” he demanded, eyes flashing with fury.
“I am no witch,” Adeliza sobbed. “I used a mermaid comb to take your memories, so you might forget who you were and love me as I love you.”
“You made me love you! You tricked me and made me live like a peasant. Where are my clothes? Fetch them now.”
Franzoga grabbed his scarlet clothes from the weeping Adeliza. As her past happiness dissolved, Adeliza collapsed on the floor and let the storm of grief wash over her, even in his anger he could not help feel a pang for her unhappiness. He thought how she had tricked him and the rage hardened his heart. He pulled her up to look at him.
“I should cut your head off for what you have done to me,” he held her like a rag doll. “If you ever think to use magic on me again, I will.”
He let her fall to the ground and set off back to Gollema to see what was left of his past life. The Lady Serafina, unused to being abandoned, first set out to punish him for his absence by coldness but when Franzoga responded with indifference Lady Serafina surrendered her heart to him absolutely and so Franzoga won her hand in marriage through lack of love rather than expensive gifts. Gollema was alive with excitement for the upcoming nuptials of the most handsome couple in the city. Fairy seamstresses were called to make the most beautiful wedding dress in Grimney, the cake was twelve layers high, and three gorgeous mermaids from the Dudrassa sea were called in to give advice on Serafina's hair and make-up. Franzoga wondered when it was that he had fallen out with Serafina. She was still as beautiful as ever but her bewitching wit seemed rather cruel and she seemed to talk of nothing except herself. Franzoga could not even savour his victory over Count Arrigatine, as the prize itself was too bitter. His mind strayed to the calmness of the lake, the sweet flowers of the garden and to the sweet face of Adeliza. Her memory caused him dizzying anger and hurt. Lady Serafina continued her wedding preparations, oblivious to her betrothed's true heart and was much put out to discover that the flower girl by Grimney lake was too ill to make her bouquet.
This is very much a work in progress. I will upload Part IV when the baby gives me time to finish it!
© PhilomenaAquitaine 2011