Marinell, the Sea-Nymph’s Son by Jeanie Lang

Sometimes when the sun is rising on the sea and making the waves all pink and gold, the sailors whose boats are sailing out of the grey night fancy that they see fair ladies floating on the white crests of the waves, or drying their long yellow hair in the warm sunshine.

Sometimes poets who wander on the beach at night, or sit on the high cliffs where the sea-pinks grow, see those beautiful ladies playing in the silver moonlight.

And musicians hear them singing, singing, singing, till their songs silence the sea-birds harsh cry, and their voices blend with the swish and the rush of the sea and the moan of the waves on the shore.

The sailors tell stories of them, and the musicians put their songs into their hearts. But the poets write poems about them, and say:—

‘There are no ladies so fair to see as the nymphs whose father is a king.
Nereus is their father, and they are the Nereids.
Their home is under the sea; as blue as the sea are their eyes.
Their long, long hair is yellow like sand.
Their silver voices are like lutes, and they steal men’s hearts away.’

Long, long ago, one of these nymphs became the wife of a brave knight, who found her sleeping amongst the rocks and loved her for her beauty. Cymoënt was her name, and the other nymphs called her Cymoënt the Black Browed, because dark lashes and eyebrows shaded her sea-blue eyes.

The knight and the nymph had a son as strong and as brave as his father, and as beautiful as his mother, and Cymoënt called him Marinell.

‘My son must be richer than any of the knights who live on the land,’ said Cymoënt to the king her father. ‘Give him riches.’

So the sea-king told the waves to cast on the shore riches that they had stolen from all the ships that had ever been wrecked. And the waves strewed the strand with gold and amber and ivory and pearls, and every sort of jewel and precious stone.

The shore sparkled and shone with Marinell’s riches, and no one dared touch them, for Marinell had beaten a hundred knights in battle, and fought every man who dared venture to ride along these sands.

Cymoënt feared that as Marinell had won so many fights, he might grow reckless and get killed. Now Neptune, who was king of all the seas, had a shepherd who could tell what was going to happen in the future.

‘Tell me,’ Cymoënt said to him, ‘how long my Marinell will live, and from what dangers he must take most care to keep away.’

‘Do not let him go near any women,’ said the Shepherd of the Seas. ‘I can see that a woman will either hurt him very much, or kill him altogether.’

So Cymoënt warned her son never to go near any woman. And many ladies were sad because handsome Marinell would not speak to them, and the lovely lady Florimell was the saddest of all.

One day as Marinell proudly rode along the glittering sand, he saw a knight in armour that shone as brightly as the gold that the little waves had kissed.

‘I am Lord of the Golden Strand!’ said Marinell angrily, ‘how dare the knight ride on the shore that is all my own!’

He rode furiously up, and told the knight to fly.

But the knight was Britomart, the fair lady with a man’s armour and a man’s heart. She scorned his proud words, and smote him with her magic spear.

And Britomart rode away, leaving Marinell lying as if he were dead.

His red blood stained his armour, and reddened the little waves that crept up to see what was wrong. The water washed over his feet.

‘He is asleep,’ said the little waves. ‘We will wake him.’

But Marinell lay cold and still, and the blood dripped and dripped on to the golden sand.

Then the waves grew frightened, and the sea-birds screamed, ‘Marinell is dead, is dead ... dead ... dead....’

So the news came to his mother Cymoënt. Cymoënt and her sisters were playing by a pond near the sea, round which grew nodding yellow daffodils. They were picking the daffodils and making them into garlands for their fair heads, when they heard the message of the birds, ‘Marinell is dead, dead, dead.’

Cymoënt tore the daffodils from her hair, and fell on the ground in a faint. All her sister nymphs wailed and wept and threw their gay flowers away, and Cymoënt lay with white face, and her head on the poor, torn daffodils.

At last she came out of her faint, and asked for her chariot, and all her sisters sent for their chariots too.

A team of dolphins drew the chariot of Cymoënt, and they were trained so well that they cut through the water as swiftly as swallows, and did not even leave a track of white foam behind. Other fishes drew the chariots of the other nymphs, and Neptune, King of all the Seas, was so sorry for the sorrow of Cymoënt and the other Nereids, that he told his waves to be gentle, and let them pass peacefully to where Marinell lay on the golden strand.

When they got near where he lay, they got out of their chariots, for they feared that the dolphins and other fishes might get bruised and hurt by the rocks and pebbles on the shore. And with their strong white arms they swiftly swam to where Marinell lay, still and silent in his blood.

When Cymoënt saw her son’s white face, she fainted again, and when she had recovered from her faint, she cried and moaned so bitterly, that even the hard rocks nearly wept for sorrow.

She and her sisters carefully looked at Marinell’s wound, and one of them, who knew much about healing, felt his pulse, and found that a little life was still left in him. With their soft, silver-fringed mantles they wiped the blood from the wound, and poured in soothing balm and nectar, and bound it up. Then they strewed Cymoënt’s chariot with flowers, and lifted Marinell gently up, and laid him in it. And the dolphins, knowing to go quietly and swiftly, swam off with Cymoënt and Marinell to Cymoënt’s bower under the sea.

Deep in the bottom of the sea was the bower. It was built of hollow waves, heaped high, like stormy clouds. In it they laid Marinell, and hastily sent for the doctor of all the folk under the sea, to come and try to cure the dreadful wound. So clever and so wise was this doctor, that soon the nymphs could laugh and sport again because Marinell was well.

But Cymoënt was afraid that some other harm might come to him if he went on to the land. So she made him stay beside her, under the sea, until Marinell grew tired of doing nothing. He longed to gallop away on his horse, his sword clanking by his side, and see the green woods and grey towers of the land, instead of idling away the hours in a bower under the sea, where there was nothing for him to do, but to watch the fishes of silver and blue and red, as they chased each other through the forests of seaweed.

One day two great rivers were married, and all the sea-folk went to the wedding. A feast was given in the house of the Shepherd of the Seas, and while Cymoënt and the other nymphs were there, Marinell wandered about outside. For because Marinell’s father had been a knight and not one of the sea-folk, Marinell might not eat the food they ate.

While the feast went gaily on, Marinell heard piteous cries coming from under a black cliff. And when he listened, he knew that the voice was the voice of Florimell.

The wicked old Shepherd of the Seas had found her tossing on the waves in a little boat, and had taken her home to his deep-down caves to make her his wife. But Florimell did not love the old man. She loved only Marinell. So nothing that the shepherd could do would make Florimell say that she would marry him. At last, in a rage, he shut her up in a gloomy place under a dark rock, where no sunshine ever came.

‘She will soon grow tired of the dark and the loneliness,’ he thought, ‘and then she will give in, and become my wife.’

But Florimell would not give in. She was crying and sobbing when Marinell came to the rock, and he heard her say, ‘Marinell, Marinell, all this I suffer for love of thee.’

Marinell stood still and listened. Then he heard her say:—

‘In spite of all this sorrow, yet will I never of my love repent,
But joy that for his sake I suffered prisonment.’

Then she gave yet more pitiful sobs, for she was very sad and cold and hungry. Yet always she would say again, between her sobs, ‘I will never love any man but Marinell.’

Now Marinell had never in all his life truly loved any one. But when he heard Florimell’s piteous voice, and knew how she loved him, and how much she had suffered for his sake, his heart, that had been so hard, grew soft.

‘Poor little maid,’ he said to himself, ‘poor, beautiful little Florimell.’

No sooner had he begun to love Florimell, than he began to think of a plan by which to save her from the bad old shepherd.

At first, he thought he would ask the shepherd to let her go. But he knew that that would be no good. Then he thought that he would fight with the shepherd, and win her in that way. But that plan he also gave up. ‘I will break into her prison, and steal her away,’ he thought next. But he had no boat, and the sea flowed all round the rock, so that it was not possible.

While he still thought and planned, the marriage-feast came to an end, and Marinell had to go home with his mother. He looked so miserable that no one would have taken him for a wedding-guest.

Each day that passed after the wedding found him looking more and more sad. He could not eat nor sleep for thinking of Florimell, shut up in a dreary dungeon from which he could not free her. For want of sleep and food, and because he was so unhappy, Marinell grew ill. He was so weak that he could not rise, and his mother, Cymoënt, was greatly distressed.

‘The wound he got from Britomart cannot be rightly healed,’ she said. So she sent for the wise doctor of the seas.

‘The old wound is quite whole,’ said the doctor. ‘This is a new pain which I cannot understand.’

Then Cymoënt sent for a doctor who was so wise and so great that he was chief of all the doctors on the land. When he had examined Marinell he said, ‘The name of this illness is Love.’

Then Cymoënt begged Marinell to tell her which of the sea-nymphs it was that he loved.

‘Whoever she is that you love,’ she said, ‘I shall help you to gain her for your wife.’

So Marinell told his mother that it was no nymph of the sea that had given his heart a deeper wound than ever Britomart’s spear had dealt.

‘I love Florimell,’ he said, ‘and she lies, a dreary prisoner, in the darkest cave of the Herd of the Seas.’

At first Cymoënt was sorry, for she did not wish her son to wed a maiden from the land. But when she knew how much Marinell loved Florimell, she went to Neptune, the King of all the Seas, as he sat on his throne, his three-pronged mace in his hand, and his long hair dripping with brine.

To him she told all the tale of Marinell and Florimell and the wicked old shepherd.

And Neptune wrote a royal warrant, and sealed it with the seal of the Sea Gods, commanding his shepherd to give up Florimell at once to Cymoënt the sea-nymph.

Thankfully Cymoënt took the warrant, and swiftly swam to the shepherd’s sea-caves.

The shepherd was very angry, but all the sea-folk had to obey Neptune, so he sulkily opened the prison door and let Florimell go free.

When the black-browed Cymoënt took hold of the little white hand of the maiden her son loved, and looked on her lovely face, she was no longer sorry that Marinell did not wish to marry a sea-nymph. For no maiden in the sea was as beautiful or as sweet as Florimell.

She led Florimell to her bower, where Marinell lay so pale and weak and sad. And when Marinell saw Florimell standing blushing beside him, her hand in his mother’s, all his sadness went away and his strength came back, and the pain in his heart was cured.

And if you listen some night when the stars are out, and the moon has made a silver path on the sea, you will hear the little waves that swish on the shore softly murmuring a little song. And perhaps, if your ears are very quick, and the big waves’ thunder does not drown the sound of their melody, you may hear them whispering the names of two happy lovers, Florimell and Marinell.