This story is by Beth Ginard and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
In a land of mist there lived a young girl named Marina. She lived with her father on the ever-stretching cliffs by the sea. Both were simple folk who enjoyed their solitude. They farmed a small piece of land. Her father was sad because his young daughter was getting older and more beautiful every day. She would soon marry and he would be left alone.
He was also frightened for his daughter, because he didn’t want her to be tricked into marrying some undignified swain. He warned her every day to make sure she never took a favor from anyone passing by. If a man tried to give a lady henna wrapped in henbane, he could ask for her hand in marriage and she wouldn’t be able to refuse.
He also told her to be wary of the Sea Nix, a creature that lived below the depths of the water and would come to the surface to steal humans into the sea. The Sea Nix would disguise himself as a magnificent white horse and lure its victims onto its back for a ride. The rider would not be able to get off the horse and would be dragged into the sea and drown.
Marina didn’t really believe either one of her father’s stories. She was convinced he told them just to scare her from finding a husband. Marina loved her father and didn’t want to leave him, but she dreamed of finding true love. The life of a farmer was hard and she was determined that she would find a beau from town who owned a bakery, tannery or mill. As her father never let her journey to town alone, she wasn’t sure how she was going to obtain her desire. Not many suitable men traveled past their farm.
During a cold autumn, Marina’s father fell ill. He had taken to his bed for days but was due to meet with the milliner. Try as he could, he couldn’t summon up the energy to get out of bed. He beckoned to Marina, “Daughter, you will need to make the trip to town to sell our wheat. I am counting on you so we can make it through winter.”
Marina was thrilled her father was sending her off to town on her own. “Go straight to the mill and then home. Do not talk to anyone or stop for anything on the road. Do you understand?”
“Yes of course, Father.” She gave him a kiss and told him not to worry, she would be back by evening.
Her trip to the milliner went smoothly, and she was able to sell all of their wheat. It was still early in the afternoon, so Marina thought she would walk around town to observe the townspeople. Many took notice of her and saw that she was alone. Suitors of all ages approached her and tried to woo her. They offered her drinks from the well, a seat out of the rain, flowers from gardens and small trinkets. One man tried to give her a handful of flowers that looked suspiciously like henna, but she took nothing.
A young man with long lashes and a warm smile sang to her. She was so taken aback by his beautiful voice and kind words, she decided to ask his name.
“My name is Fergus. I think you are beautiful, kind to others and dutiful to your father. You are everything I could ask for in a wife.” Marina blushed and shyly looked away. No one had ever seen more than beauty in her.
“Your gift of song was the finest I have received and I will always remember you. Come out to my father’s farm so I may get to know you better.” Fergus gallantly stepped aside and promised he would.
Out of town, Marina came to a sudden stop. By the side of the road was a magnificent white horse. The stallion stood tall and tossed his long mane. He padded at the ground with one hoof trying to get away but a bramble was wrapped around his leg.
“Oh you poor thing,” Marina gasped. She eased her way closer to the horse, trying not to spook him. He seemed to be looking right in her eyes and commanding her to come closer. She cautiously removed the bramble. He neighed softly and nuzzled at her ear. She laughed and began stroking his fine coat.
“You are an impressive creature.” The stallion nudged her tenderly in the direction of his back.
“Oh, you want me to ride you?” Marina was so overcome with excitement; she didn’t remember her father’s warnings. She swung up onto the horse’s back and instantly felt strength and grace. The muscles of the horse moved under her legs and the stallion began to run. She felt the wind through her hair and held on.
Time seemed to disappear with the setting sun. She needed to be getting back to her father. Marina wound her hands and pulled on the horse’s mane to get him to stop.
“Please, could you take me back? I need to be getting home.” She felt the horse shake his head back and forth, and then he began to laugh. Marina was so startled she tried to jump off of the horse but found she couldn’t move.
“What’s going on? Please let me off!” Her voice was high with fear.
“You silly girl, don’t you know what I am?” the horse asked her.
“You talk! Wh-what are you?” Marina cried.
“Hasn’t your father ever told you stories of the sea? You are never to trust a white horse that you happen upon,” he laughed sardonically. “You are mine now and I am taking you to the sea to become my wife. I am a Sea Nix and king of my kind. I have been watching you for a long time and have been waiting for an opportunity to catch you alone.”
Marina squirmed and tried to pull away from the animal but to no avail.
“I cannot live in the sea and be your bride! Please let me go!” she cried out. They were getting closer to the water; she could feel the spray on her face. She started panicking but couldn’t free herself from the Sea Nix. The beast walked right into the water with Marina imprisoned on its back. She was so overcome with fright of drowning, she passed out.
Marina awoke but found it difficult to open her eyes. She felt a cold swell surrounding her body and felt weightless. She thought she was coming out of a very bad dream. When she opened her eyes, she saw a murky darkness that rippled around her. She gasped and took in a huge lungful of water. She grabbed at her throat but found she could breathe under water. She had been taken into the sea to become the Sea Nix’s queen. She shivered violently; her new home was so cold.
Months went by and Marina finally resolved that she was never going home. The thought of being a prisoner forever made her grief-stricken. The Sea Nix did not like seeing his bride so sorrowful.
“What can I do for you to bring some happiness to your life here?” he asked her sincerely.
“I am so cold. Can you not warm the water so I can stop shivering?” she asked him mournfully.
“No my queen, I cannot but maybe I can find someone who can? I will go to the surface and find a creator of fire to bring back to the sea to warm you. Will this make you happy?”
“I believe it will,” she replied.
Many hours later, the Sea king returned with a man. He had passed out upon his entrance into the sea and was beginning to wake. Marina saw that it was Fergus, the man who had given her the gift of a song that fateful day she met the horse. His eyes were trying to flutter open.
Marina cooed to him softly, “Please wake.” Fergus opened his eyes and coughed out her name as he tried to take a breath, “Marina, I have found you!”
“You’ve been looking for me?”
“I saw the horse take you into the sea. I couldn’t get to you in time. When the horse came back to the shore, I knew it was my chance to save you. I let him think he was tricking me and jumped on his back.”
Marina sobbed quietly, “But now you are stuck down here forever.”
“Yes, but with you. The Sea Nix asked if I knew how to warm you and I told him I could. He doesn’t know that I mean to do that with my love. You will never be alone because I will be with you. He forgot to ask how I would warm you,” he smiled and pulled her towards him.
“You tricked the Sea Nix,” she smiled and let his warm arms wrap around her.