Fairy Tales Too Good To Miss—Upon the Rock  by Lisa M. Ripperton

The Prince That Married a Nixie

T HERE was a King's only son that rode down by the river where the banks are green, and he saw three water nixies sunning themselves on the shore and telling stories to one another. The first had sea-green hair, and she was as lovely as dawning; the second had hair the color of dark pools, and she was as lovely as twilight; but the third had golden hair that clad her from head to foot, and she was as handsome as noonday. All of them had fluted fins at their elbows and their ankles, and webs between their fingers, and they had great white water lilies braided in their hair.

The King's son thought he had never seen a lass that pleased him half so well as the golden-haired nixie; but he was a wise body, not one to spoil the cheese by eating the curds before they set. So off he marched to the wise woman who lived in the hill. And how could he be sure of catching the water nixie for a wife? That was the question the King's son put.

The wise woman looked for the answer in the black book with the scarlet letters, but it was not there. So then she looked for it in the white book with the golden letters, but it was not there.

"Well, well," says she, "I must be asking the help of the great one, and for that I must be weaving a spell; while I am about it, do you make no sound whatever!"

She knocked on the floor three times, and said:

"Master, master, give me a charm

Part to heal and part to harm,—

Fin-clearer, web-breaker,


A mighty puff of smoke rose out of the floor, that blinded the Prince. It was enough to make any one flinch, I can tell you, and even the King's son, who had been in many wars, stepped back a pace. And as he stepped, a board creaked under his foot.

Presently the smoke cleared away, there was a great round looking-glass with a silver rim.

"Ah, there is a crack in the pot, and Luck is leaking through," says the wise woman. "You certainly made a sound while I wove the spell, for only part of the charm is here; there should be a silver comb to go with the looking-glass. However, this will have to do. Three days from to-day, take this looking-glass to the same place in the river where you saw the water maids before, and set it in the rushes. When the nixie looks in it, throw your cloak over her, and hold her fast, and she will follow you meekly enough. But," says the wise woman, shaking her finger at him, "let me tell you that your wife will have webbed fingers and fins at elbows and ankles, to her dying day. That is because the magic comb is missing; if she had combed her hair while she looked in the looking-glass, she would have been all mortal at once, and the webs and fins would have disappeared. But a moldy loaf is better than hunger, as the beggar said."

The King's son agreed with her there, except as to the moldiness of the loaf; as for the webbed fingers, little enough did he care for a bit of matter like that! He did exactly as he was told; on the third day thereafter, he tucked the mirror with the silver rim under his coat, and strode away to the river bank. He had no more than laid the looking-glass in the moss and hidden himself, than the three water nixies rose from the water as before, and sunned themselves on the bank. The first two began to tell stories where they had left off before, but the third one saw the mirror, and leaned over it to have a look at herself. Quick as a bee-sting, the King's son darted out from the osiers, and flung his cloak over her.

Splash! splash! and that was the last of the two sisters. But the third one looked at the Prince out of her great gray eyes, and smiled at him; so he took her by the hand, and led her to the castle. Up there a gold crown was put on her head, and robes stiff with jewels were put on her shoulders, and she was married to the King's son with great pomp and ceremony.

But listen! That is not the end of the story! There is something more to this nut than the shell on the outside. The Prince was as happy as a lark in fair weather; nothing was too good for the bride, and all the tailors and seamstresses of the court were kept busy making tiny clothes for her. They were all made with big loops at the elbows, and very long petticoats, to leave room for the Princess's fins; and all the court ladies had to wear clothes exactly like them, out of respect to the wife of the King's son. It became the fashion to wear wide paddy mittens instead of gloves, too, because the Princess could not wear anything else.

So the Prince's face shone brighter every day, and the Princess smiled at him out of her great gray eyes; but look you, she had no more love for him than she had for the little lizards that ran in the sun on the garden wall. There was a good bit of the water witch about her still, and she plotted and planned to get rid of the Prince. "Once he is out of the way," she thought to herself, "I shall break the magic mirror and burn his cloak, and so I shall go back to my sisters in the green under-sea castles."

So presently she went to the Prince with tears in her eyes. "Come now," says he to her, "is there anything lacking?" Oh, no, there was nothing lacking; the trouble was that there was one thing too many.

"And what is that?" said the King's son. Well, it was a matter of fins at the elbows and webs in the fingers, such as no one else had; and the court ladies were saying this and that behind the Princess's back, because they had to wear big sleeves and long petticoats, and wide paddy mittens.

And was there no help for the webbed fingers and finned elbows and ankles? Yes, there was, but the Princess could not be asking such a task of her own husband. "Who better?" says the Prince; and he asked and asked her until she finally told him. Now it appeared that the Princess was the daughter of the King of all Fish, a lady of real nobility underseas; and here she had been married willy-nilly like any peasant maid, without the consent and the lawful sanction of her own people. If the Prince was to go and ask her in marriage properly, they would give their consent to let her become a mortal entirely, and as a sign of that, the marks of her lineage would disappear.

"Prut!" says the Prince; "I should find more difficulty in nipping dead leaves from the garden; and what persons shall I beseech?"

So the Princess named them over; there was her godmother the whale, and her stepbrother the pelican, and her father the King of all Fish. That would be sufficient, the Princess said.

The King's son put on his silver armor, that resisted heat and cold, and saddled his great horse; but before he set foot in the stirrup, he saw the wise woman in the corner of the stable.

"See now," says she; "here is a silver box with a little red cock in it; go in the direction that his beak points out, and you will never be at a loss. But there is something else too," said the wise woman. "Whatever you do, let none of the sea people kiss you at greeting or parting, or it will be the worse for you." The Prince thanked the wise woman, and put the silver box in his purse.

He got on his horse, and took his spear in his hand; then he bethought it to have a look at the little cock. It pointed straight down the sands to the sea, so off he set, with the whole court behind him, weeping and mourning.


The Princess waited until the water curled up about his horse's knees, and then she jumped nimbly to the stirrup, like a fish leaping in the sun, and reached up and kissed him. "Come," says she, "thou art somewhat of a man after all; I shall know of thee in ways which thou knowest not."

So the Prince rode straight on until the waves broke over his plume, and they could see him no more; and the court went home again. But sometimes the crooked stick burns better than the rest of the faggot bundle; the Princess stood still with her webbed hands stretched out over the water, that washed about her feet. And by and by what should come by but a scarlet fish with diamond eyes.

"Go to the north, to Mother Carey," says the Princess to him, "and tell her that I desire her chickens to bring news of my husband from time to time." The fish leaped out of the water and disappeared into it again, and the Princess went back to the castle.


The fish leaped out of the water and disappeared into it again.

Now you shall hear what befell the Prince. He rode on and on and on under the waves, until he came to the country of the fish. There was no ground at all, but sand, and no green trees, but great branches of white coral and dark seaweed that flung out its arms like banners. He followed where the little red cock pointed, and presently he came to the dwelling of the whale.

And what did he want there? That was the old whale's question. So the Prince told her who he was, and how he had married the daughter of the King of all Fish, and all the rest of it from beginning to end; and would the whale give her gracious consent to the marriage?

"When the tide has come in, the mind has no choice but to be wet," says the whale, very gruff; "but I will give my consent only on one condition. Bring me the kettle from the fire that burns at the north end of the world."

With that the whale went off to sleep, and not another word could he get out of her; so the King's son went off on his horse, and rode without stopping for many days and nights, until he came to the north of the world, where a fire burned so wide and high that it flickered over the whole sky.

There sat an old goody, warming her hands at it; she had long green eyes, and a very wise smile. "And so you have come for my kettle," says she; "well, you shall have it, provided you leave your gray horse behind you."


The Prince got down without a word and gave the bridle into her hand, and in return she gave him a great black kettle that boiled and bubbled of its own accord.

So the King's son started back again; he journeyed and journeyed, and it was a hard road to travel, for the sand of the sea roads ate into his feet, but at last he came to the dwelling of the whale, and he gave her the boiling kettle. She opened her mouth and swallowed it, and the kettle boiled over at once, so that the steam rose from her head like a fountain on a fair-day. The whale was immensely pleased with herself, and so have all whales been to this day, for the kettle has gone from one to the other; and she turned around and kissed the Prince, and gave her consent to the wedding. The Prince was troubled about the whale's kiss, because of what the wise woman had said, but he thought, "Come, what is one kiss after all?"

But behind him rose a great bird, that circled three times and flew far away and far away, until it came to the Princess's window. She held out her wrist, and the bird lighted on it.

"And has he accomplished anything?" That was what the Princess asked.

"Oh, yes," said the petrel, for this was one of Mother Carey's chickens, "he has given up his horse in order to get the kettle from the fire at the north end of the world, so that the whale would give her consent to the marriage." Then the bird flew away. But when the Princess took off her shoes that night, there were no fins at her ankles.

And in the meantime the King's son had come to the dwelling of the pelican. Would the pelican give his gracious consent to a marriage between the Prince and the daughter of the King of all Fish?

"Once a fish is swallowed, it cannot swim again," said the pelican, very sharp, "but I will give my consent on one condition. Bring me the leather pouch from the forge at the south end of the world." So the Prince started as the little red cock directed, but the journey took a very long time, because his heels were sore and his toes were raw, and it was hard traveling in the deep-sea currents.

At last he came to the south end of the world, where there was a forge whose fire was so great that the light from it flared up on the sky; and by the side of it sat an old man leaning on a hammer.

"So you have come for my leather pouch," says he; "well, you shall have it, provided you leave your silver armor behind you." The Prince took it off without a word, and in return the old man gave him a pouch of yellow leather.

The King's son turned about and started back; he journeyed and journeyed, and this time it took him just three times as long to reach the pelican's dwelling as it had taken him to reach the whale's, for the cold of the sea seemed to eat into his heart. But at last he came to the pelican, and gave him the leather pouch. The pelican was as pleased as a fisherman when the nets are heavy; he hung the pouch about his neck, where it has been ever since, and says he, "I freely give my consent." But he said it so low that the King's son had to bend his head to hear, and before he could draw it back again, the pelican had kissed him. The King's son was troubled once again on account of what the wise Woman had told him. "But then," says he to himself, "twice is but one more than once,—and what are kisses after all?"

But behind him rose a great bird, that circled three times, and flew and flew until it came to the Princess's window.

"And has he accomplished anything?" asked the Princess.

"Oh, yes," says the petrel; "he has given up his silver armor in order to get the leather pouch from the forge at the south end of the world, so that the pelican would give his consent to the marriage." Then the bird flew away; but that night, when the Princess took off her dress with the wide sleeves, there were no fins on her elbows.

In the meantime, the King's son looked at the little red cock, and set off, best foot ahead, for the castle of the King of all Fish. When he got there, the King was waiting for him.

"So, here you are at last," says he; "and what are you going to do for me? I am a hard one to please, I can tell you."

"I will do whatever you wish," says the Prince; "one does not purchase a diamond with smiles alone."

"You are right there," says the King of all Fish. "Now you may set about getting the magic silver comb that should have gone with the silver looking-glass that started all this gear," says he.

Well, the Prince lost no time in setting out. He took a peep at the little red cock, and followed where it pointed, and by and by he came to the mouth of a dark cave, where trails of smoke waved up and down. Prince sat down and thought for a time before deciding what he should do next. By and by, "Come," said he, "two can play some games as well as one!"

So he knocked three times on the rock at the cave mouth, and said:

"Master, master, give me a charm

Part to heal and part to harm,

Fin-clearer, web-breaker,


The smoke came up thick and thicker, and by and by a voice said, "Leave thy sword of knighthood upon the stone, and retire three steps." Very slowly the King's son took off the sword and laid it down, for next to his wife he prized it above everything in the world. But he did as he was told without a word. The smoke came down like fog at the river mouth, and hid the good sword; and when it cleared away, behold! there was no sword at all, but a well-wrought silver comb that glistened in the sun.

The Prince tucked it into his jacket, and traveled very slowly back, the way he had come. The King of all Fish was waiting for him again, and held out his hand for the comb as if it was a piece of the sun itself.

Now this time the Prince was on his guard to avoid a kiss from the Fish-King; so he held out the comb at arm's length.

The King took it, and says he, "Come, you are a likely lad; you have been casting a long time, and the bit of a net that is left to you is pretty well worn. Let me pass this comb through your hair, and you will be fresh for the journey home."

The Prince held his head over, but as the comb passed through his hair, the King bent down and kissed him. Then the Prince disappeared, and in his place was a great bird, that circled three times and flew away and away to the Princess's window. The Princess held out her wrist, and the bird perched on it.

"And has he accomplished anything?" That was what the Princess said. But the bird said nothing at all, and only looked at her with eyes full of tears; and by and by it flew away very sadly.

The Princess looked at her fingers, for if the King's son had accomplished the third task, and the King of all Fish had given his consent to the marriage, the webs would be gone. But no, there they were, as fast as if they had been sewed with waxed thread. Now that told her, straight enough, that it was all over with the Prince; and she should have bethought herself that now was the time to burn the cloak and break the mirror. But bless you! she thought no more about them than Lady Moon up yonder riding in her feather bed; for by this time the Princess was two parts mortal, and one part nixie.

When the whole court was asleep and snoring, she stole out and went down to the sea; she took off her jewelled clothes, and stepped into the water, and swam away. For seven days and seven nights she swam through seas and oceans without stopping or resting; and it was a hard journey, I can tell you, for she was partly of earth and partly of ocean, and for such the life of the sea is torment. By the end of the third day, the webs between her fingers were thin and fine; by the end of the fifth day, they were ragged and torn, and the Princess was swimming very slowly; by the end of the seventh day she stood before the steps of Mother Carey's throne, at the end of the extreme seas, and there were no webs between her fingers at all.

Down came Mother Carey, so radiant that it hurt one's eyes to look at her, but having withal a strong resemblance to the old woman at the fire and the old man at the forge; and when she spoke, her voice was the voice of the smoke in the cave mouth.

"And what do you want of me, Mortal?" says she.

"I am but lately a mortal," says the Princess, "as you know very well, most cruel! And what have you done with my husband?"

"Come, come," says Mother Carey, smiling,—and when she smiled, one thought the heaven had opened and sun had fallen through,—"there is no need of such speech as that! He is a very good lad, after all, and quite worthy of the daughter of the King of all Fish, for I have worn him out with tests at your father's wish. More than that, he has given me material for new things in the sea; of his armor I have made silver scales for all the fish, and of his steed I have made the sea-horse, a most excellent bony structure; and of his sword I have made the swordfish, the terror of the sea."

"In all of these things I am interested no whit," says the Princess, shivering in the cold; "give me my man again."

"So! you have decided to take him without question, after all, have you?" says the Mother of the Seas. "I must tell you that he has become one of my petrels because all three of your family have kissed him, according to your wish when you sent him from you; but if you really desire his return, you may pick him out from them all when my chickens come home at sunset."

By and by the sun set, and the stormy petrels came flocking in; there were thousands and thousands of them, and they filled the sky with the sound of their wings and their talk,—but the Princess could not understand them any more. Presently came Mother Carey.

"Which of them will you take?" says she. "You have but the one choice." The Princess looked and looked and looked, but there were many of them with human tears in their eyes,—the souls of drowned sailors, whose ill deeds kept them from heaven for a while. But after a space, she noticed one in a far corner, that sat with its head bowed down. She went over to it, and held it in her hand, but it would not look at her, and closed its eyes, and turned its head away in sorrow.

"I will have this and no other," says the Princess; and scarcely had the words passed her lips when she felt the beat of wings against her sides, and saw that her feet were gray claws.


The other bird flew beside her in silence; and they flew for three days and three nights, until they came to the Princess's window. In they flew, and there before the magic mirror lay the silver comb, as clear as moonlight. They rubbed themselves against it, and looked into the mirror, and there they were, the King's son and his wife, as bonny as ever.

So first they kissed each other, with as much love on one side as the other, this time; and then they dressed themselves in silks and brocades and ermine and vair and velvet, went down stairs hand in hand, to the chapel where the King and the Queen and all the court were mourning.

Well, well! There was a stir when folk saw them, I can tell you. They were married all over again, and the feasting, though it was somewhat hastily prepared, lasted full twenty-one days. But the Prince and Princess had no eyes for anything but each other, which is just as it should be and all the days of their lives there was never an ill word between them,—and that is something one cannot say of everybody, my grandfather says.