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THE WATER EMERALD
by Mary Ansell, Copyright © 2001

Once upon a time, there was a river nymph who lived in the water with the rest of her kin near the source of a great river, high up in the mountains. She loved beautiful things, and had made herself what she called a "water emerald" by weaving spells about a patch of water shadowed by overhanging deep green grass. The emerald was sharp-edged and as clear as glass, and was also magical, for it could think and feel. She was very pleased with it, and set it into the gold brooch that fastened her sea-green cloak.

The time came for her to make the pilgrimage made once in the life of every nymph - a journey through each of the Seven Seas, in order to see and understand the ways of the world. She said good-bye to her home and to the other nymphs, fastened her brooch more securely, and let the water carry her downstream.

For a while, the familiar mountains still loomed overhead, and the rush of the water was fast and steep, but presently the land levelled and the river became a broad lake. The river nymph was interested to see so much water collected in one place. She was swimming leisurely through the lake, watching the fish and listening to what the water was saying, when suddenly she saw a great, green scaly water monster. With a flip of his tail, he tried to catch her, but she darted away, down into the river which flowed out of the lake. The monster was almost upon her, so she snatched the jewel from her brooch and threw it into the water to distract him. The emerald glinted brightly and caught the monster's eye, while the nymph instantly disappeared from view. The enraged monster lunged after her, but she was gone. When he came back to vent his wrath on the green stone, the friendly river had covered it with silt, and he could not find it. Disgusted, he swam away to other waters.

The nymph was forced to leave her stone where it was, since one of the conditions of her pilgrimage was that she must not turn back until she had swum each of the Seven Seas. However, the emerald was perfectly content to remain there, for it knew that she would eventually return.

As soon as the monster had gone, the river uncovered the emerald, so that it could see and enjoy its surroundings. For many days it watched the pale blue water flowing by, with graceful green water weeds, insect larvae and fish. Every so often, the emerald was tumbled farther downstream by the force of the river, until it was near a large city.

A fisherman, on his way to his morning's catch, thought he saw a green glow in the water. When he rowed his boat over to the spot, he saw that it was caused by light reflected from a jewel resting on the bottom of the river. He fished it out with his boat-hook, and it dimmed a little on leaving the water.

Now that the stone was in his hand, the fisherman considered what profit he could make from his good fortune. He had a small daughter, and his one ambition was to bring her up properly. After turning things over in his mind, he decided not to keep the stone, nor give it to his daughter, although it was very beautiful, but to make a present of it to the greatest lord of the city, and then see what happened.

Accordingly, the lord received the fisherman's gift, which pleased him so much that he engaged the fisherman to be the sole supplier of fish for his Lordship's table. The fisherman was well satisfied with this arrangement, since it guaranteed him a steady income.

The lord had a gold ring made to provide a setting for his jewel, and wore it constantly. He loved to look into the emerald's pure green depths, and amused himself by fancying he saw visions there. Once he imagined he saw a green-cloaked nymph swimming in a far-off sea, but most of the time it seemed as if he saw rivers, and rushing water, and green grass over the water. But then he noticed that the stone was losing colour, growing paler day by day, and more watery-looking. He thought it cruel that such a beautiful thing should fade, and the idea troubled him. He began unaccountably to haunt the river banks, and astonished his fun-loving friends by becoming quiet and reserved.

The lord's house had a balcony overhanging the river, and he went to sit there one evening, feeling very sad. His hand wearing the ring rested on the rail of the balcony, and the jewel was almost the colour of rain. Suddenly he felt a splash of river water on his hand, and the emerald glinted brilliantly green for an instant. He heard the faintest swirl in the water, and looking down, saw the river nymph with her green cloak and long hair floating in the water. She had swum each of the Seven Seas and had seen many interesting and beautiful things. Now she was on her way home.

"Who are you, and what do you want?" asked the lord.

"I am a river nymph, and I have come for my water emerald," she said. "You might as well give it back to me, because if you don't, it will die, and that would be a pity. I will give you a real emerald in exchange, that I found in the Green Sea."

She threw him the real emerald, which he caught, while the water emerald appeared to melt out of the clasp that held it, and fell into the river nymph's waiting hands. She returned it to her brooch, where it immediately regained its original brilliance. Then she and the jewel, now shining brightly, disappeared homewards up the river.

The lord found that his new emerald fitted his ring perfectly, and took great pleasure in showing it to the members of his court. He soon regained his customary good spirits, and the fish supplied by the fisherman were always excellent.
 

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