The River Nixy (A German Tale)
Long ago in Germany there lived a handsome young man named Peter and his lovely wife, Greta. One day Peter walked to the forest to hunt. He spotted a hare in front of him and began to chase it. As he ran, he neared the millpond, a place his father had warned him never to pass.
His father, you see, had made a terrible bargain years before with the river nixy, the water sprite who ruled over the millpond. Peter’s father had promised to give away his youngest child in exchange for wealth. To protect his son, he had told him never to go near the millpond.
But that day Peter had his eye on the hare, and he forgot his father’s warnings.
Suddenly a rushing wave rose out of the pond, and in that wave, Peter saw the river nixy. Before he could run away, she reached out and seized his arm. She dragged him beneath the cold, choppy water.
Back home, Greta went outside and called to her husband. “Peter, where are you?” On she walked, calling and searching in the falling darkness. Soon she came to a hut in the forest, the home of a witch. Greta held her breath, but so desperate was she to find Peter, she knocked on the door despite her fear.
“Please,” she begged, “my husband has gone out hunting, and I think he passed by the millpond. His father had warned him that the river nixy might steal him if he went near. I fear that is what has happened to him. Can you help me?”
The witch closed her eyes and concentrated all her powers. After a period of silence, she said, “On the night of a full moon, go to the millpond and comb your hair with this.” She handed Greta a golden comb. “At midnight you must place the comb upon the bank, and the river nixy will rise. She will take the comb and give you your husband, for the river nixy is greedy and loves gold.”
Impatient though she was, Greta waited for the full moon to rise. That night she ran to the millpond, and there she sat and combed her long black hair. When the village clock struck 12, she heard a splash, and a wave rose out of the pond. Before Greta had time to place the comb upon the bank, a hand reached from the wave and snatched the comb.
Greta gasped, for in that instant she saw, just once above the waves, Peter’s face. Then he was swept underwater once more. And Greta wept.
She raced back to the witch’s hut. “I did as you told me to do, but the river nixy kept my husband,” she cried.
“Listen then,” said the witch, “on the next full moon, take this golden flute and go to the millpond. Play a tune to the pond, and at midnight you must lay the flute upon the bank.”
Once again Greta waited through sleepless nights until a full moon rose. She ran to the millpond, where she sat upon the bank and played the witch’s golden flute.
As the clock struck 12, she heard a whoosh, and a big, darkwave nearly swept over her. And then she saw him!
Peter rose from the water, higher and higher. “Dear wife,” he reached for Greta, and she reached for him. For a moment, they held each other.
But the pond rose higher still, and soon the water overflowed the banks. Away it swept, swirling and raging.
“Old woman, help us!” Greta cried as she bobbed above the raging water, but no one understood a word she said because she had turned into a spotty toad. “Croak, croak, croak,” came her voice.
“Old woman,” Peter called, but no one understood him, for he had turned into a bright green frog. “Croak, croak, croak,” he cried.
Frog and toad reached for each other, but they were slippery and drifted apart. The frog went downstream with the rushing water, and once again husband and wife were parted.
After many days, the flood subsided. When the sun came out, the toad turned once again into a woman, and the frog turned once again into a man. But sadly, the flood had taken Peter and Greta far away from each other, and far from their home.
Many years passed. Peter, lonely and lost, gathered a herd of sheep and wandered the hills. Soon he forgot his past life, though he always felt a longing. He simply could not remember what it was he missed. Searching for something, he wandered from land to land.
One day, when he was old, Peter came to a new land, and there he met an old shepherdess tending her sheep. The two began to talk as their sheep grazed upon the plentiful grass, and quickly a friendship blossomed.
That night, as the flocks settled down to sleep, Peter sat beside the shepherdess and stared up at the full moon. “What a beautiful night,” he said.
The shepherdess sighed sadly. “It reminds me of a night long, long ago,” she said, “when the river nixy stole my husband.” As she told the tale, Peter’s memory returned. He looked at the woman beside him and recognized the face he had loved so long ago. He knew then that this love was what he had missed. “I am Peter,” he said.
She looked at him beneath the light of the full moon and saw that this was the man she had loved with all her heart.
This time a flood did not part them, and for the rest of their long lives, they lived together in joy and peace.