Eventually I arrived at the Bronze Age community of Zennor. Not long ago the Atlantic offered livelihood for fisherfolk. Time is still reckoned by the flood of the tides.
The Tinners Arms, built in 1200 AD, is the only pub. “Fish, Copper, Tin!” a Cornish Anthem the regulars shouted as they downed Cornish ale drawn from wooden barrels.
Opposite this public-house sat St. Agnes church. Its roof, a capsized wooden boat’s hull, proper and shipshape.
Within that dimly lit place I spied an archaic carved wooden pew with a representation of a shapely Mermaid. I returned to the pub and I asked about her.
“Arrr that carvings be, about 600 years old,” says Dark Dick of Vellan Dreath, and introduces himself.
“What’s the story about the mermaid?” I asks
“Well, son the sea gives us life and takes life away too. Ya don’t sound too lubberly, and I like the cut of your jib, I’ll tell ye about our Mermaid and Matthew. At day’s end, when the boats returned with a good catch, the people climbed to the church and give thanks. The choir sang Evensong led by Mathew a handsome lad who’s voice pealed out sweeter than church bells.
One evening as boats bobbed at anchor and everybody was in church. Down in Zennor Cove, the waves parted and a strange being rose from the cove and slithered up on a rock.
A female sea creature, her top half a beautiful young woman but beneath her navel, was a long silvery fishtail.
This mermaid looked at her reflection in the quiet water. Combed out little crabs and seashells from her long wet golden hair. The sweet singing of Mathew’s voice wrapped her in a spell as she listened.
The wind rose as the sun went down and Mathew’s song faded. The Mermaid slid back beneath the billows to her home.
Next evening she swam past the fishermen's boats. The easier to listen. So beautiful, she thought. When darkness descended into soundless shadows.
The following days ends she swam earlier and bolder, right up on the shore. And listened to Mathew, she marveled, What magical instrument makes such music?
The Mermaid felt compelled to learn more about the man singing. Beheld the church, she took heed of the music pouring through its open doors. She yearned to peek inside to discover who sang so sweetly. Espied the tide ebbing, she was forced to return home or be stranded like a fish out of water. Dived into the receding waves, down to the cave where she lived with her father the king.
Described to Neptune the beautiful voice, his daughter upset the ancient being. He wagged a web finger and said,” Morveren my darling daughter, to listen is enough."
“I must go, Father,” she declared, “for his music is magic.”
“Nay,” he shook seaweed dripping hair.
A perfect ocean pearl of a tear, fell from Morveren’s eye. “Then surely I will die from the wanting him.”
The King of the Oceans gasped; for a mermaid to cry is a thing unfathomable.
"Go with care Morveren," he said. "Return by the rising tide, or you may never return at all.” Neptune gave her a gown crusted with pearls and ocean jewels to cover her silvery tail. Shiny golden tresses netted.
Slippery tail concealed under the exquisite frock made swishing up the path difficult. Grasped the trees branches lining the path helped her to the open church doors. Arrived at the closing hymn, and the congregation didn’t notice her. There stood handsome Mathew the man with the voice that had bewitched her.
Thereafter, Morveren slithered to the church. Listened and left as the last notes faded. A regular, until one evening she lingered spellbound too long listening to Mathew. A sigh escaped her. Mathew caught it, and beheld the mermaid. Her eyes shone as she caught his look. Her net had fallen and he gaped at her gleaming golden hair. Struck silent by his instant love for her.
Scared Morveren turned and flip-flopped out the door. ”Wait!” Mathew called as he ran down the aisle in hot pursuit. Stunned the congregation dropped their hymn-books, and joined the chase.
Tangled in her skirts, Morveren and would have fallen but Mathew held her.
“Whoever ye be, stay.” AHe begged.
“I’m a sea creature and must return to the ocean.”
“Then I will go with thee” pledged Mathew, as he spied the tip of her fish tail beneath her dress.
Down to the ocean he carried her. The assembly ran after them and shouted,
“Hold back!”. Mathew was quick and strong and Morveren clever. Tore the precious sea jewels from her dress, flinging them about the foreshore. Greed overcame the villagers as they stopped to scoop up the gems.
The tide receded as Mathew with his lover plunged into the ocean until the rollers rolled over them.
They had gone to live in golden sand castles built far below the waves in a blue-green world. Never to be seen again.
The Zennor folk still hearken to Mathew as he sang love and sea songs to Morveren. In a voice that rose up soft and high if the day be fair, deep and low if King Neptune his father-in-law caused the waters to churn."
Dark Dick concluded, “Fisherfolk say Mathew sings to them that will listen.”
Later I swear, I caught a male voice in the rising wind as I trudged back to St. Ives that blustery day. LS