DEMETROS, the goatherd, lived alone with his mother on the Keafa Hill. Near his hut and the strounga, a shed for the goats, was a spring named Neraidovreshe, Fairy Spring, for the fairies that had been seen there. Usually Demetros” mother went to this spring with her great earthen jar to get their water, but one day she fell ill and Demetros had to go for it at night after his goats were driven home.
Since it was moonlight, he could see clearly, when he reached the Neraidovreshe, that three maidens in white were sitting on the stones at the edge. Supposing them to be shepherdesses who had come a long way for water and had stopped to rest, Demetros paid them no attention until he had filled his jar. At that moment a cock”s crow sounded across the valley and, without a word, the maidens rose, joined hands and danced westward across the hills, singing and whirling around, faster and faster, until they disappeared like a wisp of white smoke.
Demetros watched them, wondering who they were, why they had come and where they had gone. He said nothing about these strange maidens, but he could think of nothing else all the next day. When night came he went again to the Neraidovreshe. It was about the same time, the moon was shining, the maidens were there; but now in addition to the first three there were three others. Just as the cock crowed the maidens rose, danced over the hills, singing, and vanished as before.
Demetros filled his water-jar and walked home with his head bent, thinking. He was so quiet that his mother asked if anything were wrong. He hesitated a little and then told her what he had seen on the two evenings.
“Beware, my son!” she cried. “The maidens may be fairies. Evil may come. Beware!”
The mother was still no better the next night and for the third time Demetros went to the Neraidovreshe. This time nine maidens in white were sitting on the stones. Once again the same things happened: a cock crowed, the maidens rose and danced away in the moonlight, singing.
“Is there any harm in watching them?” the goatherd asked himself. “They are so strange, so beautiful!” This time he forgot to fill the water-jar and he walked home still gazing westward at the far line of hills where the fairies had disappeared.
“You must have seen them again!” his mother cried. Demetros nodded. “Then go not again to the Neraidovreshe,” she warned. “It would be better to die of thirst. See! already you come back without water in the jar. To-morrow night is the night of the full moon when fairies” power is greatest. To-morrow night you must not leave the strounga!”
Demetros intended to obey his mother. All day he sat on the hillside, watching his goats and thinking of the maidens.
“I will not go to-night,” he told himself. “I will never see them again. I do not want to see them. They might bring evil to my mother and me. I will not see them–how beautiful they were!”
That night he put his goats in the strounga as usual. Outside the door he looked up at the full moon and remembered the three other nights when he had gone to the spring. How lightly the maidens had danced! How brightly their golden hair had shown as it rippled over their shoulders!
It was now almost midnight and before Demetros knew what he was doing, he found himself hurrying toward the Neraidovreshe. He tried to stop, but he was powerless, as though he were being drawn on and on in spite of himself. He reached the spring and found ten maidens waiting for him. Nine he had seen the night before and he had thought them all lovely, but the one they had brought with them was many times fairer than they. She was more slender and graceful, with brighter, more abundant hair, and her face was more lovely than anything Demetros had ever imagined. Even the flowers she wore about her head were sweeter and the little handkerchief she carried was finer and more delicately embroidered than those of the nine others.
The ten maidens rose, joined hands in a circle about Demetros and danced around and around, never touching the ground. They sang in their silvery voices (hers the sweetest of all) and this time he could understand their song.
“Oh, to be light and oh, to be light
In the summer noonday sun;
Oh, to be light in the fairy night
When moon gossamers are spun;
On the sea sands bright and the hill snows white,
To run and to run and to run!
“Oh, to be gay and oh, to be gay
Where bright rivers glide and glance;
In gardens of May to skip and play
While fairy flutes entrance;
Oh, to be gay, and away and away
To dance and to dance and to dance!
“Oh, to be free and oh, to be free
As the north wind riding high;
Oh to be free with the lilting sea
When the wild waves wash the sky;
Oh, swift and free and a fairy to be,
To fly and to fly and to fly!”
Suddenly Demetros longed to be as light and gay and free as they.
“Come with us,” begged the ten maidens. “Come with us, Demetros.”
“Come and live in our palace with us,” said the tenth fairy with her loveliest smile. “We shall make you happy, Demetros.”
Unable to resist, he went with them a long way over the hills. He laughed and sang and forgot everything but the fairy maidens, their flowers, their smiles, their golden hair. Once he thought of his mother, ill and in need of him, and of his goats that would cry for him in the morning. He knew he should not go any farther with the fairies, but when he looked at the tenth, the most beautiful, he felt that he could not leave her as long as he lived.
Now the loveliest one was near him in the dance. Her long golden hair was sweeping past him. He breathed the fragrance of her flowers. He reached out to catch her, but only her handkerchief remained in his hand. The dance stopped. There was a scream from all the fairies. With a rush, like wind through a forest, they shot upward and disappeared–all but the tenth. She sank down upon the ground with a kind of moan and hid her face in her hands.
Demetros stood for a long while looking down at his beautiful prisoner. Then he fell to his knees beside her and tried to comfort her, but nothing that he did could stop her tears.
“Do not speak. Do not touch me,” she said. “You have taken from me my freedom, my happiness!”
Demetros did not know what to do. He stood up, tucked the handkerchief into his selahe, leather belt, and walked slowly a little way off, thinking. When he turned he saw that she had risen and was following him, weeping and reluctant. He walked on and she came after, stopping when he stopped, moving forward as he did, until they crossed the hills to the little hut that was his home.
His mother was startled when she saw this strange, golden-haired maiden with her son. She welcomed the stranger, however, and because she saw that Demetros loved her, she kept the wonderful handkerchief wrapped in silk and locked in a box in her own room where the fairy wife never entered.
Katena, so she was called, spent her time spinning, sewing and embroidering. She made beautiful clothes for Demetros” mother, for herself and for the little child when it came. Everybody in Loutro knew that Katena was a fairy, because whatever she did was finer and lovelier than anyone else could do in all that part of the country. The child, too, was very beautiful, with fine, golden hair and soft, white skin. All the villagers and country people called her Neraidokoretso, which means fairy child.
But Katena was not happy. Demetros could do nothing to make her smile. She never danced or sang or laughed, but sat quietly at her work, scarcely glancing up or speaking a word to anyone. Demetros became very sad, and to see him so unhappy made his mother grieved and anxious. This went on for seven years.
One Saint Konstantinos day the mother went, as is the custom, to a neighboring village to visit a cousin named Konstantinos. She left, believing everything safe until her return.
Katena said to Demetros: “To-day is a holiday. I should like very much to go to Loutro to dance. I have not danced for a long time. Will you bring out one of my pretty dresses and my best handkerchief? We shall dance together as we danced on the night of the full moon seven years ago.”
Demetros could not speak for his delight. His beautiful wife would dance and be happy again. He fumbled with the keys which his mother had left in his care; he caught up the first dress his eyes fell upon; he took the beautiful handkerchief from his mother”s box and put it into his selahe with trembling hands. As soon as Katena was ready, she and Demetros with Neraidokoretso hastened down the hill to Loutro.
The folk were already dancing on the grass plot in the center of the village, their bright costumes, joyous faces and graceful movements making an attractive picture. They formed a great circle, but instead of joining hands they held opposite corners of a handkerchief stretched between each two of them. Katena and Demetros stepped into the circle, holding between them the fairy handkerchief which his mother had guarded these seven years.
Katena”s turn came to lead the dance. Demetros dropped his corner of the handkerchief. Katena sprang from him and went whirling madly about the circle. Demetros watched her amazed. Three times she circled before the astonished villagers, then rose as though on wings and floated like a cloud into the sky.
Demetros was heart-broken. When he realized that his fairy wife had left him forever, he wanted to die. His mother, returned from her cousin Konstantinos”, tried to console him.
“My son,” she said, “this is the evil which the fairy has brought upon us. Let us try to be content. Now nothing worse can come to us.”
Demetros feared that Neraidokoretso would be unhappy without her mother, but every morning the child would hurry away to the fields and in the evening run home again, skipping and singing as she came. People said they often heard her talking or chanting to herself in words no one could understand.
Her grandmother was frightened at first because she could not induce the child to eat anything. One morning Demetros followed Neraidokoretso. She went straight to the Fairy Spring and, looking up, held her little arms toward the sky. Demetros heard her calling and he saw something white like a mist descending to her. A silvery voice came out of the mist and the child answered in words of strange sound.
“It is Katena,” he told his mother. “She must come every day to talk to Neraidokoretso and to feed her fairy food. That is why she is in the fields all day and will eat nothing here. Katena is caring for her child.”
As the years went by Neraidokoretso grew more lovely, always more like her mother, with long, shining hair and the same beautiful smile. When she went to the fields now she took her sewing or embroidery and worked while she talked with the spirit that no one else could see. Often Demetros followed her and watched her wonderingly. She was his daughter, but she never seemed to belong to him. She did not need him and was happy without him or anything he could do for her. She was so much more a fairy than a human child that it made him afraid. He once said to his mother: “I believe something worse can happen to us than the trouble we have already suffered.”
“How can that be, my son?” she asked.
“I am afraid that Neraidokoretso will not always be with us.”
Demetros and his mother looked at each other without speaking. They both loved Neraidokoretso very much.
On the girl”s fifteenth birthday her father followed her to the Neraidovreshe, as he had done every day for a long time. He saw again the white mist come to her out of the clouds and heard the sweet, silvery voice. She held up her arms and the mist, enfolding her, lifted her up and carried her away. After it had vanished, Demetros caught the echo of two fairy voices. He listened motionless as long as he could distinguish the sound. Then he knew that Katena and Neraidokoretso had gone from him forever.
Demetros did not keep his goats any more. He wandered day after day through the fields and woods and over the hills, looking hopelessly for his wife and child. Sometimes a shepherd or goatherd, meeting him, would hear him chanting to himself:
“Come back, come back, my fairy wife.
Come back, my fairy child.
Seeking and searching I spend my life;
I wander lone and wild.