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A short story by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey

The Adventure Of Glaucus

Title:     The Adventure Of Glaucus
Author: Carolyn Sherwin Bailey [More Titles by Bailey]

Glaucus, the fisherman, rubbed his eyes to find out if he was not dreaming. He had just drawn in his net to land and had emptied it, ready to sort the fish that lay, a large haul, all over the grass. But a strange thing was happening to them. Of a sudden, the fishes began to revive and move their fins exactly as if they were in the water. Then, as Glaucus looked at them in astonishment, the fishes one and all moved off to the water, plunged in, and swam away.

The spot where Glaucus fished was a beautiful island in the river, but a solitary place, for it was inhabited only by him. It was not used to pasture cattle even, or visited by anyone. No one was there to work sorcery with his haul. Glaucus did not know what to make of the happening.

"Can it be that the river-god is working this marvel?" he wondered to himself. Then it occurred to him that there might be some secret power in the thick green leaves that covered the island among the grasses.

"What may not be the power of this herb?" he asked himself, pulling up a handful of the leaves and tasting one.

Scarcely had the juices of the plant touched Glaucus' tongue than a strange feeling of restlessness filled him, and he was overcome by an unconquerable thirst. He could not keep away from the water but ran to the edge of the river where he had fished for so many years, plunged in and swam away toward the sea.

It was a wonderful, free kind of experience for Glaucus who had never known any life but that of hauling in his nets and then casting them again. As he followed the swiftly flowing currents, the waters of a hundred rivers flowed over him, washing away all that was mortal of the fisherman, and he came at last to the sea. A marvellous sight met him there. The surf that beat against a rocky shore became suddenly smooth, as a chariot drawn by horses shod with brass and having long floating manes of gold rolled toward Glaucus over the surface of the sea. A giant who held a three-pointed spear for crushing rocks and blew loud trumpet blasts from a great curved shell, drove the chariot toward Glaucus and then stopped, inviting him to ride down to the depths of the ocean.

It was Neptune, the god of the sea, and Glaucus discovered that he felt quite at home in the chariot. He was no longer a dweller of the earth, but had become a citizen of that boundless country that lay beneath the waves. The fisherman was completely changed in form. His hair was sea green and trailed behind him through the water. His shoulders broadened, and his limbs took the shape and use of a fish's tail. He had never known such freedom and joy as now when he spent whole days doing nothing but following the ebb and flow of the tides and learning the use of his newly found fins as a bird tries its wings on first leaving the nest.

But Glaucus still retained powers of thinking and of action which are denied the inhabitants of the sea. One day he saw the beautiful maiden, Scylla, one of the water nymphs, come out from a sheltered nook on the shore and seat herself on a rock, dipping her hands in the water and bringing up sea-shells for twining in the water weeds to make a necklace. Glaucus had never seen so fair a creature as Scylla and he moved toward her through the waves, rising at last and stopping at the place where she sat as he murmured his affection for her above the singing of the sea.

But Scylla was very much terrified at the sight of this strange personage, half youth and half fish. She turned to run as soon as she saw him and did not stop until she had gained a cliff that overlooked the sea. Here she waited for a moment and turned around to look in wonder as Glaucus raised himself upon a rock and the sun touched his green hair and scaly covering until he shone in its light. He called to Scylla.

"Do not flee from me, maiden! I am no monster or even a sea-animal, but have been transformed from a poor fisherman to a god of the sea." Then Glaucus told Scylla the whole story of his amazing adventures and tried to describe to her the kingdom of Neptune with its playing dolphins, the castles of rose colored and white coral, and the never ending music of the waters.

"Come with me, and descend to Neptune's realm," he begged, but Scylla would not remain to even listen. She fled and left nothing to console Glaucus but her scattered sea shells lying in bright heaps on the rocks.

Glaucus did not pursue Scylla but he felt that he could not give her up. He remembered the strange charm of the sea that there had been in the herbs on his native island, and he wondered if he might, by chance, find some such power for giving the nymph, Scylla, the desire for the sea that had drawn him to Neptune's kingdom. But Glaucus could not explore his little fishing island, for it was a long way off and he had forgotten its direction even. So he made what proved to be an almost disastrous decision. He set out for the island of Circe, the enchantress, to ask her help in winning Scylla.

Circe was, in the beginning, a daughter of the sun but she had put her light of learning to wicked uses and had made herself into a powerful sorceress. She lived in a palace embowered with trees and those were the only signs of vegetation on her island. But if a shipwrecked crew came up the shores, hoping to find a welcome and timber for building a new bark, they were immediately surrounded by lions, tigers and wolves who had formerly been men but had been changed by Circe's magic to the form of beasts.

The brave hero of Greece, Ulysses, came in his travels to Circe's isle once, and his crew heard the sounds of lovely music coming from the castle in the trees and the tones of a maiden's sweet singing. They had endured the raging of the sea and all its perils for many days and they hastened to the palace where Circe, who had the appearance of a princess, greeted them and ordered a feast for them. As they ate, she touched them one by one with her wand and the men were all changed to swine. They kept the thoughts of men, but they had the head, body, voice and bristles of these despised creatures, and Circe shut them up in sties and fed them with acorns. Ulysses persuaded the sorceress to release his men, but he, the hero, was not able to resist her charms and remained in her palace a year, his work and country forgotten.

Surely Glaucus was setting out on a mad errand when he decided to go to Circe. But he persisted and landed on her island. He told her how Scylla had looked upon him with terror, and he begged to have a charm by means of which he might make Scylla love the sea as the herb had made him a subject of Neptune.

"Sooner shall trees grow at the bottom of the ocean and sea weed on the mountain peaks than I will cease to love Scylla and her alone," Glaucus told Circe.

The enchantress looked on Glaucus and she began to admire him as much as Scylla had been frightened by him. He was really quite a distinguished looking personage, for he had the power to take on human form when he wished, and his trailing robes of green seaweed looked almost kingly.

"I will brew a potion as you wish with my own hands and carry it to Scylla," Circe told Glaucus, but she had decided to work harm on the innocent nymph in order to keep Glaucus forever on her island.

Circe's potion was mixed of the most poisonous plants which grew on her island. She blended them with deadly skill and then took her way to the coast of Sicily where Scylla lived. There was a little bay on the coast where Scylla loved to come in the middle of the day when the sun was high to bathe in the cool waters. Circe poured her poison into the clear blue bay and muttered incantations of mighty power over it. Then she returned to her island.

Scylla came that day as usual when the sun was high and plunged into the waters up to her waist. What was her horror to discover that she was sinking to her shoulders and then to her head. The waters covered her before anyone heard her frightened calls for help and where she had stepped so happily into the waters which she loved, there were only a few ripples on the surface of the bay and soon even they were gone. Circe's charm had taken effect and the lovable Scylla had been carried down to Neptune's kingdom, but not as Glaucus had desired, for she was without motion or sight or speech.

Glaucus, meanwhile, forgot Scylla in the enchantment of Circe's island and remained in the waters near there, taking human form when he wished and enjoying the luxuries of her palace. Perhaps he might never have remembered that he was a subject of Neptune if his attention had not been attracted one day to the wild beasts which prowled about the island. They were speaking to each other with the voices of men and bewailing the fate by which they had been led there from their ships and brought into Circe's power.

Glaucus, hearing them, understood what might be in store for him. He began to hate the powers of the wicked enchantress and the memory came to him of Scylla as she had appeared to him on the rock, her hands full of bright shells. He plunged into the water and was soon a long distance from the fatal island.

Glaucus began then to search for Scylla through the many leagues of the ocean but he could not find her. That was because Scylla, through the design of Circe, had gone down as mortals do and been drowned. The sea was full of such, and as Glaucus wandered about among the gardens of sea anemones and along the shell strewn roads of Neptune's kingdom, he felt a new desire in his heart. He knew how those mortals felt whose loved ones had been taken away from them by the sea, and he began using his power to restore the drowned to life again. For a thousand years Glaucus went up and down through the sea restoring mortals who had loved to each other again. And in all his following of the tides he was searching for Scylla.

After a thousand years had passed and it seemed to the gods that Glaucus had expiated the wrong he had done in appealing to Circe, he found Scylla in the green depths. And the nymphs say that the two lived always happily together in a coral palace with a sea garden of anemones and green water plants all about it.

[The end]
Carolyn Sherwin Bailey's short story: Adventure Of Glaucus