Chapter 1: Katrine

"Katrine! Katrine!"

The young girl turned quickly to the voice, putting down the flower garland she was weaving. "Yes, mother?" she called, skipping lightly back to the cottage where her mother was busy doing laundry. It was absolutely beautiful, she thought to herself for the thousandth time that day - a perfect, cozy fishing cottage nestled between the lake and the hills. Especially now, in the summer, the grass was so green and the lake so blue that you could have sworn a unicorn would prance out of the woods on the other side of the water. "Do you need any help?"

"Oh, gracious no," the woman chuckled. "I may be old, but crippled I am not." It was true; the woman had refused to age as a normal person would; although her skin was wrinkled and her hair was turning thin and grey, she was still quite strong, and her blue eyes sparkled just like they had when she was in her youth. The girl smiled at that - she had her eyes from her mother, and could only imagine how beautiful she used to be.

"Should I start dinner, then?"

"That would be wonderful," she sighed, scrubbing a particularly stubborn grass stain from one of her father's coats. "I may not be crippled, but I'm certainly not magic."

"Oh, mama," Katrine laughed, kissing her on the cheek as she trotted back to the cottage. "Your turnip bread is nothing short of magic," she hinted.

The old woman stopped her work to glare teasingly at her daughter. "Now, now, child. For your mother's sake, stop growing so old! It seems only yesterday I was teaching you how to hold a spoon… Now, here you are, ready to be looking for a husband!" Katrine laughed at that, her chestnut hair shimmering as she did.

"I won't be eighteen for a week. Besides, I can't just leave you and papa here to cook for yourselves. Your bread is wonderful, but your herring pie leaves something to be desired."

The old woman admitted the small defeat as she watched her child prance into the cottage, singing lightly to herself as she lit the small hearth in the kitchen and began to work. The girl was always smiling - from her father. She was also thin, no matter how much she ate - like her mother. Her blue eyes were decidedly from her mother as well, although it was a mystery why her brown hair had popped up after generations of blondes. Her father used to tease that the nix that had formed her had preferred brunets.

Speaking of her father, he had been growing increasingly nervous. Apparently, the fish seemed to have been growing smaller and smaller over the past week, and yesterday he caught none at all. They were all worried that disease may have spread in the lake, but there were no dead fish on the shores. The wife, of course, figured that something must be hunting the poor fish out of the lake, but her husband, sane as he was, kept mumbling that nonsense about the nix again.

The woman tutted to herself as she hung up the thoroughly-washed coat. They had agreed years ago that there was no such spirit living in their lake, and that the fish and their daughter were blessings from the lord for living as they had out here for so long. Really, a nix? If her husband had indeed seen anything, it was probably a wandering youth who was hoping to trick an old man out of a coin. Or perhaps an angel… No, angels didn't steal old people's children away from them.

She glanced back anxiously to their daughter, who had opened the kitchen window to let in some fresh air. Of course, it was rather uncanny how the lad knew about their child, and a girl no less…

She shook her head again, laughing at herself. Oh! Her husband was getting her all riled up again! She was going to give him a scolding when he got home.


"Well well!" she called, waving tiredly to the boat rowing towards the shore. "Speak of the devil, and he shall appear, is it not?"

"Birget? We need to talk about-"

"I'll say! You know Dyre, you've been getting all of those silly superstitions back into my head all day. I woke up this morning and half expected to hear a violin playing from the lake."

The fisherman did not look amused. "There was nothing today. Not just fish - there were no frogs or snakes or even birds! Did you even notice how quiet it was this morning?"

The old woman frowned, picking up one of Katrine's dresses and scowling at the new grass stain to scrub. "I hadn't noticed. Katrine would have said something, don't you think?"

He was almost to land by then, and hopped out of the boat to drag it up onto the shore. "I don't know. Something's not right here, you understand? It's like every bloody animal in the forest packed up and left!"

"Watch your tongue, old man. We have a child here."

The fisherman shook his head frantically. "She's not a child anymore, Birget. She's a young woman, and the nix knows t-"

"Dyre! Stop spouting all of that nonsense! You know perfectly well that nixes simply don't pop out of nowhere and ask old people for their children. Why would a nix, if they really existed, bother someone like us?"

"I don't know," he admitted, "but I know that he's somehow behind all of this. I'm scared for her - Katrine. She doesn't know a thing about this - how am I supposed to tell her I sold her to a water spirit for fish?!"

"Dyre, calm do-"

"What's wrong, papa?" Katrine stuck her head curiously out of the window. "…Were there no fish today, too?"

"No, there weren't," he admitted. "But Katrine, I-"

"-Don't tell her!" the wife said quickly.

"Don't tell me what, mama?"

"Your… birthday present, of course! He promised me he wouldn't tell, but now all of a sudden he wants to gossip like an old woman." She laughed shakily, but Katrine, the trustful girl she was, couldn't see anything amiss.

She simply sighed and shook her head. "That's okay." She smiled suddenly. "As long as there's no boy, daddy!" she warned.

He gulped, cold through his hot fishing suit. "O-of course, dear…" She ducked her head back into the window, and began humming to herself as she continued to fix their dinner.

"What were you thinking?" Birget hissed. "There's no need to go and get her scared as well."

"She has the right to know."

"Know that what? You traded her for net of fish every evening? That she's going to be drowned by a water spirit on her birthday? You're just being silly. There's no reason to fret - you'll see. Her birthday is next Thor's Day. She'll wake up in her own bed, tell you good morning, and then we'll all laugh about how superstitious we all were."

"How can you dismiss this as superstition? After all of the legends, all of the stories-"

"Exactly," she interrupted, turning back to her work. "They are legend and stories. You were drunk that night, darling. Show me a nix, and I'll throw Katrine into the lake myself." The fisherman's face paled, and she laughed. "Of course not, Dyre. See? Stories. Now the fish is another matter… we have enough money stored up to move to town by now. Like I said, a sign. The lord had given us fish to start over - give Katrine a chance for a good life in the cities. Now we have enough to move on, and he's simply saying it's time."

"I don't know, Birget…"

"Trust me." She walked over and kissed his wrinkled forehead. "She'll be fine."