Phra Abhai Mani

Part Two : The Mermaid

ONE day, while the giantess was away hunting fish, and Phra Abhai Mani sat all alone in the cave thinking of his brother, little Sin Samudr, playing as usual outside the cave, saw a merman with a fine tail and thought that if he could catch him he might show him to his father. So he swam towards him, seized his tail, and with all the strength his little body could muster, dragged him into the cave.

Phra Abhai Mani was aghast at what his young son had done. "Do you not know," he said sternly, "that your mother would be full of wrath if she knew? She does not yet know that you are so strong that you might help your father to escape at any time."

Sin Samudr could not understand why his father should want to escape. So he asked his father, and his father told him everything from the very beginning. The little boy's eyes filled with tears when he learned that his mother was a giantess.

The merman, who all this while had been lying on the floor of the cave in fear of his life, felt his courage returning. His ancestors having been human, he could understand and speak the language of men. So he lifted up his head and addressed Phra Abhai Mani thus : "Lord, spare my life, and I and my kin will help you to escape from the clutches of the giantess. I will take you to a wonderful island where lives an aged hermit who is endowed with superhuman power. There you will be safe. You can ride on my back, and your son can ride on my wife's back. But you must allay the suspicions of the giantess, while we make ready, and you must use guile to send her away for three days and nights, so that we may have time to escape."

Phra Abhai Mani was much impressed by the words of the merman, and they at once made plans for the venture. Finally, the merman took his leave, promising to return to fetch the prince and his son.

Not long afterwards, Pisua Samudr returned, laden with provisions for her larder. Phra Abhai Mani and Sin Samudr neither said nor did anything to arouse her suspicions. When night came, they went to sleep as usual. But the giantess had a dreadful nightmare. She dreamt that her cave was destroyed and that she herself was killed. Awaking, she recounted the dream to her husband and sought his advice. He immediately told her that there was only one way of avoiding the consequences of an evil dream, and that was to go and lie at the foot of a mountain for three days and nights without stirring from the place.

Pisua Samudr unsuspecting, believed what Phra Abhai Mani had told her. So, early in the morning, having made all preparations, she set out for a high mountain on the mainland where she hoped to shake off the effects of the evil dream.

As soon as she was gone, Phra Abhai Mani and Sin Samudr made ready to leave. They left the cave and ascended to the surface, where they were joined by the merman, his wife and his daughter. The latter was a comely young mermaid, and Phra Abhai Mani could not but admire her attractive figure; indeed, were it not for the fact that she had a tail instead of legs, she might have been one of the palace ladies.

They wasted no time in starting on their long journey, for they knew that any delay might make a difference between life and death. Phra Abhai Mani got on to the back of the merman, while Sin Samudr climbed on the back of the merman's wife. The mermaid followed behind.

They had journeyed swiftly for more than three days, without reaching their destination, when a fearful storm arose behind them. Phra Abhai Mani asked the merman what this might portend, "Alas," said the latter, "the giantess has discovered your escape and is doubtless pursuing us. It is likely that she will soon overtake us."

On hearing this, Phra Abhai Mani felt rather uncomfortable. But Sin Samudr merely laughed and said to his father, "Leave it to me. I shall stay and talk to mother. But you must hurry on." 38 39 The merman exclaimed: "Alas! My strength is all spent I can go no further. Neither can my wife. But I still have my daughter." And calling his daughter to him, the merman said, "Your father has reached the end of his days. But you must carry on in my place. It falls upon you to bear the Prince for the rest of the journey to the safety of the island." The mermaid obediently came alongside, and Phra Abhai Mani changed his mount. She was young and strong, and could easily carry the Prince and yet swim swiftly. So Phra Abhai Mani and the mermaid went on alone.

The waves were lashed into fury at the approach of the giantess, and Sin Samudr was astonished to find that the approaching figure was quite unlike his mother : for he had only known his mother as the beautiful woman in the cave. He cried out : "What are you, you black and ugly thing, a beast of the land or of the sea?" Pisua Samudr replied, "Do you not know your mother?" and spoke in the gentle tones she used in the cave. So Sin Samudr knew that it was his mother. But, in spite of her pleadings, he refused to tell her where his father had gone. He merely took a deep dive, disappeared under the sea, and later joined his father.

The merman then spoke up. He told the giantess that he and his wife would lead her to where Phra Abhai Mani had gone, promising that should the giantess not find him there she could kill them both. The giantess accepted his fair offer, and the merman and his wife led her in the direction opposite to that which Phra Abhai Mani and the mermaid had taken.

Phra Abhai Mani eventually arrived safely at the island. Here lived the wise and powerful hermit, attended by a hundred shipwrecked men of all nationalities - Chinese, Brahmins, Indians, Thai, Javanese, Englishmen, Hollanders, and other Europeans. He lived in a cave on a hill, and subsisted on vegetables and herbs which were plentiful on the island. He was deeply venerated by all for his piety and kindliness. Phra Abhai Mani immediately went to pay his respects and to seek his protection.

No sooner had he done this than huge waves lashed the island and the giantess appeared. She was more furious than ever, having been deceived by the merman, whom she had torn to pieces. Now she wanted her husband. She stood there, towering over the island on whose hallowed soil she could not step.

The hermit came down from the hill to remonstrate with her. But Pisua Samudr merely used abusive language and accused the hermit of acting beyond the bounds of his duties. So the hermit took a little magic sand and blew it in her direction. The giantess knew that she was powerless against his magic charms, and so retired baffled and angered.

Phra Abhai Mani, Sin Samudr and the mermaid lived on at the island, and performed little services for the hermit who had befriended and protected them. As the days passed, Phra Abhai Mani became attracted towards the mermaid. After all, she had saved his life, and he pitied her for the loss of her parents. Besides, she was pretty to look at, and even if she lacked some of the physical qualities of a woman, she certainly had the charm and the grace of one. He therefore asked her to become his.

The mermaid, who was not averse to his overtures but realised the incongruity of the position, said: "You are human, and you live on land. I am a fish, and my home is the sea. We are very different from one another. How can we love each other? It is not possible. You would merely debase your dignity by deigning to love me. Let me be but your servant."

"No," replied Phra Abhai Mani, "love is common to all living creatures, be they men, animals or fish. It is for each to place his love where he will. Although we are of different races and species, it is evident that we were destined to belong to each other, for how else could we have come here together in safety. So do not say that you will be my servant. I have no wish to be your master. I want to be your lover."

The mermaid needed no further convincing. And there on the beach, in the light of the full moon, she and Phra Abhai Mani found the happiness which had been ordained for them by a strange but inevitable destiny.

The union of Phra Abhai Mani and the mermaid was a happy one. They never let the difference of race and species come between them, but shared to the full their beautiful and idyllic love. And so passed seven brief months of untold rapture.

Meanwhile, Phra Abhai Mani and his son became well acquainted with the shipwrecked people on the island. From them they learned several European languages as well as Chinese.

Sin Samudr had a great respect for the hermit. One day, he asked the latter if he and his father could take holy vows in order to receive instruction from him. The hermit, delighted, accorded him his request, and both father and son were initiated into the mysteries of religion and philosophy.

It was pricisely at this time that the ship of Silaraj, the prince of a neighbouring country, arrived at the island. This prince had a beautiful daughter called Suvarnamali, who had a sudden and irrepressible longing to go to sea, for she had been told it was there that she should meet her destiny. Her father complied with her whims, and fitted out a ship for a short cruise. But contrary winds carried the ship far out into the ocean, and the passengers were in despair. Then one morning, they saw a lovely green island and knew that it was the island where the venerable hermit lived. They decided to land and pay their respects to the old man.

So the prince and his daughter, with their retinue, ascended the hill. As they approached, Phra Abhai Mani and Sin Samudr, who were supposed to be wrapped in meditation, looked up. Phra Abhai Mani saw Suvarnamali and held his breath. He had never seen such a vision of beauty before. Suvarnamali, on her part, was not a little surprised to find that the hermit had so handsome a disciple. Their eyes met, and said more than words ever could. After an exchange of greetings, Silaraj told the hermit and his disciples how he had arrived at the island. He then turned to Phra Abhai Mani and asked who he was and how he came to be on the island and taken refuge with the hermit. Phra Abhai Mani replied by telling him the whole story, from the time he learned to play the flute and thus incurred the wrath of his father, to the time when he escaped from the giantess of the sea. Silaraj (and undoubtedly his daughter also) was profoundly moved, and expressed interest in the magic flute. He wished Phra Abhai Mani to play it for them. But the latter declined, saying that as he had taken holy vows he could not play on the flute. He added, however, that as he had taught his son how to play on it, Sin Samudr could, with the hermit's permission, satisfy the prince's curiosity. So when the requisite permission had been granted, Sin Samudr took up his father's flute and started to play a soothing air. As was inevitable, all those who heard the melody were soon drowsy with sleep, and dropped off one by one. In the end, Sin Samudr and his father were the only ones left awake.

Phra Abhai Mani now had opportunity to observe and appraise Suvarnamali more fully. He rose from his seat and came near her, but did not touch her. He could not take his eyes off her, for in his opinion the girl's beauty was flawless in every respect, and a wave of passion swept through him. Eventually, he returned to his seat, meditating on something other than religion or philosophy.

The hermit was the first to awake. He was highly amused that even he himself had fallen under the spell of the flute. He struck a bell which soon woke up all the rest.

Now, Sin Samudr had noticed how deeply his father had been affected by the beauty of Suvarnamali, and it needed only a hint from the hermit before he knew what he had to do. He approached the princess and bowing very low, said in a childlike way : "I like you. I think you are very kind. You see, I am an orphan. Will you please be my mother and take me with you wherever you go?"

The ladies-in-waiting tittered. Suvarnamali blushed until her cheeks bloomed like roses and she became more beautiful than ever. But she loved the boy, and agreed to be his mother.

Eventually, the day came when Silaraj decided to return home. It was agreed that not only Sin Samudr but also his father would accompany him on the boat. They all took their leave of the hermit who had been so kind to them.

Now Phra Abhai Mani had a heavy task before him. He had to break the news to the mermaid, whom he still loved. He went down to the beach which was her home and called on her. But he could not bring himself to tell her. The mermaid, however, had guessed what was in his mind, for she had seen the ship arrive, and the ship was now about to depart. Her handsome husband was going back home to his own people. So she told him of her own plight. She was heavy with child, the child of Phra Abhai Mani. Who was to protect her and her child?

Phra Abhai Mani's eyes filled with tears "0 my dearest," he said, "it is not that I want to leave you, but I must go. I will leave you and our child in the good care of the hermit."

So saying, he took from his finger a ring of great price, and gave it to the mermaid, telling her that when the time came she was to put it on the finger of their child. Phra Abhai Mani and the mermaid then indulged in a tearful farewell.

Not long afterwards, Phra Abhai Mani and Sin Samudr sailed away with their new-found friends. The mermaid was left all alone, except for the hermit who looked after her as he had promised.

When the time came, she was delivered of a son, a normal human baby boy, the very image of his father. He was given the name of Sud Sakorn- "the limit of the ocean."

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