- Nøkken by Theodor Kittelsen
She stood still beside the running water. Across the river, there was an old mill, its wheel turning slowly along with the current. It was a sight she had seen many times before. Her grandmother had taken her to that spot many times as a child. That woman seemed to always know about places like this one — places that seemed as if they had been there before people were. Her eyes fixated on a splash of colour at the calm part of the river downstream. Some red water lilies were growing there. She had never seen lilies here before. They were beautiful.
She closed her eyes and took in the sound of the water rushing along, and the sounds of the gentle, constant creaking of the water wheel. And something new… It began softly at first, like a daydream, then rising. The sound of a fiddle. She should have been curious and opened her eyes to find the player, but she found the song so enchanting that she could barely lift her lids halfway. The music swelled slowly, in perfect counterpoint to the river. Arpeggios lifted oh so gradually, shifting gracefully from major to minor, as if making space for her thoughts to provide a melody between them. She started to notice she had been walking with her eyes half closed. Those red lilies seemed so much closer than before. And wasn't there something else? A shape of some kind just behind them. A man?
The music swelled. The chords inverted. She found she didn't care at all. It was like the fiddle was weaving a story that she was a part of. She had to hear the end of it. By the time the water was at her neck, the music was so overwhelming that she was crying. Rapid variations, with swirling chords and melody seeming to spring forth from the violin, never slowing, pulling her ever onward. And such sadness. A longing so deep it could never be satisfied. Her tears merged with the water of the running river as the music merged with her. She was never seen again.
What was that shape, that appeared behind the fresh lilies of the running river? That lingered near the old mill? That played the fiddle so expertly that it could ensorcell the woman and compell her to drown herself? It was the Neck.
The Neck is a dangerous water spirit who seeks to capture people with his musical abilities and hold them in his underwater realm. He is a shapeshifter, and may take on many guises, though he will often appear as a male humanoid. He may appear young or old, wearing any sort of outfit. He will often have some strange, animal-like feature. An extra eye, webbed fingers, hooves, or a tail for example. Whatever shape he takes, he is always recognizable by his long, dark, seaweed-like hair, and his dark eyes.
The Neck's music is his greatest strength. His level of skill far surpasses the greatest human performers. It is a performance so perfect, with such a yearning, emotional pull, that it completely ensnares the mind that hears it. Few have heard it and survived to tell the tale. In some cases, he will perform a song compelling people to dance without rest until morning. In those cases, the audience survives but they only vaguely remember the feeling of the music, and not the truth of it. One story tells of a particularly dangerous song called the Alvaspelet (Fairy Tune) that even the Neck avoids performing. That song can compell people to dance so relentlessly that their feet turn to bloody stumps. It is said the audience may even wear away their entire bodies and so become bloody heads bouncing on the ground. If you suspect the Neck may be lurking nearby, you can bind him by stabbing a knife into the shore before going for a swim. In those cases you won't have any contact with him and so you won't hear his songs. For that you should be grateful.
The Neck's preferred instrument is the violin, though he will sometimes choose the flute or the harp. For those of you who are aspiring musicians, I will share a fact with you that must be guarded. I beseech you: do not share this information with anyone else. I only share it knowing that regular readers of Novus Bestiary will be equipped with an overall understanding of fairy creatures, and therefore equipped with a respectful fear of them.
The Neck can teach some of his musical skill to humans.
Only a brave fool would ever try to learn. Only they would go to a swift river or crossroads for three Thursday nights in a row and play their instrument. This fool would bring with them a black cat as payment on the third Thursday. The Neck would accept this and even then they would have to remain constantly on their guard as the Neck would attempt to lure them into the water throughout the lesson.
It is said that a human who becomes a student of the Neck, and manages to survive to perform the songs, will be so skillful that they will make inanimate objects dance about when they perform. I have yet to encounter such a person.