The background to this novel is the story of Agnete, a mortal maiden from the Danish village of Als, who was seduced by Vanimen, merman king of Liri. Agnete lived as his wife undersea for eight years before homesickness overtook her and she returned to her parents on land.
When news of her return and subsequent death finally reaches Magnus Gregersen, the overzealous archdeacon of the region, he is outraged to learn of the presence of a town of merfolk off the coast. He responds by performing an exorcism, cursing the sea people, banning them from their waters, and destroying their underwater city. The merfolk flee in pain. The four surviving halfling children of Agnete and Vanimen—Tauno, Eyjan, Kennin, and Yria—are immune to the curse, having both human and faerie heritage.
The novel then divides into two main narrative strands that follow the fates of the merfolk and of the children respectively. One strand tells the story of King Vanimen, who leads the remnant of his sea people in a dangerous quest for a new home. They steal a ship to provide a resting place for the younger and weaker members of the group during the arduous journey that Vanimen hopes will lead them to the safety of the non-Christian new world. They are driven off course by a gale, pursued by slavers, and finally forced ashore on the Dalmatian coast. The merfolk are captured by villagers and befriended by an old priest, Father Tomislav. They help their captors by driving another creature of Faerie, a Vodianoi, from a lake, and they are slowly accepted into the community. Tomislav’s tolerance and intercession finally leads to their conversion to Christianity. Having gained souls and Christian names, the merfolk retain dim memories of their previous lives undersea and become pious citizens who intermarry with the...
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