A perilous Rhine journey from Boppard to Bingen
“A kind of unearthly singing.”
“You’re imagining things – or your ears are blocked,” said Illya, ever practical.
The river flow was fast just here, upstream of Boppard. Their small craft was fighting the Rhine as it narrowed and its current poured round the rocky promontory in the great bend in the river.
“It’s getting louder,” said Napoleon, covering his ears.
Illya could hear nothing over the sound of the engine and the water under the bows. It wasn’t too easy to keep in the middle of the river. Even though the current was scouring the opposite shore, the outer curve of the bend, they nevertheless seemed to be dragged towards the rock. He looked up at it, recognised it suddenly, and increased their speed yet further to pull them away.
Slowly, gradually, the engine working harder than should have been necessary, they pulled out into the stream away from the rock and into the wider river channel beyond the bend. Napoleon relaxed again and sat back. “That was kind of weird,” he said. “A girl, singing – I could see her in my mind’s eye,” (which didn’t surprise Illya at all) “a beautiful nymph, pale, and fair, summoning me, yearning for me.” He looked at his friend, whose expression wasn’t quite as mocking as he expected.
“I don’t know where you got this streak of Romanticism from, Napoleon,” he said, “unless you’ve been reading up all the local legends?”
“It wasn’t romantic,” said Napoleon seriously. “It was as if she was summoning me to join her at the bottom of the Rhine – to drown.”
“Well, you’re safe enough now. We’ve successfully navigated the most dangerous stretch of the Rhine…”
“You mean you have, Illya. I would have taken us onto the rocks.”
“I know. You were … entranced … I think … That rock overlooking the bend back there – it’s the Lorelei rock.”
Napoleon looked back and, just for a moment, that piercing, unearthly song called him. Then it passed, and he was free. Illya was concentrating on steering but glanced at his friend and saw his eyes were normal again.
“Next stop, Bingen,” he said, “where the Bishop of Mainz was eaten by mice.”
“It’s OK – it’s just a legend. Not true.”
“So was the Lorelei,” said the Napoleon.