Tell Me a Story by Amy Friedman and Meredith Johnson

The Fisherman and the Merman (A Folktale From Iceland)

Once upon a time a fisherman and his wife lived in the city of Hofn, in Iceland, and every day the fisherman paddled out into the huge lagoon to fish. Some days he was lucky, some days not so fortunate, but every day as he rowed he repeated to himself, "Wealth flows to where there is gold already."

It was an old saying, and since he had no gold at all, he often felt a bit hopeless. However, he continued to hold fast to his dream of finding gold.

One day he cast his line and immediately felt a mighty tug. He began to pull, and pull, and pull, and while he was a strong man, his line felt heavier than it ever had. He yanked with all his strength, and as he did, he was startled to see that he had not caught a fish.

Rather, at the end of his line was a man's head and body with the tail of a fish -- a merman!

"Who are you?" the fisherman asked, amazed by the sight. He had heard tales of those known as the Marbendill, but he had never seen such a creature. He had never actually believed they existed, but here was one right before his eyes.

"I'm a merman from the bottom of the sea, and since you know experience is most truthful, from this day on you shall believe we do exist."

"But why did you get caught on my hook?" the fisherman asked. In all the stories he had heard about mermen, they avoided people. "You must have been careless."

"This is true," said the merman. "Now let me go, will you? I was distracted, but as you know, I cannot live onshore. My family is down below."

The fisherman thought for a while. He had heard mermen brought fine gifts to human beings, and he was not about to let this one go without his gift. "I'd like a gift," he said.

The merman said nothing. He was thinking hard, too, for that's what mermen do. He looked around, noticing the arctic fox running across the land, the reindeer on shore, the puffins nesting up above them in the cliffs. This was a lovely world, but not for him. He belonged under the sea.

While he was thinking, the fisherman hauled him into the boat. "I think I'll keep you a while and see what price I can fetch."

He tied the merman into his boat and rowed to shore.

The moment he pulled to shore, the fisherman's dog raced to meet them. He barked and leapt into the air, excited and happy. But the fisherman ignored his dog. He had no time now for petting and spoiling. He stepped around the dog, intent on figuring out what to do with his gift from the sea.

The dog's tail drooped and, looking downcast, he slunk away. The merman burst out laughing.

The fisherman was busy mooring his boat, and so he said nothing. When the boat was steady, he lifted the merman into his arms. This was no easy task because the merman was large. So he flung him over his shoulder and began to walk uphill toward home.

As he was climbing toward his cottage, he tripped on a mound of earth and grass and nearly fell. He turned and cursed, and as he did, the merman again burst out laughing.

Still, the fisherman paid little attention as he hurried to his cottage.

When he arrived, his wife ran outside and greeted him, "My love, how I have missed you!"

Again the merman burst out laughing.

Now, puzzled, the fisherman turned and asked, "What is so funny? You are always laughing."

"I've laughed just three times," the merman answered.

"And what is it you're laughing at?" the fisherman asked.

"I laugh when you behave like a fool. First you ignored the dog who loves you more than life itself. Only a fool ignores love. The second time I laughed because you cursed a mound of earth, but beneath that earth lies a pot of gold and only fool curses gold. The third time I laughed because your wife only pretends to love you and only a fool falls for pretense. Now, do not be a fool again. Be a good man and set me free."

The fisherman considered the merman's words. "Beyond your playfulness you may be serious," he said. "But there are ways to prove your words. You are right about my dog. He does love me. Now, let us go see if there is gold under that mound."

Still carrying the merman, the fisherman walked back to the spot where he had tripped. He tied the merman to a tree and dug down deep. Sure enough, he found a pot of gold, just as the merman had promised. The fisherman nodded. "You have been true to your word, and so shall I be," he said, and he rowed the merman back to the middle of the sea, letting him go just where he'd caught him.

The merman dived into the water, but just before he vanished, he rose to the surface and said, "You have been good to me, so I shall reward you. Be happy, my friend! Don't be a fool."

With those words he disappeared; moments later seven gray sea cows rose out of the water and swam to shore -- landing near the fisherman's cottage.

The fisherman ran after them, and as he did, one of them stopped and turned while the rest galloped away.

That sea cow turned so tame, it was as if she had always lived on land, and she gave so much milk, the fisherman became the wealthiest man in the village; that cow was the mother of the gray cows that live there to this day.

As for the fisherman's wife, nobody knows what happened to her. Still, if anyone ever catches a merman, it would be wise to pay close attention and to listen for the merman's laugh.

"Tell Me a Story 2: Animal Magic," the second CD in the audiobook series, is now available. For more information, please visit www.mythsandtales.com.