Once upon a time there was a fisherman who had to give fish to the king every day. On the day he failed to do so, his head would be cut off. He lived with his wife, a little pup, and a baby two months old. When he returned home in the evening, his wife never came out to meet him, but his dog was always at the door barking a welcome.
One night the fisherman couldn’t for the life of him make a catch. Suddenly a mermaid appeared and said, “Listen to me, fisherman, if you give me the first creature who comes out to greet you at your door, I will give you fish.” He though to himself, “My wife never comes to meet me, and neither does my baby boy. My dog is the only one who is always there.” So he made the deal with the mermaid, and tossing out his net, he drew it in heavy with fish. Now there were fish and enough left over to sell in the city.
When the fisherman got home that night, out came his little boy as fast as he could creep and hugged his father about the legs. Then the fisherman said in his heart, “My son, my son, I have to give you to the mermaid.” Without a word, he went off to the king’s to deliver his fish and sell the rest to the townsfolk. That evening, he brought home everything he needed for his humble cottage, but never mentioned a word of what had happened with the mermaid.
This man went on fishing every night. The bargain he had made with the mermaid was to deliver to her, at the age of sixteen, whoever came to the doorway. Gradually the fisherman became richer than a king, and meanwhile his son grew up by leaps and bounds. The boy came to be a handsome lad, and when he was coming of age, his father grew very sad, for he knew that the deadline of his fateful bargain was drawing near. Although his wife served him faithfully, he would not take a bite to eat. One day she said to him, “Eat, my love. I have done you no wrong.” But the fisherman answered nothing, until finally his son asked him, “Why won’t you serve yourself, father? Maybe it seems wrong to you that I am here.”
“No, my son,” he answered, “It’s not that at all. You see, I was once a poor fisherman and one night I couldn’t catch a thing. Then a mermaid made a bargain with me to trade fish for whoever should come to greet me at my door. As I thought it would surely be my little dog, I agreed. When I came home on that evening so long ago, you scrambled out and hugged my legs. Now the time is up, and I have to deliver you to the mermaid. That you see is the cause of my sadness.”
“Ah,” answered his son, “is that the only problem you’ve got? Go on and give me to her. But first you must go and buy a colored saddle.” The poor man shambled off to the store to buy some colored blankets, with which he made his son a saddle.
“Now, papa,” continued the boy, “we’re going to round up the animals.” Since the following day was the time for delivering the lad to the mermaid, the father and his son left the horses corralled and ready that night. Early the next morning, the boy got up and saddled the most cantankerous mare in the herd. His mother was fixing breakfast and crying for her son. He bade her good-bye and went outside with his father. They mounted up and rode away toward the sea.
The mermaid was waiting at the water’s edge, and when she caught sight of the lad, she exclaimed, “How lovely he is, and what a beautiful saddle! You must give me the boy and the horse, all together.” At that, the father threw his lasso into the middle of the sea, where the mermaid caught it. Then the father threw his lasso into the middle of the sea, where the mermaid caught it. Then the father rode to his house at breakneck speed, not turning once to look back. The mermaid stood with her eyes glued on the youth on horseback. “How lovely he is,