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The Merman Laughed

Long ago a farmer lived at Vogar. Of all the farmers round about, not one was so good at fishing as he.

One day he went out fishing as his custom was, and cast down his line from the boat. He waited for a while, and then found his line was very hard to pull up again, as if there were something heavy at the end of it. Then he found out he had caught a creature with a man's head and body and the tail of a dolphin. When he saw that the creature was alive, he said, "Who are you, and where do you come from?"

"A merman from the bottom of the sea," was the reply.

The farmer then asked him what he had been doing when the hook caught his flesh.

The other replied, "I was turning the cowl of my mother's chimneypot to suit it to the wind down there. So let me go again, will you?"

"Not for the present," said the fisherman. "You shall serve me for a while first."

Without more words he dragged him into the boat and rowed to shore with him.

When they got to the boat-house, the fisherman's dog came to him and greeted him joyfully, barking and fawning on him, and wagging his tail. But the man was not in a good mood, and struck the poor animal. Then the merman laughed, as if he knew something.

Having fastened the boat, the man went towards his house, dragging his prize with him, over the fields. On his way the man stumbled over a hillock in his way, and swore. Now the the merman laughed for the second time.

When the fisherman came to the farm, his wife came out to receive him. She embraced him affectionately and he received her salutations with pleasure. The merman laughed for the third time.

Then said the farmer to the merman, "You have laughed three times, and I am curious to know why. Do tell me."

"I will not," replied the merman, "unless you promise to take me to the same place in the sea that you caught me from, and to let me go free again there."

The farmer promised.

"Well," said the merman, "I laughed because you could not handle things in your way too well. First i laughed at your folly when you felt bothered by and even kicked your dog when he was really and sincerely happy at meeting you. The second time, because you cursed the mound where you stumbled, for it full of golden ducats. And the third time, because you received with pleasure your wife's empty and flattering embrace, for she is faithless to you, and a hypocrite. And now be an honest man and take me out to the sea from where you have brought me.'

The farmer considered and replied: "You were right about the dog meeting. I was dumb. As for my wife, I have no means right now of proving how faithful she is. But the third thing I can and will try the truth of, and if the hillock contains gold, then I may come to believe all you have said."

So he went to the hillock and dug up a great treasure of golden ducats, as the merman had told him. After this the farmer took the merman down to the boat, and to that place in the sea from where he had caught him. Before the man put him in, the merman said to him:

"Farmer, you have been honest, and I will reward you for restoring me to my mother, if only you have skill enough to take possession of property that I shall throw in your way. Be happy and prosper."

Then the farmer put the merman into the sea, and he sank out of sight.

Not long after, seven sea-grey cows were seen on the beach, close to the farmer's land. These cows appeared to be very unruly, and ran away as soon as the farmer approached them. So he took a stick and ran after them, having the idea that if he could burst the bladder which he saw on the nose of each of them, they would belong to him. He managed to hit out the bladder on the nose of one cow. Then it became so tame that he could easily catch it. But the others leaped into the sea and disappeared. The farmer was convinced that this was the gift of the merman. And a very useful gift it was, for better cow was never seen nor milked in all the land, and she was the mother of the race of grey cows so much esteemed now.

The farmer prospered exceedingly, but never caught any more merman. As for his wife, nothing further is told about her, so we can repeat nothing.



The Nick as a Working Horse

Somewhere there was a farmer who once did his spring ploughing with the help of a nick. This happened after he had sent his servant girl to the field to get his horse and she returned without it, saying that there were two horses on the pasture.

"Take the one that isn't ours," said the farmer.

She got the strange horse, and the farmer used it for all his spring work. But he never dared take the bit out of the horse's mouth.

One time the servant girl was supposed to unharness the horse. She absent-mindedly took the bit out. As soon as the horse was rid of the bit, it ran right into the lake, as nicks are said to do.


Icelandic folktales, notes



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