The Celtic Dragon Myth

At some time of the world, long long ago, there lived a poor old smith whose name was Duncan, and he lived in a little hut by the sea-shore. His house was built of boulders and turf, and thatched with bent and sea-ware; yellow gowans, green-grass, red thistles, and white flowers grew on the roof and waved in the wind, while the blue peat smoke curled up through a narel at the end of the roof. The fire was on the clay floor inside, and the smith's forge was at the end of the house. There Duncan had lived for many a long year, and there he was living with an old wife, an old mare, and an old dog for company. He had no son nor daughter, and never a man of his clan to bury him when his time should come.

When work was done in the smithy, or when there was no work to do, this old smith used to go out in the evening to fish in an old crazy boat; and many a time he had scanty fare, for fish are scarce and hard to catch in stormy weather in the west country.

On a day of these days, longer ago than you can remember, or than I can tell, he was fishing in the gloaming as he used to do, but he could catch nothing. At last, just at the mouth of night, a mermaid rose at the side of his boat, and she said:

Well, Duncan, are you getting fish?

Now, as everyone in these parts knows full well, mermaids are sea-monsters, half-woman, half-fish, with long yellow hair which they comb when they sit on the rocks to bask. They are very fond of music, they are very rich, and they are able to do many wonderful things. They often endow men and women with magical powers, and sometimes they fall in love with land people and marry them. So Duncan the smith answered the mermaid as he would have answered one of his land friends.

No, said he, I'm getting no fish at all.

What will you give me, said the mermaid, If I send you plenty of fish.

Well then, said he, I have but little to give.

What have you got at home? said the mermaid.

Well, said the fisher, I have an old wife, and an old white mare, and an old black dog, and that is all the stock that I have in the world.

Will you give me your first son when he is three years old? said the mermaid, If I send you fish.

I'll do that, said the fisher; and he thought that was a good bargain, for he had no son to give.

It's a bargain, said the mermaid, and down she sank.

It was too late to fish any more that night, so the fisher sculled home and went to bed.

But if the sun rose early next day the fisher rose earlier than she did, and he went to the boat and out to sea, and there he fished his best. But all day long he caught nothing. At last in the time of dusk and lateness, what should he happen upon but a fish. He drew it up to the side of his boat, and reached out his hand to grasp it; but the fish with the hook in his throat opened his big mouth and gaped at him, and it gurgled and gasped out:

Are you going to take me?

Well I am, said the fisher. I'm glad enough to get even you.