The Mermaid, a Ring and a Wish for Love ~ Fairy Tales for Kids
The Mermaid, a Ring and a Wish for Love was adapted from our original story, The Fisherlad and the Mermaid’s Ring. It is sgeulachdan (skale-ak-tan) tale from Scotland that’s told as part of the entertainment at a gathering such as a wedding.
Listen while you read along! Thanks to Elderberry Tales.
ONCE IN SCOTLAND a young man was so much in love with a lass that he did nothing but think of her night and day. At last he had the courage to offer her his heart and asked for hers in return.
But she did not share the same feeling, as it can happen. She sweetly smiled at him and then ran off. The young man was left feeling sad and defeated.
The young man was filled with embarrassment. He felt he could no longer show his face around town. Not with everyone knowing she had passed him over! He couldn’t even fish anymore with his friends at the shore, for he was too full of shame.
So with a heavy heart, he gathered his nets, got inside his boat and sailed off to a deserted island. He built himself a hut and every morning, very early, sailed to sea. There he would cast his nets and hopefully haul in a day’s catch. He took his catch to the closest shore port where no one knew his face. He would sell his fish to the local market, and with the money he earned, buy food and other necessities, and sail back home to his island. Such was his life, day after day.
Then one day, the corner of his eye caught something gleaming, with the fish in his net. Quickly, he grabbed it with one hand, though it twisted and thrashed, and he tied the net into a knot so that whatever it was could not escape.
“Let me go!” he heard a voice shout out. To his surprise, it was a mermaid! She looked like every other girl from the waist up, but below that flipped a long fishtail that glittered with shiny yellow-green scales.
“A mermaid!” he said. “You know as well as I do that you must grant me a wish.”
“Very well,” said the mermaid, “I suppose you want a bag of gold coins. I happen to know of a sunken ship not far from here with such treasure.”
“I have no interest in coins,” he said. “‘That will not give me what I want.”
“So it’s a trunk of treasure you require?” She turned her head with pride. “I am the daughter of the king of the sea, and can have my mermaid servants deliver such a trunk to your island.”
“If you know enough about me to know about my island,” he said, “you know what it is I really want.”
“The girl?” sighed the mermaid. “Why her?”
“Ooh, you know why!” he said. “Her blue eyes. Her blonde hair. The way she moves. She is what I want most in all the world. If I can’t have her, I want nothing else!”
“Ah, she is not so special,” said the mermaid. But when the young man tightened his grip on the netting, she quickly added, “Of course, I can grant your wish of love, but you must realize it will take some time. Release me and I’ll give you a magic ring. After one year and a day, when you go to her and offer her the ring, she will not refuse.”
“How do you know she won’t already be married by then?”
“She won’t be,” promised the mermaid.
So he decided to let the mermaid free. He took the ring and placed it in a jar on his nightstand. He decided to scratch the wood on the mantelpiece to keep track of everyday that went by.
One day not long after that as he sailed back to his island, he saw what looked like a heap of seaweed. More curious still was when the seaweed moved. He then saw that it was no mound of seaweed, but a brown-haired girl whose dark hair lay in a heap around her.
“What are you doing here, on my island?” he frowned.
“Ooh, ‘tis not your island, just because you got here first,” she said. “You’re not the only one who had to go somewhere! My father has a new bride not much older than myself. She’s horrible and mean and I fear she’s going to do something terrible to me.”
“You can’t stay here. You must go back and make it right with her.”
“It is not for you to tell me what to do,” she said. “Besides, I can’t go anywhere right now because the winds aren’t right.”
“Tomorrow morning the winds will change.”
“And my raft is broken.”
“I’ll fix it.”
“Stop it! I need to stay somewhere where I’m alone and safe!”
“So do I!” thundered the young man.
“You’ll have plenty of room,” she said. “You stay on your side of the island, and I’ll stay on mine. Besides,” she said more gently, “if I’m going to cook for myself, I may as well cook enough for two.
“Suit yourself,” he said. “But I eat alone.”
The girl was true to her word. When the young man returned from fishing or from the market, he would find a hot meal for him on the table. Where she went, where she slept, he didn’t know and did not wonder in the least.
One day he had an especially good day. The fish were plentiful and fetched a good price at market. He came home earlier than usual and found the girl in his hut. She was startled and started to leave. He said, “There now, you don’t have to go so quickly. Grab yourself a plate and sit across from me. We might as well eat together.”
So they ate together, saying little. But the next day she was also there when he returned and when they ate together, they said a few words more. The day after that, a few words more, until they got to know all about one another.
He understood completely why the girl had to leave her house, and he pounded the table with fury when she told him about her father and how he had been blind to the dangerous situation he had put her in. She listened with sympathy to the tale of his lost love and how he planned to win her heart with the mermaid’s ring after the 365 days.
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In fact, she posted a chart over the mantle to keep track of the days gone by and the ones left. A clever idea, he thought, since the scratches on the wood were becoming hard to tell apart and keep count.
Not long after that, the young man returned home from fishing one day and saw she had moved flowers from the field and planted them in front of the hut. “How nice and thoughtful,” he said to himself.
Around that time, she started to help him dock the boat and spread the nets. Though she was but a brown-haired young girl who was nearly as small as a child, she was surprisingly strong and helpful to have around.
One morning the girl said, “When you go to market, you must bring back a bit of window glass to keep the weather out.” He obliged, and the next day while he was gone she placed the glass in the window holes.
Indeed, the hut stayed warmer that evening. And in the day, a beam of sunlight shone through the new window. Another time she told him, “Bring me back some white paint – these walls are far too dreary.” He complied, and she cleaned the walls and painted them white.
Though he started to grumble about what little money was left after he fetched her this or fetched her that, he had to admit that his hut was more comfortable than it had ever been before.
On the other side of the island one day, he noticed a pile of grass had been pushed against a group of thick trees and was pressed down in the middle. He realized that it must be where she slept at night. A bit ashamed that he had never wondered about it before, he decided to forego fishing for a few days and started gathering wood and hammering it to the hut.
“What are you up to now?” she asked.
“‘It’s not proper for a young woman to sleep outside on a mound of grass,” he said. “This will be a room of your own.”
“Don’t do it on my account,” she sniffed. “I’m perfectly fine where I am.” But he noticed as she went about the house that evening she was humming to herself. A melody that was the same as one his mother used to sing.
And so the days went quickly by. Before he knew it, it was the 365th day, one whole year since the fateful day he caught the mermaid in his net. When the lad entered the hut that afternoon, he saw the girl in front of the hearth with the magic ring on her finger, holding up her hand and looking at it from all angles.
“What are you doing?” he barked.
“‘Tis nothing,” she said quickly, dropping the ring back into the jar and sealing it with its lid. “Just making sure all is well with the ring for tomorrow.”
Then she went to her room. When she returned, she held a cloth bag with all of her belongings.
“I’m leaving now. I’m going back to my father’s home.”
“What? Aren’t you worried how they will treat you?”
“I’ll manage. I’m older now.”
“It’s only been a year.”
“One year is enough.”
“But…the winds aren’t right.”
“They will be soon.”
“But we never fixed your raft. I’ll give you a ride in the boat.”
“I fixed the raft. I’d just as soon leave as I came, if that’s alright with you.”
She walked over to the chart, took it off the wall, laid it before him and marked off the last day.
“Tomorrow,” she said, “you will claim your own true love.”
And she left.
For the rest of the day, the young man stayed in his chair. He stared at the walls and at the floor. He slept in the chair. Early the next morning when he woke, the first thing he saw was the chart on the table before him. He went over to the mantle where he kept the mermaid’s ring and set out to claim the love of his life.
Only it wasn’t to the village he was born where he set his sail. It was to the land of the girl who had stayed with him at the island. You can imagine how surprised she was, to see him enter her father’s garden.
“Oh my! I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“Well, here I am,” he said.
“So, did you find the love of your life?”
“Yes, I did. I mean, now, I have.”
“And will she have you?” asked the girl, staring at the ring that he held in front of her.
“You tell me,” he said, looking into her eyes.
“Well, she might,” said the girl. “How about if you and the girl give it a bit of time to be sure?” And they smiled at each other.
They took their time, that they did. The young man found a place not far from hers and went fishing each day. At night they had dinner, and they talked and talked. Each day they felt more sure than the day before.
And so the two were wed, and a fine wedding it was, with all the family and friends that the girl and boy thought had been cross with them but who were no longer angry. If they had ever been angry at all.
And so the young man and his brown haired girl lived happily for the rest of their days.
Question 1: What did the brown-haired girl give the young man that the blonde-haired girl did not?
Question 2: What did the young man learn about love?