Sir Patrick and the Mermaid
In a way, Sir Patrick felt responsible for what happened. It wasn’t his tugboat and it wasn’t his propeller that injured her, but he was nearby and he was minding his nets instead of seeing what was up with all the racket.
The sea turned bloody, the foam rose to the surface. It was clear that the tugboat had clipped something big, perhaps something nasty like a shark, or rather something pretty like a dolphin? Who knew?
Sir Patrick took his time pulling his nets inside. To be honest, even if he had throttled his boat immediately, the heavy nets would have held him in place better than a solid anchor.
Took him, what? Fifteen minutes? Twenty? At most.
Nets safely tucked in, he moved his boat closer to the disturbance in the water. He saw something glistening but that meant little on the Scottish sea’s surface during the day. Lots of things glistened, a fish, a plastic bottle, a discarded bag.
What he saw that day changed him. But he didn’t waste any more time, he threw his ropes to the side and grabbed his sticks and gently tugged the floating body close to the hull.
Seeing it close, he gasped, as she was pretty, and she was mangled.
Sir Patrick made a noose and tied her tail close with his expert hands, then let go of the sticks and climbed outside. He reached for her with his hands, his back straining, his feet slipping.
Once, twice, he failed, she slipped away, carried out by the gentle wave. Luckily he had tied her well, so he had a third chance.
Success! He grabbed her tight around her torso and tried to keep his hands away from the nasty gashes along her body. Was she in pain? He didn’t know. Perhaps she had fainted from too much of it, Sir Patrick had seen grown men collapse that way after a severe accident during a fishing trip.
He bit his lip. If he had known, he would have hurried more. Yes, he knew that at most, he’d have come to her aid just a couple of minutes earlier, but still. Sir Patrick managed to pull himself up and back onto his boat, holding her tight.
Taking in a breath, he took her sight in as well.
She was young, that much was certain. And she was pretty. And naked. All that covered her up was her long hair and a stray bit of seaweed.
And, most importantly, she had a fish’s tail.
“No time to waste,” Sir Patrick said to himself as his heart pounded from the exertion. He slid a tarp under her to minimise all the pulling around and rolled her gently on top of it. She landed on her face, but she was out of it, and her wounds were still severe.
He pulled the tarp by the edges and brought her next to his fish tank, the one he kept for the live ones. Alas, it wasn’t empty, and he gnawed at his lower lip, thinking it over. The fish would take large bites out of her if he put her in like that, but he felt it in his guts that that’s where she needed to be if she was going to heal, and not outside in the air.
This wasn’t a landlubber, after all.
He would have to waste at least half of the catch to save her, and who could assure him that she even could be saved at his moment?
He punched the bulkhead, making a loud ‘thub.’ Glancing from her to the fish tank, he made up his mind. He quickly brought in another smaller net and ran it through the fish tank, catching them all in two large swaths. Then he simply threw them on the deck, right under the sun, leaving them to spoil.
His livelihood, little piles of fish slapping the deck and breathing in air, going bad.
He ran back and used the pulleys to lift her. She wasn’t light at all, and he needed to be extra careful not to open up any of the wounds again. She was still bleeding but significantly less now, he could tell. He managed to lift her up and slide her into the tank.
Now what? Sir Patrick scratched his head under his orange cap.
Then he brought in his first-aid kit, and thought it through. She was floating all right, but he didn’t really know if she drank in water or air. She didn’t seem to mind breathing despite being out of it, so he decided to prop up her head at the rim of the tank, out of the water. Then he threw in a smaller rope and gently brought up her tail to the surface. He kept her injured side up above the waterline and slathered the entire thing with antiseptic. He didn’t have much of it and it wouldn’t do much in the water, so he secured her a bit tighter to make sure the cuts remained dry.
At least for now.
He used up every last drop of his medical resources and then sat back, taking a moment to process things.
He had taken care of her, doing the best he could with what he had on the boat. Her injuries were very serious, the propeller had sliced her in deep cuts along her tail and one on her waist. Her fins were mangled, Sir Patrick didn’t know much about… those people but he was sure he couldn’t do much to save them. Could she swim without them? Would she be a cripple?
Perhaps she’d simply grow them back, he smiled by himself, being hopeful.
Then he slumped back on the floor, feeling exhausted. It was a tiring day of fishing from the early hours, and at the very end of it he exerted himself again by pulling her out of the water, then back on the deck. And he had thrown his entire catch out of the tank to place her inside. His hands had been trembling as he sewed up her cuts. He was used to working delicately by the pendulum sway of the sea. His muscles complained, his vision blurred.
She was as safe as she possibly could, under the circumstances.
So Sir Patrick fell asleep, dreaming of mermaids.
End of Part 1
Note: This story took me much longer because I needed to research the ballad ‘Sir Patrick Spens.’ It’s not over, we’ll see what happens next in part 2.
Sir Patrick woke up to a beautifully sad song coming from the throat of an ethereal creature. Even if he didn’t know the words, he knew they spoke about the open sea and how much she missed it. “Hey, lass, feeling better?” he asked her, taking some cautious steps not to spook her.
She was looking terrible, pale and half-dead. But how could he know if that wasn’t her usual self? She stopped her ohs and ahs and stared at him in anger.
Sir Patrick realised what she was mad about, he slapped his forehead. “Oh, sorry dear, here.”
She flinched away from him but she couldn’t really swim anywhere, tied up as she was. He opened his palms to show her he meant her no harm, and then undid the nautical knot with a single pull. He noticed that her skin looked dried up and bad, but the wounds were starting to heal.
The mermaid moved her tail around and she splashed all over the fish tank, spraying water everywhere. She was like a big tuna shaking about. “Oh ho!” Sir Patrick laughed, “look at you go! Feeling much better, right?”
The mermaid swam in circles and then faced him again, stopping in place, holding just her head up from the waterline. She looked as if she was sizing him up.
“I’m no threat to you, lass. Relax. I bandaged up your tail, see?” He pointed at it and mimicked his motions, trying to communicate that he had helped her out.
She didn’t seem to understand, and moreover she frowned in anger at him.
“Perhaps you can’t remember the tugboat, it must have been a shock after all. No, don’t think I did that.” He sighed, trying to think of what to do. “Oh, right, you must be hungry. What do you eat?” He mimicked putting food in his mouth.
She misunderstood again, splashing him with a wave of water and swimming at the far side of the fish tank.
“No, I’m not gonna eat you. I’m asking, what do you eat?” he tried again.
She kept looking defencive.
“Oh, rats. I’ll bring you some things you can try.” Sir Patrick tapped his chin. “Well, you live out in the sea, so it’s not like you have pizza or anything… So, raw fish? Clams? Calamari? Eww, that must be terrible when eaten raw…” He mumbled away as he walked out on the deck.
He decided on a tray of bread, some strawberry jam and some water. He didn’t know if she drank clean water, but the hospitable thing was to get her some. Then he went out and grabbed a fish from his catch that was piled up on the deck. A couple had been washed over and fallen back into the sea, but he couldn’t chase after each one. Best thing to do was to head to port and try to salvage something, at the very least. He set course and then cleaned out a raw fish, gutting it with swift, practised motions.
He placed it neatly on the tray and brought it over to the mermaid. She was swimming around the fish tank, and he could see that her movements were wobbly. She went straight for the far side as soon as she saw him.
“Here,” he mimicked eating, smacking his lips together.
She didn’t come any close.
Sir Patrick cut some bread and brought it to his mouth. “See? It’s safe to eat.” And he did so to show her. Then he propped up the tray on top of two crates, and walked away from the tank to give her space.
Timidly, she tilted her head and seemed to think it over.
“Go on,” he told her from the far side of the compartment, gesturing the same with his hand.
The mermaid swam close to the tray and poked it with her finger. Other than her fishy tail, her top half was as normal and good as a young lass’, even better-looking, if Sir Patrick might add. He sat down at a spot where he had a straight view where they were heading and waited for her to eat. After a while, he fished inside his pockets for his music player. It was a cheap old-thing from China or somewhere, but it was rugged and watertight, and it worked, so that was most important. He put the white earbuds in and listened to some of his favourite songs. He made sure not to stare at the mermaid, and soon enough, she seemed to find the courage to reach out and grab the raw fish he’d cleaned out for her. She splashed back to the far side and started eating it in the cutest way possible, holding it with both her hands and taking small bites out of it.
Sir Patrick smiled, but didn’t let it show. She seemed like she’d make it after all.
Once docked, he calmed her down. The horns and the noise made her fussy. “Hey, lass, it’s no big deal. I’m gonna go now, and you stay here.” He threw a tarp up on the door so nobody could see inside, and went out to arrange for his catch to sell.
“Why’d you throw them out here?” the dockworker asked, pulling the net.
Sir Patrick had the lie ready. “Oh, saw something nasty in the fish tank, decided not to risk it, you know? I’m gonna wipe it down good as soon as possible.”
“Makes sense. Wouldn’t wanna make them all ill now. Merchants would go nuts over it,” the dockworker agreed. “But you lost four-tenths of the catch…”
Sir Patrick sighed, and that feeling was truth. He pulled off his cap, scratched his head. “I had to.”
The dockworker agreed to that as well and finished getting the entire catch out.
Putting the tarp back up, he checked up on the mermaid. “Okay, nobody saw you, or they’d surely freak out.”
The mermaid seemed calmer now, she didn’t flinch or swim away as soon as he walked inside. She still seemed to be in great pain though, Sir Patrick knew of that sort of thing.
“Did you like the food? What did you eat in the end? Fish and some bread. Okay, as cuisines go, I can definitely handle that particular dish.” He smiled and picked up the tray. He saw her looking at something else. Following her gaze, he laughed. “You want my music player?” It was discarded in the corner where he was sitting down earlier. He went for it and brought it close to her. Sir Patrick clicked on a tune and offered the earbud to her.
She tilted her head, then sniffed at the earbud.
“See, here, like this. In your ears. I’m not reaching out to put it in there, you’ll probably bite my hand off. Do it yourself, lass.” He gestured and showed her how.
Hesitating, the mermaid picked up the white earbud and put it carefully in her ear. Then it slipped away, straight into the water.
“Don’t worry, they’re waterproof. Nothing electronic would survive in the sea otherwise. Just try it again, alright?”
She did, and this time it stayed there. She winced as she moved her hand around, her injuries still not having healed.
“Nice!” Sir Patrick offered her the other one too.
She put it in the other ear, then her eyes went wide as the music player got to an emotional rock ballad.
Sir Patrick could hear his favourite tunes coming in muted. “You like that one, huh? Me too. See, we have the same taste in music, that makes us best buddies already. By the way, what’s your name?”
The mermaid stared at him, but she seemed to enjoy the music.
“We need to name you something?” he stroked his beard. “Fishy? No… Tails? Nah… Barbara?” he shrugged.
He got no response.
“Nope, you’re right, I don’t like that one either. Ah whatever, we’ll think of something.”
The mermaid still seemed to be in pain, but she smiled wide and nodded her head. She looked so normal, just a young lass at the side of the pool, her hands lazy on the rim, earbuds in and listening to music.
“You know what’s missing?” Sir Patrick laughed. He took off his cap and put it on her head.
She tensed up just a tiny bit, then straightened it on her head, and smiled back at him.
“Huh? Now you’re perfect, just a lass hanging out with a fisherman, listening to oldies, right?” he laughed again.
Forgetting her serious injuries for a moment, she laughed back, looking happy.
End of Part 2
Sir Patrick spent a lot of time with the mermaid, hiding her inside his boat. She didn’t speak except to sing at the fishes, but she was clearly intelligent enough to understand him.
One day, Sir Patrick had some serious business to attend to in the mainland.
The shopkeeper caught him mumbling in front of his gift shop, “What should I get her?”
“Daughter or niece?” the shopkeeper asked, sizing him up.
Sir Patrick was caught unaware. “Ugh… I dunno. I mean, she’s my niece, but I don’t know what to get her.”
“What does she like?” the shopkeeper said, trying to be helpful.
“Well, the sea, definitely. And fish. And music.”
“I see. Well, my niece likes this snow globe very much. She finds it very pretty,” the shopkeeper said, picking said snow globe from the shelf.
Sir Patrick accepted it. It was an underwater castle, with plastic fish swimming around an the glitter inside looked like it was bubbles. “Ah, yes! This one is perfect.”
“Give it a shake!”
Sir Patrick did. It was very pretty indeed. “Brilliant. She’ll love this one.”
The shopkeeper took it back and went for the counter. “Gift wrapped, then.”
Sir Patrick was anxious to get back on his boat, to check up on her. What if something had happened to her? What if someone had gone inside and seen her? She had the music player and he’d left her enough food to last her more than the two days he needed to be away, but he couldn’t sleep. He checked out of his hotel without staying the night and took the midnight bus back to port.
He found her singing to the fish.
It was lovely, and it was melancholy.
He didn’t have the nerve to tell her to keep it quiet, her singing was so sweet. Of course, it was what people could easily hear while working or skulking around the docks, and it was what would get them both caught. Her, for being a creature straight out of mythology, and him, for keeping her captive all this time.
Yes, he knew that he wasn’t keeping her prisoner, and even she knew that. But it wasn’t like she could put that in writing. It was fishy, this whole situation, and Sir Patrick knew it wouldn’t end well. The logical thing to do was to wait a couple more weeks for her injuries to heal and then drop her off at some cove somewhere, he’d even picked out the spot, it had plenty of fish and a gentle natural wavebreaker. But he didn’t have the nerve to just drop her off.
She was scarred, both physically and mentally.
All he could do was to take care of her.
“Hey, lass! Look what I brought you.”
She gifted him a smile and accepted the wrapped thing. She put her tongue on it, and the paint must have been bitter because she was disgusted.
“Ha! No, it’s not food. Tear it open,” he mimicked.
She did so, and held the snow globe in her hands as if it was something precious.
“Give it a shake, gently,” he mimicked again.
She shook it, and the fish inside it swam around, and the bubbles went up. Her eyes lit up, and she looked up at him.
“Yes, it’s yours. It’s a gift. Keep it.”
She shook it again, enjoying the pretty sight between her hands, mesmerised.
Sir Patrick sighed. “Glad you like it, lass. Hey, I also came up with a name. It was a fish tavern I dined last night, it was called Thetis. Has to do with some myth about plentiful fish. Do you like that name, Thetis, eh?”
The mermaid looked up at him.
He pointed at her. “Thetis.” Then at his chest. “Sir Patrick.” Then back at her. “Thetis.”
She mouthed the words, making a sound. It was nowhere near English, but it sounded pretty close.
“Yes! So, you do like it, Thetis. Okay, that’s what I’ll call you from now on. Now, I’m exhausted, didn’t get any rest. If you’ll excuse me,” he said, rubbing his sleepy face. He turned to leave. He stepped back and waved, “Oh, and before I forget, goodnight, Thetis.”
She waved back at him.
A year passed. Somehow, some way, his luck changed drastically. It was as if he found schools and schools of fish wherever he dropped anchor. His nets kept bursting out from all the weight, and he kept having them sewn up. Thetis swam around in her fish tank inside his little fishing boat, coming along for the ride. She kept him company, since Sir Patrick was a very lonely man. Her fin hadn’t healed back, unfortunately. She could swim, but Sir Patrick could see that it was the aquatic equivalent of a person limping on one leg. He felt sad about that. Perhaps, if he had gotten to her sooner?
But no, what more could he do? She was lucky to be alive.
Thetis’ face was hesitant.
“Come on, we ain’t got all day,” Sir Patrick said, pointing at the door.
Thetis shook her head, pretending not to understand.
“I know you understand me perfectly fine, lass,” he pointed a finger at her. “Now, you are going to move your fishy butt and pull yourself out of that tank, and into the water, you hear me?” he demanded.
Thetis looked horrified.
His mask of anger melted away. “Aww, come on, don’t give me that look. I was yelling at you for your own good. You have to try and get back to sea. At least swim around the boat?”
She nodded in acknowledgement, still looking unwell. Then she brought up her mangled tail from the waterline.
“Physically, you’re as good as you’ll ever be,” Sir Patrick said softly. “It’s not your tail that’s the problem, you’re just scared. Now, come on, I’ll be with you all the way.” He put on an orange life vest.
Thetis bit her lip. He could see she was struggling internally, but she did grip on the ledge of the fish tank and made a hesitant push to get her body up. That of course, revealed her chest, and it was very nice indeed.
“Woah!” Sir Patrick said, stepping close but looking away. He held up between them a jacket he’d gotten for her. “Put this on.” He waited for a bit, then took a peek. “Got it on? You have. Much better. Now, let me help you out of there…” He picked her up by the armpits and helped her get on a little trolley he had for the fish crates. “Okay, now, that’s all the help you’re getting. Push it with your hands.”
She tried it out and managed it after a while, pushing herself on the deck. She looked around, squinting in the sun.
“It’s a nice day. Nobody’s around here, I checked the radar, so you can move as you like. Here, get to the side from up here and get down into the water. Grab onto the anchor’s chain.” He rattled the chain to show her the grip.
She didn’t look like she wanted to. She shook her head.
“Now, now, Thetis. What did you promise me? You said that as soon you’d be all healed up, you’d get back in the water. It’s been too long. Sure, the fish tank is nice and safe, but you can’t stay in there forever. Come on now.” He offered his arm for support.
Thetis hesitated and looked around. Then she grabbed it, and pulled herself up and along the chain. She was stronger than her tiny frame looked, and she had healed up. She pushed herself on the deck and onto the railing. Thetis looked down at the waves, longing evident in her eyes. She turned back to Sir Patrick.
He nodded in approval, blinking slowly.
Thetis hopped over the railing and climbed herself down from the anchor. Sir Patrick leaned over the edge to see. Thetis hesitated for a single second just before the sea level, and then she jumped into the water, making a big splash.
Sir Patrick cheered and pulled his head cap off. “Go, Thetis! Swim, you magnificent girl.”
Four more years passed. Thetis found the courage to get back into the sea, but she never strayed far away from the boat. They made sure nobody saw her coming or going, but she never went far. Sir Patrick couldn’t see her in the deep waters but the fishing sonar could, bright as day. Thetis sat on the bottom for hours, listening to music. He didn’t really know what she thought about when she was down there, but he was a man that appreciated his being left alone as much as he appreciated good company, so he understood and just let her be.
Like the anchor she sat beside, she was tethered to the ship and him. Not by choice, but by circumstance.
The catch kept on being impossibly good, and Sir Patrick was experienced enough to know that this was far from a fluke. Five years in a row of good fishing just didn’t happen like that, especially when the others kept trying to tail him and caught less than his little boat. Fishermen gossiped, and Sir Patrick was becoming well-known as the best fisherman around these parts. That was silly, of course, and Sir Patrick laughed every time he heard such a thing.
End of Part 3
Note: Conclusion coming up in Part 4. And adventure!