The sea fairies have
grey skin-coverings and resemble seals. They dwell in cave houses on
the borders of Land-under-Waves, where they have a kingdom of their
own. They love music and the dance, like the green land fairies, and
when harper or piper plays on the beach they come up to listen,
their sloe-black eyes sparkling with joy. On moonlight nights they
hear the mermaids singing on the rocks when human beings are fast
asleep, and they call to them: "Sing again the old sea croons; sing
again!" All night long the sea fairies call thus when mermaids cease
to sing, and the mermaids sing again and again to them. When the
wind pipes loud and free, and the sea leaps and whirls and swings
and cries aloud with wintry merriment, the sea fairies dance with
the dancing waves, tossing white petals of foam over their heads,
and twining pearls of spray about their necks. They love to hunt the
silvern salmon in the forests of sea-tangle and in ocean's deep blue
glens, and far up dark ravines through which flow rivers of sweet
mountain waters gemmed with stars.
The sea fairies have a language of their
own, and they are also skilled in human speech. When they come
ashore they can take the forms of men or women, and turn billows
into dark horses with grey manes and long grey tails, and on these
they ride over mountain and moor.
There was once a fisherman who visited
the palace of the queen of sea fairies, and told on his return all
he had seen and all he had heard. He dwelt in a little township nigh
to John-o'-Groat's House, and was wont to catch fish and seals. When
he found that he could earn much money by hunting seals, whose skins
make warm winter clothing, he troubled little about catching salmon
or cod, and worked constantly as a seal-hunter. He crept among the
rocks searching for his prey, and visited lonely seal-haunted
islands across the Pentland Firth, where he often found the strange
sea-prowlers lying on smooth flat ledges of rock fast asleep in the
In his house he had great bundles of dried sealskins, and people
came from a distance to purchase them from him. His fame as a
seal-hunter went far and wide.
One evening a dark stranger rode up to
his house, mounted on a black, spirited mare with grey mane and grey
tail. He called to the fisherman who came out, and then said: "Make
haste and ride with me towards the east. My master desires to do
business with you."
"I have no horse," the fisherman
answered, "but I shall walk to your master's house on the morrow."
Said the stranger: "Come now. Ride with
me. My good mare is fleet-footed and strong."
"As you will," answered the fisherman,
who at once mounted the mare behind the stranger.
The mare turned round and right-about,
and galloped eastward faster than the wind of March. Shingle rose in
front of her like rock-strewn sea-spray, and a sand-cloud gathered
and swept out behind like mountain mists that are scattered before a
gale. The fisherman gasped for breath, for although the wind was
blowing against his back when he mounted the mare, it blew fiercely
in his face as he rode on. The mare went fast and far until she drew
nigh to a precipice. Near the edge of it she halted suddenly. The
fisherman found then that the wind was stiII blowing seaward,
although he had thought it had veered round as he rode. Never before
had he sat on the back of so fleet-footed a mare.
Said the stranger: "We have almost
reached my master's dwelling."
The fisherman looked round about him
with surprise, and saw neither house nor the smoke of one. "Where is
your master?" he asked.
Said the stranger: "You shall see him
presently. Come with me."
As he spoke he walked towards the edge
of the precipice and looked over. The fisherman did the sane, and
saw nothing but the grey lonely sea heaving in a long slow swell,
and sea-birds wheeling and sliding down the wind.
"Where is your master?" he asked once
that the stranger suddenly clasped the seal-hunter in his arms, and
crying, "Come with me," leapt over the edge of the precipice. The
mare leapt with her master.
Down, down they fell through the air,
scattering the startled sea-birds. Screaming and fluttering, the
birds rose in clouds about and above them, and down ever down the
men and the mare continued to fall till they plunged into the sea,
and sank and sank, while the light around them faded into darkness
deeper than night. The fisherman wondered to find himself still
alive as he passed through the sea depths, seeing naught, hearing
naught, and still moving swiftly. At length he ceased to sink, and
went forward. He suffered no pain or discomfort, nor was he afraid.
His only feeling was of wonder, and in the thick, cool darkness he
wondered greatly what would happen next. At length he saw a faint
green light, and as he went onward the light grew brighter and
brighter, until the glens and bens and forests of the sea kingdom
arose before his eyes. Then he discovered that he was swimming
beside the stranger and that they had both been changed into seals.
Said the stranger: "Yonder is my
The fisherman looked, and saw a township
of foam-white houses on the edge of a great sea-forest and fronted
by a bank of sea-moss which was green as grass but more beautiful,
and very bright. There were crowds of seal-folk in the township. He
saw then moving about to and fro, and heard their voices, but he
could not understand their speech. Mothers nursed their babes, and
young children played games on banks of green sea-moss, and from the
brown and golden sea-forest came sounds of music and the shouts of
the stranger: "Here is my master's house. Let us enter."
He led the fisherman towards the door of
a great foam-white palace with its many bright windows. It was
thatched with red tangle, and the door was of green stone. The door
opened as smoothly as a summer wave that moves across a river mouth,
and the fisherman entered with his guide. He found himself in a
dimly-lighted room, and saw an old grey seal stretched on a bed, and
heard him moaning with pain. Beside the bed lay a blood-stained
knife, and the fisherman knew at a glance that it was his own. Then
he remembered that, not many hours before, he had stabbed a seal,
and that it had escaped by plunging into the sea, carrying the knife
in its back.
The fisherman was startled to realize that the old seal on the bed
was the very one he had tried to kill, and his heart was filled with
fear. He threw himself down and begged for forgiveness and mercy,
for he feared that he would be put to death.
The guide lifted up the knife and asked:
"Have you ever seen this knife before?" He spoke in human language.
"That is my knife, alas!" exclaimed the
the guide: "The wounded seal is my father. Our doctors are unable to
cure him. They can do naught without your help. That is why I
visited your house and urged you to come with me. I ask your pardon
for deceiving you, O man! but as I love my father greatly, I had to
do as I have done."
"Do not ask my pardon," the fisherman
said; "I have need of yours. I am sorry and ashamed for having
stabbed your father."
Said the guide: "Lay your hand on the
wound and wish it to be healed."
The fisherman laid his hand on the
wound, and the pain that the seal suffered passed into his hand, but
did not remain long. As if by magic, the wound was healed at once.
Then the old grey seal rose up strong and well again.
Said the guide: "You have served us well
this day, O man!"
When the fisherman had entered the
house, all the seals that were within were weeping tears of sorrow,
but they ceased to weep as soon as he had laid his hand on the
wound, and when the old seal rose up they all became merry and
fisherman wondered what would happen next. For a time the seals
seemed to forget his presence, but at length his guide spoke to him
and said: "Now, O man! you can return to your own home where your
wife and children await you. I shall lead you through the sea
depths, and take you on my mare across the plain which we crossed
when corning hither."
"I give you thanks," the fisherman
the guide: "Before you leave there is one thing you must do; you
must take a vow never again to hunt seals."
The fisherman answered: "Surely, I
promise never again to hunt for seals."
Said the guide: "If ever you break your
promise you shall die. I counsel you to keep it, and as long as you
do so you will prosper. Every time you set lines, or cast a net, you
will catch much fish. Our seal-servants will help you, and if you
wish to reward them for their services, take with you in your boat a
harp or pipe and play sweet music, for music is the delight of all
fisherman vowed he would never break his promise, and the guide then
led him back to dry land. As soon as he reached the shore he ceased
to be a seal and became a man once again. The guide, who had also
changed shape, breathed over a great wave and, immediately, it
became a dark mare with grey mane and grey tail. He then mounted the
mare, and bade the fisherman mount behind him. The mare rose in the
air as lightly as wind-tossed spray, and passing through the clouds
of startled sea-birds reached the top of the precipice. On she raced
at once, raising the shingle in front and a cloud of sand behind.
The night was falling and the stars began to appear, but it was not
quite dark when the fisherman's house was reached.
The fisherman dismounted, and his guide
spoke and said: "Take this from me, and may you live happily."
He handed the fisherman a small bag, and
crying: "Farewell! Remember your vow," he wheeled his mare right
round and passed swiftly out of sight.
The fisherman entered his house, and
found his wife still there. "You have returned," she said. I low did
know not yet," he answered. Then he sat down and opened the bag, and
to his surprise and delight found it was full of pearls.his wife
uttered a cry of wonder, and said:
"From whom did you receive this
fisherman then related all that had taken place, and his wife
wondered to hear him.
"Never again will I hunt seals," he
exclaimed. And he kept his word and prospered, and lived happily
until the day of his death.