The Brown Fairy Book
The Mermaid and the Boy
Long, long ago, there lived a king who ruled over a country by the sea. When he had
been married about a year, some of his subjects, inhabiting a distant group of islands,
revolted against his laws, and it became needful for him to leave his wife and go in
person to settle their disputes. The queen feared that some ill would come of it, and
implored him to stay at home, but he told her that nobody could do his work for him, and
the next morning the sails were spread, and the king started on his voyage.
The vessel had not gone very far when she ran upon a rock, and stuck so fast in a cleft
that the strength of the whole crew could not get her off again. To make matters worse,
the wind was rising too, and it was quite plain that in a few hours the ship would be
dashed to pieces and everybody would be drowned, when suddenly the form of a
mermaid was seen dancing on the waves which threatened every moment to overwhelm
'There is only one way to free yourselves,' she said to the king, bobbing up and down in
the water as she spoke, 'and that is to give me your solemn word that you will deliver to
me the first child that is born to you.'
The king hesitated at this proposal. He hoped that some day he might have children in his
home, and the thought that he must yield up the heir to his crown was very bitter to him;
but just then a huge wave broke with great force on the ship's side, and his men fell on
their knees and entreated him to save them.
So he promised, and this time a wave lifted the vessel clean off the rocks, and she was in
the open sea once more.
The affairs of the islands took longer to settle than the king had expected, and some
months passed away before he returned to his palace. In his absence a son had been born
to him, and so great was his joy that he quite forgot the mermaid and the price he had
paid for the safety of his ship. But as the years went on, and the baby grew into a fine big
boy, the remembrance of it came back, and one day he told the queen the whole story.
From that moment the happiness of both their lives was ruined. Every night they went to
bed wondering if they should find his room empty in the morning, and every day they
kept him by their sides, expecting him to be snatched away before their very eyes.
At last the king felt that this state of things could not continue, and he said to his wife:
'After all, the most foolish thing in the world one can do is to keep the boy here in exactly
the place in which the mermaid will seek him. Let us give him food and send him on his
travels, and perhaps, if the mermaid ever blocs come to seek him, she may be content
with some other child.' And the queen agreed that his plan seemed the wisest.