A Patchwork Fairy Tale: the one with the ring, the kelpie, and the helpful animals.
A young man grows up with the blessing of the animals that inhabit the beach where he grew up and takes this luck with him on a quest to find the perfect ring to propose to his sweetheart.
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[Gentle theme music]
Laura: Hi, I’m called Laura, I’m here to tell you a story if you like. You found one of my Patchwork Fairy Tales. This is the one with the ring, the kelpie, and the helpful animals.
The Baby on the Beach
There once was a young woman that had been shut up in her little house for days, awaiting the birth of her first child. With the birth over and the baby healthy as could be, the young mother was wild to go out again. When her husband – who was a fisherman – got ready to leave in the grey dawn she said:
“Let me go with you, my love. I long to smell the sea again!”
“I would gladly take you,” said the fisherman. “But we cannot take the baby out to sea yet, he is far too little.”
The mother looked at her baby and knew he was right.
“Do not be so glum,” the fisherman consoled her. “Come after me when the sun has chased the gloom away. Take a walk on the beach with the baby and when I have hauled my catch ashore we can tend to it together.”
This cheered the young mother, so she kissed her husband and saw him off.
Then she fed her baby and wrapped him up well. By that time the sun shone through the window and the young mother set out happily. She walked down the dunes to the seashore where the sea wind and the sparkling water greeted her. The young mother reveled in them and, looking out across the beach, she saw the flotsam and jetsam that the sea had left behind.
“As soon as your little legs can carry you, you’ll be able to join me, little man,” the mother said. “But for now you’ll have to watch me do the beachcombing.”
She made a snug little hollow in the sand and laid her baby in it, wrapped cozily in her shawl.
Then she set out strolling across the beach, picking up wood and netting and a great many other things that the sea had discarded.
The baby lay contently in his nest and looked at his mother. He smelled the sea and saw the sky and for the first time heard the rushing of the waves. He closed his eyes for a second and when he opened them again he did not see his mother anymore. The baby considered this and decided to cry. So he did.
His newborn wails were carried off by the wind, and his mother did not hear him. She’d been chasing the horizon and had lost herself in her search, as anyone that has ever been beachcombing can easily imagine.
So the baby kept on crying and finally his cries reached a large seagull sailing on the same wind that carried the baby’s wails.
He sailed down to the source of the crying and landed next to the hollow in the sand. At that time a brown crab and a small dune rabbit had been attracted by the noise too and the three animals looked at the baby together.
The baby had stopped crying, quite impressed by the crowd he had managed to draw.
“Why is this human chick all alone?” said the seagull. “Where is its mother?”
“She is hunting the shoreline for treasure,” said the crab, that had seen the woman.
“Shame on her!” cawed the seagull.
“Och, one cannot carry one’s children all the time,” said the rabbit, that knew of the fisherman and his wife and was disposed to like them, for they never caught or ate a rabbit.
“Well,” said the seagull. “What must we do with it?”
“Nothing at all,” said the crab.
“We wait until his mother comes back,” said the rabbit.
“Right,” said the seagull and he sat down in the sand.
The three animals waited. The bunny shook its tail, the crab scuttled its legs and the seagull smoothed its feathers.
The baby looked at them earnestly and silently with large, young eyes.
“I feel like we should do something,” the seagull said. “Something more than waiting.”
“We could tell him a story,” suggested the rabbit.
“Or we could give him a gift,” said the crab.
“Like a blessing?” the rabbit asked.
“Now there’s an idea,” said the seagull.
The three animals thought deeply about what kind of blessing they would be able to give.
“I know,” said the rabbit. “I will bless him with a large family, like mine.”
“Then I will bless him so that he’ll never be hungry, because he will always be able to find something to eat,” said the seagull. “Just like me.”
“And I will bless him so that he will always have his home with him, just like me,” said the crab.
The animals looked from the baby to each other in great contentment, for this was a job well done. But a moment later they heard the woman call and quickly the seagull flew, the bunny scampered and the crab scuttled away.
“Oh my boy!” cried the mother. “I did not mean to go so far! The horizon got into my head!”
But the baby only laughed and gurgled, so the mother did not feel too bad. She picked up her child and held him close and took him to see his father coming ashore with the catch of that morning.
It was a fine catch and it was a fine day and the fisherman and his wife were as happy as they had ever hoped to be.
As the years passed that happiness stayed with them. Their baby grew up to be a stout, healthy boy and he learned to fish and mend nets and build boats. He became a fine young man that fished and beachcombed and went out rowing. He was a fine seaside lad and a great help to his parents.
Twice a week the fisherman brought his catch to the market in the little town nearby. His son always went with him, because at the same market the shepherd’s family came to sell their wool and cloth and mutton. They had a daughter with hair that was brown in the shade and blonde in the sunshine and every time she laughed and dished out witty answers to her customers the lad’s heart leapt.
For the first time in his life he felt rather shy, and he felt very sorry for himself that he could not let his charming grin do the talking for him, because the shepherd’s daughter’s eyes were blind to all but the very brightest light, and she could not see him smile. She could hear him shuffle his feet around her stall very well, however, and once she had gently scolded him into introducing himself there was no end to their chatter.
Every market day he came to talk to her and she felt the worn patches on his coat and tutted at the quality of the cloth and the fisherman’s lad beachcombed for smooth stones to put into her hands just to press her fingers a little longer than necessary. This went on for as long as their parents could stand it. When they could stand it no longer, they told them both to get back to work and to walk to town on the weekends to be romantic on their own time.
So from then on the shepherd’s daughter and the fisherman’s son met up to go to town every weekend and went there walking and talking and laughing each time.
Those were good times indeed, but one day the young man woke up and stared out across the sea and decided it was not enough. He wanted to marry his sweetheart and that Friday he put on his best clothes and went to town to find a ring.
But nowhere in town did he find a ring that he thought good enough for his sweetheart. So the next week he walked all the way to the next town over, but there he found nothing that pleased him either. And when he came home to his parents and they asked him how it went he said:
“Not one ring between here and there is good enough for her. I must go further away and I am sure that eventually I will find a ring that I can ask her to marry me with!”
Of course his parents did not want him to go. His father was a fisherman, not a sailor, never had he gone away longer than a day. But their son was determined to go and promised them all would be well. So without stopping a moment longer to consider he packed up his things, sent a message to his sweetheart that he had to go travel but would be back soon, and set off.
He walked many a day through many a strange place and in every place he asked about rings. But he never saw a ring fine enough and he always felt he must go further.
Sometimes he did feel homesick, but whenever this feeling came upon him he caught a whiff of the good sea air and he knew that home was wherever he was himself. And no matter how far away he was from any villages or farmhouses, he never went hungry for long. For he always managed to find something or other to eat.
But weeks flitted away and when after all this searching the lad still had not found a ring, he followed the sea breeze and walked to the coast to clear his head. He sat down in the sand and sighed.
“Well,” he said, discouraged. “I’ve searched far and wide and not one ring have I seen that is good enough for my sweetheart.”
“You must think a lot of your sweetheart,” a small voice said.
The lad looked beside him and saw a small crab sitting in the sand.
“Was that you?” he asked.
“So it was,” said the crab.
“Then, yes,” said the lad. “I think the world of her.”
“There is an old ship that sunk near this coast long ago,” said the crab. “It carried a lot of fine things, perhaps there is a ring for your sweetheart in there,”
The lad’s eyes shone. “Can you take me there?” he said eagerly.”
“You’d drown,” said the crab. “And besides, that wreck is where the kelpies live. You cannot go there.”
The lad’s face fell. Kelpies were vicious creatures. Wild, flesh-eating horses that drowned and ate any human that was foolish enough to climb on their backs.
“But,” said the lad. “While a kelpie is on land they are hardly more than a horse. Do you know where the kelpies go on land?”
But the crab said that it did not know. So the lad thanked him earnestly and started to look round the dune paths, searching for hoof prints. He was searching so intently that he started when a voice behind him said:
“What are you looking for?”
The lad turned round and saw a grey dune rabbit. “I am looking for hoof prints,” he said.
“Kelpies’ hoof prints?” asked the rabbit.
“Yes!” said the lad.
“Oh, I know where the kelpies go, follow me,” said the rabbit and it led the young man to a place where the coarse dune grass grew thick. “They come here almost every night,” the rabbit said. “But I would stay away if I were you!”
“Ah, but I must find a way to get to their wreck so I can find a ring for my sweetheart!” said the lad high-spiritedly.
And the rabbit told him that if that was the case he wished him good luck. So the lad thanked the rabbit and hid in the tall grass to wait for nightfall.
When the sun went down and the gloaming settled over the dunes the sea began to slosh and foam. Moonlight speckled the waves and the white heads of foam revealed white manes and arched grey necks.
The young man watched breathlessly as the kelpies emerged from the waves. They tossed their heads proudly and snapped their teeth in the fresh air. They were beautiful, but shudders crept up and down the lad’s spine in spite of himself.
He watched the kelpies gallop across the beach and finally they trotted into the dunes, following the windy paths and finally coming to the place he was lying in wait for them. They frolicked and rolled in the coarse grass and played like normal horses. They did seem like normal horses, until they snapped their teeth at one another and the moonlight gleamed off the cruel sharpness.
Hardly breathing for fear of detection the young man watched the kelpies. There were eight of them. One of them was quite a lot smaller than the others. He was a young beast and he did not go too near the bigger kelpies. When he did, they snapped at him and stamped their hooves.
“Poor little guy,” the lad said to himself. “Perhaps I can get him on my side, the others certainly don’t seem to be on his.”
So the lad snuck away and let the kelpies be for now. The next day he went to the beach and started fishing. He threw back everything but the tastiest fish that were hardest to catch. He kept some of them for himself and hid some a little way away from the place where the kelpies went at night. That evening he hid there once again, waiting for the young kelpie to wander away from the group and sniff out his gifts.
The young kelpie did sniff out the fish and the young man watched cautiously as all the fish disappeared between the gnashing teeth. The kelpie flared its nostrils and twitched its ears and the lad took a deep breath and whispered:
“Hey there, if you want some more I’ve got plenty.”
The kelpie fixed its black eyes on him and bared its teeth at the lad.
“Don’t be mad,” the lad soothed. “Here,” and he offered him some more fish.
The kelpie gobbled them all up and cocked its head. “You are nice for a human,” it said with an almost human voice.
“Well, thank you,” the young man answered, offering him the rest of the fish. “Could you tell me something?”
“What?” said the kelpie, chewing on fish bones.
“Is there any way I could sneak past those big bullies and take a look in that sunken wreck where you live?” the lad asked.
The kelpie curled its lips and snorted. “You could not make it down there,” it said.
The lad waited, he could see that the kelpie was thinking about it. Perhaps it felt like tricking its elders and would help him.
“I will tell you a secret,” the kelpie said suddenly. “If you bind a strand of kelpie hair across your hand you will not drown. So if you manage to find some I can take you to the wreck if you like.”
“Thank you!” the lad exclaimed in a whisper. “That is very nice of you.”
“Well,” said the kelpie, tossing its head proudly. “I am very nice for a kelpie.”
The lad bid the kelpie good night and snuck away before the older kelpies would get suspicious.
The next day he went fishing again and this time he hid fish all around the kelpie’s place. Especially underneath every thorny bush he could find. This time he did not hide close by, but as far away as he could while still keeping an eye on the place.
When the kelpies came and smelled the fish they trotted around searching. Within minutes they had wolfed down every last bit of fish. They fought each other for the best bits and raced each other to the thorny bushes. Their long manes got tangled in the thorny branches and when they yanked their heads back long strands of hair stayed behind. When all the fish was gone the kelpies calmed down and went about their usual business.
Now the young man crept closer and he stealthily gathered the stray strands of hair and bound them across his hand.
Then he went to find the young kelpie that laughed a whinnying laugh and told the lad that it would take him to the wreck immediately. So they snuck away from the other kelpies and the lad climbed on the young kelpies back.
“Hold on tight!” warned the kelpie and it galloped straight into the swirling sea.
The lad was very frightened for a moment, because all was dark and cold. But the kelpie was right, he seemed to be able to breathe just fine and he could even see quite well. It wasn’t long before he saw the shadowy shape of the wreck on the bottom of the sea.
“There it is,” the kelpie said, its voice rushing like the water itself. “I will show you the way in, but you must be gone before the others come back or they will eat you whole!”
The lad nodded and slid off the kelpies back and swam through a hole in the hull that the kelpie showed him.
Inside there was little left of the ship and it was very dark so the lad could not see easily. He searched among broken barrels and half-eaten chests, but found nothing. Finally he saw something that seemed to gleam. When he got his hands on it, it was a coin.
“Where there are coins, jewels can’t be far away,” the lad thought and he threw the coin aside and sifted through the sand.
No matter how many coins he found, he left them all, because he was a true romantic and interested in nothing besides a ring. Suddenly his fingers found something smooth and round that was not a coin. The young man felt the ring in his hands. It was small, but it felt heavy and the stone was big. He could not see it properly and held it closer to his face.
Suddenly he heard the young kelpie whinny loudly and then the sounds of the other kelpies reached his ears. Hastily he stuck the ring in his pocket and while the young kelpie distracted its family the young men fought his way out of the wreck. He kicked and thrashed to the surface and in the process the kelpie mane came untied and our lad barely made it to the surface without drowning. Gasping for air he swam away from the wreck, looking desperately round for the shore. But he saw nothing but water. The lad was a good swimmer but without knowing the direction to swim in that would not save him.
Suddenly he saw a seagull high in the air that circled above him and he was sure he heard a raw voice yell:
So the boy swam after the seagull and so he found his way back to dry land. Panting he crawled ashore and with relieved exhaustion he raised his hand to thank the seagull that proudly sailed away on the wind.
He still had the ring in his pocket and when he took it out it was even more magnificent than he could have dreamed. It was all sparkling richness and the sight of it made the young man leap to his feet. At last he could go to his sweetheart and ask her to marry him! He felt neither fatigue nor cold as he stood there, wet to the skin in the chilled sea wind, and he started home immediately.
Triumphantly the young man returned home. He kissed his mother and he hugged his father and then he marched straight to the shepherd’s house by the green fields.
His sweetheart’s mother had just come outside and when she saw him she dropped the laundry basket and cried: “Where have you come from!”
“I have come to ask you wonderful daughter to marry me!” he said joyfully.
“Well!” scolded the woman. “I should think so. Go on in quickly before I clip your ear!”
The lad went inside in great confusion and passing through the door he almost walked into his sweetheart. Because she had come rushing to the door, her face pale and startled.
“Mother!” she panted. “Mother, did I hear—?”
“You heard me, my love!” the young man said and he laughed when her hands immediately grabbed at his. “Here I am back again.”
“Back again,” she breathed, first squeezing his hands and then gently touching his face. “It really is you back again.” And suddenly she hugged him round his neck so tight that he could barely breathe, but the very next moment she let go of him and scolded loudly: “Where have you been!”
“I have gone far and wide,” the lad said proudly. “To find you a ring that I might ask you to marry me with!”
He was already searching his pockets to take it out, but his sweetheart did not wait for him. Her face was turned towards him with a terrible scowl.
“I have a good mind to cuss at you!” she yelled. “You mean to tell me that you left with barely an explanation and stayed away all this time just to buy a ring!”
“The perfect ring,” the lad said.
“Oh hang the ring!” the girl scoffed, because she really had been worried beyond belief. “I would marry you with any ring or no ring at all!”
“So you will marry me?” the lad beamed.
“Of course I will,” his sweetheart cried out. “But if you leave me behind without a word ever again, I shall make you sorry for it!”
So the boy carefully slid the ring onto her finger where she could feel it cool against her skin, and he compared the way it sparkled to every pretty sound he could think of. Then finally he kissed her cheek and apologized and kissed her cheek again, until she accepted his pleas for forgiveness and kissed him back on his smiling lips. And then, with his arms about her waist, he told her everything he had encountered on his journey. Rabbits, crabs, seagulls, kelpies and all.
When her mother at last came inside he was hugged and scolded and congratulated by turns. And when her father came in from the fields it was quite the same all over again.
So the lad got to return home an engaged man and his parents rejoiced with him and laughed at him and neither the fisherman’s nor the shepherd’s family went to bed that night before their mouths were weary with smiling and their eyes exhausted with shining.
So the young man who had once been the baby on the beach married his sweetheart. Now, finally, the rabbit’s gift was delivered too. Because after they had their first child, they adopted three more, so they had a full quartet that filled the lives of their parents and grandparents with noisy, vibrant happiness. And none of these children ever shot at a rabbit, threw even one stone at a seagull or turned a single crab upside down.
Laura: And with that last word stitching up the very last sentence, this story has its proper end.
Thank you so much for listening, lovely of you to stop by. This was the twelfth story, which means we’re halfways through my collection of two dozen fairy tales. I may need a short break to get caught up with the second half of the stories, but I have a special episode planned for the next wednesday, so hopefully I won’t have to miss an upload. If you have thoughts about what I could be doing next, or about the podcast so far, I’d love it if you came and tell me. You can email me at email@example.com or send me a message, anonymous or otherwise, on laurasimonsdaughter.tumblr.com.
There’s another tale to tell some other Wednesday but until then…
Bake your bread just right, don’t follow the marsh lights, and be safe~
Copyright Laura Simons, please do not copy my stories without my permission, lest you insult the fae.