A Patchwork Fairy Tale: the one with the wayward fisherman, the caught merrow, and unasked favour.
A young fisherman finds a merrow entangled in his net one day and is given the chance to ask for a single favour.
- Follow this podcast on Tumblr or Twitter!
- Check out composer Kai Engel, who wrote the theme song “Holiday Gift”.
- Penny for a tale? You can tip your storyteller on Ko-fi!
- Read the full transcript below:
[Gentle theme music]
Hi, you can call me Laura, I’m here to tell you a story if you like. If you want to read as well as listen you can find a transcript and mp3 download on patchworkfairytales.wordpress.com. You found one of my Patchwork Fairy Tales. This is the one with the wayward fisherman, the caught merrow, and unasked favour.
Before we begin, you should know this is the fairy tale that my fiend Débora Cabral and I turned into a webcomic, so if prefer to go through the comic free of spoilers, perhaps don’t listen to this yet. I assure you the different medium makes for a very different experience though, it shouldn’t spoil your enjoyment of either. Also fair warning, it’s just a bit more fantasy than fairy tale. If you want to read the comic, go to thefishermansfavour.tumblr.com.
The Fisherman’s Favour
If a son was supposed to follow in his father’s footsteps, Rembrandt would have to be called a disappointment. When he was born, a strong, healthy baby, brought into the world while a storm raged over the sea during the peak of high tide, the entire village was overflowing with congratulations. As the boy grew up, however, those congratulations turned to regretful shakes of the head. Because Rembrandt, oldest and only son of the most enterprising merchant in the neighbourhood, had very little taste for schooling and even less for work. His father’s business did not interest him, his family’s growing wealth did not impress him and his parent’s disapproval did not stop him from growing into a boy that was considered good for nothing but whistling silly tunes and talking nonsense.
Instead of learning his lessons or minding his manners, he was forever running down to the beach, where is father’s father lived. From him he was willing to learn, and surrounded by nets and oars and all the bits and pieces that make up a fisherman’s life, it became clear that wild as he was, Rembrandt wasn’t lazy. The first time he rowed his grandfather’s boat all the way out to sea on his own the old man smiled at him and said:
“We’ll make a fisherman out of you yet.”
And perhaps it was then, with the wind in his hair and a proud smile lighting up his face, that Rembrandt decided that was exactly what he would be. Every day he grew taller, every day he grew stronger and every day he felt more for the life of his grandfather and less for that of his parents’.
The day his grandfather died was also the day Rembrandt’s father decided the village had gotten too small for them and that they should move to town. Away from the dunes, away from the beach, away from the sea.
His parents left for town, dressed in their best clothes, and all the village expected Rembrandt to trail after them in a day two. But he did no such thing. Rembrandt made his grandfather’s old cabin his home and followed in his footsteps in a way he never wanted to do for his father.
In the life of a fisherman he found far more to agree with than in the life of a merchant. Rembrandt had love for the sea. He could love the waves, predictable in their unpredictability, the sea spray in his face and the wild cries of the seagulls overhead. Between going to the market and all the time he spent at the tavern, he had no time to miss his village life and even though people still shook their head over him, Rembrandt had outgrown their talk of wasted potential. He was a fine young man and he had chosen to live off the sea.
So a fisherman he was and every day he took out his boat to make a living for himself.
On one such a day, a day exactly like all the ones that had come before it, Rembrandt rowed out much further than usual. The weather was fair and the sun glistened so on the water that he did not want to stop. When he finally did stop to drop his net, he was nearly twice as far away from the shore he had ever been before.
The sea seemed to be tugging on the net in a strange way, making Rembrandt struggle to keep his boat in balance and causing him to mutter resentfully at the gold on the waves that had lured him so far. When he finally began hauling up his net, however, it was so heavy that his spirits brightened immediately. This felt like a catch big enough to allow him to go home early. Rembrandt did not see the sense in catching more than he needed. Or that he could comfortably haul ashore for that matter.
A glittering of scales breached the surface of the water, but Rembrandt could immediately see it was not the kind of fish he was expecting. The colours were all wrong, deep reds instead of cool grey and green, and when Rembrandt gave another big heave something splashed into view that nearly made him drop his net.
Wet hair looks very different from either feathers or fur and even if Rembrandt had not spotted the wet tangle of rust brown locks, he could not have missed the slender hands struggling to tear through the mesh of the net.
Trapped in his fishing gear was a merrow.
The only reason Rembrandt did not drop the net right then was because it went against years of habit. Suddenly the creature threw his head back and two fierce, black eyes stared straight up into Rembrandt’s face, startling him out of his shock.
“Forgive me,” he blurted out and he hurried to open the net, letting one side hang slack, but instead of sliding out easily, the merrow flailed. In a short moment of the red tail sweeping above the waves Rembrandt saw a piece of old netting wrapped around the fins. That might well be the only reason this incredible creature ended up in his nets in the first place.
At that moment the merrow managed to push out of the net, but Rembrandt reached out hastily and caught him by the arm. His wrist was thin enclosed by Rembrandt’s fingers and his pink skin was pale against his own warm brown.
As soon as Rembrandt touched him the merrow let out such a human cry that Rembrandt was certain he would understand him when he called back hastily:
“Let me help you! You can’t swim like this— You’ll get hurt!”
The merrow raised his head, ceasing to struggle for a moment and Rembrandt got a glimpse of a hauntingly beautiful face. Dark patches of red scales bloomed on the pale skin and his eyes were so wide and dark that they made his slender face look almost thin. Perhaps there was something in his stunned look that made the merrow calm a little, because he no longer fought him. Instead he just stared, breathing heavily, and trying to keep as much of his body submerged in the waves now he was nearly free of the net.
Rembrandt swallowed, trying to find his voice again. “I’ll let you go now,” he managed. “But please let me help.”
The merrow’s eyes stayed fixed on him and despite his very human demeanour, Rembrandt moved as he would around a cornered animal. Slowly he released the wiry arm from his grip and raised his hands. The merrow didn’t flee, instead he held on to the side of the boat, watching Rembrandt warily as he slowly reached down into the boat. Cautiously Rembrandt reached for his fisherman’s knife and, holding it carefully by the blade, offered it to the merrow.
There was a moment of surprised uncertainty on the beautiful face, but then the merrow took the knife and, curling his tail towards him, hooked the blade around the first strand of the net wrapped around his fins. Rembrandt winced to see the way the rough strings were cutting into the scaled skin, but the merrow seemed to pay it no mind whatsoever. He let out a gasp of effort and then everything suddenly happened very quickly. The blade tore through the net and for a single moment the dark eyes flashed to Rembrandt’s face, full of conflict. The next moment the merrow tossed the knife back into the boat and with a splash of his freed tail he disappeared below the waves.
A sigh went through Rembrandt’s entire being. He watched the last shadow of the graceful form disappear into the deep and that was that.
Even the seagulls seemed to take a moment of silence out of sympathy and Rembrandt stared at the waves for a long time before taking up his oars and rowing straight back to the shore. All desire to work had left his mind.
People told stories about the merfolk, but Rembrandt had never believed them. Even if he had, he would never have imagined this. Those black eyes still haunted him…
“What a cruel trick to play on a man,” Rembrandt muttered to no one in particular as he hauled his boat ashore. “I might have lived my entire life without knowing what wondrous things I was never meant to see.”
And with that he went straight to the tavern, where he might safely talk of what had happened to him without any chance of being believed.
The next day, with the sea looking as familiar as the changeable waters allowed, Rembrandt could nearly imagine that he had dreamt yesterday’s encounter. He set out in his boat, thinking that perhaps it was better that way. Life was full of glimpses of the extraordinary that were seen once and never again. Like the pale lights he had seen fanned out in the sky one winter or the four-leaf clover he had found as a child. They were treasures because they were rare and all the more beautiful for it.
This being the case, it was quite a mystery why Rembrandt once again rowed out so far out onto the sea that day. But whatever the reason, nothing extraordinary came to pass. The waves rocked the boat, the wind blew through his hair, the seagulls cried above and Rembrandt caught his fish. A lot of fish too, because he didn’t turn back when he usually would have done. After all, he had brought nothing home the day before. At least, that was what he told himself.
Only when the sun began to sink towards the water, did Rembrandt return to the shore with his catch.
By this time his thoughts were entirely divided between the practiced movements of his limbs and his desire for a well-deserved drink, so he had little attention left over for his surroundings. He was still a fisherman, however, and he heard the water move.
The water was rather shallow here and as soon as he turned, there was no mistaking the shape in the water. A beautiful face looked out just above the gentle waves, red locks draping wetly down, just shy of touching the water. The dark eyes were back and they were even more brilliant than they had been in Rembrandt’s restless dreams that night.
“You did not try to catch me again,” the merrow spoke and his voice took Rembrandt by surprise more than anything. No human had a voice like that, but it did not sound inhuman. The tones were so melodic and yet so steady, and there were such notes of warmth hidden in it, that Rembrandt was certain that whatever words he had ever spoken must sound inhuman by comparison. It made him, probably for the first time in his life, rather unwilling to speak. But the merrow’s eyes were still fixed on him, frowning slightly even, so he cleared his throat and tried.
“I did not catch you on purpose the first time.”
“I know,” the merrow said gravely and suddenly he swam towards the boat and gripped its edge with his long fingers.
He pulled himself slightly up out of the water and Rembrandt made an effort not to stare and look for the place where the pink skin turned to red scales. Those same scales were scattered in rings across the slender forearms however, catching the last light of day to make them glint like rubies. Now he was closer Rembrandt could also see the spiked ridges of the merrow’s ears, almost reminiscent of fins themselves.
“You helped me,” the merrow spoke again, his eyes solemn, and he suddenly sounded older than he looked. “And you did not bring anyone with you today.”
Rembrandt raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Did you think I would come back to hunt you?” he asked, dismayed.
The merrow shook his head, still gripping onto the boat, but did not answer. Instead he said:
“You may ask a favour of me.”
“A favour?” Rembrandt echoed. “Why?”
“In return for saving me,” the merrow said. “It will make us even. You name your favour, a single wish, and I’ll grant it.”
Rembrandt smiled through his surprise. There was certainly something poetic in all this, but he had never been one to put stock in wishes. Even the four-leaf clover he had not picked. “You don’t owe me anything for mere decency,” he said.
This answer clearly surprised the merrow, but it did not deter him. “Then I bestow it on you willingly,” he insisted. “One favour.”
“But I have nothing to ask you,” Rembrandt shook his head. He looked at the way the sun caught in the red hair, making it shine with copper, and the slow movements of the deep red tail as the merrow leaned on his boat, and he wondered how selfish a man he would have to be to still have wishes left over in a moment like this.
“Nothing?” the merrow demanded, eyes lighting up with incredulity. “Is your life so perfect you have nothing to wish for?”
Rembrandt let out a sharp laugh. “Far from it, but nothing that is wrong with me can be wished away. Ask anyone in the village. I’m a hopeless case.”
To his surprise, and odd delight, the merrow actually looked disgruntled at that. Something like disapproval giving extra animation to the beautiful face and an impassioned tone filling the melodic voice as he protested: “How can you possibly know that?”
“What would you have me wish for then?” Rembrandt asked amusedly. “To make me rich? Money brings as many problems as it takes away. To make me lucky perhaps, except luck is dependent on chance and if you were always lucky it would become nothing but a habit. Or to make me charming?” He laughed. “In that case we are speaking of miracles, not wishes.”
The merrow frowned at him for a long time, before finally saying, in a rather accusatory tone: “You are disagreeing with me on purpose.”
“Perhaps I am,” Rembrandt said and he found himself grinning. “Perhaps I am stalling. It is not every day that a man like me meets one of the merfolk.”
“A man like you…” the merrow muttered under his breath and suddenly he gave Rembrandt another appraising look. “What is your name?”
“Rembrandt,” he answered readily, without a moment’s hesitation.
“Rembrandt…” the merrow repeated.
“Will you tell me yours?” he asked suddenly. “Can that be my wish?”
“That is not a wish,” the merrow said firmly. “And my name is Eele.”
It was not a name Rembrandt had ever heard before and it suited him. It suited the dark eyes and the eloquent words, the copper hair and the glittering scales. He looked at him and he knew what he most wished for at that moment.
“Can I ask for anything?” he said.
“You may ask for me to grant it,” Eele replied with emphasis. “I need not comply.”
Rembrandt nodded and asked: “Can I see you again?”
Eele blinked. “That is not a wish,” he repeated.
“It’s a favour though…” Rembrandt pointed out.
“It is not what I meant,” Eele insisted in frustration, but Rembrandt shrugged at him and gave him a smile that felt rather helpless as it slid onto his face:
“It’s all I want.”
The dark eyes narrowed slightly.
Rembrandt said nothing. He just looked. Eele had made it quite clear he did not need to grant the offered favour and Rembrandt would not have him come back if he did not wish it. But he wished it. A glimpse to be remembered with the rare dreams was no longer enough. Not now they had spoken, not now he had learned a name…
“I will consider it,” Eele replied curtly and as suddenly as he had appeared, he dove back under water and disappeared with a single splash of his tail.
Rembrandt sang as he lowered the nets into the deep, taking the swaying of the boat as his rhythm. He was fond of the sound of his own voice, that was no great secret, and he was a better singer than he deserved to be. More natural talent than application, as it seemed to be with most things he was halfway decent at. Today, with the wind in his hair and the daylight already bright around him, Rembrandt sang about love. The first song he chose did not quite suit the tone of his feelings, the second didn’t agree with the swell of the sea, but the third one rang out as it ought:
“So dressed in sailor’s clothing, she made a handsome boy
And from the first the captain’s favour he seemed to enjoy
The captain’s wife, in ignorance, was delighted with the case
She’d never known a sailor boy with such a pretty face!”
Rembrandt faltered for a moment, struggling with his gear, and suddenly there was a different voice on the rush of the wind.
“You sing well.”
Rembrandt nearly started enough to rock his boat.
He took care not to show it though and looked over as calmly as he could. He was sure he didn’t quite manage to keep a neutral expression when his eyes met Eele’s, he far was too happy for that. He came back after all.
“Hello again,” he said, fighting down a smile. “Is this my favour fulfilled?”
Eele smiled vaguely back at him, but didn’t answer. He was hanging on to the side of the boat, wet shoulders glistening in the sunlight and his red tail coiling in the water behind him. A necklace of vibrant colours shone against his pink skin. “That is hardly a fisherman’s song you were singing,” he remarked.
“Learned it from a sailor down at the tavern,” Rembrandt replied, turning fully towards him.
“I like it,” Eele said, crossing his arms over the side of the boat and slanting his head slightly as he looked up at Rembrandt. “How does it end?”
Rembrandt nearly felt himself fluster as he looked at him. He was used to being asked to sing, usually by cheerful, drunken company, but never with so attentive and earnest a look. “If I finish the song, will you tell me why you decided to come back?” he asked. It seemed important to know.
“I will tell you now,” Eele said earnestly. “My returning is not a favour. I came back to help you find out a wish. That is all.”
“Your company isn’t a favour?” Rembrandt grinned. “I have to disagree with that.” That was the worst of the sea, as far as he was concerned, it was devoid of company.
“Not a proper favour,” Eele contradicted.
“So you came back to find out what is lacking in my life,” Rembrandt laughed. “You may be here a while then.”
“That could either mean there is nothing lacking or too much,” Eele informed him.
“So it could,” Rembrandt hummed amusedly.
Eele narrowed his eyes at him and Rembrandt thought that it was remarkable how the dark in them seemed to gleam whenever he did so.
“So,” he said. “You came to find me a wish. Was spying on me while I sang unplanned?”
Rembrandt had not thought, had never dreamed, that merrows could blush. But there was nothing else he could call the sudden colour dusted over Eele’s cheeks. It was the pale pink colouring almost towards the deep red of his scaly ears and it was stunning.
“You were singing when I swam up,” he answered, sounding nearly defensive. “It seemed rude to just interrupt.”
For a moment Rembrandt wondered how long Eele had been listening for, but instead of asking he coaxed his face into a grin again. “Mostly unplanned then.”
Eele huffed slightly, swiping his tail through the water. “Your song is still unfinished,” he reminded Rembrandt pointedly.
“Very well,” Rembrandt relented and he sang of the handsome cabin boy that flirted with captain and lady alike, but soon found himself quite unable to fit into his uniform anymore.
Eele listened quietly, sometimes so very nearly smiling that Rembrandt wished he had chosen a song more suited to the merrow’s sense of humour, but he sang all the way through to the end, finishing with his favourite lines:
“The wife then at her captain laughed: pray tell, how can this be!
If a sailor bore a baby, then the father might be me!”
Eele did not laugh at that, instead he looked thoughtful. “That is not quite an end,” he said.
“Not really,” Rembrandt agreed.
“How do you want it to end?” Eele asked, raising his head to be able to look up at him better.
“Is that a way to extort a wish from me?” Rembrandt snorted. How deep could someone think about a silly song?
“It was just a question, Rembrandt.”
The use of his name took Rembrandt as much by surprise as it did the first time. “I think they best raise the child together,” he answered. “The three of them.”
“Is that a likely ending?” Eele asked uncertainly.
“You asked me what I wanted to happen,” Rembrandt reminded him.
“True,” Eele relented, almost apologetic, and after a short silence he asked: “Will you sing another?”
“I thought it was the merrows that were supposed to sing,” Rembrandt joked. Usually he was fond of performing, but he had not felt this scrutinized since he was a small child in front of his disapproving parents.
Eele pulled a face at him and Rembrandt grinned through his nerves. In truth all he wanted was Eele’s company a little longer and really, a song was a measly price to pay. “Fine,” Rembrandt relented. “What would be to your liking then?”
“Something you believe in,” Eele replied immediately.
Rembrandt laughed and shook his head. “Folly,” he said, because he had been called a foolish boy all his life. “I believe in folly.”
And unthinkingly he sang the most foolish, most beloved song he knew. Of love unblemished and unbroken by sorrow, and of blessed lovers indulging in the perfect happiness of twin hearts matched under the stars. It was everything most unlikely and most wonderful and Rembrandt sang it well. Very well.
Eele listened in silence, his arms still folded over the side of Rembrandt’s boat, but his head raised up attentively, where he had nearly rested it on his arms a moment before.
Rembrandt had wanted to make Eele smile earlier, but at present he doubted whether he would survive that. Because while Eele did not smile, his eyes were filled with a silent, startled wonder. And those eyes were fixed so unwaveringly on Rembrandt for the entire duration of the song, that Rembrandt finally had to avert his own. And even with his gaze on the sky or the waves he could feel Eele’s eyes on him, like this sun shining on his face. It was all he could do to keep his tune.
When the song was over a silence followed, or rather a silence between the two of them, filled only by the ceaseless sea.
Rembrandt met Eele’s gaze again and something in the beautiful face was different. He did not know what it was, but there was a difference. Eele’s hair was starting to dry and some locks had begun to look like they might curl. Rembrandt had to fold his hands on his back to repress the urge to reach out and touch them.
For a moment Eele averted his eyes, and then, looking up at Rembrandt through dark lashes he asked: “Do you want me to sing in return?”
“Would you?” Rembrandt replied in astonishment, but his heart beat faster for the thought of it.
“Is that my favour then?” he asked.
“No it’s not,” Eele said and with a look that was so very near rolling his eyes that Rembrandt felt himself grinning. “I’ll sing for you, but only if you ask me,” Eele pressed.
“Please,” Rembrandt said gently. “Please sing for me.”
But Eele was still not satisfied. “What then?” he said. “What should I sing?”
Rembrandt wondered sincerely if there would ever be a question he had sufficient answer to. All he wanted was to hear Eele sing. Hear that voice, so sincere and so full of water and sea breeze drawl into a melody. Nothing more.
“Something you believe in,” he answered finally, echoing Eele’s own words.
Eele gave him a suspicious look for a moment, as if he wanted to gauge if Rembrandt was sincere, but then he nodded and pulled back his shoulders. The sun glittered on the string of shells around his neck and for just a moment Rembrandt forgot what was about to happen.
Which was why when Eele sang, it took him completely by surprise.
Rembrandt was not aware of how he sank down until he was seated in the boat. Nor did he feel the sea spray in his face when the wind picked up. Eele’s voice was like sunlight filtering through clear water and Rembrandt was lost to everything else.
From that day on the townspeople saw very little of Rembrandt. The other fishermen, by now all of them old men, saw him set out with his boat, but he seemed to be leaving earlier and earlier and he only came back long after dark. He still sold his catch at the market, he was still occasionally seen in the tavern, but he was never around for long.
The villagers did not miss his off-colour remarks and ceaseless chatter, but they did wonder… Because they heard his voice, either singing or laughing or raised in high spirits, echoing over the water at the oddest hours. And they also heard the music, the strange, inhuman tones drifting whenever the wind turned inland. Merfolk’s music, the old ones muttered. The kind that turns heads and steals hearts.
Rembrandt didn’t mind their talk. He had never minded it before and he did not mind it now. What should he care for disapproving company on land when there was such company at sea? Every day Eele waited for him in the far waters, every day he was eloquent on the subject of wishes and favours, and every day Rembrandt neglected to name one. What could he wish for now his fishing trips were no longer lonely? The fishing was never hard work either. When Eele was around, the fish seemed to swim into his net of their own accord. So he only cast out his net when it was very nearly too dark to find his way back to the shore and spent all the rest of the long hours talking to Eele. They talked until they ran into an argument and then they argued until they sang instead. And more often than he had ever thought possible Rembrandt was simply silent, watching Eele swim in lazy circles around his boat. His red hair fanning out in the water and his scales shimmering even brighter than the mother-of-pearl pendants catching the light as it rested on his chest. There could be very little superior to this, Rembrandt was sure of that, and it made him bewilderingly happy.
He told Eele as much, one day when the sun was on its way down and Eele laughed fondly at this. He laughed quite often now.
“You quarrel a lot for a happy man,” Eele pointed out, resting his chin on his hands where they grasped the edge of Rembrandt’s boat. Today he had amber beads wrapped in strings around his wrists, catching the light like solidified drops of molten fire. Rembrandt looked from the sparks in Eele’s eyes to the sparks in the amber and if anyone had asked him about the sun in that moment, sinking golden and triumphant into the sea behind him, he would have had to be reminded of its existence.
“That is merely human nature,” he replied lightly, because he had gotten accustomed to answering Eele even when his head and heart felt too full to be capable of forming words.
“I don’t believe you for one moment,” Eele told him. “It is your nature certainly, that I do not doubt.”
“Ah yes,” Rembrandt quipped. “Do not judge all humans on my character alone. I make a very bad example.”
“No,” Eele said seriously, his laugh fading into sincerity. “I think I could do a lot worse than to have you as my example of humanity.”
Rembrandt had no answer for this and Eele did not require one, so Rembrandt talked of the stars instead and they both waited for them to appear in the sky. For Rembrandt this was very little but an excuse to stay late. And perhaps it was the same for Eele, because when the dark began to grow thick and overbearing and Rembrandt was forced to turn back, he suddenly asked:
“Will you come again tomorrow?”
There was very little reason to ask that, because Rembrandt rowed out every morning and he had looked for Eele every single day since the day they met, but Eele looked so earnest that Rembrandt smiled and replied:
This earned him a smile in return and that was all Rembrandt ever hoped to gain.
Rembrandt was hardly in the habit of making promises, which is why he was not familiar with the particular kind of fate that waits for a promise made in good faith to start dreaming up obstacles. The following day the sunrise made hardly a difference in the light in the sky, so thickly packed together were the black storm clouds filling the heavens. There was a thunder storm brewing at the horizon and the waves were calling to it, jumping as high as they could, reaching for the blackened skies.
The sea was far too rough to go out, Rembrandt knew this very well. He had known the sea since before he could walk and he knew not to trifle with it. But he had promised. He had promised Eele.
So in folly, Rembrandt took out his boat. In foolishness, he took up the oars. In love, he set out to sea.
Of all the storms Rembrandt had encountered on the water, this was the worst. Strong as he was, if the current had been against him, he would not have won. But the tide was going out and it dragged Rembrandt’s boat along, the waves pushing and the wind screeching in disdain. But despite all this, Rembrandt kept rowing. He barely heard the wind, hardly felt the cold, all there was in his mind was Eele.
The first wave that crashed over Rembrandt’s boat did not disturb him, neither did the second, but the third lifted itself up high and engulfed Rembrandt in stinging cold. In that moment he knew he had to turn back. Eele would have to forgive him for breaking his promise. The sea would not suffer his presence today. If he did not get back on land, he would drown.
But by then it was too late. Rembrandt might have struggled against the wind, he might have fought the tide, but he could not win against them both. The sea allowed him to turn his boat around, but his rowing did nothing but drain the power from his limbs.
Rembrandt looked back towards the shore, finding it further away than ever, and in that moment the rain of the storm came crashing down on him.
His body strained, chilled by the icy water and Rembrandt laughed in his desperation. The sea had been kind to him the preceding months. Too kind. It had given him happiness, now it would take something in return.
“Go on then!” Rembrandt laughed. “Do your worst! I will not give in this easily!” And true to his word, he did not give up. Not when the thunder split the sky, not when the waves crashed into the boat more often than not, not when he heard the cry of a familiar voice in the clamour.
“Rembrandt!” Eele’s voice was nearly lost in the rush of the storm, but Rembrandt heard it.
He turned towards it like a flower to the sun and even with the rain streaming past his eyes he could see the brilliant spot of colour that was Eele’s form in the dark water.
“Rembrandt, why did you come!” His voice was frantic, but Rembrandt did not feel his desperation. To see Eele was all he had wanted. He had kept his promise. He tried to speak, but if he managed to make a sound it was taken by the wind immediately.
Eele threw himself forward in the water and with a stab of surprise Rembrandt realized that Eele was struggling to reach him. The sea was so rough, here at the surface, that even he was being tossed about by the waves. Eele’s head disappeared under the water and for a moment of misplaced anxiety Rembrandt forgot that Eele was not the one in danger. The oars slipped through his fingers and he got to his feet.
The wind howled in triumph when he lost his balance. The boat rocked and a moment later the sea won and it keeled over. Rembrandt was a good swimmer, but there was no swimming in a sea like this. He hardly had the opportunity to try, because his kicking feet met with more than water. Rembrandt could feel them getting tangled up in his own nets. Useless nets he had only brought out of habit. Nets that had caught Eele once.
And suddenly, Eele was there. His arms were dragging him towards the surface and Rembrandt could breathe again. Eele’s face was very close to his and the howling of the wind fell away. The stinging cold of the water was lost in the warmth of Eele’s fingers grasping at him. There was still heaviness tugging on his feet, but he didn’t care anymore. None of it mattered. Not now. It was all Rembrandt could do to be aware of Eele speaking to him.
Because Eele was talking, nearly screaming against the storm, with a look in his eyes as wild as his hair flying in the wind.
“Rembrandt,” he cried, struggling to support Rembrandt’s broad frame in his slender arms. “Make your wish!”
But all Rembrandt could think was that where a moment before he had wished all manner of things, frantic, fearful wishes, they had all left him now. He couldn’t even bring himself to wish to be ashore, safely back on land. Because Eele’s arms were around him and even with the current wrapping around his ankles and the waves grabbing at his shoulders, he couldn’t think of a single wish.
“Eele—” His voice was washed away by the rain.
“Make your wish.” The dark eyes lit up with pleading urgency.
Rembrandt opened his mouth. “Nothing—“ he gasped. “There is nothing—”
A wave crashed over the both of them at the same time that Eele’s mouth pressed against Rembrandt’s. The feeling of it rushed over him more strongly than the water did. They sank, but he didn’t even feel it. Eele still had one arm around his waist, but his other hand was suddenly pressing against the back of Rembrandt’s neck and Rembrandt tangled his fingers into Eele’s hair in return. His hair that fanned out and danced in the water, perfectly framing his face. Rembrandt didn’t realize he had opened his eyes until he saw it. The saltwater did not sting him, it did not even taste bitter on his lips.
And just before Rembrandt realized everything felt different, because it truly was, Eele’s dark eyes opened to look at him. There was no remorse in them, but there was just a pang of uncertainty.
“I’m not—” he began and his voice sounded so wondrously different underwater. “—I’m not quite certain if that was just my wish…” he said. “Or if it was also—”
“Yes,” Rembrandt interrupted and perhaps the storm had passed on the surface, because as soon as Eele smiled, the dark of the water seemed to fill with light.
Their lips met again, just for a moment and then Eele slowly loosened his grip on Rembrandt’s waist. He grabbed his hand instead, squeezing it until Rembrandt squeezed back, and with as natural a movement as rowing had been for him before, Rembrandt swam.
Rembrandt and Eele never did agree on whether Eele ever granted Rembrandt a favour. After all a wish had to be spoken to be granted and they must have something to argue about. But that Rembrandt had won Eele’s favour and would remain in his favour was abundantly clear and really, that was quite good enough for the both of them.
Love, foolish as it is, has always been good at forgetting the hardships it suffered and Rembrandt and Eele were no exception. Rembrandt was too happy to long for the shore and he only ever spoke of his old village to tell Eele that if he was not remembered in tavern stories, he would be sorely disappointed in the whole of humanity.
His disappointment was not needed. The people of the village did remember Rembrandt and they told his story very often. But they only ever told it as a cautionary tale.
And that, of course, was entirely the wrong story.
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. You can follow this podcast on most podcatchers, but for an mp3 download, transcripts, themed tags and summaries, you can check out patchworkfairytales.wordpress.com. You can also find me at laurasimonsdaughter.tumblr.com, or you can follow @patchworktale on twitter. You can contact me on all these platforms, and I hope you will, because I would love to know what you think this podcast should be about after I run out of fairy tales. And whether it is worth it to turn my inclusive fairy tales into a self-published book?
There’s another tale to tell some other Wednesday but until then…
Mind the bees, hide a coin in your shoe, and be safe~
Copyright Laura Simons, please do not copy my stories without my permission, lest you insult the fae.