“I see, I see,” said Tiri, nodding. She did not see, but she supposed the fish was tired from helping save her, and since she was cold and wet and cross, and knew to be polite to a talking fish, she gave a little curtsy and ran for the path back home.
“Come, Hekka!” she cried, and ran home all the way to where her mother scolded her for going to the pond alone. She wouldn’t even listen to Tiri about the talking fish.
“No, ‘But Mama!’ from you,” said mama, scrubbing Tiri dry with rough towels, and standing her in front of the fire. “You could’ve drowned in the bottom of the pond, and then what?”
“Now no more of this talking fish nonsense. I don’t want you to go down to the pond alone again, do you hear me?”
But of course, Tiri did not listen to her mother, because though she knew to always be polite to a talking fish, she also knew that her mother would love her, whether she went to the pond alone.
“And besides,” she said to Hekka the next morning as she pulled on her mucks, “I’m not alone. I’m bringing you with me!”
Having snuck out with half a loaf of bread, rather than just crusts, which had been lost to the pond yesterday, Tiri hurried to make sure she wouldn’t be seen before she’d gone past the bend in the road, Hekka hurrying at her side.
When she arrived at the pond, she thought she would immediately go to where she’d fallen in the day before, but halfway around the edge, she saw where someone had set up a hookline, and left it to trail in the water, while they went off to do something else.
The water had grown murky from the furious thrashing of something under the surface, likely caught on the line, Tiri thought, from the way the rigging was jumping. She looked around and found no one in sight, and so she began to pull on the line, to reel in whatever was caught.
She pulled, and pulled, and Hekka caught hold of her bibs and pulled and pulled, and together, they landed the biggest silver fish Tiri had ever seen.
“It’s you!” Tiri cried.
“Alas,” the fish gasped, its eyes rolling, its sides heaving. “What a wicked thing you have done, Justiri, catching me with hooks.”
Tiri was horrified. “I didn’t!”
“Here I am, with a hook in my mouth, and there you are, with the line in your hands,” the fish shrugged.
Tiri had never seen a fish shrug before, but the fish seemed to manage it easily. “I did not lay this line,” she promised.
“Nevertheless,” the fish sighed. “I shall die, now.”
“O no!” Tiri cried. “How terrible! How can I save you?”
“If you truly wish it, take this hook from me? Quickly, please. I grow weak, out of the water.”
Tiri tried to pull the hook from the fish’s jaw, but it was stuck fast, and she wept bitterly to see the fish’s struggles wind down. “I am so very sorry!”
“I believe you, Justiri,” the fish sighed. “You would not have tried so hard, if you planned to eat me, hm? Whoever it was, I shall cut him with my spines, when he grabs me, and choke him with my bones, when he cooks me up. Let him break a tooth on the hook that will not leave my lip!”
Suddenly, Tiri was struck with an idea — she pulled the line up between her teeth, and bit down as hard as she could, near the hook. It took some grinding of her teeth, but the line finally snapped, and with a cry of victory, she pushed the fish with all her might, back down into the pond.
She waited with Hekka, at the edge, wondering if she had managed it in time.
[To be Cont’d]