Hekka ran back and forth on the muddy shore, barking, while Tiri stood at the edge, looking down into the dark, cold water. “Excuse me! Excuse me? Are you all right?”
She got down onto her knees and fair shouted right at the water. “Hello! Hello, are you all right?”
Just when she was about to give up, the water rippled, surged, and a silvery-scaled fish bubbled to the surface, saying, “I would be a sight better if you were not shouting at me.”
Tiri, who knew better than to be anything but polite to a talking fish, meekly replied, “I am so glad you’re alive, Sir Fish.”
“You’re a strange not-fish, Justiri. Don’t your kind eat our kind?”
“I’m sure I don’t,” Tiri said easily. “I think fish taste terrible! They smell like old pail-water, and–oh, where are you going?”
“Taste terrible indeed!” the fish huffed. “I’ll have you know my kind are highly prized for their taste,” it groused, offended.
“Oh, dear.” Tiri wrung her hands and looked apologetic. “I’m sure you do taste lovely, of course, perhaps with a bit of lemon and dill and mustard?”
“Indeed!” exclaimed the fish, the silver of the hook glinting in its lip. “Well!” he huffed again, dipping down back into the dark water.
“Oh please come back!” cried Tiri. “I didn’t mean to offend you! I know better than to be anything but polite, Sir Fish — please forgive me!” Tiri waited for a bit, and then called, “I did save your life, you know!”
“Saucy little thing, aren’t you?” called the fish, up at the surface again. “How do I know you didn’t set the line?”
“Why would I set the line and then let you free?” Tiri said, looking exasperated.
“Because you don’t think I would taste very good,” the fish grumped.
“I would be happy to eat you!”
Before the fish could swim off in a huff again, Tiri changed the subject. “Please, Sir Fish, won’t you just tell me about how you came to be talking?”
“Not today. I’m too tired,” the fish explained. “On account of being saved by you. Come back tomorrow, when the sun is high and the water is warmer.”
Tiri sighed, long and low, and gave a curtsey to the fish, then called, “Come, Hekka,” and trudged home, despondent.
She did not go to the fish the next day, because she was certain she would be put off again.
She did not go to the fish the day after that, because she could not get away without her mother asking her where she was headed.
She did not go to the fish the day after that, because her brother would not leave her be.
She did not go to the fish the day after that, because it was pouring rain, and her mother would not let her take Hekka out, because she did not like the way the dog smelled when it came in wet.
Days later, Tiri snuck out with Hekka and marched down to the pond, without crusts, determined to get answers.
When she arrived, she was surprised that the fish was at the surface, waiting for her. It made noises upon her arrival, but Tiri couldn’t understand it.
“What is that in your mouth? Oh, how did you get so much moss stuck to you? And all this grass?” she wondered. She managed to clean up the moss and grass, and sat back on the bank, looking pleased with herself as she wiped her hands on her jumper.
“A fine thing for you to look pleased with yourself!” the fish huffed. “I have been miserable for days! You were to come back long before now! I might have starved if I had waited longer!”
“Please, Sir Fish, but how was I to know you had a problem?”
“You left this hook in me, Justiri. I cannot eat! I cannot swim! I get caught in the grass, and the grass gets caught on me.”
“I shall help you,” Tiri said, gravely, feeling responsible for the poor fish, even though it had not been her line to catch it. “But you must tell me about how you came to be talking. I have already saved you twice!”
“Very well,” the fish sighed. “Impertinent child! I shall tell you.”
[To Be Cont’d]