"The Merman's Sock,"
a Folktale from Denmark,
retold by Cathy Mosley
One fine day, before the bite of winter truly took hold, a fisherman set out to ply his trade, but he hadn't been out long when the wind became sharp and the waves restless. He knew it was time to go home, but no matter how hard he rowed towards the far shore he made little headway.
Then he saw a sight that made him shake - with fear along with the cold.
For coming towards him - from out on the vast ocean - was a man riding a wave; a gray bearded man seated upon a frothing wave as a mortal would ride a fine pony.
The fisherman began praying. He knew this was a merman, and to see one was to know a storm followed close.
Then the poor man saw something was odd as the vision approaching - the merman was shivering violently.
And was crying, "So cold.....I'm so cold ....for one of my socks is gone!!"
What else was to be done?
The fisherman sat himself down in his boat, stripped off first his boot and then his sock, and the sock he threw to the merman.
The merman disappeared.
And the fisherman rowed safely to shore.
A week passed, then a month, before the weather was clear enough for the fisherman to take to the ocean again. He worked well that day, and was just bringing in a full net when he saw the wash of gray hair beneath the water.
Then the merman surfaced beside his boat and said,
Listen, listen, man who threw sock.
Turn around, turn around. Row straight back.
There's thunder over Norway.
Once more the merman vanished and the fisherman rowed like a pack of fiends was after him.
And maybe they were.
The fisherman made it to shore just as the worst storm of the season broke over the water, and many other fishermen were lost.
[Another version, entitled "The Grateful Merman," a Norwegian folktale, appears in Jane Yolen's and Shulamith Oppenheim's _The Fish Prince and Other Stories: Merman Folk Tales_. New York: Interlink Publishing Company. 2001.
In this version the fisherman tosses in a mitten to the freezing merman, and in return he, plus his companions, are saved.]