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  The Sorcerous Finfolk

A close tongue keeps a safe head

Finman in Boat: Illustration by Sigurd TowrieLong ago, at the Lammas fair in Kirkwall, a boatman from the island of Sanday agreed with a dark stranger to ferry a cow to one of the North Isles.

The payment for the task was double the usual fare, so the boatman leaped at the opportunity and accepted.

Remaining silent, and much to the boatman's surprise, the stranger hoisted his cow into his arms and was strong enough to carry the animal aboard the boat.

The stranger turned out to be a man of very few words, but as each island passed he ordered the bemused boatman to pass to the east of it.

The boatman, perplexed as to their final destination, asked his glowering passenger where they were heading..

"A close tongue keeps a safe head" snorted the dark man.

As they finally passed Sanday, a dense thick fog enveloped the boat and then thinned rapidly. When the fog cleared, in the evening sunlight lay an enchanted land. Sweet music could be heard as mermaids sang at the thought that one of them would now get a human husband.

The boatman immediately realised that the stranger was one of the dreaded Finmen. The mermaids' lilting melodies soon turned to screeching wails when they learned the boatman was already married and had a family.

The boatman was blindfolded as the boat was pulled ashore on the enchanted island. The Finman's cow was carefully landed and payment, in the form of a bag of coins, dropped into the bottom of the boat. Later on the boatman discovered that all the coins were of copper, for as it is well known, the Finmen cannot bring themselves to part with their beloved silver.

Having settled the account, the Finman turned the boat withershins (against the course of the sun), a thing no human mariner would permit.

Angered by his treatment, the boatman tore the blindfold from his eyes butonce again found himself to be surrounded by a magical mist. As he sailed the mist cleared and soon, from the starboard, he saw his home island of Sanday again.

A year passed uneventfully.

Then, at the next Lammas Fair, the boatman once again met the dark stranger and asked him to drink a cog of ale with him.

"I'm blithe to see you" said the boatman, taking a long draught from his ale.

A grim look came over the stranger's dark and gloomy face. "Did you ever see me?" he snapped. "You'll never have to say again that you saw me."

As he spoke, the Finman pulled out a box with some powder in it and blew some into the boatman's eyes. From that moment on, the boatman was blinded and remained so for the remainder of his life.

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The Finfolk

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Starfish Graphic
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