close tongue keeps a safe head
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.
payment for the task was double the usual fare, so the boatman leaped at the opportunity
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.
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.
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
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
Having settled the account, the Finman turned
the boat withershins (against the course of the sun), a thing no human mariner
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.
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.