June 9, 2019


"Fish ain't supposed to talk."
"Who told you that? People who don't listen..."
Once upon a time, not all that many years ago, a girl named Fiona lived in a Scottish castle that stood near the banks of the river called Blackadder Water. Fiona wasn’t a princess or a lady-in-waiting. She was a drudge, a minion, a servant, not much better than a slave. The lord of castle found her abandoned near a crumbling abbey in Yorkshire and brought her home. A man can’t have too many servants.

Fiona slept and shared food with the castle dogs. From sunup to sundown she washed the castle laundry in the river or carried water up the stone path. No matter how fast she washed or how quickly she toted her full buckets it was never fast enough. There was always more laundry and there was never enough water.

One spring morning, Fiona dumped the dirty laundry on the smooth flat river rocks along the shore of Blackadder Water, pulled a shirt from the pile, dipped it into the fast moving stream, and pounded it on one of the stones. She dunked it in wooden bucket with water and the vile smelling soap the cooks made from lard and ashes, rinsed it, and shook it open. The wine stain was still there. She repeated the process two more times.

She splashed soap in her eyes and rinsed them clean with river water. The soap scum floated downstream on its way to the Whiteadder Water, the river Tweed, and eventually the North Sea. She tossed a small yew branch into the stream and sat quietly until it floated away.

She soaked the wine stained shirt in the bucket and dipped and pounded the rest of the laundry one piece at a time. She spread the skirts, kilts, stockings, and skids, the word the Scots use instead of knickers. She tried to clean the shirt again, but the stain was stubborn.
She rubbed the cloth back and forth and cut her thumb on a small pin hidden in the folds. Her blood dripped into a small eddy in the fast moving stream and swirled like red wine mixed in a glass of water. Tears filled her eyes and she stuck her thumb in her mouth. Thank goodness she hadn’t bled on the shirt. The housekeeper would beat her for her carelessness.

The spinning spot of blood in the river vanished in the mouth of a huge salmon with golden scales. She starred in amazement. Salmon were supposed to be silver, not golden. The fish stared back at her.

She blinked and it blinked back. “What’s your name, girl?” asked the fish.

Fiona held her breath.

“Girl, are you going to suck your thumb all day, or are you going to talk to me?”

She stuck her thumb in her apron. She didn’t want to bleed on the newly washed clothing. “Never talked to a fish before.”

“I should think not. I never talked to a girl with her thumb in her mouth before. Most people I've met give up thumb sucking before their third birthday. You look older than that.”

Fiona looked around to make sure that she was alone. “Fish ain’t supposed to talk.”

“Who told you that? People who don’t listen. Your name?”

“Fiona. What’s yours?”

“I got no name, but you can pick one for me.”

“I’ll call you Braden, that’s Scottish for salmon.”

They talked until the housekeeper stomped down the rocky trail from the castle and berated Fiona for her laziness. Fiona went without supper that evening.

Braden popped his head up and talked to Fiona almost every day. She complained about her life. “It must be great to live in the river. You swim about and go where you want. No one beats you or gives you orders. There’s food for the taking. I wish I could live as you do.”

The golden salmon shook his head, “No, you don’t. The other salmon don’t like me because I’m gold instead of silver. Some of the larger fish think that I’m the food and then, there are fishermen to deal with. I wish I could live on land. The sun is warm and I hear there are forests, glens, and cairns. I’d love to walk the moors and smell the heather. I’d like to taste honey and fresh cooked bread. I wish I could live as you do.”

Fall and winter came and went. The fish and the scullery maid became friends. In truth, they fell in love, if it can be said that a lass can love a fish and a fish can love anything at all. But, what’s to be done about it. As Fiona said, “If a woman and a fish fall in love, where will their children live?”

One spring day, Fiona was hanging the laundry to dry and she overheard the housekeeper and the lord talking. The lord said, “I’ve only two of the magic stones left. I’ve used the rest to keep myself young and protect the castle.”

“Aye, do you think you can find anymore.”

“I wouldn’t know where to start. I wished for more stones, but those wishes don’t work. One stone, one wish.”

“I know you’ll use them wisely.”

Magic wishing stones, thought Fiona. I only need one. I’ll wish myself to become a golden salmon and live happily ever after with Braden.

The lord rolled the two stones in his fingers and returned them to a leather pouch that he hung around his neck. The housekeeper said, “Guard the last two.”

“I only take them off to bathe.”

Fiona’s chance came three days later. She carried the lord’s clean clothes to his rooms. She peeked around the doorway. The leather bag hung on a chair near the bathing tub. She waited. He washed his hair and ducked his head below the surface. She sprinted across the room, ripped the leather thong in half, and was out the door before he could shake the water from his eyes.

He began to scream before she reached the kitchen door. “My jewels,” he screamed. “Someone has stolen my jewels! Search everyone!” He thought it better to scream for jewels, rather than stones.

The housekeeper blocked Fiona’s way. Fiona shoved her to the ground and ran toward the river. She opened the leather pouch as she ran. She clenched one stone in her fist and prepared to wish herself into a salmon.

The fishermen hauled their net ashore and dumped their catch on the riverbanks. A golden salmon flopped and gasped for air along with the silver colored fish. Oh, no, she thought. They’ve caught Braden. What’s to be done?

She high stepped across the net and shoved the stone into Braden’s open mouth. “Save yourself, my love,” she cried and ran downstream without looking back.

The housekeeper, four guards and a naked lord chased her. She jumped into the Blackadder, sputtered for a moment, and said, “I wish to be a golden salmon and live forever in the rivers.”

She vanished into the black waters with a flick of her golden tail.

Back at the fishing net, Braden swallowed the stone and wished. “Make me a man. I would live on shore forever like the love of my life, Fiona.”

The fishermen were startled by the strange man trapped in their nets, but they cut him free.

Braden searched the castle and village for Fiona, but of course, she wasn’t there. She didn’t find him in the rivers or lochs. She still searches and so does he.

Highlanders say that that the wind in the heather seems to whisper her name, but it’s not really the wind. Braden stalks the moors in his never ending search for Fiona.

And the lass, she swims the deep lochs and the rivers. Her voice wails and cries his name where the water tumbles through narrow rapids.

Some folks say it’s best that they don’t find each other. When a man and a fish fall in love, there’s no place for their children to live.

Robert Allen Lupton is retired and lives in New Mexico where he is a commercial hot air balloon pilot. Robert runs and writes every day, but not necessarily in that order. More than seventy-five of his short stories have been published in several anthologies including “Chicken Soup For the Soul – Running For Good”, and online at
His novel, Foxborn, was published in April 2017 and the sequel, Dragonborn, in June 2018. His collection of running themed horror, science fiction, and adventure stories, Running Into Trouble, was published in October 2017.

Cover: Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff


HolyEyE said...

Well written. I do wonder what do the children stand for.

Katew said...

Me too, but it could be that children would carry on the cycle.