The rhythm of rowing puts me in a state of contentment. The weather stays mild and clear, letting the sun shine on the ripples that Duckworth and I make as we take our exercise on this leg of the Thames known as the Isis.
“Look, there,” Duckworth points. I see a flash of intense orange below the surface.
“What was it?” I look to Duckworth.
“A goldfish, well, carp really. I’ve read about it and have been looking for one. People who don’t want their pet goldfish anymore let them go into the Thames. That’s illegal. Some have been arrested. Invasive species and all that. This is the first time I have seen one. A big problem in some places.”
He gives me a challenging, sideways smile. “Got any fairy tales on goldfish?”
I think for a few. “Ah, yes, I do.”
Duckworth rolls his eyes. “I should know better.”
“It’s a Grimm, The Golden Children.” I give him the synopsis as we stroke our way up stream.
A fisherman catches a golden fish, who promises wealth if the man lets him go, but there is a condition. The fisherman must tell no one how he got his riches. His wife, unrelenting in her curiosity, gets her husband to tell her, and their fortune instantly disappears.
The fisherman returns to fishing only to catch the golden fish again. The same conditions are set, he returns home, and the same thing happens as before. The wife declares, “I’d rather live in poverty than not know who’s giving us all that wealth. After all, I want to keep my peace of mind.”
When the fisherman catches the golden fish for the third time, the fish concedes he is meant to be caught and instructs the man to cut him up into six pieces, feed two to his wife, two to his mare, and plant the remaining two.
The wife gives birth to two golden boys, the mare two golden colts, and two golden lilies spring from the ground.
When the boys come of age, they ride off on their golden horses. At an inn, on the first night, they are laughed at for being golden. Disheartened, one brother returns home, but the other ventures on. He takes the guise of a vagabond by covering himself and his horse with bear skins.
Soon after, he meets and falls in love with a maiden, who, unaccountably, falls in love with him. They are married on the spot, even before her father gets home. He is enraged and threats to kill the vagabond. Peeking into their marriage room, he sees his son-in-law is golden, and changes his attitude.
That night, however, the golden youth dreams of hunting a magnificent stag. In the morning, against his wife’s fears for his safety, he insists upon going hunting.
He spots the stag and the chase is on. By evening he loses sight of the beast, and finds himself in front of the cottage of a witch. When he threatens her annoying, yapping, little dog, she turns him into a stone.
Back home, one of the golden lilies wilts. The other golden youth comes to his rescue, forcing the witch to restore his form, after which one returns to his bride and the other returns home.
“What?” says Duckworth. “That’s it? What a horrible tale.”
“It’s not so bad,” I defend (weakly).
“Yes it is. Why, there’s no moral, no lesson learned.” Duckworth puts up his oars and folds his arms.
“Should there be? Must there be?” My oars hover in the air.
“Yes!” says Duckworth.