The boy whose tears saved Pescador

The boy whose tears saved Pescador

Once a long long time ago there was a young boy named Taidgh who was learning to be a fisherman like his father.   Every day they set out from Cola Mhor Harbour under Killiney Hill and spent all day at sea, chasing shoals of fish to cast their nets and bring the slippery silver harvest on board their heavy wooden boat.  Often they fished all day without catching anything.  They were up against the winds and the tides and competition from the other men who fished the same waters.

One day Taigh was sitting in the prow of the boat straining to try and see beneath the waves for a silver glint of fish when he saw something in the water.   At first he thought it was just an old sack floating on the surface but then he saw it was moving as if it was alive.  He grabbed the boat hook and hauled the sack on board.   When he opened it out tumbled a sodden lump of fur that whimpered and trembled..Then a warm pink little tongue licked his fingers and two bright eyes looked up at him, full of trust.  

His father wanted him to toss the puppy back in the sea but Taidgh tucked him inside his shirt, close to his heart where the little creature shivered and nestled against him.  That night Taidgh dipped a corner of his shirt tail in some warm milk and soon the little pup was sucking away.  Taidgh kept him inside his shirt for nearly two weeks until he was strong enough to crouch in the bottom of the boat.  Soon he was able to eat some of the scraps of fish they used for bait and his coat grew thick and glossy and his body grew sturdy and strong.    

The dog came out in the boat every day and after a time Taidgh and his father noticed something remarkable.    He had taken to perching in the very prow of the boat looking down in the depths of the sea.   Occasionally he would bark excitedly, his tail waving as he looked back eagerly at the two behind him.   On a hunch Taidgh started throwing out the nets when the barking started and to their amazement they began hauling in bigger and bigger catches of fish every time the dog gave them the signal.

We’ll call him Pescador’  Taidgh said.   It was a word he remembered from some Spanish fishermen who had once been driven into Cola Mhor by a storm.  ‘Pescador’ they said, pointing to themselves, ‘ Estamos pescadores. ‘ We are fishermen.’

With Pescador’s help Taidgh and his father brought home record catches much to the envy of the other fishermen.   They looked on in wonder as the pair sailed into the harbour each evening with their boat piled high with silver fish.   But one onlooker grew more and more bitter as he saw their good fortune.  Like Taidgh he fished with his father and since the arrival of Pescador their catches had got smaller and smaller.  Each day they went out, in wind and rain and  searched the shallows and the deeps for the telltale flash of fish scales.  But most evenings they came home with little to show for their efforts and Con cursed the day that Pescador has been fished out of the sea to ruin their trade.

His hatred of Taidgh’s dog grew and grew until he hatched a wicked plot to restore their fortunes and banish Pescador for good.

At that time Killiney Hill was a barren, deserted place.  Very few went there by day and none at all by night.  People talked of a witch who guarded the whole hill jealously as her own and lived at the very top in a pointed house in the shape of a witch’s hat.   She avoided humans, the stories went, she was afraid of retribution if she harmed a child, but no animal was safe in her territory.  She hunted at night and rested by day.   Those few who had ventured onto the hill swore there wasn’t a single living creature to be seen, not a bird or a fox or even a mouse.  Although everyone believed in her no one could ever claim to have seen her.  They spoke only of a dark flash in the sky as evening descended and a sudden chill in the air.  

Con bided his time.  He pretended to make friends with Pescador, petting him and praising him and bringing him little treats.   He soon realised that the dog could not resist a piece of cold sausage and soon had won his trust.    One evening just as it was getting dark he made his move.  Taidgh and his father were busy repairing nets and Pescador was waiting patiently on the quayside.  Con fed him tiny pieces of sausage and gradually lured him away along the road  and up towards the hill, tempting him with tasty pieces of sausage just out of of his reach.   As they got to the rough steps cut into the rocks Con looked around nervously.  It was strangely silent, no sound of birdsong, no wind rustling the low scrubby bushes.  Pescador barked eagerly, impatient to get his reward for following Con so far.   The boy took a deep breath and flung the sausage as hard as he could, as far up the rough track as he could get it.  And Pescador bounded forward, barking and sniffing the ground before he disappeared around a bend.  Con was fully expecting him to come charging back after a moment, looking for another treat but minutes went by and there was only silence as the sky grew greyer and night began to fall.  Suddenly a dark shadow shrieked above his head and Con turned and ran as fast as he could, stumbling and jumping over stones and bushes and getting bruised and scratched, all the time imagining he was being chased by a dark presence.

When he got to the bottom of the hill he stopped to get his breath back, shivering and shaking with fear and dread.  He was half hoping to hear the sound of Pescador scrambling after him but even though he waited for long minutes in the dark night the dog did not appear.

The next morning as the fishermen gathered at the harbour to prepare their boats to set sail for the day it was soon clear that something was wrong.   There was no sign of Taidgh or his father and their boat lay unattended.  The fishermen wondered among themselves but eventually set out to sea.  Some of them thought they would do better that day without competition from Pescador but it was a cold miserable day and no matter how many times they cast their nets they came home with miserably few fish to show for their efforts.

As they sailed into the harbour they saw Taidgh and his father standing by their boat looking sad and tired.  ‘Has anyone seen Pescador?’ Taidgh cried as soon as they landed.  ‘He went missing last night and we have searched and searched all day but there is no sign of him.  Has anyone seen him’.  The fishermen gathered round and shook their heads.  In spite of their poor catches since the dog’s arrival they were genuinely sorry to see young Taidgh’s distress.  ‘He’s bound to turn up’, they assured him.  ‘That dog won’t stray far.  He’s too fond of the sea’.  One or two of them glanced anxiously behind them at the Hill and exchanged looks but they said not a word of their fears. Only Con stood apart, staring out to sea with a sullen look on his face.  He couldn’t bring himself to say a word of comfort when he guessed the terrible fate that had  befallen Pescador.

‘Con’, his father called him sharply.   ‘What about you?   Didn’t I see you playing with Taidgh’s dog last night?’  Con shook his head stubbornly, but his cheeks reddened and his eyes filled with tears of shame.   ‘Con’, his father whispered in horror.  ‘Tell the truth, what have you done?’  He knew well the resentment the boy had harboured  towards the innocent creature and he was an honourable man who would not condone any wrongdoing.  It only took a few minutes for Con to admit the truth.   He had deliberately led Pescador up Killiney Hill at night and the animal had disappeared.  A gasp of shock went around the group as he admitted his crime and the older men shook their head in sorrow and pity.

Con’s father led his son in front of Taidgh and his father and bowed his head.  ‘My son has shamed himself and his family and betrayed his community.  We fishermen stick together, our lives can depend on it.  Ours is a hard and dangerous calling and if we cannot trust each other then our lives are worth nothing.  My son has broken our code and in reparation I am going to banish him from here.  He will go and live with my family in the midlands.  He will farm the land and never reap a shining harvest from the sea again.   A sob of anguish escaped Con.  He knew he deserved the punishment but his sea soaked soul recoiled in dread as the prospect of being sent away to a landlocked life.   For a fisherman to turn hard clods of earth and drag crops from the heavy soil instead of skimming fish from a glistening sea was the worst fate imaginable.   How bitterly he regretted his jealousy and crime.

Taidgh saw the look of misery on Con’s face and stepped forward.  ‘No’ he said sadly.   ‘Con has done a terrible wrong but I would not have him sent from this place.   If he will tell me what he knows perhaps I can find a way to get Pescador back and all will be well.’  The boy sank to his knees in gratitude and shame.  He felt he had been given his life back but that he did not deserve it.

One of the older men at the back stepped forward.  ‘It’s an Ceann Ciallmhar you need to speak with’, he counselled.   The Wise One can tell you where to find the poor creature and whether it’s right that you should find him.   It may be better to leave him to his fate’.   Taidgh shook his head stubbornly and looked towards the hill.   It was getting late in the afternoon and the shadows were lengthening but he was determined to set out.    ‘How do I find an Ceann Ciallmhar?’ he demanded.  ‘Where do I look for him?’  The older man shrugged and shook his head.  ‘You don’t’, he said.  ‘You won’t find him for looking.  If he has a mind to, he will find you’,

Despite his father’s protests Taidgh set off up the road towards the hill.  His head was spinning with dread and confusion.   He did not know where he was going or what he was going to find.  Only his heartbreak at the loss of his beloved friend drove him forward.  It was impossible to follow a direct path to the summit.  The going was rough, the slope was stoney with great boulders and deep ditches meaning he had to keep doubling back and losing his sense of direction.    His feet led him down what looked like a rough path and he found himself out on the edge of  the hill looking down at the sea.   Taidgh sank down on a rock and buried his head in his hands.  He had no idea where he was going or how to find the Wise One who could give him directions.   The light was beginning to fade and he shivered in the evening chill.

Then a  faint wisp of scented smoke drifted past him.  It smelt of sage and honeysuckle and he opened his eyes and looked around. A tall whitehaired man with a long white beard was sitting on some rough hewn rocks smoking a long stemmed pipe. He tapped the ashes onto the ground,  filled the bowl again with the sweet smelling tobacco and settled back in the hollow of the rocks.  Taidgh saw that they fitted around him like a great stone seat.  The old man’s eyes narrowed as he blew out another plume of smoke.  Eventually he spoke in a deep rich voice.  ‘Only a very foolish boy or a very brave boy would venture up the hill, especially as the evening draws on’, he said gravely.  ‘So which are you?  Foolish or brave?’

Taidgh shook  his head sadly.  ‘I can’t tell that yet sir.   For Pescador’s sake I would risk alI and if that makes me foolish then I may lose all.   They told me down at the harbour that the Ceann Ciallmhar could tell me where to find him. ‘The old man nodded and tapped his pipe on the stone arm of his seat. He turned and looked towards the summit of the hill.  ‘What the witch has taken she has never yet given up. Her heart is black and hard as stone and courage alone cannot move it.  Turn around and go home while you still can.  Sometimes it is better not to find that which has been lost.’

Taidgh rose to his feet and turned to go.   From behind he heard the Druid’s voice call to him.  ‘Her house forms the very point of the hill,  it is dark as pitch with only one door.  If you knock three times and demand entry she cannot deny you.  Guard your eyes, for there are sights in there that can never be unseen.’

Taidgh headed up the hill as fast he could.  It wasn’t long before he saw the tall shape of the witches house narrowing to a point against the darkening night sky.   He walked around it and found the door.    Taking a deep breath he banged on it hard and cried.

Witch witch open the door

Let me see your wicked face

I have come to take my faithful friend

Away from this terrible place.

Witch witch hear my words

I demand you open the door

I will not leave until you do

I have come for Pescador

Witch witch let me in

I will not be denied

Your black heart knows no love

But mine is true and tried


His voice rang out clear and sharp and seemed to linger in the silence that followed his words.  A long moment passed and then slowly, inch by inch the rough black door started to open with a creaking, groaning, sucking,  sound.  All was blackness and silence within. Taidgh took a step forward and pushed the door wider.  A little light penetrated the gloom from outside.  Taidgh stepped further inside and shivered in the chill sour air.   ‘Pescador, Pescador,  are you there’ he whispered venturing further in.   A low moan came from the depths of the darkness within.  Then more cries and whimpers and shuffling sounds as he blinked his eyes to try and adjust to the gloom.

The darkness seemed to be alive with movement, emerging from the shadows as a shapeless mass. What seemed like hundreds of eyes, glinted red in the faint moonlight coming in the door..  ‘Pescador’, he whispered urgently.  ‘Where are you?  Let me take you home’.   Taidgh felt something move against his leg and jumped back in fright.   A hairless, misshapen form was crawling and heaving itself towards him, trying desperately to raise itself on stunted useless legs.  Taidgh shuddered in horror at the sight of the yellow weeping eyes and blackened fangs of the monstrous creature advancing on him.  ‘Get back’, he shouted, wishing he had brought a weapon to defend himself.  ‘Stay away from me’.  The creature halted at the sound of his voice and dropped its head with a moan but keeping its yellow eyes on Taidgh.   The boy hesitated, desperate to escape the danger that seemed to be closing  in on him, but held by something gentle in those weeping eyes that did not match the hideous shape around them.  Torn between disbelief and pity Taidgh whispered, ‘Pescador,  is that you?   Oh what has made you like this?’  The creature moaned again and seemed almost to hang its head in shame, dropping its eyes and sinking to the ground.  Taidgh’s heart swelled with pity at the sight of the poor, deformed creature before him, so utterly changed from the noble, brave animal he loved.  His own tears began to flow freely as he felt the loss of his beloved Pescador, doomed by a witch’s curse to live in darkness and horror.  His previous revulsion was now replaced with pity and grief and he made no attempt to stem the tears that ran down his face and splashed onto the poor beast as he leant towards him.    As the tears touched him, Pescador jumped as though stung, shaking his great form and scattering the drops into hundreds of tiny glowing points that showered the darkness around them.  

Taidgh stumbled backwards, out through the door into the cold darkness and staggered a few steps down the hill until he sank, exhausted and heartbroken onto the damp grass.  A few minutes went by and then he felt something rough and warm licking his hand.   He opened his eyes to see the dear familiar face of Pescador, eyes shining, and tailing wagging as Taidgh threw his arms around his dog, hugging him until the poor beast had to yowl in protest.

It was really him, restored to his old self,  barking and jumping around his owner in excitement.  And not just him.  As Taidgh looked up towards the witch’s house,   the doorway was filled with a stream of animals, cats, dogs, rabbits, birds, even a goat,  pushing and straining to get through,  looking around in wonder at the clear night air,  getting bolder as they tested their freedom and started to venture down the hill.

A wild shrill scream rent the night air and a dark shape appeared overhead, circling above them, in faster and faster circles until, with a great cracking sound, the shape hovered for a moment and then fluttered in slow arcs to the ground in front of Taidgh.

The black shapeless mass settled slowly until the form of a young girl appeared.    She was thin and pale with nightblack long hair and she let out one long sigh as a gentle breeze whispered against her clothes and hair and a whirl of ashes lifted into the air and was borne away leaving nothing but a black stone, shaped like a heart, cracked in half.  

‘She too has been released from her curse’,  said a grave voice behind Taidgh and he turned to see the Ceann Ciallmhor looking down at him.   ‘It took your tears to break it.   Go home now and tell everyone that the witch is dead, her house is gone, and all can safely roam here.’

As Taidgh got the bottom of the hill he saw that the pets who had found their freedom were heading home to be reuinited with their owners, barking, bleating, calling their joy and excitement into the night air.    

When they got to the harbour, his father and several of the fishermen were waiting, roused from their sleep by the animal cries.  Some of them were joined by children, rubbing their eyes with sleep and wonder at the return of a long lost pet.

Taidgh’s father hugged him fiercely, brushing away tears that ran down his rough cheeks.    Con and his father stepped forward and patted him on the back.  Pescador jumped and barked and ran around the harbour in delight.

‘From now on’ Taidgh’s father announced, ‘we will all share the good fortune Pescador has brought us.  He will guide all the boats and we will pool our catches’.

And with Pescador’s help, the fishermen of Cola Mhor harbour became the most successful fishermen on the East Coast.   In time he sired three litters of pups and each generation of his line produced at least one dog who inherited his gift and that one always bore the name ‘Pescador.