Fingin flung the fishing net with all his might. The circular sieve spun wide and nestled onto the surface of the gently flowing An Ruirthech
River. Slowly, the weights on the edge sank to the rocky floor. With gentle tugs, Fingin pulled the handline and tightened his snare. A few times the net caught on stones, but a slight twitch freed the twine. He frowned when he hauled the whole thing to shore; only three small salmon and a young pike.
Typically, he did much better at this time of the evening, as the sun kissed the edge of the dusky horizon. Still, he had plenty to eat and more for the market in the morning. Since he left home seven winters before, he’d learned to balance his work and his needs pretty well.
Perhaps just one more cast would be wise. He cleaned his catch, sniffed the fresh wind for a hint of rain, and finding none, waded back into the river.
The river narrowed here at the sharp bend, making the current run swift and strong. It also corralled the fish into a smaller area. Fingin whispered, urging the fish to come closer. His voice flowed out through the air and into the water.
Sometimes they listened. More often, they fled. Fish grew naturally wary of any fisherman, despite his unique ability to talk to them. Just because they understood him didn’t mean he had command over their actions.
He avoided speaking with fish, especially since his voice, even with magic, got distorted through the water. He preferred talking with larger animals, as they had more grasp of conversation. But sometimes he persuaded the fish to swim closer toward his net.
A ripple upriver caught his eye, glinting in the setting sun. Fingin squinted as the disturbance grew closer. Something large swam beneath the surface, something he wouldn’t want in his net. Hastily, he tried to pull the net in, but it caught on a rock and refused to budge. With frantic hands, he attempted to untie the handline from his wrist, but the water-soaked knot stuck fast.
“No, no, no! Go away! Go around!”
The salmon ignored his imprecations and hummed a sprightly tune as he leapt, cutting the river’s surface with a glint of silver and pink, before barreling into Fingin’s net. He held on for dear life as the fish plowed through, snapping the bits of braided horsehair and vine like a rotten bit of thatch, but the main part of the net held. The force pulled Fingin well into the center of the river, spluttering and gasping for breath like the fish he often tossed on shore.
The water roared above him and into his lungs, forcing the breath from him. His panic rose as the current slammed him into a jagged rock. Pain shot through his midriff. He gasped when his face found air for a moment. The water snatched him away from blessed air. He gasped again, but water flooded his mouth. His lungs burned from lack of breath.
The handline cut deep into his wrist, digging through his soaked skin. He clawed at it as the water swept him downriver, but it remained tight. The raging current and the power of the large fish pulled him with surprising ease. The salmon wriggled through two more bends in the bank as Fingin’s sight dimmed. Gray surrounded him, and he faded.
A wrench to his arms signaled the huge salmon tearing through the net. Fingin scrabbled back to the surface. He rasped a huge breath, drawing sweet, fresh air into his lungs. He continued to drift down the river, the destroyed net trailing behind him.
With a set jaw and an angry step, Fingin retrieved the shredded remains of his net and slogged back to the shore.
He pulled the now useless net to the banks, squelching through the river mud and reeds to dry land. He wrapped it into a ball and considered throwing it back into the river—a just reward for the betrayal it caused.
With a deep sigh, Fingin tucked the awkward, sopping bundle under his arm and walked upriver. The net hadn’t been at fault. A salmon that size had no business being this far up An Ruirthech. He lived leagues away from the sea, and only the smaller salmon made it this far past the weirs and the rapids.
The hike to his small hut didn’t take too long, despite his adventure in the river. The river wound through the countryside, but walking overland got him there much more directly.
He didn’t live in high style. The rough hut wouldn’t last more than a winter or two. He never bothered with the hard work anything more permanent would require. Not anymore.
Not after the last time.
His current home stood next to a large open area in the woods, nestled within a tight bend of the river. A small beach allowed easy access to the water, and a large, flat rock lay next to the hut. This rock allowed Fingin to spread out his net when it needed repairs, like today. It also made a great place to clean his catch.
Fingin lived a simple life, but he liked it simple. He craved human companionship, but daren’t seek it out. He spoke to birds and squirrels, but they only spoke of sweet, simple things. They had no deep philosophies.
From his net-repairing rock, he glanced up to watch the river as it meandered, wiggling his hands to keep them from aching. He bent back to his task with industry, determined to fix at least half the damage while the light of the day remained strong. Occasionally, he’d glance up at a sound or to stretch his back.
It must have been a cursed fish, or maybe some faerie conjuration. Regardless, his net had no chance against such a thing. Still, he jerked the strands with frustration as he repaired the net out on the big stone.
He rose to go into his hut and retrieved his supply of thin rope. He’d need to make more. Although the ball of rope seemed hefty, repairs on this scale would use most of it up.
When Fingin sat again, he let out a deep sigh. He’d forgotten to stoke the fire. It remained banked from the morning, and if he didn’t start it now, the night would fall before he had time to cook his meal.
He stood again, peering at the river. A large log swung lazily along with the current, with something round and furry in the middle. Fingin squinted to make out the object between the glints of the setting sun.
The object lifted its head, and Fingin recognized it to be a scraggly wolfhound, soaked and scrambling to stay on the branch.
Without a thought, Fingin rushed to the far end of the river bend, to cut off the path of the log. He scurried down to the small beach and dove into the water, swimming with powerful strokes to reach the log before it floated away. He almost got a handhold before it spun away.