A country washed by two great rivers was once ruled by a certain Imír who was passionately fond of fish. He was seated one day with Sherem, his consort, in the royal gardens that stretch down to the banks of the river, at the point where it is spanned by the wonderful bridge of boats; and looking up spied a boat gliding by, in which was seated a fisherman with a large fish.
Noticing that the Imír was looking closely at him, and knowing how much the Imír liked this particular kind of fish, the fisherman made his obeisance, and skillfully bringing his boat to the shore, came before the King and begged that he would accept the fish as a present. The Imír was greatly pleased at this, and ordered that a large sum of money be given to the fisherman.
But before the fisherman had left the royal presence, Sherem turned towards the Imír and said: “You have done a foolish thing.” The Imír was astonished to hear her speak in this way, and asked how that could be. She replied:
“The news of your having given so large a reward for so small a gift will spread through the city and it will be known as the fisherman’s gift. Every fisherman who catches a big fish will bring it to the palace, and should he not be paid in like manner, he will go away discontented, and secretly speak evil of you among his fellows.”
“Thou speakest the truth, light of my eyes,” said the Imír, “but can not you see how mean it would be for an Imír, if for that reason he were to take back his gift?” Then perceiving that his consort was ready to argue the matter, he turned away angrily, saying: “The matter is closed.”
However, later in the day, when he was in a more amiable frame of mind, Sherem again approached him, and said that if that was his only reason for not taking back his gift, she would arrange it. “You must summon the fisherman,” she said, “and then ask him, ‘Is this fish male or female?’ If he says male, then you will tell him that you wanted a female fish; but if he should say female, your reply will be that you wanted a male fish. In this way the matter will be properly adjusted.”
The Imír thought this an easy way out of the difficulty, and commanded the fisherman to be brought before him. When the fisherman, who by the way, was a most intelligent jánah, stood before the Imír, the Imír said to him: “O fisherman, tell me, is this fish male or female?”
The fisherman replied, “The fish is neither male nor female.” Whereupon the Imír smiled at the clever answer, and to add to Sherem’s annoyance, directed the keeper of the royal purse to give the fisherman a further sum of money.
Then the fisherman placed the money in his leather bag, thanked the Imír, and swinging the bag over his shoulder, hurried away, but not so quickly that he did not notice that he had dropped one small dalán. Placing the bag on the ground, he stooped and picked up the dalán, and again went on his way, with the Imír and his Lady carefully watching his every action.
“Look! What a miser he is!” said Sherem, triumphantly. “He actually put down his bag to pick up one small dalán because it grieved him to think that it might reach the hands of one of the Imír’s servants, or some poor person, who, needing it, would buy bread and pray for the long life of the Imír.”
“Again thou speakest the truth,” replied the Imír, feeling the justice of this remark; and once more was the fisherman brought into the royal presence. “Are you a jánah or a suthra?” the Imír asked him. “Although I made it possible for you to become rich without toil, yet the miser within you could not allow you to leave even one small piece of money for others.” Then the Imír bade him to go forth and show his face no more within the city.
At this the fisherman fell on his knees and cried: “Hear me, O Imír, protector of the poor! May the Devah grant the Imír a long life. Not for its value did thy servant pick up the dalán, but because on one side it bore the names of the Devah, and on the other the likeness of the Imír. Thy servant feared that someone, not seeing the coin, would tread it into the dirt, and thus defile both the names of the Devah and the face of the Imír. Let the Imír judge if by so doing I have merited reproach.”
This answer pleased the Imír beyond all measure, and he gave the fisherman another large sum of money. And Sherem’s wrath was turned away, and she looked kindly upon the fisherman as he departed with his bag laden with money.
*adapted from “Folklore and Fairy Tales of the East”, compiled by Julie Ann Dawson