A fisherman called Nagu lived near the sea with his wife, and they had a son called Bai. Bai was their only child and they loved him with all their hearts.
When Hungry Season came Nagu went forth each day to fish in the sea from his canoe, for at this time there was little food to be had on land. There came a time when he fished for many days and caught no fish, and his family was starving; but once he knew not other trade he kept on fishing, hoping that his luck would change.
One weary day when he had fished for many hours in vain he began quietly weeping. A mermaid swam close to his canoe.
“I have heard you weeping,” she said. “What is your sorrow?”
“Bad luck is with me, and my family starves,” said Nagu. He was not at all surprised to see a mermaid. He would have been astonished if she had been a fine fat fish.
“What will you give me if I change your luck?” she asked.
“Anything you want.”
“Will you give me the first creature who comes to meet you when you reach the shore tonight?”
“That will be my little dog,” Nagu thought to himself. The dog always ran barking down the beach to greet him. He was fond of the animal.
“Well, he said reluctantly, “I will do that.”
The mermaid disappeared, and thereafter every time Nagu cast his net he snared a multitude of fish so that his canoe was soon quite full. He rejoiced and set out for him home, and when he drew close to the beach his son came down to meet him. Bai, his only son. Nagu remember his promise to the mermaid, and his heart was sick with despair. That night when his family was feasting happily he could not hide his grief, and was obliged to tell them of the promise which he had given in return for the load of fish.
“If you go to the mermaid, son,” he said, “she will destroy you.”
“Then I will leave the coast,” Bai said. “I will go out into the world and se what fortune life holds for me.”
“My blessing goes with you, my son. Be careful crossing water, for the mermaid will not rest until she gets you.”
Bai set out into the world next morning. He traveled far. Whether than cross broad rivers he kept among the mountains, where the rivers are young and clear and hold no secrets. In the high place he came upon an eagle, an ant and a lion who were quarreling over the body of a deer. They saw Bai and said to him:
“Man, please divide this deer for us. We can reach no agreement.” Bai gave the red meat to Lion, the offal to Eagle and the bones with their sweet marrow he gave to ant; and the three of them were pleased.
“You are good,” said Lion. “Take this claw of mine. If you should ever find yourself in danger just say ‘from a man to a lion,’ and you will become an eagle.”
“You are kind,” said ant. “Take my blessing. If you ever wish to be a small, small thing just say ‘from a man to an ant,’ and you will become an ant.”
Bai traveled on until he came to a fair country, and here he entered the service of the Chief as a herdsman. In this land there dwelt a monster, and the only way to keep it from destroying towns and crops was for the Chief to give one of his children to the monster every month. No mere man could kill the monster, and the people of that land now lived in fear, for the Chief had but one child left. She was the best and most beautiful of his daughters, and as she was his favorite he had kept her while he could.
Bai changed into an ant. He drew close to the monster and asked:
“Mighty monster, is it true that no man can kill you?”
The proud creature laughed. “Who wants to kill me must climb Garto Mountain and kill a lion, when catch the eagle there, and bring the eagle’s egg and burst it on my head.”
Bai went away and considered this: and when he saw the Chief’s only remaining child was the most beautiful young maiden he had ever seen, he made up his mind. That night he entered her room as an ant and then resumed his normal form. She was astonished to see him there, but since he was a handsome youth with gentle manners she was not alarmed.
“Why have you come?” she asked. “My father must not see you here, or he will kill you!”
As he gazed upon her beauty he fell more and more in love; and she, in turn, was drawn strongly to him.
“Next month you must die,” he said, “Unless the monster is somehow killed; and I possess a secret whereby he may be killed. Give me strength to do the things which must be done.”
“How shall I give you strength?”
“Give me your love, and I shall not fail.”
She looked into his eyes, and was content with what she saw. She rose and went to him. “I give you my love,” she said. “Be strong, be brave; I know you will not fail.”
In the morning Bai changed to an eagle and flew to the summit of Garto Mountain; and there he changed into a lion. He met a lion there, and they fought; and after several hours of savage, snarling battle Bai found that he had won. He rested for a while and bathed his wounds; then he changed into an eagle and flew into the sky to fight the eagle he saw there. Three times this eagle better him to earth; each time Bai remembered the love which the daughter of the Chief had given him, and found it cried out:
“Ho, monster! I come from Garto Mountain, where I took an egg from the belly of an eagle, and now I am about to throw it on your head!”
The monster ran round and round in the forest trying to escape, but Bai dropped the egg on his head and destroyed him.
Bai wedded the Chief’s daughter and inherited rich lands, and sent for his own parents to come and live with him. But the mermaid still searches for him, and this is why sometimes a handsome lad who goes to sea in his canoe does not return.