By Asha DaHyeon Choi (Laonasa)
Twisted from The Little Mermaid
A long, long time ago … in a kingdom far away …
… Under the sea …
There lived a kind-hearted mermaid, tucked in the depths of the ancient sea. She was famous; she was known for her beautiful songs and beautiful hair.
Silky strands of pitch-black hair could be seen billowing out behind her when she swam past. Oh yes, black was the rarest color among mermen, and she was one of the few to possess it.
Black was treasured, and white forbidden.
The mermaid led a respected, peaceful life. Born into a family of seven, she was the oldest among them. Her family were known to be shamans among the mer-people, and their powers were great and vast, ranging from seaquakes to the simplest potions. They were strong, and the blood of the gods ran strong in their veins. People came to them to seek advice, to seek assistance in things they could not change.
One of those—one of those problems they sought help for—was their love for a human.
By birthright, mer-people could not rightfully marry a human. Once they forsake the ocean, they are never to return.
However, mermen and maids are helpless when it comes to love. This was true even at the time this young mermaid lived. This is the reason why a mermaid’s tear is such a strong potion—mermaids and mermen have love in their roots.
Love is, and was, the ancestor of mermaids.
So the mermaid’s family helped the mer-people hopelessly in love, by threading away their tails and fins and forming magical legs that were weak but able to walk the land.
Every one of the family was taught in the art of magic, with no exception.
Until the beautiful little mermaid came by.
She, while she had beauty and kindness, was never given magic. She was never granted the gift all her sisters had. She was alone in her home.
One day, the young, black-haired mermaid decided to take a brief trip to the surface. It was a day with a nice ray of sunlight streaming through the waters. When she poked her head above water, the sunlight struck her midnight-blue tail in such a way that it looked nearly unearthly.
That may have been the reason why the boy on the island called out to her.
The boy was a young sailor, one of the Empire’s youngest and finest. He was barely 17, and to a mermaid who lived for at least a couple of centuries, he was nothing but a young child.
But he was perfect.
The boy was happy to have someone to speak with, and the little mermaid was entranced by the first human she’d ever seen. They were both lonely, and as time passed, the couple grew closer and closer.
And then, a ship came and took the boy away.
The mermaid pined for her best friend and lover, and she wished fervently to go search for the boy. She knew where he was, or at least she thought she did. Yet she was not yet fully grown, and her family would not condone her running off.
She was a teenage mermaid, you see.
The currents changed and the fish schools came and went. Corals grew, ships sank, and with time, the mermaid grew older. It was her 31st winter after that day, when she finally was allowed to go onto the surface.
Her younger sisters were reluctant to give her human legs, but they’d seen her pining for nearly three decades. They decided to help her out, and the ritual went along swimmingly, if you catch what I mean.
After years, the mermaid finally set foot on the Empire’s land.
Day and night she searched for the boy. His old home was abandoned and overgrown, and no one knew whom she spoke of.
The land was swept up in the aftermath of war, and people were too tired and sad to give much attention to a foreign young woman.
It was seven years before she managed to find the boy.
By that time, he was not a boy anymore.
The boy, the old boy, as she wanted to think, was on his deathbed. Fifty-five years was a long time for a man back then. He had fought in the war, dispatched the enemy’s leader, and had lived a life in wealth and peace. He’d married a kind woman, and had five children.
He’d never forgotten the mermaid.
When she stood by his bedside, and shed tears, the man refused to take her tears—a mermaid’s tears could heal anything.
“Even if I did live,” he said.
“I could never return to the sea.”
The mermaid wailed like her cousins, the sirens. She pleaded, she cried.
Her voice strained and pulled like the strings of a golden harp, snapping and humming violently with grief.
When the man died on the third day of her arrival, the mermaid fell silent.
Her voice was gone, her hair stark white, and the mermaid rapidly withered to a mere husk of her former appearance. She was once beautiful—now she was not.
The mermaid, one day, returned to the sea. Her mother, the ocean, no longer took notice of her. Her people no longer took her in with open arms. Her sisters had been killed in a kraken attack.
She was alone, and she was glad for it.
Her legs could not return to the tail of her past, so she worked her meager magic so that she grew the legs of an octopus. Her pale hair was now cursed, and she shied away from those few who reached out to her.
Her name was Ursula, and she was no longer the young mermaid she had been.
Throughout the centuries, Ursula was called the witch of the sea. She was still kind, but she was tired and rough around the edges. She no longer could find love—she no longer felt hate.
But she was happy as she raised her little patches of coral, and swam with the fishes. She could no longer sing, yes, or wander to the surface of the sea in fear of her wrath, but she made her life the brightest it could be.
And then came along the little, scarlet-haired mermaid.
The little girl was hopelessly in love, and Ursula felt her stomach churn at the sight of another mermaid in love with a human. She saw herself in that little girl. She did not want her to end up like Ursula.
She wanted to stop the little mermaid.
“You must give me your voice in exchange, for you to walk on land,” she tried.
The little mermaid willingly gave her voice to the witch in a little seashell.
“You shall feel like you are stepping on a thousand needles during the day,” she tried once more.
The little mermaid shrugged.
“You will die and never return to the sea if your love is not returned,” she tried at last.
The little mermaid smiled.
Ursula, resigned, gave the young mermaid a potion to change her tail. The little mermaid thanked her, and swam up to the surface with the potion in hand.
However, the witch was still very much worried about the little mermaid. So she dressed up as an old woman, and followed the mermaid throughout her adventures.
Along the way, she picked up a little pretty girl as her apprentice and taught her in the art of potion making. They were happy. Ursula loved people, and the little girl wanted to be a queen. They promised each other to stay as a mother and daughter.
When the little mermaid failed in marrying the prince, the sun set on that fateful day. Ursula dashed to her rooms in the depths of the sea. She brewed a potion of the sea’s love, one that could fully return the little mermaid back to her people. One that could undo all her mistakes and leave her as the youngest princess she once was.
One that would leave the little scarlet-haired mermaid as she was before, with no marks to mar her heart.
The ingredients needed for that particular potion had to do with mer-people and humans. Hairs from the head of the ocean’s royalty. A drop of blood from the heart of man.
The most beautiful points of love on the Earth.
Ursula called for help from the older princesses of the kingdom, and when she had the yet-to-be finished potion, she paused for a moment.
Would this really be what the little mermaid wants? she pondered.
Would she rather be the disgraced princess than the murderer of her own love?
Would she defy her fate as a mermaid princess—and bring death upon herself?
At that thought, Ursula held the unfinished potion out to the sisters.
“Go,” she spoke.
“Go, and let her choose her own fate.”
The sisters were angry at the old witch, and they swam away from those caverns, never to return.
Ursula did not know what had happened that day, nor did she ever find out.
The next morning, a swarm of angry, sad mermen stormed her home. They took her to the king, a wise old man consumed in grief.
Before they executed the witch, the king turned to her.
“Why?” he asked, voice broken.
Ursula gave him a sad smile.
“I do not know what you mean, my child.”
And then, she was no more.
… The kingdom of the sea fell into a quiet peace once more, and while they missed their youngest princess, the people had all but forgotten the white-haired witch, the witch who had once lived in the Last Caverns. All that was left of her legacy, her love, her life, was an old fish tale among the mer-people.
They say that the witch was evil, that her spite drove her mad.
They say the little mermaid did not, in fact die—but was taken back into the ocean’s heart.
They say the young apprentice indeed became a queen.
They say the prince forgot about his younger days.
They say white was treasured and black forbidden.
They say … they all lived. …
… Except, of course—