Fiction, Vol. 2.4, Dec. 2008
Block prints by Cynthia Reeser
I’LL NEVER FORGET how she feels in my arms at this moment, her warmth, her weight, and the beat of her small heart. My arms mold themselves around her small body. She is the most beautiful baby I have ever seen. Her skin is soft, and so pale it almost seems translucent. She has wide, round eyes the color of aquamarines. Her hair, which is little more than fuzz, is already the pale yellow of the sun reflecting through the water. She has the same short, stubby tail as all baby mermaids, but its color is already bright, the same vibrant orange of my favorite sea anemone’s.
She gazes up at me with her clear, blue eyes and I know that she recognizes me as her mother. She coos and cuddles closer to me. I close my eyes and pretend that she will always know me; that she will always know who her mother is.
“BEING A SORCERESS is a gift,” my mother often reminded me. “Don’t ever misuse your power or take it for granted.”
I was taught the responsibilities and history of my craft when I was very young. My mother would tell me stories of my grandmother, great-grandmother, and all the women of my line who came before them. I learned spells and incantations the same way that other children were taught to read and write, and I loved every second of my lessons. I felt grown up and full of wisdom and power when I practiced mixing potions and casting spells. And when my lessons were concluded for the day, I would watch as my mother received visitors.
Mother’s visitors began arriving in the early evening and continued until late in the night; she never turned anyone away. It was amazing to watch her work. She would drift around the room grabbing bottles and vials from shelves and mixing potions that turned homely girls into great beauties, aged mer-folk into youths and made people fall in and out of love. Most of her visitors, though, came for hope; for cures to illnesses that were beyond helping.
When at last we were alone, she tucked me into bed. I lay with my head on her lap and she smoothed my hair away from my face and twisted it through her fingers. She sang me human songs and told me their fantasy stories about beautiful princesses with fairy godmothers who made their dreams come true and evil stepmothers who tried to kill them with poisoned apples. I fought to stay awake to listen to all she had to say, but inevitably, I would close my eyes and drift to sleep in her arms. This was our ritual for as long as I can remember.
IN MY EYES, my mother was the most beautiful mermaid in the ocean. Her hair was long, black and flowing, and it billowed around her as she mixed her potions and cast her spells. Her skin was tanned from all of the hours she spent basking in the sun in the world above the ocean. Unlike any other mermaid I have ever known, she was drawn to that other world. She was fascinated by humans and their way of life. Her love of that strange, foreign world only made her more mysterious and fantastic to me.
Because of this intense fascination, on my fifteenth birthday when I was able to make my first trip to the surface, it was hard to tell who was more excited, my mother or me.
It was the middle of the night when mother said goodnight to her last visitor. She closed up her spell books and put away her bottles and vials and made sure her things were cleaned. Then, she came to me and took my hand in hers and led me from our home.
The first thing I noticed about the human world was the way the air felt; cold and invigorating. It felt like icy fingers touching my face and pulling through my hair. The sky was inky black and so clear that I could decipher the constellations with no trouble.
It was the most magical, beautiful night for me. Mother and I barely spoke; we were just there, taking in everything around us. The sun was just beginning to rise as we returned to our home. After that night, she and I returned to the surface every night together.
THE DAY BEFORE my eighteenth birthday, I woke to find my mother gone. A note told me that she had gone to the human world to run an errand for my birthday and that she would be back by lunchtime. I busied myself all morning cleaning and making sure that my mother’s bottles and jars were all filled and ready for that night’s visitors.
Lunchtime came and passed, though, and she still did not return. I wasn’t worried. Mother often got distracted when she visited the human world. There was always something new and exciting to see, and I looked forward to hearing about whatever it was when she came home.
That night was the first time in memory that mother’s visitors were turned away. I had terrible dreams while I slept, and the next morning, I woke up screaming. My mother was dead. I’d seen the whole thing in my dreams, in my head.
The first time I realized I had the gift of Seeing it was to witness my own mother’s death.
A young human man had fallen from his ship into the sea. With no thought for her own safety, she had tried to save him from a shark that was closing in on him. Her hastily murmured incantation had no effect on the shark, and she and the human had both been killed.
After her death, I never returned to the surface.
AFTER A WEEK in mourning, a week of turning away mother’s visitors, I began performing her duties. I was, of course, no novice at my craft. I had certainly practiced and observed enough with my mother to easily step into her role as sorceress.
Her visitors were not quick to accept me though, and their skepticism made my confidence falter. I was alone for the first time in my life and I suddenly had to make my own living. As an eighteen-year-old girl, though, I seemed to inspire incredulity at my abilities.
For several weeks, I barely had any visitors. The ones I did have often turned away when they found me instead of my mother. It wasn’t until a young girl came to see me for help that I found my confidence again.
She couldn’t have been more than six or seven. She was a pretty child with golden hair and bright violet eyes. I felt her fear and apprehension before she even knocked on my door. I ushered her inside and tried my best to make her comfortable.
“Tell me what you need,” I said to her, “I will try my best to help you.”
She looked up at me with her wide eyes. Her bottom lip began to tremble. “It’s… it’s my Daddy,” she said. “He’s sick. His head is burning hot. He doesn’t get out of his bed… He’s all I have in the world. I don’t want him to die.”
I nodded and put my arms around the girl. “How long has he been sick?”
“A few days.”
I put my hand under her chin and turned her face up so she could see me. I smiled reassuringly at her. “I can give you a potion for him to drink. He has to drink all of it.”
I went to my mother’s spell book and a short time later, I was waving goodbye to the little girl as she hurried home.
Her father came to thank me a few days later. He offered to pay me, but I refused his money. He paid me instead by spreading the word that I had saved his life.
Suddenly I was receiving a constant stream of visitors. They trusted me as wholly as they had trusted my mother. I was good at what I did. Helping others gave me a feeling of completeness that I never thought I’d know.
The night of my nineteenth birthday, almost a year since I had taken my mother’s place, the King came to me for the first time.
HE HAD COME to my mother once before, seeking a cure for his dying wife. His visit was the only time my mother ever ushered me out of the room and asked for some privacy. It was no secret, though, that the Queen was gravely ill. Her sickness was strange; no one knew what it was or how to cure it.
I’d never seen anyone look as heartbroken or desperate in my life. He and the Queen were supposed to be deeply in love with each other. She was very beautiful. I saw her once when I brought a potion to one of the palace servants from my mother. She had long, dark red hair, which she wore pulled loosely off of her face. She had pale skin, and a long, amethyst tail. Her eyes looked almost amber from far away. I had caught her eye while I waited for the servant, and she smiled warmly at me, like we were long-time friends. She and the King made a striking couple.
He was just as handsome as she was beautiful. When I was younger, I remember having a crush on him; a child’s infatuation. He was so young and handsome at the time.
The spells and incantations my mother tried came too late; the Queen died just a few weeks before her, leaving the King a widower with five young daughters.
HE STOOD IN the doorway of my home staring at me in disbelief. He had not heard about my mother’s death, and he was surprised to find a nineteen-year-old girl in her place.
“Maybe I’ve made a mistake,” he said, and he turned to leave.
“No, wait,” I went to him and took his hand. It was warm, and for an instant I forgot that I was touching the King’s hand. “I can help you if you’ll give me the chance.”
He stood there in the entranceway looking at me with his intensely blue eyes. He was so handsome. His strong jaw was covered with a neatly-trimmed beard, and his dark blonde hair seemed to curl in the currents.
He didn’t take his hand from mine. “I don’t want any magic from you,” he stated clearly. “I need your help; your advice.”
I squeezed his hand reassuringly. “Come in and sit down, then. Let me help you.”
He followed me into my living room, where I’d never taken a visitor before.
He was hesitant that first time. The only thing he could think about was how my mother was unable to save his wife. I felt his fears like they were my own. In a way, I suppose, my mother had failed us both. It was the only common thread in our lives.
I could see how lonely he was, even though he was constantly surrounded by his court-members. His uncertainty; his feelings of isolation and doubt were clearly visible in his face, his eyes, in the way he held himself.
What he needed the most was someone who would listen to him, someone who wasn’t going to judge him or force him to make decisions that weren’t right for him.
He was under tremendous pressure to remarry, not just from his advisors, but from himself. He felt this need to provide a new mother for his daughters; the oldest of the five was only eight, the youngest three. He didn’t want them to grow up not knowing the love of two parents. He wanted them to have a happy, normal life. He wanted them to feel safe and whole again.
HIS VISITS WERE random at first, but very soon became daily. He would arrive late at night after my last visitors were gone and he would stay until morning. He was all business at first. He asked for advice about affairs of state. Did I know of any planned uprisings? Would things continue to be peaceful and prosperous in his kingdom?
His visits became more frequent as our conversations became more intimate. He told me stories about his daughters. He talked about his oldest, Maura, and how she had assumed the role of mother to her sisters. He was afraid that she might have been forced to grow up too fast. We laughed over stories about sneaking treats from the palace kitchen and how they climbed into his bed at night to hear stories about his adventures before he was married to their mother.
“They miss her so much,” he confessed. “They try to pretend for my sake that everything is fine. I know better, though. I see the same loss in their eyes that I see in my own.”
“Talk with them, your Majesty, let them know that it is okay to miss her; to grieve for their loss. You are their father; you have to be there to listen to them and make them feel safe and loved.”
He looked at me, studied my expressions. I could see myself reflected in his eyes; saw myself as he saw me. I saw my pale skin, and my mother’s cloudy, gray eyes.
“Have you had anyone to comfort you after your loss?”
I shook my head. “No. I am alone.”
“What about your father? You have no family at all?”
I stood and began straightening things, a nervous habit I’ve always had. I was never comfortable talking about myself.
“My father died when I was just a baby. I never knew him, or any of his family. They did not approve of my mother.”
I turned, and found the King right beside me. He reached up and tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear; his fingers lingered along my cheek.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“We’re past that, aren’t we? You mean more to me than just a subject, or an advisor. Please, I want to hear you say my name.”
“ Merrick.” His name felt unfamiliar, but right on my lips. He smiled, and I felt the warmth and affection flow from his fingers to my body. He leaned forward to kiss me, but I pulled away.
“What is it?”
“Your advisors, your court… What would they say if they found out?”
His arms went around my waist and he pulled me close. “They have no say. I will love and marry whomever I want.”
“You love me?”
He looked into my eyes, his own eyes smiling for the first time since he began coming to me. He lowered his mouth to mine. The warmth of his kiss was all the answer I needed. He loved me, and I him. That was all that mattered.
FROM THE MOMENT I discovered that I was with child, I knew I would lose her. For months, Merrick’s advisors had been filling his head with doubts and lies until he began to question me. They convinced him that I had cast a spell to make him love me, bewitching him so that I could become queen. All I am guilty of is loving the King and being loved by him in return. I only gave him what he needed. I gave him comfort and support.
Shortly after I learned that I was pregnant, I went to Merrick hoping that he would fulfill our dream and his promise of marriage. Instead, he seemed to crumple under the weight of the news.
“I need time to think,” was all he said.
I knew what he needed to think about. So many questions plagued him. How would our marriage look to his advisors? Were the things they were saying about me true? Did I really love him? Would I be safe living with him in his castle? Would they let me be his Queen?
Although being a sorceress was not against the law, and many of his advisors had come to me themselves, my craft was viewed as objectionable. They claimed I was unfit to lie with the King and replace his dead queen; that I was so different, so undesirable as queen that I might as well have been human.
In truth they were afraid of me, afraid of my powers. Most importantly, they were afraid of my influence over Merrick. They were afraid that if he had my council he wouldn’t need theirs.
“I THINK IT is best if no one knows about your pregnancy.”
“You mean keep it a secret? How?”
Merrick shook his head. “Not now. We’ll talk about it later.”
I watched helplessly as he turned and walked out of my home, not even giving me the chance to speak again. Did he know that with this decision, my hope of being able to marry the man I loved and becoming the mother of his daughters was destroyed? His daughters would never know of me or how much I had come to care for them; how my advice had helped Merrick to make them happy.
I was confined to a room in the palace and looked after. Word was spread through the kingdom that I had gone to visit with a sick friend in another part of the sea. With the exception of the nurse who came and went randomly, I was alone.
Often, I would hear Merrick outside my door. I could feel the turmoil inside of him. He wants to be happy. He wants to come to me and lie beside me and hold me close, but he never allows himself to come. I could hear the accusations of his closest advisors echoing in his head.
“She has lied to you, your Majesty!”
“She only wants the crown!”
“Once she has what she wants, she will dispose of you and your daughters.”
“How can you trust a witch?”
He hated these men for putting the thoughts in his head. He knew deep down that they weren’t true. But now that they were there, he couldn’t ignore them.
During my confinement, I lost count of how many times he came to my door. I didn’t see him, though, until he came for my beautiful daughter.
MERRICK COMES INTO my room, careful to stay near the door. He nods to the nurse to take the baby away. He watches me for a minute, and then comes closer. I can feel the heat of his gaze on my face.
“I need to know one thing.” These are the first words he’s spoken to me since my confinement.
“Anything,” I reply.
He takes a deep breath. “Was it a spell? Did I really love you? Did you really love me?”
I look up into his eyes; the same clear blue as my baby’s eyes, and I can see that he doesn’t really believe it was a spell. I can see that he still loves me.
“I’ve never used magic with you. Your feelings were always your own.”
He nods. He is silent again as he thinks over some decisions he has made before coming to my room.
“It’s not safe for you here,” he says finally. He doesn’t look at my face. He’s careful to keep his eyes focused on his hands. “No matter what my feelings are for you, the court will never stand for your involvement in my life.”
“But you are their King.”
“I can only protect you so much! They might try to…”
He pauses, drawing in another deep breath. I can see his eyes becoming cloudy. It’s the closest he’ll allow himself to get to crying.
“You’re sending me away.” It’s not a question. I’ve known the answer for months. I have no strength to fight with him. I know what I’m losing, and it defeats me.
“It’s for the best,” he says. “You will be able to return to your old life. You’ll be safe.”
“And my baby?”
“You can never see her…”
When I don’t reply or argue, he turns and starts from the room.
“Wait!” I call after him.
He turns back to face me. His eyes meet mine. This time he doesn’t avert his gaze.
“What will you call our daughter?”
He is silent. For an instant a small, satisfied smile plays across his face. “I’ll call her Eirena.”
A feeling of warmth spreads through me. “Thank you.”
He’d given her my name.
ALMOST FIFTEEN YEARS pass. I have lived alone on the outskirts of the kingdom since the day Eirena was taken from me. I like being so far from what I have known and loved for my whole life. There’s a strange comfort in it. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I had to live so close to my daughter and the man I love and not be able to speak to them or see them. It is much better this way.
I have not been lonely. A notice of my new address posted on my door ensured that those who needed me could find me. Within a month, I had the same steady stream of visitors that I have always known.
The tales that the young girls in town tell say that I am old and ugly and that I exact terrible fees for my potions and cures. I just laugh when I hear these stories. Mostly they are told to me by frightened teenagers who come asking for love spells and charms to make them beautiful.
I take such pride in being able to help them. They come to me terrified and leave feeling comforted. To me, every one of them bears Eirena’s face. Helping them, making them laugh or smile makes me feel like I am helping my own daughter. Helping them makes the hurt over losing her not feel so sharp.
SO MANY TIMES I sneak near to the palace to watch Eirena. I can’t help myself. I see how she has grown from an infant into the young woman she is now. She has become more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. She is long and graceful. Her hair is still the same pale yellow, and it flows past her waist in shimmering waves. Her clear blue eyes seem to speak; they are truly a window into her thoughts and feelings.
She is well-loved and cared for. Her five older sisters have doted on her since she was born, especially Maura. She has taken my place as her mother. She protects Eirena and teaches her almost like I would have. Regretfully, my daughter is not learning the history of her family or of her powers.
Maura worries about her. Eirena is so different from her sisters. She is quiet and thoughtful. She will sit for hours and daydream about the human world. There is nothing she wants more than to see what’s above the waves. I see my mother’s fascination in her— her love of humans and their world. Eirena reminds me so much of her when she behaves like this.
Maura will come and sit beside her and put her arm around her slim shoulders. “What are you thinking about?”
Eirena turns and smiles at her sister, the only mother she has ever known. She sighs and rests her head against her.
“I want to see the sun in the sky, and see birds and humans and ships!”
“When you are fifteen,” Maura says as she instinctively smoothes Eirena’s hair away from her face. “you will have permission to explore the world above the sea. You can go whenever you want and you’ll be able to see all the ships and birds you can stand!”
Eirena giggles at this, but she still isn’t happy.
SOMETIMES I COME to her in her dreams. Here I can hold her and caress her long hair and try to comfort her. I tell her that I am her mother and that I love her. This makes her smile and she wraps her slender white arms around me and kisses me. She says she misses me and loves me even though I am dead.
Most nights I tell her the stories my mother told me and I sing her songs from the human world. But, other times, she is so troubled by her desire to see the human world.
Her fascination with the human world scares me. She wants a life she can never have, but I don’t have the heart to take away the things she dreams about. This is just a phase, I tell myself, and she will grow out of it.
“You’ll get your chance,” I tell her. “But for now, enjoy being in the sea.”
“I wish I could! I’m just so restless. I know I’m meant for something else.”
I shake my head as I take her hands in mine. “You are a mermaid princess, Eirena, your place is in the palace with your father and sisters until you find a husband.”
“But I don’t want that! I want to lie in the grass and smell flowers! I want to know what it’s like to walk instead of swimming everywhere! I want to dance and run!”
“That’s not what your father would want for you.”
ON HER FIFTEENTH birthday, Eirena finally receives permission to swim to the surface. She is so excited, and I want to be excited for her, but I can’t. Something about this makes me very nervous.
I wait outside the palace as she and Maura go to the surface together that afternoon. When they return, Eirena’s face is flushed and beautiful. Her eyes gleam with excitement and an unformed plan to go back as soon as she can. When I see that look I know that I can’t go home just yet.
THAT NIGHT I watch as Eirena leaves the palace. Everyone is asleep; all the lights are off and Eirena’s birthday celebration has ended hours before.
I follow her up to the surface. As I emerge from the water, I have to pause and catch my breath before finding Eirena. I haven’t been to the surface since my mother died. As my head begins to clear and I push the thoughts of my mother away, I see that Eirena has come up near a large ship.
Familiar strains of music drift down to us from its deck, which is brightly lit with many different-colored lanterns. The tapping of dancing feet vibrates through the water, and the flirtatious laughter of tipsy men and women fills the air, just slightly louder than the music.
I expect Eirena to swim away when she sees the ship moving toward her, but instead she swims to meet it. She grabs onto a rope that hangs down into the water and carefully pulls herself up to a place where she can sit and get a closer look at the humans on the deck.
I want to yell for her to come back, but that would mean letting her know I am there. Instead, I move closer. I close my eyes and try to see what she sees. I immediately feel the warmth of Eirena’s body all around me. Her face is hot; she is blushing.
Through her eyes, I see a regal young man who moves around the deck of the boat. He stops to talk to some of the men, and he dances with women dressed in brightly-colored dresses. He is handsome, for a human. He is tall and broad. He has a strong face. His jaw is square; his features seem to be carved like he’s a sculpture. He has black hair and his eyes are two glittering emeralds beneath dark brows. His casual smile illuminates his whole being, and I can see why Eirena finds him attractive.
He makes his way over to the place where Eirena is watching him. She quickly presses herself against the side of the ship. Her heart is racing as his footsteps come to a stop just above her head.
He sighs as he leans on the rail and stares out at the ocean. His brilliant smile fades away.
I suddenly get a picture of his life, his thoughts. He is a prince. His parents want him to marry. He has traveled to countless kingdoms to meet countless princesses.
They are all the same, beautiful, mindless girls who are bred to be objects and provide heirs.
This is not what he wants. He longs for someone extraordinary; a girl who is beautiful and strong and brave. He wants someone he can love, who loves him, who will rule with him instead of being ruled by him.
“Where are you?” he asks, frustration obvious in his tone.
“I’m right here.”
Eirena’s voice is barely audible to the prince, but it rings in my ears. I almost scream; I am screaming inside. This is wrong! She shouldn’t be here!
THE SKY FLASHES suddenly, and I am ripped away from Eirena and the prince and back into my own body. I feel disoriented and confused for a minute, but I quickly regain my senses.
A huge wave comes crashing down over my head, catching me off guard and pushing me underwater. I struggle to get back to the surface. As I raise my head out of the water I can’t believe I didn’t notice the storm coming sooner.
The sky, which had been clear and full of stars when I followed Eirena, is now the ominous gray of burnt wood. I can see lightning on the horizon. I have to strain my eyes to see the ship through the driving rain. Monstrous waves crash all around me and down over the deck of the ship, causing it to dip dangerously low in the water.
I don’t see Eirena! I panic. I dive underwater and come back up over and over, all the while searching for her.
A loud cracking seems to split the sky. I watch in horror as lightning hits the boat masts. The sails and masts erupt into flame, sending a surge of intense heat into me, forcing me beneath the water. I emerge seconds later to see another wave slam onto the deck of the boat, splitting it in two. The two ends float for a moment like nothing has happened, and then they slide quickly below the tumultuous waves.
The air is filled with the smell of burning wood and death. Men and women are screaming; their voices crowding the sky and filling my head. I retreat underwater in an attempt to escape their voices, but they stay with me. I have to fight to push them out of my head. I have to find Eirena. The bodies of men and women float just below the surface, still dressed in their party finery, and I know that more will follow them. I struggle past them, still searching.
I see her finally. I am sure it’s her because I see her pale hair swirling around her in the stormy sea. She is recklessly swimming among the debris of the destroyed ship, seemingly unaware that she could be crushed or impaled by the sharp, broken planks of wood. She stops suddenly and dives down deep into the water. I lose sight of her for a moment before she comes back into view, dragging something behind her.
I almost cry out when I see that she is struggling to pull the prince above water. His body is limp in her arms, making her task even harder; his eyes are closed, and a long scarlet cut runs along the length of his finely sculpted jaw.
I close my eyes and focus all of my power on calming the waves. His weight is enough for her to contend with, she doesn’t need rough waters too.
I FOLLOW HER through the night. She is so careful to keep his face above the water, and she swims slowly; taking her time with him. She treats him like he is made of glass, like he will break if she pushes too hard. She recognizes his fragility; knows that his life is in her hands.
As the sun appears on the horizon, I begin to relax. The storm has completely dissipated and the sky is clear once more. In the early morning light I can make out a shoreline in the distance. Eirena sees it too, and she quickens her pace ever so slightly.
“Everything is going to be okay,” she whispers to him. Her relief is so great that I can feel it.
As we get closer to land I can see mist-covered mountains just beyond a thick forest of trees. A small building, a chapel or church, stands before the forest. The path leading to the door is lined with brightly-colored flowers; oranges and yellows, purples and reds that seem to shimmer in the rising sun, and end where the sandy beach begins.
The bay is warm as I follow Eirena into its jade-colored water. The rising sun reflects pink and lavender in the ripples that Eirena makes as she swims to the shore. She gently pulls herself and the prince up onto the cool sandy beach. She is brilliant in the early morning light. Her hair glistens in the sun and her face is flushed and vibrant.
She tenderly takes the prince’s head and rests it on her lap. She smoothes the wet hair off of his face; her fingers linger along his hairline. She traces the lines on his face and the curve of his mouth with her fingertips, like she’s memorizing his features.
Suddenly, his hand grabs hers and holds it tight. She is startled, but quickly calms herself. With her free hand, she plays with his damp, black hair.
“What happened…” his voice is thick and groggy.
“Shhh…” she says placing her fingers on his lips. “You’re safe. Your ship is gone, but you’re safe.”
“You… you saved me?”
She smiles and nods.
He tries to rise, and I feel her panic for a moment. “You shouldn’t do that,” she says gently. “You need to rest. You almost died.”
“Who are you?”
“It’s not important.”
His grip on her hand tightens. “How can I thank you if I don’t know who you are?”
She just smiles and shakes her head. He lets her hand go, and grabs onto the chain he’s wearing around his neck. He pulls on it and it comes off in his hand.
“Take this, please,” he says. He places it in her hand and closes her fingers around it.
“Just rest now,” she tells him.
He doesn’t argue as she begins singing softly to him. His eyes slowly close once more. He is sleeping.
Then, to my amazement, she leans forward and kisses his forehead, his eyelids, his cheeks and finally his mouth. Suddenly I know why I was so afraid of her trip to the surface, why her fascination with humans has always worried me. She loves this prince. I don’t know how it’s possible, but she loves him. She loves a human.
I watch as she carefully clasps the thin chain around her neck. The gold sparkles in the sunlight, and I can see a small medallion hanging from it. She places her hand over it; reveling in the cool weight of it on her skin.
The bells ring in the chapel, and the doors begin to open. Eirena gently lays the prince’s head down on the sand, and after a moment of hesitation, she disappears out into the waves.
We both watch from a distance as a group of young girls move down the beach from the chapel. One of the girls sees the prince and she runs to his side. She kneels down in the sand and takes his hand. She lays her palm on his forehead, and then calls back to the other girls for help.
She is stunning. Her skin is smooth, rosy and slightly tanned from the sun. She has long, dark hair, which is pulled severely back off of her face. She has wide, dark brown eyes, which are still lovely in spite of the concern which clouds them.
Eirena and I watch as the girl revives the prince, and then helps him walk back to the chapel. Eirena lingers for a few minutes in her hiding place, her fingers clasped tightly around the medallion the prince gave her. She hopes to get just one more glimpse of him. Finally, she gives up and returns to her father’s palace beneath the sea.
EIRENA HAS BEEN withdrawn since she saved the prince from drowning. She sits alone in the palace gardens day after day staring longingly up toward the sun, dreaming of her love; his medallion clutched tightly in her small hand.
Her sisters are worried about her. They ask her over and over what’s wrong, but she never answers. They try to console her with funny stories about other mer-folk that they know, and they bring her books that they find in wrecked ships. Seeing human things only makes her more upset, though, and she swims to her room to be alone.
Every night after her father and sisters are asleep, Eirena swims back to the place where she left the prince. She watches the leaves on the trees turn to orange and red and yellow, fall from their branches, then bud and turn green again as the seasons change. She even gathers enough courage to sit on the shore a few times. She hopes to see the prince there again. She never does.
One night Maura follows her. She swims far enough behind her so that she isn’t seen, just as I often do. When Eirena stops by a large rock to look at the chapel, she swims up next to her.
She doesn’t have to say anything. When Eirena sees Maura, she melts into her arms. She tells her all about the storm and the prince.
“I love him, Maura.”
“Why did you wait so long to tell me?” Maura smoothes her hair away from her face and holds her against her chest the way I have longed to.
“I… I don’t know,” she weeps into her sister’s hair.
“Don’t cry,” Maura says. “I’ll think of something.”
THREE NIGHTS LATER Eirena and Maura sit along the shore looking at a large, beautiful palace. It is built from white stone and pink marble. Long staircases wind around the outside and end at the beach. There are beautiful stained glass windows, and the sounds of music and laughter float out through the tall etched-glass doors that open from the ballrooms inside out onto the balconies. The whole castle is surrounded by beautiful gardens full of roses of every color.
Both girls are reminded of the grand parties their father gives. There is music and singing and dancing. There is no colored glass in the windows of their palace; instead, fish swim in and out as they please.
Maura smiles as she thinks of her home, but Eirena can only think about how lonely she is there without her love.
A single balcony rests just above a narrow channel of water. It is here that the prince appears. He walks out and leans his elbows on the rail and stares out at the sea. His handsome face is pensive; his emerald eyes are troubled.
Eirena’s face lights when she sees him. She takes Maura’s hand and tries to pull her toward the channel, but Maura is afraid of being seen, so she stays behind in the dark.
Eirena swims silently to the balcony and places herself in its shadow. She stretches her graceful white arms up to him; she fights the urge to show herself. She wants to tell him her name; tell him that she loves him and that she’s the one who saved his life. She knows she could never be happy without him; she could never love anyone the way she loves him.
THE NEXT DAY is Eirena’s sixteenth birthday, and her father throws a grand party in her honor. Knowing her fascination with human artifacts, the ballroom is specially decorated with lanterns and chandeliers collected from wrecked ships. Garlands of crystals and pearls dangle from them and shimmer in their light.
Among the many important guests, the King has invited a handsome young prince from a neighboring kingdom. His features are soft, and his skin is pale, like all mer-people’s. His hair is only slightly darker than Eirena’s, and his eyes are a deep brown. It is impossible not to notice the sharp contrast between his fair looks and the human prince’s dark, chiseled visage.
Merrick, sensing Eirena’s loneliness, believes that if she marries the prince she will be happy again. He has the right idea, but the wrong prince.
He watches proudly as the sea prince, anxious, nervous about meeting his bride, takes Eirena’s hand and begins to twirl her around the room in a dance. They make a beautiful pair; their lithe, graceful bodies and long tails moving together as one.
Everyone watches them, smiling, as they glide around the room. They are a perfect match, and they look as though they are very taken with each other.
Only Maura and I know better. The prince’s smile is genuinely happy; he is excited at the thought of spending the rest of his life with Eirena. Eirena’s smile is for her human prince. She pretends it’s him she’s dancing with.
When their dance is finished, Merrick goes to them. He takes them both by the hand and leads them to the front of the room.
Beaming, he announces, “In one week’s time, my youngest daughter, Eirena, will marry Prince Finian.”
The room erupts in applause as the young prince takes Eirena’s hand and kisses it. She smiles at him and leans forward to kiss his cheek. She’s not going to marry him. She’s going to come to see me.
She knows the stories about the woman who lives in the small house just outside of town. She’s heard about all the wonderful potions I have made to help other young mermaids be happy with their loves.
I know what she’s going to ask for, and I know what giving it to her will mean. I also know that even though I’m terrified, I’ll give her what she wants. How can I deny her the only thing she’ll ever ask of me?
IT IS LATE at night when she comes to me. Her father and sisters are asleep in their beds.
She lingers at my doorway, peering into the darkness of my home. She is afraid, and I can’t blame her. She almost turns and swims home, but the thought of her prince with his arms around her and the feel of his chain around her neck are enough to supply her with courage.
“Come in,” I say to her.
She takes a deep breath and enters. She comes close to where I am sitting, but I don’t let her come close enough to see my face. I’m afraid she’ll recognize me from her dreams.
“I know why you are here.”
She seems surprised, but she doesn’t say anything.
“You are in love with a human. You want me to change your tail into legs so you can try to win the love of the prince you rescued.”
Eirena’s beautiful face is locked in a look of determination. Her eyes fix on mine. Her full, pink mouth is set in a line. She trembles beneath her long hair, which ripples around her shoulders.
“Yes,” she says.
I nod and reach for my book of spells, even though I have looked at nothing but this spell since last night.
“I can make you a potion. You must swim to the shore and sit on the sand and drink it before the sun rises. Your tail will split in two and become legs.”
Her face brightens. “You can really do this?”
I try my hardest to keep my voice steady and strong. “If you take this potion, you can never be a mermaid again. You will never be able to return to the sea. You will never be able to be with your father or sisters again.”
She closes her eyes, absorbing what I have just told her. A surge of memories instantly fill her head: Maura holding her, playing with her sisters; the way her father doted on her fill her head. She quickly pushes them out, and her prince’s face replaces them.
“There is one more thing before you decide… Unless you make the prince fall in love with you; unless he marries you…” It’s hard to make the words come out of my mouth. They seem to stick in my throat. “If the prince marries another, the morning after their wedding, your heart will break and you will change into foam on the sea.”
Her determination wavers. She is suddenly unsure of herself. Her hand automatically goes to the prince’s medallion. She draws in a deep breath. A small smile crosses her mouth. The prince is in her mind again, giving her strength and courage.
“I don’t care,” she finally says. “I am willing to take the risk.”
I want to yell at her; tell her she can be happy without him. But I can’t; I know it’s not true. She is no different than I am. I was willing to risk my life for my love. Only I was never given the chance.
“There is one more thing. The potion requires your voice.”
“My voice? But how will I talk to the prince?”
“You will have to make do without speaking if you want to be with your prince.” My words seem harsh to me, but they are necessary. “You will have to find other ways to communicate. You will have to speak with your eyes; with your body.”
“Then take my voice,” she says without hesitation. She doesn’t doubt herself.
I grab the things required to make the potion and mix them together in my pot. When it is ready, I turn back to Eirena.
“Please close your eyes.” I have to move close to her and I don’t want her to see me.
She nods, and then closes her eyes.
I go to her and place my hand on her throat, rubbing a salve over it. My fingers linger for a moment before I move them away; this is the first time I have touched her since she was born.
She is no longer trembling. She can already feel her prince’s arms around her.
I hesitantly place my hand over her mouth. After a moment, I feel the weight of her voice in my hand. I look down at it; a swirling rainbow of light. There is no turning back after it’s been added. She’ll never speak or sing or laugh aloud again.
This is what she wants.
I go back to the pot and add her voice to the mixture. There is a flash, and I know it is ready.
“You can open your eyes now.”
I hand her a vial with the potion that could very well mean the end of her life. She opens her mouth to thank me, but no words come. She takes a deep, shaky breath, then nods and smiles her thanks to me. I want to comfort and reassure her, but I can’t.
“You’d better hurry,” I say instead. “You only have until sunrise or the potion will not work.”
She nods. I watch her swim away from my home without a second look back.
THE SKY IS beginning to brighten as she reaches the shore beyond the prince’s palace. She pulls herself onto the beach and sits just beyond the water’s edge. Her long, beautiful orange tail is curled beneath her. She looks at the vial in her hand; at the swirling amber liquid inside, then up at the palace. She takes the medallion from around her neck and holds it in her free hand. With the security of her treasure in her hand, she smiles and takes the cap off the vial, then drinks the potion without hesitation.
I watch as she instantly doubles over. She writhes in the early morning light. Her tail thrashes around on the wet sand, until it splits in two and shrinks to become legs. She lies still for a few moments, unconscious while the shock of the potion’s effects wears off.
As she regains her senses, she sits up and looks at her legs. She reaches down to touch them, fascinated by the soft feel of skin in place of her scaly tail. She tries to stand and fails several times before she finally gets it right.
She is so involved in her attempts that she doesn’t notice the prince coming toward her.
“Miss? Are you alright?”
She jumps at the sound of his voice and stumbles. She falls to the ground with a thud.
“I’m sorry!” he says, rushing to her side. “What happened? Where are your clothes?” He kneels down in front of her, takes off his shirt and drapes it over her shoulders. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
She looks up at him. His dark hair is wind-blown, and his eyes are full of concern. His face and chest are tanned and his hands are warm on her arms.
“You’re not hurt? Are you okay?”
She nods as she pulls far enough from his arms to close the shirt over herself.
“What’s your name? Where did you come from?”
She shakes her head and places her hand over her throat.
“You can’t speak…” He is silent for a second. “Were you on a ship? Did it sink?”
She doesn’t disagree with him. She has no way to tell him where she really came from. Instead, she just nods.
“Are you alone?” He scans up and down the beach. “Has anyone come to shore with you?”
She tightens her fingers around the medallion that’s still in her hand and shakes her head.
He reaches out and brushes a stray lock of golden hair away from her eyes. He studies her face for a moment. There is something familiar about her face, her clear blue eyes, and her soft mouth.
“Don’t worry,” he says, putting his arm around her waist and helping her stand. “I live right there.” He points to the palace a little ways up the beach. “You can stay with me.”
She smiles and lets him lead her to his home.
EVERY NIGHT EIRENA walks along the beach. When she is alone, she comes in her nightdress; a sheer white gown with pink ribbons at the cuffs and neckline. She takes off the nightgown and goes into the water. Her pale skin still seems to glow in the moonlight like it did underwater; her hair sparkles like the stars. She walks out until the water touches her shoulders, but never further than that; she doesn’t remember how to swim and she is afraid of drowning.
I never would have believed it, but Eirena is even more beautiful as a human than she had been as a mermaid. She is radiant, breathtaking. Maybe it is because she is finally happy; because she has finally found her place. The gowns that she wears are wonderfully suited to her figure, and the prince has made sure that her clothes are made in blues, greens and purples to show off her crystal blue eyes. Her hair is never pulled up as the fashion dictates. The prince loves how it falls in soft waves over her shoulders and down her back and asks her to always wear it down for him.
Some nights the prince walks with her along the waters edge. They stroll hand in hand as if they were already husband and wife. I feel great pleasure watching them. I wish I could have had that happiness with the king. She has become everything to him in the two months since he found her on the beach.
“I am so happy to have rescued you, Pelagia.” he tells her one night as they walk, hands clasped. He has called her Pelagia from the day he found her on the beach; a name that means from the sea. It’s their little joke.
She turns to him and smiles. Her answer is a quick peck on his cheek.
“I didn’t think it would be possible for me to feel anything for a girl again.”
They stop and he turns to look out at the sea. “I was almost drowned when my ship sank over a year ago. I was washed up on shore near a convent, and a beautiful girl saved me. I owe her my life. She is a nun, though, and has pledged her life to God. She and I could never be together.”
He turns to Eirena and looks down into her eyes. He touches her face, and Eirena cradles her cheek against his palm, covering the back of his hand with hers. She aches to tell him that she saved his life, not this convent girl. She wants to tell him about her home and her family and how she gave up everything she knew to be with him.
“God sent you to me because He had already claimed her as his bride,” he says, lightly tracing the line of her lips with his fingertips. “I tried not to, but…”
He takes a deep, frustrated breath, “I’m not doing this properly!”
Eirena shakes her head; she doesn’t understand what he’s trying to say.
He smiles, then, and takes a step back from her. “I… I’ve fallen in love with you.”
A brilliant smile lights Eirena’s face and she throws her arms around his neck. He laughs as he pulls away and looks down at her.
“Does this mean you love me too?”
She nods exuberantly.
He pulls her against him. He buries his hands in her thick, golden hair. He kisses her forehead, her cheeks, the tip of her nose, then her mouth.
“My parents will return from abroad in a few months. When they are home, I will talk to them about our marriage. I want us to be happy together for the rest of our lives…”
The prince is still talking to her when I take my leave of their love scene. They deserve privacy.
My body, my heart, feels lighter as I swim back to my home. I am happy knowing that I gave my daughter such a wonderful gift. I feel foolish for worrying so much about the consequences of giving her the potion and taking away her beautiful voice.
MAURA IS WAITING for me when I return. She has large, gray marks beneath her eyes; she looks drawn. She is so worried about Eirena’s disappearance. I go to her, this girl who could have been my daughter if I’d been given the chance, and take her hand. She is not trembling the way Eirena was when she came to me, but her hands are icy cold.
“I need your help,” she says to me before I can speak. “I don’t know who else to turn to…”
“Come inside,” I say, placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “We can talk in there.”
She follows me into my home, and I make her sit by my worktable before I begin.
“You’re here because your sister is missing.”
She nods. “Yes, for a little over two months. She just vanished.”
“Your sister has become human,” I tell her. “She fell in love with a human prince and came to me for a potion.”
Maura jumps up from the chair. Anger flashes in her eyes. “How could you?” she screams.
I shake my head. “It’s what she wanted. She was so unhappy. You know that.”
The anger fades from her face and she slowly sinks back into the chair. “Is she happy now?”
I instinctively take Maura’s chin in my hands. I brush her hair away from her face and smile down at her. “Yes. She is with her love. They are to be married. He loves her and takes care of her and asks nothing in return but her love. Don’t be sad for her anymore.”
Maura nods. “Thank you for giving her happiness,” she says. She rises from the chair and starts toward the door.
“She misses you, Maura!” I call out after her.
She turns back and looks at me. “I miss her too.”
“You always took care of her; treated her like your own child.”
I go to her. I want to hug her. Instead, I take her face in my hands and look into her eyes.
“Do you want to see her? Do you want to talk to her?”
Her face lights up. “Yes!”
I leave her for a minute and get a vial for her. “Eirena has no voice,” I tell her. “But if you drink this, you’ll be able to hear her thoughts.”
She takes the vial from my hand and studies it.
“It’s safe, I promise.”
She takes the lid off and drinks the contents, then hands the empty vial back to me.
“Where can I find her?”
“She’s living with the prince at his palace. She walks on the beach every night. Be careful and make sure that she is alone before you approach her. The prince walks with her sometimes.”
She throws her arms around me and hugs me. “Thank you so much!”
“Don’t thank me,” I say to her. “I just ask one thing in return.”
“Come and see me sometimes. Let me know how she is.”
She smiles. “I promise.”
FOR TWO MONTHS Maura visits me regularly. She keeps me informed on Eirena’s life. She tells me about the parties and the beautiful dresses. She tells me how happy Eirena is and how much she loves the prince; about their wedding plans.
I don’t go to Eirena again after the prince’s proposal. Just knowing that she will marry the prince, that her life is no longer in danger, is enough for me.
I look forward to Maura’s visits. We have much in common; we have Eirena in common.
“Eirena and I are only half-sisters,” she says to me one night. “My father had an affair with her mother; he told me they were going to be married.”
Her knowledge of my existence hits me like a slap in the face. Merrick never told me that he spoke to his daughters about me. “What… What happened?”
“Father told us that she died in childbirth.” Her words are matter of fact, but there is much emotion in them. She looks up at me with red-rimmed eyes. “We were all so sad after our mother died. We wanted father to marry her so we could be as happy again as he was.”
I reach across and take her hands in mine. “I know what it’s like to lose a mother,” I say.
“You would have been a good mother.”
The statement startles me. “What did you say?”
She rises from her seat and goes to the window. She watches a school of bright orange clownfish swim past before turning back to me. For the first time I notice how striking Maura is. Her pale face, her mother’s wide, amber eyes, her honey-colored hair billowing around her in the current. “After I came here the first time I knew you were Eirena’s mother.”
I stare in disbelief. “How?”
Maura shrugs her shoulders. “Why else would you want me to tell you how she is? Why would you care?” She pauses; a small smile crosses her lips. “Besides, Eirena looks like you.”
She turns back to the view of the sea. I go to her. I start to reach for her hand, but I stop myself. “I loved your father very much. Neither of us wanted things to be the way they are.”
“I know,” she says. “I would have loved to have you as a mother, but I wouldn’t trade a second of having been able to care for Eirena. She made a lot of things better,” she pauses. “Is that selfish to say?”
I shake my head. “It’s not selfish to love someone.”
She smiles and takes my hand and squeezes it. “I won’t tell father that I know. He might forbid me to come, might think I’m endangering myself; but I want us to be friends, like we should have been years ago.”
“I’d like that. I’d like that very much.”
MAURA COMES TO me, waking me from a sound sleep, a few nights later.
“What’s wrong?” I ask her. “What’s happened?”
Her eyes are red from crying. She’s too upset to speak at first, and I just hold her and let her cry. Finally, she pulls away from me.
She opens her mouth, but she can’t find the words.
“It’s Eirena,” I say for her. “Something’s happened to Eirena.”
She looks at me, trying to steady herself. “The prince is going to marry someone else.”
“No… no, that’s not possible…” I sink slowly into a chair as disbelief fills every part of me. “How, Maura? Why? He promised to marry Eirena!”
“The prince’s parents agreed to give their blessing to his marriage to Eirena if he would promise to visit the daughter of a neighboring king first,” she continues slowly. “They had arranged the visit before they returned, and didn’t want to look foolish and cancel the meeting. The prince agreed, and he and Eirena set off to meet this princess.
“Imagine the prince’s surprise when he was introduced to the convent girl whom he believes rescued him! She wasn’t a nun at the convent. Her parents just sent her there to be educated.
“Eirena is devastated, but insists that he talked with her before canceling their wedding. She says she wants him to be happy, even if it’s not with her. He is to be married tomorrow night. That means that the next morning…”
I don’t say anything. I can still see that girl in my mind. How can he confuse her for Eirena? She has dark hair, dark eyes… She has the prince’s heart now.
I go to my spell book and start tearing through it. There has to be some way to save her! Maura watches me, then realizes what I am doing and grabs another book from my shelf.
Together we go through every book I have in search of a way to save her.
It is morning when we find what we are looking for. Maura reads the recipe out loud at first, but her voice falls off. The hopeful look on her face disappears as she nears the bottom of the page.
“What is it?” I ask.
“It says you need the blood of her father and mother.”
I take a deep breath. This is no time for hesitation; Eirena’s life depends on it. “Go to the palace and get your father. Bring him back to me.”
“He won’t come. He thinks Eirena is dead.”
I take both of her hands in mine. “Trust me,” I say to her. “Bring your father here and tell him that I said Eirena’s life depends on it.”
She doesn’t question me further. Instead, she turns and hurries from my house.
SHE ARRIVES NOT even an hour later with Merrick. He stands looking at me in silence. He is just as I remembered him. Just as strong, just as handsome. Maura takes his hand and pulls him toward me.
“Please leave us for a moment,” he says to her.
She looks at me; she knows the urgency of the situation, then nods to her father and swims from the room.
When she is gone, he moves even closer to me. He gently touches my cheek, and then runs his fingers through my hair. “I’ve missed you so much. I didn’t realize how much…” he finally says. “Can you forgive me for what I’ve done?”
“There’s time for that later,” I say to him. “We have to save our daughter now.”
He nods and calls for Maura to come back.
She watches silently as I prepare the potion needed to save Eirena. Then, taking a knife, I cut my palm. I let five drops of my blood fall into the mix, and then do the same to Merrick. The mixture bubbles and turns to a deep red color. When it is finished, I take the same knife and drop it into the potion. After a few minutes, I remove the knife from the potion and hand it to Maura.
“Take this to Eirena. Tell her that she must take this knife and before sunrise, she must stab the prince in the heart with it. Tell her to let his blood flow over her feet and it will change her back into a mermaid. If she does this she will not die. She can come home to you and your father and her sisters.”
Maura takes the knife from me and holds it tightly against her. “I will be back by the morning with my sister.”
EIRENA CLUTCHES THE knife in one trembling hand and the prince’s medallion in the other. Her heart beats rapidly in her chest, and tears fall steadily from her eyes. She tiptoes into the prince’s bedroom and goes to his side.
Through her eyes, I watch as she looks down at him as he sleeps beside his bride. He is handsome even in sleep. He unconsciously puts an arm around the girl sleeping beside him and presses close to her.
Eirena draws a deep, staggering breath and raises the knife up over her head. Her hands shake as she holds it over him. She starts to plunge the knife down, then stops.
“Pelagia…” the prince murmurs as he suddenly moves away from the princess.
Eirena drops the knife onto the floor at her feet and runs from the room.
She hurries from the palace and down to the beach where Maura is waiting for her. She sinks slowly to the ground and hugs her knees to her chest. The horizon is turning red; the sun will rise soon.
“What happened, Eirena? Why do you still have your legs?”
She looks at Maura with sad eyes and shakes her head. “I couldn’t do it, Maura! I love him too much!”
Maura is about to speak, but suddenly jumps back into the water and hides from view. Eirena turns to see the prince running up to her. She stands and tries to hide that she has been crying.
“What are you doing out here?” he asks, taking her hands. “You’ll make yourself sick.”
She shakes her head and pulls her hands out of his.
“What is it? Has something happened?”
She looks up into his bright green eyes. She touches his cheek, rough with stubble. She runs her fingers through his hair.
She’s saying goodbye.
“Please, what is it?”
She nods and takes his hand. She spreads his fingers out and places his medallion in the palm of his hand.
He stares at it, realization first brightening, and then darkening his face. He falls to his knees on the sand and buries his face in her gown.
“It was you. All this time I had you with me and I never knew… I’m sorry… so sorry…”
She kneels down beside him and puts her arms around him. She wants him to know that it’s okay.
She takes his face in her hands, making him look into her eyes. She wants him to see that she loves him; she wants him to be happy.
He kisses her forehead. He wraps his arms around her and holds her tight as he kisses her mouth over and over. “I love you. I always will.”
She smiles and kisses him as the sun’s ray’s fall over them.
THE PRINCE SITS on the beach crying silently into his hands for almost an hour after Eirena is gone. His medallion dangles from his hand, shining in the early morning light.
After a little while, the prince stands and dries his eyes. He turns and glances over his shoulder at his palace. He can’t go back there now; can’t go back and pretend to love his new wife and live his life.
He takes a deep breath, and begins to walk out into the water. When the water is over his head, he swims. He swims right past Maura, who is hiding beside a lone rock in the water.
She watches him, paralyzed by the realization that he means to kill himself.
“No!” she screams without thinking. She swims to him and puts her arms around him.
He is momentarily startled by her arms circling his waist. He looks at her face for a second, and then begins struggling to break free from her.
“No, this is not what she would have wanted for you!”
He shakes his head. “Please, just let me go… I don’t want to… I can’t be without her.”
Maura looks into his clear, green eyes. His grief is clearly reflected in them. “This is really what you want… I’ll help you.”
IT IS LATE afternoon when Maura returns to us. She is so pale, and her eyes are red and puffy. Both her father and I try to take her into our arms to comfort her, but she won’t let us.
“What happened?” Merrick asks. “Where is Eirena?”
Maura looks at me and sees that I already know that she isn’t coming. She turns to her father.
“She couldn’t do it. I told her what she had to do, and she said she would. But just before sunrise she came to me and apologized. Then the prince came, and Eirena gave him his medallion and he knew that she had saved him.
“I stayed and watched them. He held her in his arms, kissing her, telling her he was sorry. When the sun touched her, she just seemed to disappear. It didn’t matter that he loved her or how tight he held her. She was just gone.
“After that the prince just sat on the beach and cried.
“Then, he stood and began to walk out into the water. He swam right past me. I watched him until I realized that he meant to kill himself. I knew that Eirena wouldn’t want that.
“I swam to him and put my arms around his waist and tried to pull him back to shore, but he asked me to let him go.
“He loved her. He died so he could be with her…”
“No more, Maura.” Merrick goes to her and takes her hand. “Let’s go home,” he says.
I turn away from them. I can’t watch them leave; I can’t watch him walk out of my home and my life forever. Not after losing my only child.
Then, I feel his hand take mine.
I turn and look up at him.
“I’m not going to leave you here,” he says. “I’ll keep you safe; I love you too much to lose you again.”
IT IS STILL dark when I rise from the water near the beach. The sky is black and littered with sparkling white stars overhead. At the horizon, the line between night and day is stained dark pink and red. It will be dawn soon.
I swim over to a large rock that’s not far from the shore and pull myself up onto it; ignoring the chill its surface sends through my body. A year has passed since Eirena died. A year. It is hard to believe.
She loved so much; gave her most precious possession, her life, for love. She saved us all without ever knowing how much we needed to be saved.
The first rays of the sun begin to pour from the horizon, warming me with their streams of pale yellow. I stare at the beach; at the place where Eirena and her prince spent their last moments together. A sudden feeling of peace covers me and fills me.
In those early morning waves of light, I see Eirena and her prince walking hand in hand along the water’s edge. The sun shines through them; they cast no shadows on the sand. They pause and turn to look out over the sea. For a moment, I think they see me and they both smile. Then, they are gone. They fade away as the sun rises higher in the sky; their hands clasped together and expressions of joy, of love on their faces.
I don’t stay long after that. I return to my home, and my family.
Eirena is all around me, in my hair, through my fingers. I hear her beautiful voice singing in the currents, I can feel her graceful white arms hugging me. I close my eyes and see her: forever young, forever beautiful, forever in my heart.