A retelling of The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen.
On the depths of the ocean floor, a splendid castle with majestic coral walls studded with diadems fit for a queen stood providing a home for the royal blood of the merfolk. Within its walls lived the ruler of the ocean, the queen regnant and the king’s six daughters who were blessed with immense beauty. Out of the six daughters, the youngest was the prettiest. Not only was her beauty beyond compare, but she also possessed a sweet singing voice that could move anyone’s heart.
Like her older sisters, the little mermaid was told about the world that existed above the sea that became her greatest fascination. Her thirst for knowledge about the human world could not be satiated by the images she’d conjured up in her mind based on the numerous stories she’d been told from her old grandmother and her sisters who had swum up to the surface of the water to gaze upon the object of her fantasy. She would sit out in her little garden and look up at the waters above that were illuminated by the refracted rays of the sun and longed to see the rolling mountains, the lush green hills, the sandy beaches, and to live amongst the creatures that had two hind limbs called legs that ruled over the land.
On her fifteenth year, the little mermaid was permitted to witness the world above the sea. A wreath of lilies was placed in her hair and eight great oysters were attached to her beautiful, silvery tail as a symbol of her maturity and her royal bloodline before she bid farewell to her family and swam up towards the air. The moment her head broke through the surface tension of the water, her gaze fell upon the orange tinge skies and the large orb that was disappearing over the horizon. She took in a deep breath and smelt the ocean air and watched a seagull fly over her head. As she took in her surrounding, her eyes fell on a massive ship that was sailing a few meters ahead of her.
Out of curiosity, the little mermaid swam towards the ship and began studying it. She traced the palm of her hand over the keel of the ship feeling its strength before lifting herself above the water to peep through the portholes. The sudden loud noise and the burst of light sent the little mermaid diving into the waters again out of shock. She slowly lifted her head above water to watch the dazzling sparks that resembled the stars light up the sky. The little mermaid watched the rockets in amazement until her eyes caught sight of the handsome prince that stood on deck enjoying the display of fireworks. She felt herself catch her breath as her blue eyes studied the prince from head to toe.
Lost in the moment of absorbing all the sights around her, the little mermaid watched the ship sail away until the sound of thunder rumbling in the distance broke her out of her reverie. She watched as the waves grew bigger and lightning streaked across the darkened sky. People on the ship were hurriedly pulling up the sails and directing it away from the storm. Unfortunately, their efforts were in vain. The storm caught up to them. The massive waves crashed against the hull of the ship splintering the wood.
The little mermaid watched the chaos unfold as giant tsunamis overpowered the ship while thunder rumbled all around. People began jumping into the choppy waters below as the vessel capsized taking down with it several sailors and the young prince. The thought of the young prince drifting down towards her father’s kingdom pleased her. She would finally have a magnificent specimen of the world she always fantasized about. But realization soon struck her. Instead of a set of gills that helped her breathe underwater, the young prince had a pair of inflatable bags within his chest that required air. He would never survive in the deep, dark ocean below.
The little mermaid dived back into the water and raced through the wreckage dodging barrels of wine that fell and the huge mast of the ship that came crashing down. She found the young prince floating on top of a broken door, unconscious and unharmed except for the large bump that protruded out of his forehead. She swung one of his arms across her slender shoulders and wrapped her arm around his waist and swam towards the nearest shore that she could find.
With great difficulty, the little mermaid dragged the heavy prince onto the sandy beach before slumping down next to him to catch a breath. Her eyes swept over the drenched body of the young prince. She crawled towards him, bent down at her waist and began studying him. Her eyes roamed over his body focusing their gaze on his sharp nose, his chiselled torso, his muscular arms and most importantly, his legs which started at his waist and ended with oddly shaped toes. She leaned over him and brushed her hand over his forehead before listening to the rhythmic sound of his heartbeat.
The little mermaid remained beside the prince throughout the night until breaking dawn when she heard the bells ringing in the big city above. She dived back into the waters when she heard the sound of footsteps approaching and hid behind a large rock. Taking great precaution, the little mermaid peeped from the bolder and watched the prince waking up to a girl with thick, raven black hair leaning over him. She watched the prince stagger to his feet and thank the wrong person with a heart full of gratitude for saving his life.
With melancholic eyes, the little mermaid watched the two figures on the sandy beach make their way back into the city. The moment the two people disappeared out of sight, the little mermaid dived down into the ocean making her way back to her father’s palace while the memory of the prince etched its way into her heart. The little mermaid rushed into the palace garden where her sisters lingered around to tell them about her experience in the world above the sea omitting the story of saving the young prince’s life from her narrative. She talked about what she saw with full gusto which caught the attention of the queen regnant.
After her first visit to the world above, the little mermaid kept visiting the island that belonged to the prince in the hopes of seeing him again. She would hide in the sea foam and stealthily swim towards the castle that stood at the edge of a cliff overlooking the vast ocean below. On days when she was lucky, she would see the prince standing alone high up on the curved balcony at sunset, looking at the reflection of the setting sun on the water. She overheard stories from fishermen who went out to sea at the break of dawn talking about the young prince and his good deeds that made her heart swell with pride. The object of her infatuation was not only handsome but was noble and just as well.
The little mermaid would enter the palace garden where her sisters lazed around every day to tell them about her adventures in the world above. The queen regnant watched her granddaughter fall in love with the human world with each trip. During one of the little mermaid’s narration, the queen regnant waited patiently for her granddaughter to complete her story before asking her sisters to give them privacy. The other princesses looked at each other a little confused before nodding their heads to the old lady’s request. In a minute, the little mermaid was left sitting on the coral steps of the palace garden with her wise, silver-haired grandmother.
“You want to live among the humans don’t you?” The queen regnant said leaning forward to look into her granddaughter’s eyes. The little mermaid shook her head in reply while her heart screamed at her for lying. The wise old mermaid looked up towards the heavens before speaking again, “We merfolk live for three hundred years and when we die, we return to the sea and become the foam on the surface of the water. Humans, on the contrary, have souls that live forever. Even after their body has become nothing but dust, their immortal soul rises through the air, beyond the glittering stars and into the glorious unknown.”
The queen regnant shifted her gaze back to the little mermaid that sat in front of her. “Compared to humans, we merfolk live a simple but happy life. The world up above may look like a treasure of gold but you will soon realise that like the place you live in, it cannot fulfil all your desires.”
However, the queen regnant’s wise words fell on deaf ears as the little mermaid’s longing to live in the human world intensified. She would spend hours of her day lost in her dreams of rollicking in flowery meadows with the young prince by her side. The thought of living forever in the glorious unknown with the young prince as two immortal souls made her read every book on magic to transform her into a human. But her search about human transformation failed. She believed she was fated to live in the world above where one could enjoy the warm rays of the sun and the wind in their face. Her longing for the human soul and her prince grew to such intensity that the infamy and hideous image of the evil witch did not deter the little mermaid from seeking her out.
The little mermaid snuck out of the palace one night after serenading her father’s guest with her melodic voice at the large banquet. Without saying a word to anyone, the little mermaid swam into the deepest trenches of the ocean where darkness reigned supreme. The deep-sea creatures that inhabited the deepest parts of the ocean possessed such horrific physical features that it made the little mermaid’s body tremble with fear as she headed towards the witch’s lair. Swimming through the darkness, the little mermaid finally came upon a graveyard of ships. Different parts of ships wrecked by the stormy seas had settled down to the bottom of the ocean and the currents had gathered them in an area.
At the centre of the graveyard, sat the witch on a chair comprising of skeletal bones of various creatures with a long snake-like creature resting upon her shoulders. As the little mermaid approached, the witch’s lips curled up into an evil smile before welcoming the youngster into her lair. Before the little mermaid could utter a word, the witch spoke.
“You long to become human and you have come to the right place. There is no wish that I cannot grant.” The witch said while her dark eyes scrutinised the appearance of her customer. “But I must warn you what you wish for will only bring you sorrow. Are you willing to pay a hefty price for your humanity?”
The little mermaid stopped to think for a minute while sea creatures she had never seen before swam around her. Her body trembled and her heart raced, but her resolve to live in the human world with the man she loved was unmovable.
“Yes.” The little mermaid replied in a firm voice.
The witch got up from her throne and approached the little mermaid on her giant squid-like tentacles. “I shall change your beautiful tail into a pair of human legs and make your gills disappear, but every single step you take will make you feel like you are treading upon sharp knives. Once you become human, there is no turning back. When you reach the world above ours, you must make the young prince fall in love with you and when the two of you exchange vows, then only will you remain human till your natural death. But if you do not succeed in marrying the prince, at the break of dawn, you will die and return to the sea as foam.” The witch smiled and placed her scrawny arms on the little mermaid’s shoulder and added, “Do you still want to see this dream of yours come true?”
The little mermaid hesitated for a second before nodding her head. The witch smiled and held out her hand to the little mermaid’s utter confusion. “You have to pay me for my service.”
“I can swim back to the castle and bring back as much gold as you want,” The little mermaid said. But the witch only shook her head.
“I have enough gold to help me live out my lifetime,” the witch pointed at the boxes of treasure she had accumulated from the sunken ships.
“Then I have nothing else to offer.”
The witch pretended to be in deep thought for a moment before pointing at the little mermaid’s mouth. “I shall take your voice as payment then.”
“But how am I supposed to make the prince fall in love with me if I cannot speak?” The little mermaid protested.
“Darling, you have these big, beautiful eyes through which you express your feelings and you will also possess a pair of beautiful human legs to help you dance unparalleled by any other. Words aren’t necessary if your heart is pure and your intentions are good.”
From the underbelly of the little mermaid, doubts arose. Her mind searched for the right decision but in the current scenario, she couldn’t find any. She thought of her family who would miss her terribly when they found out that she was gone. But if she never left them, her dream of living underneath the sun’s warm rays would never come true. She swallowed her uncertainties and gave the witch a firm nod.
The witch brought out a jewelled dagger and in one swift moment cut out the little mermaid’s tongue. Excruciating pain tore through the little mermaid the moment the blade touched her. She writhed on the ocean floor with her hands clasped over her mouth. She bore the pain and willed for tears to flow from her eyes to cope with it. But like all mermaids, her tear ducts were dry making her suffering all the more agonising. While the little mermaid took in deep breaths trying to sensitise herself to the pain, the witch moved towards her pot of potions. She tossed her payment into the dark, bubbling liquid and began chanting in a language unknown to man.
As the little mermaid began to get her bearings right, the witch approached her and bent down. In her hand sat a vial of clear fluid that looked nothing like the deadly potion it was. “Take this and swim to land. Before the sun rises, drink the potion for the magic to work.”
The little mermaid took the vial in her hands, gazed at the evil witch one last time before swimming out of her lair. She raced out of the deep, dark ocean and towards the surface of the water. She stopped for a moment to look at her home one last time before making her way to the sandy beach where she had watched over her prince. When the little mermaid reached her destination, she sat on the sand allowing the shallow waves to wash over her tail. She looked out at the vast ocean and at the sky that was slowly brightening up with the potion in her hand. She counted to three and with her eyes shut tight, she emptied the contents of the vial down her throat.
The moment the liquid touched the remains of her tongue, the little mermaid felt like she had been pierced by a two-edged sword. Her entire body set ablaze with unbearable pain that she looked up to the heavens and wished for death. But before the little mermaid could give up on her dream, the pain subsided. She looked down at her silvery tail to find a pair of shapely, fair legs. Stunned by what she saw, the little mermaid placed her trembling hands on her thighs and wriggled her toes as the waves washed over them. She lifted her hands to her neck and felt her gills had vanished. The potion had worked its magic. She was no longer a mermaid, but a beautiful girl with big, blue eyes and a magical smile. She wanted to jump for joy for she was finally one step closer to obtaining her dream, to live for eternity with her handsome prince. She staggered to her feet and immediately felt a sharp shooting pain. Unable to withstand it, the little mermaid stumbled and fell back on the sand.
“Are you okay?” She heard a voice call out to her and turned to see her prince rushing towards her. The little mermaid could not believe what she was seeing. A smile fastened itself on her face as the young prince approached. “You must be cold. Where did you come from?” The prince asked as he took off his warm coat and placed it around the little mermaid’s naked body.
Unable to answer his question, the little mermaid looked up at him and smiled. She hoped in her heart that he would accept her as she was even though she was mute.
“What’s your name? Do you know where you came from?” The young prince asked again as he peered into her beautiful eyes. But the little mermaid only smiled at him. It dawned on the young prince that the girl who had washed up on shore was either a mute or from a foreign kingdom where the language was different. He helped her to her feet and studied her for signs of injury before calling one of his servants to wash her and give her clean clothes to wear.
The little mermaid was permitted to stay within the castle walls after they found out that she could move people’s hearts with her dance. She performed for the king and his guests often receiving praise and lavish gifts from them. Being in close quarters with the prince, it allowed the little mermaid to spend her free time with him. Even though they never exchanged words, the bond between the two grew with each passing day as the prince was very fond of her. To him, she served as a reminder of the girl who had saved him when his ship was caught in a storm and had sunk to the bottom of the ocean.
The two of them would spend their time running through fields and meadows, enjoying horseback rides across green valleys and visiting towns the prince had business with. The absence of her tongue was made up by her expressive eyes that conveyed the emotions that roiled within her. The initial days of her stay in the human world were full of laughter and wonder as every sight she saw excited her. But as time passed by, she began missing her merfamily. The sensation of treading on knives with every step she took made her wish she saw her beautiful, silvery tail instead of a pair of human legs whenever she looked at down at herself.
Living among humans and being in close quarters with her young prince, the little mermaid thought that her heart would finally be content. But whenever she looked out at the vast ocean, she would reminisce the times when she rode the waves, swam freely without subjecting herself to any pain and serenaded her father’s guests with her melodic voice. Whenever she spotted her family swimming near the castle, she would wave to them. With sorrowful faces, her sisters would wave back while singing a melancholic song of how they’d lost their sister.
The little mermaid tried her best to forget about her past life and devoted herself to her new one. She spent her energy in pleasing the royal family and their guests and loving the young prince with all her heart. She would gaze upon him with love and adoration and he would do the same. But unlike the little mermaid, the prince saw her as his younger sister, one he vowed to love and protect for eternity. Her happiness with the young prince remained unperturbed until the royal family arranged for the prince to marry another of royal blood.
On hearing the news, the little mermaid’s heart sank as she watched the prince dress himself up to meet his bride to be. He had promised the little mermaid that he believed in the concept of marrying somebody he loved. That meeting the lady his family had set him up with was merely an obligation. The young prince had proclaimed that the only person he would marry would be the girl who had saved him on that day his ship had sunk. If he never found her again, he would marry the little mermaid for her features reminded him so much of his saviour.
The little mermaid’s heart was lifted by his words for a while until her eyes landed upon his bestowed. She watched the prince’s face change from disbelieve to euphoria as the girl with raven black hair walked towards him with a tiara set on her head. The girl bowed before the prince before she stood erect to look at the man who had tears of joy brimming in his eyes. He took her hands in his and professed his love for her while she smiled at him and reciprocated back.
Within a month, preparations for the prince’s wedding were complete. The church bells began to chime merrily as the royal family, the prince, his bride to be and the little mermaid boarded a large vessel which was decorated for the special occasion. The prince and his lover stood in front of the bishop while the little mermaid stood watching from the side. She felt a knife drive through her heart as she watched the young couple become one.
The merrymaking began at the end of the ceremony and people began dancing to the sound of music. The little mermaid plastered a smile on her face while her heart tore in two and danced like never before. Everyone stopped to witness the little mermaid’s captivating performance for she knew it was her last. When the music ended she bowed before them and her audience stood up to cheer for her including the prince and his new bride. The celebrations continued into the night till the prince and his newly wedded wife retired to the tent set up for them.
While everyone slept, the little mermaid looked up at the moon in the sky with her hand on her chest, trying to hold the broken pieces of her heart together. As she closed her eyes and prepared herself to accept her fate, the little mermaid heard the rippling of water followed by the sound of her sisters’ voice. She rushed to edge of the deck and saw five figures in the water looking up at her with hopeful eyes.
Their long hair was gone and was replaced with a short choppy cut. The eldest sister swam towards the ship, held out a dagger in her hand and offered it to her youngest sister.
“We made a deal with the evil witch to help you. In return, we paid her with our hair. You must kill the prince with this dagger before sunrise. His blood will turn you back into a mermaid.”
With hesitant hands, the little mermaid took the dagger from her sister. She looked at them once more to see the encouragement displayed in their eyes before turning her attention towards the tent where the newlywed lay. Holding the dagger close to her body, the little mermaid snuck into the tent. She held her breath as she crept towards the couple who were fast asleep in each other’s arms.
The little mermaid raised her dagger over the young prince and allowed it to hover above his chest. Her eyes roamed over his faced and settled on the faint smile displayed on his lips. Even in his sleep, he was happy. Her hand trembled as memories of all the times they spent together right from the day they met flooded her mind. In her walk down memory lane, she recollected all the pain she had to endure to be with him, to live among the humans and her dream to become an immortal soul. Were the sacrifices she made worth it? She had fought so hard and endured immense pain only to watch someone else snatch her dream away.
The little mermaid felt anger and resentment wash over. She had given everything she had to offer to the young prince but received a broken heart instead. Fuelled with rage, in one swift movement, the little mermaid sliced the dagger against the prince’s throat and watched in horror as his eyes shot open. Blood gushed out from the wound in his neck and spilt to the floor staining the little mermaid’s legs. He looked at her in horror and confusion as his hands clasped around his bleeding neck.
The little mermaid backed away as the anger raging within her died down. Her eyes widened with remorse as she watched her young prince struggle to breathe. She thought being a spectator to the prince’s happy marriage was heartbreaking. But it was nothing in comparison to watching the light in his eyes die out. The gasping noise the young prince made roused his sleeping spouse from her sleep. The little mermaid dashed out of the tent and jumped over the side of the ship as the sky began brightening up.
The little mermaid splashed against the cold waters of the ocean to the sound of someone screaming from the tent up above her. Her hand released its tight hold on the dagger and as she watched it sink to the bottom of the ocean, her eyes settled on the silver tail that sprouted from her waist instead of a pair of human legs. She raised her hands to her neck and felt her gills had returned.
The little mermaid smiled as she turned around to observe her tail float in the water only to see her sisters rush towards her. The eldest princess embraced the little mermaid in her arms, holding her tightly against her chest as the little mermaid’s body shook. As much as the little mermaid wished for tears to stream down her face, her tear ducts remained dry. Mixed emotions roiled within the little mermaid as she looked up into her sister’s eyes. She was glad to be reunited with her family and to be back in her original physical self. But the crime she had committed in the human world would turn out to be a curse that would haunt her forever.
The little mermaid opened her mouth to speak, to tell them how foolish she was to think that living in the human world would give her everything she ever wanted. But the words never came out. The tongue she had offered to the evil witch as payment had not restored itself. The little mermaid buried her head in her sister’s chest and opened her mouth to scream in agony, but nothing came out.
The eldest sister patted the little mermaid’s head happy that she had returned to them. Even though she was rendered mute because of the mistake the little mermaid chose to make, it did not make her love for her little sister any less. The six sisters linked their arms together before they swam towards their father’s palace, carrying with them a dream that had emerged from the depths of the ocean only for it to return to the deep blue sea and remain unspoken of for eternity.