Not every mermaid dreams of the world above. A re-telling of Ariel’s coming of age…
This is The Little Mermaid as I imagine it to be.
“Happy Birthday, Ariel!”
Ariel sighed. There was no way she could continue pretending to sleep through this loud chorus of birthday wishes.
“Not like there’s anything happy about my birthday. But gee, thanks!”
Tris, Ariel’s favourite of her five sisters, was rummaging through her wardrobe. She pulled out the new clam bra they’d brought last week and threw it across the room, right at Ariel’s face.
“Come now, sister! Today is your big day! You mustn’t let your anger towards Father ruin all the fun we’ve planned for you!”
Ariel couldn’t help but snort as she got dressed. Five older sisters meant a done-to-death birthday ritual: Breakfast with Father, a visit to the town market and preparations for her first trip to The Upper World. Fat load of fun that was.
Up until her last birthday, she too was as excited for her fifteenth as her sisters. For only after they turned fifteen could they be allowed to break through the surface of the deep waters where they lived and visit The Upper World. All her sisters had done this and had returned each time with stories beyond her wildest imagination. Ariel longed for her turn. And then Xandria happened.
When his youngest, most beloved daughter had complained that she hardly got any quality time with her father, the Mer-King had invited her to accompany him on his annual tour of the kingdom. The last stop in their tour was Xandria, a prosperous town swarming with young sea creatures like her, all students at The University. Ariel’s world had suddenly turned upside down and all she could think about was how amazing it would be to live there. She wanted to swim the halls of The University with folks her age, live a life away from the shadow of her sisters and most of all, explore the biggest library she had ever laid eyes on.
When she told her sisters about pursuing this new adventure, they thought Ariel had lost her pearls. “Princesses belong in castles, not universities,” they told her. Besides, they already had a royal tutor and any books they wanted to read could be sent for in a jiffy. But Ariel wasn’t giving up on her dream so easily. A week before her fifteenth birthday, she had mustered the courage to ask Father for his permission to go to Xandria. After a shouting match that sent ripples to the surface of the ocean, the Mer-King had refused point-blank, leaving Ariel with nothing to look forward to on her impending birthday.
The ostentatious breakfast spread full of all her favourite dishes convinced Ariel that her father had put their argument in the past. His booming voice greeted her as she entered the dining room with her sisters.
“There’s my little birthday princess!” he roared with his arms outstretched, waiting to give his youngest one a big, warm hug.
Ariel’s instinctive reaction was to run into her Father’s arms and let his fluffy, long beard tickle her ears; she did love him more than anything in the world. But she held herself back, trying to send the message that she was still upset with his decision last week.
Father’s crestfallen face told her that her message had been received. Ariel took her place at the table, prim and proper like a princess ought to be, and let her curtain of flaming red hair shield her from her Father’s gaze. She expected a reprimand any second, and surely enough, Father didn’t disappoint.
“I see you’re still holding on to that preposterous demand of yours? How many times must I impress upon you that what you ask isn’t befitting for a princess? Abandoning the comforts of The Castle behind to live like a commoner! Really, Ariel!”
Her sisters murmured in agreement. She could see the condescension in their eyes for their little sister.
If only they could see what she saw. Xandria was so much more than just a school. It was a whole new world. No one to treat her differently, to deny her little joys simply because they weren’t fit for a princess. She would be free to do whatever to she wanted, live however she wished to. And the library meant that she could explore so many other worlds than just the little piece of cosmos that was above the surface of her Father’s kingdom. Xandria… Xandria was freedom!
“Father, please… just a year. That’s all I ask. That’s all I’ll ever ask for, I promise. Please…”
As the Mer-King gazed upon his favourite daughter’s pleading face, his aged heart hurt. He had never denied her anything. But this, what she asked of him, he could not give her. He would not. The Deep was full of enemies of the king, and he had already lost his wife to an ugly war. He wasn’t about to lose his daughter too.
“That’s enough. I won’t hear more of this. I have a Court to hold. Now come here, dear daughter, so I can give you your present. I’ve saved this one specially for you.”
The table suddenly fell silent. It was time for their most cherished of birthday traditions. For each of their birthdays, Father had given them something of their mother’s. Amara got the pearls, Elsa received the emerald seahorse brooch, Rowena was given a pair of sapphire earrings, and Leia got an amber pendant on a silver chain. Just last year, Tris’ gift had been a gold cuff. But these weren’t just heirlooms. Each of these were spelled with the magic that allowed them to breathe when they visited The Upper World. Once they wore them, they were never taken off.
The princesses, including Ariel, let out a collective sigh. Nestled between lush satin interiors of an ornate box was the most exquisite hair ornament Ariel had ever seen. It was a white flower, unblemished and pristine, with a single red ruby in the centre. Its petals shone, as if polished with diamond dust and the ruby glittered, housing an unknown fire in its depths. For a minute, Ariel forgot everything as she tried to remember her mother wearing the flower.
Of all her sisters, only Ariel had inherited her mother’s fiery red hair and short temper. When the Mer-King pinned the flower in his daughter’s hair, his eyes welled up at the thought of his beautiful wife and how much Ariel looked like her mother. At that moment, Ariel knew her Father was swimming in the same memories as she was, and she let him hug her then.
Once the Mer-King left to hold Court, Ariel’s sisters gathered around to admire her present. The white against the flaming red was a majestic sight; like a snowflake on fire.
A servant announced that their carriage was ready. Tris tugged urgently at Ariel’s arm. “Speeding Seahorses! We’re late! Come on, Ariel!”
Ariel suddenly recalled her sullen mood and pulled away. “Nope. I am not going anywhere. Isn’t that what Father wants? His princesses to never leave his side? Well, you know what? I am not going anywhere. In fact, I don’t think I’ll even make that trip to The Upper World tomorrow.”
Her sisters looked aghast. Amara decided to pull rank. “You can sulk all you want tomorrow, sister. We’ve made plans for today and I’d like to see them through. So get your tail off that chair and into the carriage right this second!”
Ariel knew better than to cross her eldest sister. She let herself be pulled towards the door, as Tris harped on and on about how they were going to visit the market fair and get their hair braided. And later, on their way home, they’d take her to the Sea-Witch’s lair to get her fortune read.
Ariel’s thoughts sharpened into focus when she heard the last bit. The Sea-Witch… oh yes… she could help her convince Father to let her go to Xandria. If all that she’d heard about her was true, only one person could help her accomplish the impossible…
The Sea-Witch, Ursula.
To be continued…
Originally published in The Grimm Reaper | Medium