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.
It seemed too vivid, too real to be a nightmare.
She was walking in a rose garden, hanging onto the Prince’s arm. Suddenly, a dark shadow fell upon them. The sweet smelling air was rife with danger. Ariel looked to her valiant Prince to vanquish the evil but he was no longer by her side. Panicked, she turned just in time to see the shadow engulf her Prince whole. She wanted to scream, but no sound came out.
A blue stone lay in the grass where the Prince had stood moments before. Ariel picked it up and started running. She felt the shadow creeping up behind her, waiting for her to show a sign of weakness.
A pair of giant gates loomed before her and she knew she was home. But they were closing… swiftly enough that she wouldn’t make it. Clutching the stone to her chest, Ariel ran. The shadow was gaining on her, snapping at her heels. She wished she had her tail back. These stupid legs were slowing her down.
The shadow had finally caught up with her. It was going to swallow her whole too! But no… It wanted something else. The stone! Ariel put up a fight but the shadow always got what it wanted. It passed, leaving her empty-handed in front of a pair of closed gates. Through the golden bars of the gates, she saw Xandria, fading slowly into darkness. It was all her fault! Just because she couldn’t hold on to the stone!
And so, Ariel finally screamed.
Waking up after a nightmare was easy. Going on with your life after everything that you’d seen in the nightmare was tough. Thinking about Xandria was painful. Thinking about the Prince was worse.
Ariel tried to distract herself. She really did. She cleaned her room and reorganised the books on their shelves. She rearranged the pieces on Father’s chessboard, all set for a fresh game. She even swung by the kitchens, asking the cooks if they needed any help shelling peas for dinner.
“But she hates peas!” Tris exclaimed to Rowena and Elsa, trying to convince them something was wrong with Ariel.
“Of course, something’s wrong with Ariel, Tris!” Rowena explained.
“She’s got a serious case of Upperitis. We all got it after our first trip upside, remember? It must have hit her harder than us. You know, with Ariel being all deep and philosophical. It’s those books she keeps reading, I tell you — ”
Tris knew that wasn’t true. Ariel had hardly been excited about the trip. Besides, everyone knew Ariel would never go near peas even if you threatened to set electric eels loose on her. Something was not right. She decided to keep an eye on her little sister, just to be sure.
The wedding must’ve been over by now.
Ariel felt a lump rise in her throat as she pictured the Prince putting the ring on his Princess’ finger and somehow sealing Ariel’s fate in the process. She had spent the whole day escaping the miserable feeling but it was right there, like a punch in her gut. Ariel shut the book she was trying to read and decided to go to Ursula’s to bring her up to speed. So out of her element was she, that the usually observant Ariel didn’t see Tris sneaking out right behind her.
The Sea-Witch had always had quite the intimidating reputation around these waters, with many nefarious deeds to her name. But Ariel was beginning to think it was a whole load of shark poo. Ursula had been nothing short of patient and supportive of her these past days. Not exactly the character traits of an evil mastermind.
She apologized to Ursula for not being able to retrieve the stone and Ursula was cool as a catfish. She had already begun working on a new spell to break the curse that had put her in cave arrest.
“Hey, Ursula? Maybe I could stay back and help you with your spell? It sure looks difficult.”
The Sea-Witch sensed something was amiss.
“Running away from something, are we, Red? I don’t see any reason why a Princess would want to spend her time with an old hag in her cave otherwise.”
“I.. just.. I don’t want to be alone tonight. I can’t have the nightmare again.”
Ariel told her all about the evil shadow. When she was done, Ursula let out a slow whistle.
“You know what this means, don’t you Red?”
Ariel gave her a quizzical look.
“Come on, you don’t need to be a Sea-Witch to understand this nightmare of yours! The moment the Prince put the ring on the Princess’ finger, he willingly passes on its possession to her. So, the evil shadow from your nightmare? That’s the Princess who stole your royal boyfriend and your chance to go to Xandria in a single shot. Get it, Red?”
A gamut of emotions that Ariel had never felt before coursed through her. Every inch of her body seemed to be on fire and she felt like a volcano on the verge of eruption. Had Ursula noticed these signs, she would have known it was time to stop talking. But she continued rambling.
“Now there’s a lesson, Red. Sometimes, the other person is just better or luckier than us and that’s bound to hurt your pride a little. Don’t worry, I am sure we can work out another deal for the potion. Frankly, I kind of had my doubts you wouldn’t come through with the stone so I thought of a backup deal — ”
That did it. That triggered the volcano.
“What do you mean? You just ASSUMED I was incapable of getting the stone? It wasn’t my fault the storm struck the first time. Or that your stupid spell made the pain of having legs so unbearable that it literally rendered me speechless! Which is why that opportunistic wimp of a princess was able to take credit for MY rescue of the Prince! JUST BECAUSE YOU WERE STUPID ENOUGH TO GET YOURSELF CURSED DOESN’T MEAN EVERYONE’S AN INCOMPETENT JELLYFISH, OKAY URSULA?”
Ariel was hyperventilating, her red hair flailing wildly. Ursula waited for her to calm down, a little taken aback by all that firepower.
“You’ve got a pair of lungs on you, Red. You ought to work for a marching band!”
It was meant to be funny but Ariel’s temper seemed to have escalated beyond boiling point. She shot Ursula a cold look and spoke her next words too quietly. There was a scary glint in her eyes that made even the Sea Witch a little uncomfortable.
“The stone isn’t quite lost though, is it? There’s still a way.”
Ursula snorted. “If you think the Princess would just hand over her wedding ring to you, then you’re more naïve than a clownfish.”
Ariel gave a sarcastic smile, unaware of the tiniest hint of malice in her voice.
“If you think I am going to ask nicely for it, then you’re the one being naïve. You know exactly what I am talking about.”
Shock rippled across the Sea-Witch’s face. But Ariel was not finished talking.
“I am done, Ursula! I’m done being taken for granted, being the naïve little mermaid all the time. I want what I want and nothing is going to stop me from getting it.”
Ursula was all for getting what you wanted at any cost. But she knew Ariel wouldn’t be able to live with the cost once she came to her senses.
“Let’s just take a minute to think this through, okay? Forget the stone. We’ll figure out something else? A new deal?”
A pair of cold eyes stared at Ursula for a while before confirming her fears.
“As far as I am concerned, we already have a deal. And besides, you said it yourself, Ursula. She stole my Prince. She almost stole my chance at Xandria. She doesn’t get to do that and get away with it.”
“Just look at yourself, Ariel. You’re angry, frustrated and desperate. But you’re not a killer.”
The silence that followed seemed to drag on for eternity. Then Ariel finally spoke.
“I don’t know who I am, Ursula. But it’s time we found out.”
Hidden behind the wall of the cave, Tris crouched in fear of what her little sister had become.
It was going to end where it all started.
Ariel liked the poetic justice in that. At least, that’s what she thought poetic justice meant. The books weren’t too clear.
Back in the Sea-Witch’s cave, Ariel had asked her to find the Prince’s whereabouts. It was his wedding night, and that’s where the Princess would be too.
Ursula was reluctant at first, but Ariel assured her she wanted this. Besides, the lure of freedom from the curse was too strong for the Sea-Witch to resist. They’d found out that the Prince was sailing away with his new bride for their honeymoon that very night. Ursula thought it was weirdly macabre, considering he had just almost died at sea.
Ariel was indifferent. She had borrowed the gold cuff again, but flinched a little when Ursula handed her a knife with a silver hilt and intricate carvings. Definitely fit for a Princess… to wield and to die by.
Now here she was, well past midnight on another royal ship, with the same agenda as her last time.
Was it the same though? She felt different from that fateful night. Different target, different motivations, different method…
There was a smaller crew on the ship tonight and they were all fast asleep. No singing or dancing or fireworks. This time, the Prince desired privacy and quiet. Ariel slipped on the gold cuff and the inevitable pain seared through her body. But there was no time to agonize. Instead, the pain drove her onward, towards the Captain’s cabin where the Prince and his ‘alleged saviour’ rested in deep slumber.
Ariel pushed open the door to the cabin. The Prince was asleep, as handsome as the night Ariel had first seen him, his chest rising and falling noiselessly. She wondered if he had ever dreamt of her, even once. Her question answered itself when she saw the hand that lay gently on his arm… delicate feminine fingers with a wedding ring made of silver and a rare blue stone.
She is beautiful, Ariel thought as she edged quietly towards the sleeping Princess, knife in her hand. She positioned it right above the Princess’ heart, ready to plunge it in any second.
It wasn’t hesitation. She just had to do it. She crept over to the Prince’s side and lightly lifted the Princess’ hand off his arm, placing it gently on the bed. The tiny voice in her head cursed her for this stupidity, and she shut it down by saying she did it to gain better access to the ring. It was partly the truth. But the tiny voice in her head screamed the real reason at her.
The Princess may have taken everything, but she was never taking away that afternoon I spent holding the Prince’s arm. That memory she could never corrupt.
Ariel returned to her original stance by the Princess’ pillow. The Princess hadn’t moved an inch. Ariel held the knife at the ready, her heart thumping like a battering ram against her chest. Hesitation was waiting to creep in. But the tiny voice in her head fought back and implored her to get on with it.
Now or never, Ariel. Do it now!
And Ariel brought the knife down.
To be continued…
Originally published in The Grimm Reaper | Medium.