When Ariel was a little girl, she was fascinated by mirrors. The ornate mirror in Mother’s room was her favourite. She spent hours before it, striking poses and trying on Mother’s jewelry.
When Mother asked her why she favoured that particular one, Ariel would say that she looked the prettiest in it. Mother would shake her head then and laugh at her naïve little daughter.
“That’s because you are pretty, my darling! The mirror only shows what really is. Remember this, Ariel. If you want to know who you really are, look in the mirror.”
If only Ariel had remembered Mother’s words.
If only she had looked at herself when Ursula had asked her to.
A strong wave caused the ship to lurch a little. Ariel tried to maintain her balance, grasping the bedside dresser for support.
As she straightened up, she found herself starring at a mirror. Even in the dark, her flaming red mane stood out. She had loved its fiery red because it was another thing that made her feel close to Mother. But tonight, with that knife in her hand, the red made her think of blood.
Nothing about the girl in the mirror belonged to the Ariel she knew. Her tail had been replaced with legs. The twinkle in her eyes when she thought of Xandria was gone; they seemed cold and empty now. And instead of a book in her hand, there was a knife.
Who is this person? It’s not you, Ariel. This can’t be you. You’re not a killer.
If you want to know who you really are, look in the mirror…
And Ariel knew. In that moment, she knew that she wasn’t going to do it. Ariel could never do this.
The momentary hesitation was her unravelling. The Prince was a light sleeper and Ariel’s stunt of pulling the Princess’ hand off his arm had woken him up. He opened a sleepy eye and saw the lovely maiden from the garden poised to stab his wife’s heart.
He sneaked out of the bed while she was looking in the other direction and grabbed her from behind. The knife fell out of her hand and landed on the rug with a soft thud. The Princess slept on, unperturbed. With one hand on her mouth, and the other holding her arms behind, the Prince dragged Ariel out of the cabin.
If anything, Ariel had not seen that coming. The very arm she had been offered for their walk was now clamped over her mouth. She tried to break free of his grasp but he was too strong. She stopped resisting. The Prince dragged her down a flight of stairs, opened a door and shoved her into the brig.
“You… You tried to kill my wife! Who are you?”
The brazen anger on the Prince’s face had shaken Ariel to the core. Dealing with the Prince wasn’t part of the plan! She didn’t know what to say and the Prince misunderstood her silence yet again.
“Are you even really mute? Or was that a façade to worm your way into our lives? How did you get on the ship? Are you an assassin? Who sent you? ANSWER ME!”
The accusations pierced Ariel’s heart like shards of glass. She had no words that could even remotely absolve her. She crouched on the floor, cowering from the Prince’s wrath, and wished the sea would just rush in and swallow her.
“I trusted you, called you a friend! This is how you honour my friendship? I should have you thrown overboard and let you drown to a painful death!”
Death, yes. Ariel would welcome death now than spend another second looking at the betrayal in the Prince’s eyes. If only drowning could be the end of her!
The Prince bent down, his face inches from hers, and spoke in a voice that sent chills down her spine.
“Unfortunately, I have to let you live. There could be more of you. I need to know who sent you… who the real enemy is. It’s the brig for you tonight. And since we were friends, here’s some friendly advice. Hold on to your silence as long as you’re here. The dungeons in the castle have a way of making even the mute talk.”
The Prince locked the door behind him and left Ariel to her torment. She closed her eyes and cried silently but her insides were screaming with regret.
What have I done? How the hell did I let it come to this? How do I convince him I didn’t mean to go through with it?
“Oh thank god! Ariel!”
A familiar voice interrupted Ariel’s distress. Her eyes flew open and she saw Tris on the other side of the bars. Her tail was gone and she sported a pair of legs just like Ariel’s.
“Tris! I don’t understand — How did you get here? You need to go now, Tris! If they find you, they’ll lock you up too!”
“Shhhh! Keep it down, Ariel! Nothing is going to happen to me, okay? I am here to save you and take you home!”
“Oh Tris, you’re so brave to come here! But you can’t save me… you don’t know what I’ve done… I’m beyond saving!”
Tris ignored Ariel and began working on the lock. She seemed to have a key. Ariel was confused.
“Wait… Tris, how did you know to find me here? How did you get the key to the brigs?”
Tris had finally managed to unlock the door and was pulling Ariel out and on to the stairs.
“Where do you think? Ursula! I followed you to her lair. Heard everything. After you left, I pleaded her to bring you back but she wouldn’t. She said you both had a deal. So we kept an eye on you with the crystal ball. When we saw the Prince bring you down here, I knew you’d need my help. Really, what were you thinking, Ariel!”
Ariel could not believe this was happening despite everything she had done. She didn’t deserve Tris’ bravery or Ursula’s… kindness, was it? She didn’t deserve to go home. She deserved the dungeons and worse.
“I love you, Tris, for risking your life and coming to my rescue tonight. But I do not deserve to return to my life. I cannot go home after all this. I cannot!”
“Yes. Yes, you can. Maybe not home, but… to Xandria.”
Tris thrust a hand in her pocket and took out a familiar tiny vial of shiny pink liquid. Ariel’s heart almost stopped.
“Tris! This… it’s the potion! How..? Tris, what did you do?!”
“Ursula knew you wouldn’t go through with your plan. She offered me the same back up deal she was going to offer you, had you listened. And… well, I took it. It’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”
Ariel was afraid to find out what the deal was but she needed to know.
“My gold cuff in exchange for the potion. Ursula said it was no ordinary cuff… that there was more magic to it than meets the eye or something. Anyway, it was valuable enough to get her to give me the potion and help rescue you. It’s weird but I think she likes you.”
Ariel was flabbergasted. She knew what giving away the cuff meant. Tris had sentenced herself to indefinite house arrest.
“Why would you do that!?! You loved your cuff and you loved visiting The Upper World. It was Mother’s, for god’s sake!”
Tris shook her head and held her sister by her shoulders.
“I do love The Upper World, Ariel. But I love you more. To me, you’re more of a reminder of Mother than a piece of jewelry ever will be. If you want Xandria so badly, then you shall have it. But first, we need to get out of here.”
Ariel hugged her sister. Knowing what Tris had given up reinforced Ariel’s belief that she did not deserve any of this. Least of all, Xandria. How was she ever going to make it up to Tris, she did not know.
They started climbing up the stairs, Tris jumpy and on edge and Ariel lost in thought. The vial of potion felt heavy inside her palm. Twice, it almost slipped out of her hand before she managed to save it. It felt like the vial had a mind of its own and was trying to escape. As if repelling her touch…
Suddenly, right outside the Captain’s cabin, Ariel stopped.
“There’s something I need to do, Tris.”
Tris was frustrated and wanted to argue. They were running out of time and the leg pain was killing her. But the look on Ariel’s face was clear. She would rather be caught than leave without doing what she wanted.
Ariel knew it was a fool’s errand. Surely enough, when she inched open the door to the cabin, she saw the Prince sitting on a chair by the bed. He had been keeping watch but had drifted off to sleep with one hand on the hilt of his sword. He could wake up any moment and end her life. But she had to do this. She couldn’t bear the thought of the Prince hating her for the rest of his life.
She stood far enough to not disturb the air around him yet close enough to smell his perfume. He smelled of roses, and Ariel smiled sadly at the memory of their afternoon together.
That’s how I want you to remember me. Not as the girl who betrayed your trust, but as the stranger with the lovely smile who you spent a day walking in the rose gardens with… who you considered a friend…
Ariel opened the vial and sprayed the potion on the Prince’s face. She whispered in his ear that he would have no memory of the happenings of the night and would wake up remembering only his bride’s beautiful face before he fell asleep.
She was about to tiptoe towards the door and leave when she remembered it. She turned around and whispered just one more thing.
The girl you met in the rose garden… Ariel. Her name was Ariel.
The door to Father’s room was slightly ajar as usual. Ariel had always thought this habit was too callous for a King. For a long time after her mother had passed away, Ariel would often wake up in the middle of the night and stand guard outside Father’s room, lest anyone tried to hurt him. Eventually, she outgrew her fears but she never told anyone about it.
Tonight, for the first time, she was glad to find the door open. She looked at her old man sleeping, with his long white beard fluttering under his snores, stripped of all his Mer-King glory. For now, he was simply her —
The Mer-King woke up, startled to find his youngest daughter holding his hand and kneeling by his bed, tears streaming down her face.
“What is it, Ariel? What is it, darling? Did you have a nightmare?”
And Ariel poured her heart out, all of its darkness and despair and fears and fatigue, in the soothing embrace of warmth and safety that only her Father could provide.
Father had listened patiently and then put her to sleep. The next day when Ariel woke up,he was gone. Nobody knew where. Or if they did, they didn’t tell her.
Tris seemed to have filled in her sisters with the details of the past few days. They spent all day fussing over Ariel, trying to make sure she didn’t have any more murderous thoughts. There was not a single dish with peas for any meal.
Father didn’t return for another two days. While her sisters rushed outside to greet him, Ariel remained in her room. She couldn’t bear to see the disappointment in his face. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. It was her Father.
He entered and sat down next to Ariel. There was no small talk to fill in the silence. Minutes passed before either said a word.
“You need to pack your bags, Ariel. I’ve made all the arrangements. The carriage will be ready at first light tomorrow. The Court keeps me from coming along but your sisters are welcome to ride with you. Xandria is too long a journey to undertake alone.”
Ariel thought she was hallucinating. Did Father just say that?He’s letting me go to Xandria? Why now?
The voice in her head told her she should be ecstatic; it was finally happening. But her heart sank and tears welled up in her eyes.
“I’ve disappointed you, Father, haven’t I? Is that why you’ve agreed to send me away? I am sorry, Father! I am so sorry!”
The Mer-King reached out and held Ariel’s face in his hands. When he spoke, his voice was heavy with emotion.
“When I lost your mother… I never wanted to feel that way again. Keeping you from Xandria was my way of protecting you. But I’ve realised that… as much as I try to keep you safe inside the Castle, the world will find a way to trickle in.”
Ariel had only once before seen tears in her Father’s eyes and she had hated them. They made her cry too.
“The world is a ruthless place, Ariel. Your mother and I, we wanted to raise our daughters to be strong, brave and fiercely independent. So that when the time came, you would be able to choose for yourselves between what is right and what is easy. You may have faltered a little. But you haven’t disappointed me, Ariel. You could never.”
The Mer-King composed himself and gave his daughter a mock stern look.
“Now listen to me, little lady. While I don’t want you to think of Xandria as a punishment, don’t consider it a reward either. I want you to use this chance to become the best possible version of yourself. Will you do that for me?”
Ariel let her tears run free as she hugged her Father. A sudden sense of relief washed over her, which glowed like a beacon even as she was on her way to Xandria the next day.
She was relieved that she was going to Xandria without resorting to any magic (she was so done with it!). She felt relieved knowing that the Prince was living his life in blissful oblivion and showed great potential for fighting off any enemies who came for the stone. He and his Princess might just live a long, happy life. She was pretty sure Ursula had already found another way to break her curse, because the stone was really just bad news. And despite everything, she kind of liked that Sea-Witch.
But most of all, she was relieved that as long as she had her Father and her sisters by her side, she was going to be okay. They would always know her, the real her, and show her her true self when she needed reminding.
They would be her mirror.
Originally published in The Grimm Reaper | Medium.