They said the Prince stole a mermaid from the Sea; seems difficult, for the Kingdoms of man are small, and the Sea is vast; but odd things happen. They say the Witch stole her voice, tricked her; and that’s the sort of thing some people like to think that Witches might do. They say she was helpless; perhaps they’ve never seen what strange things survive and eat well at the bottom of the ocean, nor consider that surviving them would take extraordinary luck. Or an apex predator whom they all fear.
They said, once landed, leg-locked and silent, she could tell no secrets, and thus they could speak freely in her presence; what, after all, could she say? Unless she learned to write, I suppose; but come on now, when has a Princess of the Blood Royal ever been literate, except, perhaps the final thousand years or so of feudalism? They said she was lucky to give up her tail for limbs, as if millennia of living underwater was a disadvantage, as if the hasty few who left the oceans knew something that hundreds of generations of gilled humanoids, those who met Leviathan and saw Atlantis rise and fall, did not.
They said, and they said it with a certain look, that a pretty young thing with no words could be an asset in certain dark nights and close quarters; and her subtlest wink started blood feuds. With one come-hither gesture, she could add a King, a Wizard, a cunning Chambermaid, a whole battalion of Warriors to her list of conquests; and in the area of territorial rivalry, she would have shamed Alexander; and had him, as well.
The Prince didn’t know at first, and then he did know, and he tried yelling, but angry yells don’t always take you far against wide-open eyes (you try having nictitating membranes as your optical coverings; humans are already programmed to stare into big, big eyes, and when yours contain the whole of the living Sea, few can resist the undertow)—and eventually he accepted it. There were a few Princes who’d caught his own gaze, and if the new bride was understanding…
Some think, if you can’t speak, you can’t hear. Some think, if you can’t speak, you can’t understand. Some think, if you can’t speak, you can’t persuade. Some think they’re thinking, when in fact, they’re just making guesses which please them, and mistaking them for truths. In reality, humans bifurcate in ways that merfolk do not; the biology of a fish suggests many mates, and no jealousy, merely an attempt at reproduction by the fittest. In this case, there was no reproduction (ever try to mate with a lobster?—I thought not, but if you ever considered it, I’ll tell you: that’s no way to produce an heir.) She was ever so enchanted with the weapons, with the troops, and with taking others down into the sea with her. (No Selkie she; she drowned none. An…obliging…Warlock created a spell of underwater breathing. Warlocks are not like us; he took the kiss he’d been given, and set it in a fireproof box, lest it burn straight through his body and into his heart. But he watched without mercy as the mermaid overtook the rest of the Kingdom; why not? Doesn’t a kingdom need a cunning ruler?)
Peace treaties the Prince signed; but as she looked over his shoulder, the counselors and wise men noted certain expressions of distress on her part, and re-thought a paragraph or two—crossing a few things out, adding a few things in. Wars became less likely; trade flourished; but the standing military increased; she did so enjoy seeing parades of splendid uniforms, and the Prince, who found real soldiers far more rewarding than toy ones, didn’t mind that he was obeying her whims; they turned out to be far more entertaining whims than the grim commandments of his forebears.
One day, at last, she visited the Kingdom under the sea. It was a joyful visit, particularly as she came at the head of ten thousand armed guards, each protected by sorcerous air-bubbles and wielding destructive implements refined on the ever-aggressive land. First she made her way to the King’s castle, and when it was rapidly established that the crown would look much better on her, what came next was minimal bloodshed, and a carefully-civil transition of power. The Prince got some sort of rank; he didn’t know what it was, but the Sea dwarfs the Land, and better a baronet beneath the waves than the King of a small patch of dirt. There was some resistance; not much, but some; and the sharks ate well, as they would throughout her reign.
Last of all, she visited the Witch. You’d think she’d have taken a batallion, and perhaps an array of thumbscrews and a rack or two; but she left the troops outside, and went in alone. She entered without knocking; in turn, the Witch didn’t look up.
“You told them I’d taken your voice,” the Enchantress said, without preamble. “That’s hardly a kind way to thank me for giving you new limbs.”
The Princess shrugged. “If I told them I could speak, they’d never have listened to me.” She looked at the Witch with concern. “Did they harm you?”
“Not at all. They feared me. I told them I had your voice, and they’d treat me well, or they’d never live to hear it again. Which is quite true, eh?”
Impulsively, the Princess hugged her. “I love you. You’re like the mother I never had.”
“If only the silly twit hadn’t been so fond of enchanted apples,” the Witch replied.
They looked at each other and, at this old joke between them, they both laughed like madwomen. The Witch’s laugh was hoarse and appropriately cruel; the Princess raised the rooftops with peals of Royal merriment.
The soldiers outside were uneasy. Apparently, the Princess had her voice back, but the Witch was clearly not dead; in fact, not even upset, from the sound of it. That was most disturbing. Who knows what horrible deal had been struck between the two? The soldiers looked at each other, then back at the little underwater shack. Whatever it is, they were going to pretend they hadn’t heard a damn thing. Anyone who could lose a voice and gain two kingdoms was a person to be feared and respected. Even if she did insist on feeding them raw fish sometimes.
“And I am no mermaid
I am no mermaid
and I am no fisherman’s slave.”
Our Villainous convention, “Evil Expo”, is here.
The answers to all questions in the world are all right here.