The Sea Witch’s Song, Part 8
It was a long swim to the surface, and along the way I crafted my illusion. It was possible to take a different form temporarily, but only as a superficial covering, like a cloak. I hadn’t offered it to Ariel because, well, it wasn’t in my best interests and she had said, “I want to be human,” not “I want to look like a human.”
I was in such a hurry I didn’t bother to think too much about it, and when I washed up on the shore and took a second to glance at myself in the water — illuminated by the moon, as it was apparently in the middle of the night — I found I’d made a girl who looked a lot like I used to as a young girl, before I put on the (several) extra pounds and developed a habit for too much makeup.
Her hair was black and more or less straight, hanging in a fringe around a slim, pale face with darting dark eyes. Her skin was a little grey too, which I had to fix, and I noticed with some interest that I’d given her Llyr’s cheekbones. Strange.
I decided I’d call her Vanessa, after one of my mermaid classmates I’d never liked, and plopped down on a rock to wait.
It was a cool, inky night, and as the night went on a freezing fog rolled in, obscuring everything and chilling me to the bone. I sat, miserably and shivering. I heated the shell around my neck, which helped a bit, and softly hummed to myself to pass the time, marveling that I could.
I didn’t know if Eric’s feelings were simple infatuation or love, but I didn’t want to wait to find out. It was the third day and Ariel would be pushing, I knew, and there was a chance, however small, that she would succeed, and my voice would be lost. I also knew beyond any doubt, that I could not bear such a thing, and I would do anything at all to keep the two of them apart.
Including taking on the form of a girl I didn’t like remembering to enchant a human man I’d never seen and breaking a young girl’s heart.
Dawn broke slowly, fog still swirling, and I heard voices along the beach, and an animal noise, which I assumed belonged to the dog monster Flotsam had referenced (suppressing a brief stab of pain at remembering Flotsam.) I didn’t know it was Eric or not, but figured if he’d found Ariel here he must come often, and so picked my frozen self from the rock and began to walk.
I took the melody from my favorite opera. I didn’t know the lyrics, but the melody was branded in my head, as though I could see the notes before my eyes. And I could sing it, the voice of the shell soaring through the music, each note a treasure and each phrase a wonder.
I had been so caught in the song that the sudden appearance of the human startled me badly. The fog moved and there he was, standing dead in his tracks, his face white and eyes wide.
“Oh!” I said, and the surprise was totally unfeigned. “Excuse me.”
From Ariel’s descriptions it could be Eric, though I supposed humans could look alike. But I assumed from the way he was staring that it was, and some part of him remembered Ariel’s song, if not her presence.
“Do I — I’m sorry, but do I know you?” he asked, confusion falling from his eyes. His dog was eyeing me distrustfully. I wondered if they could see through illusions.
I frowned. “I don’t think so.” It occurred to me I needed to be more charming, but it’s not as though I had any idea at all how to do such a thing.
“It’s just — your voice — it’s like something from a dream, or…” he faltered, looking somewhat embarrassed. “I just — feel as though I recognize your voice. I heard you singing — I’m sorry. I’m being quite rude.”
“Perhaps we have met,” I offered sweetly. “In another world?”
He smiled a little at that. “Perhaps. My name is Eric, by the way, and yours?”
“Where do you come from, Vanessa?”
I hoped he didn’t know everyone in the city. “Just from the next city, my father is here for business. But I love the sea, I wanted to come for an early walk, watch the sun rise. I find it very peaceful.”
“That’s precisely why I come, too,” Eric said kindly. He paused, then shook his head. “Are you sure we don’t know each other?”
“I would have remembered such a meeting,” I said warmly, and he looked away, blushing slightly.
“You’re very kind,” he said. “Well, if you say so. Perhaps it was — “ He shook his head again. “No, I must be confused. I don’t want to keep you from your walk, Vanessa.”
He made to leave, and I panicked. I hadn’t wanted to use an enchantment, but I was in too deep now, and wove it into my next words. “You aren’t. Please, Eric, if you don’t mind, we could walk together?”
There was a pause as he considered, or as the enchantment wormed its way into his skin. “I’d like that,” he said finally, and we turned along the beach together, back to the city.
“Will your father be missing you?” he asked after a time.
“Oh no, not at all. I’d only be in the way.”
“In that case, you are free to join me for breakfast at my house. You will be welcomed there.” He looked a little surprised at the words coming from his mouth.
“I would be honored,” I said, inclining my head graciously.
Flotsam had mentioned Eric seemed to be a person of some importance and he looked to be so, judging from the size of the house, all impressive stonework and sweeping pathways. He seemed somewhat embarrassed by the whole thing, ducking his head bashfully as we walked along the main entranceway. Indeed, his sand-stained boots seemed a bit out of place and I wondered if he enjoyed the rich life he had.
Just inside the door, in the vast entrance hall, an older man waited. As we entered, he glanced at me with great surprise and gave a small noise of exasperation.
“Another one? Eric, my dear boy, this really is getting to be too much, what are the neighbors going to say?” he asked fretfully, eyeing me.
“We met walking on the beach, Grimsby, I think I know her, somehow — “ Eric frowned thoughtfully at me. “Maybe it was — no, I’ve lost it again.”
“Know her? Really now.” The older man frowned.
“Her father’s here on business, I just really think we’ve met — “ He paused, and his eyes went wide. “The shipwreck! Grimsby, she — did you? You rescued me!”
I didn’t know what to say. I’d been hoping he didn’t remember, and somehow, richly, it seemed too much to lie about. I looked down. “There were many men pulled from the water that day. Perhaps I was only nearby.”
“No, I remember your voice now. Grimsby, it’s her! You know I’ve been looking for her!” His eyes were happy and alight, and I felt a glow of triumph.
“Yes…I suppose.” The older man sighed. “Well, very well.”
“Come, Vanessa, breakfast will be ready now.” Eric led me to another room, not quite as large but just as lavish, and we sat at a large table, quietly. “I know it’s a bit ridiculous,” Eric said, nodding to the room.
“It’s beautiful,” I said politely.
“It’s outlandish, but you’re very kind.”
Breakfast was quiet and a bit awkward. The enchantment wasn’t particularly strong, but effective, and After breakfast, Eric said he had his own business to take care of, but he’d be happy to meet me after, in the late afternoon at the harbor.
“I apologize if I’ve been distant this morning,” he said graciously, “it’s just a busy time. But I am so pleased to have finally found you and want to properly thank you for rescuing me. I’ve just been given a new ship, I would be happy to show it to you. Meet me at the harbor around 4 o’clock.”
I acquiesced with growing triumph. It was perfect. Ariel had until the sun set until the deal became permanent, and I would have Eric tied up until then. It was simple, easy. Eric would stay under my enchantment until then, and since I really had no interest in having a human lover, once the deal was set I’d release him. He would go on with his life, I would have my voice.
Well, it was her own fault for making such a risky deal.
I know. I know. I’m getting defensive, which means I’m feeling threatened. It’s because whenever I get to this point in the story, I have the impression that whoever is listening is thinking how despicable I am.
My therapist says I get that impression because I think I’m despicable.
Actually, she’s quite right. The telling of the story seems calm above, but I was not calm. There was no logic or reason in me, only panic and desperation. The loss of Flotsam and Jetsam was too much to bear, so I forced myself not to think of it, nor to think of Triton and what might have happened to him, or about the fact that I truly did not care.
I was perfectly aware of what I was doing to Ariel, a young and far too sensitive girl who had gambled her entire existence with the belief that love works the way you think it should. But I could not let myself care, because then I might hesitate, and to hesitate was to lose. And I could not lose. Even the very thought left me shaking, not even with anger but with sheer loss, emptiness.
All for a voice that did not belong, or even feel like it belonged to me.