Anyway, without further ado...
Eulogy for the Water’s Daughter
King Triton stroked his beard, luxuriant and wispy, floating and teased by the ocean currents. His hair had always been a source of pride, a testament to the awesome virility of the sea king – but oh! foolish beard, dallying with the water – what could it tell of sorrow?
“Sorrow,” he repeated softly, and looked about the Great Hall to see if he’d been heard. It would not do for a son of Poseidon to succumb to the frailty of his age. And yet, on this day, he could summon none of his power. Today he mourned for Ariel, his sweet Ariel. The long life of a mermaid had stretched before her – and what had she done? She’d left him. Chosen death.
The sea witch appeared, and Triton started. He could never get used to the look of her – her ghastly human form, swimming like a frog. She had to kick her legs manically, mechanically, just to move about in the water. So why had she taken on that form? Was it that she knew he secretly longed to touch her peachy skin, smooth like a seal’s pelt?
“I come with gifts of comfort,” she said. “On this day of remembrance.”
He turned away. He couldn’t help it. It was her voice – the voice of his daughter. “I would dash out my own eyes if I thought it would remove you from my sight,” he muttered.
“Your eyes? But it is your hearing that defeats you,” she replied, swimming closer to him. “You would rip the tongue from my mouth if you thought you would get her back.”
“You tempt me, witch.” But he knew he would not do it. She was the moon to his underwater sun, as vital to his kingdom as his trident. And now she carried that voice! They’d called it the most intoxicating voice in the world. Yet his foolish Ariel had sold it, and with it, her life. “Why?” he muttered.
“Because you are getting old,” the witch crooned in his daughter’s voice, sitting in his lap. She tangled her fingers in his beard. “She sought a younger man. Is it very unbearable, Father?”
“Do not talk to me like that!” He swung a hand and knocked her away.
She did not fall, of course; but swam unconcerned before him.
“Leave me be.” Even to his own ears, he sounded defeated. His youngest daughter had thrown away her life on – what? A heartless man; a man who had trusted his judgement – wrong-headed, pitiful, human judgement, as it turned out; a man who’d fallen in love with the wrong princess. “Go on with you, witch. Your taunts are unnecessary – I lost her to that mortal prince, and nothing you can say can make it worse.”
He flinched again as his Ariel’s voice floated so beautifully from this imposter’s mouth.
“Oh, Triton,” she giggled, kicking herself towards him and grasping at a lock of his hair. “You didn’t lose her because of the mortal prince. You lost her the day you let her rise to the surface.”
He grasped his own hair, tried to pull it from her grip, but succeeded only in dragging her closer to him. “All my daughters have gone to the surface,” he said. “And all but one has returned.”
“Your favourite,” the witch returned, winding his hair about her wrist. “The one you kept locked closest to your heart. The one who longed to escape.” She settled once more into his lap. “Come, Triton. Let us mourn together.”
“You will not comfort me,” he hissed. The touch of her human skin made his flesh recoil. “It is because of you that I will no more see my daughter.”
She inclined her head. “Yes, that is right. You gave her life, Triton, and I took it away. But let me ask you this: who has caused your suffering – you, for binding her with a suffocating love; or me, for releasing her from those bonds?”
He wanted to push her away, but his arms were weary. And the witch was right: he deserved to suffer this indignity. He had not been the father he should. Hadn’t he always known that Ariel longed to escape? The king remembered his fear as she’d swum away on her fifteenth birthday, so fresh and excited. The cold finger upon his heart as he’d waited for her to turn and wave, to remember him. The heaviness upon his shoulder, when she didn’t.
When he awoke, it was late. A page stood before his throne, nervously. “Your majesty,” the man said. “The guests have arrived to honour the princess.”
And they had. While he had slept they had filled the Great Hall, and now watched him silently – row upon row of expectant faces. The sea witch sat near the front, in the place of honour. It was wrong, he thought; wrong to honour her. But he hadn’t the strength to protest.
The King of the Seas took up his trident. “You who have something to say: speak.”
And they did. One by one, his daughters, wives, and friends. They spoke of Ariel; her youth, her kindness, her goodness.
They talked until Triton could feel the words buzzing about in his head, until he could feel himself being crushed by their weight. Until he could stand it no longer.
He rose to his feet. “She was not good,” he cried. “She was notdutiful.”
The hall fell silent. He could see his daughters, their faces upturned towards him. He could see his wives, their faces turned away. “She was my daughter,” he thundered, banging his triton down sharply on the smooth floor. A crack appeared in the mother-of-pearl floor, and zigzagged across the hall. “She had one duty – and she failed.” His voice grew huge, booming about the hall.
“I will not mourn her death! I will not wail for her departure,” he shouted, letting the water about him shimmer with the power of his voice. His daughters put their hands over their ears; his wives screwed up their faces in horror.
“I am Triton,” he shouted towards the cavernous ceiling, as the first cracks appeared in the wall. He had become shrill, tearful, an old man barking at the moon. “You will obey me, my daughter!”
Triton lifted his arms above his head. His long hair coiled, and sizzled through the water. “Ariel,” he shouted, his voice becoming so loud that his subjects began to swim, frantically, out of the Great Hall, trying to hide themselves from his dreadful power. “Ariel – you will return to me.” And two bolts of not-lightning cracked from his fingertips, shattering the roof of the Great Hall, shoving the water before it into two huge waves, which crashed and rolled away from its master. The huge waves raced to the land above the seas, where it would drown the mortal prince in his bed; drown his new wife, and all of the kingdom.
The Great Hall was left split open in the plains of the dry seabed-desert, dazzled by the light of a terrible sun. Within the shattered remains of the hall, Triton’s subjects fell to the floor, succumbing to the drag of the ground beneath them. They flopped, and gasped upon the shining floor; tried to cover their bodies from the burning sun.
Triton collapsed back onto his throne, wheezing the unfamiliar air. He felt the pain of the sun and the wind as he looked out upon his subjects. “Fall into the ocean, Ariel,” he panted. His voice was weak, ancient. “Come back to me.”
Across the rubble picked the sea witch. Her strange human legs, with their stubby toes and turned-down feet, allowed her to step over his glistening daughters, his dying wives. She came to Triton and she touched him. She stroked his bedraggled beard, his hair hanging limply across his shoulder. “I can hear the water,” she told him, in that voice, the most intoxicating in the world. “It will return soon. And then I shall comfort you.”
She waved a sleek pink arm over the scene before him. “I shall comfort you all.”