Dear readers, tonight with us is a mermaid princess, desperately trying to avert war — even if it means transitioning into a human.
Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?
This might come as a shock to most people who haven’t met me, but I wasn’t always a land-walking human. I used to be a Mermaid, living in the Channel between Overcliff and the mainland. The mer-kingdom is called Undersea, and it was once much shallower, I’m told, back when the humans, the fairies, and the Merfolk all engaged in trade with one another. That ended, and instead of building taller as the years went on, the Merfolk dug deeper to build their towers, until the “floor” of our city lay deep in the shadows of the ocean. We didn’t venture much higher than the tallest Watchtower at the center of the city, and the only humans we ever saw were the drowned ones that fell with their wrecked ships. It was only by a miracle that I was ever able to not only reach the surface, but be able to exchange my tail for legs and walk among the humans, to breathe air and live as they do.
Do you have any cherished memories from your childhood? What was the one thing you wanted more than anything else when you were young?
Well, I suppose the two are sort of related; they both have to do with my mother. You see, when I was still very young, my mother disappeared, tangled in the net of a fishing boat passing through the Channel–at least, that’s as much as anyone knows. I have vague memories of her, looking up into her kind face as she held me in her arms, sitting in her throne next to the King, my father. More than anything else, I would want to see her again. Her disappearance is what stoked my father’s anger against the humans, such that he would use my magical Gift of Song to sway the minds of his councilors to bend to his will. More than anything I just want my family to be whole again, so that I don’t have to be afraid of what might happen as a result of too many rash decisions!
What do you mean by “Gift of Song”?
I mentioned before about the humans, the Merfolk, and the fairies living in harmony with one another. Back in the days of old, the Merfolk and the humans would trade with one another, and every Great Moon, the fairies would come and bestow gifts upon humans and merfolk alike. They chose infants to gift, since each fairy only had one Gift to give, and there weren’t as many of them. That ended when the human King seemed to arbitrarily decide that the fairies were no longer welcome among them, and they set up gates of iron and other repellants to drive the fairies away and ensure that they couldn’t ever come back. (I have since learned that the human King’s decision was not arbitrary, but borne of great tragedy, similar to my father’s own decision to go to war) At the next Great Moon Rising, a few fairies came to bestow Gifts on some Mer-children, and to tell us that this would be the last time they would come. I was the last infant born before that time, so I received the last fairy Gift: the Gift of Song.
According to my godmother, the fairy who gave the Gift spoke thus: “May the music of your voice bring comfort to the heavy heart, courage to the fearful heart, wisdom to the foolish one, and truth to the hearts darkened by falsehood. May those whose hearts are noble be drawn by the sound of your Gift.”
It followed that whenever I sang or even spoke, my voice would compel all who heard it to listen. Unfortunately, after my mother disappeared, my songs would only remind my father of her disappearance, and he constantly refused to listen to me, barely letting me speak in his presence, much less sing at all, except on the anniversary of my mother’s disappearance, when he would be too distraught to protest. When he decided that he wanted war against the humans, though, he met opposition from several wiser councilors–so instead of heeding them, he found a use for me, bidding me to sing for the councils, so that they would comply with whatever he said. My “Gift” became something horrible to me, something that others used for their own purposes, because I could never use it for the purpose I really wanted: to comfort my father, and help him see reason in all the hurt and bitterness he carried.
What can you tell us about your latest adventure?
Well, I became human because I wanted to prove to my father that they weren’t malicious and just biding their time, waiting for a chance to send down their best divers with giant nets and sweep us all up for food like so many sturgeon. Honestly, when I first learned about the potion that would make me human for a day, the first thing I wanted to do was acquire two doses of it, so that my father could come with me and we could just be humans for a day and find out what they were really like. I suppose a part of me thought that sharing a moment like that could pave the way for more of a discussion between us of the best course of action, rather than letting him shove me in front of the council and then ignore me when he got what he wanted.
Well, imagine my surprise when the very next day, a human suddenly drops from the surface right next to me! I caved to my first instinct and pulled him back to the surface–but after that moment, I just wanted to find him again. I didn’t even care that only one dose of potion was ready.
Little did I know, the situation on the surface would change my life forever.
What did you think when you walked on land for the first time?
The first time my face broke the surface and I breathed air with human lungs–I was both intrigued and disappointed.
I was intrigued because it was all very new–I had never felt my own skin or my hair when it was dry, before, and nothing quite prepared me for the pull of gravity I felt because air is lighter than water. That, of course, was chief among my disappointments: the fact that I couldn’t float through the air like I could through water. The feeling of sand and gravel and dirt under my feet was very different–harsher, you might say–than feeling the water’s current over my tail-fluke. I missed my scaly, streamlined body, and I thought I would never get used to the way the muscles and joints on my human body bulged and hung off my frame in the strangest places! More than once, I considered abandoning the whole thing and diving right back into the water, especially when it came to trying to figure out how to move, if I couldn’t fly. But every time, I thought about proving my father wrong, and I thought about finding that human I rescued, and those two things motivated me to keep going–and the rest, as the humans say, is history!
What was the scariest thing in your adventures?
Probably the scariest moments for me were all the times I transitioned between being a mermaid and being human. The first time I changed forms, after taking the potion to make me human, was the absolute worst pain I had ever experienced! I could literally feel my tail being torn in half, and all the fine cartilage hardening and thickening into bone.
The transformation back into a mermaid, when the potion began to wear off, was a lot more gradual–probably because the magic works faster in the presence of water than it does in the air–but still, I can clearly remember what it felt like to see my human skin almost peeling away over my scales, and the bones in my legs slowly softening again, and sticking together… Thank the fates I will never have to feel so helpless again! The next time I resume my mermaid form, it will be intentional and it will be temporary–anything else, and I won’t even try it! I would rather remain human for the rest of my life than go through something so horrible again.
Beyond that, I think what scared me the most was the realization that perhaps my choice would not have any effect at all, that my efforts to save the humans from impending doom would be ignored like my father ignored me–or worse still, that he might see them as vindication for his warped views, and both sides would be worse off than if I had done nothing at all!
What do you miss most about being a mermaid?
I miss the speed at which merfolk travel. Underwater locomotion and the fact that our bodies were built more like those of fish meant that we could use our tails to propel us through the water, and even if there were many crags and towers all around, the open water made for faster travel from one end of the kingdom to the next. There is definitely no chance to do that on land, thanks to something I have learned is called “gravity”, keeping all things on the surface firmly tethered there, forced to walk between, among, and upon the crust instead of being able to float far above it, in the free sky.
This might be a bit vain, too–but I miss having purple hair! I looked very different as a mermaid than I do now as a human. My skin was a lovely shade of light grey-blue, and my hair was very long and bright purple. My tail was an iridescent black, that showed glimpses of other colors when it caught the light just so.
As a human I just have pale skin and dark hair–but it doesn’t show other colors like my tail did–and because of “gravity” I couldn’t just let it grow long, lest it weigh me down, so I’ve had to cut it. (also something I rarely had to do as a mermaid!) There is so much more! Making friends with fishes, swimming off to explore sunken ships (even though that was expressly forbidden by my father), finding spaces alone for myself when I needed to, where no one else dared go, and I could relax in the open water and let it carry me without needing a place to rest or sit or even stand–I could go on for quite a while! Perhaps someday, when the fairies return, someone will know a way to let me experience that life again, even if it’s only for a short time.
What is the best thing about being human?
The best thing, as far as I can tell, is the way human senses function so differently than my mermaid senses did. In the water, sound processes differently–there is a lot more diversity in the sounds surface animals make, from the heavy lowing of a cow to the high, light twitter of a bird. Nobody in Undersea could make music like the artists in Overcliff (the human kingdom). I’m quite enjoying this rich new dimension of history that extends beyond our little Channel!
The colors are different, too; in the water, everything takes on kind of a blueish, greenish tint because of the refraction, but on the surface, the dominant color is red and brown–there is just so much variety in that one small change!
I like that I can really make a difference now, bringing our kingdoms together. I couldn’t really do that, as the only child of a very over-protective father, heiress to a kingdom dominated by fear and isolation–now that we can know the truth, there is hope and optimism!
Tell us a little about your friends.
As a mermaid, I didn’t really interact with other merfolk–especially after my mother disappeared, my father kind of liked to keep me closed off, keep me “safe” (or so he thought) and strictly guard my movements and interactions. My Gift kind of grew a stigma around it, thanks to my father’s penchant for using it for his own purposes, to warp and control instead of help and support. About the only merperson I interacted with on a regular basis was Nayidia, who moved into the palace to become my godmother after my mother vanished.
She was a fine, strong merwoman, very beautiful, with long, red braids that she played with, and a shimmering blue tail with a filmy fluke. She and I would often explore sunken wrecks together; she knew a lot more about the surface world than I did, because she was about my age when the fairies were still coming to trade with merfolks and humans. I loved the way she seemed to be the only one who really understood me, and didn’t fault me for the way I felt about my father.
After I became human, I happened across a young man named Nathan, whom I didn’t really like at first, but then as we fell to talking (and he didn’t seem to have any problem understanding my terrible stutter!) we both figured out that not only was he the very man I rescued two days before, but then he astonished me further by revealing he was the prince of Overcliff! I think that very patience was what won me over, in spite of all efforts to drive us apart (orchestrated, as it turned out, by a nefarious enemy who wanted to use the weak humans as puppets to control both Overcliff and Undersea), and also the fact that in helping and supporting him, I was saving my own homeland–needless to say, he is someone who has become very important to me!
My other friend is Giles, the king’s steward. He wasn’t quite sure what to think of me at first, this strange, stammering, pale giant of a woman (mermaids are naturally around eight feet long from the tops of our heads to the tips of our flukes; when I transformed into a human, much of that length remained, I stand just under seven feet tall, which is taller than most human men) wearing an old, moldy dress (something Nayidia and I had found on a shipwreck, because she insisted that I needed to wear something as a human, just so they wouldn’t suspect)–but gradually, he began to accept me. Even when Nathan would behave a bit distracted by his own whims, Giles demonstrated his support and watched over me; when I began to lose my human form and needed to revisit the water for some more potion to stay human, Giles was the one I trusted with the truth, and he helped me.
Ironically, the things I accomplished since becoming human have also served to bring me closer to my father. I cannot inherit his throne like I should, since I cannot be permanently a mermaid ever again, but he has taken to bringing some mermaids from the city up to visit me, and indicated on more than one occasion that one in particular seems to strike him as a suitable heir for his throne. As Merfolk tend to live long, aging slowly, not prone to diseases, generally only killed by wounds or weapons, there is plenty of time yet for my father to rebuild his own relationship with his subjects, now that he is not cutting them off or trying to manipulate them with my Songs anymore.
Any romantic involvement?
In case it wasn’t clear from my answer above, Nathan and I are betrothed now. He has proven that he will go to great lengths for my sake, even when I thought I had nothing to offer him. He might feel like he owes me his life, but I owe him just as much, since his leadership and wisdom all but saved both our kingdoms from a terrible fate!
Whom (or what) do you really hate?
I hate those who want to use power to control those around them. Whether that power comes from authority or magic makes no difference. My father had plenty of authority as king, but instead of using it to lead, he tried to control people with it, and especially through me and my magical Gift of Song. For so long, I was afraid of this Gift because I could only see it used in a controlling capacity, and that was the last thing I wanted. I had to learn how this Gift could be a benefit, the way the fairy who bestowed it intended for it to be used, to avoid the trap of controlling.
In addition, I have seen firsthand how succumbing to the allure of power that comes from magic can literally destroy someone. Coming face to face with a gossamer really shocked me to my core. To know how close we came to being overtaken and controlled by such a powerful being still haunts me to this day. The one called Dayina is no longer a threat—but how many gossamers still exist? Any mermaid who learns water-fairy magic could still become a gossamer, the same as any human learning fairy magic could become a witch. We may have outwitted one this time, but the threat remains.
What’s your favourite room in the castle?
My choice is probably split between the library and the garden.
I love the library because it is warm and peaceful, and I have found books to be an excellent tool for me to learn how to think more like a human. All the amazing adventures and the ideas humans have—just the fact that they have figured out a way to write it all down, rather than depend on history-tellers to remember everything is astonishing to me. Nathan teases me quite a bit because sometimes I have a hard time telling which books are made-up stories about not-true things that humans dream up to entertain themselves, and which are real, true histories—but if both kinds of writing help me understand this world I am living in, then where is the harm?
The gardens I love because they remind me most of swimming along the seabed. The plants and flowers and trees that flourish on the surface are very different from the ones I am used to–but even in the seasons when the plants “go to sleep”, as Nathan describes it, I find a still and peaceful charm on the landscape. There is always something green to see on Overcliff, no matter what the season!
What does the future hold for you?
Well, for one thing, I have a wedding to plan! And poor Giles has been saddled with arranging the day of Nathan’s coronation. We have decided to wed after Nathan becomes King, and it is crucial to both of us that both of these events happen before King Theodore gets much older! Nearly being overthrown was bad enough, but then on top of that, having to rectify all of the terrible policies enacted by his own Royal Council is a maddening, stressful business that weighs on him more than ever! But at least the King has Nathan and I to help shoulder that burden, and I’ve ensured that the kitchen is serving up plenty of strengthening foods, supplementing those foods grown on land with additional fare from the Undersea gardens. He will see his son happily married and sitting on the throne before he passes his spirit on to the Great Beyond, I am sure of it!
Can you share a secret with us, which you’ve never told anyone else?
After exposing the fact that I wasn’t naturally human, and that my singing voice is enchanted to overwhelm a person’s free will (Nathan called it “hippo-tizing” or something), we swore that there would be nothing hidden from each other, that we would be open and honest with ourselves and each other and give the other person space to express that same honesty without fear of judgment. Be that as it may, in the days that followed, I have had strange dreams every night since discovering a certain book in the royal library. It’s a very unassuming book of tales by one “M. Sande.” I thought it would be rather diverting to read about mermaid tales written by a human who had never seen an actual mermaid (if human artwork depictions are any indication) but imagine my shock when I found the descriptions to more or less for what we actually look like. One tale tells the story of a fisherman whose line is snarled in a mermaid’s hair—I found it eerily similar to the story of my mother’s disappearance. Another described a group of friends going boating and getting overturned in a storm, just like the day I first met Nathan and saved his life. Of course, in the fictional version, the lone survivor washes up on a beach and gets taken in by a local villager.
The dreams seem to be extensions of these stories: a mermaid washes up on a beach and joins a carnival, a strange female in a hat stares at me with round, green eyes as a strange balloon hovers over her hand, and a few times, I’ve even dreamed that Nathan was a merman, and I couldn’t remember him at all! I might tell him about these things… eventually. Not just yet, though. It’s not like they’re going to cause any sort of problems between us, not like a real secret… right?
Leslie Conzatti is a blogger, author, and avid enthusiast of all things book-related. Residing in the Pacific Northwest, she currently works as an elementary school paraeducator–leading small groups, supervising children outside the classroom, and providing in-class support for teachers. Since 2013, she has been running a writing/review blog called “The Upstream Writer”, where she posts original serials, excerpts from current and past projects, updates on her writing, and featured reviews of independently-published titles. In 2016, she released her first fairy-tale re-telling, Princess of Undersea, a twist on the tale of “The Little Mermaid.” Since then, she has had a handful of stories published in various anthologies. In 2020, she re-launched Princess of Undersea as the first in a series, the Undersea Saga, as opposed to a stand-alone. Books are Leslie’s passion, and she endeavors to use her words to support and inspire children’s imaginations, independent creatives, and quality literature wherever it happens.
You can find Ylaine on the pages of Princess of Undersea.
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