Another story? What naughty mer-children you are! Well, so long as you are ready for sleep, I suppose there is a little time. Listen closely, for this is the tale of the Mermaid’s Lament…
She sits. She waits. On the rocky outcrop reaching out over the deep undersea trench, she stares into the distance. Her vision is swallowed up by the murky depths. Occasional flashes of silvered fish fail to distract her from her vigil. Her hair is white now, her skin wizened and mottled with the hues of the sea.
From time to time, she sings a soft, tragic lament. No words, but raw feeling condensed into sound waves, sussurating through the ocean. Distant whalesong echoes her woe, predators lose their appetite and even the normally colourful clown fish become sombre. As the song fades into nothingness, is it possible the great briny ocean has become just a little more salty?
When she was young she fell in love. For that, like many of us, she was guilty. A handsome young merman caught her eye, and with a flip of a tail and backward glance, she hooked him well and truly. Fun frolics in the surf, hide and seek in the kelp fields. Lying together on the sea bed they gazed at the stars. Time flowed like water, and to all good things there comes an end. He was badly injured in a freak shark attack and lay dying, and she knew such terror in her heart that she could not believe it possible.
In desperation she sought out the Sea Hag who lived far away on the borders of the Black Sea, and begged for her aid. The Hag cackled, a knowing and crooked smile, and asked what she would be willing to sacrifice. The mermaid replied without hesitation, that she would give the Hag her heart. Such words carry great power, and the Hag was thirsty for the magical riches that a pure heart could bring to her dark arts. The deal was struck in blood, ink and venom, scratched with the spine of a Stonefish.
The mermaid fled with an elixir, which cured her love in the nick of time, joy of joys! There were great festivities and celebrations in honour of his recovery. Days passed, and the two scarcely left one another’s arms. Gradually though, the mermaid remembered the deal, and the secret markings scratched into her arm started to itch and bleed ink. She knew what she had to do. She did not tell her love, for she could not bear to see him suffer any more, and she set off to pay the Black Sea Hag her due.
The Hag was waiting for her, eagerly sharpening her bone knife in readiness. The mermaid sat patiently before her, thinking of her love. Soon, the Hag motioned that it was time, but the mermaid simply cupped her hands and held them out to the Hag. Confused, the Hag found the markings of the deal washing away in the current.
‘When I came to you, my heart was already lost to me,’ said the mermaid, softly.
The Hag flew into a rage. She realised that the mermaid spoke truthfully, and that she could no more contain the love in the young mermaid’s heart than she could find a bottle capable of holding the entire ocean. The mermaid had tried in vain to give the Hag her heart, but her two hands could only hold so much salt water. The Hag’s anger was black and poisonous, scouring the sea of life for miles around. As the mermaid fled in fear, the Hag extended a withered claw and spat a three-fold curse. If she could not have her rightfully won prize she would settle for something lesser…
The mermaid swam and swam, desperate and lost in the dark oceans. In pitch blackness she finally stopped, and listened for the beat of her true love’s heart, and followed it home. The joy at her return was short-lived as it soon became apparent that she had been struck completely blind by the Hag’s curse. Merfolk find it difficult to cry, so the two lovers held each other and sang together. He sang to her of the world of sights, and she sang of the joy in her heart.
Days turned to weeks, to months and years. The tides came and went, the moon cycled inexorably, and the two grew old together. But when it was time to die, no children sang with them. The Sea Hag’s curse was bitter indeed, but even then her thirst for revenge was not quenched. The mermaid finally lost her love to time and found herself alone in silence, isolated from the flow of the world about her. She remained trapped in a bubble of sorrow. The final part of the Hag’s curse was fulfilled, stripping the mermaid of her mortality and condemning her to live alone, blind and barren.
The mermaid sits. And waits. The same rocky outcrop provides her with something solid to cling to in her dark and lonely world. Her eyes glisten pearl white in the ocean gloom. She sings, pouring the sadness of her heart into the ocean, filling the sea with her tears. Hermit crabs emerge from their shells in wonder, jellyfish ignore their prey, clumsily escaping from deadly filaments. But through all this, any who venture close enough can see that the mermaid is still smiling.
As they drift off to sleep swaddled in their kelp blankets, all good little merfolk can hear an answering call from the deep ocean. Whether it is just an echo or the answering call of her lost love, I certainly don’t know. But I know what I choose to believe!