Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Works-In-Progress Wednesday: "Princess of Undersea" Excerpt--The Wish

There was a massive ship embedded in the sand and coral down there—half of it, anyway. The stern of a large warship lay among the rock, crusted with barnacles and home to all sorts of shallow life that enjoyed the soft wood as an alternative to impenetrable rock. With a flip of her tail, Ylaine twisted around and swam down to what used to be the captain's quarters.

An older merwoman sat upon the tarnished brass bed frame. Her deep-blue tail spread out before her, as she wound her dark-red braids around her like long, thick sashes.
"Hello Nayidia!" said Ylaine, drawing near to the mermaid with skin so pale-blue it was almost white.

Nayidia's blue eyes gleamed as she smiled. "Ylaine, my little Kelpling! Do you know, you crossed my mind several times this morning as I was out searching the shipyards."

Ylaine relished the thrill that ran from her shoulders to the tip of her tail whenever Nayidia mentioned the shipyards: a vast underwater valley just beyond the Boundary filled with the wrecks of warships, cruise ships and merchant ships that had all been lost to the humans over the ages.
"Ooh!" She gushed, "What did you find this time?"
Nayidia smiled and gestured to a trunk in the corner. "Open that, my dear. I found many things to show you."

Ylaine swam over to the chest in question. Nayidia was always finding fascinating trinkets that once belonged to humans among the wrecks, and by far Ylaine was the only mermaid at all interested in the stuff.
On the top of the pile was a small human made of coral, wearing some kind of frilly covering. Ylaine explored the stiff limbs of the creature.
"Oh, how beautiful!" She gasped.
Nayidia smiled. "You like the doll? Humans like to build prettier, miniature versions of themselves."
Ylaine looked closely at the lower appendages. Though there were two, she noticed something odd. "Nayidia, don't the humans have little fingers on the bottom ones?" She pointed to the solid flipper-like appendages of the doll.
"Toes, you mean? Toes on the feet? Yes, they do." Nayidia was nearly the last of the generation who traded with humans, so she was the one mermaid in Ylaine's life who could discuss them. "The dolls don't have them because the dolls cannot move by themselves, and besides, the feet are always closed up in boots, so why shape them?"

So many new words soon bored the merprincess, so she set down the doll and moved on.
"What is this?" She pulled out something round and smooth and flat.
"That's a plate, dear."
"What's this?" Ylaine pulled out a huge mass of the sort of covering the doll had.
"Oh, that?" Nayidia laughed as Ylaine let the thing float by itself in the water. "It's called a dress. Humans wear clothes all the time."

"They do?" Ylaine swam under the thing and slipped her lithe body inside. She felt as large and ungainly as a sea cow, and every movement she tried was stifled by the waterlogged fabric. Both mermaids laughed at the comical nature of the human fashion.
"Humph! Maybe they wear these things to keep from flying away!" Ylaine concluded, swimming out again. She resumed pulling things out of the trunk.
Nayidia smiled and shook her head; she was well-acquainted with the young princess' conviction that, since the air had no surface like the water did, humans got around by floating through it, as the merfolk floated through water.
"Oh, oh! I know what this is!" Excited, Ylaine pulled a handful of pearl and diamond necklaces out of the trunk. She hung them around her neck and floated before the obsidian mirror to admire herself.

"Yes, just yesterday I found what must have been a royal cruise ship, because there were hundreds of treasures on board. You would not believe the riches beyond the reach of humans down there!"

Ylaine rattled her throat gills enviously. "Oh, I wish I could go with you!" Her eyes pleaded with Nayidia.
The older mermaid shook her head. "You know your father has forbidden everyone else from going out there."
"But you do it!"
"Guppy," Nayidia returned wryly, "I am old. I'm not the one trying to go to the surface all the time. If I die, it is Fate. You are the Crown Princess," she pointed to the cowrie shell among the pearls and gems. "And your father gave the order. You should do as he says. Maybe he'll change his mind someday."
"He'll never change his mind!" Ylaine exploded.
Nayidia frowned sympathetically. She held out her hands to Ylaine. "Come here." She picked up an implement that was dark, shiny, and prickly.
"What's that?" asked Ylaine.

"This is a comb. Humans use that to make their hair smooth and shiny. Want me to show you?" Nayidia emphasized her point by attempting to suppress Ylaine's constant cloud of violet.
Ylaine shrugged and settled down in front of her nurse. "I suppose."
Nayidia began at the very ends of Ylaine's hair, combing the teeth through the strands.

"Did you have a bad day?" She asked.
Ylaine's throat-gills rattled as she sighed and came to rest upon the frame beside her onetime nurse. "Kind of," she said, as her hair crept forward on the current to hide her face. "Father made me sing before the council again."
Nayidia drew the comb with long soothing strokes through Ylaine's hair. "Oh I'm sure it was beautiful."
Ylaine popped her gills. "Don't ask him; he always stops his ears." She pursed her lips. "Why does he do that? I mean, I know it's a fairy gift, but why do merfolk act strangely whenever I sing?"
"Did your father ever tell you just what the fairy said when she blessed you?" Nayidia asked carefully.
"He probably wasn't listening; he never listens," Ylaine complained.
"I remember your mother, Queen Yssandra, telling me the words. The fairy's blessing was 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.'"

"Wisdom to the foolish heart?" Ylaine repeated with scorn. "I wish I could sing to my father, then; his heart's as foolish as the minds of the other leaders."
"You did sing for him once, long ago," Nayidia replied quietly. "The day your mother died. You sang and soothed his grief." The comb came up as far as Ylaine's scalp.
The mer Princess spoke slowly. "And he hasn't listened since. He is too much afraid, Nayidia!" She stopped and turned to look at the older mermaid.
Nayidia gently guided Ylaine's head back to facing forward. "Why does he make you sing before every council?" she asked patiently.
Ylaine stroked the soft body of an anemone clinging to the bed frame. "Because he wants to lead a war against the humans," she answered, "and he needs everyone to do as he says in order to accomplish it."
Nayidia considered this. "And you think he makes you sing just because it is easier than having to justify himself."
Ylaine flicked her tail. "Of course! I almost wonder," she mused as the comb traced over her scalp, "if my gift is more of a curse than a blessing—but at the same time, I cannot imagine life without it."

Nayidia finished combing Ylaine's hair and fastened it not with seaweed but with a silk ribbon like what humans used.
"I could show you," she said quickly.
Ylaine turned to face her. "What do you mean?"
Nayidia took Ylaine's webbed hands in her own and explained slowly, "Ylaine, when I was a young mermaid of about your age, I too had a godmother who taught me all sorts of water-fairy magic."
Ylaine's eyes sparkled. "Really?" She breathed. "Water-fairies? I didn't know those existed."
Nayidia smiled and swam around animatedly, gesturing with her hands. "Oh yes, it used to be, many generations ago, that all the elements had Fae who could manipulate them. There were water-fairies who swam in the water as we do, and earth-fairies who could not fly, but scampered along the ground—all of them!"
Ylaine clapped her hands to her face with glee. "Oh!"
"And the water-fairies lent their magic to my godmother, who taught it to me," Nayidia finished proudly.

Ylaine stared at the mermaid who had been so like a mother to her. Never had Nayidia even hinted at such power. Why now? "So can you?" Ylaine asked. "Take away the songs?"
Nayidia settled comfortably on the bed once more. "I can do anything, my dear. Just for you—your birthday is coming, is it not?" She smiled benevolently.
"Oh yes, a few moons from now. Oh! That reminds me: father is always sad on my birthday, and I must sing to cheer him up." All this talk about not wanting her gift, and the one time it was even a possibility that she could try living without it, she could not afford that chance.
Nayidia nodded wisely. "Better not take your voice then; the poor king!"
Ylaine saw her chance slipping; her mind spun. "But—"
"Yes?" Nayidia prompted. "Something else you've always wished for?"

Her words awoke a thrill inside Ylaine, opened a desire she had tucked away forever. But Nayidia did say she could do anything, right?
"Well..." Ylaine confessed slowly, fighting to figure out the best way to ask. "I've always... I mean, I have dreamed about... I sometimes imagine... being human." There! She said it!
Nayidia blinked. "Human?"
"Just for a day!" Ylaine pleaded.
Nayidia blew a scornful stream of bubbles. "A day? What do you expect to accomplish in such a short time? True love?" She rolled her eyes.
"Oh! Nothing like that." Ylaine hastened to explain. "You see, I have always imagined my father and I becoming humans for one day, and visiting Overcliff, and I would prove to him that the humans are still very ignorant of the merfolk, and that they are peace-loving, and maybe—" her voice dropped under the weight of the hope that went with it, "maybe he'll call off the war."

Excerpts from "Princess of Undersea":
-"Undersea and Overcliff" 
-"The Witch and The Storm" 
-"The Bargain" 
-"Fish Out of Water" 
-"Walking Through Overcliff" 
-"Dining With The King" 
-"Enter The Queen" 
-"Exposed" 
-"The Exchange" 
-"Carnival Showdown"