|Image from Deviant Art|
Ylaine closed her eyes as she sang, shutting out the world. There was no one but her and Nathan; no more conniving father, no more simpering princess, no more false Queen pretending to be her friend and then drugging her to try and remove all hope of her ever achieving her dream. All that melted away and disappeared as she sang,
"Hear my song, Prince of my heart!
Pride, forbear, and vanity, depart!
See the truth, in her shining glory,
Come near to me, and hear my story!"
She gasped as suddenly his arms were around her, and he was holding her close, whispering over and over in her ear, “Ylaine… Ylaine…. Ylaine!”
“Yes,” she whispered back, “My name is Ylaine, and I love you more than life itself.” It felt so freeing to be able to tell him how she felt! “Nathan, you have to listen to me; Queen Devaine and Princess Melinda are not who they say they are! They are only impersonating royalty; this was all a plot by an evil mermaid—a sea witch—to gain control of Overcliff and the water around it!”
Nathan pulled away in shock at the news. “What?” he gasped. "What are you even talking about?"
"Well, well!" A harsh voice cut the air behind her. "The Sleeping Beauty has awakened, and such wild tales she has to tell!"
Ylaine turned to face Devaine, while Melinda lunged for Nathan and pulled him away with her.
"Admit it!" The young woman snapped. "You aren't really the Queen of Crossway! I bet the true rulers do not even know that you are here!"
Devaine blinked in surprise, and Ylaine thought she had scored a hit.
"Do my ears deceive me?" Devaine gasped loudly. "Is this not Lady Illeinina, the stuttering half-wit under the Prince's generous patronage?" She looked around, and people nodded under her gaze. Devaine returned her eyes to the quavering girl before her. "How is it that she speaks so clearly now, when she is spouting such atrocious things about her fellow guests? Could it be, my dear, that you are not what you would appear?" She arched her eyebrows smugly.
"How dare you!"
The cry rang out from somewhere within the crowd. People parted as Giles worked his way to the center of the crowd. He jabbed a finger at Devaine while she glared at him in cold fury. "How dare you question the honor of the one who saved the Prince's life!"
"Be silent, steward!" Devaine spat. "Yes, I have heard the romantic tale—but it seems no one but my dear daughter has ever thought to consider the motive behind the rescue! Dear Prince," she turned back to Nathan, "are you aware of a second domain within the boundaries of Overcliff?"
Nathan blinked, as Melinda wrapped both arms around his shoulder. "Second domain?" He queried.
"Yes," Devaine smiled coldly. "That of... Mermaids."
A chuckle rippled through the crowd. King Theodore stepped forward. "Milady," he said to her, "you are mistaken; there have not been any mermaids in existence since my father was a very young boy."
Nathan stared at his father; he had never known mermaids existed at all!
But Devaine was nodding, and Ylaine trembled at what she might intend with this. "Ah, there you are mistaken, my Lord, for they are very much alive, and as numerous as they are strong—and there is one in your very midst!"
A gasp went up from the now-silent carnival. Everyone looked to his neighbor and under nearby crates and rent flaps.
The King drew himself up sharply, his face black as a thundercloud. "What is the meaning of this?" He demanded of Devaine.
The wily woman turned and plucked a pitcher of water from the hands of a woman standing behind her. Before anyone could move, she flung the contents of the pitcher right over Ylaine's head.
At first, several people reproached the woman for acting so crazily, but just then Melinda screeched, "Oh my! Look at her hands!"
Ylaine lifted her hands before her face. To her horror, the skin was already peeling away. Not even a declaration of love this very instant could save her now. "No!" She gasped.
Devaine was addressing the crowd. "Here is your little heroine! Here is the one who saved your prince! Did no one stop to think what business a young woman had to be swimming during a storm? Of course she saved him—she probably caused the storm in the first place!"
"That is not true!" Ylaine insisted, but the skin had already begun to slide off her shoulders, revealing her blue scales underneath.
"Merciful heavens," spluttered the King, "Devaine, what have you done to her?"
"Only exposed her true form, Theodore," Devaine explained earnestly. "She is a mermaid, who has taken human form to seduce the Prince—"
"She is a princess!" Giles insisted. "Her father is a king, she is no less noble than the Prince himself! Unlike y—"
Devaine cut him off. "Well, isn't that just fascinating! The King of the merfolk sends his own daughter up to masquerade as a human? Why would he do that? Is it because he wanted her to spy on this human kingdom, to see if there are any souls worth enslaving when they rise up and bring the entire kingdom under the sea?"
"What?" Nathan cried.
Ylaine tried to speak, but the skin slipped off her nose and covered her mouth. Her gills were beginning to loosen at the presence of water in her throat.
Devaine was not finished. "Surely you cannot think that a union between a mermaid and a human would ever be considered—and what better excuse to declare war than to accuse King Theodore of kidnapping the mer-king's daughter?"
"What?" roared the King.
Ylaine gasped to shout, "That's not true!" But her gills suddenly snapped open and she choked on the dry air.
Devaine gazed at her pityingly. "You didn't really expect us to believe you came of your own accord, did you, little fish-girl? That you came for—what was it—love?" She snorted.
Ylaine felt her knees buckle, and she fought to stay upright. "I... Did... Come... For.... Love..." She rasped, gasping furiously for each word.
"Oh, poppycock," Devaine waved a hand. "Even the Prince knows that you did not stand a chance of getting his attention without your magic voice!"
Ylaine struggled to think through the fog in her mind; what did Devaine know about her gift? She turned to look at Nathan, even as the skin from her cheek slid down her neck. "Nathan?" She whispered. "I swear, I did not deceive or enchant you—"
"But you did." He stared straight at her, unblinking. "What the Queen says is true; I harbored no thought for you, no love in my heart—until I heard you singing!"
Her heart ripped yet again. "Please! I was just—"
"Trying to seduce him," Devaine finished for her. "Yes, we know. But your little plot failed! Go on back to the water, little fish!" She snarled. "There's no one here on land for you!"
Tears slipped down Ylaine’s face for the second time.
“Nathan?” she begged.
He would not respond. Desolate, Ylaine ran from the crowd—who gave her wide clearance to pass through them—and away from the carnival, down to the sea.
There was a moment of uneasy tension, then the crowd dispersed back to its diversions. Melinda gave the arm she clutched a little squeeze.
“Well,” she sighed, “I am so glad that little hussy is gone! Now that’s over, Your—“ She stopped.
Giles and not Nathan grinned down at her.
Melinda pulled a face and pushed the serving-man away from her. “Eww!” she cried. “Where’s Nathan? Where did he go? Nathan!” She ran around the carnival as the swelling noise drowned out her squeaky voice. “NATHAN!”