As with most of the other short stories in this book, "Maidens of the Sea" was inspired by an online writing prompt about an alternate possible origin of mermaids. Mermaids and similar beings appear in mythology all over the world, each version with a different kind of origin, from Assyrian goddesses to Greek naiads and sirens, so I doubt that one more will make a difference
The voices of my kin rise, a soft echo over the waves. Faint, to your ears, yet clear enough that you yearn to hear more.
It is a dark irony that if you and your ilk had been even a fraction so welcoming or open-minded the first time you encountered us, we would not be here now, leading you to your doom.
It has been a long time since a human has dared to visit us, longer still since one came with no motive but curiosity and a desire to know. We will indulge you, for now, without fear or favour.
Do not mistake indulgence for kindness; some of my kin are not so discriminating in their victims, and I have waited long to tell my story. You may not be so fortunate next time.
We have gone by many names over the years; mer-folk, sirens and sea-spirits being only the most common. Some legends say that we originated from a goddess who drowned herself over a lost love, and we have cousins to the far north who followed her example, dwelling in bogs and lakes and frozen ponds. Other legends claim that we were cursed to this fate, or that we are merely capricious spirits of nature. Some call us monsters, some insist that we are protectors.
All tragic stories, containing a small grain of truth, yet none quite so tragic as our true origins.
We are the forsaken ones, murdered over events that were never our fault, by those whose suspicion or greed became our death warrant.
We number mostly women, though there are some men amoung us, for ignorance and hatred born of fear does not discriminate in its victims. They are merely less inclined to see it coming, sure that it will never happen to them.
But I digress. You came here seeking answers, and I am of a mind to give them to you. You may not thank me for doing so, once you hear them.
I was born and raised on the waves, the daughter of a fisherman who could not afford to go short handed because his sons were inclined to seasickness. He ignored the whispers that it was unnatural, unlucky, to have a woman on the water, and shielded me from hearing them myself.
My brother, when our father went the way of the old, was not of a similar mindset. He had very set ideas of where a woman belonged, and cared little that I did not share them.
The sea was my first love, the only spouse I would ever need or desire. Rather than give her up, I disguised myself, running away to become a sailor. It was not a glamorous life, but I was happier than I would have been in any other.
Of course, it could not last forever. Sailors of that time were more of my brother’s mind than my father’s, and it only takes one unconscious visit to the ship’s doctor for the secret to come out.
It was my ill-fortune that my identity came to light less than a day before we sailed into a hurricane, and superstitious fear won over calm logic. I was a woman on board a ship, and an easy scapegoat for whatever misfortune befell us.
That the Sea was not such a jealous mistress, and that I had sailed with them for over five years without such an incident, was ignored.
I heard the faint song that you do now, and hoped that I would survive long enough to see the faithless crew-mates who condemned me share my fate.
They threw me overboard, forgetting that any sensible sailor learns how to swim before their first voyage. Unfortunately, one sharp-eyed fellow noticed me clinging to a line, so they fished me out, trussed me like a goose, and tried again.
My body was bound, but my spirit was not, and I refused to die in such a way. I struggled as I sank, praying to and God or spirit who was inclined to listen, that my last memory of the Sea would not be as the unwitting cause of my death.
The Sea was the one who answered. The water I breathed ceased to choke me, and the ropes that bound my legs fell away as they changed into a long tail, slender and sinuous. Those who I now call my kin found me, untying the ropes around my upper body, their voices holding the husky note I recognised from seafarers who had survived a long gale, days of breathing as much seawater as air.
I imagine you know it as well, and can hear it in my voice, though I barely notice it now, or the sting in my throat from the salt and brine that I breathe through my gills.
Not all of us who meet such a fate become sea-spirits, of course.
Those who cast themselves into the waves out of despair or guilt become merely sea-foam, largely inconsequential, but still part of the sea, for she holds many treasures, even if they did not see that worth in themselves.
The ones who sacrificed themselves willingly, or found it within their hearts to forgive their killers, they become dolphins or albatross, playful or patient, protectors and guides to those that love the sea as they did, and who they deem worthy of aid. That is not to say that all of them are saints that protect everyone, because to forgive does not always mean to forget, but at least they find peace.
It is only we, who died with anger in our hearts and vengeance on our minds, who refused to relinquish ourselves and our love for the sea, who transform into merfolk, sirens, remaining to wreak our vengeance.
We do not lure sailors to their death with beautiful singing, for our voices still hold the rasp of salt from the seawater that drowned us. Rather, our voices invoke longing, adapting to the preferences of those who hear it. We project illusions of deep, desperate desires that prove irresistible. By default, that does mean that most of those who hear our songs hear the promise of love and beautiful girls fawning over them, but occasionally it changes.
There have been a few memorable times when the helmsman had no interest in love or sex, and our songs tempted with the next installment of a series, or small adorable animals, or exotic foods. I’m still unsure of why so many yearn for a firefly, but each to their own. Sometimes we see visions of handsome men, or long conversations with a like-minded partner.
It breaks up the monotony, at least, and gives us something new to discuss. Singing about love over and over can become quite tedious after a while.
Don’t look at me like that. You may be a romantic in the bloom of youth, but I am not and have not been for a good few centuries.
But again, we are wandering off-course.
We are the victims of superstition, whether women thought to be bad luck or men who did something that made their fellows believe them cursed. We are those who died for the sake of fear and hatred, who desire blood for blood, life for life.
There are fewer of us now, as the world becomes wiser and “falling overboard” is harder and less easily dismissed. I hope there will be even less, once you have told our story, and the world realises that their doom was of their own making.
Some of my kin have taken on new forms, satisfied with the death of their murderers and disinclined to punish those who have done them no wrong. Some merely became tired, because to cling to anger is exhausting, and they decided that vengeance was over-rated. I envy them that, in a way.
Perhaps one day I will let go of my anger and join them, or perhaps the day will come when there are no new merfolk, and only I, who love the sea and my memories of her too much to give up, will remain.
One can only hope.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Easy to read and follow
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Writing reflected the title & theme