What happens when a mermaid has to go on land? Mari finds out when her soul is stolen in Balanced Scales, a retelling of the Little Mermaid. This is book one of Untold Tales, a series of standalone fairy tale retellings each following a heroine who has to save herself and has an animal companion. For Mari, that's Shelbie the seal (who becomes a dog when Mari becomes human!) Read on for an excerpt!
Copyright 2019 Laura Greenwood
I didn't want to admit it out loud, but the size of the buildings intimidated me. We built upwards in the city under the sea too, but it wasn't anything like this. There, I was able to swim to the surface to get away from them. Here, not so much. I actually felt jealous of Aaron and his ability to turn into a wisp of air. It would make the whole place much less imposing.
Shelbie barked at nothing, her attention completely grabbed by whatever it was that had distracted her. For all I knew, it could be nothing more than a strange smell coming from the bakery down the street. Or a cat. At least I felt prepared for the human world in some ways. I knew what things were and how to use them thanks to the mer who'd successfully been here and passed down stories. Not one of them had lost their soul though. Probably because they hadn't been idiots and gone above the water before eighteen.
I tripped over my own feet, catching myself on a nearby wall.
"How long does it take to get used to these things?" I asked Erickson, not really expecting an answer.
He shrugged. "We normally learn to walk at between nine months and a year old."
"A year?" I echoed. That was just...I couldn't comprehend what he was saying.
"Well, it depends on the child and the environment, but that's about average. Normally we're walking well by the time we're fourteen months old."
"You seem confused."
"I am a bit." I pushed away from the wall and steadied myself, trying to find the centre of gravity that worked for me best. "First off, I don't have a year to learn how to walk."
"That's true." He chuckled. "Though you do seem to mostly have the hang of it."
I didn't tell him that was because my legs were created with magic and that probably gave me a head start.
"When did you learn to swim?" he asked, apparently not noticing my silence.
"I didn't. We're born able to swim." Which was why the whole walking thing surprised me. How did humans get along with being so vulnerable while they were children? That just seemed dangerous.
"I've heard babies can swim as soon as they're born too," he mused. "But most parents don't leave them in the water long enough."
"That's a shame. There's nothing as beautiful as being able to go for a swim."
He scoffed. "I wouldn't be so sure."
"Have you been back in the water since?"
"In two days? Heck, no. I've stayed well away and plan to for a long time to come."
My heart sank despite my wishes. If he didn't like the sea, then there was no chance for the two of us to have anything more than friendship for now. I wasn't sure why that disappointed me as much as it did. I'd work it out later.
"Sorry, I hadn't considered how short an amount of time it had been," I admitted.
"That's okay. It's not anything against the sea, but I can see how it would bother you, even if I don't mean it to." He held out his arm, and I took it gratefully. I needed as much help as I could get.
"I know. I feel the same about land sometimes. We've lived all of our lives in one place, the other is as foreign to us as anything. Just like it's taking me time to get used to land, I'm sure it's just the same for you and the sea."
I stumbled forward, glad for the support he was offering. Without it, I was sure I'd end up flat on the floor without any chance of getting anywhere.
"Do you know where we're going?" I asked.
"I have a lead, but I'm not sure how good it will turn out to be."
"Anything is better than nothing." And I meant it. While Demetra had been as helpful as she could have been, she hadn't told me where I needed to go once I was here.
"That's very true."
"How did you find the lead?" I asked.
"My friend works in the magic quarter. He said they were experimenting on something new and it might be linked to what I'm looking for."
I gasped. "They're using souls to make magic?"
"How else would you do it?"
I shook my head. Magic wasn't something I could do, but I believed it was a part of me. Just like it was the rest of the mer. I'd heard rumours of other creatures like us too, though I'd never seen one. I wasn't about to ask Erickson about it though. I didn't want to tip any listening ears off that there was more stuff they could harvest from the magical world.
"I've never tried," I admitted. "Magic isn't really a thing for us."
"But mermaids are magic," he countered.
"We're born of magic, but we don't do anything else, really. Some of us have skills with potions though," I added, thinking of Demetra. But she was the only one I knew about. As far as I knew, there wasn't anyone else in our city who could do what she could. Though there might be in some of the other mer cities around the world. If I got my soul back, I was going to travel. I would see everything I could about the world. Even if that meant long swims and lonely nights.
"We're never taught about mer," he mused.
"Not even a mention?" That was interesting. We were taught all about humans from as soon as we could walk. But then, I guessed that made sense. Humans were more of a threat to us than we were to them.
"Just stories. Those from sailors. There is one legend, about a mermaid coming on land to try and marry a Prince."
"We have that one too," I responded. "Every step she took was painful."
"Not unlike yours now." He turned slightly, giving me a cheeky grin but not taking his eyes from where we were going. I liked that. It showed that he at least had some consideration for my unstableness.
"I wouldn't say it hurts to step. It's just not the easiest thing for me to do," I countered. At least, I didn't feel like knives were slicing through the soles of my feet every time I set one down. Which was how bad the legend said it was.
"Good to know. What happens at the end of your version of the story?"
I shrugged. "Much the same as in your version, I guess. She falls in love with the Prince, he with her, they get married and live happily ever after."
Erickson's face fell. "That's not the same as our version," he responded. "Ours is a lot more sinister. She loses her chance to marry the Prince. When her sisters find out, they barter for a dagger. The mermaid could return to the sea if she stabbed the Prince through the heart with it."
I shuddered. "That's horrible. Did she do it?" If she had, then maybe it would explain why humans seemed to be so against the mer.
"No. She turned into sea foam and disappeared into the air. Some versions say she's taken pity on by some sylphs and became one of them."
"Sylphs?" I'd never heard of them and had no idea what he meant. They certainly weren't part of the stories I'd been told as a child.
"I don't know how to explain them. They're made of air and hang around in the atmosphere."
"And what do they do to her?"
"I'm not sure. In our version of the story, mermaids don't have souls. When they die they turn to sea foam and just cease to exist."
I laughed lightly as we turned down another street. "I can assure you, that's not what it's like."
"I guessed. You can't have a soul stolen if you didn't have one to begin with."
"Which do you think is the true version of the story?" My words came out barely above a whisper. Part of me didn't want to ask at all. Especially if it would mean he said he thought his version was the right one. If that was true, then how had my people gotten souls to begin with...
"Neither. I think it's nothing more than a story. Each side will tell it the way that puts their own people in the best light. Just like with every other legend like that."
"I suppose..." Though I didn't like to think of the mermaid I'd heard so much about as nothing more than fiction. She'd been an inspiration to so many young mer who wanted adventure. Not so much on land, but out in the open sea.
"You never know, maybe one day they'll be telling our story like they do hers," he said jovially.
I gave him a weak smile. Maybe they would, though that might not be a good thing. So far, I didn't feel like there was anything to learn from my tale. Other than not to go above the water before eighteen. And even then, no one would be able to tell that story until the young mer were above that age anyway. It was a vicious circle that couldn't be changed. At least, not as far as I could tell, anyway.
A complete series of fantasy fairy tale retellings where the heroines aren't afraid to save themselves and each has a magical familiar. Each book can be read on its own.