She came out of the waves. You won’t hear that spoken aloud but it’s true. I watched it happen. The salt sparkled in her hair and parts of her skin fluoresced even in the noonday sun. The fashion at court abruptly shifted to shimmering satins in sea foam white, rich kelp green and a multitude of blues, each pierced through with metallic thread. Every face was dusted with glittering mica as they scrambled to be more than a washed-out reflection of her.
The townsfolk are differently bought. Lacemakers in the square beneath the castle will tell you of a ship of gold with sails of silver cloth that brought our queen from a distant land. Their eyes flicker fearfully up to the castle and they spin pleasing stories as they twist and spin their bobbins. They will not risk the truth.
The fishwives who sit by the dock click their teeth, purse their lips, and tell you small truths. It was not a wedding. It was subjugation. The prince did not marry, he was overthrown. They call her Stheno—gorgon, witch, sister of Medusa—in cracked whispers. Their hands are still. There are no nets to mend, no sailcloth to stitch. There are no ships to watch on the horizon. We have lost everything but fear. She let us keep that.
Our children sit in the doorways and on the steps of the town, trying to bring down herring gulls with slings. The cats are gone. The rabbits are gone. We are a sea-faring people barred from the sea and fading more with each tide; a fishing community forbidden to fish. Faces are pinched, bellies gnaw and gurgle and are ignored. Those who did not ignore the hunger pangs, or who couldn’t look at the pale, drawn faces of their children anymore, baited their hooks. They are still visible when the tide is low, out by the rocks near the harbor wall.
The king, as he is now styled, rides out often with his queen. His palpable delight stirs up the brave and the foolish. There are quiet mutters about posh boys and their desire to be ruled. The queen is an airy confection of red hair and big eyes. She is delicate, yet we have watched her break ships down into splinters. She sparkles in the sunlight. It is not the tame shine of a perfectly cut gem, but the dangerous flicker of a fisherman’s spinner, made to lure in the unwary.
Sometimes, when I forget the horrors on the rocks by the harbor walls, I can admire her. She is so perfectly fit for her purpose. We fell for the fairy tale and the romance. We thrive on stories just as we once thrived on the sea. Stories to gossip over, to sing in ballads and shanties, stories to tell at night over a corpse or as the last flickers of light die at a wedding. The mermaid who loved a mortal was a tale that enchanted us and drew us in close, until she was queen and we were snared and saw her for what she was; the beautiful glow of the angler fish, looking for prey, looking to expand territory.
The water used to sit well below the harbor wall. Most days now, it surges over the topmost stones, pushing the loose ones away and luring us all a little lower, a little closer to the sea. The high tides gnaw at the thresholds of the fisher cottages along the shore.
Every morning I think, today I will take my family and run before she annexes our kingdom for her father. The water rises inexorably. We will all run. We will have to. And then she rides through the kingdom again, sparkling in the sun, and I feel the magnetic pull of her. The water rises so slowly and this is our home. We have always loved the water that gave us our livelihood. There is nowhere else to go. And our queen is just so wonderfully…shiny.
We will stay another day.
|Eliza Aves lives in the South Downs, UK, with a husband and two children that are part robot, part dragon, and entirely wild. Sometimes there are snails. This is her first (semi)professional publication. You can find her on Twitter @theweaselspeaks.|