16 Longing

They say that longing does strange things to the mortal heart, but when it catches hold of an immortal one... Well, there's all eternity to pay.

There was once a mermaid who lived in a cave under an island in the middle of the ocean where ships seldom passed. She swam in the warm blue lagoons with her sisters and played with the bright fishes. Of course, she was cold blooded like any other fish, however much she might have appeared to be half human, but she was the most beautiful of Neptune's daughters. When a ship did sail past, she felt only scorn for the people it carried safely across the waves for she could swim wherever she needed to go.

Her favourite pastime was to sit on a smooth rock, combing her long green hair and watching the sea birds playing with the wind. One day, she got the surprise of her life for a ship passed by far closer than any ship had ever come before and one of the sailors actually leaned over the rail and waved to her. Startled, she dove right into the waves to escape his notice, but when the ship had gone past, she popped her head out of the water again to watch it until it disappeared over the horizon.

A month or two passed and then, lo and behold, the same ship sailed by and the very same sailor waved to her. This time, she merely turned away from him, haughty as a queen, but she watched the ship through her hair. To cut a long story short, as time went on this ship began to sail past regularly, until eventually, she began to look out for it and then to swim alongside it and then to call out to the sailor who had waved to her.

But of course, he could not join her in the water however much she longed for him and this knowledge threw her into a frenzy of despair. She tore her hair and gnashed her teeth and whipped up the waves with her tail. The sea acted in sympathy with her agony, resulting in a mighty storm that caught her lover's ship, sending her and all her crew to the bottom of the sea.

And now, the full force of her grief overcame her and the storm raged on and on until it even touched the flags atop Neptune's palace in the deepest depths of the sea. The king of the oceans demanded to know what was going on and when he found out, he called for the mermaid. By now, she was a pitiable sight. Her hair was lank and matted, her face was a perfect mask of grief and tears flowed unceasingly from her eyes that were almost swollen shut.

Mighty Neptune demanded an explanation but all she could say was, “I killed him!”. Exasperated, yet moved to pity by her obvious pain, he declared, “Well, if this storm continues, you'll kill a great many others. I hereby decree that you will be turned to stone because stone can feel no pain.” And he waved his arm and her body became a long, curving island with a wide cave at one end, filled with small, sharp rocks.

But Neptune was wrong. The mermaid could still feel pain even if she could not move, and the wind, blowing over the rocks that used to be her teeth carries her agony to every ship that sails past. She is calling, calling to her lover, longing for the warmth of his embrace. Yet now she is colder than she ever was, now that she is made of stone.

Of course, being able to hear her means that there is plenty of warning for any Captain to steer away from her; it would be a foolish one that let his ship crash into those deadly rocks. Yet, that high keening gets into a man's brain, confusing him so that he is unsure of the right course. And just when he is sure he has steered clear and the mermaid's wailing is far behind him and growing fainter, the fog lifts and he finds himself heading straight down her maw.


16 Longing

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