Into the cave of the sea witch, the little mermaid swims. The seaweed curls up around her tail and her hands as she pushes through the curtain of slippery ocean vegetation. Inside, it’s almost black, except for a tiny hole in the cavern ceiling. For one terrifying moment, she’s afraid she’s alone in the stillness.
Finally, the little mermaid sees her. The white of one of the witch’s eyes glints across the expanse. The other eyelid is frozen shut from some ancient injury, the scar tissue ghastly. The sea woman is shoved up against the wall. The little mermaid cannot tell if she is tied to the wall by means of the green seaweed swaying around her, or if the seaweed is her hair. Her mouth is deeply puckered and her mouth is leaking something putrid that is dispersing in a cloud beside her face.
The heart of the little mermaid beats ferociously. Her instinct is to turn back. This is a place of death. But one thought of her lover above the waves and the expression on his face when her voice woke him from a stupor was motivation enough to drive her on.
With a flip of her tail, she brings herself directly in front of the sea witch. “I want to have legs instead of a tail and live on the land,” she explains.
The witch fixed her one good eye on the mermaid. “I can give ye legs, if ye wish, but know this now, once ye arrive on land with ye’r legs—“
“I know. I know,” the mermaid interrupted. “I have to give you payment for the legs, so you’ll want my voice. I’m ready to give it up.”
The witch scratched her neck with her gnarled hand. “Nah. I don’t want any payment from ye. I do not take thy voice. It just be the way of things. Ye cannot speak on land.”
The little mermaid puffed out an angry huff. “Why not?”
“Because ye be a mermaid. I can flip ye fin into feet, but I cannot swap out thy vocal cords. Sound sounds different under water than in the air. Ain’t ye seen Harry Potter?”
“Sheesh. That’s where I got me eye gouged out. Some over-zealous fan in line ahead of me. The egg in Goblet of Fire sounded like the screams of the damned in the air and like sweet music under water. Thus, if ye speak above water, ye’ll drive any living man to his grave. Tell me, missy, can ye bite thy tongue?”
“Yes,” the mermaid said positively.
The old witch eyed her up and down. Then she nodded positively. “Well, I believe ye.”
TWO MINUTES LATER
“The prince? He just died …” the sailor on the pier explained. “He was in a ship wreck and was washed ashore. Then some mermaid came to rouse him … and well … the shock done him in.”