I looked down at my granddaughter. Her name was Eleyla. She was so beautiful just like her mother. Her fin was golden, pure sunlight creating a contrast to her darker skin. Her golden eyes looked directly into the sun, taking in all the energy of the sun which glowed in the blue sky. She turned to me and asked “What is it grandma, what are you wondering about?“
I smiled at her and she smiled back at me “Oh, I just had to think about how much you’ve grown. You look so much like your mother now.“
Her golden glow darkened for a moment. Her mother, my daughter was killed by some poisonous black water the strange walkers had leaked into our kingdom 50 years ago. Strange walkers were different than we were. They were not like mermaids. They did not live by the rules of nature and the coming and going of the sun but had created their own rules a long time ago. They broke from nature and created their own rules of steel and fire.
Me and my granddaughter were mermaids of the Golden Sea, one of the seven kingdoms of the merpeople. Our fins were golden, orange or yellow. My own one was yellow and my eyes were orange like the rising sun. My hair had already turned white. I was one of the oldest mermaids in our town, 307 years of age. My granddaughter was only 25 years old and had known her own mother for only 5 years. But she always kept her hairstyle the way she used to wear it. She always let it grow very long so she could weave pink and golden pearls within them, creating a stream of pearls in dark hair like the milky way.
We never talked a lot about her mother. I had tried but she would always evade it, find something else to talk about.
“How was she like?“ Eleyla asked and I looked at her wondering what had changed.
“She was just like you. A gift from the sun. A little sun that had dropped into the ocean. A golden fin and golden eyes, a singing voice that would make every coral and sea plant revive and a face so beautiful all mermen and some mermaids would want to kiss her every day. The way you do your hair is just the way she did it. But this I told you a long time ago. You are becoming more like her with every day.“
“I wish she had not been so reckless. I wish she would have been more careful.“
“Well, the coastline is a dangerous place. She always was a curious mermaid. That was a part of her character. And one day she went too far.“
“I know.“ Eleyla interrupted. “She swam too close to the strange walkers. Or too close to what they were doing by the ocean. She suffocated in their black water.“
“I think they call it oil.“ I said quietly, wondering why she was talking about all of this now. She never really had before. Me and her grandfather had told her stories about her mother from time to time but she would always change the topic.
“I hate them.“ Eleyla said and I could sense it came from the depths of her heart. She really meant it.
“I know you do. I don’t really like them either.“
“Why haven’t we killed them all?“ Eleyla wondered and looked at me. I could understand her hatred but I would not want her to voice such evil thoughts.
“Eleyla, remember, you are a mermaid of the Golden Kingdom, of the Southern Sea. The sun is our companion. She shares her light with us and gives us life. We in turn, share this life with corals and all the other creatures of the sea. We do not take life unless darkness itself threatens us.“
“I know. But they are not like us. They are not sea bound. We have nothing in common.“
I sighed and looked into the sun with my orange eyes. Her light filled me with strength and warmth. It was time to tell my granddaughter an ancient story. A story that was sung to mermaids of the Southern Sea by golden corals a long time ago.
“You might learn that we mermaids are not as innocent and wise as you might like to think. We made a lot of mistakes in the past.“
Eleyla looked at me, now concerned.
“Let me tell you a story of our people.“
A long time before the strange walkers built towers of glass and steel, before they stole the fish and whales from the ocean, before they cut down their trees, they lived by lakes, rivers and by the sea. It was a difficult life and often dangerous, for the water was not their friend and could kill them if the currents were too strong. Unlike mermaids they were unable to breath under water. But they lived by the great waters and by the coastline because great waters provided them with food like nothing else could. Back then, the strange walkers were a young people and the merpeople were not that old themselves but far more developed than the strange walkers because they had the gift of magic. In those times, the merpeople were much more open minded than they are today but they kept their distance from the strange walkers. They knew they liked eating fish and that was fine because they only took as much as they needed to feed their young, like any other hunter who cared for their offspring had to do. The merpeople knew that. As long as they kept their distance the strange walkers were nothing they had to worry about. Besides, in those times merpeople had much bigger problems. Creatures of the dark, kraken, black serpents and giant sharks were hunting the merpeople. The water dragons, majestic beasts with bright blue scales that were able to breath water and blue fire, a fire that was so hot it burned under water, helped and protected the merpeople. But there were some monsters that only came out in the dark, when the water dragons were asleep, creatures without names that would snatch mermaids and mermen away and they would never return. This is why a lot of merpeople settled to live in areas of the sea that were calmer and the sun would shine twelve hours into the sea all year long. So the merpeople could have protection for at least half of the day. But when night crawled into the sea and the shadows spread further until the sea was black like the kraken’s ink, unspeakable monsters returned and would snatch away mermaids and mermen that were not good enough fighters or were not quick enough to out swim those kings of the night. In these darkest of hours the merpeople were thinking about the sunlight and its glittering rays touching the sea gently. And when night turned to day again all merpeople would take an hour or two of their time and swim to the surface to take in all the light and all the warmth of the sun. Soon their fins‘ scales caught the sun’s colour. Then the fins of mermaids and mermen turned golden, yellow and orange. Even their eyes turned golden and yellow. They discovered that with those newly evolved eyes they were able to communicate with the sun. And the sun spoke to them with a voice that appeared to be all powerful but kind at the same time, like a mother talking to their beloved children. In visions and images the sun passed down her secret knowledge to her sea children “I have heard about your struggles at night. My grandchild, the moon, told me all about what happens to you when I am not around. And I am so sorry that in this most dangerous time I am not there to help you. But let me tell you about all my secrets. As you have mastered the power to bend water, so let me teach you how to control fire and light, so it may protect you in the darkness.“
And the sun taught all merpeople how to capture the sunlight with their hands and how to weave and harness its energy and magic until fire erupted from their fingertips. Some merpeople were even so advanced that they could capture the essence of light itself and create little suns in their very own hands. They were able to take that light with them to their underwater stone and coral palaces. At night they lit up all the corals in all the colours of the rainbow and their heavenly fires drove away all the dark shadows of the night. No mermaid or merman was snatched away by the monsters anymore. When the sun had taught the merpeople everything she knew about her fire and light she did not speak to them anymore except for one warning “The fire I have given you is a blessing in the cool and wise hands of your people. But be careful. It can do as much harm as it can do good. Fire is a fickle friend.“
The merpeople did not know exactly what the sun, which from now onwards they called their mother, meant by that. Merpeople were water creatures, they did not know what fire could do outside the element of water.
Centuries passed and it became merpeople tradition that the younger mermaids and mermen would practice their fire and light skills along the coastline where the water was calmer and the waves easier to handle. A young merman named Atoll and his sister a curious mermaid named Nia were practicing their fire skills when they saw someone walking along the beach. They were throwing fireballs to each other, catching them and throwing them back. They hadn’t noticed that they were being watched until now. But it was just a strange walker, one of those fragile creatures, that looked so much like the merpeople but were so different in so many ways.
“What shall we do?“ Nia asked her brother.
“I don’t know.“ He said nervously.
Nia swam towards the strange walker. It was a little girl, just like her actually. They had the same skin colour but the girl’s dark hair looked messy and not as full and healthy as Nia’s. And of course, Nia had an orange fin glittering golden, whereas the girl was very skinny and had a hungry expression in her dark eyes. Life on land must be so hard, Nia wondered and smiled at the little girl. The girl smiled back. Nia swam even closer and then created a fireball, shining bright and white in her hands. The girl moved back, afraid and ran away.
“I think they don’t know about the magic of the sun and her secrets.“ Atoll said.
“I suppose so…“ Nia said, surprised and wondered what life must be like without fire and light.
The next day Atoll and Nia returned to practice in the water by the beach. After a while, they noticed again that they were not alone. This time an older strange walker and the little girl stood by the beach. The older one was a man, he looked very strong but had a tired expression in his brown eyes. Nia and Atoll wondered if this was the girl’s father. This time Atoll approached them. Full with wonder, as he had never seen two strange walkers up so close, he gazed at them with his golden eyes. And they, in turn, looked at him full with wonder as they had never seen a man with a golden fin, golden eyes and such a strong muscular body. Atoll moved closer and closer. The man and the girl sat down, staying quiet, as if to say, they do not fear the golden man from the sea. Atoll had almost reached them. He was at that point in the water where the waves broke and fell on to the sand on the beach. The little girl went towards him. He remained still, wondering what the girl was about to do. He smiled at her and she smiled back. She stretched out her hand and gently touched his wet cheek. Atoll smiled even more and could feel the girl’s warm touch, hot blooded, not like a merman or a mermaid’s touch which was quite cool. A little bit of dust remained on Atoll’s cheek, dust the little girl had touched on the dry land where life must be so much more different than in the wide ocean. The dust on his cheek smelled of minerals, salty and scents he had never encountered. It was a similar smell merpeople only encounter when they are out at sea and the wind carries sand and dust far out onto the ocean. Her father called for the little girl in a language Atoll and Nia could not understand. The girl smiled at Atoll again and he smiled back. Then the two strange walkers walked away. Atoll swam back to Nia who touched Atoll’s cheek rubbing some of the wet dust off his face and looked at it closely.
“It is so strange. Isn’t it? It feels like the texture of sand on the bottom of the ocean, yet it smells of an entirely different world.“
“She smelled like it too. Most of her body was covered in that dust.“
“I wonder if they like to wash it off or like to keep it on their skin.“ Nia wondered.
“I hope they come back tomorrow.“ Atoll said.
And his hope was fulfilled when, on the next day, not only father and daughter came back but the mother was there as well. Or at least that was what Atoll and Nia thought she was, as she looked a lot like the little girl. Just like the man she looked quite skinny and in comparison to the other two she looked the least healthiest. Atoll and Nia started their fire practice, throwing fire balls to each other and creating fire waves that reached high up into the air and then collapsed on the blue waves again. Yellow blazing fire melted back into the all powerful blue green waves. The three looked at them amazed. The woman coughed from time to time and every time she did Nia looked over to her.
“I think she is sick.“
“She definitely looks like it.“ Atoll answered.
Nia swam towards her. If it was an illness her healing mermaid powers that were given to her by the sun, combined with the strength of the ocean, might be able to heal the woman. With a gesture, she made the woman come closer. She walked a couple of steps into the water looking with her big brown eyes into Nia’s warm orange eyes. Her legs moved clumsily through the water until she reached Nia who circled around her full with interest. She was covered in dust as well but Nia could sense that she was holding on to life, her body smelled sick. Nia concentrated, filled her body with the warmth of the sun above her and the strength of the ocean below her. She raised her right arm so it would linger in the space between ocean and air, on the surface, where the water glittered and its magic worked the strongest. Then out of the ocean a single blue drop appeared on Nia’s hand and that drop turned into a blue flame which she carried to the woman gently, as if it was a little fish that could be harmed any moment. The blue flame danced on her palm, then she raised it to the woman’s chest and gently the flame touched the woman’s skin. She shivered but only for a moment. Then full of surprise she looked at Nia, smiled at her, bowed to her twice, full with gratitude and walked back to the beach joyfully. And Nia knew, the blue flame had done its work. This woman would live a long and happy life. Her illness was cured. The woman and the little girl left but the man remained for a little while longer and watched the two merpeople practice with their fire. When the sun was setting he picked up some driftwood and started to smash two little stones against each other. There was a crackling noise like the spark of a flame and Atoll and Nia looked at him. He kept on doing that for about ten minutes, the sun sunk deeper towards the horizon. Suddenly, a spark erupted from the stones and the driftwood caught fire. The man picked it up and looked at the siblings, as if he wanted to show them his skills with fire. But his flame was weak and did not shine as bright and beautiful as the flames the merpeople were able to create through their pure will power. They nodded and realised with horror that every time the strange walkers wanted to create fire or had to create fire they had to rely on these little stones and driftwood. It must be so difficult. Then the man picked up the torch and turned around.
The following day, the woman and the little girl had returned and both of them were holding something in their hands. They walked into the water and Nia and Atoll approached them. The woman gave Nia a beautiful blue stone, shining like a drop of water, glittering in the sun. The little girl handed Atoll a similar stone but this one glittered red. This time it was the merpeople who bowed their heads.
They swam back to their underwater village showing their parents and their friends the two gem stones. They had never seen the likes of it. And of course they had not. They didn’t know that gem stones were born in the depths of mountains far away on land. Merpeople did not even have a name for stones like these ones so they called them land pearls, the gifts of the strange walkers. Now all the merpeople wondered what they could give to the strange walkers in return. Muscles, pearls or other treasures of the ocean? They decided to give them yellow pearls as it was the colour of the sun that was part of the power that had healed the woman and it was also the colour of the land the strange walkers were cursed to live on. Nia and Atoll had described how they looked like and that they were spellbound by the way they could control the sun’s fire.
The following evening, the entire village, 27 merpeople rose to the surface and swam to the beach. Golden, yellow, orange and red fins were dotted in the shallow water. So many warm colours, as if little suns were resting on the surface. And there, 16 strange walkers, including the man, the woman and the girl were waiting for the merpeople. The strange walkers cheered, thankful for healing one of their own and handed the merpeople more of their land pearls. Jewels, sparkling green, yellow, red, orange, purple and white. The merpeople were absolutely astounded by these generous gifts and now it was their turn. They gave them the most beautiful yellow pearls they could find in the sea and the strange walkers looked at them carefully, resting in their palms, as if they were little creatures, the most precious things they had ever seen. Thankfully, the strange walkers walked back to the beach and sat down waiting.
“What do they want?“ One of Nia’s friends asked.
But Nia knew exactly what they were waiting for. Nia turned to her village and said “My friends and family, the strange walkers are a kind and generous people. Let us perform for them what they long to see most. They cannot use fire the way we can use it and how it was given to us as a gift. They have to create it on their own without help and it is not as strong as our fire and often goes out. Let us show them what the sun has given to us.“
The 27 merpeople formed a circle in the water and all at once they lit flames in their hands. They shot them up into the blue sky, wove magic within them, made the flames first appear red, then blue, then made it dance around them in a golden ring. A great circle of light and flames until they wove the flames into a huge fireball, like the sun, its flames licked the waves and made the water appear orange, golden and red. Then they formed 27 little suns that moved in sync with the waves above the merpeople, going up and down, rising and falling and rising, they lowered them to the surface and gently made them go underneath the water. For a moment they glowed white then blue and then disappeared in the depth. The strange walkers cheered and applauded the merpeople. All of them bowed their heads and so did the merpeople. One by one left the surface and swam back to the deep down below. The strange walkers walked back inland. Nia looked at them leaving and wondered how their village might look like. Were their homes decorated with the beautiful land pearls? All strange walkers and merpeople had left except for the woman, Nia and Atoll.
“Are you coming?“ He asked.
“Give me a moment with her.“
Atoll nodded and dove down. Nia swam towards the woman. She wondered what her name was. Nia pointed at herself and said “Nia.“
The woman smiled at her and said “Thea.“
Nia smiled and nodded. Thea gazed up into the darkening sky. In the distance, far out at sea, a storm was rising that would hit the mainland tonight. How strange it must be, Nia wondered. Being exposed to the elements of the sky like that. When a storm hits the sea merpeople are protected deep down in their underwater homes. And if it would become dangerous they would simply bend water and wind and no harm would come to them. Then Thea looked at the sparkling reflection of the sun on the breaking waves. Longingly, she gazed at the reflection like she did before at the fire. Nia thought about the yellow pearls they had given to the strange walkers. They were beautiful no doubt and they had healing abilities the strange walkers would discover soon. As long as they kept them in their homes they would help them heal sickness or wounds. Then Nia thought about how much her people had and how little the strange walkers had and what a difficult life they were living without the sun’s and the ocean’s help. Nia wondered if she should give the strange walkers another gift. One that might truly help them. Nia looked with her orange eyes deep into the setting sun, orange on orange, longing for an answer the sun, her all powerful mother would give her. But she remained silent. Thea was about to turn around and leave the beach as well when she could sense warmth behind her. She turned around to Nia and could see how the mermaid had caught the rays of the sun, its heat in her hands. Orange flames danced around her like molten gold. A fire so bright and warm it would drive away any darkness. Nia’s orange eyes and fin glowed in the water. She was one with the fire. She swam closer to Thea, holding the beating, living fire above her. Thea understood and picked up a piece of driftwood and held it out to Nia. She focused her mind on the driftwood, encapsulated the fire in one hand and then fire and wood touched each other and a new flame grew, holding on to the driftwood. Nia let go and could feel the cool touch of the ocean around her again. Thea looked full of wonder and with a spark of inspiration in her eyes at the fire, realising that this fire was all powerful, could do things, could burn and protect like no other fire could. Then she looked at Nia and bowed her head deep. Nia smiled at her and looked at the sun again to find approval for the good deed she just performed, that she was genuinely able to help the strange walkers in their troubles. But the sun remained silent and moved closer and closer towards the horizon and the ocean. Nia could only sense warm light coming from her until the sun disappeared on the horizon and day had turned to night. Suddenly, a vision appeared before the mermaid’s eyes. Nia saw a blue planet turning grey, a green surface consumed by fire and turning black. Nia could see death, smell it and sense it in her heart. What had she done?
The mermaid turned around and saw Thea already heading for the woods with the fire of the merpeople, the gift of the sun, holding it in her hand.
“So you want to tell me that it was our ancestors‘ fault that the strange walkers became all powerful and started to destroy the planet? But shouldn’t we then, the descendants of Nia, make it right again by killing all the strange walkers?“ My granddaughter asked.
“Yes and no.“ I answered. “For a long time the merpeople didn’t see any strange walkers. For a long time the strange walkers, the descendants of Thea understood the gift of the merpeople, the gift of the sun. But with every new generation, the stories of fire, the stories about merpeople changed, as the strange walkers have a weak memory. Some of them kept to the old ways and saw fire for what it was, a protector against darkness and cold. Others saw it in a different way whose hearts were filled with darkness itself and greedily took more than they needed. They took more from the world than nature, the ocean and the sun could and had to offer.“
“I can’t believe how a single flame, Nia’s flame, was able to inspire everything the strange walkers did.“
“Everything bad and everything good.“
My granddaughter looked at me puzzled.
“Many strange walkers are corrupted and instead of fire they have darkness and fear in their hearts. But there are still some strange walkers who see the original flame of Nia for what it was. Otherwise, Nia’s vision would have already come to pass. Sending storms and floods to the strange walkers would wipe out their darkness, yes. But it would also wipe out Nia’s flame that was full of hope she gave with kindness to Thea.“
For a moment they were quiet then I asked “Why did you ask me how your mother was like? You never asked before or never dared to ask…“
Eleyla looked at me and then said “I wanted to know what she would do in my situation and you knew her best.“
I nodded and we both looked at the sparkling sun’s reflection in the water for a while and then my granddaughter said “I guess mum wouldn’t have liked the idea of me sending floods to the strange walkers.“
I smiled at my granddaughter “No, she had a lot of character traits that were a lot like Nia’s. Nia helped a young strange walker, a young woman in need. When someone is in need of light in darkness you have to help when you can. Looking into the face of despair it should inspire hope not darkness.“
My granddaughter nodded and looked with her golden eyes into the sun.
“I can see her.“