Here is the fifth and final part of my mermaid novel in the making. The narrative returns to the children of the orphanage who learn more about mermaids and their magical world.
Eleana and Penelopa were lying in their beds in the little bedroom they shared. It was fifteen minutes before midnight. All lights were out. Half an hour ago, one of the nuns had checked the corridors for the last time, making sure that everyone was in their beds and asleep. Most of the nights the two girls stayed up long after midnight to talk and chat about all sorts of things. This night was no different. Only this time they were waiting to get out of bed again.
‘What if we gonna get caught by Sister Miervetta? She would be furious.’ Penelopa asked.
‘Then Helica and Alicia will take the blame. They simply have to.’ Eleana answered.
‘I know. But I wonder if it’s all a joke though. And they are just doing it to trick us. You know how silly they can be.’
‘I know but-’
‘But what? Eleana, do you actually believe them?’ Penelopa asked and giggled.
‘Be quiet!’ Eleana whispered.
Eleana had heard someone walking along the corridor. Sometimes, the nuns would check the rooms late at night to make sure the orphans were in bed. Both girls listened, holding their breath but whoever it was had moved on.
‘It was probably just Sister Klea sneaking down to the kitchen getting a late-night snack.’ Penelopa said. ‘So, do you believe them?’
‘Of course, I do not believe them. But you must admit it’s all so strange.’
‘You mean you and Leo dreaming about the house?’
‘Yes.’ Eleana answered and could not believe that she took her younger sister so seriously.
‘I mean… I guess it is. There must be a logical explanation though.’
Eleana did not respond. She thought there could be something simple, something logical about it all but if there was, she could not see it. Somehow it all felt weirdly familiar. It felt like a memory trying to surface but returning into the depths of the ocean before it would take form. Eleana felt like she was stretching out he hand, holding on to something but it slipped away the last moment. It was so unnerving.
‘What time is it?’ Penelopa asked.
‘Thirteen minutes before midnight.’
‘Right, come on.’ Penelopa said. ‘I am bored. I don’t want to wait any longer.’
Dressed in their pyjamas Eleana and Penelopa slipped out of their room. They tiptoed their way to the attic. When Eleana reached the stairs to the attic, she looked behind her and gave Penelopa a meaningful look: We have to walk in absolute silence!
The wooden stairs were ancient and made so much noise walking on them. Carefully Eleana took the first steps and the old wood creaked underneath her. She held her breath. Penelopa followed her. They did not hear anyone stirring who might be waking up close by. The entire orphanage seemed to be asleep. The two teenagers climbed the remaining stairs.
Eleana looked around. It was so dark, only moonlight lit up the big dusty room and drew long shadows. Everything was dipped in silver light. Helica and Alicia were already waiting for them.
‘You are early.’ Alicia whispered and smiled.
‘It’s eleven minutes before midnight.’ Helica said.
‘Well, better too early than too late. Besides, we couldn’t wait any longer.’ Penelopa said and sat down next to her sister Helica.
In front of her stood a glass of water.
‘Are you thirsty?’ She asked Helica mockingly.
‘This is for the spell! It’s salt water from the sea.’
Eleana looked at the glass. It appeared very dirty like water from a canal in Venice.
‘Doesn’t look very magical to me.’ Penelopa said and laughed.
‘Of course, it’s not the most magical water!’ Alicia said. ‘The sea in Venice has been polluted by humans, by the strange walkers, for centuries.’
‘But it should be enough for the magic to work.’ Helica added.
‘If you say so.’ Eleana said and looked at Penelopa with a doubtful expression on her face.
‘Be quiet!’ Helica whispered and all four girls looked at the staircase. Alexander and Leo hurried up and sat down next to the girls.
‘You are one minute late.’ Alicia said looking at the little watch they had brought with them.
‘Sorry, but Sister Klea is in the kitchen. We had to wait for her to go downstairs.’ Alexander said.
‘Shit! One of the sisters is up? That spell of yours better be quiet!’ Penelopa said annoyed.
‘I hope it will be.’ Alicia said in earnest.
‘What do you mean you hope?’ Eleana said alarmed.
‘Well, we don’t know exactly what will happen.’
‘Brilliant.’ Eleana laughed.
‘Probably nothing’s gonna happen.’ Penelopa said.
‘What time is it?’ Leo whispered.
‘Eight more minutes.’ Alicia said.
Alicia unfolded a little piece of cloth she had brought with her and revealed the silver pearl. Carefully she placed it on the dusty floor. Eleana was not impressed. Within the darkness of the attic, the pearl just looked grey and not at all enchanted.
‘Not very promising, is it?’ Penelopa said and Eleana agreed.
‘Something that is not glittering could still be gold.’ Leo whispered and Alicia smiled.
‘I think the original phrase is a bit different.’ Eleana said and Leo smiled at her.
‘I like to mix things up.’ He said, shrugging his shoulders.
‘Normally, I do that.’ Alexander said. ‘But I get what you mean. Who knows, maybe this will be just like in The Lord of the Rings?’
‘Let’s hope not! I don’t wanna fight any orcs!’ Penelopa said.
‘But what if the orcs come for you? Then you have no choice but to fight.’ Alicia asked and grinned.
‘Be quiet! All of you!’ Helica whispered.
Eleana and the others could hear someone moving on the floor below them. Sister Klea must have gone back to her bedroom. For the remaining minutes no one dared to speak. It was too risky. Getting caught minutes before midnight would be a fine joke. Eleana just listened to the almost inaudible ticking of the little watch. It grew louder and louder as the minutes passed by. It was the only sound in the attic.
‘One more minute.’ Alicia said not louder than her breath but heard by everyone.
Helica put the glass in the middle of the circle and Alicia picked up the pearl, her hand shaking. She looked at the watch again. It was almost time. Eagerly, Eleana looked at her. She wanted something to happen. Anything. That there was some explanation for all of this. That she could resume her old life again and laugh about all of this with Penelopa next week. With only ten more seconds left Alicia raised her hand over the glass. Five more seconds. Alicia looked at the watch and then at her hand. Eleana and all the others looked at her expectantly. Three more seconds. Two! One! Splash! She dropped the pearl into the salt water. Its sound shattered the silence of the dark attic. Eerily, almost like the ghost of a pearl it sank to the bottom of the glass and then rested there. Nothing happened. Seconds passed by. The pearl in the glass was just a pearl. Eleana sighed.
‘Well, that was anticlimactic.’ Penelopa said and giggled.
‘Give it a moment.’ Alicia said.
But she looked at Helica with uncertainty. Nervously, Helica tucked one of her golden curls around her fingers and played with it. They had followed all the instructions. What was wrong?
‘Right, I am going to bed. I am tired.’ Penelopa said and Alexander agreed.
‘Wait! Look!’ Leo exclaimed when the two were about to get up.
Eleana’s head turned around as well. Leo’s excitement had sparked new hope inside her heart. Eleana froze and so did the others. What was happening to the pearl?
A silver shimmer, just a tiny sparkle, had appeared on the surface of the grey pearl. It looked like a star glowing within the salt water. Then another glimmer appeared. Then another and another until the pearl sparkled with tiny lights of stars, and bubbling, they rose to the surface, as if the water had transformed into a fizzy drink. More and more starlight bubbles erupted from the pearl until they rose into the dusty air. They followed nothing in particular. Like a flock of birds, they rose together, higher and higher until they floated above all their heads. The more starlight bubbles rose, the smaller the pearl became, until it was all gone. A constellation of millions of tiny stars, glowing silver, floated above them.
The lights remained still, hovering there in space like stars in a night sky, until they started moving, forming something. First, a silver ball, then a second, then more stars twirled around the orbs, until they were not round anymore. They were recognisable as two eyes floating within the stars. Forming more shapes, a nose, a mouth, high cheekbones, floating starlight hair. Eleana could make out what the stars above them transformed into: a face of a beautiful woman looking at them, smiling.
She opened her mouth and began to sing a melody, so beautiful, yet so strange, like a humming sound yet like a song, a whale’s call in the ocean. She filled the dusty room with wonders beyond this world, unspoken, untold secrets of the sea.
Images of the deep blue flickered in front of Eleana’s eyes. Like waves they washed over her and the others until they ebbed away, disappearing again, only to emerge from the shadows of the attic once more. Coral reefs shining like the rainbow, whales flapping their fins in the deepest shade of aquamarine, seagulls flying above a green ocean in tune with the songs of mermaids from deep below, inviting them down to their underwater palaces. They were images within images, songs within songs, diving deeper into a magical world.
The wonderful woman’s melody metamorphosed into words. She began to speak: ‘I am glad you found your way here tonight. My name is Auwena Thantalla. I am the Princess of the Aquorsian Kingdom. Tonight, I will tell you a story. Long ago, in a time before the strange walkers built high towers and set the world ablaze with their wicked greed and fire, the merfolk lived in the ocean, shared their wealth, riches and magic with each other. It was a peaceful time when mermaids lived in balance with nature. In the beginning there were two cities underwater, their splendour surpassing anything the world has ever seen before. One city was to the west, Atlantis, the son of the sea, and the other laid to the east, Venice, daughter of the ocean. In both cities mermaids sung to sea plants and corals and made them thrive everywhere around them. They created kingdoms for all animals of the seas to come together and they shared their magic and wealth. Guided by starlight and moonlight the Atlantic Kingdom was founded. Its mermaids became brave soldiers of the sea and mastered the tides and waves.’
The image of a white palace with glittering coral gardens and silver towers reaching for the surface appeared before Eleana’s eyes. It was the palace of Atlantis.
‘And its sister, the Venezean Kingdom prospered in the east. Here the merfolk sang to green corals and sea plants. With their melodies they made them thrive. In exchange they received magical powers of exceptional might. The forces of nature, the ocean, the moon, the sun and the stars looked upon the two mermaid kingdoms with favour. And they gave them the gifts of knowledge: two sister libraries appeared in the two cities. The libraries housed all imaginable books and scrolls about magic and the secrets of nature. With these gifts the mermaids of the two cities grew ever more prosperous. And so did their kingdoms. Soon the mermaids began to populate all oceans and founded more kingdoms. They were guided by the wisdom they had found in the two libraries. In the north of the Atlantic, mermaids founded the Alaskantan Kingdom. In this cold world their guidance were the northern lights. They discovered many secrets of the icy north. Their palaces were filled with green, yellow and purple corals. On the other side of the world there was another frozen realm inhabited by the mermaids of the Vert Kingdom. They received their magical powers from all the algae and plankton that blossomed there. Their magic was great and stormy like the sea they lived in. Alas, it is all gone now.’
‘Why is it all gone?’ Leo whispered, and for a moment Eleana looked at her younger brother, his eyes reflecting the silver light from above, taking in every magical word of the mermaid’s song.
‘The biggest of the kingdoms is my own, the Aquorsian Kingdom. It stretches far to the north, south, east and west and covers a third of the ocean. The mermaids here are wise and fearsome warriors, for they have to protect so much of the sea. It is within these waters that most corals thrive, the souls of the ocean. The Hyverion Kingdom lies next to it where mermaids sang to the most magical blue and purple corals. Their singing voices were the most beautiful of all seas. They had the greatest healing abilities of all kingdoms, as the corals had shared their own healing powers with them long ago. Many mermaids of this kingdom began to travel wide and far to heal all kinds of creatures with illnesses under the moon and the sun. To the west of this kingdom was one more, where the sun had always been worshipped above all other celestial lights. Here the merfolk gained the knowledge and magic of the heavens and the fires, for the sun was their friend and shared her knowledge with them. To this day it is known as the Menar Kingdom. For hundreds of years, they all lived in harmony and peace. But within the depths of the ocean darkness stirred and looked with jealousy upon the colourful realms of the mermaids. Shadows began to pollute the free kingdoms. Far to the south, in the Vert Kingdom, a young mermaid came to know the secrets of the deep sea no one ever dared dream about. Darkness grew inside her inner ocean. She wanted more than all the others, all the power, all the might. Within a single night, she slaughtered the citizens of the Vert Kingdom, which from then onwards, was known as the Sea of Death. The older she became, the stronger her powers grew. She commenced her conquest against all the other kingdoms. The Atlantic and the Venezean Kingdom feared that they would be conquered, the knowledge of the great libraries taken from them and fall into the fins of darkness. They sealed their precious halls and made them disappear forever. And the magic and wisdom of the libraries was lost to all.’
New scenes passed in front of Eleana’s excited face. Sealed doors of a round marble building were overgrown by corals shimmering in green and opal. Proud marble statues of lions with wings moved in front of the concealed entrance, standing guard. Slowly, like vines growing over a house, they too were swallowed by corals.
‘The young Queen of Darkness was not ready to conquer the two most powerful seas. The Atlantic and The Venezean realms stood strong. Alas, the Hyverion Kingdom fell under her shadow soon, followed by the Menar Kingdom, and even the Alaskantan Kingdom in the north could not withstand her storm. The refugees of the conquered kingdoms and the remaining three called for aid. Dragons, shapeshifters, sea serpents, elves and other friends of land and sea answered their call, but one by one they were defeated by the Empress of Darkness. The Queen of Black defeated the dragons in the sky. Their fire was blown out by her like candles in the wind. Shapeshifters and elves were slaughtered by her swords of shadows. The power of the sea serpents were the last ones to withhold her storm but they too met the fate of their friends. The few serpents who survived fled into remote waters where the Queen would not reach them. She crowned herself, and named herself Mirah, Queen of the Ocean, which, in the ancient language of the merfolk means wrathful sea. In defiance, the free mermaids called her Mervita, meaning lifeless sea. While the three remaining kingdoms stood strong, some mermaids of the Venezean kingdom met peculiar creatures. They became friends with the strange walkers, the humans, who were different from the merfolk in so many ways. Yet they were so similar, both species realised, they could be good friends. Together, they rebuilt the beautiful city of Venice into a city where merfolk and the people of the land could live together in harmony.’
Again, images appeared. They were familiar scenes of houses in Venice Eleana knew. But their marble had not turned grey of age, it glimmered white in the sun while other buildings stood in colourful paint by the sea. And there were the underwater houses of the mermaids, shimmering in the crystal-clear waters of the canals just beneath the surface. Golden Gondolas carried laughing humans dressed in brilliant silk over turquoise waters. Mermaids with green and golden fins danced around them, singing and splashing. It was a Venice Eleana did not know. A Venice none of them recognised. A Venice of long ago.
‘What happened?’ Alexander asked in awe and the mermaid’s tale continued: ‘The ancient spark of natural harmony and balance thrived again in Venice. As the city was well protected by the lagoon, the Queen of Darkness did not know about it for a long time. Venice thrived under the sun. Eventually Mervita learned about the existence of the strange walkers and who they had become friends with. She knew that the strange walkers were of a weaker mind than the free merfolk. They were easy to deceive. So, she poisoned their minds and hearts. The strange walkers grew ever greedier and wanted more and more power. Their hearts were now filled with darkness, when before it was a place of healing and light. They turned their backs on the merfolk and their ways of protecting nature. They began to pollute their beautiful city. The mermaids of the Venezean Kingdom abandoned their shared space and built a new home, with a green, sparkling palace under the sea no strange walker could ever visit. They called her Serenissima. It was a new child of the ocean, a green city in the sea, shining like sea grass just underneath the surface. The strange walkers continued to pollute and exploit everything the merfolk had tried to protect, not knowing that they had become slaves to the Empress of Darkness. Yet there is hope. Some strange walkers remain untouched by the darkness of the Queen. Even with all the damage and wrath she has unleashed on this world the three mermaid kingdoms and the refugees of the enslaved kingdoms stand strong. This war has gone on for seven thousand years. The earth circles around the sun quickly and the moon has looked upon the seas in sorrow. Much has been lost and little has been won. The libraries have faded into legends of the past and so much magic has been taken from us. Yet, as long as the free merfolk swim together there is hope. I can sense change but also darkness within the tides. Mervita and her forces are ready to strike again.’
The mermaid’s kind face looked upon Eleana, Leo, Alicia, Alexander, Helic and Penelopa one more time. The stars in the dark attic began to dissolve, the form of the princess’ face vanished, and the stars glided to the ground. They lost their sparkle and joined the dust on the old floor. The magic of the pearl and the song of the princess had left this place again. For a moment no one moved, stunned by the magic of the night.
Eleana looked at her little sister who just smiled at her and asked: ‘Do you believe in magic now?’