I think every girl goes through a mermaid phase. Mine was a nice, healthy length, perpetuated by the pool we had while I was growing up, a lifelong love of fairy tales and mythology, and Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
Now that I’m older, I do still have a special place in my heart for The Little Mermaid—both the Disney movie and, now, the original tale by Hans Christian Andersen. In particular, I’m drawn to the sea witch. So drawn, in fact, that I finally wrote the little origin story that’d been swirling around in my mind since I was a child. It’s called The Price of Magic, and I’m thrilled to share the first several hundred words with you.
Unfortunately, due to KU rules and regulations, this is only a partial first chapter, but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless!
Chapter One: To Be Queen
Although I floated perfectly still—as instructed—the seamstress’s needle inevitably found my flesh.
“My apologies again,” Alyconea mumbled.
My mother, who swam in slow circles around us, narrowed her eyes each time I winced. I wished Alyconea stopped acknowledging the mistakes. Didn’t she know after eight weeks living with us in the Stellamaris royal palace that she was only harming herself with each admission?
“No apology necessary,” I said, hoping my smile brought Alyconea some warmth. “I’m sure you’re just as nervous as I am about my big day.”
Mother scoffed. “She should be more nervous than you, Thalassa. Your wedding attire will be the single most important garments she ever touches, let alone designs herself.” Mother quit her laps to place herself in front of me, arms crossed. “Do you understand how important this is?”
Of course I understand, I wanted to tell her. You’ve only been drilling the reasons for this marriage into my head since before I could talk.
Ordinarily, I would’ve avoided her gaze, but I wanted to memorize how she looked. Not her features, of course. Why would I do that when, as so many had pointed out to me, I could stare into a mirror and achieve the same results? I wanted to remember the way she’d chosen to look and carry herself as a queen. Her hair—the color and sheen of squid ink, and long enough to reach her tail fin when undone—was coiled in a bun atop her head and encircled by a halo of coral. She was dressed in only the finest silks salvaged from faraway sunken ships, as she always insisted, regardless of whether the situation called for such formal wear. She called for it despite our treasury never being as full as we’d like, and all the beauty and elegance enhanced the impression of limitless power.
That was her intention. I knew that because she taught me the same tricks.
“I do understand, Mother, but I don’t believe we should treat Aly—”
“It’s done!” Alyconea propelled herself away from me with a swift flick of her tail, waving her hand in a gesture to invite closer inspection. “I’ll remain by Princess Thalassa’s side until the moment before the ceremony to make the finishing touches, but the basic construction of the gown is complete.”
Mother nodded, tapping her chin thoughtfully. She twirled her finger, and I turned in a circle obediently. If she was pleased with Alyconea’s work—and anyone would be pleased by her work, with strings of pearls draped across my shoulders and layers of organza glittering like sun-kissed waves—then she didn’t show it. Instead, she waved a guard over, whispered something in his ear, and said nothing else until the guard returned with a satchel cradled in his hands.
“If that’s all for today, then you’re dismissed. When you’ve finished undressing my daughter, Salis here has today’s wages for you—two hundred ninety-seven sand dollars and four fragments.”
I watched Alyconea make the calculations in her head. If it was at all possible, I would’ve told her to forgive the slight and return to her chambers—that I would scour the ocean floor for dropped sand dollar fragments if she needed them.
Our eyes met when Mother turned to leave. I gave Alyconea the slightest shake of my head, but she opened her mouth anyway, and my stomach dropped.
“Your Majesty, I’m afraid there’s been a misunderstanding. I was promised 300 sand dollars a day exactly.”
Slowly, Mother turned back around, her violet eyes aglow with passion in much the same way mine never did. “If there is any misunderstanding, seamstress, it’s on your end. You were promised nothing but the honor of designing the Queen of Lamposseano’s wedding attire. Out of generosity alone, we added a sum of three hundred sand dollars a day for your time and effort. But you see these?” Mother grabbed my wrist with one hand and shoved my billowing sleeve up with the other, revealing a few red spots where I’d been pricked by the sewing needle. “I subtracted a sand dollar fragment from your compensation every time my daughter cried out in pain—all 26 times. And you’re lucky that’s all I did!” Mother released me to float nose-to-nose with Alyconea, who bowed her head in submission. “How do I know that needle of yours isn’t laced with poison? I could have you arrested for attempted assassination right now.”
Alyconea’s head popped back up, her eyes wide. “But that makes no sense! Why would I kill my future queen? And why would her future husband send me to kill her? And why would I wait until the day before we leave for the ceremony in Lamposseano?”
“Oh, there are plenty of other mermaids he could impregnate with heirs, I’m sure. You could wish you were the one wearing the wedding gown instead, for all I know. So again, I order you to undress your future queen and return to your chambers before I change my mind about paying you—or having you arrested.”