Chapter 1 : Legs
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Chapter one: Legs
“Are you sure you’re ready for this?”
I looked up at my father in shock. How could I not be ready for this? I had spent my entire life preparing for this day. But he looked down at me gravely. He was serious.
He nodded and turned and motioned to one of his advisors, who immediately swam forward. Edward, I believe that was his name, began his prepared speech.
“Today is the appointed date for the long awaited event . . .” he droned on. I never liked court language much, and I especially didn’t like how it would take ten minutes for the advisor to finish his speech. Whatever his name was. I felt a stab of regret. Perhaps I should have spent more time in my father’s court over the years, gotten to know people better and all. But no, my father was the one who always insisted that I needed my lessons. “Erin, pay attention to Jack, or else you’ll fail.”
Every day that I was even the littlest bit late he flew into a rage. Failure was never an option, and he wanted me to be prepared. His eyes would spell disapproval and blaze like what I imagined fire to be like. Fire was my father’s eyes, green and burning with anger.
Well, the lessons were over now. It was time. I think Jack was glad that he didn’t have to come down to the lake everyday. Now he could stay in the castle where he belonged. Jack’s a ghost, not very commonly known he says, but still a ghost’s a ghost. He died in the early 1800s. I’ve asked why a couple of times, but Jack wasn’t one to detour from his task, so he never told me. Or maybe he just didn’t like talking about his death.
Edward flipped his tail impatiently, as I clearly wasn’t paying any attention to him. He was fairly young to be an advisor I realized. Odd. My father didn’t like to be around young people too much, excepting myself of course. But even we didn’t have the loving relationship that most would expect of a father and daughter. We weren’t just any father and daughter though, for my father is the king of all merpeople, and I, his daughter, am the heir to the throne.
If I weren’t in such a prestigious position then none of us would be here today. For today I am to get legs.
Notice the careful wording. I am NOT becoming human. No, for to do that you would have to change my very blood, if it is blood that runs in my veins. I’ve never really checked. You see, water smoothes out every surface and softens anything sharp. Not too easy to cut yourself open and check. Besides, how would I be able to tell if it was water or the fluid in my body around me? Jack had once taken me up to the shore in the summer and had me grab some sharp rocks. I didn’t like it; it was so hot. Jack says that’s just because it was the summer, but I’m rather concerned about it. It’s the only season that I know, for below the lake’s surface there are no seasons. Nothing marks the passage of time but the ebb and flow of the waves.
I’ll admit though, I’m terribly interested in snow. I’ve never seen it before, although I’ve made Jack tell me about it lots of times. Winter and coldness; they don’t make much sense to me. And how could water freeze and fall from the sky? How could water fall from the sky in the first place? Water surrounds us, it is above and below, it doesn’t fall like rocks. But Jack says that it can freeze and fall from the sky.
Once I asked why I couldn’t go and feel some of this snow while it was falling one day. My father was at this particular lesson, and he was too shocked to speak for a while, but once he recovered his senses he made short work of reminding me exactly why it was dangerous to go up to the surface. You see, our lake, our kingdom, lies at the foot of a castle. And in that castle there are people. Lots and lots of people. They go there for school, and so except for during the summer it’s dangerous to go to the shore. One of the students could see us.
My father was always very particular about this point. We were not to be seen by humans. It was a matter of self-preservation he told me. If someone besides Dumbledore, who was very kind to us and left us alone for the most part, knew that we were here we could be in grave danger. They could do all sorts of things to our lake, our lifeline and support. If the lake were ruined or disappeared somehow, then we would be destroyed. We can’t survive without it. Even the giant squid wasn’t enough to scare humans away sometimes. So I’d never gone to the shore except during the summer.
But now I would. Now all would change. Now I could be seen by all the humans I wanted, and it wouldn’t matter. Dumbledore and my father were giving me legs, for a whole school year. I would finally enter that castle that loomed over our lake, and I would do it on FEET.
I glanced down at my tail, blue and purple scales catching sunlight from the light above. Legs sounded so ugly and weird, and everyone’s were the same. They weren’t different colors like our tails were. But nothing could be done about that.
The advisor once more flipped his tail at me, and I reluctantly shook my dark hair away from my eyes, leaving it to float around me. I smiled at him; for every one of my fears I was doubly excited to have legs. Legs! Can you imagine it? And I would meet humans, people who had lived with legs their whole lives! It made my insides feel all jittery just thinking about it. But no time for that now, I needed to concentrate on this young advisor before he flipped his tail in impatience again.
“As you know, today you will receive your legs. On the last day of the human school you have the choice to remain human or return to the lake.” My father coughed rather loudly. Obviously he thought that there was no choice about it. I was going to return to the lake so I could rule after him. Of course, what did he know? He’d never had legs. My mother had the royal color, not my father. (Jack says that humans say royal blood, but that’s just dumb because nobody can see your blood. On the other hand, everyone can clearly see if your tail is the royal colors of blue and purple. It makes much more sense I think.) It was a tradition; the heir to the throne would get a year to spend with legs, or at least a year up at the school. Then they would return to the lake, marry, rule, and get on with the rest of their life. But they would be sure to share with their first born the secrets of acting like a human, so that when it was their turn they would know what to do. Unfortunately for me, my mother had died when I was very young. So my father had arranged with Dumbledore to send Jack down every day.
“There are a few conditions and side effects that we are unable to take away.” The young advisor continued, “Being a mermaid on land means that you’ll dry out faster than normal. You’ll probably have to go into water every morning and night or your skin will begin to dry. Some humans have salves that help skin from drying out. Then every new moon you will turn back into a mermaid. Your tail will return and you will need to get to water immediately.”
My father interrupted. I had been wondering how long it would take him.
“On those nights you will be expected to return to the lake.” I nodded. Of course I would. Where else would I go? There weren’t any lakes inside the castle, well, as far as I knew.
The advisor glanced worriedly at my father, but once he was convinced that he was done speaking to me he resumed his speech.
“If you do not reach water quickly your tail may dry out, so it would be wise to be down at the lake before the sun sets. I believe that the humans have something called calendars that chart the waxing and waning of the moon, so you should be able to keep track that way.” I nodded. Jack had told me about these calendars before.
“One last thing.” For the first time the young advisor looked rather troubled, and his maroon tail seemed to glow more brightly than usual. That meant that he was nervous or upset or something; times of high emotion cause our tails to glow more brightly. “Secrecy is of the utmost importance. Your goal is to learn as much as you can about humans so that we can maintain friendly communications with them, but you are not to reveal what you truly are.” He looked at me seriously until a swirl of water lifted his hair off of his forehead. Then I laughed.
“Of course.” I told him.
My father took over, glaring at me, the edges of fire licking his eyes. “Erin, this is serious.” At once I sobered. It was one thing to laugh at young advisors with maroon tails while they told me what I already knew, but it was quite another to not take my father seriously.
“I won’t betray us, father.” I uncurled my tail, hanging straight in the water as I said it; the sign of an oath. He nodded slowly and flicked the edge of his tail. I caught the current that he sent towards me and threw it back at him. That’s a contract for merpeople. The assembled advisors politely looked away as we did it. We didn’t need witnesses, and that contract was binding now. If I betrayed us I would be worthy of death, and I’m sure that my father wouldn’t hesitate to give it to me. But I wasn’t concerned. I would never betray my people.
So we headed up to the surface.
It was half a fortnight before the school started, so there were relatively few people at the castle. Dumbledore had made sure that all of the teachers were nowhere near the lake on this day. We didn’t have to worry about ghosts and house elves; they already knew about us. Merpeople are the king of all half humans, and ghosts fall loosely under that category. As for house elves, well, Dumbledore had just told them not to mention us to any humans. Problems with house elves were easily solved when you knew the master.
Dumbledore was the only human present, but the entire lake was dotted with merfolk. I was their princess, after all, and the last time someone had received legs was over seventeen years ago. My father and his court were at the front with me. Dumbledore stood on the shore, wearing way too many clothes; robes laced with thread the color of the sun reflecting on the water. I looked at him curiously; I’d never seen a living human before. Other than the heavy cloth draped across his body he looked much like any grandfather would, except for the odd glasses on his nose. I couldn’t see his legs—the cloth covered them. I was disappointed. I wanted to see real legs before I got some of my own (a ghost’s legs do NOT count). But I would see legs soon enough; I would have a pair of my own to look at whenever I wanted.
“Are you ready?” This time Dumbledore was the one placing the question on me.
I gave the same response.
Dumbledore smiled and took his wand out of the inner depths of his robes. It looked like a regular piece of driftwood, thinner than most pieces though. He motioned to a rock that extended from the shore out into deep water. I swam over to the rock, the changing rock, and pulled myself up onto it. My father approached the foot of the rock from the water and Dumbledore approached it from the shore.
My father extended his staff towards me and Dumbledore extended his wand. I wasn’t watching them though. I was watching my tail, shimmering in the light of the hot sun. Blue and purple, purple and blue it sparkled.
Then it began to change. The colors began to mix, the scales lengthened, and my fins began to shrink and pull apart from each other. I watched, fascinated. I wasn’t aware of the song my father was leading or the words Dumbledore was chanting or the many eyes of the merpeople, or even of any pain or actual feeling in my tail. I was only aware of my tail and my legs. The fins pulled apart, and I felt a rush of cold air as my tail split in two. The blue and purple were gone, now it was the same plain color as my torso. But before I could explore my new legs my fins began to change more. The ends of my fins broke apart, created toes, and on those toes something hard like shells formed. Toenails. Wow.
Then it was over.
Amazing. I had legs. I tried lifting them, but to my surprise only the right leg moved up. That was weird. I concentrated on the left leg. It twitched finally, but it was like I had to imagine that I had two tails. I really, really thought about it¾ and then it moved! I grinned, pleased with my exertion.
What next? Maybe I should try standing. But how did one get from sitting to standing? Kicking the legs didn’t work, and that’s all it takes for a mermaid to go up in the water. Neither did pushing off of the rock with my arms. The air was so light; it made me feel heavy. My feet were probably supposed to be on the bottom, so maybe if I started by bending my knees so that my feet were flat on the rock I could get up from there. I managed that much after some difficulty. It was awkward though; the legs were so stiff, only bending at the ankles and the knees. Now what?
Maybe if I pushed really hard with my arms I could propel myself up and get on top of the feet. I tried it, but I was barely lifted off the ground before I went crashing back down to the earth. That was odd. In the water I could push myself up a little ways and hover there before continuing, but the air didn’t lift me up like the water did. I frowned; this was going to be more difficult than I anticipated.
That’s when Dumbledore approached me. He stood right next to my head and smiled down at me kindly. That was all the invitation I needed. If the air wouldn’t support me then Dumbledore could. I lifted myself up a little bit and then grabbed onto his robes. I was surprised at the amount of weight that was on my feet as I struggled to stand up. I grabbed higher up on his robes and pulled myself up a little bit more. And a little bit more and a little bit more, and there! I was standing.
Sure, I had to put a tremendous amount of weight that I wasn’t even aware that I had on my feet and the only thing keeping me from falling to the ground was the fact that Dumbledore was standing all by himself, but I had stood up!
I turned and smiled at my father. To my complete surprise he smiled back. Many of the merpeople looked shocked or surprised. They’d never seen legs either after all, not even Jack’s ghost legs. I smiled at them all, for my happiness at standing couldn’t be contained. I saw my friend Becca grin back at me and mouth the words, No way. Legs. No way. But before I could respond to her, Dumbledore cleared his throat.
“We need to get you some clothes.” He told me. I looked down. I wore the normal seaweed shirt that all mermaids wore before they were married. Actually, this particular seaweed shirt was my best. I looked back at him, confused. I was dressed. Surely he didn’t mean…
“Human clothes.” He added.
Okay. Human clothes. I could deal with that. “Alright.” I told him, frowning a little. I didn’t really want to wear those silly clothes that he was wearing. And they were probably hot and stuffy too. And I was incredibly warm as it was. For some reason I don’t think that mermaids and the sun mix that well. But inside it would probably be cooler. Jack had said that shade did that, didn’t he? That’s why the water was cooler when you weren’t under the part that the sun beat down upon.
Then I realized that Dumbledore was looking pointedly at my hands. Oh. Maybe he didn’t want me to cling to his robes anymore. I let go immediately and my knees buckled. I fell. Dumbledore laughed, a jolly sound, but all the same I glared at him. Not many people had laughed at me before; I was the princess after all. In fact, the only person that had ever dared laugh at me was Jack, but that was again different. But Dumbledore only leaned down and grabbed my arms, dragging me back to my feet.
“Alright, let’s put your weight on your feet now.” He said good-naturedly. I reluctantly tried it. It did make me feel a little sturdier with the whole standing thing.
“Okay, now lift your right foot and set in down a couple of inches in front of you.” He’d gone crazy! How was I supposed to do that? If I lifted my right foot then what would support the right side of my body? He surely didn’t mean to put all of my weight on my left foot did he? I tried it, leaning significantly on his arms as well. I managed to lift my right foot a few inches and then slide it forward a little bit before crashing back down on it. But I’d over judged and now those dumb knees were buckling again, and only by putting all of my weight on Dumbledore’s arms was I able to remain standing.
He acted like nothing unusual had happened, but merely smiled at me and said,
“Alright Erin, that was good. Now move your left foot.”
Golly jeepers, was this how humans walked? They were insane. That’s so not sturdy! Shifting your weight back and forth like that without water to hold you up and catch you? What were they thinking? But I had to try. After all, if it’s what humans did I had to try it now.
It was harder to lift the left foot. After all, I was still trying to figure out how to move it. I nearly fell backwards or forward a lot of time. What was wrong with the air? It didn’t do anything, if anything it just made everything heavier. And my hair felt weird. It felt . . . heavy. It should be swirling around me, but it was lying flat, and yet it didn’t toss to and fro like the current would have pulled it. But I didn’t dare take one of my hands from Dumbledore’s arms to see what was wrong with it. It would be embarrassing if I fell now, even though I was almost halfway up to the castle.
So I continued on. It didn’t help any that the grass felt scratchy and that the rocks were hot and sharp. I longed to turn around and dive back into the lake, but I knew I couldn’t do it. This was a privilege and a duty, and I’ve never ever shirked from my duty. Even if it meant learning how to control these odd things called legs.
How was I supposed to move on these for a whole year? Oh Poseidon, help me.
A/n: Hey everyone! This is a story that I've been writing for a while and I got impatient and decided to post it. Thanks to my wonderful beta Lacewings for helping me getting this chapter polished and for the chapter image! Please review everyone.
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