This story is by Eunice Adu and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I peered at the ring on my ring finger and the merman in the distance who had placed it there not long ago.
Miles was from the Kaenon Kingdom. I was a talker and would ramble on with my nose in his hair even though it smelled like everything else under the sea. He was a listener who carefully picked his words because he feared saying harsh things but his sweet, delicate lips, soft tongue and short, curly red hair that would be perfect on a child, made this possibility hard to believe.
At the wedding reception, my sister attracted way more attention than she deserved. The people were curious about whether her singing voice could one day surpass my own, how much her smile now resembled mine, and what words she could say. Miles was standing too close to the group. Among many other things, I had told Miles about my half-sister.
My tail scales were a sparking blue but hers were dull and seemed too sharp. Her fingers were like the birds that stole my prey. Her long brown hair, rich like mine; her eyes, pointed and too green. She was taller; her features more mature.
“The King’s bastard child,” they called her. “Borne from a siren.”
I’d told him this in our pillow talk, my words falling out, as they did with him. Sirens devoured all life; small, big, sea, and land. Their voices stretched beyond beautiful to bewitching; lulling humans to their deaths. Despite time, they knew no words nor civilization. That is what is said. My half-sister ate like all food was rightfully hers and she smiled as though she thought all the water’s creatures also belonged to her.
“She once attacked my prey, ripped into one and then another and another. She swirled around in their blood and spat the bones at me.” Miles had nodded sympathetically, stroking my pale white skin.
The day that the queen brought her to my bedroom, without a name and unable to speak, I asked why her care fell on me. She answered that the King felt I wouldn’t let my sister be killed. Growing up, each time she smiled the way she did, I wondered if she had been born with that stubbed tongue or if someone had chopped it. I told Miles all this but I never told him how I also wondered if this new princess might one day rule Atlan in my place.
Instead, I told him of my love for the legend of Ariella. The mermaid who fearlessly cut up her tail into two arms to go onto land and marry the human—of royal blood—whom she loved. She probably went on to rule a human kingdom but that was not part of the story. I heard the tale from a Kaenon Oracle so I knew it was no silly myth. A Kaenon Oracle’s connection to water meant they knew of its past and present. I told him how I wanted to be just as brave as Ariella and chase after my ambitions, no matter what I have to lose.
So as I watched my half-sister engage in small talk, releasing an occasional word or two, each more effortless than the last–with my husband so close–I compared my desire for the throne; my birth-given right with my desire for Miles. Miles wasn’t the queen or the king, or a sister from nowhere, he was my husband. If he left me, I would be alone again with no one to share my thoughts with.
When their conversation lulled, I pulled my sister aside, apologized for my teen jealousy over the years, and that it should never be spoken of again. She responded with a muffled, “Fine.” and I suggested that we name her now. None of us had bothered to name her; to humanize her.
“Fifteen years without a name is ridiculous. S-Sarah? Basic but pretty. Yeah, Sarah.” The name was a mouth spit and I could tell she didn’t care for it. Did I sound too desperate? Should I have asked if she already had a name?
Miles appeared, gently tugging me away. “Quick word, Arian?”
I grasped the skin of his arms as we slipped into the array of dancers while he sunk his head into my neck, hesitated, then spoke, “Never told you, in the past, I trained to be an oracle.”
He already knew.
“That story you love? Oracles tend not to tell the whole thing. Soon after her brave departure to land, Ariella came back.”
“Her prince had betrayed their love so she jumped off a cliff. Crashed into pretty pointy rocks. Her pale body was torn apart; little bits, swept away with the sea’s foam.”
“Don’t get swept up in what you think is yours. It will ruin you. Like your sister.”
“My sister?” My half–Sarah floated in a corner, watching the party.
“Your sister, whose smile, eyes and most of all, hair, you hate, is no siren. Sirens are a myth, Arian. All she is, is, different. She was diifferent yet similar enough for you to hate her.” Miles cupped my hand, and we swirled with the lofty music a little closer to her.
“She was pulled from the wild she had grown up in, expected a family she could belong in, but got a kingdom that talked too much, a mother who took away her voice, a father who cared enough to keep her but not enough to protect her, and you. So, she plans to sing and let a number of ships crash our little soiree.”
My ears glided over the fact that it was the queen who had cut her tongue and focused on what mattered. At least, to me.
“Exactly. She can’t sing. She can barely talk.”
Miles’ chuckle rippled across my chest. HIs arms cris-crossed against my back as though comforting me. “Much like me, your sister chooses not to talk. It’s been a few years since her tongue’s healed just enough for her to sing like any other mermaid. She’s been practicing. So, should we let her sing? Might her voice eclipse yours?
A scene flashed by of our younger days when she took the prey I hunted. I tattled to the queen and demanded she be whipped for her insolence. That was the first time I heard her voice. She squeaked each time the cane hit but her eyes continued to burrow into my own.
I commanded the punishment to continue until she could no longer make any sounds. The squeaks transformed into grunts. Then stillness. Blood seeped into the water. The siren had been punished but I see it now. How wide her eyes had been. How shy her smile had been when she’d stolen my prey. How tenderly she had held onto the fish as she offered it to me, trying to prevent her overly sharp teeth from tearing into it any more than they had. How innocently she had loved me.
Sarah was the first born, she was no siren and unlike me, she was…nice. At least, she had been for many years; her every smile asked us to accept her; to let her belong, but this was not what mattered to me.
Silly tears pressed against my lids as I echoed Miles’ question back to him. “Might her voice eclipse mine?”
His arms and tail wrapped tighter around me as we swayed. My Miles, who was always the listener, had chosen today to speak and his words hurt just as he’d thought they would.