Challenge #01096-B364: Selat Yriaf

Let's get this show on the road, and chip away that gap if it bothers you!

Pick 2 -- Gallifreya

[As you can see, I am currently 28 days behind the actual turn of the year. 29 if you could the day off I have at Christmas. I'll take all the doubles anyone can give and let my smarter viewers do the math.]


There had been a storm. His ship was tempest-tossed into smithereens and the sirens had most of his crew. Most. But not all. Eric remembered desperately holding on to what little breath he had as the undertow sucked him away from the light. He would never forget it.

Just as he would never forget her face.

She swam after him, the fins of her fishlike tail making fast work of moving through the water. Her hands were kind, and she had air for his lungs.

Her lips had felt like heaven. Her gentle grip eased all his terrors away.

And the next thing he knew, he was resting on the shore. His last glimpse of her had been her fins breaching the water as she dived back to the depths where she belonged. Eric knew only one thing. He had to see her again.

The impossibility of it wracked him. All through listening to his father berate him for going out to the ocean, all through the advisors telling him that this close brush with death should be taken as a sign. All through the endless pomp and circumstance of his princely duties, despite being eighth in line for the throne.

"I need to go to her," he said. Eric wanted nothing else. He scoured the oldest books, searched for any mage who could help him. And found the most terrifying of sorceresses practically on his own doorstep.

She lived in the darkest, scariest depths of the dark and scary swamplands. The foetid pools of the shorelines and mangroves were her home. A place where nothing seemed to grow but misery. They said she ate the souls of stillborn children. They said that her house moved inside the tangled trees of the swamp. They said it had legs like a chicken.

They said that she could turn anything into anything she pleased. They said she would not take gold, but instead traded precious qualities. He didn't care what he had to trade. He would give anything just to see her again.


Every breath burned his throat. Hurt his lungs. Gills, now. Every move under the water was painful. Every flick of his new tail was like a thousand knife blades cutting into him. He had no voice to scream with, and that was a good thing.

But -oh!- the things he could see under the sea. The mysteries of the deep were mysteries no more. He could see for miles in the eternal twilight of the deep. Everything that had once come with effort and a time limit were abundant to him.

It was worth every second of the pain. It was worth trading his charm for it all. Even though every breath felt like fire. Even though every move felt like knives. He would not go back to the limited land.

Eric almost frightened himself when he saw his own face in a sunken mirror for the first time. He had three full moons to win the mermaid's loving kiss or suffer to die and turn into sea foam. And there was a whole ocean to search.

He began at the siren rock, searching the jagged spires for a hint of her blood-red hair, and by pure fortune found her going through all the spilled trinkets in shipwrecked hulls.

She liked shiny things. And why not? They were even more beautiful underwater than they were in the air. He searched the debris fields for some delicate decorations and brought them to her.

Of course she was wary of him. She didn't trust his silence, nor his helpful nature. She definitely did not like him following her, and sped away, much faster than he could swim.

Eric slept in a shipwreck, that evening. Coughing silently because his gills were on fire with every breath. Uncomfortable because every movement cut like knives. And when he woke, he swam in ever-expanding spirals. Hoping for the merest glimpse of her.

And what he had never learned was what to eat under the sea. Hunger gnawed at him, but he didn't know what was safe. He couldn't tell what was poisonous. He kept swimming, and buried his fists in his belly. And tried not to lose hope.

Just as the sharks noticed him, she came. With sharp, jabbing spears in her hands and disdain clear upon her face.

"What's the matter with you?" she demanded.

He showed her he couldn't talk. Tried to explain with his hands that he was lost and didn't know anything. That he was new to the ocean. What she understood, he could never tell, but he could tell that she thought he was very stupid.

She showed him how to hunt. How to gather the right kind of kelp. What fish to eat and what fish to avoid. She showed him how to avoid sharks. Eric did his best to learn everything. Including her name.

Ariel. He would sing it, if he still had a voice.

There was a city, far below the waves. Magnificent spires and a warren of levels without stairs. And why would they need stairs? Merfolk could swim everywhere. He learned that he could dance, even with his twisted and painful body. He could do something that the merfolk appreciated.

And though he had no charm, he still had skill. He could make things. Shiny things for the merfolk to decorate themselves or their homes with. Pretty things to dazzle the eye with beauty. He earned his keep with his makings, and made certain to always have something for Ariel.

She grew to like him. Ariel talked to him, most days. And helped him find things in the wrecks. She learned to interpret his pantomime into real words. And there was a moment... a few moments, in fact... when they nearly kissed. But there was always something that interrupted.

And then, one day, near the end of his time as a merman, she swam quickly away from Atlantis. Visibly upset.

He left his work to follow her, all the way to her grotto of human relics. He signed, You're sad.

"Father just told me I have an arranged marriage to a prince of Mu. I don't want to be married to some faraway prince. I don't want to leave home."

She did not need his sadness. He signed, You will not be lonely. You are good at making friends. He signed, Everyone who sees you loves you.

"Would you be in my entourage? The people I take with me to that distant sea?"

He almost knocked himself out from nodding so vigorously. He signed, You deserve all the happiness in the world.

The prince of Mu came the next day. A very handsome merman who had Ariel swimming in circles with his charms. Eric knew he could not outshine him. He knew he didn't have a chance.

And the night before his last chance, his brothers called him to the surface of the water. They had sold their teeth to buy Eric a chance to escape his curse. They gave him a knife and said the sorceress had promised that if he killed the mermaid he loved... he could regain his charms and keep his tail.

The price was too high. He left the knife in their boats and returned to the depths.

He made her bridal jewellery. He danced for her wedding... and would have perished quietly away from the revelry of the wedding party...

...had Ariel not sought him out and paid for all his kindness with a kiss.

Merfolk are not, by a long shot, monogamous. By becoming part of her entourage, he was part of her harem. And part of her new husband's as well. There was so much more to learn under the sea.


The castle was a ruin, for all its extravagance. Decay lurked in every corner and depression crept through the cracks of the stonework. The only thing of true merit was the roses.

Roses that Beau was now paying for with his life. Mother had described a beastly fiend, who demanded a life for her theft.

It was only fair that Beau paid it in full. He'd been the one silly enough to ask for a rose.

He tolled the bell and made himself ready. Head on the block set out in what was once a grand courtroom. He waited with his eyes closed and his body shivering.

A voice. Cold and terrible for its calm. "You are not the one who stole. Who are you, to lay down your life for another?"

"Please, I am the one who asked for the rose. I am the one who caused my mother to take that which she thought you had to spare. Because of my folly, you doomed her. It's only fair that I take the sin and the penalty."

He flinched when her hand caressed his hair.

"And why would a boy demand a rose?"

"Because they are beautiful, and frivolous. And because they are the one thing that I missed from our rich times."

"Sit with me and dine."

She was beautiful, of course, but it was a terrifyingly fey[1] beauty. Unnerving for all its perfection. The stories and songs might go on and on about hair as dark as a raven's wing, or skin as white as snow, or eyes like sapphires and lips like rubies... but together the effect was that of a horrific manikin come to life. Something that was never meant to live, somehow walking and talking.

Beau tentatively took a place in the only other chair by the fire. The table filled itself with a feast, and the candles burned without consuming their tallow. He fought to speak clearly, and when he could, he said, "My mother said you were a beast."

"Indeed," said the Beast. "You may name me as such. I am not what you see. There is a curse."

"What manner of curse?"

"What other manner of curse is there? True love to return to what I once was and what I wish to be. Not that true love is possible."

"How could it not?" blurted Beau. "You're beautiful."

"Even the prettiest rose will rot. Beauty fades and fails. True love is seeing beyond what the light shows you."

And she was right. He knew it. Love was eternal, beauty was just an introduction to it.

The Beast did not bother him, too much. Not in the beginning. She had a knack for turning up without a sound, or watching him at his disparate labours around the castle. When he wasn't reading his books, he worked at fixing up the walls that were still standing.

And yet, no matter where he was or what he was doing, he could look up and there she would be. Watching.

"What do you do, young man?"

"Oh, I'm working on the grout, today. It's mucky and rotten and needs fixing." He chipped more of it out between the tiles. "You can help, if you so wish."

"I would chip my beautiful nails. Does that not matter to you?"

"Good work is better than good looks," he said. "Come and help, and talk with me."

And on it went. Grout one day, bricks another. One day, they both got entirely mucky fixing a fountain and its plumbing. He spoke of learning odd jobs to help with the housekeeping, of losing all hope of earning enough to win over a bride.

The Beast snorted at that. "Love cares not for gold or treasure."

"Aye, but they make the living a might easier," he laughed. "A man with a daughter wishes to see her kept very well. And the girl herself wants to be kept very well, too, I dare say."

The Beast frowned at this. "Does she not keep herself? Hunt her own meat and gather her own meal?"

"It's different for people," he laughed. "We don't let a girl do as much as a man."


Beau shrugged. "I know not. It's never made any sense to me."

And the Beast smiled.

The gardens had turned into splendid scenery and the castle was looking much better by the time a nervous messenger came to Beau with the terrible news. His mother was sick and his brothers didn't know what else to do.

The Beast took one look at his face and said, "Go. Go now before I change my mind." She turned away. "Come back in a week. If there is love at all."

Beau went. As fast as he could. His pack full of herbs and medicines that he and his Beast had made together in the kitchens they had restored. His only thought for sparing his family another tragedy.

His brothers had married in his absence. One for her beauty and the other for her money. Neither marriage was doing too well. The beautiful wife fussed about her appearance incessantly, and the wealthy one... she squandered everything on herself whilst sparing not a penny for those who needed a little more than what they had.

Both brothers saw the wealth of treasures that the Beast had somehow magicked into his saddlebags, and thought only of their own gain. They took the treasure with Beau's blessing and soon craved more.

Beau, busy with tending their mother, answered all their questions about the castle with half a mind to what they were after. Neither brother seemed to care for their mother's health. They left it all up to Beau.

They made him stay one more night too many. And tried to follow him to the castle, but thorns kept them back where Beau passed without harm. They tore at the brothers' faces and clothes.

Beau found his Beast in the middle of her rose garden. Sprawled as if she had fallen there. Her pale flesh was cold and her breathing shallow. Dying from grief.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "Please don't leave. Please don't die, my heart will break and I will never love again." He kissed her cheek...

There was a roar like thunder...

And he was sitting in the very same garden with a creature like no other in the world. Magnificent and impossible and beautiful... and with the same dark eyes as the Beast he knew.

"Beast?" he risked.

"The one and only. Your love has returned me to my true form." She butted her head against his chest, rubbing herself against him. "And I am grateful."

Beau rode her out to his brothers. Let them take the treasures, if they thought that was what made people happy. It was no matter to the Beast. All that mattered was the love he shared with her, and the place they had made together.

[1] Read about what the Faeries really got up to and then tell me they aren't frightening, I dare you.

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