I’d always known I was different; I’d just never realised how peculiar I was. In most ways, I appeared to be like the other maidens that lived beneath the sea. Not that I had a choice. Mermaids were expected to be demure and to respect their betters, which were always men. Our voices within society were stolen from us because of what happened in our past.
We all learnt the story as merchildren. Zoara-Bela used to be a city like any other on the surface. People would barter on the streets to get a deal, and merchants would shout to draw attention to their stalls. Children could run and laugh freely, but not anymore.
As merchildren, we were taught better. They taught us our place within society. For the men, their place was within their station. The son of a merchant could not become a lord, and the son of a servant could only be a servant. Maidens regardless of the station they were born in could learn only what their fathers would allow. We learnt that our life, our word, was worth less than a man’s. As a merchild, I never understood why maidens were treated like this, not until I heard the story of the fall. Then I knew it was our punishment for the actions of our goddess.
As merchildren, we were told that our goddess Gaea brought about the downfall of our city because we no longer wished to follow her strict rules. Abaddon, my grandfather, wanted to rule the kingdom based on his values and not the values of a goddess who rarely made appearances before us. He ordered the death of a criminal favoured by her, leading to our curse. And so, upon our fall, he ensured that no maiden would ever have the power to cause such damage again.
None of my tutors ever went into more detail. I would always ask, what did the criminal do? Why did Gaea care so much about a criminal? Every time I asked those questions, I was told that it didn’t matter and that maidens shouldn’t ask questions. But I had so many questions.
My curiosity led me to Father’s private archives, which contained memory orbs that recorded our history. Only the record keepers and those with Father’s permission could enter. But by that age, I had already learnt how to bypass the passive perimeter wards without notifying Father through sneaking into the lessons of magic that sons of nobles had.
The spell la’akof et hahaganott (bypass the protection) was simple to cast as it didn’t alter the wards, just allowed someone to slip past them without activating the defences. And in those archives, I learnt that our curse was the punishment for failing her test.
The criminal in the story was a legacy and a high priestess from a temple in Athens. Chava was a weary traveller. She had broken one of our laws and was sentenced to death. What I saw and felt within that orb terrified me. I experienced everything they did at the moment the curse was cast. The magic that stifled their breath. The bones that broke and twisted into a new shape. Their legs being joined to form a fishtail. The weight of the curse that suppressed our ability to feel. I felt it all as a merchild.
The love they felt for their children and their wives that was once all-consuming became muted to the point their connections became a duty. I felt their pain and horror at what they had become. These were things that I had never known but were taken from me by this curse. As the memory ended, I felt an itching and warmth welling up in my eyes that escaped upon blinking. Tears.
Merfolk could not cry, but somehow, I did.