A storm raged on that night, rain and clouds devouring the stars like the maw of the kraken. Wind pounded the castle walls like furious tentacles. In the observatory tower, the royal newlyweds were taking their supper. Minstrels played on bone-carved lutes, but their music could not drown out the storm’s commotion. Their melody only managed to make the prince’s heart churn.
He picked at his flounder, pulling out what would be the second bone he had discovered. His wedding night supper was so hastily prepared. Normally these matters didn’t bother him, but tonight was different. He gazed on his new bride from across the long table, a woman more beautiful than any earthly creature with eyes as dark as the ocean at night. He felt lucky to have found her. He had nearly asked his ward for her hand in marriage and the girl would assuredly have accepted. Every girl in the kingdom was after him, but part of him always knew his true love was out there somewhere. Now here she was, head to toe in white lace and black pearls.
She smiled and tilted her comely face. “What are you thinking about, my love?”
A cold tear trickled down the prince’s cheek. He dabbed it with his napkin. “How beautiful you look.”
“My sweet, sentimental prince,” she said.
A voice sounded on the wind like a siren’s call, ringing like screams that were both mesmerizing and tortuous at the same time. The long day’s festivities were wearing on the prince’s sanity and he rubbed his temples in little circles and cried, “Oh, love, I think I am going mad. I hear voices.”
“It’s only the wind, my love. The storm will pass.”
The butler came in balancing two covered platters. He placed one before each of them. He was a gaunt figure, gray and fading, the translucent skin around his face peeling away with age. His frail hands lifted the silver dome, revealing the most beautiful flesh on a bed of lettuce garnished with a white radish. He reached into his sleeve and withdrew a pair of long ivory sticks. He laid them on the prince’s left and then went to service his princess.
“Thank you, Grimsby,” said the prince. He watched his bride take a bite. She closed her eyes and moaned softly as she swallowed.
“Is it to your liking, princess?” asked Grimsby.
The pretty thing nodded, toying with her necklace, an iridescent shell against her sternum. She consumed her supper with impressive appetite; the prince found his own stomach tight with anxiety.
“Bon appetite.” Grimsby bowed out as he left them to enjoy their supper.
“There is a legend from my homeland in the east,” began his bride, “That there exists a rare creature whose flesh will grant a human being eternal life. Through the resources of your kingdom I have procured such a flesh.” She gestured to the prince’s plate. “Shall we see if the fairy story is true?”
The prince smiled. “I should like nothing more than to spend eternity with you.” With chopsticks in hand, he brought an ounce of the raw meat to his lips. It was flavorful and filled him up like sunshine. What could it be, he wondered. Dragon? Unicorn? A fog lifted in his mind. He remembered a dream he had once of a girl singing him to sleep, his mother perhaps. That feeling he felt then, he felt it now as he swallowed another mouthful.
Lucidity prevailed in his mind. The music he kept hearing on the wind grew louder and louder, shredding his head until he heard something like a scream.
He slammed his hand into the oak dining table. “Shut up!” he snarled.
The prince jumped up from his seat, his chair falling backward and clattering against the marble floor. The singing he’d been imagining all night was not some faded memory of a song. There were screams in the distance, coming from downstairs. The prince stormed out of the observatory, thunder crackling in tow as he rushed down the spiral stairs.
He heard his bride’s footfalls above as she chased him. The screams heightened the deeper down he went.
She screamed words, but they were unclear. As the prince descended, he heard her. “Kill me!” the woman was pleading. “Kill me!”
The prince ran ever faster, nearly tripping and tumbling to his death. As he burst through the kitchen doors, he found the castle cook covered in blood, carving out sections of a long scaly tail attached to a beautiful girl. She was bound to the countertops. Her blood streaked the floor, the walls and the butcher. That same brilliantly red sashimi meat was exposed in the thick of her tail. The prince gagged. He saw her face and recognized his own sweet young ward. She was not mute anymore, for her horrible sounds of agony tore into his very soul. He frantically staunched her bleeding with loose dishtowels, aprons and whatever else he could find. He held his little mermaid and hushed her cries of pain.
“I couldn’t—” she wept. “I couldn’t get you to fall in love with me.”
Whatever enchantment had crippled his mind had been broken. He remembered everything now. He had loved her, since that moment he heard her singing him awake on the beach. She had saved him from drowning. When she used that silver fork to comb her hair, he knew there was no loving anyone but her again. He knew now why her eyes had been so heavy with anguish. Evil forces were at play right where he couldn’t see them. Before the prince could explain everything, he felt her slimy, cold body go limp in his arms.
“Come away.” He felt his bride’s nails trace down the back of his neck. ’You’ve already made the vow. ‘Til death do us part, Prince Eric.”