Cursed by Seas and Darkness
A Little Mermaid Retelling
By Sharlene Healy
She's sworn to hate the only one who can save her.
If there's one thing I hate more than humans, it's human mages. It's just my luck that the ambassador's son, Kaga, is one of the worst—a water mage. When my mother, the mermaid queen, tasks me with showing him around the kingdom, I debate leaving him to the sharks, but a massive storm sweeps us both far from home.
Letting our animosity get in the way, we find ourselves trapped by a sea witch. Kaga selflessly sacrifices his voice to free us both, but getting home won't be so easy as we are pushed down to uncharted depths and through dangerous jungles. The more we're forced together, the more we realize that we don't hate each other as much as we thought. Maybe, just maybe it's the complete opposite.
But can I admit it before it's too late?
Cursed by Seas and Darkness is one of twelve books in the Enemies Ever After series, a collection of standalone short novels featuring enemies-to-lovers fairy tale retellings with a touch of steam.
Read a Sample
I sat on the beach, kicking the beige sand underneath my feet, anger simmering just below my skin. The wind sped up, lifting my dark hair off my shoulders. A storm rippled in the distance. I didn’t have much time.
A single tentacle rose from the water, orange with stickers, and started clawing its way forward. I grimaced, hoping it wasn’t who I thought it was. Soon, the entire body emerges. Herman. If there was a crankier octopus in the ocean, I had yet to meet it. “The Queen requests your presence.”
I dug my hands into the sand, eyebrows drawn together. “Fine. Tell her I’ll be there soon.”
I stood up, facing the waves, and let out a yell. I didn’t want to go home, back to my responsibilities. Haven’t I done enough in my twenty-odd years to deserve a break?
“How can someone as small as you make such a loud noise?” said a voice behind me. I turned around and saw a man my age walking through the sand.
Instantly, my eyes narrowed. A human, I had no doubt about it. For centuries, my kind and humans have hated one another, hunting each other. After all the death they’d caused my kind, I couldn’t help but stop the rising irritation.
I tilted my nose up at him and sneered. “How can someone as thin as you make so much noise simply walking?”
He looked affronted. “I am not thin. I am average sized.” He took another step toward me and I stand my ground, unwilling to let this human have any leeway. He was right; he was not that thin. Not that I would ever tell a human he was muscular.
As far as he knew, I am one of them.
They’re not very smart, these humans.
The wind tousled his hair, almost as dark as mine, and I met his eyes. His deep green ones stared past my brown eyes, straight into my soul. My heart skipped a beat.
I clench my teeth, mad at myself for daring to feel any emotion besides hate towards a human. The virus that’s destroyed my people and the ocean for the sake of treasures. Images of the sick ward back home rose to my mind, and I banished any last lingering curiosity over this man.
I fold my arms and glare at him. His eyes widened in surprise. Probably unsure why I hated him so much when we barely met. I didn’t owe him an explanation. Quickly, I whip around, walking to the waves.
“Wait,” he said. His face is confused as he called out to me. “What is your name?”
“None of your business, human,” I said. I shot him one last glare, then stepped into the ocean, diving under the waves when I could walk no more.
My legs disappeared, forming a magnificent mermaid’s tale, if I did say so myself. The scales were a bright red, tipped in gold. My fins were tipped in gold, too.
Wanting to show off, I jumped into the air, flipping my fin at the boy. He was standing there staring, and so I added a flipped middle finger as I fell into the sea.
With a grin, I swam deep into the water, the gills on my ribs flapping as I twirled. Fishes joined me, swimming alongside until I dove deeper than they were willing to go.
Darkness snuffed out any light, but I did not mind. My eyes adjusted to the inky black, the gold on my tail glowing. Down and down I swam, until finally, I arrived at the brightest part of the darkest deep.
Pausing for a second, I floated in front of the merpeople city. Legend had it, the city once existed above the sea, on the edge of the island still there.
Despite the many times I’d swum up to it, the city still takes my breath away. It’s deceptively large, and surprisingly safe. A wide barrier surrounded the entire thing, keeping out any unwanted marine animals. The Queen maintained it, and it’s one of her main duties.
Would be my duty, soon.
I swam forward and the guards at the gate slam their hands to their chests. “Princess Allura.”
I inclined my head to both, and the one on the right opens the gate, letting me in with a wink. I playfully push him on the shoulder. “See you around, Nerus.”
The guards slammed the gate shut, and I heard the other guard teasing Nerus. I grinned as I swam through the main street. The walkways were cobblestone roads, remnants of the past. The left side was the shopping and artist district; lines and lines of open booths stretched far back until they lined the wall. Merchants beckoned with jewels, pearls, shells found in the farthest corners of the sea. Others held merpeople working hard at their craft, threading jewelry or weaving baskets.
The right side was the housing district. Houses of all shapes and sizes, either squashed together or spaced far, all the way to the wall. They too, were remnants of the city we once had. Only the roofs had been replaced with stone, when the straw disintegrated. The wooden and stone walls had been reinforced by magic, and thankfully hadn’t deteriorated since. Roofs of all colors shimmered in the light as I swam past. Above me, floated orbs the size of my head, lighting the way.
Another job of Queen was to make sure the orbs stay lit. Each morning, they were as bright as the sun. At night, they were as dim as the moon. It was the only way our people knew when to sleep.
I swam up to the castle, opening the door. It slid open easily, and I went inside. Merpeople chatted and swam around the room. Swimming up to the stairs to the top, I bowed my head, greeting the two sitting on the thrones there. I focused on the king’s gentle smile when I looked up, studying the queen out of the corner of my eye. Her crown sat perfectly on top of her braided dark hair. Not one strand dared float away from it. She would never allow it. She’s tapping her golden scepter, topped with a pearl, against her throne. Never a good sign. I braced myself.
“Allura,” said my mother, her frown creasing her face. “You’re late.”
I kept my head bowed, grateful my rolling eyes were hidden. I didn’t want to get swatted. “I apologize, Queen Amaria.”
My mother heaved a sigh, and I looked up. “Allura, when will you learn to stay here, where you are needed?”
“I am not needed, mother, as long as you are here.”
She shook her head and my father ran a hand through his beard, hiding his smile. “Allura knows her duties, Amaria.”
Mother lightly smacked her scepter against the throne. “Trenton, you know how she is.”
He leaned closer to her. “Exactly like you were, if I recall correctly.”
“Nevertheless,” she said, her cheeks tinged red. “She needs to be here. Go, Allura. Get ready. You are to attend to the merpeople in the sick ward soon.”
I bowed to them both, and Father ginned at me, then leaned closer to my mother, whispering into her ear. I swam off, glad to not see anymore of their flirting, heading to my room.
I pulled open my door, a thin stone with carvings of sea creatures, and head inside. Everything under the sea is made with stone, since metal rusts and wood bloats. Nothing like having a warmer day and not being able to leave because your door is glued to the wall.
Not that it’s happened to me. Recently.
I sighed, flinging myself into my seaweed hammock. “Squiggles? Are you there?”
A small voice from a tangle of seaweed in the corner answered me. “Allura?”
Before I answered, the small blue-ringed octopus emerges from the seaweed, floating over to me. He settled next to me on the hammock, and I patted his head without hesitating, immune to his poisonous bite. Not that he’s bitten me in years.
I had found him years ago, trying to escape a bowl humans cruelly stuffed him into. I shook my head. The anger I felt that day. One of his tentacles had been cut in half. After saving him, I found out some humans were trying to cover their weapons in his poison. How dare they take such a small, innocent creature and leave him injured in a bowl like that, floating in his own blood.
“Have you left your seaweed today?”
Squiggles shuddered. “It’s safer.”
I chuckled, settling back with my hands behind my head. “And more boring.”
My poor pet octopus shuddered again. Day to day, I found him hiding in the seaweed in my room, scared to venture even from that tiny corner. At least now he came to me when I was in here; before, he wouldn’t leave for anything, not even food.
A knock sounded at the door. Squiggles shot back to his seaweed, and I huffed out a breath, unhappy about the interruption.
Lazily, I swung my tail over the side of my hammock and swam to the door. I opened it to a grinning Nerus. He put an arm on my doorway, leaning toward me. “Hey Princess Allura. Are you ready to go?”
“No,” I said, crossing my arms.
The other guard shoved Nerus out of the way, bowing to me. Nerus rubbed his ribs, swimming back to us in a flash. “Princess Allura, myself and Nerus were tasked with escorting you to the sick ward.”
“What is your name, guard?” I said with contempt, looking down my nose at him. His shoulder only trembled slightly, and secretly I grinned. If the guards couldn’t tolerate me, how could they tolerate a human coming at them with a harpoon?
“Gal, Princess.” His voice didn’t waver once, and my opinion of him increased a notch.
“Rise, soldier.” He obeyed me, and I studied him. He was older than Nerus by more than a handful of years, a bit of gray showing at his temples. But his muscles were well worked. I crossed my arms. “I don’t want to go.”
Gal looked uncomfortable while Nerus snorted. “Queen Amaria told us you are to go without any exceptions,” said Gal. He stared at me apologetically. Now I understood why he was sent with Nerus.
“Fine. I’ll be ready in a minute.” I slammed the door in their faces.
I swam to Squiggles’s home and crouched near. “Squiggles, you’re coming with me this time.”
A petrified squeak came from the leaves and I shook my head. “Nope. You didn’t have to last time, but you need to get out of here once in a while.”
Squiggles poked his head out, a woeful expression in his eyes. How he makes them bigger was a mystery to me. I stared him down. “You used that last time,” I said. “It’s not working today.”
The lie worked and Squiggles heaved a sigh, swimming to me. He settled on my shoulder and I opened the door. Nerus and Gal bowed to me immediately, then straightened.
I ignored them both, swimming out and flicking my tail behind me, sending a current of water toward their faces. Immature, I know, but I did not want to be doing this, not when it caused me pain, too.
We headed out with me leading the way. Squiggles shuddered uncontrollably when we crossed the city limits, but thankfully calmed down when I put a hand to his head. There would be nothing to fear.
At least, I hoped.
The sick ward was not unfamiliar. I’d been there many times to volunteer. Part of my training, Mother insisted. No matter what I did, though, every time I left, it was with a fistful of anger.
Sure, we had the occasional injury from a shark, or an accident from a fight between merpeople. Most injuries, though, were at the hands of those barbaric humans. The last time I came here, there were ten merpeople with broken bones and bloody limbs when a ship had sunk into the sea, crashing into their village.
I gritted my teeth as we swam in. The building was large enough to hold a hundred merpeople, but most of it was closed off. We expanded when needed, keeping the beds to thirty. Fortunately, it’d been a long time since that had happened.
A nurse greeted me, abandoning her stone tablet at the foot of the merman’s hammock, swimming toward me with a push of her deep blue fins. “Princess Allura, a pleasure as always.”
“Nixie, how are you?” I reached out and hugged her. We’d grown close, having seen each other almost daily last year. I hadn’t been able to stomach the sick ward after that, and took a much needed break.
She grimaced, pulling her long blond hair to one side of her head. “Busy, unfortunately.”
Nerus cut in. “What happened?”
Her cheeks were tinged red as she eyed the guard, her bright blue eyes shining. “Humans found a small merpeople village near the reef. They had a mage.”
My face flashed with rage. If humans were our enemies, human mages were even worse. Something about having magic when no one else did drove them to be selfish, murderous creatures, incapable of doing anything on their own.
Merpeople had their own magic, but not killing magic, like the human mages. We worked with the sea and its creatures. Not plowed our way through them with no thought of what we destroyed in our wake.
Nixie escorted me to the first soldier, who had a giant slash across his chest. Another nurse was busy packing it with seaweed and other plants. When she was done, she sealed it with her magic. I took the hand of the soldier, squeezing it, and said to him, “Thank you for your service, brave soldier.”
I brushed my hands over his eyes, drawing out the pain and thoughts of battle, leaving peace and the sea instead. The images would stay with him until he healed, and the relaxed state would speed up the process, too. He’d remember the incident, but later, when he could handle it, and without the pain.
The images held in his mind were now in mine. His fear. His pain. His anger. They were all mine now, sitting in my chest. My body tenses and I suck in a sharp breath. My hands shook as I withdrew them. I tucked the images into a corner of my mind for later. There were still others to help. Squiggles crawled closer to me, wrapping a tentacle in my hair, providing comfort even though he trembled.
Gal and Nerus remained near the entrance, their faces stoic. I drift to the next merman. He only has small cuts along his arm and seems jovial enough. “What happened?” I ask him.
“We were swimming about, as usual, when a ship appeared. It had no markings, and we thought we’d be safe.” He grimaced, his eyes taking on a faraway look. “The mage used his magic to clear the water. We barely escaped.”
Anger gripped me, but I soothed it down quickly, before it drained my much-needed energy. Some of it was remnants of the last merman. The rest, my own.
If mages were the worst, water mages were devils. I put a hand to his eyes, treating him like the one before. He smiled and thanked me before I moved on.
Nixie accompanies me from wounded merperson to wounded merperson as I drained any lingering pain the nurses hadn’t absorbed, making it mine. My power was not unique; many merpeople, who usually ended up as nurses, were able take pain away. The amount I could take, however, was unusual. Also, the peace I can leave them was mine and mine alone. The queen does the same, but for a whole crowd of merpeople at once.
After the tenth merperson, I knew I needed to be done. My body shook, entirely drained. I could barely manage the slight push of my fin to drift toward Nerus. “Home. Now.”
I felt a slight pang of regret at sounding so harsh and abrupt, but pain covered my body. I felt every scratch, every break, every ounce of pain from those merpeople.
Nerus lifted me up and carried me home. As we left, I saw a deep look of longing on Nixie’s face as she stared at us. Too tired to think about it, I put it away for later. There were no rules preventing her from making any advances, anyway. If she wanted him, she should tell him, in my opinion. Maybe she needed a little push.
Squiggles climbed onto my chest, wrapping his tentacles around my neck and squeezing in a tiny octopus hug. I grinned and patted him on the head. “Home soon, Squiggles. Don’t worry.”
We were minutes away from our city when Nerus suddenly stopped. I could hear his heart pounding, and I glanced around, trying to see why.
There, swimming in front of us, bloodlust on their noses, were a handful of sharks.
Gal waved his spear forward, trying to shoo the sharks away. One of them snapped at the spear, and Gal pulled it back before it became a chew toy. Squiggles shot up under my hair, not even daring to squeak.
“Really, Nerus?” I said. “You’re scared of these old things. You know they can’t see very well down here.”
“It doesn’t matter when they smell your blood,” he said, his voice hard.
Gal reached out and put a hand on the shark. Instead of calming it, though, the shark swung its head and tried to bite him.
“Seriously?” I said.
“It’s not working, your majesty,” said Gal, clearly confused.
I dropped out of Nerus’s arms, swimming to the shiver of sharks. I put my hand on one’s head, projecting the message leave to it. The shark shakes himself, as if coming out of a stupor, then swims off, the others following close behind.
With my arms crossed, I faced Nerus and Gal. “Not so hard. You guys need more training.”
Before I heard their response, my world darkened.
I awake with a start, glancing around. I sighed in relief when I recognize the sea shells plastered to my ceiling. “Squiggles?”
A squeak came from the seaweed. Good, he was here, too. I sat up and yelped, putting a hand to my head. Immediately, I laid back down in my hammock. I had used too much power at once. Swinging my tail over the side of my hammock, I used it to push the water back and forth, rocking my hammock. At least now the Queen will let me rest. There would be no denying I did do my duty. I sneered at the word. Duty. How much have I wasted my life on duties instead of actually living?
I stared up at my ceiling, counting the shells, until my head stopped hurting. My stomach grumbled, and I sat up, slower this time. I glanced at a contraption hanging on the wall. It contained a giant hourglass encased inside a metal circle. Every hour, it would turn and which hour would appear at the top, spelled by magic to continue forever. It was a remnant from the human city it once was, though I’d never seen one on land, the scant time I’d visited the village. The number four was on top of the hourglass right now. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. “I need food. Let’s go, Squiggles.”
He reluctantly untangled himself from the seaweed and swam to me, settling onto my shoulder. I swam out of my room, heading toward our eating hall. I stopped short when I saw my parents at one end of the long stone table.
Father glanced up at me and smiled. “Allura, come join us.”
Mother narrowed her eyes as she studied me. “Did you attend to all the sick?”
I clenched my hand behind my back. She was always treating me like a child, making sure I did my duties. There must be a club somewhere for adults whose parents still manage them like children. “Yes, Mother. Surely you learned from my guards that I did.”
I swam to the chair next to my father and sat down, the smooth stone hard against my back. “Of course I did,” she said. “I wanted to find out from you, though.”
Muttering under my breath, I grabbed a plate, piling food on it. My parent’s cryptic glances at each other did not go unnoticed.
Ignoring them both, I examined the food for today. All merpeople can cook underwater with magic, but our chef was the best at it. But sometimes, she would combine strange ingredients. Today, it looked like she had made fried fish placed on top of small, round, flat breads. They were covered in sauce and lettuce. I lifted my plate up, wondering how to eat it. Father laughed at me, and leaned forward, showing me how to bend the bread and bite.
“Hey,” I said with a yelp. “You bit my food!”
He shrugged. “I was just showing you how.”
I stuck my tongue out at him and he laughed while my mother tsked.
I bit into my food, and it was delicious. Savory with a hint of salt and spice, but not sweet. Just the way I liked it. Another of the queen’s duties is to renew the magic that keeps food from turning into a watery mess. Thankfully, Mother took it seriously or this flat bread would be disgusting.
Mother eyed me as I continued to eat, and after I had taken a few more bites, she spoke up. “Allura,” she said. “I have found a new tutor for you.”
I clenched my jaw and put down my food, sliding my hands under the table where she would not see. “Mother. I am twenty-one. I do not need any more tutors.”
“I disagree,” she said coolly. “You will be queen. There is no end to your learning.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but closed it at the subtle shake of my father’s head. I sighed, dropping my shoulders. “What is it this time?”
“I have found you a tutor for the ways of humans.”