“Your highness, I can’t do it! You know I can’t! It’s been years since I’ve been up on land!” Alima protested.
The queen and her were alone in the palace’s throne room. The vacancy allowed her voice to bounce through the water and off the walls, only to echo back at her. They reminded her that it was just the two of them, her and the queen, which made her situation much more uncomfortable.
“Send someone else! Please, send anybody else. Just…not me.” She said, looking down at the throne room’s vibrant coral paved floor. The queen sighed a tired sigh and looked at her straight in the eye.
“I was afraid that I would have to play this card but you leave me no other choice,” the queen said coldly. The queen was tall and she had strong features that stood out, giving her a regal look. She had long dark blue hair that ran out from behind her like a royal cape when she swam. Her tail was long and a thick dark green. Each scale shimmered from the natural sunlight that penetrated through the waters from the surface above. Her fins were the most impressive: shaped like a butterfly’s wings, they folded and unfolded, which was enough to fool anyone into thinking that she was an angel lost at sea. But as beautiful and graceful as she was, it was her eyes that reflected her true cold beauty. They were a dark brown that almost faded into black, black as the bottom of the ocean, and dark as the fish that resided there.
“Either you go on land and search for my sister or I will banish you out of my kingdom. And I will make sure that you are outlawed in the rest of the six other kingdoms so that you will have nowhere to go.” The queen’s voice boomed.
Alima was silent. She’d never expect the queen to threaten her. Over the years, they’d grown so close. Alima was the queen’s advisor and she went wherever the queen did. The queen told her all of her secrets, even though Alima did not do the same.
“I thought we were friends,” her voice was considered puny and weak compared to the queen’s authoritative and commanding tone.
“Of course we are friends,” the corner of the queen’s lips curved into a grim smile. “But family comes first,” she said, her smile dropped and reverted back to its formal frown.
“Then why don’t you look for your sister yourself?” She said this and the queen laughed loudly. It was a dry laugh, but she sure found some humor in it.
“I am a queen. I rule the entire North Atlantic ocean! I rule every single living creature in it, from the plankton to the common merfolk,” she said, holding her head up high. Each word was clearly enunciated, and she spoke with great pride. Her voice then dropped low so that Alima, had to pay close attention to hear her.“And it is my duty to protect everyone and make sure everyone is safe and sound.”
Her expression was softer this time. Wrinkles formed around her eyes and suddenly, she wasn’t the cold queen that Alima had known for so long. Alima was admired her dedication to her duty as queen but was careful not to reveal any indication of it on her face.
“I’ll go.” Alima said and clutched both of her hands behind her back to keep them from shaking. “But I’ve ought to tell you, I really am not sure how much the land world has changed since I had last been up there.”
“I know you can do it. I have faith in you, Alima,” the queen said and nodded her head. “Remember to be careful. Exposure is a constant threat. I have merfolk that tell me how the humans have progressed every decade or so, and they tell me that the humans have developed ways to spread information faster than ever before, with their televisions and magazines,” the queen droned on but Alima did not understand what those devices were. What exactly was a ‘cellphone’?
“If you are not careful then you will be exposed. Exposure will jeopardize all of our kind.” Worry lines formed between the queen’s brows. The thought of becoming exposed sent chills down Alima’s tail. Her tail swished in response to her nervousness. The queen shook her head.
“You are scared?” the queen asked.
“Yes, I’m scared!” All effort to hide her true feelings on her quest had crumbled. Alima finally confessed. “What if I am killed? What if I am exposed? What will I do? What if I can’t find the princess?” She stumbled on her words.
“A siren, scared? I did not know sirens even felt fear.” The queen lifted a highly arched brow. Alima was rendered speechless. How did she know who she was? Long ago, give or take a century or so, Alima had fled to the North Atlantic kingdom. Even as she looked back to that simple knowledge, memories threatened to resurface, and Alima pushed them back down to the dark where they’d rested for all these centuries. She couldn’t bear to let them loose. She couldn’t bear to remember it all. Living since the B.C days would do that to a person.
“I’ve known for a long time Alima,” the queen said calmly. “Or should I say, Queen Alima?”
“B_But how?” Alima was shocked. She never told anyone. If anyone knew, they’d swim as far away as possible from her. Mermaids hated sirens and vice versa. The queen chuckled good-naturedly.
“Well for starters, you have a black tail.” Alima glanced down and her swishing tail. It was long, longer than the queens, and unlike the queen’s, it was not as thick and it had jagged fins on the sides of her tail which allowed her to easily cut into the waters and swim faster than the fastest swordfish. And the color of her tail was a deep black, black as the sea at midnight.
“And second, you keep skipping out on the yearly singing competitions.” Alima wanted to say that her siren’s song would’ve been considered cheating but she was eager to get back to their original topic: the mission.
“That’s enough, your Majesty. So when do I start on my mission?”
The queen quickly swam away and within a short period of time, she came back with a oyster shell suitcase in her arms and thrusted it into her’s.
“A suitcase?” Alima said.
"Yes. It has everything you need: a first aid kit, clothes, tools, some weapons, a few potions. Everything except food…” The queen’s voice trailed off. “I don’t know how you’ve survived this long without consuming human flesh.” Alima got a look of concern from the queen.
“I found a way,” Alima said softly. This time it was the queen who was silent. Alima excused herself from the palace to start on her mission.
“I will be going now.” She said and bowed to the queen. She then headed towards the door.
“I believe in you!” She heard the queen say from behind her. Alima paused for a moment and then proceeded to head out of the palace. Alima made a plan. She was going to head for land at midnight. That way, she’d be reducing her chances at exposure. Then, she’d have to spend a few weeks adjusting to the land world so that she could blend in with the humans and finally be able to conduct her search for the lost princess. The princess...it was just like her to suddenly disappear when she was upset. But she was usually gone for about a few days and she’d return as if nothing had ever happened. Four months have passed and she had not yet returned. Rumors had been spreading around the kingdom. Some were typical while others seemed just plain outrageous.
She glanced up at the waters and saw that there was still dim light out; she had to start travelling now. She’d have to find the nearest dock or sea port. But there was a slight problem: she didn’t know which direction to go. She opened up her oyster suitcase to find anything useful.
Clothes? No. Magic money that changed its units on sight? No. Death potion? No. A map? Bingo. She put away the other things into her suitcase and opened her map. The map was all blue and had a blinking red dot that said in brief Arabic, her native language: أنت هنا ,which meant You are here.
Arrows then appeared on the map, showing her where to go. She swam for a whole day and stopped a few times to rest, and other times to hunt for fish. Finally, the map said in bold words: Welcome to Florida.
Florida? She wondered. She had never heard of a country whose name had sounded so peculiar as Florida. She kicked her tail and swam her way to the surface of the water. The salty sea breeze hit her face for the first time in centuries. She couldn’t help but smile. But Alima’s heart soon sank when she saw the faint streaks of light in the sky; it was the break of dawn. Night had turned to day. How could she go on land now without being exposed? Maybe, if she was careful, no one would see her. It was still early in the day. She strained to stretch her neck to peer over the wooden docks to check for any humans nearby: zero humans.
This was her chance! With both arms stretched out, she grasped the edge of the wooden docks and pulled herself up. She positioned her fin so that she was sitting on the dock and quickly glanced around. There was no man to be seen. All she had to do now was just wait for her tail to dry off. As she watched the sun rise, she sighed dreamily. It had been so long since she had seen the sun and felt the breeze tickled her hair. She was so relaxed and in bliss that she had forgotten something extremely important: her pearl. She looked down at her tail which had became two separate legs. She then opened her hands to check if it was there, but it was not.
Where was it? Where was it? She looked frantically around her for the pearl. It should’ve been in one of her palms when she grew her legs. What if it rolled off the dock? It would be almost impossible to find!
“I_I believe this belongs...to you,” said a shaky voice. Alima’s body tense and she forced herself to turn around. Slowly, she turned and saw that it was a young man with her pearl in his hand. Small and delicate, no bigger than the size of a squid’s eye, was her dark black pearl that shined in the beam of the sun. She had been exposed.