Disclaimer: The Little Mermaid, all characters, places, and related terms belong to Hans Christian Andersen and Walt Disney Pictures.
The ocean is quiet and calm. I give my arms a rest from rowing for an undeterminable amount of time and lower my head, with my back, arms, and neck all aching. Shutting my eyes, I listen to the creaking of the rowboat as it rocks gently with the water's sway, and to my heavy breathing.
Eventually straightening, I look around me: nothing but water for miles. To the west I stare at the beautiful sunset: the sky full of reds, oranges, purples as the sun slowly, steadily disappears behind the horizon. A glance towards the east reveals the familiar fast-growing, dark storm clouds in the distance.
I know I shall not see the sun rise or set again. Or watch the moon's reflection shimmer over the water. Of course I did not directly say as much to Grimsby when I first laid out my plan. But I left a letter in his keeping, only to be opened when I do not return in three days.
My heartbeat quickens and I swallow, fear and determination whirling inside me crazily. It was not until five long, agonizing days after I sent my proposal that a message from King Triton came. He accepted my offer. I will give myself to the sea, my life to repay for the loss of his queen's. His desire for revenge will be satisfied. My people will be spared, able to sail the seas safely once more. And the ocean will be at peace finally.
The wind whistles as it picks up sharply, blowing my dark hair in my face. I look upwards. The clouds have moved in quickly, blocking out the remaining rays of the sunset. Thunder rumbles, awakening. The waves start to climb higher, fall farther, carrying me and the boat with them.
I cling to the rowboat's sides tightly, my hands turning white. Fear overwhelms me. But there is no going back now. I won't. This is the only possible way. Too many have already lost their lives.
Briefly I allow myself to bring to mind images of those dear to me whom I will miss. Grimsby, tall, thin, grey-haired. My loyal advisor who suffered much at my expense when I was younger, at odds with me for much of the past year: "Marry…" "Ascend the throne…" Sadly, I knew I would not achieve either one.
Carlotta, short, plump, still appears young. My housekeeper who has been like a mother to me. She seemed to sometimes understand me better than my advisors could, patting my arm in sympathy or giving me an encouraging word. The last couple of months she silently watched me with knowingness and sadness.
Max. Never was there a more protective, loyal dog. He has been with me for as long as I can remember, through thick and thin. I had to order Grimsby to restrain him when he desperately tried to go with me in the boat. I can still clearly hear his loud howls as I rowed away.
Last I remember waves of bright red hair and wide blue eyes with an angelic voice. Ariel…my special friend. I have only seen her twice in the past two years. Nearly every night she has haunted my dreams, though. I regret never having been able to thank her for saving my life. That night a year ago I had not been ready for the end; now I am again afraid, yet prepared to die. I regret I could not tell her what I suddenly realized that morning when I woke up with her leaning over me, her hand caressing my face.
Thunder crashes overhead, and bright lightning pierces the black sky. My eyes widen, and my breath is stolen away as I ride up another wave, perhaps the highest yet. The boat reaches its peak and settles there for a heartbeat before the water and wind send it over. I am helpless as I tumble over and over, hearing the roars and crashes suddenly become muffled as I am plunged underwater.
I do not know up from down. Somewhere – close by, far off? – I hear a sound, like eerie wailing. Strange shadows float around me. Instinctively I fight to swim, desperate to breath. My head breaks the surface and air races into my needful lungs before I hit something hard and go under again.
The next thing I am aware of is coughing up water, rain lashing down on me, the wind beating me against the large boulder I strain to cling to, the sea attempting to pull me away into its depths. The storm is at its strongest as lightning and thunder strike as one.
The sky lights up and I spot a red-haired figure fighting to stay on the rock and move closer to me. Stunned, I reach out a hand to help and I gasp as another flash reveals long red scratches running down her arms and torso.
Soundlessly I slowly say her name, my chest tight, aware of nothing else, "Ariel…"
She pants, trying to push her hair back, looking so small and weary. "The mermaids… I could not defend myself while protecting you."
I swallow hard, my gaze tracing the marks. "You must know—"
"It is not right!" she shouts angrily. "You lose everything and Daddy nothing! It is too large a sacrifice. You— I—" she breaks off and looks away from me.
I stare at her.
"I am so scared," Ariel ends, her expression pained.
I cannot put my conflicting, overwhelming emotions into words. Instead I place my hand over her cheek and, when her eyes meet mine again, press my rain-washed lips against hers in a firm, tender kiss. I try to silently convey that I share her sadness, yet this is how it must be. I wish for her to sense my thanks for what she has done tonight, and that night in a seemingly another lifetime. I wonder if she hears my heart beating, whispering, My Ariel…my princess…my little mermaid. It has always been she.
And she understands. When Ariel returns my kiss, it is bittersweet, this moment of revelations too short, too late. Separated by different worlds, impossibilities, this bond is finished before barely beginning. No "if onlys" or "what ifs." Yet it must suffice.
We part and I abruptly recall where we are when the ocean almost draws me back into its foaming waves. I will myself to hold on, just a little longer… I reach for Ariel's hand. "I am scared as well," I confess.
"Let me go with you," she breathes, the tiredness in her face replaced with new strength.
Her words sink in and I shake my head fervently, tightening my grip on her hand. "No!"
"Eric, please." Her eyes shine brightly.
"I won't let you! Your family will—"
Ariel interrupts, "My sisters know. I have been forbidden from coming before Daddy since I last begged for him to have mercy."
"The sea will take me, not you," I reason, the fight starting to go out of me.
"It knows of my rebellion. I have longed to leave the ocean, to be part of the world above. Be part of your world." She touches my face. "It will not overlook my betrayal."
The storm screams – thunder deafening, lightning blinding, waves crashing – seemingly in agreement. Staring deeply into her eyes, I see she is resolved. I feel a strange mixture of sadness and comfort. I nod once, growing aware of how cold and exhausted I am.
She wraps her arms tightly around me and I embrace her in turn. Her cheek brushes mine. "I will not let the mermaids take you, Eric," she promises.
In hearing her words, my lingering uncertainties and fears vanish, leaving me with an unexplainable peace. "I believe you," I say against her red hair. I am ready for this to be finished.
Then we slip beneath the surface.