Ok, you're either going to love me or hate me for what I did to the Witch. Please, please let it be the first one.

In a cave many miles away from the undersea kingdom of Queen Assyria, where the ocean flowed into a river, which flowed into a brook, which flowed into a stream flowing through the woods, lived a dark, mysterious woman. She had lived reclusively in this cave for about nineteen years now, without aging a day. Nobody knew who she was, how old she was, or what events in her life had brought her to her current situation. All that was known was that she was there, that she did not appear to ever intend to leave, and that she could be potentially lethal if trifled with.

Many rumors circulated throughout the ocean about this strange, mysterious woman. It was said that she was a powerful witch who had once resided in a house on the outskirts of the Woods in which she made her home, and that she was once the owner of a garden whose vegetables, particularly the rampion, were the envy of the entire kingdom. Rumor had it that the pregnant wife of her neighbor had coveted that rampion to the extent that she thought she would die if she did not taste it, and had pressured her husband, a poor baker, into stealing the vegetable. The husband had supposedly been caught stealing the rampion by the mysterious woman who was, to say the least, not at all happy to be awakened to a raid on her beloved plants, even if that raid were for the sake of an unborn child. Her reason behind what happened next varied among storytellers: some said that she was the spurned lover of the Baker, hurt by his marriage to another woman and longing for vengeance; others said that she was a barren woman who had sworn her eternal hatred on all other women who were capable of bearing the children she could only dream of, still others insisted that her actions derived merely from the fact that she was an ill-tempered witch, furious at the theft of her greens. Whatever her reason, however, every storyteller agreed that she allowed the Baker to take some of her rampion for his wife, on condition that he give her the infant as soon as it was born. Many people swore that the woman had possessed a fatal beauty unlike that of any other women, which had been replaced with age and ugliness when the Baker also stole six magical beans from her garden. The story went that the woman had indeed taken the child, a beautiful baby girl with hair as yellow as corn, from her neighbors; not only that but she had cursed them and their small son with barrenness. She had raised the baby girl as her own, so it was said, and had locked her in a tower with no doors or stairs for an unknown reason; the majority of the rumors had it that the woman used her daughter's long hair to visit her in the tower. Eventually however, so many merpeople swore, the adopted daughter had been impregnated by a Prince; and in her fury the woman had chopped off her hair and banished her to a desert. History had lost the daughter's story here, and much of the woman's: all that could be recalled was that she had abandoned her neck of the woods during a giantess attack, that she now had a host of air-spirits in her employ, all of whom were obtained under questionable circumstances; and that in regaining her beauty, she had lost her powers. But it was also said that she was capable of making potions that produced miraculous effects, and that was exactly what Brina was looking for. Therefore that night, as soon as the entire coral palace was asleep, Brina set out to find her.

Armed with the strongest willpower and determination, Brina sailed silently out of one of the coral palace's many windows, bolting it shut as she exited. With a final wave goodbye to the family that slept within, she turned, plunging headlong into the waves. Squinting, she glanced from side to side between the waves, trying to use the moonlight reflected on the water to determine which way she should go. Brina realized, in trying to choose a direction that she had absolutely no idea where she was going. Besides which, she realized, the misty haze of the bottom of the ocean at midnight was as thick as algae. She could be swimming for hours, days even, before she so much as found the opening to the river that would eventually take her to the Witch's cave. And what would happen when she actually found the Witch? What if all her efforts were in vain, and the mysterious woman was unable to- or refused to- help her? All of her efforts would be in vain! Yes, that probably was what would happen. She would return home dejected and just as finned as ever. Not to mention Assyria would be furious when she found out exactly where her granddaughter had swum off to. And find out she would- Brina could recall numerous times when she had tried to hide incriminating secrets from her, and Grandmother had always found out. She had a variety of different techniques: sometimes, she used the process of elimination; sometimes, she had forced the truth out of Brina by putting her through hours, days, once it had even been a week of ceaseless guilt; there had even been times when one of her sisters, rather than Brina herself, had been coerced into telling the truth and exposing their sister. Oh yes, whichever way she decided to do it, Assyria would find out, and it would not end well for Brina. If she thought she had faced punishment before, it would mean little compared to what she would receive if she was refused magical assistance. Brina would probably never be allowed within ten leagues of the surface, or possibly even outside of the palace ever again. She might never see Chandler again. But wait! If she turned back now, she definitely would never see him again, or tell him that she had saved his life! Chandler would never be hers if she didn't seek out the Witch's assistance. Brina knew that the odds were not in her favor, but at least she had to try. Taking a deep breath, she plunged into the waves, headed north, hoping beyond hope that she had chosen the right direction.

For three hours, Brina swam, thrashing her tail as fast as it would go against the current. Straining her eyes against the darkness, Brina traversed over miles of the deepest ocean. She swam through rocky trenches and coral reefs, burst through schools of fish and sunken shipwrecks, ducked around anchors and narrowly avoided getting her tail caught in a lobster trap. Where she was, how far she had traversed from the coral palace, she did not know. All the mermaid could think of was the fact that she must find the cave. She must find the Witch. And she must become human. Finally, she found herself swimming through a brook, cutting through a vast expansion of brown-green land, densely packed by rocks and a tall, rough-looking sort of brown seaweed with what appeared to be some kind of green kelp growing out of it in bunches. This, Brina supposed, must be what was known as "the woods," as she had been told to watch for by an aging mermaid whom she had bribed with the bracelet Liat had given her for directions, innumerable leagues before. In the distance loomed a tall, formidable structure. The Witch's cave! This must be it! With mounting enthusiasm, Brina plunged completely underwater and began swimming as fast as her tail could carry her to the back of the cave, where she had been told for the small extra fee of one of the scallops attached to her tailfins there would be an underwater entrance to the Witch's chamber. However, what she saw as she began to draw nearer and nearer made her shake uncontrollably with fright. For growing out of the ground, completely surrounding every path to the entrance shaft, were tall, fearsome stalks of the deadliest breed of seaweed known to merman. The polyps, whose heads nearly touched the surface of the brook, resembled snakes with a hundred heads. Their leaves were wiggling, sticky tentacles which reached out into the distance, waiting to grab their prey. Whatever they caught, they would hold fast, wrapping more and more tentacles around it until the unfortunate being suffocated. In this way, they drowned the humans and land animals and suffocated the ocean creatures. A closer look told Brina that many polyps had been successful in the hunt: many held the skeletons of fish, a few had ensnared the shells of turtles, one polyp held the remains of what appeared to be some form of lobster indigenous to these "woods;" there was even a group from whose tentacles sea foam appeared to be rising. When Brina swam up to see what it was, she reeled back in shock: rotting in the grip of the polyps was the corpse of another little mermaid who had passed this way not long ago. Brina gulped, willing herself to go on. She might have known that the Witch would set traps. Breathing heavily, she wrapped her hair around her body, hugged her arms to her chest, and plunged into the forest of polyps. Somewhere on her journey she felt one yank the other scallop from her fin, another unwind the string of pearls from her tail, but eventually she swam into the cave from a hole at its depths, unharmed.

Upon rising through the hole and throwing herself onto a hard bed of rock, Brina looked around to find herself in the coldest, most sinister-looking room she had ever seen. Darkness filled the cavern, penetrated only by a small light coming from the mouth of the cave, and a small pinprick of light in the distance. The horrible, choking smell of smoke filled the air, making the mermaid cough and gag. Bravely, she pressed on, following the pinprick of light as she flopped into the next room. When she got there, her bravery immediately left her at what she saw, and only by reminding herself that she was doing this for Chandler was she able to keep herself from leaving. She found herself in a bare, cold room of black stone. Long spikes reached down from the ceiling; Brina was sure that if one stood up straight, they would poke right through the person's brain. All around the room floated a host of air spirits: frightening, withered, transparent beings, with half of the body of a human, the bottom half being replaced by what looked like a white puff of seafoam. They raised their tired eyes to Brina, glaring grotesquely at her. Brina noted with shock that one of them bore a striking resemblance to the strangled body of the mermaid caught in the polyps. At the center of the room were two holes in the stone floor; cauldrons, one of which was lit and glowed a ghastly white; the other one was empty and dark. A section of the back wall of the room had been carved out into a set of shelves. Reclining on a stone bench carved in the middle of the cave, next to the lit cauldron, was the most terrifyingly beautiful woman Brina had ever seen. Her white skin seemed luminous in the dark cave, and her brown eyes flashed fire at the new invader. She wore a strange human garment; what looked like a long, low-cut bag with sleeves made of purple velvet. Attached to this was a flowing red velvet cape, and around her neck hung a necklace of rubies. In her abundant auburn curls, she wore a black hair ornament. She looked absolutely perturbed at having her solace destroyed by the mermaid.

"Who are you? What do you want?" The Witch snapped, glaring daggers at Brina.

"Um…" she began, awestruck by the Witch's intimidating figure. The Witch raised her eyebrow indifferently at the mermaid, as if telling her that she could either speak up or leave her alone. Stammering, Brina pressed on. "My-my name is Brina. Princess Brina of the Oceans. I am ter-terribly sorry to disturb you at this time, it's just that… I n-need your services. You see, I have fallen in love with a human. A Prince Chandler." At this, the Witch leaned closer to her, as if listening. "His floating reef- a ship, I believe they are called- was damaged in a storm, in a series of fiery waves. He fell overboard and I saved him from drowning. But I had to leave him before he awoke. He only knows me by my voice. I must find him, and I cannot live on land. Having legs is my only chance. Please, Mistress," she begged, tears beginning to fill her eyes, "I didn't know where else to turn. Nobody understands my situation or is willing to help me where I come from. You are the only one I can turn to. Can you please help me?"

The Witch cocked her head to the side momentarily, thinking about this. This mermaid had come to her for assistance in procuring what was probably the most extreme wish that she had ever been asked to grant. The mermaid wished to become a human. There was no other way she could be with the Prince that she had saved, the Witch knew this. If she did not assist her, all hope was lost for the poor mermaid. Her Prince would eventually forget about her and marry someone else, and the mermaid would spend the rest of her life aquatic and miserable until she finally died and her body became foam on the surface of the ocean. It all revolved around whether or not the Witch could transform her tail into a pair of legs. The Witch darkly laughed inside. Of course she could help the young mermaid. The question was would she? If she were to make that certain potion the mermaid needed, what would the mermaid be willing to give her in return? How great would her payment be? Would the result be worth her effort? In short- what was in it for her? The Witch Giovanna, unbeknownst to Brina, had a wish of her own that she was desperate to fulfill. The rumors about her were in fact all too true. She had been as powerful as she was beautiful long ago, and she had cultivated a garden containing rampion of a quality that surpassed all other vegetables. Eventually a young woman named Rosamond, her pregnant neighbor and the wife of the Witch's former lover Frexspar the Baker, developed an unusual appetite for Giovanna's rampion. Afraid to risk Rosamond's health, Frexspar had snuck into the garden and stolen not only the rampion, but six magic beans, robbing Giovanna of her beauty. As punishment, Giovanna had taken the baby- a girl, whom she named "Rapunzel," a variation on the word "rampion"- and had cursed both Frexspar and his small son, Chip, with barrenness. For years, Giovanna had longed to regain her youth and beauty. The opportunity for this had never presented itself until many years had passed since she placed the curse and Chip was now fully grown, married to a woman named Joanna and longing for the child they could not have. Giovanna remembered that bargain as if it had been placed the day before: she'd given them three days to procure a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold for her to give them a child. They had found all the ingredients for the potion- even Frexspar himself, who had disappeared shortly after the abduction of Rapunzel, intervened- and she had regained her youth, but at a terrible price. Giovanna lost her powers, and for what? One whiny little peasant brat: Chip and Joanna's daughter, a darling little demon with red hair. And that name! Beauty! What kind of parent named their child "Beauty?" Giovanna fumed at the mere thought of the entire irritating family. Beauty would be about nineteen years old by now, provided she'd survived the giantess attack, and she was probably as much a liar and a thief as her parents and grandparents before her. Due to the dishonest tendencies of mortals like Beauty's family, Giovanna had lost her powers and was desperate to regain them. However, the potion required for this was proving to be even more difficult to come by. She still lacked three ingredients: the voice of a mermaid, the hair of a mermaid, and a pair of iron shoes whose soles were worn to shreds. Once again, Giovanna could not have touched the ingredients; furthermore, the hair and voice could not have come from the same mermaid and the shoes would have to be completely worn out in the span of a month. The final requirement was nearly impossible: once Giovanna had all of the ingredients, the potion would be activated as soon as one of her previous curses was reversed. What were the odds of that happening? Giovanna was proud to say that she had placed a great many curses following the spell of barrenness that started her whole predicament, but very few of them had any chance of being broken. She gazed at the bubbling cauldron by her side, full of the makings of the potion that held all her chances of power, and allowed her mind to wander to the young son of King Salazar the Third and Queen Serafina-of-the-Twenty-Mattresses, the one she had transformed into a beast, her last curse before the loss of her powers. He would be about twenty-seven by now, surely a girl would come to the castle and… the Witch shook her head. It was never to happen. If Giovanna remembered anything at all about the royals, it was that Salazar the Third was more tyrannical than any other king she'd ever encountered and Serafina-of-the-Twenty-Mattresses was as narcissistic as her husband was controlling. Their son had obviously inherited an awful combination of their traits, which had no doubt been magnified as years passed. What girl was going to willingly subject herself to such people, let alone fall in love with one of them? It was hopeless.

Giovanna also had another goal that she aimed to accomplish. After her mother had died and she had been abandoned by her former lover in favor of Rosamond, and she had taken Frexspar's daughter, little Rapunzel had quickly become the only person in the world that the Witch was capable of loving. Looking back, Giovanna supposed that this was why she had imprisoned her daughter in a tower with no doors or stairs, hidden deep in the middle of the woods. She had been terrified that she would lose Rapunzel, like she had lost the girl's father so many years ago. Giovanna had had so little love in her life that she never thought she'd be able to bear the loss, and hiding Rapunzel in some remote location seemed to be the only answer at the time. Her efforts were in vain; nineteen years ago, Rapunzel had committed suicide by throwing herself under the foot of the giantess attacking the kingdom. Her baby had died prematurely, and the person holding the blame was none other than one of the two princes of the kingdom. Over twenty years ago, the king and queen of this particular land were secure in their family's reign, having two male heirs to the kingdom. However, they had raised their sons to be charming, as opposed to sincere, and as a result the two princes flitted constantly from maiden to maiden, breaking dozens of hearts as they contested each other to leave the longest string of lovers behind. The younger son, Prince Victor, had come upon Rapunzel's tower and seduced her, eventually getting her pregnant without the girl's knowing about the subject. Later on, he had taken Rapunzel from her mother, who was now powerless. As if this had not been enough to earn Giovanna's eternal hatred, when Rapunzel died, the Witch found out that Victor had been sneaking off to visit a sleeping maiden from the next kingdom. He would have to be dealt with, as would Rapunzel's son, Chandler, who had undoubtedly become the same as his father, without having had his darling mother's good influence over his upbringing. Although by capturing a host of air spirits, Giovanna now had a means by which to get her ingredients; in their airlike forms they would not be able to perform this sort of task. Perhaps the mermaid could help her here as well…

"You wish to become a human?" She asked the mermaid, mulling this over.

"Only if it's not too much tr-"

"You wish to have your tail replaced with two legs, so that your Prince Chandler may fall in love with you after you saved his life, do you? I know what it is you wish. It is very foolish of you." Brina hung her head. The Witch was not going to help her. She knew this would happen. Now she'd never be with Chandler. The Witch smiled a sinister, chilling smile. "However, I am willing to help you achieve your wish." Brina smiled in disbelief. She had a chance! "I will make you a potion that will transform your silver tail into a pair of legs. You will be able to walk and live on land, and with luck, you will find your Prince. However, it will not be easy winning his love. And there is a catch. Therefore, before I proceed with making the potion, you must agree to everything I tell you."

"I will do anything you say." Brina managed to say, excited and thrilled that she would soon be with her beloved Chandler.

"When I have finished the potion, you must swallow it all at once. You will then be overtaken by pain, as if a sharp sword were running through your tail, again and again. When the pain passes, your tail will be gone, replaced by legs as I said, but every step you take will feel like sharp knives cutting through your foot. Walk for too long and the pain will begin to draw blood. Besides this, I assume you realize that once you are a human, you will not be able to survive under the ocean and therefore can never see your family again."

"I will brave it, so long as I can be with my Prince," Brina uneasily agreed, thinking momentarily of how she would miss her family.

"Finally, I'll need a certain payment for my efforts." Hearing this, Brina began to undo her shell necklace, but Giovanna raised her hand to signal that it would not be sufficient. "No. I will require something much more valuable than your trinket. What I want from you is…" Giovanna paused while she thought about this. She needed the voice and hair of two separate mermaids. Well, here was one of her mermaids. Finally a mermaid had survived the polyps that she had planted in the water surrounding the cave upon taking up residence, using seeds that her mother had left her before she was burned at the stake by angry peasants, the only thing besides a sack of magic beans to survive the giantess attack. But did she want her voice or her hair? "…Your voice," she decided. As Brina began to protest, Giovanna cut her off, gesturing an air spirit towards the shelves. "That is my price. You will still have your beautiful form and your pleasant manner; that should be enough to charm your Prince. Now, I have a potion that will draw your voice from your body." As she said this, Brina could see one of the ghoulish air spirits plunging a knife with an ornate silver, amethyst-studded handle into a black jar. "I will cut your tongue and your voice will be expelled within moments. Also, there is another aspect to my payment. Your Prince must marry you. If he should marry another woman, beginning on his wedding day you belong to me."

Brina shuddered. "I will… I'll… Done!" She finally blurted out. She began to breathe heavily at the thought of what lay ahead, and of what she would face if she failed to win Chandler. She sighed, straightening up. She would just have to try all the harder to get him to love her. The air spirit who resembled the dead mermaid now approached Brina, holding a black, wooden box with silver at the edges and on the hinges and clasp. The Witch, meanwhile, had taken the knife, now treated with the potion, a potion she had made long ago in the event that she ever were able to obtain a mermaid's voice. Austere and frightening in her deadly beauty and seriousness, she loomed over Brina.

"Put out your tongue," she ordered. Shivering, Brina knelt before her and complied. She felt one fast cut, and the deed was done. "I am the path leading to no return," the Witch darkly sang.

As the air spirit held the container close to her face, Brina could feel her throat beginning to contract, her vocal cords stretching. Her voice was beginning to come out. Somehow she managed to blurt out "I… would die for him…" before her voice exploded from her throat in one, long high note piercing the air. Brina shook, unable to control the force of her voice. She felt weak, helpless, as if someone were reaching down her throat, pulling the life force from her body. The music did not feel as if it were coming from her, it seemed rather as if she were listening to herself. She continued to watch, helpless, as her voice floated away from her body, a blue mist filling the box with an eerie glow.

"Secret of life nobody wants to learn." Giovanna warned, watching in satisfaction as the naïve little mermaid's voice filled her box. She had done it! She now only needed two more ingredients for her potion to be ready for activation. Perhaps, if she played her cards right, she could also furnish her entire plan for revenge out of this stupid mermaid's little fling with the human Prince. After all, there was no possible way he could love the mermaid. She had said herself that Chandler only knew her by her voice. Without that asset to help her, Brina was as good as finished. The prince would never know that it was she who had saved him. If Chandler did fall in love with her at all, it would only be for a small romantic tryst as his father had long ago with her Rapunzel. After being abandoned, surely Brina would want to kill her betrayer. Soon, there would be nothing but to wait. "I am the ship gliding to distant shores!"

"Now his life is forever mine!" Brina's voice exploded out of her throat in a burst of blue light as she was thrown back into the wall of the cave by the force.

"Your life is forever mine!"

Her entire body throbbing with pain, Brina lifted herself from the ground. Kneeling she stared at the blue light glowing from within the box: her voice. "And I am… yours…" she heard it sing as the box was closed. The deed was done. It was over. Finally, she would have the potion and she would be with Chandler. Yet as the Witch bent next to the empty cauldron and reached down a hole next to it to light it, Brina suddenly remembered all she had promised to g o through to get her Prince. Winning his love would be almost impossible without her voice. He definitely would not recognize her when he saw her, she knew that much. And without her voice, not only would he not be able to tell that she was the one who saved his life, but she would be unable to tell him. Brina shivered as the Witch moved toward the shelves, grabbing various jars and dumping their contents into the mixture, which was beginning to boil over as if it were trying to come out of the cauldron and swallow the mermaid whole. She shivered as a low moan began to rise from its depths. That potion represented all the pain she would be enduring in the near future, as well as all that would happen to her should she fail to win her Prince's hand. The more she tried not to think about it, the more the dread filled her mind as the potion began to take on the color of the ocean during a storm. The frustration of silence, the blood and the pain brought on by walking, the horrible prospect of becoming this terrifying woman's servant for the rest of her life… once she drank it, there was no turning back. She had signed her life away. For the first time since she left her palace, Brina began to honestly doubt she could to this, and to seriously consider trying to run.

Brina watched in horror as the mixture bubbled inside the cauldron, seeming to grow in volume as it boiled higher and higher. It changed in color as rapidly as it grew- from a sickly green resembling algae to a musty grey, to a revolting shade of purple and finally to the pitch black of the cave's walls. She shivered in fear at the sounds emanating from the cauldron as the potion simmered. It sounded like the screams of thousands of merpeople whose tails were being chopped off as they slowly, painfully bled to death. Had Brina still possessed her voice, she would have screamed along with them in her fright. Did my parents scream like this the day they were killed, she wondered. She slowly backed away, only to feel her arms grabbed by what felt like an icy gust of wind. However Brina struggled, she could not break free of the freezing air. Terrified, she glanced at her arm and reeled backwards on sight of the thin, bony hand, white as a sand dollar that held her fast. She looked up and immediately turned away when she saw that she was being restrained by one of the Witch's air spirits, its hollow, worn face glaring at the mermaid as if to say You will not leave this place. You are trapped, Mermaid! Struggling is useless- you cannot turn back now that you've no voice! Brina stared at the floor of the cave, trying not to look at either her captor or the potion, which shrieked louder and louder as the Witch added more and more ingredients, the exact ones used Brina could not help feeling relieved that she did not see. When she had finally mustered up enough courage to look up again, she immediately wished that she had not. The Witch had taken the knife, still dripping with Brina's blood. With a savage grin at the mermaid, the Witch pressed the blade into her own hand, viciously slicing her palm. Having undertaken this procedure, she held her hand over the cauldron, letting the thick red blood drip into the ghastly mixture. A could of grey steam exploded from the potion as she did this, and the screams became louder and more urgent than ever. Brina swallowed, fighting the urge to vomit. The shrieking of the cauldron was becoming more than she could bear. Pressing her hands to her ears for a split second before they were yanked off by the Air Spirit, she attempted to regain her composure, to convince herself not to mind the fact that soon, she would have to drink that stuff. She was now thankful that the Witch had decided to demand payment and take her voice before she began to concoct the potion; Brina was certain that had she been able to speak, she would at that very moment be begging the Witch to stop, pleading that she had changed her mind, that the human really did not matter all that much to her. She could not have done that- if the Witch had listened and taken pity on her, ceasing to concoct that horrible slime whose boiling was finally starting to die down… Brina would have lost her last hope of ever being with Chandler. The mermaid gulped and sat up straighter, bracing herself. She had to be strong. She had to go through with this. She was going to take that potion, and no matter what pain was inflicted on her during and after the transformation, well, she'd endure it if it meant that she could join herself with the human prince that she loved.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity to Brina, there was silence. She cocked her head, listening. No screams arose from the cauldron. Was the potion finished? Curious, Brina flopped closer to the cauldron as the Air Spirit released her from its grasp, seemingly satisfied that its prisoner would not attempt to escape. The liquid had settled down to a smooth substance with the consistency of water. It resembled water as well; gazing into its clear surface, Brina could see straight down to the dusty grey depths of the stone cauldron. The brew rippled in the light breeze that began to fill the cave as morning broke, distorting Brina's nervous reflection as she stared. The mermaid's inhibitions were temporarily replaced with amazement. How in the world had that awful concoction the Witch was brewing become this? This clear, watery substance looked absolutely harmless compared to the pulsating, screaming monstrosity it had been mere minutes ago. Looking closely, Brina could not find a trace of any of the strange and fearsome ingredients that had been thrown in; not even a drop of the Witch's blood could be seen. She leaned over the edge of the hole, half-expecting some hideous creature to arise from within its depths and pull her in. Nothing. Yet still, she would have to drink this. And once she had done so, there would be no turning back. The pain would take over half of her body, leaving her with legs instead of fins; a pain that supposedly would return every time she took a step. The pain caused by walking would mean nothing to the ache her heart would feel at never seeing her family again. Never to laugh and gossip with her sisters, never to tell them secrets or hide her misdemeanors from Assyria. Her face fell remembering this. She barely had time to further consider the consequences of her actions before she was roughly nudged aside by the Witch.

"Don't just sit there gawking!" she snapped, pushing the mermaid out of her way and crossing towards the shelves. Foolish child, she mused, rummaging through the top shelf. Exactly like my- here, the Witch paused, realizing that her Rapunzel had been exactly the same way. Rapunzel, for some reason her mother would never understand, had loved that unfaithful, disgusting wretch of a Prince Victor with the exact strength of the mermaid's love for Rapunzel's son, Prince Chandler. Rapunzel's adoration had been strong enough to cause her to lie to her mother, going behind Giovanna's back by allowing a visitor into her tower, an act she knew was forbidden for her own safety. Rapunzel had been willing to sacrifice her beautiful long hair and her safe haven for a man who would eventually leave her for some idiotic wench from the next kingdom whose only remarkable quality was her snow-white skin. Giovanna shook her head at the memory as she finally found a silver, amethyst-studded goblet and seized it off the shelf. Rapunzel's little mistake would be avenged soon enough! Without a word, she lowered the goblet into the cauldron. Once she had filled it, she drew it out and thrust it at the mermaid. "Drink this."

Taking the goblet into her hands, Brina gulped. This was it. This was the moment of truth. There was no turning back now. Once she drank this potion, the deed would be done. Her tail and fins would be magically transformed into legs and feet, and never again would she be able to return to the ocean. From this point on, she would have to pretend that her family was dead in order to avoid homesickness, as she had no doubt they would think she was when she did not return home after a few days. She would have to go off in search of Chandler, and when she found him, hopefully make him fall in love with her. She must make him fall in love with her. If she did not… Brina did not want to think about belonging to this beautiful, yet terrifying woman. To be her slave for as long as she may live… shuddering, Brina raised the goblet to her lips. I must be brave, she thought, shutting her eyes. Mustn't stop now, not now that I've come so far. This potion is the only thing standing between me and Chandler. Once I drink it, I will have a chance at having him for my own. Do it for Chandler. For Chandler. For Chandler. Her mind focused on the image of her beloved Prince's face, his shining blond hair, his sparkling blue eyes, his brave, confident attitude; Brina threw back her head and drank. The liquid running down her throat tasted more horrible than anything she had ever eaten or drank before in her life. She felt increasingly sick as the goblet emptied. She felt her stomach churning, her throat contracting; Brina desired nothing more than to vomit and rid her body of this disgusting potion. For Chandler. For Chandler. Finally, at long last, the goblet was empty. Now, there was nothing but to wait. For Chandler…

She waited, for how long she did not know. A moment? An hour? A day? Brina could only guess as she knelt on the cave's floor, awaiting her transformation. Suddenly, she felt it! A pain unlike any she had ever felt cut through her tail with the intensity of a thousand knives. Brina collapsed, wincing in pain as she felt her tail burning, the cut deepening. She closed her eyes, unable to look at what was happening to her for the agony she was in. It was as if a shark had captured her tail in his jaws and was not about to let go. She was being ripped to shreds and unable to stop it from happening. Brina tried to concentrate on Chandler, straining herself in her effort to remember that she had the best of all reasons to be undergoing such torture, pleading with her thoughts to return to her future with her Prince: that magical moment when she finally found him again, their marriage, their life together. Her efforts were all in vain- the only thing running through Brina's mind as she felt her tail finally split in two, the halves beginning to burn and shrivel, was that the pain her parents had felt when they were murdered would feel like nothing compared to this. Had she still been able to, Brina would have screamed loud and shrill enough to rival the boiling of the potion itself. As it was, she writhed and contorted in pain, biting her lip in an attempt to lessen the horrible sensations that were shooting rapidly up and down the two halves of what was once her tail. Was she bleeding? It didn't feel that way, and she was not about to open her eyes and find out. However, she felt weak, as if the very life had been drained from her. With desperate concentration, Brina willed herself not to faint, unsure if that would have any effect on the results of drinking the potion. Exhausted, she finally lay still, awash in pain, praying every second that this pain would end, unsure if she could endure much more, even if it were for Chandler.

The pain died down. Thanks be to Poseidon! Slowly, wearily, Brina's eyes fluttered open. Had the potion worked? She turned her head towards the lower half of her body, trying not to expect a miracle. What she saw made her jump backward in elated disbelief. For staring past her midsection, instead of her long silver tail, she saw two separate, elegant white limbs which bent at the center. As for her large, blue fins, they had shrunk and taken on the same color. Her mouth agape, her eyes as big as sand dollars, Brina sat up, running her hands over the new limbs in wonder, unable to believe they were really there. The Witch had done it! She had legs! Brina was a human! Jumping to her new feet in excitement, she stumbled to the Witch, momentarily heedless of the new pain that was shooting up her legs like the slice of a knife. Unsteady on her new legs, she fell flat at the sorceress's feet as she looked on in what appeared to be slight amusement. Unable to thank the Witch, Brina instead took her hand in her own, raising it to her lips. The Witch, in turn, yanked her hand away from the mortal in shock and disgust, turning into the next chamber of the cave. In a moment she reappeared, carrying what appeared to Brina to be some sort of human garment woven out of what looked like the fibers of dried seaweed. It slightly resembled the outfit worn by the Witch herself, except for the fact that while hers was ornate and complemented her figure, this one appeared to have no shape at all, no defining attributes except for a large hole at one end, and a smaller one at each of the other three. This was unceremoniously thrust at an uncomprehending Brina.

"Put this on," the Witch ordered. Brina cocked her head to the side, not understanding what she was supposed to do. Giovanna inwardly sighed at the mermaid's density. "Don't stare at me like that. Your long hair won't serve as adequate clothing on land." Still staring, the mermaid obeyed, yanking the sack over her head. "Remember everything I told you," the Witch warned, glaring at Brina once more. "You must win your Prince's love. If you do not, the day he marries another woman you are mine." Brina nodded. "Now go to the wood!" Turning towards the light at the end of the cavern, Brina took her first limping steps toward her future. Almost immediately she felt it: jagged knives cutting into her feet, ripping her apart although her feet stayed intact. The pain was amplified by the rough rock floor of the cave, actually cutting into her new feet, making her bleed. Brina winced, swallowing her pain. She was just going to have to endure it. It would be hours at least before she found Chandler, and it would only take longer if she let the pain hold her back. Grinding her teeth, she bravely pressed on into the light, beginning her search for the Prince she loved.

As she watched the mermaid stumble out of the cave, Giovanna opened the box carefully, not allowing herself to touch the precious voice. Slowly, she poured it into the potion in the cauldron nearest her bench, which glowed brighter, having now gotten one more necessary ingredient to restore Giovanna's powers. As she stoked the fire beneath it, she took pride in the fact that she had come closer to achieving two goals at once. The mermaid would never win her Prince's love without her voice. Before long, she would be desperate to evade servitude, and when that happened Giovanna would make her an offer she couldn't refuse. Victor, Chandler, or both would be dead and she wouldn't have to lift a finger. Giovanna sighed. She would have done the deed herself years ago, possibly even rescued Rapunzel while she lived, if she could have been sure that she could go anywhere near the palace without fear of arrest and execution; Victor had been convinced he'd saved Rapunzel from an abusive parent who'd blinded him. She'd also wanted to guard Rapunzel's daughter, Elise, from her mother's fate, but it was already too late for that; Victor had gone and married the girl off before she could spirit her away. Ah, well. Before too long, she would have the thieving Prince and his son dead. Reaching into a hidden pocket of her cloak, she pulled out a silver, blue diamond-studded hairbrush, strands of hair as yellow as corn still stuck in its bristles. The back of this hairbrush had one word engraved into it: Rapunzel. Giovanna held the hairbrush close and kissed it.

"Worry not, my Rapunzel," she whispered. "Mother will soon set things right."

"She saved me from drowning, she sang me awake, but then she ran away. I've found my true love, I'm sure of it, but why couldn't she have stayed? Agony! How my blood starts to fizz! She sang so sweetly. I've lost her completely. Don't know who she is."

Late that afternoon in the woods, Prince Chandler was making his way home from a hunting expedition. He had had a fairly successful hunt; his silver horse's back was laden with a freshly-killed deer and four fat brown rabbits hung from its bridle. Now, Chandler was riding closer and closer towards the palace at a slow, steady pace while the Royal Steward followed behind on a copper mare, lecturing the Prince about the expectations his father, Prince Victor and his uncle, Prince Robert, held for him. Chandler barely suppressed a groan. It was the same thing every time he left the castle to hunt or to sail or undertake other adventurous pursuits; his father would always dispatch a servant to assist him. Usually it was the Steward. And whenever the Steward had a moment alone with Chandler, he would always be sure to launch into a diatribe on how he should desist with his adventures and begin to go off in search of young maidens to romance. More than once that day, Chandler had thought of spurring his horse into a gallop and losing the old windbag in the woods. Maybe that would finally impress upon the man that he preferred discovering new lands, saving lives and making a brighter name for himself to breaking hearts. However, he resisted the temptation, knowing that as a Prince, he was expected to show dignity. Instead, he tried to concentrate on thoughts of the mysterious maiden who had saved him, as the Steward continued his lecture.

"Yes, Your Highness, I am aware that you have made a vow only to marry the woman whose voice you heard that day upon the shore, but what you must realize is that chances are you were probably only hearing things. After all Sire, young women don't go rescuing people and then disappearing into thin air! "

"She's out there," he countered. "I'm sure of it. And somehow or other, I'm going to find her. Until then, I shall pursue no other maiden, for no maiden besides that one is of any interest to me. Father will just have to accept the fact that-"

"But Your Highness, you must remember that you may be ruling this kingdom someday! Your uncle, as you know, has no children of his own, and therefore after he inherits the throne the heir will be your father, and after him the throne will fall to you. It is your duty as a royal to extend the family line! Your sister, the Princess Elise was married at sixteen- four years younger than yourself, Your Highness- and she now has three daughters and hopefully a son on the way. You are now twenty years old! It is high time you finally found yourself a maiden or two. Your father expects that…"

His father. Chandler fumed in disgust at Prince Victor's hypocrisy. His father was pressuring him to ease off on his explorations, to find himself a maiden, to begin to court, implying that he find himself a wife, when in reality the man had been terribly unfaithful to every woman who had come into his life, hurting them more deeply than even Chandler could understand. And to think that during his childhood, he had wanted to be just like his father. The Prince remembered a time when he had idolized his father beyond all other men in the world, looking to him as a hero, considering his word to be law. That had been when he was a child, and had believed the story he'd been told that his mother, Rapunzel's death had been accidental and that his father had fallen in love with his stepmother, Snow White, after she died. That had all changed when Chandler had, at ten years old, returned inside the castle from his fencing lesson and found his stepmother crying in her sitting room. Snow White had refused to tell him what the matter was, no matter how he pressed her. Deciding he could be of no help, he had gone in search of his father, hearing laughter from the courtyard coming from his father and a female voice he didn't recognize. Unsure what to do, he had run to the nearest window and looked out to find Victor kissing a lady of court, and the way that they acted gave the lad reason to believe that they had gone even farther than that before. Young Chandler had not been able to stop thinking of this for weeks afterward, and began to figure that it was not entirely impossible that Snow White had been Victor's mistress when Rapunzel was alive and that Rapunzel may have thrown herself under the giant's foot on purpose, unable to face the pain.

Prince Robert, on the other hand, was even worse; after Cinderella had left him, his subsequent marriage to Sleeping Beauty had lasted a total of five years. Since then, he had been having affairs with nearly every royal female in the vicinity of the palace, none of which lasted long. Chandler had often heard Robert talking to Victor about his conquests, holding them all against one ideal: none of them could compare to Joanna. Chandler knew nothing about Joanna, except that she was a peasant woman that Prince Robert had had a one-night stand with on the night of the giantess attack and that she had never been seen or heard from thereafter. Chandler usually got a pit in his stomach whenever he thought of this as he remembered that Joanna was the name of his cousin Beauty's late mother, who had died in the giantess attack. He sometimes wondered exactly what she had been doing before… then he knew again that it was absurd. From what Beauty knew about her mother, Joanna may have thought the princes were handsome, but was unlikely to stray from her husband. Besides, Joanna was not such an uncommon name; there were probably a good number of peasant women named "Joanna" in the kingdom. It was probably not Beauty's mother. Beauty. Beauty probably would have understood his annoyance at his father and uncle's expectations, and his determination to find the maiden who saved him and most importantly that after years of witnessing Princes Robert and Victor's behavior he had vowed to be charming and sincere. But Beauty was dead. She had been mauled to death by a beast in exchange for her father's life. The invitation to her funeral from his baker uncle had arrived while he was away at sea, so he hadn't even been able to pay his respects. He sighed, remembering it. Beauty had always wanted some excitement. Too bad her first adventure had also been her last.

"And furthermore, Your Highness, you are shutting yourself off to the multitude of other maidens clamoring for your hand. Remember, you are known for being one of the most handsome princes out of many kingdoms. You could have the world, Prince Chandler, yet you choose to ignore it! " the Steward rambled. "You were raised to be charming, and everyone agrees that it's about time you put it to good use! You are a young man, and a royal. It is your right, your privilege and your duty to…"

Chandler paused for a moment, gazing out into the fine evening mist as the Royal Steward continued to babble on about the Prince's Father and Uncle's expectations for the young man, unaware that his charge had ceased to listen. Had he seen what he thought he'd seen? Chandler blinked; the apparition was gone just as soon as it had appeared. The prince shrugged. Perhaps the cook had accidentally served the royal family some bad wine with dinner the night before. However, on hindsight the wine had not tasted any sourer than it normally was last night… Chandler mentally shook himself. Ever since he had been saved from drowning by a mysterious woman, he had been seeing the silhouettes of beautiful maidens everywhere he looked. The royal physician had said it was nothing to worry about, it was probably an after-effect of some trauma to the head experienced while underwater. He must have hit his head on a rock, or a piece of driftwood. It should be gone in a week or so. Yet it had been a month already since the accident and the visions still appeared, haunting Chandler, obsessing him with finding out who the woman was. And there it was again! A shadow stumbling towards him in the distance. As it drew nearer and nearer, Chandler noted in wonder that it appeared as if the shadow had never been properly taught to walk. Instead, the shadow teetered from side to side, leaping awkwardly around as it attempted not to trip over its own feet in a dance of agitation- and pain? The Prince noted with some pity that the shadow kept grabbing at her feet, as if they hurt her. As he continued to stare, mesmerized and convinced by now that he was not seeing things, a strange young girl bounded into the clearing, tripped over a rock, and fell flat on her face right next to Chandler's horse.

Gasping, Chandler leapt off his horse and knelt beside the fallen maiden, hoping that she was all right and making ready to offer his assistance as the Steward gaped in disgust. What he saw when he looked at her took his breath away in shock and wonder. The girl couldn't be more than sixteen, and she was more than usually tall for her age. Her skin was of a pale marble white with a pearly shine to it, as though she had never once in her life seen the sun. She was slender, but healthily so, as if she had spent much of her time exercising as opposed to being starved to death. She was wearing nothing but a filthy old sack, and upon closer inspection Chandler noted with shock and pity that the soles of her bare feet were covered in blood. She must have cut them on the rocks in the forest floor. No wonder she'd appeared to be in so much pain. What really struck Chandler, however, was her hair. With the exception of his mother's, this had to be the longest hair ever seen in the kingdom, stopping more than halfway down her legs. A pink starfish clung to each side of her head. Most strikingly of all, the hair was green; a light, jade-like shade reminiscent of sea foam. That was something that one did not see every day… yet the Prince decided politely not to think too much of it. After all, there were starfish in the girl's hair, she smelled strongly of the ocean, and on closer inspection her skin appeared to be damp. Perhaps she had been shipwrecked, and had simply followed the current through the ocean to the brook and into the woods. Chandler had heard of long exposure to salty water turning blonde hair green. Perhaps that was what had happened to her.

"Excuse me, Miss?" He murmured, gently shaking her. "Miss? Are you all right? Can you hear me?"

Slowly, the girl lifted up her head. Her eyes fluttered open and stared at him; large, trusting eyes as blue as the ocean. Her mouth gaped at him, like that of a fish, as if she recognized him. But how could that be possible? Chandler had only met her just that moment! Relieved that the maiden hadn't injured herself further, he gently guided her arm to his shoulder, draping it around his back as he helped her up.

"Come." He whispered. "Stand up." The girl strained to get to her feet, wincing in pain as her feet touched the ground again. "It's all right. You can do it. Here, lean on me. I will help you." At that moment, his horse whinnied furiously at the newcomer. Frightened, the girl backed away, grimacing in pain as she nearly fell over backwards, stopped just in time by Chandler's supporting arm. The Prince hurriedly reigned in his horse, his heart beginning to well up with pity for the strange girl. What could she have been through? Where had she come from? Why was she alone in the woods?

"Who are you? What is your name?"

Brina stared at the Prince holding her, mouth agape, dazed at all that had just happened. All that she could think was that she had done it. She had finally found her Prince. And here he was, holding her and talking to her, concerned already over her well-being. He was so kind. He had just asked her something, what was it now… her name! He had asked her her name! Poseidon, where are my manners? Springing to attention, Brina opened her mouth and began to speak. My name is Brina. I am one of the six princesses of the oceans. You may not remember, but we have met before, when your ship was destroyed in a series of fiery waves. You were tossed into the ocean and I saved you, that was my voice you heard! I- here she stopped, realizing that no sound was coming from her lips. Her voice! Now she remembered, it was gone, she had given it to the Witch in exchange for these legs! Chandler watched in pitying amusement as the mysterious girl's lips moved up and down, and then slowly ground to a halt, being replaced with an expression of utmost sadness. Brina hung her head in realization that she could not tell the Prince that she had saved him.

"You cannot speak?" The maiden shook her head. The poor thing was mute. Chandler's pity multiplied at this realization; no doubt she as well had suffered trauma to the head during her shipwreck, obviously a trauma that would make his seem mild. It would definitely explain her odd way of walking, as well as her muteness. Her feet had not looked very well either. Looking down, Chandler noted with shock that they appeared to be bleeding even more, and new cuts had sprouted from her ankles. Looking at her, only one thought ran through his mind: he could not leave her here. The girl was obviously lost, and without her voice and being as rattled in the head as she seemed, judging by the curious manner in which she stared at everything in the woods as if she had never seen it before, she would never last long on her own. A wolf might tempt her to stray from the path, eventually eating her. A troll or a witch might capture her. Even worse, the Beast which had ended Beauty's life might decide to make this girl his next meal. Anything could happen in the woods, and Chandler could not bear to have it on his conscience if anything happened to this strange maiden. Gently, he removed her arm from his shoulder and turned away.

"Wait here." Glancing over his shoulder to see that she was all right, he led the Steward off to the side. "We must bring her back to the palace with us."

Looking over Chandler's shoulder, the Steward could see the girl stumbling towards a nearby tree, wincing as her feet continued to bleed. Flailing her arms like broken wings, she lunged at the tree, grabbing at it to support herself as she fell. Judging from her strange behavior, the Steward could not help the penetrating feeling that the girl was insane, and possibly dangerous. She refused to talk, she stared and gaped like a lunatic, and she stumbled around as if her parents hadn't bothered to teach her to walk. And then there was that hair. Never had any maiden been seen in the kingdom who had green hair. Perhaps she was a demon of some kind! The Prince must be mad, he thought.

"Your Highness, I think that perhaps, we should not. I mean, the maiden is obviously not… entirely together… and perhaps it would be in your best interest to leave her here. Perhaps someone is looking for her." Although who would actually WANT to try to find this girl is beyond my imagining, the Steward added to himself. "Or if not, perhaps someone more experienced in matters such as these will come upon her before long. If you wish, I could facilitate this process; at your command I shall go and alert the madhouse-"

The Prince raised his hand, cutting him off. "No, I feel it best that we take her with us. The girl does not appear to be insane, she is simply lost and alone, and she is obviously in no condition to fend for herself. It would be heartless to leave her here, mute and weakened where there are any number of threats to her well-being. It would be only right if she stayed in the palace, at least until whatever is wrong with her legs heals or we find her family. Besides, as a royal son, it is my duty to protect her. As long as she is within the boundaries of my family's kingdom, she is my subject. What kind of Prince would I be if I simply left one of my own subjects to suffer alone and without any possible form of defense?"

The Steward paused and looked, along with the Prince, at the strange girl who was now sitting on the ground, staring up in the tree at a squirrel as attentively as if she had never seen one. With a smile too unnaturally large for the Steward's taste, she playfully began to imitate the squirrel's motions as it ate a nut. The Steward sighed and pulled the amused Prince Chandler back to face him. "In this case, a very sensible one, Your Highness."

"The girl will return to the palace with us." With that, Chandler strode over to the girl and gently placed his hand on her shoulder, brushing away strands of her salt-encrusted green hair. "Miss, may I offer you my assistance? How would you like to stay with me until we can locate your relatives?" The girl slowly tilted her head up to face him, gaping at him as if in disbelief. Chandler felt a quick pang in his heart. Had this girl seen so little kindness, then? Maybe she was in awe because he was a prince. Or maybe she worried that she would be expected to work for her keep. "You needn't worry. I expect no payment, nor do I want it. And I promise you, Miss, you will be well cared for. I will provide you with a comfortable room to rest in, and plenty of food to eat." His eyes fell on the sack she was wearing. Perhaps she might fit into some of Elise's clothing that she left behind when she was married. "And until your legs heal, you can sit or ride. I promise you, you'll never need to walk." She continued to gape at him like a fish. Chandler wondered if she was worried that he would try to take advantage of her, little knowing that Brina was simply in too much awe at the fact that she had actually found him to do anything but stare. Chandler went on. "I give you my word as a prince that no one will take any unwanted advantage of you, myself included. Will you come with me?" Smiling, the girl nodded. At this, Chandler lifted her onto his horse and steered off, followed by the exasperated Royal Steward.

As the Prince steered his horse through the royal grounds to the steps of the palace, a hush came over the palace servants as they stopped their work to stare at the mysterious maiden riding pillion behind him. They could not take their eyes away from this strange girl with her pale skin, her piercing blue eyes, her bleeding legs and especially her green hair. They stared at her, clinging trustingly to the Prince and staring at them as if she had never seen so many people in her life, and wondered what had possessed their Prince to bring a stranger back to the palace, especially such an odd stranger as this girl. Prince Chandler could have the world; he was every bit as handsome and irresistible as his famed father and uncle had been twenty years ago. Was this girl really his new mistress? They were relieved that the Prince was at last beginning his search for a maiden of his own, but why a silent, green-haired peasant? Not even a peasant- from the look of the sack she was wearing, she was probably a beggar. Or worse- a vagrant, a deported wanderer from some foreign kingdom. And after he had made a vow that he would only marry the woman who had saved him from drowning, who he only knew by her voice. This could not be the girl.

Feeling the girl's weight pressing into his back, Chandler felt a sense of compassion and devotion unlike any he had ever felt. True, he had been responsible for the lives of others many times before; he had extensive experience as a ship's captain, the reason he had almost drowned in the first place was because he had been trying to save his latest crew. Yet looking behind him at the maiden, who smiled shyly into his eyes, he knew that he had never felt such responsibility for another living person. As she clung to him, looking at him as if she had nobody else to turn to, he felt a strange affection rising in him for this mute, shipwrecked girl. Although he had only just met her, he felt as if he had known her all of his life. He felt as if he was born to provide for her, and knew that he would protect this girl forever if he had to.

It was all Brina could do to keep from falling off the strange, hostile form of dolphin carrying her towards her Prince's palace in her discomfort. She had never seen so many humans in her life! There weren't this many of them on Chandler's ship, she was sure of it. She shuddered closer to Chandler as they stared at her, sensing the threat they posed. I had forgotten how many humans there are… and that many are unkind. She glanced into her Prince's eyes, hoping he could sense her fear. You have no idea what I've put myself into to get to you, Chandler. If you only knew what's happened to me… She shut her eyes, wrapping her arms tighter around his waist and feeling his gentle squeeze on her hand. Oh, why do I worry so much? I should be happy! I've finally found my Prince, and before long, you shall be mine. Who cares if I've no voice? Eventually I will find a way to tell you that I saved your life, and when I do, we will never be separated again. I will never belong to that Witch, she mentally added as the horse stopped at the marble steps of the palace and she was lifted off by Chandler and carried inside. She may keep my voice forever, I don't care! I don't need it! Soon Chandler will see that I am his rescuer. Now his life is forever mine!

As Chandler lowered the girl to her feet inside the marble halls of the palace, he could not help but smile as she gazed around the entrance hall, staring at every detail. She acted as if she were experiencing everything around her for the very first time, and he found that strangely endearing. He had to stifle a laugh as the maiden stood straight against the wall, a serious expression on her face, in imitation of a suit of armor. He straightened up, however, when the Steward reentered the room.

"I have asked one of the maids to prepare a room for your guest, Your Highness." Chandler nodded as the Steward bowed. The Steward glanced at the strange girl, who had now wandered over to a tapestry, and was running her hands over the stitched words it contained. Sighing, he turned back to the Prince. "Your Highness, are you certain about this? She is a stranger, you know… and so very odd…"

"That will be all, Steward." Chandler glared at him, and the Steward was silent. He then turned to the maiden as she continued to stare at the tapestry. "Is there anything else I can do for you, Miss?" Brina, during this time, had noticed the writing on the strange piece of fabric hanging on the castle wall. That was it! Here was a way that she could at least tell Chandler her name, if nothing else. With her hands, she made a sign to indicate writing. "Steward, I think that she wants a quill and paper. Please fetch them."

Grumbling, the Steward obeyed, and momentarily returned with a small slip of paper and a quill. Taking these, the maiden quickly scrawled something on the slip of paper and handed it to Chandler, pointing to herself. Holding the paper up to his eyes, Chandler found it blank, except for five letters. Brina. "Brina? Your name is Brina?" The maiden nodded, blinking her beautiful blue eyes at him. Chandler felt a cold sweat run down his back as she did so. What was it about her that he found so attractive? He could only guess. "Well then, Miss Brina. May I request the pleasure of your company at dinner tonight? I will have a servant show you where the royal dining room is." As Brina nodded again, a maid arrived and, betraying her disgust at the state of the girl in her facial expressions, led her away to prepare her for her first meal in the palace.

Author's Note: First of all, as you have undoubtedly noticed, I have named the Witch Giovanna. And may I just tell you that she was without a doubt the hardest character in Into the Woods to name. I did not wish to borrow anybody else's name for her for the sake of originality. It was insanely hard to come up with one, so I started looking to other musicals. I thought of using the name of a character from Wicked, but then I thought it would sound cliché after naming the Mysterious Man Frexspar. The name Cunegonde from the novel/musical Candide was considered due to the garden motif and the fact that in the novel, Cunegonde starts out pretty but becomes ugly (much like the Witch, though Cunegonde doesn't change back). Long story short, it was ruled out (and I think you can tell why). After a while I gave up the musical names idea and settled on Giovanna. I was originally going to create a separate Sea Witch for this story, but then I figured, there is only one "The Witch." Second, YES, I did say that the Mysterious Man (Frexspar) was Giovanna's former lover. Based upon the way they act in the play, I am of the belief that the Witch and the Mysterious Man were once a couple, and then something, or rather a bunch of things, went wrong .I also believe that Giovanna lost her mother and inherited the garden when a mob of angry peasants gave her mother the Salem Witch Trials Treatment. I plan on doing a four-part series in my oneshot collection explaining the whole story in the very near future. Third, the air spirits are based on the original variant of The Little Mermaid. Props to anyone who knows what I mean.

It seems everyone on land except for Chandler thinks that Brina is either crazy, stupid, or up to something. Will that change anytime soon and how will Chandler and Brina's relationship continue to bloom and grow? How does Chip the Baker cope when he gets an undesired visitor? And what happens when Beauty finally begins to snap? Find out in the next chapter, hopefully up by Mirror and Rose's one-year anniversary!

Reviews, as always, are welcome, and flames will be used to make magic baked beans.