Deep under the sea, colourful fishes glide among strange plants which wave gently to and fro in the crystal-clear water. In the deepest part which no human has ever visited, the mer-people live. The mer-king's palace has coral walls and a roof of oyster shells which open and close gently with the waves, each one hiding a gleaming pearl. Now the mer-king
had six beautiful daughters but the youngest mermaid was the loveliest of all. Her eyes were deepest sea-blue, her skin like a rose petal and the scales on her mermaid tail shone like precious jewels.
The mermaid loved hearing about the world above the sea which her grandmother described to her.
"When you are fifteen," her grandmother said, "you may swim to the top of the ocean and see these wonderful things for yourself."
How impatiently she waited for her fifteenth birthday. At last the clay arrived. She
combed her long golden hair, she polished the scales on her tail, then waving to her sisters she put her arms together and glided, up, up through the waves.
When she lifted her head above the water, she saw a big sailing ship with a large anchor and chain holding it firmly in place. She noticed sailors lighting pretty lanterns along the deck: The mermaid swam swiftly to a porthole in the captain's cabin and when the waves lifted her up, she peeped inside. There were many fine gentlemen but the finest of all was a prince. He was laughing and shaking hands with everyone while soft music played. She had never seen anyone like him before. She could not keep her eyes away from him.
Suddenly the sky darkened and the ship started to roll. The waves grew mountainous, thunder rolled around and the ship was tossed up and then plunged clown into the stormy seas. Then the ship's mast snapped and the ship rolled right over and started to sink. At first the mermaid felt happy for now the prince would sink to her father's palace.
"But humans can't live under the sea," she remembered. "I must save his life somehow." And she swam through the wreckage until she spied the prince, just as he was slipping beneath the waves. His eyes were closed for he had no strength left. He was drowning. Quickly, the mermaid seized his head and held it above water. Then she rested on a huge wave and let it carry her and the prince safely away from the wrecked ship.
When morning came the storm died away and the warm sun appeared. The mermaid still held the prince but he did not move. She touched his face gently and kissed his cold lips. His eyes did not open. "Wake up, please don't die," she whispered.
Now she could see dry land ahead and, still clutching the prince, she swam into a pretty bay with calm clear water. Tenderly she laid the prince on the warm golden sand away from the waves. At that moment she saw some girls walking along the sands. Quickly she swam away. She covered herself with seaweed and hid behind some rocks and watched the prince anxiously. "Please wake up," she begged.
Soon one girl noticed him and called for help. He opened his eyes and smiled at the girl who had found him. As the prince was carried away the mermaid sadly dived into the waves and swam back to the mer-king's palace.
"What did you see?" her sisters asked. She told them nothing but all day long she dreamed quietly by herself.
At night she often swam to Prince Bay as she called it, but she never saw the prince there. She became sadder each time she swam back home.
The mermaid now had only one wish – to be a human. She started to ask her grandmother many questions: "Do humans live for ever? Do they die like us?"
"They die," came the reply, "only human lives are shorter than ours. We live for three hundred years then we turn into foam upon the waves. Humans have souls that live for ever in the skies."
"Why can't I be like that?" sighed the mermaid. "I'd like to exchange my three hundred years for one clay of human life. I'd rather live in the sky for ever than change into foam!"
"That's no way to speak," said her grandmother.
"Can't I ever get this human immortal soul?" the mermaid asked over and over again until in the end her grandmother said: "There is only one way. If a man loved you more than anyone or anything else then his soul could run into you and you would be immortal. But this won't happen because humans say that our tails are ugly. They only like something they call `legs'."
She glided away and the little mermaid looked sad y at her lovely tail. She couldn't forget the prince. Somehow she must become human. "I'll ask the sea-witch to help," she exclaimed. Off she swam to the whirlpool where the evil witch lived. 'be waters bubbled and hissed but she dived bravely through. There was dirty grey sand everywhere and a hut made from the bones of shipwrecked sailors. Grey slugs crawled around and in the middle sat a fearsome creature.
"So, mermaid," she cackled, "first, you want to lose your beautiful tail.
Then you want the prince to love you and give you an immortal soul." She laughed so horribly that even the slugs scuttled away. "I'll mix something for you to drink when you've reached the shore. Your tail will shrink and divide into two funny things called legs. You will have a terrible pain like a knife cutting through you and this pain will never leave you. You will always be beautiful and you'll be the best dancer in the world but every step you take will be painful."
"I'll bear anything for the prince," the mermaid said bravely.
"There's something else," warned the witch, "once you've become a human you can never be a mermaid again. You can't return to your father's palace. If the prince doesn't love you, you cannot be immortal. You will The Little Mermaid turn into foam the day after he marries someone else."
The mermaid trembled. "I'll do it," she whispered.
"I haven't finished," the witch said. "In return for this drink I demand that you give me your voice, for it is the sweetest of all the mermaids. That shall be my payment."
"But how will I speak and charm the prince?"
"You're beautiful, you'll dance, you'll smile. Come, put out your tongue." The little mermaid shivered but her mind was made up. From then on she could neither speak nor sing. The witch scratched a few drops of blood from her scrawny arm, added snails and worms . and poured everything into a pot. Groans, strange shapes and a horrible smell rose from the pot, then, when the liquid inside was clear, the witch handed it to her. She took it carefully and swam through the whirlpool.
She found the shore nearest to the prince's palace and as the sun was rising she drank the magic liquid. A pain worse than a thousand sharp cuts went through her and she fainted on the sand. She woke with a jump and the terrible pain came back. She groaned inside herself then she saw the prince of her dreams gazing down at her, greatly astonished. She looked away and at once she saw that her shimmering tail had gone. Her golden hair was now covering two long and graceful legs.
"Who are you? Where did you come from?" asked the prince, but she could only smile in reply. He took her by the hand towards his palace – but exactly as the witch had said, every step was like touching red-hot metal. She could not cry out, yet she walked so gracefully that everyone gazed at her as she passed by.
The prince ordered his servants to bring rich satin and silk dresses for her. Even though she could not speak, The Little Mermaid everyone thought her the loveliest girl in the palace. She heard many girls singing sweet songs to the prince who thanked them kindly. She felt sad because she used to sing far far better than any of these girls. Some other girls started to dance. The little mermaid shook out her long hair and moved across the floor. Her steps were perfect and her hands and arms moved gracefully to the music. The prince clapped and she danced on and on though terrible pains shot through her feet.
The prince gave her a wonderful room filled with rich furniture and every day they went riding together.
The prince loved the mermaid but he did not think of marrying her. "You are the sweetest girl I know," he often said. "You remind me of a maiden who saved my life when my ship was wrecked. I only saw her but once yet The Little Mermaid cannot forget her. She is the only one I can truly love."
"He little knows that I carried him through the waves to the shore, that I saved his life," she sighed to herself.
One day the king ordered the prince to visit the kingdom of an old friend who had one daughter.
"I must obey my father," he told the little mermaid, "but nobody can make me marry this princess. You are more like my lost love so if I must get married, I'll marry you." He kissed her gently.
They sailed away with many courtiers to the distant land and when they had landed they were led towards the royal palace. The princess came out to meet them.
"It is my true love," exclaimed the prince. "You're the one who saved my life, let us be married at once!" He kissed her hand.
"How happy I arn," he said to the mermaid. "I know you will share my joy for I know that you love me truly."
The little mermaid's heart broke then. The very next clay church bells rang, trumpets sounded and fireworks went off as the prince and princess were married.
That night everyone went on board the prince's ship and soon there was dancing and soft music. The little mermaid danced more beautifully than ever. She forgot her fearful pain for she knew this was the last night she would see the prince.
At midnight, the music stopped and the prince led his bride away. All was silent yet the little mermaid stayed awake, waiting for the dawn.
Suddenly she saw her sisters, but where was their long golden hair? "We gave our hair to the witch," they whispered, "to make her help you. This is what she says you must do. Take this dagger and before the sun rises plunge it deep into the prince's heart. Then your fishtail will return and The Little Mermaid you will turn into a mermaid again. Remember, it is your life or his. Hurry! Kill him quickly. Do not see the sun or it will be too late." With this they sank beneath the waves.
The little mermaid crept inside the purple tent where the happy couple were sleeping peacefully. As she kissed the prince she held the dagger over his heart — then she hurled it far away into the sea. She looked once more at the prince then she dived into the sea where her body turned into white sparkling foam. She heard sweet music. She saw a thousand delicate shapes floating and singing around her. She felt that she was floating.
"Where am I going? Who are you?" she asked.
"We are daughters of the air," they sung. "Mermaids are given souls if a human loves them but we can only have one if we do good deeds for three hundred years. We'll help you to get your soul."
She saw the prince searching for her. He gazed sadly over the sea as if he knew what had happened. Unseen, she kissed him and smiling sweetly, she rose into the golden clouds with the daughters of the air and she whispered joyfully: "In three hundred years, I shall join my prince again in Heaven."