Genre: Fantasy Romance
Type of Short Story: Novelette
Summary: The old legend says that a merman’s kiss will make a girl pretty and bring her luck. One poor working girl is desperate enough to try it. She is warned that she must do everything exactly as she is told… but never warned about the effect it might have on the merman.
“Come in,” came the imperious voice.
Ellie entered and curtseyed, noticing how the Lady’s face softened, and her deep brown eyes with long curved lashes showed mild curiosity. Lady Mirabelle was a real beauty, the kind that needed no jewelry. Ellie had seen her right after bed, in a nightgown, with her hair down and no makeup—and she was lovely. With all the mentioned additions, Lady Mirabelle looked spectacular.
“Good morning, my lady. I have come to return the circlet and the necklace, and to thank you again for your most generous offer.”
The Lady acknowledged the gratitude with a slight inclination of her head.
“Put them on the desk. So did the circlet help? Did Arman ask you to dance?”
Ellie lowered her eyes. “No, my lady.”
She was afraid the Lady would be disappointed, but she wouldn’t lie.
“Perhaps someone else did?”
“No…” Ellie’s voice failed her, so she tried again. “No, my lady.”
She thought she had fully accepted her lot in life and learned not to let such failures affect her, but now, under the Lady’s penetrating gaze, she suddenly felt on the verge of tears—and she was terrified of it. Breaking down in front of the Lady would be unthinkable.
Lady Mirabelle must have sensed her distress.
“Come here, child. Close the door.”
Ellie pulled on the door knob and took a couple of steps.
“I know you will never feel at ease in my presence enough to speak freely or fully confide in me,” the Lady said, “but at least don’t be afraid. I will ask you some questions; answer me truthfully, as you always do. And if those tears spill, it’s not the end of the world, trust me. I’ll pretend I don’t see them, and no one will know.”
She paused, studying the second housemaid whom she was not even supposed to notice.
“Do you love Arman?”
The question startled Ellie and frightened her.
“I don’t dare attach my heart to anyone,” she whispered.
“Do you consider yourself ugly?”
“N-not ugly, perhaps, but very plain. Unattractive.”
“Do you think yourself worthless?”
“I… like to think that my hard work and desire to do what’s right make me worth something.”
“Which is true,” Lady Mirabelle nodded. “I am glad you see that. So while I certainly understand how not being asked to dance hurts a girl, I want you to promise me that you will never let those who put you down, whoever they are, rob you of your worth. Can you do that?”
“Of course, my lady. I just…” Ellie caught herself. Whatever else she might want to say was of no consequence.
The Lady seemed to think otherwise.
“Yes? Go on,” she prodded.
Ellie sighed and let it all out.
“I just wish my sister and mother would understand this as well and ease up on me. So Leatra and I weren’t born pretty; mother says even a merman’s kiss won’t help us. Does that mean we must spend our lives crying about it? Be miserable and make everyone around us miserable as well? There are still so many good things to do, to enjoy…”
She caught herself yet again, suddenly horrified of her boldness. What was she thinking, blabbering like that in front of the Lady?
Oh no. Lady Mirabelle was looking at her differently now, there was something new in those beautiful eyes. She must be displeased, and for a good reason.
“My lady, I’m so—”
“What does your mother know about a merman’s kiss?” the Lady asked, interrupting her hurried apology.
Ellie blinked, trying to gather her thoughts.
“Well, the same legend everyone knows, I guess,” she replied. “That being kissed by a merman would make a girl pretty, and bring her luck, too.”
“And what if I told you that it wasn’t a legend?”
Ellie couldn’t tell whether Lady Mirabelle was serious.
“I don’t know, my lady.”
“You don’t believe it?”
She thought about it. “But… mermen and mermaids drag people underwater and drown them. How could someone get so close to one, get a kiss, and survive?”
The Lady’s calm gaze continued studying her.
“There is a way.”