As Triton watched his youngest child sail away with her beloved prince, he sighed regretfully. It was too late now, as Ariel and Eric had been forced to kill Ursula, but he knew that his daughter needed an explanation. She was content now, but eventually she would come to him, asking about words let slip in the heat of an argument, of old grudges resurfaced. And she deserved to know the truth.
He couldn't bear to tell her in person, but he could at least write her a note, so that when the time came, he would be ready to giver her the answers she needed.
As all merfolk know, children are considered children until their sixteenth birthday, at which point they come into their magical selves. Most merfolk only have a drop of their ancestors' power, but in some family lines, the magic runs strong. The royal family rules the seas because their blood is the strongest, though occasionally another family will produce an especially strong child, providing a suitable mate for a prince or princess.
The night before our sixteenth birthday, my twin sister Juturna and I barely slept, we were so excited to receive our powers. Juturna was technically the elder, and destined to rule if she had enough power. She never intentionally taunted me with her superior position, but I knew that our father paid more attention to her than to me.
So, when I was quite young, I asked her what would happen if she had more magic than me. She promised that I could be her co-ruler if I wasn't too weak. She was always doing little things to boost my spirits, even though I didn't realize the extent of her actions until I was much older.
However, when we did awake on our sixteenth birthday, it was to a cruel morning. I was as powerful as our father, Pontus, but Juturna received barely a drop of our family legacy. She had less than you, even, Ariel, and the entire city ostracized her because of her lack. I admit that I acted badly towards her, and if you ever have a teenaged son, you might perhaps understand why. I laughed at my sister's misfortune, conveniently ignoring her promises of equality when we were children, because I was suddenly important.
Suddenly I was the most important child - practically the only one - and after spending so long in her shadow I reveled in my new power. As I studied magic with our father, Juturna was relegated to the outer shoals of our underwater court, and I rarely saw her for almost a year.
Then, father announced my betrothal to your mother, Abelia. She was pretty, and fairly powerful, and father approved, so I ignored the fact that she had been Juturna's best friend for sixteen years. In my childish pride, I took her away from my sister, too.
That night, Juturna swam away, disappearing from the court and every mer in it. I ignored my pain at her leaving, and submerged myself in my new power and my new wife. I suppose, in the back of my mind, I always assumed that she would return someday, begging to be accepted again. Then I could be gracious and demand that the city accept her, and my own sins would be forgiven or forgotten.
A few months after Abelia gave birth to the twins, Arista and Attina, a tragedy struck the mer court. Your grandfather, King Pontus, was killed in a mysterious accident. Soon after, rumor began to spread under the waves that Pontus was killed by a powerful Sea Witch. A hideous crone, she was said to be an abomination - a mix of mer and octopus.
I took my father's crown and immediately made plans to defend my growing family from this new threat. All of my children were quite young, of course, but Abelia was very powerful in her own right, and she diligently learned how to wield our family's powerful trident. For my part, I tried diligently to obtain a male heir to carry on our powerful family legacy. Not that I loved you girls any less, or that I would have denied the right of the oldest powerful child to rule, but I did want a son who I could connect with.
As you know, I was unsuccessful, and only a few days after your birth, tragedy struck our family again. Abelia was taking you, Ariel, to the surface for the first time, as she had with each of your sisters before you. On this trip, however, your mother swam too close to a human ship, and was struck by a whaler's harpoon.
I've never before told you why I forbid you from going to the surface, and perhaps I should have, but I just couldn't imagine losing you, too. I kept waiting until I felt you were old enough to fully understand, and in doing so, I completely missed my chance.
Despite the obvious cause of Abelia's death, I always suspected that perhaps the Sea Witch had been in some way involved. Determined to find out the truth, I sent my minions to every corner of the ocean, searching for her. When you were seven, one of my dolphin messengers returned with news. He had found the Sea Witch's lair, and learned of her plot.
The Sea Witch hated me, and had vowed revenge upon my family for some past grievance. The messenger reported that she would stop at nothing to capture or kill any member of the royal family. Though the merfolk of the court speculated about what I could possibly have done to this Witch, especially since none of them had ever heard of such a disfigured creature entering our waters before, I began to develop a theory.
Though I desperately hoped I was mistaken, I could think of one person who might hate me enough to wish me and my children dead. Juturna. I found the Sea Witch's lair, deep within the bones of an ancient monster, and looked upon the Sea Witch Ursula for the first time with my own eyes.
Deep beneath the surface of the plump, disfigured crone that cursed me for my arrogance, I could see a hint of the beautiful young brunette who had been my playmate and confidant for years.
The face Ursula used when disguised as Vanessa was actually that of your aunt, Juturna, though I doubt any in my court but I would have recognized her. She did horrible things to gain her power: terrifying, disfiguring things that I shudder to even speculate on. She was obsessed with the idea of having more power than I, and her obsession carried her into a current of darkness.
And you, Ariel, scared me so badly, because you had less power than your sisters, and because I saw a trickle of that same obsession in you - in your love of humans. I was terrified that you would get too close to the humans, as your mother did, or lose yourself to your obsession, as your aunt did. I know I was harsher on you than on any of your sisters, and I apologize for it. Can you please forgive me for allowing my paranoia come between you and your prince? Can you forgive an old merman for simply wanting to keep you safe?
Ariel let the parchment fall to her bed and blinked repeatedly to keep her tears at bay. Her sister, Aquata, the new Queen of the ocean, had delivered the parchment with the news of Triton's passing on to the underworld. Ariel had no idea when her father had written the letter, or if he had ever intended to give it to her once it was written.
Her father's words explained so much about the game Ursula had played with Ariel's life, but at the same time it begged so many more about her family's past. Questions she wasn't positive that she wanted the answers to. Ariel sat for a while, staring out of her balcony window at the shimmering blue ocean.
Eventually, she decided to put the letter away. While she might one day want to read it again, and to imagine Juturna and Ursula in a different past, that time was not now. Now she would wait for Eric to return from his diplomatic mission, she would mourn her father, and she would savor her better memories with him. She would not taint those memories with the darkness of Ursula's tricks.