Long ago, in the Kingdom Under the Seas, there lived a merman named Louis. Louis was merely a child, not yet seventeen, and he was the youngest of seven children sired by the King of the Seas.
The Kingdom Under the Seas spread far and wide, a vast expanse with rolling hills cover with lush sea grass and bountiful arrays of sea coral. Glorious and beautiful was the Kingdom Under the Sea. Filled with splendour and life, creatures of every kind and colour lived freely and happily, without a care in the world.
Now Louis lived in a grand palace made of ivory and gold, with gates of pearl and large open panels for windows so that the fish and all other creatures could swim in and out.
The children of the King of the Seas were all beautiful, each born with fairness found in no other gracefulness that allowed them flow like the waters of the sea. They spent their days dancing and singing, swimming around and exploring the vast lands under the seas.
Of these, Louis was the fairest. Bestowed upon him was also the gift of the sweetest voice in all the world. He could sing with such clarity and emotion that would move many to tears. He was the most graceful of dancers out of his siblings, flowing fluidly through the waves as if he were part of the water itself.
Louis loved the sea, it was his home and it was part of him. He loved how the waters had a life of their own, how they came and went as the moon waxed and waned. He loved being carried away with it only to be drawn back by the tugs of the current. He loved being lulled to sleep the the gentle ripples that whispered stories of great knights and heroes far away. All these he loved, but he longed for more.
For as long as Louis could remember, the sea had always been his comfort, his home, where his people lived, where he was free to be as he wished and had not a care in the world. He came and went as he pleased, just like the tides that came and went. But there was one place he wasn't allowed to go.
It was long forbidden by the King of the Seas that his children and all merpeople should ever surface the waters before they reached the age of sixteen. It was decreed in such a way as young merfolk often had difficulty facing the rougher tides at the surface and many young lives were lost when currents got too strong for them to handle. Sixteen was the age where merfolk are fully developed and were considered responsible for themselves.
His older siblings had already came of age years ago and have told him endless tales of birds and plants, and beautiful animals never to be seen under the seas. But most of all, they told him of humans. Creatures that walked on both legs and roamed the lands freely, wearing sheets of woven thread that covered them up from neck to toe. Humans often travelled in boats, and Louis' siblings often followed these boats, observing and admiring the humans from afar.
At first his siblings were fascinated by the world above them, but after a few months they grew tired of watching those strange creatures from above and returned back to singing and dancing under the familiar sea where they knew everything and were at home.
But Louis, Louis was still ever so captivated by the lands above. So fascinated with the creatures with two legs and weaved outfits. And everyday, he would count down the days till he turned sixteen and could finally go to the surface.
Louis wanted nothing more than to be able to see humans, to learn about their foreign ways. On occasion his siblings would bring back little trinkets from above for him. A leather boat that humans put on their feet, shiny pieces of metal that resembled his father's trident, and lovely pieces of glass framed with carved wood that showed you your reflection. Louis treasured those gifts above all the pearls and corals from the sea. He keeps them all safely locked in a treasure chest, a gift from his father found in a shipwreck. Everyday, he takes his trinkets out one by one. He admires them and tries to re-enact how humans would use them. Then he would carefully put them back in the chest and go to play with his siblings.
All things led up to Louis' sixteenth birthday when he was finally permitted to surface the waters.
The morning he turned sixteen, his grandmother adorned him with strings of the loveliest pearls of the sea, and hung a wreath flowers of the deepest blue in his hair that brought out the colour of his eyes.
"Farewell," he said to his family as he swam up. "I shall go now to see the world above."
And swim did he, faster than he'd ever swam for his body could not contain the joy he felt when his mind knew of the endless possibilities he was soon to see in the world above.
The sun had just set as Louis raised his head above the waves; but the clouds were tinted with crimson and gold, and through the glimmering twilight beamed the evening stars in all their beauty. The sea was calm and the air mild and fresh. A large ship, with three masts, lay becalmed on the water, with only one sail set; for not a breezed stiffed, and the sailors sat idle on deck or amongst the rigging. There was music and song on board; and, as darkness came on, a hundred coloured lanterns were lighted.
Louis tentatively swam close to the cabin windows, and every now and then the waves would lift him up higher, and he would look through the glass windows, and see a number of well-robed humans making merry. Among them was a young prince, the most gorgeous of all with the warmest brown eyes and lovely dark hair that framed his perfectly sculptured face. He was celebrating his seventeenth year, and his birthday was kept with much rejoicing. The sailors were dancing on the deck, but when the prince came out of the cabin, more than a hundred brightly coloured lights burst forth into the night sky, making it seem as day.
Louis was so startled that he dived under water, and when he again stretched out his head, it appeared as if all the stars of heaven were falling around him, he had never seen fireworks in his life before. Great suns spurted fire about, and splendid fireflies flew into the blue air, and everything was reflected in the clear, calm sea beneath. The ship itself was so brightly illuminated that all the people, even the smallest rope, could be distinctly and plainly seen. And how handsome did the young prince look, pressing the hands of all present and smiling at them while the music resounded through the clear night air.
It was very late, yet Louis could not take his eyes from the ship, or from the beautiful prince. The coloured lanterns had long since been extinguished, no more rockets rose in the air and the cannon ceased to fire; but the sea became restless, and a moaning, grumbling sound could be heard from beneath the waves, and still Louis remained by the cabin window, rocking up and down on the water, which enabled him to look in.
After a while, the sails were quickly unfurled and the noble ship continued her passage. But soon the waves rose higher, heavy clouds darkened the sky, and lightning appeared in the distance. A dreadful storm was approaching; once more the sail was reefed, and the great ship pursued her flying course over the raging sea. The waves rose as high as mountains, as if wanting to over top the mast; but the ship dived like a swan between them, and they rose again on their lofty, foaming crests. To Louis, this appeared to be pleasant sport, but not so to the sailors. At length the ship groaned and creaked, the thick planks gave way under the lashing of the sea as it broke over the deck, the mainmast snapped in half like a reed; the ship lay on her side, and the water rushed in.
Louis now perceived the crew to be in danger, and even he himself was obliged to be careful to avoid the beams and planks of the wreck which lay scattered on the water. At one moment it was so pitch dark that he could not see a single object, but a flash of lightning revealed the whole scene. Louis could now see everyone who had been on board except for the prince; when the ship parted, he'd seen him sink into the deeps waves and he was glad, for he thought he would now be with him. But then she remembered that human beings could not live in the water, so that when he got down to his father's palace, he would be quite dead. But he must not die. So he swam about among the beams and planks which strewn the surface of the sea, not paying heed to the fact that they could crush him to pieces. He dived deep under the waters, till at last he saw the prince, who was struggling to swim in the stormy sea. His limbs were failing him and his beautiful eyes were closed. He was close to death.
With no time to waste, Louis grabbed onto the prince and swam to the surface, gently holding his head above the waters and letting the waves drift them where they would.
By the time the sun rose into the sky, the storm had ceased, but not a fragment of the ship remained. The sun was red and glowing from the water, and it shone beams of light that brought back the hue of health in the prince's cheeks; but still, his eyes remained closed. The merman kissed his high, smooth forehead and stroked back his wet hair, wishing that the prince might live.
Very soon they drifted in sight of land. Louis saw lofty blue mountains on which the white snow rested as if a flock of swans were lying upon them. Near the coast were beautiful green forests, and close by stood a large buildings made of rock. Louis swam with the handsome prince to the beach, which was covered with fine sand the colour of gold, and there he laid the prince in the warm sunshine, taking care that his head was raised higher than his body.
Then bells sounded from one of the large buildings, and a number of youths came into the beach. The merman swam out farther from the shore and placed himself between some high rocks that rose out of the water and watched as the youths noticed the prince. Out of the crowd, a young lad approached the prince. He seemed frightened at first but only for a moment; then he signalled for the others to come over to where he was. And Louis saw that the prince came to life again, and smiled upon those that stood around him. But to Louis he sent no smile, he knew not that he had saved him. This made him very unhappy and he dived down sorrowfully into the waters and returned to his father's palace.
Louis had always been silent and thoughtful, and now he was more so than ever. His siblings would ask him what he had seen during his first visit to the surface, but he would speak not a word of it. He longed for the gaze of the prince to be upon him, to see the prince smile once more. His insides ached and he refused to dance and participate in his siblings' merry making. He turned away all food sent to him and spend most of his days staring into the sea above where rays of sunlight pierce through the waters.
His grandmother took notice and diagnosed his condition as love-sickness. And with much prying, she got Louis to recount his experience on the surface of the waters. His oldest sister was near and she overheard Louis' tale. And soon the rest of his siblings heard the secret, and maybe it was fate, for Louis' oldest brother knew of the festival that Louis had witnessed. He knew the palace in which the prince came from and he knew of the wondrous deeds of the prince.
Louis was indeed glad he'd saved the prince's life for he was a good man and did good to his people. And he remembered how the prince had laid his head on Louis' chest, and how heartily he had kissed him; but he knew nothing of the merman and could not dream of him.
Days were now spent journeying to the palace above the seas and watching for the prince who was now nursed back to health. Often Louis would catch glances of the prince, and little scenes like these were all it took for joy to fill his entire being. He grew more and more fond of humans as she continued to observe them, and Louis wished more and more to be able to wander about with those whose world seemed to be so much larger than his own. There was so much that he wished to know, and his siblings were unable to answer all his questions. So he sought out his old grandmother, who knew all about the upper world, which she very rightly called the lands above the sea.
“If human beings are not drowned,” asked Louis, “ can they live forever? Do they never die as we do here in the sea?”
“Yes, they must also die,” replied the old lady. “Their term of life is even shorter than ours. We sometimes live to three hundred years, but when we ceased to exist here we only become the foam on the surface of the water and we have not even a grave down here for those we love. We have no immoral souls and we shall never live again. Human beings are different. They have souls that live forever, lives after the body has been turned to dust. It rises up and gets reborn again until they reach the unknown glorious regions above the air that we shall never see.”
“Why is it that we do not have immortal souls? I would rather live as a human for one day and get an immortal soul than live for hundreds of years and turn into nothing after.”
“My child, you are wrong,” the old woman said. “We feel ourselves to be much better off than human beings.”
“So I shall die,” said Louis, “and be driven away as the ripples of waves and foam of the sea, and never again will I hear the sound of music or see the beautiful creatures. Is there nothing I can do to earn an immortal soul?”
“No. Unless a human were to love you more than anything, and gave you his heart, for we merpeople do not have a heart, and the heart is where the immortal soul is found. When a human loves you till the ends of the earth, and back, even above the humans parents and family, and if the human agrees to go hand in hand with you to the priest to be blessed together and be united forever, then the human's immortal soul shall be shared with you, and in turn you could be reborn again. His soul and yours shall be bound, but this can never happen. Your tail, which we find exquisite, is thought to be an abomination among human beings. They know not any better, and think it more elegant to sprout to stout knobs they call legs.”
Louis sighed sorrowfully as he eyed his tail, his scales glittering like diamonds, seeming to be glaring mockingly at him. Oh how he wished he had long slender legs of humans. Maybe then, the prince would love him.
“Let us be happy,” said the old lady, “and swim around about through our three hundred years. We have enough time to have fun, and we have all of eternity to rest after. For now, we have a ball to attend.”
It is one of those splendid sights which one can never see on earth. The walls and the ceiling of the large ball-room were of thick, but transparent crystal. May hundreds of colossal shells, some of a deep red, others of a grass green, stood on each side in rows, with blue fire in them, which lighted up the whole saloon, and shone through the walls, so that the sea was also illuminated. Innumerable fishes, great and small, swam past the crystal walls; on some of them the scales glowed with a purple brilliancy, and on others they shone like silver and gold. Through the halls flowed a broad stream, and in it danced the mermen and the mermaids to the music of their own sweet singing. No one on earth has such a lovely voice as theirs. Louis sang more sweetly than them all. The whole court applauded him with hands and tails; and for a moment his heart felt content, for he knew he had the loveliest voice of any on earth or in the sea. But he soon thought again of the world above him, for he could not forget the charming prince, nor his sorrow that he had not an immortal soul like his; therefore he crept away silently out of his father’s palace, and while everything within was gladness and song, he sat in the palace garden sorrowful and alone. Then he heard the bugle sounding through the water, and thought — He is certainly sailing above, he on whom my wishes depend, and in whose hands I should like to place the happiness of my life. I will venture all for him, and to win an immortal soul, while my siblings are dancing in my father’s palace, I will go to the sea witch, of whom I have always been so much afraid, but he can give me counsel and help.
And then Louis made his way out of the garden to to the road that led to the sorcerer's lived. He braved through whirlpools and long flowing weed that threatened to cling onto him. Never had he ever ventured into this part of his father's kingdom, here where the sand was dull and nothing but the occasional seaweed grew. No glistening corals or bright flowers, everything was barren and and gray. Through the dark, vast unknown Louis swam, until he reached a spot on the seabed where a strange forest grew. All the trees were half animals and half plants, and looked like serpents growing out of the ground. The branches were long slimy arms, with fingers like flexible worms, moving limb after limb from the root to the top. All that could be reached in the sea they seized upon, and held fast, so that it never escaped from their clutches. Louis was so alarmed at what he saw that he stood still, and his breathing increased with fear, and he was very nearly turning back; but he thought of the prince, and of the human soul for which he longed, and his courage returned.
Soon he reached an empty space of the marshy ground, and right in the middle was the house of the sea witch. It was an eerie place, built with the bones and wrecks of those who ventured to the sea and never returned. There sat the sea witch, outside his house.
“I know what you want,” said the sea witch. “It is a foolish request, but I shall grant it for you, my pretty prince. But be warned that it will bring you sorrow. You want to exchange your beautiful tail for two supports instead of one, like the human beings who roam the earth so that the prince may love you and you may have an immortal soul.” And the witch laughed, loud and cruelly, his dark eyes creased and crinkled from squinting into his laugh. “You are just in time, lovely prince, for after tomorrow I wouldn't be able to help you for another year. I shall prepare a potion for you, and you shall swim to the shore tomorrow before sunrise and drink it. Your tail would be replaced by what mankind calls legs, and you will feel great pain, as if your tail were to be split in two. At the same time, all who see you would agree that you're the prettiest human being they ever saw. You will still have the same floating gracefulness of movement, and no dancer will ever tread so lightly; but at every step you take it will feel as if you were treading upon sharp knives, and that the blood must flow. If you will bear all this, I will help you.”
“I will do anything,” Louis said without hesitation, his voice trembling in fear and anticipation, and all he could think about was the prince and the immortal soul.
“Be very sure,” the witch said. “For once you become like a human being, you can no longer return to being a mermaid. You will never return to the waters and swim with your brothers and sisters, and never again would you see your father's palace. And if you fail to win the prince's heart, you shall never have an immortal soul, and you will perish into sea foam the first morning after he marries another for though you have no heart, you will break and be no more.”
“I will do it. Please,” Louis said, his voice quivering and his face as pale as death.
“But I must be paid, and my price is high. All who dwell under the sea know that you have the sweetest voice, and that is what I ask for in payment. It is the best thing you posses and that is the price of my blood added into the potion.”
“B-but if you take my voice, what would be left of me?”
“Your beautiful form, your graceful walk, and your expressive eyes. Surely you'll be able to charm the prince with these. Have you lost your courage? Put out your tongue for me to cut off, my magic wouldn't work unless I'm being paid first.”
So Louis did, and the witch produced a knife from his robe and proceeded to slice of Louis' tongue so that he became dumb and could never speak or sing again. After, he set a cauldron to boil and started whisking in various ingredients from his numerous shelves. When he was done, the potion resembled clear water.
“Here it is,” said the witch. “Should the plants of the forest try to grab at you, you only need to sprinkled a couple drops of this potion behind you and they shall turn to dust.” But Louis had on need to do that, for the serpents immediately recoiled back into the darkness upon seeing the potion held in Louis' hand.
Louis passed quickly through the forest and marsh until he saw his father's palace. His insides ached with the knowledge that he would never be able to return. He did not venture in for he was dumb and did not dare to face anyone. Silent tears rolled down his cheeks and became one with the sea as Louis swam out for the shore, not once did he look back for if he did the pain would turn him to sea foam.
The sun had not yet risen when Louis came in sight of the prince's palace, but the moon shone clear and bright. Then, Louis drank the potion, and he experienced the most excruciating pain of his lifetime, as if a sword was going through his delicate body. The pain overcame him, and he fainted.
He came to when the sun rose, and just before him stood the handsome prince. He fixed his dark brown eyes upon her so earnestly that he cast down his own, and only then did he realise that his tail was gone and replaced by a pretty pair of legs. The prince asked him who he was, and he cast his eyes down sorrowfully for he could not answer.
Every step he took was as the witch had said it would be, he felt as if treading upon the points of needles or sharp knives; but he bore it willingly, and stepped as lightly by the prince’s side as a soap-bubble, so that he and all who saw him wondered at his graceful-swaying movements. He was very soon arrayed in costly robes of silk and muslin, and was the most beautiful creature in the palace; but he was dumb, and could neither speak nor sing.
Beautiful court performers dressed in silk robes stepped before the prince, whose name was Liam, and his royal parents to sing; one sang better than the others and Prince Liam clapped his hands loudly and smiled brightly at her. This brought great sorrow upon Louis for he knew that he could sing much more sweetly than the maiden before the prince, and he thought to himself – oh, if only he knew that I have given away my voice forever just to be with him!
The next performance was of pretty, fairly-like dancers, dancing to the sound of beautiful music. Then Louis raised his lovely arms, stood on the tips of his toes, and glided over the floor, and danced as no one yet had been able to dance. At each moment his beauty became more revealed, and his expressive eyes appealed more directly to the heart than the songs of the slaves. Every one was enchanted, especially the prince, who called him his little foundling; and he danced again quite readily, to please him, though each time his foot touched the floor it seemed as if he trod on sharp knives.
The prince said that he should remain with him always, and had a room for Louis prepared just outside of his chambers. Everywhere Prince Liam went, Louis went. Be it riding through the woods, or climbing on the mountains, he was there. Although his tender feet bled and left marks on the path he trod on, he only laughed and followed the prince till they reached the tops of the mountains and could almost touch the clouds. While at the palace, Louis would sit on the marble steps when everyone was asleep, and he would ease his feet into the soothing-cold sea water. It was during these times that he allowed himself to think of the life he left behind in the deep waters that surrounded his new home.
Once during the night, his siblings came up, arm in arm, singing songs of sorrow and lost. He beckoned to them, and they came closer and tell him how much he'd grieved them. After that, they came to the same place every night; and once he even thought he saw his old grandmother at a distance, and even his father who has not ventured out of the sea for many years. Both stretched their hands towards him, but did not come as near as his brothers and sisters did.
Days passed, and Louis found himself falling even deeper in love with Prince Liam. And the prince, he loved Louis as one would love a little child, and it never dawned on him to marry Louis. Yet, unless the prince were to marry Louis, he could not receive an immortal soul, and would perish into sea foam on the first morning after the prince marries another.
Do you not love me the most? Louis' eyes seemed to say as Prince Liam took him into his arms and kiss his forehead.
“You are very dear to me,” said the prince. “for you have the best heart, and you are most devoted to me. You remind me of a youth I once saw whom I shall never meet again. The ship I was on was caught in a storm, and it was wrecked beyond repair, but the waves carried me ashore near a holy temple where youths performed the service. The youngest of them all found me half dead and saved my life. I saw him twice in my life, but I know he is the only one whom I could give my heart to. But you are like him, and you've almost eradicated his image from my mind. He belongs to the temple, and my good fortunes have sent you to me, and we shall never part.”
If only he knew that I was the one who truly saved his life, Louis thought sadly. That I was the one who carried him ashore.
Very soon, it was said that Prince Liam must marry, and that the beautiful son of the neighbouring king is to be his consort to help strengthen bonds between the two kingdoms.
“I must travel,” the prince said as a fine ship was being fitted out. “I must see this beautiful prince as my parents desire, but I am not obliged to bring him home as my consort. If I were forced to take a bride, I would chose you, my dumb fondling with the beautiful eyes.” And he kissed Louis on his rosy lips, and fiddled with his soft hair as he lay his head on Louis' bosom, while Louis dreamt of human happiness and immortal souls.
“You are not afraid of the sea,” Prince Liam said as they stood on the deck of the grand ship which was to carry them to the kingdom of the neighbouring king. And he told Louis of the storms that rage the sea and the calm just before it, of strange fishes and exotic plants deep beneath them, and of what divers have seen on their many dives, and Louis smiled at his descriptions for he knew better than anyone what wonders lie at the bottom of the sea.
The next morning the ship sailed into the harbour of a beautiful town belonging to the king whom Prince Liam was going to visit. The church bells were ringing, and from the high towers sounded a flourish of trumpets; and soldiers, with flying colours and glittering bayonets, lined the rocks through which they passed. Every day was a festival; balls and entertainments followed one another.
But the prince had not yet appeared. People said that he was being brought up and educated in a religious house, where he was learning every royal virtue. At last he came. Then Louis, who was very anxious to see whether he was really beautiful, was obliged to acknowledge that he had never seen a more perfect vision of beauty. His skin was delicately fair, and beneath his long dark eye-lashes his laughing blue eyes shone with truth and purity.
“It was you,” said the prince, “who saved my life when I lay dead on the beach,” and he folded his blushing bride in his arms. “Oh, I am too happy,” said he to Louis; “my fondest hopes are all fulfilled. You will rejoice at my happiness; for your devotion to me is great and sincere.”
Louis then kissed Prince Liam's hand, and wondered if this was what it was like to have one's heart broken. Every fibre in his body was screaming with pain and agony, anguish that overpowered that of his feet have given. Prince Liam's wedding the next day would bring death to Louis and he would change into the foam of the sea. All the church bells rung, and the heralds rode about the town proclaiming the betrothal. Perfumed oil was burning in costly silver lamps on every altar. The priests waved the censers, while the prince and his consort joined their hands and received the blessing of the bishop. Louis, dressed in silk and gold, stood next to Prince Liam; but his ears heard nothing of the festive music, and his eyes saw not the holy ceremony; he thought of the night of death which was coming to him, and of all he had lost in the world. On the same evening Prince Liam and his consort went on board ship; cannons were roaring, flags waving, and in the centre of the ship a costly tent of purple and gold had been erected. It contained elegant couches, for the reception of the bridal pair during the night. The ship, with swelling sails and a favourable wind, glided away smoothly and lightly over the calm sea. When it grew dark a number of coloured lamps were lit, and the sailors danced merrily on the deck. Louis could not help thinking of his first rising out of the sea, when he had seen similar festivities and joys; and he joined in the dance, poised himself in the air as a swallow when it pursues its prey, and all present cheered him with wonder. He had never danced so elegantly before. His tender feet felt as if cut with sharp knives, but he cared not for it; a sharper pang had pierced through his entire being. He knew this was the last evening he should ever see the prince, for whom he had forsaken his kindred and his home; he had given up his beautiful voice, and suffered unheard-of pain daily for him, while he knew nothing of it. This was the last evening that he would breathe the same air with him, or gaze on the starry sky and the deep sea; an eternal night, without a thought or a dream, awaited him: he had no soul and now he could never win one. All was joy and happiness on board ship till long after midnight; he laughed and danced with the rest, while the thoughts of death were in her heart. The prince kissed his beautiful consort, while he played with his brown locks, till they went arm-in-arm to rest in the splendid tent. Then all became still on board the ship; the helmsman, alone awake, stood at the helm. Louis leaned his delicate frame on the edge of the vessel, and looked towards the east for the first blush of morning, for that first ray of dawn that would bring his death. He saw his brothers and sisters rising out of the flood: they were as pale as himself; but their beautiful shiny tails no longer glistened in the waters for they were no more.
“We have given our scales to the witch,” they called out to Louis, “to obtain help for you, that you may not die tonight. He has given us a knife, and with it you must use to take out the heart of the prince whom you love dearly before the sun rises tomorrow. You will use the blood from his heart and when the blood falls on your feet, they will grow together again and form a tail with which you could return to us and live out your three hundred years. Hurry! For either you or him must die before sunrise! The hour is almost here!” And then they sighed mournfully and sank beneath the waves.
Louis drew back the crimson curtains of the tent, and beheld the fair consort with his golden head laying on Prince Liam's chest. Louis bent down and kissed Prince Liam on his brow for the last time, then looked at the sky on which the rosy dawn grew brighter and brighter; then he glanced at the sharp knife, and again fixed his eyes on the prince, who whispered the name of his consort in his dreams. He was in his thoughts, and the knife trembled in Louis' hand: then he impaled it into his chest as he cast one last lingering glance at the fair prince whom he loved and Louis threw himself into the sea.
He was ready to feel his body dissolve into sea foam. But as the sun rose and shined its warm rays onto the cold body of the little merman, Louis did not feel as if he were dying. He saw the bright sun, and all around him were thousands of transparent beautiful beings, he could see through them the white sails of the ship, and the red clouds in the sky; their speech was melodious, but too ethereal to be heard by mortal ears, as they were also unseen by mortal eyes. Louis perceived that he had a body like theirs, and that he continued to rise higher and higher out of the foam.
“Where am I?” Louis wondered, and his voice sounded ethereal, as the voice of those who were with him; no earthly music could imitate it.
“Among the children of the air,” answered one of them. “A merperson has no immortal soul, nor can a merperson obtain one unless they were to win the love of a human being. On the power of another hangs a merperson's eternal destiny. But the children of the air, although they do not possess an immortal soul, can, by their good deeds, procure one for themselves. We fly to warm countries, and cool the sultry air that destroys mankind with the pestilence. We carry the perfume of the flowers to spread health and restoration. After we have striven for three hundred years to all the good in our power, we receive an immortal soul and take part in the happiness of mankind. You, poor little merman, have tried with your whole heart to do as we are doing; you have suffered and endured and raised yourself to the spirit-world by your good deeds; and now, by striving for three hundred years in the same way, you may obtain an immortal soul.”
Louis lifted his glorified eyes towards the sun, and felt them, for the first time, filling with tears. On the ship, in which he had left the prince, there was life and noise; he saw him and his beautiful consort searching for him; sorrowfully they gazed at the pearly foam, as if they knew he had thrown himself into the waves. Unseen he kissed the forehead of the consort, and fanned the prince, and then mounted with the other children of the air to a rosy cloud that floated through the aether.
“After three hundred years, thus shall we float into the kingdom of heaven,” Louis said. “And we may even get there sooner,” whispered one of his companions. “Unseen we can enter the houses of men, where there are children, and for every day on which we find a good child, who is the joy of his parents and deserves their love, our time of probation is shortened. The child does not know, when we fly through the room, that we smile with joy at his good conduct, for we can count one year less of our three hundred years. But when we see a naughty or a wicked child, we shed tears of sorrow, and for every tear a day is added to our time of trial!”