A Fish Out Of Water

Once Upon A Time there was a kingdom by the sea ruled by a King and a Queen. The Queen was a unique women, she was very fond of the sea, and many of the villagers of the town she ruled were affected by the water she loved so much.

Few people in town knew of Ariel’s place of birth. She had appeared in their Kingdom suddenly. A mysterious woman with hair the color of fire and a voice that as she would wander the town docks singing every day, would make the men’s minds wander to far away places. Places where the world was nothing but endless beckoning of blue. As far as anyone knew she had come from across the ocean. A foreign fired haired beauty who had captured the heart of their beloved ocean faring Prince and had managed to store it in the castle. Along with, it seemed, everything else in the Kingdom. A Queen all the men in the Kingdom adored and the women all reviled.

King Eric was also a great lover of the ocean and would spend long amounts of time out at sea on his great ships. The royal armada consisted of many ships he had had commissioned for many things. There were fearsome war ships bearing cannons ready to fend off enemies. But there were also delicately carved massed vessels equipped with nets to catch the sea life that would feed the townsfolk and sustain the local economy. It during one of King Eric’s many sailings on one of his fishing vessels his and Queen Ariel’s paths first crossed. It was also on these vessels that he would most often leave on for long voyages throughout the year, leaving Ariel to care for the Kingdom.

Queen Ariel was fond of taking walks along the beach and on the docks daily. On her way to the beach she would always walk through town, picking up things on the street. She would place them in the pockets of an apron she wore over her dress that was embroidered with shells and scallops. While the Queen walked she would marvel over the various items people had discarded in the streets. Soon people learned the best way to earn Queen Ariel’s favor was to leave her trinkets. A bent spoon, a button, a candle, anything seemed to be a wondrous treasure to their slightly eccentric Queen.  

During King Eric’s long voyages the Queen would be left to rule in his stead, and it was on one fateful voyage where her peculiarities and propensities became disastrous for the Kingdom. Somehow she came to learn that the primary food source of her Kingdom was flounder and crab from the sea. Soon after learning this she became hysterical. Legends claim she sat on the docks speaking to the seabirds for days. It was learning the fates of her ocean friends that drove her to make her royal decree.

The Queen went to the center of the city and gathered all her subjects around her. From now on, she announced, there was to be no more hunting or gathering from the sea, the beach, or anywhere near the ocean water touches. When protests arose she branded anyone who spoke up a traitor, and placed them in the stocks and the castle dungeon. No one dared to tell her the King was out procuring fish to store over the winter and to sell to the next Kingdom over. It wasn’t long afterwards she dismissed the castle staff and began to more avidly collect things, including animals like the seabirds that would perch on the castle crenellations. Rumors spread that she was filling entire rooms with her trinkets. Soon Ariel would only accept visitors if they came bearing gifts for her. The castle was starting to fill up with useless items, broken mirrors, bent forks, chipped bowls – all precious “baubles” not to be touched by anyone but the Queen.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Kingdom the people were struggling to feed themselves since the implementation of the Queen’s decree against fishing. The ground had become salted from centuries of the winds and the waves. Nothing would grow well enough to provide nourishment for long. Livestock had never been a staple of the townsfolk, and most homesteads only had a goat for milk and a chicken or two for eggs. People were able to survive for some time on their stocked pantries or with the help of a neighbor, but as the weather turned and supplies ran low the countryside slowly began to deteriorate. By outlawing fishing, the Queen had essentially outlawed food for her own people.

 Queen Ariel stayed locked in the castle, oblivious to the suffering of the people around her. She was consumed by her sorrow. She missed the sea, she missed her King, she missed her sisters and father, and she missed her friends. She wondered what she had really traded her old life for. The only time she left the castle was to walk along the beach and the docks. She would sing while she walked, and while she sang her voice would carry on the wind and draw sailors out of their houses. They would stand, captured by their Queen’s siren song, while their wives stood by unaffected. Listening, the sailors’ would also miss the sea. They would yearn for the smell of the open water, the feeling of being surrounded in wide open blue, and they too would feel their hearts’ breaking with the weight of the loss. It was the women of the Kingdom who looked upon this bewitching enchantress with both fear and fury in their hearts. It was because of her their men lacked work and their babes lacked food, yet she stood on the shore and sang as though her callousness affected them not. As though the pain in her heart was greater than the pain in their bellies.

As the days grew shorter and night fell earlier it became more obvious that the people were going to need a new food source. Already dozens of the old and the young had died from fever and starvation, and many of the previously healthy were now starting to show signs of weakness. No longer did townsfolk leave Ariel tokens on the street when she went on her walks, as everything in a household could be sold for food in a neighboring village. This made the Queen sad, and she expressed it by demanding presents from anyone who made the mistake of crossing her path. Soon the streets, like the stomachs of the inhabitants, were all but empty.

When the King had left he told Ariel he would be back by the fall harvest. By now the winter solstice had come and gone and still he had not arrived. The Queen and the townsfolk both began to secretly worry his ship had been lost. Women up late at night trying to lull hungry babies to sleep with an empty breast began to see their Queen walk the beach in the moonlight yelling at the ocean. Pacing along the docks and calling out to something or somebody only she could see. Beseeching the water to bring her back her husband, or to let her come back home. Either way, the only answer she received was the sound of the waves crashing on the sand. The consensus among the Kingdom was that their beautiful Queen was mad, and that her madness was killing them all. It was decided that until the King returned the townsfolk would have to lock up their insane Queen, or face certain starvation.

By this time it was the women of the Kingdom who were the stronger sex, although not by much and mostly by chance of fate. They had been caring for the weak and procuring the food when the sailor’s were denied their livelihoods. The men, who for months had been languishing under the spell of Ariel’s song and wallowing along with her in her sorrow, found themselves starving and dying faster with nothing to keep their mind off their misery. It was the women working to keep them alive, to keep the children alive. The women who slaughtered the chickens and sold the goats. It was the women who came together to reap whatever would grow out of the barren ground. It was the women who cared for the sick and buried the dead when the food finally ran out. Women were also immune to the Queen’s song. And so, ultimately, it was decided that a few of the women of the Kingdom would capture and lock up Ariel for the sake of everyone.

They gathered up everything they had left that they thought would entice her and brought it to the castle. When Queen Ariel opened the door and let her subjects in to accept their gifts, they were able to grab and subdue her. They took her down, without food or water, and locked her in her own traitorous dungeon. From there the women went through the castle, searching desperately for food and trying to understand the extent of their Queen’s depravity. Birds would attack them as they made their way through a labyrinth of what was once a testament to royal decadence, but now was just an exercise in futility. All they found were rooms filled with junk displayed like war trophies and mementos to the ocean.  

With Ariel safely locked away in her dungeon the Kingdom was able to fish again. The prospect of a health returned. The sailors were again able to return to the sea they too loved so dearly. Happily they loaded up their nets and set sail, their hearts light with the thought of being free from the chains of the land. But, as some ships left port that morning sailors of all ranks, from the most seasoned captain to the greenest greenhorn, swore they could hear Ariel singing. The ships that left to go fishing that day never returned.  

The King never came back. Queen Ariel and King Eric were eventually forgotten.  Life slowly returned to normal. The people continued to fish and live off the sea, but there is no King, and there is no Queen. There is no Kingdom. Now there is just an abandoned castle, filled with the collection of a mad ruler. Ships still come into port to leave fish for the town that the castle still overlooks, and sometimes sailors’ still swear they hear singing from the dungeons of a dilapidated castle overlooking docks that they’ll never return to.

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