Tallahassee, FL – January 25, 2013
The young princess raced back to the castle as fast as she could swim with the mercrone’s words ringing in her ears. She threw open the treasury doors and grabbed handfuls of perfect shells, conchs without a single scratch, whole sand dollars, perfect clams. They’d been collected through the years and placed on shelves to be admired. She gathered dozens, tied them to a necklace, then raced back to the mercrone’s reef before anyone could see her injured tail.
“Here is your necklace,” the princess said. “Now do as you promised and fix my tail. Make it perfect again.”
The mercrone took the shells and held them up in the dim light. She looked at them with her one good eye, drawing them close and shaking her head.
“These are not the best seashells in the ocean,” the mercrone said. “They are nice shells, but they are not the best. I cannot fix your tail because you have not done as you promised.”
The princess stared at her full of anger.
“Not the best seashells!” the princess said. “These are the finest in the ocean. They are straight from my father’s treasury. There is not a single scratch on them. They are perfect!”
The mercrone shook her head and turned away.
“My offer still stands,” she said. “Bring me a necklace strung with the best seashells in the ocean and I will fix your tail.”
The princess snatched up her necklace of perfect shells and raced away, back to the treasury, back to examine each shell, to find the most perfect of the perfect ones. She looked over every inch, made sure each conch glowed without a single scratch, examined sand dollars for even the tiniest chip, and returned to the mercrone with a new necklace of shells, this time even finer than the first.
But the mercrone looked at it for just a moment, shook her head again, and gave the necklace back.
“These are nice shells,” the mercrone said, “But again, they are not the best seashells in the ocean.”
“They are!” the princess yelled back. “There are no shells more perfect in any of the seven seas. You made me a promise, you must keep it.”
“No,” the mercrone said. “It is you who made me a promise and you must keep it.”
The princess returned to the palace, dejected and sad. When her brother and sister saw her, they frowned and pointed at the hole ripped out of her tail.
“You are ruined,” they said. “You will never be perfect and beautiful again.”
They shook their heads in pity.
“What will our father say,” they wondered.
The young princess also wondered what her father would say. She imaged him angry and mad and decided it would be better to leave than face his wrath. Before word spread to him, she disappeared back over the palace walls, deciding never to return.
“It’s that mercrone’s fault,” the princess thought. “She promised to fix my tail and I gave her the most beautiful shells in the kingdom. I’ll make a necklace fit for that old witch.”
The young princess began collecting the ugliest shells in the ocean, broken pieces with holes worn into them, shells battered apart by the waves, fragments no one would think to pick up. She swam to distant reefs, found sunken ships by the dozen, learned how see sharks before they saw her. She arm wrestled giant squid, befriended whales in distant oceans, had tea with sea turtles, learned which jellyfish stung and which just had a bad reputation. Everywhere she went, she collected the broken shells on a long string of rope, stacking them one on top of another until shells from across the ocean filled the string. She wore the necklace day and night, relishing the moment she would throw it in the mercrone’s face.
Then one day a beautiful angel fish swam up to her, exhausted from a long journey.
“I have terrible news,” the fish said. “Your father is dying.”
To be continued…