Prince Sebastian had been training his whole life to one day be king. He studied history and laws. He met with foreign leaders and learned foreign languages. He studied problem solving and negotiating and diplomacy. He sat with his father during the open court sessions and listened to the needs of the people. He answered letters and offered advice.
And then suddenly, one day, his father became very ill. A week later, he died. Sebastian and his mother sat in tears by his father’s bed. “I can’t believe he’s gone,” she said.
The door creaked and they looked up. Sebastian’s Uncle Roderick was standing in the doorway, and a group of soldiers stood behind him. “Selma, Sebastian,” he said. “I like you both. But I want to be the next king. You can leave if Sebastian promises to never return to become king, or you can both die now.”
“I promise to never return to become king,” Sebastian said. “Now let us go.”
“Start packing,” Uncle Roderick said. “You leave at dawn.”
They left without looking back. They had tickets for a boat that would take them across the sea where they planned to stay with Selma’s sister and her family. During the trip, there was a storm and the ship began to sink.
The next thing Sebastian knew, he woke up on the shore next to his mother. A girl was sitting and watching them. “Sebastian, are you all right?” his mother asked.
“I think so,” Sebastian said. “How are you?”
“Wet and cold and grateful to be alive,” his mother said. “This girl saved us, but she doesn’t talk.”
“Bring her along. We need to see if there’s a town nearby where we can ask for help.”
A week later, they arrived at the palace. Sebastian’s cousin Ferdinand came out to greet them. “I’m so sorry to hear about what happened. You’re welcome to stay here as long as you’d like. Aunt Selma, Mother is waiting for you inside.”
Sebastian’s mother hurried away. Sebastian sighed. “She’s been handling all of this so well. It will be good for her to finally have a chance to mourn.”
Sebastian looked around. “Where did the girl go that came with us?” he asked.
“I think she’s looking at the rosebushes. Should I send her in with your mother?”
“No. Honestly, I’m not sure what to do. She saved us from the shipwreck, but I don’t know who she is. She doesn’t talk and doesn’t know any sign language. Mother calls her Anna, but we don’t know her real name.”
“We can do what we did last time I met a mysterious mute girl,” Ferdinand said.
“This happened before? Did you teach her some sort of sign language?” Sebastian asked.
“No, I asked my advisor. You’ll see. Invite her to follow us in,” Ferdinand said.
“Anna,” Sebastian called. He waved her over and she stopped trying to eat the flowers and smiled. As they walked inside, she followed.
“So what happened the last time you met a mute girl?” Sebastian asked.
“It turned out she needed to be left alone to weave coats for swans. So, we just made sure to send her food and check on her every so often,” Ferdinand said. “She went home with her brothers when she was done.” He entered an empty office and stopped and turned. “Here we are. Meet my advisor.” He waved to a mirror.
“Your advisor is yourself?” Sebastian asked.
A vague face appeared in the mirror. “No,” it said. “I’m the advisor. How can I advise you today?”
The cousins turned to see that the mysterious girl had followed them in and was pulling books off the shelves to build a tower. “Ah,” the mirror said. “She’s a mermaid princess who signed an unwise contract with a sea witch.”
“We should send a note to her father,” Ferdinand said. “Do we know anyone who knows mermish?”
“I do,” Sebastian said. “My father believed in a classical education.”
“Excellent,” the mirror said. “Let me show you the contract. It has some obvious loopholes.”
“I’ll call in the lawyers,” Ferdinand said.
The next day, they sent a message by dolphin to King Triton. They met him a week later in a deep, sheltered cove. Some burly mermaid guards surrounded the sea witch. The King greeted them in mermish.
“He asked if he can cast a translation spell,” Sebastian said.
“That’s handy,” Ferdinand said. “Say yes.”
They explained the contract to King Triton. “My daughter needs to come home,” he said. “How can we break the contract?”
“It can be broken if you kill the prince,” the sea witch said with a cackle.
“Or you could kill the sea witch,” Ferdinand said. Everyone looked at the witch.
She sighed and snapped her fingers. The contract appeared in front of her and she tore it in pieces. In a puff of smoke, Anna was once again a mermaid princess. At the same time, the sea witch escaped her guards and swam away.
“But I don’t want to go home yet. I wanted to try chocolate cake again,” the princess said. “It’s not fair.”
“We’ll send you some,” Ferdinand said.
The king thanked them and offered to meet later to discuss possible trade agreements. He and his daughter went home. So did Ferdinand and Sebastian.
“You know there are loopholes in the agreement you made with your uncle, too. Right?” Ferdinand asked.
“It’s not time to go back yet,” Sebastian said.
“Fair enough,” Ferdinand said. “Let’s check on Aunt Selma and see how she’s doing.” And they did.