The Sea Hag, Second Edition
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Do you want my hair? I've been told it's lovely. It was a light, luminous brown, like wood with sunlight shining on it. Go home to your father, to your sisters. Forget about this landsman. He is only a passing fancy. She opened her mouth to object. Tears glistened in the corners of her eyes.
I held up a hand. And fickle. You will soon find something else that tickles your thoughts. Go sing with the humpbacks, or hunt with the barracuda.
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Don't bother me with childish requests. You have no idea what love is. My mouth opened, but no words came out.
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I could not stand to look at her eyes, at the condemnation and the indifferent pity. She turned to leave. A word welled up from the pit of my stomach, trailing acid. She swiveled toward me, her face cold and hard as the moon. There's a reason your father sent you to me. She looked down. He has spoken of your power, of your But he wouldn't have wanted me to come, not for this. When I mentioned my sailor to him, he flew into a rage. You can never be a landswoman, not really. You could assume the outer form of one, but --".
And I would have died happy, right then, at the joy in her face, the excitement sparkling in her eyes. A starfish, a man-o'-war jellyfish, a seagull, and a chunk of coral the size of your fist. Any spell of transformation involves a certain amount of death. Her eyes widened; mermaids love starfish and seabirds, the former to wear like jewelry, the latter to watch wheel and dip in the sky. You must beach yourself at sunset, somewhere the landsmen won't find you till morning.
Smear the first brew down the very center of your tail, where it will burn into your flesh until it cuts your tail in two. Then drink the second brew, which will cut your innards like knives sharp as eels' teeth. And when the first brew has finished its work, you must pour the third brew over every inch of your split tail. It will smooth away your scales and give your legs the appearance of human skin and feet. Her eyes narrowed.
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They'll be useless; you won't even be able to stand. The second potion will start nubs of bones growing down from your hips, but it will take months for the bones to reach your feet.
How am I to find him if I can't walk? I shrugged. For that matter, there is no guarantee your sailor will even recognize you, much less fall in love with you. And as for love -- he loves me already, as I love him. You don't know the magic of that night, under the moon. The caress of his hand on my cheek was love so profound it could never fade.
You don't know how to dress, how to behave -- and if you do this thing, you will never be able to return to the sea. You will be trapped on the land, forever. And so if -- if -- something goes wrong with your sailor, you will be stranded. The words stung, so much like her father's. In desperation, I turned to lies. Three days after you use the potions, you'll be dead. She paled, but drew herself up like a princess.
I will live a lifetime with him in those three days. Besides the starfish, man-o'-war, seagull, and coral? I slumped. She licked her lips slowly, covering her face with a blank expression. The price? I thought.
My heart. And, in becoming a landswoman, you will relinquish your immortality. A price, something that I could keep and cherish Something drastic that might change her mind. I had watched them for years with my scrying glass; I had seen them laugh when she tried to sing. Consider carefully what this will mean. You'll be a mute cripple, in a completely alien world, and you will only have three days to live. Is that what you really want? She lifted her chin and said, "I will return with the things you asked for by tonight. It took very little time, really.
She returned with everything but the seagull, then shot up to the surface and returned a few minutes later with a struggling, drowning bird. I took it from her and wrung its neck; there was no need for it to suffer. She could not watch me tear the seagull apart and pull out its bones, nor could she bear to see me pull the tentacles off the jellyfish, one by one, and squeeze the venom from their stingers into my cauldron.
And I saw her wince when I cracked open the starfish. When the potions were ready, I picked up a battered old music box I had found in one of the rooms of my sunken galleon. It wasn't too late for her to change her mind. She kept her mouth very tight. She took the box from me and looked at it for a moment. Then, eyes on me, she set her lips against it. I put my hand on the music box and chanted an incantation, then took the box. Her voice belonged to me. This brown one is the second.
And this clear glass one is the third. Do you remember what you are to do? She nodded. A dozen lit her eyes, but she touched a hand to her silenced lips. Relief flooded her face.
My throat felt like it was filled with sand. I watched through my scrying glass as Coral crawled up onto the beach at sundown, the three jars clutched tightly in her arms. She took a deep breath, then unstoppered the green jar and poured its thick liquid down the exact center of her tail. Her face clenched with pain. Smoke rose from the blackened line that marked where her legs would divide.
Then she drank down the contents of the brown jar and doubled over in agony. Hours passed while she hunched and gasped -- my own gut wrenched in sympathy -- but not once did she try to crawl back toward the sea. Finally her tail was seared into two long pieces that flopped around on the sand. She smoothed the thick unguent in the glass jar over both halves. It cooled the burning in her tail; relief lit her eyes. From where she lay, a few feet up the shore, she rolled the jars back into the water.
The next morning, her new body was complete. Her long brown hair stretched down to her new knees, covering all the areas human decency demanded. Before noon, a troupe of fishermen spotted her while she slept.