|Once upon a time . . .
in a splendid palace on the bed of the bluest ocean,
lived the Sea King, a wise old triton with a long flowing white beard. He
lived in a magnificent palace, built of gaily colored coral and seashells,
together with his five daughters, very beautiful mermaids.
Sirenetta, the youngest and loveliest of them all, also had a beautiful
voice, and when she sang, the fishes flocked from all over the sea to listen
to her. The shells gaped wide, showing their pearls and even the jellyfish
stopped to listen. The young mermaid often sang, and each time, she would gaze
upwards, seeking the faint sunlight that scarcely managed to filter down into
"Oh, how I'd love to go up there and at last see the sky, which everyone
says is so pretty, and hear the voices of humans and smell the scent of the
"You're still too young!" said her mother. "In a year or two, when you're
fifteen. Only then will the King let you go up there, like your sisters!"
Sirenetta spent her time wishing for the world of humans, she listened to her
sisters' stories, and every time they returned from the surface, she would
ask them questions, to satisfy her curiosity.
And as she waited for the day when she too would be allowed to reach the
surface of the sea and meet the unknown world, Sirenetta spent her time in her
wonderful sea garden. The seahorses kept her company, and sometimes a dolphin
would come and play. Only the unfriendly starfish never replied when she
called. At last, her long-desired birthday came. The night before, Sirenetta
could not sleep a wink. In the morning, her father called her and, stroking
her long golden hair, slipped a lovely carved flower into her locks . . .
"There now you can go to the surface. You'll breathe air and see the sky.
But remember! It's not our world! We can only watch it and admire! We're
children of the sea and have no soul, as men do. Be careful and keep away from
them; they can only bring bad luck!" In a second, Sirenetta had kissed her
father and was darting smoothly towards the surface of the sea. She swam so
fast with flicks of her slender tail, that even the fish could not keep up
Suddenly she popped out of the water. How wonderful! For the first time,
she saw the great blue sky, in which as dusk began to fall, the first stars
were peeping out and twinkling. The sun, already over the horizon, trailed a
golden reflection that gently faded on the heaving waves. High overhead, a
flock of gulls spotted the little mermaid and greeted her arrival with shrieks
"It's so lovely!" she exclaimed happily. But another nice surprise was in
store for her: a ship was slowly sailing towards the rock on which Sirenetta
was sitting. The sailors dropped anchor and the ship swayed gently in the calm
sea. Sirenetta watched the men go about their work aboard, lighting the
lanterns for the night. She could clearly hear their voices.
"I'd love to speak to them!" she said to herself. But then she gazed sadly
at her long flexible tail, her equivalent of legs, and said to herself: "I can
never be like them!" Aboard ship, a strange excitement seemed to seize the
crew, and a little later, the sky became a spray of many colored lights and
the crackle of fireworks filled the sky.
"Long live the captain! Hurray for his 20th birthday. Hurray! Hurray . . .
many happy returns!" Astonished at all this, the little mermaid caught sight
of the young man in whose honor the display was being held. Tall and
dignified, he was smiling happily, and Sirenetta could not take her eyes from
him. She followed his every movement, fascinated by all that was happening.
The party went on, but the sea grew more agitated. Sirenetta anxiously
realized that the men were now in danger: an icy wind was sweeping the waves,
the ink black sky was torn by flashes of lightning, then a terrible storm
broke suddenly over the helpless ship. In vain Sirenetta screamed: "Look out!
Beware of the sea . . ." But the howling wind carried her words away, and the
rising waves swept over the ship. Amidst the sailors' shouts, masts and sails
toppled onto the deck, and with a sinister splintering sound, the ship sank.
By the light of one of the lamps. Sirenetta had seen the young captain fall
into the water, and she swam to his rescue. But she could not find him in the
high waves and, tired out, was about to give up, when suddenly there he was on
the crest of a nearby wave. In an instant, he was swept straight into the
mermaid s arms.
The young man was unconscious and the mermaid held his head above water in
the stormy sea, in an effort to save his life. She clung to him for hours
trying to fight the tiredness that was overtaking her.
Then, as suddenly as it had sprung up, the storm died away. In a gray dawn
over a still angry sea, Sirenetta realized thankfully that land lay ahead.
Aided by the motion of the waves, she pushed the captain's body onto the
shore, beyond the water's edge. Unable herself to walk, the mermaid sat
wringing her hands, her tail lapped by the rippling water, trying to warm the
young captain with her own body. Then the sound of approaching voices startled
Sirenetta and she slipped back into deeper water.
"Come quickly! Quickly!" came a woman's voice in alarm. "There's a man
here! Look, I think he's unconscious!" The captain was now in good hands.
"Let's take him up to the castle!"
"No, no! Better get help . . ." And the first thing the young man saw when
he opened his eyes again was the beautiful face of the youngest of a group of
"Thank you! Thank you . . . for saving my life . . . he murmured to the
lovely unknown lady.
From the sea Sirenetta watched the man she had snatched from the waves turn
towards the castle, without knowing that a mermaid had saved his life. Slowly
swimming out to sea, Sirenetta felt that there on the beach she had left
behind something she could never bring herself to forget. How wonderful those
tremendous hours in the storm had been, as she had battled with the elements.
And as she swam down towards her father's palace, her sisters came to meet
her, anxious to know what had kept her so long on the surface. Sirenetta
started to tell her story, but suddenly a lump came to her throat and,
bursting into tears, she fled to her room. She stayed there for days, refusing
to see anyone or to touch food. She knew that her love for the young captain
was without hope, for she was a mermaid and could never marry a human. Only
the Witch of the Deeps could help her. But what price would she have to pay?
Sirenetta decided to ask the Witch. .
". . . so you want to get rid of your fishy tail, do you? I expect you'd
like to have a pair of woman's legs, isn't that so?" said the nasty Witch
scornfully, from her cave guarded by a giant squid.
"Be warned!" she went on. "You will suffer horribly, as though a sword were
cutting you apart. And every time you place your feet on the earth, you will
feel dreadful pain!"
"It doesn't matter!" whispered Sirenetta, with tears in her eyes. "As long
as I can go back to him!"
"And that's not all!" exclaimed the Witch. "In exchange for my spell, you
must give me your lovely voice. You'll never be able to utter a word again!
And don't forget! If the man you love marries someone else, you will not be
able to turn into a mermaid again. You will just dissolve in water like the
foam on the wave!"
"All right!" said Sirenetta, eagerly taking the little jar holding the
magic potion. The Witch had told Sirenetta that the young captain was actually
a prince, and the mermaid left the water at a spot not far from the castle.
She pulled herself onto the beach, then drank the magic potion. An agonizing
pain made her faint, and when she came to her senses, she could mistily see
the face she loved, smiling down at her.
The witch's magic had worked the spell, for the prince had felt a strange
desire to go down to the beach, just as Sirenetta was arriving. There he had
stumbled on her, and recalling how he too had once been washed up on the shore,
gently laid his cloak over the still body, cast up by the waves.
"Don't be frightened! he said quickly. "You're quite safe! Where have you
come from?" But Sirenetta was now dumb and could not reply, so the young man
softly stroke her wet cheek.
"I'll take you to the castle and look after you," he said. In the days that
followed, the mermaid started a new life. She wore splendid dresses and often
went out on horseback with the prince. One evening, she was invited to a great
ball at Court. However, as the Witch had foretold, every movement and each
step she took was torture. Sirenetta bravely put up with her suffering, glad
to be allowed to stay near her beloved prince. And though she could not speak
to him, he was fond of her and showered kindness on her, to her great joy. However, the young man's heart really belonged to the unknown lady he had seen
as he lay on the shore, though he had never met her since, for she had
returned at once to her own land.
Even when he was in the company of Sirenetta, fond of her as he was, the
unknown lady was always in his thoughts. And the little mermaid, guessing
instinctively that she was not his true love, suffered even more.
She often crept out of the castle at night, to weep by the seashore. Once
she thought she could spy her sisters rise from the water and wave at her, but
this made her feel sadder than ever.
Fate, however, had another surprise in store. From the Castle ramparts one
day, a huge ship was sighted sailing into the harbor. Together with
Sirenetta, the prince went down to meet it. And who stepped from the vessel,
but the unknown lady who had been for long in the prince's heart. When he saw
her, he rushed to greet her. Sirenetta felt herself turn to stone and a
painful feeling pierced her heart: she was about to lose the prince for ever.
The unknown lady too had never forgotten the young man she had found on the
beach and soon after, he asked her to marry him. Since she too was in love, she
happily said "yes".
A few days after the wedding, the happy couple were invited for a voyage on
the huge ship, which was still in the harbor. Sirenetta too went on board,
and the ship set sail. Night fell, and sick at heart over the loss of the
prince, Sirenetta went on deck. She remembered the Witch's prophecy, and was
now ready to give up her life and dissolve in the sea. Suddenly she heard a
cry from the water and dimly saw her sisters in the darkness.
". . . Sirenetta! Sirenetta! It's us . . . your sisters! We've heard all
about what happened! Look! Do you see this knife? It's magic! The Witch gave
it to us in exchange for our hair. Take it! Kill the prince before dawn, and
you will become a mermaid again and forget all your troubles!"
As though in a trance, Sirenetta clasped the knife and entered the cabin
where the prince and his bride lay asleep. But as she gazed at the young man's
sleeping face, she simply blew him a furtive kiss, before running back on
deck. When dawn broke, she threw the knife into the sea. Then she shot a
parting glance at the world she was leaving behind, and dived into the waves,
ready to turn into the foam of the sea from whence she had come, and vanish.
As the sun rose over the horizon, it cast a long golden ray of light across
the sea, and in the chilly water, Sirenetta turned towards it for the last
time. Suddenly, as though by magic, a mysterious force drew her out of the
water, and she felt herself lifted high into the sky. The clouds were tinged
with pink, the sea rippled in the early morning breeze, and the little mermaid
heard a whisper through the tinkling of bells: "Sirenetta, Sirenetta! Come
with us ..."
"Who are you?" asked the mermaid, surprised to find she had recovered the
use of her voice. "Where am l?"
"You're with us in the sky. We're the fairies of the air! We have no soul
as men do, but our task is to help them. We take amongst us only those who
have shown kindness to men!"
Greatly touched, Sirenetta looked down over the sea towards the prince's
ship, and felt tears spring to her eyes. The fairies of the air whispered to
her: "Look! The earth flowers are waiting for our tears to turn into the
morning dew! Come along with us ..."