Deep Sea Jewels
by Silvia Hartmann
Once upon a time, there was a small village built from grim, cold stone upon a grim, cold and stony shore by a grim, cold ocean.
It was bitter there, bitter cold and bitter hard. The people were desperate and bitter, hard inside themselves and one another, and they never laughed and had no love to give to one another.
Their only source of food was slimly snails and shells they scraped from the rocks; bitter sea weed and most horribly of all, they would go out in their boats and catch mermaids, kill them and chop off their tails for that was like fish and could be cooked and eaten by their starving, hollow eyed wives and pale children.
The fishermen did not want to kill mermaids, but on their stony shores the icy waters were devoid of fish and to survive, that was all they could think to do.
This is how it was; and this is how it had been for all times, for as long as even the eldest amongst them could remember. No-one questioned this life, for they were too worn out and tired by their daily bitter grind and struggle to have any spark left, little wonder as it was.
Every day at dawn, the weary fishermen would put out their ill-built boats out into the stormy ocean, to begin their awful task of catching mermaids for their tails again, just as it was and how it had been for all times remembered.
But one day, one time, there was a single one amongst them who found a young mermaid in his net and she was crying, near to death, and when he raised his knife to cut her from her body, his hand was staid and he simply could not do it.
Knowing that releasing her would bring even more suffering and hardship to him, his wife and his starving children, he untangled her from the net and placed her back into the water, and he said, "Swim far away, to live or die, for I can no longer kill the likes of you to sustain my own miserable existence. For sure, I'd rather be dead by a well aimed, clean cutting butcher's knife than suffer on - this trade is not worth it."
The mermaid heard him and felt his terrible sadness and his desperation, but she did not understand such things; deeply troubled by it, she swam to the deep reaches where the elders resided and told them what had happened, and what she had heard.
The elders sang together for a long time, and finally they all rose up and swam out towards the bay where the fishermen's desolate village lay, and when the fishermen put out the next morning in the freezing mist to once again find sustenance and survival for another weary day, they were met by the merpeople.
The merpeople told them that they knew of a place where treasure lay and offered to show them the way, but the fishermen were afraid and suspicious.
They had killed so many of the merpeople that they thought the merpeople must be their bitter enemies and that they had come to lure the fishermen into a deep and vicious vortex that would suck them all under for revenge.
So they refused to go.
But the one whose hand was staid had nothing left to lose, and he alone followed them in his small boat.
Out to sea, far out to sea they went, further than the fisherman had every been before, and further still, but he never lost heart nor hope, for he had none to lose.
He simply followed and at last, at the far horizon, there was an island.
As he came closer, he could see that all the white beach of the island was covered with the most beautiful jewels, deep sea jewels they were, washing up with every tide from the mountains deep, deep below the waters where they had slept since time began.
In the white sands they lay and sparkled - precious diamonds, sea green emeralds and flashing high sky sapphires, royal rubies and the deepest, richest golden topaz, of colours true and pure that sang and touched your very soul.
The fisherman whose hand was staid fell to his knees in the tide and raised a handful of them to his eyes, and then he cried, and then he was confused for he did not know that feeling which befell him - not having ever known a single moment of happiness before, how could he have known?
Eventually, he turned around to thank the merpeople, but they had gone; he took a fraction of the never-ending deep sea jewels back to his village, and it changed everything for everyone.
Not only were these jewels precious beyond imagination, but their very purity and beauty made a healing for all who beheld them, a soothing of worn brows and tired backs, a wind of light to stroke a bend head and a vibrant dance for bringing aching feet to life.
For the first time in their terrible existence, the people of the village were happy and joyful, and being joyful, there was no longer need to hit and hurt each other, to take from each other, or to grate against each other like the boulders in the sea will turn to sand.
The villagers took their jewels then to other places; and in time, a great fleet of pure white ships with the whitest, billowing sails would sail the oceans near and far, bringing jewels to the farthest reaches and taking goods and payments in return.
And on each ship, high upon the highest mast, a silk flag was flying, embroidered in the finest, richest colours - bearing an image of a mermaid, and a fisherman.
© Silvia Hartmann 2004