The volcano rumbled in the dusk light, steam spouted and hissed from cracks in the earth’s crust. A sage in long silver robes appeared by the royal pond and spoke to Prince Diamrem. “Destruction is imminent. Why haven’t you left? I warned you hours ago.”
“It’s my home, I like it here.”
The sage’s face creased making him look more wizened. “At when the New Year begins the volcano will send clouds of red dust billowing into the sky. Rivers of molten lava will cascade down the mountain slopes creating barren fields and craters. You must find a princess, start a new life."
“A princess? Where?” Since the recent death of his parents, Diamrem had lived alone on the island.
“One awaits you. You must walk the land now. Find your way to the whispering ocean.”
"In the darkness...all by myself?" gulped the prince as a mantle of grey cloud concealed the moon.
“Go if you want to meet her and see the New Year. Your choice.” The sage vanished.
Back pack in place, the prince crossed the drawbridge and trudged away from the castle, chill wind at his back. Time and again, he stumbled and fell; picked himself up, pushed on. Before long, his leather boots crunched on a gravel surface and something nudged his elbow. Heart pounding, he turned expecting a beast to confront him. But he realised he had connected with a signpost. He wiped sweat from his palms and headed toward the scent of coastal pines.
After a hundred easier steps, he encountered a barrier of thorns and shouted in despair at the dark sky. He groped through prickles and vines and emerged scratched and bleeding not far from a hollow tree where he sat taking refuge. Night creatures skittered through the undergrowth. Diamrem trembled and breathed deeply trying to settle his nerves. He soon sensed a shift in the cloud coverings. Taking advantage of the moonlight he set off through the trees and when he reached a clearing, he stopped and listened to the crash of waves upon rocks. Salt-laced air filled his nostrils He looked around and frowned. The only access point was by way of a steep path.
Carefully he made his made his way but just as one foot reached the sand the other slid on a moss-covered rock and wedged in a crevice. He tried to free himself. The other leg buckled. Pain speared through him. Diamrem fainted on the rock.
He awakened to a hazy image of strawberry blond tresses cascading over a lady’s torso. Her blinked and saw she was combing her hair with a piece of coral. Her body, below the waist was buried in seaweed ribbons and sand. "Your legs are damaged. Fear not, I will help,” she whispered through crimson lips. Her slender, cool fingers caressed his forehead. He realised she had released his feet and removed his boots. As he reached out to touch her shimmering hair, she unfurled her long, elaborate tail.
Diamrem spluttered. "Where are your legs?"
"Don’t need any; my flipper propels me through the water."
The prince asked her name. "I have no special name until my husband gives me his letters. Write your name in the sand."
He picked up a white shell and wrote in large capital letters. DIAMREM. She flipped into the breakers. “Believe in yourself Diamrem." Her sweet voice echoed. "Swim to me."
“I cannot swim."
The volcano reverberated.
“Hurry Diamrem. You walked in the dark of night. You can do anything. Come to me."
Her melodic voice mesmerised him. He dragged himself to the seashore where waves lapped around him. She pointed to a passing starfish. “Let the water carry you. Like that.”
He floated and grinned in surprise. The princess removed his shirt and ran her fingers down his spine. His whole body felt suddenly lighter. When he saw his legs had been replaced by a magnificent tail, he emitted a throaty sound. His first attempt at using the new tail made her laugh and she buried her face in a sea of bubbles. He managed to wriggle, at first like a tadpole, then found he could weave through the water more easily.
“Now try this.” The princess soared like a porpoise in and out of the curling waves. Sunlight danced on her silver scales. They dived and swam together until loud rumblings and a red explosion erupted from the centre of the volcano.
“The New Year has begun.” Diamrem pointed to the palace silhouetted against the crimson sky.
Later, when the rumblings ceased and fringes of lava cooled all around the island, they lay on the beach and he stroked her hair. “Will you be my bride? Will you take my letters?’
“Yes DIAMREM. And you should know this. It is my privilege to reverse your letters if I want to. So I shall call myself MERMAID."
“Mermaid? I like it. It suits you.”
She smiled. “I like it too.”