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Poem: "Sorrow's Guardian" - The Wordsmith's Forge — LiveJournal
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Sorrow's Guardian"
This poem came out of the December 3, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] stardreamer and LiveJournal user Kestrels_nest. It also fills the "crossover: books & literary" square in my 8-13-13 card for the [community profile] ladiesbingo fest and the "Stockholm syndrome" square in my 8-12-13 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette.


"Sorrow's Guardian"


Pearl was the name of the littlest mermaid,
who rescued a prince when he fell from his ship.
He captured her heart with his dark eyes.
She wanted so much to be with him
that she went to the hall of the Sea-Witch
and traded her voice for a spell
that would turn her tail into legs
which she could keep forever if the prince wed her.

When Pearl tried to stand, though,
her new legs were as weak as seaweed
and the soft sand felt like razor coral beneath her feet.
She could not bear the pain of it,
and lay on the beach like a piece of driftwood.

The prince found her there
and carried her into his castle.
He set her in a golden chair
with a cushion of crimson velvet,
and she did not mind
that she could not leave it
without his assistance.

Pearl loved the prince more and more
with each day that passed.
She sat with him all the time,
quiet and attentive.
He reveled in her company,
doing everything she needed.

After a few weeks, however,
she grew tired of always sitting still,
because she had been an active swimmer
and now could not move on her own.
She began to practice, standing up
for a few moments and then sitting back down.

When the prince caught her doing it,
he became furious.
He threw her fine chair against the wall
and tore up the crimson cushion.
Then he threw Pearl after it.

That night, she dragged herself
into the washroom to clean her scrapes
in the hot salt spring that bubbled there.

To her amazement,
voices spoke from the seafoam.
"We are the spirits of the other mermaids
whom the prince has lured to their doom,"
they said to Pearl. "We will comfort you."

Then a figure rose from the water,
clad only in long dark hair and ropes of pearls,
with the green-black wings of a cormorant
and a mermaid's tail swishing in place of legs.

"I am Sorrow," she said.
"I am the guardian angel of all who grieve.
Tell me your regrets, little mermaid.
It may be that I can help you."

So Pearl wept about her lost voice
and her useless legs,
about the prince who pretended to love her
but instead kept her captive.
Even though Pearl had no words,
Sorrow understood her grief.

"Come soak yourself in the hot saltwater,"
Sorrow said, "and let your sea-sisters
do what they can to heal you."

Pearl slipped into the spring.
The salt stung in her scrapes,
but it soothed the ache in her legs.
The seafoam fizzed and swirled around her
like tiny hands rubbing the pain away.

When Pearl finally got out,
she could stand for almost a minute,
and her heart rejoiced.

"Return to us tomorrow night,
and we will do the same," said Sorrow.
Pearl nodded agreement.


The prince who had been so solicitous before
now turned callous and cruel.
Nothing Pearl did could please him,
and he took out his temper on her flesh.

The next night she returned to the spring
with a black eye and a heavy heart.
Sorrow bade her soak a cloth in the hot water
and hold it against her aching face.
It made the bruise darken,
but at least the pain went away --
and when Pearl stepped out of the bath,
she could stand for two minutes.

This went on for a full cycle of the moon.
Then one night as Pearl stepped into the spring,
she cut her foot on something hidden in the sand.
The cry of pain was the first true sound
that she had made since leaving the sea,
and the burn of salt in the wound made her realize
that her feet no longer hurt nearly as much as they used to.

"Reach down and take the shell," said Sorrow.
Pearl took the shell and found it as sharp as a razor.
"What am I to do with this?" she asked.

"If you kill the prince, you will get your voice back
and free your sea-sisters, but it will still take time
to gain strength in your legs," said Sorrow.
"Or you could let the prince live, and leave the castle,
but you would have to leave all of us behind,"

"I do not wish to kill anyone," Pearl said.
She climbed out of the bath and walked away
as quickly as she could while her strength lasted.

But the prince caught her at the palace gate
and flung her hard against the ground.
"You do not walk away from me!" he snarled.
"I am the prince, and nobody leaves me."

He knelt over Pearl and wrapped his hands
around the slender, silent column of her throat.
Pearl reached up and slashed his arms
so that the blood spurted red in the sun.

The prince sagged to the ground.
"Help me," he said, his hands falling limp.
"I will marry you if you say yes."

Pearl breathed in and felt her voice return.
"No," she told the prince.
The last of his blood drained away
and with it his hold on her sea-sisters.

Pearl trudged back to the washroom
just in time to see the others
rising from the seafoam
to take flesh again.

One was deaf.
One was blind.
One had no hands.

They ransacked the castle
for clothes and food
and all they would need for traveling.

Then they left together.
Pearl listened to danger for the deaf sister,
watched footing for the blind sister,
opened doors for the handless sister,
and leaned on them all to stay upright.
If they were all weeping, no one minded.

At the castle gate, their mer-angel
came to them and said, "I must leave you now,
for I am Sorrow's guardian and these are tears of joy."
She filled their hands with pearls
and then vanished from sight
with a flick of her dark tail.

Pearl hugged her sisters closer
and waved goodbye to Sorrow
as she limped into her new life.

She had no regrets.

* * *

Notes:

"The Last Pearl" and "The Little Mermaid" are the primary crossovers. Various other fairytales have characters who are blind or deaf, and "The Girl Without Hands" appears in many variations.

Stockholm syndrome originally appeared in the context of hostage victims, but also occurs in abusive relationships. A tendency to infantilize handicapped people encourages dependency, and can twist sexuality. Know how to recognize and stop domestic abuse.

Just because magic gives you new limbs, doesn't necessarily mean you'll know how to use them or they will be in the same shape as if you'd had them all your life. This fudge factor appears frequently in fairytales but I think a more realistic approach would heighten tension. So I've rendered this similar to muscle atrophy, where the muscles are present but undeveloped; and the soft new skin creates tactile defensiveness due to sensory overload.

Salt relates to tears and sorrow as an archetype, also connecting with pearls and the sea, things associated with mermaids. So a mermaid-angel Sorrow made sense to me.

Hot springs often have a high mineral content, although actual saltwater ones are rare. Hot springs have therapeutic benefits.

Razor clams and some other molluscs have very sharp shells.

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