Saturday, 2 August 2014

Golden Scales

Here comes another Folk Tale of the Sea People, but first a couple of notes...

I'm sorry these paintings and stories have been the only content recently! Although I have some other content to share, I'm still waiting for my image editing software to turn up. Amazon shipped a replacement to me today, so hopefully everything will be back to normal by the middle of the week!

As for this story, I feel I need to put this here:
Warning: contains themes of domestic violence, self harm, and an ending that may be found dissatisfying.
(I wasn't sure whether to post this one or not because of this, but in for a penny...)

Golden Scales, July 2014
Golden Scales

Once upon a time, in an ocean far away from here, there lived a handsome Merman. He was much admired by the Mermaids, and much envied by his fellow Mermen, for his scales were a beautiful, shining gold. His hair was a lustrous green, the colour of seaweed in the sunlight, and his eyes were the colour of jewels. Glyndwr made a fine figure, his torso strong and his arms muscular. He had a great many admirers, and many a woman wished to court him.
But Glyndwr was incredibly vain, and thought them not beautiful enough to be seen at his side. The woman to swim at his side must have a beauty and radiance to match his own, he thought.
Still, Glyndwr enjoyed the compliments and gazes of admiration he gained from other Merfolk, and the wistful sighs he heard whenever he passed by young Mermaids. He ignored the jealous Mermen, who rolled their eyes and called him Glyndwr the Vain.

It happened one day that Glyndwr had gone to the surface, with some other Merfolk of his age. His companions had hoped for his attentions, but Glydwr thought himself above their games and their play, and chose instead to lie upon the sand, so that his skin might become a little tanned and thus he would become more beautiful.
The other Merfolk went off to play and explore the Human-land, and Glyndwr, lazy and unwilling to show interest in a place that surely was not as interesting as himself, dozed off in the sun.
He awoke when an old Finwife shook him.
 “Wake up, my pretty!” she commanded, her voice like the shriek of a gull.
Glyndwr looked at her with revulsion, for she was the ugliest creature he had ever seen. Compared to the old Finwife, sea slugs were handsome and Draugs were beautiful. The Finwife’s hair was the green of rot, her skin grey and wrinkled, and she reeked of dead fish.
“Begone from me, woman,” uttered Glyndwr, his nose wrinkled in disgust.
“Nay, I shall not be gone, for I have seen your beautiful golden scales and your lovely hair, and your jewel-eyes and handsome body, and I have decided to take you as my husband,” said the Finwife. She took hold of Glyndwr’s arm and pulled him back toward the water.
He shouted and tried to escape from her, but the Finwife was remarkably strong. Finfolk were always resolute in taking a spouse, and once they had decided, there was little way of stopping them.
Dalit, the Finwife, dragged Glyndwr to her home on the sunken island of the Finfolk.
Though he was afraid, Glyndwr looked at Dalit’s house in amazement, for it was akin to a palace, with fine crystal arches and bejewelled walls. It was a home fit for a king.
But Glyndwr was no king, and Dalit no queen, for she immediately put the Merman to work. First she made him remove clumps of weed from her front garden, and then she made him clean each and every crystal arch in the building. When he was done, Glyndwr felt very tired. He stopped to rest, but Dalit took out a staff and beat him with it.
“Continue to work, my golden husband,” she snapped. “I did not bring you here to rest. You must do a husband’s work!”
Glyndwr could not fight back, for Dalit was stronger than him. He began to fear the Finwife, who was so old and ugly, yet wielded so much power.

When Dalit was not watching, Glyndwr climbed out of the window and swam away. He made towards home, but before he got halfway there, the Finwife appeared before him and took him back to the sunken island.
“I did not take you as my husband for you to swim away, my golden man,” she crooned, her face close to that of Glyndwr and her breath stinking all the more. “You will look fine within my palace, with your golden scales and your beautiful hair, and your fine body and your jewel-eyes.”
Glyndwr knew then that he was doomed to live with the Finwife.
She allowed him some food – a nauseating broth of rotten fish-heads – and locked him in a windowless room as punishment for escaping.
When Dalit allowed Glyndwr out, she set him to a new task: he was to remove each and every jewel from the walls of the house, polish them, and return them to their place. Glyndwr began polishing, all the time planning how he might escape without her noticing. He spent all day cleaning the jewels, and still he was not done. Many days passed and he continued with the task Dalit had set for him. Every night, she locked him in the windowless room, and Glyndwr accepted his time alone with gladness that Dalit did not come wishing to lay with him as a wife. Still, he stole a pin and some scissors from Dalit’s sewing box, so that he might use them against her should she come to him. The idea of lying with Dalit filled Glyndwr with horror, and he tried not to think of it.

Another day came, and Glyndwr continued his task. The palace was decorated with endless jewels, millions and billions of diamonds and rubies, sapphires and opals, emeralds and topaz. The task seemed eternal.

One day, Glyndwr set the final polished stone back into the wall. He let out a sigh of relief. “I am done,” he called out to Dalit.
“Good,” said Dalit. “For it is time to weed the gardens, and clean the arches, and after that you must start to polish the jewels again, for they have begun to become dull.”
Glyndwr realised with horror that she was right: all the jewels in the first room he worked upon no longer shone, but had taken on the dull sheen that occurs on gemstones when submerged in dirty waters.
Glyndwr realised that Dalit was looking at him sternly.
“I will weed the garden right away,” he said meekly. Many beatings had taught him to obey without question or complaint.
“No,” said Dalit. She took hold of Glyndwr’s arm and led him to the kitchen. “First you must eat, for you have become too thin.”
She served Glyndwr a large helping of fish-head broth, which he forced himself to eat under her watchful eye. Later, when cleaning the arches, he caught his reflection in the well-polished surface and saw that he had indeed become thin. Gone was his strong torso and muscular arms. His chest was flat and week, his arms skinny and his skin ashen. Glyndwr mourned this change in his appearance, and silently cursed the Finwife, for it was surely Dalit’s fault. He thought again of escape, but escape was futile. Dalit did not trust him, and she prized him as much as her gems, concerning herself only with his looks, particularly his golden scales.
Glyndwr looked at his golden tail and noticed how the scales no longer gleamed as beautifully as they did once before.

Later that day, Dalit came to him and watched him with her dull eyes. “Tonight, dear golden husband, I shall not lock you in your room, but you shall lay with me, for I desire a child,” she said. It was a sentence that Glyndwr had most feared, more so than the threat of any beating. He knew that he had to escape before the night, as he would sooner die than lay with the old hag.
“Would you allow me one night to prepare?” he asked humbly. “I should not like to disappoint you.”
“One night, and one night only,” agreed Dalit.
That night, she locked Glyndwr in his room again. When he was certain that she had gone, he took out the pin and the scissors that he had been hiding in his room. First, he cut off his lovely green hair, an act which made him weep softly. As the last strand of hair floated away, there came a rapping on the door.
“Are you weeping, Glyndwr?” called Dalit.
“Only for happiness, at what tomorrow night might bring,” Glyndwr called back hurriedly, hoping that she would not come in.
However, Dalit seemed satisfied with his answer. “Go to sleep,” she said, “For tomorrow night will be long.”
Once she had gone, Glyndwr looked sadly at his golden scales. They were his greatest pride, so unusual and beautiful were they in colour, but he knew he had to lose them. Dalit would no longer desire him if he had not lovely hair or beautiful scales.
Glyndwr pulled out his golden scales one by one, muffling his cries of pain. Each scale he plucked away caused the pain to go deeper and another little piece of his vanity to shrivel and die.
When Glyndwr was done, the room was awash with golden scales and lustrous green hair. He knew he was no longer handsome, for he was thin, hairless and scale-less. He was now ugly: the sum of all he disliked the most.
The new day was nearly upon them, and Glyndwr knew he had little time to escape. Taking the pin, he used it to pick the lock of the door. He crept out cautiously and closed the door softly behind him, so that Dalit might not realise he was gone.

The moment he reached the garden, Glyndwr swam away as fast as his tail would propel him. Swimming was uncomfortable, for without scales he was all sore flesh. Glyndwr feared how Dalit would treat him should she catch him again. He swam and swam, leaving the sunken island and making his way homewards.
The Merman was but halfway home when he heard Dalit calling for him. He darted into a thicket of seaweed, and watched in fear.
He saw Dalit swim by, still calling his name. Spotting a Mermaid, she summoned her.
“Have you seen a man pass by?” asked Dalit. “He has no scales and his hair is cut away, but he has the most beautiful jewel-eyes you ever did see.”
The Mermaid shook her head. She had not noticed Glyndwr swim into the seaweed.
“Well then, I must continue to look.” Both women continued on their way.
Glyndwr put his hands to his eyes and sighed. Would the Finwife still treasure him, solely for his eyes? He could not tear them out, for he would become blind and not find his way home.
It so happened that a Glashtyn found him in the seaweed. “Why, young sir, what happened to your hair and your scales?” asked the Glashtyn. “And why do you look so troubled?”
Mournful, Glyndwr told the Glashtyn of all that had occurred with the Finwife.
“Finfolk are easily enchanted by beauty and jewels,” spoke the Glashtyn. “She would give up on you only if you lost all your beauty.”
“But my eyes are unchangeable,” said Glyndwr.
“That is not quite so,” said the Glashtyn. “Let me take out your eyes, and I shall give you mine. They see quite well for their age, and as you can see for yourself, they are quite plain.” The Glashtyn’s eyes were mud-brown.
Glyndwr sighed. It was his only way of truly escaping the Finwife. “Then let it be so,” he uttered sorrowfully.
The Glashtyn tore out Glyndwr’s eyes one at a time, and the Merman screamed in agony, and also in fear when he lost his sight. Quickly, the Glashtyn replaced Glyndwr’s eyes with his own, and put Glyndwr’s jewel-green eyes in his own head.
Sight returned to Glyndwr slowly, and the first thing he saw was the Glashtyn, staring back at him with his own eyes.
“Your eyes were rather coloured by vanity,” remarked the Glashtyn. “You will do better with my own, for they always saw truth.”
Glyndwr was about to reply when the Glashtyn disappeared.
Hearing Dalit call in the distance, Glyndwr raced for home.

Nobody recognised Glyndwr when he returned to his kingdom, at least not until they heard his voice, saw the few stubby clumps of green hair on his head, and a single golden scale that he had missed when he plucked them away.
“Whatever happened?” asked his cousin. Glyndwr told the story, and then fainted, for his time as the Finwife’s husband had exhausted him.

“My poor dear, look at you...” Glyndwr awoke to a gentle hand upon his head, and a familiar voice that caused fear to race through him. He opened his eyes – the Glashtyn’s eyes – and stared. But he saw not Dalit the Finwife hag. Instead, a beautiful young Mermaid was at his side. Her tail was golden, her skin smooth and tanned, and her hair a deep, shining blue. Her eyes were golden yellow and her mouth full. She was the most beautiful creature that Glyndwr had ever seen.
“Who are you?” he asked weakly.
“It is I, Dalit,” said the beautiful young woman, Dalit’s awful voice escaping her supple lips. She smiled and took touched Glyndwr’s hand. “Perhaps it is better that I speak with my own voice,” she spoke again, this time her voice soft and gentle.
“But Dalit is a Finwife, a violent hag who wanted me only for my golden scales and handsome looks,” Glyndwr said.
“And you wished only for a companion with beauty to equal yours, did you not?” Dalit asked.
Glyndwr looked ashamed. “And now, the Finwife and I would make quite a match,” he murmured sorrowfully. “I should not have been so vain.”
“You should not,” Dalit agreed. “I am not a Finwife, Glyndwr, but a witch. Like many, I wanted to know you, but I saw how you treated the beautiful, kind young ladies who you thought were beneath you, and I did not like it, so I decided to disguise myself as a Finwife hag and teach you a lesson.”
“Oh. I’m very sorry.” Glyndwr felt like a fool. Had he realised his vain ways much sooner, he would not have endured such hardships at Dalit’s hands.
“And I am sorry that you had to be beaten, for you really are lovely to behold.”
“I was,” corrected Glyndwr. “Now I am plain.”
“Your scales and your hair will grow back,” Dalit said. “But your eyes cannot be regained, unless you can find the Glashtyn and ask for them back.”
“The Glashtyn disappeared, and should I find him I may not want my own eyes returned to me,” Glyndwr said. “These eyes shall remind me to refrain from vanity.”
“Good,” Dalit nodded approvingly. “And now you must rest and regain your strength.”
“Yes…” Glyndwr sighed. “If you are not a Finwife, then I am not your husband, is that true? Not that any would take me in the state that I am in.”
The Merwitch nodded. “You are free to court any woman you wish, should she desire your affections. Though I have become rather fond of you in our time together and without your vanity you can be charming, so you may court me if you wish.”
Glyndwr stared at her. “You are too beautiful for me,” he uttered quietly. “Were I at your side, people would laugh at us.”
“The opinions of others do not matter, nor does appearance,” Dalit chastised softly. “Rest now, Glyndwr, and answer my request once you have recovered.”

Though Glyndwr’s scales grew back, they were not as golden as before, and his hair refused to grow more than a finger’s length from his head. Still, under Dalit’s tender nursing, his chest became strong once again, and his arms muscular. Once more, Mermaids looked at him with longing, though he no longer outshone his fellow Mermen.
Glyndwr courted Dalit for a single season before she suggested marriage, an offer to which the once-proud Merman accepted. Their house was humble and only modestly decorated, and on Dalit’s orders contained not a single reflective surface, so that Glyndwr would never fall into his vain ways again.
Though Glyndwr sometimes wished to regain his beautiful green eyes, or that his hair would grow long and shiny once again, or that his prized golden scales regained their gleam, he kept those thoughts to himself.
After all, it would not do to attract the attention of a real Finwife, who was surely more terrible than the illusion Dalit had played upon him.
Glyndwr the Vain was now Glyndwr the Humble, and he had truly learned his lesson.

Well, that finished in a strange way, didn't it? I must say that I don't agree with Dalit's methods of teaching Glyndwr a lesson. Violence is not cool. Poor Glyndwr, eh? He really was desperate to escape her, and yet he returned to her in her true form. Do you think he was too afraid to say no? Or was he still a little vain inside? Or maybe he thought he didn't have a choice... What do you think? 

If you're a victim of domestic violence or self-harm, please get help.

For more Folk Tales of the Sea People - tales with a more pleasing ending than this, I hope - check out the Folk Tales of the Sea People tag. 

Next time: The very first story I wrote for this collection!  

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