She was, by nature, a solitary creature, but her current preference for her dim-lit caverns and crevasses to the silky, plush mid-layer of the sea—where lived most of her kind—was born of hurt. For she had been ridiculed for once having had a mad desire to see what it was that lay beyond the sea.
One day a fleck of light caught her eye. It was unusual in lasting longer than the faint shimmering that so infrequently traveled down from the surface—indeed, every time she turned her eye just so, the light caught.
She swam closer and saw that it was the glow of her own body reflecting off a bit of metal buried in a crack in the rock. Wedging it out with her fingers, it came loose and sat in the palm of her hand, a golden, round, flat disc, with a face on one side and a strange pattern on the other. She had never seen anything like it before, and that meant that it could only have come from one place: the land above the sea.
All at once, she made a decision. She would go to the surface and discover the purpose of this object. Then, perhaps, she would be content to live the rest of her days as she had spent them thus far.
The mermaid went to visit the sea witch, whose dwellings were even deeper than her own, and who quickly granted her wish in exchange for three scales of the mermaid’s tail and the promise that the mermaid would tell her everything she learned upon her return to the sea.
An instant after giving her promise, the mermaid found herself washed up on a rocky coast, naked, shivering, and possessed by a feverish desire to know the purpose of her round, flat bit of metal that remained hidden in her hand. Under the wing of an old, ragged village fishing woman who discovered her walking along the shore, she learned to wear clothes, eat cooked food, and fish above the water. But when the mermaid showed her object to inquire as to its purpose, the old woman gasped and quickly pressed it back into the mermaid’s palm.
Having learned little from the old woman, the mermaid made her way into the village where she happened upon a finely dressed man who stood before an innkeeper. Taking from his pocket a laden bag, he poured some of its contents into his palm. It was the glint that caught the mermaid’s eye, for she saw that what he had poured out closely resembled what was in her own pocket.
With stealth, the mermaid followed the man, leaving the village behind. The small golden metal bits played an intricate role in the dealings of the man she observed. From this, she deduced that they provided some means of trade. But, it seemed, the metal was more than that, for wherever the finely dressed man went, he was venerably treated—but not so much as his metal. As she continued to follow the man, she saw that in fact he spent a great deal of time and effort trying to get more of the small golden objects. Thus, she came to understand that such metal was very valuable indeed.
But the longer she followed him, the more she saw that these small bits of metal did not cause him the contentment that value ought to provide. The more he had of the round objects, the more he seemed to fret, the worse he slept, and the more cruelly he treated those who came across his path.
The mermaid took pity on the man one day, and carried him in his sleep to the edge of the sea. Calling the sea witch, the mermaid begged her to make the man fit to live below the water’s surface, explaining to the witch that he was under a terrible curse, for she had come to understand her golden object’s purpose. The sea witch, satisfied with the mermaid’s tale of the curse and her understanding, saw fit to do as the mermaid asked.
And so, the man found himself free from his curse, and the mermaid found herself content to live below the sea.