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Once upon a time, in a humble, grass hut on the shores of Lake Lelani, lived Owanee, a joyful, brown skinned girl with a perfect smile and clever wit. Nearby, in a grand and lovely, clay-brick palace, lived Merani, a sullen, lily white princess, with a terrible scowl and lazy mind. Owanee did not know Merani, and Merani did not know Owanee.
Being a penniless orphan, Owanee did not own much, and she expected no more than she had. Still, she was a happy, helpful child. The folk from the nearby village all adored her. They knew she would lend a hand during the worst times, and offer thanks during the best. They also knew she possessed one very valuable, very wonderful gift. This gift was the songbird her mother had giver Owanee just before she died. The bird was not beautiful to look at, much like Owanee herself, but it had the most lovely voice ever heard. Each morning, as the sun rose, the bird would awake and rouse Owanee with it’s beautiful song. Most mornings, Owanee would sing along, and her voice was quite good too.
Being wealthy beyond imagining, Merani owned at least one of everything there was to own. Still, she was a spiteful, selfish child. The village folk feared her, her parents ignored her, and her servants despised her. Merani would often throw tantrums and punish innocent people at her whim. Although Merani possessed many things, she was pitied by many for her lack of contentment. Most days, she slept well into the afternoon, only to arise and caterwaul about her boredom and misery all the day long.
One day, Owanee was by the shore of the lake, gathering shells that lay among the glistening grains of sand. She had her bird on her shoulder and they were singing softly to one another. They moved further down the coast, to a sheltered inlet, where another voice joined their song. Glancing up in surprise, Owanee noticed a woman lounging on the rocks furthest from the beach. She was very pretty and exotic, with long, dark green hair, like seaweed, which hung in wet strands down her shoulders to conceal her breasts. The woman had a lean build, which ended at the waist. Her lower body was that of a dazzling fish, with shimmery, rainbow colored scales and gossamer fins. Owanee was surprised by the mermaid. She gasped in delight and bowed her head reverently.
“This must surely be a queen or ruler of the lake,” Owanee thought, awed.
“Why do you hide your sweet smile, child,” the woman’s voice was pure and crystalline, like the sounds of the water lapping on the shore or the tinkle of droplets splashing the surface.
Owanee raised her eyes shyly, smiling that charming grin. “I am very pleased to meet you, Lady,” she said, dropping into an awkward and clumsy curtsy. “Who are you?”
The lady laughed, a trill of raindrops rippling through Owanee’s thoughts. “How delightful,” she spoke. “I am Tra-si-lo-na-mi, Queen of the seas, Mistress of the rains, Goddess of every brook, pond, ocean, and fountain.”
“Why have you come here?” Owanee breathed, awed once again.
“I have been searching for something,” Tra-si-lo-na-mi replied. “Something very special.”
Owanee could not imagine what this amazing creature could possibly be searching for, but she wanted to help. “If you are seeking something special, something wondrous,” she said, “then you should look there.”
Owanee pointed up at the top of the cliff, where Merani’s palace stood. “That is the home of the Princess Merani,” Owanee said. “She is very beautiful, and very rich. She has one of everything. She will have what you seek.”
“Thank you, Owanee,” the Queen said, “but I cannot go all that way, as you can plainly see.”
Owanee realized at once what the problem was. “But you have no legs,” she said to the queen. “So, of course you cannot climb.”
The Queen nodded. “It is so,” she sighed. “I will need someone to bring the wondrous thing to me. Do you know who might do such a thing for me?”
Owanee smiled all the more broadly. She was not rich or beautiful, but she was helpful. She could climb and she was strong. She could bring the wondrous thing down from the cliff top for Tra-si-lo-na-mi. “I will do it, Lady,” Owanee promised, and without a moments hesitation, began the long climb to the top of the cliff.

In her palace, Merani sat and sulked. She was bored with her toys, bored with her games, bored with her songbirds and monkeys and dancing bears. She was bored, bored, bored! As she contemplated sending the head housekeeper to the dungeon just for fun, a small, dark girl approached her. The girl wore a ragged shift and carried a small basket of shells. On her shoulder sat a small, drab brown bird. The girl wore a wide, open grin as well.
“Why do you smile so, Girl,” Merani challenged. “Do you see something to amuse you here?”
Owanee shook her head, smiling all the more. “Oh, no, Princess Merani,” she replied. “I am simply happy. I have had an adventure, you see. And I don’t think it’s quite over yet.”
Merani scowled. “Who is this plain, poor girl?” she thought. “Why should she be having an adventure when I am not? I’m the princess. I want an adventure too.”
“I want to have an adventure,” Merani declared petulantly. “You shall give me yours!”
Owanee seemed puzzled by the girls outburst, but shrugged and said, good naturedly, “I don’t know that I can give it to you, but you can come along. You see, Tra-si-lo-na-mi is seeking a special and wondrous thing. I know that you have one of everything, so I knew you would have it. I told her I would bring it down the cliff to where she waits on the rocks by the lake.”
Merani sniffed haughtily. “If the Queen of the Waters wants something of mine, then she shall have to come to me to get it. I will not simply give it to you just because you tell me this outlandish story!”
“But…” Owanee began to argue, when Merani threw up a hand.
“Silence, Girl,” she shouted, “before I have you thrown in the dungeon.”
Owanee bowed her head in defeat. Merani would not listen to reason. Owanee would have to go back and tell Tra-si-lo-na-mi that she had failed. With her shoulders slumped, and her head down, Owanee turned and left the palace. Merani watched her go. Then, suddenly, she jumped up and followed the other girl. Perhaps this girl was a thief of some renown, or a wild, pirate child, who had pillaged the village and stole their treasures. If Merani followed her to her lair, she could recover the items and gain fame from the ungrateful villagers. Plus, she could see the other girl punished, and then Merani might forget her boredom for a short time.

Owanee returned to the inlet, where Tra-si-lo-na-mi waited. The girl was sad and ashamed of her failure. She would not look at the Queen of the Waters. Owanee stared steadily at her feet, kicking small, uncomfortable circles in the sand.
“Where has your smile gone, Child?” the Queen asked. There was a puzzled tone to her lilting voice.
Owanee was surprised by Tra-si-lo-na-mi’s first question. The girl had expected the mermaid queen to be only concerned with the great and wondrous thing Owanee herself had been sent to fetch. She could not understand this concern the queen expressed for her. Owanee blushed at the attention and slowly raised her eyes to the queen’s, searching for the anger and disappointment she thought she would find there. To her surprise, the queen’s smile was genuine and warm, encouraging. Owanee smiled tentatively herself.
“I am sorry, Lady,” she said softly. “I have failed you. Merani refused to give me any of her things.”
“Liar!” Merani shouted, rushing out of the bushes to face the radiant mermaid queen.
Owanee’s eyes widened in shock at the sight of the other girl. Her lily white skin had flushed an angry, ugly red. Merani’s pale curls were tangled with leaves and dirt from the walk down the cliffside. Her beautiful clothes were torn and streaked with dust and mud. Merani looked like a wild child striding towards the rocky outcropping on which Tra-si-lo-na-mi sat.
“You never asked anything of me, you lazy brat!” Merani’s voice was high pitched and screeching. “You did not fulfill the task given you, because you did not want to. Do not lie to the Goddess.”
Owanee’s eyes filled with tears at the other girls accusations. “It is not true, what she says,” Owanee cried. “I did try. Merani did not believe that you waited here. I swear this.”
Tra-si-lo-na-mi measured both girls with her gaze, her mouth pursed as she thought. “I do not know,” she began, “but I think it does not matter. I have a reward for the girl who brings me the most wondrous and amazing thing I seek. Go back to your homes and fetch it, whatever you think it is. The girl who gives the correct gift shall be rewarded.”
Merani smirked at Owanee. She knew the other girl had nothing to compare to her things. She bowed once to the Queen of Waters and turned away, saying, “As you will it, so shall it be, my Lady. I shall bring you the wonder of wonders.”
Owanee sighed once, heartfelt and long. “I fear I have nothing to bring you wonder, my Lady,” she said, “ but I too bend to your will. I will return.”
Merani hurried back up the cliff to her palace. Once there, she bathed and dressed in her finest gown. She had her hair arranged by her hairdressers and then sent her wisest adviser to find her most wondrous treasure.
Owanee also returned home. She washed her face and hands and brushed her long, dark hair to remove the tangles. Then she searched her meager possessions for a gift worthy of the Queen of Waters.
Merani returned to the inlet in the trappings of a Princess. She sat upon a chair, draped in fine linens. The chair was carried on the backs of four strong footmen. Behind a filmy curtain, Merani sat, holding a large, ornate box before her.
Owanee returned once again on foot. She stood in the sand, head bowed in supplication. Her only companion was the little, brown songbird. She held nothing in her hands.
“What have you brought to me, Merani,” Tra-si-lo-na-mi asked the girl.
“This!” Merani replied, opening the box with a flourish. A brilliant white light spilled forth, illuminating a fine, shimmery cloth that lay within the box. “This is the Cloak of the Moon, with it you can clothe yourself in moonlight to rival the beauty of your Sky Sister.”
Tra-si-lo-na-mi said nothing. She turned to Owanee, her eyes growing sad. “And do you also have this kind of gift, Owanee?” she asked.
Owanee shook her head sorrowfully. “No, my Lady, I fear nothing I possess can compete with Merani’s amazing gift. Merani smiled smugly at Owanee’s words.
“There is little in this world that I own,” Owanee continued. “Truly nothing so fine or wondrous as this Cloak of the Moon. I have but one valuable, one thing I treasure. That is this fine songbird my mother gave to me. He is my only companion, my truest joy. I hope that he will bring you happiness too.”
Eyes brimming with unshed tears, Owanee lifted the bird from her shoulder and sent him flitting over to sit on the rock beside Tra-si-lo-na-mi. The Queen lifted the bird into her hand and he immediately began to sing. Tra-si-lo-na-mi lifted her crystal cool voice to join in and the air filled with babbling of brooks and roaring of waves. As they sang, The Queen and her new treasure were enveloped in a golden light, like the sun glinting off the sea. Merani and Owanee had to turn away to shield their eyes from the sudden brilliance. When the light faded and the girls could look again, the plain, brown bird was gone. In its place stood a handsome man, with dark hair and eyes of blue. He smiled down at the Queen, and then turned to look upon Merani and Owanee.
“Thank you, gentle girl,” he said to Owanee. “Your unselfish love has sustained me all the years of my curse, and your unselfish love has finally set me free.”
“Who are you?” Owanee asked, but before he could answer, Merani let out an anguished wail.
“He’s Noki, Prince of the Waters,” she sobbed.
“Yes,” the prince frowned at the wailing girl. “I am Noki. I was cursed by a sea hag long before you were born. I would remain so until I was loved, loved so truly that the person who loved me would be willing to set me free. You are that person, Owanee. You loved me, as much as I love you.”
Owanee smiled her best smile, brilliant and joyous. “I am so glad,” she said. “Your happiness is the greatest reward.”
“Now, now,” Tra-si-lo-na-mi broke in, “there is still another reward for you child. You shall wed my handsome son. You shall be Owanee, Princess of Waters. Will that please you?”
Owanee gazed at the handsome young man and her heart filled with love and excitement. She nodded at the Queen and the Prince, her eyes glistening with joyous tears.
Merani watched in despair as Owanee, The Queen of Waters, and the Prince of Waters returned to the sea. She was left alone on the beach with her servants, her fancy chair, her best gown, and her gift, which failed because it had not come from her heart.
As for Owanee and her beloved, well, they lived happily ever after.

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