Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Chapter Three

“Max! Max! Come back, boy!” The Prince laughs and jogs after his dog.

It is a beautiful morning, clear and brisk, the kind of morning that's called a sailor’s delight. This brings a smile to the Prince’s face, because he is at heart a sailor, and will be off with the tide on another adventure.

Secretly he dreads the inevitable – that he will one day become king and be too important to sail away whenever the whim takes him. But that’s a long time from now, surely.

Max continues to bark over by the shore, and the Prince strides over the small hill to see what's the matter.

It isn’t a crab or a flock of seagulls or any of the usual distractions that Max finds so exciting. It’s something different, so different, in fact, that the Prince shakes his head in disbelief, as if he could shake out the mirage he must be seeing.

There, crawling with difficulty over the wet sand, is a mermaid.

He takes a second look, and it is indeed no mirage. A mermaid! A real, live mermaid!

Max is now growling and slowly backing away. The mermaid continues to crawl after him.

“Max?” says the Prince. There’s something not right about the way the dog is growling – he’s never like that. The only time in his memory that Max was anything less than lovable was when they ran across those cursed pirates two years ago. Max had been growling then, too.

The Prince slaps his leg, the command for Max to heel. But the dog continues to growl and snarl at the dark-haired mermaid.

A mermaid, thinks the Prince once more. Amazing! He’d always hoped to see one, but this scenario is not like the one from his imagination.

She isn’t beautiful and fair-skinned, nor striking and tanned. Her skin has a deathly pallor to it, probably a more accurate color for one who lives in the depths, and blue veins spiderweb across her face.

And her eyes… they stare vacantly ahead, not full of life and curiosity like in the paintings and storybooks, just blankly focused on Max. Deep under the sea, perhaps, there isn’t much need for eyesight.

And then the Prince notices something else. “Back away, Max,” he says quietly, and grips his walking staff tighter.

She, the mermaid, is missing most of her torso. The Prince has witnessed many shark and barracuda attacks, but never anything like this.

Such a wound would be more than fatal, and yet, she still crawls toward Max with an intensity that is anything but natural.

“The drowned ones…” whispers the Prince.

As a child, he thrived on tales and legends of the sea, and so he knows the drowned ones well. Pitiful creatures, those who were lost at sea and cursed to roam the ocean forever, pulling sailors into their clutches to join their ranks.

Nonsense and tall tales, of course. Even as a child, the Prince knew that. But it still frightened him. And if he always secretly hoped to see a mermaid, then wouldn’t it be true that secretly he always feared encountering the drowned ones?

Of course, the legends never spoke of mermaids finding this fate, but that could be true, too.

“Back away, Max,” he says in his most stern voice. The dog whines, then finally obeys his master.

Motion from the shore catches the Prince’s attention. Crawling out of the water are two more mer-people, both of them men, both of them similarly dead. One is missing its entire tail, ripped apart by the same creature that could not be a shark.

Max barks again, this time a yelp of pain. The dog jumps backward, and the Prince looks down to see a small, mangled crustacean has nipped at Max.

He stomps it flat with one heavy leather boot and surveys the drowned ones crawling toward him, and idly, the Prince thinks that he won’t be sailing this morning.