Title: Ocean Child
Fandom: Disney’s The Little Mermaid
Word Count: 960
Summary: He thought he was marrying merely a girl.
Notes: Written for . Prompt: the ocean is in her blood.
Their son David is five years old when he climbs into a window seat and says, “Go away, storm! Go away!”
(He has his father’s dark hair and his mother’s stubborn streak, and eyes that Ariel says are blue like Eric’s and Eric says are green like Ariel’s, but really they’re in-between, ocean-colored, sometimes blue as the calm sea and sometimes as grey as thunderclouds.)
David is shocked when the storm doesn’t immediately obey: as the heir to the throne he is used to people jumping at his slightest whim, save for his mother who laughs at him and gently tells him no, he can’t have cake for breakfast or no, he can’t ride Papa’s horse without Papa or no, he is not allowed to use the ladies’ skirts to play hide-and-seek.
She laughs now and kneels beside him, holding him around his waist as they look out at the rain tapping on the windowpane. “The storm won’t hurt us,” she tells him. “Grandfather will always look after us. But you can tell the storm, ‘I am not afraid of you.’ Shall we do that?”
“Yes,” says David, and together they tell the storm, “I am not afraid of you. I am not afraid.”
When Ariel stopped using a fork to comb her hair, Eric thought, She’s leaving the ways of the ocean behind her. This was early in their marriage, when he still thought living on land might change her, subdue her; that she would forget what it meant to swim in the deepest waters.
He realized, as the years passed, that she could no more leave the ocean behind her than he could leave the land.
“I hope the next one is a girl,” Eric tells her as he watches her brush (using a brush inlaid with gold and ivory) her glorious hair. “You need a girl.”
Ariel laughs. She is not called “Ariel the Merry” for nothing. “I need my children whether they are boys or girls,” she tells him, and then winces and puts down the brush. “She kicks as hard as the boys.”
Eric comes to her at the dressing table and puts his hand on her belly. He lays his head on her shoulder and she pats his cheek absently. They have their two sons, no more than is expected of them, but love has given them another child and Eric wants a girl. He hopes she has Ariel’s sunset hair.
“I want to name her after a song,” he tells Ariel. “Or poetry. And we must bring her up to sing.”
“Very well, my dear,” Ariel says, indulgent. “We will name her after a song. But if it is a boy, we will name him after a king, like his brothers.”
“Very well,” he agrees, and adds softly, “Will you go to the ocean again, when the time comes?”
“Yes,” she says as she picks up the brush again.
“No one will care for me as well as my sisters,” she says patiently. She frightened the entire palace the first time, the night of David’s birth: she felt the first pains and the midwives were summoned, but when they arrived the princess was nowhere to be found – only to reappear the next morning, soaked and beaming, and presented Eric with the little pink child wrapped in a tightly-woven blanket sewn with pearls and smelling of salt.
When Alexander came, Eric tried to make her stay, saying it was unseemly, it was dangerous, but she would no more be stopped than the rising of the tide. “I am afraid for you,” he finally confessed, and she relented enough to allow him to accompany her. “But you must stay where I say,” she told him, and he did, several yards back on the shore as she met her sisters in the shallows and gave birth as the waves lapped around them.
Her understood it was the way of her people, that the mer-people bore their younglings in the deep water surrounded by others to protect them from predators, that the singing was part of the ritual and that Ariel’s sisters would let no harm come to Ariel or the child – but he still wished she would just stay in the palace and give birth like other women, with midwives and a doctor nearby and a room where he could pace.
“May I come with you again?” he says, rather than argue.
She kisses him. Her kisses taste like sunshine. “You may.”
Their sons have no fear of water, of course. They enjoy bath time, splashing and swimming in the enormous copper tub until their nannies drain the water (and sometimes this brings tears), but more so they enjoy the occasional excursions to the shore, to the little cove where Eric once opened his eyes and saw a miracle.
At first Eric worried about what might lurk in the shallows – there might be sharks, there might be eels, there might be other things that sting and bite – but then he caught sight of what was unmistakably a mer-creature’s tail (he couldn’t tell at this distance if it were a man or a maid) as its owner turned to dive underwater.
He breathed easier, knowing the little princes were well-guarded.
Strange, he thought sometimes, strange that he had thought he was merely marrying a girl. He should have known that owning legs didn’t make an ocean child into a land-dweller. He should have known that Ariel felt the changes of the tide with her heartbeat, and she would teach her children that there was nothing to fear in storm or spray.
Sometimes Eric watches her watch the sea, and wonders if that pull will someday be more than she can bear.