THE BEST MEDICINE
The coral was pink with the sun dappling down on it. In it's midst, surrounded by lazily swimming fish no bigger than a finger, was Ariel. The little mermaid was resting on a smooth section of worn coral which formed a loungechair, of-sorts. Her face was turned towards the tops of the coral, where they almost broke the surface of the blue water; her fingers absently twirled at her long flowing hair. Flounder lay motionless at her side; the warming sunlight made the little fish drowsy. Ariel looked at him with a gentle smile; her hand gave him a soft stroke, which caused his sleepy eyes to open a little.
"You know; I was wondering, Flounder,..." The little fish stirred and looked up at his best friend. "I wonder what humans do on a day like today. I mean, when it's still like this, and warm and sunny. Do you think they lay out like us and watch the sunlight?"
"I don't like to think about humans", answered Flounder, cautiously.
Ariel gave a gentle laugh. "You mean you never think about what they do up there? All the exciting adventures they might be having?"
Flounder fluttered nervously and darted a glance upward. "I know what they like to do. Catch fish like me!"
Ariel sat up. "But they can't do that all the time. They must do other things, too."
"Scary things", added the fish. "Your father knows all about them: if he says they're bad, they're bad."
Ariel leaned back on her arm, her face was unconvinced. "But maybe Daddy just hasn't seen the good ones. There must be,..."
Suddenly, Ariel gasped and looked up. A human's ship had appeared out of nowhere and had cut off the light from above. The girl only had time to clasp Flounder, when they saw a large object hit the water. It sank quickly; growing menacingly-large as it approached; revealing itself to be a huge barrel. Right above the stunned pair, it hit the jagged coral and burst apart; spilling a dark oily stain into the sea. The stuff was on them in an instant, but Ariel's quick kick pushed them away so that only a trace of it was inhaled. Ariel and Flounder coughed a few times as they cleaned their lungs of the dark liquid. Ariel helped the fish swim a few more yards away.
"Flounder, are you okay?", asked the girl, with tense anxiety; touching the fish with concern.
"Yeah,...I think so. What was that stuff? It tasted awful!"
"I don't know." Ariel looked back and watched with sorrow as the water around the barrel slowly cleared. "Maybe Daddy is right. Humans do such,...terrible things." Ariel looked down at the little fish and sighed. "Let's go home." The two friends swam off together towards the golden spirals that crowned their home.
Ariel was straightening up some things in her room, when Triton swam in. The girl looked up to see her father's kindly face.
"Ariel; we're going to have some guests over for dinner tonight. I thought, maybe, you'd like to invite Flounder and Sebastian, too.
"That's a wonderful idea, Daddy!", agreed the girl. "I'll go tell them." The girl hurried out of her room, with Triton smiling after her.
Ariel found Sebastian in his music room. The crab was looking grouchy, as he pointed his baton at his orchestra. A shrimp looked wide-eyed at his teacher as he held two clam shells, as large as himself, which served as cymbals. Sitting at the drums was an octopus. He was relaxed, because he wasn't the object of sebastian's attention either. Several other fish floated silently as they held their various instruments. The problem was a young fish who held a conch shell, which served as a trumpet. The little mermaid swam up to Sebastian, just as he was admonishing the fish.
"You're still too loud and too fast! Dis is supposed to sound like a ripple on the water. You got it like a typhoon!"
Ariel gave an amused giggle. "Sebastian?"
The crab turned to the girl as he shook his head. "Dese rockfish! Dey only know one way to play! I'm getting too old to keep up with dem." Sebastian smiled. "Well; what's on your mind, child?"
"Daddy was wondering if you'd like to join us for dinner", she answered, brightly.
"If you're having dat plankton stroganoff, you better believe it, Mon!"
Ariel smiled and swam to the door. "Good! Now, I've got to find Flounder. Have you seen him?"
The crab shook his head. "He ought to be with you, if he's anyplace."
"Oh well. I'll look in the palace; maybe he took a nap." She disappeared, with a swish, out the door.
Flounder's bed was in Ariel's bedroom; a soft sponge bed with seaweed covers. Ariel swam up to it and smiled when she saw the round shape under the blanket. "Flounder,...are you awake?", she asked softly. She gently lifted one corner and peeked underneath. Flounder lay there; he was pale and his eyes were half-shut.
Ariel drew her breath in alarm. "Flounder! What's wrong!?" She touched his forehead and immediately drew her hand back. "You're burning up! Oh, Flounder!" Ariel hugged her friend. Flounder groaned. Determination replaced concern on the girl's face. "Just stay right here; I'll get Daddy! He'll make you better!" With a quick, reassuring stroke on Flounder's brow, the little mermaid sped off for the throne room.
Ariel found her father talking to a servant about plans for the evening. Ariel was almost breathless as she took his arm."Daddy, you've got to come quick! It's Flounder!"
The King looked down at his daughter in confusion. "Dear, I've got to meet our guests; they'll be arriving soon."
"But Flounder's sick! You've got to come, Daddy!"
Triton turned to the other merman. "Tell my guests that I'll join them when I can." He turned back to the girl. "Take me to him." Together, Ariel and her father left the merman, looking on in amazement.
When they got back to Flounder, the little fish was still lying there, looking very sick. Ariel looked with tender concern at her friend.
Flounder looked up at the girl and groaned, "uhh,...I don't feel so good, Ariel. I think it was that,...stuff."
Triton's concern changed to alert attention. "What stuff?", he asked loudly.
Ariel looked cautiously up at her father. Then, looking back at her friend, her determination grew. "It came from,...up there." Ariel pointed up.
Triton's face grew sterner. "What was it?"
"Well,...I don't know, exactly. It was a round thing that fell off a ship. It broke open and black stuff came leaking out. Flounder and I drank some of it before we could get away."
Triton bristled. "Humans! I might have known! When are you going to stay away from those,..."
Her father's rage calmed, and he looked down at the little fish. Using his trident, he passed it over Flounder, as Ariel watched anxiously.
"He'll be alright now, "said the King and he gently led Ariel out of Flounder's hearing. Triton looked down at Ariel and hesitated.
Ariel could tell that something was wrong. "What is it Daddy?"
"Ariel, dear. I've seen this before. It comes from the humans." Ariel looked up at him with dread and fear. "My power doesn't work on it. There's nothing I can do."
Ariel's eyes went wide as tears welled up. She suddenly dashed away in pain. Triton sadly watched her go; just as Sebastian swam up.
"I heard what you told de girl. There's nothing you can do?"
The King shook his head. "I'm afraid not. The only cure is beyond my reach."
"What cure, your Majesty?"
"Well. I've heard that certain barnacle shells will remove the poison. But they're only found on pilings around docks."
"Den let's go get some, your Majesty!", answered the eager crab.
"Docks with humans, Sebastian! Lot's of fish and,...crab- eating humans."
Sebastian's grin disappeared. "Oh."
Triton swam sadly away to leave Sebastian alone. He looked back at the little fish: pale and trying to sleep, and his face suddenly grew resolute. Quickly, he swam to find Ariel and found her weeping by herself.
"Ariel! Get up, girl! We've got to save Flounder!" Ariel looked up with tearful eyes full of puzzlement.
"There is a cure. And we're going to get it! Come on, girl!"
Ariel's face lit up with hope and she quickly swam with Sebastian out the door.
Ariel swam cautiously, but with loyal determination as they approached land. Sebastian trailed behind, looking scared. "Oh, Mon! I don't know why I let you talk me into dis!"
Ariel looked back at the crab. "You're the one who told me, remember?", she gently chastised.
"Oh. Dat's right."
"Shush! We're getting close!", urged the girl. The water had become shallow as they neared the shore. The docks were now in sight, but everywhere was the sound of humans, as they worked on their anchored ships; loading and unloading them. The water was so clear that, every second, Sebastian feared that they would be spotted.
Ariel looked up with nervous eyes too. "They're so close!", she whispered. "You were right about them, Sebastian. They're dangerous,...to everything in the sea."
"I'm glad you're learning some sense," answered the crab. "Now, if we can only find dem barnacles before dey snatch us up!"
Ariel's face lit up as she pointed to a wooden piling encrusted with abandoned shells. "There!", she said eagerly, and swam up to them. A ship was docked right next to it; it's ominous shadow fell over the water right where they stopped.
Ariel tugged urgently at the empty shells. "These things are stuck on good! Ughh!" Finally, two or three of the barnacles broke free and Ariel grinned in triumph.
"Good", urged the crab. "Now, let's get out of here!"
Ariel and Sebastian had just turned to flee; when they heard a loud voice call. "Hey, you two! Stop right there!"
Ariel felt paralyzed with fear. Uncontrollably, she turned around to face the voice. Her fear changed to surprise when she saw where the voice had come from. Aboard the ship, above them, the back of a young man's head could be seen over the railing. He was the person speaking; not to Ariel and Sebastian, but to two other seamen on board the ship.
"Those barrels aren't going aboard this ship, or any other, while I'm Prince!"
"But Sir!", answered one of the sailors, "we're just dumping `em in the sea. No harm will come of that!"
"Not for us", answered the youth. "But what about all the animals that live there. I want those barrels removed immediately. And I'll talk to your Captain to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Ariel beamed as she listened to the boy. "You see, Sebastian! They do care about us!"
"Hmmm,...Well; I guess some of dem do. Now, let's get going,...please!?"
Ariel turned away from the ship, and together, they swam for Atlantica.
Ariel and Sebastian came upon Triton close to Flounder's bed. The king started when he saw the two. "There you are! Where have you,..." Triton stopped short when he saw the shells in Ariel's hands.
Ariel's face beamed with happiness and hope. "Here's the shells, Daddy! Now, please help Flounder!"
Triton looked stunned for a second, then his brows lowered and he frowned at the crab. "Sebastian!"
Sebastian gave the King a sheepish grin and a shrug.
Triton shook his head and turned to Ariel. "Crush up the shells and mix them with dolphin milk. Then give them to Flounder."
Ariel darted away as fast as she could towards the kitchen.
The next morning, Triton went to Ariel's bedroom. Ariel and Sebastian had stayed by the little fish the whole night. Flounder was up now; his color was back and he was swimming with Ariel to regain his strength.
The girl smiled with delight when she saw her father. "Look, Daddy! Flounder's cured!"
Flounder smiled and muttered, "Yeah! But I don't know what tasted worse: that black stuff or my medicine!"
"Now, you've swam enough" ,said Ariel. "Get back in bed." The little fish reluctantly obeyed. Triton turned to his daughter ,with a wry smile. "You know, dear, those were the wrong shells."
Ariel's mouth dropped in shock. But Flounder's cured!", she insisted.
The King nodded. "Yes; I know. It wasn't the shells; it was the love that you and Sebastian gave him through the night that saved Flounder."
Ariel smiled joyfully and hugged her father.