A NIGHT AT THE PALACE
Ariel lay in her bed, with the soft seaweed covers pulled half-way up. She was resting on one elbow, while she studied a small glass perfume bottle which she held in the other hand.
"Isn't this thing amazing, Flounder?" She sighed, as she turned it over and over, letting the soft lamp-light sparkle off the bottle's facets. After a pause, the girl twisted around to look at her best friend; his little bed was a few yards away from her's.
"Flounder?", she repeated, and saw that the fish was reading a little scroll. "What is it you're reading?", she asked curiously.
"Hmmmm? Oh,...it's a really neat story. All about "Rescue Ray" and his exciting rescues!"
"Rescue Ray?", asked the girl with a giggle.
"Yeah! In this story, he's rescuing a couple of sardines who get trapped in this cave by a wolf-fish. And this big wolf-fish is mean and nasty, but Rescue Ray isn't afraid. He goes right up and,..."
"Does Rescue Ray ever rescue humans?", interrupted Ariel, as she gazed down at her perfume bottle.
"...hits him on the nose! And this,...huh? Humans? Why would humans need rescuing?", puzzled the fish.
"If they fell in the water, silly!", returned the mermaid with a grin.
"Uhhh. I've never read a story where humans are rescued. There is this one where Rescue Ray saves a tuna from a fishing net. Do you want to hear that one?"
"No. I don't think so,...", answered Ariel, with a sigh. She looked sadly at her bottle. "Poor humans. There's no one to rescue them in my world. They're so,...helpless down here."
"As much as we are on land", agreed Flounder.
"I'll tell you one thing, Flounder. If I ever see a human in trouble, I'm going to try and help him; no matter what Daddy says."
Flounder shuddered. "That doesn't sound like a good idea to me. Humans are mean. You'd better stay away from them."
"Well,...I guess it doesn't matter anyway. Daddy won't let me get close enough to see them, much-less, rescue them." The girl put down her perfume bottle and gave a gentle yawn. She looked around her room, then back at her friend. "I'm hungry, Flounder. I wonder if there's any snacks in the kitchen."
Flounder smiled. "Let's go look!"
Ariel slid out of bed, and joined the little fish at the door. She looked out into the hallway; everything was quiet, as the palace's folks settled down for the night. The lighting was soft now. Shadows filled the crevices and nooks in the rounded walls where the yellow-green lamps could not reach. The little mermaid did not need the lamps, however. She knew the palace, even in the dark. Each room was an old friend to the curious girl. She passed a seaweed-draped opening; knowing that it was Alana's bedroom. All of her sisters slept in this wing, with their father's chamber situated at the end of the hall, where he could watch over and protect his children. Ariel was glad for the little shell door at the back of her bedroom. She could usually go exploring, and be back before she got into any trouble. Of course, there was no rule against grabbing a snack to eat before bedtime.
Another room passed by; it was the girl's old playroom. Ariel's toys were still there; giving enjoyment whenever the girl baby-sitted. Triton's library was next; filled with scrolls and old books, and then came his study-room. The hall ended in a large archway, which led to the family's lounge-room. Here, the girls could relax and chat together, or just be with each other while exploring their own interests. Aquata had a well-worn seaweed sofa that she liked to lounge in while she read; Arista would knit close-by; Adella would watch her while she snacked on sea-grapes. Ariel's favorite spot was close to one of the windows, where she could look up and watch the occasional sailing ships go passing by. Triton would still hold sway in a massive seaweed-cushioned chair, but Ariel found it hard to take him too seriously as he laid back, reading a book, with his flukes propped-up on a fin-rest.
At the other end of the room, the lofty hallway continued; leading to the other parts of the palace, including the kitchen.
Ariel caught movement further up the hall and froze, with a smile on her face. "Let's try to sneak past Blenny!", she whispered.
Flounder nodded. Slowly, they inched forward; keeping in the shadows when they could. A skinny merman, with helmet and spear, came into view; looking bored and sleepy. His watch was almost over and he was ready to hit the seaweed. Ariel pulled Flounder into the shadows and held her breath, as the guard swam past them. She tried hard not to giggle, but it was no use. Ariel put her hand to her mouth to stifle it. Blenny turned around, with a scared face.
"Who's there?", he warned; gripping his spear with white knuckles.
Trying her best, the girl didn't let out any more giggles, and the merman slowly relaxed.
"Probably Adella snoring again", mumbled the guard, as he floated past the kids.
Flounder grinned, and Ariel put a finger to her lips to shush him. When the guard disappeared down the hall, the girl whispered,"Come on!", and pulled the fish along with her. She was still giggling when they entered the kitchen.
Ariel looked around, trying to decide what she wanted. Flounder followed right behind her.
"Have we got any plankton cupcakes left? I want one of them!", said the rolly-polly fish. The little mermaid checked the cold-water box; clinking shell bowls as she looked around inside.
"Here's a plankton doughnut from last night,...wait a minute; here's one." Ariel handed Flounder a cupcake. "Now,...let's see. I think I want a neptune salad", commented the girl, as she pulled out some bowls. Putting them on a coral table, Ariel got a clean bowl off the shelf and started putting different seaweeds and kelps into it. She sprinkled some sea- flower seeds and little pieces of sea-peach and sea-grapes over it, too. She put the bowls back and pulled out a bottle of salad dressing.
"Mmmmm!", she said, as she poured some over the top of her salad. "Now, doesn't that look better than an old cupcake?"
"Nah! Sweets for me", answered Flounder with a smile.
Ariel smirked at him, as she put up the salad dressing. "What do you want to drink?", she asked.
"Dolphin milk, I guess."
Ariel pulled out two shell cups. "Two dolphin milks, it is!" She poured the milk and handed Flounder his cup. They sat down at the table and started to snack.
King Triton was awakened by Blenny, one of his Royal guards. "It's your daughter, your Majesty! She missing!"
Triton sat up and stared at the shaken merman "Who's missing, Blenny?"
"Ariel, Sir! Ariel and Flounder! I checked her room and they were gone! Her back door was bolted from the inside and they didn't pass me on my rounds!"
Triton tried to calm the man, but found himself growing worried too. "Did you check the other girls' rooms? Maybe she's with one of them."
"Yes Sir! I checked them all! She's gone, I tell you!" Blenny lowered his voice, and fear crept into it. "I felt something in the hall, your Majesty. Some dreadful presence."
Triton stiffened. "The Evil Manta?"
"Or Ursula", added Blenny. "I don't know which."
Triton swung out of bed and grabbed his trident. "Why didn't you stop her, Blenny? You ARE my guard!"
Blenny shrank from the King's wraith. "I'm as brave as anyone, Sire! But you know Ursula!,...she's so clever! She got past me without my seeing her."
Triton nodded. "In any case, you would have been no match for her. I'll take care of this. You guard my other girls until Chub comes on duty; then you can BOTH guard them."
"Yes, your Majesty!"
Triton stroked his beard. "I'll see the Manta first. He is more likely to try something wicked at once." With that, the King raced out of the palace.
Ariel was just finishing her salad, when Adella came swimming into the kitchen. She went straight to the cold-water box. "I know we had a cupcake left", she grumbled, as she rummaged around inside.
"Flounder ate the last one", said Ariel. Flounder gave a weak smile to the fuming Adella. "There's a doughnut in there", offered Ariel.
Adella turned back to the box. "That'll do." She pulled out the doughnut and started munching and talking. "Watch out for Blenny; he's in a nervous mood tonight. Almost didn't let me make my round to the kitchen."
After Adella left, Ariel pushed back her chair and smiled. "That was good! Ready to hit the seaweed?"
"Yeah. I guess I can finish Rescue Ray, tomorrow."
Ariel put their bowls and cups in the sink, then they swam out of the kitchen. As the two swam past Adella's bedroom, they could hear Blenny admonishing the girl about being gone so long. "Blenny really is in a nervous mood tonight", said Flounder.
"Yeah! Sounds like he's got Chub nervous, too", added the girl, as another voice continued the lecture.
They swam into Ariel's bedroom, brushed their teeth, and hopped into their beds. The girl pulled the soft, warm blankets up over her and turned down the phosphor lamp.
Triton swept back into the hallway, with concern on his face. Blenny and Chub, a heavy-set guard with a little mustache, watched the King, with worried expectation, when they saw that Ariel wasn't with him.
"It's very puzzling. I confronted the Manta and Ursula. They know nothing of the matter." Triton went to Ariel's doorway and looked inside. He gasped; then turned to the guards. One eyebrow was lowered. "Blenny. Would you come here a moment?"
Blenny was sent home to bed, then Triton swam into his daughter's room, and up to where she was snuggling-down for the night. Ariel looked up with sleepy eyes.
Triton gently brushed back her hair. "Ariel, dear. You didn't happen to,...go anywhere tonight, did you?"
"Flounder and I went to the kitchen for a snack. Why, Daddy? Is something wrong?"
Triton chuckled. "No. Nothing's wrong." He leaned down and kissed her forehead. "Get a good night's sleep."
After her father left, Ariel looked over at Flounder. "What do you suppose that was about?", asked the girl.
Flounder shrugged. "I don't know. It's been pretty quiet, if you ask me."
Ariel yawned, then turned down the lamp. "Good-night, Flounder"