That evening, Ariel and Flounder snuck out of the palace to explore a just-discovered shipwreck. The little mermaid didn't mention it to her father because, as-of-late, he had been more disapproving of her explorations. Any mention of Humans would send Triton into a rage, so Ariel felt that the less he knew, the better. It was getting harder to stop the girl, too; she had just turned sixteen and was increasingly curious about the Human world. Her obsession had even reached the point where she actually wanted to join the Human world; and that news definitely needed to be kept from her father. In her haste to visit the new spot and search out Human knick-knacks, Ariel entirely forgot that she was to give her singing debut in front of all of Atlantica that evening. It was an over-sight which would change her life forever.

Flounder gazed about him with increasing worry; they had never been out searching this far before. To make matters worse, they were nearing land occupied by Humans! "Uh,...Ariel. We're getting really far from Atlantica,...", stammered the fish.

Ariel smiled. "Don't worry; we're almost there!"

"But you said that five minutes ago", protested Flounder.

"Well; we're really almost there, this time!", assured the mermaid.

"I wish Humans would drop stuff closer to the palace", sighed the fish.

Everything had gone flawlessly. Sebastian had conducted wonderfully; his daughters had sang with skill and grace, and the stage was set for Ariel's beautiful voice. Then the shell opened and, Ariel!

"Ariel!!", roared the King. Sebastian threw his claws up with shock and the whole orchestra ground to a halt. For a second, no one spoke. Then a furious din echoed through the concert hall, as every citizen in Atlantica started talking at once.

The crab knew he had to do something, so he started up the orchestra again. With scattered confusion, the various notes eventually became music. The six Princesses looked at him with gaping mouths: unsure of what to do. Sebastian pointed to Aquata, "You got Ariel's part!", he spoke firmly. Aquata floated, dumbly, for a second, then caught up the melody and began to sing. The turmoil in the audience subsided, as the other girls took up the chorus to Aquata's strengthening voice. After a few lines, things returned, more-or-less, to normal.

Only Triton sat fuming; still furious over Ariel's absence. She had had three months to rehearse! Sebastian had said she was doing wonderfully,... What had gone wrong? Why wasn't she here?! Was she afraid? Triton shook his head. No; she wasn't afraid of anything! Then he knew: she had forgotten about it! Three months of work and she had forgotten about it! That child would have turned his hair white,..if she hadn't already done it!

Triton argued to himself whether he should leave now and punish her, or wait until the concert was over. No. It wouldn't be fair to his other daughters to leave now. And Aquata was doing a marvelous job in Ariel's place. Triton tried to listen to her singing and forget, for a moment, his wayward youngest daughter.

Prince Eric loved the sea; so it was no surprise that he celebrated his eighteenth birthday aboard the largest vessel in his fleet, or that the gusets at his party were all sailors he had known many years. The only non-sailor present was his guardian, Sir Grimbsy. No young ladies joined in the festivities, and this did not go unnoticed by Grimbsy; who felt that it was high-time that the young man paid less attention to the ocean and more to the fairer sex.

Grim kept his worries to himself, for now. The celebration had just begun, and he didn't want to spoil the boy's boisterous mood. Eric walked over to him, with a tankard of rum. "Here Grim!", offered the lad, "This'll drive your sea-sickness away!"

Grim shook his head. "On the contrary, Eric. My temporary respite would end immediately upon one sip of that odious substance."

The boy laughed. "But this is what sailors drink! You can't be a sailor without joining in!"

Grim shook his hand at the rum. "I will refrain from the ceremony and remain a mere gentleman."

Max came bounding up, and Eric offered the rum to him, too. "How about you, Max? Wanna be a sailor?"

The dog took a sniff and backed away; much to the boy's amusement. "Ahh; the sailing life is a lonely one!", laughed Eric.

"My thoughts exactly", declared the older man.

Eric laughed off the statement and patted Grimbsy on the back. "Well; if you won't drink, at least come join in the music!"

Grimbsy followed the young man onto the deck, where the sailors had started up a tune. "I will participate by listening", offered the man.

Eric nodded. "Good enough! Now; where's my fife?" The boy reached over into his duffel-bag and pulled out the instrument; then joined in the old sailing tune.

Grim had to smile. Eric got so much enjoyment out of the seafaring world; if only he would take as much interest in a woman! Just the previous evening, Grimbsy had invited the Princess of Glowerhaven to dinner at the palace; along with Sir Morgan; her counsellor. Princess Helena would make a perfect Queen; she had been raised and educated in England, where she had aquired a sterling mind and a cunning wit. The Princess had learned Latin by seven, and could quote Plato from memory. As to physical charms; Helena was the envy of the Carribbean; with long black locks and a buxom figure which effected some much-deserved vanity on her part. Her personality matched her other characteristics perfectly: she kept a noble, distinguished pride; never speaking without careful determination of validity, and always impressing anyone with whom she felt was intelligent enough to carry on a conversation. She was, it must be stated, a little, She certainly did not wear her emotions on her sleeve, but that was only in keeping with her status as a Princess. A Princess simply did not go around behaving like a village washing-girl. Helena would make a stout, perfectly conventional Queen; and yet, all during the evening, Eric had hardly spoken three words to her! All of his attention had focused on Morgan, and their West Indies shipping interests! Grimbsy knew what the problem was: Eric had been around Princesses, and their formal ways, all of his life and he was bored with them. The boy was looking for a "dream girl" now; a Princess who acted unconventionally. Eric failed to understand that the two were incompatible, and that his search for such a girl was hopeless. Grim had even resigned himself to the possiblity that Eric might select a bride outside royal blood, in his quest for someone "different". If Eric's happiness hinged on this, then Grimbsy was willing to accept it. He loved the boy like his own son, and only wanted what was best for him. Whatever the Prince decided, however, he needed to decide soon.

That evening, King Triton waited, in vain, for his youngest daughter to join her sisters at the dinner table. The girls exchanged knowing glances; Ariel was in hot water again. The King took a bite of kelp picadillo, then looked at his eldest daughter. "You did a wonderful job, tonight, Aquata."

The young merwoman smiled with satisfaction. "Thank you, Father. I wouldn't be too angry with Ariel; she's had a lot on her mind, lately."

Triton growled, "That is obvious from the fact that she totally forgot about the concert!"

"She's turned sixteen, Father. She's growing up", offered Aquata.

"She was occupied in a more childish pursuit", continued Triton; "Exploring shipwrecks and visiting the surface, against my wishes."

Arista snickered; then went instantly silent after catching her father's attention.

"You have something to say, Arista?"

The girl wiped her hands with her napkin and smiled. "Well; Father. That's just typical Ariel: she's always disobeying you when it comes to her "adventuring"".

Triton nodded. "That's certainly true. I was hoping that the child would have dropped her curious nature by now; now that she is becoming a young lady."

Aquata shook her head. "I'm sorry to disagree, Father; but I think that Ariel has changed. She's more serious now. There's something on her mind that's been growing for a long time."

Triton raised an eyebrow. "And what do you think it is?"

"I,...I don't know. But to affect Ariel like that; it must be,... Well; it must be serious. Ariel is a deep thinker."

Triton sighed. "Yes. Too deep. If she would only get out of that daydream world, and turn to more practical matters!"

"You know her nature, Father", added Aquata. "That spirit of her's."

Triton nodded. "Yes. That stubborn, unreasonable spirit." The King smiled. "Just like mine."

After supper, the King swam to his bedroom. Should he talk to Ariel now? No. Let them both sleep on it. They would be more civil with each other, in the morning. Triton heard a crash of thunder; far above Atlantica. A storm was coming for those who lived above the waves. A hurricane, by the sound of it. A concern for Humans,...but not for his world.

Ariel dragged Eric onto the beach, with failing strength. The storm had worn the poor girl out, and she could only lay there; gasping for a time, on the sand. Rain and wind stung the mermaid, but she shielded the boy as best she could from the weather's wraith. Where were Flounder and Sebastian? As tired as she was, the girl looked, with anguish, all around for her beloved friends, but could see nothing in the terrible blackness. They must havre stayed below, where it was safe, she reassured herself.

The wind and the rain died down to an eerie calm, and the girl took her first, calming breath. She looked to the vague form next to her, and a strange feeling ran through the girl. The touch of this unknown creature; hard and unmoving; brought sensations Ariel had never known. There; in the quiet darkness of the beach; alone, except for the moon and this Human, Ariel felt love awaken in her heart. It made the girl light-headed. Her stomach grew queezy with her confusion. But overpowering all was a wave of excitement and joy. Such a feeling, Ariel had never know before, and it intoxicated the girl. To lay beside this Human, on this beach, on this night, gave her more pleasure than she had ever known. Just to be close to him made her heart race; the feelings coursing through her body scared the girl, but she never wanted it to end. Was this, Was this what she had been told about for so long? Not the love for parent or sisters; but love for,..a man. And this was a Human! Did she love,..a Human? Ariel shook her head, in confusion. It didn't matter what it was. All she knew was that she would stay beside this Human; she would not leave him.

During this harrowing night, Sebastian and Flounder fought off exhaustion to search for the girl. Although the two friends surfaced many times, fighting the storm-tossed waves, they never knew that Ariel had rescued a Human, or that she had brought him back to land. After hours of searching in vain, the little fish and crab were forced to take some needed rest in the safety of a seaweed bed. In the twilight before morning, they began their search anew. They were exhausted, once more, before the tide washed them upon the beach; just as Ariel was singing her feelings of love for Eric.

Triton decided not to wait for breakfast to speak with his youngest daughter; he would go to the Princesses' dressing room. He had argued with Ariel many times before, but Aquata's words the other day had given him a troubled mind. If Ariel did have some serious problem that she was thinking about, then he would do his best to help her with it.

After planting a sea-flower in her father's hair, Ariel swam out of the dressing room in a daze. Everything around her glowed with a radiance she had never known before. Everyone; from the noblest kingfish to the homeliest sea-slug, got a dreamy "Good morning!" form the girl. No one got to speak with her, however, before Ariel was wandering on in her bliss. She needed some connection with her love; something to bring back the rapture she had felt lying beside him on the beach. Flounder! That was it! He was there with them! Ariel rushed off to find her little friend. The mermaid found the yellow and blue fish talking to an octopus. The octopus seemed excited about something that he had discovered, but all that Ariel was interested in did not live in her world.

Flounder grinned, as his best friend came swimming up. "Ariel! Guess what Otto found!"

The girl didn't seem to hear him. "Come on, Flounder!", she spoke in a dreamy voice. "You've got to come! Please?!"

Flounder said goodbye to Otto and nodded, happily, to the mermaid.

Ariel took the fish by the fin and swirled along; twirling with the ectasy that filled her senses.

"Tell me about Eric", she begged.

Flounder puzzled. "What do you mean?"

"Tell me about him,... What did he look like? How did he sound?", urged the girl.

Flounder scratched his head. "Well,...I guess he looked like any other human,.."

"Oh no! He was so,...handsome! What color was his hair?"

"Black; I think", answered the little fish.

Ariel smiled and sighed. "It was the most beautiful hair; soft and thick. Cute waves. Tell me about his eyes,.."

"I don't remember", admitted Flounder.

"They were blue. Pale blue; like the shimmering light of the sun through the water on a clear summer day. He looked at me with those eyes and my heart just pounded!"

"He had big feet", remembered Flounder.

"His arms were so strong and firm", sighed the girl, "but kept a tender gentleness at the same time."

"Maybe Humans need big feet to keep from falling over," mused the fish.

"Did you see his chest? It was so broad, strong,..." The girl wrapped her arms around herself. "To be held by him,... It would be like a dream come true!"

"He was still wobbly; even with big feet", noted Flounder.

"His voice was deep; full of strength. But he spoke gently; with kindness. I,...I couldn't catch his words, but,...I think he was talking about me! Do, you think he wants to see me again, too?"

Flounder shrugged. "Well,...maybe. He was, kind-of looking towards the water."

"Yeah! He was; wasn't he?! He wants to see me again! I just know it! Oh, Flounder! He wants to be with me too! Do you think,...he feels like I do? All trembling inside?"

"Maybe that's why he was wobbly", agreed Flounder. "But he's a Human, Ariel! What difference does it make if he likes you? He can't live in the sea."

Ariel seemed not to hear. "He likes me! I,..I can't think! I feel goosefish-bumpy all over!"

Flounder shook his head. He couldn't talk to her now; she was in love."

"Eric. Eric", whispered the girl; dreamily. Without another word; she wandered away; in a daze.

Her fish friend shook his head. Girls could be so silly! Then he remembered Otto's news about finding that statue, and got a neat idea. With a little help, he'd move it to Ariel's grotto! What a surprise it would be!"

Eric had lost his finest ship, but he had totally forgotten it by mid-morning. All he could think about was the mysterious girl who had saved him from drowning. Her beautiful singing filled his head; never had the Prince heard a voice so sweet and alluring. Why had she run away? Had Max frightened her? Did she live in the village? Where was she now? He had to find out! This girl had saved his life,.. And that singing,... If only the sun hadn't been in his eyes; he would have recognized her! He would search the village immediately! He had to find that girl!

Ariel swam around with a dreamy shine in her eyes. She watched, in wonderment, a school of iridescent fish pass overhead; breaking the sun's rays into a thousand sparks of color. She had seen this countless times before, but it had never touched her emotions as it did now. The sun was the source of all beauty, thought the girl. It might be shining down on Eric, at that very moment! If only she could be the sun, and look down upon her love again! She longed just to see him again; to touch his hair. He was out there, somewhere, but she didn't know where to start looking. How could she find him again? There had to be a way!

The girl wandered back to the palace and found herself in her bedroom. As she lay on her bed, Ariel thought about all her life, and how it had so suddenly changed forever. She had always looked beyond her home; longing for something. To explore; to find a new adventure, had occupied her dreams for many years. And then came the day when she was told about Humans; how her curiousity had blossomed towards them! They lived in a different world, and they shaped and molded it into endless variations. Their minds were as eager as her's; always busy creating some new thing that helped them in their life. Ariel had collected these "thingamabobs" with a joy that no one else could understand. Here was a link to that new world, and the girl spent countless hours trying to unravel it's mysteries. Her Human treasure lead her, always, to Humans, themselves. What were they like? Did they live and think and dream as she did? Did they have families: brothers, sisters, mother and father? Did they love their mates as merfolk did? Every new day brought a new question. Her father warned her that Humans were evil; a scourge to all that lived in the sea. Some, she had found, were bad. But some were just as kind, compassionate, and brave as her father had ever been. They looked different from Merfolk, but Humans and Merfolk were akin. They weren't monsters,...they were just people like her.

And then, she had seen Eric. Now she knew what she had been searching for, all those years. Now she knew why she had been so curious and dreaming, and why Humans had filled her life for so long. It was for Eric! It was for the man that she loved. With tears in her eyes and joy in her heart, Ariel knew that she was meant to be with this Human. They were meant to be man and wife.

After Triton's breakfast, he went back to his bedroom and took up the picture of his wife. He smiled; a warm gentle smile, at the only woman that he had ever loved.

"Aria; Dear. Little Ariel has become a woman. She's in love with someone in the kingdom. I haven't found out who it is yet, but I'm going to ask Sebastian about it; he's been keeping an eye on her. Our little girl has grown up! No more wandering off; no more Human nonsense. She's finally becoming a responsible young lady."

The King put down his wife's picture, and smiled, wistfully. "Of course; I think I'll miss her mischief and daydreaming,...but I'm sure she'll be happy with some stabilty in her life, at last. She reminds me, more and more, of you: your sweet, loving nature. She's going to make a lucky merman very happy."

Ariel spent a while in her bedroom; looking around at her old familiar home. She seemed to sense that her life was going to change dramatically, and this might be the last chance for her to look upon the palace through a child's eyes. Each knick-knack; each piece of furniture or treasured pillow seemed different now. They belonged to a past that didn't seem as important as she had once imagined. Ariel's thoughts leaped from childhood memories; with her treasured toys, to her secret grotto and it's mesmerizing pull on her curiousity. Human things brought Eric's beautiful face back into her mind, and all those old memories melted away. Eric was all she could think of now. The girl, once more, felt that intense, almost frightening trembling in her heart. Her love swallowed all other emotions; filling her soul completely. Eric! To see him again! She had to see him again! At once! She felt incomplete without him beside her. All at once; it came to her: Scuttle would know where Eric lived! Nothing could keep her from seeing him, now!

Arile swirled out of her bedroom and wandered, dreamily. She came upon a rock bench, and lay down; thinking of her love.

It was here that Sebastian found her. The little crab had been searching for the mermaid all over Atlantica. His tension over that morning's "adventure" had Sebastian's nerves on edge; the child seemed in another world! He had to talk some sense into her: she was swimming right into disaster!

Eric began his search as soon as his strength was back. With Grimbsy shaking his head, he accompanied the Prince through the village. Every maiden's voice would cause Eric to stop and strain his ears in anxious hope; only to be disappointed. Grimbsy patted the Prince on the shoulder, "Eric. Who are you looking for? Surely, not that mystery girl?"

Eric sighed. "She wasn't a dream, Grim! She was real! And she's here,...somewhere,.."

Being Ursula's eyes and ears wasn't easy; but Flotsam and Jetsam endured it partly out of fear of the Sea Witch, and partly from the lavish tidbits that she spoiled them with. The greedy eels knew that their reward would be great, after snaring that mermaid for the witch, so they never let the girl totally out of their sight. She was away from the palace now, but that little yellow and blue fish was with her. It looked like the mermaid was swimming to the cave where she kept all that Human junk; if only that stupid fish would leave her a minute and give them a chance! Cautiously, the eels followed at a distance; biding their time until the girl was alone.

Eric almost laughed at the situation. He had been searching all morning for his "dream girl", and come-up empty. Then, while wandering, despondently, on the beach, a strange girl had practically fallen into his arms! She wasn't the girl: this girl was a mute; but he couldn't leave her out here alone. For one thing; she was so weak that she could hardly walk. She was constantly leaning on him for support; Eric couldn't help but notice how warm and soft she felt. And she was so small and feminine, as she clung to him. Her big blue eyes kept watching him with a dreamy haze that the boy had never seen before. Somehow, she was,...different from the other girls that he had met. There was an honesty about how she held onto him, if,...this was where she was content,... Eric laughed to himself. What nonsense! She only needed his help; she didn't know him from John Adams!

Once at the palace, Eric gave the girl over to Carlotta, and returned to daydreaming about the mystery girl who had saved his life. He found it odd that the girl didn't seem to want to let go of his arm,... It must have been due to the trauma that she had been through that day.

Carlotta took Ariel to the powder room to "freshen-up". The girl looked around at the furnishings with puzzlement, at first. Curiousity led her to turn every knob and faucet, to find out their uses, and a wave of understanding washed over her. Ariel was still coming to grips with her new body, and this place answered many questions. She came out of the room with a beamish smile of discovery and triumph with her new life. Carlotta waited, patiently, outside the door for her; now she led the girl to the bathing room.

After Ariel's bath, the kindly housekeeper called in three more ladies, who gathered round the girl. Quickly, they put flat, seaweed-like strands around the curious girl, in different places on her body. Ariel had no idea what they could be doing, as they stretched the "seaweed" from her shoulders to her ankles.

"Green?", asked one lady.

"Pink", answered another.

"Think so?"


"Or blue", added Carlotta, "Blue and white."

"Pink for a dinner dress", specified one lady.

Carlotta nodded. "Oh, yes. For a dinner dress."

Ariel grinned. Now she understood! A "dress" was what Human girls covered their bodies with! They were measuring her for a dress!

Carlotta leaned over to the ladies, "And don't be afraid of lowering the bust line. She's got a pretty figure and we don't want it to go un-noticed by a certain young gentleman,.." The other ladies winked and nodded.

It was a thrilling adventure for the girl, when, about two hours later, she tried on her new dress. Ariel gazed, breathlessly, in the mirror: it was so pretty! She hoped that Eric would think she was pretty too!

Carlotta gave a knowing smile, "You are just a doll! When that boy sees you, he won't know what hit him!"

Ariel didn't quite understand what the kindly woman was saying, but she found promise in her tone of voice. She would be seeing Eric again, soon, and the "butterfly fish" began darting around in her belly, as they always did when she thought of the boy. Her heart trembled with love and her legs began to shake.

Carlotta took her arm. "Poor thing! You're still weak from that shipwreck. We'll have dinner for you in just a little while; let's go down to the dining room."

Ariel's heart skipped a beat. It was time!


Triton sat on the throne; with a glaze in his eyes. He was King of the sea; ruler over most of the world and respected by millions of his subjects. Why couldn't he control his own daughter! She had not only rescued a Human; she'd gotten the ridiculous notion that she loved a Human! Where had he gone wrong?! Hadn't he tried; tried to put some sense into that girl? His other daughters didn't act like that; they didn't go wandering off into the wild blue ocean, saving those barbarians! Why was Ariel so frustrating?!

The King sank down and sighed. It would do no good to blame himself. Ariel was the way she was, and everything he had done had not quelled that spirit in her. If only it hadn't been a Human. Humans were the most evil, cowardly creatures on Earth. They were never at peace with themselves, and never satisfied with what they had. After subjugating every other living thing on the land, they had turned their greedy eyes on the sea. Triton's world was in a constant fear of attack from above. The ships would sail; hundreds of ships, and down would come the nets to trap the defenseless creatures of the sea. Struggling; desperate; his subjects would be hauled aboard those ships to fill greedy men's larders. More ships would come; more and more every year, to take away a family member, or a close friend. And then would come the whalers; with their harpoons and factory ships. Like sharks, they would descend upon a herd of unsuspecting whales and slaughter them without mercy! "Kill them all!", they would shout, and the harpoons would fly. Nothing was safe while the Humans were in their killing frenzy. When it was finally over; when the last whale was boiled; they would sing a victory song over the slaughter. The whales had no chance; what mighty hunters these cravens were! After they were finished, they would throw all their trash over the side, to pollute the waters which had surrendered them their ill-gotten treasure.

Every Human was like this! Every Human that walked the land was greedy, selfish, cowardly, and bloodthirsty. No Human could be kind! No Human could be honorable! No Human could be generous or respectful or courageous! How, under-the-sea, could Ariel have fallen in love with such a monster?! Every Human was bad. They weren't like Atlanticans. Even the Sharkadians had some good qualities. But the Humans had none. Every Human was bad.

During the dinner, Prince Eric found out something new about his lovely young guest: she wouldn't eat crab. She seemed horrified that it was to be the main course, and refused to even lift the cover off her platter. A sugguestion of fish instead, produced the same curious revulsion; with Eric finally coming to the conclusion that the girl ate no meat whatsoever. Guessing that this was due to some religious diet, the Prince respected his guest's wishes and had the crab taken away. Rising; the young man helped Ariel out of her chair, "Let me take you to our kitchen; you'll be able to pick out what you like", offered Eric.

Ariel smiled; gratiously. He was so polite and understanding! She knew that Humans saw animals differently than did the Merfolk: for Humans, using animals for food was acceptable. Ariel saw all animals as her friends, and any thought of eating them was horrifying. She didn't blame Eric for his eating them, however, because he had only been taught this way.

She tried to stay as close as possible to the boy, as he led her to the kitchen. His jaw dropped when he saw the condition it was in. Louie was sitting in a chair; looking like he'd been in a battle with pirates,...and had lost.

"Et is a long story,...", sighed the chef, after noticing Eric's expression.

Eric tried to blunt this embarressing scene for Ariel, "The kitchen isn't,...usually this messy. Uh,...well,...have a look around. Maybe there's something here that'll appeal to you."

Ariel stepped over the broken bowls and crocks, and stared in wonderment: this place looked very much like the kitchen in the palace, at home. There was, certainly, implements that were wholly new to the girl, but she recognized the cups and bowls and spoons as old friends. Eric was talking to the other man, and Ariel overheard something about a crab; when she spotted a big plate full of fresh vegetables. The girl grinned, and ran to the boy. Taking his hand, she brought Eric to her discovery.

Eric smiled and nodded. "You're a vegetarian! Okay; I'll get Louie to make us all a salad."

Triton had not seen his youngest daughter for hours. She had not come to dinner,..but this hadn't been surprising; given her emotional state. But the Sea King still felt pain for hurting her as he did. He decided to speak to her before she went to bed; try to explain why he had destroyed her "collection." It had only been because he loved her; surely, she could see that. He only wanted the best for her. Triton's heart ached, as he swam to her bedroom. Only that morning, he had been so delighted by the news that Ariel was in love. How that delight had sank to the darkest despair! Why a Human?! Why? What did she see in a Human? Ariel was a smart girl; he knew that. Why had she totally lost her senses? How could a Human have done this to her?

Triton shook his head. He just couldn't understand. Humans were evil. Humans were evil. He came to the entrance to his daughter's room and swam inside.

"Ariel? Ariel; Dear? I'm,...I'm sorry for hurting you. You know that I didn't mean to,... It's just my temper, you see,.. Ariel?"

She was gone.

After dinner, Eric showed his guest around the palace. The girl must have never seen such luxury before: everything she came across brought a stare of delighted wonder. She had to open the helmet visor on the suit of armor and look inside, as if expecting someone to be in there. Like a curious child, the girl stooped down to her hands and knees, to feel the thick rug in the library. As for the books; she was delighted with the ones with pictures in them. Eric tried to find some foreign writing that she could understand, but without success. When offered the ink pen and some blank paper, the girl drew lot's of fish and imaginary mermaids, but no clue as to where her home was. Eric smiled, as she pointed from the mermaid to herself. She acted like she wanted to be a mermaid! As Eric helped the girl put the books back, he noticed that she was always right next to him; even pressing against him as she watched him put them back on the shelves. She couldn't be interested in him, but her feminine qualities were distracting Eric from his "dream girl."

He took her into the spinning room; where several ladies were busy making a dress for the girl to wear the next day. Ariel watched, with awed fascination, as the ladies sewed the cloth together with quick, skilled hands. The girl ran to a big pile of different fabrics; they were so pretty! From cotton to wool, to satin and silk; she had to touch them all. The silk was so soft! Ariel had never felt anything this dry and soft. She wanted to know where it came from; where it grew and what clothes they made out of it, but she couldn't speak her questions.

When the Prince took Ariel into the hearth-lit sitting room; her eyes went wide at the crackling fireplace. It was, probably, a grand one by her standards, but the girl almost acted as if she'd never seen a fire before! She stood before it, in awe; watching the tongues of flame rising from the logs, as if they were magical, and pointing at the flickering colors with the delighted expression of a child. Ariel was seeing, at last, one of the wonders she had dreamed of, and her heart was light with the joy of new fulfillment. The heat was almost intoxicating, in that cozy darkened room; lit only by the dancing flames. The girl looked up at the boy and wished that she was in his arms. Just one kiss and her heart would be his! Her hand gently reached out for his.

Carlotta suddenly came in and separated the two, "Now Eric! The poor child must be exhausted! Let her get some sleep before you go off showing her around!"

Eric smiled and nodded, as the kindly woman took Ariel to her bedroom. The girl looked back at her love; framed against the beautiful light, and sighed, wistfully.

The boy smiled. She was a sweet girl,... Then the smile faded. But she wasn't the girl. He owed that girl, on the beach, his life. He had to find her.

Triton spent the next hours in a tense, guilt-ridden search for his little girl. Everyone, who was able, helped the King in his search, but Ariel could not be found. Every negative report would sink the merman deeper into despair; his other daughters tried to comfort him, without success.

"You know Ariel, Father", laughed Arista. "She's probably keeping some lost squid or something company for the night."

Triton shook his head. "No. No,...not this time. I went too far, this time."

Aquata rubbed his shoulders. "Daddy. Get some sleep. We'll find her."

"I went to see Ursula. I went to the Manta and to the Sharkadians. They didn't have her. Where could she be?", moaned the King.

Aquata looked the man in the eyes. "Father. You won't help Ariel in the state you're in. You must rest."

The King slowly smiled. "All right. I'll rest. May Ariel forgive me."

Triton stumbled to his bedroom and sank down onto the bed. The last thing he saw, before sleep took him, was the portrait of his wife on the wall.

Triton dreamed of his wife. It was sixteen years in the past, but it was as clear as yesterday. The King was at the surface; he often visited the surface, in those days. He was watching the sailors aboard a fishing vessel; which had anchored not far from the palace. Triton's folk were always wise enough to avoid the fishing nets thrown by the Humans, so the King tolerated the ship's presence for the sake of his curiousity abbout these people. Why did they travel so far from safety, to harvest so little from the ocean? What kind of creatures were these? Brave? Foolish? The King puzzled over these questions, as he watched them at their work.

Suddenly, he saw movement below him: it was his wife. He smiled when he saw the mingled determination and anxiety on her face. Aria was as afraid of Humans as Triton was curious about them, but that didn't stop her from dragging him, by the ear, back to Atlantica.

"Red! What in the ocean are you doing up here? Please come back to the palace!"

Triton looked upon her kindly, gentle face. Although she had blond hair, instead of red, her lovely face was so like Ariel's. Ariel's gentle, sweet side came directly from her mother, too. Aria would have been almost as small as her daughter; if not for the fact that she was "with child". She was carrying Ariel; and the birth was not far away.

Triton shrugged. "You shouldn't worry about me, Dear. You're the one who should be back in the palace."

Aria grabbed his arm and looked up at the ship's hull, as if it was filled with devilfish. "Please come home."

Triton nodded and turned to go,..when a splash hit the water. His demeaner was so relaxed and confident that he didn't even notice the net, at first, and both he and his wife were being dragged upward before he could react.

He caught sight of the horror and fear on his wife's face; then a brief glimpse of the Humans hauling up the net, before he blazed open a hole with his trident.

Aria was still shaking, as the King brought her back to their bedroom. "You'll feel better after you've rested", assured Triton.

Aria lay on the bed: pale and trembling. She looked up at him and whispered, "I think it's time."

The dreaming Triton tossed in his sleep: he didn't want to see any more, but it came anyway. Aria was in the bed; with a doctor and nurse by her side. She had delivered their last child, and was holding her close to her heart. Triton's heart almost broke with love; seeing his wife's tired, happy face looking up at him. The doctor had told him: this last birth had been too much for her. She wouldn't live through the night. Triton leaned over and kissed her forehead.

"Darling,..." she whispered weakly. "promise me something,.."

"Anything", answered Triton.

"Promise me,...that you'll raise the girls properly. I know you,...You'll spoil them if you're not careful,.."

Triton nodded. "I promise." He took his wife's hand and fought back tears. Then he looked up and glared. "It was those Humans who did this!"

Aria shook her head. "No, Darling. Don't blame them. I've always been,...weak."

Triton kissed his wife's hand as he held it. She felt so cold.

"Dearest,...", she asked, "What shall be her name?"

Triton looked down at the precious infant, and smiled. Her blue eyes seemed to be watching her mother's face. "Whatever you want her name to be", answered the man.

Aria smiled, and looked lovingly at the child in her arms. "Her name shall be Ariel. For her spirit will rise above the water, to live in the sky."

Triton nodded. "Ariel, it shall be."

The dream faded, but the anger rose in Triton's heart. The Humans,..the Humans had done this! The Humans had taken Aria away! Then,..he heard her voice repeating, "Don't blame them." Triton looked to see his wife sitting beside him on his bed. Her lovely face was smiling.

"But,..they took you away from me!", sobbed the man.

"No, Dearest. It wasn't their fault. They didn't know."

"Yes they did. They are evil! All of them!"

Aria took his hand. "Do you remember what you saw on their faces? The Humans bringing up the net?"

Triton shook his head. "No,, I don't."

"Yes, you do", chided the woman.

Triton thought back. Yes. He knew. When he had glimpsed the Humans, he had not seen evil. He had seen shock and fear,...and pity. He had seen pity in their eyes.

"Have I been, wrong?", whispered the man.

"There is good in all things, Dearest. Humans are no more evil than ourselves. There is good and bad in all of us."

Triton nodded and wept. "Aria. Please forgive me."

The woman embraced him. "I've never faulted you. I've never had a reason. No one could have raised the girls better. I'm proud of all of them. And little Ariel is in love!"

"With a Human", sighed Triton.

"Is that so terrible? Give the boy a chance. Ariel is a smart girl; have a little more faith in her judgement."

"She's run away. I've searched everywhere! I can't find her", moaned the King.

Aria smiled. "You've searched everywhere? Are you sure?"

Early the next morning, Ariel and Sebastian were awakened by a loud flapping through the window. It was Scuttle; who landed, clumsily, onto her bed.

"Here you are!", exclaimed the bird. "I knew you was in this place somewhere, but I kept landing in tha' wrong room!"

Sebastian opened a bleery eye to the bird.

First, I landed on some funny french guy's head: he didn't like that too much and started chasing me around with a knife and shouting something about "chicken noodle soup"". I got out of there with most of my feathers and flew across the court into some lady's room and she started chasing me with a broom; and then,..."

"We're trying to sleep here!", interrupted the crab.

Scuttle scratched his head. "Ah. I guess that's why you're still in bed, huh? Well; I just dropped in 'cause Flounder and me wanted ta' know where ta' find ya today."

Ariel smiled; with delighted expectation.

"The Prince is taking her to see his kingdom", yawned Sebastian.

"Dat'll be neat!", agreed the bird. "We'll see ya there!" With a wink, the zany seagull hopped off the bed and flew out the window.

Sebastian sighed, and looked up at the girl. "You might wanna leave dat window closed from now on."

Ariel smirked at the crab.

While in the village, Ariel's heart raced with joy. Sights and sounds surrounded her with an ocean of excitement and life! Humans! Humans everwhere! A thousand happenings, all at once, to delight the girl's curiousity. A thousand voices: talking and singing and calling and laughing! Strange new animals; wonderous new thingamabobs! And Eric was beside her the whole time; Ariel couldn't be happier!

To dance! She felt like she was floating on bubbles! Eric held her, and her heart melted with love and joy. The air was filled with music and the sweet aroma of flowers; the girl swirled; light-headed and blissfully-content, in Eric's arms.

She had to visit every shop. One Human hummed a hearty tune, as he made thingamajiggers to cover Humans' feet. With skillful fingers, he laced the boots into works of art. Another man: large, burly and sweating, hammered iron loops onto the hooves of a horse. Behind him glowed the hot coals of his forge. Beside him was a younger man; making a saddle to sell.

Everywhere was the smell of food: freshly baked bread and rolls; pastries and cakes.

The girl ate lunch with Eric outside a quaint little tavern; wooden tables and chairs were set out to take advantage of the beautiful weather. She had hot bread, spread with golden honey; a delicious ripe bananna, and a cup of cool milk.

After their meal, Eric and Ariel continued their visit to the shops: Ariel saw the tailor; busy at mending a customer's torn shirt. It made the girl look at Eric's own shirt again, and admire his broad shoulders. Another building housed the village carpenters. They welcomed the Prince inside, with a bow. Ariel looked around, in wonder, at all of the beautiful creations in wood. Most beautiful to the girl was the carving for the masthead of a ship; in for repair. The girl recognized the proud figure of a horse; not unlike the one who had nibbled the sugar cubes offered by the girl that morning, and was now pulling Eric's coach.

Their next stop was the most beautiful place of all: the village church. The tall white steeple was simple, yet very beautiful to Ariel. The stained-glass windows drew her breath away with their lovely glow. She didn't quite understand the meaning behind it all, but she felt the respect that the boy gave to the solemn room through which they walked. Some of the pictures and figures were frightening: a young Human hurt and in pain. Ariel looked at these and drew close to the boy; shuddering. Eric looked down at the girl, and smiled, "There's nothing to be afraid of here. This is a holy place."

The boy's gentle voice and smile melted away Ariel's fear, and she smiled back; gratefully.

They came out of the church and heard the sound of violins; to Ariel, they sounded as sweet as Sebastian's orchestra, at home. Eric and the girl walked up to the group, and they stopped and bowed to the Prince. "Sounds like Mozart", offered Eric.

"Yes; Sire!", answered the conductor; a short elderly man with a white goatee. "It's his latest from the continent! We're practicing for Your Majesty's audience, next week."

Eric smiled. "It sounds like an excellent piece. Grim will love it!"

Ariel grinned and touched the boy's shoulder as she looked up at him. She imitated a bow moving across violin strings, and nodded her head.

"My guest enjoyed it too!", added Eric.

The man bowed to the girl, "We are honored to have such a lovely patron."

Ariel grinned and blushed.

Eric looked down at the girl. "You have orchestras where you come from?"

Ariel nodded. If only she could tell him about Atlantica! About why she had left her home and had come here. Because she loved him!

After walking through the rest of the village, the couple returned to Eric's carriage and headed for the country. They stopped in a meadow, overlooking the water, and ate a picnic supper. With the sweet smell of grass and flowers, the clear songs of the birds, the beautiful sunset, and Eric beside her; Ariel was blissfully happy. If only Eric would see the love in her eyes! He had been polite to her; all along, but he had always hesitated about getting too close. She had to win his love! Somehow!

When Ursula looked into her magic globe, she saw a terrified fish; trembling among the nooks of some rocks. The Sea Witch thundered, "What are you two idiots up to?!"

Flotsam and Jetsam started. "But, Your Hideousness! We're,...hungry!" The two eels had trapped a fish, while spying on Ariel from the canal.

Ursula wasn't moved. "Your job is to watch that love-sick Princess,..not fill your bellies! Where is she now?"

"She's in the village, somewhere", hissed Flotsam.

"Somewhere?!", growled Ursula.

"We're watching that little fish friend of her's", pleaded Jetsam. "He's following her!"

This seemed to satisfy the witch. "Just don't let that Prince kiss her,...or I'll be making eel-skin purses out of the both of you!"

"Yesss, Your Hideousness!"

When Ariel was helped out of the water, she shivered in her wet dress. The girl had never known cold water; even when visiting the Polar Seas, she had been magically protected or had worn special clothing against the freezing water. Now, she felt such a chill that her whole body trembled. Eric saw her discomfort and put his arm around her to give her warmth. Ariel snuggled up against him; suddenly forgetful of the cold; now that she was close to the boy. Eric hurried the carriage to a nearby farmhouse. The elderly couple living there were happy to help the Prince and his lovely guest into some dry clothes.

As they entered the palace's gates, Grimbsy came out to meet them. He looked at their new garments with puzzlement. Eric had on a pair of baggy breeches and an old tunic; while the girl wore a thick, linen sack dress.

"We had a little accident with the boat", answered Eric; sheepishly; as he helped the girl out of the carriage.

"I hope that this alters your opinion on the safety of water travel", chided the elderly man.

Eric nodded, as he led Ariel into the palace. "It sure does. The bigger the boat, the better!"

Carlotta rushed up to them and grabbed the girl away. "Oh! You poor little thing! What has this boy been doing to you? It's to the bath with you this instant!" Once more, Ariel was dragged away from her love, before the chance for a kiss.

No one heard the sarcastic voice of Sebastian; inside one of Ariel's pockets, "Just drop me off by de kitchen."

Triton had searched every corner of the surrounding sea, but his daughter could not be found. Sebastian and Flounder were also missing; suggesting that Ariel had taken them with her on whatever she had decided to do. Worrying would do no good, the King decided: he had to trust now in Ariel and Sebastian's judgement to get them out of whatever trouble they might be in. All he could do was to post sentrys in various areas of the ocean, and hope that they would recieve news of his daughter. This, which she felt had affected her more than Triton ever thought possible. She had always loved her family and friends dearly, but the man had never considered how love for a mate would affect his daughter. He was finally starting to understand. His daughter was no longer,...a child.

After washing off, Eric went down to the stables and checked on his horse. He thought of that day, and smiled. That little girl had more gentleness, more joy and spirit than any ten other girls he had ever met. Ariel was so receptive to the world; so eager to live life to it's fullest. She hadn't said a word, but Eric had learned enough about her, on this one day, to see how special she was. How bold she had been! How meek and quiet! One minute she was pulling him into the dance, and the next, she was bashful in his arms. He wanted to know this girl better; even if she wasn't a Princess,... But it was not to be. His life belonged to another. The girl who had saved him. The girl who had sang to him in the morning light, and then disappeared without a trace. Her song still echoed in his memory; a song from the angels. It had shone upon him with such deep emotion! If only he could remember more words! "Part of your world." That was all he had heard. Part of your world.

The next morning, Ariel heard the news that, at first, lifted her into the clouds, and then sank her to the lowest abyss. After hearing of Eric's wedding plans with the black-haired girl, Ariel stumbled through the hallways; senseless. She didn't feel the pain, when she stumbled and fell to the floor: the pain in her heart overwhelmed everything else.

"Ariel! Child!", called Sebastian; desperately, but the girl heard nothing. Somehow, she found her room again, and sank down onto the bed. Outside, the bright sun was rising into a beautiful sky, but all was dark in her eyes. It was all over. Her love had been taken away from her, and her heart felt like it would tear apart any second. Black despair flooded over the girl and she wept until she had no more tears to shed.

Sebastian stayed close-by, but did not speak. What could he say? The girl who he had known since an infant; the girl who he had loved as his own, was to live the rest of her life in misery. She had taken a chance; as she had so often done in the past. But this time,...she had lost. Ariel didn't deserve this! She had always been so kind and good; so generous. She deserved happiness! But cruel fate had destroyed her dreams. The crab covered his face, and shared in the girl's sorrow.

Carlotta found the girl there, when she came up to make the bed. She lifted Ariel's chin and saw the misery on her little face. "What's wrong, Dear?!"

Ariel shook her head and stumbled up. She staggered to the door and Carlotta ran after her.

"Please Child! You're sick! Come back to bed and I'll call the doctor."

Ariel looked at the woman, with red wet eyes, and managed a smile. She hugged Carlotta; lovingly; trying not to cry, and then shook her head. The girl continued down the hall; leaving the housekeeper standing there; full of anxiety and confusion.

The girl wandered out of the palace, but no one noticed her as they went about with their hasty wedding preparations. Eric was nowhere to be seen, but Ariel knew that her heart could not take another glimpse of him and that girl together, again. Her bare feet sank into the warm, soft grass of summer, but it no longer gave pleasure to her. Birds sang, cheerfully, in the nearby trees; the sweet fragrance of summer rose up to greet her, but Ariel felt only misery; knowing that all of this beauty would soon leave her life forever. She would live in a cave: a pitiful, worm-like creature, with no past and no future. She would never know happiness again; now that Eric was gone.

The girl finally noticed Max. He was beside her; barking joyfully up at her. She patted his head; although she had no will left to smile.

Carlotta came rushing up; Alerted to the dog's commotion. "Poor thing! You're still in your gown! Come inside and I'll help you get dressed. " The woman took Ariel's hand and led her back to her bedroom; where she helped Ariel into her village dress.

"What's come over you, Child?" Carlotta felt of her forehead. "You don't have a fever,...or I would have thought you'd caught a chill from that fall in the water, last night."

Ariel shook her head; sadly. Her lower lip started trembling and she mouthed, "Eric", before hiding her face in her hands and crying.

Carlotta held the girl and patted her back. "There,..there. Don't cry now! What's Eric done? Has he upset you somehow?"

Ariel sobbed and shook her head. The girl looked at Carlotta and whispered voicelessly, "I,...I love him."

Later that day, Scuttle came flapping into Ariel's bedroom to see how things were going. He found Sebastian on the bed; deep in thought. The girl wasn't there. The crab looked up, without emotion. "Scuttle. You must tell Flounder dat,..."

"Woah!", interupted the seagull, "I forgot to tell Urchin Ariel is tying tha' knot! I'll see ya later!"

"Scuttle! Ariel isn't,..." But it was too late: the seagull was already out the window and flapping away. Sebastian sighed. He jumped off the bed, and went looking for Ariel. He couldn't make her feel any better, but at least he could be with her until, was over."

Carlotta stood there; speechless for a second. "Oh,...dear. I understand, now,..." She sighed and then took Ariel in her arms; trying to comfort her. "Poor Dear! You've loved him all this time, and I didn't see. All this time,'ve tried to tell him as best you could and he didn't see either."

Ariel nodded and sobbed.

The woman's mouth tightened, sternly. "I'm going to tell him. Right this minute!"

The girl cried and shook her head. Eric loved another. She didn't want to take their happiness away, too!

But the woman strode firmly down the hall; leaving Ariel trembling and helpless.

Carlotta found Eric sitting, strangly, alone in the entrance hall. His eyes stared towards the front doorway. For a young man about to get married, he seemed unearthly calm.

"Eric. I've got to tell you something! Eric?,.." The woman looked him in the face, and saw an emotionless expression that never changed. "Eric?,..Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," droned the Prince.

"It's about Ariel. Eric,..I don't know why I never saw it before,... Eric,... Ariel loves you."

The boy seemed not to hear.

"She just told me. She loves you. She's loved you all along, and she's tried to tell you... in her own,... shy way."

"So?", answered the boy.

Carlotta bristled. "That Child is the sweetest, gentlest, most loving girl you're ever gonna find! Are you going to leave such a treasure for some,..pretty little fluff?"

"Perhaps he wants a change from you", smirked a silky voice. Carlotta looked up to see Vanessa coming through the front door. "I've seen to the wedding preparations,...Darling. This scullery maid seems to be annoying you. Send her away."

"You are dismissed, Carlotta", droned the Prince.

The woman's face turned beet-red. "Dismissed, am I?! I practically raised you from the cradle, and now I'm dismissed!" Carlotta huffed loudly and stomped off.

"We'll have to make some staff changes after the wedding; I see", observed Vanessa; loud enough for Carlotta to hear.

Carlotta stopped at her quarters; with a red face full of anger and frustration. Poor little Ariel! Why was Eric acting like that?! It was as if he was in a trance! Had that hussy mesmerized Eric into such a state?

The woman sat down in a chair and put her head in her hands. She couldn't see Ariel now; it would only break her little heart more.

Ariel lay on her bed and stared up at the ceiling. Everything seemed black around her, and her head ached.

Sebastian scuttled up to her pillow and drew back her curl. "Take a nap, Child. You'll feel better for it."

Ariel's eyes shut, and tears welled out and ran down her cheeks. Her chest heaved in emotional pain and then she lay quiet. Sebastian was relieved, when sleep took the girl's anguish away, for a time.

Grimbsy met Carlotta in the main entrance-way and stared at her. "Aren't you going to wear something a little more formal, my Dear?", he commented; noticing that she was still wearing her housekeeping dress.

"I'm not going to the wedding", announced the woman.

"Not going to the wedding?! For goodness sake! Why, not?!", gasped Grimbsy.

Carlotta wagged a finger at him. "There's something mighty strange going on here; Eric's not acting the way he should! It's that "mystery girl" who's behind all this! Mark my words.

Grim nodded. "That Eric has not acted normal, I will heartily agree. The boy's senses have been lost at sea ever since the shipwreck."

"If that little black-haired hussy rescued Eric from drowning, then I'm the Queen of England!", growled Carlotta. "How on Earth could he fall for such a viper,..when sweet little Ariel is constantly underfoot?"

"I told the boy that very thing (except for the colorful adjectives) last night, but it apparently left no impression", noted Grimbsy.

"Well; I'm not going to the wedding. Eric's making a terrible mistake and I'll not be a party to it!", huffed the woman.

Grimbsy sighed. "Have it your way, Madam. But I am going; at least to control Max, who would, otherwise, be salivating all over the guests."

Sebastian left Ariel's bedroom and went down to the pier, to tell Flounder the tragic news. He would have to know, sooner or later, and, perhaps, all of their strength together might be able to comfort the girl.

The little fish was waiting, anxiously, for any news. He could see the wedding ship being made ready, so he knew something important was about to happen. Maybe Eric had proposed to Ariel! When Flounder heard Sebastian call to him, he could tell in the crab's voice that something was terribly wrong.

Later that evening, Ariel awoke, and saw that the day was drawing to an end. Eric would be aboard the wedding ship with his love, and soon he would be taken away from her forever. As if obeying some other will, Ariel got up and walked to the dock. Sebastian and Flounder were already there; their time together was also almost over. The girl heard the sounds of merry-making and turned to see Eric's ship pass by them; almost close enough to touch. No one saw this small girl; alone and forgotten, as she watched the boy who she loved leave her.

Ariel had hoped for some miracle to happen: Eric would come back and declare his love for her. She had always been happy about life; always optimistic and cheerful, and sure that everything would turn out for the good. Now, at the bitter end, the weight of her loss settled onto the girl with weakening despair. She no longer felt pain; just a great emptiness and a desire for the end to come soon. Sebastian and Flounder said nothing; among these friends, no words were needed. "Goodbye" would be their last words to one another, when the light failed; "Goodbye" and "I love you."

Ariel was staring at nothing, when she heard the frantic calls from Scuttle; flying towards them.

Ariel sat, despondently, on the rock, and stared at Eric, lying on the beach. He had saved her from Ursula; she wanted to be with him forever. But she was a mermaid. The girl looked at him with longing; they were so close, but in different worlds.

Then, a shimmer enveiloped her and her dream came true! Her father! Her father had changed her back into a Human! He understood! At last, he understood her heart! The girl rose out of the water and she embraced her Prince. She kissed him,,,for the first time.

Eric looked down at her, with happiness and amazement. "Tell me! Tell me,...Who are you? Tell me the whole story!"

Ariel smiled; tenderly, up at him. "Yes, love!"

They sank onto the sand, and, with Ariel's hand in his, she told him of her life, and of her quest to win his love.

When she had finished, Eric took her in his arms and kissed her tenderly. Then he helped Ariel to her feet and walked with her, back to the palace.

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