Chapter 20 - Mermaids
Elsa makes some friends, and John gives Ursula an idea.
They spent the night a short distance up the beach from the pile of sand that had been the castle earlier that day, making a little fire in a pit and having an altogether uneventful evening. When Adam and John woke up the next morning, however, Elsa was at first nowhere to be seen – although her clothes had been neatly draped over a bush nearby. The two men finally spotted her out on the rock King Triton had used the day before, giggling and gossiping and laughing with three mermaids who looked to be about her own age. The four of them were alternately all doing each other’s hair, passing ornaments around, and making Elsa stand up to make adjustments to the style of her dress. Which was made of snow and ice crystals and now had a curling hem like the sea witch’s illusion had sported the day before instead of a long, flowing train. The two men went back to their little campsite and sat down again, knowing that if those were King Triton’s daughters they didn’t dare get close enough to hear their voices. John was smiling, though, and so was Adam. “I’m guessing they wanted to thank her for saving their little sister?”
“Well, she has one of those herself, so they’ve all got that in common at least.” John poked the coals of their night’s fire with a stick. “We can laze around here on the beach while she has fun, it’s not like we’re on a schedule.”
“Very true.” Adam leaned back against the ‘seat’ he’d made for himself with driftwood and sea grass the night before, getting comfortable. “I admit to being a bit worried about the gossip, though – you just know they’re talking about us.”
“I’m trying not to think about it, honestly.” John frowned then, squinting. “You know, I don’t think sand is supposed to do that. Is it?”
Adam looked. There was a patch of sand slithering – there really wasn’t any other word for it – down the beach. The movement looked fairly purposeful, too. He stood up again and waved to Elsa, pointing to where the sand was at. She looked, then shrieked and shot ice at it. The three mermaids all started to shriek too, diving in and out of the waves, and after a moment there was a disturbance near the shore and the sea witch stalked up out of the water. She gave Adam and John a dirty look, but when Adam pointed to the mermaids and shrugged she rolled her eyes and went over to the moving sand, kicking at it when it tried to climb up her tentacles and doing a bit of shrieking herself. She finally gathered it all up and then shot magic into it until it turned into what looked like a ball of colored glass, which she tucked under her arm and stalked back into the water with, rolling her eyes again when the mermaids and Elsa all clapped and cheered – although she did stop for a moment to stare at Elsa’s dress. When she turned around and looked back at John he nodded vigorously and gave her a thumbs-up, which made her nod and look very thoughtful; she even waved to them before she went back into the water, and they waved back.
Adam went back to his seat and got comfortable again. “Well, that was interesting. Think she’ll start designing dresses?”
“Hopefully. She’s good at it, and it would be a lot less evil than what she was doing before.”
They sat there and relaxed, and after about an hour more the mermaids left and Elsa came back. She was still wearing the dress, although she’d shortened it for walking through the beach grass and was now wearing ice sandals with snow ribbons that laced up her legs almost to the knee. Her hair was a white-gold waterfall down her back, woven with strings of tiny pearls and shells, and she was absolutely glowing. John swallowed the lump in his throat, but he still wasn’t able to force any words out. Luckily Adam didn’t have that problem; the prince smiled at her. “You look beautiful, Elsa – so beautiful I think you broke John, in fact.” She blushed, and John threw a shell at him, which he caught. “So, do we want to know what all the giggling was about?”
“Maybe,” she said coyly, with a flutter of eyelashes she could only have learned from the mermaids. “Adella thinks you’re pretty and said it’s too bad you’re married and human.” John couldn’t help but laugh at that, and Adam threw the shell back at him. “But Alana said John is cuter. And Andrina thought you were both cute, and she knew where Adam’s parents went.” John dropped the shell; Adam’s eyes went round. Elsa bounced. “She heard about it from a dolphin, who heard it from a seaman – and Alana said dolphins are trustworthy even if seamen aren’t, so Andrina went down and asked the dolphin again and he told her how to get there! We’ll have to figure out how to do it without swimming through the ocean, though.”
John swallowed. “I’m sure we can figure it out,” he said. A large piece of abalone shell was handed over; it had a simple map carved delicately into the pearlescent side, the lines of which had been rubbed with something black to make them stand out. “Okay, wow. This is an actual map, just from an underwater perspective.”
Adam pulled himself back together and dug their map out of his bag. He spread it out, and then John put the shell map down beside it. “Look, that has to be the coastline,” he said, pointing. “The dolphin goes around the land the way we’d go around the water. So if we match up the coastline…”
“…We can take an overland shortcut to come out where the dolphin did,” John finished for him. He traced a line with his finger. “Right there.”
Elsa circled around and leaned over his shoulder to look. “That shouldn’t take long, right? Andrina said the dolphin said it wasn’t that far.”
“Andrina and the dolphin are right, it isn’t,” Adam agreed. He glanced over, then quickly glanced away. “Um, sweetheart…your dress is melting.”
And then he laughed, because John’s squeal of alarm had been almost as loud as Elsa’s.