Chapter Sixteen:

-Grace-

She could see nothing but the dark unforgiving sea swirling around her in a torrent of confusion and uncertainty. Grace had barely made it out of sight of land, her new found tail and gills had not yet been mastered completely and at times she found herself breathing gulps of seawater instead of using her gills. The cold pressure of the water did nothing to comfort her and the terrifying creatures that swam below her only made her regret her decision all the more. Clearly she knew nothing of the sea or survival. When she closed her eyes all she could see were Alkaline's smiling face and that night on the beach, which reassured her that everything would turn out fine. With an awkward flick of her tail she glided up towards the surface of the water where the sun and the sky shimmered, it was like looking at the world through glass. Grace's head broke the surface of the water. The air made her head feel unbelievably heavy and uncomfortable but she needed to find land. Finding nothing she dived back down under the water and continued on her journey. She didn't know where she was going, she was only following the tug of the sea in the hope that she would encounter a mermaid who could lead her to Alkaline. Surely he must feel her presence? And why did he not come? She was beginning to feel very weak. It had been 2 days since she had eaten and she knew not how much longer she could go on. Suddenly she saw a large shadow envelope the sea - a ship!

She watched in silent awe as the great wooden vessel passed over her, she heard the groan of wood like a shock and the muffled voices of men. Grinning widely she rushed after the ship gently skimming the wood with her fingertips. Even the feel of wet wood took some of the homesickness she felt away. But something was wrong. The ship was travelling in the wrong direction she wanted to go. Biting her lip she made the decision that survival was a much more pressing matter, Alkaline would have to wait a little bit longer for her.

-Alkaline-

He bowed his head deeply to his father, the king, before approaching his impressive gilded throne.

"You have failed in your task," King Poseidious stated in his large booming voice.

"I am sorry, Father," Alkaline murmured.

"I was not aware that claiming a human bride was such a difficult task."

"Your majesty, I have come here today to beg you to consider my request to return to land."

King Poseidious frowned deeply behind his large sea foam beard while his large hand caressed the shaft of his trident.

"Return to land? Why ever for?"

"My intended's sister…"

"- it is forbidden to take a bride that the kingdom has not appointed you, since you refused the hand of that girl then you will marry a daughter from one of the governing families."

He forced himself to keep the anger and pain off his face as he stiffly inquired, "and what of the contract between land and sea?"

"Your younger brother will be becoming of age very soon, he will marry her."

Ah, his brother Alexi. He had always longed for the approval and praise of their father; he would be a willing tool.

Muttering his thanks he bowed and left his father's presence before he lost his temper and said something that angered him. His advisor was awaiting him outside the large coral doors of the court.

"From the shattered look on your face I gather that you were unsuccessful in your request."

Flicking his head sharply he swam angrily from the palace with Antonio trailing behind him. They both knew where he was going and they equally knew that he could not be deterred from his mission. If he couldn't have Grace with his father blessing then he would have her without it. His mind was swamped with blissful thoughts and ideas; he imagined living with her in a small cottage in the forest, far away from the influence of his father. A strong hand seized his wrist.

"Stop this, your majesty!" Antonio hissed.

Shaking off his hand he shot forward with a burst of sudden speed. Antonio was quicker.

"Get out of my way," Alkaline said in a warning voice.

"There's something I must tell you, about Grace."

"What is it?" he asked anxiously.

"She's currently in the kingdom of King Parmenio; it appears she has somehow acquired the means to change her… limitations."

For a moment he went cold with fear before his anger gave way. Foolish girl! What was she thinking? But more importantly how had she done it? And what price had she given?

"I have to find her!" he urgently said.

A wave of annoyance flickered across Antonio's sullen face before he seemed to give into the idea of helping his young master locate that little human girl. Alkaline who had never really taken to his advisor felt a sudden relief to have such a sharp man on his side. His dark tail seemed to almost vibrate with apprehension and suppressed exertion.

"It will be much too suspicious if I accompanied you on this journey, so I will remain here and draw attention away from your absence," Antonio said at a length.

Alkaline bit the side of the cheek in thought, Antonio was risking his freedom and position in life for his sake.

"If they find out, tell them that I threatened you with desertion."

Antonio nodded before turning around to make his way back to the palace before it got too dark to find his way back.

"Thank you," Alkaline murmured to the retreating form on his new found friend. Immediately he launched himself forward. He had to find her before something happened to her, he could offer her no protection in another kings kingdom. He was haunted by images of her face, the way her bronze hair caught the summer light and the soft velvety feel of her lips. Even if it was the last thing he did, he would protect her.

-Victor-

The past few days had been filled with nothing but tears, disorder and panic. Victor had loathed every moment of it. Certainly he knew that he couldn't tell Grace's mother what he had seen! He couldn't bring himself to tell her that he had seen Grace walking into the sea with nothing more than a thin shift covering her. That man had driven her to it, Victor was sure of it and he didn't believe a word of that mermaid nonsense. Smoothing his dark hair he brought his drink bottle to his parched lips and allowed the cool fluid to flow down his throat. Surveying the stormy water below him he shivered at the thought of Grace's lifeless body caught between the rocks with her eyes and lips eaten by fish and seabirds. Naturally he knew that every moment they spent searching the overhanging cliffs and caves was wasted but he found the fresh air strangely distracting. The circling gulls' calls lulled him into a daydream of life before Alkaline, before Grace before life as he now knew it. Perhaps it was time to return home, there were plenty of local girls who would make fine wives. Although his heart belonged to Rosalind he had not been able to bring himself to express his true intentions and now she barely gave him a second glance. Sighing he drew his face up to the sky and enjoyed the feel of the sun. It wasn't long before he felt the warm splatter of gull excrement on his cheek. Smiling grimly as he used the front of his shirt to wipe the white mess off he muttered, "You little bastards."

"My lord, we've found something!" a man called running towards a seated Victor.

"What is it?" he asked sharply.

"We were down on the beach and John thought he saw a body floating in the waves, so we jump in and found a dress, we think it belongs to Lady Grace."

"Where is it?"

"Down on the beach," the man answered.

Victor allowed the man to lead him back down the mountainside to the beach where he found a green dress spread out on a rock to dry. He felt a wave of shock go through his body; it was the same dress that she had worn the night before she disappeared. Swallowing his sudden grief he ordered for the dress to be taken to the castle and presented to her parents. This was absolute proof that his eyes had not deceived him. But he wished with all his heart that it had been different.

-Grace-

The current had her in its grip. She opened her mouth to scream but only a muffled shriek emerged from her mouth. Grace had gotten too close to the shore and now she ran the risk of being beached and found by humans. Her fragile body was thrown against rocks as the water sucked her into city of dark sharp rocks. Rich red blood flooded the water around her as she felt her side slice open. The world was spinning…black was creeping into her vision. Then she knew nothing.

A strong hand seized her wrist and pulled her motionless body into awaiting arms. She was barely aware of what was going around her but she could see through her bleary eyes a blurred figure of a man. The water immediately enveloped them when they reached the surface and he had to fight to keep both of them afloat.

"Hold on," he whispered as another wave washed over them.

He was much too preoccupied with getting both of them to safety to wonder about her tail and her wound wasn't looking as if it would stop bleeding anytime soon. With much effort he managed to get his boat that was waiting just offshore. The unconscious creature in his arms was heavier than she looked and he barely managed to get her in. As he began to silently row his boat he studied her in detail. The top half of her was certainly human but where her hips and legs were meant to be was a fish tail instead. He found her unbelievably alluring and wonderful but he was going to have some explaining to do. His wife wouldn't take too kindly to such a strange girl in their house. Once he had gotten them far away from the sloshing water he turned his attention to her. Carefully cradling her head he tapped her cheek.

"Hello?" he said looking for any sign of consciousness.

Her eyes moved beneath her lids and her mouth opened in a silent groan before her green eyes focused on his. Abruptly she sat up and clambered to the far side of his small rowing boat.

"Who are you?" Grace asked once she found her tongue.

"I am merely a poor fisherman called Liam Howard, what is your name?"

"Grace," she replied allowing herself to relax once she realised how she had gotten herself on his boat. "Thank you."

Liam smiled shyly at her, "I don't want to seem rude, and I know it's not my place but I'm at a loss at what to do with you. You need water don't you? To survive I mean."

"I believe I do but I can't be sure," she answered.

The entire matter seemed ridiculous, what was she doing here with this man? He saved her life but that was the extent to which she needed his help. Shifting her weight onto her arms she began to inch towards the side of the boat. Liam Howard's blue eyes widened in alarm and he immediately went forward to put a stop to her actions.

"You can't leave with that wound! You need stitches," he angrily scolded her.

Smothering a laugh at his concern she motioned with a pale hand at her half healed wound.

"How…" he trailed off.

Grace gave a secret smile and shrugged to show that she was no more informed than he was. Breathing a deep sigh he leaned back and laughed in disbelief, "Extraordinary, truly extraordinary."

While he was stunned she used the opportunity to slip back into the cool water, her skin had been beginning to burn up under the sun.

"Wait! What about something to eat? It's the least I could do."

In response she felt her stomach tighten and hunger begin to nag her once again. Grace had been distracted by the fisherman's activities near the shore and had lost track of that ship.

"Thank you," she said reluctantly.

Quickly slipping his hand into his bag he extracted a roll of bread and a wedge of cheese. Her mouth watered at the sight of the much needed food and it was only with strongest of wills that she didn't snatch it out of his hand. Disappointment rushed in her chest as she brought the food to her lips. It tasted bland and she found some difficulty chewing and swallowing the food. With regret in her face she handed it back to the man.

"It seems I can't have human food."

Liam looked downfallen at not having been able to help. "Wait, I caught some fish earlier today, do you think that would suffice?"

"I believe so."

He lifted out a blue finned fish and a sharp knife with which he used to gut the fish and remove the bones in a matter of seconds. Handing her the white flesh he waited tensely for her to taste it. Flavour erupted on her tongue and she groaned with rapture at the taste. With the fish in her belly and hunger sated she bid goodbye to the kind fisherman that had done so much for her. He leaned over the side of the boat to watch her descent into the depths of the sea with awe.

"My wife is never going to believe what happened today," he said to himself before turning to row back to shore.