The sand was wet and warm, and the little boy giggled, digging his toes into the moist sand. It gave away very easily to his prying feet, and soon, he'd buried himself up to his skinny ankles. The ocean sent tiny waves to investigate, marveling at the cleverness of the little boy, and he beamed down at them in pride.
"That's right! I hid my feet all by myself!" He grinned, pressing his thumb against his puffed-out chest. "All by myself!"
"Wow," A little girl breathed, and the boy looked to the shallows.
There was a girl his age sitting waist-deep in the ocean, staring at his feet with big, glittering eyes. The boy grinned even bigger, and walked into the coldness of the clear waters. The gentle tugging at his ankles pulled all the sand off his legs, but he didn't mind. He could bury them again.
Right now, though, he had an admirer.
"Yeah," He giggled, holding out his hand to her. "I can show you how to do it too, if you want!"
Her face lit up, and her glossy black eyes stared at him as a tiny green blush spread across her face. "But…papa says I shouldn't play on beaches…."
The boy blinked, tilting his head and making a faint "hmm" sound, rubbing his chin like his father did when he was thinking. Then, he jumped up, smiling.
"I got it! I'll just play in the ocean with you then!" He smiled, plopping into the water and extending his hand. "My name's David Henry of the House of Lorraine, what's yours?"
She took his hand and shook it, giggling, "I'm Sera, daughter of Lord Solomon."
"Lord Solomon? Who's that?" David tilted his head again, watching her blush even harder, running her fingers along her long, silky black hair. "Is he from a royal house?"
"No, I don't think so…" She shook her head, looking at David's knee. "He's Emperor Marius' son, so if Emperor Marius dies, he'll be the emperor. At least, that's how my papa explained it. What's a royal house?"
"I don't know, nobody will tell me," He giggled. "Who's Emperor Marius?"
"He's the ruler of all the water in the entire world," She looked at him with a big smile, spreading her arms out towards the sky.
David mimicked her gesture, his eyes wide. "Wow! All the water? Even rain?"
"I think so," She giggled, cocking her head with a smile as her arms slid back into the water.
"Hey, do you wanna meet my mommy?" David offered, leaning in close to her face, so close that he could smell the ocean-smell of her skin. "You could come to my house and meet her! She's really nice!"
"Papa says I'm not allowed to go to people's houses," She looked away, sighing.
"Oh," He looked down. "Why not?"
" 'Cuz I can't walk," Sera whispered, and pulled a long, green fin out of the water as she rested her head on it.
He stared, his mouth hanging open. "Wow…Sera, are you a mermaid?"
She nodded slowly, her eyes studying his face warily. "Papa said humans were afraid of mermaids. Are you afraid of mermaids?"
David puffed out his chest again, pressing his thumb against it and shaking his head firmly. "Uh-uh. I am not afraid of Sera, not in a million years!"
She giggled, her fin slipping back into the water. "Will you be my friend, David?"
"Of course!" He exclaimed, holding out his hand again. "Sera and me will be friends forever!"
She giggled, shaking his hand one more time. "Forever!" She agreed.
He looked out toward the horizon, where the blue in the sky blended into the blue of the ocean. "Since you can't go on the beach, wanna go swimming?"
"Okay!" She smiled, carefully maneuvering her way into deeper waters, until she saw his hesitation when it was waist deep. "What's wrong?"
"I'm not very good at swimming," He turned red, looking away.
Sera stood still a moment, but then rubbed her chin like she'd seen David do, and then swam to him with a smile, holding his elbows. "Don't worry, David! I'll teach you because you're my friend!"
"Okay," He smiled, and wrapped his arms around her neck.
Her tail brushed against his legs sometimes, and he thought it felt sort of like an eel, because it wasn't scaly like a fish and had two pretty fins going all the way down her tail on each side. But, the end of her tail also had two flat fins, so it didn't just taper off like an eel. Her hair was really long, too—it was black and shiny and felt smooth like silk.
When she stopped swimming, the bottom of the ocean looked like it was ten feet away, and he squeezed her hands tightly.
"It's okay," She promised, her hands slipping to his chest, "Just kick your legs really hard and move your arms back and forth."
He nodded, his eyebrows cinched together in stern concentration. He wouldn't disappoint Sera; he'd do exactly like she said and he'd swim so that she wouldn't have to carry him all by herself.
He moved the cold, smooth water back and forth, and felt it pumping beneath his legs.
Sera let go, and he was still floating.
"I'm doing it!" David exclaimed excitedly, grinning. "Wow, Sera, I'm actually doing it!"
"Yeah!" She nodded, clapping. "You did it!"
Just then, he saw her glance back towards the beach, and saw her face freeze. He managed to maneuver himself around, and saw that it was his mother, crying out his name and running into the water.
"Uh-oh, it's my mommy," He whispered, turning back to Sera. "She probably thinks I'm drowning, but when I tell her you're here and you taught me, it'll be okay!"
She still looked afraid, and shook her head. "But papa says…."
"Well, I'm not afraid of you, am I?" He said bravely, grinning as she shook her head. "Since I'm not afraid, I'll make my mommy not afraid either, 'cuz Sera and me are friends."
That made her smile, and she nodded. "Okay, since we're friends."
He started doggy-paddling clumsily toward his mother, but then Sera swam in front of him and gently carried him until they were only a few feet away.
"Who are you?" The woman demanded, her face a terrified, angry pink as she clutched David to her chest. "What are you doing with my son?"
"Mommy, she's my friend and she taught me how to swim," David pouted, trying to squirm out of his mother's grasp, but to no avail. He felt tears running down her face and onto his. "She's a mermaid."
The woman's body froze, noticing the faint glimmer of Sera's tail under the water. Her tear-reddened, blue eyes stared as she began to tremble, pointing at Sera and backing away, with David.
"Monster!" She breathed. "I won't let you take my son!"
"Mommy, she's not bad! She's my friend!" David cried, but she wouldn't listen.
"Get away from here," The woman whispered, and then she cried, "Get the hell away from here, and don't come back! Go find someone else's children else to drown!"
Sera looked at David, and they both began to cry.
"Sera! Sera, don't go!" He sobbed, wailing as Sera swam away, disappearing into the ocean, where he could not follow her.