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Giles sighed as he traversed down the hall after everyone had eaten and retired for the night. When would Nathan learn? He had thought the tour would be most successful; indeed, he had never seen the prince so devoted to kingdom matters as he had been. Then the Queen arrived and he was back to being the old Nathan again.
Only when his guests were safely retired did the young prince remember the one guest to whom he still and would forever owe a debt. Unfortunately, she had taken her leave some time before, so what did Nathan do but send Giles to make sure she was comfortable?
Chattering voices caught his attention. Did one of them belong to Lady Illeinina? Giles stopped to listen outside the door.
"Did you see the stables when we came in? Oh, just think of the carriage rides!"
"Frankly, mother, I was more interested in the gardens; so wide and beautiful! Royal life is everything we imagined!"
"You're lucky your Prince still looks young and fresh," the first voice snorted, and with growing consternation Giles was forced to conclude that he was listening to a conversation between the Royal ladies of Crossway! "The King is certainly much more withered than the sea witch made him out to be."
"Remember, mother? If I can get the prince to marry me, you won't have to marry the king."
"Good point; you’ll have to get him off these reform ideas of his, though; no sense in getting altruistic just when we have the chance for ultimate power!"
“Don’t worry, Ma; I’ll make sure our money isn’t wasted on the poor, dying peasants of Overcliff.”
“That’s my girl.” The Queen laughed. "Speaking of peasants—if only the ladies of Port-Town could see us now, eh, Meggie?"
"Ma!" Whined the Princess, "stop calling me that! You've got to remember I am Melinda now. Though," she broke off with a giggle, "I was more thinking of what Lord Jamison might think of his laundress hobnobbing with the King!"
Both women dissolved into giggles. Giles had heard enough. He burst into the room, red with wrath.
"Impostors!" He seethed, "Traitors!"
Devaine and Meggie rose to their feet in alarm as Giles stepped among them.
"How dare you!" Devaine began, but Giles stopped her.
"I know what you are!" He cried. "You are in no way the royalty you claim to be, and certainly it will come before the king at once!" He turned to march back out and leave them standing there.
A gust of wind rushed through the room and slammed the door in front of his face.
Devaine sauntered up behind him. "You see?" She taunted him. "You are only a servant. The true power is with us." She smiled sweetly at him, her eyes glinting cruelly. "And if you dare interfere with our plans for Overcliff," her eyes narrowed. "We will kill Prince Nathan. Have I made myself clear?"
Giles could not tear his eyes away. How could one woman have the wherewithal to pull off such a fantastic charade?
"Perfectly," he replied.
She did not waver. "Perfectly, what?" prompted Devaine.
"Perfectly.... Your Majesty." The words tasted like bile on his tongue.
She nodded. "That's better. You may go."
Another wind swept around him and carried Giles out the door and closed it behind him.
The next morning, Ylaine awoke a heavy yawn and a sigh. When she stretched her mouth and gasped, she heard a slight popping sound. She stopped; what had popped? Something in her throat? She breathed again. Something fluttered. Suddenly, it seemed that Ylaine could not get as much breath as usual, that she had to gasp several times to get the amount of air in one breath. Then she knew what happened: her gills were coming loose. She was losing her humanity, because Nathan had ceased to love her.
Ylaine tried to go about as if nothing was wrong, dining with the royals as normal. She noticed that the King and Queen talked more openly about the joining of the two kingdoms, while Nathan ignored them to wait on Melinda. Ylaine felt that as long as she hid the sound of her furious, shallow panting, she could find a way to reverse this process.
As they dined that afternoon, Melinda turned her sapphire gaze upon the poor lady.
"My dear," she warbled, "Are you all right?" The princess grasped Ylaine's hand out of apparent concern. As quickly as she grabbed, she released. "Oh my! Your hands, they feel so cold, like a fish!"
Ylaine looked at her hand in alarm. Was it her imagination, or was her human skin beginning to flake off, revealing the scales underneath?
The breathing difficulty increased. Ylaine knew that she had only a short time to regain the prince's attention. She could not do that while Melinda clung to him like a leech.
"Nathan..." she began, but she could not think of anything to tell him that would send a clear enough message to him without alerting the princess. Ylaine stood and left the room. On her way out, she heard the princess speaking to Nathan.
"She looks so very unwell! I don't know what's gotten into her. No matter! Dear Prince, you have a lovely green out behind the castle. Do you, perchance, play croquet?"
Ylaine ran to her room. Water! She needed water to saturate her throat. Her gills were not all open because her throat was too dry, but her lungs were no longer processing air as well as a human's did. She found the washbasin and the jug of water. Speedily, she poured the whole jug in and dunked her face.
Relief at last. Ylaine gasped and spluttered as her gills flapped open at the presence of water, and she could breathe normally again.
Suddenly, a pair of hands grabbed her by the shoulders and hauled her out. Ylaine coughed and spluttered as she looked into the horrified face of Giles.
"My lady, have you gone mad?" he demanded forcefully. "What is the meaning of this?"
Ylaine began panting again, and her knees felt weak. She looked down. Her wet human skin was flaking off at an even greater rate. She had no choice but to tell the truth right now, or she would die.
"Giles!" She panted. "You...must...know... the... truth...I...am...not...the...lady...you... think...I...am." She held up her hand for him to see. He held it in his own and studied the revealed scales in surprise as Ylaine continued. "I am...m-mermaid...traded...voice...to become human...to find...the man...I love; but... the spell...wearing off...soon I... will be... mermaid again...and...die...unless I can... win him back!"
Giles dropped her hand. "Lady Illeinina—"
She smiled ruefully and shook her head. "I am... Princess Ylaine... of Undersea."
"Your Highness, then," Giles insisted. "To me and to every other human you are none other than the Prince's savior. He owes you his life, we owe you our prince." He rested his fingertips against her chin and tipped her face up. "No more, no less," he assured her. "Therefore I will do everything in my power to provide whatever you need." To demonstrate, he turned and called a passing servant. "Hello, there!"
A maid stuck her head in. "Yes sir?"
"Ask no questions, but only draw a large bath for the lady. Take care it is not too warm."
The orders confused the maid, but Giles had said not to ask questions, so she complied.
Giles assisted Ylaine to the bed. "There is talk of attending the carnival tomorrow, but I will try to speak with Nathan this evening. Rest now, Highness."
The maid left, and Ylaine eagerly slipped into the water. She gulped deeply, feeling the water lift her gills and breath reenergize her whole body. When she emerged a few hours later, she checked her skin carefully. Luckily her hands were about the only thing showing any scales. A pair of gloves took care of that, and Ylaine could be human once more. She sat before the large hearth as the sun set. She heard a knock at the door.
Queen Devaine stood outside, bearing a tray with two covered platters and two goblets of spiced wine. Her expression was all sympathy and concern.
"I heard you weren't feeling well," she said, coming in and setting the tray on the table, "so I thought you might appreciate some supper with a friend."
Ylaine stared at the plate. She was very hungry, and the wine smelled good. She had thought that Princess Melinda and Queen Devaine viewed her as a threat, but perhaps the whole plot had been the workings of the princess alone. She sat down and supped with the Queen, feeling the stress of the day ebb from her body. She ate the food and drained the goblet; she had never known drink to taste this good. There was a hint of the sea about it...
Ylaine's head dropped, and she slumbered deeply. Devaine smiled as she stood and glanced toward the window.
"Madame Nayidia was right," she mused as if to herself. "The vixen is not human after all."
A breezy reply wafted on the wind. "No sea creature can resist the taste of jetsam-weed. You have done well, Devaine. Soon Overcliff will be yours."
Devaine smirked at the unconscious victim. "Sleep well, little mermaid." She extinguished the lights and closed the door.