Suggested by: Ashleigh Meikle
-a ship or dockyard
He saw her the moment he stepped off the train. She sauntered down the street, moved by an invisible current. Her delicate body undulated like a blade of sea grass. Her dark hair cascaded down her back like an inky waterfall.
He saw her, and he wanted her more than anything else in the world. He glanced up at the red-white-and-blue flag of France over the door of the military office. There were certain duties he needed to fulfill first. He glanced back to fill his eyes with the girl.
She had turned to stare at him, herself. Her eyes sparkled, and she gave him a small smile and a tiny wave. He felt the warmth radiate from his racing heart radiate to the furthest reaches of his body. She disappeared around the corner, and he all but floated into the outpost. He was so elated that he almost didn't know how to answer when the gruff clerk demanded, "Name?"
"Uh..." His brain suddenly could think of nothing else but the mysterious beauty. He imagined introducing himself to her.
"Charmont," he spluttered. "Leroy Charmont."
"Papers!" Perhaps the frosty lady was used to dealing with utter ninnies like himself, the ones who had not been this far from home unaccompanied before. He dug the requisite forms out of his small valise and handed them to her. She squinted to see that everything was in order, stamped her approval on it, and rattled out, "Report back here at five hundred hours Monday morning for deployment. Next!"
Leroy couldn't believe his luck. Monday! That gave him three whole days in which to enjoy the company of the charming young woman. He dashed back onto the street and glanced around.
For several agonizing minutes, he could not see her—
And in the next instant, he nearly tripped over her.
Leroy stumbled backwards and grasped her wrists to keep them both steady. Her skin felt soft and cool at his touch, like holding smooth river stones. She smiled at him again.
"Are you all right?" The words tumbled out of his mouth.
Something in her gaze shifted, and her smile dimmed. Leroy felt a pang in his chest. "Did I hurt you?"
The eyes widened, and she gasped, "No! I am quite all right."
How wonderful her voice sounded, clear with a little hint of a laugh, like a quiet brook.
"What is your name, mademoiselle?"
She smiled and relaxed, even if just for a moment. "I am—" she hesitated, as if she had nearly said one thing but decided on another. "Belle," she said. "They call me Belle; what is your name?"
"Leroy," he answered.
"So, Leroy, what brings you to Moulin Blanc?"
Leroy gestured over his shoulder at the outpost. "I am to be deployed from this harbor."
"Ah," said she. "The war."
The War—not much else needed to be said about that. The world had weathered one before, and countless others before that; surely the world would not be so eager to prolong a second world war.
"Belle..." Leroy looked down at his feet and fidgeted a bit to get the words out. "I was wondering if you—"
Belle had been looking at something behind him, and now she gasped. "I'm sorry; I have to go."
"What? Why?" Leroy spluttered. He turned to see what had scared her so badly, but nothing out of the ordinary caught his eye. He turned back to Belle.
Her lips trembled. "I wish we could have known each other," she said.
"I will come back for you!" Leroy promised.
She shook her head. "No; you must listen to me. What you want can never be. Not with what I am. Goodbye, Leroy. Be safe."
With that, she pulled away and vanished into the crowd.
The rest of the weekend dragged on like an eternity for the young cadet of the French Foreign Legion. He and his unit left France, headed northward, but all the time they were fighting, Leroy never forgot about his brief encounter with the enchanting Belle. Her last words haunted him: "not with what I am." What did it mean? Was she afraid he would reject her for her upbringing? That did not matter to him! Merely thinking of her helped him survive the next two years. While the shells thundered and the screams of dying men filled his days, the sound of her voice and the soft depth of her eyes filled his mind and his dreams.
At last, it was over. Five years after the day it all began, Lieutenant Leroy Charmont stepped off the boat onto the dock of Moulin Blanc, much taller, stronger, and more worn than he had left it. He wandered back toward the military outpost as a man just waking up from a very long dream.
There she was. Standing there, exactly as if she had been waiting for him after all. Leroy dashed forward and put a hand on her shoulder.
"Belle!" He cried.
She twisted away from him, her eyes filling with fear. "Who are you? How do you know me?"
Leroy stepped back. "Belle, it's me, Leroy! Don't you remember?"
She squinted, and recognition flooded her face. "Monsieur Charmont?"
Leroy nodded. "Thinking of you was the only way I managed to survive the war." He gestured to all his shipmates, celebrating and cavorting in the street. "And now that it is over, I was hoping—" he clasped her wrists, held that delicate, smooth hand firmly in his.
Belle shook her head and tried to pull away. "No, you don't understand," she insisted.
"What is there to understand?"
The beautiful dark-haired woman shook her head. Twisting her hands free, she gently pushed his shoulders and darted away from him, across the street. He lost track of her in the sea of moving bodies.
“Belle, wait!” Leroy cried, stumbling after her.
He barely caught sight of her forest-green skirt disappearing into an alleyway. Leroy shouldered people out of the way as he lunged after her.
He stopped, standing just behind her. Belle stood frozen in place, as a large, burly man in ragged, soiled clothes leered at her from the shadows at the back of the alley.
The man smiled, showing the glint of at least one gold tooth among the rotted, yellowed others.
“Well, what have we here?” he rumbled. “My forefathers have been chasing a legend since the 1700's, and it turns out that all I had to do was wait for her to come to me!”
Leroy instinctively stepped closer against Belle, grabbing for her hand.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
The man’s accent sounded rough, like the Americans Leroy had fought with during the war. “Shouldn’t you be asking her that, boy?”
Belle, meanwhile, cowered against Leroy as the man advanced closer. She looked up to meet his eyes. “Don’t let him take me!” she whispered.
“Who is he, Belle?” Leroy whispered back. “Why has his family been searching for you? What is this man to you?”
The man stopped just out of arm’s reach. He smirked at Leroy. “You mean you don’t know what she is, boy? You really have no idea?”
Belle was trembling all over now; Leroy could feel her terror. “What are you talking about? Why would you terrorize an innocent girl?”
A footstep crunched in the dirt behind him, and Leroy turned to see a second thug closing the gate to the alley behind them. When he faced the first man again, the thug held a stout fishing net.
Belle scrunched even smaller and whimpered, “Don’t let that net anywhere near me!”
“Innocent girl!” scoffed the man with the net. “Is that what you think she is?” He cackled cruelly. “Let me show you the truth, boy!” He nodded to the other thug.
Leroy heard the sound of breaking pottery, and felt Belle going limp in his arms. He looked down at her.
“Belle!” He gasped.
The man laughed again. “There’s your precious, innocent girl, boy!”
Belle’s skirt clung to her legs at first, but in a few moments, Leroy watched the material change form, going from soft and damp to slick and scaly. Her feet vanished, replaced by a wide fin. Small gill slits opened in the skin of her neck.
It took all of his willpower to keep from dropping her to the ground then and there. “What are you?” he gasped.
Webbed hands now clung to his shoulders as the—creature’s—voice came in between quick, desperate gasps. “Please, Leroy! I never want to hurt you. I am a mermaid. My real name is Yssandra. I came ashore two hundred years ago, because I was young and foolish and I sought to find love—“ She turned her head to scowl at the gleeful thug standing before them. “But all I found was hate and greed. I have been trying to hide from this man’s family ever since.”
The man advanced closer. “It’s a long-standing family tradition, chasing after the fish-girl who jilted my great-grandfather.”
The second man took up the other side of the net and advanced toward them.
“So what's it gonna be, Froggy?” The man asked. “Are you going to stick by this fish-girl who is older than you'll ever be, until she snaps and disappears on you forever because she can't stay out of the water for long? Or are you going to let me put her back where she belongs?”
The young mermaid was fast withering in his arms. He would need to make his choice soon, or risk losing her forever. Leroy adjusted his grip on her body, supporting her against him.
He nodded to the man. “You will take her—“
Yssandra gave one last feeble gasp, “Leroy, no!”
Leroy’s hold on her never slackened. “Over my dead body!” he finished.
The man only hesitated a moment before drawing a long, wicked-looking knife. He grinned at the couple.
“That can be arranged.”
Previously in This Series:
#15 "Rendezvous"("Soul Mates" Part 6/"Serenity's Light" Part 2)