Melody glanced at the letter in her hand written in her father’s chicken scratch. It was thrust under her door early that morning and as she rubbed her eyes, the words became clearer.
Meet me in the central tower in the top room.
In her youth she and Adela explored most of the castle, but she doubted they got as far as the tower. Whenever they went by, the door was always locked. While making her way up there, she wondered if Ariel had even been allowed in Eric’s childhood room.
Melody smoothed her butter skirts. Ariel was likely already making plans for Melody’s wedding. She could see the woman now, hunched over sketches she came up with in the middle of the night. Perhaps she had been more secretive about such plans. Eric could have told his wife there would be no wedding, at least not to Caspian. Perhaps that was why he had called for her.
No, Melody shook her head, that couldn’t be it. He had to say yes. There was no reason not to.
‘Unless he fears what Julius’ parents will do. What if they want to start a war over wasted time and efforts?’ The princess shuddered. God help her if she was the cause behind bloodshed.
She climbed the spiral staircase up to the top. She placed a hand on the doorknob and took a deep breath. The knob twisted open and she stepped inside, greeted by her father’s back. He stood over his desk. Papers were spread out on the varnished top but she noticed some rolled up near his feet covering the worn carpet. Melody shut the door behind her.
The window was open and she caught the sharp scent of salt. On the ledge were five bottles capped with liquid inside. She squinted and deciphered the stench of seaweed wriggling out of the clear cases. There was a sixth bottle containing sand at the end. Melody glanced at her father but he hadn’t turned to see her yet. She saw a tiny bed pressed against the wall to the right of her with books pouring out from underneath. One had a title about sea horses.
A fireplace was tucked across from the bed but it hadn’t been lit. Books hid on the mantle with star fish and a tiny sailboat. It looked to be an exact replica of the one her father had built when he became king. Melody stopped herself from touching it but she gave it a hard stare before looking around some more. An oak chair had been pushed away from the desk to near the fireplace and the princess sat down on it. She tilted her head back and marveled at the eel that hung from the ceiling. She thought it was crafted from paper but she couldn’t be sure.
“That eel took almost a year to construct,” Eric said. “It was worth it though.” He turned around and smiled. She noticed he was dressed simply in a brown tunic with navy trousers. His hair was combed back away from his face. She wondered when Ariel would cut it for him.
“What did you make it out of?”
Eric shrugged. “Whatever I could find. Wood was hard to come by in those days, at least any used for creative purposes. Grimsby was always on the lookout though.”
Melody smiled. “I wish I could have known him like you did.”
Eric agreed. “He was a good man, one of a kind. Although his son did a pretty good job of watching out for you and your sister when your mother and I could not.”
Melody shrugged. “You were there when it mattered. You still are. I’m glad for that.”
Her father nodded. “Me too.” He came over to her and leaned against the fireplace. He stared at his model of the boat. “Do you know what this room is?”
“It’s your bedroom from before you were king. Adela and I always wanted to go in, but the door was never open,” she replied.
Eric nodded. “Yes, I kept it hidden from you and your sister. And myself,” he added quietly.
“Why open it now then?”
“Because you aren’t a little girl anymore. Neither is your sister. But I wanted to show you first. Does it—is that alright?”
Melody shifted in her seat as she nodded. “If it is with you.”
“Good,” Eric nodded. “Before we talk of your marriage, I want to tell you about my father. You are lucky to have Triton, for he can tell you his experiences himself, but my father was a different man. I don’t think even if he was here he would tell you about his life.”
“Then why are you telling me?”
Eric chuckled. “Because someone besides your mother has to know. She’s a very understanding woman. She never pushed me to tell you anything about my father, but it has to come out at some point. I don’t want you to leave before you know both sides of the family coin.” The king dusted off a stool and pulled it out so it was across from Melody. He sat down before her with a sigh.
“I don’t want you to have the impression your grandfather was a cruel man, for he wasn’t. He just had certain ideas about the way the world worked. By the time I was born, he already had three sons and a daughter. The castle was smaller back then, so the only place for me was up here. I liked to collect things, especially things associated with the sea. My brothers would be out hunting and Grimsby would find me on the beach knee deep in the water. He was always afraid I would drown,” he chuckled.
“By the time I was twelve my sister died from the Sweating Sickness. She was sixteen. At that time I noticed my parents were acting strange. Mother hardly spoke, least of all to my father, and Father would spend days with his council. My brothers, between twenty-one and eighteen years of age, gossiped about it all the time. I didn’t really care, but I should have.
“Two months later, the kingdom was at war with Sweden. My brothers all went with my father, but I stayed home with Mother. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a few month affair turned into over two years of bloodshed. Sweden gained the upper hand and invaded the country. During the chaos, the castle was attacked and my mother--” Eric sighed, “Mother was killed. Grimsby had hidden me before I could see, but later I saw her body strung up by Sweden’s knights. I will never get the image of my deceased mother swaying from the rafters out of my mind.
“My father came back in time to run the men out of the country, but it was too late. The damage was done. A year later, Denmark won but not without its share of battle scars, including the deaths of my brothers and father. At fifteen, I was alone and heir to a kingdom plagued with burnt houses and death. But Grimsby was there, and he pulled me out of the mess. The day after my father’s death I was crowned King of Denmark and I started work on rebuilding the kingdom. Within a few years, it was almost normal.” Eric looked up at his daughter. “Now you know.”
Melody clenched her hands together as she tried not to cry. She couldn’t imagine what it was like to watch your family die around you and be left with nothing. She shook her head. “Then you met Mother.”
Eric smiled. “Then I met your mother. She was,” he sighed, “she is the best thing that has happened to me. She reminds me of my sister. Ingred loved to sing. And then I had you and later, Adela. I don’t know where, over the years, I forgot what young love is like. I don’t know how I got wrapped up in politics just like my father did.” He stared at Melody. “I am sorry for all that I put you and Adela through.”
Melody reached over and placed her hands overtop her father’s. “You did it to keep us safe. We aren’t angry with you, I promise.”
Eric nodded. “I know, but I wouldn’t blame you if you were. Last night, your mother told me all about this Caspian fellow. Apparently she spoke with him a great deal while I was away. She must have suspected this would happen.” Melody flushed as the king chuckled. “Don’t worry, she only had good things to say about the young man.” He took his daughter’s hands in his. “Is marrying Caspian and living in Atlantica what will make you happiest?”
The princess nodded. “It’s the only thing I’ve wanted.”
“Then it’s what you shall have.”
Melody’s eyes widened. “You mean--”
Eric nodded. “I give you my permission, and my blessing, to marry your merman.”
The princess leapt at her father, crushing him in a tight hug. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Her father chuckled and rubbed her back. “It’s my pleasure Melody. I will miss you though.”
She straightened up and gave him a smile. “You’ll just have to come visit me.”
Eric smiled. “Perhaps I will.” He got up and grabbed them each a cup of tea. “So, Adela still wants to rule, does she?”
“I believe so. We talked last night for a while and she’s adamant about it. I think it would be good for her. She hasn’t been herself since she got back from Norway.”
“I noticed that too. Do you know what could have happened, besides the death of King Tovi?”
Melody thought of the suspected poisoning. She shrugged. “She hasn’t mentioned anything to me. I’ll keep an eye on her.”
“Good, thank you,” Eric nodded. “I’ll leave this door unlocked from now on. You and Adela may visit it whenever you like. Just make sure to bring back whatever you take out.”
The princess agreed. “I promise. Would you mind if I left though? I have to let Caspian and the others know.”
Eric chuckled. “Yes, yes, by all means go. I have some letters to send out anyhow. And a will to change. Let Caspian know I expect to meet with him at some point before the wedding.”
Melody kissed her father’s cheek. “I will.” She left her tea on the chair and disappeared out the room to the sea.
“I can’t believe he actually agreed!” Caspian exclaimed for the fourth time.
Melody squeezed her fiancé’s hand tightly. “You’d best believe it before he meets with you,” she chuckled.
“When will that happen?”
“Before the wedding, whenever that is.”
“Right, we need to plan the thing!”
Melody laughed. “I know, I didn’t think we’d get this far.”
Caspian chuckled. “Oh? Yee of little fate.” He leaned over and kissed her cheek. Melody blushed as they swam on.
“Where are we going anyhow?” she asked.
“Well I was thinking--”
“Mel!” Birgita’s only son exclaimed before clinging to her waist. Melody ruffled the three year old’s short black hair as his purple tail swished.
“Good to see you too Bien,” she chuckled. “Where are your sisters?”
“I believe they’re over there,” Caspian said with a smirk. Melody looked over and saw Diana, June, and Lorelei swimming over. Mel admired their long dark brown locks and waved at them as they came over.
Diana, the eldest at eight, flicked her blue tail against Caspian’s in greeting. “Sorry about Bien, he’s really clingy right now.”
“That’s alright,” said Melody. “What are you girls up to this afternoon?”
“Babysitting,” said June, the eldest of the twin six year olds. “It’s so boring!”
“It’s better than being stuck in class though,” Lorelei pointed out.
“Where are you two going?” Diana asked.
“We’re going to Great-Auntie Ariel’s grotto,” Caspian said.
Melody raised an eyebrow. “We are?”
“The idea just came to me,” he whispered.
“Can we come?” the four children asked in unison.
Caspian and Melody exchanged a glance. Melody looked back at her second-cousins and nodded. “Why not? The more the merrier!”
The group of six set off together for Ariel’s long deserted grotto. Bien clung to Mel’s hand and the girls, mainly the twins, kept asking Caspian question after question. Along the way, Renata’s quadruplets appeared. Her four boys immediately insisted they join and Melody couldn’t say no. The six year olds swam circles around the others and the twins joined in the mix. Melody was starting to regret her decision when Caspian squeezed her hand.
“Just think, this is giving us practice for when we have kids.”
Children. Melody thought of herself as a mother and her heart started to beat faster. Could that be possible?
They were nearly at the grotto when Elsie’s two boys and Johanne’s son added themselves to the group. Soon enough, they came to the deserted area when Ariel’s grotto lay hidden. Melody stopped the group of eleven just before the bolder could be moved aside by Caspian.
“Before we go in, there are some rules we have to lay out.” The children groaned collectively but Melody carried on with a smile. “First, you must be very careful with some of the objects in there. The grotto hasn’t been touched in years so some of the items are fragile. Ask me before you throw something, alright? Second, no taking anything out of the grotto. It’s big enough for all of you to play in there. And of course, have fun.”
Caspian pulled back the boulder and the children went inside with the adults following behind. Melody hadn’t been inside in ages, but it hadn’t changed much since her mother last used it when she was sixteen. There was still the candle stick holder with cutlery sticking out of it along with platters and a pipe. Melody watched the children swim around, carefully looking over the human objects. They swam past music boxes, anchors, old rope, picture frames, mirrors, unopened boxes, vases, pots, and other items.
The princess settled down at the bottom on a jutting rock, leaning her back against it comfortably. Caspian came beside her and laid his head on her lap. Every few seconds she would catch him looking at her then glance back at the children. She chuckled and brushed aside his blonde locks.
As the children began to play and explore together, Melody thought of what her father said that morning. “Do you know what my father said to me earlier?”
“Besides his approval, no.” He tilted his head towards hers. “What did he say?”
“He told me how he lost his family, how they died, one by one, and he was left alone in the world. And he only had Grimsby there for him until he met my mother. Then everything changed and he wasn’t alone anymore.” She looked down at her fiancé. “I know you have already lost your parents, but I want you to know that you won’t lose me, ever, okay?”
Caspian didn’t say anything for a time. She thought she said something wrong but he caught her hand in his and squeezed it hard. She just nodded then looked back at the children. Sebastian, Johanne’s four year old, was getting into a scuffle with the older boys.
“You play nice boys, or we’ll cut this visit short,” she warned.
“Sorry Mel!” they chorused. Melody leaned further back against the rock and sighed.
“I was really lucky to have your grandfather come to my rescue like he did when my parents died,” Caspian whispered. “Without him, I never would have met you. And I promise that when things get bad, you’ve still got me.” He turned his green eyes up at her. “You have my word.”
Melody smiled and kissed his forehead. “I know.”
She wasn’t sure how much time passed. The children could play for hours, she knew that from babysitting them often when they were younger. Melody hadn’t moved from her spot, nor had Caspian. It was a shock to them both when Elsie stuck her head inside. “I wondered if this was where my boys were,” she chuckled.
“Mama!” the ten and six year old shouted. They rushed over and gave her a hug.
Elsie smirked. “Having a good time I see?”
“Yeah, can we stay longer?” her eldest asked.
“Please?” the younger begged.
“Your papa is already home and would like to eat dinner. Come along now, you can play tomorrow after school.”
“But what if Mel isn’t here tomorrow?” asked the younger.
Elsie looked over at Melody and smirked. “I have a feeling we’re going to see a lot more of Melody. Now come along, it’s time for dinner!”
The boys left and Melody waved farewell. One by one, her other cousins came and picked up their children. She wasn’t sure how they all knew her father said yes, but they congratulated her all the same. By the time Johanne’s son left, she was a little overwhelmed.
Caspian chuckled. “Can’t take all the well-wishers?”
“It’s not that, it’s just odd to think we’re getting our happy ending.”
“You think this is the end?”
Melody smirked. “Not by a long shot.”
Mia popped her head in. “Are you guys coming to dinner with Hilarius and I?”
Melody raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t know we were invited.”
Caspian blushed. “Right, that was what I forgot!”
Mia rolled her eyes. “Come on, we don’t want to miss our reservation!”
The pair followed Mia out of the cave, making sure to roll the bolder back over behind them.