6: The Horse and the Grandparent

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Princess Aren approached the shore cautiously. A low mist clung to the water, concealing her as she swam. There was an area of broken, sea-worn rocks which stretched across where a beach would otherwise be. It created a drop of a few feet into the water, rather than a gently sloping gradient of sand. The humans used it to jump into the sea or to sit, their feet submerged. Aren hid beneath it. Unless anyone looked directly down, she was out of sight.

A few people were milling about above her. Children were playing, couples were sitting, arms around each other. A family was arguing about food.

It was all incidental. It was all a slap in her face. They were all happy! Even the family who were throwing insults at each other were generally content. She could see it in their manner and the way the insults were general rather than pointed. A well placed jibe could cut deeper than any sword or dagger and these were casting them about haphazardly, not really worrying about where they fell or how deeply they'd penetrate.

She moved to the side, where some rocks protruded further than the rest and looked sharper than their smoother brethren. The humans were avoiding the area so she used it to watch them without being seen.

Time passed. The family left, some of the couples were exchanged for others, then they, too left. A girl, not quite a woman, lingered at the back of the pseudo-beach, waiting for everyone to go before venturing out herself. She was pretty, for a human. Her eyes were wide, seemingly reflections of the darkening sky. Her cheekbones were high, sharp angles that directed your sight to the eyes. Her hair was black and long enough for her to sweep it up before sitting on the edge of the overhang lest it was trapped beneath her. The girl dipped her feet into the water, gingerly testing the temperature before letting them enter fully. She stared out to see, her face calm and thoughtful.

Aren watched her intently. She was just the right height. Her build, slim without being skinny, was similarly just right. As the mermaid waited for the girl to settle, she felt her hearts beating harder in her chest with each passing second.

"Hello."

Aren stifled a gasp. She couldn't see anyone else about so the girl speaking was unexpected. Remaining hidden, she waited for whoever the girl was speaking to, to appear.

"I know you're there. Why don't you show yourself?"

The princess scanned around but could see no-one. She frowned. Was someone else hiding? Was the girl insane?

"I can hear you. Why are you hiding in the water? You can come out. There's no-one else here."

Oh... Aren hesitated, the beating of her hearts suddenly, it seemed, stuttering to a halt. She'd kept her movements to a minimum so how could the girl have possibly known she was there?

"I may be blind, but I'm not deaf. Please come out."

Blind! Aren had only ever encountered one other blind person - a mermaid - in her life. It had been decades previously and the mermaid, Astrel, had been injured whilst fighting with her sister. It was a stupid, petty squabble, but a carelessly thrown sea urchin hitting her in the face had condemned her. Her sight had faded slowly, creating a feeling of impending doom as all she knew disappeared to be replaced by, she later confided to the princess, an eternal night. Astrel had later asked Aren to kill her, to end her suffering. Aren refused then, but returned a few weeks later when everyone was asleep. With a heavy heart and an uncharacteristically unsteady hand, she had cut the mermaid's throat as she slept, moving the body to her cave before dismembering it and scattering the parts.

Aren had been doing Astrel a service, one Aren herself would have requested had the tables been turned. She could imagine few things more lonely than staring into an unending darkness.

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