Life

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end,"-Seneca

Warmth: It was the feeling of gentle warmth that caused him to stir. The warmth was soon joined by a bright light that shown through his closed eyes. He opened them and quickly blinked them shut. He opened them again, slowly this time, so as to allow him to adjust to the brightness.

Another feeling came upon him as his vision was slowly coming into focus: weightlessness. The boy felt as light as a feather in a morning breeze. It was the most relaxing feeling he had ever experienced. Feeling completely at peace, he smiled happily.

His eyes adapted themselves to the light and soon he was able to see exactly where he was. What he saw made him panic.

I'M DROWNING! The boy thought as he realized that he was underwater. He struggled as he tried to fight his way to the surface but he had lost all sense of direction. Up and down, left and right, it all became confused for him. He opened his mouth and screamed in despair.

Anger filled his mind as the insult of being run through with a cutlass was compounded by being trapped underwater. Being stabbed was one thing but drowning on top of it was adding insult to injury.

Then a funny thing happened to him: no water had entered his mouth when he screamed. Even though he knew he had gasped as if trying to breathe, no water flooded his lungs. He had no idea how deep he was or how long he had been under but it had to be fairly deep if he couldn't tell which direction was which and when he had taken his last breath. But somehow he was alive.

Involuntarily, he took a breath and found not water but air. He had just taken in air!

He was breathing underwater!

There was more to it however; he was dry. Even though he was totally immersed in water, he felt dry. His hands explored his clothing, his hair, and his face. All were as dry as if he were on land.

I must be dreaming, he surmised and then looked down to his midriff. His coat had a tear in it. Slowly his fingers touched the opening and reached in. His shirt was torn too. He tore open his coat and shirt in a flurry of movements. He took a deep breath, forgetting that he was underwater, and looked down at his bare torso. Where the wound from the blade should have been was only skin, skin that was somewhat red and bore the faint blemish of a wound.

He was healed, or rather healing.

"I must be dead," he said and then added, "Or this is a bloody dream."

Wait! I can talk?

"Am I in…in…Heaven?"

Could he actually be in Heaven? He had been stabbed by a pirate's blade and fallen overboard. By rights he should be dead and as there were no burning coals, sulphur, or demons, he couldn't be in Hell. So if it wasn't Hell then maybe he was in Heaven. But would Heaven take a pickpocketing street urchin who hadn't been inside a church in ages? Maybe he was in purgatory. Maybe Slightly was right about the afterlife.

He slowly rotated in the water and saw that there was someone swimming toward him. The person swam into view, upside down.

The figure's appearance caused him to gasp in shock.

"I must be dreaming," he said to himself as the figure came to a stop a few feet from him. "I'm asleep in my bed at the academy and everything has just been some insane dream."

His babbling caused the figure to cock its head at him quizzically. It then smiled.

"You're just another strange thing from my dream, just like the crocs, roots, and flying beasties."

"I am not a strange thing," the figure replied.

"Oh what now," he moaned.

As soon as he said those three words the true identity of the figure became apparent: The upper half was a woman, a young woman, a young naked woman while the lower half was a fish tail. It was a mermaid. He stared at the figure and blushed as she noticed his gaze lingering on her upper body.

"Typical human," she said.

Her words snapped him out of his reverie.

"Huh? Eh, why are you upside down?" he said slowly. It was a stupid thing to ask but given the situation, it was the only thing he could think to say.

"I am not upside down," she answered with an amused laugh, "You are."

He looked around and then peered at what he decided was down. There, about thirty feet from him was the sandy bottom of the bay.

"Oh," he said quietly, a perplexed look on his face.

"You must be confused."

"That's putting it lightly," he said nervously and then asked the question that was most on his mind: "Where the hell am I?"

"Underwater," she answered and added, "You're in the waters off of the bay that you fell into."

"So this isn't Heaven, or Hell, or Purgatory?"

"This is the land that the Kaw call Neverland in your language."

"Language?" he said as it dawned on him that he could understand what she was saying, "Wait! How do you know English?"

"We are like the fairies, thoughts have no language, and therefore we can 'talk' with your kind."

"Oh…that explains it," he said, "So this isn't a dream then?"

"No."

"And I'm not dead? I was stabbed and fell off of a boat…I'm supposed to be dead!"

"By rights yes," she said, "But we have revived you by our own means…and by your heart."

We? There's more like her? He thought, By 'our own means?' What is that supposed to mean? Magic? And by my heart? This isn't making any sense!

As if she could read his mind, she said, "You are confused…but all will be answered shortly Fox."

Fox? How does she know my name?

"You called me Fox," he said dumbfounded. Had he said his nickname while he was seemingly dead?

"Yes, I called you Fox…just as your friends did."

"Oh," he said quietly, "Who-who are you?"

She smile kindly and said, "I am Nerissa."

"Nerissa," he repeated unconsciously.

She smiled at him and then beckoned him to follow.

Was he supposed to swim? He reached his arms forward and attempted to swim which was something he was admittedly not good at. He struggled to get closer to her but he couldn't keep up with her.

Nerissa turned, saw him floundering, and swam to him. She offered him her hand. He hesitated and then slipped his hand into hers.

Immediately he felt what he could only describe as an electric tingle as their hands touched. It startled him but was a not unpleasant feeling. He smiled absentmindedly.

She smiled back at him and led him away.

"Where are we going?" Fox asked his guide.

"I am taking you too the council…and the pearl."

"The council and the pearl?" he repeated, What does a pearl have to do with this?

Fox was taken to an open area that sat on a plateau that he guessed was perhaps 100 to 150 feet below the surface of the waters. It seemed that the mermaids, or rather merfolk, lived close enough to the surface so as to see what was going on in the world above. Maybe the Indians, Pirates, and flying beasties knew about them. They were just many of the wonders of this new land.

Atop the plateau was a gathering of merfolk who encircled a small rise that sat in the center, atop which rested a giant clam shell. Nerissa gently led him to the center of the plateau. Fox could feel their eyes on him; no doubt they were intrigued by the strange newcomer who was equally intrigued with them.

The pair came to a stop before the shell which was flanked on each side by formidable looking mermen.

"Is the pearl in there?" Fox whispered.

Nerissa whispered back her answer, "Yes."

Momentarily an older merman appeared, accompanied by an older mermaid. The two swam down from above and stopped in-between the pair and the shell.

Nerissa bowed as did the rest of the gathering. Fox too bowed, as he knew that he too was expected to show reverence to the couple.

The couple, a bearded merman and a matronly mermaid, regarded the newcomer with stone-like and interested expressions respectfully.

"Greeting your Majesties," Nerissa said.

"This is the newcomer then?" asked the mermaid.

"Yes your Majesty," Nerissa said raising her hand gently to Fox, "His name is Fox."

"Fox," the mermaid said appraisingly.

Nerissa turned to Fox and spoke, "These are their Majesty's, King Nereus and Queen Iolanthe."

"Your Majestysnessess," Fox said and then regretted messing up their titles.

The queen smiled and then addressed Nerissa, "Did you tell him how he came to be here?"

"He knows that he was stabbed and fell into the water your Majesty, but I have not told him exactly how he has," she paused a moment before continuing, "Survived underwater."

"I am sure you have many questions Fox," said the Queen.

"That's an understatement," he said under his breath and then said aloud, "I just want to know what is happening."

He hoped that his words didn't come off as insulting to the royal pair.

The Queen smiled kindly, but it was the King who spoke.

"You are a stranger to this world," came the deep voice of the King, "As are all who call this place home."

'As are all who call this place home'? Fox let the statement sink in. Was it possible that the merfolk had come here just as he had?

Sensing his confusion the Queen said, "My dear boy, our kind and yours share the same home."

"You mean…you come from Earth?"

"What you call Earth, we call Thalassa. It is our place of origin."

"You found the glowing ball too?"

The King and Queen raised their eyebrows at one another but it was Nerissa who answered his question.

"We are aware of the orb that brought the pirates and the Kaw here as well as you and your friends, but we were brought here by a falling ball of fire from the sky."

"Our kind has been here many generations," said the King, "This is our home now, as it is yours…if you wish it."

If you wish it? Those words confused him further; did it mean that he had a choice in the matter?

"I don't understand," Fox said with a tone of frustration in his voice.

Sensing his frustration, Nerissa gently put her hand on his forearm. Looking into his eyes she said, "Fox there is a reason that you are here with us."

Fox gave her a look that told her he had no idea what she meant.

The King looked at the puzzled boy and spoke: "The pearl will show you."

With those words the regal merman waved his hand toward the pearl. As if by magic the shell slowly opened to reveal a soft, white light.

Fox's eyes opened wide as he glimpse the iridescent orb. The brilliance and beauty of it made him think back to the strange, glowing orb that had sucked he and his friends into this strange new world. As a matter of fact it looked the same.

"Behold, the Pearl," came the majestic voice of the merfolk king.

Fox felt soft fingers reach out to take his hand. He turned and saw Nerissa smiling at him. He relaxed his fingers and allowed her hand to slip into his. The electric tingle that he had felt when their hands joined earlier returned causing him to blush. He hoped she didn't notice.

"Look Fox, look into the Pearl and see what it has to show you."

Fox peered in closer to the sphere. At first he saw nothing but then an image appeared inside of the pearl. It looked like a ship…a Pirate Ship!

"It's the ship I was on!" he said as he pulled away from the orb, "How? How…how is it in," he pointed a finger at the pearl, "There?"

"Like many of the things in this world, the Pearl holds a quality all its own," said Queen Iolanthe, "A quality that both our kinds call magic."

"Magic," Fox whispered. Well that makes sense, he thought, spooky roots, enormous crocs, flying beasties, why not magic?

"The Pearl can show us things Fox," said Nerissa who still held his hand, "It has the power to reach out and show us what is happening away from us."

"It can seek out the feelings of others both here and on land," said the Queen.

"Can it read minds?" Fox asked.

"No. The Pearl can see into a person's heart," said King Nerius, "It is drawn to both the good and evil inside those who experience great amounts of both. We use it to see the intent of others; of the Kaw, the Pirates, and the fairies."

"Their emotions call out to the Pearl and it in turn shows us what it sees," said Queen Iolanthe.

"Fox, the merfolk have seen the conflict that those on dry land sew. Their fighting affects more than they know," said Nerissa, "The violence they cause even affects us."

Fox saw that the mermaid was looking him right in the eye. He was an effect of the violence of which she spoke.

"I'm sorry for all of this," he said apologetically as the realization that he was a result of the conflict, "I should go." But go where?

"Fox," said the Queen in a soft voice, "Before you decide to leave us…perhaps you should see what the Pearl has to show you…then you can make up your mind."

He looked from the Queen to the King, then to the ranks and files of merfolk, who watched him with curiosity, and finally to Nerissa. She smiled her now familiar, gentle smile, and nodded to him in encouragement.

He nodded back to her, unconsciously gave her hand a squeeze, and looked into the Pearl.

The First Vision-

He saw Jimmy, dressed in a fine robe, gazing out to the water, a melancholy look impressed on his face. Jimmy rarely showed any emotion but here it was as plain as day to Fox that his mentor was sadden by what had befell him.

There was more than sadness on Jimmy's face however. Regret. Fox could see regret written all over his face. He knew that Jimmy had regretted his decision to stay aboard the pirate ship. The loss of one of his boys was too great a price for Jimmy…or was it.

Fox looked closer and saw that the sadness had vanished from Jimmy's face. Where the sadness had been was now a predatory look of opportunity.

Jimmy had something up his sleeve. Fox knew that look, knew it well. Jimmy, what are you planning?

Then Jimmy's façade shifted from opportunity back to regret. Somehow Fox knew what Jimmy felt. He wishes I could be there.

Knowing that Jimmy wished he was there made Fox happy. Despite Jimmy's questionable plans, Fox knew that his mentor still cared for his boys, and always would.

"He really cared about me," he said quietly, "He really cares about all of us."

"Yes he does Fox," said Nerissa, "There is still good in his soul."

Fox smiled at this and immediately had his attention drawn back to the Pearl.

Inside its iridescent gleam he watched Jimmy and the pirate ship disappear in a flash of light. Where Jimmy and the ship once had been was a figure that stood under the umbrella of the white forest; it was Slightly.

The Second Vision-

Fox watched as Slightly regarded his mates blankly. Slightly was always one to keep his emotions to himself. Who knows what goes on inside his head?

Fox watched as his rotund friend changed his blank expression to a thoughtful one. Then he heard Slightly speak.

"A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly, and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother."

The words sounded strange to Fox, as if Slightly had spoken inside an empty room, his words were somewhat muffled. On a second thought, the words sounded like he had heard them with his own ears stuffed with cotton or when he had covered his head with his pillow to muffle out Curly's snoring.

Slightly's words were joined by a younger voice: Twins.

"What did you say Slightly?"

"Just something from Proverbs…18.24."

Fox knew that Slightly was the most religious of the crew. His friend was a clergyman's son and no doubt he had an idea that their being here had something to do with a higher power.

But there was something more to it than that: It was the particular verse that Slightly had quoted, mainly the second half of it.

"And there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother." Fox whispered.

Fox gazed into the Pearl and watched as his friend rejoined his fellow crew members and sit down alongside them. Slightly was going to stick with his friends and if he did then Fox knew that the rest of them would.

Fox smiled and then watched the image disappear only be replaced by another.

The Third Vision-

Nibs.

Nibs sat on a fallen tree and appeared lost in his thoughts. The power of the Pearl allowed Fox a glimpse into his friend's mind.

What Fox found there was uncertainty. He knew that every single one of the crew was uncertain about their predicament; he felt he could make a fair argument that he was feeling more uncertainty than the others, but the type of uncertainty in Nibs wasn't what he expected.

Instead of Nibs worrying about where they were and how they were going to leave he was worrying about the state of the crew. They were beginning to fall apart and Nibs was trying to decide which way he would go. Nibs was looking closely from one boy to the other and now he was joining Curly. The reason for this was obvious. He was the reason.

"Oh no," Fox said quietly, "They're falling apart because of me!"

Fox knew it was true.

He looked around at the assembly of merfolk and then at Nerissa who still held his hand.

He wanted to say something else but no words came out. Nerissa then nodded toward the Pearl. He followed her gesture and saw that Nibs had faded away to be replaced by the small figure of Twins.

The Fourth Vision-

Twins sat alone with a look of melancholy on his worn-out face. Fox felt an enormous sense of sadness radiating from the crew's youngest. At first he thought it was because of them being trapped in this strange world but then the Pearl showed him Twins' thoughts: Twins missed him.

Fox was surprised by this. He figured that his 'death' would have weighed heavily on his friends but this was different. Twins was remembering the death of his twin brother Corin and how it was Fox who had been the first one to talk to him about his brother's death. It was Fox who had gotten Colin to open up.

The Pearl latched onto the memory of that day which played out in Twins' mind and Fox felt how much it meant to his littlest brother. He watched the two of them as Twins latched onto him and they hugged. Fox smiled and felt his eyes well up with tears as he remembered that sad, yet heartfelt time.

"What does this all mean?" Fox asked as he looked toward the royal pair.

"Fox," said the King, "It means that your friends miss you."

"They are all hurting now that you've gone," added the Queen, "What you see in the Pearl is what is in the hearts of your friends."

"It's the magic isn't it?" Fox asked, "The Pearl's magic is doing this."

"Yes Fox," said the Queen, "That magic is why you are here and why you may stay here…if you so choose."

There was another hint: Am I being given a choice? The King said something about this being my home if I wish it.

Before he could speak he heard Nerissa's voice, "The Pearl has more to show you."

He turned his attention back to the Pearl and saw another friend. It was Tootles.

The Fifth Vision-

The slight lad was a raging torrent of emotions. Fox could see that his friend was battling with himself between going with Peter and adhering to Peter's words that he should stay back with the others. Tootles was punishing himself for what he believed was cowardice; his sense of loyalty being trumped by it.

Fox watched as Tootles' mind played out scenes of his life in a workhouse and how he was ostracized by the boys there. Tootles had a sad life and found solace in the acceptance given to him by Jimmy and the crew. But still the boy felt like he wasn't good enough. Tootles needed to do something good for his friends. He wanted so badly to be liked and accepted so he sought to prove his loyalty to the lads by keeping them together in light of the loss of Fox.

"Poor Tootles," Fox Thought, "You're no coward. You're as brave as the rest of us and we never doubted your loyalty. You should have told us about your feelings."

Fox unconsciously reached out to Tootles' image but before he touched the Pearl it flashed again, causing him to quickly pull his hand back.

Where Tootles had been stood the brooding figure of Curly.

The Sixth Vision-

Fox sensed the miasma of emotions that raged inside of the curly blonde's mind. His friend was a wreck, an absolute wreck.

Curly's feelings ran the gamut from sorrow to anger and everything in between. He blamed Peter for his death and was torn up inside by it. Fox understood immediately why Curly was feeling so conflicted. Curly was jealous.

Fox never let it on to his friends, but he was very observant of the people around him. He was able to look at a person and paint an accurate picture of what was going on in their minds. He was so secretive of this trait that no one, not even Peter, would have ever guessed that he could read people as well as he did. The only person whom he ever suspected could possibly know of his talent was Jimmy, but Jimmy was so enigmatic that one could never tell what went on inside his head, not even Fox.

Right now Curly was divided between feelings: wanting to step up and take charge of the crew and hating Peter. There was more to it than these however…Curly was jealous of Peter. Fox knew this already however. He had long suspected Curly of feeling inadequate next to Peter but what Fox didn't know, despite his keen insight into his friends, was something so shocking to him that he'd have never suspected it: Curly looked up to Peter.

It was strange that Curly felt this way. His apparent loathing of Peter was overshadowed by his respect for him. Curly wanted to be like Peter, to be liked and respected by the crew, and this was a fact that he had kept hidden from all of the boys. Fox doubted that even Jimmy suspected that Curly viewed Peter as a role-model.

And on top of that, Curly couldn't bring himself to hate Peter.

Even though he had rallied against Peter and hurled accusations against him, Curly just could not bring himself to hate him. Peter was his friend and surrogate brother and there was no way he could stay angry at him because Curly knew that no matter what, Fox would have followed Peter.

He then understood that ultimately he himself was to blame for his own death. Had he not followed Peter to the ship he would still be with his friends. He looked down and sighed then looked back up to see a different scene. Peter.

The Seventh Vision-

The merfolk looked on as Fox watched the next and final vision that the Pearl would show him; the King and Queen could see that the images in the shining sphere were having a tremendous effect on the human boy. They saw sadness, happiness, remorse, and hope which played out on his face and all the while Nerissa stood by his side, their hands entertwined. She watched as Fox gritted his teeth as the image of another of his friends appeared…

Peter was sitting down, enshrouded in darkness. He was well away from the others and appeared to be in a daze. Fox saw that his friend had a blank, empty stare on his face; he knew why.

It's everything, He thought and this was the truth. Peter was not only feeling the weight of Fox's death but also was dealing with the bulk of the crew's accusations of him being responsible for their predicament. The headstrong boy was filled with guilt over taking his mates on an unsanctioned job that resulted in them being trapped in a far off place in which they were stranded and had lost one of their own.

A pang of sympathy rose in Fox as he could only watch as his best friend sank deeper into the depths of misery. Peter was completely alone and Fox could do nothing but watch in sorrow.

There were bright moments of happiness that emanated from Peter however. Fox sensed that Peter was remembering the day they had met which was the same day that he had gotten his nickname. He smiled at the memory of Jimmy saying that he was as sly as a fox and Peter's response, "You don't look like a fox."

He laughed at the memory without meaning to. The King and Queen smiled and in amusement and Nerissa gave a small laugh.

The boy looked away from Peter's image to Nerissa. He regarded the young mermaid; she's beautiful, more beautiful than Brenda Fitzwilliam.

Nerissa looked into Fox's eyes and saw something there that she hadn't noticed before: a twinkle. It was a twinkle of mischief…and something else. As soon as she saw it was gone as the human boy cast his gaze back upon the Pearl.

More feelings and images came from Peter: The introduction of Curly which had a dark shadow cast over it due to the blonde's painful introduction to their small family. He then saw Nibs, son of immigrants who had been marginalized by both their status as foreigners and by their skin color. There was the heart-wrenching memory of the Twins and how Corin had died of cholera leaving his twin brother as the only living member of his family left.

Tears welled up in Fox's eyes at the painful recollection but these quickly went away as he remembered how he had found Colin and comforted him in the wake of Corin's passing. He beamed happily as an image of Colin throwing himself into his arms and how he had hugged the younger boy and assured him that the two of them, Jimmy, and the crew were family. It was, in his opinion, one of his finer moments.

Now Fox saw in Peter's mind the cherubic Slightly, master pickpocket and vicar's son, who had joined them after finding Fox. The roly-poly lad had been aware of the crew watching him even though they had done their best to keep out of sight. Slightly was just good that way. Tootles then joined the parade of images and Fox knew that Peter had at least one ally left. Tootles was the most loyal off all the boys and would be more than willing to follow Peter anywhere, even if it meant certain death.

Further feelings and memories came from Peter to Fox via the Pearl: Fox telling Peter about his sailor brother, the crew giving the McKenna gang a 'surprise'. That one made Fox laugh until he was almost in tears.

The assembly of merfolk looked to one another as they watched their human guest erupt in uncontrolled laughter but it wasn't to last. Soon the boy fell into silence.

The sadness and misery that Peter felt was back, with a vengeance. The younger boy sat on a fallen tree and wept. By the power of the Pearl, a power that Fox barely understood, the emotions of the various crew members was gathered, amplified, and projected onto him. Somehow the magical object was able to see things from far away and make known both what was happening and what was being felt to the viewer. Fox could hardly fathom it but what he know knew was an intense sorrow unlike any he had ever felt.

Peter's agony over Fox's death was driving him mad. Fox knew that his friend had taken on the responsibility for his death and that made the older boy want to comfort his friend and reassure him that it wasn't his fault at all. He wanted to tell him that he had gone after him on his own accord and that it was by his own actions, and no one else's, that he had been killed.

Fox's last thought before he had lost unconsciousness after his plunge from the pirate ship was that Peter shouldn't blame himself but now there was Peter doing just that.

Please Peter, don't blame yourself, it wasn't your fault! It was mine! All mine!

He looked toward the royals and said pleadingly, "Please tell him that it wasn't his fault! He shouldn't hurt himself like this, he shouldn't blame himself!"

He felt Nerissa's hand tighten on his, "Fox look! Look!"

He looked back to the Pearl and saw that Peter was now gazing up into the night sky, all traces of sadness vanished.

He looked upon his friend in amazement at the sudden change in emotion. Then Peter's voice called out into the night.

"I'm going to make up for everything…Fox wherever you are I'm going to make up for everything. I'm going to set things right for you and the lads. I don't know how I'm going to do it but I'll make it happen…I love you Fox."

The words had a profound impact on Fox, so profound that he smiled absentmindedly and squeezed Nerissa's hand. It wasn't just Peter's words, including the brotherly love that went with them, that made him react happily. It was the happiness that resounded from Peter. Happiness coupled with the love for his crewmates, mixed with a sense of adventure, complimented with a measure of pluckiness, a bounty of bravery, a shake of spiritedness, and topped with a dash of daring. In essence, it was the Peter that he knew: The fearless leader of the band who was always up for anything no matter how dangerous. It was his best friend and brother resolving to make things right.

"I wish I could help him," Fox said as the vision in the Pearl faded into a misty iridescence.

Nerissa watched as Fox lowered his head. She sensed that the visions from the Pearl had deeply affected him but left him feeling powerless to help his friends. This was confirmed a moment later.

"I wish I could help them all," Fox lamented, "Why did it have to end up like this?"

Nerissa reached out her free hand to the hand that she held.

"Fox," she said softly, "You have a choice to make…a chance."

Fox, surprised at the words, looked up. The eyes of the gathered merfolk were on him. He looked from Nerissa to the others, then to the royals.

The queen smiled warmly at him while the King's face remained unreadable.

"What-what do you mean?" All of this choice and 'if you wish it' stuff makes no sense!

"Fox you are alive because of the magic of the Pearl."

"But…but why?" Why am I still alive AND underwater? I was dead by rights!

The King spoke in his brass-voice, "As we have said, the Pearl has the power to see the intent in others. Strong emotions are captured by it. It sees both the good and evil in the hearts of those it finds."

The Queen added, "My dear boy, the feelings of your friends toward you have called out to the Pearl and it has answered. By its magic it has been able to keep you alive…despite your kind being unable to live in the water."

"So their…feelings made the Pearl keep me alive?"

"Yes," both royals answered simultaneously.

"Why would it do that?"

Nerissa answered, "The Pearl is infused with magic Fox, as are many things of this world. It's power has found the goodness inside of you and has given you life…but only if you want it."

"Goodness in me? But I'm a pickpocket!"

"That does not matter," said the Queen, "The feelings you and your friends share for one another has shown the Pearl that you deserve a chance to live and so it has healed you and allowed you to live where your kind cannot."

"But," said the King with a momentary pause, "This is all up to you; whether you stay here with us or move on is your decision."

"My decision?" Fox said, excitement in his voice, "You mean I can live and go home? Back to London with my mates?"

Nerissa and the two royals looked at him sadly, as did the council and the rest of the assembly of merfolk.

"It is not in our power or the Pearl's for you and your friends to return to your home," said the King, "We ourselves are trapped here, but this is our home and can be yours…if you so choose."

Confusion clouded Fox's face.

Nerissa looked at him and said, "The Pearl is a conscious being Fox. It has seen the good in you and wishes to see you live. That is why you are here with us, why you are able to live underwater."

"The Pearl will keep you alive," said the Queen, "Or, if you want, you can be allowed to leave this world."

"Leave this world?" Fox said in puzzlement, "I thought you said I couldn't…" then he stopped as it dawned on him that leaving this world had nothing to do with him going back to London, "Oh…oh…I see…right…that."

He didn't want to die but then again he didn't know how to live as a merperson. But the only alternative was to die, or was it?

Before he could voice his concerns, the King spoke.

"The Pearl has many powers Fox, but one it does not have is make it so you can live fully on land again. It can keep you alive here fully."

"So I'll have to live underwater," Fox said with a twinge of anger in his voice, "Or die?"

Nerissa spoke up, in an effort to shield Fox from incurring the anger of the King with his indignant words.

"Fox, you're being alive here is not without a purpose."

"What purpose!" he said as the bottled up emotions inside him began to vent, "I can't go home…ever, I can't live on land, and I have to live here away from my friends."

Nerissa winced at the tone of his voice. She felt sympathy for him but was certain that he was alive for a reason.

"Dear boy," said the Queen in her matronly voice, "The Pearl is not without conscience. It is a living being with powers. It has helped us because we have been proven worthy by our kindness. It sensed the feelings in us when we found it, and it has allowed us to see the intent of others in this world. And so it has looked into you and your friends and has found a strong sense of brotherhood that binds you together."

The King spoke next, "Because of this overwhelming bond between you and your friends, the Pearl has exerted its powers upon you to keep you alive."

"You now have a choice," said the Queen, "You may not be able to return to your old life but you can have another."

"The choice is entirely yours," said the King, "You may choose to live here at the price of living on land for all but the shortest of times, or your soul could be set free."

Fox was confused. He was being given a choice but there was something in the King word's that had gotten his attention: You may choose to live here at the price of living on land for all but the shortest of times.

Nerissa spoke and washed away his confusion, "Fox, I believe that the Pearl may have the power to let you go onto land for at least some time."

"She is right," said the Queen, "The King and I understand the nature and power of the Pearl while our daughter only grasps some of its abilities."

Our daughter? Fox thought and shot a look toward Nerissa. The young mermaid didn't notice his gaze as she was intrigued by what the Queen said.

"The Pearl has a link with us," said the King, "When the Queen and I discovered it; it allowed us to learn from it and know its ways. It has found you to be a person with a good heart and is offering to let you live."

"I can live here, but go on land?" Fox asked with hope in his voice.

"The Pearl was able to heal you but even its powers are not great enough to sustain your life on land," said the Queen.

"But I could go onto land…right?" he asked cautiously.

"Yes, but only for short periods of time," said the King.

"How long exactly?"

"Perhaps an hour," said the Queen, "Maybe a little more, but you would have to be near water."

"At a time?"

"Yes, but you would have to return to the water and be near the Pearl for a time before you could go back," answered the King.

"Fox, are you considering staying with us?" asked Nerissa.

Fox detected a hint of hope in her voice. Did she want him to stay?

"If I could go on land," he paused and considered the possibilities with excitement, "then I could be with my friends! I could help them!"

The royals knew from Fox's reaction that this was why the Pearl had kept him alive and offer him the choice between living with them and moving to the afterlife. The boy was ready to make his choice.

Fox looked at the assembly of merfolk and then back to the Pearl. He had now come to the point where he would have to make his choice; the afterlife or his friends.

Nerissa looked expectantly at the human boy. Although he was human and completely out of place in her world she found herself being drawn to him, perhaps he felt the same way toward her.

Fox considered the possibilities of staying with the merfolk: he would have to live most of his life underwater as a stranger in a strange land without the company of his own kind. He would have to learn the ways of the sea and could only go onto land for only the briefest of times. However by choosing this life he would be able to find his friends and do his best to help them. That alone was more than enough reason to stay.

I could be with the lads again!

That one reason was all it took for him to make his decision.

The Royals watched as the human boy looked toward them with a look of happiness on his face while their daughter smiled at him with affection on hers.

"I've made my decision…"

A Short Time Later-

Sunlight danced across the looming closeness of the surface of the bay, the boy swam toward it, reached out, and touched his new life.

"What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others,"-Pericles

Author's Note:

Shortly after I began writing this story I made friends with a member of the same course that I am studying in. He looks kind of like a mid-twenties version of Fox, minus the period clothes and accent. Accordingly, I have nicknamed him Fox which he likes better than every other nickname he has been given…Funny how things work out.