"Sebastian, I know you're keeping something from me," King Triton said, a delighted smile on his face beneath his flowing white beard.
Sebastian sighed. "Only my incompetence at my latest task, Your Majesty," the small crab answered. "I'm an old crab, a musician and a composer, Sire. Keeping up with young mermaids isn't something I'm cut out for," he admitted.
King Triton sighed. "Ariel is a rather fast swimmer," he allowed. "I think even her friend Flounder has complained about her swimming too fast for him, and he's had the most practice at that."
"Your Majesty, may I ask, what did you think I was hiding?" Sebastian asked. "You were clearly expecting something, if I may be so bold."
King Triton nodded. "Yes," he agreed. "Ariel was behaving oddly this morning," he explained, and smiled again at the sea flower that his daughter had tucked behind his ear as she drifted past him earlier that morning. "While Arista and Aquata just commented on her 'having it bad', Adrianna explained to me that Ariel has fallen in love. I was hoping you would be able to tell me who the lucky merman is."
Sebastian shook his head. "I apologise most humbly, Your Majesty, but I don't know either. My view of Ariel is limited to a flash of red hair and green tail, young Flounder bowling past, and then a stream of bubbles, which I can't keep up with either," he replied.
King Triton sighed, and gazed again at the sea flower. "Perhaps if I were to ask her myself, she might tell me," he mused.
"I know Scuttle said that the humans use it for their hair, but it looks too much like a tiny version of Daddy's trident for that," Ariel mused to herself as she set the fork in place on the candelabra where a spoon and knife were already on display.
Flounder chuckled. "Yeah," he agreed. "I may not have much to do with humans, but I'm fairly sure Scuttle doesn't know half as much as he pretends he does."
Ariel smiled at her best friend. "Now, about this surprise?" she asked. Again. He'd been teasing her with it all morning.
Flounder chuckled. "Yeah, I can't bring it here, too heavy, but you'll love it," Flounder promised with a smile. "I know you will."
Ariel shifted the boulder that hid her treasure trove, letting Flounder go out first before letting it fall back behind her. "I love surprises, so I'm sure I will," she agreed brightly.
"Oh no," Flounder said as he slowly led the way. "This is extra special."
"Then why are we going so slow?" Ariel begged.
Flounder chuckled. He could keep up with Ariel, most of the time, but going that fast didn't come easily to him. Besides which... "To build the tension of course!" he answered happily.
Ariel laughed in answer, appreciating that Flounder had her at his mercy for once, rather than the other way around.
Triton, as King of Atlantica, didn't do much of his own swimming outside of the palace or family outings. He was a perfectly capable swimmer and his tail was still strong, and he enjoyed going for a swim almost as much as his youngest did, but all the same, he didn't do it much. The chariots were more stately, and there was just something about riding a giant seahorse that was a different sort of thrill.
He was riding one such giant seahorse while searching for Ariel, and was fortunate enough to spot her, following Flounder rather than leading the young fish for once, less than an hour into his search for her.
"My, this is a change," he commented as he drew up alongside the pair, a light smile on his face as he looked at his youngest tenderly.
"Flounder said he has a surprise for me," Ariel explained.
"Oh?" Triton asked, and turned to Flounder.
The fish nodded hesitantly. "I found something, and I though Ariel would like it," he explained to his monarch.
Triton chuckled. "Well, if you found it Flounder, then I can be assured that it isn't any where or any thing that will be dangerous," he said fondly. "Between you and Ariel, you're the one with the good sense."
"Daddy!" Ariel objected, even as Flounder chuckled behind a fin.
Triton didn't bother to hide his chuckles. "And speaking of surprises," he continued, "according to your sisters, you've got one for me."
"Huh?" Ariel asked, simultaneously confused and concerned. Her 'surprises' weren't generally the sort her father enjoyed. There'd been the baby killer whale she'd tried to hide in her room, as just one example of unpleasant surprises she had unintentionally launched on her father.
Triton simply chuckled again. "I have it on good authority you're in love, Ariel," he said, cupping one of her cheeks in his large hand. "I've been wondering all morning who the lucky merman is."
Ariel blushed. "Um... well, it... it's..." she stammered.
"Don't think we heard his name," Flounder said quickly. "Ariel really only saw him for a few minutes."
"Ah," Triton said, and nodded in understanding. "I see. Ariel, I hope you know better than to base your feelings on looks alone," he lectured gently. "Even the sea witch Ursula was considered a great beauty in her youth."
Ariel's eyes fell to her tail fin sheepishly. "I'll remember Daddy," she promised softly.
"Good," Triton said, satisfied. "Now Flounder, how much further to this surprise of yours?"
"It's just over there," Flounder answered, and pointed to a small grotto of rocks that both father and daughter were familiar with – and familiar enough with to recognise that there was something different about it.
Ariel quickly swam over, excitement shining in her eyes. "Oh, it's wonderful Flounder!" she exclaimed as she swam in rapid circles around the new addition to the rocky area.
King Triton had a different opinion. "Flounder, that wouldn't be a statue of the character my Ariel is smitten with, would it?" he asked lowly.
"Sire, it's Ariel," Flounder answered cautiously, while at the same time with just those few words giving the full and truthful answer. An unspoken "what did you really expect?" passing between them.
"I was afraid of that," Triton said with a sigh, and quickly tied up the giant seahorse before swimming over to his baby girl.
"Isn't he handsome?" Ariel asked absently, leaning on the stone shoulder of the statue and gazing up into its face.
"Setting aside that he's a human, I suppose he is, somewhat," Triton answered his daughter.
Ariel moved away from the statue as if it had stung her when she heard her father's voice. For a moment, she'd forgotten he was there just because she was so happy with Flounder's surprise.
"Uh, um..." she stammered, "I-"
"No, Ariel," Triton said, cutting his daughter off before she could come up with a tale, excuse, or outright lie. She'd yet to lie to him, mostly just not saying anything and keeping secrets from him until now, but Triton didn't want to tempt his daughter into lying to him. "No. I can accept that you find this human handsome. I managed to adjust to your unaccountable and unreasonable fascination with things that are perfectly capable of doing you a great deal of harm, however much doing so sped up the process of my hair turning white."
Ariel had the grace to bow her head in sheepish apology.
Triton sighed. "Ariel, I love you. I love you so much and you seem to go out of your way to do things that make me worry about you. I know we had the discussion about you wanting to learn about humans, and I know that nothing I said stopped you, but -"
"Uh, Your Majesty?" Flounder cut in.
"Yes, Flounder?" Triton asked.
The young fish swallowed nervously. "Uh, well, just about any time we got close enough to humans to just watch them – without being seen ourselves!" he hastened to add. "Well, we just about always saw this guy, and... I'm no judge of human character, but... this one is at least not evil. And, uh, since they made a statue of him while he's still alive, he couldn't be just anybody, right?"
Triton sighed in acceptance of the fish's input. "Thank you, Flounder," he said tiredly. "Ariel, I want you to promise me something."
"What is it Daddy?"
"I want you to take Sebastian or myself with you when you decide to try and learn more about this human," King Triton answered. "And I want you to know more about this human than just that he is handsome and not evil before I give my permission for you to actually approach him."
Ariel's whole face lit up. "Really Daddy? Oh thank you! Thank you!" she exclaimed, and wrapped her arms around her father, hugging him tightly in her joy and gratitude.
Triton sighed. It seemed that his youngest daughter was going to be the first one to leave him, if she really was going to fall in love with this human.
"Calm down dear," he begged gently. "Now, what can you tell me about him already?"
"His name is Eric, and he's a prince, and the human who gave him this statue said that he'd ..." Ariel started, delighted to wax on about the things she'd seen the other night when she finally got a clear view of this human, and finally found out his name.
Triton, Ariel, Flounder and Sebastian surfaced near the coast, but in a place where there were a good number of rocks to hide behind should it be necessary.
"There he is Daddy," Ariel said in a whisper, and pointed to where a human was leaning against a cliff, and playing a flute to the shaggy animal that accompanied him.
"Well, he has some musical talent," Triton allowed.
Then the animal turned in their direction sharply and started barking.
"Max!" the human scolded, cutting off the music sharply. "Quiet down! You'll upset everybody in the palace with your barking," he said, and though the words were harsh, the tone and expression were fond.
The animal kept barking though, and even started wading out into the water.
"What's gotten into you?" the human asked, and then looked up at where the animal was aiming for – and spotted Ariel and Triton. "Oh," he said, and blinked in surprise at seeing a couple of people almost up to their shoulders in the water not far away. "Please don't mind this knuckle-head," he said, dragging the animal out of the water with a sort of fond patience. "He's harmless."
"I'm not sure I believe that," Triton said, his suspicion of anything from the human world seeping into his voice as he eyed the animal.
"Oh Daddy," Ariel said, imploring him to put aside his prejudice.
"Have we... met before Miss?" the human asked tentatively.
"That's one way of putting it," Triton said as he eye-balled his daughter, having gotten the whole story of how she'd rescued the human from drowning out of Flounder, while Ariel nodded shyly.
"Sir?" the human asked, confused.
Triton frowned at the human. "My daughter, despite my efforts to keep her safe, saved your life," he informed the much younger male, and crossed his arms over his chest.
The human's eyes lit up and a smile spread across his face. "I knew it! You're the girl I've been looking for!"
"You've been looking for me?" Ariel asked, just as eagerly.
King Triton coughed pointedly.
"Daddy, please," Ariel said, begging him to stop being so critical of this human. She wanted to meet him properly, to know him, to be part of his world.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I just realised I hadn't introduced myself," the human said. "I'm Prince Eric, and that's my palace up there," he added with a gesture to the towering spires that rose above the cliffs. "Might I have the honour of knowing who saved my life?" he asked.
"Ariel, youngest princess of Atlantica," Ariel answered. "And this is my father, King Triton."
Eric's eyes went wide. "Sire," he said, and bowed as low as he could while standing knee-deep in water. "It is an honour to meet you."
"See Daddy?" Ariel said. "I told you this human wasn't evil."
Triton sighed and unhappy, slightly frustrated sigh. "Very well," he allowed. "I want you back here by evening, and Sebastian will accompany you as a chaperone," he said firmly, then lifted his trident from where he had hidden it below the surface of the water, and pointed it at his daughter's tail. "Prince Eric, I am trusting you with my youngest daughter's safety. Do not make me regret it," he warned.
Ariel launched herself at her father happily, feet kicking up out of the water behind her as a dress the colour of the ocean itself wrapped around her body.
"Oh thank you Daddy! Sebastian, come on!" Ariel said, and quickly scooped up the crab before she did her best to use her new legs to move towards Eric.
Eric had to catch her pretty quickly though, since she wasn't at all used to walking, let alone running. "I promise, King Triton, I won't let anything hurt Princess Ariel while she's in my care," he swore solemnly, his arms around Ariel's waist to hold her steady.
Triton nodded solemnly, and dived below the water once more. When he returned, hours later, it was to learn that his daughter and this human prince were even more enamoured of each other than they had been when he'd left them.
Well, at least he'd have grandchildren to look forward to.