I stare at Tamir, puzzled. Son?
He doesn’t look up at me. Instead he stares at the ground. He’s silent, even as the King rises and comes to inspect Tamir, as if he can’t believe his son could possibly be standing before him. The Queen touches Tamir’s face, her features showing in his face: her soft cheekbones, her eyes, her hair, her full lips, her lean structure. The King stands off to the side of his wife, and I can see the resemblances as well. His strong chin, his nose, his height, his natural muscles, his tail color.
Tamir is the son of a King.
I feel myself back up a bit from him, running into Rave, whose jaw is set.
‘It really is you,’ the King says quietly, his face softening.
Rave huffs. ‘Tamir, why didn’t you tell me?’
Tamir shakes his head, looking crestfallen and defeated. The King and Queen call for the girl out in the hallway. She peeks in, her brown hair surrounding her face. Her dark eyes plant themselves on the King, who waves her over.
Gripping her large leaf, she makes her way over, uncertainty crossing her face. The Queen embraces her and turns her to face Tamir.
‘Meet your older brother.’
‘What?’ She asks, looking at him, confused. ‘What do you mean?’
‘He’s a One-Hundred.’
Her eyes widen at this. ‘Ohh,’ she nods. ‘So you were a human-person.’
Tamir looks up at this, a small smile playing at the corner of his mouth. ‘Yeah,’ he breathes. ‘I was a human-person.’
She nods approvingly. ‘Cool. I’m Jackie. And I suppose you met our parents.’ She smiles jokingly, making Tamir’s figure find a more comfortable position.
‘How long have you been down here?’ His mother asks, looking him over and forgetting all about Rave and I. ‘You’re all scratched up.’
‘They’re scars,’ Tamir says, glancing our way. ‘But I don’t want to talk about it. Not right now.’
The Queen seems sad at this, and she backs away. ‘Very well. But you’ll be staying here with us.’
Tamir begins to protest, getting uncomfortable again. The King holds up a hand. ‘If you don’t, we’ll send out guards to look for you. It’s not safe on the streets with what’s happening.’
Everything I was feeling just moments ago are forgotten as I snap my head to look at the King.
‘What’s happening?’ I demand.
The King looks at me, his eyes piercing. ‘Who are you to ask me—’
‘Nimon,’ the Queen scolds. ‘She’s Tamir’s friend.’ She looks at Tamir for approval of her choice of words. He nods slightly, looking at me.
‘They both are,’ Tamir says quietly.
‘She has the right to know.’
The Queen looks at Tamir in a way that seems as if she’s pleading for him to open up and be happy, to enjoy what he’s walked into.
‘The Unwea Clan has grown exponentially. Their numbers are getting out of hand, and we can barely keep track of them. Half of them are on land, while the other half terrorizes the streets, taking the lives of the innocent, and the powers of the One-Hundreds. The last place to be is outside of the castle. Nothing can harm you in here.’
‘Unless you like, run into a sword hanging loose on a wall,’ Jackie says, looking at her father with a smirk.
‘I do that one time and you can never let me live it down,’ the King smirks back, shaking his head.
Tamir shakes his head. ‘No.’
‘Excuse me?’ The Queen asks politely.
‘Yeah, excuse me?’ Rave echoes. ‘I wouldn’t mind staying in a castle.’ She looks up from her nails at Tamir.
‘I can’t. Cress, Rave, we’re leaving. Now.’
He turns. The Queen gasps, and Tamir stops. His scars glint in the lights above. He sighs.
‘How long have you known…?’ The Queen asks softly, swimming forward as if she’s going to touch him, but she stops herself.
‘Years,’ he says back. ‘I didn’t want this life. So I rid myself of it.’
‘But why…?’ His mother asks, her voice making her sound like she’s close to tears.
Suddenly, I’m aware of the scales on my own back. What does it mean? And why didn’t Tamir want it to be in his life?
‘Because I’m not meant for royalty!’ He bursts, turning around. ‘I’m just a human boy that was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and dealing with the wrong person in the wrong tribe. Everything about me screams that I’m not meant to lead.’
He storms over to the door.
‘Tamir… please…’ his mother pleads, her husband holding her around her shoulders.
He stops at the door. ‘You banished Mariana because of me.’
The door shuts behind him as he disappears into the hallway, leaving us all stunned into silence.
I turn towards the King and Queen, and nod, hoping they take it as a bow. ‘Thank you for your generosity,’ I say quietly, and make my way to the door as well.
I turn to see the Queen swimming after me. Her eyes linger on my back as she stops just beside me.
‘The scales on your back,’ she says, her eyes full of sadness. ‘You’re a princess, Cressa-la.’
My heart stops in my chest, or so I’d like to think. I hear Rave react hysterically to the information. I shake my head.
‘Cressa-la,’ she says, placing her hands on my shoulders. ‘You need to find your parents, whoever they may be.’
I shake my head again, my brain throbbing and spinning all at once. Me? A princess? This can’t be real.
‘Please, Cressa-la,’ she says. ‘You were chosen by the water. If you weren’t, you’d still be on land and you wouldn’t have the scales on your back. You were brought here for a reason. Start with finding your parents.’
‘How—I can’t even think right now,’ I gasp, unable to breathe.
‘Come here,’ she says, pulling me into a hug. She says something I don’t understand, my heart pumping aggressively in my rib cage. What’s happening to me? How am I a princess? And of a mermaid?
My legs begin to itch. The feeling is only a small annoyance at first, and then it grows into pain. I groan, the Queen’s arms still around me, her voice still forming inaudible words. I begin to glow brightly, to the point of blindness—and then it’s over.
Everything is back to normal.
As normal as me standing in a castle with Tamir’s long lost royal fish-parents.
‘Cress—your legs!’ Rave cries, pointing.
I look down.
And there, like the merpeople in the room with me, is a tail, the bright blue scales shimmering in the overhead light.
“You’re a mermaid.”