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Two Kingdoms

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Being the son of King Theomedes of the Sea, not to mention the heir to the throne, did not really leave room for extracurricular activities. Especially not trips to the surface.

Damen,” Nikandros, his most trusted friend, hissed at him as they continued to swim. “I mean, Your Highness! You know we’re not supposed to –“

“Damen is fine, Nikandros,” he replied smoothly, swishing his golden tail to propel himself upwards. “And relax. I have done this before.”

“I am to bring you back to the palace immediately,” Nikandros insisted as he followed after him. “If your father knew about this…”

“He doesn’t need to find out,” Damen replied as he slowed his movements, gripping his friend’s strong arm in sudden excitement, shushing him. “There are some things he and my brother will never understand. But you – Nikandros, I have found someone.”

Nikandros, startled by the sudden change of subject, narrowed his dark eyes suspiciously. “Found someone?” He echoed.

“Not just someone. Perhaps the one. It’s…” Damen faltered. “It’s complicated.”

Nikandros began to feel prickles of concern. “Not someone on the surface?” He eventually dared to ask.

Damen didn’t answer for a moment. They were tantalisingly close to the aforementioned surface; the thin veil between their world and the humans’, about to be broken. Eventually, he turned his head away from his friend’s, his broad shoulders tense. “I know it sounds mad.”

“It is mad, Damen,” Nikandros said, an edge to his voice. “How do you expect that to ever work? How are you supposed to woo a person who walks on the land?”

“I have seen him five times now,” Damen’s words were soft. “Trust me when I say he is exquisite.”

Nikandros bit the inside of his cheek. “And blond too, no doubt.”

“I know you’re mocking me,” Damen replied, “but I won’t rise to it. When you see him you’ll understand. When you hear him, you’ll -”

“You have spoken to this man?” Nikandros asked incredulously. “You have revealed yourself to a human boy?”

“He is not a boy,” Damen responded coolly. “Perhaps twenty.”

That’s what you decide to get pedantic over? Damen, you’re a Prince. You can’t threaten our kingdom, our existence, because of mere infatuation with yet another pretty blond.”

Damen gritted his teeth. “He is a Prince too.”

“A Prince on land is not the same.”

“It’s…Feel free to go back if you wish. As long as I have your word you won’t speak of this to my father and Kastor.”

“Against my better judgement, you have my word,” Nikandros said, his green tail swishing in agitation. “You will have to tell them yourself, eventually. When it all inevitably goes wrong.”

“Thank you for your enthusiasm, my friend,” Damen replied with a small smile tugging at his lips. “It won’t go wrong. I know, logically, that nothing can happen between the two of us.”

“Then why do you pursue him?”

Damen paused before replying. “I find it hard to stay away.”

 

*

 

Once Nikandros had left him, Damen allowed himself to enjoy a few moments of tranquillity, and then continued to swim. His head broke the surface and he breathed shallowly in the cool, fresh air, his dark hair sticking to his forehead. He pushed it back, water droplets trickling down his face as his eyes scanned the area.

And there he was, as he had been for the past week, sitting on the nearby boulder, a book in his hands. The bottom of Laurent’s laced trousers were damp – for some reason he insisted on wearing clothing that covered him head to toe, even though he had to wade through the water to get to the rock.

Damen admired him for a moment; the way the sun hit his golden hair, illuminating his skin, pale and delicate as porcelain. The way his brow furrowed the tiniest bit as he read. Damen approached the boulder, close to the point where he could rest his forearms on it, gazing up at Laurent. “Hello, sweetheart,” he said, smirking the tiniest bit.

Laurent’s blue-eyed gaze moved from his book to find Damen, and he smiled back. Each day it became easier for Laurent to open up, and it made Damen happier each time. He closed his book soundlessly, letting it rest on his lap, and reached his hand towards Damen.

He clasped it, pressing a kiss to the fine skin. “My friend disagrees with this,” he admits, quietly.

“I can understand why,” Laurent replied smoothly. “It’s not the easiest of arrangements.”

Damen frowned, but then Laurent stroked his dark hair back, making him relax. “I want you to know, if there’s any way that I could become one of you, I would take it.”

“There are a lot of downsides to being human,” Laurent said, a hint of something in his voice which Damen couldn’t interpret.

“But the biggest upside is that I could be with you. We could be together.”

“We are both Princes. We have separate areas to rule,” Laurent turned his head, staring towards his castle, high up on the cliffs. “My Uncle won’t be around forever. I have a lot of responsibilities.”

“As do I,” Damen said. “But I will always have time for you.”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”

“I don’t intend to.”

Laurent sighed, rubbing his forehead with his free hand. “My brother would’ve been next in line. If he were here, perhaps things would be different.”

“You never mentioned that you had a brother,” Damen said quietly.

“Exactly, I had a brother,” Laurent emphasised, closing his eyes for a moment. “He…drowned. Years ago. I swore I’d never return to the sea because of it, but then I found you. And even though I know I should, I can’t stay away from you. Or…this.”

“Perhaps when we are Kings, things will be easier,” Damen suggested hopefully. “We will rule, after all. Our word is law.”

“And what do you suggest? I go down in the ocean with you until I run out of breath?”

“Don’t say that,” Damen retorted, flinching at the idea of it. “There are ways. There are always ways. We will find one.” He pushed himself up, so he was at the appropriate height to press a soft kiss against Laurent’s lips. “Tell me the joys of land again.”

“Of camp fires, and sleepless nights in tents under the stars?” Laurent teased, his voice lilting.

“And of you, and your brother. Your – what is it called again? The animal. The one you love.”

“My horse,” Laurent supplied. “Yes. She’s beautiful. I ride in the forests, surrounded by trees. My brother used to ride with me, too. We raced.”

Damen looked at him dreamily as Laurent began to tell the story. He stayed by his side until the sun began to set, the shadows of dusk obscuring Laurent slightly, though his golden hair was always noticeable. “It’s time for me to go,” Damen eventually had to say. “Until tomorrow?”

Laurent picked up his book, pressing a kiss against Damen’s forehead. “Yes,” he confirmed. “Tomorrow. But you will tell a story, of what your life is like.”

“Boring, compared to yours. There are so many things to do here.”

“Only you would consider being a merman boring,” Laurent scoffed, and then his eyes sparkled. “Show me your tail again before I go.”

Damen laughed, pushing himself away from the boulder in order to flick his golden tail up. Laurent stared, transfixed.

“It’s beautiful.”

You’re beautiful,” Damen replied as he returned to his original position.

Laurent rolled his eyes. “Go. Your father will be wondering where you are.”

“And your uncle will be worried about you, too.”

Laurent tensed, before replying. “No. No, he won’t. The only thing he ever worries about is himself and his next fuck.”

Damen frowned heavily, and opened his mouth to reply, but Laurent drew closer to press a finger against his lips. “No. I don’t want to talk of my uncle. Please, let’s not mention him again.”

“Ok,” Damen murmured, and then kissed Laurent’s finger. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Laurent.”

“Yes,” Laurent whispered back, before Damen ducked back under the water, already missing him.

The next day, he would bring Laurent a souvenir, so even when apart, a piece of his home would always be there with Laurent. For now, they had this. 

They would always have this.

Chapter Text

“This is the third time Damianos hasn’t shown up to a meeting,” Kastor’s deep green tail swished in irritation as he addressed his father. “It reflects badly on us as the rulers of our kingdom. Damianos can’t keep –“

Theomedes raised his hand to silence his son, before gesturing to Nikandros, how bowed his head curtly. “Perhaps you have seen Prince Damianos?”

Nikandros paused, before carefully raising his head. “A few hours ago, Exalted,” he admitted. “But I am sure he will be here presently.”

“And where was it he was going?” Kastor demanded with a curl of his lip. “A siren’s den, no doubt.”

“I do not know,” Nikandros forced himself to say, swallowing. Thankfully, Damen burst through the doors at that exact moment to save him from lying any further. He swam up to his father, where he was seated on his grand golden throne, and bowed in apology.

“I know I’m late, Father,” he began hurriedly as Kastor huffed in exasperation. “And I am sorry.”

“It’s not the first time you’ve been late this week,” Theomedes reprimanded, but then his face softened into a smile, the special one he reserved just for Damen. “I trust you have good reason.”

“Yes, Father.”

“Very well, then. Try not to let it happen again.”

Kastor’s eyes widened in disbelief, and he shot Damen a reproachful glare. “That is it? That’s all you’re going to say? He shows no respect for –“

Damen frowned heavily. “Nothing is more important to me than my kingdom –“

“Then where have you been?” Kastor challenged. “Clearly you have other priorities, Damianos. He is hiding something from us, Father.”

Damen clenched his fists, his wrists adorned with the golden cuffs Theomedes had given to him for his eighteenth birthday. Nikandros risked a glance at his friend, wondering if he was going to give anything away, but then –

“I hide nothing. Again, I’m sorry that I have been late to the meetings. Please, Father, let me make it up to you. I will work twice as hard these next few days.”

Theomedes waved his hand. “Things are quiet, my son. Everything is running smoothly; the merfolk are happy, the sea-life are thriving. All is fine.”

Nikandros suddenly noted how appropriate the colour of Kastor’s tail was; the look he threw at Damen was positively green with envy, but there was something else, too. Something dangerous. Nikandros felt as though the water around them had just gotten colder.

Damen did not seem to notice. He smiled brightly at his father, before bowing again. “Then, if it’s fine with you, I would be happy if I could go racing with Nikandros this evening.”

Theomedes laugh boomed through the room, and he gestured for Damen to leave with a sigh of affection. “Certainly. But make sure you win.”

“I intend to,” Damen promised, as he urged Nikandros to follow him to the tracks.

 


 

Laurent carefully unlaced his jacket, and then proceeded to fold it away, nice and neat. It was expected of royalty to have servants or slaves undress them, but Laurent despised the very notion and always sent them away. He wondered if Damen had servants in his palace, and fantasised about what they would be like. He’d read the fairy tales as a young boy; beautiful mermaids whose singing voices drove sailors to their deaths. He hoped Damen wasn’t a good singer.

Laurent sighed, pressing his fingers to his forehead. His thoughts were all over the place, and he couldn’t focus. What would his brother say, if he were here with him now? Probably that his imagination was too wild, that merfolk couldn’t possibly exist. But then he would laugh, and ruffle his hair, and ask to hear all about it, humouring him. Laurent’s heart ached, briefly, before he straightened his shoulders and took a few deep breaths.

Then, methodically, he locked his bedroom door. Two bolts, plus a chain, just in case. Just in case. Just to be sure. Yes, he was too old now, too undesirable, too much trouble for his uncle to concern himself with.

He still locked his door this way every night.


 

“I had to lie to your brother,” Nikandros told him sternly as Damen prepared two chariots. “I don’t like this, Damen.”

“Don’t fret about it,” Damen advised, fastening the harness around the first dolphin, who was waiting patiently. “You need your full concentration for this race.”

“For some reason, I’m not in the mood,” Nikandros said, a frown still on his face. “You are completely blind to the danger you are in.”

“No,” Damen admitted, “I’m just choosing to ignore it. Saddle up.”

Chariot racing had always been their favourite sport, ever since they were young mer-children. The arena outside of the palace had been well used; the tracks outlined in the sand were updated every other day due to the Prince’s love for athletics. The two of them had their own small chariot, pulled by two dolphins each. Whoever got around the lap first was the winner, but the two of them were so competitive they often ended up having re-matches so that the races lasted for hours.

“I’m serious, Damen,” Nikandros warned as he positioned himself in his chariot. “I don’t want to lie to your family again. I could be punished badly for it, as I deserve to be. Either you stop seeing this human Prince, or you tell your father.”

Damen rolled his dark eyes. “I cannot leave Laurent. I have no intention of leaving Laurent.”

“Then I suggest you tell your father the truth.”

“Impossible,” Damen stated flatly. “He would never understand. He wants nothing to do with the surface.”

“He loves you. He would listen to you. You saw how he was with you today – you can do no wrong in his eyes,” Nikandros pursed his lips. “Kastor’s getting sick of it.”

“He’s always like that,” Damen dismissed. “I’ll apologise to him later and he’ll stop sulking. Now stop procrastinating and prepare to lose.” And with that, his dolphins surged onwards, and Nikandros scowled before hurrying after him.

“I still don’t see,” he called over to his friend, “what’s so special about a surface Prince!”

“That’s because you haven’t even seen him!” Damen craned his head to look back at Nikandros with a smug grin. “Maybe one day you should join me!”

“One of these days I might have to, before you get into trouble!”

“Stop fussing so much, and just trust me!”

Nikandros yanked hard on the reigns as he sharply turned, overtaking Damen at the last minute as he crossed the finish line. He slowed to a halt, looking back at Damen somewhat triumphantly. “You’ve become easily distracted by this man. This will not end well.”

Damen was laughing, much to Nikandros’ surprise. “You’re probably right, old friend. But I find myself not caring in the slightest. You must meet him. He is so beautiful, with a tongue as sharp as a knife, and – his legs! I’m not one for jealousy, but if I could have legs even for a day –“

Nikandros inhaled sharply, shaking his head in warning to stop Damen from talking any further. “How can you even – You cannot say things like that!”

“Why not? It’s the truth.”

“You wish to be human?” Nikandros asked incredulously.

Damen shrugged. “I don’t know. I would love to experience what he experiences. I would love to walk in the sun with him, or ride horses with him. Have you heard of horses, Nikandros? They sound like lovely creatures.”

Nikandros looked quite ill. “This is…Madness.”

“No. No, I promise, I’ve been wondering about this for a while, even before I met him.”

“You are projecting your own fantasies onto this human man.”

“That is not it at all!” Damen’s voice rose as he approached him. Nikandros was big; Damen was bigger. “You have no idea what –“

“That is enough,” Nikandros interrupted. “I cannot bear to listen to this anymore.”

“Nikandros –“

“No. Enough,” Nikandros turned away from him, flicking his tail. “Enough, Damianos.”

Damen watched him leave, his chest suddenly feeling so heavy. If Nikandros could only see…If his father would only understand…

If he were only human.

Chapter Text

“…and then Nikandros looked at me as if I was mad, and he hasn’t spoken to me since, and I have no idea what to do…” Damen trailed off with a deep sigh, resting his head on his forearms. It was a hazy morning, the sun doing its best to shine through the clouds, but there was still a chill in the air. Laurent listened carefully, the breeze ruffling his golden hair as he perched on the edge of the rock.

“Well,” Laurent began, his words measured, “perhaps he has a point.”

Damen lifted his head, frowning at him. “You think I’m mad?”

“No, not that. About you telling your father about me,” Laurent replied as he examined his nails. His stance was casual, but Damen knew he was fighting any rising tension within his body. “Would he be terribly upset?”

“That’s an understatement,” Damen murmured.

“The difference between our predicaments is that your kind know that humans exist,” Laurent said, more to himself than anything. “If I were to tell anybody, a servant or a soldier, news would spread in an hour that the Prince of Vere’s mind had cracked. Uncle would love that.”

“Laurent – “

“So, you see,” he interrupted, “it has to be you. If you wish to make things easier for us, you’re going to be the one to tell your family. Unless, of course, we put an end to this now and go our separate ways.”

“What?” Damen asked, startled. “No! No, Laurent, no. I can’t do that, I can’t just…not see you.”

Laurent avoided his wide-eyed gaze, staring back at his palace on the cliffs.

“Laurent, please. Look at me.”

“I just think,” he replied, slowly, “that it is…too much.”

“Yes,” Damen agreed, hesitantly reaching out his hand. “Yes, it is too much. The way I feel for you, I have never felt this way before about anyone, and I feel like I could burst from it. But it’s a feeling that I never want to lose.”

Laurent finally turned his head to look at him, his blue eyes suddenly vulnerable and exposed. There was a pause, and then a small laugh escaped his lips. “Damen,” he murmured. “When I’m around you, I can’t think.”

“Then don’t.”

“It is not that easy.”

“I know. Your mind is always working so hard. You are so secretive, even with me,” Damen said softly, and then pushed himself up so that he was sitting on the lower edge of the boulder, just below him. He swished his tail in the water absentmindedly, but Laurent’s gaze was entirely focused on his strong chest and broad shoulders. Damen caught him looking, and shot him a smile.

“You are very beautiful,” Laurent stated simply, and then flushed the tiniest bit. Damen’s smile broadened, and in that moment, he knew what he had to do.

“Laurent,” he said, the name delicious on his tongue. He wanted to say his name forever. With that thought, he slipped off the golden cuff on his right wrist, and presented it to Laurent. “Take it. Wear it for me. This is how much you mean to me.”

Laurent froze, and then licked his lips nervously as he observed the gold in front of him. “I thought your father gave those to you.”

“He did. I want you to have this one. Then it will be like we are always together, in a way.”

“Damen.”

“I am not giving you up. I will tell my father about you tonight.”

“Damen,” Laurent repeated. “Are you sure? Are you sure that I am…” He pushed the words from his mouth, “worth it?”

“You are worth everything, and more,” Damen said truthfully.

Laurent continued to stare at him, and then slowly took the cuff from Damen’s hand, and slipped it on his fine, slender wrist. “It’s a little big,” he admitted.

Damen’s lips quirked in amusement. “Yes. Perhaps that was foolish of me.”

“Oh, no, I’m keeping it,” Laurent insisted, jerking his arm back to admire the gold on his wrist. “I’ll have to have it altered, however. Is that alright with you?”

“Of course. It is yours.”

“I will have to find something for you,” Laurent said. “Perhaps a nice jacket. Do mermen wear clothes or are you always so bare chested?”

Damen glanced down at himself, and laughed. “I don’t see you complaining. Besides, a jacket would get awfully damp.”

“Perhaps a water-proof one,” Laurent mused, and then leaned down to press a kiss on Damen’s forehead.

There was a sound from the cliffs; a strange noise that made Damen recoil and almost dive back under the water, but Laurent stilled him. “Trumpets,” he clarified. “Instruments. I am needed at the palace.”

“Oh,” Damen breathed out in disappointment, and pressed a chaste kiss to Laurent’s lips. “Well, then I shall report back to my father immediately. Maybe we could meet tonight?”

Laurent nodded, and jumped into the water to wade back to shore. The water reached to the top of his thighs, and he shivered slightly at the cold, muttering a curse. “Yes. Tonight, around sunset. I’ll be here. Good luck, Damen.”

“I’ll be thinking of you.” Damen jumped into the water too. “Will you be thinking of me?”

“Of course,” Laurent replied, only to recoil as Damen playfully splashed him, soaking his jacket. “Damen!”

“Am I ruining your straight-laced appearance for your subjects?”

Laurent splashed him back, but Damen simply laughed, running a hand through his damp curly hair. “Water doesn’t bother me, surprisingly enough.”

“It used to bother me,” Laurent suddenly said quietly, and Damen immediately stopped.

“Your brother,” he murmured in question.

“I’ve ignored the beauty of the water for too long because of it,” Laurent replied, setting his shoulders. “He would want me to be happy.” And with that, he splashed Damen again playfully, before walking back to the shore with a laugh that rang in Damen’s ears long after he had disappeared from sight.

 


 

 

“Nikandros, I wish to apologise,” Damen began carefully. His friend did not glance up from stroking one of the dolphins, but he hummed in response. “I spoke foolishly, and I put you in an uncomfortable position with my brother and the King. It will not happen again.”

Nikandros finally looked at him, his furrowed brow relaxing as he sighed. “You promise?”

“I swear on my life.”

“So you have given up your human Prince?”

Damen shook his head slowly. “No. And I will not. But you do not have to worry anymore.”

“You’re being very contradictory.” Nikandros’ frown had returned. “If you will not give him up –“

“I will tell my father,” Damen interrupted. “I will tell him the truth. I would love to have your support in this, whatever the outcome, but I understand if you’d rather not. I have put you through enough these past couple of days.”

Nikandros flicked his tail thoughtfully, pursing his lips. When he spoke, his voice was quiet. “I will always be here if you need me,” he announced. “Whatever the outcome. You are doing the right thing. Your father will know what’s best for you.”

“Yes,” Damen agreed. And then: “Thank you, my friend.”

“I cannot come with you to the throne room.”

“I know. I didn’t expect you to,” Damen nodded. “This is something I have to do alone.”

“You’re in luck,” Nikandros smiled. “Kastor has left the palace for a swim. Or to meet Jokaste. One or the other. He will not be there to bother you.”

Damen sighed a little before nodding again. That was good news. He knew Kastor would be furious, but if he spoke to his father first, it may all be fine. His father was a loving soul, who would surely understand him. Damen forced himself to straighten his shoulders and make his face unreadable, the way Laurent was so good at.

“I will be waiting for you,” Nikandros called after him, and Damen raised his hand in thanks before entering the palace.

His father was not in the throne room. Damen stopped a passing servant, who told him that King Theomedes had retired to his bedroom, as he was feeling unwell. Damen swallowed nervously; the last thing he wanted was to upset his father while he was sick, but he had no choice. He had made a promise to Laurent, and to himself.

He entered his father’s room to find him lying on his grand bed, decorated with all types of sea shells. He stirred as Damen approached him, his eyes slowly flickering open. When he saw his son, he smiled brightly and attempted to sit up, but Damen placed a hand on his shoulder. “It’s alright, father. Rest. A servant said you were unwell.”

“Ah, it’s nothing,” Theomedes dismissed, looking up at him warmly, before he frowned. “My boy, what has happened?”

“Well,” Damen began, clearing his throat, “I –“

“Your cuff is missing. Has it been stolen? We must search the rooms of every servant until –“

“No!” Damen said hurriedly, retracting his hand. “No, father, I gave it to someone. Someone special.”

Theomedes’ body relaxed, and he began to laugh weakly. “Damianos, my boy, always so sentimental. Who is the lucky one?”

“That is what I’ve come to tell you,” Damen said, swallowing nervously. “It is…Well, he is a Prince.”

“A Prince?” He echoed in confusion. “But how is that possible?”

“You would like him, father, he is smart, and clever, and kind. A sharp tongue, at times, with a ruthless streak, all important in leadership, wouldn’t you say?” He was babbling as his father continued to stare at him. “Laurent, his name is. Laurent of Vere.”

There was a dreadful silence, as Theomedes pushed himself back up to a sitting position, his eyes ablaze. “Vere?” He repeated dangerously. “You mean to tell me, you have given one of your golden cuffs to a human who walks on the surface? You have revealed yourself to a human?”

“Father, I know how it sounds –“

“How could you be so stupid, Damianos?” His voice rose, and Damen flinched back. “How could you endanger our kind in this way? He will tell the world about us, and they will come, with their boats and their nets, putting us on display – He will ruin us, as he has already ruined you.”

“No, you do not understand –“

You do not understand!”

“Father, I love him.”

Love? You cannot love a man on the surface. It is unthinkable, and I will not allow it!” Theomedes snapped. “Perhaps Kastor was right, perhaps I was too lenient with you, but I never imagined you would do something as ridiculous as –“

“Kastor doesn’t know anything!”

“I’m beginning to think it is you who knows nothing. This is not love, Damianos, it is mere infatuation. A taste of something new for you. I know you have been bored, restless, but this is not the answer. You are forbidden from seeing this man again.”

Damen lifted his head, his voice tight. “With all due respect, father, I am not a child.”

“No,” Theomedes agreed. “But you are next in line to the throne. And you cannot continue with this madness.”

“Father –“

“I will appoint Nikandros as your chaperon. If you go to the surface again, he will report to me immediately. This ends now.”

Damen’s chest ached, as if his heart was about to burst out of it. He bowed his head, feeling every part of him recoil at his next words. “Yes, father.”

 


 

 

Nikandros was kind enough to allow him one ‘final’ trip to the surface – of course it would not be the last, it could not be the last, he couldn’t let that happen – and Damen’s head crashed through the surface, gulping in the cold air.

Sunset. Laurent was supposed to be here, he had to be here, but the boulder was right in front of him, and Laurent wasn’t sitting on it. Laurent hadn’t come.

Chapter Text

Laurent held himself upright, his shoulders rigid, his face cool and collected as he stood in front of his uncle’s throne. The Regent’s words were buzzing in his ears, and it was taking everything in him to keep control of himself.

“I cannot,” Laurent finally stated. The words came out rough, jagged in his throat. “I will not.”

“I’m afraid you won’t be able to wriggle yourself out of this situation, as you have so often done in the past,” his uncle replied.

Laurent’s fist slowly clenched, before he made his fingers relax. When had he ever successfully managed to escape his uncle’s plans and tricks? “I cannot marry.” Was all he said, “I have no desire to marry a Patran princess.”

“And why is that?”

He knew full well what his uncle was trying to do; it was all part of a larger plot to send Laurent out of Vere, right into a trap. But there were other issues in his way now. There was Damen. “I – I make my own decisions. On who to marry, and to later rule Vere with. The decision is mine, and mine alone.”

His uncle smiled at him patronisingly. By his feet knelt a boy no older than fourteen, and Laurent felt sick to his stomach as he stroked the boy’s fair hair. “Is that so, nephew?”

“The answer is no, Uncle. I will not marry this princess. Now, it is getting rather late, and I would like to rest before…”

“Before you go off running to the sea again?” His uncle inquired. “That wouldn’t have anything to do with why you’re so desperately against this wedding, would it?”

Laurent swayed the slightest bit, feeling as if he’d been punched, but then hurriedly regained his composure. “I enjoy it,” he managed, “it is…a place of solitude.”

“My dear nephew,” the Regent seemed incredibly amused as he observed him. “Ever since the death of your brother, you have hated the open waters.”

“Do not mention my brother,” Laurent’s voice shook, and he cursed himself for letting his uncle see any emotion. “Do not speak of him.”

“All the same, it is very curious, this sudden change of heart. You were always like that as a boy, so…” he eyed him up and down, “Finicky.”

Laurent inhaled shakily. “I will see you tomorrow, Uncle. I wish to rest.”

The Regent lifted his finger, indicating that Laurent was to stay. “Not so fast. Here.”

 Laurent forced himself to take a step forwards, and then another, so that he was close enough to strike his uncle across the face. As it was, he kept his hands by his sides, trying not to glance at the boy as he did so.

“Give me your hand,” his uncle instructed, and Laurent waited a moment before complying. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but he hadn’t anticipated his uncle yanking his sleeve back so that Damen’s golden cuff was in full view.

There was a silence, and Laurent resisted the urge to pull his hand back, keeping his face neutral even as the Regent smiled unpleasantly.

“My, nephew, you are changing before my eyes. First you spend all your time by the sea, and now you are wearing jewelry?”

“I am no stranger to jewelry,” Laurent replied icily, and at that he jerked his hand away.

“May I ask where you got this golden cuff?”

“You may ask, but you will get no answer.”

His uncle’s eyes roamed over him once more in a mixture of disappointment and disgust. “So be it. You are leaving next week for the wedding.” He addressed the guard at the door. “Escort the Prince back to his room. He is not to leave.”

Laurent’s lips curled in a sneer. “You can’t stop me from leaving the castle, Uncle. Like it or not, I am the Prince.”

“You are troublesome, and I have no doubt your devious little mind is already at work, but this time you will do as you’re told. You are going to Patras.”

Before Laurent could retaliate, he was being escorted out of the room, and he gestured at the guard to leave with a flick of his fingers. “I’m fully capable of getting to my own bedchambers,” he said, his voice dripping with scorn. The guard hesitated, before complying.

The minute he was alone in the hall, Laurent leaned against the stone wall, breathing shallowly. Suddenly, his clothes felt as though they were suffocating him rather than protecting him. He weakly tugged at his laces with shaking hands.

There would be no wedding – the moment he arrived in Patras he would undoubtedly be under attack, or whatever else his uncle had planned for him would strike. He had to get to Damen, only he could not walk. He was gripped with indescribable dread. He was alone.

First of all, he had to calm himself. There was no use getting in a state. He would simply get some rest and formulate an idea, then he would get Damen’s advice on the best strategy.

By the time he had sufficiently prepared himself back in his bedchambers, he was deterred to find his uncle had in fact stationed his men in the hallways. Laurent pursed his lips in aggravation as he glanced out of his bedroom door, then simply ducked back inside. If his uncle wanted a game, Laurent was going to play it.

He pushed open his windows to his terraced balcony, just as the sun was setting. The best way to go about this was to jump, but he didn’t entirely trust himself to land properly. Unless he slowly lowered himself down with a rope of some sort…

Twenty minutes later after tying his bed sheets together, Laurent had made it to the ground and took off sprinting. He was late, but surely Damen would understand, if he was even still there –

Stumbling over rocks as he precariously ran down the hills to the shore of the beach, the sun set fully behind Laurent as dusk settled. By the time he finally arrived, the area was completely empty. “Damen!” He called, realising too late how foolish that was. He jumped into the water, wading out to the rock, but there was no sign of him. “Damen,” he repeated, trying not to sound as desperate as he felt. He collapsed against the rock, panting in exhaustion and frustration, gritting his teeth.

There was always tomorrow. If he stayed out here for the night, perhaps Damen would return in the morning. Laurent heaved himself up so that he was sitting on the boulder, running his hands through his golden hair as he prepared himself for a very long night of waiting.

But the next morning, Damen didn’t come. And the next. And the next.

 


 

 

“Father is not getting better,” Kastor announced solemnly, his head bowed. By his side was Jokaste, as cool and collected as ever, her blue tail highlighting her pale features. Neither of them seemed particularly grief-stricken; they knew the inevitable was approaching.

Damen, on the other hand, felt as if his head would burst. It was not enough that he had lost Laurent. Now it seemed as though his father would be leaving him too. He opened his mouth silently, before his throat constricted, and he closed his eyes. “He may turn this around,” he managed. “I shall visit him.”

“I wouldn’t recommend that,” Jokaste told him, her blonde hair flowing in waves as she moved to be by his side. “He’s still furious about your little Prince. You betrayed him. You betrayed us all.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt anybody,” Damen insisted, though he had no strength to really fight against her words. “And I have done as he requested – I haven’t been to see Laurent for three days, even though he was never a threat to us in the first place.”

Besides, Laurent hadn’t even showed up that night. Damen had waited for him for a full hour, before Nikandros had to coax him back. Why? Why hadn’t he come? Was he alright, was he even aware that Damen was gone? He was beautiful, and surely had a great number of suitors lined up, desperate for a chance with the Prince of Vere. What if he had found somebody else already?

“Damen,” Kastor’s voice brought him back, and he shook his head disapprovingly at his brother. “Be smart. Don’t go upsetting father needlessly. We must let him rest.”

“Perhaps…” Damen murmured. “Yes. Perhaps that’s wise. All I want is for him to be well.”

Jokaste shrugged elegantly. “Then don’t bother him, and maybe it will all be fine.”

“Is he resting? Are the healers attending him appropriately?”

“Of course,” Kastor said. “But the potions are not as effective as we hoped.”

“Then we must try new things,” Damen suggested with a hint of desperation. “What about the Sea Witch? She has saved lives before.”

Jokaste’s pretty lips curled into a sneer. “The Sea Witch? The one the King exiled? She was already untrustworthy to begin with. You think she would help your father?”

“He – We may as well try.” Damen protested.

“It’s no use,” Kastor said firmly, as if his word was law. That only angered Damen further, and his tail swished in aggravation.

“Fine,” he replied bitingly. “We shall see.”

Chapter Text

Nikandros couldn’t believe what he was doing.

 

He broke the surface, breathing shallowly as a blast of cold air hit him. He craned his head desperately, and swore under his breath as his gaze fell on the boulder. Prince Laurent of Vere was sprawled on top of it, his clothes damp and torn, his eyes closed. Had he stayed out here all night?

 

Nikandros swam over, hoisting himself up to take a better look. Laurent was breathing shallowly, his pale skin flushed red with the cold. Nikandros took him by the shoulder with one hand, shaking him, and when that didn’t work he opted to splash water on his face.

 

Laurent jolted awake with a sharp intake of breath, his hands formed into fists, before he reached outwards with half-closed eyes. “ Damen ,” he slurred. “You brute. I’m getting married.”

 

Nikandros leaned away from his touch, twisting his mouth in distaste. “I’m not Damen,” he told the disorientated man, who was evidently dazed from spending the night in the cold. The morning sun was struggling to shine through the clouds, and Laurent was shivering as a result. “That’s why I’m here.”

 

Laurent recoiled, pushing his palms into his eyes. After a moment, he began to chuckle weakly. “You look quite like him,” was all he said. “You must be Nikandros.”

 

Nikandros blinked in surprise. “Yes,” he admitted. “I am. I can’t believe I’m doing this, but…”

 

“Damianos sends his friends to do his dirty work,” Laurent mused. “Well, I’ll save you the trouble. He has finished with me, and I am finished with him, too. My dear uncle has seen to that.”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“Damianos has decided I’m no longer worth it. It’s to be expected; our situation is ridiculous. So tell him not to worry - I am to marry a Patran Princess, apparently. I have been waiting for him for three nights, hiding from my uncle’s men during the day like a little child. My patience for this game has grown thin. If he will not even show himself to me anymore, he shall take his golden cuff back, and we’ll put all of this behind us.” Laurent weakly tugged at the cuff around his wrist, and then frowned. “Well, as soon as I get some strength back, then he can take it.”

 

“Have you been sleeping on this rock for three nights?” Nikandros managed, aghast.

 

“I haven’t really had much of a choice. Once my uncle finds me, I’ll be on a ship to Patras, and then most likely killed. I wanted - I needed Damen to…” Laurent trailed off, and then looked at Nikandros properly. “No, you’re different. He is bigger. What colour is your tail, may I ask?”

 

“Wait,” Nikandros managed, shaking his head. All this information was jumping around in his brain. “I have come here for a reason. Because of Damen. He wanted to come to you, but his father forbade him. He couldn’t betray his wishes, because...because the King is gravely unwell.”

 

That got Laurent’s attention, and he swayed slightly. “Damen’s father is sick?”

 

“Damen came clean about everything, and it was a disaster. He risked his reputation and wellbeing for you. His father is dying and Damen is blaming himself to the point where he’s gone off on some ridiculous adventure to find the sea witch.”

 

“That does sound a little troublesome.” Laurent murmured.

 

Nikandros bristled in anger. “Is that all you have to say? The King is on his deathbed, Damen is distraught and missing you, Kastor is up to something -”

 

“You suspect foul play about the state of the King?”

 

“Yes!” Nikandros burst out, and then hastily clamped his mouth shut. This Prince was insufferable , yet Damen described him as if he were more magical than all of the potions the sea witch possessed. “Damen is on his way to the witch in a bid to save his father, leaving the King alone with Kastor and Jokaste. Kastor has always been jealous of his brother, so I -”

 

“You think Kastor is behind the King’s illness?” Laurent questioned, tilting his head. Nikandros had to admit he was beautiful, even after spending three nights on this boulder. “And Jokaste is…?”

 

Damen had not mentioned Jokaste to him. Nikandros tried to suppress his laugh. “Jokaste is...Kastor’s mistress, shall we say. The two of them together, it’s just...Something is not right.”

 

“Then what are you doing up here? Shouldn’t you be keeping an eye on them?”

 

“I’m here to tell you about Damen, and to request your help.”

 

“My help?” Laurent echoed. “What use am I to you? I can barely swim.”

 

“Yes, I’m aware you’re not the best ally,” Nikandros managed through clenched teeth. “But the fact remains, Damen is in love with you, and who knows what Kastor will do next?”

 

“You have no proof that Kastor is behind the King’s illness.”

 

“I know, and I can’t tell Damen my suspicions, because it would destroy him, but - I found this.” Nikandros rummaged in the small satchel he’d slung over his shoulder, retrieving a green vial. “It was in Kastor’s chambers. If I’m discovered, I’ll surely be killed - maybe rightfully so, as he’s a Prince - “

 

“What is it?” Laurent interrupted impatiently.

 

“It’s one of the sea witch’s potions. Perhaps it is proof, or perhaps Kastor has a logical explanation for having it. I cannot say.”

 

“What does it do?” Laurent hesitantly reached out to take the vial, observing it with his scrutinising gaze. He was taking all of this very well. Then again, it was apparent he was currently facing a lot of problems of his own.

 

“I have only seen it once before. It will enhance your ability to breathe underwater. As in, when swallowed by you, you should be able to breathe normally in the water as you do on land.”

 

Laurent’s hand stiffened around the bottle, and his head shot up to meet Nikandros’ eyes. He expected a rush of gratitude, or at least an exclamation of amazement, but all he got in return was a dismissive: “And how does this prove your case that Kastor is trying to kill his father?”

 

Because ,” Nikandros stressed, feeling himself get more irritated by the second, “as it helps humans to breathe underwater, it hinders the breathing of merpeople underwater. We are built differently, and the potion has the exact opposite effect on merpeople - it’s dangerous.”

 

Understanding etched itself onto Laurent’s face. “And you think Kastor has been slipping this to the King?”

 

“Perhaps. In his drinks, his medicines. Among other things.”

 

“And now you’ve taken it from him. Surely he’s going to find out soon enough.”

 

“Hopefully, by then, Damen will have returned.”

 

Laurent licked his lips; he almost looked nervous. Almost. “And you wish for us to be allies.”

 

“If you’re in trouble, and need an escape, there is enough potion is this bottle to last a good few days. Come with me. Damen needs you.”

 

He thought he’d have to persuade Laurent a little more. He expected resistance. Instead, Laurent uncorked the vial immediately, and took a gulp. “Then he shall have me,” he said, and jumped into the water without another word.

 


 

 

Of all the things, Damen hadn’t expected the sea witch to be so...welcoming. He’d heard the stories, the whispered rumours, all of them shrouded in simultaneous fear and wonder. She was certainly an impressive figure; rather than a simple mermaid’s tail, she had six thick tentacles where her waist ended, and long black hair which was tied in multiple braids, enunciating her weathered face.

 

“Prince Damianos,” she boomed, her words heavily accented as he hesitantly swam through the mouth of her cave. “Here to grovel for his father? Sit.” She pointed towards a rock which jutted out of the side of the cave, and he did as she requested. “Hungry?”

 

He shook his head. “No.”

 

“For something other than food,” she stated, and then laughed. “I am Halvik, otherwise known as the sea witch. You need help?”

 

Damen faltered, staring down at his gold cuff. It wasn’t the first time he’d wished to see the witch. In fact, ever since meeting Laurent, he’d thought about it frequently. But there were bigger things at stake now. Bigger requests to ask for. “You know my father is sick,” he began quietly. “Nothing seems to be working. Is there any way you could…”

 

“Cure him?” She shifted, and tapped at her crystal ball, which stood on a raised platform in the centre of the cave. “Unlikely.”

 

He waited for her to elaborate. When nothing happened, he cleared his throat, trying not to sound too desperate. “There is nothing you can do at all ?”

 

She waved her hand over the crystal, pursing her lips. “Not if your brother keeps interfering.”

 

Damen flinched, startled, as an image of Kastor appeared in the crystal ball. He started forwards, swimming up to it, his hand outstretched uncertainly. “What is he doing?” He asked in confusion, as the image of Kastor tore apart his room, apparently searching for something.

 

“Searching for potion,” she said bluntly. “The potion he’s been using to slowly poison your father.”

 

Damen felt as if his whole world just came crashing down on top of him as he froze, his hand still outstretched towards his brother. “No,” was all he said hoarsely. “Not Kastor. Not my father. He would never -”

 

“You have not been visiting your father, so you would not know. He grows sicker each time Kastor and the Lady Jokaste tend to him.”

 

No !” Damen’s voice rose, and he reached for the crystal ball in a fit of rage, ready to smash it to pieces, when - “Laurent?”

 

An image of Laurent and Nikandros had now appeared, swimming through the ocean. He could not believe his eyes. Halvik clapped him on the shoulder appreciatively. “Your friend is a good one.”

 

“How is this possible?” Damen dared to ask, his focus transfixed on Laurent, his heart hammering in his chest.

 

“The potion. It is making him breathe underwater.”

 

“Then Nikandros - He knew about Kastor?”

 

“He suspects. He does not wish to hurt you.”

 

“And he’s bringing Laurent to me,” Damen whispered, already starting for the cave entrance. “I must go. I must save my father!”

 

“You’ll be back,” she called after him, and laughed again. “After all, don’t you want human legs?”


Her laughter followed him as he swam, her words ringing in his ears even once the cave was far behind him.

Chapter Text

Damen’s thoughts were a jumbled blur, but he continued to swim, never allowing himself a moment to rest. It was a long way back to the castle, and he had to get there before anything else happened to his father.

 

Kastor. Kastor had been behind this. Why - so he could be King? Did that mean he was intent on getting rid of Damen too? He breathed harshly, his arms aching as he persisted through the waters. He just had to -

 

He heard it then, in the distance, the tinny noise of drums. Damen slowed his movements, straining to listen better, and then an announcer’s voice was travelling throughout the ocean, and nothing else mattered.

 

“King Theomedes is dead. King Theomedes is dead.”

 

“No!” The yell tore itself from Damen’s throat, and he raked his hands through his hair brutally. “ No!”

 

He’d been too late. He’d gone to the Sea Witch to find a cure for his father, and instead had just made it so much easier for Kastor to kill him. This couldn’t be happening. This couldn’t be real. Kastor wasn’t going to get away with this.

 

With newfound rage and determination through his sudden crippling grief, Damen continued to swim. He couldn’t cry, not now. He could do nothing but to get back home and see his father. His father, who he’d hurt and betrayed by meeting Laurent. The insufferable, beautiful, lovely Laurent who had never shown up to meet Damen for the last time.

 

Yet now he was here, with Nikandros. Nikandros was bringing Laurent to him, and Damen felt the need swell up inside him, to the point of burning him. Right now, he needed Laurent more than anything.

 

By the time he eventually reached the castle, he was greeted by a mass of merpeople, from servants to trusted advisors. Damen could barely acknowledge them, as he was far too preoccupied with finding Kastor or Nikandros, but he realised they expected him to say something. He cleared his throat.

 

“My father was a good man, and a loving and trusting King,” he began, his voice unsteady. None of it seemed real, shock blurring his vision and dulling his senses. “He was wise and true, and I could have asked for no better upbringing. We will all feel this loss for years to come.”

 

“Indeed, brother,”

Damen froze as Kastor emerged from the castle, his face sombre. Rage: it burned, fierce and bright, but Damen forced himself to stay calm. He needed to hear from Nikandros before anything was to be done.

 

“As horrible as this loss is, we are to prepare for the coronation of the Sea’s new King,” Kastor continued to the crowd. “As quickly as possible. In two days, there will be the crowning of Prince Damianos, as our father wished. Our new ruler and King!”

 

The crowd’s cheer was deafening, but Damen’s eyes remained fixated on Kastor. Kastor stared back at him, before he began to smile. “Come, Damianos!” He called over the noise, as Damen began to swim to his side. “See your kingdom!”

 

“Thank you, brother,” Damen replied quietly, so that only Kastor could hear. “For your kind words in this sad time. In two days I will take the throne, with you at my side.”

 

“Nothing could make me prouder of you,” Kastor said, his voice calm and collected, and he smiled sympathetically. “Are you quite alright, Damianos? You’re looking very unwell, considering this was to be expected.” Damen remained silent, and Kastor hummed a little. “Then again, you never really did see how sick he became.”

 

“Yes,” Damen agreed through gritted teeth.

 

“A loss, of course, but tragedies happen,” Kastor said, glancing over Damen’s tense body. “I do hope you are not becoming sick too, Damianos.”

 

That was all Damen could stand, and he entered the castle without another word, feeling the overwhelming desire to grab his brother by the throat - he wanted answers, he wanted the truth, he wanted the wisdom of his father.

 

He would have to find Nikandros, and fast.



*

 

It was surprisingly easy; Damen found the room to his bedroom door locked by the time he reached it. He frowned, jostling the handle, feeling a little ridiculous to be shut out of his own room, and glanced around the hallway. “Hello?” He called out, aggravation creeping into his voice as he knocked on his door.

 

“Damen?” Nikandros’ voice was heard from inside, and Damen breathed out in relief.

 

“Yes, yes, it’s me, now let me in.”

 

The door was unlocked, and Nikandros peered out cautiously. “Sorry,” he said quickly, “this was the only place where I thought we’d be safe until you came back. Damen, the King is -”

 

“I know,” he replied hollowly. “I know about Kastor, but I need to hear everything you know too.”

 

“You know my suspicions?”

 

“The Sea Witch showed me him searching for poison. Your suspicions were all true, my friend.”

 

Nikandros inhaled shakily, his expression wrought with grief and anger. “I am so sorry.”

 

“But then she showed me you. You and Laurent. You brought him for me? You gave him potion?”

 

His expression relaxed slightly, and he huffed with a nod. “He’s very insufferable, Damen.”

 

“But he’s here?”

 

“He’s our ally.”

 

“Yes, this is all very well,” came an achingly familiar voice from inside the room, “but it’s a conversation to be had in secret. Come in and close to damn door, Damen.”

 

Damen didn’t need any more coaxing - within moments he was tearing into the room, sweeping Laurent up in his large, muscular arms, almost giddy with relief. “ Laurent ,” he choked, kissing the top of his golden head. “Oh, Laurent, you’re here . You’re actually here, with me!”

 

“Yes,” Laurent repeated, but there was no scorn in his voice as he clung onto Damen tightly. “I can’t really believe it either.”

 

Damen collected himself, forcing himself to let go of Laurent to observe him. He was still in tightly laced clothes, but they were torn and dishevelled, and had to be hard to move through the water in. Laurent’s legs kicked aimlessly as he floated, clearly struggling with the foreign sensation of being under the surface this way. “You never came,” the words spilled from his mouth uselessly.

 

“Neither did you,” Laurent challenged, seemingly taking in Damen’s full image. Damen noticed a small flush across his pale cheeks as a result. “I did come. I was just a little late.”

 

“My father forbade me.” When said aloud, Damen realised just how childish he sounded, and then the grief hit him again and he was still. “My father is dead.”

 

“So is mine,” Laurent stated quietly. “And my brother. My brother died in these waters. And my uncle wants to kill me.”

 

That threw Damen, and he stared at Laurent in complete bewilderment. “What -”

 

“I found him on the rock,” Nikandros began to explain. “He’d been hiding and sleeping there since your father told you not to return to the surface. His uncle was going to ship him to Patras. That’s why he was late that night.”

 

“Oh, Laurent…” Damen began helplessly, reaching out his hand. Laurent didn’t take it. “Why? Why would he do such a thing?”

 

“Because he wants the throne,” Laurent said icily. “Just like your brother. Now your father’s out of the way, who’s to say you’re not next?”

 

“He’s right,” Nikandros added, biting his lip. “Have you seen Kastor?”

 

“He was there when I got back, yes. Kastor has announced the date of my coronation,” Damen replied, passing a hand over his face. “Two days.”

 

“A lot can be done in two days,” Laurent mused, attempting to straighten his torn jacket. Damen leaned over to help him; he stiffened, but then slowly relaxed into it, a small smile flitting across his face. “We’ll have to expose him. Starting with his mistress.”

 

“Jokaste?” Damen blurted, glancing at Nikandros. “You know of Jokaste?”

 

“Your friend here has told me a little. I’d like you to tell me more, though. I’m sure I’ll be able to use it to my advantage.”

 

“I’m sure,” Nikandros agreed with a roll of his eyes and a swish of his tail. “Damen. There’s enough of the potion left to keep Laurent here for a good few days, hopefully before Kastor discovers I took it from him.”

 

“He knows it’s missing. He just doesn’t know it was stolen,” Damen told him, and then scowled angrily. “Not that it matters to him now. The damage is done. So Laurent will keep hold of it, and…”

 

“And I will plan from this room,” Laurent finished. “As, apparently, I’ll be in danger if I leave it.”

 

“It’s definitely best if you stay hidden,” Nikandros said bluntly. “The merpeople don’t usually come across a human all the way down here. You’re bound to scare them.”

 

Laurent’s eyes flashed mischievously, but he shrugged nonetheless. “And do merpeople eat ? I’m rather hungry.”

 

Damen glanced at Nikandros apologetically. “Would you mind…” He began, and Nikandros waved his hand.

 

“Certainly. I’m sure you two have much to discuss. I’ll return with some food for us.”

 

“And if you see Kastor -”

 

“Don’t worry. I’ll let him know you wish not to be disturbed by anybody, and I’ll tell the guards the same.”

 

“Thank you,” Damen said sincerely, grasping his friend by the hand. “I am so grateful to you. For everything.”


Nikandros smiled at him, before glancing back at Laurent again. “Well,” he admitted, “I really hope this was the right move. Like I said, he is insufferable.”

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe you’re here,” Damen said for what felt like the hundredth time. He ran his hands through Laurent’s golden hair, his expression wide and open with wonder. “You’re here with me.”

 

“Yes, so I am,” Laurent replied. A smile played at his lips, though he fought to keep his expression neutral. It didn’t work. “I...I missed you, Damen.”

 

“I missed you, too. So much.” Damen nuzzled his face into Laurent’s pale neck. In this light his skin almost looked blue. “But you can’t stay here forever. We have to act quickly. We...We need a plan.”

 

“A plan,” he echoed, his brows pinching together. “Because they always work out so well for us.”

 

Damen huffed a small laugh, still dazed and shocked from all that had happened. His hold on Laurent tightened the slightest bit and he was horrified to discover that he was about to cry. “My father is dead because of Kastor.” The words burned uncomfortably in his mouth. “Kastor killed my father. His own father.”

 

“He wants to kill you too, Damen.”

 

“That...That is not helping.”

 

“I’m just stating the facts.” Laurent shrugged his shoulders lightly, but his eyes were serious. “I’m very sorry, Damen, but unless we put a stop to all of this, you will be his next victim, and I...Cannot allow that to happen.”

 

Damen nodded stiffly, swimming towards his bed, where he promptly sat down. His golden tail swished in aggravation until Laurent joined him by his side. It was quite comical to watch him attempt to move through the water and the small scowl on his pale face said it all.

 

“You must relax your limbs,” Damen advised with a smile.

 

“It’s not so easy,” he countered. “I have no tail. I’m not accustomed to this lifestyle.”

“Would you like to be?” Damen suddenly asked, reaching for his hands. “There are ways, Laurent. I genuinely think it could happen. You wouldn’t have to fear your Uncle anymore. You’d be here with me, we could be together.”

 

“You’re suggesting I can fully be turned into a merman?”

 

“Perhaps. When I visited the Sea Witch about my father, she said I could have human legs. Why shouldn’t it work the other way for you?”

 

Laurent turned his face away from him, his lips pursed. “But what about my kingdom on the land? I have responsibilities. If the power goes to my Uncle…”

 

“Is it really so important to you?” Damen had to ask. “Your uncle may be cruel, but as the brother of your father, I’m sure he would be capable of running the kingdom as well as you would.”

 

Laurent let out a small sound of disbelief, his jaw clenching. He suddenly looked furious, his entire body on edge, as if it would explode if Damen were to touch him. “You know nothing of my Uncle,” he all but spat.

 

Damen, taken aback by the abrupt change in Laurent’s demeanour, didn’t know how to respond. “No,” he eventually said. “I know he wanted to send you away, and that’s terrible. I obviously do not like him, but--”

 

“You are not the only one to experience disgusting betrayal from a family member,” Laurent retorted coldly. “Never forget that.”

 

“Laurent--”

 

“No. My Uncle is not getting my kingdom and that is final. Besides, I happen to like land, thank you.” Laurent kicked out his legs through the water aimlessly, his expression scornful. “You were the one who seemed to love it, too.”

 

“I do,” Damen admitted hollowly. “And I wish things were different, I wish I could...Leave it all behind and become human. But my people, my friends...My father trusted me with our kingdom.”

 

“Then it appears we are stuck,” Laurent said blankly.

 

“No,” Damen insisted. He reached for Laurent’s hand, squeezing it. His pale skin was puckering under the water. “We’ll find a solution. We must. Laurent, I...I love you.”

 

Laurent angled his head, closing his eyes for a moment until his body seemed to relax. A small smile played at his lips. “And I, you,” he said after a sweet moment. “But first, we must focus on Kastor. Then we can decide what to do about us.”

 

Damen gently brushed his lips against Laurent’s cheek in agreement. “Then let’s do that.”

 

“I do not think you will like the ideas I’m going to come up with,” Laurent warned.

 

Damen managed a small laugh. “Try me.”

 


 

 

It turned out that all of Laurent’s ideas ended up with Kastor dying. Even Nikandros was in agreement about that, much to Damen’s concern. As betrayed as he felt, the idea of losing his brother was almost unbearable.

 

“He certainly doesn’t feel the same way about you,” Laurent stated bluntly when Damen spoke up. “If he’s planning on killing you, we’re going to beat him to it.”

 

“I hate to say it, but he has a point,” Nikandros added. “But I think we must get a confession out of him, first.”

 

“It may all be a misunderstanding,” Damen said hopefully. “Until he actually confesses, then…”

 

“You are extremely naive,” Laurent dismissed. “If Kastor doesn’t kill you, your gullibility definitely will.”

 

Damen simply sighed, used to Laurent’s sharp tongue, but Nikandros looked ready to use his fists. “You will not speak that way to our King,” he growled.

 

“Technically speaking, he is not the King just yet,” Laurent said. “We have very little time before his coronation and must act quickly.”

 

There came a sudden knock at the door and the three of them tensed. Laurent immediately scrambled for a hiding place, his limbs flailing uselessly through the water. Nikandros moved to help him, ultimately having to shove him into Damen’s golden wardrobe despite the fury in his eyes at the action.

 

“Enter,” Damen finally managed to say once Laurent was sufficiently hidden.

 

The door to his bedroom swung open to reveal Jokaste, who looked as radiant as ever. She glided into the room effortlessly, a stark contrast from how Laurent moved under the sea, yet Damen had come to realise he found every little thing about Laurent attractive. Jokaste almost paled in comparison to his golden prince.

 

“Hello,” he said stiffly.

 

She tilted her head as she stared at him and didn’t even acknowledge Nikandros’ presence. “Damen,” she said. “Kastor requests your presence, to discuss your coronation.”

 

He felt his fists clench and made an effort to relax. “Does he,” he stated with a glance at Nikandros. “That’s kind of him.”

 

Her fingers brushed against his shoulder and he did his best not to flinch away. “I’m very sorry for your loss, Damen.”

 

“I am sure Kastor is grieving just as much as I,” Damen retorted through gritted teeth. If he was honest with himself, the fact she had left him for Kastor without any regard for his feelings still struck a chord with him. But there were far more important things happening now; such as her potential involvement in Kastor’s schemes. She was cunning enough, Damen knew.

 

She bowed her head in a simple nod, her luxurious hair swishing against her shoulders. “I will take you to him,” she suggested, already turning.

 

Damen had no choice but to follow, with one last glance at Nikandros. His look said it all; Nikandros would follow.

 

As the bedroom door closed behind them, Laurent poked his head from Damen’s wardrobe in distaste. “I see Damen may have a particular type,” was all he said.

 

Nikandros couldn’t help a small snort of laughter at that. “They courted briefly,” he told him. “She left him for Kastor. For all we know, she is directly involved. I will go, too.”

 

“Yes,” Laurent agreed as he emerged from the wardrobe. “But first, I have a favour. I need directions to the Sea Witch’s cave.”




 

 

Kastor had attacked him.

 

Damen wasn’t sure what he had expected; a confession, a genuine conversation? In any case, it was an ambush from the moment he swam into the room. Kastor’s mermen pounced at him and he struggled furiously, his gaze falling on Kastor in the corner of the room. Just watching.

 

“I know what you did! ” Damen roared. “I know what you did to our Father!”

 

“Then you know what I’m going to do to you,” came the only response.

 

Rage clouded Damen’s vision, and when he had come back to his senses, Kastor’s guards were dead and Kastor himself wasn’t moving.


What had he done?

Chapter Text

“You just killed your brother,” Laurent marvelled.

 

Damen sat with his head in his hands, trying to suppress the shudders that continued to wrack through his body. Nikandros sat by his side, doing his best to comfort him.

 

“It was the only way,” Nikandros said. “He was going to kill you. Damen, you had no choice.”

 

Damen lifted his head, his expression twisted in pain. “He truly despised me,” he managed. “Kastor really did want to kill me.”

 

“Did he ever really show you any love?” Laurent asked with a curl of his lips. “I’m just surprised he waited this long to attempt to attack you.”

 

Nikandros shot him a furious glare. “Control your mouth.”

 

Damen shook his head weakly. “He has a point, Nikandros. Kastor has never loved me. Besides, Laurent has his reasons for speaking so harshly.”

 

Laurent tensed a little. “Do I?” he challenged. “State the reasons. Because my brother died in these waters too?”

 

“Yes,” Damen said, “exactly.”

 

There was a silence, and Laurent made a conscious effort to mask his emotions. “Perhaps you really do know me, Damianos.”

 

“I like to think I do,” Damen admitted softly, meeting his gaze. “So. What happens now?”

 

There came an expectant knock on the door and Damen stiffened at the sound of Jokaste’s voice. “Kastor? Kastor . Is it done?”

 

Laurent angled his head. “Maybe it’s time I met the Lady Jokaste,” he said. Before Damen could stop him, Laurent was swimming over to the door, pulling it open. He and Jokaste stared at each other; she was always far too composed, so not even a flicker of bewilderment crossed her fair features.

 

“And who are you?” she asked.

 

“Laurent,” he said. “Laurent, Prince of Vere.”

 

“And why are you in this royal palace, Laurent, Prince of Vere?”

 

“I am doing a scenic tour,” he responded dryly. He blocked her as she attempted to swim past him.

 

“How does a human last so long under water? Is it not incredibly taxing?”

 

He smiled, sharp and devious. “Oh, I think we both know there are certain remedies to keep a human alive, much as there is to kill a merman.”

 

There was a pause, as Jokaste reflected on his words. “I see,” she said.

 

“I’ve seen many things in my short time down here,” he continued. “I just got back from meeting a Sea Witch, actually. Your world is definitely remarkable. Maybe even better than my own. Though we do seem to have the same feats of betrayal.”

 

Jokaste’s eyebrows narrowed threateningly. “Move aside.”

 

“If you insist.”

 

Jokaste was able to swim into the room, her blue eyes initially widening in horror. She managed to suppress it, but then swung her gaze to Damen. “What have you done?”

 

Nikandros was already swimming towards her, shielding Damen from her. “Self-defense,” he snarled. “Your plan failed. Kastor is dead, and you are to be imprisoned for treason.”

 

“Or,” Laurent interrupted, “we can come to another arrangement for the Lady Jokaste.”

 

Jokaste’s eyes found Laurent’s again, her fury barely contained. “ Why is there a human boy here, Damen? Explain yourself! Explain all of this!”

 

“It’s a bit late for that, don’t you think?” Damen finally said, very quietly. “Nikandros summarised it nicely. You are a traitor, and Laurent here is an alliance.”

 

Laurent cocked an eyebrow. “An alliance, love? Is that all?”

 

“Oh. Oh, I see.” Jokaste smiled thinly. “You have taken a liking to Prince Damianos, have you?”

 

“I think it’s King Damianos now,” Laurent said. “Which does have a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?”

 

Jokaste’s eyes flickered to Kastor’s body. “He killed his brother.”

 

“Before his brother killed him.”

 

Jokaste nodded. “I wondered, deep down, if this was how it would all end.”

 

“Why?” Damen asked bleakly. “Why would you agree to Kastor’s plans? Was it worth it? Was any of it worth it?”

 

“We always knew you were devious,” Nikandros added. “But to conspire against King Theomedes, to poison him to death?”

 

“Are you attempting to guilt me into confessing?”

 

“We don’t need a confession,” Damen said. “I saw it myself. The Sea Witch showed me Kastor searching for the poison. You led me to this room, where an ambush was planned.”

 

“This is how it’s going to work,” Laurent said to Jokaste. “You are going to tell the people that Kastor was a traitor. If you don’t want your name to be tarnished and to be thrown in a cell, you will listen to my proposition.”

 

Her jaw clenched. “And what is your proposition?”

 

So Laurent told her. Damen wasn’t sure how he felt. That was the trouble with Laurent; he always took Damen by surprise. No one could ever truly tell what he was thinking.



Three months later

 

King Damianos of the Sea was certain he would never love anybody more than he would love the newly crowned King of Vere. Not only was he the smartest man, but Damen was the only one fortunate enough to see his soft and gentle side.

 

Damen emerged from the water, hauling himself up onto the rock. It took a few moments before his tail stopped tingling and in its place came two strong, toned legs. A grin broke across his face as he flexed his feet, the feeling still so foreign to him despite now having this luxury for three months.

 

It had all been Laurent’s idea; he had visited the Sea Witch during his time underwater, unbeknownst to Damen, and had made an agreement with her. A sacrifice, for a specific type of spell. When Damen emerged from the water, he became human, to walk on land with Laurent. When Laurent went into water, his legs were transformed into a beautiful, ice-blue tail that shimmered and shined.

 

A perfect solution, in exchange for a certain Regent’s life.

 

“Lure him to the sea,” Laurent had said. “I would have preferred a more exotic death for him, but if that’s what you require in order for me to get my wish…”

 

Damen had been slightly shocked at the brutality, until Laurent had explained about his Uncle. Then Damen wished he could have dragged the Regent down under himself, watching the life leave his very eyes.

 

Even thinking about the monster made him furious. Damen clenched his jaw, only to flinch as somebody splashed water on him. He peered around, until Laurent’s head poked up from the sea mischievously, his golden hair damp against his forehead.

 

“Hello, lover,” said Laurent. His blue tail flicked upwards, splashing more water at Damen. “Beautiful day to be a King, isn’t it?”

 

Damen’s smile widened as he leaned over to press his lips against Laurent’s. “Lovely,” he agreed. “And how is Jokaste holding up?”

 

Laurent’s ultimatum had been a success. Jokaste had come clean to the merpeople; her confession ensured Damen was crowned and the mere memory of Kastor disgraced. Rather than be imprisoned, Laurent had taken her to the Sea Witch to transform her into a human. A more fitting punishment. Jokaste now worked in Laurent’s palace.

 

“She’s holding up remarkably well,” Laurent said. “Always very helpful to the King of Vere. Are you coming in to join me?”

 

“I would much rather you came up here,” Damen said. “There are plenty more things we can do while we’re both human, after all.”

 

Laurent’s eyes glinted. “Oh, yes,” he said. “Plenty.”


THE END