Al was relieved when he found that he could breathe perfectly well underwater. He hadn’t thought Poseidon would invite him to the underwater realm without ensuring his safety – but gods, especially the underwater ones, might forget that men needed such a small thing to live. He felt like he was swimming in air. He was glad he’d kicked his sandals off before diving in.
He found himself surrounded by merchildren, several of them younger than himself. He hadn’t seen them clearly before, so intent had he been on their captors; now that he looked at them, he saw that all had long hair, webbed fingers, and wore something like a short tunic of braided seaweed.
“We thank you for saving us,” they said in unison; he heard several giggles.
“You weren’t all on the boat,” he protested. His men had enough trouble carrying the few on deck back to the water; they could never have rescued so many in time.
“But you slashed the net,” one said. “Those of us not in the boat were caught in the nets, and couldn’t get away.”
Al bowed, nearly turning upside-down. He fought to regain balance amid a chorus of giggles. “It was my pleasure. I could never have ignored those men’s actions. They were monstrous, and deserved their fates!”
One of the merchildren in particular caught his attention. She wore her hair braided, the ends floating in the water beside her; she looked smaller and more fragile than the others. As the others pushed, pulled, and splashed, cajoling him to come play with them, she just watched. She never looked away; he grew flustered under such unfaltering attention and agreed to play Shark with the others. It was akin to a game he played with his friends at home, and he learned it quickly. He was amazed at the merchildren’s speed and coordination. Feeling hampered by his legs, he wondered if it was easier to move about with a tail.
The small mermaid stayed nearly as close to him as his own shadow. When it was his turn, she seemed to flee as slowly as she could. When it was her turn, she quickly grabbed one of the others, never even trying to catch him. He caught sight of her as often as he turned around, only a foot or two away, always watching him.
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