The moon above shone brightly on the incoming tide surrounding them, giving the water an ethereal glow as it ebbed against the shore. The man's heart thundered in his chest with such force that there was scarcely room for his lungs to breathe, but oxygen seemed like a foolish afterthought while in the arms of his beloved; breathing was far too overrated in his opinion. The water had risen to his chest yet still his hands refused to let go of her tender features; his fingertips traced the delicate jawline of her face and they kissed again, this time with more fervor. When they pulled apart it was as if her lips had pulled the air from his lungs. His head spun with boyish giddiness.
Harried shouting carried down to them on the sea breeze, from somewhere up on the bluff. A swell rose above the lovers' chins and the man sputtered and choked out the sea water. He brought her face close to his and gravely told her, "They'll be here any moment, Tri'els. You must go."
"Daren, I can't bear to leave your arms, even for the briefest moment."
"You know you must."
Tri'els' chin quavered and her eyes glistened with tears. She cast a sad look over her shoulders before returning her gaze to his. "Come with me," she said flatly.
He pulled her face closer until their foreheads touched and smiled at her through his lashes, "Would that I could, m'lady, but you know I cannot. With my father ailing, the kingdom needs this boy to act as a man worthy of leading them should the king pass. Though my heart cares nothing for responsibility and beats solely for you, I simply cannot leave my people during these trying times."
Tri'els leaned into him and breathed a hot whisper on Prince Daren's cold lips, "My heart aches every time I leave you, my love."
Daren felt the same, and was tempted to swim with her toward the horizon. Instead he leaned over and kissed her top lip tenderly, almost delicately, and whispered, "I will find a way to be with you, Tri'els, I promise. But you must leave now. Right this instant."
The heavy footfalls of iron clad horse hooves carried over the sand as the brightly adorned flags of Daren's kingdom came into view above the tall beach grass along the edge of the beach, torches held aloft in search, no doubt, of him.
They shared one last embrace, the last bit of warmth he felt amid the frigid ocean water, and then she plunged into the waves, which accepted her entry without a splash. The dark scales running along the length of her tail gleamed in the eye blink they were exposed to the moonlight, and then she was gone.
And with her, Daren's heart. He looked down at the surf and sighed.
LeFleur DePlume had been the Captain of the Guard for nearly fifteen years for His Majesty, the King, and in all that time his loyalty was unquestioned, his deeds unerring. But these were trying times, for it was well surmised that these would be the king's final days, and though his son, Prince Daren, was a fine lad, DePlume wondered if the combined stress of losing one's father while simultaneously being thrust into ultimate power at such a young age might be too much to bear for the young heir.
Prince Daren had been increasingly absent in recent days, both of body and in spirit. On those rare occasions when he was present and accounted for, his mind was somewhere else. But on most days Prince Daren led DePlume and his men on a frustrating game of hide-and-seek through the kingdom, always to be located near the water. At first DePlume worried that Daren might be secretly contemplating drowning himself, but when found he always seemed to be in good spirits, so DePlume stifled his concerns.
On this night the boy's trail led directly to the ocean's edge. As DePlume crested the bluff above the beach, his sharp eyes instantly detected the prince sitting just beyond the crashing waves, naked and dripping in the chill night air with his royal garb heaped in a pile beside him. DePlume dismounted and ran down to the sand, by the heir's side. Daren must have heard him coming, for he apologized without ever turning his head, "Forgive me, Master DePlume. I sought a cold swim to clear my head and wished to be alone."
DePlume yet again stifled his concerns and handed Daren a blanket.