This is an original story, based on some suppositions and one very poignant post by a lady. I wanted to see where the children went that died before they were supposed to, whether through miscarriage or death while very young, before they know enough to have a heaven. This is what came out of it.
There once was a woman, barely out of girlhood, who loved a man. The man loved her too, and together they prepared for a child. Conception was pleasant and quick, and all who saw them were happy for two such joyful people.
The woman loved the sea almost as much as the man and the child. She had played in its waters for as long as she could remember. Each day she would whisper to her child of the many wonders it held, and sing to the sea of the bright future she wished for her baby. The man would sing, too, of the home he had built and the comforts he had made and the love that he had for his slowly growing family. The sea chuckled and burbled softly over the sand, curling around bare toes like a playful kitten.
One day, not too far from what should have been the date of birth, the woman felt a pain. In a wash of blood -far, far too easily- the baby slipped from the mother. The father found his beloved in a puddle of gore, cradling the too-little body of what should have been his first born. He fled, from the red blood and the white face of his beloved. He told himself that it was to get help, but deep inside he ran from the streaked fingers reaching for him, the voice broken into whispers by grief calling his name.
When he came back, fears throttled and succor in attendance, she was no where to be seen. They followed the blood-spoor to the edge of the ocean, to the edge of the cliff. The man tried to cast himself over the side to join his family but strong arms held fast. They dragged him away, locked him in a safe little room in a safe little house and cared for him in safe little ways.
Years passed. The man never forgot his loss, though he learned not to show it. The kind people urged him to forget but how could he? His life was gone, swallowed by Death and an uncaring Sea. He could never forget for each and every night the nightmares circled him, needling him for his fear, his cowardice, his inability to save what he loved so dearly. They drove him to the brink of insanity again and again.
He waited with the patience of the mad until the townsfolk felt it safe to release him. He traveled back to his once-home, the little house up by the sea. No one had disturbed it. They felt it cursed after the death of the child, the disappearance of the mother, and the madness of the father. He expected it to be tumbledown, broken, a fit reflection of all it had once represented and lit by the blood-red sunset.
It was not.
It looked as though fickle Time had never touched it. It looked as though cruel Death had never stalked it. With a wrench of his heart he almost expected his love and their child to smile at him when he walked through the door, a most welcome return for one thought long lost.
The house was empty. In bewildered grief and confusion, he lay on the bed that smelled of sweet lavender and sea spray and closed his weary eyes. His dreams were strange, full of burbling water and half-glimpsed shapes, silvery-skinned people and fantastic beasts. He remembered only one thing clearly. A kind-eyed man with a crown of coral and clothed in the scales of a fish, seated on a gigantic sea-turtle, telling him to wait. No matter what he saw, nor what he believed he saw, wait. Wait until the time was right.
He awoke to ruin. Seagulls squalled through the air. Holes in the roof and walls let in a chill breeze. Rotten scraps of cloth flapped over windows long bereft of glass or pane. What hope he had gained in the night fell. He bellowed his pain and rage and grabbed up the pillow beneath his head and prepared to rip it into a million fluttering pieces-
For the bed was still as it was the night before. Nary a thread out of place nor a speck of dirt to be found. And there, drying fast in the early morning sunshine but still plain to see, was a pair of tracks in sea water. One larger, though dainty compared to him, one smaller, as though they were from a child.
His days fell into a soothing routine. In the morning, he would wake, neaten the bed that was never dirty or stained, and drag his fingers reverently through the fast drying footprints. Some days there was only the single, larger set; others, more than one of the smaller prints. No matter what, he would brush his damp fingers to his heart and smile a broken, bittersweet smile. During the day he would scrounge for food on the seashore and in the scrublands, taking his water from a small, fresh stream that drained to the sea. Sometimes he would find a pretty flower or an interesting pebble and would leave it next to his bed, in the only whole and pretty dish left in the house. Sometimes when he woke the gift would be replaced by a shell or water-smoothed glass or other sea-treasure. Once, a perfect miniature lavender bloom sat there, crafted of delicate shell and silver wire. He did not leave the sweetly-scented bed that day, clutching the treasure in trembling hands.
His beloved had always smelled of lavender flowers.
His nights were always the same. Where once stood nightmares in perfect clarity, sweet dreams danced under a fog of forgetting. He knew wondrous things had happened in the territory of dream but beyond the first night and the man on the turtle he could remember none of them. He was grateful, though, that he was allowed the hint of them- and the footprints. Even if it was all a mad dream, he was grateful. It was far, far more than he felt he deserved.
It couldn’t last.
One day, the footprints weren’t there anymore. No one came for the gifts in the dish. The flowers wilted and the bowl overflowed with tiny presents. The hints of dreams weren’t sweet. A vague feeling of doom laced the half-forgotten scraps. Time was running out; for what, he did not know. He ate less and less, trying to sleep all he could for a glimpse, a hint of a clue as to what was wrong.
He cried at the beach, begging the sea to tell him what was wrong, what he had done to displease it. Give me a clue, he begged, a single clue, some shred of hope or help. Some way to repair what was broken.
He dreamed strangely that night. Not a nightmare, for all he remembered it clearly, but not precisely a pleasant dream. A fish, deep blue and speckled with gold, rose from the sea and swam to him. It nudged him out of bed and down a path of blood to the same cliff his beloved had jumped from. Instead of a cliff, though, there was a winding stair carved of mother-of-pearl and driftwood. The blood continued down the stair and he followed, the fish a floating companion. A giant turtle waited for him.
He rode the turtle, clinging to the shell like a limpet, past many strange and wondrous things. Castles fashioned of the innermost shell of conch, gardens of floating, waving beauty, people with the tails of fish and people with the eyes of seals. He remembered now, of the great adventures he had had with… someone. He could see the daring rescues from sea beasts, the long walks in underwater kelp forests, but he could not remember who he rescued, who he walked with. The turtle swam on and on in a timeless, flowing undulation.
Gradually, the man heard a faint, sweet song. A single, pure voice accompanied by a younger, yet no less sweet singer. It reeled him in like a fish on a line. His soul ached at its beauty and he urged the turtle to greater speed. The grandest castle of them all appeared before his eyes, towering spires gilded with pearl and gold, yet he did not care. His eyes saw only the two figures before it.
His beloved, and a small child.
His beloved did not seem any older than she had been. She still wore the same dress that she had that day so long ago. Only her eyes hinted that the years between had not been a horrendous dream. His child -his daughter– had grown into a young girl, dressed in fish scale and sea weed. They stared at him, solemn and silent.
He leaped from the turtle, his faithful fish following him still, and ran to his family. An arm, strong as the tides, held him back.
“Hold, little man.”
There, in all his glory, was the man from his first dream. His eyes, the blue of a calm sea, stared at the man with boundless compassion. This was the Sea-King, Lord of the Waves. Ruler of the waters that had swallowed his wife and the body of the little girl standing before him.
“I told you once, to wait. Now, then, is the time of action. You must choose, O little man, the fate of the two you see before you.” The Sea-king gestured to the two silent figures. “For your daughter, there are only two choices. She may stay here, in my kingdom, or go with you. For her mother, there are three choices. She may stay here, with you. She may stay here, without you. Or, she may awaken from her sleep and return to the surface with you.” The arm dropped away. “Choose, little man. And choose wisely.”
His first thought, to take his family back at once, stuck in his throat. Unwillingly, he thought back to the dreams, the adventures. Never had his beloved come. It had always been his daughter, and others dressed as she was. Never had his beloved spoken with him. It had always been the strange, lilting voice of his child. His beloved would only bring the child and take her back. She had left him, for death or for this strange realm.
He could not force her back with him, no more than he could force their child from her mother.
“I…” The man’s voice creaked like old timbers rubbing together. “I choose…” His daughter tilted her head to one side, just as his beloved did when she was thinking seriously. His heart broke into a thousand little shards. He collapsed, weeping through his fingers. His daughter tried to go to him, but her mother held her back. Her face betrayed her turmoil but her grip remained firm. The Sea-King watched, face unreadable. Eventually, the shaking of his shoulders slowed, though they still trembled slightly.
“I choose… to let them stay. Let them stay here.” His voice was soft, a broken whisper that carried the weight of a shout. His beloved relaxed a little but her eyes were wide. “There is no life for them, up there. Let them stay, and be happy.” He stood slowly, eyes downcast. He looked old; he looked tired.
“I will leave, and go back. I will not trouble them further.” He stared at the sand at the Sea-King’s feet, still shivering though the water was not cold. Though he could not see it, his daughter struggled mightily against her mother. Their silent battle was stilled by a swift glance from the Sea-King.
“Very well, little man. I shall send you back above.” He smiled at the bowed head, compassion in his eyes. “If you wish, I can let you forget all this. It will be a hidden dream, ever since you set foot in the house agai-”
“NO!” The anguished shout startled everyone, from King to woman to the little blue fish. The man went to his knees in front of the Sea-King, turning eyes streaming tears up to him. “Let me keep this memory, I beg of you. Take the adventures, take the beauties, but let me remember that my family is safe and happy. Let me… Remember…” The strain was too much on one still weak. Before he lost consciousness completely, he heard the deep voice of the Sea-King one last time.
“Rest easy, little man. All will be well.”
There is a couple, out on the shore. We tell tales about them all the time. Some people say they came in a swan-boat of purest silver. Others say they rode here on the backs of dolphins. The woman is sea-touched; she warns us when bad weather will strike, and where to go to catch fish, and how to gain the favor of the Lord of Waters. The man sees far in dreams. He will answer any question, if the asker is worthy. We were never as prosperous before they came.
But I like to play with their daughter best. She tells the best stories. She told me about her sea-sister, about how her mother stayed with the sea-sister, how her father came to them and asked that they stay. How the Sea-King let him go, and the mother came back to him because she still loved him. The Sea-King brought them here, she says, because we needed them and they needed us.
“But what about your sister,” I asked. “Why couldn’t she come with you?” She smiled at me, and laughed.
“Who said she didn’t?” She swept her arm wide, and at that moment a large wave crashed in the otherwise placid bay. She smiled again, a secret smile.
“She comes and goes wherever the salt-spray touches. She helps Mumma and Poppa. They all do. All the water-children, those dead before their time…” She turned a sea-green eye towards me, and I shivered. My friend is a good friend, but sometimes she scares me. She can’t help it. She was asleep in her Mumma for so long in the sea that sometimes she forgets how to be a person instead of a sea-child. Her sister- her twin- must be even stranger.