Summary: Eric can't remember a time that the crash of the waves on the sand wasn't a part of him, so deeply ingrained in his body that it's like his heartbeat.
Fandom: The Little Mermaid
Word Count: 1875
Original story: I Am More Land Than Water by usomitai.
Notes: The title is from the Navy Hymn, 'Eternal Father, Strong to Save'. Many, many, MANY thanks to my lovely beta aliaspiral, who helped me so much with making this a story fit for consumption, and to usomitai for giving my such a lovely little story to play with.
Its Own Appointed Limits Keep (The Music of the Voice Remix)
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
Eric can't remember a time that the crash of the waves on the sand wasn't a part of him, so deeply ingrained in his body that it's like his heartbeat. His entire life has revolved around the ocean: swimming, fishing, sailing, loving. It's only natural that he enlists in the royal navy, even over his father's strong objections. It is too risky, too dangerous, for the only heir to the kingdom. But his mother understands; she too hears the call of the ocean. She convinces her husband, and soon enough, Eric is a sailor, through and through.
After a year on the sea, he has come to understand that his death will be by her hand, that she would welcome him into her salty bosom and cradle him close until all his air is replaced by water. That understanding is why he's not afraid to go back for Max while the ship is sinking, why he's willing to risk his life as the waves lap angrily at the broken hull and fire threatens to consume everything. If it's time for the sea to claim her bridegroom, Eric will go willingly into her arms.
And then he's sinking, really drowning, and suddenly he's not so sure he wants it to end like this. He fights for air, clawing his way to the surface, but he can't move. It's as if the sea refuses to let him go, a small child with a new-found toy, clutching it too tight. His eyes close and he breathes her in, too far gone to even choke on the water as he sinks slowly toward the ocean floor. He suddenly feels himself being held tight, slender but strong arms encircling him, and he's sure he's gone mad. All the metaphors of the ocean as a woman, as the true mistress of any sailor, have gone to his head, and as he drowns, he wishes he could laugh.
Seawater hurts more coming out of one's lungs than going in, Eric finds, and is shocked that he's alive for the realization. He sputters and coughs, trying to understand how he has ended up on the beach. The ocean's song stays with him, the haunting chords she sang to him as she gave his life back. His clothing is torn, and his body is bruised. His lungs ache as he sucks in oxygen, only to cough it back up. He scans the shoreline, looking for to one who saved him, the daughter of the ocean who carried him to the surface, but she is gone. He feels the loss of her more keenly than he thought possible, and when Grimsby finds him alone on the beach, he is reluctant to leave the shore.
The song keeps him awake that night. No woman has ever affected him so much before, never ingrained herself into his unconsious so deeply he can't sleep. The soft lull of the waves cannot calm his mind; every time he closes his eyes, it morphs into her song. He tosses and turns, replaying the scenes over and over in his head, trying to make sense of it all. He can see her face, the woman who saved him, but it's hazy like the morning fog rolling off the ocean. The only thing clear in his mind is the song, and he stands on his balcony, playing it on his lute until the sun begins to rise.
That afternoon, when first he sees the girl on the beach, his heart skips a beat. He's sure his sleep-deprived mind has conjured up an apparition, something to soothe his conscience, and he's sure she can't be real. But then Max is licking her face, and he knows she is no hallucination. Eric thinks she might be the one, the girl that saved him from the sea, and his chest grows tight in anticipation. He needs to hear the song, needs her to sing to him to prove to himself he's not gone mad. He asks her name, and can't contain his disappointment when she can't speak. He resigns himself to more sleepless nights, dreaming of a girl he's not sure even exists. This girl, he decides, was shipwrecked during the storm, and as he is a prince of the realm, he escorts her back to the castle as an honored guest, with Max bouncing along side like a puppy.
The girl is strange, almost fey-like, and even though she hasn't said a word, he can tell she is different. She knows so little, but she's obviously not simple. He smiles when she tries to comb her hair with the fork, and laughs aloud when she blows tobacco all over Grimsby's face. He hasn't felt this happy in months, and he revels in her delight when he shows her his kingdom. She's like a child, laughing with silent pleasure at every new experience. Sitting in the boat with her, he feels as if he is drowning in her big blue eyes, as she casts a spell from which there is no escape. He leans in to kiss her, thinking that perhaps he was wrong, that he can love someone other than his watery savior.
The next day is a blur. He remembers deciding that his dream girl will never come, and that he would settle down with this strange young woman who called to him without a voice. He tossed his lute into the ocean as a sacrifice to the sea gods to seal his fate. Then, suddenly, he's on his wedding barge, listening to Ariel's song, and he knows that she is the woman who saved him from the ocean's cold grip. He knows then that he has to have her, this daughter of the sea. He knows as she falls into the water, legs now fins, that she is what his life has been missing, that she is the reason he's been unable to find happiness with a human woman. He throws himself into danger, willingly risking his life to kill the sea-witch, knowing that he must save Ariel's life at any cost, for his would mean nothing without her.
The night of their marriage, Eric takes Ariel to the captain's chambers on their wedding barge. Despite her inexperience on two legs, the rolling of the ship on the ocean makes her as graceful as any seasoned sailor. She twirls around the small bed, singing a song of the ocean, a song of love and loss and love found again. He sits on the bed, his boots off and shirt un-buttoned, and watches her, his half-fey wife. He whispers her name, loathe to break the spell her voice has cast on him. She turns, her long red hair spinning out like sunset-tinged sea-foam, and she smiles. Eric can feel his chest tightening, and he extends his hand to her. On legs barely older than their hours-old marriage, his princess steps lightly on wooden planks, and in the sway of the ship, she looks as if she's swimming toward him. She is so beautiful, Eric can barely catch his breath.
They spend a week on the barge, floating just beyond the sight of land, loving and learning each other's bodies. Ariel's moans are beautiful, and Eric plays her like an instrument, using fingers, lips, and tongue to make her sing again and again. He's greedy to keep her to himself, wishing this time would never end. He's torn between his duty to his kingdom and his love for his wife; between his ties to the land and his need for the sea. He stumbles over the explaination, wanting her to understand. Ariel only smiles and reminds him that she, too, is the child of a king, and she grasps the importance of a public face.
They return to a kingdom eager for a look at their new princess, and Eric finds a series of balls and dinners already planned. Eric takes them all in stride, but Ariel seems so out of place. His courtiers and nobles whisper about Ariel behind their hands, ridiculing her strange mannerisms and ignorance of land politics. The court's intricate dances, especially, are beyond her, and she spends hours during the days with an instructor, learning and practicing the complicated steps. She falls into their bed at night, exhausted from dancing and pretending to be something she's not. Eric tries to soothe her, but she's to tired to listen, falling asleep in his arms after only a few short kisses.
They dance at the balls, his hand on her hip, their bodies pressed together, but she's so intent on remembering the steps, she isn't his Ariel. He can't say he doesn't enjoy the dances; dancing to him has always been like sailing, and he enjoys it. But he misses the sound of her voice, the soft song of the sea in his ears. He tries to tell her, tries to make her understand, but she's so caught up in trying to be human, she forgets to be herself.
He doesn't push, doesn't want to sound like her father, but finally, Eric admits Triton knew his daughter better than she realized. Ariel is so focused on the human world, so convinced that it is superior to what she'd grown up with, she doesn't see the beauty of what she is. His subtle hints are lost on his young wife, and after several weeks, he can no longer stand it.
It is late at night when he finally convinces her to follow him through the darkened halls. She asks him over and over where they are going, but he won't tell her, and takes her on a convoluted route to ensure she doesn't guess. The small theater is dark when they arrive, and it takes several moments for the torches on the wall to catch, illuminating it in softly wavering light. It took Eric a week to arrange this, and he hopes she understands. Ariel's blue eyes are wide as she takes in the shimmering blue backdrop, painted with all the bright colors of the sea floor. On either side of the stage are several prop fish, and she laughs joyously as she runs up to squeeze the blue and yellow flounder. Eric settles into a seat in the first row, eyes on his wife. She begins to sing, softly at first, a wordless tune that brings to mind the sound of waves lapping against the shore. Her song grows louder and her smile more genuine, and Eric feels more relaxed than he has since their honeymoon as he watches her. He closes his eyes, letting her song wash over him, letting it lap at the edges of his consciousness as he slips into a light slumber.
He wakes slowly as the song fades, finding Ariel standing in front of him, a smile on her lips. "Thank you," she whispers, dropping to her knees and laying her head on his thigh. Eric runs his hands through her hair, twirling a few strands in his fingers. "I lost it, the voice music. The music of the feet was overpowering, and I..." She trails off, but Eric understands. The magic of the sea can not be denied, not even by her chosen daughter.