Chapter 7

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It was not sunlight that roused Jim Hawkins from the land of dreams. Rather, it was the pungent and rancid scent of bowel flatulence that ripped the former merman from slumber.

"Uh…Ugh!" Jim groaned in half wakened disgust. Unfortunately, for the young prince, the source of the putrid stench was coming from the cloth hammock that was above him and currently occupied by another servant.

Swatting and swinging, the teen fell unceremoniously to the ground as a result of his half-hearted attempts at escape. The hard impact with the cold, stone floor was more than enough to cement him in the land of the conscious.

Sluggishly, he moved himself into a seated position, a low moan escaping his lips. Slowly, he pulled on each boot, one at a time. Mentally, he cursed human life yet again. What was it with humans and their many coverings?

Tucking in his shirt and wiping the last remnants of sleep from his eyes, Jim was surprised to find that a good portion of servants, all male, were missing from the kitchens.

"They've all gone out to the beach," an older female servant exclaimed warmly, gesturing up the stone steps with a nod of her head. Jim gave a brief, grateful nod of his own before bounding up and out of the kitchens.

What awaited him was quite intriguing indeed. There, gathered in a circle, were the missing men, engaged in what appeared to be light-hearted sparring.

"Ahh Jimbo! Good of you to join us!" Silver called waving the young man over. Jim made his way down the beach secretly pleased that he was now much more adept at walking on the lumpy, shifting sand.

He stopped at the pirate's side, intently watching as two men in the center of the ring, charged each other with two wooden poles in hand. The men wielded the poles like swords, their swings wide and frenetic.

"What are they doing?" Jim asked intentionally keeping his voice low.

There was a sly glint in Silver's eye that the merprince missed due to his engagement in the mock fight.

"Oh, just a bit of fun, me boy. In fact…" Silver rubbed his chin in thought. "Let's make this a bit more interesting."

Silver whistled, the volume piercing the air around them. Heads turned, the fight ceased, and the cook held the attention of all those gathered.

"Listen up lads! I've got a wager for ya!" Silver announced in a loud, booming voice. Excited murmurs were exchanged throughout the small crowd.

"I propose this: a contest of strength and skill. Last man standing gets to forego his daily chores and accompany our fair Ariel on her trip into town today."

Excited cheers and whistles erupted from the men. Apparently, everyone was eager to try their hand, to try and win the opportunity to escape the monotony of servanthood and judging by the high fives exchanged by the young men, the idea of escorting Ariel for the day held its own appeal as well.

Jim's bright blue eyes locked with Silver's dark gaze. The merprince wasn't fooled for a moment. This fabricated tournament was just a smokescreen for the pirate's true intentions. The captain wanted to assess his skills as a fighter.

Jim Hawkins smirked, the wind ruffling through his hair. Challenge accepted. He would show the humans what the Mer were capable of.

Stepping forward, the teenager rolled up the sleeves of his shirt, and picked up one of the poles that had been discarded from the previous fight. He tossed the pole from one hand to the other, testing the weight of the object. The merprince drew awed whispers when he rapidly twirled the pole before him before sharply halting, gripping the improvised weapon. The demonstration was just as much an exercise for Jim as an unspoken warning to the potential participants of the upcoming tournament.

Under the sea, the resistance was much greater and therefore movements were slower. On land, there were no such barriers, he had noticed as the pole sliced through the air.

Glancing around the circle of men, the unspoken message was clear: victory would only be achieved with his defeat.

For a few moments, no one stepped forward and only murmured grumblings of defeat surfaced among the men. But then, shoving through the crowd, a scruffy middle-aged man approached.

"I don't care how fast he can throw a stick around, he's still just a boy!"

Picking up the remaining wooden pole, the older man barely set his stance before charging straight at Jim, wild abandon shining in his eyes. With the fluidity of his element, the prince merely sidestepped his attacker at the last possible moment sending the man careening into the onlookers.

Like an enraged bull, the elder man snorted as he righted himself, re-adjusting the grip on his imitation sword. He rolled hi neck in an attempt to crack it.

In response, Jim set his own stance but instead of a sword, the brunette gripped his weapon like a staff or more precisely: a trident. Jim could feel the whisperings of his birthright and its desire to aide its master. Lucky for the humans, he would not indulge his trident. Taking a deep breath and exhaling, Jim prepared himself for the upcoming onslaught.

Like clockwork, his opponent charged again, a war cry on his lips. This time, Jim blocked the arcing swing using the force of his block to knock his attacker off balance. In the few seconds that the man wavered, Jim used the end of his staff to deliver a quick jab to the abdomen.

Immediately, the older man crumpled to the sand, the breath knocked from his lungs. For a moment, there was no movement. Jim's gaze was steady on his opponent, clearly conveying the message: Do you yield?

The man sighed, earning himself a couple of involuntary, forced coughs, before nodding silently in defeat. Cheers and whispers erupted from the crowd of human men. Who was this newcomer with the skills of a warrior?

Extending a hand, in a show of good will, Jim pulled he fallen man to his feet, a small grin now gracing both of their features.

From there, the competition dissolved into an all out free for all, where instead of trying to best Jim in combat, the challenge amongst the men evolved into seeing who could stay upright the longest.

Laughter and good-natured ribbing filled the air. Two of the servant boys had tag teamed the prince of the sea only to find themselves flat on their backs moments later. Jim was surprised to find that he was having just as much fun as the other men. Perhaps it was the guarantee that he would be spending the day with Ariel or the fact that he had been itching for a decent spar, but Jim was actually really enjoying himself. It had been too long since he had really let loose.

Luckily his royal trainers didn't coddle him when training him in the fighting arts. They understood that their prince was the sole heir to their kingdom, and as such the ability to defend himself was paramount. And while he knew that clearly these men were not soldiers, it felt good to know that his skills as a fighter were legitimate.

"What's going on over here?"

The sound of the land prince's voice created an immediate, tense silence. The atmosphere radiated the sentiment that clearly, they had been caught doing something they shouldn't, even though the tone of Eric's question was more curious than anything. No one said a word, all gazes fixed on the sand. It was Silver who stepped forward.

"Good mornin' you Highness. We were just havin a bit of fun, before tending to our work."

Eric's expression brightened at the prospect of a welcome distraction. "Really What're you guys doing?"

Silver rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "Oh, you know, just a little friendly sparring tis all…"

Eric's brow rose in intrigue. "Sounds fun. Can I join in?"

At this, excited whispers erupted from amongst the crowd. It wasn't everyday one got to witness the crown prince engage in the activities of the common people.

A mischievous smirk curled Silver's lips, as he bowed and tipped his captain's hat. "O' Course your Highness, we would be honored. You there! Get his majesty his weapon!"

One of the younger boys scrambled, nearly stumbling in the sand, and presented the rod humbly to the prince.

Eric's brow quirked in amusement at the makeshift sword. Grasping the imaginary hilt, Eric gave the rod an experimental swing. "Not the most orthodox, but I can manage. Alright! Now who's my opponent.?" the land prince asked enthusiastically.

No one said a word, but all eyes slid to Jim Hawkins.

"Jimbo!" Silver called. The boy in question stepped forward, his own wooden rod gripped in his hands. The merprince's gaze rested solely on the land prince. He watched as comprehension registered in Eric's blue eyes, watched the playfulness freeze into something more calculated.

"You again. You seem to be making quite the first impression." There was an underlying edge to the prince's voice. A warning.

Jim feigned cool indifference. He could battle with words or a weapon. "Oh really? I'm honored I caught your interest."

Eric's smile faltered just for a moment, and the sea prince had to refrain from smirking. Point: Jim. He could practically hear Delbert's voice urgently warning him that he was always too brash.

Needless to say, he completely ignored his advisor's council. This was not his prince, and now here was the perfect opportunity to excise some of the frustration he harbored toward the one who dared touch what was his.

"Perhaps not so much after his match." Eric's voice was low and the time for verbal combat had come to an end.

Instead of rushing headlong into battle, Eric merely started to circle the makeshift arena created by the ring of men. This in turn caused Jim to pace as well.

It was clear from the way Eric's eyes flitted about his form that he was sizing him up, silently assessing for any obvious openings or weaknesses. The merman kept his guard raised and tight. He would be patient and relentless like the ocean he called home.

Jim didn't have to wait long. A whole rotation of the circle was about to be completed when Eric lunged forward his substitute sword flying toward him in a downward arc. Within seconds, there was a loud crack when the practice wooden weapons collided with resounding force. There was a brief moment where Eric attempted to muscle forward in an obvious ploy to throw Jim off balance and thus gain the advantage.

However, the sea prince had gripped his wooden pole like he would his trident and met strength with strength. He would not be overpowered by this human prince.

Dueling blue eyes locked, and Eric growled briefly in frustration, before pushing off and putting distance between the both of them. What ensued was an intricate dance of violent encounters.

To say Jim was kept on his toes would be an understatement. And while combat was certainly not new to him, fighting on land was. Footwork, positioning and leverage were key. Unfortunately, he had very limited working knowledge of any of them above the waves, and so he had been forced to compensate in the moment.

Instinctually, the prince knew that the longer the fight went on, the higher his chances of making a crucial error increased. In order to win the match, he would have to end this quickly.

During the fight, Jim had taken note of the subtle way that the land prince would always take a step before swinging his "sword" in a downward arc.

Behind Eric, Silver stood amongst the men ever vigilant. The sea price had caught glimpses of Ariel's chaperone throughout the match. Each time their gazes crossed; Silver's facial expression screamed one message. Lose the fight already! You are drawing unwanted attention!

The teen smirked inwardly. Admittedly, it would be in his best interest to throw the match…but he couldn't do it. The competitor in him could not stomach the idea of bending the knee and giving the irritating land prince the satisfaction of besting him in combat even if it was false.

Speaking of…it was in that moment that Eric had pushed him back creating a safe distance once more and began to move his right leg in what Jim inherently knew would be a step forward. His plan was incredibly risky given his mobility on land, but if executed correctly, this was his chance.

Either way, in the next couple seconds, the victor would be decided. Steeling his nerves, Jim rolled into a forward somersault raising his staff as he would his trident at the last possible moment.

A gasp burst forth from the crowd of men at the unexpected sight presented before them. Jim Hawkins knelt on the sand; his staff lightly pressed against the base of Eric's throat. While the stunned land prince stood frozen, his weapon halted mid swing.

An unspoken message was clear amongst all participants. This match was officially over. A tense silence reigned supreme and no one moved a muscle. It was the basic assumption of all those present that Eric would win the fight because…well…he was the prince, and surely no common person could best him.

Judging by the perplexed facial features of the would-be heir, the unfounded paradigm was shared by him as well.

As if snapping from a daydream, Eric lowered his rod and regained some semblance of a nonchalant composure. "Good match. I never saw that coming." Eric announced holding out his hand to help Jim up.

Almost reflexively, the rest of the men relaxed and started lighthearted conversations of their own.

"Thank you, your Highness," Jim answered brushing the sand from his pants.

"Tell me Jim, where did you learn moves like that? Swordsmanship certainly isn't a necessary skillset for being a fisherman." The volume to the prince's words were low, but the ice encasing them was chilling.

There was a glint in the prince's gaze that bordered on malevolent and Jim had an insane sense of Déjà vu that somehow, he was conversing with the sea witch.

A quick glance to Silver only proved his current suspicion. He had defeated Eric in battle only to win the unwanted attentions of a new threat. His pride had endangered them all.

Regardless, his next words and actions would need to be enacted with the utmost precision.

Jim met Eric's penetrating stare with a steady one of his own. "My father. He was in the military." Again, not a lie. As king, his father was head of the Western Ocean's armed forces.

Unsatisfied, Eric prepared to shoot off a new question, when the form of a frantic Grimsby came sprinting into view. His gangly form was practically comical as he stumbled down the beach.

"Your Highness!" Grimsby practically gasped, huffing and out of breath. Upon finally reaching his young monarch, the advisor bent over with his hands braced tightly on his knees in an attempt to calm his racing heart and catch his breath.

"Thank heaven I found you!" Grimsby exclaimed his voice still retaining a breathless quality.

"Grim, what is it?" Eric inquired, temporarily distracted from his current interrogation.

Standing and resuming a posture of dignity and decorum, the elder advisor smoothed the stray hairs that had loosed themselves during his frantic search.

"Your Highness, your attendance is required back at the palace. The matter of your upcoming nuptials demands your attention. These decisions simply cannot be made without your approval."

For a moment, Eric appeared if he would decline the whole ordeal entirely. Wasn't planning a wedding women's work? But then, blue eyes hardened when gazing upon the male servant before him. He made especially sure to make eye contact when he spoke his next words.

"Too right Grim, I am a prince after all. My wedding to Ariel will be the greatest event our country has seen for years to come."

Without another word, the prince turned and proceeded to walk back up the beach toward the castle. Grimsby spared a glance to the newest addition of the servant staff only to frown upon seeing the glare saturated with pure contempt directed towards the retreating back of his majesty. The sense of foreboding that he had felt the other night had returned full force. Something much larger than himself was going on here. Grimsby only prayed that he would not be caught in the crossfire that would ensue.

"Hurry along now, or you're going to lose the prince again." Silver's teasing held an edge that this show was over.

Grimsby shook his head, forcing himself to look away from the seething form of Jim Hawkins, before following after Prince Eric. It was all so strange, Eric was never malicious and that way in which he looked at the brunette, it was reminiscent of how the queen resembled when something she found to be undesirable be dealt with. Things that were dealt with were often never heard from again. But surely Eric would never…

Grimsby shook his head again for good measure. The prince would marry Ariel tomorrow and life would move onwards as I always had. As for the servant boy, he was just that: a servant. Nothing to worry about. Surely the whole situation was ridiculous. Perhaps he had imagined the whole thing?

Regardless, there was a wedding to plan and there was simply too much to do to be plagued by irrational paranoia now. Despite his inner resolution, the advisor refused to move his gaze anywhere but forward…

That chapter was rough. Fight scenes are certainly not my strong suit. Up next: Jim and Ariel day 2! Please Review!