The events from earlier in the week played inside the prince's mind like a horror story. He'd found the girl he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. Then she disappeared. Then he found her again, and right in front of him, she was snatched away by a monster.
Still, in his bedroom, Eric's window blew open from the strong winds, and lightning crashed. The never-ending storms had raged on outside since that night. Eric had tried to follow. He'd tried to go after her. But the guards detained him for too long, and when he finally got free, there was nothing left to follow.
Downing the last of his glass, Eric poured another and looked at the bottle. He gently ran a finger across the mermaid symbol that had marked this brand of whiskey for years.
He stood, walking onto the balcony and hurling the bottle out towards the sea. But it brought back the memory of throwing his flute the very evening he'd decided to marry Ariel. He loved her even before he knew she could talk. It had torn him apart choosing between the girl he'd found and the girl who had saved him. If he'd only known they were one and the same. If he'd only followed his gut that day he found her on the shore.
The rain had soaked through his clothes and would have chilled him to the bone if he'd been mindful enough to feel it. He raked his hands through his wet hair and tried to piece together everything he knew once again.
"She saved me the night in the storm." He whispered to himself. "She was there that day on the shore."
Memories from when the sea witch had control of his mind were difficult to sort through. He could recall some things. Others just didn't make sense. But one memory, in particular, stood out clearly from the others.
The brown-haired woman he'd seen on the beach with her hands on his chest. He'd stared blankly ahead as she put a hand to his face and pressed herself against his torso.
"You really are quite a catch" she'd said in that voice he had searched for for so long. "What a shame, princy-poo. One little kiss and you would have had everything you wanted."
Her laugh was cruel. Nothing like how he knew Ariel's must really sound. He'd give anything to hear it from its true source. The witch sat in his lap and toyed with his hair. Other times she starred in the mirror at herself, clearly happy in her victory.
"But no," she sighed happily, "No, I couldn't let that happen. Your little mermaid will be mine soon enough. And then neither of you will ever be happy again." She patted his cheek with a slap. "Well, don't worry. She'll be a charming addition to my little garden."
She brushed the hair back from his face. "Yes. I'm sure she'll be calling for you the whole time, with no voice to cry out your name." She smiled viciously.
Dropping down to his knees on the balcony, with the rain gliding down his back, Eric tried to take deep breaths. He tried to calm himself. Tried to convince himself she might be alright. But the sea still raged below, and he knew that the storms couldn't have been a good sign.
"Ariel," He breathed, pressing his forehead into the ground.
"Eric!" Grimsby called right behind him. "Eric, what are you doing out in the storm?"
The old man helped him stand and began pulling him back inside his room. Eric sat on the floor with his back against his bed. Water rolled off of him, but he didn't care. He closed his eyes.
Grim shut the window and locked it.
"Eric, this has to stop. The girl- or mermaid, whoever she is… she's not coming back."
Eric opened his eyes and glared at him. "Why didn't you let me go after her?"
"What could you have done? You saw the same things we did. That monster was powerful. She had you under a spell and almost married you."
Eric pressed a hand to his forehead and sighed. "She was right there, Grim. And I was too blind to see it."
Grim wrung his hands a moment, not wanting to ask his next question. "Eric… are you sure that Ariel didn't also-"
The prince's head snapped up to look at him. His eyes were dark with suspicion. "Didn't also what?"
"Didn't also have you under a spell."
Eric stood angrily. "What the hell Grim?"
The old advisor had seen too many tantrums in his years raising the prince to flinch away. "It's a difficult question, Eric, but one that must be asked."
Eric turned away from him, not wanting to hear.
"You were obsessed with finding Ariel after that day on the shore. You thought of nothing else."
"I wasn't under a spell, Grim. What happened with the witch was different. When that spell broke, the first thing I thought of was Ariel. When I heard her voice again-" He sat on the edge of his bed heavily. "She was taken right out of my arms. I didn't protect her."
"Eric, with everything that happened that day no one knew what to think or do. What else could you-"
"I don't even know if she's alive now! Do you have any idea what that… creature is capable of?"
Grim walked forward and placed a hand on his shoulder. "This is hard on all of us, Eric.
Everything we thought we knew is wrong. It's all true. Monsters, mermaids, witches, magic-"
"True love." Eric sighed.
Grim softened. He'd always known the Prince was a romantic. He'd turned down plenty of princesses because they did have whatever it was that he was searching for. After the things the old man had seen that week, he supposed true love being real wasn't the craziest notion. And if anyone deserved to find it, it was Eric.
"Eric, I wish I could tell you that the pain of love lost fades with time." There was a sound in the old man's voice. An ache like he knew all too well what he spoke of. "But in my limited experience the pain doesn't fade, you just learn how to live with it. If it is really true love you and Ariel share I don't know how or if it will ever be better, but we need you to find a way to get through. The people are frightened. And they don't know what has happened to their prince."
Eric nodded, "I understand, but I can't do this without her. I want her back more than I have ever wanted anything. I don't know where or how to find her."
The boy was tired. More than one his age should be. So the old man sat next to him and put an arm around his shoulders. He debated if he had made a mistake by telling the guards to hold him back that night. But he remembered Eric diving into the water to save Max the night of the hurricane. He knew when Eric loved something, he'd do anything to protect it or them. He had feared for the young boy who was like a son. But, to Grim's surprise, he felt a sense of hope. Because if the stories were true, then there was a chance that true love could really conquer all.