FOR KING AND COUNTRY
[This is a work of fan-fiction and not for profit of any kind. All Aquaman- related characters are the property of DC Comics; all rights reserved. Archivists may use this story upon written permission from the author, provided that this disclaimer is shown at the top of the reprinted story.]
"What are you doing, Arthur?" young Aqualad, barely twelve years of age, asked Aquaman, his mentor.
"I'm preparing for my address to the citizens this eve'ntide, Minnow. Be a good boy and bring that sash to me, will you?"
"Here you are. Where is your regular clothing? I have never seen you dressed in anything like this before."
"These are special clothes, the sort of thing a king must wear. The people will expect me to dress as their royal sovereigns traditionally do."
"That lady in the funny dress said you have to wear this special pin with jewels and pearls on it to hold that sash thing in place."
"That 'lady' is Makaira---Dr. Vulko's wife. You be nice to her, Minnow."
"I'm always nice! Well...I try to be. It's still a funny dress."
"Either way, be sure to tell her how nice she looks. She's a good woman, one of the nicest you'll meet here. If you're well-behaved around her, maybe she'll give you a treat. She seems very fond of you."
"Hmmm...I didn't think anyone liked me here. I still don't see why you have to put these things on, though. You look handsome in them but it makes you look so different."
"Never you mind. All you have to do is sit in the back and be as quiet as a nudibranch. And be sure you don't disturb the ministers or senators during the proceedings. They won't tolerate distractions. Now come help me pin this thing on in the right place, will you?"
"You never put on special clothes to chase pirates or take on Captain Black Jack.
"This is different. It's difficult to explain. Thank you; that's it...the sash is at least stable now. I think it looks fine."
"Are you having fun at this...being the King, Arthur? You don't have time for anything fun any more."
"It's nothing to do with 'fun,' Minnow. Being King is a great responsibility. I have the welfare of all of Poseidonis as well as that of the creatures of the ocean to consider."
"I understand...but I liked things better when you and I used to live out in our cave and have fun together. You haven't played with me since we came here. I wish we could go back; I miss our real home."
"This IS our real home, Minnow; it always was. We were born here. We...stop bouncing up and down on my bed like an overactive tadpole! And yes, I could see you through the back of my head!"
"You were looking at me in the mirror, I know it! Haaaaaa!
So I was, little one. Now stay still, please.
I'm sorry, but I still don't like it here, Arthur. Our real home is way way out there, in our cave. This is just a dumb ol' city full of mean people who stare at me and call me names."
"Like it or not, this is where we live now. You'll get used to it and they will get used to you."
"They say rude things about me, especially about my eyes. It's not my fault my eyes are purple; I didn't ask to be born like this any more than you asked to have blonde hair. I guess that's why my mother didn't want me and why these people don't want me around either. Those awful Shalakite priests are the worst of all---always saying terrible things about me, and they don't even care if I hear them. When we lived at home, we were happy, you and I. No one told us we had to do this or that or when or how we had to do things. Don't you miss it, too...?"
"I...I don't know, Tadpole. I suppose I do...in a way. But this...it's an honor to have been chosen to be the king of my people, especially after so many years away from them."
"You were away from them because they tried to kill you as a baby, just as they did me. They didn't want us; they say we're some kind of freaks. Why do you want to live with them now?"
"You're just a boy, Minnow, and too young to understand. This is my duty, just as it was my duty to patrol the oceans and help those in trouble. This is just another way of doing the same thing, only more so."
"If Queen Mera from that other dimension had remained here, I'd bet you would have stayed out at the cave. She is in love with you. I bet she will find a way to fix that inter-dimensional portal to come back to you. You like her, don't you? You'd want her to know where to find you when she comes back and she will be looking for you at the cave, you know."
"That is what the ones in the upper world call 'dirty pool,' Minnow."
"They dirty all of the water around them, don't they, Arthur? That's what you always say."
"That's not what I mean this time. It is an idiomatic expression of theirs."
"A saying of regional dialect which makes little sense to outsiders, like 'low blow' or 'sucker punch.' In other words...well...we will not discuss Queen Mera's departure. That is of no concern to you, young man."
"Oh...I'm...I'm sorry, Arthur. I didn't mean to say anything wrong. I like Queen Mera; she's very nice. She was fun to be around, too. And she was pretty. You thought she was pretty, didn't you, Arthur?"
"You make it sound as if she's dead, Minnow. She's just...gone back to her homewaters is all."
"She likes you...I mean LIKES you. I saw her making moony-moony eyes at you when you weren't looking. Maybe she will find a way back through the dimensional portal soon. I'm sure that her scientists will help her."
"You heard what she said, Minnow---there is no way back because the portal no longer functions. She can't come back to me, ever. She made the right decision to do her duty to her own people. That's what kings and queens do. Now stop distracting me; I'm trying to read over my speech and it's hard enough to not lose my place on this scroll."
"I don't see how you read that anyway. I don't understand their writing."
"You don't understand it right now, but if you're a good boy and study hard, you'll learn to speak and read their language properly. English really shouldn't have been your first language, nor mine, though I learned the sounds of dolphin communication before English. We are approaching the Poseidonian language with a handicap, but you'll see---you'll learn it in due time."
"I told Makaira a few words I'd heard from some boys, but she said she'd wash my mouth out with an urchin if I said them again. I wonder what it was I said...?"
"Never you mind---just don't repeat them. We'll find a tutor to teach you what you need to know; then you'll be able to attend school with the other boys."
"I heard some of the senators say that the classes at The Lyceum won't accept me because I'm an exile. They won't take in freaks."
"We'll just see about that, Tadpole, but I wouldn't worry about it if I were you. If the Royal Palace sends you to attend school, they have no choice but to accept you."
"It's not that easy, Arthur. You are the King, but you can't change people's feelings with an order! It doesn't work that way!"
"Minnow, this isn't the time for this discussion, but I will ask Makaira to register you for school and then we will deal with whatever comes of it."
"What is it now, Minnow? I really must be ready to leave in a few moments. The people are already gathering in King Juvor Square, below the palace's balcony."
"I know, I'm sorry, Sir. I was just wondering: you know how you have a title now...or a bunch of titles, and Dr. Vulko is Chief Of Protocol, and Makaira is Matron Of The Royal Household and all..."
"You're getting at something here, but verrrry slooooowly, Tadpole..."
"Well...I just wondered...am I anything to you any more? Can I still be 'Aqualad' like the surface-dwellers call me?"
"Of course you can, Minnow. You are my best friend and most trusted ally, just as you have been since the day I found you. You know that."
"But how will other people know that if we never get to be together like we used to? And, not to be rude, but I'm the one who found you, not the other way 'round. You were the one who was lost when I saw you roaming way out in the middle of nowhere and conversing with sharks. They wanted to eat you for lunch but I stopped them, remember?"
"Enough of this, Minnow; now you're just being silly. Besides, you were as afraid of those sharks as you were of fish. Neither would hurt you. I hope that you truly understand that now."
"Oh...I'm sorry. I just thought...well...nothing, I guess."
"Hmmm...? I've rearranged this sash five times and it still isn't right, but it will have to do. Now I need... Minnow! Take my crown off of your head and bring it here! You're not meant to do that."
"Why not, Arthur? I just wanted to see how heavy it is. I didn't do anything to it."
"I know that, but don't let anyone see you do that---it would start a devil of a tempest. Crowns are reserved only for people of royal blood. The people believe that a king's crown represents the favor of the gods bestowed upon their representative on Earth. They take it quite seriously; this is why you shouldn't do that."
"May I place it on your head then?"
"All right; of course you can, Minnow. There---how do I look?"
"Like a very great and powerful king...with a crooked sash. Let me fix it for you. I want you to look perfect when you go out and speak to your people. Don't worry, Arthur; you'll be wonderful out there. You shouldn't be nervous; they already like you just fine, just as I do. Now go out there and make me proud of you!"
"Minnow...have you been watching television with those surface children again?"
"Sounded too much like movie dialog, huh?"
"Ummm...I'm afraid so."
"I memorize what they say, the surface-dwellers, so that I can speak better English. And we're not 'children,' Arthur! We are Teen Titans! They call me 'Aqualad,' and their news reporters say we are all heroes. Just like you and your friends in the Justice League, we watch out for each other and cover each other's backs. And I think that they like me, Arthur; they are my only friends, besides you. They don't treat me badly like people here do."
"All right, all right, Minnow. It's just as I've told you, though. You must watch out for yourself up there. You can't rely on the other ones to make sure that you get to water when you need it because they just don't understand. If you start to feel sickly..."
"Arthur, please don't scold me again. I've told you...they take care of me and I like being with them. It makes me happy to be around other kids who can do heroic things, just like being with you."
"Yes, Minnow; all right. Now bring that scepter to me."
"What's a scepter?"
"That big golden jeweled stick you were using to prod the lobsters out of your room earlier."
"Oh...that thing? I thought it was for cracking open shellfish or scratching your royal back or something like that. Here it is."
"Thank you. Now---on your knees."
"On your knees, Minnow! That's an order!"
"All right, Arthur...but I already said I was sorry about the crown. I won't touch it again, I promise!"
"Quiet, Minnow! Now---where was I? Oh yes: As King of Poseidonis and all of her protectorates and provinces, I, King Orin II, proclaim you to be...errr...what did Vulko say he found your name to be?"
"'Garth.' That's what it said in the 'Order Of Terminal Exile' records. He said even when they put infants out to die, they have to have a name for the records, so that's what my mother named me."
"But...GARTH? What kind of name is that?"
"It's only a couple of letters shy of 'Arthur,' you know..."
"Hmmm...fair enough: I hereby dub you 'The Royal Ward, Garth, he who has found much favor with the King,' and bestow upon you the titles of His Majesty's First Counselor, Knight Errant In Service To The Crown, Lord High Keeper Of The King's Trust..."
"Shhh...Tender Of The Royal Friendship...and a repatriated citizen of the city-state of Poseidonis. You may arise, Sir Garth."
"Sir?! ME?! Really?!"
"Thank you, Arthur...I mean...THANK YOU, King Orin...the second...!"
"I'm still Arthur to you, Minnow. Now---arise! There will be no more groveling at my feet. That's not behavior befitting a ward of The Crown. Now, your first job under your new group of titles is to carry this scroll and hand it off to me when I'm ready for it. I can't manage that thing and this scepter and this sash all at the same time. All right, my most trusted one?"
"You bet! Errr...I mean, yes, Your Majesty!"