[The following story is fan-fiction, written purely for entertainment purposes. It may not be reprinted in any form without my permission and may not be reused for profit. I don't own any of these characters; copyrighted hero names belong to DC Comics. Aquaman created by Paul Norris and Aqualad created by Robert Bernstein. "Mighty Lak' A Rose" written by Frank Stanton and Ethelbert Nevin circa 1901.]
"'Sweetest little fellow, everybody knows;
Don't know what to call him but he's mighty like a rose;
Looking for his Mummy with eyes so shiny blue;
Makes you think that heaven is coming close to you...'"
My husband Garth sings a song with which I'm unfamiliar as he softly swirls while rocking our tiny son in his arms. It is so sweet to see them together but I'm afraid it's time to interrupt him to deliver a timely meal to our hungry tot.
"Is that an Atlantean nursery rhyme, Garth?" I ask as I take Cerdian, our six month old son, to my bosom. "I am still not yet familiar with all of your local customs and cultural history."
Otherwise known as the hero Tempest, proud papa Garth laughs in that pleasant and understanding manner of his, already use to my myriad of questions about my new surroundings. I've spent the lengths of several lifetimes living under the sea, yet I've only lived among Atlanteans for the past two years after meeting Garth and his mentor, the hero Aquaman. So many elements of life here still feel foreign to me. Having few friends of my own and those being people who live on land, my sole support locally comes from acquaintances introduced to me by my husband. Being a new mother as well makes it all rather overwhelming.
"I'm afraid many of those same customs are pretty foreign to me, too, Dolphin," he advises with a shrug of his shoulders. "Out of twenty-two years of life, I think I've only spent a total of six or seven of them actually living within the city-state of Atlantis. I've spent most of my life either in exile or with my friends The Titans or away at school in Scotland, which is where I picked up on that song. I used to hear it all the time on the wireless and on reruns of old telly shows, plus Deanna Durbin sang it in one of her films. I just love her movies; they are still popular in the United Kingdom. The next time we visit Titans Tower, I'll play some for you. Anyway, it was a very popular music hall tune at the turn of the last century, I guess not long before you were born."
I don't necessarily like being reminded that my life is an enigma: I was born long enough ago that, as a small child, I was a passenger aboard the RMS Lusitania when it was torpedoed. Somehow in the midst of the ensuing insanity, I was kidnapped along with several other passengers by aliens who spliced my genes with those of dolphins, whales and Arion knows what else. My appearance is that of a twenty-five year old and I look otherwise like a normal human female, save for my white hair, a circular tattoo of a dolphin's dorsal fin on my arm and the appearance of my eyes which are inverted: black irises and blue pupils. Luckily for me, none of that seemed to bother my husband when I decided that he was the one for me. Garth professes that he loves me unconditionally and my mystical spouse would never lie. Thanks to his odd upbringing, he doesn't know how to be anything but completely honest. I suppose that guarantees that he will never cheat on me; he wouldn't know what to do if he were caught at it.
My violet-eyed Garth is a bit of a conundrum in his own right. Born the rightful Crown Prince of a distant watery kingdom on the eastern frontiers of the continent of Atlantis, he was made a stateless exile and a victim of attempted regicide in infancy, abandoned and left to die by both his wandering mother and the authorities of this city in which she gave birth. After wandering the ocean on his own for more than a decade, he was eventually taken in as a protege by Aquaman, the King Of The Seas, and it is at his grace and favor that we live here in the grand palace of Atlantis. As one of several generous wedding gifts, we were given a little cottage on the palace grounds in which to make our home. Since our son was born, however, we seem to spend far more time visiting Arthur and his Queen, Mera. Having lost their own son as a toddler, they seem comforted and charmed by the presence of our baby in their lives, perhaps taking them back to a calmer, more cheerful time. Cerdian couldn't have a more loving uncle and aunt in his life and I'm glad that he brings them joy.
"Knock, knock!" Queen Mera announces herself, shaking me from my thoughts. Her gleaming crown shows off her stunningly attractive features and flaming red hair. No wonder Arthur pined away for her after the last of their numerous breakups; he spoke of her constantly even when he was courting me...which wasn't much of a confidence booster for me. Mera kisses Garth on his cheek, after which she strokes Cerdian's ebony hair, visibly fretting over the shock of white locks which jut from the crest of his head.
"Those white hairs make him look as if someone has frightened him, poor old man," Mera coos at Cerdian as she caresses him in motherly fashion. "Listen, you two: I'm going around the palace for my 'morning constitutional,' which conceals the fact that I'm checking up on the household staff at the same time. I would be happy to take the most handsome fellow in town with me on my route, if you'd like. That would give you two some 'alone time.'"
"That's a very gracious offer," Garth replies with a winsome smile, "but I'm afraid that I'm due for a long, boring session at the chambers of the Royal Council Of Science this afternoon. You are welcome to take Cerdian along, though. He's partial to beautiful ladies of royal blood."
The pair of them share a hearty laugh, which in turn makes Cerdian giggle while being transferred into Mera's eager arms. Turning to me, she reminisces, "We could never manage to make Garth joke like that as a boy." She tilts her head teasingly in his direction, adding, "He was always so self-effacing and unsure of himself while growing up, not having been socialized enough to understand the nuances of humor. That began to change as Tula took notice of him. A very shy child was this one, and neither Arthur nor I could get him to be any less serious. Only Tula could manage that feat. Imagine me not being able to make my Number One Fan laugh, poor dear."
Placing Cerdian's tiny head against her shoulder, the Queen walks away...and not a moment too soon. There she is again: 'Tula, Tula, Tula!' I am so sick of hearing that name. 'Tula was so wonderful.' 'Tula was so beautiful.' 'Tula was so brave.' 'Tula was so understanding.' 'Tula had the best sense of humor.' 'Tula could take out ten henchmen with one punch.' Apparently, Tula walked on water...and if she didn't, it's the only thing she didn't do. I really hate Tula and am glad that I never met her. No wife should have to compete with the ghost of her husband's dead first love. Garth even said that if our child turned out to be a girl, he wanted to name her 'Tula' in an effort to keep the name alive and part of his life. That was so not going to happen.
Around the door frame I see Shielagh's head poking through. She is the head handmaid of Queen Mera's household and thinks too much of herself because of it. She casts a scowl at Garth, her foul attitude against him being the same as most of the people of this soggy burg, with her ill-mannered behavior extending to me ever since we became a couple. Without actually looking at either of us, she makes an announcement in a cross tone. "Their Majesties summon the pair of you to join them in the royal reception chambers," she states tersely, "You have guests." With an audible grunt of displeasure and an upswept nose, she turns upon her heels and walks away, leaving me smoldering with fury.
"I will never understand why you put up with such impertinence, Garth!" I finally let out through a set jaw, my voice far more loud than I'd planned it to be. "You are a royal Prince who could be King of your own domain on any day of your choosing. As the King's chief confidante, an international diplomat and a world-renowned hero, you should command and receive the utmost respect, yet you are content to let an uppity scullery maid treat you as if you were her servant. Explain to me why this is, because I just don't get it!"
Garth's fuchsia-tinged eyes are focused down, a lifelong habit created by precisely this kind of treatment. He makes that face, the one which indicates that emotional turmoil clouds his thoughts and gnaws at his stomach. After contemplating my remarks, he offers an explanation. "I've lived here for longer than I care to remember, Dolphin," he begins, turning toward the door to view the spot where Shielagh previously stood. "When I came here with Arthur, I was both an exile and a virtual servant to him; both condemned me to a low station in life here. These people are xenophobes of the worst kind, so I've never been welcome here. They particularly detest my people, the Idylists; they equate pacifism with cowardice and our magical abilities with evil. I don't expect that will change any time soon; I've long ago learned to accept that fact."
He must have noticed my angry expression turn to despondency, for his expression shifts to one similarly pained. I didn't expect him to be resigned to this kind of treatment; I was sure that fussing at him would get a rise out of him. We've been married for months and I still can't figure him out. I'm not sure that I ever will.
"I'm sorry, Dolphin," his apology begins, his eyes still not willing to meet mine. "It never occurred to me when I asked for your hand in marriage that you would suffer as a result of the way these people treat me. I wouldn't wish that on even the Black Manta, our archenemy." Reaching for my hands, he sweetly caresses them in his own and then surprisingly gazes into my eyes, scanning them for an answer. "I love you very much and never want to cause you heartache. I hope you can forgive me."
Me forgive him? After I forced him away from those annoying do-gooder teammates of his not once but twice and left him alone, comatose and languishing in a medical tank at S.T.A.R. Labs because I couldn't stand to see him in that condition? I'd grown to hate all the expressions of sympathy from the staff there, people to whom I am a physical and evolutionary superior; it seemed demeaning and soul-crushing to have them feel sorry for us. This isn't even to mention that I pushed Garth into this relationship to begin with, frighteningly aware that he never would have looked at me twice if he had known that I'd been intimate with his guardian. Forever bound by chivalry, he soon asked me to marry him when I announced my pregnancy. Selfishly, I wasn't the least bit concerned with whether or not he was ready for marriage. Garth has such a beautifully sculpted face, like that of a Greek god, barely marred by those garish scars over his right eye. Well-mannered, charming, intelligent and kind, he is the Prince Charming so many women kiss hundreds of frogs to find, making my selfish act seemed justified. I wanted him desperately and would have done anything to get him. It is I who should be asking for forgiveness but, being the consummate gentleman, he would never ask me to apologize.
"We had better get over to the reception room and find out what's wanted of us," Garth suggests, courteously ushering me toward the door. "I wonder who would be visiting us?"
As we approach the grand double doors of the royal reception chamber, we are greeted by General Rodunn, second in command of His Majesty's Navy. Tall, dark and rugged, he looks mean and gruff even when he is in a good mood. His mission in life is to protect and serve the King Of Atlantis and he is well suited for the job, though he is far less capable when it comes to the niceties of etiquette and protocol.
"Good tides to Your Highnesses," he meets us with a traditional Atlantean greeting and a military salute. "You'll find Their Majesties and your guests within." With a sweep of his hand, he indicates that we should enter the room. "They've been awaiting your arrival."
From the moment we enter the chamber, my husband's gaze is fixed with a fury I never believed capable of him. Before us stands an attractive middle-aged woman shrouded in a shimmering pink pearl colored robe, the right side of her long, dark-brown hair accented by a thick swatch of braids. One look from her sets Garth's temper flaring.
"What is she doing here?!" he demands of King Arthur and Queen Mera without ever breaking his glare at our visitor.
"You must be Garth's mother, Queen Berra," I address her, unable to tell if I am more mystified by her presence or the fact that she is so tenderly holding my baby in her arms.
"You must be Garth's wife," she replies with a deceptively docile smile, "You are called 'Dolphin,' are you not?"
With all the subtlety of a charging bull walrus, King Arthur rushes over and throws his arms around my shoulders and those of Queen Berra. "You women must tell me how you do that!" he shouts with affable mirth. "You just seem to know these things without proper introductions. I suppose you really do have a sixth sense we men will never grasp."
Once Arthur finally releases us, Queen Berra looks over to Garth who has now folded his arms menacingly, clearly demanding an answer to his question. "My chief emissary to your city informed me of the recent birth of my grandson," Queen Berra replies, "and that both you and King Arthur were present at the palace at this time. After all these years, I thought it the least I can do to come here in person to thank His Majesty for his kindness in the rearing and protection of my child, which I knew would give me a chance to meet young Cerdian here. In the absence of an official invitation, I opted to make an unofficial state visit. He really is an adorable baby, my son."
"You would first have to have been a 'mother' to be fit for the title 'grandmother,'" Garth scolds her. "You've never once been a mother to me and you've now held Cerdian in your arms for longer than you were ever in the same room with me. Doctor Vulko remembers that you refused to let the nurse put me into your arms even once before having the authorities take me off to dispose of me. Give Cerdian to his mother before your venom contaminates him. Now!"
"Minnow, don't be rude!" Arthur orders Garth, hand upheld in his direction, unintentionally adding insult to injury by calling him by his pet name for my husband back when he was a nameless waif. "She is your mother, after all, and she meant no harm in coming here. You should have told me that you'd finally found her. It's good to meet her after so many years. You know, you had your mother's cute little nose and freckles as a boy, by Zeus! Funny to see where they came from. Now be polite to her, Tadpole. I taught you to be respectful to your elders, especially of the female sort."
"You taught me to defend justice, Arthur," Garth counters him as Queen Berra hands Cerdian off to me. "Why should she be vindicated for her murderous actions against me? Every horrible thing that has ever happened in my life is because of her having dumped me in this lousy city to ensure they would discard me after she gave birth. I don't owe any respect to a woman guilty of planned infanticide and she's the last person who should be allowed to hold an innocent baby, particularly mine!"
Mera recoils from Queen Berra's side at Garth's words, her heart still aching daily from the loss of her own beloved little boy at the hands of one of Arthur's enemies. Neither she nor I were aware of how Garth ended up being left to survive on his own in the open ocean before being found by the nomadic Arthur, both left to live as exiles far from the city. No one would have believed that his own mother was to blame, yet Garth has bravely held that knowledge in his heart without saying a word.
"You are fully aware, Garth," Queen Berra sternly addresses him, "that the unfortunate circumstances surrounding your birth were in aid of protecting our people by ensuring that your mad uncle could not acquire your latent magical powers. Abandoning you to these ignorant bigots was a distasteful act but one I was forced to commit. My duty as Queen is to protect Shayeris at all cost, including great personal cost. It is that very duty which brings me here on this visit."
"I've already done my duty to Shayeris by ridding the waters of your brother-in-law, Slizzath," Garth counters her, his voice cold and tense. "I saved your city and prevented further atrocities. The people restored the monarchy and your place in it. You can't have the nerve to expect more of me."
Moments of silence pass before Queen Berra speaks again. "You selflessly delivered our people and have become their honored hero," she says with pride though not daring to look at her wounded son. "I had hoped that following those events we might put the facts of your birth behind us and move forward. Our people restored the monarchy precisely because of your miraculous deeds and they begged you to take the crown of your father, yet you spurned this honor in an effort to punish me."
"Garth! You never told me that they had made you their King!"
I couldn't hold back on saying this, so surprised was I at this revelation. My tightlipped husband had never revealed very much about his trip to Shayeris over a year ago. The only outward signs that something significant had transpired were an unexpected maturity which had aged his boyish face, that he returned in a vibrant red and black uniform as opposed to the black unitard he had worn prior to his departure and that the two still tender gashes he'd sported over his right eye had healed and become tattoo-like.
Garth turns to me to avoid the stares of a startled Arthur and Mera. "I am not interested in the Crown Of Shayeris," he states as a matter of fact. "I have declined to accept it at this time."
"You might continue to deny your duty by declining your throne," Queen Berra interjects in an effort to force some guilt over the matter into Garth, "but your heir might not be as reluctant. Therefore, it is my duty as the reigning monarch to validate any future claims to the throne. Unfortunately, this child's claim would be a false one, for Garth is not his father, is he, Dolphin?"
Arthur and Mera could not possibly have gulped any louder as they look from Berra to Garth in abject shock. Berra uses their silence as an opportunity to massage her bombshell.
"So, my dear," she continues, turning her full attention to me. "Who is the real father?"
"What would make you accuse Dolphin of such a thing?" Mera asks incredulously, stepping forward to defend me. "Of course this is their child! I was there to help her give birth under horrible conditions, rubble all around us and in the middle of a war. How dare you?!"
"Garth is his father's child, Queen Mera," our visitor answers. "Like the boy's mentor here, King Thar was headstrong, impulsive, obsessed with protecting the innocent and meting out justice. My dear husband was dark in coloring and had the same dark curls, classic profile and purple eyes as mirrored by his son, and this is the most telling point. This is why I know that this little darling, as cute as he may be, cannot possibly be my grandson. Just as with the events of Garth's birth, his eyes tell the viewer all they need to know, for Cerdian's eyes are blue."
"Is that a crime in Shayeris?" Mera asks with a scoff as she strokes Cerdian's hair, as pleased as I am that he is too small to understand what is being said of him.
"It was a crime here in our city back when I was born," Arthur says, looking a bit unsettled at the tone of the conversation. The silencing glare of three women shut his mouth for him.
"You misunderstand, Queen Mera," Berra corrects her. "For seven millennia, all the male heirs to the throne of Shayeris share the same mark which Garth notoriously exhibits: violet-shaded eyes. The ghost of every Shayeran Prince before him has entrusted his spirit through those eyes to the next of his line. Felix Faust then forcibly imprinted each of those spirits within Garth's consciousness, augmenting his innate magical abilities and those taught to him by the wizard Atlan. The blue-eyed Cerdian, therefore, cannot possibly be Garth's heir. Just as Garth's eye color forever brands him as an Idylist of royal blood, Cerdian's eyes witness the fact that his father is a commoner and his mother is a liar. As the royal protector of the throne, it is my right to ask who his father really is."
"Go home, Queen Berra," Garth ends the discussion in a strong, low tone. "You are not welcome here and I resent your attempts to intrude upon my life and that of my family. Come on, Dolphin," he signals to me to leave. "We are going. The water in here is toxic." He nods an apology to Arthur and Mera and then ushers me out of the room, carefully taking Cerdian into his arms as we somberly swim down the hall and out into the courtyard.
Like a specter trailing a long, dark shroud, a choking silence follows us to our cottage. Garth dutifully places Cerdian into his clamshell-shaped crib and draws a woven covering over him. He places the baby's favorite toy next to him; it is a musical seahorse Garth brought back from his journeys on land. He kisses our son on the forehead and rustles his baby-fine tresses before joining me in our bed chamber. All the while, I've been fretting about what I would say when we were alone. Now is my chance to find out.
"Garth, I need to explain something to you," it comes staggering out of me, knowing that this is the most difficult conversation I will ever have...and probably the final one with my husband.
"I don't need an explanation, Dolphin," Garth interrupts, putting his finger to my lips to stop me from speaking any further. "I've known all along about Cerdian, from the moment I first held him and looked into those glistening blue eyes. I've been staring into those same eyes since I was eleven years old, those same eyes which assured me that everything would be all right. They were eyes which exuded authority, trust and, occasionally, terror. In each one of Arthur's children, his eyes were cloned. I would know them anywhere."
By the gods: He knows. All this time we've been together...and he married me anyway. But why?
"I've never said anything about this because I so desperately wanted to be a father," Garth continues. "Truth to tell, I was furious to find that you hadn't told me you had been sleeping with Arthur when I was away studying magic. Never would I have knowingly violated his trust by insinuating myself into your relationship with him, even though it had ended. I've always been backwards and uneducated in the ways of relationships; it is what comes of having lived in isolation during my childhood. You should have been honest with me before we united as a couple, but in the end it didn't matter. I fell in love with Cerdian long before he was born, you see. Tula and I did so much child-rearing when Arthur Junior was a tot that it fully prepared me for the moment when I would have a child of my own to raise. I love him dearly, just as I love you."
He...he loves me. Despite the arguing, the age difference between us and Queen Berra's sordid revelation, Garth loves me anyway. We know that this is not to be the end of the discussion of this matter, yet neither of us seems to care.
Garth kisses me as if it were the first time, then stares into my eyes and smiles. "We are going to raise our 'bonny wee bairn' in safety and comfort within a loving home," he says, sounding for all the world like the Scottish professor who cared for him during his years at school in the Highlands. "No one will interfere with our family; you have my word on that, dear."
I suddenly feel very sorry for Tula and say a silent 'thank you' to her. Without their idyllic teenage romance, Garth would have absorbed only his mentor's gruff, bombastic ways and his hunger for danger and adventure. Tula gave Garth a longing for the more peaceful joys of life, such as home and family. It was she who single-handedly nurtured the shunned and lonely boy, utilizing her giddy, girlish love of him to encourage and educate him, cultivating him into the kindly, tolerant and caring man I met and married. She's not my competition for his love; she's the friend I never knew and to whom I owe everything.
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