King Triton was on the outskirts of his city, overseeing the tunneling of a new dwelling for some newlyweds, when Flounder swam up to him.
The fish gulped, as he tried to face those stern eyes under the Kings bushy brows. "Your,..your Majesty,..."
Knowing of Flounder's timidity, Triton tried to let some of his strong character slip off, and even managed a gentle smile. "Yes, Flounder?"
"Uhh,...you haven't seen Ariel around, have you?"
Triton stroked his beard. "No. The last time that I saw her was at breakfast. She swam out pretty fast,...I didn't have a chance to ask her where she was going."
"I've been looking for her everywhere; I'm afraid she might be lost or hurt or something." The little fist fluttered nervously.
"I don't think that you need to worry about Ariel, just yet", answered Triton in a soothing, light-hearted voice. "Disappearing all day and then showing up late for dinner is more the norm for her."
"Yeah, but I'm always with her when she's disappeared!", worried the fish.
"Well, you just relax and wait until this evening. I'm sure that she'll tell you all about her latest "adventure" when she gets home."
"I sure hope so", answered the fish. He bowed and quickly left towards the palace.
Ariel did show up later that evening, just in time for dinner, and Flounder was there to greet her.
"You were worried about me? That's sweet,...but I'm okay; see?" The mermaid smiled sweetly and hugged her friend.
"I looked all over for you!", insisted the fish.
"Oh; I was just with a new friend", answered the girl, as they swam towards the dining room.
"A new friend?"
"Yeah. I just met him a few days ago at the marketplace. He's really a sweet guy."
Flounder hesitated. "Is he,...a fish?"
"Oh no. He's a merman. A very nice merman. His name is Durgon."
"You were with him all day?"
Ariel giggled. "Flounder! You're not jealous or anything, are you?"
"No,...no. Not me. Uh,...can I join you for dinner?"
Ariel took his fin and led him to the dinner table. "Of course! Since when did you need to ask?"
"Well,...I don't know. You might not want to see me as much now,..."
"Don't be silly! Me and Durgon have a totally different kind of friendship." Ariel kissed the fish on the nose, then she sat down at the table.
Triton swam in to join his daughters. After spotting the two, the King smiled. "You see, Flounder. I told you that she would show up."
"Yes, your Majesty. I had,...nothing to worry about."
The next day, Flounder went searching again; this time, for Urchin. He found the merboy with some other boys, playing blowfish ball. Flounder quickly told him about Ariel's "new friend".
Urchin put his hand on his chin and wrinkled his nose with concern. "This sounds serious. Ariel's done got a boyfriend!"
Flounder nodded his head. "Yeah! Ariel said they had a "different kind of friendship." That sure doesn't sound good!"
"They've probably already kissed! Ariel's not gonna be any fun anymore", confirmed Urchin.
"Why do you say that?", gasped Flounder.
"Well; she won't have time for fun stuff anymore. No more exploring,...no more games. Now that she's got a boyfriend, she's got to act grown-up."
"This is awful!", groaned the fish. Urchin squinted his eyes in thought. "We're gonna have to keep an eye on her,...just to see how bad it is."
When Flounder found the girl, later that day, Ariel was in the palace's kitchen, fixing an elaborate salad. The fish swam cautiously up and looked into the shell bowl. "Gee, Ariel. There's a bunch of stuff in there; you must really be hungry!"
"Oh, it's not for me", answered the girl. "It's for Durgon."
"You're fixing a salad,...for Durgon?"
"Uh huh! He doesn't get out a lot, so I thought I'd take him some lunch."
"That's,...nice." Flounder watched as the girl added some little touches to the salad, while humming happily to herself. "Uh,...Urchin wanted me to tell you about a big blowfish ball- game this afternoon. He thought you might like to watch it."
"I'd really like to, Flounder, but I thought I'd keep Durgon company today. Tell Urchin I hope his team wins."
"Okay. Well,..say "hi" to Durgon for me", sighed the fish, as he watched Ariel finish her work.
"I will", answered the girl, as she took the salad and swam to the door. "I'll see you this evening! Keep Urchin out of trouble!"
"Yeah! Sure,...", Flounder mumbled. That evening, Flounder once more floated around the dinner table, as the royal family ate. He listened, with growing distress, at Ariel's enthusiastic recollection of her visit with Durgon.
"You remember me telling you about him, Daddy?"
Triton nodded his head.
"Well; we had a long talk today. He knows such interesting things,(not as much as you, of course), but lot's of things I've never heard before: all about Atlantica and the ocean and sailing ships,..."
Triton raised an eyebrow. "Sailing ships? I don't like the sound of that."
Ariel bit her lip. "Well,...anyway, I did learn a lot. He's such a sweet guy!"
Flounder shrank back. the King would surely object to Ariel's infatuation. Instead, to Flounder's shock, he smiled.
"I'm glad to hear that, Ariel. Spreading kindness is a quality in you which I have always been proud of. You have certainly shown kindness to Durgon, since he has been alone for the week."
Flounder realized now that Durgon's parents must be away. That was why Ariel was seeing the merboy every day.
"I'm fixing him a special sea-berry pie tomorrow", put in the girl.
Flounder thought to himself,"Me and Urchin have got to do something about Durgon!"
The next morning, Flounder went to see Urchin again.
The merboy agreed that Durgon had an unhealthy influence on Ariel. "She stays at his place all the time; I bet he's just using her to get things, since she's a Princess and all."
"Yeah!", agreed Flounder. "First, she's making him salads and now she's baking a special pie for him. Before you know it, they'll be married and he won't even let her leave his house!"
"When was Ariel going to see him again?", asked the merboy.
"Right at lunch-time. She was gonna take him his pie."
Urchin squinted his eyes. "Let's follow her to Durgon's place. We'll just sneak along so she won't know. Then we'll find out just what this Durgon is planning."
Flounder nodded. "Yeah!"
The two boys waited for Ariel to swim out of the palace, then trailed behind; staying out of sight of the girl. Ariel swam with a smile on her face as she carried her special pie.
Urchin shook his head. "That Durgon's really got her love-struck", he whispered to Flounder.
Ariel made her way to a nice mer-dwelling, and knocked on the door.
Urchin and Flounder watched as a young merwoman let the Princess inside. "Who do you think that was?", asked Flounder.
Urchin shrugged in puzzlement. "Let's go look in through a window."
The fish followed the boy to a side of Durgon's home where opened, round windows emitted a warm yellow light. They peeked inside to see Ariel sitting with an elderly gentleman on a seaweed sofa.
"That must be Durgon's father", whispered Urchin.
Two young merwomen came into view. One of them was the person who had let Ariel inside. "We're so glad that you took the time to visit our father while we were away", said one of the women.
"Oh, it was my pleasure", answered Ariel. "Durgon told me so many interesting stories!"
The elderly man smiled and patted Ariel's hand. "And you were such a good listener too! If it hadn't been for you, it would have been a lonely week for me."
Flounder's mouth dropped. "HE"S Durgon!"
Urchin scratched his head. "I guess we were wrong."
The two boys watched as one of the merwomen brought out slices of Ariel's sea-berry pie and cups of dolphin-milk on a tray. The group sat together, laughing and talking as they enjoyed Ariel's treat.
Urchin hung his head in shame. "It was wrong of us to spy on her", he admitted.
Flounder nodded his head. "Yeah. Let's go back and leave them alone."
Just as they were turning to leave, a strong hand landed on their shoulders. "So! Spying on folks, are we?", growled a male voice.
Urchin and Flounder looked around to see a stranger looking down at them. "It's not like it looks!,...uh,...we know that girl,...that's Princess Ariel,...", stuttered the merboy.
The stranger smiled sarcastically. "Yeah; sure. I guess you won't mind telling it to the King, then. Come on!"
Triton was a little more understanding than the two trembling boys expected. The King stroked his beard after hearing about their spying. "It was wrong of you to look in on others without their consent. Flounder; your punishment will be up to your parents. Urchin; I'm beaching you for a day."
The pair nodded. "Yes, your Majesty."
"As for Ariel; I don't think you need to worry about any romantic inclinations from her just yet. Her head is too full of getting into mischief to have time for a boy." The King smiled. "When the time does come,(if I know my Ariel), you'd better just stand aside and let her go."
Urchin and Flounder gave such a puzzled look that the King just had to chuckle. "You'll understand,...in time."