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The sailor had seen her for only a moment. Evidently, a moment was long enough to make him relentless in his quest to capture her. All at once, the scaled fin on the end of Kilikini’s tail couldn’t move fast enough, and her muscular arms never pressed the water out of her way with enough force. A net floated without threat before her eyes, until it became a braided jail cell.
They handled her roughly as the men howled with chauvinistic glee, and ripped her from her home, and threw her across the deck. Unable to grab hold of her scales without having their hands sliced raw, the sailors dragged her across the splintered wooden boards by her arms, and shoved her into a barrel of stale water.
The sailors stared at her from all angles of the tiny cabin that she had been subjected to, and made abrasive comments in a language that Kilikini did not understand. At first the distance they kept from the barrel was modest. A few of the sailors migrated towards the barrel hesitantly at first, until their distance was not modest at all, and Kilikini was invaded by fifty unwanted hands. They ran their fingers over her glassy scales, and grabbed at her human parts with painful abruptness. Kilikini shrieked aloud when a fistful of her hair was jerked violently to the side, and this only brought on a chorus of pot-bellied chortles.
The ship rocked in every direction, sloshing most of the water out of Kilikini’s barrel. By the morning, there was a puddle of water that ended before Kilikini’s waistline. She felt weak, and dehydrated; her body sagged with the lack of strength. Kilikini’s one consolation was that the duties on the ship spared no free time for the sailors, and she was freed from further harassment.
It could have been a day; it could have been a week, as well as Kilikini could judge. One minute rolled by like an hour, and bled into the next with relentless monotony. Before, like the messiah come at last, the ship harbored.
Kilikini could safely assume that she would not enjoy the next stage of her journey, but anything to break free from her current schedule, would be a welcome alteration. Just as Kilikini had anticipated, it was only a few moments before a sailor’s footsteps resounded throughout the tiny cabin, and his hands were stuffing her without tenderness as far as she would go into the tiny barrel. A lid was hammered into place over her head, and the barrel wasted no time in being knocked over, and hurdled through the ship on its side. Kilikini could feel the bruises spotting her skin, and the last of the water in her barrel being salted with blood.
With a loud clank, the barrel stopped. Kilikini’s heart thumped in her chest, and her arms folded around her waist. A verbal introduction boomed in an unrecognizable language, and the toe of a boot drummed the side of Kilikini’s barrel. A whoosh of air blew loose strands of Kilikini’s dark hair about her face as the barrel was pried open. She tilted her head down, and stared into her abdomen, curling up at the bottom of the barrel to avoid further abuse.
Inarticulate words and wandering stares invaded Kilikini’s space within moments, and a large brown fist closed around her hair. She shrieked as the hand pulled her upwards, and she stared around the immaculately furnished palace, and the richly decorated nobles. One of the palace occupants gasped aloud, and his eyes widened with wondering excitement. His legs straightened, and he stood off of the canopied cot at the end of the room, to view the magnificent wonder at a closer range.
The prince exchanged words with the ship captain, though his eyes never left Kilikini’s face. His head finally snapped up, and he made one more statement in the direction of the captain. The lid of the barrel was hammered back into place above Kilikini’s head, and she was carted off to another destination.
Alone in the dark room, Kilikini could hear nothing. The lid of the barrel had not been removed, and she drifted in and out of consciousness, the strength of hunger and thirst weakening her fear and curiosity.
The barrel seemed to quake as a heavy door creaked open, and closed with a bang. Kilikini wanted to lift her head, but all that she managed to do was open her eyes. Footsteps slapped through the room as the light tap of bare feet brought a man closer to the barrel. The footsteps stopped, and the lid of the barrel creaked as it was pried off with a crowbar. Kilikini’s head lolled to the side, and she stared into the face of the prince. She felt excited, angry, and frightened all at once, but before she could manage anything else, Kilikini fainted dead away.
She awoke in an enormous pool, lined with gold trim, and surrounded by the open walls of white pillars. One of her needs was revived, as she felt the water swish over her skin and scales. She dove headfirst to the bottom of the pool, and remained stationary, basking in the comfort of relaxation.
Only moments later her rest was disrupted by the clap of bare feet on wet tile. She opened her eyes underneath the water, and stared ahead at the face distorted by the gentle hum of the water’s motion. She recognized the man that had taken interest in her the other day, the one that had opened the barrel just before she lost consciousness. Kilikini had decided not to surface, until she caught something in her nose that intrigued her enough to make an appearance.
Kilikini was greeted with the most welcome display she could have imagined, a silver tray of tiny fish and shellfish, garnished with seaweed. Kilikini stared first with longing at the arrangement, and then hesitancy as it was placed before her on the ledge of the pool. Her eyes wandered up the baggy white pants of the prince, and into his dark eyes. He showed his teeth and nodded his head, and Kilikini stared harder. He seemed to be communicating something, but she was still dubious. When the prince stepped backwards across the tile, and crossed his legs to sit on the floor – away from Kilikini and the oceanic feast – she tentatively raised her arm, and lifted the silver tray off of the tile ledge. She tilted it over the water and let the contents slide off of the tray.
Kilikini dove after the sea’s delicacies, expecting them to swim away fast when they sensed the predator near by. To Kilikini’s surprise, the animals sunk to the bottom of the pool, and lay ready for her to hunt. Kilikini pushed them with her hand, but the animals remained dead to her. Kilikini remembered the difficult journey that she had been subject to, and assumed that these animals were not fortunate enough to survive. She said a silent apology to the hapless creatures, as they were not given a fair chance at life.
However, Kilikini was quite starving at this point, and she knew that the final justice to these animals would be to ensure that their deaths were not wasted. She crunched through the crab and lobster, and then slid the fish down her throat whole. The seaweed plant made a pleasant salad to finish off the meal.
Kilikini’s stomach growled when she had finished, and she stared down at the hollow pit that had become her abdomen. She searched for a way to indicate that she wanted more, and found the silver tray at the bottom of the pool. She lifted it out of the water and flung it with a bang on the tile. Kilikini drew back under the water, and raised her head only enough to watch the prince’s reaction. When he raised his arm, Kilikini hunched lower in the water, until she watched a servant step forward to replenish the prince’s supply with a second tray.
Kilikini awaited a routine identical to the one the prince had just preformed, but she was surprised, and concerned when he altered his methods. The prince came just to the ledge of the pool, and Kilikini shrunk away. He lifted a clam and held it over the water, within Kilikini’s reach. An internal battle was hidden behind her carefully vacant expression. There was a portion of Kilikini that was prepared to launch across the water, and snatch the clam out of his hand, but the more dominant part of her shrank further away.
This battle raged within the boundaries of Kilikini’s mind before she made a final decision, and moved forwards to take the food. As Kilikini extended her arm, the prince’s expression lightened, and he startled her with a word.
“Clam.” He said. Kilikini darted under the water and across the pool. She only surfaced when she was as far away from the prince as possible. The prince’s face remained neutral as he extended his arm further and repeated the word.
“Clam.” He said. Kilikini caught on, and mimicked the word awkwardly.
“Claaamm.” She folded her tongue around the strange language. A smiled bloomed on the prince’s face, and he rushed to assure Kilikini that she was correct, with an abrupt nod of his head.
“Yes, clam – clam!” He said enthusiastically, as he dropped the “clam” in the water.
These language lessons continued everyday until Kilikini was comfortable around the prince, and could fluently converse in this odd new language. The first day that this routine was altered was when the prince entered with a solemn look in his eyes.
“Kilikini,” He began. “You’re happy here aren’t you?”
“Content.” Kilikini replied with a nod.
“Good, it pleases me to know that you can find joy in this new life. For I wish you to share it with me, for as long as we both shall live.” He said with a serious tone.
“You mean never to return to my home?” Kilikini’s voice began to leak as she imagined what this meant.
“Yes.” The prince nodded. “You see, I’m in love with you. I would like you to stay with me forever, to return my love.”
Kilikini sunk lower into the water. Her hands twitched over her scales, and she stared down at her tail.
“I can’t agree to that.” Kilikini began.
“But you said that you are happy here.” The prince lost control of his voice. “You have a beautiful home, no delicacy is out of your taste bud’s reach, you have a man who loves you… Why shouldn’t you want to stay?” The prince shook his head. Kilikini paused for a moment, before diving under the water and circling the pool in the time it took the prince to blink. She stopped at the far end, and stared the prince in the eye.
“Freedom.” She said. “You give me shelter, food and love. But you have the power to take those things away. I am only truly free when I control the things that go into my happiness.” Kilikini described.
“But I never would take those things away from you.” The prince shook his head. “You can be happy here, all you have to do is ask.”
“That’s just it.” Kilikini swam slowly forwards. “I am asking you for freedom. This is a peculiar request, for freedom is when you do not have to ask for anything. Freedom is when you control your own happiness.”
Kilikini could see in the prince’s eyes that he did not understand. But he was a good person, and truly loved her. This combination was a recipe, for freedom.