King Daro removed his crown, and gazed lovingly at Queen Giselle. "What would you like for your birthday, Love?"
She sighed. "The one thing I can't have."
"We don't know that, the most recent Healers to look at you seemed hopeful. Their chants sounded especially powerful. But until then, is there anything else?"
Giselle gazed out of the tower window, just as a dolphin leaped high into the air. The creature did a joyful twist before plunging into the deep blue water.
"I would like a pet dolphin. It could live in the bay beside the castle."
He smiled, grateful for a request that he could fulfill. "A fine choice, dear Giselle."
King Daro had the mouth of the bay walled in with heavy stones, with the exception of an area wide enough for two large rowboats to enter, side by side. In that area, an ingenious gate was installed, and secured with a one of a kind lock.
Then he made it known that a reward of ten gold coins would be paid for an unharmed dolphin.
King Daro took one look at the first creature to be brought in, and almost wept. It was battered and exhausted.
He rose from his throne, and looked down at the cowering fisherman. "I said unharmed! This one might not even survive, and will probably never go near anyone if it does. Put him in the bay, then go out and get another one."
When he came back, the fisherman was towing a tiny baby dolphin, wrapped in a net. It was unharmed and unafraid.
King Daro was enchanted by the curious animal. "She's perfect! But also very young. Bring her mother in unharmed, and I will give you thirty gold coins."
Eight more dolphins were captured before the mother was finally located. All were locked up behind the stone wall.
King Daro smiled as he looked out at the water. "Instead of one pet dolphin, Giselle will have eleven. Surely that will make her forget her yearning for a child, at least for a while."
Meanwhile the dolphins were trying to make sense of the situation.
Little Rainbow slowly swam around her family. "Mama, when are we going home? This water is too slow, I want to play in the currents."
Mama visibly slumped. "I don't know, Dear. When the no fins bring fish or capture one of us, they block the exit with a net before they open the gate."
Rainbow examined the gate. "Then we need to open the gate ourselves, so the net won't be there to stop us."
Tunacatcher, the first to be imprisoned, swam to the surface. "There's a hole just above the water. The no fins call it a lock. They put something in it and move it around, then the gate opens."
"Let's try it," suggested Rainbow.
She searched the bottom of the bay, and found a little piece of waterlogged driftwood. She brought it up, and tried it in the keyhole.
When nothing happened, she swam dejectedly to Mama.
Tunacatcher swam back to the lock. "Let's see that hole. It looks like it has a special shape in it. Like a starfish."
Rainbow nodded. "Maybe we can take the thing that goes in it from the no fins."
"We can try," he agreed.
On Giselle's birthday, she and King Daro were escorted to a rowboat moored in the bay.
"Just wait until you see the little one, Giselle. She's so curious!"
Giselle beamed. "This is a wonderful birthday, thank you, Daro."
By the time the boat was in the middle of the bay, Rainbow could no longer contain her curiosity. Despite the others urging caution, she approached.
Keeping far enough under the water to avoid being seen, she listened to the no fins.
"What was the chant the Healers gave me to recite? Oh, I wish my memory was better!"
He sighed. "Are you sure you want to do that now? It's your birthday, you should be celebrating."
"Of course, Dear. If anything my wishes will be stronger today."
"If you insist... I wrote it down for you."
A few seconds later, the woman's melodic voice rang across the water.
"Baby mine, come to me for a life sublime. All shall be yours, there will be no locked doors, oh baby mine."
As if hypnotized, the baby dolphin came to the surface.
Giselle gasped. "Oh, how beautiful!"
Rainbow came close, and Giselle gently hugged her.
Then something strange happened. Her fins elongated into arms, and on her smooth head grew thick hair, the color of the sea. In moments she had transformed into a human toddler.
Giselle pulled Rainbow into the boat, and wrapped her shawl around the child.
Rainbow looked at the world through her new eyes. One of the first things she noticed was the starfish shaped key hanging around the neck of the no fin rowing the boat.
"May I please have that?" she chattered, startling everyone in the boat.
Realizing that they didn't understand her, she smiled and pointed at the key.
Giselle remembered her promise. "There will be no locked doors," she whispered.
She motioned to the one rowing, and when he didn't react she took it, and handed it to the child.
Rainbow clutched it in triumph, and jumped into the bay.
"NO!" shrieked Giselle, as Rainbow disappeared beneath the waves.
The toddler swam easily, her dolphin family helping her to move swiftly. Soon she was at the gate.
Ignoring the pleas of Giselle, she opened the gate and swam out.
"We're finally free to go home, Mama!"
"No my child, you are a no fin now. You have to go back. I'll always be your mama, but now the one in the boat will be a mama to you too. You'll have two instead of one!"
"No, Mama... I want to be with you, and play in the currents."
"And so you shall. I will come for you every second high tide, and take you out to sea for a little while. You'll see, it will be a beautiful life, little one."
Rainbow hugged her first mother, then made her way back to the boat. When she was pulled aboard, the new princess hugged Giselle tightly.
Inspired by a suggestion made by @strega.azure
Cover image made in Canva Pro using their gallery