Of Salt and Gold


“Of Salt and Gold” © 2023 Avie Adams

A Beauty and the Beast Retelling

1. Fleeting


Ambrosios stirred, waking up to the soft weight of female breasts nestled against his chest and the crisp scent of apple blossoms.

Apple blossoms. Was it the dark-haired one?

He cracked his eyes open by a fraction. Yes, it was the dark-haired, bronze-skinned mermaid, still fast asleep and very much in a human form, her long legs tangling with his over the celadon-green bedsheets.

Which meant that the arm that spanned his waist and the other set of breasts pressing into his back belonged to the red-haired mermaid, whose warm breath stirred the hair on his neck.

He closed his eyes again, listening to the indifferent beat of his heart. In keeping with his habit, he didn’t ask them their names, though as the night progressed, he gave them nicknames for their attitudes.

Grumpy and Sunshine.

The dark-haired mermaid — Grumpy — pouted all the time, acting like prickly ice. Why, he couldn’t tell, for he had been nothing but courteous. After all, she was the one who had ventured to the Forgotten Palace, looking for a night with the Cursed Prince. And the Cursed Prince delighted in the challenge of wiping that aloof expression off her face and took enormous pleasure in, well, pleasuring her until she begged him not to stop.

The red-haired Sunshine proved a giggly experimenter, eager to please.

Yet he was raw from the disappointment, regardless. After starving for closeness for endless months, he had been counting on a beautiful night of oblivion, the exact reason he’d allowed them into his palace last night.


Don’t think about it now. Not yet.

The teal glow threading through the glass walls illuminated the water pressing from behind and reliably informed him about the dawn. No chance of sunlight in this seaweed-infested gorge at the bottom of the sea, but the spell that lit up the palace walls followed the rhythm of the day and night above.

Meaning, they’d have to leave soon, back to their carefree lives. There would be no children coming from this night — the steel ring on his pinky finger would assure that.

As always.

Over Grumpy’s soft shoulder, he idly watched the empty wall next to the bed, waiting for the brightening dawn light to wake her up.

She stirred. Her eyes flashed open.

“Morning.” Ambrosios adjusted the pearl comb in her hair. “Sleep well?”

Her gaze softened, an odd emotion rippling across her features until it vanished beneath smooth indifference. Her stunning eyes were a luminous shade of pink, like the inside of a shell. “Morning, Your Highness,” she replied, rising stiffly. “Yes, thank you.”

“Is it morning already?” complained a sleepy voice behind him, and Sunshine’s arm tightened on his waist. “Not fair.”

“I’m afraid it is.” Ambrosios disentangled himself from Sunshine’s arms and rolled onto his back, haloed by his long, mussed, green-black hair.

Sunshine made a disappointed sound. “Shame.”

Is it? Ambrosios stared at the nacre ceiling, watching the morning light brighten up his windowless bedchamber. You’ll leave in a moment, having scored the fabled Cursed Prince, whereas said prince will stay behind here to rot. He shot Sunshine a pleasant smile. She’d never know what that smile was hiding.

Grumpy rose from the bed.

Despite everything, he caught himself memorizing the play of light on her golden-bronze skin and its sprinkle of iridescent freckles, and how she smoothed her inky hair in one impatient, graceful move. The moment she was upright, a smattering of glistening black scales appeared over her breasts to hide their nakedness. More scales surfaced on her skin, spiraling down from her waist to cover her buttocks and hips. A thin, diaphanous veil unfurled from the base of her spine and dropped to her feet, looking deceptively flimsy. But Ambrosios didn’t miss the silver threads that veined it, ending with tiny spikes.

Stingers with silver poison. “Don’t leave on your own,” he said. “I must escort you out.”

“Why?” A mass of fiery locks and Sunshine’s grinning face swung into his vision as she straddled his hips, crumpling the bedsheets covering him up to his waist.

He narrowed his eyes. “Because I need to weave another tunnel to guide you through the seaweed wilderness. Just like last night, when I ushered you in. Trust me, this is for the best.”

“As you wish, Your Highness.” Sunshine stretched her luscious lips in a meaningful smile. “One last keepsake, perhaps?” she cooed.

Grumpy tilted her head.

Ambrosios laced his fingers behind his head. “It’s dawn already. It’s best if you don’t stay here for too long.”

“Pleeeease?” Sunshine slowly shimmied her hips on top of his. It was more vulgar than arousing. “Just-one-more-time?”

“I’ll be waiting by the pool.” Grumpy turned away, sauntered to the golden door and pushed it open without another backward glance. It clicked closed behind her.

Clever girl. Ambrosios’ absent gaze wandered along the door frame, to the carved pattern of seahorses, octopuses and jellyfish, with the spaces between them encrusted with pearls.  How long before the magic bound to the cornerstone of this palace died, letting it crumble and fall to dust to be swept away by the currents winding across the sea? A hundred years? Less than that? He sat up, steadying Sunshine so she didn’t fall back, ignoring her fluttering eyelashes. “I appreciate your offer—”

“But?” she cut in, intensity heating her black gaze. Sweet and round of face, kissed with countless golden freckles, she offered another seductive smile. But her incisors glinted like silver knives, reminding him that sea nymphs could be as dangerous as any ocean predator. Sharp teeth, hidden claws, poisonous stingers: they were far from defenseless.

At least she wasn’t a siren.

But then, he’d never let a siren in his bed.

He shook his head.

“Oh.” She pouted. “So no repeats?”

“As agreed.” He twirled a thread of her hair between his fingers, admiring the fires locked within. “No repeats. No regrets. Applies to both of us. I’d rather not regret it, either,” he finished with a bored, yet steely expression on his face. Not more than I already do.

Sunshine was losing her cheer so rapidly, it almost made him laugh. “Fine,” she huffed, getting off him. But her eyes wandered all over him as he rose, misting a little when he threw aside the cover to get to his feet. He could almost feel their heat on his buttocks.

He placed his hand on his chest, over the golden octopus tattoo. The threads of inked-on gold shimmered as he beckoned a part of his merman appearance. Golden pectoral fins unfurled just above the sides of his hips. Their upper part stretched over his thighs and abdomen, whereas the lower, longer part covered his buttocks.

“Very practical,” Sunshine giggled. “I take it they’re flexible enough to allow you free movement.”

“Indeed,” he agreed, combing through his hair. “You look at me like it’s a novelty to you.”

“It is. The males of my court have a single fin in front of…” Another giggle. “There.” She pointed at his crotch. “And they flare it out differently.”

“Interesting.” He smiled, uninterested. Of course, different races of merfolk varied in build, fins, coloring… whatever. That reason alone split his kind across different courts. “Let’s go.”

“I was hoping for breakfast.” She fluttered her lashes at him again, still sprawled on his bed and making no effort to cover herself either with the bedsheets or her scales. “I’ve had nothing in my mouth since last night.”

Almighty Poseidon, you are going for it. He nearly snorted at her innuendo. That he almost felt like laughing made him feel a fraction better.

Or a fraction less miserable.

He grabbed a piece of string from the golden oak dresser and tied his hair at the nape of his neck, then walked to the door and pulled it wide open. I must change the bedsheets as soon as they’re gone. “There’s plenty of fish in the sea,” he said with unfailing courtesy, holding the door for her. “I’d go if I was you. Unless you’re planning on becoming the breakfast.”

“For you?” She grinned, trailing her finger along the celadon-green bedsheets.

“No, for the Beast.”

Sunshine no longer shone a smile. She slipped off the bed in one lithe move, her dainty feet smacking against the floor as she flounced out of his bedchamber.

Weak amusement still tickled his insides at the sight of her bare buttocks, wobbling with indignation as she stomped down the corridor.

He followed.

The luminous walls blurred as he stepped down the spiral, mother-of-pearl staircase. The stairs branched at each landing, leading to shining entryways. Thank Poseidon and Amphitrite, Sunshine didn’t wander off anywhere in another misguided effort to stay longer, but kept going down until the stairs melded with the floor of the circular hallway, darker than the rest of the palace. Darker because of the plants in the decorative clay pots along the walls — the creeping vines that spread everywhere. And because the hall was situated at the bottom of the palace.

Grumpy sat at the edge of the circular, white marble pool, already sporting a black tail with snowy-white fins. Faint iridescence rolled across her skin now that she’d shifted back into a mermaid. She flexed her tail in the water, her amused gaze flickering between her friend’s displeased expression and his nonchalant one.

Ambrosios slid into the pool beside Grumpy, his scales appearing all over his legs until they fastened into a massive tail with pale golden fins. Only the royal members of the Thalasseann court boasted glittering gold like this, but those scales were more than mere ornamentation. Nothing could pierce them, and he could grow them all over his body for protection if needed. He slipped deeper into the water, unfurling his pectoral fins once the scales reached his waist.

Grumpy watched him with a faint, fascinated smile.

Impressive, I know. Not that it serves any purpose anymore.

Sunshine jumped into the pool with no ceremony.

Rude, if you ask me.

In a blink, her legs bristled with black scales and joined into an elegant black tail.

“Once I’ve opened the gates, wait until I spin the tunnel for you,” Ambrosios said.

“And the Beast?” asked Sunshine.

He cast her a faint smile. “The Beast is still asleep.” Until tomorrow night, at least, when the new moon became the thinnest crescent of the young moon. But they didn’t need to know that. They were lucky enough to show up here at the right time. “There are other dangers here. Like the dark moon current.”

“I’ve heard of it,” Grumpy said. “A vicious one, isn’t it?”

“It’s native to this part of the sea and turns wild during the dark moon. Get caught in it, and it will sweep you back into the most dangerous plants in here.”

“I have been caught in the wild currents before,” Sunshine shrugged. “It’s nothing I cannot handle.”

He stifled a sigh. “This one is more than anyone can handle. Even me.” Because it’s magical. A part of this damned curse. “Let me weave the way out for you.”

With that, he dived underwater, the tiny slices of his gills opening and closing over his ribs, the last of the air leaving his lungs. He flicked his tail to propel himself through the dark tunnel cut into the obsidian foundation of the palace, leading to the exit gates. His golden scales lit up, illuminating the passage. He caught a murmur of admiration from Sunshine behind him.

When they reached the palace gates with a wicket, carved with the emblem of the Thalasseann court — two rearing fish-tailed horses — Ambrosios unlocked and unbarred them, pulling them open.

They squeaked, as if in surprise to be opened once again in such a short time. True, he rarely opened them. It was even rarer for him to peer at the seething darkness of the thick seaweed, twisting like tortured souls, with no wall in between.

Somewhere down there, at their rotten roots, slept the Beast.

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