When he wakes up, Philip can barely remember his own name, let alone where he is. Everything around him is dark, cold and wet, and there is only silence.Then it all comes back to him. How he was captured by pirates. The endless days at sea with godless men who laughed at his beliefs. The cold and lonely nights, strapped to the mast. And how the pirates planned to capture a mermaid and kill her. The mermaid attack, and all those who died that night…Philip frowns. Remembering the mermaid attack, he suddenly has a vision of a young, beautiful mermaid with dark hair and deep, dark eyes. She saved him. And he spent days looking after her, trying to help her… Why had he done that? Thinking harder about it, he closes his eyes. Yes, he remembers now. He had told himself it was out of the goodness of his heart that he helped her, but that hadn’t been the case. No. Looking back now, he can so easily see that he fell in love with her the very moment his eyes met hers for the first time. He had been bewildered, bewitched by the beautiful creature. And not just because of her beauty, or because she was a mermaid – he had seen other mermaids before her, without feeling the need to protect them.It was for the same reason she had saved him. He saw that she was different. And then it hits him. The last time he saw Syrena… she had kissed him. Philip feels his face turn red and closes his eyes, not wanting to think about it, yet wishing to savour the memory forever. He can’t help but feel both ashamed and glad that it happened. His parents raised him in the Christian faith, and had taught him that a man should not kiss a girl until they were engaged to be married. But at that moment, there was nothing Philip had wanted more than to kiss Syrena. And finally, it was her who made the decision. She kissed him.Thinking about her now makes him feel uneasy. He opens his eyes again, trying to get accustomed to the darkness. Yet there is nothing to see. Where is she? Is she safe? His heart beats faster. What if she’s left him here, never to return to him? The thought alone is enough to make him shed a tear.”Syrena…” he whispers, pushing himself up in a sitting position. There is only silence to be heard – nothing to testify of any creature being around. Philip closes his eyes. “Syrena, if you can hear me… come back. Come back to me. I don’t know if I can live without you. I… I love you.”At first there is silent, and Philip feels his heart sink.”Open your eyes.”The sound of her soft voice sends shivers down his spine. Slowly, as if afraid of what he will see, he opens his eyes. The darkness still surrounds him, but now there’s warmth in front of him that wasn’t there before. Suddenly a smooth hand cups his face, and it’s difficult for him to breathe evenly.”Syrena.” Philip swallows. Before he can open his mouth to speak again, she’s placed a cold finger on his lips. Without hesitation, he gently kisses it.”Shh, Philip.” He can almost hear her smile. “It will be alright.” She moves closer, placing her hands around his neck. After carrying her around for days, the movements are familiar to him, even in the darkness when he can’t see them. The next thing he knows, her warm breath is on his face.Philip closes his eyes and bows his head. “Syrena. I have to tell you something. I –”She interrupts him. “Philip. I forgive you.” She moves even closer, so close that he can feel her body against his.”You do?” he asks, truly relieved for the first time in days.”Yes.”He sighs. “Thank you. I do not deserve it.”"You are a good man. I will always forgive you.”His heart skips a beat. “Always?” he asks, his voice full of hope. Does that mean she’s staying with him?”Yes, Philip. Always.”Unable to find words to express his gratitude, he tilts his head to the side to kiss the palm of her hand. Then he takes a deep breath. “I still have something important to tell you.”"I know.” Her hands move down his face, over his stomach and finally stop when they find his hands. Grabbing them firmly, Syrena leads him away from the darkness and into deep waters. Then she pushes him underneath the surface. He closes his eyes and let Syrena drag him wherever she needs to.The moment they resurface, the sun caresses his face, and he can feel sand underneath his bare feet. He opens his eyes, and sees a small island in front of them. Syrena hasn’t let go of his hand, and leads him to the shore, where he finally can rest. He sits on the beach, his legs still in the water, while Syrena rest in front of him, her lower body covered by the salt sea.Turning her head to face him, she smiles. “Are you all right?” She tilts her head, looking at his stomach.Philip understands her meaning, and lifts his shirt up. Sure enough, his wound is healed. He looks at Syrena in amazement. “You saved my life,” he whispers. Is sound more like a question. “How? Why?”"A mermaid’s kiss can save a man from drowning… and it has healing powers.”Philip meets her gaze. “Why?” he repeats, searching her eyes for an answer.At first Syrena is silent. Then she crawls out of the water until she’s sitting in front of Philip. She leans closer to him, her eyes never leaving his. “There are many things I don’t know about humans. Until I met you, I thought mankind was unable to love.” Her gaze becomes more intense. “You are different from all others, Philip. Man or sea-creature.” She swallows. “I have never experienced love. But now, I think I do… with you. I… Philip, I love you. And that is why I saved you. I just couldn’t… leave you.”She loves him back. Syrena, a mermaid more beautiful than he could’ve imagined a creature to be, both inside and out, loves him. Her love is the greatest treasure he’s ever had.At her words, Philip feels his heart beat faster. Reaching out for her, he caresses her face with his fingers. The light touch makes his pulse race and his emotions explode. There is not enough room in him to contain the feelings he has for her. Tears run down his cheeks, yet he can’t stop smiling.Syrena’s face turns worried. “Why are you crying?” she asks, wiping his tears away with trembling fingers.Philip smiles. “These are tears of joy.” He leans closer to her, overcome with emotion. “I cry because I’m so happy. Because I love you so much, Syrena.”Finally realizing what he’s saying, Syrena smiles back. Then she, too, bursts out in tears. “Do you really? Love me?”With his fingertips, he wipes away her tears. “Yes. Yes, Syrena, I do. More than anything.”"You make me so happy, I…” Syrena stops, still crying, still smiling.”Syrena… You’ve already given me the most precious gift I could have asked for – your love. You don’t need to say anything else.” Philip smiles at her. Then, feeling nervous, he looks down at his hands. “There is, however, something I’d like to ask of you.”"And what is that?”Finally, he meets her gaze, and swallows. “I have to explain first… Where I come from, men wouldn’t normally kiss a girl until they are engaged.”Syrena frowns in confusion. “What does that mean?”"Couples that are engaged marry. That means that they make a holy promise to one another, in front of God and their families. They promise to love and respect each other, and to be faithful. Then they are pronounced as husband and wife.”Syrena pulls away from him. “What do you ask of me?”"I…” Philip clears his throat. Then he takes her hands in his, and looks deep into her eyes. “Syrena. Will you marry me?”She blinks in confusion. Then realization dawns upon her, and her eyes are filled with tears again. “Oh. I thought you were angry with me, for kissing you.” She smiles through her tears. “Mermaids don’t marry when they wish to declare someone their partner for life. They strengthen their bond through the act of love.”Philip blushes. “That is also a part of being married, as a human.” He looks down at their hands, now entwined, before he meets Syrena’s gaze again. “Is that a yes or a no?”"Of course I will marry you.”Instead of answering right away, Philip rests his eyes on her face, taking her in for a couple of moments. Then he smiles, and sits up straight in front of her, his knees resting in the sand. Syrena mimics his position, and he takes her hands in his again.He knows what he has to do – they are, after all, of different species, and having a minister overlooking the ceremony would endanger Syrena. Still, going through the ceremony himself for the first time, makes him nervous.”With God as my witness, I Philip, take the, Syrena, to be my wife.” He smiles warmly at her, not really believing this is happening. “I promise to love and honour you, and to remain faithful at your side for as long as I shall live.”Before he can say anything else, or tell Syrena that, normally, she should repeat the same words, she opens her mouth to speak. And the words that follow are so beautiful and heartfelt that they make him tear up once more.”With your God as my witness, I Syrena, take you, Philip, to be my partner for life.” She squeezes his hands, her cheeks turning red. “I will love you and be faithful to you as long as I live. I will never leave you.”Philip cups her face in his hands. “If I’d known that I’d meet you, my love, I would have brought a ring with me.”Syrena stares at him, confused. “A ring?”"Yes.” Philip nods. “It is common that, when a man marries, he presents his wife with a wedding ring as a symbol of their union and love. I’m sorry, Syrena, that I have no ring to give you.”Without saying anything, Syrena lifts her hand and takes a couple of hairs out of his ponytail. Then she quickly braids them into the shape of a circle. When she places it in Philip’s hand, it has turned into metal.He stares at the ring for a moment, before looking into her eyes. “How did you do that?”"Mermaids are magic creatures. This is only one of many powers I possess.” She smiles at him, and motions for him to continue.Philip clears his throat. “I give you this ring as a symbol of my everlasting love and affection for you.” With trembling fingers, he places the ring on her hand. It fits her perfectly. Then he looks into Syrena’s eyes again.”What happens next?” she asks innocently.”The couple are pronounced husband and wife… and they kiss.”She places her hands around his neck, and looks at him expectantly.Philip hesitates for a moment, looking at this beautiful creature he can now call ‘his wife’. He cups her face in his hands, gently strokes his fingers over her sweet features. “What did I ever do to deserve you?” he whispers, pulling her closer.Syrena cups his face in her hands, strokes away a few loose strands of hair. Her eyes are fixed on his lips. “Kiss me, Philip,” she whispers.Heaven forbid, he is not able to resist her plead. Gently placing his hands around her face, caressing her beautiful features, he leans closer to her. The moment he touches his lips to hers, he knows that he is lost. There isn’t anything he wouldn’t do for her. He would sacrifice his own life to save her.Syrena pulls out of the kiss smiling warmly at him. “Philip… now that we have been united the way humans do it… can we be united the way of the mermaids as well?”Philip swallows, but nods. “What… um… what do you need me to do?”Leaning closer, a wicked smile playing on her lips, she whispers: “Carry me out of the water and into the shades over there.” Syrena points to a spot where a couple of palm trees sway in the breeze, painting a soft shade on the sand.Philip frowns. “Won’t the water make it… easier for you?”"Yes,” she nods, blushing, “but not for you. You are still human. And unless you want to change, this is the way we have to do it.”"I would change for you. I’d do anything for you…”"Would you become a merman… for me?”Philip nods, kissing her hand. “Anything, if that means I can be with you.”Syrena smiles at him. “We are destined to be together. A mermaid wouldn’t fall for a man if that weren’t the case. And I’ll always stay with you – even if that means that I have to live on land.” She lets out a sigh. “But the change takes time. And I don’t know if I can wait that long…”"I will change for you, Syrena.”"But not today.”He looks deep into her eyes, as if searching for answers to unspoken questions. Then he smiles at her, confident that everything will be alright. He will change for her, be her everything, do anything she asks him to do. Be anything she needs him to be.Without hesitation, Philip places his hands around her and carries her across the sand. As soon as Syrena’s out of the water her body changes again, being replaced by the human version of her. This time he doesn’t have any clothing to offer her, which makes him both expectant and nervous.Syrena senses this, and kisses his shoulder. “Don’t be nervous with me, Philip. This is about us… only us.”When reaching the shadows, Philip places her on the sand as gently as he can. Then he meets her gaze, and nods. “Us,” he repeats, placing his hands around her.Syrena grabs his crucifix and pulls him toward her. “Us.” Then she kisses him.With each kiss it’s as if they both open up to each other, more and more, and the kisses go deeper and deeper. Soon Philip’s fingers are entangled in Syrena’s hair, and her hands are around him, pulling him close to her.Syrena opens her eyes and meets Philip’s gaze. She bites down her lower lip. “Love me, Philip,” she whispers.
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