In a comfortable room just down a hallway from the ornate throne room of Poseidonis, a beautiful girl was decidedly uncomfortable as women adjusted her clothes, hair, and makeup. Her name was Mara, although she had been called Dolphin for most of her life above the waters.
She smiled politely and thanked each aide as they fluffed, smoothed, and straightened her hair, gown, and nails. “You know, for a girl who isn’t used to wearing a lot, this gown and high-heels combination takes some getting used to!” she said as she tried to walk in the steep heels.
“Milady Mara, you look divine!” said one matron.
Dolphin did look wonderful in a flowing gown of a sparkling golden hue. She embraced the regal, noble figure who entered and held out a hand to lead her into the main reception hall.
“You look enchanting,” said Arion, who wore a blue and red outfit with a gleaming amulet and shiny symbol all his own emblazoned across his belt. His hair was long and red.
“Father, thank you. I feel like a fish out of water,” said Dolphin as she pitched forward in the heels, only to be steadied by her bemused parent.
“Mara, I would often as not do without such pomp and ceremony, yet as the High Mage of Atlantis and, in your case, as the daughter of Arion, we must present a certain image for our people,” he said. “Politics always irritated me, even as a youth.”
Arion was greeted by all with a reverence and awe that would have been accorded George Washington or Richard the Lion-Hearted in their respective nations on the surface world. He was held as a hero of legend by most.
Dolphin looked at him with open admiration. She was thrilled to have recently discovered that he was her father. (*) He was heroic and caring and gave her a sense of heritage and family.
She nodded to the crowds as a herald announced, “Arion, Lord of Atlantis, and the Lady Mara!”
They entered, and he made a sweeping bow to a portly man who sat upon the royal throne.
King Vulko greeted the pair warmly. “Welcome! Welcome, High Mage Arion and Lady Mara! You honor us with your beauty, milady,” he said kindly. Dolphin took the old man’s hand and smiled.
“Mara, you do look gorgeous,” said a regal redhead in a green voluminous gown.
“Mera, how nice you look,” said the girl as the bride of Aquaman entered. She indeed had a certain glow, as she was expecting her second child.
“Your daughter is well, I sense,” predicted Arion with a smile. “She will grace the world above the waters as well as this one.”
Mera thanked him. “We pray so. Arthur is preparing a home for us here and above as well. We want our daughter to feel at home in both his worlds.”
Aquaman entered, and cheers rang out. He accepted the praise gracefully and warmly greeted his friends.
“The rebuilding and restoration is complete,” said Vulko. “You have done well as usual.”
Aquaman grinned and kissed Mera. “Now that we’ve helped fix this city, we have plans for our home above — New Venice.”
He looked like a man at peace. He was, in fact, happy and eager to get a second chance at fatherhood. He had settled past demons, though he never quite forgot the loss of his first child, Artie. Mera was aware of this, as she knew well the man she loved so much. She held him a bit tighter and smiled bravely.
“The guppy looks happy with Ulla. I’m glad,” said Aquaman as he indicated Garth, alias Aqualad, enter with his date, Ulla Påske, the Mermaid. The heroine of Denmark wore a pink sea-shell bra over a gleaming, pale green skirt.
“She does look lovely. I must ask her about that luminous shell pattern she wears,” said Mera.
It was a happy moment. Of course, trouble had to intrude, as it usually did at such moments in the life of Aquaman.
The purple-eyed youth called Aqualad whispered encouragement to the girl with the waist-length blonde curls. “Ulla, don’t be nervous,” he urged.
She giggled and said, “Garth, honestly, I’ve been to more state functions in Denmark as the country’s heroine than you’d imagine!”
He grinned and said, “Sorry. I spent my youth swimming around on my sea horse with Aquaman. You could teach me a thing or two about manners. I should have realized that.”
She kissed him quickly and greeted his mentor and the rest. “Aquaman, how goes your plans for New Venice?” she asked.
Dolphin stepped closer. “I’ve heard of that wondrous place, but I’ve never seen it. I’d love to visit it.”
“Then come with us,” said Aquaman. “We’ll have a grand tour. You can even wear your shorts!”
She laughed and agreed readily. “Thanks! I’ll feel more at home.”
Then a figure pushed through the crowds as a guard followed. “He fought past us!” cried the guard. “We tried to stop him, but he’s like a man possessed!”
Aquaman and Arion and Vulko all spoke at once. “No matter. Let him speak!” Mera smiled as she noticed again how all three were accustomed to authority.
“Who are you?” said Vulko. “You come here uninvited, but any in need are welcome.”
He removed a helmet, revealing his tired features.
“A surface man!” hissed one courtier.
“Cal Durham! You look hurt! What’s wrong?” asked Aquaman as he jumped forward to catch the staggering man.
“Aquaman! Thank goodness I reached you! It’s New Venice! We need you. Only you can save the city from–!” He then gasped and fell forward in the Sea King’s arms.
“He’s hurt. Prepare a bed and proper care,” said Aquaman. “He can breathe underwater, but he is a surface man… and an ally.”
Dolphin frowned. “Sounds like we’d better move up the schedule for that trip!”
As Aquaman and Dolphin zoomed toward New Venice in the skimmer she had arrived in when she first came to the city below the waves, he recalled his parting from his family. He had taken Mera’s hand and assured her that he would return safely and swiftly as possible. She had smiled and said, “I know. Just be safe for both of us.”
Mera had agreed to stay behind in Poseidonis to make sure their unborn child was not endangered. This daughter-to-be was a promise of new beginnings that neither could bear to risk.
He had asked Garth to help him equip the skimmer, since he planned to take certain items along, and swimming would be inconvenient this time. “Garth, we’ve put off for too long saying certain things. With this new threat looming, I’m not going to let them stay unspoken any longer. You are and always have been the best friend a man could want. You’ve made me as proud as any teacher or parent could be of a pupil or son. I let you down in both roles when I fought you at Manta’s orders. I did it because I thought it was the best way to protect Arthur. I was wrong. I still live with that pain and that loss. I made it worse by not talking this out with you immediately. I made mistakes. I failed as a hero and a friend. Please just know that all I did was simple human error, not any rejection of you. Forgive me, please.”
Garth had stared at his mentor before extending a hand. “Thank you! I’m sorry that I held you on such a high pedestal that I couldn’t be reasonable enough to just accept the fact that you did the best you could do, even if what you did may not have been the action I wanted you to take,” he said eagerly.
“I’d like to follow up on this later,” Aquaman had replied. “Will you and Ulla stay here to guard Mera and the city? I’ll take Dolphin along in case I need help, but I’d sure feel better if a man I trust more than any other was left behind. You, I mean.”
That was the past. Now he rode in the craft and hoped that he had continued on a process of healing and building for a better future.
Dolphin, back in her light blue shirt and shorts, piloted quietly. Her father had embraced her and had pledged to see her again when she returned. He had business of his own away from both Poseidonis and New Venice.
“Young Garth, I would speak with thee!” he had said. “A young lady you know from the Titans interests me for several reasons. Let us discuss where I might find her.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The New Titans: Animal Instincts.]
Dolphin turned to Aquaman and said, “You seem more relaxed than when I last saw you. What has changed?”
He smiled at the girl and said, “When I was growing up in a lighthouse on the coast of Maine, I read a lot. Being named Arthur, it was perhaps natural that I came to love the old tales of the Round Table and of King Arthur of Camelot. Well, of course, that carried over to my own life when I relished the role of hero. Still, it took me until a while ago to see that I was trying to balance too many roles, and I was failing in many of them. While Arthur was a king, he had champions to be the heroes — Lancelot, Gawain, Gareth, et cetera. That’s what I hope to be again — a hero for Poseidonis and King Vulko, and a hero for New Venice and the JLA. I hope to leave the ruling of the city to Vulko and just serve as a champion of sorts when needed. My friend Hawkman gave me a few ideas about how I can better serve both the land above and the city below the sea.”
Dolphin nodded. “You can use special equipment — a transporter!” she guessed.
Aquaman grinned and said, “Bright girl! Exactly. Once installed, I can instantly go from New Venice to Poseidonis and vice versa when needed. That way I can help both of my adopted homes and all the people who need me. Vulko can be the king, and your father Arion can even be his Merlin, if you will.”
Dolphin smiled. “You have been giving this a lot of thought. I hope all goes well. Did Cal Durham say more about what happened to New Venice?”
Aquaman shook his head. “Not a word. I hope it’s something less serious than he claimed, but he’s not the type to exaggerate, so I’m prepared for the worst.”
She nodded and scanned the coast as they reached the water-logged canals of New Venice, Florida. “It’s lovely! So still and empty. But where are the people?” asked the girl.
“I don’t know, but I’ll find out,” he vowed.