Sun rays streamed through blue water, into the castle window, and danced like little fish upon the pink coral on the far side of the room.
Osan stared at the reddish hue of the wall. Gods! How did it get so late? He returned his attention to the arrogant and never happy, bloated senator before him. “We’ll continue this discussion tomorrow. I have an important appointment.”
Before Segar could object, Osan swam out of his private office, kicking his webbed feet in unison as he soared up the coral steps to the second story of the castle. While walking the steps was more dignified for an emperor, swimming was far more expedient.
When he entered his private quarters, his beautiful wife, Akai, stood in the entrance hall of their home, nervously shredding a kelp leaf. The pearl necklace, passed down for a hundred generations, shimmered on her dark-blue chest.
Her eyes sparkled with joy as she swam to him and grasped his hand, her finger talons cutting into his palm.
“Easy, love,” he teased.
Her claws retracted and her neck gills fluttered. “Sorry, I’m just nervous.”
He was as well. This was their first and only hatching. The scholars had given him careful instructions on how to choose the best of the hatchlings to be his son or daughter.
Scholar Hemp helped the last of the hatchlings out of their sacks, then smiled at him. “It is time, my Emperor.” The young scholar motioned to the nest. “Make your selection.”
Osan and his wife moved in unison to the woven kelp bed and hovered above it, staring at the mass of babies. “How many are there?” Akai asked.
“Forty-three,” Hemp replied. “Take your time, and may the Gods help your selection.”
Osan certainly hoped the Gods would help. As emperor of the Oceanics, he made difficult choices every day; but suddenly, they all seemed simple compared to this task.
He had to choose the best hatchling to become his son or daughter. The others would be returned to the Gods.
In former times, all his hatchlings would have been allowed to live, and time would have revealed the best choice for the next emperor. But his father had imposed harsh population controls on the people. When Osan became emperor, he’d imposed the same law on himself and the senate, so all Oceanics could see the law was necessary and just. No one was exempt, not even those who chose poorly and selected a primitive that proved to be no better than seals in the kelp beds.
Which to choose? They all looked much the same: blue babies with a stub of a tail that would disappear in forty-two days. Most were enchanted with the discovery of their webbed toes. A few were playing with a sibling’s stubby tail.
However, one large-eyed hatching stared straight at him and smiled with happiness. Then the fellow shifted his gaze to Akai and stretched out his arms. “Mother,” a tiny voice spoke in their heads.
“That one,” Akai whispered.
Osan nodded in agreement and lifted the hatchling up. “This is our choice.” He then handed the hatchling to his wife, while the scholars gathered up the other forty-two hatchings and took them away.
He focused on the vibrant life in his wife’s arms. She smiled at him. “You have a son, my love. What shall you call him?”
He caressed his son’s shiny blue forehead. “We shall call him Drogan.”
Scholar Hemp’s eyes rounded in shock. “To name your child after our greatest Oceanic will either inspire or break him.”