Part 5

The open estuary was tantalisingly near and with the little – now large – sea-dragon’s help, I managed to flip-flop it down right to the edge of the water.

What kind of day is it with you? Is the sea crashing against the barrage? Or is it calm and clear like a sheet of glass?

Well, as me and the little dragon looked out to sea, I realised that beyond the Islands to the East, the sun was beginning to rise. The long night was at an end. But the water was looking very dangerous indeed. It was smashing and crashing about, and the seagulls were wheeling overhead as the sun rose. There are strong currents out there in the Bristol Channel. The sea-dragon was looking a bit worried, too.

“I’m not sure it’s a good idea for you go right now,” I told it. “You might get swept away.”

But I was also worried that soon, it would be morning properly, and my mam would be awake and looking for me. And then people would come to the bay and the dragon would not be safely hidden in the water but out in plain sight.

I could see that the dragon was steeling itself, ready to plunge into the wild water, but just before it did, I heard a sound.

It was the sound of sniffing. Then came a sort of wailing crying sound.

Down there, by the sea, sitting on that rock, was a mermaid.

She was crying her heart out.

“Um, excuse me?” I said. “Can we help you?”

“No one can help me,” she said. “I’m just so lonely.”

She wiped her eyes on the back of her hand. Then she sniffed again and blew her nose on a piece of her long green hair.

“You’re a human being,” she said to me. “How can you see me? I’m invisible to humans.”

“I have no idea,” I said, “but this isn’t the strangest thing that’s happened to me this night. I think it’s probably to do with my friend here.” And I pointed at the sea-dragon.

The mermaid’s eyes got very, very big. “Where did you find it?”

“In the bay. I’ve taken it here so it can cross back over to the Islands, where it belongs. But the water is so rough and I’m worried that it will be swept away.”

The mermaid swept the long green hair from her face and crept closer to us. She reached out a hand to the sea-dragon and it nuzzled her happily.

“It’s a guardian,” she breathed. “It guards the islands, because the islands are not of this world, but the other world. It must have got lost somehow. Don’t you know what this means?” I shook my head. “I’m lonely because I, too, come from the islands, but I haven’t been able to cross back to my world. But with the sea-dragon, I’ll be able to. We can go together, both of us, and get home.”

“Do you think you’ll be able to swim all the way there safely?” I asked doubtfully, looking at the churning water.

“Swim?” the mermaid said, and she suddenly dived from her rock into the swirling sea. She leapt out of the water like a dolphin, doing dips and tricks and I realised that, of course, she was going to be fine. And so was my little sea-dragon.

I bent down and I helped the sea-dragon flop its way to the very edge of the water. It raised its head and blew salty water from its nostrils into my face.

“Goodbye,” I said, feeling very sad all of a sudden. “And good luck. Maybe one day I can come to the islands and visit you.”

It squeaked and splashed its tail. I think that meant yes.

And then with one final look from its big dark eyes it disappeared into the waves. I saw it swim to the mermaid, and she took it by its spiny back, and they swam together, in a clear straight line towards the islands. I watched them for as long as I could. Maybe you can see the islands today. Or maybe they’ve disappeared into the mist. They’re not always there you see. They’re not from this world. They’re from the other.

And, finally, when I could see nothing more, I turned, and made my way back home. I’m going to have to explain to my mam why her best shopping bag is full of scales and seaweed – but I think she’ll understand. I think she’ll be proud of me.

I don’t know what happened when the sea-dragon and the mermaid reached the Islands of Summer. I haven’t quite been able to go there and visit them yet. But maybe one day I will – and maybe you will too. Until that time we’ll have to imagine what it’s like there.

Bute park trail: part 5