PDA

View Full Version : Castle in the Sand pt. 1



Snelbrouler
June 26th, 2019, 05:06 PM
This is my first work of prose ever, written during my junior year of high school. Given the length of the piece, it would take around four parts to finish it. Any feedback, especially concerning grammar or pacing, would be highly appreciated.


"Every star has a story,” said Cori’s mother, on her daughter’s seventh birthday.
The heavy clouds surrounding their seaside observatory, a tall metal tower with circular windows, have dissipated after a violent rainstorm, leaving the night sky clear and ideal for stargazing. The observatory had a dome shaped roof, half of which was covered with the thick metal plating that lined the walls of their home. The other half, where Cori and her mother now stood, was exposed to the outside. Ocean waves could be heard mumbling around them, while a warm, summer wind blew through the air.
Cori wrapped the straps of her birthday gift, a pair of binoculars, around her arm, as she felt its weight uncomfortable when she hung it around her neck. She leaned back against her mother and held her head upward with the binoculars to her face.
Her jaw dropped as she stared at the view through her binoculars, which showed many stars so closely packed together, that they appeared to be an unbroken stream of lights. Cori looked up from her binocular lenses and saw a faint cloud of light where the river of stars once was, barely visible to the naked eye.
“How do they tell stories?” asked Cori, who put the binoculars back up to her eyes. However pretty they appeared, they were just glowing white lights, forever out of reach. They didn’t look like the books that lined the walls of their observatory library, and she couldn’t hear them speaking to her like her mother did.
“Though they may not tell stories like we do, we can still look up to them, and see reflections of ourselves and the world around us. Those tell enough stories of their own,” explained her mother.
Cori gave a confused look.
“Look back through your binoculars for a moment.”
Cori did what she was told, and held the binoculars up to her eyes again.
“See those four stars there?” asked her mother as she guided her daughter’s hand towards a point in the sky, where four stars hung in an upside-down kite formation. “That’s the fishhook of the ocean spirit” she said, and traced Cori’s finger around the kite. “She blesses sailors with fair weather and fishermen with nets overflowing from their daily catch. But one day, a horrible sea serpent came from the depths of the earth and made mischief with her people,” she said, as she slowly dragged Cori’s hand down to a set of five stars, which formed an elongated “W” shape. “He blew violent winds over the waters that froze the oceans over, sinking ships and leaving sailors stranded at sea. When fishermen went to catch fish, the serpent would tear their nets apart and eat up all the fish before they could get to them. This angered the ocean spirit, who vowed to catch and kill the monstrous serpent. From that day on, she lets down her fishhook in pursuit of the serpent, which can be seen hiding in the stars every night.”
Her mother paused to let Cori observe the two constellations, before guiding her hands to another shape in the sky.
“And over there,” said her mother, as she dragged Cori’s hand to her left, “The stars tell the story of a beautiful princess.” She pointed at three stars which formed an equilateral triangle. At the center of the formation was a star dimmer than the other stars in the night sky. “In a faraway kingdom, the king and queen had spoiled their princess from youth, and provided her with anything she could have ever wanted. However, they forbid her from ever leaving the confines of their castle, as they feared that doing so would show her the hunger and poverty that plagued the rest of their kingdom. But see, that star is unlike the others, as it isn’t really a star at all. It’s called a planet, Cori. Do you remember what those are?”
Cori thought back to several nights before, when her mother told her that there were giant stones in the sky. Her mother called them “planets,” meaning “wanderers” in an ancient language, as they were dimmer than the other stars, and soared quickly across the sky.
“They’re the ‘wanderers’ you told me about, right?”
“You’re absolutely right,” said her mother, who ruffled her daughter’s hair. Cori gave a slight giggle.
“Like you said, since the princess was a wanderer, she was also sneaky and quick on her feet. When the planet moves outside of the triangle, it shows that the princess has snuck out of her castle, and is exploring the outside world for herself. When it moves back to the center of the triangle, it means that the princess has returned to her castle, and awaits the next moment when she can escape.”
Cori let go of her binoculars and let them hang at her side. She pressed her head against mother’s shoulder and looked up at her with a troubled expression. “These are all sad stories,” she said, “aren’t there any happy ones?”
Her mother smiled, and gently held her daughter by the forearm. “There,” she said, lifting Cori’s arm until it stood up almost vertically. They were pointing at two stars, which shone so much brighter than all the others that the Cori didn’t need her binoculars view them. “Those stars tell the story of an old mother and her young child. They lived far away from other people, where travelers never wandered and where ships never sailed. Though they didn’t have many friends or material possessions, they never felt lonely or poor. They were always happy, for as long as they were together, they had all that they needed.”
A smile broke out on Cori’s face. “Like us,” she said. She let her head roll underneath the crook of her mother’s chin.
“Yes, like us,” replied her mother. “And like us, the mother star sings a song to her child every night.” Her mother then sang a familiar lullaby, which Cori remembered hearing before bedtime for as long as she can remember:

“Star of my eye,
I sing a lullaby,
Farewell to daylight’s final gleam.

So close your moonlit eyes,
Before they see sunrise,
And have a pleasant dream.”

Cori turned her head outward so that her mother’s long, graying hair covered her face, and let out a deep yawn. She let the binocular straps slide from her arm, until she heard the light thud of her birthday gift hitting the ground.
Her mother picked up the binoculars, and whispered “I know, it’s getting rather late.” She crossed her arms around Cori’s waist and hugged her tightly. “Maybe tomorrow I can show you more stars, if the weather allows for it. But now, we should be heading to bed. What do you think?”
“I think so too,” whispered Cori, “I’m getting pretty tired.”
“Then we’ll be going to sleep now,” she said, and planted a kiss on Cori’s temple. “I love you, and happy birthday.”
“Thank you, Mama, I love you too” replied Cori.

Cori awoke to the sounds of the wind blowing around her and waves crashing below. She opened her eyes to find herself at the edge of a circular balcony atop a high tower. She was in the middle of a turbulent ocean that spread far into the horizon in every direction she looked. The sky was a murky gray, and the wind was howling around her, whistling through her hair and making her eyes water at its intensity. She looked over the edge of the balcony but saw nothing underneath except the turbulent waters of the ocean.
Out of the distance rose a long, snake-like creature covered in silver, translucent scales. Its head had a diamond shape, which was distorted by the jagged yellow teeth that protruded from its black, slimy lips. The two slits above the monster’s mouth opened to form two half crescent nostrils and spewed forth white smoke. Its solid red eyes were transfixed on Cori, causing her blood to run cold. Though Cori had never seen one in person, she had read about them and saw many illustrations of monsters like the one standing before her in her mother’s books. “It’s the sea serpent,” thought Cori.
“The sky is too big, and you are too small,” it said, with a croaking voice, almost resembling a cough. Immediately, the water around the serpent began to freeze. The ice rapidly expanded outward until the water beneath the balcony became frozen as well. Cori was just able to hear the ice cracking around her when the wind suddenly became unnaturally cold, unlike anything she had felt before. It dug into her flesh like needles, and stung at Cori’s face, making her cry out in pain.
Cori shot up in bed gasping for air, and was met with the familiar musty smell of the observatory attic, rather than the deadly, freezing wind. Her mother was sleeping in a bed across the room, making faint snoring sounds. She looked out the window at the foot of her bed, and saw that the sky was still clear and dense with stars. The shallow waters of the ocean were still calm, reflecting the white lights from the moon and the stars above. It had a faint bluish glow from the many luminescent creatures in the water, which idly drifted with the ocean currents. She saw an endless series of waves skating along the ocean surface, outlined in a thin film of white foam. They slowly rolled towards the shore at uneven intervals, and deposited layers of foam and sea grass along the beach. Nothing was frozen, there was no incoming storm, and there was no sea serpent to be seen.
She began using her mother’s method of falling asleep by counting the stars she saw through her window. “The sky is too big, and you are too small,” she whispered. It was indeed true; she couldn’t seem to keep track of them, either because she believed she had skipped a star, or because she thought that she had already counted the same one twice. “Every star has a story,” she whispered aloud, after starting over for the twentieth time. She counted to the hundreds, before falling into a dreamless sleep.

The next morning, Cori had woken up well rested, and looked out the window to make sure she wasn’t dreaming again. She saw thin strands of white clouds forming in the vibrant blue of the morning skies. The beach beneath the observatory was covered in a light gray sand; the result of the ocean eroding away at the tall, jagged mountains that separated the coast from the mainland. Rolling up and down the beach was a teal ocean, stretching indefinitely into the horizon. Waves continued to ripple through the waters, though there was nothing lurking about within them, whether it was the tiny glowing creatures or a giant sea serpent.
Her mother had already gotten out of bed and was downstairs preparing their breakfast. Cori remembered catching a variety of fish during their fishing trip yesterday, a special treat for her birthday. Some of the fish they caught were small and sleek, and had a variety of colored scales, while others were big and heavy, with long whiskers and eyes on stalks. She imagined that her mother would now be frying the smaller, colorful fish, coating them with a generous layer of the spices they had stored away in their kitchen pantry.
Cori came downstairs and finished breakfast alongside her mother. For the rest of the morning, they would spend their time in the observatory library, where her mother would teach her to read and write using the many books that were stacked neatly on their shelves or piled messily across the floor. When teaching Cori to read, her mother would always be sitting in her armchair, while Cori would either be stretched out on the staircase or sprawled out on the ring-shaped rug that covered the library floor. She would slowly make her way through the passages selected for her, which were usually stories her mother had already read to her before bedtime. When teaching Cori to write, her mother would sit with her at the cylindrical metal desk at the center of the library. Since clean paper was scarce, her mother would scatter sand across the desk, and asked Cori to make ridges in the sand using a dry pen. They read and wrote in both their native tongue and in other languages.
During her current reading lesson, Cori was leaned against the desk with the book held over her head. Her mother had asked her to recite a story about a greedy king and his wizard. The king had asked the wizard to grant him one wish: that everything he touched be turned to gold. The wizard, after many failed attempts to warn the king about the consequences of granting such a wish, reluctantly complied, and gave his king the golden touch. The king was horrified to learn that the clothes he was wearing turned into solid gold, forever trapping him on his throne.
Cori enjoyed the story, as well as the illustration that accompanied it, which depicted a rather plump king making a surprised expression while sitting in his throne. However, she noticed that the illustration only took up a small portion of the page, and that the throne was slightly tilted to the left, giving the impression that the king was leaning backwards.
“I liked this one, it’s funny,” said Cori after finishing the selected passage. “I think I still like the book’s stories better than the star ones.”
“Yes indeed,” replied her mother, “these stories were told long ago by master storytellers, who were much better than I.”
“So did you make the star stories?” asked Cori.
“Well, yes and no” said her mother, “The stories from the stars were also stories from the books, see?”
She got up from her armchair and took the book from Cori. After flipping through several pages, she came across the story about the princess in her castle, which also had an accompanying illustration. It showed the princess peering out of a wide window of a tower, with her head resting on her palms, as if she were daydreaming. However, the illustration also depicted a prince kneeling below the window. He was bowing his head, and held a small stringed instrument in his arms. Like the previous illustration, the one with the prince and princess took up only a small portion of the page.
“That never happens in your story,” Cori said.
“Yes, you’re right. But in the book, the story is about forbidden lovers. The princess is kept in the tower because she is not allowed to meet a prince from a rival kingdom, whom she has fallen in love with. The prince, who also loves the princess, rides up to her tower every night and sings many songs to her, and plays melodies to her with his lute.”
“Then why are the stories different?”
Her mother hesitated. “Long ago, the only way storytellers told their stories was by mouth. They didn’t have paper and pens like we do, so storytellers had to memorize all of the stories they heard and told. But as you may know, we sometimes forget many things we are told, right?"
Cori nodded.
Her mother continued. "So when these stories were told to many people and passed down through many generations, details were either forgotten or changed. When people known as scribes began recording the stories they heard in books, they only chose to write the story that they remembered, sometimes adding or removing details according to how they remembered the stories. That is why my princess story is different from the one in the book.”
“So where did you hear your story?”
“My story was told to me by my mother, just like how I told it to you last night. Of course, it would have been very different from the one you’ll read in here.” She closed the book and handed it back to Cori.
Cori took the book, and flipped through its pages. “Then what happened to the storytellers? If there are so many books with so many stories in them, surely there were many storytellers as well.”
“There were indeed many storytellers. However, they were no longer needed after the spread of books and writing, so their tradition eventually died out. Though we may never see any of the old storytellers, we can only learn about their world through the books we have now. For like the stars, their stories are also reflections of the world around them.”
Cori looked down at the book, and thought of what the sea serpent had told her. "The sky is too big," it said.
“Can I take it with me tonight?” she asked.
Her mother was stern in her response. “No, I told you many times to keep the books in the library.”
“Please, just tonight.”
“Why are you suddenly interested in doing so?”
Cori thought for a while. Even she couldn't find an exact reason why, but she knew she just had to keep the book with her tonight. Perhaps it was to help her fall asleep, but she wasn't sure if that was truly why she needed the book.
“Now that I’m older, don’t you think I should be reading my own stories before I go to sleep?”
Her mother smiled. “So you don’t you want me to tell you stories before bedtime anymore? Or sing you songs? Or are you too big for those now?”
“No, I’ll never be too big for that. I just want to read the stories for myself this time. You already taught me most of the symbols, and I think I can figure out the meaning of the harder words for myself now.” She looked up at her mother’s eyes, “So may I please bring the book with me to bed, Mama?”
“Fine,” said her mother before standing up from her armchair, “You were always a smart girl. I trust that you’ll be able to read it without my help.” She knelt down to Cori’s height. Her expression turned grim. “But promise me that you won’t stay up too late reading, and that you will return the book to the library by morning.”
“I promise,” replied Cori, who clasped the book shut. A cloud of dust flew up from its pages.

They went walking along the beach in the afternoon, collecting shells and playing in the sand, before going indoors to hide from the heavy rainstorms that showered the beaches during the hours before sunset. During these storms, wind and rain could be heard from inside the observatory, making hollow drumming sounds against the metal walls. They left the observatory again when the rain stopped, this time carrying buckets with them. Hundreds of small black turtles were drawn to the evening rains, and crawled out from the oceans and onto the beaches where they dug themselves into the damp sand. Their sleek shells glowed white as they reflected the lights from the moon and stars. Cori and her mother collected these turtles in their buckets and used them to make stew for supper.
Cori had her bucket in hand, and was walking barefoot along the shore where the ocean waves rolled up to meet the land. While her mother was busy digging up turtles, Cori was more interested in seeing the bizarre glowing creatures in the water. They looked like tiny blue dots when viewed from Cori’s bedroom window, like stars in the ocean, but upon closer inspection, they were a variety of different shapes, none of which looked identical. She remembered seeing one that resembled a hairy sphere, while another was a thin stem with wispy wings on one end, like an umbrella. Cori found them to be harmless, when she once waded too far into the ocean and fell into a swarm of creatures. She remembered feeling nothing, aside from the taste of seawater that flooded her mouth and nose. After that incident, her mother forbade her from going beyond water that reached up to her knees. Now, she could now only view the creatures meters away from where they floated.
One creature, resembling a long cylindrical capsule with a wispy tail, caught her attention that night. Unlike the other creatures, which drifted gently through the ocean waves, this one zipped through the water at a speed so fast that it seemed as if it were jumping suddenly from one position to another. It dashed away from the cloud of other glowing creatures to a few feet in front of where Cori stood along the shore, and floated in place. The creature remained in place, floating motionless in the water, as if it were waiting for Cori to come closer.
Driven by her curiosity, Cori desperately wanted to scoop it up in her bucket and observe it closely, like a pet. She imagined herself reaching out and touching it, feeling what she imagined to be a soft, smooth surface, like cloth. She even thought of showing it to her mother, who would let her keep the bucket near her bedside. It would be like having a lamp that, unlike the fish fat candles they used, would glow indefinitely with an eerie blue color.
Cori was now close enough to be looking directly over the glowing creature. She was bent over, so her hair hung at the sides of her head and skimmed the top of the water. She submerged her bucket, and slowly brought it upwards so that the creature would be caught inside it. The weight of the water in her bucket made her stumble forward. She readjusted her footing, careful not to make any splashing noises.
The creature continued to remain motionless, as if it were unaware of the large metal bucket rising beneath it. To Cori, the ocean waves became inaudible. She could only hear her heart pounding in her head as she brought the rim of the bucket up to where the creature’s tail hung below it. Right when she was about to yank the bucket upward and secure her catch, the creature jolted for a bit, then dashed off into the distance. Cori stood straight up, and slapped the water in frustration. She decided that she wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass, and chased after the creature, making sure to keep it in sight.
The creature made zigzagging trails in the water, and occasionally paused as if it were analyzing its surroundings before continuing to dash forward. Cori had ran a considerable distance before seeing the creature take one final pause, and zip into a swarm of other blue creatures, where it became indistinguishable from the rest of them. Cori stopped to stare at the glowing swarm in disappointment, before making her way back on dry land to catch her breath. Exhausted, she fell on a mound of sand, placed her bucket next to her, and sat there with her head buried under her arms. She had noticed that her skirt was soaked from the water she was kicking up as she ran, and that her feet were caked in damp, grainy sand. The observatory was now out of sight; not even its dome could be seen over the horizon.
When she decided she had rested long enough, she stood up, dusted the sand off her skirt, and started heading back in the direction she came from. While walking home, Cori became more aware of her surroundings. She now smelled of salt and sweat, and felt very cold. Without the splashing noises and the pounding of her heartbeat, she now heard the subtle whispers of the wind and waves. However, she could also hear a third sound, barely audible, playing in unison with the other noises around her. She looked around her, and saw only the dark cliffs bordering the beach. The sound, growing louder, varied in tone, rising up and down, increasing and decreasing in volume and pitch, like her mother’s singing. In fact, Cori thought it did sound a bit like her mother’s lullaby. She then closed her eyes, and focused in on the sound. It definitely wasn't singing, but it was music nonetheless. Music she had never heard before.
She tried singing her lullaby to the rhythm of the music. “Star of my eye,” began Cori. The sounds she heard didn’t quite match up with the melody she sang, so she waited a while before singing again.
“Star of my eye, I sing a lullaby,” she sang. Though the music didn't exactly match her singing, she found that both melodies were near identical.
She hummed the rest of the lullaby, then stopped when the song was over. Without a pause, the music repeated itself, and started from the beginning of the melody again. She waited for the first verse to end while keeping the rhythm in her head, then began at the second verse.
“So close your moonlit eyes, before they see sunrise, and have a pleasant dream.” The music was undoubtedly her mother’s lullaby, repeated again and again. It wasn’t exactly the same, as she heard no words were sung, but the melody was almost identical.
The sound was disrupted by a series of splashing noises coming in from the distance. “Cori!” she heard her mother yelling, “Cori! Where are you?!”
Cori turned around, and saw her mother running along the seashore towards her. “Over here, Mama!” she yelled back.
“Cori!” her mother repeated. Cori saw that her mother wasn’t carrying her bucket. She held her dress up as she ran. “Get over here!”
“Sorry mama,” cried Cori. She was shaking, both because she was suddenly made aware of how cold she felt, and because her mother was yelling at her. Though her mother rarely yelled, the few times she did raise her voice were always unsettling.
They made their way towards each other, and collided in a warm embrace.
“Why did you run away?” her mother said, “I heard the splashing, and I thought you had gone too far and drowned. I was so worried for you!”
“I’m sorry mama,” said Cori. Her face was against her mother’s chest, where she could hear her mother’s rapid heartbeat, matching her's. “I saw something strange in the water, so I wanted to see where it went.”
“Oh, Cori.” Her mother hugged her tighter, “I know you want to have your own little adventures,” she said, “but you can’t go wandering off where I can’t see you. What if something happened to you? Then I wouldn’t even know about it!”
Cori shook her head. “I won't do it again, Mama, I'm sorry.”
Her mother took a deep breath. She began rocking Cori in her arms. “Alright then, you promise me: from this day forward, will you run away from home like that again? Especially at night?”
“No, Mama. Never again.”
Her mother sighed, and spoke in a calmer tone, "I'm sorry for screaming at you Cori, but I can never let anything happen to you. You're all I have, remember?"
Cori nodded, "Yes, Mama."
They stood there for a moment longer before heading back home. Every few steps, Cori kept looking behind her, and tried to listen for the music, but she both heard and saw nothing.
“What are you looking at?” asked her mother.
Cori hesitated for a bit, and replied, “Nothing, I just wanted to see the ocean behind us.” She hesitated again, before adding "It's very pretty tonight." She felt bad for lying to her mother, but she knew that talking about the music she heard would upset her mother even more. She didn't want to hear her yell again.
Her mother stopped walking, and turned to look behind her. “Yes, it certainly does look pretty. But it’s getting late, and we need to clean you up before bed. Come on,” she said impatiently. They continued walking, but didn’t speak a word on their way back home.

They returned home with empty buckets, and had a light dinner of steamed fish and seaweed. When Cori and her mother returned to their observatory attic, she asked her mother if they could go stargazing on the observatory balcony again, as the sky was clear that night. Her mother denied her request, saying that as punishment, she would have to go straight to bed. Cori didn’t want to argue with her, so she crawled into bed, and started reading from her storybook. She read half of the princess story, until her eyelids grew heavy, and the words on the pages grew blurry. Eventually, she couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer, and collapsed into a deep sleep. Her mother, who returned to the attic after washing the dishes, found Cori fast asleep, hugging the volume in her arms.
“You forgot to ask me for a lullaby,” she whispered, as she gently took the book from Cori’s arms and placed it next to her pillow. “To the star of my eye, have a pleasant dream,” she whispered, and kissed her on the temple before going to bed herself.
Like the night before, Cori found herself standing on the same balcony atop the same tower, staring into an endless expanse of ocean and sky. The winds were violent, the waters were turbulent, and the clouds were again, dark gray. Among the howling winds, she was able to hear music play behind her, the same music she heard further down the beach. She turned around to see an old man sitting in a metal throne that seemed to glow in the darkness of the coming storm. He had a long white beard that hid his neck from view, and wore a blue, loose fitting robe over his entire body, revealing only his pale hands. His head was tilted downward, and the long hood he wore obscured his face down to his upper lip. From the outline his body made in the robe, Cori could tell that he was a very skinny man, though she imagined that he would be about twice her height if he stood up. His crooked fingers were grasped tightly around a small stringed, instrument similar to the one she saw the prince playing in her storybook illustration. The fingers on his other hand were moving up and down the strings on the wider part of the instrument, which seemed to be the source of the music. After playing the melody of the first verse, the fingers that grasped the neck of the instrument changed position. The music changed to the melody of the second verse.
“Are you a wizard?” asked Cori, who from the stories she read, knew that wizards were usually old men in long robes and pointy hats, who sometimes carried magic wands or staffs. Though this one wore a hood instead of a hat and carried a wooden instrument instead of a staff or a wand, he looked similar enough to what she had imagined.
“Perhaps,” she added, “you're the wizard from my story?”
The old man didn’t respond, but continued to play his instrument.
Cori tried asking again, “Sir, are you a wizard?”
Still no response. She tried asking another question to see if he would answer.
“Can you tell me where we are?” The old man remained silent, except for his fingers, which continued to play the lullaby on his instrument.
Cori, frustrated at his silence, raised her voice, “Who are you, and why am I here?”
She then heard the sound of waves crashing behind her, as if in response to her question. When she turned back around to face the ocean, her eyes once again met those of the smiling sea serpent, which was much closer to the balcony this time. Cori fell backward.
“What do you want from me?” she cried.
But a response came from neither the serpent nor the wizard. The serpent only smiled, and blew a puff of white smoke from its nostrils.
The water around the serpent froze, and a ring of ice began expanding outward.
Cori was on the verge of tears, and screamed in fear, “What do you want!?”
“The sky is too big and you are too small,” croaked the smiling serpent, its red eyes still staring into hers. The cracking of the ice could be heard all around the balcony, and the wind became painfully cold.
She started scooting backwards until she felt the wizard’s robes brush up against her back. She froze in terror before turning around to look up at the wizard. From where she was sitting, she saw the rest of the wizard’s face, which looked so revolting to her that she gasped in disgust. The skin on the wizards face was pale like his hands, and was pinched tightly around his skull, save for the area around his eyes, which were surrounded with long furrows of dark skin. His nose was long and beak-like, and his eyes appeared to be two solid black circles, nested deep within his wrinkled skin. He opened his mouth to say something, but his words were inaudible against the howling wind, which blew Cori’s breath away and caused her to wake up, fighting for air.

Princesisto
July 23rd, 2019, 12:27 PM
You have a talent for literary description. There are many strange things to describe here and we can "see" them well.

Writing small children, like a seven year old, is very difficult but you manage to see the world through Cori's eyes and present it probably as it would seem to her.

This is clearly a piece out of something larger and there are many things we need to know: where is this? When is this? Why are this mother and child alone, where is Cori's father? Why are they there, living on whatever they can catch from the sea? "The sky is too big and you are too small.": what does it mean?

The lullaby is well-written, not babyish like a lot of real lullabies and you use it very well in the story. Yes, the first line would stick in the seven year old's mind and she would use it in different circumstances like this.

Your shifting between nightmares and real life, back and forth, is well-done and you can use this in the book later to leave us unsure whether what we are seeing is real or not.

I would be happy to read and comment on the whole book. I am quite interested. PM me and I will give you my e-mail address.

Some style/grammar suggestions follow:

Should be "Though she had never seen one in person, she had read about them and seen many illustrations . . . ."

You don't have to write "'It's a sea serpent, she thought'". If you just write, on a separate line, It's a sea serpent. then we know that this is her thought.

Should be "a rather plump King with a surprised expression". We don't "make" expressions. They just happen.

"She knelt down to Cori's height": it sounds like she shrank! "She knelt down to see Cori eye-to-eye" is better.

Carry on! You have created an interesting world, with interesting characters and a lot of mysteries to entice us!