Other Fan Fiction ❯ Moment in the Sun ( Chapter 6 )

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CHAPTER 6: Moment in the Sun

« Kristoff’s here! Kristoff’s here! »

Anna ran across the town square toward a stocky man in thick
winter gear. By some miracle, she didn’t slip on the ice
surrounding the town fountain, until she was a few feet from
Kristoff. Then her heels gave out and she careened past him. But
Kristoff whipped around, grabbed her, and pulled her back. In the
embrace, they gazed into each other’s eyes.

« Whoa, watch out there, » Kristoff said.

« I knew you’d catch me. » Anna gave him a quick peck. « We need
spiky boots like yours. All this penguin walking is making my knees
stiff. »

« They’re called crampons. They attach to the boot, like
snowshoes. »

« Oh, snowshoes. That’s a good idea too. »

« What happened to Arendelle? Everything’s covered in ice.
Normally, I’d say it’s a dream, but it makes my job less
in-demand? »

« I know. It’s this whole big thing with a storm and Elsa and
magic and pyramite. »

« I can see that. » Kristoff tapped at the road with his boot.
« This stuff isn’t melting? Is it magic? »

« Probably, » Anna said. « We tried asking around to see if anyone
saw anything unusual, but nope. Now we’re just finding people who
need help. Seeing who needs stores of food, firewood,
blankets. »

« Good thing I rushed down here as soon as I got that
message. »

« I know. But now… you have to leave again. »

« What? » Kristoff’s jaw dropped. « But I just got here. »

« Yeah. And we sorta kinda need you to go back and get your men
so you can chip it all away. »

« Chip it? » Kristoff took off his hat and rubbed his nappy blond
hair. « Are you kidding? The entire city? »

« It isn’t melting. But everyone’s been walking around like
ducks. Elsa’s off doing her own thing. We NEED you. Please, please,
please. »

« All right, all right. Don’t I get to even see you at all? »

« Umm… » Anna bit her lip and glanced at Rapunzel.

She stepped forward. « We’re all trying to find why this happened
as fast as we can. »

« Who’s this? » Kristoff asked.

Rapunzel had been watching from the town square, holding a
bundle of sticks. Letting them have their moment produced her first
twinge for Flynn since arriving.

« I’m Princess Rapunzel. Anna’s cousin. »

Kristoff lightly kissed the top of her hand. His eyes widened
once he caught sight of the giant braid hanging down her back.
« Wow… how did you get so much hair? »

« Kristoff! » Anna hit him in the shoulder. « You can’t just ask
people about their hair. »

« Okay, sorry. »

« He’s a little rough around the edges, » Anna said in a
stage-whisper. « There’s a song about it if you want to hear. »

« So! » Kristoff interrupted. « I’ll get my men and we’ll chip the
ice away. Where should we start? »

« The most important part is the roads. Then the windows. And see
if you can unstick the wheels of the carts. And make sure the doors
are all fine. And… you know, just wherever you see it. You know
ice, you know what to do with it. »

« We have to go. There’s a coach waiting for us to take us to
some farms outside Arendelle, » Rapunzel said.

« They got hit the hardest. Especially considering last year. »
Anna patted him on the arm. « Watch out for tree branches. The ice
is hanging off them. Say hi to Sven for me. Later! »

Kristoff watched them go, scratching his head. Rapunzel smiled
and shrugged, then followed. Pascal poked his head out to check him
out. He gave a purr of approval as Kristoff startled.

« So that’s Kristoff, » Rapunzel said after she caught up.

« Yeah, he’s cute, isn’t he? In an ‘everyday kinda guy’ sort of
way. Bit of a fixer-upper. »

« You should talk. My husband used to be a wanted thief. »

Anna whipped around. « Really? Do tell. »

« Well, it’s kind of a funny story. When he stole the princess’s
crown-« 

« You mean your crown? »

« Yes… well, that’s another long story. You know how I was
missing for a long time. »

« Right. Kidnapped by an old woman who wanted you as her child.
But that’s pretty much all I knew. I was just so glad when I heard
you escaped. Why? Is there more? »

« Well, yeah. You see-« 

An old man with a white mustache leaned out of a window in a
building along a side-street. He waved to the girls. « Princess
Anna! Princess Anna! »

Anna tilted her head. « That’s the courthouse. What do they
want? » They approached him.

« We need your help desperately. There’s a case on trial, and
none of us know what to do. We need you to render judgment, » the
man said.

« Me? Why? »

« It’s the law that the royal family’s rule is the highest.
You’re the queen regent right now. You can overrule any, no one can
say it’s unfair. So if you make a decision, everyone would have to
accept it. »

« We’re a little busy right now helping out homesteads that are
suffering from the ice storm, » Rapunzel said.

« Please. This case has been going on for weeks. Everyone’s in an
impossible situation. It’s, uh… it’s a bit of an unusual
one. »

« Unusual how? » Anna asked.

Someone within the courthouse snarled.

« I think you’d better come in and see, » the bailiff said.

Rapunzel and Anna followed him inside to the courtroom. Anna
whispered that that was Judge Ragnvald on the stand, looking
miffed. On the witness stand in the center of the room, a chained
black bear gnawed on the wooden podium.

« Um, that’s a bear, » Anna said.

« Yes, he’s the defendant. »

« He’s what? » Rapunzel asked.

« You see the problem. And please hurry, before he eats the rest
of the courtroom. »

Judge Ragnvald waved them forward. « Princess Anna, please come
in. Or should I say, Queen Regent Anna. »

« Princess is fine. This is my cousin Rapunzel. She’s tagging
along. »

« Any member of the royal court is welcome here. Especially now, »
the judge said.

« What’s going on? » Rapunzel asked.

« The prosecution–Josef there–is a beekeeper. He’s accusing
this bear of knocking over his hive, and wants him to pay
reparations. »

« You’re kidding, » Anna said.

« He captured the bear and brought him in. There’s nothing that
prevents animals from being held accountable for their actions
within the eyes of the law. The problem is the bear’s attorney. » He
gestured to the man at the defendant’s post, who had a few
scratches on his face.

« The bear has an attorney? » Anna asked.

Judge Ragnvald nodded. « If the accused party does not select an
attorney, one will be appointed by the government. He’s defending
him as a citizen not in control of his actions. »

« Are we sure this is the right bear? » Rapunzel asked.

Ragnvald nodded. « Honey underneath his claws. Fur from Josef’s
tree trunks matching. The prosecution made that right out. »

Anna scrutinized the prosecuting party. « I think Josef’s been
stung a few too many times. »

« Or too much mead. He’s been in that prosecutor’s chair more
times than I like to see. He just wants revenge, but I can’t throw
the case out. He’s followed the law to the letter. Any
thoughts? »

Rapunzel asked. « What would you do if the bear was a human? »

« The defense is claiming that the signage was insufficient, but
that’s a weak argument. If it were a person, I’d find for the
plaintiff. But the bear can’t pay. What would we do? Lock it up in
debtor’s prison? » Ragnvald looked to Anna.

Anna opened and closed her mouth like a codfish. « I- I don’t
have a clue. »

« Anna… » Rapunzel whispered in her ear.

Her eyes lit as she listened. « Yeah! I guess that could
work. »

« What? » Ragnvald’s face glowed with hope.

« How much is Josef asking for? » Anna asked.

« Three hundred kroner. »

« The royal treasury would like to give a gift of three hundred
kroner to the defending bear, in return for his patience during
this time, » Anna said, sounding as regal as she could.

« You’re going to pay the recompense? Doesn’t that set a
dangerous precedent? » Ragnvald asked. « Farmers would be coming in
and suing their cows for not giving enough milk. »

« We’ll fix the law later, » Rapunzel said. « But as it stands,
he’s in the right. Just exploiting a way to get compensation. It’s
not like governments have never paid out to people who had their
property damaged. »

Ragnvald sat back and smiled. « Yes… yes, I do believe that
will work. Thank you. Thank you so much Princess Anna. And Princess
Rapunzel. I’m so sorry to take you away like this. Please, go on
about your business. »

« Glad to help, » Anna saluted. The bear curiously followed them
with its eyes, a piece of railing in its mouth. Its look seemed to
say « Am I in the clear? »

Rapunzel and Anna picked their bundles back up and reached the
coach waiting outside castle town. Attached in back was a trailer
full of hay from the royal stable.

« That was smart, » Anna said. « I never would have thought of that
in a million years. I was like, ‘um, er, ah, er, eh, I dunno’. »

« Something like that happened to me and Flynn. After I found my
parents, he was still a wanted criminal, even if he helped save
me. »

« Couldn’t your mom and dad just pardon him? »

« It would look bad. I mean, he was guilty. They couldn’t
let him off just because he was associated with me. He took the
crown jewels. That’s a capital offense. People were saying ‘off
with his head!’ Not the kind of reaction you want for the guy
you’re trying to marry. »

« So what did you do? »

« My mother and father and I and Pascal and everyone, we spent
days and nights looking up the rules, trying to find a way we could
excuse him without looking bad. Then we finally found a law
defining how executions worked. And that once the floor dropped
out, he was considered hung. We made sure everyone knew this, made
a big display of his hanging, then frayed the rope in the
middle. »

« Weren’t people upset about that? » Anna asked.

« Well, at first. Except he was acting really smug about going up
there, hamming it up. So Maximus–that’s our Captain of the
Guards–he put a little surprise below. When he fell through, he
landed on a bunch of chickens ‘that had to be relocated’. »

Anna suppressed a giggle. « That must have been funny. »

« It was. Until the guards lost hold on their dogs. They started
chasing them. White feathers were flying everywhere. Flynn ran into
a cafe and scared a waitress so bad she dumped coffee on him. And
then… well, long story short, after we fished him out of the
ocean, we changed the law so we couldn’t get away with that again.
That satisfied everyone. But I know a lot about laws and
regulations now. It’ll come in handy when I become queen. »

The coach stopped outside a farmhouse. Icicles covered the
shingles and eaves. The window shutters hung at an angle, collapsed
from the weight.

Rapunzel and Anna tread to the doorstep. An old man answered the
door, wiping his eyes. His body was oddly rectangular.

« Oh, Princess Anna. They told me you were coming. It’s nice to
see a kind face. »

« Is there anything we can help you with, » Anna asked.

« No, there’s no reason to help an old man like me. This farm is
done for. All my crops are ruined. Again. And my livestock are
starving. »

« We can help with that, » Anna said. « We brought some fresh hay.
There’s a whole cart of it behind us. »

« Oh, it doesn’t matter. There’s no point. This farm is cursed.
Or I’m cursed. Whole lot of cursing going on. Before the ice storm
even hit, two of our cattle came down with fog fever. Last year, I
thought there’d be hope for us if I brought in livestock. But no,
it seems my lot in life to suffer. »

« What’s fog fever? » Rapunzel asked.

« Ayyy, don’t talk to me about fog fever. It rolls down from the
mountain with the evil spirits. The cows lay in the barn all day,
lowing with pity. Their knees are too weak to stand, their milk has
dried up. All they do is wait around for the sweet embrace of death
to come. Just like me. »

Something clicked in Rapunzel’s head. « I, um… I need to use
the privy. Is there an outhouse or… »

« No! » the farmer shouted. « I wouldn’t dream of sending royalty
out to a filthy latrine. It’s not fit for man nor beast. Why should
you have to suffer like the rest of us? »

« Where else am I going to go? » Rapunzel asked.

The farmer paused. « Ah, yes, that’s a good point. »

« Don’t worry. I’m used to small spaces, » she smiled and headed
around the house. Anna’s look said « please don’t leave me alone
with the depressing guy »

Rapunzel snuck across the field into the livestock barn. The
frowzy, musty smell of manure and feed smacked her in the face.
Most of the stalls were empty, except for one sleeping pig and a
few scrawny chickens. Two cows lay in the back, each on its stomach
next to each other.

She cautiously opened the stall door. The cows seemed not to
notice her. She never realized how large cows were until she was
close. Their hides heaved up and down with heavy, labored breaths,
radiating sickly warmth. Glassy eyes stared out into nothing.

« Don’t worry, little guys. I’ll take care of everything, » she
said as she unwound her hair from the back. Two long plaits
spiraled out. She wrapped them around each cow’s forehead. They
looked at her quizzically, but did nothing.

« I heard cows give more milk if you sing to them. Well, I guess
you will after this. » She cleared her throat and sung her lullaby.
With each note, her hair glowed brighter, flowing from the roots to
the tips with warm, healing light. The cows mooed with gentle
surprise as their fevers drained.

Rapunzel sat back with satisfaction. She never saw the farmer’s
boys peeking through the slats of the barn wall.


« Are you all right? » Elsa asked. She touched the cut on Ariel’s
cheek.

« Me? Are you all right? » She pointed at Elsa’s arm and
the nasty gash along the wrist.

« Hey, are you two all right? » A fisherman called out from the
distance. He trudged toward them as fast as he could, juggling his
equipment as he waddled in hip waders.

« Oh no, » Ariel said. She wriggled across the beach and ducked
behind a rock.

Elsa waved away the snow and checked if she still had her crown.
Somehow, it had managed to stay in her hair through all this. Now
she took it out and placed it in a fold of dress. If she passed as
a normal citizen, that would avoid a lot of unnecessary questions.
Ariel, on the other hand…

Behind the boulder, Ariel looked for anything to hide her tail.
It would take too much time to bury herself in the sand. Then she
saw a discarded piece of canvas nearby.

The fisherman stood above them on the boardwalk, looking down.
« You all need help? I saw something falling. »

« Yes, that… that was us, » Elsa said. « We fell off the dock.
Clumsy. »

« Anyone hurt? Looks like yer bleeding. »

« I… no, this is nothing. I’m fine, just a scrape. »

« Weren’t there two of you? Where’s the other one? » the fisherman
asked.

« Oh, she… »

Out of the corner of her eye, Ariel was rolling herself up in
the tarp.

« She’s injured. She… she broke her legs, we think. »

Ariel saw her cue and wriggled out from the rock. « Hello, » she
said cheerily. Then remembered she was supposed to have two broken
legs. « Ow, ooh. »

« You all sure took a tumble, eh? » The fisherman scrambled to get
down the timber erosion wall separating the city from the beach.
« I’ll help you right off. You don’t look like you’re around these
parts. »

« We’re not, » Ariel said. She winced as she pulled herself up
closer.

The fisherman started for her. « I know a thing or two about
broken legs. You gotta make sure to set it right, or it won’t
heal. » He reached under the tarp.

« No! » Ariel said, shirking away. « I… I’m naked under here. I
had to rip my dress apart to bandage up my legs. It’s very gross.
You shouldn’t look. »

« Oh. Sorry, ma’am. » He took off his orange cap in apology. « I
didn’t mean to peek a gander at your unmentionables. »

« That’s all right. We were looking for an inn to stay at. Can
you help us? » Ariel asked.

« Sure can. We shouldn’t stay too long around here. It’s a little
close to Dame Naidra. »

« Dame Naidra? » Elsa asked. « Who’s that? »

« She’s a local hermit. Lives in a cave by the shoreline. I ain’t
never seen her, but there’s rumors she’s a witch of some kind. » He
suddenly looked shocked. « That’s not what happened to you all, was
it? »

« No, we were exploring the dock and it was just an accident.
They should put warning signs on the ocean, » Elsa said.

The fisherman swept his arm. « Say no more. Same thing’s happened
to me and worse. » He held up his foot and pointed to the bottom of
his boot. « I got this scar from one of those spiny ball
fishes. »

« An urchin? » Ariel asked.

« No, on my foot. »

Ariel blinked. Had she just been outsmarted?

« Here, let me carry you, » the fisherman said.

« No, no. That’s all right, » Ariel said, shirking away again. The
fisherman looked confused.

Elsa interrupted. « If you could find, maybe, a wheelbarrow or
something to carry her, I could take her into town. »

« A wheelbarrow? Sure thing. » He climbed back up the wall, even
though he could have taken the stairs just a few yards away. A few
times he lost his grip and had to scramble his big feet.

« He seems nice, » Ariel said. « Goofy, but nice. »

The wheelbarrow came from a pile of equipment next to the
marina. It smelled like dead fish, which, ironically, worked to
their advantage. The scent provided a convenient mask for Ariel’s
lower half. With the trident wrapped inside the tarp, Elsa wheeled
her down the street.

« That there’s the fish house. And that there’s another one, they
make some good lobster traps here. And that big ol’ one’s the
flenser, where they butcher up the whales. Popular place. Well, not
for the whales. »

Elsa glanced at the townspeople. « Maybe cover up a little more, »
she whispered to Ariel.

Ariel shifted her tarp up above her bra line, wincing as the
rough canvas rubbed against her tail.

« How are you doing? » Elsa asked.

« I’m okay, » she said. In truth, it felt like her skin was
ripping off her bones. The layer of mucus on her tail had long
since evaporated. Just a quick dip would be enough to replenish
her.

« Everything will be all right as soon as we get to the inn, »
Elsa said.

« I hope so. » Ariel took a deep breath and tried to concentrate
on the sights.

The commercial sector bloomed, compared to her town. So many
products she didn’t see any more–shoe polish, margarine,
sculptures. Dress shops displayed fine garments made out of
baleen-like corsets and parasols. And of course, various oils,
soaps, and perfumes. As the sun set, the lamplighters were plying
their trade to the whale oil streetlights at every corner. And
those were just the whaling products. A small fraction compared to
the fisheries–cleaning, hooks, netting, and markets. Plus the
buildings that supplemented a flourishing trade, like inns,
taverns, and clothiers.

And moreover, the people were happy and well-off. There were
more manors on the surrounding hills than her entire kingdom. All
because of fishing. If someone took that away, this place would dry
up like a desert.

« Well, here you go. The Octopus Arms. They got real good
chowder, and the beds got hardly any mites at all. They don’t like
the salt. »

« Thank you, » Elsa said. « We owe you a great debt. »

« T’weren’t nothing, ma’am. You take care of yourselves now. » He
turned around, almost whipping Elsa in the face with his fishing
pole, and left singing. « Oh, the world owes me a livin’… »

Elsa and Ariel looked at the entrance and sighed. « How do you
want to do this? » Elsa asked. « I think carrying you would look
suspicious. Do you think you could act like you’re leaning on my
shoulder? »

Ariel shook her head. « No way I could support my weight. Oh,
this is so frustrating. »

« Maybe there’s a back entrance. » Elsa wheeled Ariel around to a
tight alley, too shadowed for on-lookers to peek through. « This is
good. » She set the wheelbarrow down next to the door. « You stay
here. I’ll get us a room and come back for you. »

« Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. »

Elsa walked back to the front. The Octopus Arms had all the
marks of a surly pub. Its air smelled of dry salt and rubber.
Tables full of fishermen toasted themselves to the day’s catch,
happy and fat. Elsa approached the innkeeper’s desk.

« Do you have any rooms available? » she asked.

A fat man with shaggy auburn hair cleaned out a glass mug with a
dirty rag. « Sure. Room three’s available. » He bent under the
counter and dropped a key.

« I’ll also need a hot meal… two hot meals… delivered to the
room. Two bowls of chowder, I suppose. »

« Whoa, lady, » the man said. « I don’t know what kind of place you
think this is, but if you want food, you’ll be eating it down here.
We aren’t no servant palace. »

Elsa pulled out a single gold sovereign. She always kept it in
case of emergencies. Her only hope was that he didn’t look too
closely at the face on the coin.

« I mean, » the barman corrected, « welcome to the Octopus Arms,
where service is our middle name. Or such. Anything I can get is
yours. »

« Just the food, please. To our room. And please knock, we like
our privacy, » Elsa said.

« Oh, gotcha. » He winked.

« Do the rooms have tubs? Washtubs? »

« Er, no… But barrels! We got barrels. »

Elsa supposed that would have to do. « If you could deliver a
barrel full of salt water to our room, I’d be much obliged. »

« Salt water? »

« From the ocean is fine. In fact, it’s even better if it’s from
the ocean. »

« What do-« 

« Privacy, remember? » Elsa winked as she picked up the key.

« Certainly, ma’am. » The barman saluted. « I’ll get on that right
away. »

Elsa tried to ignore the eyes gazing at her. She was, pardon the
pun, a fish out of water.

Ariel cranked her head toward Elsa’s speedy footsteps as she
came around back. « No one saw me. »

« Good, » Elsa said. « I think if you cling to my back we can get
in quickly. »

Elsa bent down as if playing leapfrog. Ariel heaved upright and
wrapped her arms around Elsa’s neck.

« Oh, this isn’t so bad, » Elsa said. « Don’t think I’d want to do
this all the way back to Arendelle, but… »

« I’ll try to think light thoughts, » Ariel said.

The back hallway allowed them up the stairs without appearing in
anyone’s view. Elsa clasped her hands behind her back, providing a
seat for Ariel’s rump, and started climbing.

They managed to escape notice and entered room three. Elsa
dumped Ariel on the bed and collapsed. « Ugh. I don’t think I can do
that again, » she said as she arched her back.

« I’m sorry, » Ariel said.

« It’s not your fault. »

Ariel wrung her hands. « If that fisherman hadn’t shown up, I
could have slipped back into the ocean. And then he insisted on
escorting us. »

« This town’s too crowded just to take you back to shore, » Elsa
finished. She looked in a mirror and cleaned off the remainder of
blood and dirt with her fingers. « What would you do when you
return? »

« I… I’m not sure. I need to find a way to turn back human.
Either with the trident or… » She shrugged.

Elsa stopped. « You said you turned back into a mermaid a day
ago. In the evening? My kingdom fell under a snowstorm at about the
same time. I wonder if the two are connected… »

« We’re both royalty. We both have magic powers. That’s another
coincidence, » Ariel said.

A knock at the door. « Madam, I have your meals here. The house
special. Made with mussels, crab, and three kinds of boiled
fish. »

Elsa opened the door. The man darted his head around to see a
red-headed girl wrapped in white canvas on the bed.

« Thank you » she said as she put the bowls on the nearby
vanity.

« And I’ll be right back with the barrel. Just got to go down to
the shore and fill it up. »

« Do hurry, » Elsa called after him.

Ariel gingerly picked up a corner of the tarp, to look at her
tail. But the sheet felt like parchment ripping off her scales.

Elsa handed her one of the bowls. She sat on the vanity stool
and scooped a chunky spoonful into her mouth. « So… mermaids don’t
lure sailors to their deaths. Or try to kill them or anything. »

« Nope. »

« Can you make men fall in love with you? »

« No. That’s silly. »

« Where do… where do mermaids even come from? Were you… I
mean, were you fish who grew the parts of men, or men who adopted
the parts of fish? »

« I don’t know. No one knows, I guess. »

« Do you grant wishes? » Elsa asked.

« No! » Ariel said. « Where’d you get an idea like that? »

« An old folk tale, » Elsa shrugged. « I’ve never met a mermaid
before. »

« We’re really not so different, » Ariel said. « We’re not gods.
There are some who study black magic and sorcery, but we don’t have
any powers. We don’t eat people. We have our three meals a day,
except we eat from shells instead of dishes. »

« There must be something magical if you can breathe air
and water without gills. »

Ariel let the thick, rich soup slop out of her spoon. She was
sorely hungry, but this was fish. Could this have been someone she
knew?

« Can you talk to fish? » Elsa asked.

« Yes, » Ariel said. « That’s something people can’t do, I
suppose. »

« What do they say? What do fish talk about? »

« I don’t know… the same thing people talk about: our jobs,
what to do, how the day’s going. They swim around and eat and
that’s about it. I guess that was part of the reason I was always
looking for adventure. »

« So they’re not very smart then? »

Ariel started to correct her, but then remembered the characters
under the sea. From the gossipy oysters to the vain puffer fish.
Every citizen of Atlantica was skittish and ignorant, preferring to
stay in their hovels than explore beyond the kingdom’s borders. And
in schools, they were worse–swimming into into certain doom
because everyone was following each other.

« I guess not… »

She slid the fish parts of the chowder to the back of the bowl
and scooped the carrots and potatoes into her mouth. Even that, the
tang of fish innards tainted each bite. It made her feel like a
vampire, sucking nutrients from the life of another.

Elsa lifted her hand, palm up. A small jet of frost erupted and
settled onto her steaming soup.

« What about you? Where do your powers come from? »

« I was born with this. And no one knows how or why it happened.
That might be part of the reason I can’t always control it so well.
Especially if I get too emotional. Gloves help prevent it, but not
always. »

« Are there any other people with ice powers? »

« Not as far as I know. »

The two kept talking until their eyes grew heavy. Elsa told the
origin of her powers, the story of her coronation, and the disaster
that erupted thereafter. Ariel’s story took much longer. She talked
about her first sixteen years under the sea, with frequent
side-stories about riding sea horses, the aquabatic games, or the
time the kingdom went into a military panic over a boot.

At some point, the innkeeper brought the barrel full of salt
water. Elsa convinced him not to come in, though he repeatedly
mentioned how heavy the barrel was. She wobbled it into the room,
sloshing the topskim on the floor. But there was still plenty to
give Ariel bountiful relief when she settled in.

« Is it too cramped? » Elsa asked.

« It’s just fine, » Ariel said. She wriggled within the barrel.
Her tail was flexible enough to sleep like this. Maybe not soundly,
but enough.

« I promise, I’ll do everything to help you get back to being
human. » Elsa returned to the human bed.

« Thank you, » Ariel said.

Soft night drifted into the room, filling their heads with fog.
With the ambience of talking, laughing, and drinking down below,
the two women drifted off to sleep.

Elsa’s sleep was too deep for dreams. A cold void surrounded her
body, then collapsed, like a haunted chamber.

So when Elsa heard a voice, she couldn’t tell if it came from
her own head, or the room. The night was so dark, she couldn’t even
tell if her eyes were open.

« Cor… It’s true. »

« Like fish in a barrel. Heh, literally. »

« Quit talking, » the first voice whispered.

A scuffle. A grinding noise as wood scraped against wood.
Handfuls of water splashed on the floor.

« Hup-« 

That was Ariel’s voice, suddenly silenced.

« Don’t you scream or I’ll gut you. Like a fish, heh. »

A pause.

Now Elsa knew this was no dream, but she dare not stir. How many
people were in the room? What weapons did they have? Was someone
standing over her bed right now? If she got up, would they see? How
fast would they knock her out?

« Window or door? »

« Door. Whole place is asleep. »

« Els- » Ariel again.

« Keep quiet. A dead mermaid’s just as good as a live one. »

« There’s a barrel lid here. »

« Good. Put it on. Nice and tight. »

A quick slamming of wood. Elsa remained stock still. She dare
not open her eyes, lest one was standing over her, holding up a
knife. Maybe she could coat the floor in ice to slip them up. But
even on the slim chance it worked, they’d jump up and slam a knife
into her back.

Suddenly, all her queenly confidence, her title and armies and
powers, meant nothing in a room that wasn’t hers, in the middle of
the night, with two burglars nearby.

« S’heavy, » one said.

« Just imagine it’s a big barrel of whiskey. Like the kind we’ll
be swimming in ‘fore long. »

The door opened, then footsteps. The door shut.

She was all alone now. And her promise to Ariel hung in the air.
She was letting her ward out of her sight. But what if a third
someone was here? Her fear was too strong to let her move.

No, if she started letting fear consume her, her powers would
take control. Maybe she could run after them, trap them in ice. But
what if one of them escaped and attacked her? What if someone
started shouting about sorcery and black magic. She couldn’t have
another town turn on her. But otherwise, she was just a little
girl. If there was another way…

Her hand brushed against something in bed with her. The
trident.

Yes! That could work. But she couldn’t use it like Ariel did.
She didn’t know how and this was not the time to figure it out.
Even if she did, she could accidentally blast a house or create a
monsoon. On the other hand, without magic, it was still a
weapon.

Elsa unraveled it from the tarp. In the dark, dingy room, its
gold still gleamed. She picked it up and stole out the door.

The back entrance, the same they had taken into the inn, lay
wide open. Elsa snuck out and saw shadows moving down the shore.
Two figures walked away from the village with a barrel hoisted
between their shoulders. Elsa treaded lightly across the sand, her
small feet and light frame keeping her footsteps silent.

The thin one paused. « Mikkel, we’re not really going to kill
her, are we? Cause I think a live mermaid’s got to be worth
more. »

« Course it is. But either way, Naidra will pay sacks for her, »
Mikkel, the big one, said.

Naidra. Elsa had heard that name before. Something to do with
black magic or superstition.

« We’re not going to take her to a scientist or physicker?
Someone like that? »

« Torger, all I care about is who can pay the most. »

« Then maybe we can sell her to a viceroy or aristocrat. Someone
who’s got money. »

« Feh, » Mikkel said. « Why sell her to someone to make more money
than us? A beldam like Naidra can create gold from mid-air, I
bet. »

« She can create gold, but can’t cure her blindness and
deafness? »

« She’s blind because she saw the devil himself. And her ears
were nipped off by the harpy king. There ain’t no cure for things
like that. Except maybe a mermaid. Rare beast like this, bet you
could make all kinds of things. »

« How did you figure out she was a mermaid? » Torger, the thin one
asked. « I thought they weren’t supposed to exist. »

« Because I’m not stupid. Look at this girl. Thin as a rail,
walking through town wrapped up like a fish. Then the innkeeper
said she wanted a barrel of salt water delivered to the room. I’m
not an idiot. Next time she’ll know to be less obvious when she
takes a stroll through town. » Mikkel laughed.

Elsa was close enough to ice their feet or freeze them in place,
but it was too much of a risk. Better to use the trident. She
couldn’t stick them like pigs. The vision of blood drawing out made
her ill. She couldn’t bring herself to do that.

But it could work as a bludgeon.

Elsa hoisted it over her head with two hands like a sword and
swung. The trident clanged as the blunt corner crashed into his
skull. Torger dropped the barrel and stumbled forward. Ocean water
poured onto the sand and Ariel with it.

Elsa reared back, trident over her shoulder like a bat, and
smacked the big one in the face. He fell onto the sand. Elsa reared
back to whack him in the back.

Mikkel grabbed the trident from behind her. The two tugged back
and forth.

« Torger, get her legs, » Mikkel commanded.

Elsa yanked. Not only was he stronger, he had more torque on the
forked end. The handle started slipping from her stinging
fingertips.

A small hand reached up and grabbed the middle of the trident.
The two of them looked down. Ariel sat below, glowering.

The magical warbling sounded before a golden ray shot out.
Mikkel flew back into the rocks where he fell unconscious.

Ariel let Elsa take the trident–she was no good being immobile.
Elsa whipped around to the other one. He was scrambling backward on
the sand. Elsa swept his legs from beneath him.

He tumbled onto his back. Elsa stabbed her trident down. Torger
screamed in surprise. The middle and side prongs pinned his arm
into the sand, trapping him.

« What were you doing? » Elsa hissed. « Where were you taking
her? »

Torger tried to pry his arm free.

« They were taking me to Dame Naidra, » Ariel said.

« Why? » Elsa growled. « Do you know her? »

« No. She’s just an old lady. »

« What does she want with Ariel? » Elsa asked.

« Nothing! Nothing. We were trying to sell her. We just thought
she’d pay big money for her. She’s into black magic and all
that. »

Elsa glanced at Ariel. The mermaid didn’t know what to do. But
Elsa saw an opportunity.

« You know where she is? » Elsa asked.

Torger nodded.

« You’re going to take us to her. »

Don't Break the Ice
Strangled