Other Fan Fiction ❯ The Gloves Come Off ( Chapter 11 )

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CHAPTER 11: The Gloves Come Off

Rapunzel couldn’t sleep.

And when she couldn’t sleep in Corona, she wandered the castle
halls. Arendelle’s night castle reflected her home’s empty rooms
and vacant corridors, ornamented with flickering torches. Each room
smelled of petrichor and the windows felt cold to the touch. The
night staff–guards and washerwomen–said their hellos as she
passed, but little else. And as far as she could tell, they were
the only ones up at this hour.

Until she passed a door with a crack of light underneath. The
astronomical observatory. Of course, Augie would be up. This was
when he did his work. Rapunzel cracked open his room but didn’t see
him. The warm light invited her in.

Rapunzel idly spun the orrey. The planets cycled through a few
years, then slowed to a standstill. She held up a sextant and tried
to figure out how it worked. Then she noticed the open
telescope.

She peeked into the eyepiece but made sure not to touch any of
the dials. A canvas of off-color black spread before her. She
pulled away to check the eyepiece for any damage. If something was
wrong with the primary objective lens, it could mean trouble. « What
am I looking at? » Rapunzel mumbled.

The royal astronomer walked around the bookcase with an armful
of scrolls. « If there were no clouds, what you would be seeing is
Saturn. »

« Oh. Hello, Mr. Augie. Sorry, I didn’t see you there. I hope I
didn’t mess up your telescope. »

« There’s nothing to see anyway. The clouds have ground my work
to a standstill. I can’t even see the moon. But don’t worry, I
recorded the settings. Please, have fun. It would please me if you
found anything to look at. » Augie spilled the scrolls onto the long
table in the middle of the room.

Rapunzel made herself comfortable on the nearby stool and
returned to the eyepiece. « I love telescopes. I never had one
strong enough to see Saturn though. »

« It’s quite the sight. The ringed planet. Named for Saturnus by
the Romans, or Cronus if you were Greek. »

« When I see it, it’s weird. It makes it more real. Not just
something in books. Another planet that’s just far away. »

« You know what’s even weirder? The light reaching us now is more
than an hour old. When we look, it’s actually the way Saturn looked
in the past. I’d have to check my notes to see exact
calculations. »

« Really? So, Saturn’s light could have gone out fifteen minutes
ago… »

Augie nodded. « And we wouldn’t know it. It’s like looking back
through time. »

« Wow. » Rapunzel kept her eye glued to the eyepiece. « And the
stars are even farther away. »

« Oh, yes, that’s why I keep looking. I’ve already catalogued the
sky, but there always new things happening. Up there, our future
and past is happening at the same time. »

It reminded Rapunzel of lives on Earth. Some winked out before
anyone could notice, and some burned bright and hot. Some lasted
after the star had gone out. And some came and went without anyone
noticing.

Rapunzel looked up from the eyepiece. « Mr. Augie, can I ask you
something? »

« Please do. I’m always happy to have anyone come visit. Except
the maid. »

Rapunzel smiled. « Do you think Elsa was a good queen? »

Augie nodded without hesitation. « Of course. I’ve seen three
generations of her family take the throne. And never has there been
one more prim and proper than Elsa. Almost to a fault. Pity her
reign was so short. She spent most of her time helping Arendelle
out of the mess she created by accident. But she did it. And I bet
she could have gone further. »

« I heard she spent all her education learning how to be a
queen, » Rapunzel said. « And Anna didn’t? »

« Well… » Augie scratched the back of his head. « They were two
very different people. It was almost a guarantee–if Elsa was
practicing her lessons, Anna was off somewhere. Elsa studied
politics, Anna rode her pony. Elsa conjugated Latin verbs, Anna
climbed trees. The most intellectuality I’ve seen from her was
figuring out how to arrange cushions so she could jump into them
from the second story walkway. »

Rapunzel pressed down a giggle. « That really happened? »

« The king and queen were furious with that one. They tried to
teach her the particulars of royalty, but I guess at some point,
they just… gave up. Elsa was the heir-apparent. So they decided
to concentrate more on her than Anna. » Augie waved his hand. « Not
that she was a lost cause. Just… well, we only get so much time
in this world. »

Rapunzel swallowed. « So, if Anna had to take the throne, would
Arendelle be in trouble? »

Augie shrugged. « Not at all. She’s noble, loyal, optimistic, and
stubborn to a fault. The only thing she lacks is the base
education. And if you put someone’s feet to the fire, they learn
eventually. »

« Yeah. » Rapunzel hung over the cylinder of the telescope and
sighed. « But you end up with burnt feet. »

Rapunzel returned to her room. In a few hours, morning came.
Rapunzel wasn’t sure if she ever went to sleep or not. She kept
staring into the window, waiting to see sunlight. But all of a
sudden, it was day.

Assistants entered her room on her permission. They set to work,
preparing her dress, her washing. Someone even curled Pascal’s
tail. Twenty men and women spread out her hair in a flat coil.

« Oh, no, you don’t have to… » Rapunzel started.

« No problem, your highness. We can’t have you wasting the day
brushing your hair. There’s too much to get done. »

They distributed themselves around the spiral, taking stations
at different points, and brushed. And brushed. And brushed. And
brushed. When she was ready for breakfast, the entourage
practically carried her through the castle. But in the dining room,
they all disappeared. She ate alone.

Pascal crawled out next to the bowl of oatmeal and placed a
small cold paw on hers.

« I know, Pascal. What am I supposed to do? I don’t know if I’m
ready to rule an entire country. I’ve only been in the real world
for a year. What would my mother and father say? »

Pascal churred.

« If I say no, I might be dooming this kingdom. Well, maybe not
dooming. It’s not like it would collapse, but I don’t know if it
would ever flourish. But if I say yes, I’d be hurting someone I
love. Someone who’s already been hurt so much. »

Pascal nodded.

« How would I even ask her? ‘Hey, Anna, you don’t seem so up to
the job, so do you think I could be queen, instead?’ Forget about
any birthright or loyalty. » Rapunzel gasped. « I might cause a civil
war. »

Rapunzel held her head in her hands. Pascal nuzzled her
forearm.

« There could be a civil war any way. They don’t think she has
any ability to be a queen, even though they never gave her a
chance. But they’re not going to be happy anyway. Given the past
two years, plus an inexperienced ruler on the throne, this country
could get ugly fast. I don’t know if the people can be that
patient. What do you think? »

Pascal shrugged. He didn’t know any better than she.

« Thanks, buddy. »

Rapunzel finished her oatmeal and juice. When the servants came
in to clear away the dishes, she told Kai, « Is it possible to
gather all the councilors and advisors and… and anyone else of
note this morning? »

« Of course, your highness. You have the power to call a session
whenever you want. Of course, I’m not sure how quickly we can
gather them all. »

« The more, the better. I have to make an announcement. »

« I will send the pages and assemble the trumpeters. »

« No, » Rapunzel shouted. « No fanfare. No pomp and circumstance.
It’s… it’s too serious for that. I don’t want anyone to think
I’m… I’m making a decision because I want to. But because I have
to. »

Kai’s brows knit in confusion, but he left straight away. In an
hour, confused sleepy-eyed men and women filled the throne room.
Rapunzel recognized a few from personal conversations. Others had
to be land barons, lords, dukes, or other aristocrats with their
fingers in the government cookie jar. They spoke in hushed tones
among their groups of three and four, wondering why they were
called. Unannounced meetings usually spilled bad news.

Before Rapunzel entered the chambers, she took a deep
breath.

« Announcing, her royal highness, Princess Rapunzel of
Corona. »

The crowd clapped. Rapunzel hesitated before the throne,
deciding whether to sit or stand. This could take a while, but
every tiny action would be scrutinized after this. And too much
time had passed–now it looked awkward.

She turned around. « Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming
on short notice. I have to make an announcement. I know these past
few days have been trying. And there’s been no sign that it’s going
to get any easier. There’s… » She sighed. « This is going to sound
bad. »

Rapunzel took a deep breath.

The door to the chambers burst open. Anna stood at the doorway,
arms spread. « She’s alive! Elsa’s alive! I know she is. »

Anna looked like a crazy woman with her red eyes and dirty
dress, breathing heavily, arms across the door frame.

« How do you know she’s still alive? » Rapunzel asked.

« Because Olaf is! »

Anna stepped aside and let Olaf enter the room. He waddled in,
waving his twig arm. « Hi everybody. Gosh, this room gets bigger
every time I see it. »

« Huh? » Rapunzel asked.

Anna darted forward, grinning. She grabbed Rapunzel’s hands and
danced around the room, singing « Olaf’s alive, Olaf’s alive, Olaf’s
alive. »

« Wait, wait, » Rapunzel said. « What does Olaf have to do with
it? »

« It came to me in a dream, » Anna squealed. « Olaf was made from
Elsa’s will. She created him when she was happy. »

« And look! » Olaf waved his hands over his head. « My flurry is
still going. Isn’t that great? »

« I… don’t understand, » Rapunzel said.

« If she was dead, he would have winked out or something. Like,
disappeared. Or melted. Turned into an ordinary snowman. »

« Yep. And I feel great! » Olaf jumped in the air, kicking his
little legs.

Rapunzel stood back, contemplating this. If Elsa was dead, that
meant she had could create life from nothingness. Only a divine
being could have that power, and Elsa was born as a mortal woman.
The further she took the idea, the more ridiculous it became.

Before she had the chance to think it through, Anna raised an
authoritative finger. « Prepare all the ships. Every last one.
Fishing boats, tug boats, row boats. We’re making a search party.
We’ll head where Elsa was last seen and spread out. Someone knows
how to organize that, right? »

« I… I think we can find someone, » Kai sputtered.

« Good. I’ll change clothes. Let’s go find Elsa. » Anna pumped a
fist in the air.

« Yeah, » Olaf followed Anna out of the room. « Let’s go find
Elsa! »


Elsa had an instant to decide what to do.

She narrowed her eyes, giving Captain Ridley her most fearsome
scowl. « Then you’ll have to imprison us. We may be under your
capture, but I am under NO obligation to answer to the likes of
you. »

« I don’t-« 

« Either imprison us or release us now, you derelict. And don’t
point that thing at me. » She slapped the trident aside.

A rough wave hit the ship. Ridley’s boot heel planted on the
patch of ice. He kicked out and fell butt-first onto the deck.

The crew burst out laughing. The smart ones shut up, but the
peons couldn’t stop chortling, doubled over, slapping their
knees.

Ridley jumped up to his feet. « Shut up! Shut up or I’ll keel
haul all of you. You think I won’t? You think another crew of
worthless dogs wouldn’t jump at the chance to serve under me? »

He hefted the trident and approached Elsa. « On this ship, your
royal blood means absolute zero. So if you think of talking back to
me again… »

With a deft motion, he swiped the trident an inch from her neck.
Elsa stayed steadfast, even as the metal point rushed past.

« The brig it is, ladies, » Ridley announced. Two crewmen with
lusty faces and wagging tongues moved to intercept. Ridley blocked
their progress with the trident. « No harm to them ’til we make our
demands. People don’t pay for damaged goods. »

The two men grabbed their wrists and shoved them down the lowest
deck, thick with the smell of mud and mold. They could feel the
ship rocking back and forth, but not see it, which didn’t help
their vertigo.

One held a metal barred door open. « Get in there, » the other
said. He tossed them in.

Elsa kept her balance, but Ariel fell to the ground.

While the first pirate made a show of locking the door, the
other poked in his head. « You better give up some names quick-like.
Men’ll not hold out long with two women aboard. » He grinned,
showing his lack of teeth. « Maybe not even for the night. » They
walked back up to the main deck, laughing.

Elsa shook the bars. She turned back to Ariel. « Are you all
right? »

Ariel was still biting her lip, chin trembling. At last, she let
out an awful howl of pain as she gripped her stomach. Elsa dropped
to her side.

« My legs, » Ariel said. « They’re- grrr… »

Just in time, Elsa thought to herself. She lifted Ariel’s
dress part way up. Her undergarments slipped down her legs as the
flesh of her legs sealed. The feet molded into one globulate. Then
shimmering scales popped up through the skin, darkening the
pinkness to emerald. The toes spread into a translucent fluke.

Elsa and Ariel braced themselves on each other’s shoulders.
« It’s almost over, » Elsa said. Only fifteen or thirty seconds had
passed, but it felt like forever.

Finally, Ariel relaxed. She took a deep breath. « I’m all right
now. It burns like fire. Not just the legs either. It’s back pains.
My whole body feels like it wants to curl up into a ball and
die. »

« Sounds like cramps, » Elsa smiled. She leaned Ariel against the
wall. The dress covered her tail except for the tissue-thin fluke
sticking out.

Once Ariel had caught her breath, she asked, « Can you freeze the
bars? Would that make them break? »

Elsa gripped one hand around the cold metal. She had broken
through a prison before, but that terrible incident was too intense
to remember how. She was so emotional and out of control. « If I
could, where we even go? »

« Somewhere. Anywhere. We need to think of something. I’ve got to
get that trident back. If he knew how to use it, he could take out
a fleet. Can you-« 

« Please, » Elsa interrupted. « Stop. Talking. I need a few
moments. »

Her tone was so sharp, so mother-like, Ariel clammed up. « Sorry,
I just-« 

« Did you see what happened out there? That little outburst
wasn’t acting. I panicked. I had all this tension and anger and
fear inside me. And bad things happen when I do that. »

« But you were trying to make him put us in here. So he wouldn’t
see-« 

« We got lucky. If I had more time, I could have done something
smarter, but I… the more I keep it suppressed, the more powerful
it gets. I could have frozen everyone, including you. Maybe the
whole ship could have gone down. Again. Now leave me alone. »

I wish Eric was here, she thought.

Elsa sat in the other corner of the cell, taking deep breaths to
stop her hands from shaking. As much as she wanted to comfort
Ariel, she had to regain control before she froze the entire boat.
If the captain saw her ice powers, he would know right away who she
was.

At home, she would have her desk and her graph paper. She
imagined herself sitting there, drawing out squares, triangles, and
circles. Making up math equations to calculate their circumference,
area, ratios. Designing never-ending fractals and artistic spirals
helped her find focus. When she could place her finger in one of
the nearby pools of scum water, she knew she was calm again.

Elsa noticed Ariel squirming.

« How long can you last without water? » Elsa asked.

« I don’t know, » Ariel said. « It’s not too painful yet. Just
itchy. »

« Do you think you can last the night? »

« I hope so. »

Above their heads, footsteps clanged on the creaking wood.
« Someone’s coming down, » Elsa said.

Ariel tried to hide pull down her dress, but it was too short to
hide her tail. Elsa looked for something to cover it with. As the
door opened, she sat down on the Ariel’s fluke. The mermaid
winced.

« Sorry, » Elsa whispered.

A galley slave entered first, holding a cooking pan. Then
Ridley, still holding the trident. He smelled of cologne. His hair
was brushed and his coat free of lint.

« M’ladies. I trust you’ve made yourselves comfortable, » Ridley
said.

Ariel scoffed. She crossed her arms and looked away.

« You don’t have to stay here, by any means. Just tell me who to
ask for a ransom. »

« No one. We’re not important enough, » Elsa said.

« Oh, come now. Don’t be modest. Tell me and I’ll let you out.
You don’t have to spend your trip in that cell. You can stay in my
quarters. »

« And where would you sleep? » Elsa asked.

The captain laughed. « I didn’t say I was giving them
up. »

« No thanks, » Elsa said.

Ridley nodded to his companion. The galley slave shoved the pan
under a gap in the bars. Half its food spilled out.

« I feel I’ve been more than generous to you ladies. And you’ve
returned nothing but insolence. These bars, » he tapped two of them,
« may end up being your home for a long time. That is your day’s
meal. If I think of it, you may be fed tomorrow as well. That is
your privy. » Ridley nodded to a dented bucket in a corner.

Elsa pulled it toward her and looked in. « There’s a hole in
it. »

« Course there is. That’s where you put your business. » The
galley slave laughed wheezingly.

Elsa scrunched her nose. « No, a hole at the bottom. » She held it
up.

« Oh, a thousand pardons, milady. The town’s blacksmith must be
made aware. Not more than a mile’s walk. I’ll bring it right back,
good as new, » Ridley said.

« You think we get any better? Cap’n’s don’ gotta share his
chamber pot with nobody, » the galley-man added.

Ridley sniffed, as if he smelled a foul aroma. « Keep tonight in
mind. Because if you aren’t important enough to get a ransom, then
you may not have a tomorrow. »

As they walked back up, Ridley said to his crewman, « Check if
the fish barrels have turned sour. It smells wretched down
here. »

Elsa shifted off Ariel’s tail and leaned up against the coarse
bars. Neither of them touched the gruel. It smelled too much like
disgorged whale contents.

Hours passed. The moon rose, bathing them in its light.

« Are you asleep? » Elsa asked.

« No, are you? » Ariel replied. « I mean- sorry, stupid
question. »

Ariel shifted over to sit next to Elsa, no matter how dry and
scaly her tail was feeling.

« I wish I was home. In my room, » Elsa whispered.

« We’ll find a way out of here. I’ve been trapped or locked up
plenty of times. Seems to always happen when I’m exploring. Being a
princess of the sea king doesn’t help. »

Elsa sniffled. « How do you get out? »

« I don’t know. My friends came to rescue me a lot of times. »

Elsa laughed. « I don’t think that’s happening. No one even knows
where I am. » She bowed her head into her knees.

« Then we’ll just have to do it ourselves. » Ariel looked around
their cell. Steel rivets kept the bars bolted into the ceiling. The
wood, soggy as it was, hadn’t rotted enough to give way. Plus it
was too flexible to shatter from cold. But she had been in stronger
cells–ones made of nothing but coral or rock or someone’s
belly.

Remembering old adventures brought something up in her mind. « We
could try the old ‘one of us is sick’ routine, » Ariel said.

Elsa raised her head. « Is that what we want? Someone coming in
with you like this? » She gestured to Ariel’s lower half.

« Maybe that could be our angle. ‘Help, my legs feel funny.' »

Both the women giggled. « Doesn’t really give him a reason to
open the door. He can see your legs from here. »

« Maybe that’s what we do. Wait until he’s looking close and then
bam. »

« Just as likely he runs up to get the captain. We need to give
him a reason to open the door. »

Ariel stared up. « Hmm. Do we have anything he would have to take
out or put in? Something that has to be- » Ariel’s bright blue eyes
widened. « Oh, I got it. »

She leaned into Elsa and whispered her plan. It sounded risky,
but escaping from pirates always was. The two of them arranged
themselves properly–viewpoint would be key. Ariel positioned
herself so her feet pointed at the door. Then she splayed her arms
and lay flat, her tail disguised under the ruffles.

« Guard! » Elsa said in her most commanding voice. « Guard! Anyone!
Come down here! »

The door clanged open and a patroller hobbled down, holding out
his lantern. « Wot? Wot? This better be good. I’m only comin’ in
this once. » He stopped when he saw Ariel’s still body. « Don’t think
I’m falling for that. »

« It’s not that. There’s something wrong with her legs. » Elsa
held up her hand, shiny with scales and dry tissue.

« What the bloody hell… » the lackey muttered. He gave Elsa a
sidelong glance. « Pull up her skirt. Lemme see. »

Elsa held up her hands in surrender. « I shall not violate my
friend in any such uncouth manner. Furthermore, I will not touch
her skin. If she has some kind of communicable disease… »

« Fine. Fine. Stand back. Against the corner. »

Elsa huddled in the corner, twice an arm’s reach away. The
lackey fetched a key out from his sash.

He opened the door, but did not step in. Instead, he took up a
nearby stick at the mention of « disease » Then he stepped inside the
door frame and used it to pry away the layers of petticoat.

Ariel doubled up and thrust her tail into his stomach. From a
limb that was all muscle, he soared past the door and against the
wall. He fell unconscious as he slid into a collection of broken
barrels.

« Do you think anyone heard that? » Ariel asked.

« Doesn’t matter, » Elsa said. She dragged him into the cell as
Ariel crawled out. The mermaid winced and flipped herself over. Her
tail had turned the sickly pale of a wilted leaf. In the middle was
a break, leaking clear fluid. That can’t be good, she
thought.

Elsa swept her up and carried her up the stairs. « Look for a
lifeboat. If we can get off without anyone seeing, we-« 

« Shh. » Ariel pointed to a glowing light behind a pylon. Elsa
held her breath and edged along the side rail. Near the prow, she
spotted a winch for a lifeboat. She sidled behind a large wooden
box. The mermaid glanced back and gave a little yelp.

A guard stood behind them, wild eyes and scraggly beard. He held
up a lantern with one hand, and with the other, a large bell.

« If you give us a taste, I won’t say nothing, » he said in a
sinister whisper.

Elsa stood up straight, hands on her hips. « I’d rather you ring
the bell. »

« Fair enough. » He whacked the bell in the air. « Escape!
Escape! »

The ship shook with the sudden rumble of footsteps.

« Just use your power, » Ariel shouted.

« I can’t-« 

A pirate rushed at them, reaching his arms out. Ariel snapped
her tail too fast for him to see what hit him. He collapsed,
gasping for breath. But more footfalls were on their way.

Elsa approached the edge of the boat. Ariel started wriggling.
« What are you doing? »

« Dropping you in, » Elsa said.

« No! I’m not leaving! » Ariel yelled.

« I’ll be fine. You go for help. » Elsa said.

« I can’t leave. Don’t drop me. Don’t-« 

Elsa lifted her over the side. Ariel tried to grab for her but
it was too late.

« One overboard! » someone shouted.

Elsa sprinted for front of the ship, pushing men aside. Even if
Ariel found help, Elsa would have to face the wrath for escaping
the cell.

When she reached the prow, she turned back to see the entire
pirate crew surrounding her. Glowing eyes and cutlass-filled hands
moved in.

Visions filled Elsa’s brain. Men rushing into her ice palace.
Swords and crossbows. Deadly icicles flying. Sliding barriers that
shoved people toward oblivion. Orange light. The chandelier
falling.

Crewmen stood aside as Ridley walked forward, his boots
announcing his presence. He was still holding the blasted trident,
as if it were a favorite teddy bear.

« You interrupted my bath. » He smirked. « Can’t say I didn’t
expect an attempt. I just can’t believe you got this far. »

« You have no idea what forces you’re dealing with. Surrender
yourselves immediately. Or I will use my power. »

Captain Ridley snickered. « What power? »

Elsa raised her arms. « Do you not know what they call me? I am
Queen Elsa of Arendelle. The snow queen. »

Ridley’s eyebrows raised. Elsa wasn’t sure he was buying it. But
the others had stopped moving forward. Pirates were a superstitious
lot. She could pour it on thicker.

« I am an all-powerful ice demon. Cursed from birth, generations
ago, by the full moon. A curse which freezes the very soul to
iron, » Elsa said. « I have singlehandedly frozen the entirety of my
kingdom, wiping out livestock, dooming peasants to starvation when
they would not pay me their due. How I laughed as I watched them
from my castle in the mountains. The castle I formed in seconds
with nothing but my two hands, from the ice-« 

From somewhere in the crowd, a rock flew out. It struck Elsa in
her upper forehead. She staggered back as a tiny trickle blood ran
down her face, then collapsed against the deck.

One of the pirates held up a slingshot. « Good one, Thurby.
That’s how you take care of a mouthy wench who don’t know her
place, » Ridley said. Others laughed and nodded.

Ridley approached the fallen queen, smirking. Elsa swore his
eyes gleamed with gold for a half-second before everything went
black.

« Tie her up tight. Arms and legs like a trussed pig. And return
her… no, bring her in my quarters. I’ll show her exactly what
power is. »

Ridley began to stalk back to the other end of the ship. The
boat rumbled as the floorboards quaked beneath their feet.

« What was that? » someone said. « Big wave? »

« No, » Ridley said. Waves didn’t make the ship quiver. Then it
happened again. The crew listed the other way.

« Tis a whale, cap’n, » one of the boatswains said, looking over
the starboard side.

« Here too, » said one looking port. « Pounding the boat. »

« What the devil? » Ridley said. « Find the harpoons. Drive them
back-« 

Sprays of water from the whales’ spouts launched dozens of
marine animals onto the deck–starfish, dolphins, seals. They
assaulted the first pink flesh they saw. Lobsters dive-bombed them,
pinching ears, noses, heels, and crotches. Pufferfish ballooned at
the shadow of a boot, becoming sea mines.

« The sea’s gone mad! It’s the devil! » someone shouted in the
chaos.

Thurby showed Ridley a tiny blue-ringed octopus on his arm.
« It’s not all bad. Look, captain. This one’s kinda cute… » His
voice slurred as he dropped to the deck.

Ridley dodged the sea’s droppings, batting them with the
trident. Crewmen stumbled about, pulling sea cucumbers out of their
pants or hermit crabs from their ears. He was about to bark orders
when a manta ray fell on his head, draping him like a blanket.

Someone shouted, « M- man the lifeboats! All hands escape! » The
crew scattered, running with no rhyme or reason. Some dived into
the ocean in a panic. The man in the crow’s nest slid down the
ladder, lost his grip, and fell into the water.

Ridley pulled the fleshy ray off, avoiding the spined tail, and
marched toward the front of the deck. Crewmen disappeared by the
second.

« Faster! Faster! They’ve been signaled! » one of the pirates
shouted. Pulleys squealed as dinghies full of men dropped into the
sea.

Ridley stood in front of the prow, prepared to call his men to
him. But before he could, and ear-breaking swoosh sounded. A
whale’s spout erupted in front of the boat, along with a fine spray
of water. The red-headed one–Ariel–rode the spout up, like an
Arabian queen.

« By the gods, » Ridley uttered, seeing her true form. An eel
wrapped around his eyes like a blindfold. A chitinous claw pinched
his hand, making him drop the trident.

Ariel’s eyes lit up at seeing the trident loose. She steeled her
reserve and dove onto the deck. Ridley ripped away the eel to see
her crawling toward the weapon.

They both reached it at the same time. She grabbed the bottom
and yanked. Ridley dropped to the deck stomach first.

« Let go! » he yelled.

« Give me back my trident! »

They tugged back and forth, until Ridley regained his feet. With
the added leverage, Ariel lost her grip.

« Ha ha. » Ridley held his prize in triumph. « No mermaid’s going
to overpower me. »

Ariel scowled. « I am not just a mermaid, » she said. « I am the
ruler of the merpeople. »

The ship bounced heaved backward, shoved by a giant mass of
humpback whale. Ridley fell forward. Ariel scrunched up her tail
and jabbed him in the gut. Ridley’s cheeks puffed as the air rushed
out of him.

« And that is my trident, » she said, taking it from his loose
grip.

The trident hummed magically, glowing bright yellow. Ridley’s
eyes narrowed.

Ariel shot a lightning bolt at Ridley’s feet, propelling him
into the air. A faint wisp of smoke trailed as he careened into the
night sky. He fell past the boat, followed by a splash.

Now, the front deck was abandoned. Ariel crawled to Elsa’s body.
On her forehead was a dark and bloody welt that wasn’t there
before, but she was still breathing. Ariel held her upright.

Elsa stirred and coughed. « What happened? »

Ariel grinned. « I scared them off. Even without the trident, I
still have plenty of friends under the sea. They all jumped on
bored and helped scare them into the lifeboats. But I think… I
think we’re the only ones on board. »

« We are? »

Elsa grabbed the railing and struggled to her feet. She squinted
into the darkness, though woozy, but there was nothing to see.
Perhaps a pirate’s voice or two in the middle of the gentle
thrushing.

« Wait, what’s that? » Ariel picked up a telescope discarded on
the ground and looked to the rear of the boat. Under the shroud of
starlight, a single ship slithered into view.

Then two to its side.

Then four.

Twenty-five massive galleons, schooners, and clippers were
rushing toward them. Ariel dropped the telescope. « Mother of pearl.
That must be a king’s navy. »

Elsa gestured for the scope and Ariel gave it to her. She
adjusted the focus, searching for the lead ship. Someone was
standing on its prow, front and center. Someone with twin braids
and red hair.

Elsa couldn’t believe it. It was Anna. Then she caught the
pattern on the sail.

« More like a queen’s navy. They’re Arendelle ships. »

Elsa thrust her hand in the air. A bright cyan light shot up
over the boat, then a gentle flurry descended. Elsa returned to her
telescope.

Anna watched the light, not quite understanding. Then
realization set in and she jumped up and down like an excited
goat.

Elsa chuckled. « They’ll be here in a little bit. »

Ariel beamed. Then gasped. « They can’t see me like this. If
people know there’s mermaids out there, they’d come searching for
us. It would destroy our kingdom. »

« Go back in the water. You can follow the ship back to
Arendelle. »

Ariel poked her head through the railings. « They’re watching us
right now. They’ll see if I go overboard. »

Elsa tapped a finger on the telescope. She was right. « You can’t
stay here. They’re going to pull alongside us. They’ll insist on
bringing over some men… Wait a minute. The captain said he was
taking a bath. »

Elsa walked across deck and poked her head into the captain’s
quarters. « Perfect. There’s a tub of water in there. I’ll just tell
everyone my sick friend is in there. »

« You sure they won’t try to come in? » Ariel asked as picked her
up.

« No one’s going to disobey a queen. »

The « bath » was just a metal washtub barely big enough to sit an
adult. If was a luxury for captains, Elsa shuddered to think how
the rest of the crew cleaned themselves. The water wasn’t even
fresh. It smelled of brine from a night’s ocean. Perfect for a
mermaid though.

Ariel had to curl her tail around the tub’s perimeter. « Thanks.
This should be just right. »

Elsa nodded. « Once we’re back in Arendelle, I’ll come get
you. »

« Then we can all start working on why this all happened. »

Elsa shut the door and returned to the deck. Anna’s ship had
pulled close enough to see each other without a telescope.

« Elsa! Elsa! » Anna yelled, jumping up and down. « You’re alive! I
knew it! »

« I knew it too! » Olaf said, appearing over the rails.

« Is Arendelle all right? » Elsa called out.

« Arendelle’s fine! It’s great. You’ll never believe who came
after you left. It- » One of the crewmen pulled Anna aside and spoke
to her. « Elsa! They’re going to send some men aboard! Just hang
on! »

A contingent of Arendelle’s navy set to unmooring ropes. When
Anna’s ship was close enough, they swung over and dismounted. After
assembling in front of Elsa, the second lieutenant stepped forward.
« Lieutenant Handel from the vessel Raskskip. »

« Pleased to meet you. I’m not sure what this ship’s name is, but
it’s a pirate vessel. Or it used to be. »

« You… commandeered this ship from them? »

« Yes, » Elsa said, pleased. « Most of them are in the water now,
and should be rounded up. »

« Understood. We should also search the ship to make sure there
aren’t any remaining pirates on board. »

« Yes… oh, except- » Elsa stammered. « There is a very important
friend of mine resting in the captain’s quarters. She is… » Elsa
stifled a giggle. « She is seasick and not to be disturbed until we
make landfall. At all. Only I may go in there. Do you
understand? »

« I will inform the men. » Handel listed the orders to a nearby
assistant who rushed off to relay the message to the other ships.
Elsa smiled with pride.

Handel said, « With your permission, I can take command now. »

Elsa was about to say « yes », but something stopped her. « Er, not
just yet. I captured this vessel, after all. I’m not quite ready to
give it up. »

Handel looked confused. « Er, yes, of course. But-« 

« I had time to read about sailing and I’d like to try it out for
myself. Of course, I’ll need your help to guide me. »

« But, your majesty, you are the queen. Sailing a ship is beneath
you. It’s hard, dirty work… »

Elsa scowled.

« But, of course, whatever your majesty wishes. Let’s start by
changing into the right direction. » Handel pointed to the steering
column on the forecastle. The others began scattering around the
deck, rigging ropes and haul anchor.

« How long do you think it will take to get back to Arendelle? »
Elsa asked.

« Oh, if the wind treats us right, we’ll be there a little after
sunrise, I should think. »

« Excellent, » Elsa said.

All Hail the Queen
Ice-olation