Other Fan Fiction ❯ Traveled Ground ( Chapter 15 )

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CHAPTER 15: Traveled Ground

While Elsa steered, Rapunzel sat and played solitaire with a
flimsy deck from the captain’s cabin. She didn’t know anything
about navigation, so she spent some time cleaning and arranging
supplies, but that grew lonely. Ariel was in a tub below deck. So
she came out to spend time with Elsa.

« Did you find any food? » Elsa asked.

« There’s a little packed for us. The pirates left behind some
limes, flour, lots of moldy old grains. Not even sure I
could make anything out of it. »

« Hmm. We’ll have to restock in Corona. » Elsa asked.

Rapunzel combed her fingers through her hair, having taken out
the braids. « So… that ice thing… that’s still happening? »

« What? Oh… I suppose. Not… it’s harder to control with
everything that’s come up. »

« I understand. There’s new friends and pirates and Arendelle in
trouble and sinking underwater in giant ice globes. Besides… » She
trailed a finger across a crack in the boards. « There’s some things
you never really get over. »

« Worry more about poor Ariel. She has no control whatsoever over
her transformations. »

« Do you think we could carry her up? »

Elsa shook her head. « She needs to sleep. At least one of us
should. We won’t reach Corona until mid-day, if my estimates are
right. » Elsa glanced at her sextant, did a quick calculation, and
turned the rudder. « You should go to sleep too. »

« I will. In a little while. It’s too beautiful out here. » The
stars reminded her of the floating lanterns–as if the hundreds
released over the years were still forever rising.

Below deck, Ariel couldn’t sleep. She was excited and depressed
at the same time.

Excited because, for the first time in a long while, she was on
an adventure with friends. Depressed because she had to stay away
from everyone, like when her father beached her as a child. For
twelve hours a day, she was useless.

Ariel turned on her stomach and rested her head on the tub’s
edge. She was like a fish in a bowl. Nothing but a big fork for
company.

She looked down at the trident. It had so much godlike power,
but she couldn’t even use it. Not reliably. If only she had…

Well, that was a thing. She needed practice. And why not
now?

Ariel held out the trident. She had to start small. If she
punched a hole in the ship, her friends would be mad at her to say
the least. And there was more to the trident than blasting.

A set of empty glass jars sat on a shelf nearby–dark and dirty.
Ariel pointed her trident at the nearest one, willing it to…
what? What could the trident do? Summon storms, shoot lightning,
change mermaids to humans. Perhaps it was capable of anything.

Honestly, all she wanted was to pack a punch. Her skinny arms
wouldn’t hold any force, and she needed a way to make up for her
shortcomings. Elsa had her ice. Rapunzel could use her hair as a
rope or for healing wounds.

It just took concentration. Ariel pointed the trident and
thought about making the jar move. Make it move. Make it move.

The jar trembled, then exploded. Ariel turned to avoid a shower
of shards. No luck there.

She pointed at the second jar.

« I can do this. I can do this, » she repeated to herself. She
raised her chin, held up the trident, and concentrated.

The jar trembled. It wiggled, then fell off the shelf, breaking
on impact.

Ariel’s eyes widened. That was her.

Come on, girl, she said to herself. You can do this.
This is your birthright. You might be the little, but you’re the
bravest mermaid I’ve ever seen. You stood up to a royal law. You
united two totally different species.

A thin laser beam shot out. The glass jar careened back,
clanging against the wall.

Ariel chittered, splashing water over the side. She did it. She
could hang with the big girls now.


Ariel shoved the door to the top deck open. « Avast ye. »

She stood in the doorway, hands on her hips, wearing full pirate
regalia–a mauve double-breasted captain’s coat with brass buttons
and a white shirt underneath. Sunrise glistened against the cutlass
on her belt. She adjusted the tri-corner hat over her flossy red
hair.

« Where did you get that? » Elsa asked.

« Found it in a box, » Ariel said. « Now move aside, landlubber. I
be takin’ over this ship. »

Elsa smiled and turned away from the wheel, too tired to argue.
« All yours, ‘captain’. »

« That’s ‘aye, sir’, ye dog. Back to yer quarters wit’ you. »

Ariel approached the steering wheel, where she noticed Rapunzel
sleeping at her foot. A blanket covered her. « What happened to
her? » Ariel asked in a normal voice.

« Fell asleep. The maps are right next to you. It’s a good wind.
We should see Corona by noon. » Elsa yawned. « So wake me when we’re
there. »

« Aye aye. » Ariel saluted. She grasped the wheel with two hands.
In a little while, Rapunzel woke up.

« What in the world… » Rapunzel said.

Ariel threw back her head and laughed. She explained while
Rapunzel dished out a breakfast of hard tack and limes. The
conversation killed the time until midday. Together they spotted
the first peek of Corona’s taller peaks.

« Land ho! » Ariel shouted.

Rapunzel stood at the bow. She wanted to be the first to see her
familiar home. The city looked so beautiful. And the grand castle
in the center, a tower of-

Water exploded in front of the ship. Rapunzel shrieked and
tripped backwards.

« What was that? » Ariel asked.

Another burst to port. They were coming from cannonballs. At the
pier, white smoke drifted up and a moment later, there was a
boom.

« They’re firing! » Rapunzel said, scrambling back to Ariel.

« On us? » Ariel yanked the wheel to starboard.

« What’s going on? » Elsa asked. « Are we at Corona? Are we under
attack? »

« Yes and yes, » Rapunzel shouted. « They fired a warning
shot. »

« Why? We didn’t do anything. We’re not- » She noticed the main
mast and its flag–the black and white Jolly Roger.

« They think we’re pirates, » Rapunzel said.

The three of them rushed to the main mast. « Why didn’t they
change the flag? That’s the first thing they should have done, »
Elsa cursed.

« Where is the rope? » Rapunzel asked. « How are we supposed to get
it down? »

The rope hung halfway up the mast. Its frayed ends swung with
the motion of the boat.

« Now what are we supposed to do? » Ariel asked.


« Signs of retreat? » Captain Haldur asked. He shaded his eyes
with his hands, viewing the lone pirate ship in Corona waters.

« No, sir, » Lieutenant Kirkegaard said. « Still on evasive
maneuvers. The clippers are almost undocked. Armed and ready to
intercept the vessel. »

« Dirty pirates, » Haldur mumbled. « Maybe we ought to give them a
stronger warning. Tell the cannoneer to attempt a contact
shot. »

« Any target, sir? »

« Doesn’t matter. Knock down the mast, blow the hull open. We
won’t tolerate pirates in these waters. Even stupid ones. »

« Aye sir, I’ll give the order. »

« Sir! » another guard spoke up, holding a telescope to her eye.
« They’re lowering their flag. »

He grabbed the scope.

The skull and crossbones was descending. Jerkily and slowly, but
lowering.

« What do those dirty pirates want? Surrender? Parley? They can
parley with my rifle if they think… » He trailed off as the new
flag rose. It was hard to see, because it wasn’t a flag at all.
« What is that? Some kind of rope? A yellow rope? »

Haldur followed it down the mast where it connected to a young
woman’s head. She stood beneath the mast, an annoyed smirk on her
face. If it was a chunk of hair, that meant…

« The princess! Princess Rapunzel! » He dropped the spyglass.
« Cease fire! Cease fire! Stand down. » His lieutenants relayed the
commands to their squadrons. « Inform the King and Queen. Get
Commander Maximus down here. Message intercept vessels not to fire.
Repeat, do not fire. They are to escort the ship into the nearest
dock. » He coughed as he collapsed the telescope. « With sincerest
apologies. »


As soon as the ship reached standstill, Corona servants jumped
to work, securing ropes and placing the gangplank. Apologies and
sincere regret abound from each worker. Rapunzel, who had lowered
her hair from the flagpole, accepted each gracefully. Captain
Haldur met Rapunzel on the deck, bent to his knees, and recited the
long apology he had composed while waiting for them to dock.

« It’s fine, it’s fine, » Rapunzel said. « It’s our fault for not
realizing about the flag. »

« But, princess, why are you arriving in a pirate vessel? And
with no crew? Just two… other princesses? »

Elsa and Ariel stepped forward, unable to keep from smiling.

« It’s a long story. And I’ll be happy to tell it, but first I’d
love to get back to mother and father. We have urgent
business. »

« Of course. » Haldur turned to the rail and shouted down. « The
princess is disembarking. »

The royal guard clapped their legs together. A bugler sounded
the Corona anthem while Rapunzel, Elsa, and Ariel descended the
gangplank. She didn’t care for the fanfare, but it was a nice
welcome back. And they seemed to enjoy the grandeur, maybe because
they had been without a princess for so long.

« Oh, good, there’s Flynn. And our captain of the guards is
here, » Rapunzel said as she waved.

Ariel and Elsa looked over the many armored shoulders for who
she was waving that. They couldn’t tell which one was the captain
amid the many proud-looking cavalry with their horses.

A slender man with brown jaw walked beside a white warmblood
stallion with a barrel chest. « Ladies, » he bowed. « Prince
Flynn Rider, at your service. »

Rapunzel said in a sing-song voice, « You can’t be calling
yourself a prince, Flynn. »

« Aren’t I married to the princess? That makes me a prince, »
Flynn said, responding in the same tone.

« Then you’d have to be going by Prince Eugene Fitzherbert. »

Flynn paused. « Hi. How ya doin’? The name’s Flynn Rider. »

« And this is Maximus, » Rapunzel said. She embraced a white
stallion around his neck. The horse whinnied as she rubbed his
nose. « I missed you too. I have so much to tell you. »

Maximus’s eyes glazed over as she scratched around the collar of
his chest plate. She, Flynn, and the horse started towards the
palace.

« That… is Maximus? » Elsa whispered to Ariel.

« I was expecting the captain of the guards to… well… have
two legs. Not four. »

Elsa smirked. « Says the girl who doesn’t have any. »


Maximus took Rapunzel, Elsa, and Ariel to the castle. King
Frederic and Queen Arianna met her at the gates. There was much
embracing and introductions and explanations. Then Rapunzel whisked
them off into the castle.

« Is the horse going to follow us in? » Elsa asked.

Maximus chuffed.

« He likes to be called by his name, » Rapunzel said.

Ariel mouthed to Elsa, He?

« Believe me, » Flynn said. « I’ve seen stubborn viceroys choose
not to. They end up leaving the castle with hoof prints on their
butt. »

Commander Ansel ran in from a corridor and met them in the great
hall. He skidded to a stop in front of the party. Everyone behind
Rapunzel crashed into her, tripping on her hair.

« A thousand apologies, your highness. I was just now informed
that you’d arrived, » Ansel said.

« You’re just the man I want to see. Arendelle needs your
help. »

« Arendelle? Under the rule of your cousin? »

« Yes. And this is said cousin, Queen Elsa. »

Elsa stepped forward. « A pleasure. »

Ansel bowed and kissed the royal hand. « An honor. How may I
assist your countrymen? »

« Some enemies have formed a blockade around my waters,
attempting to stage a coup. Luckily, we were able to escape without
them noticing. But they won’t be happy when they find out.
Arendelle can defend itself, but I fear the cost. »

Ansel stood to his full height. « I’ll make orders to mobilize
the fleet at once. All cannons and artillery will be prepared. If
that’s an acceptable strategy to the queen. »

« The whole fleet? » Elsa asked.

« My policy is not to open negotiations, but to make a show of
force, » Ansel said.

« Maybe we can resolve this without a battle, if they see
themselves outmatched, » Rapunzel said. She wiggled her eyebrows in
hopefulness.

Ansel nodded. « I intend to make it so no one ever thinks of
attacking Arendelle again. »

Ariel looked at Elsa, with eyes that said I’m not sure about
this, but it’s your call
.

« The extra force would be appreciated, » Elsa said.

« We’ll have to discuss strategy later, » Rapunzel said. « But get
as ready as you can. » Ansel bowed and walked off. To her father,
she said, « Is the prisoner still down below? The one who appeared
in my bedchamber the night my hair returned? »

« As far as I know. I don’t know any news of him. »

« We need to talk to him. To the dungeon. »

Rapunzel led them down into the castle’s deepest recesses, three
floors below ground level. Water dripped, accompanying the smell of
dank and mold.

Rapunzel and her entourage walked to the furthest cell. He wore
a dirty orange tunic, green sash, and baggy pants.

« Well, took you long enough, » the man said. « About time you
apologized for this whole misunderstanding. »

« You had a knife at her throat. How is that a misunderstanding? »
Flynn asked.

The man grinned, showing long teeth in receded gums. « There was
a bee on her. A big one. »

« You said your name is Omis Ravir, right? » Rapunzel asked.

« Aye, that’s what I said and I said what I meant. »

« Omis Ravir, who took the faults of Temeris? »

« Well, of course I’m not that Omis Ravir. That’s just a
nickname. »

« A nickname for what? » Ariel asked.

« A nickname for ‘Why Would I Tell You My Real Name’? Besides it
was just one fault. »

Rapunzel’s eyes widened. « Then you do know him. »

He played with the ring in his ear. « Aw, granny’s gonna kill me.
Well, Omis Ravir’s a bit of a ghost story round where we live.
Guess it hasn’t made it round to Corona yet. I thought it might
scare you off. »

« Where we live? » Elsa asked. « Are there more of you? »

« Do they know about Omis Ravir? » Ariel asked.

« Why should I tell you? What’s in it for me? »

The three girls looked at each other. « What do you want? » Ariel
asked.

The man clutched the bars. « A full pardon. And five hundred…
no, a thousand pieces of gold. »

« You tried to kill the princess! » Flynn yelled back. « You’re
lucky you’ve still got your head. »

The man shrugged. « Granny always told me: look for the angle.
Besides, I can’t tell you where it is. I’d have to show you.
It’s a secret. »

« We don’t deal with criminals, » King Frederic said.

The man shrugged and turned. He returned to his bunk, one knee
propped on the other. « Hey, it ain’t no skin off my nose. I’m not
the one who needs something. You know where to find me. I’ll just
be sitting here. »

« Fine, » Rapunzel said. « I’ll agree on a commuted sentence. If
you lead us where we need to go. »

He grinned. « Miss Princess, that’s exactly what I intend to do.
Name’s Nash Le Roy, at your service. » He stuck a hairy hand through
the bars to shake.

Maximus glared into the cage and neighed loudly.

Nash shirked back. « And by the way, he‘s not allowed to
come. »


Neither Flynn nor the king and queen would let Rapunzel go, but
Nash had dictated his terms clearly. And they kept coming back to
the same conclusion–if this failed, they were at a dead-end.

Finally, they allowed Rapunzel to go if she was accompanied by a
garrison of eight guards on horseback. As long as Elsa was coming,
Flynn felt better. Nash made a big show of agreeing, saying how
generous he was.

They all found horses and headed to the castle gates. Nash was
given a slower, older horse, in case he decided to bolt. Ariel kept
her trident hidden in a long rucksack. At the first sign of
trouble, she was ready to yank it out and fire.

Rapunzel embraced Flynn before leaving. Maximus nickered. He
nudged Flynn’s back pocket.

« Oh, right. » Flynn pulled out a white envelope. « This letter
came for you just after you left, but no one knows who delivered
it. And Maximus wouldn’t let me open it. »

Maximus snorted.

Rapunzel opened it up and pulled out a piece of paper.

« I don’t get it, » Rapunzel said.

Elsa gasped. « I got a mysterious letter too. Just after I left. »
She pulled the letter from the knapsack to show her.

Rapunzel took both in her hands. « They feel like the same paper.
Do you think it could have something to do with our problems? »

« It proves we’re all in this together, » Ariel said. « I wonder if
I have one at my castle. But what is it trying to say? »

« Hey! » Nash shouted. « Are you coming or what? »

Rapunzel kissed Flynn goodbye and the three of them galloped to
the rest. Nash took the lead. The women followed in neat formation.
Nine guards raced behind them, hooves pounding the ground.

They headed west, the direction of the sun. Fields for miles,
the castle fading behind them. Grassland and prairie rolled over
hills and became swampy forest. The stink of sulfurous algae and
rotting, water-logged wood hit like a wall.

Nash pulled his reins at the edge of the boggy marsh. « This is
where the trail starts. We’ll have to go on foot from here. »

« Your majesty, this can’t be allowed, » said the lead guard. « We
lose advantage if we go off horseback. »

« You want to get your animals stuck in the swamp? Be my guest, »
Nash mocked.

Rapunzel looked to Ariel and Elsa for suggestions, but they had
none. She dismounted her horse and approached Carina, the lead
guard.

« It’ll be all right. Four of you should take the horses back.
The rest will come with us. »

« Our orders are an eight-man garrison to accompany you. »

« I know. But four is still plenty. »

« Ladies! Daylight’s burning, » Nash called.

Carina did as ordered. Four galloped back to the castle, with
horses in tow. Rapunzel rejoined Elsa and Ariel at the mouth of the
swamp. « Lead on. »

Nash trudged through the water. His boots made horrific slurping
sounds. Dirt and mud and sweat trickled into their mouths, mixing
with the methane gas in the air. Trees and vines cast everything in
shadow.

« Why is your home in a swamp? » Ariel asked.

« It’s not in a swamp. This is how you get to it. There’s
a long history of my people here. We’re what you call ‘roamers’.
Travelers of the world. Entertainers, merchants, fortune tellers.
But the outside world doesn’t think much of that. We have to stay
outside the cities. »

« You mean gypsies, » Carina said. « Thieves and beggars, you lot
are. »

« That is a nasty stereotype. »

« Homeless rabble-rousers. »

« Enough, » Elsa said. « You’re acting like children. The more we
save our breath, the less we have to breathe in this horrible
place. If we- » Looking back, she stopped. « Weren’t there four of
you? »

One was missing. They spent another five minutes yelling his
name. No success.

« I don’t like this, » Carina said.

« If he was injured, he would have called out, I assume, » Elsa
said. « He likely got separated. » The black trunks and rolling hills
acted as fantastic hiders.

« We can’t stop now, » Nash said. « You should have hired smarter
guards. »

Rapunzel shushed him with a dirty look. Ariel batted her eyes,
indicating the sun.

« If we spend too much time searching it’ll get dark. Garrick,
you go back and look for him, » Rapunzel said. « The rest of us keep
going. You can catch up afterwards. »

Favrou nodded and bowed out. They continued on – two guards,
three princesses, and one thief. Half an hour passed with no return
of either. « Princess, I don’t like this. We should stop going
further until Favrou returns, » Carina said. « Or go back to look for
them. »

« Too late now. It’ll be dark before we leave, » Nash said. « And I
don’t recommend spending the night somewhere you can’t see the
crocodiles. »

Rapunzel’s eyes twitched. She didn’t like this either, wandering
waist deep in stagnant air and decay, missing two people. But they
couldn’t stop.

« You two, go out and find them. Elsa, Ariel, and I will continue
on, » Rapunzel said.

« Your majesty, no. That is out of the question, » Carina
said.

« We don’t have much choice. This is my problem in the first
place. »

« Our problem, » Elsa corrected. « We’ll be fine. » She
glared at Nash. « We are not the shrinking violets you think we
are. »

Nash held up his hands defensively. « Never said you were. Trust
me. I got nothing to gain by misleading you. I don’t want to go
back to jail. »

The two guards looked at each other. « If we don’t return within
ten minutes, I order you to apprehend the criminal and return to
the castle. Er… your majesty. »

« Fine. »

The two remaining guards walked away, leaving the three of them
against one thief. They still overpowered him, but he had no idea
how.

Another half hour passed while they followed Nash, dirt and
filth-covered. The guards did not return.

« Um, does anyone else think it’s weird that all our guards
dropped off? One by one? » Ariel asked.

« Yeah, that is weird, » Nash said.

Elsa said, « Nash, did you-« 

« Oh, I see it. The tree marker! We’re almost there. Just past
this mud valley, » Nash said.

They had to crawl across a bridge made of moss-covered branches
and rotten deadfall. Orange sunlight filtered through the shadowy
trees, so they believed Nash was telling the truth.

He pulled back a curtain of dead leaves and vines, unveiling a
clearing with the smell of campfire. A welcome change from the
stink of swamp rot.

Several caravans and tents lay distributed among the meadow. Men
and women did washing and carried stick bundles. Cart-toting oxen
drank from buckets while children chased each other among them.

Nash walked toward them, arms spread. « Gentlemen, I told you I’d
return. »

« Thought you’d never come back, » said a dirt-covered man
stirring a bowl of soup. « And with guests, no less. »

The campers goggled at the newcomers, awestruck. Their beauty
and dignity betrayed their origins, despite being caked in algae
and mud. More Romani gathered, examining the girls with hungry
eyes. Each had the lean look of nomads, but the colorful clothes of
entertainers. The criminal had led them right to his home.

Elsa growled. « You sorry-« 

An elder woman with black hair and crooked back pointed her
finger at her. « It’s the girl with the magic hair of gold. She was
born with the magic of the golden flower. »

« Her hair may look gold, but it’s worth a million times more.
She can patch up skin, heal wounds, restore youth, » said
another.

« Right. And we’ve got her… » Nash said.

Rapunzel swallowed.

Ariel and Elsa attempted to run back into the swamp. But the
Romani had surrounded them. They grabbed each of their arms. « Hey,
let go of me, » Ariel said.

Nash put his hands on his hips. « What do you think’s going to
happen? You’ll lose us in the swamp? »

« Maybe, » Ariel said.

Nash laughed. « I was raised in that swamp. There’s a dozen of
our men hiding in the trees, turning intruders around. Your lost
guards? Right about now, they’re finding themselves back where they
started. And not a clue why. »

Elsa wiggled her fingers. How could she do this? Freeze their
feet? Could she immobilize all of them before they whacked her
unconscious? If she got the one holding her to release his grip,
that might mean leaving the others behind.

Rapunzel saw the fierce look in Elsa’s eyes. « Hold on, they
haven’t hurt anyone yet. » She turned to Nash. « What do you want
with us? »

« Well, them, I don’t care. But you, we’ve got plans for. » He
nodded toward a windowless caravan in the middle of camp. It stood
like an elder buffalo overseeing its herd. « Bring all three. »

Rapunzel saw visions of shadows, closed doors, hours and days
and months trapped in a single room. Tears streamed down her face.
« No, please, no, not again. »

They shoved Rapunzel in first. The pungent smell of incense and
camphor wafted out. Dozens of candles burned within. Elsa and Ariel
followed her.

Nash grabbed Rapunzel by the elbow. He pushed to the back where
a bed lay. She landed on her knees and shut her eyes. Next would
come the iron collar, the cuffs, the rope, whatever it would
be.

« Granny? Granny, are you awake? »

Rapunzel opened her eyes. Someone lay in the bed under the pile
of quilts. A sallow, sickly old woman, head so deep in the pillow,
it covered her ears. Her cheekbones protruded through her blotchy
skin, like a fresh corpse.

« Granny, look who I brought, » Nash said.

Granny remained motionless.

« Remember? You told us about her? It’s the girl. The magic
princess with hair of gold. I brought her to you. » Nash turned to
the two gypsies behind him. « Get her hair. »

They lifted Rapunzel’s tresses in armfuls and stuffed it in the
bed, wrapping the old woman like a mummy.

« She can make you strong again, » Nash said while they worked. He
scowled at Rapunzel. « Sing. »

Rapunzel said nothing. Nash kicked her thigh with the side of
his foot. « Sing! »

« No, » she said. This was not going to start again.

« Do it. Or your friends die. »

Rapunzel winced. She took a deep breath.

Granny bolted upright. « No! » she screeched.

Everyone shirked away. She hissed through a dropped jaw full of
rotted gums as her glassy eyes scanned the room. « Do not. »

« But Granny, we’ve got her. She’s here. Right now. We can make
you healthy and young again. Her hair-« 

« I said no. »

« But… if you die, what’ll we do? The troupe-« 

« It is my time. » She reached up a hand, thin as a twig, and
cradled Nash’s head. « We all have a time. Death is nature’s gift to
us. To deny it is greed. Is to rob the young. »

« But Granny… »

« Hush. A tale is passed down from our people. There was a woman.
She had great beauty. Men fought for her glance. Suitors murdered
each other. But beauty does not last forever. Is not meant to. The
men stopped fighting for her. This she would not accept. She try to
stop it, first with creams and herbs. Bathing in lemon juice. Bee
stings. Fish eggs. Spend every coin on these tricks, she does. Each
rarer and more expensive. She run from country to country, like a
race against one’s own shadow. Uprooted us all. She became a poison
to our people. Then came the dark magics. This we could not allow.
And our tribe exiled her. Banished. Nearly died out, we did.
Because of her. Her endless, meaningless pursuit. »

Rapunzel whispered. « Was her name… Mother Gothel? »

Trapped Under Ice
Room to Breathe