Other Fan Fiction ❯ When You Fish Upon a Star ( Chapter 9 )

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CHAPTER 9: When You Fish Upon a Star

It was a lonely breakfast.

Rapunzel could have ordered anything she wanted, but she asked
for coffee and croissants. She didn’t think there would be time for
a big meal, given the way the staff was demanding her time. They
were asking her to examine chronicles, make judgments, allocate
treasury money–all things she shouldn’t have been responsible for.
But someone had to run the kingdom from day to day.

Gerda carried in a list of scrolls. « Here’s the list of docket
items today. Councilor of treasury. » She put down one scroll.
« Councilor of domestic affairs. » Another scroll. « Religious
affairs. » Another. « War and warcraft. » The last. « And wainwrights.
Not bad for a Tuesday. »

« Thanks, » Rapunzel said.

« And don’t forget to ask for help if you need it. We know this
is hard, but we’re all behind you. »

Not long after, Kai entered with a tablet. « These are your
sessions today. They take place after lunch. Two barons are
requesting more land grants as a reward for their hard work. The
infantry captain in the northeast is awaiting orders. And don’t
forget that tomorrow you are officiating the presentation of
medals. »

« A princess’s job is never done, eh? » she smiled.

« Believe me, we all appreciate you. It’s a great weight off our
shoulders. Especially in these trying times. »

As Kai left, Rapunzel looked into her coffee. Her reflection
wobbled at her. « Is this how my life begins? » she asked. « I barely
know my own country, let alone this one. »

But she steeled her resolve. This was the sort of thing her mom
and dad did on a daily basis. And they did it under the sorrow of a
lost child, year after year.

After five minutes, in which she downed her coffee and
croissants, Kai and Gerda poked their head into the empty dining
room. « We’re ready for you now. The first appointment is waiting in
the throne room. »

Rapunzel stood up. « Why don’t we have it in the garden? »

Kai and Gerda goggled. « The garden? »

« It’s a lovely day, even though everything’s icy. I could use a
walk. Better than spending all day sitting, right? »

« That’s… not usually how the queen receives guests. »

« If I’m to be ruler-in-stead, I get to make the decisions I
want, isn’t that right? »

They couldn’t argue with that. Rapunzel spent the morning
receiving guests in the garden. She discussed policies and grants
and boundaries until one o’clock, the midday meal. No one joined
her–Anna and Olaf were still in repose. Her meal was a small
setting of broth and bread.

The evening yielded a much bigger feast. After an afternoon of
reviewing military movements and supplies, new boundary revisions,
and granting the blessing of marriage to one of the castle’s
knights, she prepared for the evening feast. Given the guest list
of councilors and barons, it would be less about winding down and
more about bending her ear.

Her dress didn’t stray far from pink and purple, but it was much
more elegant, with ruffled taffeta, lace, encrusted gold jewels,
and some lovely ribbons across the shoulders. It was like her own
favorite dress, but upgraded for a queen.

Kai held up his hand at the entrance to the dining hall. He
opened the door and announced. « Presenting the ruler of Arendelle,
Queen-Regent Rapunzel of Corona. »

« Oh, » Rapunzel whispered. « I don’t know if I’m really the
queen-regent. »

« You’re acting in place of Princess Anna. I thought it was the
correct title. »

Rapunzel met and greeted each member at the table. She sat at
its head.

« Princess Rapunzel, if I might, where is Princess Anna? » asked
Lord Augie, one of the barons.

« She is… indisposed at the moment. » It wouldn’t do for others
to know their new queen had been an emotional wreck for days.
« Luckily, I was here visiting so I’ve been taking on some of her
duties. »

The attendees nodded. A pallor of silence cast over the dining
room, except for the clink of silver. Servers in white tunics moved
wordlessly from station to station.

« All right, I’m just going to say it, » said a man with a gray
mustache and potato-like head. « What’s with the hair? »

The already quiet room became more silent. Rapunzel touched her
head. « Duke Werner, right? »

« Yes. Is it sorcery? Witchcraft? Some kind of magic wig? Do
others in Corona have it? »

Rapunzel giggle. « It’s my own hair. I was born with it. Surely
you’re no strangers to natural magic here? »

Werner looked away, ashamed. « I… I just… Then everything
that happened today is true? You pulled a cart off of a person with
just your hair? And then healed him with the same? »

Rapunzel nodded.

« That hair must be strong as steel, » Werner said.

« Well, you braid anything right, the tensile strength increases.
Even rigging ropes are just strings upon strings upon strings. »

« And you decide to wear it down, » said Councilor Tora, a short
woman with thick glasses. « Is that the style in Corona? How long
does it take to brush? »

« That’s part of the magic actually. Nothing clings to it. Even
dragging on the ground, it never picks up dirt. »

« Speaking of magic, any progress on figuring out this ice
storm? » asked Councilor Helene, a large woman in a purple dress and
buxom breasts. She nipped at a sardine on her tiny fork.

« Still working on it. But at least the ice harvesters are doing
a good job chipping it away, » Rapunzel said.

« You can’t chip away the clouds. I haven’t seen the sun in days.
It’s so depressing. Even my cat is feeling it, she’s sleeping
longer than usual, » Helene said.

« There’s dark magic at work, I know it. My left toe bone starts
tingling when weird things happen. It happened last summer, » Tora
said.

« We’re all trying to figure something out, » Rapunzel said. « It
sky might be gray, but we can always look at the colors of the
town. »

Lord Bjorn, a fat man with glasses, interrupted. « Princess
Rapunzel, this inconvenient weather is merely distracting from real
issues. Could we please address the topic of rent prices? You
recently passed a law stating that prices could be no higher than a
percentage of the yield. »

« I did? »

« Well, your predecessor did. »

« I’m not going to repeal any of Elsa’s decisions. She knows the
country better than me, and I’m sure her actions had a reason. »

This seemed to satisfy the lord, but he added, « If you do serve
in the long-term, then I wish you would consider revisiting it. At
least the numerical values. »

« Sure. That’ll give me time to see how it’s working. »

Councilor Helene jumped out of her seat. Her hair stood on end.
« What is that? » she shrieked, pointing with her tiny fork.

Pascal sat on Rapunzel’s plate, eyeing the food. « Oh, don’t
worry. That’s Pascal. »

« It just crawled out of your hair. »

« Yeah, sometimes I forget he’s even in there anymore. I’ve been
so busy. » She handed him a lettuce leaf. « Sorry, buddy. Crickets
are kind of scarce in this weather. I’ll find you something soon, I
promise. »

Councilor Tora leaned forward. « I’ve never seen one before. Do
you keep other exotic pets? »

« He’s not a pet, he’s my friend. He’s been with me through thick
and thin, always cheering me up when I needed it. You’ve never seen
one? »

« I think it’s too cold in the winter for much reptilian life, »
Tora said.

« We certainly don’t keep the little beasts in our homes, » Helene
said.

« That’s a shame. You’ll never meet a more loyal friend. And he
can change colors. Pascal? »

Pascal gave her a look like « you expect me to show off for
these people? »

« Please? » Rapunzel asked.

Pascal stepped onto the center of her plate and turned an
egg-shell white. The dinner guests gasped.

« How charming, » Duke Werner said.

He stepped onto the burgundy tablecloth and morphed into the
same bittersweet color. The dinner guests held up the sleeves of
their mauve and chartreuse dinner jackets against him.

« Do me next, » someone near the end of the table shouted.

« Ahem, » Lord Bjorn coughed. « Yes, yes, the lizard is cute-« 

« Chameleon, » Rapunzel corrected.

« Whatever. But we’re here to discuss policy, are we not? »

« You’re right, » Rapunzel said. She ushered Pascal back onto her
plate.

« One of the problems we have yet to address is law enforcement, »
Lord Bjorn continued. « This ice storm’s going to force people into
desperate situations again. It won’t be long before food shortages
lead to dissatisfaction with the government. And that leads to
rebellion. »

Duke Werner raised his thumb. « He does have a point. Yesterday
alone, two stores were robbed. It’s not that the storm gave them
more favorable circumstances do so. It’s that they’re worried about
having enough food. And after that you get black markets, corrupt
guards, officers accepting bribes. »

Bjorn interjected. « I recently proposed a new motion to the
council–a task force made up of elite soldiers. The toughest, most
merciless guys there are. They’ll patrol the streets, letting
others know that even in these desperate times, crime will
not be tolerated. »

« What, like a brute squad? » Rapunzel asked.

« I… I wouldn’t call it that. »

« Security used to be horrible in Corona’s castle. A baby was
kidnapped. A gang of thugs broke out a criminal before he was to be
executed. And someone stole the princess’s crown with nine
guards in the room. But our new captain of the guards invented some
new practices that really helped. Like strength training and daily
meetings so everyone knows what’s going on and they can bring up
any obstacles they’re running into. The best new thing is this
break-in game. We separate everyone into two teams, aggressors and
defenders. The aggressors try to infiltrate the castle and it helps
find where the holes are. »

The others at the table nodded. « How innovative. Maybe you could
write to him and ask if he has any ideas? » Councilor Tora
asked.

« Or better yet, send for him to come here. » Councilor Helene
said. « First-hand training for the regiment. The whole kingdom
could benefit from his presence. »

« I don’t know. He has trouble staying upright in boats. He’s a
horse. »

Everyone at the table stared.

« Sorry. Did you say… he’s a horse? » Lord Bjorn asked.

Rapunzel nodded enthusiastically. « Maximus. He used to be the
captain’s steed.. »

« What a promotion, » Duke Werner said.

Rapunzel smiled. « I’ve never met any guard or soldier as
dedicated or brave as him. As long as you treat him with respect. I
think the fact that he’s different has gone a long way. He’s
thought of things no human ever would. »

Duke Werner coughed. « Um… if you don’t mind my asking… how
did a horse become your captain of the guards? »

« It’s a long story. I met him while he was trying to capture my
husband. »

Lord Bjorn almost spit out his wine. « I’m sorry. He was trying
to capture your husband? Was he a criminal? »

« Like I said, it’s a long story, » Rapunzel said.

« I’d like to hear it, » Councilor Tora said.

« Me too, » Werner and Helene said. All others murmured in
agreement. It didn’t look like she was going to get out of this
without telling the tale.

Rapunzel described everything from her tower to finding her
parents again. She answered follow-up questions and discussions
about Arendelle’s status throughout. Everyone stayed enraptured as
each course was served. When someone remarked on the lateness of
the hour, Rapunzel noticed how much the mood had lightened. She
hoped that would trickle down to their constituents, to the
citizens. There was hope after all.


Elsa was starting to get annoyed with Ariel.

She couldn’t stop grinning at her new legs. After climbing back
up the hill, she skipped and jumped along the dirt road through the
marketplace. Shopkeepers held out necklaces and sugared fruits.
Wool, grain, and scented oils blended into an aromatic stew, made
tangy with the sea breeze chill.

At one point, Elsa lost Ariel in the crowd. But thanks to her
red hair, the queen spotted her right away. She had meandered to a
lutist using an over-turned washtub as his platform. He was
crooning a romantic sonnet to the small crowd–mostly
ladies–acting in such a way so each girl could think it was about
her.

My lady left me once again
Left me in her prime
A paramour which I’d not contend
The suitor known as time

The grains of sand are falling
The sun is setting low
What loves have I lost
What riches did I pass
Lost in the endless flow

Set by cruel rhyme and runic meter
Forced forward without a sound
So many paths and routes untaken
Yet ne’er the right one found

The grains of sand are falling
The sun is setting low
What loves have I lost
What riches did I pass
Lost in the endless flow

I liv’d the life of a fool
Made choices by envy or fear
Slung arrows that I can ne’er take back
Dally and dawdle as fate draws near

Every leaf’s a separate life
But no tree lasts forever
When the final tide washes on the shore
My wasted life to sever

The grains of sand are falling
The sun is setting low
What loves have I lost
What riches did I pass
Lost in the endless flow

Elsa dropped a coin in the man’s case. She had to tug Ariel’s
arm twice before she would accompany her. « That was amazing, » Ariel
said. « That… twang-a-ma-jigger. »

« It’s just a lute. »

« But the way he played it, it sounded amazing. I’ve never heard
that kind of music before. And I try and see all the traveling
musicians that come through. »

« Doesn’t that distract you from duties? »

« I can’t resist. There’s always something new to hear. Or plays
or games or sports or books or… all those things they don’t even
have names for. Like the smell of rain hitting the ground and
mystery stories and the swishy sound ball gowns make and fuzzy
sweaters and… »

« Okay, I get it. Even after a year of being human, there’s still
a lot new to you. »

Ariel nodded.

« But you’re not the only one in this. The sooner we get back to
Arendelle, the sooner we can start fixing this. We can’t let
ourselves get distracted by every little thing. »

They descended from the marketplace down to the docks. Elsa
pointed out Captain Gunhild, standing at the top of the ramp. Again
she reminded Ariel that she was going under a false moniker.

« Lady Idun. It’s a pleasure to have you on board. I hope our
preparations didn’t delay you, » Gunhild said.

« We had some… errands to attend to first, » Elsa said.

« And some shopping, » Ariel laughed again.

« This is my companion, Ariel. I mentioned she’d be traveling
with us. »

« Indeed. » Gunhild kissed her hand. « Please, follow me. » The
captain led them up the ramp to the main deck.

The crew was not like the gold-tanned roughnecks Ariel was used
to. Each tossed their ropes and swung around poles with a smile on
his face. They were like happy whales starting the migration again.
Then Ariel noticed the hooks and harpoons. Wooden crates and metal
cages were tied down all around the deck.

« This is a fishing vessel, » she said.

« Yes, but we’re heading to Arendelle first. We’ll only haul out
what we can find on the way, » Gunhild said.

« Thank you, » Elsa said.

Gunhild called out to look lively, they’d be shoving off.
Sailors heaved rigging and pulled up anchors while Ariel and Elsa
headed to the front to stay out of the way.

« How come you get a secret identity and I don’t? » Ariel
whispered to Elsa.

« Because you aren’t well known as a queen who can decimate
entire kingdoms. »

Ariel couldn’t stop staring at the labyrinth of ropes and chains
wound around the cracked wood. Rusted hooks and reddish stains
stained the deck as in a torture chamber. Fish fins and dismembered
crab legs hid in the corners.

« Something wrong? » Elsa asked.

Ariel shook her head. « No, nothing. » She turned her attention to
the other clippers and galleons dotting the horizon. Were they all
fishing vessels too? Were they out providing food and money for
their families?

« What ho! Look down there, » Captain Gunhild called out. « Seems
we do have a bit of fortune after all. »

Below, a herd of dolphins cruised alongside the boat, leaping
with rhythmic precision in and out of the wake. Ariel and Elsa
grinned. They watched for a while, glancing between the calming sea
and their followers below, until they reached cruising speed.

« Could we see our cabin now? » Elsa asked the captain. She’d had
as much of the ocean as she could take for a while. A craving for
an intimate, enclosed space gnawed at her.

« You’ll be using my quarters. I’ll bunk with the men for the
journey. » Gunhild escorted the girls to sterncastle and held open
the door for them. The captain’s quarters held naught but a table
with a navigator’s map and a single bed.

« My apologies for the conditions. I assure you, it’s the best I
have to offer. »

« This is more than adequate. Certainly more than I could ask.
You’ve already done enough allowing us on your ship. »

« Oh no, ma’am, it’s my pleasure. If there’s anything else, let
me know, but now I need to return to my duties. I’ll make sure no
one bothers you. »

« Thank you, » Elsa said. Gunhild closed the door on them.

Ariel fell onto the bed. « I can’t believe how tired I am. I just
realized we’ve been up for more than day. »

Elsa scooted out the chair. « You can nap. I’ll read. » The
captain’s desk had a small row of tomes, with navigation equipment
as bookends.

« Are you sure? I can squeeze over. »

« No, I’ll be fine. I’m not that tired anyway. » The truth was,
Elsa wouldn’t be able to sleep no matter how many beds there were.
The only person she could sleep in the same room with was Anna. But
with quietude and a book to dive into, she could reach a close
approximation to sleep.

Ariel pulled up the sheets and, after a few good squeezes,
nuzzled into the pillow.

Elsa pulled out a handbook on basic mapmaking. The author had
written well enough to give any reader a firm grip on the basics.
After finishing it, she bet she could do as well as any swabbie.
She finished one more book on nautical navigation and astronomy,
perused the captain’s log, and then opened an old
favorite–« Homer’s Odyssey » Halfway through, she drifted off in the
chair.

A knock at the door woke them both. « Begging your pardon,
ladies, but we and the crew are about to start dinner. We ain’t got
no fancy royal feast, but there’s hard tack and cheese in the
galley for ye. »

« That’s just fine, » Elsa said.

Ariel stirred and sat up. « Can’t be worse than the last thing I
ate, » she said, thinking of the crimson potion.

« Er, I could bring ye each a plate up, so’sn ye wouldn’t have to
interlope with the roughnecks in the galley. »

« Ooh, could we go down to the galley? » Ariel asked. « We’ve been
in this room all day. I could use the company. »

Elsa closed her book. She’d spent enough time by herself that
she could endure others. The two of them followed Gunhild down the
stairs to the mess. The crew was sitting at the table, elbows in
the cheeks of their mates, reaching over for condiments.

« Oh, uh… forgive us for the smell. We don’t entertain naught
but ourselves down here, » Gunhild said.

« We’ve been through far worse lately, » Elsa said.

Elsa and Ariel sat on opposite benches at the end. A salty man
with a white, scraggly beard and liver spots scooted over. « They
say that having a woman on board is bad luck, but I think you’re
the exception, » he said. « Between those dolphins and the calm
seas… I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something special
about you two. »

You have no idea, Elsa thought.

Captain Gunhild coughed for attention. « Crew, mind your manners.
You are addressing a noblewoman. Lady Idun and Ariel. »

« Won’t we have a story to tell tomorrow morning, » a
broad-chested man said. « The boys at the harbor were must have
thought we were the flagship in a grand procession. » The men’s
laughter punctuated his joke.

Captain Gunhild set plates in front of Elsa and Ariel–a hard
biscuit, dry salt pork, cheese, and raisins. « Apologies again for
the state of the meal. I wasn’t prepared to have more on board. Not
nobility certainly. »

« It’s fine. You don’t need to keep apologizing, » Elsa said.

« Tomorrow, we’ll have Cookie make our famous fish stew. We
usually have it the night before we return to home dock, but this
is a special occasion. It… well, it won’t blow your mind,
compared to what you’re used to I’m sure. But it warms you up. »

« Freshest fish you’ll ever taste, » the white-haired man,
presumably Cookie, chimed in. « It’s got tuna, haddock, lobster,
clam juice, garlic, tomatoes-« 

« And too much pepper! » someone shouted, making the crew
laugh.

« And don’t forget the secret ingredient. » This elicited some
faint chuckles from the crew, as if they weren’t supposed to
laugh.

« What’s the secret ingredient? » Ariel asked.

« Whiskey, » Captain Gunhild said. « Of course, it all depends on
what we can haul in. »

« Oh, I feel it in my bones, » Cookie said. « It’ll be a good catch
this round. »

« You always say that, » one sailor said.

« How is the fishing these days? » Elsa asked.

The crew mumbled over their hard tack and water.

« We can’t complain, » Gunhild responded. « The problem is the
other ships in the fleet. We’re starting to get a reputation for
pulling in less than the others, making shorter hauls, coming in
late. It’s almost as if the fish are getting smarter. »

Elsa looked at Ariel. She raised her eyebrows as if to say
« don’t look at me, it’s not my fault. »

« And that stagnant wind didn’t help, » Gunhild added. « Last
outing, we spent two days at sea longer than we should have. A
quarter of our catch went bad. »

« What if you started harvesting seaweed? Do you think people
could learn to eat that? »

Gunhild laughed from the belly. « If I thought they would, I’d
catch it. I can’t even get my son to eat his carrots. »

« Oh, there’s lots you can make with kelp. Pasta, cookies… »

Gunhild gave her a condescending smile. « It’s a good idea, but
the vegetables and fruits on land all taste a sight better. From
what I hear, farmers work hard enough as it is. I complain, but
it’s a good life. »

« If you can find the ocean, there’s always something to eat, »
Cookie said.

« Keeps a roof over our heads, » someone else interjected.

Gunhild nodded. « When it’s good, it’s really good. I haven’t
seen my family in a month, because I’ve been trying for a big haul.
And when I do, I don’t have to worry when the door knocks. »

A crewmember at the end pointed a pork bone at Gunhild.
« Remember that time we stayed on shift the entire day. Surf was so
high, wind was so cold. But we kept pulling them in, one after
another. It was like they were jumping into our boat. »

While the sailors related their stories about big catches,
little catches, and practical jokes they played on each other,
Ariel quietly stood up from the table and walked away.

« Hagar pulled out a perch that was fifty one pounds. He dragged
it around the deck, saying he was going to marry it and have fish
babies. Wouldn’t let it go until each one of us kissed it. »

Unlike the rest of the crew, Elsa noticed Ariel had gone and
excused herself. For the most part, the main deck was empty. Ariel
stood at the forecastle and stared into the ocean.

« What’s wrong? » Elsa asked.

« I just… I don’t know. I’m so confused. I think I might have
done a bad thing. But I didn’t really do it, or… I don’t
know. »

« Okay, calm down. Start at the beginning. »

« I… there’s only a few people who know I was a…you know…
besides Eric. His advisor, the head maid, a few others. Just
important people. Close people. But everyone else knows me as the
prince’s wife. We… Eric… he cares about me, you know. He wanted
me to be happy. »

« What did he do? » Elsa asked, biting her lip.

« He… we… passed an ordinance that banned all fishing. For
any vessel in the kingdom. »

Elsa’s eyebrows shot up. As a queen, she knew what impact that
would have. Any prosperous kingdom had to have access to a port of
water. Part of the reason Arendelle regained so much in the past
year was a bountiful ocean harvest.

« But it’s not like we banned boats or anything. There’s still
trade, there’s transportation, » Ariel stammered.

« But people have to eat. They need fish meat and whale oil and
salt and sponges. These are big items in times of famine. »

« I know! I don’t know what to do. I see places and people like
this and my kingdom’s struggling to keep food on the table. The
treasury’s draining so much it’ll be gone in a year and a half. But
what if one day I see someone that I used to say ‘good morning’
to. »

« You ate the chowder last night. At the inn. »

Ariel swallowed. « No, I left the fish pieces. I was too hungry
not to eat the rest. But even then it tasted weird. I felt like a
lamprey. I just… I couldn’t. »

« Don’t fish eat other fish to live? »

That was true. They still ate along the food chain. Shrimp ate
microbes. Spotfish and sunfish ate shrimp. Mackerel ate those. Tuna
ate mackerel. And sharks ate everything. Even without the apex
predators, crabs and seagulls ate other ocean-going creatures, and
they were her best friends.

« Yeah, I suppose. But what if someone tries to serve me
Sebastian? He opens the dinner tray and it’s Flounder staring up at
me with lifeless eyes. »

Elsa presumed these were friends of hers. « No one’s asking you
to change. But you’re human now. Your people need you to be a
human. They’re depending on that. The sea’s not your home anymore.
At least that’s what you told me, right? »

« Right. »

« When I was a kid, I saw a fox chasing a squirrel. I ran to try
and save the squirrel. Before I knew it, a big icicle stuck out
between them. The squirrel got away, ran into the bushes. But the
fox… it just looked at me. It sat there and stared, like it was
blaming me. Even though I might have saved the squirrel, I was
letting the fox starve. Both were doing what they could to survive.
And I interrupted that. »

« But isn’t there another way? » Ariel asked.

« Humans use natural resources to survive. The ocean is part of
that. We can’t keep going without it. A kingdom’s ruler has one
job: keep the kingdom going. Your people are looking to you to for
that. You’ve got to do what’s best for them. You can’t use your
authority to impose your own beliefs. »

Ariel stood still.

« You know what I mean? » Elsa touched her shoulder. « Ariel? »

« That ship… » She pointed across the horizon to one of the
sailing ships nearby. « That ship is still there. I don’t think it’s
moved. I mean, it’s moved, but… »

Elsa cupped her hands around her eyes. It had a red finish and
dirty sails. « Is it moving with us? I remember it from this
morning. »

The flag atop the crow’s nest lowered. A black skull and
crossbones replaced it.

« Uh-oh. »

Chosen
All Hail the Queen