THE COOKING CONTEST
Ariel sat at her rock desk, as Sebastian pointed at the blackboard. "Okay now; we're gonna learn about water today", he announced seriously.
Arista started giggling.
"Do you find that amusing, young lady?", growled the crab.
The girl looked up; embarassed, and blushed as she shook her head.
"So you tink you know everything about water; hmmm? Ariel; would you take a swallow of water, please?"
Ariel looked at the crab, in confusion. "I can't."
"And why can't you, young lady?"
"It would make me sick", answered the girl. Her sisters laughed.
Sebastian lowered his stick and smiled. "And why would it make you sick; do-you-suppose?"
Ariel shrugged. "I guess cause it's salty."
"Exactly", confirmed the crab. "Dat salt is mixed with all the ocean water! Every creature in the sea has to deal with all dat salt. Too much salt ain't good for you; It makes you fat and sick." Adella blushed.
Sebastian pointed to a sketch of a mermaid on his blackboard. "But we can get rid of all dat salt, you see. Every time you breathe out, your body releases all dat extra salt you don't need." He turned back to Ariel. "Now then; do you ever drink water?"
Ariel laughed. "Of course! We get it from a well in the palace!"
"Dat's right. Dat is called freshwater cause it don't have salt in it, you see. Now then; when you pump out dat freshwater into your cup, and it's sitting in there, it don't have no salt in it, does it?"
The girls were silent now. They were fascinated; especially Ariel.
"But all dat water around your cup's got salt in it, right? Why don't dat salt go into the water in your cup?"
No one knew. "It just,...doesn't", answered Aquata, at last.
Sebastian smiled. "I'll give you a hint. If you took your cup of water out of Atlantica, it would get salty."
Ariel put her hand to her chin, in thought. "So it's something about Atlantica which keeps them separated."
The crab nodded at her; tapping his foot. "You're getting warmer. Here's another hint: by the natural laws of nature, dat water would get salty."
"It's Daddy!", laughed Ariel.
"You got it! It's the power of the trident which let's you drink your freshwater. And dat's not all: milk stays in your cup, food stays on your plate. You wouldn't be able to take a hot bath or throw a sand-dollar frisbee. Lot's of these "Laws of Nature" can't mess tings up around here cause of the magic of the place."
"Laws of Nature?", asked Ariel, curiously.
Sebastian smiled; understandibly. "Well,...those aren't important dat you know. They're just a bunch of rules folks have noticed about how the world works. What I want you to remember is dat tings don't always work the way you would expect, outside of Atlantica."
After school, the girls made their way back to the palace. Ariel was still puzzling over that morning's lesson. "Isn't it interesting how Daddy keeps everything working right around here?", she mused.
Arista smirked. "What's interesting is picking out a recipe to win this year's carnival cooking contest! I can't decide which of mine I want to use; they're all so good."
"Strange how you didn't win a starfish last year", laughed Aquata.
Arista shot her a mean glare, then stuck up her chin. "My recipes have improved, since then. I'm sure to win this year."
Adella giggled. "I can't wait to start on my recipe! I'm making sea-peach pie!"
"Uggh; that sounds fattening", complained Alana.
"So what are you making?", demanded Adella.
"I'm experimenting with sea-kelp casserole," answered Alana. "What are you making, Ariel?"
"She's too busy going on "adventures" to enter a neat cooking contest!", laughed Arista.
Ariel came out of her thoughtful quiet and shook her head. "I haven't really thought about it; I probably won't enter this year."
"See. I told you. She knows she doesn't stand a chance of beating me", answered Arista.
Ariel looked scornfully at her sister and swam off.
While she was playing with Flounder that day, a thought suddenly struck her. Flounder followed, in surprise, as Ariel swam to her secret grotto.
"I know it's here somewhere,...", said the girl, as she looked through her collection of human books. "Here it is!", laughed the Ariel, as she opened it to show her friend.
Flounder looked at it with puzzlement.
"It's a cookbook!", explained the girl. "Humans have recipes too! If only I understood human writing,..."
"Maybe Archemedes can read it", offered Flounder.
"Yeah! Let's go see him!", laughed the happy girl.
Archemedes scanned through the book in fascination. "I never knew that humans had such books as this. Most of the foods are unknown to me, of course. There is a section on seafood, but I don't think you'd like to hear it"
Flounder shuddered. "Nope! Don't read that!"
"Are there any recipes without,...animals in them?", asked the girl.
"Oh yes,...quite a few", confirmed the merman. "I see one in here that I've actually tried before. The humans call it "apple pie". A sailor was about to eat a slice, when it accidently fell overboard. I took a bite; it was quite good."
"Apple pie", repeated the girl. "Do you think I could make one?"
Archemedes studied the page. "Well, let's see,.... Flour,... That's like sponge bread. Salt; got plenty of that. Shortening. Well, that's like sargassum oil. Sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg,... You'll have to look through some shipwrecks to find those; they'll be in little bottles. The apples are going to be the hard part. You'll have to search above the sea."
Ariel's eyes lit up.
"We've got dolphin milk and butter. That's about it. I'll write it down for you in our language. The rest is up to you," Archemedes said with a smile.
"Thank you, Archemedes!", said the little mermaid.
As soon as Ariel had her recipe, she started searching for ingrediants. The spices, she found next to the humans' round metal crowns and dinglehoppers. "Odd that they should put them next to stuff for their heads", puzzled Ariel. She found a big sack full of white sand-like stuff. It tasted sweet; like sea peach, so she knew it must be sugar.
Flounder laughed. "Better not show that to Adella! She'll want all of it for her recipes!"
Ariel found the other ingrediants ( except for the apples ) in the palace kitchen.
Otto, the royal chef, tasted the spices with curiousity. "Not bad", commented the octopus.
"You're free to have all I don't use", offered the girl.
Otto shook his head. "I'd better not. If your father found out that I was using human foods in his meals, I might be on the menu next time."
Ariel laughed, then turned to Flounder. "Okay; time for the apples!", she said with a grin.
Flounder moaned. "I was afraid of that."
After the Princesses" singing lesson, Ariel went up to Sebastian and fidgeted.
The crab lowered an eyebrow. "You brought home a shark."
The girl shook her head.
"You want to miss singing, next week."
"Un uh", said Ariel.
Sebastian put a claw to his chin in thought."You want to go to the surface, and you want me to go with you."
"Oh, no! No! No! When are you gonna learn, child? Dat suface is no place for mermaids! Or crabs either!"
"But I need apples for the carnival cooking contest!", pleaded the girl.
Sebastian shook his head. "No way, child. Just get dat notion out of your head." The crab turned back to his music, and Ariel turned away, sadly. As she joined her sisters, Arista was telling them about her recipe.
"Oh, yes! It's going to impress everyone! Even that snooty snapper who's judging this year is going to be asking for seconds. Oh, hi Ariel! I didn't think you were that smart, but it really was wise of you not to enter the contest this year! Your poor little effort would have been blown out of the water!"
Not wanting to hear any more taunts, Ariel left her sisters and swam back to her bedroom. She was lying on her bed, when she she heard someone clear his throat. It was Sebastian.
"Okay. Let's go get some of dem apples."
Ariel beamed with joy and hugged the crab.
"I overheard Arista teasing you, and I didn't want to be the cause of you being so sad."
"Thank you, Sebastian!", said the girl, gratefully.
"Okay then. If you don't want me being entered this year as crab cakes, neither one of you is to breath a word about this to the King. Understood?"
Ariel and Flounder nodded. The three friends had snuck out of Atlantica the next morning and were swimming for a closeby island that Sebastian had visited.
"It'd be a nice little place, if it wasn't full of Humans", noted the crab.
A small waterway cut right through the middle of it, and the three explorers swam cautiously into the village square.
Flounder saw a tasty doughball and started to take a bite, before Sebastian warned him. "No! Don't eat dat! It's got a hook in it!"
The little fish jumped into Ariel's arms, with fright.
"Don't eat ANYTHING!", warned the crab.
"You don't have to tell me twice!", promised Flounder; still trembling.
Ariel was trying to get closer to the surface to take a peek, but Sebastian kept her swimming at the bottom.
"You let me look, child. They don't mind seeing a crab, but if you popped out, they would be throwing nets left and right."
"But I wanna see too!", pleaded the girl.
"If you want your apples, you do what I say."
Ariel puffed at her hair and reluctantly obeyed.
The crab stopped and looked out of the water. "Okay. We`re in the marketplace now. There ought to be a human selling apples around here somewhere."
"So they have a marketplace just like us!", observed Ariel. "We're alot alike, aren't we?"
"Yeah Mon. And they got lot's of fish for sell, too."
Ariel shrugged. "Well,...they're kinda like us."
Sebastian frowned at her, then started for some steps climbing out of the water. "I'm going to get some apples. You two stay put, right here."
Ariel and Flounder nodded. Ariel suddenly remembered her sack and stopped the crab. "Sebastian! Don't forget!" She pulled out a small bag full of pearls. "You've got to pay for them," she noted.
The crab smiled at her. "You're an honest little girl and your Daddy would be proud of you."
Sebastian took the little bag and started up the steps.
He wasn't five feet out of the water, when giant feet jumped down next to him and he was picked up off the steps. A blond- headed boy held him up. "Look Dad! A crab! Wanna put him in the stall?"
Sebastian was terrified, as he heard an older man shout, "Bring em, then! Put em next to the oysters!"
Sebastian felt his brain knocked around, as the youth ran up the steps and across the courtyard. The boy noticed the little bag that Sebastian was carrying and snatched it away. "Look at this, Dad! The crab was carrying it!" The boy reached an awning- covered stall full of fish, and handed the bag to a burly, approned man holding a knife.
"You don't say?", marveled the man, as he took the bag.
"Give dat back!", squeeked Sebastian. He could hardly speak from fright.
The boy laughed and shook him. "The critter almost sounds like it's talking!"
"Holy,...", gasped the man when he poured out the pearls. "Will you look at this!" He ran his hand over his almost-bald head.
The boy's mouth fell open and he threw Sebastian carelessly among the fish as he gaped at the pearls. "We're rich, Dad!"
Ariel just couldn't stand it any longer; she was right in the middle of a human village! She just had to take a peek! When she gave a little kick, Flounder knew exactly where she was going.
"Oh no! The human's are gonna see us! We're gonna get caught for sure!", groaned the fish.
"Just one little peek", promised the girl. She broke the surface and looked around. She could see lot's and lot's of humans! The wall of stones along the waterway wouldn't allow her to see their legs, so they looked just like merfolk.
"They're just like us, Flounder! They might wear more stuff over thier bodies, but we look just the same!"
Flounder laughed at the men's hats. "Look at those silly things on their heads!"
"Maybe they're crowns or something", puzzled the girl. "Maybe it's a whole town full of Kings!" She noticed lot's of folks holding long sticks over the water; with tiny strands of seaweed or something tied to the end.
One of the humans shouted at the girl. "Hey you! Child! Don't you be swimmin' in here! You're scarin' the fish away!"
Ariel ducked under the water in fright. Then, she got an idea. The girl popped back up again, holding Flounder, and kissed him on the nose in front of the astonished fishermen. She went under again, giggling.
Flounder just had to laugh; from all of the ruckus that they had caused among the humans above.
They swam back down to the bottom again and waited for Sebastian to return.
The stallkeeper couldn't believe his good luck. His hand trembled so badly that he spilled half of the pearls onto the ground. Crying in dismay, he and his son fell down on their hands and knees to recover the rolling treasures. The folks tending stalls right next to them were quick to join them and a fight soon started over who found what. Someone shouted,"free pearls!", and a mob decended on the stalls; Sebastian could only watch in shock, as humans sprang around everywhere, knocking over carts and spilling food all over the place. A hand grabbed him and he was carried away from the stall again.
The boy, who was carrying him, looked up at a woman. "I got a crab, Mom!
The woman cuffed him on the head. "Not crabs, stupid! Pearls!"
The boy rubbed his head and threw Sebastian back into the water.
When Sebastian recovered his wits, he swam down to Ariel and Flounder. "I'm sorry, child. I didn't get no apples. I was lucky to get away with myself!"
Ariel grinned, as she held her sack,...full of apples. "What do you mean, Sebastian? You did a great job!"
Sebastian looked up to see all of the fruit which had rolled across the courtyard, down the steps, and now floated in the water. Sebastian shook his head. "Let's go home", he pleaded.
Ariel and her sisters sat among a big group of merfolk under a seaweed tent. All of thier attention was focused on a long table in front of them, where an elderly red snapper was judging which pie was best.
The snapper bent over Adella's sea-peach pie and gave it a haughty sniff. Taking a coral spoon, she tried a bite and shook her head. "Too sweet", she declared.
Adella pouted, while Arista whispered to her, "Don't feel bad! I'll let you hold the blue ribbon after I win it!"
The snapper looked up over her spectacles. "Quiet please!"
Next, she took a taste of Arista's sea-gooseberry pie and paused. "Not bad,...not bad at all", she announced.
Arista smirked with pride. Victory was assured.
The judge came to the last pie and gave a sniff. Puzzled, she read the label. "Surprise pie? Well,...it certainly smells different." She took a bite and dropped her spectacles in amazement.
"This is delicious!" The snapper took another big bite, while Arista gasped in shock.
"I've never tasted anything like this!", gushed the snooty snapper. She looked down to read the label and smiled. Swimming around the table, she looked at the contestants.
"First prize goes to Princess Ariel, for her suprise pie!"
Ariel grinned, joyfully, and swam forward. The snapper put a gold starfish, with a blue ribbon, in her hands.
"Congradulations, dear! That's the best pie that I've ever tasted! As a matter-of-fact, I've never tasted anything like it!"
Arista, bitter at not getting first place, quipped, "Knowing her, it's probably a Human's recipe!"
Ariel grinned and shrugged.
Shock spread on the snapper's face. "You mean,...it is a Human's recipe!? How horrid!" The snapper dropped her spoon in disgust and pointed a fin at Ariel. "Oh! You should be ashamed!"
Ariel hung her head and turned her eyes away. The snapper took the ribbon out of her hands. "Princess Ariel is disqualified. I declare Princess Arista and her gooseberry pie the winner!"
Arista beamed proudly, as the snapper handed her the starfish. Ariel clapped for her sister, although she tried hard not to cry.
The snapper turned back to Ariel. "Let this be a lesson to you, young lady! Just be glad that your Father wasn't here to see this!"
Ariel swam back to her sisters, and joined them in congradulating Arista. Arista grinned from ear to ear. "Nice try, Ariel!", she laughed, as she admired her ribbon.
Later that day, Flounder went searching for Ariel, and found her in her secret grotto. The girl was holding what was left of her apple pie.
"I've been looking all over for you!", said Flounder. "Alana won third place for her casserole."
Ariel tried to smile. "That's nice," she whispered.
Flounder rubbed, lovingly, against her. "Your pie was the best. I tried it myself, and you know how much I'm scared of Human stuff!"
"Thanks, Flounder. But it still hurts. Why did she like it so much, then hate it when she found out it was Human? I just don't understand."
"You did your best, and that's what counts; right?"
Ariel wiped away a tear and looked at her best friend. She gave him a hug. "You're right. It doesn't matter if I won or not; I tried my best."
"And we had fun doing it, too!", added the fish.
Ariel smiled. "Yeah; we did, didn't we?" She took her pie and tasted it. "I think it's the most wonderful pie in the whole world!"