ARIEL'S HORSERACE

Ariel looked out over the beautiful flowers, and smiled; as she sniffed their sweet fragrance. Melody looked up at her mother, and then imitated her. "The flowers smell pretty; Mommie!", she said.

Ariel smiled at the child and nodded. "Look how tall they've grown since spring-time! They must be happy in our garden!"

Melody grinned and nodded.

"Ariel!", called a male voice.

The girl turned towards the palace and called back, "Over here, Sweetheart!"

Eric walked up behind her his wife, and hugged her, as he kissed the girl's cheek. "Here you are!"

Melody hugged his leg, "Daddy! Look at the pretty flowers!"

Eric smiled and cupped her head; "Yes, Sweetie! You and Mommie have grown them pretty!"

Ariel bent down and reached for some vines, "Look at these, Eric! My strawberries are almost big enough to pick!" The girl pulled him over to another section, "And my tomatoes are getting ripe too!"

Eric scratched his head and chuckled. "You've done a lot better than me! All I've ever managed to grow was weeds!"

The girl grinned back, "I used to grow seaflowers back in Atlantica; Daddy always said I could grow the prettiest flowers in the kingdom!"

Eric hugged her; with a sly smile on his face. "So,...tell me. What's your secret?"

Ariel answered, with a mischievous smile, "Oh,...it's just a woman thing,..."

Melody came running back to them, with a flower in her hand. Ariel grinned down at her daughter. "Plus; Melody knows how to sprinkle the seeds just right!"

The little girl smiled, and nodded vigerously.

"Grim saw a notice in the village you might be interested in", offered the boy.

Ariel turned around and grinned up at him. "What?!"

"They're having the San Juan horseraces, next month. I was thinking you might like to see them."

Ariel's eyes lit up. "Oh yes! Could we go?"

Eric grinned. "I don't see why not. Nothing important is going on; maybe we can take the whole household."

Ariel hugged her husband and kissed him. "That sounds wonderful!" She bent down and picked up Melody. "Would you like to see the horse'es, Sweetheart?"

Melody grinned, "Yeah!"

Ariel had to tell Carlotta and Grimbsy about it: at once! Carlotta wasn't so excited with the news of the races as she was with the shopping potential in San Juan. "You watch the horses; Dear,..this lady is going to be visiting the market-stalls!"

Grim seemed rather constrained about the whole affair. "A trip to watch some four-legged beasts running in a circle is all good and well; but I can imagine many ways that my time could be better spent."

Ariel took his arm and smirked up at the man, "Oh; Come on, Grim! We'll have lot's of fun!"

Grimbsy sighed. "Very well. Perhaps I can win some money for Carlotta so that she doesn't return home penniless.

Ariel grinned. "That's my Grim!"

The man smiled down at her. "You know; Princess,...There's no reason why you couldn't compete in those races, as well."

The girl stared at him, with puzzlement. "Me?"

"Certainly. I would imagine that you would enjoy it much more, if you were participating in the action, rather than merely watching it."

"I,..hadn't thought of that,.. You really think I could?"

Grim smiled. "There's only one way to find out; and that is to try. I know that competition is not in you; so I'm sure that you would enjoy it; no matter where you finished."

Carlotta laughed. "Now Grim! Ariel doesn't want to get in a dirty, old horserace! What would people think, with a Princess riding around with a bunch of silly boys?"

Ariel smiled. "I don't know. It might be fun! But,...but I won't do it unless Eric joins me!"

Carlotta gasped. "A Prince and a Princess in a horse race together?! What,...what will the neighbors think?!"

Ariel giggled and kissed Grim, "Thanks for the wonderful idea! I'll go tell Eric about it, right now!"

Carlotta shook her finger at Grimbsy. "Grim! I'm ashamed of you for suggesting such a thing! That poor girl doesn't know anything about horseracing!"

Grim nodded. "Not yet. Give her another week."

When Eric heard about the idea; he shook his head. "It's too dangerous, Sweetheart. If you fell off, you could really get hurt!"

Ariel nodded. "I just won't fall off."

"Horseracing,... isn't for girls. It's not nice! The other riders will do everything they can to win. You'll get hurt, if you get in their way!"

Ariel nodded. "I won't get in their way. I'll let them go by me. Besides,.. you'll be there to protect me!"

"Wouldn't you rather just watch the horses?"

Ariel looked up at him, with her sad blue eyes.

Eric groaned, "Don't,...look at me that way. You know I can't resist you,..."

Ariel gave a him a hopeful smile.

The boy nodded and sighed. "Okay,...okay. we'll enter the race. But I make no promises that we'll get to the finals!"

Ariel squealed with delight and hugged him. "Thank you, Sweetheart!"

Eric took the girl out to the royal stables. He started looking the horses over.

Ariel went to her pony and stroked his nose. " Why can't I just ride Stormy?"

"I'm afraid Stormy wouldn't be able to keep up; Sweetheart. We need to pick you out a horse." The boy looked over at his own horse, but shook his head, "Trooper's a little too big for you,..."

Ariel walked over to a little black stallion that she had always thought about riding. "What about Meadow? He looks like he could keep up."

Eric nodded. "Sounds like a good choice. Meadow's pretty gentle, too."

The Prince brought Stormy's saddle over to the little horse. "I bet this will fit Meadow too,.." He fastened it on; while Ariel stroked the horse's flank. Meadow turned his head to watch the girl.

Eric saddled up Trooper, then led the two animals outside. Holding Ariel's boot, he lifted her up onto Meadow, and gave her the reigns. The girl grinned and patted the horse, "That's a good boy!"

Eric mounted his own horse; then looked at his young wife; who was grinning with delight. "Let's just take a slow stroll through the country-side, to get Meadow used to you", suggested the boy.

Ariel nodded, "Okay." The girl started Meadow off, at a gentle pace, and Eric followed her out the front gate.

Ariel was a little timid: this was the first time she had ridden a horse by herself. She'd learned just how hard the ground was, after Stormy got spooked, one time, and tossed her right off into the grass! Getting thrown above water was a lot more painful than below water! Medow made it easy on her; however: he was so gentle and easy-going that the girl's confidence soon began to grow.

As they rode down the cobblestone lane, townsfolk would smile, and tip their hats to the couple. When they reached the village, the blacksmith had to come out to see Ariel's new horse, "Well! Well! Looks like Your Highness is moving up, in the equestrian ranks!"

Ariel grinned and blushed. "His name is Meadow! Isn't he handsome?"

"That he is!", answered the blacksmith. "Bob! Come out here and see the Princess's new horse!"

A young man walked out; wiping his dirty hands with a rag. He bowed to the couple, and nodded. "Yep. That's meadow. Shoed him myself, a while back."

Ariel nodded. "Eric's gonna teach me how to race him! We're gonna enter the horseraces, next month!"

The blacksmith scratched his balding head. "You don't say! You're gonna enter? I'd like to see that! But tha' Miss'us would tan my hide, if I up and took off.

The blacksmith's apprentice grinned. "Meadow can't win no horserace. He's too timid!"

The burly man glared at him. "Shows what you know. Never can tell with a horse." He winked up at Eric, "I bet that there horse could win tha' Keentuky Derby!"

Ariel's face brightened. "You really think so? I wouldn't want to win for me; of course, but I would like Meadow to win."

The blacksmith nodded. "You just keep practicing, Your Highness. Listen to what Eric, there, tells you. A while back, he won that thing three times in a row!"

The girl looked, wide-eyed, at her husband. "Eric! Really?"

The boy smiled. "In my more reckless days."

Ariel grinned at the blacksmith. "Thank you, Mr. Harding! I'll do my best!"

The couple said their goodbyes, then rode on through the village. Everyone wanted to see Ariel's new horse. "I'm not getting rid of Stormy, of course" explained Ariel. ""Meadow is just for a liitle while. I'm gonna take him to the horseraces!"

The crowd gasped, with wonder. The men hid their smiles, while the ladies talked excitedly. "Are you really? Aren't you afraid?"

Ariel giggled. "Why should I be afraid? It's just a little race! Eric's gonna be there too!"

The women wished her luck; while the men winked at the Prince. Eric was starting to realize that the girl's expectations about winning were leading to a big disappointment. Not that she was a bad rider, or anything. But the young men, who were entering, had been practicing for years. Eric had barely won his races; and he had no illusions that his best riding days were over. He doubted that his wife's eager spirit would compensate for her limited horsemanship,... and her gentle ways.

They left the village, and started off into the meadows. The scent of the grass was delightful to the girl, as she followed her and Eric's familiar path through the country-side.

It was at times like these: outside in nature; that Ariel felt that same closeness with her surroundings that she had felt as a mermaid. She could feel the animal beneath her; feel the power of his muscles and the grace of his movements. The scent of the grass and the flowers; the singing of the birds; the gentle floating of butterflys: all combined to lift her spirit. She wanted to gallop so much! Meadow felt eager and willing, as she quickened his pace.

The boy noticed her speed, and cautioned her, "Give Meadow a chance to get used to you. I know you want to run him; but give him a little more time."

The girl grinned back at him. "How could you tell?"

Eric smiled. "I know my little Ariel!"

Ariel giggled, and guided Meadow along the dirt path. They soon reached a small grove of trees. Eric's father had set them out; many years before. He had brought them over from America: there were oaks and hickories and maples; even some beautiful, smooth-barked beeches. They were akin to the apple and orange and peach trees nearer to the palace, in the royal orchard.

The couple dismounted; to give their horses a rest. Eric took the girl by the hand and led her under the prettiest beech tree. "I want to show you something", he said. His fingers touched some intials carved into the bark. "These are mine. I carved them when I was a boy." Eric took out his knife.

"What are you doing?", asked the girl.

Eric smiled back. "I'm going to put your intials next to mine."

Ariel gasped. "Oh no! Please,...don't hurt it."

Eric looked down at the girl, with understanding, and put away his knife. "Okay."

Ariel took his hand and kissed it. "You will always be in my heart", she answered; lovingly.

They walked, hand-in-hand, among the trees, together. Ariel felt so happy; this was where she wanted to be, more than anyplace else on Earth: with her Love. The girl looked up at him, and Eric knew what she wanted. He took her in his arms, and kissed her; tenderly.

They sat down at the foot of a big oak tree, and watched the sunlight playing among the leaves. It was so quiet and peaceful here. Eric pointed out the squirrels in a nearby oak: Ariel giggled, as she watched them chasing each other along the branches.

She lay back against Eric, and sighed with happiness. "When I was a mermaid,...I wanted to see this world 'cause of all the exciting new stuff. I was,...so curious about everything Human: how you lived,...what you did with all those thingamabobs. But,...I never thought about little places like this. How beautiful and peaceful it is here!"

Eric nodded, as he watched the leaves stir with the gentle breeze. "I used to come here, as a boy. I loved climbing these trees! Mother would always scold me : "You're too high! You're going to fall!" My father never minded, though. He said he paid enough to have them shipped here: He was going to get his money's worth!"

Ariel giggled, and grinned up at the boy. She thought about her own father. "Daddy never really worried about money,...but he didn't spoil us, either. We all had our allowance, and he wouldn't let us spend any more than that."

Eric hugged the girl, "Poor baby! You never got jewelry, or anything special?"

Ariel smiled, "I didn't say that! Daddy made sure we got pretty things, too. He kept an eye out for what we liked. Sometimes, he would take us to the marketplace and pick out something we'd had our eyes on for weeks. It was,...more special coming from him; and knowing that he cared about what we looked at. But the nicest things were the one's Daddy had made special, just for us. They didn't come all the time, but when they did, they were very special!"

Eric smiled. "I was a little different from you. I was spoiled rotten! Especially by Mother and Carlotta. I got just about anything I wanted. It took a long time to realize that it wasn't as much fun that way. To earn what you get,...is much more satisfying."

"I don't spoil you; do I?", asked the girl, playfully.

Eric grinned. "There's something to be said for a little spoiling!"

Ariel giggled, "Silly!"

They talked, quietly, for a while; then returned to the horses, who were munching on the grass. Eric helped Ariel back onto Meadow; then followed the girl's lead down the path.

When she returned to the open fields, Ariel looked back at the boy. "Can't I run him now?"

Eric nodded. "I'll keep an eye on him."

Grinning like a child, Ariel shouted, "Giddie-up! Meadow took off and Ariel gave a delighted gasp. That feeling of excitement and adventure returned again, as she saw the ground racing past, and felt the wind blowing back her hair.

Eric followed close behind; admiring the girl's skill: She was just a natural with handling a horse. And she was so beautiful; with her long red hair flowing back over her delicate shoulders!

Ariel turned Meadow this way and that, as she got a feel for how the horse moved. Eric galloped up beside the girl, and she looked over at him with a grin of pure delight.

"Do this!", called the boy. He bent over, on Trooper, to show her how to cut down wind resistance. Ariel imitated him; leaning over on one side; with the horse's mane almost touching her face.

Eric watched her ride; and his heart suddenly ached for his wife. She was so happy doing this. The boy knew she would be hurt, when Meadow didn't win that race.

When they got back to the palace, Grim was outside to meet them. He smiled up at the girl, "You seem to have graduated without any difficulties."

Ariel nodded, "Meadow was such a good boy! And Eric showed me how to ride him really fast!"

They took the horses for a walk, to cool them down; then led them back into the stables for a brush down. Ariel had to pet Stormy, too, "Don't be jealous now, Stormy! You're still my favorite!" The pony nuzzled up against the girl; tickling her into giggles.

As they walked through the front door, Carlotta took the Princess by the hand, "Oh my! Just look how dirty you've gotten! I'm sure that boy led you through a mud wallow! You come, this instant! I've got a hot bath waiting for you."

As Carlotta made off with the girl, Grimbsy walked up to the Prince and put his hand on his shoulder, "Well, my boy! How did she do?"

Eric smiled. "Not bad! You know Ariel,...she puts her heart and soul into everything she does. I just wish,..."

"Yes?"

"Well; Grim,...I just wish she didn't have her heart set on entering that race. Those guys have been practicing all year! Ariel just started riding today!"

"You're afraid she will lose?", asked Grimbsy. "Do you think that matters to her? She loves to have fun! Where she places, at the finish line, won't make a bit of difference!"

Eric sighed. "Not for her,....but what about Meadow? She'll be hurt if Meadow doesn't win. I know her; Grim,...she thinks like that."

The elderly man nodded, as he put his hand on his chin. "I hadn't thought of that. I believe you're right; Eric. Now, I'm sorry that I sugguested it to her, at all."

Eric smiled. "Well,.. We'll think of something. I wonder if I could,...talk to the other riders,..."

Grimbsy raised an eyebrow. "Bribery? What would Ariel think?"

Eric's shoulder's sagged. "Yeah. She'd be really disappointed in me. That would be worse, to her, than Meadow losing! I'm just gonna have to think of something else,..."

That evening, at supper; Eric had to tell everyone about how well Ariel did with her lesson. "I had to really press Trooper, just to keep up with her!", laughed the Prince.

"I,..I like Trooper!", commented Melody, from her highchair.

Ariel grinned, but Carlotta shook a finger at him, "Horseback riding just isn't Lady-like! Princesses are supposed to ride in carriages; not ride on what pulls them!"

Grim looked over at Eric, and winked. "Perhaps,..you are right; Carlotta. This race business is certainly not a very good introduction for the Princess into sociaty."

Carlotta gaped at him. "I'm right? Are you feeling all right, tonight? You're agreeing with me!"

Ariel looked, uncertainly, at Eric. "People will think,...I'm not a girl?"

Eric looked at his wife,...and his heart melted. He knew what Grim was trying to do,...but he just couldn't let Ariel think that. "Riding a horse has nothing to do with how feminine you are. If any man at those races tries to say otherwise; he'll get a punch in the nose from me!"

Grim stared up at the ceiling; Eric shrugged at him.

The girl grinned. "I,...I hope you don't hit anyone,...but that's very sweet!"

"Now; I never said the child wasn't feminine!", insisted Carlotta. She patted Ariel on the shoulder. "I'll be there to cheer for you, Dear! Don't you think I won't!"

Eric looked at Grim and shrugged.

That evening, Ariel and Eric got ready for bed. The girl hugged him; looking up into his eyes, "Do you think I'm not feminine, 'cause I want to be in that race?"

Eric kissed her. "I think you're the feminineest girl in the whole world."

Ariel giggled. "Feminineest? And I think you're the manliest man in the whole world!"

"We make a good couple; don't we?" Eric pressed his lips to her's.

Ariel's lips never left his, "Mmm Hmmm,..."

The next day, Eric and Ariel took their horses into the village to get them ready for the race. Meadow got re-shoed, and Eric bought him a new sadle; which fit a little better than Stormy's.

While the Prince was talking with the blacksmith, Ariel went over to watch Bob hammering on new horseshoes. "Doesn't that hurt him?", asked the girl.

Bob laughed. "Naw! Horses don't feel nothin' down there!'

"Will those make him run faster?"

"Maybe a little. Not much difference; though", answered the apprentice.

Ariel looked over at her husband, and smiled. "I can't wait for the race! It'll be so exiting!"

Bob snickered, "It'll only be exciting if I win somethin' on it."

"I'd like Meadow to win; of course,...But I'd rather see Eric come in first. I'll get second place for Meadow."

Bob laughed. "Boy! Are you dreaming! Eric won't win that race! And you'll be lucky to make it to the finals!"

Ariel turned to him, with a hurt and confused face. "Why won't Eric win?"

"Cause he's over-tha'-hill! That's why! Ya gotta be young and mean to win that race! He just ain't got it anymore."

Ariel turned her nose up at the boy. "Well; You just don't know Eric. He's gonna win that race. You'll see!"

Bob just snickered. "Think what ya like."

When Ariel got back home, she went to see Carlotta. The woman could tell that something was bothering the Princess.

"Do,...do you think Eric can win that race? I mean,...do you think he's too old to win?"

Carlotta sighed. "Well Dear,...To be truthful,... I think he tried to win that race a couple of years before he met you. He laughed about it, afterwards,...Said those kids could ride circles around him!"

Ariel bit her lower lip.

Carlotta patted her hand. "I wouldn't let it worry you; Child. Things like that don't bother the boy."

Ariel's face was filled anguish, as she bit her nails. "I,...I never thought that Eric might not be able to win,... Eric's proud. He'll feel bad if he loses in front of everybody,..."

Carlotta puzzled. "Well, Dear,...I'm afraid there's not much we can do about it. He can only try his best."

The girl thought for a minute; then looked towards a window facing the ocean. "I wonder if,...Daddy could help him win,..."

The housekeeper stared at her; with shock.

Ariel looked at her; guiltily, "I,...know it's,...cheating. But it's for Eric!"

"What would Eric think, if he found out he didn't win that race honestly?", asked the woman. "And that you cheated for him?"

Ariel blushed, with guilt. "He,...wouldn't be proud of me,..." The girl crossed her arms and blew at her curl, with frustration. "There must be something we can do!"


ARIEL'S HORSERACE: PART TWO

Later that day, Carlotta was in one of the parlors; dusting the mahogany mantle over the fireplace. She happened to glance over a a ribbon that Eric's father had made for him, when he was a child. It read: "For a job well-done of cleaning your room all month." The housekeeper smiled; Eric had kept this little scrap of fabric, just as if it was made of solid gold. A thought suddenly came to the woman, and she turned and hurried out of the room.

Downstairs, she found Grimbsy in the study; cleaning his pipe. "Grim! Put down that silly thing; I've got a question for you!"

The elderly man put the pipe on the table, and clasped his hands together. "I am all ears."

"Well,... Let's say someone was putting on some kind of contest. Like a race or something. Don't they give out special awards, sometimes? Like Best Comeback,...or some other such sillyness?"

Grim nodded. "I'm sure that they do. If one thinks long enough, it's usually possible to award a prize for almost anything."

Carlotta grinned. "That's just what I wanted to hear!" The woman rushed off just as quickly as she had appeared.

Grim returned to his pipe cleaning. "Any time; Madam", he answered, dryly. As he sat there, the woman's words came back to him. A special award? Grimbsy suddenly smiled; He had just resolved Eric's dilemma!

Ariel looked down at Melody,sitting in her lap, and smiled. The three-year-old was listening attentively to every word. "One evening, the sun was just setting in wintry splendour, when a flock of beautiful large birds appeared out of the bushes; the duckling had never seen anything so beautiful." Melody stared at her mother with wonder. "They were dazzlingly white with long waving necks; they were swans! They mounted so high, and the ugly duckling became strangely uneasy, he circled round and round in the water, craning his neck up into the air after them. He did not know what the birds were, or whither they flew, but all the same he was more drawn towards them than he had ever been by any creatures before."

Why does he want to be with the swans, Mommie?", asked the child.

Ariel smiled. "You'll see,..."

Carlotta rushed into the parlor, with a happy, excited face. She saw Ariel on the couch; reading to Melody. Eric was sitting close-by, in a chair; catching up on some royal paperwork. Max was sprawled-out at his feet; twiching, as he napped.

The woman went up and whispered in Ariel's ear. The girl's face brightened. "You have?! Tell me!", the girl urged.

The month went by very slowly for the eager girl. But, at last, it was time to pack up some clothes and load them onto the ship. Carlotta took only one or two dresses. "Don't worry. I'll be getting plenty more, after I get there!", she answered, with a smile.

Grim looked down at her and shook his head, "I'm sure that the locals will be happy to see you arrive."

Ariel laughed, and picked up Melody. "Are you ready to go see the horses; Sweetheart?"

Melody shook her head and started to cry.

Eric smiled at the child. "You know Max is going too? You and Max can play together on the ship!"

Melody looked at her Daddy and the tears stopped as suddenly as they had come. "Max? Where is he?"

"He's getting put on the boat right now!", said Ariel. "You wanna go see him?"

Melody nodded. Ariel looked back at Eric, and grinned. Eric took her hand, and they walked out to the dock.

The last to come on board were Trooper and Meadow: Eric and Ariel led them up the gangplank and onto the ship; they tied their horses to some posts; next to a supply of hay and fresh water.

When everything was ready; Eric took Ariel and Melody to the bow of the boat. "Set sail!", commanded the Prince.

Ariel loved the way the sails unfurled and blossomed out; she grinned like a child! Melody just watched everything with wide-eyed wonder.

The ship leaped forward: they were on their way!

Ariel and Melody loved the sea-breeze, and the beautiful ocean, and the bright blue sky. Eric was kept busy running the ship; athough he would stop, occasionally, to see if his wife and daughter were comfortable. Max stayed under the shade, most of the time; but he did make a good time of catching a ball that Ariel and Melody would toss across the deck. Carlotta spent most of the time trying to help the sailors "tidy-up" the ship, and Grimbsy spent his time trying not to get sea-sick.

It wasn't long before the look-out called out, "Bahia de San Juan!"

Ariel took Melody up to the front to see; the Princess was as excited as her daughter! The first thing she saw was a massive stone building; jutting out into the sea. She looked back at her husband, as he came up to join them. "What's that; Sweetheart?", she asked.

"That's El Morro", answered the boy. "It's a fortress that the Spanish built to guard the city."

Ariel stared, with wonder. "It's so big!"

Eric grinned. "That isn't even the biggest one on the island! San Juan is like a fortress city."

Ariel looked at him; hesitately, "It's not,...pretty?"

The Prince hugged her. "It's very pretty! You'll see."

Ariel grinned back. Melody pointed at the big stone walls, "Are the horse'es in there; Mommie?"

The girl shook her head. "I don't think so; Sweetheart. But we're getting close!"

After they had docked, Eric went to see the Governor. He soon returned, to direct the sailors on where to unload their belongings. The horses were to kept in the governor's stables. When everything settled, the Prince guided his family and staff into the city.

Eric was right; San Juan was pretty! Ariel tried, eagerly, to walk in every direction. The houses were all so beautiful! Everything was in the Spanish style; with wrought iron balconies, over-flowing with exotic green plants. Each little cobblestone street offered some delightful new surprise. The girl grinned, with happiness: she had to see everything!

Carlotta started off towards Cristo; a street packed with shops, before Eric called her back. "Wait a second! Now; Everyone knows where we're staying; right? La Fortaleza. Just tell the Governor who you are. Grim; you coming with us?"

Grim smiled. "Actually; I thought I would investigate the local tobacco resources. Perhaps, even buy a new pipe."

Carlotta grabbed the man by his sleeve, "Well; we're going in the same direction, then! You coming with us; Ariel, Dear?"

Ariel turned from Carlotta to Eric. "I,...I don't know! I don't know what to see first!"

Eric smiled. "Let's go with them. We can look at the buildings, later."

Ariel looked down at Melody. "You wanna go shopping; Sweetheart?"

Melody nodded.

Carlotta proved to be a savvy buyer; picking up some nice clothes and jewelry, at bargain prices. Grimbsy was quite impressed by her skill. Ariel got Melody a stuffed horsey, and a hand-made lace bonnet. She also bought Eric a "guayberas"; a very fancy shirt. Her eyes shone with admiration; as he tried it on, "You look so handsome! I just want to squeeze you tight!"

Eric grinned. "I think I'll buy a few more of these!" He picked out a beautiful necklace for his wife; Ariel blushed with love, as he put it on her. "Thank you, Sweetheart! It's lovely!"

Grimbsy found himself a new pipe; which he proceeded to try out.

Together; they shopped until the streets glowed orange, with the setting sun. They walked to the end of Fortaleza street; then up a hill, overlooking the harbor, to the Govenor's mansion.

The Governor welcomed them inside, with a warm smile. He and Eric continued their earlier discussion involving Eric's section of the Antilles; while Ariel took Melody to their bedroom suite, to get cleaned-up.

The Governor laid out a supper fit for a King; Eric and Ariel were very grateful for his hospitality and kindness. The Governor looked over at the Princess and smiled slyly, "I cannot believe that a young woman as beautiful as yourself is going to compete in our races! You will certainly bless it, with your presence."

Ariel blushed. "Thank you; Sir! I don't know if me and Meadow will get to the finals,...but we're going to try our best! Eric's been teaching me to ride, all month; he knows a lot about horseracing!"

The Governor nodded. "That I know, as well! I remember him as a young lad; fighting for the lead just like the rest of them! You would hardly think that he was a Prince; from his boldness!"

Ariel smiled; knowingly. "Eric hasn't changed; he's quite a man."

The Prince smiled; showing his dimples. "I hope I'm not as foolhardy as I was back then! Boldness is one thing; but being run-over is best to be avoided!"

The Governor chuckled. "Perhaps to be first is no longer as important; now that you have a wife and a daughter to think of!"

The next day, Ariel and Eric got their horses ready for the first race. The racetrack was located just east of the city; with grandstands and a dirt track. Eric showed her the stall that Meadow would wait inside, until the gate opened. They only had a few hours to get aquainted with the course; before it was time for the first race.

Eric watched, tensely, as Ariel came out of the gate, for the first time. Her face was full of happiness and excitement, and Meadow acted like he had been doing this for years: She qualified with no problem at all! Eric was relieved and grateful that the other racers did not try to bully her; indeed; they were very polite, and gave way to her, instead.

The girl was grinning from ear-to-ear, after the first event. Eric helped her down and she instantly embraced him, with happiness. "We did it! We did it! Did you see Meadow?! Wasn't he wonderful?!"

Eric laughed. "Actually; I was watching you! You did a fine job! I'm proud of you!"

Ariel kissed him. "Thank you; Sweetheart!"

Eric also didn't have any problem with his race, either. But he knew that this was just the first step: It would get much harder as it went on.

By the last qualifying race; Eric was realizing that he could never win it all. He barely qualified; Trooper did a magnificent job of overcoming the Prince's shortcomings and pulling out a position in the finals. Ariel actually did almost as good as the boy; the other riders continued to show her great respect, and not crowd her out. As for the girl; she was having a wonderful time of it! Her happy face always greeted the boy, after each race; as she hugged him, with excitement.

Now came the finals.

The grandstands were packed with excited spectators. Grim, Carlotta, and Melody sat in their usual spot on the bottom row.

Ariel looked around, with joy, at all of the festive ribbons and flags and balloons. She took Eric's hand and looked up into his eyes, "I wanted to thank you; Sweetheart. I've had so much fun here; Thank you for letting me do this."

Eric smiled, and kissed her cheek. "You and Meadow have earned it. Good luck."

Ariel grinned and hugged him, "Good luck to you, too; Sweetheart!"

Carlotta took Melody in her lap, so she could see her Mommie and Daddy, as they came around the track. Grimbsy sat there; looking rather anxious. The competition had been very polite to the Princess, up to this point, but he was afraid that it was about to end. He only hoped that she didn't mind Meadow losing this one.

Carlotta noticed his agitation. "What's wrong; Grim? You act like your suit is too tight."

The man raised an eyebrow. "I'm simply concerned for the Princess."

Carlotta smiled. "She'll do all right. Won't she, Sweetheart?"

Melody grinned and nodded, "Mommie can ride Meadow real good!"

Grimbsy smiled and nodded. "That she can; Melody!"

The gates opened! The horses sprang out of the stalls and galloped down the track. Ariel got squeezed out, before the first turn; Meadow yeilded to the more aggressive riders and fell back. Carlotta and Grim watched; with sinking hearts. Eric tried his best to open a path for the girl, but he had a hard time keeping up, himself. By the final turn, Ariel was last, and Eric was too far back and out of contention for a prize. He crossed the finish line, and slowed down to wait for Ariel to catch up.

He looked over at the girl, and saw,...a happy face! There was a little disappointment, but she knew that they had nothing to be ashamed of. She came up beside him; smiling with love, and reached out to touch his hand. The boy smiled back; returning her love.

They heard cheering, and suddenly realized that the crowd was cheering for them! They smiled back at the crowd, and waved to them, as they went by the grandstands. Carlotta was holding up a happy-faced Melody: it didn't matter to her where her Mommie finished! Grim was clapping along with the rest. He, too, was proud of them both!

After giving away the main prizes, the Governor surprised Eric and Ariel by asking them to come forward. The man handed Eric a special trophy.

"For the outstanding effort of a former champion; no other before you has come back to do as well as you have, today! Congradulations; Your Highness!" The crowd cheered and Ariel looked at her husband, with happiness for him.

The Governor smiled down at the girl, "And for you; Princess,..." He brought out a beautiful bouquet of flowers, and gave them to the surprised girl. A wreath of flowers was put around Meadow's neck. "For gracing this event with your beauty, skill, and courage; we are honored to offer you our thanks." The crowd cheered, and Ariel blushed with happiness.

Carlotta wiped her eyes, as she watched Ariel and Eric kiss. "That sweet girl! You know,...she was behind Eric getting that award. She asked the Governor if he could do it for him."

Grimbsy looked at the woman, in surprise. "Indeed?! Eric arranged the very same thing for the Princess!"

Carlotta stared at him, with open-mouthed amazement. "You don't say?!" The woman looked over at the couple,...and a warm smile crossed her face. "They have each other. And that means more than any old horserace."


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