PIRATES!

NOTICE: This story has some scenes that may be too frightening for preschoolers. Use your own discretion.)

Eric sat on the blanket and smiled, as he watched his wife and their daughter. It was a beautiful summer morning, and they were all sitting outside on the lawn of the palace, enjoying the sunshine. Ariel was tickling Melody; who was giggling in her arms. The child had just turned two; she had been born three and a half years after Eric and Ariel had married. Ariel loved the girl just as much as she did her husband, and Eric had a hard time keeping Ariel from spoiling her! The young man looked from his wife's pretty face, to the child. Melody had all of her lovely features, except for the hair: Melody's hair was jet black; like her father's, and it was already getting long. Melody also shared Ariel's sweet nature; quiet and gentle,but it hadn't taken long to discover that she had inherited Ariel's eager curiousity and spirit, too!

Ariel blew on her daughter's belly; making the girl squrm with giggles, then whispered in her ear, " Go get Daddy!"

Melody scampered over to the young man; her arms wide for a hug. "Daddy!", she squealed.

Eric took her in his arms. "Boy! She's getting heavy!"

Ariel grinned and nodded. "Carlotta is sure trying to fatten her up! Just like she did me!"

Eric looked down at the child. "You like Aunt Carlotta?,... You do?"

Melody nodded and showed her father a flower she had picked.

"That's pretty! Let's put it in your hair!", sugguested Eric.

"Your Grace!", called a voice.

Eric's smile faded, as he raised up and looked towards the voice. It was one of his sentrys.

"Your Grace! Two degrees South-east! A three-mast! Black flag!"

Eric stood up, and looked at Ariel. "Pirates."

The girl's face paled, as Eric gave the child back to her. "Go inside. Tell Grim."

Ariel touched his arm. "Three mast. That's a big one; isn't it?"

Eric nodded.

"You're not going to do anything silly, are you?", worried the girl, "Like sail out there and try to fight them?"

"I'll do what I have to do to protect you and the kingdom. Take Melody inside."

Ariel nodded. "I'll take her inside, and I'm coming back." Before Eric could protest, the girl was hurrying to the palace, with Melody in her arms.

Eric ran over the the edge of the cliff; where he could look out over the ocean. His sentry called from a hundred yards to his left. "Second ship, Sire! Four degrees; South-east!"

Eric looked out over the shimmering green. Now he saw the first ship: it was a big one, all right. Twenty-five cannons, at least. The boy called over to the sentry, "Ring the bell!"

The bell began to clang; signaling an attack. Eric could hear the sudden shouting of voices behind him. Looking out at the pirate ship, he saw five or six puffs of smoke rise from the port side. Eric stood puzzled. "They're not even turned towards us!", he shouted. "Why are they firing?"

The roar of the cannons swept over them, like the distant cracks of thunder.

"It's not us, Sire!", shouted the sentry. "Second ship is carrying,...an American flag!"

Eric strained his eyes towards the horizon, just as Ariel came running up to join him. She looked out at the pirate ship with fear on her sweet face.

Eric suddenly pointed. "There! It's an American ship!"

They could now see the second ship firing. They were firing at the pirates! The boy looked back at the pirates, and saw their sails change position. Eric grinned. "They're running!"

Ariel looked at the ships with confusion. "Huh? Who's running?"

Eric put his arm around her waist and smiled. "The pirates. They're running away!" He looked at the second ship. "Whoever that is; the pirates don't want to mess with him!"

Ariel sighed with relief. The pirates were going away!

"American ship is heading this way, Sire!", called the sentry.

"Okay!", shouted Eric, "Dress down!" Ariel heard the bell change it's rhythm: the danger was over.

Eric looked down at the girl. "I'm going to welcome the ship in."

Ariel smiled. "I'll go with you."

The young couple walked down to the dock and watched as the American ship dropped anchor a few hundred yards offshore. Ariel's eyes were wide with wonder: she had never seen a "floatamajigger", this big, before! Eric had seen quite a few, but he, too, was amazed. It was no wonder the pirates had run! The boy pointed to the lettering along the side of the hull, "U.S.S. Constellation", he read.

A rowboat was lowered over the side, with the Captain on board. When he reached the dock, Eric held out his hand and helped him out of the boat. The man bowed, "Do I have the pleasure of addressing Prince Eric?", he asked.

Eric nodded. "Yes, Captain. Welcome to my kingdom!"

The Captain looked at Ariel and took off his hand. "I am Captain Thomas Truxtun of the United States Navy.

Ariel smiled. "It's nice to meet you, Captain."

Truxtun motioned to another man, as he climbed out of the boat. "This is my First mate; Lieutenant Daniel Gray."

Eric shook Daniel's hand; warmly. "Daniel! I didn't know you joined the American Navy!"

Truxtun looked at his Lieutenant. "You two know each other?"

Daniel nodded. "Yes Sir. I served under the Prince about seven years ago."

"I see", answered the Captain, with a smile. He turned back to Eric. "Daniel and I are here on behalf of the United States to discuss the pirate infestation in the West Indies, and some possible remedies to it."

Eric nodded. "We just saw some of that infestation a moment ago! But he evidently didn't like the looks of your ship!"

Truxtun smiled. "There aren't many pirate ships who would dare confront the Constellation. If our mission is successful here, they won't have a choice."

Ariel looked up at the Captain. "You're here to,..get rid of the pirates?"

Truxtun nodded. "We're going to do our best, Your Grace."

Ariel blushed. " My name is Ariel. And this Eric." Ariel sqeeezed her husband's hand.

Captain Truxtun smiled. "A lovely name for a lovely girl."

Eric smiled. "Well, Captain. If you and your men would come this way, we'll escort you to the palace and you can tell us about these plans."

The Prince lead the visitors into one of the parlors; where a white whicker table and chairs were set out in front of the large balcony, overlooking the ocean. Eric helped Ariel with her chair, then the men sat down to discuss Truxtun's plans. Grimbsy came out and offered the sailors some iced tea; which they gratefully accepted.

After his first sip, Truxtun looked over at the Prince. "As you probably already know, the pirate problem has been left largely ignored for the past several years; resulting in increasing boldness on the part of these criminals."

Eric nodded. "I had one of my ships boarded just last year."

Ariel gasped at him. "Sweetheart! You never told me that!"

Eric took her hand. "No one was harmed,... and I didn't want to alarm you with it."

The captain nodded. "It's never enough to warrent any one kingdom from waging a war on them, and this is well-known by the pirates. An attack here,...and then over there. An insidious weakening of West Indies trade, on-the-whole. It's become so much of a nuisance that the President has ordered the Navy to put a stop to this thievery."

"I'll do everything I can to assist you, Captain," offered Eric.

"For now; all we ask is free passage inside your waters. I am part of a task-force of three ships patrolling in the Antilles. At the moment; we're still gathering information on the pirates' movements; their numbers, strength and their bases."

The men heard a little girl's voice calling, and saw Melody come running into the parlor and into the arms of Ariel. The young woman hugged her daughter, with love.

Eric smiled. "Our daughter; Gentlemen." Ariel grinned and whispered in the girl's ear; Melody smiled and quieted-down.

"She has her mother's sweet face, I see", noted Truxtun.

Eric chuckled. "Yeah. She takes after my wife; thank goodness!"

The boy looked at the captain. "Melody and my wife are why I want to help you with this. I never want them to go to bed at night in fear of a pirate attack."

Truxtun nodded. "I understand completely. And your help will be needed, before these ruffians can be driven from the sea."

Ariel looked up at the man, with concern. "What do you mean? You need Eric? Not to,... fight?"

The captain sighed. "I'm sorry, Princess, but it may come to that. We will need the help of his ships, at-the-least."

Eric nodded. "They are yours, Sir."

Truxtun smiled. ""Thank you, Sire. Your ships won't be needed right away: as I said, we're still gathering information. What we do know is this: the pirates have approxiamately six ships in this area; mostly converted schooners that they've captured from the various islands in the region. The one that you saw today was their flagship. Their leader is a man called Black George. His real name is George Black, but they call him that because of his black beard and his violent temper. I believe that if we can capture him and his ship, we will break the back of the pirates' strength in the Carribbean, and the others will go down with him.

"That sounds like a worthy plan", answered the Prince.

"There's a problem, however", noted the captain. "I'm afraid there's a traitor somewhere in the task-force. Black George has avoided too many of the traps I've set for him. Someone is leaking our plans to the pirates."

"That's terrible!", burted Ariel. "Why would one of your own people do that?"

Truxton sighed. "For money; for power. Maybe even just to hurt others. Not all the pirates out there fly a black flag, Princess."

"Eric nodded. "That's sad, but true. Well; you have my word that nothing that is said here will be repeated to anyone else."

The captain smiled. "I know that already. The President, himself, assured me that I could place my total trust in you and the Princess."

Ariel smiled. "You mean Mr. Adams? He's a sweet man."

"Actually; no, Your Grace. President Jefferson."

Ariel looked at him; anxiously. "Is,..is Mr Adams all right?"

Truxtun nodded. "Oh, yes, Your Grace. He just lost his re-election."

Ariel looked at Eric, in confusion.

Eric smiled. "He,...retired."

Ariel smiled and nodded. "Oh; I see! I guess that's for the best. He needed to step down and let someone younger take over. Like Daddy did with Aquata."

Melody was starting to squrm in Ariel's arms. The girl stood up; holding the child, and the men rose. "If you will excuse me, Gentlemen,...I'll go look after our little girl."

Truxtun bowed. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Your Grace."

Ariel blushed and smiled. "Please,..Ariel."

The captain nodded. "Please forgive me! Ariel."

Ariel grinned, then carried Melody out of the parlor.

After the girl had left, Truxtun turned back to Eric, "For now; all we ask is that you have a ship ready, in case we need you. It won't require much firepower, because we won't be asking you to actively participate in any battles. Your ship will be used to blockade any escape route the pirates may try to bolt through."

Eric nodded. "Sounds good. I'm afraid none of my ships was meant for much more than shipping and fishing,... although my largest has a few cannons on board, if it comes to that."

Truxtun smiled. "That's good." He finished his tea, and stood up. "Well; as much as I would like to visit with you and your lovely wife,...I must deal with more serious matters. Thank you for your hospitality."

Eric stood up and shook his hand. "It was our pleasure. Let me know when you decide on a course of action."

"We should know by the end of the week", answered the captain, as he put on his hat. "I'll return then, and give you all the details."

Eric nodded. "Oh. By-the-way, captain: That pirate ship we saw before you arrived,... Any idea why he was in my waters?"

Truxtun hesitated. "I really didn't want to worry you with this,...and especially your wife. But, for some reason, Black George has taken an interest in you. I have no idea why."

Eric looked stunned. "Me?"

"One of our ships has kept patrol in this region for some time now; in the hopes of confronting him. But; as you have seen, there's just too much room here for him to manuver and escape."

Eric face was full of concern. "That's really odd. I'm sure I've never met the man before. And there's really nothing here that a pirate could want."

Truxtun nodded. "It's a mystery which I hope to solve,...when we have Black George in chains."

The man called Black George thudded across the deck, with a fearsome scowl. All the other pirates lowered their eyes as he passed. They knew he was furious, because they hadn't been able to get the Prince because of that American ship. "It was all that traitor's fault!"; growled the pirate. "Givin' us false infermation about the Connie's whereabouts!"

That traitor was in for a storm, thought the other pirates. They knew Black George. The man stood six foot five and weighed enough to shake the deck. Fearsome black eyes glared out from underneath bushy eyebrows. His beard was long, black, and ragged; to match his clothes. He was a terrible sight, any time, but especially when he was angry at you!

"Good fer nothin' sneak!" growled the pirate. The bear-of-a-man ambled to his cabin and hollered at a deck-hand, "Call that traitor up here! I want to chat with 'em!"

The other pirate nodded urgently and took off to find the traitor.

After Captain Truxtun had left, Eric went to find Ariel. She was in the kitchen with Melody: the child was watching, with delight, as Louie fixed some brownies.

Ariel hurried up to her husband; concern and worry were clear in her eyes.

"Nothing has been decided yet", assured the boy.

The girl hugged him. "Thank goodness!"

"He'll be back in a week. We'll know, then. But if he asks me to fight for him,... I must."

"Mommie! Can,...can I have a brownie,..when Louie gets through?", asked Melody.

"After you finish your supper, you can have one", answered the girl. She looked back at her husband. "Sweetheart! You can't go out there fighting pirates! Your place is here,...with Melody and me!

Eric hesitated. I,..know. There's no place in this world I would rather be than here with you. But I'm also the ruler of this kingdom. It's my duty to protect my people."

Ariel laid her hand on the boy's arm, and looked up at him; her big blue eyes shone with love. "It's not your duty to fight pirates! Let Captain Truxtun do that! That's what he's here for!"

Eric nodded. "He needs my help. I would be betraying my people, and you and Melody if I didn't give it."

Ariel looked over at their daughter, and her eyes grew haunted with memories. "Do,..do you want Melody to grow up without a father? You know how that felt. Don't leave us alone!"

Eric cupped Ariel's face in his hand and kissed her lips. "I will never leave you. Never again."

Ariel hugged him, with anguish. "I'm,...afraid for you."

The boy smiled. "But nothing has even been decided yet! Let's wait and see what happens."

Black George heard a knock on his door and looked up to see the traitor enter his cabin.

The man closed the door, then stood there a moment; looking at the pirate. Black George turned his eyes away from him.

"Well,..", said the traitor, at last. "Why did you run?"

The pirate hesitated. "I,..I can't fight that ship! That's tha' Constellation! I'd be blown outa tha' water for sure!"

"I can't stand a coward", answered the man, with a sneer.

Black George growled, "I'd like to see you try and take her on! We'll get that Prince, next time. When that blasted man-of-war ain't around!"

"I've more than complied with my side of the deal", warned the traitor. "Captain Truxtun is starting to suspect that I am the leak. I don't have much more time to help you."

The pirate nodded, "I know that! We'll get that Prince! If I have ta' carry him on my back!"

The traitor sighed. "One more chance. And remember: I want him alive. The girl is optional, but the Prince must be alive."

Black George nodded.

"You are to drop me off at the Leeward Island. I'll be there a week. You will pick me up there, next Saturday."

"Understood", growled the pirate.

The traitor didn't say another word, but turned and left the cabin. Black George muttered to himself, "Tha' snake! He gives us pirates a bad name!"

By the next day, Ariel had nearly forgotten about the pirates. She was sure that she would be able to talk Eric out of any foolish ideas about fighting them. Their love was more important than silly old "duty." Ariel came out of her dressing room in a beautiful white sundress. It had lace on the cuffs and around the edges; and the girl wore a white, wide-brimmed sun-hat to top it off.

Eric gazed at her with a grin. "You look beautiful! As usual!"

The boy took her in his arms, as Ariel grinned up at him. "Silly! You always say that!", she giggled.

"It's always true!", answered the boy.

"Wait til you see Melody!", giggled the girl. "She's so cute!"

They went downstairs; where Carlotta was straightening Melody's bonnet. The little girl wore a dress like Ariel's: more fluffy and roundish, but in the same style. Ariel picked her up and kissed her cheek. "Here's my little angel!"

Eric straightened his tie and looked at their housekeeper. "Is that a new dress, Carlotta?

The woman nodded. "We went on a shopping spree last week! Even got a new suit for Grim!" Carlotta turned and shouted upstairs," Come on, Grim! We're waitin' on you!"

"I'm coming, Madam", answered a restrained voice. Grimbsy came down the stairs; looking distinctly uncomfortable in his new suit. "I believe you purchased this a size too small just to enjoy my reaction", declared the elderly gentleman.

Carlotta huffed. "You're just not used to wearing something that isn't twenty years out of style!"

Eric laughed. "I think we'd better get in church before we come to blows here,.."

After the service, Grimbsy drove their carriage to the village, where they stopped to chat with their neighbors. Everyone was happy to see them, and invited them inside their homes to sit and talk. The women doted on Melody, of course; Eric discussed everything from the weather to business with the men, and Carlotta caught up on the latest gossip from their wives. Ariel was happy to listen to everyone; she always coming home with something new that she had learned. Grim was content to sit quietly and listen to the others; although he would not hesitate to offer some words of wisdom whenever it was appropriate.

To Ariel's dismay, the talk of pirates would often disturb the happy conversations. Many of the sailors had seen them,..or thought they had seen them, just on the horizon. Eric would listen, with a serious face, and take in every word.

No matter how hard she tried, the girl couldn't shake off her feeling of dread, at the mention of those sea-going robbers. She would try to change the subject: "Eric and me are taking Melody to America next year! Aren't we, Sweetheart?"

Eric nodded. "We thought we'd visit some of the east coast cities. Spend about a month there. Melody should be big enough for the trip, by then."

"I'm really excited about it!", said Ariel with a grin. "I've seen pictures of those places before,.. but to actually be there will be so wonderful! And Melody will get to see all those pretty little towns, and the country-side all around!"

"Once the pirate threat is eliminated,...we should have smooth sailing", declared Eric.

Ariel's smile died on her lips. Those pirates again. She was starting to cringe at the word. Another week,..and it would be over. Eric would be out of danger. If she could take it that long.


PIRATES!: PART TWO

Four days later, Eric and Ariel were sitting in one of the parlors: the balcony was opened to let in the fresh air. The scent of grass and the rustle of the trees were a delightful addition to the room. Eric was sitting on the sofa, with Ariel snuggled up next to him. He was showing her one of his books: this one had pictures of France and Italy in it. Melody was on the rug: playing with Max's ears. The dog didn't even seem to notice the child was there.

"You think maybe we could visit these places someday?", asked the girl.

Eric smiled. "Sure. As soon as Melody gets a little older. Or we might leave her here with Carlotta. It's a long voyage to Europe."

Ariel looked down at the little girl. "I'd like to see those pretty churches, and those little villages,...but I don't want to leave her behind. We'll wait til she's bigger."

A guard suddenly entered the parlor and bowed to the Prince. "Your pardon, Sire! But the Constellation has been sighted heading this way."

Eric nodded. "Captain Truxtun is early. He must have changed his plans."

At the first mention of the Constellation, Ariel tensed. Eric noticed the change in her, at once, and squeezed her hand with reassurance.

Eric ushered the captain into the parlor. This time, Ariel hadn't gone out to meet him. Now, the girl looked at Truxtun with a frown. He was the one who was trying to drag Eric into this danger. Why wouldn't he leave her man alone!

The captain took off his hat and bowed to the girl; then he sat down in a chair, across from the young couple. "The reason I'm here early is because we've learned some new information that may bring Black George to justice sooner than we could have hoped for. As I told you earlier; we feared that a traitor was in our ranks. I suspected one man, in particular, and I was proven right, just a few days ago. One of our scouts spotted Black George's ship enter the harbor at Leeward Island, and let off a rowboat. Sure enough, the man, that I suspected, was on that boat; my scout positively identified him!"

Eric smiled. "That's great!"

Ariel looked at the captain, with apprehension. "So,..what does that mean? For Eric?"

Truxtun looked at the girl. "Well; we now know who the traitor is. My scout managed to discover the time Black George is going to pick him up again. My ship will be there to trap him inside the harbor."

Ariel grinned and squeezed Eric's hand. "So you won't need Eric! That's wonderful!"

The captain hesitated. "We,... will need the Prince's help."

Ariel's smile died.

"The plan is this", continued Truxtun, "Next Saturday, at noon, the pirate ship is scheduled to pick up the informant." The man pulled a map out of his tunic, and spread it out on the coffee table. Eric leaned forward with eagerness, but Ariel stared at it, with dread.

The captain pointed at the map, " Black George will probably anchor here. The Constellation will move into the main channel to block off the harbor. Eric; it will be your job to cut off his ecape route here,.." Truxtun pointed to a narrow strait running along one side of the harbor. "He'll see my ship and head in your direction. Turn broadside to him and fire off a round with your cannons. He might get off one round back, but the Constellation be in range before he can do any damage to you."

Ariel throat tightened. "He's,..gonna get fired on?"

Truxtun smiled. "Don't worry, Ariel. It'll be from extreme range. Eric's ship might not even get hit."

"That's,...easy for you to say,..", whispered Ariel; she got up and ran out of the room.

Melody stood up and stumbled after her, "Mommie? What's wrong, Mommie?,.."

Truxtun looked at Eric, with confusion. "I,..I don't understand."

Eric nodded. "She's just worried about me. She'll be all right."

That night, Ariel lay silently next to Eric, as he blew out the lamp. She hadn't said hardly a word all evening. The boy knew what was bothering her; but he didn't know what else to tell her.

The girl snuggled up against him and put her arm across his stomach. It took her a long time to get to sleep.

Ariel went out early, the next morning. Eric was too busy readying his ship, to ask her where she had been. That evening, she seemed in a better mood, as they ate supper. Eric was glad that she was finally getting over her worry.

Right after they had eaten, Grimbsy came into the room and looked at the Prince. "A young man is here to see you; Eric."

Ariel grinned and took Eric's hand. "Come on! Let's see who it is!"

Eric was shocked when he saw his old friend, Shawn, standing in the entrance hall: his clothes were filthy from hard riding.

When Shawn saw the Prince, he rushed up to him. "I came as quickly as I could, Eric! What do you need me to do?"

Eric looked at his friend, with confusion. "But,..I didn't send for you; Shawn!"

Ariel ran up and took Eric's arm. "Don't you see; Sweetheart! Shawn is here to help you! He knows how to fight pirates better than anyone in the kingdom!"

Understanding washed over Eric's face. He looked down at the girl, with a smirk. "You sent for Shawn."

Ariel blushed and nodded. "Please; Darling! Let him go for you! He was your best fighter; wasn't he? He can help Captain Truxtun!"

Eric looked back at his old friend. "I'm sorry you had to come all this way for nothing; Shawn. Come into the kitchen and I'll have Carlotta fix you something to eat. You can rest here, tonight."

Ariel looked at Eric with frustration. "Why can't you let him go? Why do you have to go?! Ohhh!" Ariel huffed away.

Eric looked at Shawn and shrugged. "She's,...worried about me."

On friday morning, Eric went down to the dock to assure everything was in readiness. Ariel wasted no time in finding Carlotta. The girl shoved a thermometer into the woman's hand. "Here! Put some water on the fire and heat this up real good!" Before the housekeeper could speak, Ariel was scampering to the bathroom to find a washcloth. She came running back into the kitchen and grabbed Carlotta again. "Did you get it hot?"

"Yes, Dear,.. Here it is; don't burn your little hand. But why on Earth,.."

"Listen now", interupted the girl, "here's what I want you to do,.."

Eric was checking the gunpowder, in the ship's hold, when Carlotta called up to him from the dock, "Eric! Eric! Come quick! It's Ariel!"

The boy ran down the gangplank; to the woman. "What is it, Carlotta?! Is Ariel all right?!"

The elderly housekeeper took his hands. "She's sick! The poor little thing! Go up and see for yourself! She's in the bed!"

Eric raced to the palace and up the stairs to their bedroom. Ariel was lying in bed, in her nightgown. She had a wet rag on her forehead and a thermometer in her mouth.

"Sweetheart; what's wrong?", he blurted.

Ariel coughed past her thermometer. "I'm thick", she whimpered.

Eric felt of her forehead. "You don't feel hot,.."

"Theck my themperature", she mumbled, weakly.

"Hmm,..130 degrees", noted the Prince. He looked down at the girl; trying not to crack a smile. "That's not good."

"I feel really awful", moaned Ariel.

Eric looked down at her and nodded. "You look awful! Sickly complexion,... Eyes sunk in,..."

Ariel gave him a quick angry glance.

"And it hit you all at once, too,..", continued the boy.

"Please stay with me; Eric,... Til I'm better," she whispered. Then she coughed again.

Eric sat down on the bed and sighed. "I guess there's only one thing for me to do,...Tickle You! The boy went for the girl's ribs and she broke out in hysterical giggles.

"There!", grinned the boy, "You're feeling better already!"

Ariel pouted at him. "Meanie,.."

Eric kissed her cheek. "Nice try, but you look too beautiful to be sick." The boy smiled, lovingly. "I've got to get back to the ship and check on something. I'll be back in a little while."

Ariel watched him leave, with frustration. She knew, now, what she had to do. She had no other choice. The girl got dressed and went to find Carlotta. The woman was downstairs.

"Did it work, Dear?"

Ariel shook her head. "Please watch Melody tomorrow. Me and Eric are going on a little trip and won't be back til tomorrow night."

Carlotta nodded. "Of course, Dear!"

Ariel put her hand on the woman's shoulder. "And please don't mention this trip to Eric either. It's gonna be a,...surprise."

The woman nodded.

That night, Ariel came to the boy; wearing a black silk nightgown. "I've put Melody to bed", she said, softly. The girl took his hand and led him to their bedroom.

Later that night, Ariel awoke in a panic. Eric took the trembling girl in his arms; her back was wet with sweat. "It's okay! It's okay! You just had a bad dream."

She looked at him, with eyes wide with fear. "It,..it was terrible! The pirates got you! And Captain Truxtun came to see me,...and he said,...he said you were dead!"

Eric stroked the girl's hair. "It was just a dream. I'm here with you."

"Eric; please don't go on that ship, tomorrow!"

"It's my duty, Sweetheart. What would the villagers think,..what would the captain think, if I refused my responsibilty?"

Ariel hugged him desperately. "I don't care what they think! Something bad's gonna happen to you! I,..I can feel it!"

"It's just worry", soothed the boy. "By tomorrow evening, it will all be over, and we can live in peace: no longer in fear of the pirates." Eric kissed her lips. "Get some sleep, now."

Ariel snuggled up against him, and closed her eyes.

"That's my girl." Eric kissed her forehead, and fell back to sleep.

Early next morning, Eric awoke to find himself alone in the bed. He walked over to the bathroom and found it locked. "Darling? Are you in there?" The boy heard no reply. "Please don't be angry", urged Eric. "I'll be very careful. I promise." The girl didn't answer. "I'll be back, tonight,... I love you." Eric got dressed and went downstairs. Ariel would feel better soon. The boy hated having to worry her like this, but he had no other choice.

Before leaving the palace, the Prince stopped to talk to Grimbsy, who was waiting at the door. "When Ariel comes downstairs, keep an eye on her; would you, Grim?"

The elderly man nodded. "I have a bit of advice for you, Eric. When the cannonballs start flying on your side of the battle, try not to be under them when they land."

Eric gasped. "Who told you?"

Grim smiled. "I may be getting on in years, but I'm not blind, yet. The recent interest in pirates, combined with the readying of your only battle-worthy vessel, adds up to approaching conflict."

Eric smiled and patted his shoulder. "I never could hide anything from you. I'll try not to get killed."

"I will hold you to that," answered Grimbsy.

The Prince ran up the gangplank and shouted at the sailors, "Let's get underway! We've a long trip ahead of us and our kingdom to defend!"

"Aye! Aye! Captain!", shouted the men.

No one noticed when a barrel, sitting on the deck, raised it's lid. Ariel peeked out to watch her husband directing the ship's crewmen. She had snuck on board early that morning, and hid in an empty water barrel. Her heart ached with fear of the approaching battle; not for herself, but for Eric. At least, now, she would be with him when, the cannons started to roar. She felt that, if she was there, she could somehow prevent her nightmare from coming true.

Eric grinned, as the sails billowed out, and the ship jumped through the water. It was going to be a friendly sea, that day! Leeward Island was three hours away, at this clip; he might even get there before the Constellation!

Captain Truxtun looked at his chief enginner, with frustration. The Constellation should have started off an hour ago! Instead; it floated; crippled; due to a snapped steering cable on the rudder. "How long before you can replace it?", asked the captain.

The engineer wiped the sweat from his brow, as he and his men worked on the rudder mechanism. "At least an hour; Captain! We're just now gettin' the old rope out!"

"Time is critical! If Prince Eric is alone when Black George spots him, he'll be blown out of the water!!"

Across the span of water from Captain Truxtun and the Constellation, Eric's ship was approaching the Leeward Island. It was really split into two pieces: the main island, and a small , narrow spur less than a mile offshore. This was the escape route that Captain Truxtun feared that the pirate ship might decide to take. Any ship in the main section of the harbor would have to either go around it, or navigate into the channel; costing time enough for the escaping ship to gain a considerable head-start.

With the wind in her sails, Eric's ship entered the channel a good hour before noon. The Prince had a look-out sent aloft to check for the pirate ship's location.

Ariel watched all the activity, from her barrel, with a mixture of curiousity and concern. Any other time, this would have been treated as a new "adventure", and recieved delighted wonder,...but not now. The girl knew that every crewman on board would soon be in deadly peril, and that this was no innocent game. Her heart ached for her husband, but she knew the knowledge of her presence would only hamper his decision-making.

"Pirate ship spotted, Sire!", called the look-out. "She's anchored a quarter-mile away!"

"Drop anchor!", shouted Eric. "Run out the guns!"

Ariel heard a frightening rumble, as the ship's cannons were rolled into postion. She watched, as young deck-hands carried sacks of gunpowder to where the gun-crews waited to load their weapons.

"How about the Constellation?!", shouted the Prince up to the look-out.

"No sign of her, Sire!"

Eric looked back at his anxious crew. "We'll wait here until the Constellation arrives."

Black George gritted his teeth, as he put a hand over his eyes to shield them from the sun, and stared out over the water. "Well?! What is it, you scurvy dog?!"

The look-out called back, "Maybe a sloop,...too small to be a frigate! She's flying a red flag with an E on it."

Black George stared up at the man. "Tha' sun's baked yer brains!"

"Nar, Captain! It's an E, I tell you!"

Black George stroked his whiskers. "That's Prince Eric's ship! What in tha' blazes is he doin' here?" The pirate shouted at one of his "officers", who ran over to him. "Hear this now! As soon as that traitor comes on board, we make for that ship! I'll have me that splinter out of my side by tha' day's end! Man yer battle stations!"

Forty minutes passed, and, across the bay, the look-out called out, "Pirate ship is raising anchor, Sire!"

Eric stared out at the harbor, and shouted, "Set sail! We're gonna stop her! Battle stations!"

The crewmen rushed to their postions: Ariel watched, as sailors wetted-down the deck for the coming battle; topmen climbed the masts to unfurl the sails; while others raised the anchor. With majestic power, the sails billowed out and ship surged forward into the harbor.

"Pirate ship has spotted us, Sire!", shouted the look-out. "She's coming around!"

"Watch her, now!", answered Eric. The Prince ran over to the helmsman, "When we get within range, I want you to cut across her bow; we'll rake her as she passes!"

"Aye, aye; Captain!', returned the man; gripping the wheel tightly.

Eric looked out across the harbor. "We'll run by her and let her chase us right into the Constellation!"

Ariel tried to hear her husband, through all the noise and shouting on the ship; something was happening! Her stomach tensed with her nervousness.

Black George grinned, as he saw Eric's ship making straight for him. "Thinks he's gonna slip by me, does he?! Helmsman! Hard to port!" The pirate ship began to turn broadside.

Eric saw the pirate ship swinging away from him and shouted to the crew, "Hard to starboard! We don't want him on our stern!" The wind was with the Prince, and he got into firing range before Black George had started his loop back to him

"Fire!", cried Eric. The cannons boomed; making Ariel cringe with fright and plug her ears with her fingers. The pirate ship got slammed broadside, but she was in position to answer with her starboard-side guns.

"Fire!", shouted Black George. Ariel cried out, as explosions rocked Eric's ship; the pirates poured a murderous fire into her hull, as they passed. Smoke covered the deck, and made the girl cough and gasp for breath.

Eric looked around at his crew: a couple had been wounded, but he knew that it could get much worse. "Lay on the sails!", cried the Prince, as he saw the pirate ship come around. Black George let loose another round from his fore-guns; smashing into Eric's stern.

Ariel cried out in fear, as she felt the ship tremble from the pounding. There was a frenzy of activity all around her: smoke and shouting and confusion. Eric was looking back over the stern, at the pursuing pirate ship.

His first-mate ran back to him, "So far, damage isn't too bad; Captain. The mizzen is splintered, but we got a stay around it."

Eric stared, grimly, at Black George's ship.

The First-mate nodded. "We can't outrun him. He's got too much canvas."

Eric gritted his teeth. "Where's the Constellation?! If we don't get some help soon, our only choice will be to fight man-to-man!"

"That's what Black George wants", answered the First mate.

The pirate ship leaped forward; Black George glared at the approaching enemy ship with devious planning. "Helmsman. Bring us along-side her. Let's soften 'em up a little."

Eric saw the pirates coming broadside to them and ran forward. "Prepare starboard guns! She's coming around!" His shouts were drowned out by explosions; as Black George raked them down the side. Ariel screamed in terror, but no one could hear the girl amidst the returning cannon's fire. They traded blows: Eric's six guns were answered by the pirates' ten. Soon, the deck was covered with fires and splintered wood.

Black George spoke quietly to his men. "She's struck. Prepare to board her." The man glared at them. "And Prince Eric is took alive. Understand? Any scum who sticks him will get worse from me!"

The pirate ship swung over; as pirates jumped from the masts with ropes and guns. The fighting was terrible, but Eric's men were no match for the bloodthirsty pirates. Eric was tied-up and brought in front of Black George. "You've been a worrisome little brat", growled the pirate.

Eric said nothing. His clothes were torn and burnt from gunpowder; his face was smeared with soot, but he held his head up, proudly.

"Put em in tha' lock-up", ordered Black George.

"What about his men?", snarled the pirates.

"No playing with em yet", answered Black George. "Put em in their ship's hold. We're close to a harbor; we might have to cut-and-run."

Black George went to his cabin and found the traitor sitting in a chair; reading a paper. "We've got em, " said the pirate.

"Is he unharmed?", asked the man, quietly.

"Not a scratch on the dear little boy", answered Black George.

The traitor continued to read his paper, "Then your part of the deal will be fulfilled as soon as he is turned over to me."

"He's in tha' lock-up", added the pirate.

The traitor nodded. "I'll be out in a moment."

Black George went back on deck, to find his men in an up-roar. "What's all this?!" growled the man, as he strode forward. His crew parted for him until he reached the cause. It was a,...female!

"We found 'er in one of tha' barrels, Captain!", laughed a pirate. "Better'an salt pork, ain't she?!"

"Any scum touch her?!", growled Black George.

The pirates shook their heads. "Naw! We knew you'd have our hides!"

Black George stared at the girl and grinned. "My! My! Ain't you tha' pretty one!"

Ariel looked back at the man, proudly. "I want to see my husband."

The pirate laughed. "Not so fast now! You haven't had a chance to meet me, yet! Name's George Black!"

"I want to see Eric", answered Ariel. Her voice was beginning to crack; she was afraid she would start crying any second.

Black George's eyes went wide. "Well! Well! This must be tha' Princess! Right this minute; your husband is kinda busy down below,.." The other pirates laughed. ",..but don't worry. I'll keep yah company til he gets back!" The pirate started for the girl.

Ariel ducked away and grabbed at the pistol she had kept her eyes on. The other pirates backed away as she brought it up to Black George. "Now, Missy,..Let's not get all upset about this,.." The pirate leaped forward with his arms spread; Ariel ducked right under him and ran out of the crowd.

Black George hollered at the laughing crewmen, "Get her, lads!"

Ariel jumped into the hatch-way and flew down the stairs; with the laughing pirates right behind her. Ariel looked desperately, left and right. She was in the crews' berths. She ran down the ship, with the following pirates hooting and laughing. She found some more stairs and started down them; she tripped on her dress and fell onto the deck. Ariel picked herself and ran through the mess-room. Where was Eric?! She could hear the pirates shouting with glee: they were making a game of it, as they drove her deeper into the ship. Down another flight of steps, and, at the first door she opened she saw Eric! He was behind bars and looking right at her!

"Eric!", she sobbed.

The boy stared at her, with amazement. "Ariel! What in,..how did you get here?!"

Ariel could hear the pirates approaching. She wiped the tears from her eyes. "No,..time to explain. How do I get you out?"

"Over there! The keys!", answered the Prince.

Ariel grabbed them and threw them over to Eric. "Gotta go!", she said, as she blew him a kiss. "I love you!"

Before Eric could say a word, Ariel was out the door and shutting it behind her. The pirates saw her, and hooted with pleasure. Ariel stuck out her tongue at them "Nah! Nah! You fat ugly pirates can't catch me!' She took off down the ship, with the laughing men at her heels.

The girl reached the last door and went inside; water splashed on her legs: she was in the storage room at the bottom of the ship. The girl scampered around the barrels and boxes; just as the pirates came in after her.

"We got ya now, girlie!", laughed one of the pirates. "Got no where else to run!"

Ariel looked around; desperately. The pistol was still gripped in her hand, but she had no idea how to use it. Suddenly, she spotted some empty barrels tied up on a shelf overhead. She started crawling to them.

The pirates fanned out and drove towards her; Ariel hid behind a box, as one of the pirates passed close enough for her to hear his breath. Ariel ran out and heard the pirates shout with excitement. The girl grabbed the (What did Scuttle call it?) tarfinpooper. She knew that, if you pulled the end of one of these things, stuff like dorfburbles (or barrels) came out. Too late, the pirates saw what she was doing. Right at her feet, they looked up, as she yanked on the rope and the empty barrels came crashing down on them; knocking them back. Ariel ran to the door and bolted it behind her. The pirates were locked up! Now; to find Eric!


PIRATES!: PART THREE

Eric fumbled with the keys; trying to find the right one to unlock his cell door. Time was desperately short! Ariel was on board! How, on Earth, could she have gotten on board a pirate ship?! The lock clicked, and the Prince scrambled out of the cage and out into the corridor. He listened, but didn't hear the girl, or the pirates. Shouting her name would only alert the cut-throats to his location: he had to search the ship for his wife.

Ariel made her way up to the top deck, and looked around: smoke still obscured her vision, and she didn't see Eric.

A man laughed behind her, "Ha! Ha! Welcome back; Missy! Just couldn't stay away from me; could you?"

Ariel turned to see Black George grinning at her. She raised the pistol with shaking hands. "You,...stay away from me! I'll,..shoot!"

The pirate laughed. "Now,...little girl! You ain't strong enough to even pull tha' hammer back! Come here to Black George!" The pirate lunged forward and grabbed at her skirt.

Ariel clutched the pistol with both hands, and brought it down, with all her might, onto the pirate's head.

"You,...weren't supposed,...to do that!", mumbled Black George, before he collapsed onto the deck: knocked-out.

Ariel dropped the pistol, with trembling hands. It was over. Now; to find her love,..

Suddenly; she was grabbed from behind. Vice-like hands pinned her arms behind her back. Ariel looked up to see the man holding her:

"Morgan!", she choked. All the horrors of Helena's palace came back to haunt her; the girl's legs grew weak.

"Your continuing interference in my affairs is starting to become quite irritating; Princess."

Ariel whimpered in pain, as Morgan twisted her arm. She kicked her foot in his shin, but the man didn't move a muscle.

"Do that again, Princess, and I'll break your little neck."

Ariel shuddered and went loose with helplessness, in his arms.

"Morgan! Let her go!" Hope leaped in Ariel's heart: it was Eric!

Morgan threw the girl away like a sack, as he drew his sword. "My patience has been sorely tried; waiting to meet you again; Prince.

Eric snarled, "I see you didn't learn anything from our last encounter."

The man crept closer towards the boy; his movements as deft as a cat's. "But I did learn! That blade through my arm taught me much. I've been practicing constantly, since that embarassing incident. Now; I shall even the score!

Ariel looked up at them and trembled with fear. She had to help Eric!

"I should have known you would turn out to be the traitor", sneered the boy. "I'd hoped we had driven you from the Carribbean, years ago, but I see you managed to creep back."

"I couldn't stay away", answered Morgan, with a smile. Not when you were here,..."

Eric walked around some barrels, and into a clear spot on the deck; his eyes never left Morgan, as he studied the man's movements.

Morgan got within a few yards of the Prince and suddenly lunged at the boy: Even knowing it was coming; Eric still got grazed on the arm by his sword. The man was quick as a fox!

The boy's own sword swung around, but Morgan was already out of range.

Ariel stumbled to her feet and started searching the deck. Where was that pistol?!

"I'm not going to kill you right away; Prince. I think a pass through your gut will be more appropriate,.."

The man's sword flashed out at the boy; Eric ducked just in time to prevent losing part of his scalp. Eric countered with a swing for Morgan's ribs: the man was there and gone before Eric could find his target.

Every time their swords whistled through the air, the girl cringed; fearing that Eric would get hit. Fear and smoke confused the girl; she wandered desperately; looking for the gun.

Eric could barely keep up with the man, as he lunged at the Prince again and again. Every time Eric got cut, Ariel cried out; as if she was feeling his pain.

"I'm going to cut you up slowly; Prince", announced Morgan, with a sure, quiet authority. His blade flashed with lightening speed, and glanced off Eric's sword, with sparks.

Eric gritted his teeth, and tried to manuever behind some barrels: the man was deadly, in the open; the boy had to find some weakness to exploit!

Ariel gasped with relief; she had found the pistol! She picked it up, and, using both her thumbs, managed to pull the hammer back. The girl aimed it at Morgan,..but was afraid of hitting Eric!

The boy was panting from exertion; his arms grew heavy from countering the never-ending blows from Morgan. The man cut him across his arm, and he winced with pain.

Ariel cried out for her husband, and moved around them, to get a clear shot. She aimed the pistol; closed her eyes, and yanked the trigger. The blast knocked the girl backwards onto the deck.

Morgan managed a smile back at her. "Your marksmanship is quite poor; Princess", he chuckled. "Now; watch as I kill your husband,.."

Eric stumbled and barely held-off an eager thrust from Morgan. Ariel couldn't move; she was frozen with horror.

"Drop yer sword; Morgan!", growled a voice.

The man turned to see Black George aiming his pistol at him; he was still rubbing the bump on his head.

"Are you mad?", hissed Morgan.

The pirate snarled at him, "Drop that sword; or I'll put a shot o' lead between yer eyes."

Morgan's sword clattered to the deck. Ariel and Eric looked at George, with amazement.

"Okay; Missy. Where be me crew?', growled the pirate.

Ariel tried to find her voice, "I,..I locked them up in the bottom of the ship."

Black George managed a reluctant smile. "I've never had a lady get tha' best of me,...til now."

Morgan glared at him, "The Prince is mine! That was the deal!"

"Tha' deal is over!", shot back the pirate. "I'm not hurting this little girl cause o' the likes of you."

Morgan smiled; sarcastically. "The terrible George Black! Gonna have a tea party with them? What will your crew think of you after this? "

"Look over tha' starboard side", answered the pirate. Morgan turned, to see sails on the horizon.

"No time for a tea party", George said, with a smile. "The Connie will break it up." The pirate looked at the Prince, "Eric! Go below and let loose my crew!"

The boy hesitated. "Go ahead; Sweetheart", said the girl. "I,...trust him." The Prince nodded to the girl and ran below deck.

Black George looked over at the girl. "Why don't you come over here, where it's safer; Missy?"

Ariel smiled at the pirate. "I don't trust you that much."

Black George laughed. "Just one little kiss?"

"Sorry,.. I'm married", answered the girl; smiling.

The pirate nodded. "As am I,...to this ship."

Morgan looked at the pirate, like a trapped animal, but George kept the pistol aimed at his head. "I won't forget this", he snarled.

"I have enough folks wantin' my hide, to be worried about you", answered the pirate.

They heard a commotion, as the other pirates swarmed up on deck. "What's the deal; Captain?", asked his men.

"Make sail! We're leaving!"

The pirates stared at each other, with amazement. "But,..Captain! We haven't even sacked tha' ship!"

"Do as I say!", barked Black George. "Tha' Connie's about to shoot off your tail!"

The pirates yelled, with alarm, as they spotted the approaching sails. They rushed to get the ship under-way.

Ariel was bandaging Eric's wounds, as the Captain looked at them. "You two get on board yer ship. I,...don't take captives." The pirate glared at Morgan. "That goes for you, too!"

Black George handed his pistol to Eric. "Watch that snake with both yer eyes. He's quick as a fox."

Eric nodded to the pirate. "You know the Constellation is gonna stop you."

The pirate smiled. "She's gotta catch me, first."

The pirate ship cut loose from Eric's striken ship; just as they heard the Constellation fire a warning shot.

Captain Truxtun and Daniel were the first men on board; they rushed up to the girl; with amazement. "Princess! What are you doing here?", gasped Truxtum," Where's Eric?"

"He went down in the ship to let his men out.", answered the girl. "I,...snuck on board."

The Captain sighed. "Eric is a brave lad. But he shoudn't have tried to take-on Black George, alone."

Eric and his crew came back on deck; the Captain ordered that Eric's crew be taken aboard the Constellation. His injured men were carried over, to be treated.

The Prince returned to the Captain. "Looks like I made a mess of things. Black George has the jump on you, now."

"I'm sorry for the delay; Eric. I got here as soon as I could. Not soon enough; by the looks of it."

"Eric nodded. "I'm afraid I was out-gunned and out-classed."

Ariel hugged her husband. "That's not true! You were so brave! You should have seen him; Captain! He did everything he could!"

Eric smiled down at the girl, and returned her hug.

Truxtun nodded. "I'm sure he did. Well,..if we're going to catch Black George; we'd better get under-way."

Eric looked towards the hatch, "We've got one prisoner in the lock-up; Captain. The traitor."

Truxton gasped. "Morgan?! I'll have him brought up, right away!"

After Eric's ship had been abandoned, the Constellation went after the pirate ship. Ariel stayed by Eric's side; and made sure his bandages stayed clean. Her eyes shone with love; remembering how he defended her from Morgan.

The Prince wanted to explore the ship; Daniel offered to show him around; but Ariel would not have it. She kept the boy in the Captain's cabin; to rest up after his duel. "There'll be plenty of time to look at all the sails and stuff", said Ariel, with a smile.

The girl wanted to fix him a bite to eat; Daniel showed her to the officer's mess.

"So; tell me, Princess,..what do you think of being on a ship?", asked the Lieutenant.

"It's,...fun when you're just sailing around", started the girl, "It's,...horrible when the ships start fighting."

Daniel nodded. "Battle is horrible, wherever it takes place."

"Why,..why do you stay here; then? Why go through such a,...terrible thing?"

Daniel sighed. "I'm protecting my country, in this way. I'm protecting my people."

Ariel nodded. "That's what Eric says. I,..guess I understand it. But that doesn't make it any easier. I just wish people wouldn't fight at all."

Daniel smiled. "The world would be a much better place, if they followed your example; Princess."

Daniel picked out rations for the Prince, and they returned to the cabin. Ariel gave Eric the plate. "Here; Sweetheart! Eat something; you'll feel better."

Eric took the plate and kissed the girl. "Thank you; Darling." Eric sat down at the table; with Ariel joining him.

Daniel started for the door, "I'd better get back on duty. I'll see you later!" Daniel tipped his hat to Ariel, and went out.

After Eric had eaten, he took the girl out to look at the ship. The sails were very pretty to the girl, but she couldn't help but remember that this ship was built only for battle. Captain Truxtun noticed the couple, and walked over to join them.

"We've spotted the pirate ship. It looks like some of her rigging was damaged during that skirmish with you; Eric. We'll come-up on her, shortly.

Ariel trembled, and Eric hugged her close.

The captain smiled down at the girl. "I'm sorry to have to put you through this, again, but I hope to make it a short engagement. You'd better head back to my cabin. No place is really safe, during a battle, but you might feel better inside.

Eric nodded. "I'll take her back."

Truxtun smiled at the Prince, "Where do you want to be, when we catch her; Eric? You'll get a better view, forward."

Eric took Ariel's hand. "Not this time; Captain. I'm staying with my wife." Ariel smiled back at him, with love. The Prince took her back to the cabin, and they waited for the battle.

When the firing started again, Eric was there to hold the frightened girl. It was over, sooner than she could have hoped for. They heard a loud explosion,....and then silence.

The couple went outside, and Ariel gasped. Black George's ship was ablaze, and sinking fast. The Constellation was heading along side her; looking for survivors. Ariel hid her face in her hands.

Truxtun and Daniel came over to them. "A lucky shot", announced Truxtun. "We must have set off her powder magazine!"

Daniel looked at the girl; with concern. "Princess,... What's wrong?"

Ariel looked up; with tears in her eyes. All those men,... and poor Black George."

Eric explained to the men, "It was,..Black George who saved us from Morgan. I,..can't say I'm happy to see him go that way."

Truxtun nodded his head. "A pirate's life is a brutal and short one. It's never a pretty ending." The Captain shouted to his crew, "Prepare to make sail!"

"Captain!", called one of his men, "We've got a survivor!"

It was Black George! The brought him forward; wet as a water-rat. The pirate glared at the Captain. "Ya sank my ship; ya no-good skunk! How' m' I supposed to make a livin' now!?"

"You're not", answered Truxtun. "Your next job will be to fill a hangman's noose."

Ariel gasped, "No! Please don't kill him! He,..he's not totally bad,..."

Black George smiled. "Listen to the little lady! I'm just a poor lad, took the wrong road! Gimme another chance!"

Truxtun smirked back at the pirate. "I don't believe that for a second. But, for the sake of the Ariel and Eric, I'll put in a good word for you, at your trial."

The pirate grinned and tipped his hat at Ariel. "I'll be thankin' ya; little lady!"

They took him away, and the Captain turned back to Eric. "I'll also talk to the Commander about getting you a new ship. After what you've done for us; I think you derserve it."

"Thank you; Captain.".

Truxtun looked down at the girl and smiled. "Well; Ariel. The fighting is over! It's time to get you and Eric back home!"

Ariel grinned and squeezed Eric's hand.

A week later, Eric stood outside the palace on a bright summer morning. He heard a giggle, and turned to see Ariel running out of the palace. She was wearing the new dress that she and Carlotta had picked out, the day before. The girl ran to his open arms and kissed him hard. "Do you like my new dress? I picked it out special, just for you!"

Eric hugged the girl, with love. "Everything looks beautiful on you!"

Ariel giggled. "Silly! You always say that!"

The boy laughed, and kissed her. "Are you ready for the picnic?"

The girl nodded, eagerly. "Just waiting for Grim. He's getting into his new suit!"

The boy looked back, to see Grimbsy and Carlotta coming out the front door; with Max following behind. Melody was in the housekeeper's arms.

Ariel grinned at her husband. "Doesn't Melody look sweet?!"

Grimbsy was talking to Carlotta: "Please enlighten me; Madam: Why must one wear formal attire to a picnic?"

Carlotta huffed, "Well; what else are you going to wear? Your pajamas?"

Eric laughed, as he helped Ariel into the carriage. The Prince took Melody and handed her up to the girl; as Carlotta and Grim got in.

Ariel smiled at the housekeeper. "Me and Eric found the prettiest spot! It's got lot's of flowers and green grass and it looks right out over the ocean!"

Eric lifted Max into the back of the carriage; then he got in, beside his wife and daughter, and took the reigns. With an easy, unhurried pace, they started off towards the sunrise.


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