28.01.2020 11:49:34 PM (GMT)

The Queen of the Sea had a mission.

28.01.2020 11:49:32 PM (GMT)

Tirulia was a sleepy little kingdom, and this seaside castle was the unofficial capital of its most carefree, bucolic quarter. Eric had no real duties. His parents were still alive and actively ruling – at least they had been the last time she was here. He had no particular desire to take over as king. He had a real desire to sail. He was young, he was enthusiastic, he loved music and the sea and wind in his hair. Everything that she loved, too, but flipped to its Dry World version.

28.01.2020 11:49:30 PM (GMT)

Scuttle landed heavily on the stone next to his great-grandgull, more like a bomb of feathers than a professional flier.

28.01.2020 11:49:28 PM (GMT)

Ariel watched them go, the old dog and his master on the tiny, tiny boat – the man who once commanded a ship as large as a castle and the heart of the sea king's daughter.

28.01.2020 11:49:26 PM (GMT)

It was a good thing she had warned Sebastian not to mention her mission; gossip swam faster than tuna.

28.01.2020 11:49:24 PM (GMT)

Flounder watched Ariel's signs carefully and then translated.

– A fleet of no fewer than... thirty-seven flying fish will arc out of the water at the same time, heading west.

– All right, I will look for thirty-seven of the silver, flying, hard-to-catch, rather bony, but oh! very tasty fish, flying to the sunset.

28.01.2020 11:49:22 PM (GMT)

– Yes, well, and here we are, – Flounder said, a little flippantly. – And by the way – this is a secret mission. No one should know about how the queen is leaving her kingdom to pursue matters on land... Especially matters involving her father. Especially with the sea witch Ursula involved.

Jona stared at him.

– Kingdom? Or queendom?

– What? – Flounder asked, exasperated.

– The mer are ruled by a queen. Shouldn't it be queendom?

– No, that's – well, I guess so. Maybe. Does it matter?

– It does if you're the queen, – the bird pointed out.

Ariel had to hide her smile; she would have laughed, if she had the voice for it.

28.01.2020 11:49:20 PM (GMT)

Ariel turned and gave him a smile: so rare, these days.

28.01.2020 11:49:18 PM (GMT)

This time she would be prepared. She took a bag: the land artists used to carry their tools, and packed the few things she thought she would need. Carefully kept clothing, rescued from a trunk sunk when its ship capsized. Waterlogged but not worn. It had been so long since she had been up on land that it took a while before she remembered how to put together a complete outfit. Dress and apron and underskirt... The number of layers of clothing humans wore was insane. Would anyone even notice if she forgot an undershirt or underpants?

28.01.2020 11:49:16 PM (GMT)

No one's going to volunteer to come along? Ariel signed, half ironically; with her back turned, there was no way her sister could have known she was saying anything. She watched them all go back to exactly what they'd been doing before: fixing their hair, gossiping, swirling around each other in a scene that used to delight their father. Don't you ever get bored with your lives? she signed, even though no one would see it. Aren't you even a little bit curious?

28.01.2020 11:49:14 PM (GMT)

I don't need your permission, she signed. I was merely letting you know.

– Well! – Attina said, raising her eyebrows.

You made me queen.

– Yes... I suppose we did.

28.01.2020 11:49:12 PM (GMT)

Ariel could feel the twists in the water: the oldest sister, who had tried to take over as mother when their real mother died, and never succeeded in that role. The other sisters, who liked the idea of power and ruling and strength and crowns – for someone else. They all just wanted everything the way it had been when Ariel was one of them, when they were all the same.

But Ariel had never really been the same.

28.01.2020 11:49:10 PM (GMT)

Sebastian wilted.

– All right, go. No one has ever been able to stop you from doing anything you wanted anyway – even when it costs you dearly.

For a moment, Ariel felt her old self surface, the urge to grin and plant a kiss on the little crab's back. He was right. She did have a habit of swimming in where angels feared to tread. No one could dissuade her once her mind was fixed. And it had cost her dearly.

What could it cost her this time?

28.01.2020 11:49:08 PM (GMT)

– Give up, Sebastian, – Flounder suggested. – She's already made her decision.

28.01.2020 11:49:06 PM (GMT)

She dropped the lid and sighed, drifting over to the rock she used to perch on while admiring her collection. Things, so many things. Things she never found out the proper use for in her short time on land. Because she had been too busy mooning over Eric.

28.01.2020 11:49:04 PM (GMT)

He needn't have suggested that as he swam off; with the trident, Ariel could kill an army or call up a storm that would destroy half the sea.

28.01.2020 11:49:02 PM (GMT)

Ariel just shook her head and dove back under the water, tossing a sign over her shoulder as she went.

– The Queen says you may call her Ariel, – Flounder said. Also, under his breath, – You have no idea what an honor that is.

28.01.2020 11:49:00 PM (GMT)

Good queens did not react immediately to new information, especially if they didn't already have some inkling of what it brought. Snap decisions were rash and led to disaster. Ariel had learned this the hard way. Not having a voice was an advantage here: she could compose herself while working out how to say what she needed to.

28.01.2020 11:48:58 PM (GMT)

Ariel twirled her trident casually, letting the water fly from it in a hundred sparkling droplets. Although the merfolk accepted her lineage and rights to the crown immediately, there had still been a definite period of adjustment while they still thought of her as the pretty, carefree baby girl of Triton. Some spoke to her far too patronizingly, some spoke to her far too familiarly. And some folk of non-mer persuasion (sharks, mainly) had needed several displays of her anger before they acknowledged her authority.

28.01.2020 11:48:56 PM (GMT)

She didn't even have to sign. You cannot talk to me that way anymore, little crab. I am queen now.

16.01.2020 08:59:13 PM (GMT)

– When the moment of death arrives, you die.

16.01.2020 01:22:48 AM (GMT)

For several years after the day she lost her father, Ariel had tried to return to the land to see Eric and to take revenge on Ursula. But the wily sea witch had used her now very prosaic powers as a human princess to set guards all along the coast – officially, in «case of an enemy kingdom attack, or pirates». In some cases, close to the castle, guards were literally stationed in the water, up to their calves.

With Scuttle's help Ariel had tried to evade the guards, sneaking in while the gull whipped up a distraction. But it was never enough, and the men were all on high alert for strange, witchy red-haired girls.

16.01.2020 01:22:46 AM (GMT)

– I've just had some strange – really, really strange – news from a plaice, who heard it from a turtle, who heard it from a dolphin... Wait, I think it was the plaice from the turtle. There might have been another messenger in between. A bluefish, maybe?

16.01.2020 01:22:44 AM (GMT)

She and her sisters always teased him, trying to win smiles from him, trying to get him to steal an hour from his duties to play with them. Mostly they had to content themselves with his presence at official functions, banquets, and performances like the one Ariel had skipped – the one that had started the whole thing.

16.01.2020 01:22:42 AM (GMT)

She did not enjoy the attention of the mermen, either. Once upon a time, as a younger, more innocent thing, she had never even noticed boys. Mer boys, at least.

Now she was forced to notice them, to keep an eye on them, to be aware of what ulterior motives they had: to wed the queen, maybe to become king.