Three days passed; Mabel's nights became calm and her dreams full of a certain pirate. Dipper kept giving the princess advice and teaching her tricks to defend herself as she asked. But not necessarily how to do it when attacked in the middle of her sleep, he tried to vary the scenarios.
Even with her nights full of peaceful rest, Mabel managed, as promised, to finish his pajama and he already started wearing it, telling her how he liked to use it for sleeping.
Besides her self-defense training, the days passed uneventfully. Mabel and Dipper kept missing work due to Wendy's idea to show her the town. And each day that passed, the princess became more and more excited with the world.
Dipper secretly wondered how long it would be like that. When would Mabel start getting tired of it? When would she start asking to go back home? When would she miss her family and parents so much she wouldn't be able to enjoy spending the day with him? Would he ever be able to find an adequate source of money for the crew?
Those questions troubled him. He tried not to think about them too much and just enjoy the day as his father had advised him. But it was difficult; worrying was in his nature just as much as curiosity. And with each day that passed by his concern grew.
Until one day when Dipper and Mabel were walking by the shores and they spotted a ship on the horizon. Not just any ship, a navy ship. And it was heading towards the city's harbor.
"But isn't that normal?" Mabel asked, seeing how puzzled and worried he looked.
"Not really. At least not here. Salus City on not really in any navy route. It's quite a small city and there's nothing important in our surroundings, no castles, no military bases, nothing. In fact, Salus City is located in the middle of two important cities that the navy frequently goes to, so there's really no reason for them to dock here, that's why this city is full of pirates, it's a very good place to port for a few days or weeks."
"But if they're here… What does that mean?"
"I don't know. Nothing. Anything. But Grunkle Stan once said that navy ships usually comes here for only two reasons: when the ship is damaged and here is the closest place they could reach or when they're looking for something. And the thing is, that ship doesn't seem damaged."
"Do you think they could be searching for me?"
"I don't know… It could be it, but it could be only a coincidence. There's no way I can tell from here."
"Dip, don't let them take me away." She pleaded in that soft voice he loved hearing so much and he hated to admit it, but he felt so relieved that she was still asking, with so much conviction, not to go. It reminded him that he had to find a way, and fast, to get a lot of money. He also loved the way she gripped his sleeve while calling him 'Dip'. She didn't call him by that short nickname often, but he liked, that was more intimate.
"Hey, I promised you, remember? No one is taking you anywhere unless you want it. Now let's go back to Stan's place. My dad needs to know about this."
Grabbing her hand, guiding Mabel right behind him, Dipper went back to the shop. He was not going to let anyone take her away; life without her was no longer an option. How could he wake without hearing her cheerful 'good morning' as she tried to cook something? How could he live without looking at her beautiful smile every day? There was no way. He didn't want to be without her.
Meanwhile, Roderick and Stan were walking and drinking rum by the harbor, watching ships come and go; typical pirate stuff to do while on land.
"But really, Stan, I don't know what else to do. It's not like I can get my hands on a lot of money on land. We need some great and wealthy raids and soon."
"Who told you to go and kidnap a princess without much backup gold? If you wanted to keep her for a month the least you could do was prepare yourself."
"I know, I tried, we were going to do this, but then I heard she was getting married. Kidnapping her with a husband would be much more difficult. More guards, more servants… And I was afraid she'd be taken to the other kingdom. I had to act that moment."
"But now she wants to stay."
"We can't say that for sure, you know that. Barely a week and a half has passed. It's all too new for her and she likes it. Wait until she misses her family, her friends, the pampered life she had at the court and we'll see if she'll still want to stay." Roderick said, running a nervous hand through his dark blonde hair. "I wouldn't mind if she really wants to stay, though. The problem, obviously, is money. The crew keeps spending it like there's no tomorrow and if all we have runs down, they'll want to call for the ransom the same day. Gambling at the taverns can only get us so much."
"Come on, that necklace Dipper brought you gave us enough for at least a week. That boy made me so proud, I taught him well. And don't forget the crown she gave you. We got some good money from that too, that thing was covered in diamonds."
"Yes, but one week is not enough, Stan. I need more time." The captain sighed heavily. "Sometimes I wonder if kidnapping her was the right thing to do. She's such a nice girl that I think I don't want to send her away."
"Indeed she is. But don't go too soft on her just because she…" Stan trailed off as he spotted something on the horizon. "Roderick, look at that. Is it a navy ship?"
The young captain turned his chestnut eyes at the direction his uncle was pointing. He was right. It was an official navy ship.
"We need to get back." Roderick informed, worried.
"You know, that might be the answers to your prayers…"
"Are you nuts? That ship is probably looking for Mabel. That son of a bitch of a king probably sent every ship in the navy to look for his daughter."
"Please, Roderick, do you really think he'd do that? We both know the king wouldn't just send everyone searching for her. He's not stupid, if he did that he knows it would bring a lot of problems to the whole kingdom, he can't just send his entire fleet for one mission. Even if it is to save his daughter. Besides, you left him that note, right? He'll wait for news, he has no choice." the old man rationalized. "The point is, if we're lucky, that ship could be transporting treasures from one city to another. Maybe they ran out of supplies and stopped in the first place they could reach. And if they got treasures, you'll be able to keep Mabel for a little longer than originally planned."
"Fate wouldn't be so kind, Stan. I learned that a long time ago. You never get something if you don't lose another in return." As he finished speaking, he felt Stan placing a hand on his shoulder, a silent gesture to tell his nephew he understood his pain.
Long ago, life taught Roderick that he had to fight for what he wants. And even so, fate could take it away at any time.
Both decided to go back home right away just in case. They got there a few minutes after Dipper and Mabel. The younger pirate soon went to speak with his father, the rest following to the living room, and Stan quickly locked the shop for their little reunion.
"Dad, I saw a navy ship docking earlier…"
"I know. We saw it too." Interrupted Roderick.
"Do you think they could be after me?"
"I find that very unlikely, Dear." The retired captain pirate answered the worried princess. "You see, it's not like the king could just send his entire fleet to stop their missions and go look for you. Though I'm not saying he didn't send at least one to do that and that could be it. However, one navy ship finding this city looking for you in so little time is most likely impossible. We're too far from the capitol and it's not a very small city where they'd imagine pirates would hide a person they kidnapped. But they are here and we better know why and if they are transporting treasures."
"If we get our hands on their treasure, if they have any, it's a good thing, right? Then Mabel can stay with us?" Dipper asked, waving his arms, wondering about the subject, praying it would be enough for the crew to be satisfied, at least for a while.
"I don't think it's that simple, Dude…" Replied Soos, sadly.
"Soos is right. Besides, we don't know anything about how much they have or even if they have something." Roderick said. "And I'm not saying she will stay, we talked about it, Son. Mabel, I know you want to stay, but let's wait a little, okay? Why don't you decide it in a month? Just remember that if you really choose to stay, you probably won't see your father, family or friends ever again."
Mabel's eyes fell, she knew that, if she wasn't coming back, she'd never see Candy and Grenda again, or her aunt or father. She would never again see the place she grew up or the portraits of her mother around the palace. She missed it all so much it hurt. But at the same time, she couldn't live there anymore.
The rules, the etiquette, the lack of freedom to just put her special touch in her clothes, the corsets so tight that she could faint in them, the uncomfortable high heels, the suppressions, and everything that made that place her cage were killing her and she just couldn't take it any longer. She couldn't be herself in there. And it was getting worse over the years with the arrangements for her to be the next queen in the nearby future.
She couldn't go back, but that didn't stop her heart from aching in missing it all. Dipper noticed her sadness and he felt as if a wild horse herd suddenly crushed his heart. He hated seeing her so sad, but life without her would be just too painful. It seemed like his father was right, after all. She'd miss it and she'd want to go back.
"Anyway, we kinda need the money. But how can we know for sure if they have something of value or not? And how would we get it?" Robbie questioned, sitting at the table, arms crossed.
"Well, we would need someone to investigate. Maybe overhear something they could say at the tavern. There's a really big one near the harbor where a lot of people go to. The owner is a good friend and he'd be interested in letting someone work there for the night to overhear something. I was thinking, maybe Robbie and Wendy could disguise themselves, they are young and, in the right clothes, don't look like they could be pirates."
"No, wait. I want to go." Mabel interrupted, surprising everyone. "If they somehow find out you're pirates they'll want to kill you. The navy hates the pirates and if they have a chance to kill at least one of them easily like that, I can't risk you both. I can do this. If they're after me, anyway they don't know what I look like, I never met any navigating officers. All they know about me probably is just a description and that is quite common, cute face with chestnut eyes and long hair. I've seen some girls like that around the city. They won't suspect the princess is working in a tavern and even if they do, they won't harm me. I just don't want you guys risking yourselves. I want to help. I want to be able to be a part of your crew."
"I don't know, Mabel. It might be dangerous."
"Please let me be useful. I can't let you do this and just sit around doing nothing."
"Maybe I could go with Mabel, then. I'm still new at piracy; I can disguise myself with her." Dipper suggested, with a shrug. Roderick let out a long sigh and brought his hand to his eyes, thinking over the subject.
"Geez, you two are gonna give me a headache…" The captain mumbled under his breath. "Very well, then. I'm going to talk with the owner of the tavern and get some clothes for you two to work there tonight… Dipper, you're coming with me. Robbie too, I need you both to tell everyone to lay low, it's better for them not to recognize our ship or our crew…"
The three men stood up and left the house quickly. Soos stayed with Stan to help in the shop. Even before they cleared off the dining table, Mabel turned to Wendy with a big victorious, and anxious, smile.
"Come, Wendy, I'm gonna need your help."
"To prepare myself for the disguise. I need someone to help me do something with my hair to look different than usual, I can't change my face, but I can change what's around it. Let's curl it up."
It didn't take too long for the night to settle and Dipper and Mabel started their shift in the tavern. The princess had never worked somewhere like that, in fact, she barely worked in her entire life. She was scared and excited at the same time, but she wouldn't let herself be shaken up by that, she was Mabel after all; yielding was not an option. She'd gotten through that. She could do this. Surely.
Less than an hour after they started working, Dipper saw her nervousness grow the minute the navigating officers entered the tavern. Some sailors from their crew came as well, sitting at another table. But both teens knew that some people were probably keeping the ship safe as well, though Roderick had said that Soos, Wendy and Robbie would investigate near the harbor.
"Hey, it's okay. You can do it." He assured her.
Mabel smiled at Dipper; his confidence in her was something that so few had ever shown. Usually people would just underestimate her for acting silly, even though she was very smart. She loved that about him.
Both were wearing clothes similar the other waiters and waitresses. While the girls were sporting white shirts, a light brown bodices, tight enough to show their feminine curves, though not as tight as the corsets the princess used to wear at the palace, light red long skirts and white aprons in the front. The guys were wearing white shirts and aprons, open brown vests, light red trousers and common shoes. This time, Dipper wasn't sporting his usual black boots; he was wearing very boring brown shoes like everyone else.
"It's show time." She mumbled, holding the empty wooden tray close to her chest.
Mabel looked different, Wendy helped her curl her hair up, which made it look shorter than usual, though it was still long. A pair of braids pulled her long bangs out of the way, meeting each other at the back of her head, leaving only a few curled strands framing her face. She hoped it would be enough not to be associated with the image they could have of the princess, after all, if they never saw her or any portraits, they couldn't recognize her at all.
With a sigh, both started their jobs, waiting at the navigating officers' table. Little did they know, Stan and Roderick were observing it all from afar, very distant and hidden from anyone's sight.
As the navy men sat, Dipper and Mabel began to work, hearing them complain about their duties.
"That last city was so boring. I just wish we can get to our destination soon…" One of them said, he had astonishing green eyes and light blonde hair.
"At least this city has good things to see." Another added looking at the pretty waitress. Mabel just smiled and bit her lower lip in a slightly flirtatious way.
"Should we get some beverages for you, gentlemen?" She asked and they agreed, telling her what they wanted.
While she went to get what they wanted, Dipper excused himself and started cleaning the table as invisibly as he could, aiming to hear their conversation. In fact, it wasn't that difficult to be invisible when Mabel was around. Her cheerfulness and unique beauty was enough to get the attention of pretty much everyone in there as she passed by.
"Anyway…" The one with short curly black hair replied. "You heard the news, right? Some people commenting earlier about the princess, apparently, she was kidnapped by pirates or something." The man then looked at the waiter, cleaning and stuff, he didn't pay much attention at first, but he felt like there was something fishy with that boy.
"Wasn't she about to be wed or something? I heard rumors like that…" The one with the green eyes commented with a shrug.
"Those weren't rumors, stupid. The king arranged a marriage to Prince Gideon." The man with that long dark brown hair tied in a tiny low ponytail replied, he seemed to be the youngest of the group, 18 or so.
"You mean that young prince known as Gleeful Gideon? They say he's awesome and he really cares for his people, always visiting the poorest ones and providing what they need."
"Although they probably didn't even know each other, I bet he'll be a great husband and a good future king."
Dipper already didn't like Gideon. He seemed perfect, for both her and the kingdom. And he didn't like it. Just the thought of someone like that made him shiver in anger. No one would be good enough for his princess. Not even some snobby prince from another realm. And the fact that he could have her that easily hurt the young pirate a lot. He would never be able to give her half of what she deserved, things a powerful future king could easily provide her.
"Yeah, you mean husband if the princess ever returns. We know we can't trust the scum of a pirate. I just hope she's still alive." Offended, the 16-year-old waiter in disguise winced trying to ignore the insults of that arrogant blonde officer.
"Of course she is. Those greedy scum only want money and to get it she has to be alive."
She's very well, alive and happy, thank you very much. Dipper thought sarcastically to himself. He pushed away his feelings the best he could, he couldn't mess this up. And he wouldn't.
That was when Mabel came back with their drinks.
"So, gentlemen, would you like to order your food now?"
"Is there lamb with potatoes?"
"It just happens to be the specialty of the house. But you know, in order to be served fast, as it is custom, I'll need some tips. You seem so important and wealthy, you would have some tips for me, right?"
Dipper's jaw dropped to the ground. Geez, she was good. She went straight to the point, no stalling here. And she was playing her part marvelously. He noticed the blonde guy with the green eyes placing a bold hand on her waist, with a full-of-second-intention smile towards his girl. Okay, maybe she was playing her part a little too well. She could stop the flirting smiles and giggles right about now.
"For you, my dear, anything." Dipper resisted the urge to roll his eyes and spill something on that stupid navy uniform; but he was stronger than that.
"Indeed." The one with the black curly hair agreed. "Why don't you sit with us for a while, Girl? We'd enjoy your company."
"That's a very sweet invitation, but I can't. I have to work. I need the money. Maybe you could help me out a bit, right? Such distinguished men like you working for the king are probably on an important mission around the realm." She praised them, inflating their egos. "Anyway, what brings you here to this little city?"
"You are a curious girl, aren't you?" The man with the dark brown hair in a ponytail noted. By then, the black haired one took another glance at Dipper. He was recognizing the boy from somewhere; he just needed to know where.
"Surely so. But can you blame a humble girl like me for being so impressed by your remarkable presence?" She finished, biting her lips in a flirtatious way. "I'm taking your orders now."
"Sure. And since we're hungry, here's a tip for you." The blonde one said, slipping some coins in her apron pocket. And then she left with a beautiful smile.
Meanwhile, Stan and Roderick were watching everything. They couldn't really hear all that was said, the whole tavern was noisy and full of people, but they could see them and read between the lines.
"Geez, that girl is awfully good! We need her on our crew, don't you agree?" The old uncle asked. But his nephew didn't answer; he just kept silent watching Dipper and Mabel, his mind full of thoughts.
Dipper refilled the men's drinks in silence, just hearing them talk more about boring duties, pretty girls and crowded cities they passed. Suddenly something snapped to the black haired officer; he had finally recognized the boy.
"I know him! I've seen him with pirates earlier he's one of them!" He yelled and grabbed Dipper's arm.
The problem of the waiter disguise was that he didn't have his sword with him, only a hidden dagger he was trying to reach with his left, and free, hand. All of the navy men at the table quickly stood up, drawing their swords. Fighting against only one unarmed young man was way too cowardly and easy, though, that didn't stop them.
Waiting on another table nearby, Mabel looked at him in fear. She knew the navy men would want to kill him on sight, any association with pirates was despicable and she couldn't bear the thought of someone hurting her pirate.
"You don't know who I am. You have no idea." Dipper said trying to break free but keeping a calm façade and a very prideful hint of smile on his lips. He loved to be a pirate like his father and he was proud of it. He managed to reach the handle of his dagger and was preparing to fight. "But I will tell you, I'm-"
However he couldn't continue because Mabel jumped on a table, catching everyone's attention, and yelled at the top of her lungs. She acted before anyone could do anything, even before Roderick and Stan could stand up. The captain would never let them hurt his son, though he didn't have enough time to react, both uncle and nephew just stared awestruck by the girl's boldness. And what she did was really something she didn't want to do, but it was the only thing she could do to stop an imminent fight. Those officers seemed so disgusted by the possibility of Dipper being a pirate she just knew they were about to kill him right then and there, given the chance.
"I'm the missing princess!" Dipper's jaw dropped and all he could do was shake his head as if to tell her not to do this.
That very suspicious officer with the black curly hair laughed and got closer to her, pointing a challenging sword at Mabel, leaving the blond one securing Dipper.
"Ha! You are not gonna fool me, Girl. And if you're working with him and the pirates we might as well just kill you too."
"Well, too bad for you I am who I claim to be." She huffed while knocking the sword away from her by snapping the flat part of it with the back of her hand. "And if you try to lay a hand on me, my father, the King, will know and I believe your punishment for hurting his daughter will be worse than your darkest nightmares."
She spoke so fiercely that all of the men gulped, antsy, most of them put their swords back right away while others didn't really know what to do. Speaking like that, even with commoner's outfit, she looked like the princess she claimed to be.
"If you're really the princess, what are you doing here?"
"Unless you're stupid or deaf you already heard news about my kidnapping. Turns out I was being held captive in this city and this boy you were about to punish unduly, had just managed to help me escape and we were laying low so we could search for someone to take me back home. Now, are you the men I'm searching for or should I keep looking?"
"No, Milady. You found what you were looking for." One of them said.
"Great. Now release the boy."
The man holding Dipper let him go immediately and he ignored the pain in his wrist, all he could do was stare in disbelief at the girl he'd grown to love.
"We'll leave soon, Your Royal Highness."
"Good. Help me down." She said to the nearest man who promptly raised a hand to assist her off of the table and to the floor. Dipper gulped and slowly walked until he was in front of her. "Now I must bid farewell to the one who helped me escape." Getting the hint, the navy men backed away to give her some privacy, yet, they weren't stupid, and she wouldn't leave their sight until they received some compensation from the king himself.
"Mabel, you can't do this!" Dipper brought himself to whisper to her. "You have to leave! You have to run away! I can stall them, I don't care what they'll do to me, but I can't let you go with them. I can't let them send you to your cage, you told me it was worse than…"
"I know what I said, Dipper. But I knew they might kill you just then, you saw that they were a bit high from their rum and the despise for pirates. But they won't harm me."
"I know they won't, they'll do something worse and you know it. If you go back you'll have to marry that irritatingly perfect Prince Gideon and…"
"I know. It seems like I just can't escape my fate. But I discovered something even worse than living with a broken spirit."
"And what could that be?" Dipper asked with a raspy voice, not imagining anything like that. Mabel smiled sadly.
"Living in a world without you in it." She sighed heavily so she could hold back the urge to cry; though she felt her eyes weren't wet yet, she knew it would happen any moment now. "You saved me, and now I saved you. We're even."
"Mabel, don't go, please. I can handle them."
"If you had your sword maybe you could. But you don't have it now and I can't risk you getting hurt, or worse, because of me. So it's okay. I really enjoyed my time here. I'll never forget you."
"Please don't! It's not! I-"
"I love you." Her voice was so low she only knew he heard her because he stopped talking to stare at her blankly. He was so surprised he just couldn't react. Everything seemed like a terrible nightmare that he hoped he'd wake up from with her by his side. For a moment, he felt like the world had stopped spinning.
Mabel got up on her tiptoes and lightly kissed his cheek. She wished she could give him a proper goodbye kiss, however, she knew that the navy men were close and watching, kissing him on the lips would only blow their cover.
"I'm ready to go." She announced to the men and walked away, not one of them lost a second going after her like bees following honey. And soon, Dipper was left alone in the tavern, wishing he could have done something. But now, she was gone.