"Hey, Soos." Dipper greeted the next day.
The chubby young man was on the gun deck, cleaning all the cannons, not because it was his duty, but because he liked to work. Dipper took a deep breath, savoring the seawater smell he liked so much.
"Hey, Dude? Whasup?"
Soos had the same smile as always on his face, just happy to be alive. He was probably one of Dipper's the favored friends in the whole world, always with good humor and a badly shaved goatee beard. While sailing, he was rarely without his trusty red head bandana, dark green vest, and red waist cloth underneath the leather brown belt that secured his sword in place. The good-humored man wasn't really the kind to just pick fights and stuff; in fact, he almost never used his sword, though he knew how to use it when necessary.
"I don't know, I guess I'm fine…"
"You don't look cool, Dude… What happened?" Soos asked, noticing the raspy voice and gloomy expression of his young friend. Dipper shrugged.
"It's the princess… I mean, Mabel…"
"What about her? She's a nice gal." Soos replied standing up, leaving the cannon he was working on completely clean. He slapped his hands against one another to take the dirt off.
Dipper looked at Soos, his dark greenish hazelnut eyes confused. The 16-year-old teen ran a nervous hand through his hair.
"She is. The thing is that last night, she told me she wants to stay with us. And I don't know, it's so weird… I feel like maybe something was wrong in the castle… Or is it just me being too paranoid?" Confused, Dipper more asked himself than his friend, raising both arms in a questioning gesture.
"Well, you are a little bit too paranoid form time to time…"
"Come on, you can't deny the truth."
And Dipper sighed, already defeated. "Yeah, I guess you're right…"
"What are you going to do about that?"
"I'll talk to my father… See what he thinks about it…"
"Hey, Dude, wouldn't it be nice if she stayed? It would be nice to have another girl on the ship. And Princess Mabel has a good smell. I like good smelling people. Maybe we could have a party like last night every week. I'd like that!" Soos concluded with a slight laugh, and Dipper managed to smile just a bit.
"Yeah. I guess you're right, Soos. Anyway, I gotta go. Talk to you later, Man."
"Bye, Dude. And chill out. Everything will be fine."
Dipper waved, smiling, but said nothing. Sometimes Soos was just too positive to see that not all things turned out okay. And that was what was troubling the young, paranoid mind of the second in command.
It was late afternoon and his father was sitting on a chair in the navigation room, there was a map on the table, but Dipper knew his father didn't need it to go to Salus City. Roderick had made the journey or trip so many times he probably knew how to get there blindfolded.
The night before, Mabel had asked him not to send her back. He'd been struggling to talk with his father ever since.
"So, Dad, I've been wanting to talk to you about something all day... and last night..."
"It shouldn't be so hard, Son. We are sleeping in my quarters, after all." Roderick said, relaxed, drinking a cup of mead. "What do you want, Kid?" Dipper closed the door and made his way to sit on a chair near his father.
"It's just… Well, you see, the princess, I mean, Mabel asked me not to send her back to the palace…" His voice trailed off as he looked at the captain, he was holding the cup midway to his mouth, and he had an eyebrow raised. "Dad, she wants to stay."
There was a moment of tense silence. And then, Roderick had a laughing fit. Dipper just stood there, looking awkwardly to the sides until his father finally managed to stop laughing.
"Are you done now?"
"Yeah. Sure. Let me guess, she wants to go on adventures, right?"
"She didn't say exactly…" Dipper started, but then he remembered the night he kidnapped her, she did say she always wanted to see the world and get into an adventure. "Yeah… I guess it's something like that…"
"Look, Son, of course she wants to see the world, she probably never left the castle, or at least I never heard news about the princess visiting the capitol when I passed there. But in the end, she'll miss her home and her perfect court life. She'll miss her family and friends and then, she'll want to go back."
"How can you be so sure?"
"Dipper, who would trade their lives and their family for the unknown? Who would trade an easy pampered existence for a hard-working life-style, risking his neck every day? I mean, it is what we want and like, but Mabel? She was born a princess. Right now, this is all new to her and it seems so interesting. But it won't be for long."
"But what do we do? It's not like I can just kick her back to the palace if she doesn't want to. It doesn't seem fair."
"Oh, Son. I told you it was not going to be a regular ransom, remember?" Dipper nodded. "I told you we'd stay with her for a while. I'm planning somewhere around a month. And I did leave a note for the king about her kidnapping that night. He'll be worried sick about her, and then he will be willing to give us everything we want to have his daughter back. And by then, she'll be tired of our life-style and will want to go back on her own. We get our money, she gets to see the world and enjoy some adventures, the king will have his daughter unharmed and we'll all be able to live our lives as if nothing ever happened. Except that we'll be much richer."
"Well, I never really thought things through like that, but… I don't know. When she asked me not to send her back it was as if she was about to cry or something."
"Kid, it could have been many things. She could be over reacting, she could be scared with what we could do to her, she could have been sad about not having the chance to see the world. The list could go on."
"Yeah… I guess you're right…" Dipper admitted, yet he could smell a rat.
"Anyway, Son, the problem you should worry about if she wants to stay longer than that, is the crew. You know there's really good people, like Soos, who wouldn't mind waiting a little longer to get the ransom. Geez, he's so nice he probably wouldn't even mind if he didn't receive anything. But the rest? Well, the majority are more like Robbie, they hate the king and anything to do with him and they'd do anything to get their hands on gold. Even mutiny if they need to."
"I know…" Dipper mumbled under his breath. He stood up, deciding to go back to his duties.
His father was right and he knew it. He should have known, he should have thought it though better; after all, Dipper was the one planning stuff. Though apparently, his dad had this ransom covered from head to toe. It made Dipper remember how well experienced his father was in piracy. He was about to open the door when Roderick's voice called his attention and he turned to face his serious captain before his hand grabbed the knob.
"But remember what I told you when it all began, Son. You can't fall for her. It will only make things more difficult. Even if she doesn't want to go back now, she'll miss her family, her home. She'll want to go back. And when she does leave, if you get too attached to her, it will only bring you wasted years and endless torment."
"Are you saying that because you still miss my mom? Even today?"
"I miss her every day. And I don't want the same for you, Son. So harden your heart. It will be better for everyone. Just enjoy the moments while they last. But remember that they will come to an end and it will be sooner than you realize."
"Aye. You're right. I must go now." His son replied sadly and walked away, closing the door behind him.
A few hours later, Dipper found Mabel at the galley.
She was sitting at a table with Soos, Wendy and Robbie and there was a crowd of people around them. The princess was smiling truthfully, not mocking or anything, just cluelessly all around. The pirates around them were cheering and commenting. Wendy and Soos looked like they couldn't stop laughing while Robbie, on the other hand, seemed stressed.
Just then, Dipper noticed quite a big pile of golden coins in front of her and cards in their hands. Dipper raised an eyebrow. Were his eyes deceiving him or they were really playing some card game, betting and Mabel was, well, winning?
"Urg!" Robbie expounded, suddenly exasperated. "It's not fair, she doesn't even know what we're playing!"
"Hum… cards?" She asked, confused and Dipper held a laugh under his breath. Wendy didn't make an effort to hide her laughter.
"I don't even have money to bet anymore! She's stealing everything!"
"She's not stealing, Robbie, she's winning fairly."
"Dude, why don't you bet chores now? If you win, she'll have to do them for you." Soos gave the idea, and people around them started cheering and betting their own chores.
"I bet my turn to scrub the main floor deck that Robbie will get some points next time." A black bearded pirate said. "Well I bet my turn to peel potatoes that she'll kick his ass!" another one said. "I'll wash the dishes if he doesn't save his reputation!"
Robbie looked at them, feeling pressured and angry. Truth to be told, no one had beaten him in any card game for a long time. He was good. Very good. But she was so lucky he didn't even have any golden coins at the table anymore. And he needed to find a way to keep his head. So he made his decision.
"I bet my turn to clean the cannons, all 30 of them, that you won't be able to best me this time." Robbie said confident in himself, putting his cards down.
"Oh, is the game over?" She asked, confused, putting her cards down too, making his jaw drop on the process. She just happened to kick his butt cruelly and she didn't even know it. She had no clue of the fact she was holding the best group of cards in the game.
"Shit!" Robbie exclaimed and started swearing as he banged the table with his fists.
"Should I share it with you now?" She asked innocently.
"No, it's yours." Wendy replied, "You won."
"But I don't need it." Mabel never really needed money for anything, she always had everything she wanted and if she ever wished to buy something, she'd just order people to bring her a chest or a purse with money. She barely even touched it in her life. She was so used to it she kinda forgot the detail that she didn't have that kind of luxury on the ship. But even if she did, she'd rather give it to someone that needed or wanted it more than her.
So she divided the pile into four and distributed it to each of them sitting at the table, slipping her part inside a purse for coins. Dipper recognized it as being one of his father's, he probably gave her some money so she could play a little with them, Roderick probably imagined he'd just waste his coins, but that's not what happened.
"Alright then!" Dipper shouted in an authoritative tone of voice, getting the room's attention. "Show's over, back to work everyone. And if I'm not mistaken, you have some dishes to do, you got to scrub the deck floor and you, Robbie, go on and clean the cannons, all the 30 of them." He pointed to each one as he commanded. They all sighed, annoyed and began to comply. Robbie turned, quite mad, but he didn't say anything except some swearwords under his breath.
Soon the galley was empty, even Wendy and Soos left saying they should get to work as well.
"Wow, people just obey you like that?"
"Well, we're pirates, but even we respect hierarchy. I'm the second in command, so they kinda have to comply if they don't want to walk the plank."
"But… You're so young. Is it because the captain is your father?"
"What? No!" He looked a bit insulted. "I earned it. Being a pirate is all I ever wanted to be, I worked hard to get what I have. I'm not just some royal brat that has everything just because I inherited it."
"Sorry." Her voice was soft and taken aback. He immediately regretted his words.
"No, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that… I just…"
"No, it's okay. You're right. I'll inherit this whole kingdom just because my father rules. But I never asked for it. It's really nice of you to fight so hard for what you want and stand in a high position because you chose it."
"You're making me feel like a jerk right now…"
"You shouldn't. I was the one who thought you didn't deserve what you fight for."
"Anyway… I'm glad to see Robbie's face of defeat." He said gathering the cards on the table. "It's been so long since he lost that it was getting way over his head and it was starting to bug me."
"We were just having fun." She said, happily and totally clueless and it made him laugh a little as he finished collecting all the cards and placing them neatly on the middle of the table. She had already noticed he was kind of an organized person, and she admired it about him. She stood up and gestured to the purse full of golden coins. "I'm going to put it in my chambers now."
Dipper just stood there watching her walk away.
Meanwhile, at the court, things weren't going well. King Albert was restless and frustrated. More than usual. He saw the note Roderick left him in her room when he went himself hurry her, for she was taking awfully long to go down to the damn ball. The party was obviously cancelled immediately.
Your daughter has been taken by pirates right under your nose. She'll be yours within a month unharmed if you pay the right price. Wait for news.
You know who I am.
The words in the note couldn't get out of the king's mind and he had to leave his sister, Mrs. Northwest to take care of the kingdom until he was be up to it once more.
Albert kept wondering who would be capable of doing such a thing, and then, it hit him. The king knew him very well and now he cursed himself for not hanging him when he had the chance all those years ago, before he even became a pirate. He'd have nipped this problem in the bud. But now it was too late.
Mabel's friends and family were devastated; they only wanted to know if she was really okay, wondering just how pirates managed to get her. And her fiancé was angry. Very angry. The minute he heard the news, when the king cancelled the ball, Gideon sent word to his kingdom. He knew he'd have to take measures into his own hands.
And after two days, the people Gideon asked for finally reached him. Both were exhausted and sore. They came riding two horses each, so they could alternate the animals on the way. They barely slept and only stopped for short periods of time to eat. They had to immediately attend the prince's urgent note, they knew who really ruled the kingdom.
"Knights Powers and Trigger, it surely took you long enough to get here."
"We're sorry, Your Royal Highness. We came as soon as possible. What do you require from us?" Powers asked after both bowed to their prince, who was definitely both furious and concerned.
"The princess was taken by pirates, but apparently, it's going to take a while for them to claim their ransom. I want you to find her before then, I want my Sweet Peach back, immediately. Only God knows what they're doing to her, she's probably so scared right now…"
"But how would we do that, Your Royal Highness?" Trigger asked.
"I don't care how. You're my best trackers; find a way to get her back. They're pirates, bribe them with treasures if need be. I'll be willing to pay handsomely to have my Marshmallow back. I'll give some money for that mission as well and compensate both of you if you succeed and you will. If you need to contact me, just send me a dove. I'll be staying here in the capitol until she returns. Do not fail me."
"Of course, my Prince. But we don't even know what she looks like. Could you describe her for us?"
"I can do better." Gideon answered Trigger; his irritating, high-pitched voice boiling in anger. The prince took a few steps down the hall of the palace and stopped in front of a picture. Both trackers closely followed him. "That's the princess. Her name is Mabel and all I know was that she was taken by pirates two nights ago, before the beginning of the ball that we were going to announce our wedding. Find her and bring her to me safe and sound."
Both knights nodded in agreement, taking a long look at the painting, memorizing her features. They could see she was a pretty girl; her chestnut brown hair was up in a bun with a few strands of hair escaping the hairdo. She looked a bit bored and annoyed, maybe for having to stay put for so long so the artist could paint her portrait. She had that entire princess-y make up on and that only left her even more beautiful. A beautiful dress and jewelry were adorning her. The princess's face was turned to the side, almost in profile as she looked up trying to hide her annoyance.
The trackers bowed to their prince and left taking one last glance at the picture. If they were going to search for pirates, the first place they'd be going to look for information was city's the harbor.
Mabel had a small smile that she couldn't get out of her face. The afternoon was cozy with the wind blowing cold yet gently and the sunlight delightfully warm. She had never been so far up north, but she knew it was gonna get chilly at night. She almost jumped from surprise when she felt clothing being draped over her shoulders.
"You're gonna need it, Princess." She could swear she always heard some kind of mocking tone in his voice when he said that word. Then again, she supposed a pirate would always have some issues with royalty. But the thing was that Dipper was trying to keep his distance. He didn't want to be attached to her, so that was why he had been remaining aloof since he talked to his father in the navigation room earlier that day.
"You know you don't have to call me that, right? Especially if we're going to port."
"Just call me by my name, already. It's annoying to be called princess all the time. But thanks for the cloak, it's really sweet of you."
"I didn't give it to you because it's cold. I gave it so you can put the hood on and hide you face just in case anyone might recognize you."
"Okay. We can say however you want to, but I know that you have a good, caring heart." She said, poking his cheek once.
"Yeah, yeah. Just don't let anyone know." He said crossing his arms and leaning to support himself on the wooden taffrail near where she was resting her arms.
"So, what is this city we're gonna port?"
"The name is Salus City. It's a bit crowded; a lot of people go there, but usually not the navy or any kind of royalty. Perfect place to hide you, in front of everyone, yet out of sight."
"And how long are we staying there?"
"As long as the captain commands."
"Have you talked to him? With the Captain. Is he really going to send me back?" She asked rising from the taffrail and pushing strands of hair out of her face, that kept coming because of the wind, while she looked at him with expectation.
"He said he'd think about it." He hated to lie, but all he needed was to buy some time, as Roderick said, she'd want to go back. Eventually.
"Okay…" Mabel mumbled, looking away
"Why? Why you don't want to go back? And don't say 'it's my business', okay? I'm putting in a lot of effort here and I don't even know why."
"You're right. I'll tell you, but only if you promise to keep it a secret. Can you do it?"
"Princess, I'm a pirate, I think I can keep one little secret."
He tried not to notice how beautiful she looked, but it was impossible. Without the fancy dress and rich accessories, she seemed even more beautiful. He wasn't a fool, he noticed how women could be beautiful when they dressed up, but Mabel was different. The lack of overly feminine clothing and jewelry matched her free spirit better.
"Good." Mabel said looking around to guarantee he'd be the only one to hear it. "I hate it there."
"The castle might be beautiful, but to me it was only a cage. A fancy, elegant and enormous one, but a cage nonetheless. And all I wanted was to be free. I hated being told what I had to do and when, never being able to make my own decisions, never even getting to pick whatever I wanted to wear because it wasn't considered graceful and stylish enough. And worst, my dad never really cared for me and was making me marry a prince from the neighboring land… All I wanted to do was to get away and see the world."
"Then why didn't you?"
"Don't you think I tried? I lost count of how many times I managed to get out of the castle's walls just to be caught by my dad's guards and be dragged back unwillingly. Two days before you kidnapped me, my dad told me about my soon to be husband and introduced him to me." She confessed, crossing her arms and diverting her eyes as she remembered the events. "That ball on the day of the kidnapping was to tell everyone about the wedding. And the day before, I discovered my dad had sold my horse to someone he didn't even mention just so I couldn't try to run away again since the previous time I tried I almost succeeded."
"That's… That's awful."
"So yes, I don't want to go back there. As you know, I've been trying to run away for some time now. And I didn't even care when my dad said I wouldn't last a day outside of the castle's walls. I knew it would be worth it. But of course I miss people in there. Not a lot of them, though. Just the ones who really cared about me and whom I know I can really trust, and I could use a single hand to count them. Most people in there are just for appearances and they wouldn't care for anyone but themselves."
"A castle full of people and you can't even find just five who actually care for you?"
Mabel made a small smile and shook her head slowly from side to side, replying in a whisper, "No."
"Not even if you count me in?"
Her smile turned to a more sincere one. "Well, maybe if I count you in I can use a full hand to count them."
Dipper raised his lips in a very attractive smile and slowly reached for her right hand, holding her little finger gently. She had to ignore the butterflies on her stomach when he touched her.
"And who would that be?"
Mabel sighed with a small smile. "My aunt Mary, who practically raised me."
"And this one?" He asked kindly grabbing the nearest finger.
"My ladies, the only two girls that understand me and tried to help me escape, Candy and Grenda." She said the last name after a small pause, gesturing the third finger. Instead of asking, he just got the next finger. "Old McGucket, he's the man who takes care of the stables, he used to take care of my mother's horse and mine and he actually helped me escape a few times by leaving my horse ready to run away."
"And this?" He said getting hold of the thumb and last finger on her hand.
Mabel looked up at him, into his dazzling chestnut eyes. She could get lost in them in a heartbeat. She tried to remember everyone else in the palace, but she couldn't recall anyone else that might care for her and whom she could trust so she guessed that if she was taking so long, there probably wasn't anyone else. But it was okay, she liked quality over quantity better.
He looked at her a bit sadly and deeply intense. How could someone not care for her that much? He barely knew her and he thought he'd already be willing to do anything to put a single, sincere smile on her face.
"So that's why you left? Because it was nothing but a fancy cage with not even a handful of people whom you can trust?"
"Yes. But not only that."
"What else, then?"
She actually had no intention in saying it, but when she found herself she just couldn't help it.
"Because I know if I stayed it wouldn't be long until I'd encounter a fate worse than death."
"And what would that be?" He frowned, confused. She took a deep breath, looking intently into his brown eyes until she finally managed to choke out a few words.
"Living with a broken spirit."