The ship finally made it to the city's harbor and a ramp was put between the vessel and the port. It took some time before the captain authorized them to leave, he had orders to issue and stuff to settle before they could depart the ship. And when they did, Mabel just couldn't stop looking around with her mesmerized brown eyes.
Everything was so vibrant, so amazing, so full of movement and color, so full of people everywhere, she just couldn't stop taking it all in. Mabel always wanted to see beyond the palace's walls. Inside the castle everything used to be so boring and dumb, except when there were parties, then, the great hall would be filled with music, dances and joy. Though balls and commemorations didn't happen the way she wanted them to.
But walking on the streets of this city was something different. She liked being around people, with movement, with life. It was vibrant and exciting. Dipper laughed slightly behind her and gently grabbed her hand when she started to drift off away from them.
"You know, you're supposed to look normal so we can keep a low profile."
"I know…" She mumbled, still smiling joyfully. "But what's the problem anyway? It's not like anyone saw me before, right? I almost never got out of the castle anyway, so only the servants and the kingdom nobles know what I look like and as far as I can tell, there's none of either here, right?"
"It's true. But don't call too much attention, okay? And let's go. I'm hungry and we still have to cook." So he started pulling her with quick steps, she sauntered down the streets after him. Roderick was just ahead of them.
"Well, guys, I'll see you later." Wendy announced waving goodbye. "I'm gonna see my family now." Robbie then pulled her into a kiss before she walked away. Soos and Robbie kept following them to Stan's place.
It took them 15 minutes more walking into the city, dodging carriages as well as people working and carrying stuff from place to place.
"Isn't it all so wonderful? So beautiful?" She asked Dipper.
"Hum… no. Not at all. I mean, not only because it's pretty normal to me but also I don't really like crowded places. It's like you just can't sneeze without everyone looking at you like some kind of foreigner. It's so stupid."
"Uhh, looks like someone has some staring issues around here…" She teased.
"I don't have issues of people around me, I have issues with stupid people acting stupid."
"Do you think I'm stupid? Just because I like to joke around?" Her voice was soft and calm, but with a hint of insecurity hidden behind it as she raised an eyebrow. Dipper just shrugged, and if he noticed the hidden feelings or not, he didn't let it show.
"Nah. You're weird rather than stupid. But it's a cool weird, I guess. Just don't let it get over your head or the crown won't fit."
"Well, thank you, mister pirate. You're not that bad yourself."
"Anyway, we're here."
She looked in the direction he pointed and saw a shop; it was small compared to the brick-made building. However, it looked quite full of stuff inside, she could see through the slightly dirty window beside the wooden door. The window was the kind that couldn't open; it was just to see inside and was made in a diamond-shape pattern. Over the entrance, painted in red, there was a sign that stated, "Mystery Shack".
"Oh, it's so adorable!"
Dipper smiled at the girl's happiness. How could someone be so happy-like all the time? It was like she could lift anyone's spirit being so weirdly funny. He loved that about her. Well, he meant he liked that about her. Because he didn't love her at all. Not one bit, obviously.
"We're gonna go inside through the shop entrance, but there's another door behind it, it leads to inside the house, not the shop." Roderick explained. "There's a small living room and a quite big kitchen, with a large table so we can all sit at. On the upper floor there are three rooms and you're gonna stay in one of them. If you promise to behave, we may let you without locking the door or the windows."
"Oh, Captain, I mean, Roderick." She corrected herself very quickly and then waved her hand in a 'come on' kinda way. "Pfff, why would I do that when you're being so kind to me?"
"Good girl. We don't want any problems, do we? I know you ain't gonna do something stupid." He said, "Now let's get inside the shop."
The captain led the way and she went right behind, the other guys following as well. They entered the shop and found an old man behind a counter. His clothes were commoner's, like everyone else she saw, but they were very clean and neat.
"Welcome to the Mystery Shack." The man said, opening his arms in a hospitable gesture.
"Hey, Grunkle Stan." Dipper greeted.
"So you're Dipper's famous Grunkle."
"I see my favorite grand-nephew told you about me…"
"Hum… I'm your only grand-nephew…" The young teen said in an annoyed, matter-of-fact, tone of voice.
"Anyway, are you sure you got the right girl? I expected a really naggy royal princess and not some smiling, pretty one."
"Oh, the stereotypes." She said waving her hand. "Anyhow… I don't mean to be rude, but I'm indeed getting very hungry now. Would you have something for us?"
"But of course. Soos, your girlfriend Melody is in the kitchen. I asked her to make something for us since I knew you'd be getting here around noon. You're a bit earlier than I expected, though."
"The wind helped us with that. We'll go there, then. Come one, guys." Roderick ordered, entering an opening behind the counter, the door that connected the shop to the inside of the house.
"I'll be in shortly, I just have to close the shop for lunch time." Stan informed them as they entered.
Mabel noticed that the house was very simple, but not miserable. It was a commoner's one, however not the poor kind, and if she remembered well, Dipper mentioned that Stan lived alone now and it was a 3 room house, which meant that the shop could bring in enough for him to support it. The small living room had a couch and an armchair, both seemed quite old and the table in the middle of the room looked like it was even more so. Even though visibly antiquated, everything was organized and clean.
They soon passed through the kitchen, which, judging by the big, aged wooden table alongside the oven, washbasin and big wooden shelf to store food, was big enough to include a dining room. In the middle of the kitchen there was a beautiful, slightly chubby woman, happily cooking.
The woman was Soos's girlfriend and they soon introduced her to Mabel. As they explained to her, Melody was a neighbor, living by herself in a small house and she usually helps Stan with the shop or bringing him food whenever he wanted, since he didn't have time to cook himself most of the time. It was rather apparent that he paid for her help so she could in return pay her bills.
They helped Melody set the table and they were all sitting there quickly to eat lunch together.
Mabel looked around the full table. It wasn't very large, she was used to enormous ones, probably 3 to 5 times bigger than this. Yet, even when there were a lot of people around her, she usually felt lonely. Making small talk and commenting on stupid stuff with those sitting around her without even really remembering their names, but she had to sit with them nonetheless.
The feeling she had sitting around these pirates, people she barely even knew, was different, she couldn't explain how or if it was better or worse. She only knew it was different.
As soon as they finished having lunch, they put their dishes in the washbasin, but before they could do anything else, Melody offered to wash all so they could rest a little from the trip.
"Well, guys, why don't you go upstairs to change and stuff, tomorrow will be a big day. I'll go back to the shop." Stan suggested.
"Sure. Come, Mabel, I'll show you your temporary room." Dipper said gesturing the way with his hand.
The princess walked right up the stairs behind the young pirate. There were three rooms there, just like Roderick had said and Dipper gestured to one of them. The upper floor seemed smaller than the first floor, with enough space for only the three rooms, but they looked quite spacious. He opened the door and left room for her to pass.
"Here it is. This is going to be your room while we're here. Just feel comfortable or whatever."
"Thanks." She said taking a look inside. "May I ask something?"
"Is this your room, too?"
"Well… Yeah… How do you know?"
"It's just that I see guy's clothes like the ones you use on the bed, and on the drawer… and in that corner."
"What?" His head soon turned to the places she mentioned and pointed and he blushed as he realized he didn't really clean his room the last time he was on the shore. "Sorry… Washing clothes is a waste of time…" He mumbled, embarrassed, before entering and picking up the dirty laundry spread over the room, while pretending not to hear the soft and adorable giggle of hers being contained by a hand on her mouth.
"I'm sorry to be taking your room again."
"It's okay. I'll just crash in the guest room with my dad. It's bigger anyway, so…" With a shrug, he ended the sentence as if it didn't matter.
"Anyway, I'm honored with all the care you've been giving me."
"Well, wether we want it or not, you're still a princess and we don't want to hurt you. We just want the money."
"Of my ransom." He mentally slapped himself when he heard her sweet voice sad like that; it was almost heartbreaking. Almost.
"Or anything else." He said assuringly. "Look, I think it's too soon for you to decide if you want to stay here or not. But if you do, all we gotta do is find some other way to get money and treasure."
"Thanks… And would you have something for me to change into? I'd like to bathe now."
"I think my dad left some stuff for you in the top drawer. The other ones are mine, so don't touch them, okay?" It sounded like a question, but the words carried a demanding tone. Mabel nodded. "There's a basin and sponge and soap over there. I think here'd be the best place for you to do it; no one will come to disturb you. Just come down when you feel like it, okay?"
She then entered and he left, closing the door behind him. Mabel locked the door and even though it was day, she lit a lamp so she could close the wooden panel of the window for some privacy. She looked around; despite the dirty clothes he collected, the room was quite organized.
As soon as she entered the room, the princess could see the bed with the head board touching the middle of the wall on her right, there was a bedside table in front of it, also touching the same wall. Behind the bed, on the wall opposite of the door, she could see a stand filled with books. And on the left wall, sat a drawer, an old wooden table, and a chair beside it. She walked closer and saw a lamp and some books and papers all over the table.
Mabel opened the top drawer and found several items: a simple white nightgown and apron, two different sets of clothes, both complete with long skirts, shirts and bodices as well as other accessories. She even found attar of lavender, olive oil for her hair and a cream for her skin in the left corner. She smiled as she realized captain Roderick really tried to do whatever he could to make her feel comfortable during her stay with them. They were nothing like the description of pirates she had ever heard of and she was glad for it.
On the drawer there was a basin and a jar of water. She only needed to go back down to get soap, a sponge, a little bit of apple vinegar and bicarbonate of soda so she could get started in cleaning herself up.
It didn't take her long to finish, wetting a bit of the floor in the process, but she just left it there to air dry. The princess toweled herself off with a thick piece of cloth also found in the top drawer. She didn't forget to put a little bit of the attar of lavender on her hair to get rid of the smell of vinegar. Then she happily put on the salmon shirt and a dark blue corselet-like vest over it and a light purple long skirt before she went back down with the towel-like cloth over her dripping hair hanging on her left shoulder.
When she reached the bottom of the stairs, Mabel saw Roderick lighting the fireplace before sitting next to it in the armchair. Dipper was sprawled on the sofa that didn't really look like it was so comfortable. The young pirate didn't seem to care, though. He was just talking to his father mindlessly looking at nothing, but he kinda lost words at the sight of her.
"Hi, Mabel." The captain greeted. "Come and join us by the fireplace, get yourself warm after your bath. It's probably much colder here than your palace."
"It is indeed, but I'll manage."
Dipper quickly sat up straight in the middle of the sofa, being sure to divert his eyes from her. Geez, he was glad she was wearing that dark vest, he didn't think he'd be able to look away, especially if the pink shirt became a bit transparent with her wet hair slightly dripping over her chest. She sat next him on the sofa, nearest the fireplace, putting her hands closer to it to feel the radiating warmth.
"This is so cozy!" She giggled. "Cozy is such a funny word!"
"Hum. I think I heard Stan calling me, I better go check it out…" Dipper mumbled, getting up and walking away before anyone but himself notice his tomato-red face.
Roderick shrugged, not really paying attention to his son's sudden departure and just relaxed on Stan's favorite armchair.
"Despite being kidnapped and all, are you having a good time here?"
"Sure. I mean, you were kind enough to get everything I needed. Even olive oil for my hair and stuff like that. That was very sweet of you."
"Well, some fair lady once told me that beautiful skin, hair and its care are essential for a girl's appearance. So I put stuff like the ones she used for you. It was the least we could do."
"I'm still very grateful. You know, you're nothing like the tales of pirates I heard. It's so weird… I mean, I knew the moment I saw Dipper he wasn't a bad guy, but I didn't expect all of you to be so nice."
"But don't let us fool, you, Princess. Those stories you heard, probably most of them are totally true. I met some pirates that would torture their victims just for fun. We are a huge exception. Money and treasure are what matter for us. We have no reason to harm you, though those pirates I know, well, you wouldn't want to cross their pathes. Really. They're dangerous and if I get the chance, I'd kill them because I know they'd look for revenge and when you have something to care about, you can't let yourself give your enemy the chance to harm it."
At that moment, something like a thousand questions ran through the girl's mind. Did he already lose someone like that? Who was it? Was it Dipper's mother? If Stan was Dipper's grand-uncle, Stan must have had a sibling that was probably Roderick's mother or father, and if that's the case, maybe it could have been the person who was hurt by his enemy? Or maybe they tried to hurt Dipper, his only son? Something bad happened in his past. What it could have been?
But before she could ask anything, Roderick cleaned his throat and continued talking. She got the massage; he didn't want to speak about it.
"Anyway, Melody's food is great, isn't it? She's coming later to make us dinner. She makes a delicious stew."
"I imagine she usually cooks for you for a long time?"
"Not so long, but for some years now. It wasn't long after that Soos starting to date her."
"Oh, so cute. And are they compromised or something?"
"Not yet. Soos is kinda saving money so he can buy a house or something to support both of them. Melody lost her parents to the fever long ago; she now lives alone in a small house. Soos sleeps in here so bad rumors about her won't be spread. But I know he likes her and she likes him back. Anyway, she likes to help out Stan when we're away, he obviously pays her for that."
"Of course…" She mumbled, staring at the flames snapping and dancing while burning the wood. She was so nervous she felt her lips get dry and she had to lick them before continuing. She had to do that little piece of selfishness. "Roderick, I know it would be awful, but if I asked to stay with you pirates… would you allow it?"
Mabel turned her eyes to the captain and he seemed thoughtful, wondering his answer while looking at her with attention, as if he was studying her and her true intentions.
"I guess we could give it a try. If possible." The captain concluded.
Her smile turned out small. She thought she would be happier, but the truth was that she didn't really feel that he actually believed she wanted to stay or that it was possible.
"Hey guys! I'm back! I've heard Melody is making stew tonight!" Wendy said from the door.
"Girl, how can you eat so much and still be so skinny? Seriously, just stop that, you need to get stronger. You're a pirate, remember?" Roderick joked.
"Hello, Wendy. Nice to see you again." Mabel said standing up. "But if you excuse me, I think I'll finish drying my hair upstairs."
And then she was up. She didn't know how long she stayed in there, but no one went to disturb her. Except for hunger. It soon took her over and she went back down again, now her hair was dry, which made her not feel so cold anymore. However, she still needed to get something to eat. As she descended, she began hearing voices. After a few days in the ship, she was already capable of telling whose voice was speaking.
First she head Wendy and Dipper talking about something like setting the table, and then there was Roderick's voice, Soos, and Melody. They all seemed quite happy. And hungry, too, but Melody said it would still take a while for supper to be ready, so they might as well eat a piece of biscuit or bisket-bread just to not starve until it was dinnertime. She was about to enter and say she wanted some as well, but then Robbie's voice came as bored and frustrated as ever.
"Captain, I've been wanting to talk to you about something. Earlier today, back in the ship, I heard some men complaining. They want their money and they're afraid what they have from last raid won't be enough to last long if it takes too long to get the ransom. So when are we getting it?"
"We're getting it when we get it." Roderick's voice was suddenly deep and deadly serious. "And tell them not to waste everything they have on drinks and bitches. It will take a while until we get the ransom. If I'm not clear enough, they're welcome to walk down the bloody plank the next time we set sail."
"Aye, Captain!" Robbie answered immediately.
"And Dipper, go with him. You're second in command so show a bit of authority."
"Aye, Captain." His son said going out of the door after his mate. No one saw Mabel on the way between the stairs and the kitchen entrance.
The princess gulped, ignoring the wetness forming in her eyes. She couldn't go back. It was just not an option. Mabel knew she had no other choice, if she wanted to be free, if she wanted to never return to what was waiting for her at the palace, she'd have to take matters into her own hands.
The crew wouldn't agree in not receiving their parts just for her to be free. They were pirates and money and treasure were more important than someone else's feelings. So she decided to leave. Now, before anyone noticed she was gone. She only went back up to get the cloak Dipper gave her to shelter her from the cold night and tip-toed back down.
While everyone was having conversations in the kitchen, she jumped out the window ignoring the hunger she was feeling and whispering apologies to no one in particular. They had been kind and gentle to her; she wanted them to get what they wanted. But she was not going back to the palace if she could prevent it.