And now for the final installment. Welcome to coffeeisGOD, samiwatkins, MaggieKelley, that1weirdkid, Kitsymi, and (DUN DUN DUN NUUUU!) Crazy Cat Lady! It is such an honour to have the author who inspired this tale read and enjoy my story! I want to send my very sincere thanks to everyone who has provided feedback and support during the past few months - you've all made this experience so rich for me. Although I can't say for sure if or when I'll write more Disney femslash the positive reaction I've got from this community certainly makes me more inclined to continue writing within it.
Note: The song 'Mother Sea' is real and comes from the Australian film "Dot and the Whale". It is owned by Yoram Gross Film Studios Pty. Ltd. If you are interested in hearing the film version check it out here: watch?v=cLMLSNW3M2w
Epilogue: Mother Sea
"Lumière the way you're behaving is indecent! Please try to keep your lecherous tendencies in check at least while his highness has guests."
"Oh Cogsworth, do not begrudge a man the odd pinch of a lady's tush. Why, I remember that Madam – Bever was it? That you so eagerly -."
"If you'd please," the exasperated man muttered, casting an eye in Ariel's direction, "we have important company present."
"Don't be silly Cogsworth. I've been here for over a month; I'm practically part of the furniture." The woman's rich and friendly tone instantly melted each man's heart.
"Please pardon our behaviour Madame, we are a little – if you'll pardon the pun – rusty at entertaining guests." The ever-performing Lumièrereplied.
Chuckling politely Ariel followed them into the grand ballroom where servants, acquaintances and friends were gathered around the newlywed Adam and Ilse. Although Ariel still had trouble associating their giant, furry companion with this dashing young man, his familiar manner and camaraderie was helping her come to terms with this new Adam. There was no doubt that he was a prince, in looks or endowment. His assets had bought him a set of tuxes from the finest tailors and a matching wardrobe of equal standing for his bride.
While there had been overall rejoicing at their master's return Ariel had heard whispers of skepticism as to whether the prince's ego was under better management. Such doubts were, however, extinguished when, after a few weeks dedicated to reacquainting himself to his lands and tenants, Adam utilized a portion of these same assets to bolster the failing wool industry and finalize a trade deal with prince Eric. These two acts resulted in an increase in standard of living for the residents which included more wide-spread plumbing and distribution of yields. Ilse's presence only strengthened the connections prince Adam forged. Her kind heart and hardworking background meant that she was not afraid to get her hands – and her dresses – dirty. As her French improved she became a kind of spokesperson for the people who felt more comfortable interacting with her than their dignitary.
Belle and Ariel had travelled back to Adam's estate with him and his fiancé, the servants pleased to see the return of the steadfast French woman but surprised it was not she on the arm of the restored prince. Despite their shock Ilse was quickly accepted into palace life and even Ariel found herself welcomed into their spirited candor. Returning to the moment the princess glided deftly through a maze of broad bustles on her way to Belle, the pale pink of her gown pleasantly meshing with the turquoise of her companion's.
"We look forward to hearing your combined talents this evening Miss Cartier oh, there she is." A woman with a chiseled face and only partially sincere smile greeted Ariel as she approached, the lady's husband favouring the redhead with a more civil look.
"Mrs. Dupuar was just saying how much she's interested in witnessing our musical prowess." Belle flashed her lover an amused smile, eyes hinting more truthfully at how she felt about the baroness.
"I do hope you enjoy it Mrs. Dupuar." Impressing the woman would certainly simplify their search for employment. The woman's insistence that her four daughters acquire a solid foundation in the musical arts was Belle and Ariel's best ticket to steady paychecks.
"Your sister tells me you've sung in several prominent courts, please enlighten me."
Taking a breath Ariel proceeded to recount her several, highly successful, performances in France as well as Denmark. This was yet another activity that had kept her too busy to ponder the uncertainties of the past few months. Now more than ever Ariel was grateful for her vocal gift. The quality and depth of her voice attracted listeners to her concerts but it was not the only thing that captivated audiences wherever she went. Ariel continued to carry a sense of the 'other' that intrigued all in her presence. Although Belle had initially been concerned about the amount of attention her lover was receiving, Ariel's strength of character and unfailing devotion helped lay to rest many of her concerns.
Ilse's arrival caused the Baron and his wife to drift onto other company, their disproval of the obscure bride all too evident.
"These high-end social affairs are exhausting." The pink-faced young woman stated, Belle and Ariel nodding in agreement. "I'm not sure I'm cut out for this sort of life. It was much easier talking business with the tenants."
"You're doing very well Ilse." Belle gave the woman's hand a gentle squeeze. "You've only tripped on your skirts twice this evening."
"That's very comforting thank you Belle. Adam said the entertainments would be beginning soon. I'll be happy for the distraction, I'm afraid my accent puts people off."
Ariel supplied support to the nerve-wracked woman in the form of a one-sided embrace, lending her a kerchief when tears threatened to ruin her make-up. "I… I really am happy. I love Adam so very much but going from farming trees to wife of a high-status husband is not as easy as I thought it was going to be. I'm so glad you two are here." Ilse was wearing a smile that explained far better than words how grateful she was. "Whenever I think I'm going to fall apart I remember what we've been through together and then this all seems so trivial."
The three women shared relieving laughter.
"How are you both doing? You never seem flustered by these events Ariel but Belle – well, you and I are from similar stations."
"I was nervous at first but now when I slip-up or neglect a nicety I just ignore it and, in most cases, nothing more comes of the mishap. I still think I've had a bit more experience than you Ilse. I did spend a couple of months in this castle before Eric's and then I was trying to perfect the rules to teach pupils –."
"But you've made amazing progress." Ariel put in, Belle looking disgruntled at the interruption.
"Thank you, I guess I should get back to my husband." Pleasure rapidly surged over Ilse's features, wiping away all trace of worry. "My husband." The new wife glided towards the centre of the room, spine held straight as she waved politely to those around her.
"I'm sorry darling but I think your attempt at comforting was not achieving its goal." A small smile was on Ariel's face but her eyes were searching for unhappiness in her partner's features.
Belle ran a gentle hand over the woman's head, her heart melting at the look of relief and affection that infused Ariel's face as she did so. "I understand."
An elderly couple interrupted the brief exchange, talk of royal family history occupying them until enthusiastic clapping silenced the collective voices.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," Cogsworth cried, "it is with the greatest pleasure that I welcome you this evening. It has been too long since we've all gathered in this grand ballroom. But what an occasion it is. Our dear Prince Adam of Fialin has taken a bride! A woman whom he treasures, whose strength of character and loving heart will support and empower her husband in his campaign to bring prosperity and peace to the land. I give you prince Adam of Fialin."
Applause erupted around the room as the handsome man and his well-groomed wife strode into the spotlight, both only betraying their nervousness to those well acquainted with them. Adam was resplendent as he strode up onto the dais, weeks of shared experiences enabling Belle to accept him as the friend she valued so highly. Now it was responsibility that kept them apart, the difference in their stations a societal weight on all interactions. Letting him go on to fulfill his future was not easy. Belle and Adam shared a friendship beyond conventional standings, one that would always exist but that reality was reshaping into a different mold. More than ever the French woman was grateful for Ariel; a partner of limitless warmth and love when Belle felt the pressure of change crushing her heart. Casting a glance at the red-head combated some of the melancholy she was experiencing, telling herself that everything was for the best. The evident love between the newlyweds was reason enough to be joyful.
"I am honoured that you have come to celebrate the happiest moment of my life. History has not always been good to the house of Fialin but I feel certain that this match and the friendships in this room signal a positive future. Please join me in welcoming my beautiful wife Lady Ilse of Hougaard."
Ariel and Belle applauded at less polite levels than the surrounding crowd, their smiles boosting the young wife's confidence so that she lowered into a perfect courtesy of thanks. Ilse then took her husband's arm and the lovers kissed one another's cheeks, each glowing with vigorous life. As the applause slackened Adam turned to once more engage his audience.
"An exciting ensemble of artists is lined-up for this evening's entertainments, the first of which is a musical performance by two of my most treasured friends." Adam looked intently around the room, waiting until he had every person's attention. "Belle and Ariel Cartier are two of the most studious and talented ladies you will ever encounter. As some of you may already know they are looking for employment as governesses. Had I children of my own they would be the only couple worthy of such a placement. I could pepper you with recommendations but I will let the skills of these women speak for itself: the Cartier sisters ladies and gentlemen."
Adam gave the couple a wink as they passed him on their way to the piano; his playfulness helping them to momentarily forget how much was riding on this performance. Tucking in her skirts Belle sat herself at the prince's grand piano, taking a deep breath and glancing at Ariel to see if she was ready. Familiarity with the spotlight meant Ariel could gather herself quickly in the face of hundreds of observers. It's no different than back home. A prick of melancholy added solemnity to the vocalist's features.
Ariel was the happiest she could ever remember being. Despite all of the past hardships she was with Belle, the woman she loved and who loved her in return. Yet the once mermaid couldn't help missing a life that would forever inhabit her bones, the call of an element she'd been born to and that still made up the majority of her body. The remembrance made her glad they'd chosen an old merpeople lullaby to perform this evening. On more than one occasion she and Belle had discussed her undersea life, the human stunned by the fact that Ariel had given up such a fundamental aspect of herself for another. At such times Belle would gaze amazedly at her lover and insist that they do something to ease Ariel's homesickness. This melody was one of the few ways her world was left to her; a song and legend that soothed anxious minds to sleep in the cold, all-consuming depths of the vast and awe-inspiring ocean.
Opening her mouth Ariel grew more brilliant in the shining space. The pleasure of her recaptured voice continued to infuse every performance, rising her confidence and power beyond any previous level. She and Belle had roughly translated the words into French, attempting to incorporate as much of the original majesty as they could but it was the piano that gave the song the most drastically different flavour. The instrument was diverse in range and magnificent in tone but it was a distinctly land sound, the combination an eerie yet enchanting meeting of two very dissimilar but compatible elements.
"Mother sea, mother of us all. Mother sea, we can hear your call. Mother sea, mother sea, mother of us all. Mother sea, we can hear your call.
Spirits of the ocean weave a haunting web around us. There's mystery and magic in the albatross' flight. Stories and legends of the seven seas surround us and mermaids tell their secrets to the night."
From his position against the back wall Eric could only see Ariel's outline across the room but her voice was as strong as if she'd been beside him. He couldn't help being absorbed by its soothing vibrations and powerful images, his inner tensions easing despite the social atmosphere. Letting Ariel go was not an easy matter, especially when everything the woman did made him love her more. Part of this attraction stemmed from her strangeness, the fact that she'd come from another world, but it was also her kindness of spirit and spunky nature. Eric could not be sure, like so many before him, if he would ever be able to move beyond this woman and develop affection for another. Yet the prince could not deny how happy his two female friends were together. Their love was evident wherever they went, two well-matched sides of a partnership. As much as his unrequited love pained him Eric's generous heart accepted the reality of the couple before him, contemplation of their adventures guiding him into acceptance.
No one in the room was unaffected by the haunting music. Belle's playing complimented Ariel's tones with hypnotic chords building into a brief solo imitation of the mighty element's tides before slowly retreating as the woman's voice resumed.
"Mother sea, mother sea, mother of us all. Mother sea we can hear your call. Mother sea we can hear your call. Mother sea, mother sea, we can hear your call." The quiet piano faded with Ariel's voice. After a few seconds the musicians curtsied to their watchers.
Silence followed the conclusion of their unusual piece, the audience blinking as though waking from a dream. Again Belle wondered if there was real magic in Ariel's singing ability although the princess had laughed off the suggestion. The hushed awe and then gradual rising of applause provided the women with the feedback they'd been looking for. Neither was willing to stake their entire livelihoods on it but as they swept back into the crowd to make room for the next batch of entertainers the number of excited persons who collected around them gave the couple the impression that choosing an employer was going to be more difficult than finding one.
Not yet contaminated with the stench of fish Belle had to admit that the vessel was a magnificent specimen of craftsmanship. Adam had taken Eric's advice on the purchase of his first fishing ship, both parties working together to spread their catches through either country's markets. The Fialin's had been married nearly a month now and, despite the occasional disagreement over affairs of state, were still the picture of marital happiness. The Danish woman's strength of will was serving her well in often complicated matters of business, her relationship with the locals creating a resilient two-way system of communication.
Adam sometimes fell into bouts of temper and egoism, ruling over a kingdom was bound to bring out some ill in a person, but his love for Ilse and heightened understanding of the human condition made his positive qualities far greater than his flaws. Despite his restored status the prince had not left the decorating of the ship solely to servants. He and Ilse had spent hours stressing and laughing over placement and order of streamers and bobbles as Ariel's merfamily surreptitiously magiced sparkling seashells and underwater gems into their designs.
Ariel and Belle had not been allowed near the vessel since its purchase nor had they, within the last twenty-four hours, been allowed near one another. The wedding, partly out of necessity, was going to be a small affair, comprised only of a few close friends and Ariel's family. Prince Eric was present as both captain and guest, his relationship with the couple having mellowed into pleased amity as he moved between France and Denmark. A few of prince Adam's closest servants were also invited on the condition that they not spread word of merpeople's existence. Having spent years as pieces of furniture none of the invitees felt particularly startled by the revelation and were more than happy to trade secrecy for a once-in-a-life-time celebration.
Mrs. Potts, although not much of a fashion expert, was helping Madame Armoire get Belle into her wedding dress: a less puffy and whiter version of the gown she'd worn at Eric's private ball. Tinted with yellow and turquoise the dress pulled in at the waist and flared at the hips, reaching her ankles but light enough that Belle could move relatively easily. The French woman hadn't given much thought to whether marrying a princess would make her royalty but one of Ariel's sisters – Alana – had given her a silver tiara that was elegant in its simplicity. On her right hand Belle wore her mother's wedding ring, one of the few relics that had been saved for her, and on her left wrist was a bracelet her father had whittled out of wood. It consisted of tiny beads sculpted into renditions of animals dancing. The woman's heart performed tremendous jumps and drops as she remembered her parents and looked forward to the day.
After Madame Armoire had fixed her make-up for the third time Belle was finally able to control her emotions long enough to walk onto the deck where the happy faces of friends threatened to destabilize her again. Taking several deep breaths Belle let Adam walk her down the aisle, his large hands communicating support by squeezing her arm. At the pulpit Belle turned to face him, embracing the man tightly and kissing his cheek.
"I owe you my happiness." She whispered.
"No more than I owe you mine." Placing a tender peck on her hand Belle watched the prince step to the left of the minister.
The unorthodox scene of a middle-aged merman floating on a plume of water on the other side of the ship's railing ran off Belle like water off a duck's back. After everything she'd seen the appearance of a Cyclops and some griffins would not have phased her one iota. Flicking her eyes over the audience Belle had to swallow the lump in her throat as she was greeted with beaming faces and nods of approval. Glancing at the merminister she noticed that he was also dressed well, his rainbow vest and golden sash unusual but striking.
Somewhere an organ was playing and it was this instrument that alerted her to Ariel's presence. Nobody had quite known how a ceremony between two women should be handled but her fiancé and soon to be father-in-law had supplied details of same-sex merpeople couplings. The presence of gravity eliminated several of the more elaborate procedures but the inclusion of traditional human nuptials led to an agenda that suited the needs of both parties. Walking down the aisle had been a contribution from the human side and as her lover strode confidently along the red carpet on the arm of Cogsworth Belle understood the appeal of such a custom. Watching Ariel move toward her, her pretty face lightly dusted with powder, body enshrined in a silvery-cream dress with pink highlighting the bust and waist, wearing a smile that rivaled the moon in luminescence, made Belle feel – no, convinced her – that she was the luckiest person alive.
Forcing herself to breathe so she wouldn't faint Ariel took her place across from Belle on the raised platform before the minister, unable to stop the pounding of her heart or the happiness flooding her body. Each woman stood facing one another as the minister began the opening vows, an odd sort of chant in merpeople language that went on for several minutes as Belle and Ariel grinned giddily at each other. How could she love someone so much? Ariel couldn't comprehend it but there her human was, gazing at her with an intensity that left no doubt in her mind that this woman loved her. Belle didn't know how she'd come to harbor such affection for the boisterous woman standing across from her but the steps, words, seconds and excitements that had led to its creation no longer mattered in the strength of her devotion. Sometimes it seared, to be wrapped so tightly in someone else, but when her eyes met Ariel's and their hands clasped Belle wouldn't have traded their shared joy for all the money or power in existence.
The minister concluded his opening vows, indicating that the two women should turn to face him and extend one hand forward. On their palms he placed a piece of green chalk coral, so named for the light markings it made when applied to surfaces. Normally a couple would make the symbols of attachment on each other's tails and abdomens but, given the lack of one key appendage, the couple had decided to draw the symbols on each other's faces and hands instead.
Practicing on paper had been nothing like drawing on skin. Besides the difficulty of keeping the coral wet enough to use Belle and Ariel found that their hands were shaking as they traced around one another's eyes and mouth, circles, lines and dots forming what appeared to be small spirals surrounded by shooting stars. Once completed the minister bid them to exchange blessings and dedications to each other and their families whose legacy would be carried on in their love. Time stopped as the women swore to protect, support, and care for each other as long as they drew breath. Ariel spoke what some might have considered a eulogy to Belle's departed parents while Belle expressed her admiration of Ariel's father and humble recognition of what her lover had given up to be with her.
Tears in both their eyes the women took each other's hands and moved in a circle from right to left in front of the congregation then once more in the opposite direction. Once they were again in the center of the aisle Ariel and Belle drew close and sealed their ceremony with a tender, drawn-out kiss, hands clinging intimately to each other's waists. The audience broke into enthusiastic cheers, the merpeople slapping their tails against the water as the humans clapped and the animals found whatever other means to express their approval. Breaking their kiss Ariel and Belle shared a triumphant look, parting to accept the congratulations of their onlookers. Rice and corn rained down on their heads, laughter and cries of 'serve the food' echoing over the blue ocean.
The sun was trying to come out from behind clouds, a light wind playing havoc with the cloth napkins as guests helped themselves to the culinary spread. Unable to stomach anything the newlyweds found themselves left alone against the railing, Belle running an affectionate hand through Ariel's long hair.
"A tiara looks good on you." She couldn't stop smiling. The relief of concluding the ceremony and being joined to the one she loved left no opportunity for her facial muscles to relax.
"Yours doesn't look half bad either." Ariel nuzzled Belle's neck before the French woman playfully shooed her away, still a little uncomfortable with public displays of affection. "I'll do my best to make you happy Belle." Ariel's expression had turned serious, the determined glint in her eyes the surest sign of her sincerity.
"Just keep being yourself Ariel and that won't be an issue."
Something catching their attention the two women turned simultaneously to look at the ocean. Noise… or some form of music was wafting toward them from the east, its melody hauntingly familiar.
"What is it?"
Ariel was silent as she listened, her gaze lost on the distant horizon. Somewhere on the sea a pod of whales was singing – singing a tune known by every merperson and now a few humans.
"There's a legend about our beginnings." Ariel's voice was quiet, its richness eerie. "It's said that when the land rose out of the ocean our ancestors crawled onto it to investigate but returned to the water when they found nothing worthwhile. Upon returning our ancestors split into two groups, one becoming merpeople and the other becoming whales. Merpeople don't interact with their larger cousins very often but we hold them in very high regard. Like dolphins they're very intelligent but they prefer to keep to themselves. No one's quite sure what their societies look like."
Belle waited for nearly a minute, watching the solemnity in her partner's face as sunlight brought shifting reflections to it. "That's the lullaby of merpeople they're singing, Mother Sea?"
Nodding Ariel drew closer to Belle, curling an arm around the woman's waist as one of her partner's came over her shoulder. "Some think that whales are messengers of Mother Sea and that to hear their song is to receive the highest blessing. If that's true –," she laid her head against Belle's, "- then I think everything's going to be fine."
Kissing her beautiful woman's neck Belle agreed, thanking whatever deities existed for the chance at a life in the arms of the woman she loved.