Contrary to popular belief, happy endings are not always easy.
After the honeymoon, Grimsby bangs on their door at 6 a.m. every morning, walks into the room with a list, and starts reciting all the things that the royal pair has to do. Ariel feels exhausted just listening to the exhorbitant duties that a prince and princess must do, christen this new ship and that new shop, talk to everyone in the kingdom, entertain visiting royalty, and for her especially, training in a variety of subjects. Most are things her father had done so it's not terribly surprising, but she had swum free, required to do nothing as the youngest beloved daughter of Triton. She tries to meet all of Grimsby's expectations about what a princess must do, but he hides his disappointment miserably when she says the wrong thing or expresses an opinion at odds with the kingdom's stance. Politcs and etiquette make her tired as she sits through three hour lectures every day; only the dancing lesson at the end gives Ariel a reason to smile. Eric usually shows up to twirl her around the room, his eyes warm with delight at her joy as she begins to understand how to move her legs.
Eric solidifies his place in Ariel's life as her everything almost by default. Without her father and her friends and Sebastian, Ariel has no one else. The court ladies could never understand a princess of the sea and Grimsby is bent on excising every part of the sea from the princess. Eric is family, best friend, and lover all at once, but the more she comes to rely on this knowledge, the more he withdraws from her presence. It happens so gradually that she barely even notices that he shows up less frequently to teach her to waltz or that he seems more distracted than ever. The realization of his withdrawal happens the day he disappears into his study and doesn't emerge until the next morning. For the first time, Ariel looks at her husband and sees the dark circles under his eyes. She tentatively touches his arm at the table and he shifts angrily away from her, his fork clattering on the plate as he stands up to leave.
Frightened, she flees to the seashore and looks at the waves. She has never been so lonely in her life and the ones she wants to talk to more than anything swim deep below. Her father would be able to give her advice about marriage, Sebastian would act wise but make her laugh with his silly advice, even Flounder would be someone to pour out all her troubles to. She sits on the rock, tears running silently down her cheeks as the waves caress her new legs. Eric has never been angry with her before, not even when she tried to start a revolution in the kingdom by proposing that they ban fishing. Grimsby had nearly had a fit yet Eric had held her hand and promised that they would no longer serve fish in the castle to the chagrin of the chef. Still, he explained that too many of their subjects relied on the fishing industry to ban it completely, softening the blow by promising to set up a sanctuary for her father and his subjects and declaring the boundaries the very next day. Her tears burn hotter as she remembers his kindness. A small yellow fish bobbles up to the surface and grins merrily, his smile drooping as he notices Ariel's tears.
Ariel shakes her head wearily when he asks and blurts out the story about the morning. Carefree Flounder has no advice, not that she really expected him to, but he ducks his head and asks if she would like to see the king. At this moment, there is nothing more than she wants to do, but she knows her father's disapproval would hurt them both. He doesn't think that their marriage will last, she knows, and waits for the day that she asks to be returned to the sea. Flounder pats her hand with a fin when she finally answers no and promises to come visit the next day with Sebastian. Slowly, she gets to her feet and watches him swim away into the dark depths. From a distance, she hears her name and turns, half expecting Grimsby's reprimand, but it's Eric instead, his brow furrowed with worry.
He reaches up and pulls her into his arms, murmuring apologies into her hair, and Ariel almost sinks to her knees with relief as he presses a kiss into her temple. "I'm sorry, my love," he says like the man from their honeymoon. "It's just that I'm concerned with the new wall that we're building along the border. Several soldiers have died at the hands of brigands and I can't send any more men to protect the builders. I should not have reacted so poorly this morning."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Ariel asks helplessly. His next words give her no comfort though.
"I didn't want to worry you. I know how much Grimsby has been overwhelming you with politics and other kingdom matters. I saw no reason to add to your burden." His eyes are clear with the truth and Ariel suppresses the unprincessly urge to punch him in the arm.
"Oh, Eric," she sighs and feels his weight shift around her body. "I'm your wife. If you can't tell me, who can you tell?" She still remembers the way her parents ruled before her mother died, the strong partnership that balanced Triton's temper with her mother's practical kindness
"I thought you were calling up your father to return to the sea," he says apologetically. "I didn't mean to . . ."
"No," Ariel answers sternly and places her finger on his lips. "I should have paid better attention to what was occurring with you instead of being so caught up in my own problems. I do love you, Eric, and I won't ever leave."
"I love you, too, Ariel." The kiss tingles down to her toes and he doesn't let go until long after they reach the castle. Later, she drowsily thinks that they might need to make up more often, preferably without the tension next time. In return, Eric forces Grimsby to reduce her lessons to an hour and Ariel makes it a point to sit with Eric and read his correspondence so they can make decisions together. It's not the first trouble they'll face, but she promises herself it will be the last they face separately. And the next time she sees her father, she introduces Eric as her partner instead of her everything.
Contrary to popular belief, happy endings are not always easy. Sometimes they require hard work and communication and Ariel is determined to have hers no matter what.