"What do you think of Irving?"
When Rapunzel asked her husband the question, they were sitting in the parlor. Eugene and Pascal were in a corner playing chess while Rapunzel was reading in one of the enormous armchairs, its velvet upholstery blushing from the warmth of the crackling fire. As no one had said anything since the King and Queen had retired for the evening, the question took Eugene by surprise.
"Who's Irving?" was the obvious question, and he asked it.
"He's a character in a book I'm reading." Rapunzel raised the book in question. In the orange glow of the fire, Eugene could just barely make out the gold-lettered title The Legend of the Somber Jester. Upon initially moving into the palace, Rapunzel had more or less devoured the library's nonfiction section, filled as it was with information Gothel had withheld from her for so many years. It was only recently, now that she had read just about every nonfiction book that could possibly interest her, that she had given the novels a chance…and judging from the rate at which she was racing through them, Eugene expected the library's fiction would take her only half the time that the nonfiction had. How she found that time he wasn't sure, since she spent her days shadowing the King…but he knew she found the time somewhere, since she frequently yammered to Eugene about the most recent book she'd read. In fact, just the other day Eugene had cut into Rapunzel's yammering by observing that pretty soon she would have to start writing novels of her own just to maintain her supply. But back to the question Rapunzel had asked him…
"I've never read it." Eugene turned his attention back to his game. Pascal was winning, and Eugene was determined not to lose to a lizard. Let it never be said that Prince Eugene lost a game of skill to a cold-blooded reptile with a brain the size of a walnut. That would be difficult to live down.
"I didn't think you had," Rapunzel replied. "So what do you think of Irving?"
"How should I know what Irving's like if I've never read the book?" Eugene fingered his bishop, scanning the board for the best move. Pascal lowered his eyelids. Rapunzel never took this long to make up her mind when he was playing with her.
"Oh, I didn't mean that!" Rapunzel giggled. "I mean what do you think of Irving as a name?"
"I don't know," Eugene shrugged. "It's less silly than Eugene, but don't forget Eugene is…sillier than Irving," he finished lamely.
"What do you think, Pascal?" Rapunzel asked.
Judging from Pascal's expression, Eugene would have to say whatever Pascal thought involved griping that Eugene still hadn't made his move.
Two hours later, a similar question came.
"What do you think of Pascal?" Rapunzel asked.
By now Eugene was no longer smarting over the blow to his pride which had resulted from losing a game of chess to a chameleon. In fact, it had been some time since Eugene had given the lizard a thought, but as Rapunzel asked these words, the sickening weight of humiliation pressed on his stomach.
He rolled over so he could see Rapunzel…or at least, see as much of Rapunzel as was possible in the current circumstance. As it was, her eyes just barely popped over the covers. In the dead of winter, Rapunzel had the habit of sleeping under the covers…as in, completely under the covers. Like, head under the covers as well. According to her, it felt strange if her head was a different temperature than the rest of her body.
Hey, whatever made her happy was fine with him. Now what had she asked again? Oh yeah…
"He's one heck of a chess player," he admitted.
That Eugene could read Rapunzel's shadowed, half-obscured face well enough to know she was confused by his answer was a testament his understanding.
"He's not really that good," Rapunzel said candidly. "I beat him all the time."
That meant either Rapunzel was extremely good or Eugene was extremely bad. Eugene was choosing to believe the former.
"Anyway," Rapunzel continued, "that's not what I meant. I mean what do you think of Pascal as a name?"
This again? What to say?
"It suits him," Eugene murmured. He was exhausted. It had been a long day…followed by a long evening, and Pascal wasn't really what he wanted to talk about at the moment. He didn't much want to talk at all, actually. He just wanted to sleep. "I couldn't think of Pascal with any other name." Pascal named Clive or Geoffrey or Devin just wouldn't be…Pascal.
"Could you think of anyone else named Pascal?"
"No," Eugene shook his head before laying it back on the pillow. "Not even that artist guy you named him after."
Eugene just "mmmrg"d into his pillow.
"So I did a good job naming Pascal Pascal?"
"A very good job," Eugene yawned.
The next question was whispered over breakfast. After Rapunzel asked Eugene to pass her the cherry preserves, she whispered to him, "what do you think of Bridget?" Then she cast a furtive glance at her parents at the other end of the table, who were quietly reminiscing about some winter ball they'd held 15 years ago.
Eugene wasn't sure why Rapunzel should want to keep a discussion about his opinion on the name Bridget—by now he was catching on that Rapunzel didn't actually want his opinion on the upper servant named Bridget—a secret, but he answered the question in the same whisper with which it had been asked.
"It always makes me think of this uppity girl at the orphanage," he admitted. "What do you think about Richard?" he asked on the spur of the moment.
Rapunzel just wrinkled her nose and shook her head. Apparently words were not enough to express her dislike of the name Richard.
The next question came two minutes before dinner. Really, they should have already been waiting with the King and Queen, but Rapunzel, who had spent the day visiting some faraway farms with the King, hadn't seen Eugene since breakfast. What had started as a quick "welcome home" peck had rapidly transformed into something much more substantial.
"What do you think of Grace?" she gasped.
Eugene murmured something about not liking virtues for names and returned his lips to his wife's neck.
"Never had much use for it."
"Last thing I have on my mind right now."
So they'd be a little late…
As Eugene frequently reminded whoever would listen, he wasn't just a handsome face. No, behind that nose and under that hair sat a fairly well-endowed brain, so it wasn't long before it struck him there was a pattern in Rapunzel's most recent line of questioning.
Of course, Rapunzel was well known for her random questions but these had, in the past two years or so, become rarer as she'd grown to understand the world around her. Now she knew that "once removed" meant you were a generation apart from someone, peacocks were male and peahens were female, and light travelled faster than sound, her conversation had become considerably less erratic, so Eugene doubted she was asking him about these names on a whim. No, there was a reason. And he couldn't help wondering if it was the glaringly obvious reason.
When it had first occurred to him, he'd waved the explanation away. He knew Rapunzel and if that had been the reason, how could Rapunzel not have told him by now? She'd be bouncing off the walls. She'd be…glowing. He wasn't sure how happy she'd be about it, but he was certain that she'd still be too excited to keep her mouth shut. She just wasn't excited enough for that to be the reason. Plus, though he knew he and Rapunzel had been married for several months and that was usually when this kind of thing happened, it still seemed too soon. Could you imagine him as a father? He couldn't. He wasn't paternal. He was still young. And dashing. And a swashbuckler. And, okay, he hadn't exactly done any swashbuckling in a while. In fact, he'd spent the entirety of yesterday sitting in the library memorizing the family tree, as per the suggestion of the Queen since he was "part of the family now" but still…
No, he wasn't ready to be a father. Also, he didn't like children. He'd had his fill at the orphanage. Children were loud and always hungry and…sticky, somehow...even when they'd just had their bath. He'd enjoyed playing ball with the other children and he'd liked reading to them, but that was it. When other people looked at a baby they tried to trace a resemblance to its parents, but when Eugene saw a baby the only resemblance he could trace was to a pig. A crying pig. He thought they looked remarkably similar. No, he didn't like children. Which was alright, since that wasn't the explanation for Rapunzel's questions. It was something else. It had to be.
And when she'd asked him if he liked brown eyes or green eyes more, there had been another explanation as well.
"You don't want to know what I think about blue?" he asked nervously.
Rapunzel shook her head. "Blue eyes wouldn't work. Green or brown—which do you like more?"
Blue eyes wouldn't work? What on Earth did that mean? Whatever it meant, it wasn't that she was pondering what their child's eye color would be. Why even ponder that? There was nothing they could do about it. It would just come out with whatever eyes it—hold on. There was no "it." There was no child. None. They were still newlyweds. Children would come eventually. No matter how much fatherhood put Eugene in a cold sweat, he understood that as royalty, they were expected to produce heirs. And also…children would come eventually just as a product of probability. But "eventually" was not "now." Now, at this moment, there was no child because if there was, Rapunzel would have told him.
Was it just him, or was Rapunzel spending a lot more time lately in a daze? Staring off into the distance. Only not really looking at the distance. Sort of looking past it, seeing something that wasn't there. And then she would start and pull out that journal she had taken to carrying around with her everywhere. She would jot a quick note, close the journal, and continue staring out the window.
That journal was rapidly becoming an obsession with Eugene. Whatever was occupying her thoughts, it was in that journal. It was tantalizing having the answers to all of his questions so close. The journal probably had the answer to why the other day Eugene had seen Rapunzel in deep conversation with the Royal Physician. And maybe it also had the answer to why Rapunzel had broken off the conversation as soon as she'd seen him.
Look at that journal. Pocket sized so she could carry it around everywhere. Bound in black leather. Embossed with a gold rose, but at certain angles the rose looked warped and it morphed into a laughing face, taunting Eugene for his ignorance. Hey Prince Eugene—you want to know why your wife is behaving so strange? Do you want to know why she's obsessed with names? Why she's consulting with doctors? Why she's being so secretive? Like the other day when you asked her where she'd been and she just said "oh, around," and immediately changed the subject. There was a time, Eugene, when she would talk your ear off over every tiny particular of her day. I know where she was. All the answers are in me, Eugene. I'm right here.
It was usually around this point that Pascal would whack him with his tail, calling his attention back to the game of chess he was invariably losing.
He really had to find a better after dinner activity than playing chess with a lizard…and losing. To a lizard.
But how could he possibly give a game his all when he had Rapunzel on his brain? It wasn't fair! He couldn't think about chess moves when he was wondering if he was a father—which he wasn't. But maybe he was.
Why wasn't Rapunzel telling him anything? This was unendurable. And very unlike Rapunzel. And it wasn't just Eugene who thought Rapunzel's recent behavior was unusual. Even the Queen had gone up to him yesterday and commented that "lately Rapunzel seems to have her head in the clouds." If the Queen was worrying, someone had to do something. And if someone had to do something, shouldn't that someone be Rapunzel's husband? It was his duty to get to the bottom of this. It would be irresponsible to do nothing.
After losing chess for seven consecutive nights, Eugene at last decided he was going to do it. He was going to confront Rapunzel and find out what was going on.
And if that didn't work, he was stealing the journal.
Eugene made this decision on Saturday night, and he decided Sunday would be the best day to carry it out. She spent the weekdays shadowing her father and Saturdays were, usually, spent entertaining visitors. Sunday was the quiet day at the palace, the day everyone spent doing whatever they wished, so long as it didn't make a lot of noise. Eugene traditionally spent his Sundays riding Maximus at top speeds through the woods, away from the placidity of the kingdom. Both he and Max were happiest in the midst of action, with wind blasting through their hair. So when Eugene walked to the stables to explain to Max that their Sunday ritual was canceled, he wasn't surprised by the cold reception his excuses were greeted with.
Max really had to find a way to express disappointment that didn't involve shoving, Eugene decided as he walked back to the palace, brushing some hay off his clothes.
He made his way to one of the highest turrets, which Rapunzel had claimed as an art studio. It was a nice room—cramped, but with a fantastic view of the water. Rapunzel always spent at least a couple of hours each Sunday painting there, so Eugene was confident that it would be the best place to find her.
When he finished running up the seven—count them, seven—flights of stairs to the room, however, he found Rapunzel wasn't there.
She must have stepped out momentarily, because she'd left something behind. There it was. On a thick stack of papers written in Rapunzel's spiky scrawl was the journal.
Eugene was reminded of one time a few years ago when, planning on snatching some money from a nearby apothecary shop, he'd found the door unlocked, the owners away, and a bag of gold on the counter. Instead of pleasure, he'd felt a keen sense of disappointment.
This was just too easy.
He picked up the journal, passing it from hand to hand like he was playing catch with himself.
If Rapunzel wanted you to know what was going on, she would have told you.
But if the thing that's going on is what I think is going on, I have a right to know.
Exactly. You have a right to know. So she would have told you.
Unless she was afraid of how I was going to react.
Afraid of you? Rapunzel hasn't been afraid of you since the day you met.
Exactly! So why hasn't she told me yet?
Because there's nothing to tell!
Nothing to tell? I'd call being a father something to tell!
You're not a father!
Oh shut up! What do you know?
And then the voices stopped. Apparently he was so insulted that he was giving himself the silent treatment.
Well fine. Be that way.
Maybe he was a father. Probably he was a father. And this little journal held all the answers.
He held the journal with his left hand and placed his right hand on the cover. Holding the journal far apart from his body, he cracked the cover open, wincing and turning his head to the side. Only as he did that, his eyes clamped shut.
Ugh. He couldn't do it. And not just because he was invading Rapunzel's privacy, though he admitted he probably should have been more concerned about that. But as long as he didn't read that journal, he was a carefree newlywed. Well, not carefree. And not even really a newlywed anymore, but still…
The minute he read that journal, though, he was a father.
He snapped the cover shut and put the journal back on the stack of papers.
It was at this moment that something else in the room caught his eye. His attention had been so drawn by the journal that he hadn't given the room a good visual sweep, so he hadn't noticed the easel set up by the window.
Okay, the easel wasn't that remarkable. What was remarkable was what was on the easel.
There it was: his child.
Okay, not really. But soft of.
It was an in progress painting. Some lines were sketched in and Rapunzel had started painting the center: a blanket bundled around a small, pink creature with brown eyes. His brown eyes. And based on the lines surrounding the little bundle, it was going to be held by a woman. It was difficult to trace a resemblance based on what was on the canvas, but he thought he saw Rapunzel's jaw. He definitely saw where Rapunzel had traced a smile—a gentle, matronly smile, the type the Queen wore when she looked at her daughter.
Had Eugene's heart been frozen, it would have melted. As it was he fell onto a nearby stool and stared at the canvas. Stared and stared and stared.
He'd heard from some men that they hadn't actually felt like fathers until they saw their children for the first time. Then a lever was thrown and they just became fathers. Well, looking at the canvas, the lever was thrown. Eugene felt like a father. Up until then, fatherhood to him had meant being tied down, but it was time to face facts: he was married. He was a prince. He had a family. He was already tied down. And being tied down? It wasn't bad. Like everything else, it just took some adjustment. And another fact he had to face? He wasn't that dashing, swashbuckling Flynn Rider anymore. He was Prince Eugene. Prince Eugene played chess with lizards and memorized family trees and worried about his wife. And you know what? Prince Eugene was ready to be a father. Maybe Flynn Rider wasn't, but that wasn't his problem. Prince Eugene would make a great father. Princess Rapunzel would make a great mother. And their kid would make a great kid. He was eager to meet it—him or her. He should probably stop calling it an it.
Eugene was so wrapped up in these thoughts that he didn't hear the steady pat-pat. Seven flights of stairs' worth of pat-pat. But he did hear the breezy, "Oh, hi Eugene!" as Rapunzel entered the room.
He mutely waved to his wife.
"What are you doing up here?" she asked. She was wearing a smock splattered in paint. Evidently she had already started her painting for the day.
"Rapunzel," he coughed, jumping to his feet. He wasn't sure why, but at a moment like this he felt like he needed all the height he could get. "Rapunzel, we need to talk about something."
She set down the can of paint she had just picked up and studied her husband curiously.
"Eugene," she asked, "is something wrong?"
"Oh no!" he assured her, placing his hands on her shoulders. "No, nothing's wrong at all! That's what I wanted to tell you! In fact, everything's completely right!"
She just looked puzzled.
"I know your secret," he said significantly, bobbing his head slightly with every word.
This got a reaction. She started, one of her hands gripped her side, and the other began tugging on a lock of hair. "Oh?" she asked cautiously. "How do you…" she trailed off.
Eugene rolled his eyes and crossed his arms, leaning against the turret's wall. "Well, come on Rapunzel. It was pretty obvious. It didn't take me that long to figure it out. What I can't figure out, though, is why you didn't tell me."
"Well," Rapunzel shuffled her feet, "I guess I just wanted to wait a while. I was planning on telling everyone when it was halfway done."
Uh…Rapunzel? Eugene suspected an announcement would have been unnecessary by the time it got that far.
"But why didn't you tell me?" Eugene asked. "Okay, so you don't have to make an announcement to the populace yet—but I'm your husband! I'm kind of involved in this!"
"Well, yeah," Rapunzel admitted, joggling her head from side to side. "You did kind of have a hand in the conception, I suppose."
Have a hand in the conception? That was putting it mildly…
"So, now that you know," Rapunzel's green eyes sparkled excitedly, "do you think this is good news?"
In response he just hugged her hard. But not too hard.
After giving her a long kiss for good measure, he asked her a question that had been running through his head a lot the past week or so.
"So what's its name going to be?"
Rapunzel grabbed the journal. "I made some notes about that!" she told him, flipping through the pages. "Oh—here they are! Now, at the moment I'm leaning towards The Adventures of Irving the Minstrel, but I also like The Cursed Bard. Which do you like better?"
It was at this point that Eugene's brain shut down.
After a few moments of silence, Rapunzel continued speaking. "You must really like them—you're speechless! But your opinion will be more useful when you've actually read it. Would you mind," she bit her lip, "would you mind looking at the manuscript? I've finished the first third of it, and I'd really like to get another perspective. Will you read it?"
She was asking him a question. She was looking at him, waiting for his answer. What had she asked him? What response did she want?
Eugene nodded his head. And then she was putting something in his hands—the stack of papers he had seen before, under the journal. Except it wasn't just a stack of papers—it was his child—no. It wasn't his child. He didn't have a child. It was Rapunzel's book. The one she was writing, apparently.
Since when had she been writing a book? She didn't write. She played and painted and made candles, but she didn't write!
"What's it," he managed to squeak out, before lowering his voice several octaves in his attempt to return some normalcy to his manner, "what's it about?"
"Well," Rapunzel began, obviously giddy to at last be talking about this to someone, "it's about this prince. When he's born he's visited by two witches—one good and one bad."
He wasn't a father. Not a father. No child. He had been so sure!
"And the good one gives him the gift of music, but then the bad one comes and curses him and he becomes ugly with mottled skin and he has this awful, raspy voice!"
And Rapunzel wasn't a mother. She was just…a writer apparently. She said he'd had a hand in the conception. How had he—oh right. He had suggested she write a book. Huh.
"So the King and Queen sail to this powerful sorcerer to reverse the spell, but on the way a giant storm churns up and they all die except for Irving—that's the prince. Anyway, he washes ashore and he's found by this old man who raises him as his own."
But he'd seen her talking to the Royal Physician! And she'd been so secretive about it. Why had—
"So Irving is raised by this old man who teaches him all about music, not that Irving needs much teaching. Anyway, the old man dies of consumption—oh, you'll love that part, Eugene. I was so careful to get all the signs right."
She had been asking the physician about consumption for her book. She'd been doing research. But the eyes—why had she asked him about the eyes?
"So Irving goes off in the world because there's nothing to tie him down anymore. And even though, when he's singing or playing an instrument, he sounds beautiful, he scares everyone because he's so ugly on the outside. He looks almost inhuman, except for his eyes, which are a vivid green. They're his only good feature."
She'd been deciding Irving's eye color…
"So anyway, he has all these adventures and at some point he meets up with this beautiful maiden named Bridget. I know you said you don't like the name, but I think it works well for her. Anyway, she's really, really beautiful with long raven hair and bright blue eyes and she needs to find her little brother, who's gone missing so she and Irving wander around looking for him…"
But what about the painting? The painting of a baby? How could she expl—
"They don't find her brother, but they do find a piglet wounded in some thorns. Bridget picks up the piglet and bundles him up, and it turns out that's Bridget's brother, only she doesn't recognize him because a spell has been cast on him…here, I started painting that scene…"
A pig? He'd mistaken a pig for his child?
"So I haven't figured out the ending yet, but I know I want there to be a dragon. So what do you think?"
No child. Just a pig. And a stack of papers.
No child. No child?
"Well," he said slowly, forcing his brain to work again, "it sounds like quite a story…"
"I'm so glad you like it!" Rapunzel bubbled, hugging him fiercely. "I was so nervous," she explained as she pulled away, "because I've never done anything like this before. There wasn't any extra paper in the tower so I didn't write much. Ack! I'm so glad you like it!" She hugged him again.
Yet another example of the world trying to teach him that age old lesson: no matter how smart you are, Eugene, you're not as smart as you think you are.
And you know what? Just an hour ago if he'd found out he was wrong, he would have been pretty happy about it. But now he just felt…empty. He was a father without a child. Never before had giving piggy back rides, tucking his daughter into bed, or telling his son to "mind his mother" seemed more attractive.
"Hey Rapunzel," he asked, "what do you think about children?"