Author Note: And at long last, the week (that was started back in January, mind) is finished! :D I apologize for the long wait for its completion and for posting... but I am happy to be done with another story and I can't wait to focus on the two I've got :D so I hope you all enjoy this bit, know that you WILL see the pub thugs again in some shape or form, and that they really are a good crew of characters :D they're just harder to write for than the family :) Thanks for waiting, reading, reviewing, faving, and all around being awesome :D I promise to try to get something else up soon, but I hope you find this fun to read and funny as well :D

Soli Deo Gloria

Disclaimer: Disney owns Tangled, its characters, and its story. Oh, and there are also several references in here ranging from books, movies, to animated tv shows :D find them if you can! :D


"We are twenty of the roughest, toughest, meanest men in the entire kingdom. We've worked as highwaymen, we've been bodyguards, we've been in more bar fights than anyone I know, and we've won first place in the Annual Thug Pie-throw Contest for the last seventeen years. So can you please explain to me how we managed to lose three kids in a KIDDIE CARNIVAL?" Hook-hand demanded of the line of thugs standing before him.

Big-nose shrugged and gestured to the throngs of gabbling children running past, "To be fair, Albert, there are kids everywhere."

Hook-hand wielded his hook around so that it rested under the other thug's rather large nose, barking: "That's Hook-hand to you!"

"Okay, but I still don't see what the problem is. I mean—we know where Annie is."

"Yeah-," Tor muttered, squinting over at the distant Ferris wheel, "-the ride just broke down, that's all."

Another thug nodded, adding, "And Attila's with her, so no worries."

"But we still don't know where Ginger or Tom are and-," Hook-hand waved his arms around the mass of multicolored tents, games, and rides, "-this place is huge!"

Big-nose sighed, "How about we split up, huh? It'll probably make searching easier."

"Very well, I suppose we have no other choice. Ralph, you take Tor, Shorty, Thorn and Killer and search the northeast and northern section of the park. Gunther, you take Ulf, Archer, Bruiser and Fang and cover the northwest corner and some of the southwest." Hook-hand turned to the remaining thugs, "Garcon, Axel and Archimedes, we'll cover the other parts of the carnival. Now let's move, people!"

Roaring, the thugs split up into raiding parties and spread out to locate their missing niece and nephew.


Annabelle watched the group break apart and race in opposite directions while scaring a crowd of kids with their shouts. She shook her head and lifted her eyes to see the rest of the park. It was quite easy to survey the carnival while being stranded on the topmost part of the Ferris wheel. She could see the animal tent, the carousel, and the game booths laden with cheap prizes; she could also see the food stations, the rickety rides, and even the wide amphitheatre dedicated to musical performances. Basically, the carnival resembled nothing more than an array of various tents stretched across an open field near the town of Dean.

She sighed, resting her face moodily in her hands as she gazed out across the amassed rainbow-colored pavilions.

Beside her, Attila glanced down at his oven-mitts, trying to think of some way to pass the time. Finally he asked, his voice echoing inside his helmet, "So… how are your cooking lessons with the head chef?"

"Fine, I suppose. Last week I learned how to cook spaghetti while using noodles imported from the Torren Peninsula."

"Ah yes—those noodles are quite tricky. They require a lot of boiling before they're soft enough."

Annabelle shrugged, "Chef Arnold also insists that ocean water is the best way to cook them—he says that's how they do it on the Peninsula."

Attila nodded, "That's the traditional way—but in Corona, most people like using fresh water for boiling."

"Stan said that too, when I told him about it."

"Stan?"

She smiled, "He's the royal librarian assistant, and I've been friends with him as far back as I can remember. I don't know if you met him or not."

"Wait… wasn't he the young man who somehow ended up in that water-war your brother wanted to have?" Attila tapped his mitt-covered fingers on the handle bar of their car.

Annabelle laughed, "Yep, that was Stan. He went in to get Thomas because I was worried about him."

"Nice fellow."

"I think so." She replied softly, returning to looking at the landscape while her uncle glanced down to see a repairman struggling with the Ferris-wheel mechanism.


Hook-hand and his group began their search at the petting zoo. It was a wide, fenced-in area full of babbling mobs of children and bleating goats and sheep. A few pigs trundled in the dust, grunting much like how the usual customers of the Snuggly Duckling did at dinnertime. No park official was on watch, so the kids were free to harass the animals, and the animals were harassing right back. Unfortunately, most of the thugs did not know how to search for children. So they instead resorted to picking up kids at random and seeing if they were related to them.

Garcon held up a screaming girl to his face, peering at her suspiciously. "I think this might be the little one."

"Put me down! Put me down you smelly man!" The little girl kicked him in the nose, freeing herself and racing off in the opposite direction.

Garcon held his nose, wincing. He called out in a nasally voice: "Hey Archie! How are you doing?"

Archimedes shook his head as he waded through a crowd of goats, "Did Hook-hand say 'kids' as in goats or kids as in kids?"

"'Kids' as in goats, Archie," Garcon replied back sarcastically. "We're looking for the crown goat prince and his little sister."

"Really?"

Hook-hand, who at this moment had been passing by, slapped Garcon on the back of the head. "Stop confusing him! This is important!"

"Sorry, boss."

Just then, a rather angry shout came from the other end of the petting zoo as Axel was suddenly smacked by an enraged grandmother.

"What do you think you're doing, picking up my grandbaby?" She shrieked, swinging her heavy red handbag and striking the thug in the stomach.

"Ma'am—I'm only trying to—please stop-," Axel dodged another hit, yelping as she continued to holler.

Garcon snorted slightly, "I forgot what kind of effect Axel has on females."

Hook-hand shoved his fellow thug back, ordering: "Shut it, Garcon, and keep looking. I'll go straighten this out."

He walked over to where Axel was still being pounded mercilessly by the enraged grandmother. Axel's protests could be heard ringing out with every blow as the she continued to screech.

"Please—I'm just-!"

"Infernal hooligan!"

Axel held up his hands pleadingly, "But Ma'am—ow! What do you have in there, canned cat food?"

"Rotten scoundrel!" She flapped her purse against his shoulder.

"Ouch! Ooo! Stop, please-!"

"I should have you arrested! Johnny, go and get the police!" Her grandson immediately ran off to do as instructed.

"Madam, I believe you are mistaken." Hook-hand walked up from behind, his shadow falling across her.

Her eyes widened in shock, and she gasped, "There's another one of you ugly brutes!"

"Ugly? Now wait just a—ouch!" Hook-hand ducked below another whack as the enraged grandmother continued to beat both him and Axel, yelling for backup.

Unfortunately, backup came in the form of a frustrated aunt and a panicky babysitter. They both had heavy purses as well, and soon all three women were waling on the thugs with all the venom they could muster. Hook-hand and Axel, despite being thugs, were also gentlemen and would never hit a lady on purpose. So it was that they endured the walloping handbags while trying to explain what they were doing.

Archimedes wandered over to Garcon, gazing at the yelling group over at the far edge of the yard. He leaned towards him, whispering: "Do you reckon we should help?"

Garcon shook his head, "Nah. Boss just smacked me and I'm not feeling particularly friendly to him at the moment."

Archimedes absently petted one of the goats by his heels, murmuring, "Good goatie."

Garcon stared at him, "You do realize we're not actually looking for goats, right? We're looking for Eugene and Rapunzel's kids—our niece and nephew."

He shrugged, "I know. But remember, Vlad's with Ginger, and Tom can take care of himself. I don't think we have to worry too much."

"Yeah."

They both watched in interest as Axel tried to escape the barrage by leaping over the petting zoo fence. Unfortunately, he woke up a bad-tempered pig by stepping on its tail. The hog squealed in anger and began to give chase, finally butting the poor thug into a nearby feeding trough.

Finally, Hook-hand had managed to calm down his attackers. Rubbing his eye, where the panicky babysitter had clipped him with her fanny-pack, Hook-hand said wearily: "Please calm yourselves, ladies. We are not here to terrorize your children in the slightest. We are simply trying to locate our niece and nephew."

"You lost your niece and nephew?" The frustrated aunt asked, her eyes widening.

"Well, they just went missing and-."

"What kind of uncles are you?" The angry women demanded in furious harmony, and then the trio began their onslaught once more, all the while shouting about improper child-handling.

Hook-hand gave up on trying to placate them and instead sprinted away, barking: "RUN!"

His fellow thugs took flight, running along after him as more incensed women and one snorting pig broke away from the petting zoo to administer punishment to the hapless uncles.


Meanwhile, Vladimir and Ginger were standing by the cotton candy stall. Vladimir and Ginger were buying cotton candy. Vladimir and Ginger loved cotton candy.

The giant thug held up a large cocoon of the fluffy, spun-sugar, smiling happily. Ginger strolled along in front of him, and he would occasionally pass her a handful of cotton candy to munch on as she walked. They wove in and out among the game and food counters, the little girl chatting animatedly while her huge companion listened in complete contentment.

"Sometimes, if I try really hard, I can get Daddy to tell me the unicorn story. I could get him to tell it to the both of us when Mommy and him get back."

Vladimir nodded, taking a bite out of the cotton candy. He asked a question that was muffled by the cobwebs of sugar in his mouth.

Ginger, however, had become quite adept at discerning his mumbles, and replied, "He won't mind. He never does. Even if he's tired, Daddy will tell me stories." She sighed, "I miss them."

The giant thug grinned down at her, "Don't worry. They'll be home soon."

"I know," Ginger beamed. "And then they can hear about everything we've done this week."

Vladimir's smile weakened, and he said tightly, "Yes they can. But you should probably tell them after we leave."

"Why?"

"We—we don't want to um…" he cast his eyes around, trying to find some distraction. Vladimir jerked his arm forward, blurting: "Hey, Ginger—look over there!"

"Where?" She turned to where he was pointing and gasped.

There was a long line of game booths stretching off to their right. Prizes—stuffed animals, cheap noisemakers, more cotton candy, and various other items—dangled from the top of the stalls like baited fishhooks. The fish themselves were swarming the stalls, jabbering incessantly while trying to win the different games.

Vladimir glanced down at his niece, mentally congratulating himself for his successful diversion, when he noticed her gaze trained on one booth in particular. He followed her eyes and beheld, hanging from the booth of the classic 'knock-over-the-milk-bottles' game, a pair of giant, fluffy unicorns.

"It—it…" Vladimir muttered, dropping the cotton candy in stunned disbelief.

"It's so fluffy I'm gonna die!" Ginger exclaimed, running over to the stall and gaping up at the fluffy unicorns.

The sleazy-looking booth operator grinned toothily down at his new customer, "Would you like to try the game little girl?"

She nodded, "Please?"

"Five farthings, princess." The man said, checking his slicked back hair in a mirror he had set up behind the counter.

"Uncle Vlad-," Ginger turned to look up at the thug. "Uncle Vlad, can I have five farthings?"

He nodded, still staring at the unicorns, and passed the required payment across the counter to the booth operator.

"Here you go, princess." The operator said, setting three balls onto the counter. "Toss these at the bottles over there. Knock 'em all over and you've got yourself a prize."

Ginger eagerly clambered onto the stool set before the counter, seized one of the missiles, and threw it with all her might to the waiting pyramid of bottles. The ball struck off the top one, leaving the others untouched.

"Two more tries, girlie."

She grabbed another ball, narrowed her eyes, and launched it towards her target, successfully knocking the next two down. Ginger cheered, looking up at Vladimir.

"Only three more left, Uncle Vlad!"

"Three more." Vladimir repeated softly, his eyes fixed on the unicorns.

Ginger picked up the final ball, readied her aim, and threw it, striking the middle bottle.

The ball bounced off, leaving the bottles quite unmoved.

"Ooo, sorry, princess. Looks like you don't get a prize after all." The booth operator muttered, clicking his tongue as he examined his manicured nails.

"What?"

Vladimir glanced down, noticing the tragic note in his niece's voice. He glared at the man, "What's wrong?"

"She didn't knock down all the bottles. Don't knock 'em down, don't get any prize."

"But Uncle Vlad-," Ginger took hold of his brawny arm, gazing up at him, "-I did hit the bottle! I hit it but the ball bounced off!"

"Hey, what kind-of game are you running here anyway?" The thug demanded, scowling.

The operator shrugged, "A simple game for simple minds."

Vladimir snorted and reached into the pouch at his waist, slamming five more coins onto the counter, "Let this simple mind try it."

He shook his head, retorting, "You need ten. It's not fair otherwise."

The giant thug stonily dropped another handful of farthings into the man's outstretched hand. Then he waited for the bottles to be set back into place.

"All right-," the operator set a single ball onto the counter, "-you've got one shot."

Vladimir looked down the missile, "One shot?"

"Fairness first."

The thug growled, and was only placated by Ginger's hand squeezing his wrist. He nodded and, after helping her to the ground, stepped back, rolling his massive shoulders. Then he took the ball into his hands and sighted down the space of air between himself and the waiting bottles.

Glinting in the sunlight, the glass bottles seemed to mock him. He knew the booth operator was mocking him, but those bottles were too much.

"All right, shiny vessels of evil, taste my power." Vladimir murmured, reeling back his hand and shooting the ball towards the pyramid of glass.

If bottles could speak, the ones on the receiving end of Vladimir's toss would have been screaming bloody murder. Needless to say, they did let out quite a protest when the ball struck them and not only knocked the bottles (even the ones that were glued on) off their perch—it caused them all to burst from impact. Shards flew everywhere, ripping through the tent and flying out onto the dirt.

Vladimir looked on in satisfaction as the booth operator slowly raised his head up from where he had ducked below the counter.

"We'd like our unicorns now."

"B—but…" He was trembling, feeling the top of his head where a stray piece of glass had neatly shaved off a line of hair.

"That's okay. I can get them myself."

Vladimir easily reached up and unhooked the two unicorns. He gave Ginger the pink unicorn, smiling.

Somehow oblivious to the fact that her uncle had just destroyed the game booth, the girl beamed up at him, announcing: "IT'S SO FLUFFY!"

"Yes," Vladimir examined his own unicorn, his smile turning into a broad grin, "yes it is."

"Let's go try out that hammer one, Uncle Vlad! I bet you'll send it fifty feet into the air!" Ginger took hold of her uncle's hand and he allowed her to 'drag' him onward to another game booth.

The sleazy operator stared about his ruined stall. He gave a sigh of dejection and went off to the medical tent, seeking some aspirin.


Big-nose gestured to the sign again, demanding, "Come on! Albert told us to check this area of the park and this is the only ride we haven't looked at yet!"

"There was a reason for that." Tor muttered, gazing warily at the 'Tunnel of Love' flamboyantly painted across the entrance to the dreaded ride.

Killer nodded, agreeing, "A very good reason."

The other thugs mumbled in harmony, frowning at the painfully-pink hearts plastered all over the tent and at the swanboats waiting in the moat. There was a bored operator reading 'Dandyman's Monthly' at his booth. Just then, a group of young couples came over to the stall and began purchasing tickets.

"Do you really think Tom would go in there? Or Ginger, for that matter?"

Big-nose sighed and nodded at the ride again, protesting helplessly: "Listen guys, we should at least try. And besides, Shorty's already gone on ahead and we can't afford to get thrown out of the park."

Tor rubbed his chin, smirking, "That's true. We all know Shorty's a few pecans short of a fruitcake."

"I think you mean he's not the quickest bunny in the forest." Thorn suggested, laughing.

The gardening thug remarked, "Or maybe that he's as bright as a lamp in Aladdin's cave."

"Guys, that's enough." Big-nose groaned, knowing full well that this could take hours.

"You know, I'd say that Shorty is a few needles short of a sewing kit." Killer added, receiving grins from everyone but Big-nose.

Tor shrugged, "I suppose. But one thing he most definitely can't do is pour water out of a boot with instructions on the heel."

"Guys-," Big-nose seized Tor and Killer by their tunic fronts, dragging them forward, "-we are getting on that ride now! And we are finding the kids or Shorty! And you can complain all-," he shoved them both into a boat, "-you want but we have a job to do as uncles and as thugs! Thorn!"

"Yeah?" The thug asked hesitantly, never having seen Big-nose this forceful before.

He pointed at the remaining swanboat, snapping, "Get in there! We are going on this ride if, for nothing else, to make you all into gentlemen!"

"But I don't want to be a gentle-."

"INTO THE BOAT!"

"All right—all right, Ralph, keep your nose on."

"The correct term is 'shirt' Thorn." Killer pointed out, already removing his sewing kit from his knapsack for what he assumed would be a boring ride.

"Whatever. Just-," Thorn stopped at the glare Big-nose was giving him. He grinned weakly, "Hey, Ralph..."

"Thank you for volunteering. You-," Big-nose slammed the oars down onto his lap, "-get to row."

"But-."

"Now!"

Murmuring darkly, Thorn began to pump the oars up and down through the mysteriously-blue water of the ride's moat. Slowly, Killer and Tor followed. And then they rowed into the shadowy insides of the 'Tunnel of Love'.

As their eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, the thugs saw that they were in the midst of a Valentine's Day festival. Sparkling, glittery hearts hung from the eaves of the tunnel while pink and purple mood lighting filled the corners and illuminated posters of cupid and other cute, chubby angelic babies. It was rather silent, with only the creaking sound of oars and the splashing of that strange blue water echoing about. Minutes drifted by, with no sign of anything except cheap confetti and strings of heart decorations.

Then, gradually, the sound of a well-tuned ukulele and perhaps a not-so-well-tuned voice began to ring out through the quietness of the tunnel.

"Two lovers—forbidden from one another—a war divides their people… And a mountain divides them apart… built a path to be together-."

"Ralph, will you STOP SINGING THAT STUPID SONG?" Thorn insisted, trying to make as much noise as he possibly could by banging the oars against the side of the boat.

Killer nodded, calling from behind them, "Yeah. And where on earth did you get that ukulele from?"

"I always carry a spare." Big-nose responded, patting his ukulele comfortably.

"When are we ever going to need a ukulele?"

"Well when are we ever going to need a sweater?"

Killer glanced down at the sweater he was working on, "Touche'."

Suddenly, the flow of water began to speed up. They were entering the more exciting part of the tunnel.

"Keep the oars in. I think this might get a bit bumpy."

"Ralph, I highly doubt that the 'Tunnel of Love' is anything to be worried about." Thorn muttered sarcastically.

"Say that to those guys." Big-nose replied, jabbing a thumb back at a small inlet where an overturned swanboat bobbed up and down. The swanboat's erstwhile occupants were standing, thigh-deep, in the swirling water, quite shocked at what had just happened.

"What kind of ride is-?" Thorn started to ask, but his words flew back into his throat when the boats took a dip down a waterfall to the lagoon below.

Outside the 'Tunnel of Love' ride, the operator grinned and cranked up the speed, listening to the howls of surprise echoing from the ride's depths. He loved this job.


Meanwhile, Thomas, crown prince of Corona, was walking around the park looking for something to do. He had already ridden all the rides he was allowed to ride—and several he was not allowed to ride—and he had eaten his fill of sugar and junk food. Now all he had left in the way of money was a dented farthing piece. But that was barely enough to secure one minute's worth of entertainment. How would he survive the next several hours if he did not have anything left to spend?

Struggling with this predicament, Thomas trotted along the dusty street. He had entered the middle part of the carnival. It was where the four biggest factions (the animals, the rides, the games, and the food) all met together to form some kind of mini-park in the bigger park. He was passing a nearby candy stall when something hard struck him in the back of the head.

Thomas frowned and glanced around, his hand immediately going for the slingshot in his backpocket. There were multitude of children and families surrounding him. No one seemed very suspicious. Still scanning the crowd, he knelt to pick up a small, rubber ball that had landed beside his feet.

"Hey! That's mine!" A skinny, dark-haired boy ran up to him. He was probably a few years Thomas's senior, and he had a faintly pointed sort-of look to his face.

The boy made to snatch back the ball, but Thomas jerked away, asking, "Why'd you throw it for?"

"Because-," the boy squirmed neatly around to grab the ball, "-Stephen dared me."

"Who?" Thomas looked up at him, still wondering if he should pull out his slingshot or not.

"My brother. Hey—what happened to your arm?"

"I broke it trying to fly." Thomas replied, proudly presenting the sling that held his healing arm.

The boy's face brightened, "Cool! Do you like games?"

"Um…"

The boy nodded to a booth behind him, "There's this guy who says he'll double the player's money if he wins. Stephen and I can't get it but you look smart. Maybe you can get it."

Thomas shrugged, "All right. But I've only got a farthing left."

"That's enough. Come on." He started forward and then turned back, "Wait—what's your name?"

"Tom."

The boy grinned, "I'm David. You can call me Dave for short—that's what my parents do anyway."

"Dave! Get over here!"

"I'm coming! For goodness sake the kid can't wait for one second…" David raced over to where his elder brother—also dark-haired—stood by one of the game booths.

Thomas jogged along behind him to come up in front of the taller boy.

Stephen narrowed his eyes, asking, "Where'd you find him, Dave?"

His brother pointed to the street, "Out there. He says he's got a farthing and I think he could win the game."

"I don't know… I think he looks a little on the stupid side."

"Aw, Steve, come on. Besides-," David lowered his voice, "-he might be able to help us get Dad's money back."

"Fine. But the guy who runs the stall won't return until-."

"Kids, I see you haven't yet vacated the premises of my fine establishment." A tall, spindly-legged man moved into place behind the counter, drumming his long fingers on the painted wood. He raised an eyebrow, spying Thomas. "Ah, I see you've decided to bring in reinforcements. Come here, kid. Try to find the queen-," he flipped over a card and showed him the queen of spades. "I'll let you do a free runthrough since it's your first time."

"But-." Thomas felt himself being shoved forward by an eager David.

"Watch the cards—watch the cards… see if you can find the queen." The game manager shifted five cards over the counter top, watching as Thomas's eyes followed the cards.

"Okay then." The man finished moving the cards and leaned back in his chair. "Try it, kid."

Thomas, who had played this game before with his father, silently pointed at the second card to the left.

"Good job, kiddo." The operator grinned, flipping over the card to reveal the queen. "Want to try again? Cost a farthing. You'll get two in return should you win."

"He's just trying to trick-." David started to hiss, stopping only because his brother elbowed him sharply in the ribs.

Thomas withdrew his coin and slapped it onto the counter, "Again."

"Right, kid. Try it this time."

The man redid his original movements, and then, faster than blinking, slid his hands across the cards and flipped, folded, shuffled and spread them out.

The prince squinted and reached out his hand, deftly turning the last card over, revealing the queen. He smirked, "Got it."

He smiled and nodded, poking his tongue into his cheek, "Okay then—how about raising the stakes? Four farthings if you win? Nut'n if you lose?"

"Bring it."

"Will do." The game manager began to move the cards much faster this time, slowing down towards the middle, and then speeding up at the end.

Thomas stared hard at his hands, but lost the queen halfway through. He still did not know what had happened to the card when the man took his hands away.

"Find her now, kid." He said smugly.

Behind him, Thomas could hear David sighing and Stephen muttering something probably unfortunate. He shook his head, trying to block out all noise, and focused on what his father had told him. If you lose the card, then study the hands that dealt them.

The boy turned his keen eyes upon the man's fingers, seeing the faint rhythm he was tapping out across the counter. Two taps, three rapid taps, and then four slow taps… wait—there it was. A pause—probably unconsciously done—at the middle card. Thomas sighed as if in defeat and pointed at the center card.

"That one…"

The man's eyebrows rose up his forehead in surprise. He flipped the card to show the queen, "Wow, kid. That was impressive."

"So he gets four farthings, right?" David asked excitedly, leaning over the counter.

He nodded, "Ye—es. Unless you want to play again?"

David beamed at his new friend, "What do you say, Tom? Huh? What do you say?"

Thomas glanced back at Stephen and saw the tiniest glint of interest in his eyes. A glow of inherited theiverish pride rose in the boy's chest. He smirked, "Yeah. I want to play again."

"Very well then. But I'm upping the stakes. Eight farthings—that's two pennies. I'll add in another card and make it an even six cards on the table."

Thomas nodded, "Okay."


"Gunther, I seriously don't think we'll find them at the rate you're going." Bruiser declared, stepping into the shade of the huge tent reserved for the carnival food contest.

Gunther looked around, clicking his tongue in disgust, "This is an absolutely terrible set-up. Look at how they have the tables just placed in lines all over the place."

Archer rolled his eyes, "I think that's because it's a food contest, Gunth. It's not supposed to look like the Taj Mahal in here…"

"Still—they could've at least tried." The thug sniffed, inhaling the smell of a thousand treats. Apparently the contest was a dessert one, and the dessert in question was pie. Lots and lots of pie. The whole inside of the tent smelled like a fruit basket.

Ulf ran over to them from where he had been searching by the unoccupied judging table. He proceeded to mime at them something involving a small box.

Fang sighed, "No, Ulf, we can't take some home to go. Don't you know they're judging the pies?"

"Speaking of which—didn't Attila enter one of his famous chocolate pies into the contest?" Archer asked.

Bruiser nodded, "Sure did. What do you want to bet he's going to win?"

"Say five farthings?"

"Guys-," Gunther said, minutely adjusting a nearby table, "-let's just look for the kids."

Archer nodded as they began to spread out among the tables, "Gotcha, Gunth."

"Will you please stop calling me that, Archer? You know I prefer Gunther."

"Which is exactly why I call you Gunth, Gunth." His fellow thug smirked, dropping into a crouch to peer below the tables.

Gunther moaned, "Of course it is."

Meanwhile, Fang was examining the many pies laid out on one of the circular counters. He frowned slightly, "Did you know there is a type of fruit called Salisbury plum?"

"It's not a fruit, Fang, it's a color." Gunther replied.

"And apparently-," he lifted up the pie to show the other thugs, "-it's also a fruit."

"Hey, I think I remember Granny making that before. Mmm, Salisbury plum pie." Archer smiled dreamily.

"'tis not half as good as Mama Ophelia's cinnamon pie." Fang replied.

"I know—it's better." Archer flashed a quick grin at him.

Fang glared, still holding the pie in his hands, "Well how do you know? You've never had a decent cinnamon pie in your life."

"Says you. Granny can make a pie out of almost anything and it still tastes amazing."

"Will you guys stop talking about pie and just look for the kids already?" Bruiser barked, walking over to a nearby barrel and peering into its depths.

"Poor Bruise… he never had a decent pie either." Fang sighed, shaking his head.

"Come over to my Granny's house and he will. Hey, Bruiser—you busy this Sunday?"

"No."

"How about Sunday lunch at Granny's house? All you can eat pie-," Archer smirked at Fang, adding, "-the absolute best in the world. You can come too if you want, Fang. I know you've never experienced such epicness in pastries."

Fang's glare deepened, "That tears it! No one disses Mama Ophelia's pie!"

Gunther rolled his eyes, "Fang, no one was-."

"Eulalia!"

"Eulali—wha—argh!"

There was a resounding 'SPLAT!' as Salisbury plum pie smashed against the side of Gunther's face.

Fang froze, staring at his fellow thug. Crushed fruit began to leak down from the ruined pastry and onto Gunther's shoulder. "Oh… sorry Gunther… didn't know you were-."

"SALISBURY PLUM IS NOT MY COLOR!" Gunther roared, seizing the nearest pie he could find—pumpkin, for those who are curious—and hurled it at Fang.

Fang squeaked and dropped to the ground, the pie sailing overhead to land on Bruiser's shoulder. Bruiser turned slowly around, his brow furrowed in anger.

"Who threw that?" Bruiser demanded.

"Gunth-." Archer started to say, but was cut off when a custard pie (expertly tossed by Fang) slammed straight into his face. He stumbled backward, tripping over his own feet and accidentally knocking three more pies off a nearby table.

Gunther, in the meantime, had successfully pummeled Fang with two more pies (chocolate crème and raspberry), all the while shouting about his now-ruined sheep-wool vest. Curtesy of Bruiser, Gunter had also received the majority of a whipped lemon pastry to his front, the yellow congealing unpleasantly with the mashed Salisbury plum.

Fang ducked a third pie and grabbed a peanut butter one, preparing to pitch it back to Gunther, when Archer nailed him with a cinnamon apricot tart. Slivers of apricot fell to the ground as Fang darted forward, sweeping up two small chocolate pies and flinging them at Archer.

He called over to his fellow thug as he dodged the flying desserts, laughing: "Taste that! It's better than your Granny's second-best pie!"

Abruptly Ulf—who had, as of yet, avoided the action—pulled a stack of cherry pies from a table and began lobbing right and left, smacking each thug with skillfull throws. Archer shook cherry juice from his vision, his hand clamping over an unfortunate peach pie. He yelled, "Call my Granny's pies second-best will you?"

Fang managed to let out a yelp of fright before the peach tartlet violently plugged up his mouth. He collapsed onto the ground, choking, and Ulf ran over, picking the thug up and performing a rapid Heimlich maneuver to dislodge the small missile. The peach tart soared through the air, ricocheting off a tent pole and striking Gunther in the back of the head.

The thug growled and snatched up another pie, hefting it in one hand and chucking it at Fang. Then, yet another pie—blueberry, this time—hurtled towards Gunther to splatter onto his shoulder blades. He whirled around to see Bruiser reaching for another pie. Bellowing in complete frustration, Gunther took a running leap and slammed into Bruiser, knocking over a table in the process and sending pies spinning everywhere. Each pastry struck down its intended and unintended targets, resulting in a brief ceasefire as thugs rose from the dirt, groaning.

Archer attempted to get to his feet, stepped in a half-ruined pie, and slipped back onto the gorund again. Fang brushed aside Ulf's helping hand and instead eased himself up by using a nearby table leg. Gunther pushed off of Bruiser's wide back, his eyes practically popping with rage. Bruiser himself had some difficulty in rising, having had his face shoved into a pie dish that did not seem to want to come off. He sat up, moaning and tugging at the platter now jammed firmly around his face.

Suddenly, a low whistle of amusement caused all the thugs (including Bruiser, despite his inability to see through the pie dish) to look up.

There was a group of eight large, beefy, ugly-looking men standing at the opposite end of the tent. They all had smirks of derision on their unshaven faces, and the leader—a rather portly ruffian with an eyepatch—remarked: "Looks like the 'Ugly' Duckling gang is living up to its reputation of stupidity."

"Gunth, that's-." Archer started, but Gunther nodded and interrupted him gravely.

"I know. They're those depraved ruffians from the Cuddly Kitten."

*insert dramatic music of choice, with maybe a thunderclap and stroke of lightning*

"Ruffians who should've won last year's Pie-throw fair and square!" One of the said ruffians declared bitterly. Next to him, his companions laughed as Bruiser continued to struggle with his pie dish.

Archer quickly hurried forward and peeled the platter off Bruiser's face, revealing his fellow thug's now key-limed complexion.

"You okay, Bruise?"

Bruiser wiped some pie off his face, mumbling, "Yeah. Yeah—thanks, Arch."

"No problem." Archer helped his fellow thug to his feet, slapping some of the crumbled pie crust from his shoulders.

Meanwhile, Gunther was rolling his eyes and replying back to the Cuddly Kitten ruffians: "We won that Pie-throw because none of you could throw straight."

The ruffian glowered at him, barking, "Says you! Your leader—that ugly guy with the hook—can't even throw at all!"

Fang shook his head and retorted, "No! You were just too busy hiding your sorry faces during the fight because the boss was hammering your defenses with every pie in the cookbook!"

"Well you-!"

"Silence." The portly ruffian ordered his companion. Then he turned and glared up at Gunther (who was fairly tall for a thug), and announced: "There is only one way to settle this."

"I agree." Gunther replied quietly, nodding.

"Boys-," the portly ruffian said, easily overturning one of the tables, "-time to fight."

His fellow ruffians began to set up their own barricades, ducking down behind them as, across the way, Gunther, Fang, Archer, Bruiser, and Ulf, all set their tables into position. Then, just as seriously, each group began to gather up as many pies as remained. Since there were literally hundreds beneath the tent, each team compiled a good haul of artillery.

Gunther flicked some cherry goo from his ear, whispering: "Now listen up. Those morons outnumber us so we'll have to be on the defensive. All of you have participated in the Pie-throw before, but then we had referees. Well, this time we don't have any referees so-."

"Play dirty?" Fang asked.

"Exactly."

Archer glanced over at their adversaries, murmuring, "Gunth, do you think we can try the 'Banana Splice'?"

"We could try—though you know that's Garcon's specialty—and he's not with us."

Bruiser shrugged simply, "Aw, we can pull it off. Just need the appropriate collection of ammo. Do we have any banana-pudding pies?"

Ulf tapped him on the shoulder and mimed out a series of different actions for the group to see. After a moment, Gunther nodded.

"All right. We can try the 'Banana Slice'. But also, as Ulf has so wisely suggested, throw in a bit of 'Tenterhooks' when we get the chance, and then win the battle by storming them. We'll probably run out of pies by that point, but all we have to do is chase those Kittens off the premises in order to truly claim championship."

"And we will do that, right?" Bruiser asked.

Gunther grinned, "Oh yeah—we'll do that."

Suddenly, a loud voice called over from the other side: "Are you idiots ready?"

Fang glanced over at Gunther, raising an eyebrow, and Gunther's smirk deepened. Fang then reached over and seized a smallish pie, loading it onto his hand. Then, suddenly rising up, he threw the pie and struck the challenger straight in the face with whipped cream, howling: "READY!"


"So then Stan told me all about his great Aunt Clarise's niece Fiona, explaining how she was imprisoned in a faraway castle when she was young. Then of course I had to tell him about Mom and Dad's story and amazingly enough he believed me. That's when I knew he would be my best friend—although Big Harriet's my best girl-friend, but Stan is my best friend all around. Dad doesn't like him very much, though. He wasn't like that a few years ago but now he's always glaring at Stan every chance he gets for some reason…"

Attila looked up sleepily. It was quite warm up here, so close to the sun, but a pleasant breeze provided ample comfort to those stranded on the Ferris wheel. That, combined with his neice's incessant talking about Stanley Issacs had made the thug quite drowsy. He wondered if Annabelle would notice him nodding slightly if he took a nap. Probably not. The girl was really not aware of her surroundings, so focused she was on describing her best friend Stan.

"And then one day last summer, Stan helped me learn how to play chess. Dad and Mom had tried to teach me before but I never really understood until Stan explained it. He was very patient—he's such a nice guy and I just don't see why Dad has such a prejudice against him. Did you know that Dad actually told Uncle Albert to keep an eye on him? He seems to think Stan is some sort-of criminal. I mean, for goodness sake, Dad was a criminal once and you guys aren't really that better off, and he likes you fine. But Stan's just a librarian's assistant—and he's my best friend. You would think that Dad would understand…"

"Hmmm." Attila muttered, leaning over the side to see how the repairman was doing on fixing the Ferris wheel.

The tiny figure was slamming his wrench against the side of the mechanism, howling out words that really should not be used in a kiddie carnival. Attila rolled his eyes.

"Yes, keep hitting the machine. That will make it start working." He commented sarcastically.

Annabelle stopped in her monologue about the librarian's assistant and frowned. "What did you say, Uncle Attila?"

"Nothing. Um—so tell me more about your cooking lessons with the head chef."

"Oh, well Chef Arnold also taught me how to make pumpkin pie last winter. He seemed to think that roasting the pumpkin seeds was a bit silly, though."

"But it's a traditional delicacy." Attila protested, shaking his head in disappointment.

Annabelle grinned, "It's a traditional delicacy in Orae, not here. They like to do chesnuts in Orae, too. I can remember the first time Mom and Dad took me there—there was so much snow…"


"Okay-," Hook-hand whispered hoarsely, leaning up against a nearby booth, "-I think we've lost them."

Garcon wiped sweat from his forehead, huffing, "You know, for such a bunch of old ladies, those girls have remarkable endurance."

"They're nothing on that wild pig." Axel moaned, feeling his hindquarters where the animal had rammed into him.

Hook-hand shrugged, pushing himself away from the booth, "At least we've managed to give them the slip. Now we can start looking for Tom and Ginger again."

"Are you sure they haven't been found by one of the other guys yet?" Garcon asked, wincing. "Because I don't think I can take much more of this, Boss."

"We have to keep looking." He replied determinedly, marching out, his eyes scanning the area.

Archimedes frowned, "We've come out at the musical arena. I don't think they'd be over here."

All the thugs glanced around, taking in the sight of the in-ground ampitheatre. It was a half-circle ampitheatre, comprised of a set of benches leading down to where a wide dais rose up. There was a rather large throng of specators awaiting the next performance, attention focused on the still-empty stage.

Whoever was the next performer, however, had neglected to show up, and the crowd was getting nervous. One cluster of children—an all-boys' school group of nearby Dean, from the looks of it—had already gotten rowdy. The young students wrestled in the aisles and jumped across benches, ignoring their schoolmasters attempts to calm them down. One set of boys rolled past the thugs, cheering boisteriously as they pummeled each other.

Garcon snorted, "Thank goodness our nephew's not like that."

Hook-hand shook his head, "Just give him a pair of friends his age and watch. Tom's bound to be in some mischief or another. He's too much like his father not to be."

"And I don't see any sign of the kids." Axel declared, peering at the crowd. "Looks like we need to search elsewhere."

They had started to leave when a rather impatient, desperate voice called: "Excuse me! Excuse me, Maestro Albert of Corona!"

Hook-hand turned around to see a short, young woman running up to him. She had a paper in one hand, a pencil tucked behind her ear, and a worried frown upon her face.

"Yes, Miss?" Hook-hand asked generously.

She held out her hand to shake his, explaining: "Listen, one of our concert pianists was not able to make it to the park in time and we need someone to take over. Would you mind if-?"

"I'm sorry, but I'm busy at the moment and-."

"Please sir? Just one song?"

"Go ahead, Boss." Garcon agreed. "Just one song. We'll keep looking for them while you entertain."

"But-." Hook-hand narrowed his eyes.

"Oh thank you, sir. Thank you so much." And, without bothering to ask him if it was all right or not, the young woman had grabbed hold of his hook and was tugging the thug up onstage.

"We have a change in performances, ladies and gentlemen." The young woman said, smiling at the crowd. "Instead of St. Michael of the Ivory Keys we will have Maestro Albert of Corona peform upon the piano for our enjoyment. If you please, Maestro."

Hook-hand froze slightly, somewhat stunned at his predicament. The multitude of children and families all stared up at him, waiting for him to take to the piano bench.

Just then, he felt a little pressure on his back as the young woman pushed him gently towards the piano.

Hook-hand took a seat and flipped open the cover, gazing down at the waiting white keys. He could see, out of the corner of his eye, that his fellow thugs had not continued their search but were instead sitting on the outskirts of the ampitheatre, grinning at him. Very well, if it was a show they wanted, it was a show they were going to get.

And so, setting his fingers and hook upon the piano keys, he began to play.

He started off with a soft melody at first, tenderly lining up the notes in tiny rivulets of such eerie quietness that seemed to make the whole ampitheatre shrink into silence. Then he branched out, pounding in sudden, daring harmonies that interconnected with such strong, binding crescendos as to plunge the song into a deepening elegance. Hook-hand continued to play, his mind combining old pieces with new while thundering notes faded into light, airy half-notes. He changed registers at will, knowing instinctively which part to switch and which additional flat or sharp was needed.

His hook followed his real fingers with expert timing, swinging, point-down, upon each key whenever it was required. He literally danced across the piano, diving into the music itself and swimming through its currents and furrows. He could hear mountain avalanches in the song, and apple trees blossoming in autumn, and deserts bleak and lonely stretching away to the far distance lighted by the burning sun in a cloudless sky. There were intricate twists and turns in the music, ramps of notes disappearing into pools of swirling tunes that all gave out into the final five bars.

And then, at the very end, something interrupted his song.

"THERE THEY ARE! GET THEM!"

Hook-hand stopped abruptly, recognizing the shriek as one belonging to the enraged grandmother. He slowly turned to see Garcon, Axel and Archimedes backing away from an even larger mob of angry ladies. It looked like the frustrated aunt had friends from the knitting society, because several of those women were clutching socks the size of Vladimir's. Then, the panicky babysitter noticed Hook-hand sitting upon the stage, and her scream broke the silence as she led a regiment of ladies in a charge towards him.

"Sorry, gotta go!" Hook-hand apologized, bolting away as fast as his legs could carry him as his companion thugs took flight. The mass of angry ladies followed them, yelling out revenge and demanding use of 'Dr. Lipschitz's Parenting Manual' for throwing at the poor thugs.

After a few, embarressed seconds, the young woman with the pencil behind her ear quickly trotted up onto the dais.

"Um, and that concludes this afternoon's performance. Thank you."


"It's not going to work."

"Shut up, Steve-," David grunted, shifting as Thomas's feet pressed onto his shoulders, "-of course it's going to work."

His brother rolled his eyes, "Yeah, that's what you said when you got this kid to help us win Dad's money back. Now we've been thrown out of the park with no way of getting back in."

Thomas, balancing carefully upon David's shoulders so he could reach the gate keyhole, continued to jiggle his father's lock picks against the metal tumblers. He narrowed his eyes, trying to ignore the argument going on below him. This lock was particularly hard to open—given he only had one hand to use—but he was fairly confident he could crack it. After all, he had just won about twenty-five games of 'find the queen', so this should not be too hard. Not that finding the queen had gotten him anywhere but outside the park.

"Look, Steve, all I'm saying is that Tom—oof—not so hard!"

"Sorry." Thomas muttered, twisting his wrist slightly to lift one of the lock's pins.

David shook his head, turning back to his brother, "Anyway, that jerk deserved to be shown up given what's he's done to us."

"And look what 'showing him up' has done for us. We are now—let me repeat—outside the park with no way to get back in."

Thomas grunted in annoyance, "For the third time, I promise to get us back in. My dad's taught me how to do stuff like this."

Stephen laughed dryly, "Of course he has. What kind-of dad teaches his kid how to pick a lock?"

"An awesome dad." Thomas retorted, flipping his pick upward.

There was a satisfying series of clicks from above, along with a rather self-impressed sigh from Thomas.

"Done."

"How did-?" Stephen asked helplessly.

"No time to explain. Now-," Thomas skillfully descended from David's shoulders, "-let's go in and get your money back."

"He's brilliant!" David exclaimed, watching with awe as the boy pushed open the park's side gate and strode forward.

Stephen shrugged and followed his brother into the park. They had come out behind a set of tents not far from where the game operator had dumped them. All three gazed at the canvass walls of the pavilions, wondering in what direction to head.

Just then, four members of park security walked up.

"Well, lookie what we have here. A trio of trespassers breaking in without tickets perhaps?" The mustachioed superior officer asked, smiling wryly.

"No we—we were thrown out." David tried to explain, but was silenced when his brother elbowed him in the stomach.

The mustachioed officer nodded, "Clearly. All right, boys, just come with us. Your parents will pick you up at the office once we've located them."

"But-." Thomas began, even as the men started to usher them forward.

David frowned, "We just-."

"Now, kids." The guards formed up around them, their voices firmly ordering that no funny business was allowed.

Stephen glared over at his brother, murmuring, "Told you he was stupid."

Thomas narrowed his eyes and snapped: "Say that to my face!"

"I just did!"

With a yell Thomas threw himself at the boy, and they both began to roll across the dirt. David stared at the two for a moment, undecided which one to help. Apparently still in the midst of indecision, he launched at them both and began to punch anything he could reach.

The mustachioed officer growled as he and his comrades attempted to pull the boys apart. "Kids—no fighting. No fighting!"

Thomas felt himself being lifted up into the air by a rather strong guard as the superior officer restrained Stephen and another officer took David. Thomas squirmed, but was unable to break free of the man's secure but gentle hold.

"Now let's march to the office without any ruckus, shall we?"

There was a mumbled chorus of 'yes sirs' as the three boys were released to troop dejectedly along after the mustachioed officer.


"And then we can try playing the duckie game next—and then maybe you could see if the water-balloon guy will let us do that one again—and then maybe-."

"Ginger, I think we've got enough prizes." Vladimir muttered, poking his face out from behind an armful of stuffed animals and various other toys.

His tiny niece, who was pulling a recently won wagon laden with all her other prizes, glanced back at him, frowning. "Are you sure, Uncle Vlad? There're still plenty of games we haven't tried yet."

"Yes, but-," the giant thug coughed out a fake feather he had just inhaled, "-I think we're running out of room and we need to take all this stuff back to the palace. I'm not sure how much of this will fit in the carriage's storage compartments…"

"Ooo—look Uncle Vlad! Look at that ride!"

Vladimir glanced around a particularly large stuffed monkey to see what Ginger was pointing to. They had reached the 'Tunnel of Love' ride—or at least its back entrance.

There were the usual cardboard hearts and paper, glittery Valentine's Day paraphernalia posted around the small exit. There was also a rather epansive pool of water leaking out from beneath the door. Vladimir sidestepped a lengthy stream, commenting, "I think the ride's broken, Ginger."

"It's awful messy." Ginger agreed, also taking care not to get her feet in the water.

Just then, the exit door of the ride was thrown open as Big-nose, Tor, Killer, Thorn, and Shorty all staggered out into the sunlight. Spluttering and shivering, each thug appeared more wet and bedraggled than the last. Killer actually had half a heart plastered to his back and Big-nose was clutching a waterlogged ukulele as though it were a life preserver. Given what had just happened to them, it probably had been used like that to some affect.

"Did you see that tidal wave?" Tor asked weakly, falling onto his knees.

Thorn gave a half-laugh of derision, "Tidal wave? I was paying too much attention to the screaming vortex of death right in front of us!"

"I was the one who was screaming, not the vortex." Killer corrected shakily.

Shorty, who had somehow managed to get into his cupid-custume in the time he had spent in the ride, let out a sympathetic squeak.

"I'm fairly certain there was a kraken in that last lagoon. Did anyone else see the tentacles?" Thorn muttered, shaking water from his ears.

Big-nose looked up to find Valdimir and Ginger—both carrying impressive amounts of prizes—gaping at them. He snorted, got to his feet, and announced, "Found Ginger."

"What?" His fellow thugs watched in dismay as their niece gasped loudly.

"Uncle Ralph, what-?"
"Don't worry, Ginger. We're okay, right boys?"

There were murmured 'yes's as the thugs painfully got to their feet.

"We were just riding the 'Tunnel of Love' and-," Big-nose glanced at the side of the ride, squinting at a sign plastered outside it. He frowned, reading aloud: "'HephaestusIndustries'… now it makes sense."

"Hey Vlad, where did you get all those toys from?" Tor asked, grinning at the mass of prizes in the giant thug's arms.

"We've been playing games. Um, where are-?"

Thorn interrupted, "Everybody else? We don't know. What happened to Tom?"

Vladimir shrugged, "He ran off as soon as we entered the park. I have no clue where he is now."

"Well, at least we've found you guys. Now let's get back to the front of the park and maybe we'll be able to find the others." Big-nose started plodding squelchily forward, leaving a trail of water in his wake.


The pie duel between the Snuggly Duckling five and the octagon from the Cuddly Kitten was going along in such fashion as any could imagine. Basically, it was horrendous, harrowing, and rather sticky. It also smelled like fruit and chocolate.

"Gunth, I'm afraid we're running out of pies." Archer said, collapsing behind the barricade.

Gunther, staring through a convient peephole cut into the tabletop, nodded, "I know. But those morons are still going strong. Are they baking pies over there or something?"

"Don't know. But I can tell you one thing-," Fang said, clapping Ulf on the back as the miming thug tossed a peach and raspberry tart into the chest of a ruffian, "-Ulf here is dynamite."

"As terrific as-," Bruiser ducked beneath a flying pie, "-that is, we're still running out of ammunition."

"I know. I know. I'm thinking up a plan right now." Gunther muttered distractedly.

"Well think faster, Gunther! We need missiles and we need them now!" Bruiser rose up and launched another pie towards the opposing team. It landed smack in the face of one of the ruffians, knocking him over completely.

Before Bruiser could celebrate with more than a victory whoop, however, another pie smashed into his forehead, landing him onto his back.

"Bruise?" Archer asked, kneeling next to the moaning thug.

"Is he unconscious? Oh, just great! Just really, really great!" Gunther said sarcastically, wiping a smudge of strawberry off his shoulder.

Archer sighed, "We've got a man down."

Fang, after sending another volley at the enemy, quickly got next to Bruiser and began slapping him on the face. "Come on, Bruise ol' buddy ol' pal. Come on, you can make it. Don't give up yet, Bruise! Just think about all the pie!"

"Do I really have to think about the pie?" Bruiser asked sluggishly.

"If it makes you get up, you do!"

"Aw, shaddup, Fang." Bruiser pushed Fang away and rolled over, snoring.

"He's gone." Archer declared, shaking his head.

Gunther pounded his fist against his head as a badly-aimed pie slammed against their barrier. "Okay then, we've only got one option. We need pies and the only place that has them seems to be the enemy camp. Let's prepare to charge."

Fang gazed at him in astonishment: "You don't mean a full assult do you? We'll be creamed out there—literally!"

"Better creamed than beaten at our own game. Come on, men, act like the thugs you are and not the sissies you're fighting! Grab whatever ammo we have left and line up. We're going to face our destiny like God intended: with no looking back!" Guther seized a pie and crouched, ready to spring over the tables.

Uncertainly, Fang and Archer did the same. Ulf, however, pointed at Bruiser.

"You stay with him, Ulf. If the man awakes then send him in as backup. I think we're going to need it."

Ulf nodded and gave Gunther a thumbs-up.

"Thanks. Now, let us go forth and conquer. One, two…"

"CHARGE!"

In a single, massive voice, the three thugs leapt over their fortification and entered no-man's land.

Outside the barriers, the mess was astronomical. There were smashed fruit and pastry everywhere—on benches, tables, tablecloths, and the ground. Pie goo dripped from the ceiling of the tent, while nearly empty dishes slid down the tent poles to gather at the bases. The ground was sticky as tar, and more slippery than ice. Also, due to the heat of the day, the smell had intensified considerably and flies were starting to gather.

Of course, the three thugs saw all this within the few seconds' surprise they had on their opponents. Then pies—dozens of pies—began to soar through the air once more. Yells and shouts of outrage were issued from both sides as the missiles thudded against the oncoming thugs.

Gunther dodged a flying cream pie and sent his dessert arcing towards the leader of the ruffians, plowing into his chest. With a yelp, Fang received a heavy, melting ice-cream pie to his leg, forcing him to drop onto one knee. In retaliation, Archer swung his arm around and battered two of the ruffians with a delicate apple pie. Then Gunther dove down, ducking another tart, and gathered up the decimated remains of another pie. He immediately tossed it into the face of one of the ruffians while, to his left, Fang threw a tangerine pie at a retreating ruffian.

As more pies began to hit the invaders, however, the Cuddly Kitten gang started to notice one very crucial aspect about their enemies. They were not stopping. No matter how many pies struck them—and some actually knocked them down, the force was so much—the pub thugs were determined to reach the opposite barricade. They were running forward, dashing past tables and benches, eyes focused on their destination. They simply were not going to stop.

"Oh dear…"


"The next thing Chef Arnold said to do was to bake the pie for about half an hour or so—after heating up the stove, of course." Annabelle said, drumming a light tattoo upon the handle bar.

Attila nodded, "Of course."

"And then the pie would be done. Well, I did just that. I followed every direction Chef Arnold gave me, and you know what?"

"What?"

Annabelle grinned, "The pie tasted absolutely horrible."

"Really? Did you taste it?"

"Nope. Stan did. I took a piece to him, prouder than I had ever been in my entire life, and he ate it. All of it. Guess what he said."

Her uncle sighed, "I'm not sure I can."

"He said it tasted like sand. But he also told me it was the tastiest sand he had ever eaten. No one else would do something like that. No one."

"So the boy likes to eat dirt?"

"Uncle Attila, you're worse than Dad."

"Sorry. Can't help myself." Her uncle laughed, glancing over to see the repairman struggling with the mechanism still. "Do you think that guy's ever going to get that thing fixed?"

"And he's just so nice. I mean, I've met the sons of noblemen for goodness sake and none of them are as nice as Stan. Sometimes I wonder if…" Abruptly, she stopped speaking, her eyes widening with sudden realization. A sudden, horrible realization.

Attila shook his head, calling: "Don't yell at the machine—it's not going to get better if you shout!"

"Oh no."

"Exactly, Annie. That man has no clue what-."

"This is bad, this is very very bad, this is really bad!"

He nodded in agreement, "Like I was saying-."

"No. No. No. N-n-n-no! This can't happen!" Annabelle clapped her hands to her face, muttering to herself.

Her uncle snorted, "What? Us being stranded on top the Ferris wheel until nightfall? Too late."

"I have a crush on Stan." She whispered fearfully.

Atilla rumbled, his voice echoing in his helmet, "Who?"

"What do you mean 'who'? The guy I've been talking about for the past three hours! The librarian's assistant—him—Stan! Dad will be furious!" Then she gasped: "Dad! No wonder he doesn't like him! He knew before I knew that I liked him! Ahhh!"

"Are we still talking about cooking?" Attila asked, clearly confused.

"No! Why do you want to talk about cooking at a time like this?" Suddenly her eyes grew, if possible, even wider. "Ahhh! My crush on Stan is so distracting it's getting in the way of cooking!"

"Um-."

"He's my best friend! I'm not supposed to have a crush on my best friend! That's not supposed to happen! I can't—I can't like him! I mean, he's wonderful but—no! Not Stan! Anyone, even Wentworth who smells like fish, is better to like than Stan! Stan's too important for me to like him! It'll ruin our friendship! The world will end! And, worst of all, I can't go to the library anymore because he'll be right there!"

"Annie I don't think-."

"And I love reading! I can't not read! How am I supposed to explain this? Who can I talk to? Do I have to talk to anyone? I can keep a secret! Yes—that's what I'll do! I'll just keep my mouth shut and—and…" She quickly turned to glare at her uncle.

Attila held up his oven-mitted hands, "I won't say a word."

"Thanks. Now talk to me about cooking so I don't have to think about this anymore."

"How do you think my pie's doing in the contest?"


Thomas groaned, "For the last time, I didn't know it was called 'swindling'. It was just the way my dad taught me how to play the game."

"What else do you think you were doing?" Stephen asked, kicking a hank of straw underneath the bench he, his brother, and Thomas all sat upon.

"He was winning, Steve. Just winning." David protested moodily.

"Yeah, and because of that we were thrown out of the park. And then, afterwards he landed us in the security office with-," he sniffed at the slumbering man lying on the bench across from them, "-whoever that guy is."

Grumpy silence, pierced by the snores of their cellmate, filled the chamber. In reality, the boys were not actually in a prison cell. It was more like a small stall, fenced by a low wall that they could see across to the officer's desk beside the open, office door. Some noise—happy noise from the surrounding rides and games—filtered in through the entryway. There was also hearty laughter from the guards lounging outside as their superior officer shared a joke.

Thomas, fed up with being bored and annoyed with his fellows, pulled his harmonica out of his jacket pocket and began to blow through it. Slowly, after a few tries, he managed to stutter out a shaky version of the 'jailbird blues' his uncle had taught him.

Stephen shook his head, his blue eyes dark, but did not speak.

Just then, the mustachioed officer came back into the dim building. He grinned, raising his eyebrows, "Oh, really funny, kid."

Thomas removed his harmonica from his mouth, muttering defensively, "What? It's the only song I've learned to play so far."

He shrugged and turned to his desk, opening up a logbook. "All right. Now let's see what I need to put you down for… ah yes-," he began to write across the page, "'cheating one of our game opperators' and-," he dipped his quill for ink before continuing, "-'breaking back into the park'. Wow, kid. You're a regular little Flynn Rider, aren't you?"

The boy's eyes lit up, "You think so?"

"Don't get so excited kid. Last thing I heard about Flynn Rider was that he disappeared off the face of the earth." The mustachioed officer glanced at him.

Thomas smirked, "Nah, he's just on vacation."

He laughed, "Sure kid. He's on vacation."

"How long are we going to be in here, Officer?" Stephen asked, not looking away from the floor.

"Until your parents/legal guardians/someone who's willing to take responsibility for you decides to pick you up. Or until the park closes in a few hours. Don't worry, boys. This will not go on your permanent record. Though-," the mustachioed officer turned to look seriously at them, "-I want all three of you to promise to forgo a life of crime from this day onward. Are we clear?"

"Yes sir."

"Good. Now, I'll just-." He broke off, listening to the sudden shouts coming from outside.

"Watch out!"

"Move!"

"You rotten scoundrels!"

"Run—run! These ladies are crazy so run!"

"Uncle Albert?" Thomas murmured in recognition, craning his neck to see what the frantic yelling was about.

"Who's Uncle Albert?" David asked interestedly as the mustachioed officer quickly raced outside.

"My uncle. I think I heard his voice-," there was a frightened squeak and several bellows, "-that was Uncle Garcon."

Stephen narrowed his eyes, "What sort of uncles do you have?"

Thomas shrugged, replying simply: "Pub thugs."

"What?"

There was more shouting and a few screams. Then, after several minutes, the noise quieted down and the guards stopped barking orders. Thomas stood up on the bench, looking over the wall of their prison. Suddenly, the light from the outside was blocked as an out-of-breath Hook-hand wearily walked through the door. Behind him came the mustachioed officer, hand firmly on the thug's shoulder.

Hook-hand looked and felt worse for the wear. His face was red, he had a bruise over one eye, and his legs were trembling from exhaustion. He and his comrades had been chased up one end of the carnival and down the other by an enormous fleet of enraged, frustrated, and panicky females. He could never remember a day so tiring—and they still had not located Thomas or Ginger. Perhaps being arrested would not be so bad. After all, he would be able to avoid the wrath of the lost princess when she found out he and the others had lost her son and daughter.

The mustachioed officer went around to the other side of his desk, thumping a pair of handcuffs warningly upon it. He took up his logbook again, asking, "Disturbing the peace, are we? Irritating the ladies, eh? Well then, Mr. Albert, looks like I'll have to process you."

Hook-hand sighed, responding patiently, "I'm telling you, sir, we did not mean to start a riot with the knitting society. All we were doing is looking for our niece and nephew and-."

"Uncle Albert!"

"Tom?" He turned to see his nephew waving enthusiastically from his 'cell'. Immediately, Hook-hand's face brightened. "Thomas!"

He ran over to the boy and easily picked him up from the bench, laughing and hugging him.

"He's your uncle?" David asked, gazing up at the thug in astonishment.

"Sure is." Thomas grinned, squirming his way out of his uncle's arms. "This is Uncle Albert."

Hook-hand clapped his hand upon Thomas's shoulder, smiling, "Dear boy where on earth have you been?"

"All over the place. Uncle Albert, what's going on? What happened?"

The grin on the thug's face faltered, and he looked over at the amused mustachioed officer. "Well…"

The man waved his hand, saying, "Just take the boy home, Mr. Albert. I can see you and your fellows meant no harm and, given what damage those ladies have already inflicted, I believe you to be sufficiently punished already."

"Thank you, sir."

"But what about-?" Thomas looked back at the two boys still sitting on the bench.

David smiled, "Don't worry about us, Tom. We'll be all right!"

The mustachioed officer nodded, "We'll take care of them, young sir. Do not worry."

Hook-hand began to lead his nephew towards the door, not noticing that the boy was still looking back at his partners in crime.

A certain understanding was exchanged between the trio—a mutual respect that was impossible to explain and yet also impossible to deny.

And then Stephen nodded, calling: "See you later, Tom."

Thomas smiled and turned away to follow his uncle out into the bright, afternoon sunlight.


After collecting Garcon, Archimedes and Axel, Hook-hand and Thomas all headed towards the entrance of the park. Along the way they were joined by a victorious Gunther, Archer, Fang, Bruiser, and Ulf—all of whom had apparently sent the Cuddly Kitten ruffians fleeing to the hills. All five thugs were covered in piecrust and innards, but they were cheerful and pleased to find their nephew returned to them. Then, upon reaching the entrance, they met up with Vladimir, Ginger, Big-nose, Thorn, Tor, Killer, and Shorty—most of whom were either playing with stuffed unicorns or using Vladimir's recently-won beach towel kit to dry off.

Then, at long last, the Ferris wheel was repaired and Attila and Annabelle joined the party.

She took one look at her bruised, pied, wet, toy-laden uncles and merely shook her head in resignation.

"Let's just go home."


The prince consort and princess of Corona arrived back home in the early hours of the next morning. It was still dark outside as they ascended the palace steps, and they were tired. After all, a trip across the ocean and then yet another journey over land can wear a person out. But they were happy and ready to see their family again after a long week of 'state business'.

"And that, my dearest Rapunzel, is why all my dreams tend to take place on islands." Eugene finished, nodding at the servants who had been summoned to fetch their luggage.

His wife smiled, "So the coconuts do have something to do with it?"

"Yep. Coconuts are very important to the whole idea."

"Can you explain that?"

"Nope. It's just one of life's mysteries."

"Hmm…"

They walked, hand-in-hand, down the hallway, admiring the calm peacefulness of it all. Despite the excitement and relaxation of vacation, both were extremely glad to be back home in Corona. Both were also beginning to wonder what had become of their children and the pub thugs who were to have taken care of them.

"Do you think they just put them all to bed and that's why we haven't found them yet?" Rapunzel asked, glancing down another corridor devoid of any life save the guards.

Eugene shook his head, "Nah. My guess is they're probably all curled up in a room telling ghost stories or something."

"I wonder—wait-," she pointed at a room on the far end from which an orange light spilled out into the hall. "There they are."

Eugene followed his wife to stand in front of the doorway of an extra sitting room. He never understood why the palace had extra sitting rooms—it was something for which he never managed to get a satisfactory justification. However, the sitting rooms remained and he was left to muse on their existence.

This normal, puzzling prospect was, of course, driven completely from his mind when he saw the occupants of said extra sitting room.

All the thugs—all twenty of them—seemed to have collapsed where they stood. Some were snoring uproariously on the couches, others flung spread-eagled upon the floor, while still others slept within the armchairs. But what was most peculiar was their appearance. Several of them seemed to be cover in what looked like dried pie, while others bore more brusies and scratches than normal. Vladimir, nearly squashing the chair he sat in, was snuggled up with a large, fluffy toy unicorn. Big-nose had a battered ukulele in his grasp, and Hook-hand lay out next to the fire, his hook glinting in the light of the flames. There was also a suspiciously large pile of stuffed animals crammed in one corner of the room, but it was only slightly supicious.

"What on earth happened?" Rapunzel whispered, gazing at the exhausted thugs.

"More importantly—why is Vladimir hugging a stuffed unicorn?"

"Do you really have to ask that question?"

Eugene paused, considering. Then he shook his head, admitting, "I suppose not."

"Mom? Dad?" They both looked up to see Annabelle coming from where she had been sleeping on one of the couches.

"Annie, dear, how are you?" Rapunzel hugged her eldest child, fondly stroking back her hair.

"Tired. Weren't you guys supposed to get back tomorrow?"

"Technically. But your father-," Eugene grunted, and Rapunzel rolled her eyes, adding, "-and I missed you too much to wait."

"Really, Dad?"

"Well-," Eugene glanced at the chameleon sitting on his shoulder, "-Pascal did too."

"Daddy?"

Suddenly, a blur sped out from the pile of stuffed animals to latch onto Eugene's leg. Eugene grinned and lifted his youngest up into his arms, murmuring, "Hello, Ginger-snap."

"Hi." She beamed at him and then looked to her mother, "Hi Mommy."

Rapunzel smiled, "Hello, sweetie. Are you all right?"

"Yep. Daddy, look at all the toys we got and Uncle Vlad won a lot of games and Annie and Uncle Attila got stuck on a giant wheel and Uncle Albert and Tom played pirates and we skated down the halls and Uncle Fang taughts us about shadow puppets and Uncle Attila made cupcakes and…" Eugene nodded, continuing to listen to this very rapid, very excited list of events as relayed by his younger daughter.

Rapunzel frowned, "Annie, where's Tom?"

"He's over by the fire with Uncle Albert. Um… he kind-of-."

Rapunzel's eyes widened, and she exclaimed, "What happened to his arm?"

"He broke it trying to fly."

Immediately, the princess turned to glare at her husband. He was, unfortunately—or perhaps fortunately, for his sake—too busy trying to listen to Ginger to notice.

Annabelle said hastily, "But he's okay, Mom. He just has a small fracture and he's not in any pain at all."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes ma'am. And it wasn't—well—it wasn't exactly any of our uncles' fault just-."

"Honey-," Eugene cut in, setting his finger gently against Ginger's mouth to stop her from talking, "-apparently we now have a zebra for a dinning room table."

"What?"

"And there is apparently a new mural drawn in one of the guest bathrooms upstairs, courtesy of your daughter."

Rapunzel sighed, deciding, "How about we just go to bed, and leave everything for tomorrow?"

Her husband nodded, "Sounds like a plan. Though I'm not entirely sure I want to know everything that's gone on during the past few days."

"Dad, I don't think—even in a million years—we could tell you everything that happened." Annabelle told him, smiling slightly.

"Probably not. But, bedtime first, and everything else can come later."

As the four began the trip up to the royal apartments, the snoring in the extra sitting room lessened slightly. Then Thomas rolled over onto his side, away from the fire's light, and fell back asleep.


:) thanks for reading! :D