Author Note: So, um, there is a reason this is called 'Prologue', because essentially, that's what it is. This is the prologue of 'Tom's Story', which hopefully I'll get to either before or a few weeks after next semester starts up again. Gotta say, I never thought I'd actually make it to writing this one, but since I have, there's really no going back. Hopefully you guys don't mind the wait... Anyhoo, there's a lot to explain after this one, and you'll probably be getting that explanation in the first chappie of 'Tom's Story', but I'm not planning to write that until after I've got another 'Royal Romance' chapter up, so good news for you romantical types out there! :D Oh, and a big THANK YOU to whoever it was that warned me about the slight bit of plagiarism. The person apologized and took the appropriate actions, so everything's good and dandy there. Oh, and thank you guys so much for waiting, reviewing, faving, and whatnot. I appreciate the encouragement-this is a lot of work and I DO wonder if I should just drop it all and return to working on my original stuff (I do miss it... perhaps a visit would do me well?). Anyway, later, taters! :D
Soli Deo Gloria
Disclaimer: Disney owns Tangled, its characters, and its story
It was somewhere between the end of summer and the start of fall. The air had gotten colder, the sea breeze blew sharper, and the green leaves were just beginning to turn. The earth took on a quieter, mysterious sense—one that spoke of oncoming change as winter began to stir sleepily in the far mountains.
However, within autumn's dawn, something far more sinister than winter was stirring.
And it would not be over by the time spring began.
The royal children of Corona walked through the stable orchards, glancing around at the many apple trees as the wind rattled the leaves and whistled past boughs. They made an interesting procession. Annabelle, whose left hand now bore a shiny engagement ring, was first in line. Ginger trotted after her older sister, a notebook under her arm and her mother's pet chameleon on her head. Thomas brought up the rear, leading his horse, Maximus II, along by the bridle. The horse kept pausing, his eyes sweeping up to stare longingly at the apples suspended above him.
"Come on, Max." The fourteen year-old grunted, tugging hard at the reins. "You can get some later."
Maximus II snorted, evidently disagreeing. He could get an apple or two right now and be perfectly fine. Unfortunately, his master ignored his horsey grumbles, and Maximus II was forced to keep walking forward. The animal's hooves made soft noises upon the ground, and it was not until the group reached a clearing did they stop.
Annabelle, Ginger and Pascal took a seat beneath the branches of a particularly large apple tree, sprawling out comfortably and twining their bare toes in the soft grass. Thomas removed his horse's bridle, allowing Maximus II to trot around and select fallen apples at random as he nosed about the trees.
"So-," Thomas began conversationally, setting the bridle down onto the tree roots, "-what do you think they're talking about in that secret council meeting we're not supposed to know they're having?"
Annabelle picked up a fallen leaf, studying its edges. "You know exactly what they're talking about. Mom told us last night."
"Mom told you last night." Thomas corrected, finding a foothold on the trunk and hoisting himself up into the tree.
"She would've told you too if you had been there."
"I was there-," her brother grunted, pulling himself over to straddle one of the larger limbs, "-I was just outside."
"You were hiding on the balcony." Ginger said, shuffling through her notebook as Pascal squeaked in affirmation.
"Yep." Thomas leaned his back carefully against another branch sprouting off from his limb. "And I barely heard a word—the ocean was too loud."
Annabelle sighed, "If you had gotten home at a reasonable hour instead of spending all evening riding your horse, you could have heard the whole thing."
"I hadn't ridden Max at all that day."
His older sister shook her head dismissively, "Tom, you know Mom had something to tell us after dinner. You just chose not to come."
Thomas groaned, "All right, Annie—I get it. I wasn't there when I should've been." He withdrew his slingshot from his pocket, muttering, "What else is new?"
Ginger glanced up at him, "Tom, can you get me an apple?"
"Sure, Gin'." Thomas grabbed an apple and tossed it down to her. Almost immediately, Maximus II wandered over and began nuzzling the girl's short-cropped hair, his breath warm against her head. Fearing for his survival, Pascal took a nosedive and landed safely in Ginger's lap. He scurried over to Annabelle for protection as the horse continued to bump Ginger affectionately.
"Max, stop." She giggled, holding up the fresh apple in defense. "Here—take it, take it."
The horse complied, letting out a grateful nicker before devouring the fruit happily.
"You're spoiling him." Thomas declared, not even looking down.
"You're spoiling him for riding all the time." Ginger retorted. "Annie's right, why didn't you come? Mom wasn't happy you weren't there."
"I was busy."
She snorted, "What? Riding? You couldn't have been riding all that time."
Thomas rolled his eyes and turned to look at her. "If you must know, I was listening in on that conversation Dad was having with Papa and the other council members."
"So you do know what happened." Annabelle said, even as Pascal added an inquisitive murmur.
"Yeah—and way more than either one of you know, trust me." He gazed up at the leaves, inhaling the scent of the sea and a hundred ripening apples. Then he closed his eyes, stating, "There's a war going on in the Midlands. It started two weeks ago—but it's been going on a lot longer than that."
The ocean waves continued to crash upon the rocks and sea gulls still cried into the wind, but internally the world seemed to be reeling. The three had grown up during a relatively peaceful lull in Corona's history. No wars—no foreign problems—or at least, none that their parents had ever told them about. But now they were old enough to understand the implications of too much silence. Now they knew that countries were fracturing because dark words had been exchanged in secret and corruption lurked between government walls. Because selfish people did bad things and humanity revealed its sin.
The royal children knew all this, but they did not know what would happen now. And that uncertainty was what scared them the most.
"It—it's just so strange—waking up to find that there's a war in the world." Ginger said quietly, staring at the ground in front of her.
"Mom and Dad will know what to do, though." Annabelle replied quickly, reaching out to take her sister's hand. "It's okay, Ginger. Bad things happen but life still goes on."
Ginger looked down, seeing the new ring on her sister's finger. She smiled softly, "You're right. Life goes on."
"Not for the Midlanders, it doesn't." Thomas cut in, leaning down to see them. "They're in the middle of a civil war now. It'll be a few months before we get pulled in, you'll see."
Annabelle tilted her head back in exasperation, "Tom, you don't know if that's true or not. You don't know what you're talking about."
"I told you—I listened."
"Yeah, from outside at a keyhole." She replied sarcastically.
"And I've read some of those papers on Dad's desk."
"Which you weren't supposed to read." Ginger said, glancing at Annabelle.
Thomas narrowed his eyes, protesting, "Why not? They don't tell us anything and I think I have a right to know." He kicked at the trunk with his booted foot, adding, "After all, I'm probably going to have to deal with the stupid mess."
Annabelle groaned, "Oh, I should've known you'd bring that up."
"I'm crown prince! You think I don't know what that means? This war will go on for years—I'll get the throne—and then I'll have to put the Midlands back together again! It'll be my job, my responsibility. It's not even our country and it's still my job!"
His older sister shook her head, "Considering that Mom's queen right now and you're just a whiny teenager, I highly doubt you'll have much of a problem. They're not going to put the crown on your head tomorrow and trust you with saving the world, Tom."
"And if they did, I'd pack my bags and move to Orae." Ginger vowed.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Gin'."
She looked up at him, "Seriously, Tom? Do you really think you'll have to deal with the Midlands?"
He shrugged, mumbling, "I could. I probably will."
Ginger nodded, raising her eyebrows as she suggested, "Well then you might want to get used to talking to girls before you try doing anything about the fate of the country."
"Wha—what does that have to do with anything?" Thomas stammered, his ears already turning red.
"Did you see him at the last party, Annie?" Ginger asked, leaning forward conversationally. "I know you and Stan were busy, but you must have noticed that crowning moment of awkwardness."
Annabelle smiled, "We weren't busy."
Ginger waved her hand, "Of course you were—you had to show off your rock and your man—you were busy."
"Gin'—not another word." Thomas said warningly, drawing back his slingshot and aiming it at his sister.
"If you even think about shooting me I'll climb up there and throw you out of the tree." Ginger said without so much of a glance in his direction. "At any rate, Tom was talking to the duke of Florence's daughter, Ophelia, and he told her what a pretty dress she was wearing."
"I was just being polite!" Thomas claimed.
"Well, I said 'told'. Really it was more of an annoying gurgling noise he made—in between gulps of desperation."
"Ginger, be nice." Annabelle said, trying to hide her grin.
Ginger frowned, "I think his voice cracked, at one point. Ophelia practically jumped out of her skin from fright. Then she went to dance with—who was it Tom? Oh yeah, with Martin of Chantill."
"Rotten, good-for-nothing, idiotic-," Thomas ended his description with a word a crown prince should probably not have in his vocabulary.
"Tom, don't you dare say that again!" Annabelle ordered angrily, glaring up at him.
"Well that's what he is!" Her brother snapped, folding his arms in defiance.
"Poor Ophelia. She doesn't know Martin's that kind of guy. Maybe you should warn her, Tom." Ginger smirked. "That is—if you can say two words without your ears turning red."
Instinctively, Thomas covered his ears, "They're not red."
"And my eyes aren't green."
"Tom, Ginger, stop it." Annabelle said firmly, her voice taking on a stern tone they both recognized as one their mother had exercised on occasion.
"Sorry, Annie." Ginger responded.
Thomas did not say anything, and instead reached into his pocket, pulling out stones to shoot through gaps in the leaves.
Annabelle rested her head against the tree trunk, stroking Pascal thoughtfully. She knew that there had always been trouble in the Midlands. Stanley had explained some of what he had gathered from sitting in on meetings to take notes for the councilmen and her parents. She had already known about the war before her mother had said anything. But she did not know why it had started—nor what stance the kingdom would take.
"Why did the war start?"
Thomas let out a wry laugh, "You're kidding, right? That'd take forever to explain."
"The war started centuries ago, Annie. There's a lot of politics in there."
She made a face, "I don't want the history—I want to know why it's happening right now. And what we're going to do about it."
Thomas took a deep breath, "Short version of the story is—the Lock country decided to invade."
"They did what?"
He grinned sardonically, "Yeah—invade—stupid, isn't it? They had already planted spies in the Court, so overthrowing King Garrick was easy. Meanwhile, the Court is trying to remain in control while the people who liked having a monarchy are inciting rebellion. So that's where the 'civil war' comes from—some people want a king and some don't."
"Okay, but what do we want?" Annabelle asked.
"We want the Lock to get its grubby hands out of the Midlands and let the country figure itself out, but that's not going to happen. The Lock's in too deep, and if we don't do anything, they'll take over the Midlands and we'll have the Lock country perched on our doorstep."
"They don't like us." Ginger said solemnly.
Thomas shrugged, "We don't like them—it's a mutual thing."
She frowned, "Aren't the Midlanders sort of Coronan?"
"Sort of. Which is part of the reason we're going to get involved in the war, which I'll end up having to fix when I'm king."
Annabelle rubbed her eyes wearily, "I'm sure it'll be over by then."
"But what if it isn't, Annie?" Her brother demanded, gesturing with his slingshot. "That's what you or Ginger or Mom or Dad never think about! What if the war isn't over, and I have to deal with it? I don't know what I'm doing! The country's going to fall to pieces and it'll be my fault!"
"You know, I'd say he was a girl from all the dramatics he's putting into this." Ginger commented, giving her sister a sidelong glance.
"I don't even want to be king! Why do I even have to do this?"
Annabelle sighed, "Tom, calm down. You don't have to worry about that right now, okay? Mom and Dad will handle it."
Thomas shook his head, muttering, "I'm not a kid anymore, Annie. I know when things are beyond our parents' control. Just like when I know that some story about a tower and magic hair isn't actually real."
Ginger's eyes widened, "You don't think the story's true, Tom?"
He rolled his eyes, "Gin', of course it's not true. It's just something Dad made up to keep us entertained. Mom didn't actually have blonde hair seventy feet long, and she certainly didn't sing our father back to life. The real world doesn't work that way."
"Well maybe not everything happened like Dad said but I'm sure he didn't outright lie to us." Annabelle said confidently.
"Shows what you know."
Annabelle set her teeth in annoyance, but refrained from retorting. Her sister, however, did not.
"I don't care what you say, Tom." Ginger said, her face cross. "I believed it happened and you're just too stubborn and moody to admit the truth."
"You also believe in unicorns, Gin'."
"Uncle Vlad said the story's real."
"Uncle Vlad believes in unicorns too!"
Ginger began to stand up, evidently determined to knock her brother out of the tree.
"Ginger." Annabelle took her hand, preventing her from rising. "Leave him alone. He's just going to be angry."
"You know-," Thomas plowed on, not realizing what was going on below him, "-I really don't understand why you guys think it happened just because Dad said it did. Dad doesn't mean everything he says."
Annabelle frowned, "Tom, that's not true."
"Yeah, Annie, it is. Whenever Dad tells me he understands what I'm going through, I know he doesn't. He doesn't listen when I tell him I don't want to be king. No one does. No one listens to me when I say I don't want to be crown prince anymore. No one ever asked me what I wanted."
"And what do you want, Tom?" Ginger asked dangerously. "Please tell me it's a sock in the mouth because I can-."
"Ginger, remember what Grandma said." Annabelle reminded.
Ginger scowled, reciting through gritted teeth: "'It's not lady-like to punch'."
"No it's not. Now, Tom?" Annabelle gazed up into the tree above to where her brother was still ranting.
"I want to see the world! I don't want to spend the rest of my life cooped up behind a desk in some cramped room, trying to solve everyone else's problems. I'm trapped here and I-," he sighed, kicking at the tree, "-I hate it."
Annabelle cleared her throat, "Thomas."
"Stop complaining for a second and listen to me, please?"
He bit back a smart remark and instead settled with, "Fine."
"You're going to University this fall, right? First semester there?"
"Yeah. So what?"
Annabelle smiled, replying soothingly, "So you shouldn't freak out so much. You've got your whole life ahead of you. The war is on Mom and Dad's agenda, not yours. And you're attending University in a few weeks so focus on that instead of what's going on a hundred miles beyond our borders. Okay?"
He narrowed his eyes and huffed.
"All right! I see your point." Thomas said, plucking sulkily at the band of his slingshot.
"Good." Annabelle turned to her sister and frowned. "Ginger, what are you doing?"
Ginger continued to scribble in her notebook, answering, "Nothing much. Annie, when are you and Stan going to get married?"
"When the cows come home." Thomas said.
Annabelle ignored him and shook her head, "Ginger, Stan and I will get married when he gets the Head Librarian's job."
Ginger pursed her lips, "Hasn't that old coot kicked the bucket yet?"
Her sister gasped, "Ginger!"
"What? I'm serious, he was old when Papa was a teenager."
Annabelle drew herself up regally, "Mr. Mermidon is very sick and Stan doesn't want to take his position when the poor man can barely get out of bed."
Thomas nodded, "Ah. So you're doing the nice thing and waiting for him to die."
"Tom! How could you say such-?"
"Are you guys going to have any kids?" Ginger asked, interrupting her sister's rebuke.
Annabelle raised her eyebrow, "Wha-?"
"You and Stan. Kids?"
Annabelle's face started to get hot, "Well, I—I—we-."
Thomas smirked slightly and asked, "Is she blushing?"
"Yep. Like a rose in June."
Annabelle closed her eyes, trying to ignore her siblings' sniggers. She said quietly, "We might, I don't know. We're not married so we haven't talked about it yet."
Ginger beamed, "If you have a daughter, Annie, let me tell you that Ginger is an incredibly beautiful name."
Thomas snorted in disbelief.
"And I can't wait to be your Maid of Honor."
"Oh, I was thinking I might let Harriet have that job." Annabelle said off-handedly.
"Annie!" Ginger sounded wounded.
Her sister laughed, "I'm just kidding, Ginger."
Ginger sighed, relieved, "Thank goodness for that. I've already drawn up plans for my dress. Want to see?"
Annabelle smiled, "Okay then."
"See, I was thinking about lace, but now I'm not so fond of it. And I know you wanted pearls, but I was thinking…"
Thomas moaned loudly, "Oh great. Now all you guys are going to talk about are weddings and babies and lace. I'm out of here."
"Make sure you get home in time for dinner." Annabelle said, examining the sketch her sister was showing her.
"Gotcha." He dropped down to the ground and picked up the bridle. "Come over here, Max. Time to ride."
Maximus II, who had just eaten a number of apples and was now contemplating a nap, shook his head resolutely.
"Max, come here."
The horse once again shook his head, stepping away from his master.
Thomas shrugged casually, "All right, then. Guess we won't see if you can best Boulder in how long it takes you to get to the edge of the island."
Maximus II cocked his head, brown eyes calculating. Eventually he trotted over and proudly presented his face for bridling.
Thomas feigned surprise. "Oh, so you do want to go? Not too tired?"
The horse neighed resentfully.
The boy grinned, "Right. Okay, let's go."
A few minutes after the two had departed, Ginger glanced at her sister.
She nodded, "Yeah?"
"Do you think Tom's all right? I mean—about the war and everything?"
Annabelle turned to look off in the direction her brother had gone. She sighed, "Well—no. He's scared, just like the rest of us. And he's not sure this is what he wants to be doing for the rest of his life."
"What do you think's going to happen?" Ginger asked hesitantly.
"I think-," she turned back to her sister, "-that Mom and Dad have it taken care of, and that everything will work out in the end. No matter what."
Past the stable orchards, out upon the hills behind the walls of the palace and city, a horse and his rider are galloping to the sea.
They ascend a slight rise in the landscape, hooves cutting into the earth and sending specks of dirt into the salty air. The horse's sides are heaving, but his pace is quick, his run sure. The boy upon his back encourages the animal to go faster with a single tap of his foot or the lightest touch on the reins. And then they are reaching the cliff, and their run slows until the horse is walking restlessly at the very edge.
Thomas leaned back in the saddle, panting as he turned his face to the orange sky. He had been riding for hours, and he knew he had already missed dinner. There really was no point in returning now. His father would be annoyed, his mother would be concerned, and his sisters would be sarcastic. It was easier to just stay out here.
He watched a flock of birds—sparrows, not ocean birds—wing its way across the clouds and towards the setting sun. The dying rays had inflamed the river below, shining a path of light away from the sea until the waters disappeared into the forest.
The crown prince looked over the dark trees, spying the pasturelands stretching beyond them. And even further than that, there were villages and towns of the kingdom, miles of country that reached on to the rocky downs separating Corona from the Midlands. Land he had never seen, places he had only heard about, people who had stories to tell and lives to live.
Maximus II neighed impatiently, staring out at the world.
"Yeah, Max. I know what you mean." Thomas sighed, turning away to look at the palace. "But not today."
Then he pulled on the reins, and the horse and rider began their journey home.