Author Note: Hey, look at that! I'm not dead after all! :) I'm just extremely busy. This whole being-an-adult thing keeps me from writing, and also wears me out to keep from writing as well. To be honest, the reason I finished this particular shot was just to finish something to prove I could. My writing so far has been scanty at best, and most of the time I don't even like what I'm writing! Does any one else feel that way? It's quite annoying and I know if I just sit down and write I might actually accomplish something, but the greater forces of tiredness, laziness, and overall self-doubt (not in a depressing way but in an I don't know if I'll ever finish something kind-of-way) are taking a toll on my work. I dunno, I just wanted to vent. Anyway, this has a little bit of a Father's Day flair to it, which is coming up in June in the States. So hope ya'll enjoy it and that you are able to enjoy some time with your families this summer. Thank you for reading and reviewing and for your investment into these stories. I don't know when I'll be posting next but just keep an eye out.
P.S. How many of you are Discworld fans out there? I've been reading through several of those books lately and thinking of doing a fic about a certain Ankh-Morpork writer...
Soli Deo Gloria
Disclaimer: Disney owns Tangled, its characters, and its story
The carriage rolled to a stop, and Eugene looked up from the report in his hands. He was home.
He closed up the papers into his small traveling case, grabbed his jacket, and exited the coach. The footmen were already removing the luggage from the back of the vehicle, talking to each other in the shadows of mid-afternoon. The horses at the carriage's front panted, tired from the long trip. And it had indeed been a long trip. Two weeks toiling away in gloomy Salisbury at a conference of economic idiots—Eugene was ready to return to Corona after day one.
But now he lifted his head and sniffed the air, smiling. The ocean smelled better here. The sky was more open, the air more inviting, and the sunshine definitely brighter.
"Excuse me, your Highness?"
Eugene turned around, noticing a footman at his side.
"Can I take your coat and case, sir?" the footman asked.
Eugene nodded. "Yes, you may."
"Right, sir. By your leave." The footman walked over to join his fellows, all of whom were standing expectantly by the carriage.
Eugene watched as the driver slapped the reins once to get the horses traveling down to the royal stables. The prince consort, followed by the footmen, started to ascend the staircase that led to the front terrace of the palace. Richard, one of the servants who waited on the royal family, was standing at the door.
"Had a good trip, your Highness?" the man asked, following Eugene into the cool front hall.
"It could have been better."
The servant cleared his throat. "Um, her Highness had expected you to arrive a few hours ago."
"I know. The carriage had a bad wheel that had to be replaced before we could leave. And then there was an impromptu discussion about trading issues." Eugene watched as the footmen began piling his luggage on the marble floor. "Richard, please go tell my wife I'm here."
"Yes sir." Richard walked off to do his master's bidding.
Eugene turned away from the footmen and, almost absentmindedly, began making his way to the palace garden.
He walked outside, listening to the songbirds chirping and bees buzzing amidst the new flowers. Eugene took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
Eugene turned around just as his six-year-old daughter reached him and threw her arms around his knee. He barely had time to say hello before Thomas crashed into him, knocking all three onto the sun-warmed grass.
Eugene grunted, sitting up slightly. "Yep. That's a lot of Fitzherbert."
"But it's all muscle, right Dad?" Thomas asked, beaming at him.
He grinned. "Right."
"Daddy!" Ginger exclaimed, hugging her father tightly. "I missed you!"
Eugene wrapped his arm around her small back. "I missed you too, Ginger-snap. How are you?"
"Good. We had lunch with Grandma and Papa today. And then Mommy let us sit in a meeting, 'cept it was boring."
"Gin' got us in trouble because she wouldn't stop talking," Thomas said conversationally.
Ginger pouted. "Nah-uh! Tom was bugging me!"
"You wouldn't stop talking." Thomas shrugged, pulling at the grass.
"Hey, hey—kids." Eugene smiled at them. "Right now I don't care who got in trouble because this is the first time I've seen you in far too long. How about another hug?"
Ginger brightened. "Okay!"
Thomas frowned. "I don't really wan—argh!" His father grabbed both him and his sister up into a tickle-attack hug, laughing as both squirmed and squealed.
He only stopped when they were all out of breath, sprawled on the ground and gasping for air. Ginger had curled her fingers between those of her father's, and Thomas lay with the back of his head resting upon Eugene's rising chest. Eugene stared up at the sky, listening to the panting of his children and squeezing Ginger's hand in his own.
They glanced up at the sound of soft footsteps, and Eugene smiled.
"Hi Dad." She came over and waited for her father to get to his feet before hugging him.
Eugene kissed her on top of the head, murmuring, "It's good to see you again."
Annabelle looked at him. "Mom said you would be back sooner."
"Yeah, Dad," Thomas said. "We had to wait fooorever."
His father cocked his head. "Forever, eh? Sounds terribly dramatic."
"It was," he agreed seriously.
Ginger nodded. "Mommy said you were working hard."
"Well she was right about that."
Annabelle smirked in a very Rapunzel-like way. "Mom's right about everything."
"Did she tell you that?" Eugene laughed, shaking his head.
"No. She's just a good girl," Rapunzel said, walking down the garden steps.
Eugene raised his eyebrows, remarking, "Ah, and here's her royal Highness Princess Rapunzel herself. Excuse me, kids. Got to go pay my respects."
He marched over and presented his most charming smile.
"You're late," Rapunzel responded.
Eugene's grin faltered. "I know. We had a bit of trouble getting started."
"Did you have a good trip?"
He shrugged. "I counted up trade receipts and pushed papers and argued with windbags. I even signed a few contracts and forged your dad's signature once or twice. But, at the end of it all," he set his hands on her waist, "I still missed you so much my heart hurt."
"Really?" His wife tilted her head, sliding her arms around his neck.
Rapunzel smiled and kissed him. "Good."
"You look beautiful today."
Thomas walked up to his parents, frowning. "Aw, Dad, do you have to—"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I do." Eugene ruffled his son's hair and gently pushed him back, kissing his wife again.
Rolling his eyes, Thomas stumped over to his sisters. "Great, now he's all mushy again."
"I like it," Ginger replied happily.
"It's sweet," Annabelle said.
Thomas groaned. "I thought we were going to wrestle."
"And who says we're not?" his father asked, setting his arm about his wife's shoulders and smiling at their children.
"After dinner," Rapunzel said, giving Eugene a stern look.
He nodded. "Yeah. After dinner."
Thomas's eyes widened. "Is it time to eat? Yes, I'm sooo hungry!" He took off, shouting behind him, "Last one there's a slimy fishface!"
"No fair! You got a head start!" Ginger sprinted after her brother.
Rapunzel sighed, asking, "Annie, can you make sure they don't run over anybody?"
Annabelle laughed. "Yes ma'am." She went toward the garden doors.
Rapunzel started to follow after her when her husband held out his hand for a second, stopping her.
"You smell that?" Eugene asked, breathing in the air.
She smirked. "What, the color brown?"
"No, but quite clever. No—smell the air."
Rapunzel did as instructed, taking a deep sniff. She raised her eyebrows. "Yes?"
He grinned. "It's getting closer to summer. This is the same smell that I've been following all day to get back here."
"And," Eugene said, starting to walk towards the steps leading inside, "I think it's time we take the kids out on a little excursion to a certain meadow we know."
His wife looked at him, surprised. "Are you—really? We haven't done that since—"
"Annie was five, I know. But, now that they're all old enough, I think we ought to go again."
She frowned, noting the circles under his eyes. "You're tired, Eugene, you should rest. We can go another day."
"Nope. I've been away for two weeks and the only thing I want to do is spend time with my family." He narrowed his eyes, adding, "And then sleep."
After dinner, the royal family of Corona took a short carriage ride down to the gates of the city. Upon reaching the gates, the prince consort attached his old guard sword to his belt, exchanged a few words with the soldiers who had accompanied them, and set off in the direction of the forest with his children and wife following.
There was an interesting addition to this procession, however: each member carried a small, glass jar topped with a cork lid.
"What do we need these for anyway?" Thomas asked, peering through the sides of his jar to look at the trees.
"You'll find out," his father replied, checking the map in his hand.
"Are we going in the right direction?" Rapunzel asked.
"Yes, we are."
She smiled. "And you've brought a map with you. That's a nice change."
"I've learnt my lesson, dear, believe it or not. Now—we should take the first right we see…" He turned and led his family down a dip in the forest path.
Ginger looked up at the branches overhead. Her green eyes matched almost perfectly with the color of new leaves. "The trees are really big here! Even bigger than the trees near where the horsies live."
Annabelle nodded. "Sure are."
"Annie, do you know what we're doing?" Ginger asked, looking at her sister.
Annabelle smiled secretively. "Yes, but Dad said not to tell."
"Can I have a hint? Please?"
Annabelle cleared her throat and called, "Dad?"
"Give her a hint but make it a good one," Eugene said over his shoulder.
Rapunzel glanced at her daughters and then at her husband, noting the look of satisfaction on his face. She leaned over and whispered, "She gets that from you, you know."
"I know she does."
They continued their journey through the forest as the sky dimmed into a light orange, with tinges of pink brushing up against the corners. It was a nice walk. The temperature was warm, the lush forest reverberating with the buzz of cicadas and ringing birdcalls. A few times, the rustling of undergrowth indicated a much bigger animal had been startled by their presence. Then, at one point, the royal family was treated to the sight of a doe and her twin fawns crossing the path just a few feet ahead of them.
It was not long before they reached a creek with a bridge crossing over the flowing water. The bridge was an old wooden one, the white paint peeling from the posts and railing. Ginger scampered up onto it, sticking her head between the posts to gaze at the stream below.
"Ginger, be careful," her mother called.
"I'm just trying to see the water fairies," Ginger replied, smiling at the pebbles shining beneath the water's surface.
Eugene frowned. "Water fairies?"
"Grandma read her a story about them," Annabelle explained.
"Forget fairies. Everybody knows that the trolls under the bridge eat them anyway," her brother said, grinning.
Ginger's eyes narrowed. "That's mean, Tom!"
"Tom, be nice to your sister," Rapunzel said.
"But it's true! Isn't it, Dad?"
"What?" Eugene asked, busy picking up sticks from the other side of the bridge.
"Trolls exist and they eat fairies!"
He straightened and asked, "Have you ever seen a troll?"
Thomas nodded enthusiastically. "Uncle Albert said he had a friend who did and they stole his left socks."
"Well then, that's indisputable proof. Here." Eugene handed his son a stick.
"What's 'indisputable' mean?" Thomas asked, watching as his father gave a stick each to his sisters and mother.
"It means that it's without doubt," Rapunzel answered. "Eugene, why did you just give me a stick?"
"I'll tell you in a minute. Now, each of you needs to get a good long look at your sticks. Remember what they look like."
"Why?" Ginger asked.
He smiled at her, replying, "Because we are going to play a game called 'Pooh Sticks' and you need to remember what your sticks look like if we're going to play it properly."
"Eugene, I've never played—"
"I know. But the king of Salisbury's grandkids taught me the game and I thought you'd all enjoy it."
His wife frowned. "When were you playing games with King Dalen's grandchildren?"
"When I got tired of sitting in on boring business meetings. Anyway, this game is essentially a race. We'll all drop our sticks on one side of the bridge at the same time. Then, we'll go over to the other side of the bridge and see which stick appears first. Whoever's stick comes out first will be the winner. And you have to drop the sticks on the side where the current is flowing otherwise it won't work."
"Sounds simple enough," Annabelle decided.
"You'd think so, but there's actually an art to the thing. Anyway, does every one know what their sticks look like?"
His children and wife nodded.
"Good—let's drop them."
They obediently followed him to the side of the bridge and held their sticks over the water. "One," Eugene said, watching his son's fingers twitching around his twig. "Two. Three—drop!"
There were five, nearly identical 'plop's as the sticks hit the water. Immediately, the royal family went to the other side and waited.
"When are they going to come?" Thomas asked.
"Any second now—all of you keep an eye out," his father said.
Rapunzel frowned as her youngest leaned out over the edge. "Ginger, don't stick your head out so far."
"But I wanna see if my stick is first!"
Thomas shook his head, dangling his arms over the river. "Nah uh, my stick will be first—it's big on one end so it'll be first."
Annabelle smirked. "You guys are silly because mine will be first—it's the lightest."
"That doesn't mean anything."
"Yeah, Annie, how do you know mine won't be first?" Ginger asked.
"Glad to see you've found something else our children can argue about," Rapunzel said, giving her husband a sideways glance.
He grinned. "Just watch."
The winner, it turned out, was Rapunzel. After her husband teased that she naturally won at everything, he then explained the science behind the win to their children. The trick was to have a stick that was well balanced, being neither too light nor too heavy. Too light, and it would likely get caught up in the rocks and weeds beneath the bridge. Too heavy, and the stick would sink. That, of course, led to a frantic search of the underbrush and several more games of Pooh sticks with a variety of winners. Then it was time to get back on the road, with promises that yes, they could try playing Pooh sticks again the next time they found a bridge.
The royal family arrived at the wildflower meadow just as the sun was starting to disappear beneath the treeline. All around, the aroma of fresh flowers filled the air as the evening breeze fluttered across the grass. There were flowers of all kinds and colors: blue cornflower, orange snapdragon, pinkest tulips, cheerful periwinkle, bright daffodils, shy violets, and dark, alluring red roses.
"All right," Eugene announced, taking a seat down in the grass, "now we wait."
"Again?" Thomas had clearly had enough with waiting for the Pooh sticks game.
"Yes, again. But not too long. Look, you can already see them."
There were tiny pinpricks of bright yellow appearing and disappearing amongst the flowers. Miniscule lights, flickering on and off, drifting on the breeze.
Eugene heard a sharp gasp beside his ear as his youngest hugged his arm. "Is that magic?"
"Nah, Gin'—it's fireflies! We have 'em at home but—there's so many here!" Thomas turned around, still holding his jar to his chest.
"Floating lights!" Ginger exclaimed, beaming at her sister.
Annabelle smiled. "Exactly."
"Now what do we do?" Ginger asked her father.
"We're going to wait till more of them come out, and then we'll try to catch them using these jars. After all, we're going to need the light on the way home."
"If I run around, will it make them come out faster?" Thomas asked.
"Yes," Eugene said immediately. He would never deny his son a release of energy if it meant there would be less of it to deal with later.
"Wahoooooooo!" Dropping his jar, the boy took off across the meadow. Clouds of resting insects, beetles, lady bugs, and yes, fireflies, took flight as around fifty or so pounds of crown prince came thundering their way. They drifted in the twilight, some of them no doubt in a daze, as Thomas reached the other end of the clearing. Then he started to zigzag, and even more fireflies rose up into the air.
"That's your son," Rapunzel said, even as Thomas tripped and did a face plant into a clump of flowers.
"Our son," Eugene corrected. "I'm pretty sure he got his gracefulness from you."
His wife elbowed him, but couldn't keep the grin from her face as their son sprang up and continued to make laps around the meadow. He would add in yells and growls as he did so, and soon a body couldn't look without spotting a least one flicker of yellow in the air.
"All right, dears, let's get to catching some fireflies!" Rapunzel said, uncapping her jar and swooping it through the air.
Her daughters joined her and Eugene watched as all three of them made attractive arcs through the grass. It was almost like dancing, with Annabelle and Ginger weaving in an out amongst the flowers, following their mother in collecting the 'floating lights'. Thomas, worn out from his run, came over and plopped onto the ground beside his father.
"You okay?" Eugene asked.
"Yeah," he panted, his little chest rising and falling.
"Think you scared up enough critters for us?"
Thomas smiled, his tongue hanging out. "Yeah."
Eugene laughed and hauled his son up onto his shoulders, whirling in circles while Thomas yelped.
"You're going to make him sick if you do that too much," Rapunzel called.
"Hey, he was the one who wanted to wrestle," Eugene said, ignoring the fists hammering on his back.
"Dad, lemme go! Lemme go!"
"Tom, look how many I've got!" Ginger said, holding up her jar triumphantly.
Thomas, still dangling upside down, let out a surprised moan.
"I bet I get more than you do!" she declared, a wicked grin appearing on her face.
"Nah uh! Dad, lemme down! I need to get fire bugs!"
Laughing, Eugene did as demanded. Thomas grabbed his jar and began to try to catch as many fireflies as possible. By this time, however, most of the insects had wisened up and worked on avoiding capture. He managed to catch fifteen, but his makeshift lantern literally paled in comparison to the virtual sun Ginger was carrying. Annabelle had fared well, as had Rapunzel, but Ginger by far was the favorite.
"Personally, I think it's because she's the shortest," Eugene reasoned, squinting at the little collection of fireflies in his jar.
"How do you work that out?" his wife asked.
"Well, most of the fireflies didn't get up fast enough so they were all still on her level. And then she could just scoop up any of the leftovers."
"And she's Ginger-snap. She's not terribly threatening."
They both watched as Ginger pressed her face against her jar, whispering, "And I'll call you Jerry Nicholas, and you Princess Lillyana, and you Sir Gallant, and you Pretty Alauna, and you…"
"I suppose not," Rapunzel conceded.
Annabelle, who had tucked her jar safely under her arm, looked up at her father. "Now what?"
"Do you kids think we have enough fireflies?" he asked.
Annabelle nodded while her sister said loudly, "And you can be the best princess firefly of them all, Miss Beautiful Fantasia!"
Thomas came up, his jar blinking softly as he stared up at the sky. "They're all too high to get anyway. And it's dark now."
It had indeed gotten darker. The blue nighttime sky with its stars had replaced the sunset flush. And the wind had picked up, carrying away the remaining fireflies from the meadow.
"Time to go home then," Eugene announced. "Everybody, stay close together. Ginger-snap, you can come with me in the front since you've got the brightest jar."
"Can you carry me?" she asked.
He smiled. "Sure, sweetie. I'll carry you."
Rapunzel took Eugene's jar so he could pick their youngest up for a piggyback ride. Annabelle held Ginger's jar and walked beside her while Thomas and Rapunzel brought up the rear. It was quiet in the forest as they started their trip home, and the fireflies became quite useful lanterns in the darkness.
"So what are we going to do with the fireflies?" Ginger asked, her arms clasped tight around her father's neck.
Eugene adjusted his hold on her. "Well, we can let them go once we've reached home. They can live in the palace gardens."
"And we can visit them every night?"
He nodded. "Yes, Ginger-snap, every night."
"Good, because they'll want to know how we're doing."
"Of course they will."
"They're nice like that."
"Yes dear. Nice and sweet—just like you."
The family continued moving forward, retracing the steps they had taken earlier that evening. Somewhere nearby, an owl hooted, but the only other noise was the sound of their footsteps on the path.
"Daddy?" Ginger asked.
"Mmm?" Eugene said, peering through the tree branches.