Author Note: YAY! :D FINISHED! :D :D :D hahaha :D okay, so apologies for not posting anything for a bit, but I've been working on this baby as well as schoolwork so... yeah :D Anyway, this is the last chapter for this story, and if I ever write anything up about a wedding or engagement (and I've got ideas :D) it'll probably be in its own story. The next story I want to post on will be dealing with the Uncles so I can close off on that, but I have no clue when I'll be able to do that-I've got three weeks of school left and that means crunchtime! O.O :D haha Anyhoo, some warnings about this chapter (which is ridiculously huge), if you are not a fan of interior monologue, I'm sorry, and if you are not a fan of lots of text, I'm also sorry, and if you are not a fan of proposals... what on earth are you doing reading this thing? :D But thank you for waiting, for reading, and for all your kind and wonderful reviews, you guys are amazing :D and I really appreciate hearing your opinions :D May God bless you all! :) and Happy Future Easter Sunday! HE IS RISEN! :D
Soli Deo Gloria
Disclaimer: Disney owns Tangled, its characters, and its story
"You know, it truly is a beautiful day." Rapunzel remarked, gazing around at the forest trees and the sunlight lancing down through the leafy boughs.
Eugene smirked, "It is, isn't it? You can thank me now."
She snorted, "Why should I be thanking you? You didn't have anything to do with it."
"I woke you up to see it."
"Oh yes-," Rapunzel rolled her eyes, "-you woke me up by breaking into my room. Thief."
He held up his hands defensively, correcting, "Ex-thief as pardoned by your marvelous father. And anyway, I spent a good half-hour knocking on that door."
"It was only five minutes."
"You were awake?" His eyes widened as she turned around to flash a mischievous grin at him.
"And ignoring you."
Eugene nodded, "Too busy complimenting Reginald on his ample fluffiness, were you?"
"Makes sense. You always did like fluffy things, which begs the question-," he watched as she took to the small rise above the path, picking the wildflowers that grew there, "-why a frog?"
"He's a chameleon. And I didn't find Pascal—he found me." Rapunzel held out her arms and, setting the picnic basket down, Eugene easily lifted her up from the rise and placed her gently upon the ground.
"You know, I've never heard that story before. How did it happen?"
She slid a few of the flowers behind her ear, "How did what happen?"
"How did you and a fro—chameleon become friends?"
His girlfriend considered her bare feet, wiggling her toes in the soft sand of the forest path. She shrugged, "Best I can remember is that he wandered into my tower once when I was really small. I tried to paint a picture of him, but he kept changing colors so much I couldn't keep up." Rapunzel narrowed her eyes, "It was actually quite annoying—and exciting. I never saw a creature change colors before."
Eugene grinned, "Did you ever get him painted?"
"Yes, when I finally gave up after an hour's frustration. Then he came to sit by me, perfectly still and his normal, vibrant green color. I asked him if I could paint him, and he-," she frowned as her beau began to laugh. "Why are you laughing?"
Eugene shook his head, chuckling, "I'm sorry—sometimes I forget how amazing you are."
"Not everybody can just up and start talking to a frog as easily as you can, Rapunzel. It's not normally done."
She sighed, "For the last time, Eugene, Pascal is a-."
"Chameleon, I know. I just wanted to see if you'd correct me again." He smiled and held out his hand, allowing her to interlace her fingers with his.
She shook her head, murmuring, "You're such a—a…"
"A what?" He smirked.
"A Eugene." Rapunzel said accusatorily.
"Well you are most certainly nothing more than a Rapunzel. How's that?"
She shrugged, "All right."
Eugene laughed, "All right?"
His girlfriend glared at him, demanding, "Well how else am I supposed to answer? You asked a very strange question."
"Yeah, I guess I did." He glanced up at the canopy of leaves overhead, remarking, "Questions. Very important things, questions. Without them we wouldn't know what a person really thought. 'Course you'd have to answer truthfully, but then-."
Rapunzel bumped her shoulder into his, interrupting, "You're rambling, Eugene."
He nodded, "Sorry. I tend to do that sometimes, as you've obviously noticed."
"It's okay. Just—tell me something interesting."
"Interesting, hmm…" He pursed his lips, thinking.
"If you can't think of anything, I've got some news for you."
"Okay then, go ahead, because my mind is blank right now."
She smiled at him, "My friend Felicia, daughter of the Earl of Chester, got engaged to Prince Harold of Orae just last week."
"Was she the girl flashing that giant rock around at the party last night?" Her beau asked, vaguely remembering the giggle fest that had gone on beside him when Felicia and Rapunzel had begun talking.
"One and the same. Her fiancé, Harold—you know him, don't you?"
Eugene nodded, "He was the big guy following her around, right? Slapped me on the back when he said hello and made my teeth rattle?"
"Well, I don't know about rattling teeth but that was Prince Harold. He apparently is, and I quote, 'the absolutely best fiancé in the world who can name all thirty different kinds of goat.'"
Rapunzel nodded, "Goats are the most important export of Orae. They use everything from the wool to the entire animal. I read it in the almanac."
"Of course you did." He smirked. "And is Felicia happy now?"
"And what do you think about it?"
She beamed widely, "Oh, I'm happy for her."
"And what do you think about the idea of being engaged?" Eugene asked, choosing his words very carefully.
Apparently not carefully enough—Rapunzel was frowning at him.
He quickly explained, "You know, for Felicia and Harold."
She shrugged, "Well, if they love each other, and he can support her, and their parents approve then that's all that matters. I think they'll do very well together."
"Good for them."
"I know, right? It's wonderful how things like that can happen."
Eugene smiled and nodded, "Yeah."
Rapunzel sighed happily, echoing, "Yeah…"
For a few minutes, they both simply trotted along the path, surveying the landscape. The season being late summer, the trees were green and healthy, and the undergrowth of bushes, shrubbery, and grass grew wild and unkempt along the roadside. Several more wildflowers dotted the forest floor, their petals vibrant in colors of violet, red, yellow, and orange. Bees, buzzing quietly, floated on a soft breeze and stopped to visit each flower in search of the sweet nectar. Several birds chirped as they gave wing above into the brilliantly blue sky, and squirrels, chattering conversationally, scurried around in the interlocking branches of the great trees.
And such trees they were—these woods literally boasted hundreds of different kinds! There were tall, proud pines stretching off into the distance. Twisted dogwoods and flourishing alders grew in harmony next to the winding birch. Great, ancient oaks shaded the road with their enormous limbs. Even the white-grey bark of beech trees could be seen here and there amongst the others, gleaming in the shafts of sunlight cutting through the leaves.
Eugene could not remember seeing so many trees here before. Of course, he had not come to the forest that often since they had left the tower for the final time. The only thing he had done here recently was training for Corona's military, and that had been around the outskirts only. He had not been this deep in these woods for months. Even the place they were heading towards—that big, open meadow full of wildflowers—was somewhere he had stumbled upon once before while escaping justice. It was not one of his normal visiting spots—when he had had them. It was just a place that he remembered being distinctly pleased upon finding. After all, a fugitive from the law cannot afford to stop and see the natural beauty of the world that often. When he gets the chance, generally the experience was magical.
So, despite not being entirely sure if he was traveling in the right direction or not, Eugene was fairly comfortable.
After all, they had the path, the day was bright, and years of running around in this forest should serve his purposes well enough. He had confidence in his memory. He had not forgotten that much.
There were an awful lot of trees around here, though…
"Eugene-," Rapunzel said, breaking through his thoughts, "-I hear running water."
"You do?" He could not remember anything about a stream but—no. No, there was something about a creek… yes, there had been a creek.
They rounded the bend to see a wide brook running right before them. The water gleamed in the sunlight, rushing musically over smooth, mossy stones and coiling on out of sight into the trees. A few fish flitted here and there beneath the surface of the creek, their silver sides glinting with every movement. There was even a duck flying up from the water, splashing loudly as it took to the air.
Rapunzel balanced on one of the larger boulders sitting beside the water, smiling at the fish as they shied away from her shadow. Eugene looked up one side of the stream, and down the other. He saw no sign of a bridge. Instinct told him that this would be the best part to cross considering the relative shallowness of the water.
Sighing, he plopped down and began to remove his boots.
"What are you doing?" His girlfriend asked, watching him.
"Taking off my shoes." Eugene grunted as, with an almost suction-like sound, he jerked one of his boots off and tossed it to the side.
"Well-," he began to roll up his pants leg, "-we're going to have to cross and I would rather not be marching around in wet boots for the rest of the day."
Rapunzel glanced down at her own feet, smiling, "Looks like I don't have that problem."
"'Course you don't." He rolled up his other pants leg. "I'm going to be carrying you."
"You don't have to-."
Eugene shook his head, "Yes I do. It's a gentleman's duty to ensure his girl does not get her feet wet. Besides-," he stood up and, with two, measured movements, he threw his boots to the opposite bank, "-it could be slippery and I'd rather not let you fall."
"What if you fall while carrying me, then?" She smirked, taking the basket he was holding out to her.
"Then you can tease me all you want."
Rapunzel grinned, "Good."
"All right, most beautifulness-," Eugene carefully set one of his arms behind the crook of her legs and his other hand on her back, "-relax and-," he swept them forward, easily catching her up into his arms, "-trust me."
"Okay." She smiled at him, used to being picked up this way.
He grinned, "Keep a tight hold onto that basket or Chef Arman—nold will be very upset."
Rapunzel laughed, "You absolutely massacred his name."
"Well at least I tried to get it right. For your sake." He stepped into the cold stream, trying to find even ground as his feet sunk into the gravel and sandy bed.
"How's the water?"
"Chilly." Eugene winced, walking through the knee-deep water. "How's the transportation?"
"Handsome as always."
He smirked, "You're going to get in trouble if you say that too much."
"Nah, I don't think so." Rapunzel replied, studying his face as the sun hit the bridge of his perfectly straight and magnificent nose.
"Would I make another good painting again?"
She shrugged, "Maybe. If you stopped squinting."
"The sun is in my eyes, Rapunzel. If I didn't squint then I'd be burning my retinas." Her beau replied, slipping slightly on a loose stone and just catching himself with a splash as his knee met the water.
Rapunzel gripped his arm, "Be careful."
"I am—I am."
Eugene continued to make his way across, feeling the ground underneath him and stubbing his toe twice in the process. Thankfully, however, the injuries were minimal in the ways of pain. Then, when he had made it to the halfway point, Rapunzel spoke again.
"Hmm?" He muttered, distracted by a fish's determined investigation of his heel. The little creature had been following him around ever since he had entered the stream.
"What have you been doing in training?"
She rolled her eyes, "Eugene."
"What? To be honest, Rapunzel, I haven't been training a lot lately. I've been down at the docks working and-," he began to rise higher out of the water as he ascended a slope, "-doing lessons and classes like a mad-man."
He had been attending classes like his life depended on it. The job of prince consort was nothing to scoff at—and according to the king those classes were almost as much of a requirement as gaining Rapunzel's hand in marriage. His training had been put on indefinite suspension, but he would have to finish that up too before the wedding could take place. If it did at all, he reminded himself. She had not said yes, yet.
"So, are you still becoming 'an elite military officer'?" She asked, shifting as he stepped out onto the bank.
"'Hopefully not?'" Rapunzel stared at him.
Eugene gently set her onto the ground, murmuring, "Well, yeah—according to your dad, if I became a fully-fledged recruit, I'd have to be stationed somewhere."
"Yep. And he made it very clear that it would not be at the palace—or even the capital." He bent down and retrieved his boots. It was only when he took a seat on a nearby rock that he noticed his girlfriend gazing at him in utmost horror.
"What do you mean he said you wouldn't be stationed at the capital?"
Eugene shrugged, slapping at his wet knee, "Your dad said, basically, that a soldier's duty is to go where the crown calls him. If I get told to go to a certain place, then I go." He was not too troubled with this possibility. He had a plan that would probably get the problem resolved this afternoon.
He had forgotten, however, that Rapunzel did not share his confidence and knowledge.
"Eugene, how long have you known about this?" She demanded, her eyes widening at his potential departure to dangerous, foreign soils.
"'Bout three months." The more reasonable section of Eugene's mind told him that Rapunzel was upset. The other part was more concerned with tightening the buckles of his boot. "Why didn't you tell me?" Rapunzel exclaimed, dropping the basket and storming over to him.
He looked up in confusion, "Because I didn't think it was important?"
"Eugene! This is very important!" She grasped his shoulders, looking at him seriously. "You could be put anywhere! You could even be stuck in the Midlands!"
"I don't think-."
"You know what happens in the Midlands, don't you?" She took his face in her hands, hissing, Not-good-stuff!"
"Eugene!" Rapunzel turned around, growling her frustration to the sky. "Why don't you tell me these things? Don't you think I want to know?"
"Hey-," he stood up, walking over to her, one boot in his hand, "-hey, Rapunzel, don't worry about it."
"How can I not worry? Argh! We need to go back! I need to go back and convince my father to keep you and-."
"He's not sending me away."
"What?" She turned to him, hearing the calmness in his voice.
Eugene sighed, dropping his boot onto the ground and taking her hands. "Listen to me. I promise that no matter if I become an officer or not—I'm not going anywhere."
"Your father and I have come to an agreement of sorts." Eugene smiled, raising his eyebrows, "He's a good man, and smart. He knows when something is inevitable."
"Do you really think that if I was sent away, you would never see me again?"
She glanced away, her mouth slightly open.
"You'd come after me, wouldn't you? I can see it already—you were making plans."
Rapunzel frowned guiltily, and she muttered, "I may have… thought…"
He laughed, "Rapunzel, don't worry. Your father has no intention of shipping me off anywhere anytime soon." He gave her hands a comforting squeeze before stooping down to grab his boot. Then he walked over to his rock again, sat down, and began to pull his shoe onto his foot.
His girlfriend was still standing where he had left her, gazing at the water of the stream and remembering what her mother had told her just that morning. She felt her fear slip away, and a small smile crossed her face.
"Of course I'm right." Eugene responded, standing up again and stamping his foot to knock his boot into position.
"I mean that there's proof to what you just said. Do you know what my Mom told me this morning?"
"That's it's going to rain?" He asked ironically, noting the still, very-clear sky peeping through the treetops.
"No—I told her that. But seriously, Eugene, listen."
Eugene obeyed, turning his eyes upon her face to indicate his full attention. Rapunzel grinned, declaring cheerfully, "Mom told me that they love you."
For a second, Eugene was unable to reply back. The impact of those words was sensational. Well, he had known the queen—or at least he had hoped that the queen—loved him. She had always shown him kindness and respect, but she was like that with everyone. Yet, that hug on the balcony, as well as the one she had given him just a few days ago, seemed to indicate a stronger affection. And that was just the queen. Her husband—well…
Eugene remembered what the king had said about having him for a son-in-law. Then his memory went back even further, and he recalled the sincerity in which the man had spoken with him about Rapunzel. The king recognized his love for her, and he appreciated it. Perhaps he appreciated it more than he had realized.
It was weird, having these people—these 'parent-like' people—loving him. Weird in an absolutely fantastic kind-of way.
Eventually, Eugene stammered, "She—she said that?"
"Yes, Eugene. She's said that before."
"Not long after you brought me back." Rapunzel answered, practically glowing with happiness.
"Wow. I-," he swallowed slightly, "-I think I love your parents too. I mean—I'm really grateful to them, at least. They've done-," he glanced at her, "-and given, and have been willing to give, so much to me."
She smiled, "They have."
"You don't know how much." Eugene replied softly, wondering if he should just propose to her right now.
"Do you want to keep going?"
"What?" His hand was touching the outside of his pocket.
Rapunzel nodded to the trail, "You know—wherever this second best day is supposed to be taking place."
"Uh—yeah." He nodded, his lips parting into a faint grin. "Let's get going."
"Lead the way, Eugene."
Eugene offered her his arm, "Very well, I will do exactly that."
His girlfriend interlocked arms with him and both continued their trip down the path. Neither one seemed to remember the picnic basket resting beside the stream bank. Nor did they see the small, puffy clouds drifting in from the ocean city where a light drizzle had already started to fall…
They had been walking for another half-hour now. The sky may have grown slightly darker, but Eugene did not notice it. After all, it was always shady underneath the trees. He did wonder why they had not reached the meadow yet, however. Had it really been this deep into the forest?
"And so then Chef Arnold said he'd let me make French toast for breakfast tomorrow. How does that sound?" Rapunzel asked, walking alongside her beau.
Eugene grinned, "In a word: delicious. You do know my favorite meal of the day is breakfast, don't you?"
"Considering how many waffles you ate yesterday morning, I kind-of guessed that already."
He shrugged, "Hey, your dad had about the same amount—and he snitched the strawberries."
"Which you stole from the kitchens." She retorted.
"Well, I was very disappointed when the waiters didn't bring them out. Thanks again for inviting me, though. The so-called 'breakfast' they serve for us miserable recruits-in-training amounts to lumpy gruel and slices of pale ham." He made a face.
Rapunzel nodded thoughtfully, "I should talk to the Head Chef about that."
"And while you're at it-," Eugene kicked a small stone down the road, "-tell him that bacon's a better option."
"That's your opinion."
"That's the regiment's opinion, trust me. If they aren't talking about women or their superiors, they're talking about the food. Actually, I think food is their favorite subject."
"Have you joined any of those conversations?" He somehow missed the dangerous edge to her voice.
Eugene nodded, "It's hard not to, the way they stay up late at night yakking like nobody's business."
Rapunzel narrowed her eyes, "What have you said?"
"Lots of stuff, I suppose. I mean-," he smirked, counting the words on his fingers, "-if there's something I know, it's good-quality food, how annoying the Captain of the Guard can be, and what kind of women are most likely to-." He stopped talking, suddenly realizing what he was just about to say.
His girlfriend shook her head, "No, go on Eugene, I'm very interested in hearing about this."
"I know—that's what scares me."
She smiled, raising her eyebrows, "I've got all day, Eugene."
"Well, I, uh-," he rubbed the back of his neck, laughing slightly, "-I may have given them a few tips."
"Um—don't laugh—but I tried to teach them the Smolder."
"You did what?" Rapunzel asked, giggling.
Eugene frowned at her, "I said don't laugh."
"I'm sorry. I'll try not to…" She said, attempting to compose herself, and then failing horribly as gales of laughter overtook her.
Her beau sighed, "Well, if you can hear anything above all that giggling, I'll tell you how it all came out. See, they asked me how I won you over—you know, aside from the obvious elements of superhuman good looks and my natural charm."
"Yes, we can't forget about those. Nor your incredibly humble spirit." Rapunzel smirked.
"Thank you. Most people don't seem to notice that about me," he grinned. "But I had to tell them the truth because I couldn't lie to them, Rapunzel. I'm an honest man about these kind of things."
"You're about as honest as you are humble."
Eugene's smile faltered, "You know me too well."
She nodded, "More than you've probably realized. Anyway, did any of them achieve perfect Smoldering levels?"
His eyes lit up, and he said, "Actually, surprisingly enough, Charlie almost nailed it. He was about four degrees away from the true Smolder. However-," he flashed yet another grin at her, "-we all know that no one can do it like the original."
She turned her head a little, asking, "You're not going to-?"
Eugene laughed, "Oh yes I am. And you're going to swoon at my feet."
"Or hit you in the head with a frying pan."
"You don't have a frying pan with you." He said confidently. Then his confidence waned when he saw the mysterious smile on her face. "You don't, right?"
"You never know…" She replied in a singsong voice, walking on ahead and sending a flirtatious glance back to him.
"Rapunzel." A broad grin spread across his face. "You are just so-."
"Going in the wrong direction—the path is this way." He pointed to his left.
She rolled her eyes, "Eugene, there's not really a set path."
Eugene shook his head, "No, I'm serious, I know where I'm going. Remember, I am the most notorious ex-thief this side of the Lockridge Mountains."
"Yes, so you've said."
"So I've proved."
Rapunzel smiled, and then felt something wet hit her cheek. She glanced upward, frowning.
"Eugene—I think it's starting to rain."
He looked up at the greying heavens, "What? No way."
"No it-," Rapunzel wiped the water from her face, "-it has to be rain."
"Can't be. It's probably just some water that was caught in the leaves, that's all."
"Eugene, it hasn't rained in at least a week."
He shrugged, demanding, "And who says it's going to start anytime soon?"
"Yeah, yeah, I know. The omniscient almanac."
Rapunzel sighed, "Well maybe we should eat lunch now instead of waiting for this 'drizzle'-."
"I never said it was a drizzle."
"-to turn into a downpour." She finished, narrowing her eyes.
Eugene felt his stomach mutter in agreement. He pursed his lips, allowing, "I suppose we could have a little bit of a snack."
"Thank goodness." His girlfriend took a seat on a nearby tree root. "I only had a banana muffin for breakfast and I've been starting to get hungry."
"Right. Just let me-." He stopped, glancing around. Where had he set the picnic basket? It had been hanging from his arm just a minute ago.
Eugene walked a little ways from the area, scanning the underbrush. He could hear Rapunzel babbling something about muffins, but in the back of his mind a faint buzz of panic had started up. It could not possibly—he had grabbed the basket, he remembered because the queen had given it to him… And he had carried it the entire way until they reached the river because he did not want Rapunzel peeking and yet…
His eyes widened and he turned around, moaning.
Rapunzel sat up, her expression of complacency switching into one of concern. "Eugene? Are you all right?"
"Um-," he gave a faint half-smile, murmuring, "-not really. Rapunzel, I think we might've left the basket back at the river."
She nodded, "Okay. Let's just go back and get it."
"But it's about twenty minutes away from here."
Rapunzel stood up, responding, "Well, Eugene, I'd rather not go back but, I'm hungry. Besides, it's Chef Arnold's best picnic basket." She smiled at him, "You're already on his 'bad people list'. Do you want to be on his 'really bad people list'?"
He laughed shortly, "How do you know I'm not there already?"
"Because I asked him to take you off. But honestly, Eugene-," she glanced up at the sky again, noting the expanding congregation of clouds, "-we should probably get back anyway."
His stomach grumbled again. Eugene sighed, "Well, I still don't think it's going to rain, but we should grab that basket before some bear decides to eat it."
"It's going to rain. Look at the sky."
"Looks beautiful." He replied, without once glancing upward. "Now let's get a move on."
Rapunzel came over to him, retorting, "You're being awful bossy."
Eugene shrugged, "Well, I've got places to go, things to do—things gotta happen today, Rapunzel. Important things. Life-changing things."
"All right then. Lead the way, O Masterful Guide."
It started to rain—not rain—drizzle while they started trekking back to the stream. The clouds furled and thickened above the many trees. They seemed to be pressing out the light of the sun with their great mass, billowing threateningly within the slowly darkening sky. Eventually, the swollen clouds would split open over the forest, drenching the world with heaven's might. In reality, heaven had made itself known already with the rumblings of thunder sounding off in the distance.
Eugene listened to one of these low murmurs, feeling the tiny dots of water tapping a soft tattoo on his head and shoulders. He groaned and marched forward past another set of trees, searching for some sign of the stream. Beside him, Rapunzel walked along, smiling sympathetically as the light drizzle grew less and less light.
"Are you okay, Eugene?" She asked as, yet again, he changed directions.
He did not hear her question, too focused as he was on finding out where the path had gone.
He stood still, glancing around the clearing. The wind was starting to pick up. Gusts of cold air whipped at branches and sent leaves spiraling around. This, combined with the thunder, the light rain, and the increasing warnings of a heavier storm on its way, was only making him more irritated.
Not that the constant reminder of the fact that he would have to read the almanac every morning for the rest of his life helped any.
"Eugene." Rapunzel set a hand on his wrist, causing him to glance down at her. "Are you all right?"
He hesitated for a second, wondering if he should tell her that he was not a hundred percent positive they were going in the right direction. But there were the slight stirrings of pride in his chest, and some of his old, Flynn Rider bravado came back. He knew where they were. And the rain was just a small drizzle, nothing else. He still had it all under control.
So, Eugene nodded, smirking, "'Course I am. Everything's fine."
"You're sure you're not a little-," she raised an eyebrow, "-lost?"
He shook his head, holding up his hand, "Nope. I know exactly where we are going. Remember, I am-."
"The most notorious ex-thief this kingdom has ever known, yes, I've heard." Rapunzel sighed, turning away from him.
"Oh come on, you don't have to say it like that."
"Yes, well that's the way I've been hearing it all this time." She leaned against a nearby tree, fixing him with a firm expression of irony. "I'm just wondering when you're going to start showing it."
He narrowed his eyes, "Rapunzel, I know where I'm going. And besides, I'm perfectly capable of dealing with a spring shower."
"It's late summer, Eugene."
"Summer showers too. You should see what I can do in a snowstorm."
She shook her head, "Where's the river?"
"This way." Eugene replied, jerking his thumb to the left and charging through a clump of trees.
Rapunzel groaned and followed after him, feeling the rain start to intensify. She held her arms tighter about herself as larger drops of water fell down. They would be soaked to the skin within a matter of minutes. And, to top it all off, she was getting hungrier.
This was most certainly not turning out to be the second best day of her life.
"Aha!" Eugene's triumphant call came from beyond the shrubbery.
Rapunzel picked up the hem of her dress and emerged from the trees to see that they had, indeed, found the river.
Her beau had one foot perched against a fallen log, arms folded across his chest, looking quite pleased with himself. He grinned, declaring: "Told you I'd find it."
"Great. Now where's the picnic basket?"
Eugene pouted, "You could've waited to ask that question."
Rapunzel began to search the ground, responding, "Eugene, I'm hungry. As happy as I am that you remembered where the river was, certain necessities come first."
"All right—just hold on. I'm sure it's here somewhere." He trudged along, following the stream, while Rapunzel trotted a few feet behind him.
A bellow of thunder rang out again, and then the rain began to pour faster and harder. It caused the level of the stream to rise as they walked, lapping up over the banks. Eugene and Rapunzel had to constantly sidestep the flooding, all the while pursuing the snaking river as it bent and turned amidst the trees. They both walked in silence, listening to the woods echoing about them with the sounds of the storm.
It took about fifteen minutes before Rapunzel stepped away from the bank.
"I think it's gone for good."
"No-," he shook his head, gazing at the stream's ceaseless, meandering path, "-no—it's probably just around the bend. Caught up on a tree root or something."
"Eugene, it's gone. Face it." She said bluntly, retreating to stand under the limbs of a tall elm.
Eugene kept squinting at his surroundings, replying, "It's not gone, Rapunzel. It's just—I'll find it."
He felt the muscles in his jaw tighten. Eugene took a deep breath and shook his head, saying delicately, "No it's not. I will find it." He glanced back at her, muttering, "Even if I have to go alone."
His girlfriend sighed, "Just give up on it, Eugene. Come on—we need to get back before this-," she pointed at the clouds, "-gets any worse."
As if to reinforce her words, another thunderclap issued forth, shaking the air with its sound.
Eugene shook his head and continued walking, "We—we're not going back."
"Because it—well-," he gestured helplessly, "-we came out here for a good day and this will blow over in a few more minutes. Just come on."
"Eugene." She moaned.
However, when he did nothing more than continue marching forward, Rapunzel was forced to follow him. She pushed herself off from the tree, tramping across the wet dirt and leaves as the smell of rain and soggy bark filled her nostrils.
"I think you're just being too stubborn." She remarked, trotting briskly forward to reach his side again.
He ducked beneath an overhanging branch, responding, "I'm not stubborn."
"Eugene, it's pouring and we're probably lo-."
Eugene held up his hand, "Don't say it. We are not lost—I know exactly where we are."
Rapunzel glared at him, blowing at her damp bangs, "Oh really?"
"Yes." He turned around, resting his hands on her shoulders, "I promise. We are not lost, this storm will die down in a few minutes, and the day can go on as planned." Eugene smiled, adding, "It'll be great."
She shook her head, muttering, "You sound so hopeful."
"Because I am hopeful."
Rapunzel gazed at him uncertainly, her green eyes showing some reservation.
Eugene took her hand and helped her step over a particularly gnarled tree root. "The worst thing that will happen today is that your father gets to tell me 'I told you so' thanks to this little sprinkling. Aside from that-," another boom of thunder caused his next words to be slightly strained, "-today will be a wonderful day."
Skirting past a widening puddle, Rapunzel said, "Eugene, if you need to tell me something, I'm perfectly fine with-."
"There's nothing I need to tell you. Just trust me."
His girlfriend frowned up at the heavens, murmuring, "Okay…"
"Thank you. Now-," Eugene nodded to the trees at their right, "-let's go back into the forest because I think you're probably right about that picnic basket."
"Chef Arnold's going to kill you."
"If he can catch me."
Another hour passed by, and with it came an increase of rainfall. The puffy grey clouds soaked the forest trees, sending down torrents of rain to the earth below. Thunder, the voice of the storm, reared its noisy head again and again to break through the eternal music of clattering rain. Lightning had also joined in by this point, raking across the firmament and illuminating the dark woods with its brightness. And, as always, the wind continued to blow.
Rapunzel, shoulders hunched and eyes glaring at the mud in front of her, shivered underneath her wet clothes. She turned her head, glancing over at Eugene. He was striding doggedly onward, his booted feet flapping through the muck and his face set to the wind. If she were not so mad at him, she would have been impressed by his determination. But right now, slogging through a thunderstorm, without having heard a single word of encouragement from her beau, Rapunzel was not impressed. She was very miserably unhappy.
And the thing that was making her most unhappy had nothing to do with the weather. It had to do with Eugene, and his absolute refusal to tell her anything. First, it had to do with his going down to the docks for work; next, he kept shuffling through maps of Corona; then, he was disappearing for hours at a time downtown; now today, she had found out that he had been hiding his possible stationing assignment from her; and finally, he still would not admit that they were lost, he still would not admit that he had been wrong about the length of the rainstorm, and he had not said a word to her for the past thirty minutes. Matter of fact, he had not even looked at her.
Suddenly, her foot caught on a rut in the earth, and Rapunzel tripped slightly, crying out.
He glanced back to see her supporting herself against a tree, murmuring darkly while rubbing her ankle. Eugene quickly plodded over.
"Are you okay?"
"No." Rapunzel hissed. "No, I am not okay."
He frowned worriedly, "Did you get hurt-?"
Rapunzel limped away from the tree, retorting, "No, Eugene. No. I'm perfectly fine." She moved away and then wheeled around, snapping sharply, "Well, actually, now that you ask, I'm not! I'm not fine! I haven't been fine for the past two hours!"
"Do you want to know why?"
He nodded, blinking doubtfully in the rain, "Yes, I do."
"Because of you!" She howled, jabbing her index finger straight at him.
Rapunzel rolled her eyes, "Yes, you! You! Blast it all, it's you, Eugene!"
"What did I do?" He asked, holding out his hands.
"Oh, let me just count them up!" She replied, and then began listing each action on her fingers. "First of all, you woke me up this morning when I clearly had had a long night and needed some sleep!"
"Second, you dragged me out here, even though we all told you it was going to rain!"
"Okay, I am sorry about-."
"But that's the least of it, Eugene. The least of it. Because that's not why I'm really mad at you right now! Right now, I'm mad at you because you refuse to tell me anything!" Rapunzel yelled, scowling at him.
Eugene glanced away, tugging at his hair. What on earth could she be talking about?
He sighed, replying, "Rapunzel, I have no clue what you're talking about."
"You did not tell me about the possibility of you being stationed somewhere as a soldier!"
"I told you today about that."
She threw up her hands, retorting, "Yes, but not when it was important! Not when it mattered, Eugene! Don't you think that I would want to know about that?"
"I didn't want you to worry." He answered, trying to suppress his rising irritation.
Rapunzel shook her head, replying angrily, "Eugene, I want to worry if it's something like that! At least then I know about it! But no! You didn't tell me anything! For all I know, your pardon could have been refused and you could have been on death row and you wouldn't have told me about it!"
"Well, then I'd be in jail and you would know about it. But seriously, Rapunzel, let me-."
"No!" She shrieked, her voice rising to match the scream of the wind. "You never tell me anything! You haven't told me anything about what you're doing in training; about why you're working down at the docks; about why you've been looking at maps of the kingdom; about anything! You're supposed to tell me things, Eugene! It's what you do when you're in a relationship with someone! You trust them and you tell them things!"
Eugene bit back a rather nasty response, and instead gritted his teeth, saying, "There are some things I can't tell you about, Rapunzel. I'm sorry, but I really can't-."
"Why? Because I'm too weak to handle it?"
He turned his eyes to her face, "Look, I never said-."
"For goodness' sake Eugene, I'm not some fragile flower! I'm not the same girl you found in that tower two years ago! I've been in the world, I've known people like you and I understand mistakes and problems! You don't have to protect me anymore! You can tell me if my father's been bullying you or if you're injured or if you've gone in the wrong direction!" Rapunzel retorted furiously, glaring at him as a stripe of lightning scorched across the sky.
"We haven't gone in the wrong direction!" Eugene shouted, his thin layer of patience snapping in half.
"Yes we have, Eugene! We have—we've been lost for the past two hours, and we're working on a third! Admit it, we are completely and utterly lost!"
"We're not lost!"
"Yes we are!"
"No, we're not! Rapunzel, I know where we are, I know where we're going, and I tell you that we are not lost!"
"Yes-," she grabbed him by the front of his vest, yanking him down to her angry face, "-we are!"
For a second, they both just stood there, breathing hard and staring into each other's eyes.
Then Eugene reached up and set a hand over her wrists, murmuring softly, "Let go."
She released him, tearing her hands away from his and plowing forward.
"Just where do you think you're off to?" He asked, watching as she strode heatedly away from him.
"Away from here!"
"Rapunzel, you can't just-."
His girlfriend called over her shoulder: "Don't you try to tell me what I can and cannot do, Eugene! I'm going home, and nothing you say will stop me!"
"You don't even know where the palace is!" He pointed out.
"I don't care! I'll find it anyway!"
She ignored his shout and kept on walking through the trees. Eugene turned his face up to the storm clouds, snarling as the freezing rain struck his skin. Why did she have to be so difficult? Why did she have to be so annoying? Why did she have to be so stubborn? Why was he asking these stupid questions when the lost princess was about to get herself lost again?
Eugene ducked his head down and darted forward, coming up around to block Rapunzel's path.
She tried to go past him, but he continued to stop her, eventually earning a snarl equal to his own.
"Move!" Rapunzel ordered, her fingers curling into fists.
He shook his head, "No."
"Get out of my way!"
Once again, Eugene shook his head, "I'm not going to do that."
"Because you're the princess and I can't let you go out there by yourself."
Rapunzel gaped at him for a second. Then she narrowed her eyes, hissing, "Eugene, I'm wet, I'm cold, I'm hungry, I'm mad, and I'm tired. I don't care who I am right now. I just want to go home, and so I'm going to go home." She tried ducking by him but he stopped her again.
"Well, I'm sorry, but you can't."
"Then I'll go find somewhere dry!" The girl dove past him and into a mass of bushes.
"No—Rapunzel, wait!" He ran after her, thorns from the bushes ripping at his shirt and scratching his arms.
Eugene emerged out into a thicket of more brambles, left open to the sky since the trees had been unable to grow amid the thorns. He whirled around, eyes zipping across his surroundings as he searched for some sign of the irate princess. There was a small strip of cloth—part of the hem of her dress—attached to a bush to his right. He could also hear grunts of aggravation from the other side, even with the rain pounding down and the gale in his ears.
Worry struck him, and without a moment's hesitation he threw himself headlong into the bush, keeping his arm in front of his face and trying to ignore the painful cuts the thorns were inflicting upon his flesh.
When he finally came out, he saw that Rapunzel had stopped to regain her breath—likewise scratched and bedraggled. She shot a glare at him, unsticking a spike from her shoulder.
"Rapunzel, please don't do that." He pleaded, glancing back at the cluster of thorns they had just come through.
"Do what, Eugene?"
"Leave. For goodness' sake, do you think your parents would appreciate it if I came back without their daughter? I have a reputation I need to keep."
"Oh, so now that your pride is on the line, I'm important?" She scoffed, rubbing her arms as her goose-bumps reappeared.
Eugene's temper, already boiling, started to steam upward again. He swallowed hard, responding, "No, you're very important, it's just-," he saw the look of utter disdain she was giving him, and whatever inner calm he had left evaporated. "You know what?" Eugene asked sarcastically. "Fine! I'll go and find you somewhere dry, okay? I will go find you a place where you can sit and sulk and pout. And when this rain lets up and it's all bright and sunny and happy, we'll return to the city!"
"When we get back you can go and get your assignment and leave. Maybe you'll even end up in the Midlands."
"Better there than here! Now come on!" He turned and began to hike up an incline, his eyes fixed straight ahead.
Rapunzel groaned in resignation and broke into a run, stumbling uphill to eventually gain the ground beside him.
And so they walked, in silence, listening to the sound of the storm.
Eugene thought hard as he sloshed through the muddy grass, wet leaves clinging to his legs while the skin on his arms and hands burned from the scratches left by the thorns. He thought about how much he hated the rain. About how much he strongly disliked the way the wind's voice seemed to be mocking him. About how he wished he could just redo the entire day. But what he thought about most was a single question: what happened to his perfect plan?
Walking by a tree, he gazed up at its dark-stained limbs and reviewed what his plan had been. It had been a good plan. The best plan he had ever come up with. So how had it gone so wrong?
His original intention was a short walk through the city, across the bridge, and into the forest. There, he and his deliriously happy girlfriend would have spent, at the very least, thirty minutes making their way to the lovely, sunlit meadow of wildflowers. Rapunzel would have gasped in rapturous delight, romping through the flowers and exclaiming about the different kinds. He would have started setting up lunch from Chef Arnold's best picnic basket, smiling as his girlfriend told him all about the flowers and what their names were and how they needed to bring a bouquet back for the queen. Then they would have eaten a fantastic meal as provided by the royal kitchen staff, chatted for a bit, maybe stare at the clouds, and eventually get to the reason he had asked her out to the magical spot in the first place.
A crash of thunder broke through his thoughts, and Eugene was rudely transported back from his daydream and into the cold, wet, miserable reality. He heard the growling of his stomach and suddenly his leg sunk, calf-high, into a rather swampy spot on the forest floor. With a loud sucking noise, he extracted his foot and continued to trek onward, his mind returning to his amazing plan.
After dramatically dropping to his knees, he would have serenaded Rapunzel with a list of all her dazzling features while blue birds tweeted in the surrounding trees and the sun beamed down upon him. He would have told her of his intense, passionate, devoted love—would have gone into a detailed explanation of how she had made the past two years the best he had ever lived. He would have been handsome, dry, and confident, and she would have been beautiful, dry, and blissful. The dry part had become incredibly important, somehow.
Above him, a sudden deluge of water splashed onto his shoulders as the leafy canopy gave way to the rain. Eugene shivered and cast a glance at his girlfriend.
She was marching alongside, ignoring anything and everything having to do with him. Her back was slouched, and her brow furrowed in a fury he had never thought possible. Eugene shook his head and began to muse on his brilliant plan again.
And then, after he had asked the most earthshakingly romantic proposal of all time, he would wait for a few tense seconds of earnest hopefulness while she considered his question. It would have been a tough, but exciting few moments of indecision. He would have watched her magnificent green eyes flicker over his heroic, muscular build, thinking. That adorable wrinkle of concentration he loved so much would have appeared on her forehead as she made her final choice. And then she would have said yes, of course, why had he been taking so long? And he would have laughed and swept her up into his arms to a life filled with wonderful wedded happiness.
It would have been romantic, it would have been extraordinary, and it would have been perfect.
But simple things can ruin perfect plans. Even—he saw a streak of lightning arc across the sky—simple things like bad weather.
Yet had it just been the rain? Perhaps it had been something else? Some crime he himself had done?
He could remember her words… she had yelled about his not telling her anything. Well, he had a good reason not to tell her stuff. There were just some things in his life that she did not need to know about. The proposal and all that dealt with it were obvious. How could he be romantic and spontaneous if she knew he had been working to pay for a ring? He could not have told her about that.
But the fact that he might have been stationed away from the capital was something she probably should have known. After all, she was his girlfriend. She deserved to know about his possible departure—deserved to know that his training could lead to something neither one of them really cared to think about. And maybe he could have told her about the extra classes he had been taking in preparation for being prince consort… even if it was only a little bit of information. Maybe—maybe he could have even told her the bare bones of the conversation he had held with her father that night a couple of months ago. Marriage was a big thing. Maybe he should have asked her first before he had really thought about asking her…
Yet where was the romance in that? And besides, he had been going to explain everything today. She would have gotten all the information, all the news, all the secrets would have been cracked open for her viewing. After the proposal, anything she wanted to know would be revealed. The question was the key.
Not that he even believed he had a chance at that now. Not now that his perfect plan had been ruined.
But then again, what was this day supposed to be about? Was it supposed to be about him performing the most elaborate amorous proposal the world had ever seen? Or was it about him, Eugene, asking Rapunzel to allow—as her mother had so eloquently put it—his 'life to be bound to hers completely'? And, he grinned slightly, remembering the king's words, it was not bondship. It was commitment.
So what was he committed to now? Was he committed to his perfect plan or to the fuming girl beside him?
Eugene opened his mouth slightly, closed it, and then opened it again.
She held up a hand, snapping, "No, Eugene. I don't want to talk to you, I don't want to listen to you, and I don't even want to look at you."
How was he going to get past that difficulty?
Eugene looked around at his surroundings, peering through the ever-present curtain of rain. Then he saw it, and his heart lifted somewhat. At least he could do one thing right.
"Come here. I've found you a place." He turned left, passing into a small clearing.
She followed him to the clearing and frowned.
Eugene had found her a barn. But not just any barn. No, that was too good for him. Instead, her beau had discovered the most rickety, most dilapidated barn in all of Corona.
The building leaned against the side of a great tree, half of its left wall and roof missing, leaving the empty horse stalls and feeding troughs vulnerable to nature's ferocity. The wood siding was moldy and rainwater seeped through the holey roof. The straw—great big hanks of it—lay gathered in the corners of the structure. But the hay was dry, and the remaining walls would keep the wind off.
Rapunzel shot a glare at Eugene and then tramped forward to get beneath the protection of the barn's roof.
"What do you think?" He asked, watching as she scooted into the deepest corner of the building.
"I think-," Rapunzel took a seat on half of a hay bale, "-that you can stay outside because you are not coming in."
Eugene felt his annoyance rising up once more. "Rapunzel, I'm cold too and-."
"No, Eugene! No. You lost your right to anything when you dragged me out to the second worst day of my life."
She nodded, not looking at him, "First was when you died, but then you came back so it probably doesn't count. Anyway, I'm not talking to you anymore so shhh!"
She firmly turned her back towards him and faced the wall.
He stared at her, but she did not move an inch.
"Women!" Eugene announced to the heavens, receiving only a boom of thunder in return. He kicked at the muddy ground and went over to a nearby tree, plopping down upon the dirt. Moodily, he peeled a leaf off his arm, winced as his fingers brushed against one of the new scrapes, and scowled at the rain.
So all was lost, then. Maybe, if they ever found the way back to the palace, he could propose tomorrow… but today was not an option.
Eugene removed the ring from his pocket and stared at it. Surprisingly pristine despite his having slipped and fallen into the mud not ten minutes ago, the purple gemstone was dark and radiant against the white gold metal. Its little companion diamonds complimented the bigger jewel quite well. The queen had been right. Rapunzel would probably like this ring better than the other one. Not that she was even going to see it now.
He sighed again. It was hopeless. There was no way she would say yes or even consider listening to a proposal. Even if he spent years trying to think up a good enough apology and speech, he doubted the result would be any different. After all, they were lost in the forest—lost by his stubbornness and pride. They were sitting beneath a rainstorm—also his fault for not heeding the words of the almanac. They were both hungry—and neither one of them ever dealt with hunger very well, it tended to make them rather cranky. And, as a grand finale, Rapunzel was angry with him for not telling her what she probably should have known: everything.
But he wanted to tell her now.
Of course, she would not listen, now.
Eugene looked over at his girlfriend as a roll of thunder resounded overhead.
Rapunzel was still sitting on her hay bale, her legs crossed, her arms crossed, and her face cross. She looked about as mad as a wet cat—and as cold as one too. Her damp hair dripped water onto her nose and into her eyes, and she flicked back her bangs in irritation. Her face and arms bore a few scratches from the thorn bushes. Furthermore, he saw that she was shivering underneath her ruined clothes—clothes that were clinging to her body in rather interesting ways.
Eugene shook his head. No, he should not think about that quite yet. Her father would kill him.
But his eyes continued to wander over her small back and slender form, drinking in those alluring feminine curves. The girl was absolutely striking; there was no denying it. Even now, when she was soaking wet, covered in mud and with her eyes narrowed in anger, she awakened something inside him. Something that made his heart pound and his ears ring with a strange, desperate roaring. It was not necessarily bestial, but it was awfully close.
Then he began to think about the other things he liked about her. The way she laughed—a clear, pure sound of intense enjoyment that made the world light up. The way her voice seemed to soothe his muscles and mind after a long day of working. The tilt of her chin after he had just made a sarcastic remark, by which sign he knew she had just thought up another to throw right back at him. How she sang when she cooked, how she concentrated when she painted, how she glowed in rapturous joy with every little aspect of life. How she made everything amazing, just by being there… and how he wanted to do the same for her.
Eugene absently felt his side, remembering that he had once died for the girl. Even then, he had fallen in love with her. Only after three days of total weirdness, ridiculous adventure, unexplainably awesome romance, and heart-rending fear, he had decided that she mattered more than himself. He had grown to love her because she had given him his life back, and in return, he had given that life for hers. And now they both had lives—both had worries—both had plans that may or may not intersect. Dreams of a future… that's all they were.
He frowned. So why couldn't his future entwine with hers? His past already had. His present was currently tied to her. Why not his future as well?
Eugene grinned to himself.
There he was, actually considering proposing to a princess—whom he had irritated into cold silence—during a rainstorm. There he was, thinking about getting down on one knee to pop the question in a leaky wreck of a barn smelling of wet straw and mold. What kind of romantic was he?
"Apparently a hopeless one." Eugene muttered, rolling the ring between his fingers. Then he stood up and tried, miserably, to smooth his hair back.
Who was he kidding? Any attempts at bettering his appearance were futile. He was just evading following through on the decision he had just made. Now was not the time to wait—now was the time to act.
Thus it was that Eugene Fitzherbert walked over to the ruined barn to propose to the love of his life.
There was no grandness to it, no majestic applause or royal orchestra and certainly no special lighting. There was just the music of the storm and his squelchy footsteps.
Rapunzel growled, hearing his approach. She shook her head and muttered dangerously, "Don't you dare come in here, Eugene. I'm mad at you. I don't care what you have to say so don't waste your breath."
"Okay. I won't."
Rapunzel frowned, realizing a change in his voice. Eugene sounded strangely calm. His words had been quiet, even accepting… and miraculously patient. What was he getting at?
She slowly turned around.
He was kneeling in the mud before her, rain pelting down from the clouded sky, holding up a ring. His clothes were soaked through, torn and dirtied, and he had a small scratch on his cheek. His familiar face was wet and muddied, and his hair plastered unattractively against his head. Yet, despite all this, he was smiling slightly.
"Eu—Eugene?" Rapunzel whispered, her gaze moving back and forth from the ring to his brown eyes.
"What—what are you-?" She seemed unable to form her question, and instead stared at him.
Eugene cleared his throat and asked, simply, "Rapunzel, will you marry me?"
She merely gazed at him in numb shock.
He bowed his head, "Listen, I know that this isn't the best way to ask you. And I'm most likely the last man you want to see right now. And I'm sorry for-," he sighed, raising his eyebrows, "-you know, everything. I'm sorry for the rain, I'm sorry I lost the picnic basket, I'm sorry that we're lost and I'm sorry, most of all, that I have not been telling you all the stuff you deserve to know. But, since we're not really going anywhere, I just figured I should still give it a shot."
He shrugged and met her eyes again, "So, I ask you again, will you marry me, Rapunzel? I love you and—well… I don't really have anything else except that."
She smiled, asking, "That's why you wanted to come out here?"
"That's what the whole day was supposed to be about? With the picnic basket and the forest and-," she nodded at his hand, finishing, "-apparently the ring?"
"Yeah that—that's what I forced you out here for." Eugene replied, feeling his knee sinking into the mud.
Rapunzel, her smile widening, glanced away, shaking her head. She had even started to laugh somewhat. It was vaguely off-putting, having the object of your affection actually laughing at your proposal. Especially when she had not even answered yet.
Eugene sighed, "Okay, I know this may be going overboard a bit but you still haven't answered my question so—Rapunzel?"
"Hmmm?" She smiled, turning back to him.
"Will you marry me?"
His girlfriend nodded, "Okay."
"Okay?" He asked, frowning.
She nodded again, "Okay."
"But—but what does that mean?"
"It means, 'okay'."
Eugene rolled his eyes, "No, seriously, Rapunzel, words change meaning over time and really only-."
Rapunzel launched herself off the hay bale, tackling him with a flying smooch. She ran her fingers through his hair, pulling him closer, her mouth exploring his in ways he never knew she knew. She was remarkably strong for such a petite girl, pinning him to the earth even as she continued to kiss him very enthusiastically.
Eventually, however, Eugene remembered the ring and pulled back—but that was not the only reason—he also need to breathe.
"Rapunzel-," she landed another kiss on his lips, "-Rapunz—mmm—stop for a minute. Pl—mmm-" he was given one more lingering kiss before she drew back.
"What, Eugene?" She asked, slightly exasperated. Clearly the girl had other things on her mind at that point.
He smiled up at her, "So—yes?"
She rolled her eyes, "No, Eugene, I'm kissing you because I don't want to marry you."
"You don't have to get sarcastic."
Rapunzel looked at him.
"Okay, maybe you do. Anyway-," he attempted to sit up, "-can I come into the barn now?"
She nodded and helped him to his feet, leading him over to the hay bale. Since there was only room for one person on the seat, she sat down in his lap.
"Comfortable?" Eugene asked, amused.
Rapunzel smiled, "Yep."
"Great. Um—here—let me give you the ring. Hold out that tiny hand of yours."
Rapunzel complied, and he gently slid the ring onto her finger. The purple contrasted rather nicely with her skin color.
Eugene nodded in approval, "You know, that's not that bad. Usually you don't really know until-."
His words were cut off by more victorious smooching.
Several minutes passed before she released him again. Eugene lay, slightly dazed, amid the straw. Rapunzel was cuddled up against him, idly playing with a button on his vest. She seemed quite content and—dare he think it—smug.
"Years of this…" Eugene whispered hoarsely.
"What's that, dear?"
His arm was curled lazily around her waist, his hand resting on her thigh. Absently, Eugene ran his thumb along the enticing arch of her leg. He felt the girl shiver unconsciously, moving closer to him. A slow smirk crossed his face. He could get used to this. He could definitely get used to this.
More minutes drifted by, and he wondered how much time would slip on before either of them suggested leaving. Right then he decided that he did not care much. Years could pass, and he would not care as long as she was with him. Of course, that was probably the point of getting married. And now he was one step closer.
"Your collar's messed up." Rapunzel said suddenly, reaching up to adjust his rumpled shirt.
"That was your fault." Eugene replied back.
"So? I didn't hear you complaining."
"That's because you hardly gave me any chance to breathe."
She laughed and hugged him, murmuring, "And I might never give you that chance again."
"That could be a problem." He said, bringing his arm up around her shoulders.
"I'm sure you'll figure something out."
Rapunzel kissed him again—but slower this time and, if possible, even more deeper. When she drew away, Eugene could hear that old roaring sound in his ears again.
He coughed and lifted his head, listening to the rain. It may have started to lessen in its noise.
"You okay?" Rapunzel asked, watching his face.
"Yeah I just-," he frowned as a bellow of thunder boomed above them, "-we should probably be getting back."
"You don't know the way." She reminded him.
"Doesn't matter. See, I told your parents we would be gone for maybe two and a half hours at the most. It's been much longer than that, and since we don't know where we are, we'll probably end up with another hour or so tacked onto it."
Rapunzel shrugged and burrowed deeper under his arm, "Well, we have to wait until the storm passes before we do anything."
"Because I am not walking around in the rain anymore. I mean, I love you Eugene, but I'm not doing that again."
"Fair enough." He agreed, resting his cheek against the side of her head. "But I am hungry."
"I am too."
Eugene winced, "Sorry about that."
"It's okay. You kind-of made up for it."
"So you like the ring?"
Rapunzel held up her hand, smiling, "Yeah. It's nice."
"That's why I was working at the docks, you know. I had to earn money to buy it. And the other one."
He nodded, "I bought two because I couldn't tell which one you'd like better. Your mom said you'd rather have that one, though."
"And I suppose this explains everything else too? The reasons you've been looking at the maps and doing extra training and going downtown?"
"Yes, yep, and yeah."
Rapunzel sighed, murmuring, "I'm so sorry, Eugene. I had no clue you actually had a reason. You were just trying to make it romantic."
He laughed dryly, "Yeah, and look how that turned out. Needless to say, I don't think you want to be bragging to Felicia about this proposal."
"I don't see why not." She ran a hand over his chest, whispering, "Someone needs to tell her that she doesn't have the absolute best fiancé in the world anymore."
"I can't name thirty kinds of goats."
Rapunzel closed her eyes and mumbled drowsily, "Good. You're not supposed to."
"Are you really going to fall asleep?"
"I told you that you woke me up too early this morning."
"Yeah but-." Eugene stopped as her breathing began to slow. "Nevermind."
Eventually, the rain did stop, and the princess and soon-to-be prince consort of Corona began the walk back. It was not until they reached the meadow of wildflowers did Eugene realize just how long they had been gone.
"Wow." He said, strolling hand-in-hand with Rapunzel out of the shade of the forest trees.
Above them, the clouds had cleared away quite nicely and revealed the day to have fallen into the time of early evening. The sun was beginning to set, and songbirds, chirruping happily, winged their way across a pale orange sky.
Water still dripped down from the trees, and truth be told, the meadow they were trotting through as more of a swamp than anything. However, Rapunzel still managed to find a few delicate flowers to sit behind her ear again.
"And here-," Eugene said, gesturing to the meadow, "-was where I was supposed to propose to you."
"I never really nailed down on a spot, exactly. I guess maybe there-," he pointed randomly to their right, "-or there-," he jerked his arm to the left, "-or even somewheres around there." He swept his arm across, indicating the span of the meadow.
"Okay-," Rapunzel laughed, "-I get it. You didn't know."
"It would have been stupendous though, let me tell you. Beat whatever Harold did by a mile."
"And what would you have done?"
"After our delicious picnic we'd sit and soak up the sun a bit and then I'd dramatically ask you to marry me and then you'd dramatically tell me yes and somehow or another there would be background music."
"Background music?" She asked skeptically.
Eugene smirked, "Don't doubt my talents, dearest love. If I had waited long enough I could have involved everyone in the city for the thing."
"Maybe, but then again, I'm not that patient." He grinned, wiggling his eyebrows.
"No you're not." Then Rapunzel frowned, cocking her head. "Do you hear something?"
There was a sound off in the distance—a rather interesting sound.
The sound of horse hooves.
"I'm about to be trampled, aren't I?"
Suddenly, a white horse burst from the surrounding trees and raced directly towards them. His ears were laid flat against his head, his eyes rolled back with rage, and his lips curled up in a frightening equine snarl.
"Wait!" Rapunzel quickly jumped in front of her fiancé, holding up her arms. "Maximus! Maximus, slow down! Don't kill him!"
Eugene watched in amazement as the horse skidded to a halt, neighing wrathfully. From the woods beyond, he could also see a regiment of soldiers on horseback riding forth. Then he turned his attention back to his horse-taming fiancée.
"It's okay. It's all right, Max. He hasn't done anything wrong and I'm safe. See-," she held open her arms, "-completely safe."
Maximus snorted and glared over Rapunzel's shoulder at Eugene.
"No. You cannot hurt him even a little bit."
"He asked you that?"
Rapunzel began to stroke the horse's nose, rolling her eyes, "Eugene, he wants to pulverize you for kidnapping the princess."
"Yeah well-," Eugene stuck his head out from behind Rapunzel and looked straight at Maximus, saying emphatically, "-I didn't kidnap the princess."
Maximus grunted, even as his tail began to wag. Rapunzel always did scratch the itchy spot beneath his chin.
The other soldiers rode up and immediately surrounded them. Loaded crossbows were pointed directly at Eugene, and one of the men—the Captain of the Guard—leapt off his horse and withdrew his sword, placing himself between Rapunzel and her fiancé.
"We will shoot Rider at your order, your Highness." The captain said, eyeing Eugene disdainfully.
"Captain, please-," she laid a hand on his arm and gently pushed the sabre point to the ground, "-Eugene has done nothing wrong."
"Are you sure?" The captain asked, still glaring at Eugene.
Eugene glared back. He had never liked the captain much.
"Yes, Captain, I'm sure I don't want you to shoot my fiancé."
"Very well." The captain nodded to his men, most of whom had lowered their crossbows already. Bill had not even loaded his. Then the captain's eyes widened, and he turned to his princess.
"Did you just say fiancé?"
"Yes she did, sir." Eugene declared, pushing past him to rest his arm about Rapunzel's shoulders. "Yes she did."
"Congratulations." Bill called, giving the newly-engaged couple a double thumbs-up.
Most of the other guards smiled, murmuring in agreement.
The captain slammed his sword back into his sheath and, his face reddening in frustration, shouted out: "Prepare to escort the princess and—and her fiancé back to the palace!"
Instantly, the soldiers formed into a protective circle.
Rapunzel easily got onto Maximus's back, patting his neck. Eugene looked warily at the animal.
"He's not going to kick you off while I'm on him, Eugene. You can get up."
Eugene narrowed his eyes, "I'm not so sure, Rapunzel. Max is very talented and how do you know he hasn't got some kind-of trick saddle on?"
She sighed, "Because he doesn't. Now hurry up, I want to get back home and tell my parents we're all right."
Eugene nodded and ascended into place behind her, wrapping his arms securely about her waist.
Bill rode up beside them, smiling, "How was it?"
He shrugged, "Oh, it was a great day—it was-."
"The second best day of my life." Rapunzel beamed up at him.
A big grin spread across Eugene's face, and he laughed, "Yeah it was."
In front of them, the captain barked: "To the palace!"
And so they began the ride back, leaving the meadow behind them.
"Tommy, I'm worried about them." The queen muttered, gazing out the windows of her husband's office and into the night.
The king sighed from where he sat at his desk, "I know you are."
"I mean, it can't really take them this long."
"I know." He stood up and went over to her.
His wife turned to look at him anxiously, "Do you really think we shouldn't send out more guards?"
"Cat dear, I think we should just wait and-," he set his hands on her shoulders, "-not worry so much. It'll be fine. Eugene is a very capable fellow and he will do everything in his power to keep Rapunzel safe. And she'll do the same for him."
The queen bit her lip, replying, "I'm still worried."
"Of course you are, as am I. But-," the door opened and a guard stepped into the room. He bowed, "The princess and Mr. Fitzherbert have arrived, your Majesties."
"Thanks, Bill, but you don't have to announce us." Rapunzel said as she and Eugene walked into the chamber.
Her mother quickly came over to them, throwing her arms around the necks of her daughter and her future son-in-law. She hugged them tightly, whispering, "Thank goodness you two are safe…"
"Mom, we're all muddy and-."
"Really, your Majesty, I don't think-."
The queen shook her head, "Shhh. I don't care about mud. I love you too much for stupid things like that."
Her husband dismissed the soldier with a nod, affirming her statement: "She does indeed."
Eugene did, however, breathe a sigh of relief when the queen stepped away from them to get a better look.
"So you're both all right? You're not injured terribly or—oh, you've been rather beaten up…" The queen examined her daughter's arms, frowning.
"We're fine, Mom." Rapunzel grinned as her mother's eyes alighted on the ring.
She looked up, smiling, "So you asked?"
Eugene bobbed his head, "Yes ma'am."
"And you said yes?" She turned to her daughter.
"After asking for the third—oof!" Rapunzel elbowed Eugene in the side and nodded, "I did."
The queen smiled widely, "How wonderful. How did it-?"
"Cat-," the king laid an arm about his wife's shoulders, "-I think that right now we should probably focus on getting these two cleaned up and fed. Rapunzel can tell you everything that happened later but they both are undoubtedly tired."
"Yes." She nodded, looking between them, "You should get proper baths and seen by the physician. And I'll ask Chef Arnold to make you supper, what do you want?"
"Anything warm and toasty." Rapunzel replied, laughing.
"You got it. Tommy, see to that."
He frowned, "Cat I-."
She turned her green eyes upon him, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes dear." The king sighed and, after exchanging rueful glances with Eugene, went off to follow his wife's instructions.
Meanwhile, the queen and Rapunzel began to chat animatedly about what had taken place that afternoon, what would be happening tomorrow, and what would probably happen during the next several months. Eugene rolled his shoulders absently and began to walk around the office, wondering if he could find that flask of something the queen would not approve of again. He was very cold.
The king returned some minutes later, his job accomplished, and the queen sent her daughter and future son-in-law to their respective rooms.
That did not stop Eugene from getting a goodbye kiss before heading towards the barracks, however.
Rapunzel drew back, her arms around him, "I'll see you later, Eugene. I love you."
He smiled, "I love you too."
She left and was soon joined by her mother. Eugene marched in the opposite direction, his wet boots leaving a trail of footprints on the rug. The maids would probably hunt him down and scold him, but he did not care. He was too happy for anything to ruin his day now.
Then the king caught up with him.
"Eugene." He said, nodding.
"You forgot something." The king held up a new edition of Corona's almanac.
Eugene grinned slightly, "Thank you."
"You are welcome. And-," he patted him on the back, "-don't forget to wash behind your ears."
"Um… yes sir."
The king started to go down a different corridor, calling back: "Good job, Eugene."
He glanced at the book in his hands and flipped open to the front. Penned underneath the title page in bold, blocky handwriting were the words: 'To Eugene, my favorite son-in-law. Well done. And remember, I told you so.' Signed underneath was the king's name. It was a simple message, slightly cheeky, and yet quite profound.
Eugene carefully made sure not to get any mud on the almanac while he went down to the barracks. He set it gently on his bed, ignoring the remarks he received from some of the soldiers lounging upon their bunks.
Then, as he was pulling out a clean pair of pants, one particular comment met his ears. "Got caught in the rain, Rider?"
Eugene stood up, "What?"
The smirking guard nodded lazily at him, "We heard you missed the memo and wound up dragging the princess all over the forest in the storm. What kind of-?"
Eugene grabbed him by the shirt before he could say anything else. The guard flinched and held up his hands.
However, Eugene smiled and said, "Matter of fact, I did walk around in a storm for hours on end. But you know what, I also got engaged to the lost princess. And, after a few months, I'll be married to the lost princess which means you-," he patted him on the face, "-will have to take orders from me. Good evening."
Eugene released the man and walked towards the showers, whistling.
"Will we really have to take orders from 'im?" Another man asked, frowning.
"Um… I think so."
There was a faint thump as a pile of wet clothes was thrown onto the bathroom tile.
"Hey, one of you guys go get me a towel!" Eugene bellowed.
The soldiers hastily jumped up, tripping over themselves to obey the words of the future prince consort of Corona.
:) Thanks for reading! :D