"They're so much brighter once you leave the city."
Flynn turned his gaze from the heavens to look at person sharing the balcony with him. He adjusted his collar subtly and took on a kind smile. "What is?"
"The stars," said the eighteen year old girl. "There's too much light from the lower districts and even from the palace itself. It drowns out their beauty." She looked a little irritated, a slight crease between the brows of her cherub-like face. "I wish I could go back out there."
"You can, if you want," said Flynn motioning behind them. Inside the room, beyond the archway over the entrance to the balcony, stood two palace guards. They were too far away to eavesdrop on the conversation, but not so far that their presence could be forgotten. "Just make sure you take proper protection with you."
"What makes you think I need that sort of protection?" said the princess hotly. Her frown was deepening and was now directed more squarely on Flynn. In response, he sighed.
Flynn did not want to have this conversation again. He knew she could take care of herself. He knew she was more than capable of facing the challenges out in the world, their adventure certainly proved that without question. If it was up to him, he'd let her run free; he might even join her on the adventure. But it wasn't up to him.
"You have responsibilities now," said Flynn. "Even I don't go anywhere without a guard anymore. It's not that we are incapable of defending ourselves, it's that we can't take the chance that we might be overwhelmed. Our people look up to us and they want to know we are safe, even if it seems like overkill sometimes."
The princess grumbled. "I can protect myself."
"No doubt, princess," said Flynn with a smile. He was hoping to defuse the situation with charm, though that trick was never particularly successful with this young lady. Redirection would have to be used. "I hear that an observatory is being built in Dahngrest. You could go visit."
"An observatory?" asked the princess.
"They've got the largest single lens I've ever seen being worked on in the lower quarter. They say it will be installed in the largest telescope ever to be created. It will be able to see past the edge of the world and into the abyss."
"Really?" her eyes glimmered in the moonlight, all traces of the frown had vanished.
"It should be quite a sight," said Flynn. He frowned slightly. "Assuming it safely makes its way to Dahngrest. The shore patrols are not what they used to be, but moving it over land is not going to be much easier."
"You think it might be attacked?" asked the princess.
"It's certainly possible," said Flynn. "Anything is possible these days."
The princess got a determined look on her face. "I think we should go with it."
"What?" said Flynn. "With what?"
"We should guard the lens as its being shipped, so we can make sure it gets there safely." She nodded to herself, convinced of her good idea. "We can even take your soldiers with us if you're concerned."
"They're not my soldiers," said Flynn.
"Then we'll take my solders." She shrugged. "Either way, we're going to go."
"Are you sure we—"
"Yes," nodded the princess. "I'm sure."
Flynn smiled again. He loved to see his princess like this. Determined and confident. Like this she would lead their kingdom into a golden age.
"We should get Yuri to come too."
"You're right," said the princess in response. "We should include all of Brave Vesperia, they wouldn't want to miss out on the fun."
"That's not what I meant," started Flynn.
"Yuri still comes around on the third week of every month, right?"
"No," said Flynn. "Well, yes, he does come around, but we don't need his help to—"
"Good, then I'll talk to him when he arrives." She smiled happily and turned to head back off the balcony. Flynn Scifo just stared, opened mouthed, after her.
"Estelle!" he called.
*** ToV / T ***
"Look at the stars, Eugene!" said Rapunzel excitedly. "Have you ever seen them so bright?"
Flynn Rider, who was trying to go by Eugene Fitzherbert more often than not, shrugged as he leaned out of Rapunzel's window in the palace and looked up into the sky. "I guess," he said. "Though they seemed brighter out on the water."
Rapunzel crossed her arms and looked at Flynn with an arched brow. "Those weren't stars, Eugene."
Flynn laughed. "I mean before the lanterns were released."
"Oh," said Rapunzel. She looked up out the window again. "Well, they seem brighter now to me. Oh! Maybe it's because we're so much closer! This tower is much taller than then one Moth..." she trailed off, looking uncertain.
Flynn pulled his head back inside the window and looked at the princess. He reached out and gently touched her shoulder. "It's alright. It'll take time."
"I was going to call her 'mother' again," said Rapunzel, looking cross. "She's not my mother. Never was. I need to remember that. She was 'Gothel.' I have to remember." She turned away from the window and paced around her large and lavishly decorated, somewhat cluttered room. The piles of gifts from her people were staggering, each filled with love, but they had quickly outgrown the space she'd set aside from them and now were stacked along the walls in ever growing piles. She felt bad for treating such lovely things so casually, but she'd run up to a practical consideration she'd never encountered before: she had more stuff than she had room for.
In Gothel's tower, she'd never wanted for much, but also never had very much. She was well fed, and provided the necessities for creative endeavors, but beyond that, her actual possessions couldn't fill the small chest she'd kept near her bed. Part of her wondered if Gothel had some other motive for that, or it was just another practical consideration: it was hard carrying things up to the top of that tower.
Pushing aside some baskets of fresh fruit she'd received upon her return from her last trip into the farms, Rapunzel sat on top of a rather tall hatbox and rested her elbows on her knees.
"What's wrong, Goldie?" asked Flynn, coming along side her.
"I just feel... trapped."
Flynn looked at her with a disbelieving stare.
"Not the same trapped as before," clarified Rapunzel. "Not as bad, either... I guess. But it's like I've traded one prison for another slightly better decorated one."
"Slight?" asked Flynn. "Just slightly better decorated?' He pointed to the footboard at the end of her huge push bed. "That's gold inlet, and it's not being used frugally." He gestured to her nightstand. "You have a hairbrush over there that has a ruby in it the size of my thumb."
"They're just things Eugene," stressed Rapunzel. "I didn't have much when I was with Gothel, but I didn't really need more than I had. All of this is just decorating the fact that now that I've been 'found' nobody is taking any changes of me going missing again."
"Do you want to go missing again?"
"No, I just don't want to be transported in a gilded cage," said Rapunzel. "That trip we took into the farmlands last week. How many guards came with us?"
"A few," shrugged Flynn.
"Thirty seven," Flynn said, drolly. "Plus sixteen horses."
A squeak came from somewhere near the window. Flynn looked over and saw Pascal sitting here waving emphatically. "And a frog," he added, looking back towards Rapunzel again.
Barely audible grumbling noses could be heard from that same direction.
"They trampled that poor family's crops," said Rapunzel. "I tried to apologize and offer them something but they wouldn't take it!"
"They love you," said Flynn. "Everyone does. You're the realization of an eighteen year old dream."
"That's just it," said Rapunzel. "They don't even know me. When they last saw me I was a newborn, and now they're showering me with gold and telling me I'm the jewel in the crown of the Kingdom of Ghrian? Jewels don't do anything, Flynn, they're just meant to be looked at!"
Flynn chuckled softly and kneeled in front of Rapunzel. He placed his hands on her shoulders. "There are worse things than to be placed on a pedestal by your people."
She shook her head in response. "I've been on a pedestal for so long just to get away. I can't go back to that now. I need to dosomething, Eugene."
Flynn raised his brow. "What did you have in mind?"
"I want to explore! See the world! There are maps in the library that are so old they're just begging for someone to update them. We barely interact with the other nearby kingdoms and we have no idea what's on the other side of the ocean anymore. Just a squiggly island named Ilyccia with a dot on it that says Zaphias."
"That's where we came from, generations ago," said Flynn. "Ilycca was the land our ancestors sailed from, and Zaphias was its capital."
"Why don't we ever talk to them anymore, then?" asked Rapunzel. "Do they even still exist?"
Flynn sighed. "Well, near as I've ever been able to figure out, our ancestors had some sort of fight with the King of Zaphias and they fled the land to find a new place to start." Flynn smiled a bit more. "I remember stories from the Orphanage about our legendary ancestors, who came to this land with little more than the clothes on their back and some animals and founded the first settlements that would eventually be called Ghrian, the Sun."
"Ghrian means 'sun'?" asked Rapunzel.
Flynn nodded. "In the old tongues anyway. I don't think anyone speaks it anymore, but that's where all the symbolism comes from." He shrugged. "Anyway, long story short, they didn't really want Zaphias to know they survived so they cut off all contact with them. That was probably six generations ago."
"So long," said Rapunzel in awe. "Surely they've forgotten about any fight by now, right?"
"Who can say?" said Flynn, raising his hands. "Nobody is even sure the map is right anymore."
"We should go," said Rapunzel.
"To Zaphias? Yeah, I'm not taking that proposal to your father."
"Come on, Eugene," pleased Rapunzel. "We can even take Maximus with us."
"Maximus will insist we take at least a platoon," said Flynn. "And I'm still certain, even then, that your parents won't let you."
"They can't just keep me cooped up here!" said Rapunzel loudly. She wagged her finger at Flynn. "Not after what I went though. Anything but this!"
"Hey, hey!" Flynn said, soothingly. He gently pushed Rapunzel's finger down. "I'm not telling you know, I'm just trying to prepare you for the uphill battle. Don't kill the messenger."
"Then help me figure out how to convince them," said Rapunzel. "Please?"
Flynn looked skeptically at her. "It almost certainly will be dangerous."
"That won't stop me," said Rapunzel.
"We will have to take a lot of armed escorts for your father to even begin to be comfortable with this," said Flynn.
"We have big ships," offered Rapunzel. "Lots of room."
"It'll probably take time to prepare, we wouldn't be able to go right away," said Flynn.
"I can be patient."
Flynn sighed loudly. "Well, I guess it can't hurt to ask, the worst that could happen is that he says no..."
*** ToV / T ***
"I was wrong," said Flynn, standing on the bow of the warship, staring off towards the horizon with his arms crossed and his eyes half lidded.
"Wrong about what?" asked King Charles de Caumont, coming up beside him.
"There are worse things than being told no," said Flynn.
Charles smiled and slapped Flynn firmly on the back. "Now, lad, this is an excellent bonding opportunity for us. Don't look so disappointed."
"Bonding, your highness?" asked Flynn, looking over his shoulder.
"I know you are courting my daughter," said Charles with a knowing glance.
"Most people do, your highness," pointed out Flynn.
"Then surely you did not expect that I would allow my daughter to go off on a sea voyage with her suitor without proper escort," said Charles with a grin.
"I anticipated it, your highness," said Flynn. "I just did not anticipate you and her Highness would be that escort."
"This is an opportunity for you, Eugene," said Charles. "Regardless of your role in our daughter's rescue, you cannot continue to be seen with her without more fully shedding your alter ego and taking on more social responsibilities within the Kingdom."
"I thought your pardon would have taken care of that," said Flynn, grimly. Then he added, "your highness."
"You have been granted clemency by my proclamation, but the court of public opinion holds the more aggressive sentence," said Charles. "And to be more straightforward with you, I have my own reservations."
"Your highness?" asked Flynn, his eyes widening.
"In absence of this 'witch' who kidnapped my daughter, all we have is your testimony that things went as you claim." Charles adjusted his coat. "Under other circumstances, that would hardly be convincing."
"She turned into dust," pointed out Flynn. "If we could prove Gothel's existence we would, but not even a dustpan and a broom can make her talk now."
"As you say," nodded Charles.
"Are you kidding me? After everything I did to save Rapunzel's life, you're still going to doubt me? She backs up my story, in case you've forgotten."
"I have not, which is why I said under other circumstances, I would find it hard to believe you." Charles placed a hand on Flynn's shoulder. "But that only proves you saved her life, a decision that did result in a substantial reward for you far beyond what you would have gotten selling her crown. What does the famous Flynn Rider do, then, now that he has secured his reward?"
"My name is Eugene," said Flynn, evenly.
Charles lifted his hand from Flynn's shoulder. "As long as that remains true, then I have nothing to worry about."
Flynn stared at him.
"I'm only looking out for my family, Eugene," said Charles. "If you truly are changed, then please accept the humblest apologies a king can offer. But if you are not…" he looked back down the deck of the ship to where his wife and daughter were standing. "Well, we understand each other, I believe."
With a nod, the king turned and started walking towards his family. Flynn grumbled and eventually followed. This was far from how he envisioned this trip as going.
"Hi Father," said Rapunzel as the two men walked up.
"My lovely Rose," said Charles with a wide grin.
"My name is Rapunzel," said the girl.
"Your name is Rose," insisted Charles. "I should know, I was there when you were named."
"I've gone by Rapunzel my whole life," said Rapunzel. "I'm sorry, Father, but I can't change my name now."
Charles looked at her with a piercing stare.
"Leave her be, dear," said Queen Charlotte du Caumont. "I'd gladly call her the Empress of the Stars if it means we don't have to be separated again."
Rapunzel smiled and hugged her mother and then her father tightly. For all the complaints she'd had about her new life, she finally had the family she wanted.
She lifted her head slightly and spied Flynn looking on with a contented smile. She also had her guy as well. She really shouldn't be complaining, she realized. What more could a girl ask for?
*** ToV / T ***
Estelle felt her smile overtake her face and possibly stretch beyond. She was standing in the Lower Quarter outside of Yuri's apartment and had just knocked firmly on the door. She finally had a reason to visit Yuri! With luck, she would convince him to come with her on an adventure as well. She couldn't be more pleased. She missed those days with Brave Vesperia achingly, and wished the responsibilities of a princess didn't so persistently interfere with reclaiming them.
"Come in!" came a voice Estelle knew too well. She twisted the handle on the door and gave it a slight bump with her shoulder to get it unstuck.
The door revealed the small apartment Yuri had, no bigger than a room, with only a bed and desk as furniture on it but two wide and large windows that had an excellent view of the quarter. Yuri was sitting in one of the windows when she came in, his knee bent so his foot could be on the sill, and he other leg hanging down towards the ground but not quite touching. His sword, ever present, was leaning against his shoulder in its scabbard, and he looked over the hilt with a smile at his guest.
"Saw you coming down the street," said Yuri. "I'm surprised you didn't look up."
Estelle blushed. She realized she used to call to Yuri from the street when she arrived, but had been preoccupied with explaining to her ever present escort that she could safely ascend to the apartment without them flanking her.
"She's got a lot on her mind now, Yuri," came a melodious voice that surprised Estelle. She turned quickly to see Judith sitting on Yuri's desk, leaning against the wall with her legs crossed and her chin posed gracefully just over her shoulder. She was also smiling kindly, as she always did to Estelle.
"Hi Judith," said Estelle, catching up quickly. "I didn't expect to see you here."
"I'm usually around," said Judith, mysteriously.
Yuri rolled his eyes. "She's been following me."
"I wouldn't say 'follow'," said Judith, looking thoughtfully towards the ceiling. "Coincidentally ending up in the same place."
"You realize that it's impossible for me not to notice Ba'ul flying over my head," said Yuri.
"Well, Ba'ul is definitely following you," said Judith. "He's worried about you and how much time you spend in Desier."
"Ba'ul is worried?" said Yuri, skeptically.
"He is," nodded Judith.
"But not you," added Yuri.
"I'm just going wherever he's going."
Yuri crossed his arms and looked unconvinced.
"So what brings you to the Lower Quarter, Lady Estelle?" asked Judith.
"Oh, right," said Estelle. "There's a big telescope lens being made here."
"Indeed there is," said Yuri. "Some of the best lensmen in the world are right here in Zaphias. With the blastia gone, their business has really exploded."
"When it's done, it's going to be shipped all the way to Dahngrest," continued Estelle. "But Flynn was worried it might get attacked or stolen. I said that Brave Vesperia should guard it."
Yuri's grin grew larger. "And he agreed?"
"He didn't … forcibly stop me from coming down here," said Estelle, knowing well enough that what she was implying.
Yuri laughed. "You realize that by offering this work to the guilds you're humiliating the royal army."
"What?" said Estelle, looking wide eyed.
"Isn't Flynn the Commandant now?" asked Judith.
"This isn't a royal assignment," said Estelle quickly. "I don't want Flynn's soldiers to guard it. This is just a favor for Dahngrest's observatory."
"Does Dahngrest know of this favor?" asked Yuri.
"Not yet," said Estelle. "I don't want this to get mixed up with official Zaphias functions. This is … just for me."
"Have an interest in telescopes?" asked Yuri.
"Well, ever since the Adephagos were destroyed, I've been wondering what else is up there," explained Estelle. "I think a telescope is a good start." She nodded, pleased.
Judith just grinned. "She's pretty adorable. Can we help her?"
"Of course we can," said Yuri with a nod.
"Thank you!" Estelle jumped in place once in excitement.
"We will have to get approval from Karol, of course," said Yuri. "Given that he's currently in Dahngrest, that will probably lead to some logistical issues."
"The lens won't be ready for a few weeks," said Estelle. "Should be enough time to gather everyone up, right?"
Yuri nodded. "Should be. I'll send a message to Dahngrest and then I guess I'll head to Hallure."
"Hallure?" asked Judith.
"Rita's there right now, studying how the great tree is generating mana without an Elemental Spirit."
"Do you know where everyone in the guild is?" asked Judith with a smirk.
"I don't know where that old man is, but I assume he's with Karol in Dahngrest." Yuri shook his head. "He drifts so frequently I'm never sure where he's gone, but he always seems to show up when people are looking for him."
"What about Repede?" asked Estelle. She looked around. "It's so strange to see you without him."
"He's with Ba'ul," said Judith. "Since Ba'ul can hardly land in the city, Repede keeps him company."
Estelle frowned momentarily. "And you keep Yuri company," she said, trying to remain even toned.
Judith noted the princess' brief change and just smiled. "Only occasionally," she said.
There was a few moments of silence and then Yuri jumped up from the window. "Well, since you're all here, why don't we have lunch? I'll cook us something good."
"Ooh! I loved your cooking, Yuri," said Estelle. "But, please, not more Beef Bowl."
"You don't like my Beef Bowl?" asked Yuri.
"I think after a hundred and sixty times, nobody liked it anymore," said Judith.
"Yeah," Estelle nodded solemnly.
Yuri just looked between them and began to laugh.
*** End part one