Disclaimer: I don't own Tangled.
A/N: Here you go! The next chapter, please enjoy and review :)
Eugene attempted to shake off the wet chill that was threatening to settle in his bones that next morning. He wondered what the day would possibly bring him as he snuck gingerly out of the out-of-the-way orphanage with Arthur. A gray light was just beginning to settle over the slums of the South District. Mist snaked its way through Moire Oxon, tendrils of white spreading through the streets like a shroud. The rain from the night before had taken and eased the cold a little, but Corona in the late-fall was still miserable.
The two boys wound through the streets. Eugene caught Arthur's arm before he wound up flat on his face on the uneven, slippery cobblestones. They passed by groups of people sleeping in doorways, early-bird laundresses and shopkeepers. Their faces were ruddy with cold by the time they reached the North-Eastern District. This was the merchant's domain. Here, a sparkling, freezing cold harbor shone in the pale cool sunlight. Small patches of snow lay around the edges of market stalls and hitching posts. There was the Battle-ready armory here, the Bauble Pawn Shop there, the Corona Warehouse on the left, near the docks, and of course the Golden Sun Inn and Tavern. On the docks, facing the harbor, stood the Corona Shipping Company. It was an imposing, powerful brick building. One which urchins like themselves would never be allowed near.
Over it all, in the bottom part of the North District, stood the proud Coronan Castle. Its tall white spires shimmered and gleamed in the morning light. As if to greet the sunrise, the sun emblems on the banners shone courageously, waving and billowing out in the breeze. Heavily armed guards patrolled the walls under the beautiful Lantern-balcony that stood like a sentry to face the sea. Eugene found it hard to take his eyes off the building. He wondered what it would be like to live in such a place.
As usual, Arthur, being the sensible one, whacked him in the side and pulled him over to where the merchants and traders were setting up their wares. The sleepy town was just beginning to stir as these called out the first of their goods.
"Fresh apples from the Meadowclay Orchard, ha' penny!"
"Get all your meat and fish right here, with Graylor! I've got fair prices!"
"Dyes and fabric, we've got the latest colors!"
Eugene forced himself to keep his eyes forward, away from all the food sitting on the stands. His stomach rumbled loudly as he and Arthur walked up to a brightly painted wagon. A ragged but bright and cheery troupe was preparing there. Two ladies practiced on pipes and a fiddle, a girl rehearsed her acrobatic dance tricks, and several choir boys were singing warm-ups. A young man was making sure all his percussion instruments were in order, giving the spoons and bohrans a few whacks for good measure. Presiding over them, a caped man with a critical eye went around, checking on consistency and keeping order.
It was up to him that the boys walked. Eugene found his voice and coughed politely. He turned, his intense gray-eyed gaze looking them over. His eyes were perched atop a roman-nose, dark bushy eyebrows knitted together, matching the color of his oily curls. He stroked his pointy beard with his pointy fingers, finally speaking in a sharp voice, "So you're the boys Deirdre sent me, fine then. Which one of you is the juggler and which one of you is the acrobat?"
"We do both, Sir." Arthur said shyly. The man's gaze sharpened as he stared down at them.
"But I'm the better juggler." Eugene cut in quickly.
He gestured for them to show him their skills. Eugene ran a few juggling tricks, and Arthur did a few forward handsprings followed by a backflip and a balancing act.
Those eyebrows knitted together, encasing the circusmaster's eyes in a forest of wrinkles. He finally nodded. "You'll do." He dismissed Eugene with a wave of his hand, "You, be back in fifteen minutes for the show, I've no need of you yet." He then turned his gaze to Arthur, who visibly gulped. "You." He commanded, "You get with Scamper over there and practice your routine. Your stage name is Skitter, you hear me?" Arthur nodded, intimidated by this man's overbearing demeanor. Eugene thought that the circusmaster was too much like Deidre, no wonder they were friends.
Eugene watched as Arthur ran off to 'Scamper' – the girl they'd seen earlier – and practiced. He squeezed his fingers around his wooden juggling balls, each painted bright colors of blue, red, and yellow. A tingly feeling shot up his arms, causing him to frown. His hands were too cold. He tried warming them up by tossing the balls around, but he only seemed to drop them. This was not good. How could he juggle with cold-numbed hands? If only he had gloves…
His well-trained eye caught a pair hanging just outside an out-of-the-way market stall. Eugene's gaze narrowed and he looked around. There was an alleyway to his left in case he needed to run. The shopkeeper was facing away from him, and not too many people even came to that stall… it was a boring one anyway. That meant less eyes watching, especially since most were by now drawn to the Troupe's warm-ups and the strains of other groups competing for audiences in the streets. It was a perfect time, he realized. People were busy shopping… and who would miss one pair of leather gloves?
Inching toward it, slowly and surely, he made his way toward the stall. His fingers twitched, his eyes flitting around nervously for watchers and escape routes. In his peripheral vision he saw an extra group of soldiers come down the street… probably protecting a nobleman. They were headed the other way, though. A slow smile spread across his face. His arm reached out toward the enticing article, his fingers outstretched. His left hand lifted his too-large sleeve, now he was grateful for its size, and his right slipped the pair of gloves easily into it, concealing the theft from view. He turned around to walk away from the stand, pleased with himself.
Eugene's heart skipped a beat, his feet frozen in place. The world around him was a blur, focused only on one person. That person was standing right in front of him, staring at him with the most disappointed big green eyes he'd ever seen. There was worry in them as she glanced over his thin frame and ragged appearance. They were both quiet, simply staring at each other in surprise, sizing each other up. She wore a deep-blue hooded cloak, made of some warm, fine material. It was rimmed in gold. A noblewoman! Her form revealed a characteristic, natural grace as her fingers gripped her basket of items. Medium-length, flowing, chestnut draped about her shoulders. It was pinned back in a pretty fashion away from her thoughtful features. She wasn't old, but she wasn't young… Just In-Between. Her face was good-natured and well-mannered.
Eugene wasn't sure if he should run away or not. His instincts told him to, as she had obviously caught him stealing. However, if she intended to turn him in, she would have by now. She just stared at him, one eyebrow raised, with that horrible disappointed and saddened look on her face. Eugene shifted from one foot to another and avoided her gaze. Well, this certainly was awkward.
Suddenly, a warm, gentle hand lifted his chin, forcing him to look at her. Her eyes narrowed as he habitually flinched away from her touch. Her thumb softly traced the welt from Deidre's switch, and her eyes ran over the bruise on his forehead. "Where did these come from?" Her voice was genteel, warm, and frank with the honest question.
"Em…I fell." Eugene stated lamely.
The woman's eyes narrowed further in disbelief and concern. She shook her head as if clearing away thoughts and seemed to decide to leave it at that. "What's your name?" She asked quietly.
Eugene was taken aback. Should he tell her? What if-what if she told somebody and they came after him? No. He definitely shouldn't tell her his name. He kept his mouth shut.
She looked at him hard for a moment, and then realized he wasn't going to make a reply to her. Her features softened, and Eugene felt the cold press of a metal coin in his hand. "Go, pay for what you need."
For half a moment, Eugene considered taking both the money and the gloves and running. But some part of him wouldn't let him take advantage of this woman's unusual kindness toward him. He'd never known a stranger to so much as take notice of him and his friends before, God forbid that they talk to him! So, he spun on his heel, lifted his head high, and walked straight up to the merchant and paid for the gloves. The man looked quite surprised. His eyebrows flew to the top of his head and he eyed the boy strangely before ringing him up. As Eugene slipped on the warm leather, flexing his hand in the comfort, he looked over to thank the mysterious noblewoman… but she was gone.
Eugene stood in puzzlement for a moment. Then, he turned and realized it was high time he got back to the group. When he arrived back and slipped into a brightly-colored coat, Arthur eyed his gloves with shock. The younger boy asked no question though, deciding some things were best left unasked.