(If you're following me for my X-Men story, please know I DO plan on continuing. I recently moved and my computer with everything I have for it is locked in a high, high tower in the land of Storage.)
An AU story.
I'm working with the ages I found on the wiki page (where Eugene's 26 when Rapunzel is 18.) Gothel's kidnap got thwarted, so Rapunzel grows up in the castle. However, I'm a firm believer that it wasn't just a tiara that brought Eugene and Rapunzel together. This way, however, just takes longer and spans her childhood onward. What started out as a snippet grew into something longer, and may grow beyond this. Who knows!
Summary: She is too young to understand why they are so protective. All she feels is alone. Then she meets the Storyteller.
Disclaimer: If I owned Tangled, it probably would not have been half as awesome as it was.
Sadly unbetad. Woe is me. But I have spell check, and I THINK my tenses are all in a row.
(Also, without Gothel teaching her the song, I think it would have just been long blond hair.)
After the scare of the old crone in the window, the king and Queen of Corona held tight to their precious Princess. It was hard not to cling to her, to tuck her away in a high tower to make sure she was as safe as could be.
Still, their people loved their Princess, and her presence lifted moral to heights that not even a conquering hero could achieve. So, they did not keep her in a tower. Somehow, as time passed, that tight feeling in their chests whenever she was out of their sights lessened.
Despite this, their postures were somewhat more rigid as the carriage rolled beyond the safety of the palace gates. Their child, beautiful long gold hair bundled in silks and hidden by a cape, peered out of the carriage window with wide, eager eyes.
They were not sure why her hair was so gold, or why it grew as it did. Already it was in the way, tripping anyone following too close behind unless it was bundled and tucked away. However, the Queen implored her husband that they do not cut it, not yet. That tiny lock of brunette, tucked away behind her ear, refused to grow. Let her decide when she is older, the Queen said. Of course, her husband agreed.
It was not their first time out of the palace as a family. They usually ventured out on the Princess's birthday, a day for celebration around the whole of Corona, and had been since her birth five years ago. There would be singing, and dancing, and laughter, and when the tension ebbed from their bodies, the royal couple would likely join in.
Though her eyes were wide and bright as she looked around she did not utter a word. She could, and had learned to speak earlier than most children, just as she practiced her alphabet and started to read better than most. Slowly though, she talked less and less until one day she just did not. Her parents were concerned and tried to get her to speak but the Princess refused.
It was the Queen who suggested it was a phase. Perhaps one day when she was ready she would speak again. They tried to trick her into talking again, with clever plots such as suggesting turnips for dessert, but still the Princess refused. Finally they stopped. And today they would not worry and enjoy the celebration. For their people.
Everyone was always so careful keeping an eye on the young Princess. Even if not for her near abduction, it would be a necessity. Her curiosity at the world around her often caused her to suddenly burst headlong toward whatever caught her interest. It was normally a loud proclamation, either a gasp or a giggle, so there had always been a warning.
Of course, her parents' attentions drew toward a drunken scuffle as it spilled from a bar onto the street. The guards tensed and moved forward. The Princess's personal maid would have snatched the young child up right then if a tankard of frothy mead hadn't been splashed all over her to dribble and drench the entire front of her blouse.
At that moment, a butterfly flew by. The Princess had seen butterflies, of course, but they never failed to capture her attention. It was not the lazy way they fluttered about, or the carefree nature in which they did. These would not enter the girl's mind until she was years older, when she would stare out of a window at one with an intense longing. No, today she merely chased after it because it was pretty.
The butterfly flew down alleys and street ways. The Princess never expected to be able to actually chase after it. She expected to be picked up, as always, and have her attention diverted by something else. When that did not happen she took it as permission.
In reality, she probably chased the butterfly for only five minutes, or maybe fifteen, but for her it was a child's eternity. She was oblivious to the growing dangers around her. Dogs barked around her, some fought for dominance with others in alleyways she passed. A shady couple loitered in the awning of a closed jewelers. Two streets over, a man was stabbed for nothing more than a coin and his shoes. She was venturing deeper into the part of the kingdom where not even guards ventured without company, but all she saw was the butterfly.
It landed on a flower after floating over a crooked fence. It was the only flower that grew in the muddy yard, a single stubborn dandelion that refused to give in to the destroyed plot of land. The fence was too tall for her to climb, but through determination she found the rotten slab of wood beside her shifted enough for her to crawl through. Her knees splashed in the mud, ruining her skirt, but in her excitement she paid no attention. Actually, she never minded dirt. It was always the lady who took care of her while her mother was busy that did.
With a giggle, she dashed as fast as her little feet in pinching shoes could toward the flower. To her dismay, the butterfly had left while she had crawled through the gate. She looked around the yard, but saw no sign of her new friend.
Had she not heard what she did next, she would have realized what had happened. She was lost, no way of knowing where her parents were. She would have likely curled on the weathered porch as she tried her best not to cry. However, she did hear something then, so she did not notice that she was indeed lost.
The window was broken at the bottom, and through it came the sound of a boy speaking. She heard people speaking all the time. It was all people ever did. Often their tones were boring and dull, or stern with untold reprimands when she did something wrong. She had heard happy and sad, angry and glad. However, this was the first time she heard someone speak with passion. Not that she knew what it was at the age of five, but it intrigued her.
Climbing on a pile of wooden boxes beneath the sill she peaked in. The room was small and crowded with a sea of children. They were all too thin with clothes too worn. The boy speaking was at that awkward age between being a child and adult, all limbs and nose with a voice that cracked at the most inopportune time. The Princess saw none of this. All she noticed was the way his eyes glowed as he told the children something, the way his gestures were wild and unrestrained. Her maid would say he was being improper, should she be here now, but to the Princess, it was captivating. Even more amazing to her was that he was reading from a book. It was worn and tattered, not at all like the pristine volumes of her family's library. Normally when someone would read from a book, their voices became even more dull than normal. Even her mother's, on the rare chance she got to read a story, would seem stiff as she read. There was warmth there, of course, but the Princess used the opportunity to snuggle against her warm side and not for her lacking skills as a Storyteller. Not this boy. He was still very much alive.
The box beneath her pinching shoe was nearly as rotted as the fence. The wood of it snapped and cracked beneath her slight weight, and she grabbed hold of the ledge as one foot fell through. She pulled it out with a hiss and a wince, staring at the torn stocking. It hurt, of course it did, but even though her eyes stung she did not want the boy with the alive voice to stop. And he would if she cried, everyone did.
She looked up when she noticed the voice had stopped. Every face in the room was looking at her. She was used to attention, of course, but the looks on their faces ranged from blank curiosity to glares of mistrust. She quickly looked at the Storyteller and felt some tension leave her slight frame as he looked at her with an amused grin.
One of the other boys, older than her by a few years, raced for the door. A few others followed suit. The Princess fell off her pile of boxes at the thought of being chased.
She was halfway across the yard when she heard the complaining groan of the old front door. Fear, an unaccustomed feeling, filled her limbs and stopped her cold. She could only turn to look at the boys as they came at her. Not running, thankfully, but their annoyance was clear.
"Go on back home, girl," one boy sneered. "This ain't a place for you."
The Princess opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. They would not listen, or worse, would do as everyone else did, which was stop everything and focus on her.
She hated when people did that, more so than how the boys started to circle her. Her knees trembled as the boys blurred in front of her. She heard a high pitched sound, realizing it came from her, but could not stop it.
Two arms flinging her up and tucking her against a warm body cut off her impending cries. Shocked, she looked up at the Storyteller. He was giving the boys a look that she had seen on the maid's face before. It said you're in trouble. Still, there was also that look her mother always gave her.
"Come on, guys, leave her alone."
"The kid don't belong here! Just look how she's dressed!"
"None of us belong here, Joe. Not her fault we are, so don't take it out on her." The Princess snuggled against his side. Aside from necessity, people rarely held her. Her parents hugged her, of course, but this was something new. This was someone else.
The boys argued for a few moments. Finally, the Storyteller shifted her in his arms. "Look. The kid can stay if she wants to."
"But Headmaster will have our head if he finds her here!"
The boy scoffed. "Please, you all know Headmaster gets sloshed on holidays. And the Princess's Birthday is the biggest one he gets. We likely won't see him 'til morning anyway."
"Look, either she can stay if she wants, or I won't tell the story at all. Then you get to tell the kids why they don't get to hear the rest." He looked down at her. "You wanna?"
The Princess bit her lip as she nodded.
"There you go, she stays. Go on, inside, all of you." There was grumbling but the boys complied. "So kid, what's your name?"
The Princess stared at him for a second before covering her eyes with his shoulder.
"Suit yourself, Blondie."
The story was riveting and she had never heard anything like it. Since the Storyteller had brought her in, the Princess remained glued to his side, never taking her eyes off him. While the other kids sighed in longing at the passages about money and food, her heart yearned for the tales of adventure and travel. Of places far off and unexplored. She could almost see it in her mind, the pictures he was painting, but she had only seen beyond Corona's borders in paintings and pictures in books. Still, she loved the way he told it. Her mind filled it what it could.
The shadows on the walls moved with the passing of the day. Soon it was hard to see anything beyond the flickering of a candle snub the Storyteller had lit but he kept reading. When his voice sounded as though it was being pulled through gravel he kept weaving his tale.
They only stopped as shouts came from outside. The children in the room tensed, including the Storyteller. The Princess recognized the voice of the Captain so wondered why there was suddenly a thick silence in the room.
"Everyone stay calm," the Storyteller said. "It probably isn't anything serious."
"But remember what happened last month? With the robber?"
At the mention of this, some of the younger children began to whimper. Their fear filtered into the Princess and she curled tighter against the Storyteller's side.
"I'll check on it. James, you watch the others. Bethany, keep the younguns calm."
He stood up and the Princess panicked. She clutched his hand tight in hers, staring at the kids around her. They were strangers to her, and in the flickering candlelight, their faces ominous.
"Look, Blondie, I have to check it out. Can you stay here for me?"
The Princess shook her head as quickly as she could.
He sighed and thought a moment. "Fine. Come with me. But stay behind, and if I tell you to run, you run, got it?"
Relief flooded her as she nodded and nearly glued herself to his leg and his hand. The rest of the house was dark, and while she could see nothing, the Storyteller knew his way around. She tripped once, and with a sigh he picked her up.
He pushed open the front door and peers out onto the street. Guards on horses and riding past, and the Princess recognized Blister, the bloodhound she used to play with when he was a puppy before he was taken away for Duty.
"Is there a problem, sirs?" the Storyteller asked. His voice sounded both strong and weak at the same time.
"Go back inside, son, we're-" the Captain halted his words as he held up his torch. Eyes wide he turned to the others. "She's here! The Princess is here!"
The Storyteller tensed against her. "Princess?"
She looked up at him and saw something she did not like. There was confusion but also that same distance she saw in others forming in his eyes. He studied her as her face crumpled. Then he sighed and the distance shrank and shrank until he shook his head. "I knew you were trouble, Blondie."
The Princess grinned and settled against him again.
"Rapunzel!" The Queen rushed through the crowd of horse and man. Ignoring a gate she climbed over the fence the rushed toward the porch.
The Storyteller tensed and backed up toward the arch of the open door. The Princess did not understand. This was her mother and he was her Storyteller.
"Y-you're," he said. "I let her stay. She came for the stories. We didn't know who she was. She only wanted the stories. I let her stay, not the others, they ain't to blame."
Why would they be to blame? Her mother apparently wondered the same. She blinked at the Storyteller before she grasped his free arm.
"You kept my baby safe, thank you, thank you," the Queen said. Then her lips were on Rapunzel's forehead, then her cheeks and nose. "We were so worried, thank you."
Worried? She just wanted the butterfly and the stories. She never wanted them to worry. The Princess reached for her mother, who took her in her arms and held her tight. By this time her father was there as well. His warm hands stroked over her cheeks and hair and she felt safe.
Then they started taking her away. No! She just found her Storyteller. Turning in her mother's arms, she reached for him. When her parents didn't stop, she reached out both her hands. "Storyteller!"
Her mother stopped and stared at the Princess. Her arms loosened enough for the Princess to slide down and rush toward her Storyteller. She wanted him to come with them, wanted to have his alive voice and his alive face and the way he did not look at her as the others did forever. She wanted to keep him.
He knelt on the porch as she rushed toward him where she clung to his neck.
"It's okay, Blondie," he said. He knew her name, who she was, yet still did not call her Princess. She tightened her grip just a little more. "I'll still be here."
She pulled back just enough to look at him. How could he know? She never saw people long aside from her parents. The Staff always changed and it was hard to recognize the faces she saw in one crowd after the next.
The Princess smiled.
"Your Majesties, the time is late," the Captain said. The Princess flinched. Princess was interchangeable with Highness and Majesty. Sadly she pulled away and went to her mother. Even as she was lifted into her mother's arms, and as they walked out the gate and down the road, she kept her eyes on the Storyteller. Even when they rounded a corner, she did not stop looking back.
Eugene studied his numbers by the rising sun. He hated getting up so early, but if he did not the younguns would not. According to the outside world, it was the Headmaster's job to look after them all. Instead, it was up to Eugene to look after those younger than him to keep the Headmaster from yelling at them all.
It was okay, though. Apparently he was good with children, even if they were a princess.
In a world where very little exciting happened, the commotion at the realization that the Queen was there and that they had spent the day with the Princess lasted longer than most things did. Even the Headmaster falling off the roof in a drunken stupor did not hold the children's attention as this had.
However, as with everything else, even the excitement of this was fading. It had been at least a day since even the older girls would swoon where the Queen had stood. And last night he was not kept awake by the questions of the Princess. They had all been there and knew just as much as he did. In a few more days it would have been two weeks since they had been hosts to royalty, and Eugene was sure the kids would go back to fantasizing about other things. Such as food, he thought as his stomach rumbled.
Frustrated, he set his pencil down and sighed. His concentration was always bad during the last week of the month when food was more scarce than usual. He, along with a few of the older children, halved their rations so that the younguns could eat just a little more and not cry. Even the money the older children earned as a meager stipend was not enough. After all, the Headmaster knew how much they got and took a share for maintenance. Which usually meant stocking his liquor cabinet. When Eugene went to work the fields next summer, the same would happen to his stipend.
A knock on the door made him jump. "Eugene."
"Yes, Headmaster." It was weird for the gnarled man to knock, let alone call him by name. And that sick-sweet tone meant something. Officials were here.
"I need to see you in my office," the Headmaster said.
"Yes, Headmaster." Eugene bit back a sigh as he stood. His cheek had just lost the last of the bruising from the last time the Headmaster thought he was being too smart.
He followed the older man down the flight of stares with thinly veiled contempt. He hated the way the Headmaster's shoulders hunched forward and the way his eyes gleamed in a constant state of inebriation. He hated the way the man treated the younguns.
He entered the door as the Headmaster held it open for him. That was even more odd. Headmaster never did that even when Officials were visiting.
All thoughts left his mind as he saw the Queen standing in front of a cabinet. The kids called it the Showing Off Shelf. Drawing and pictures they had made when they could afford paper and paint were nailed to the cheap wood. His was up there somewhere. The Headmaster had it up for when Officials came.
He must have made a sound for the Queen turned and smiled at him. A couple guards shifted around her, but his attention was solely on her. "Hello, Storyteller." The Queen's eyes widened slightly and Eugene was shocked when he saw a faint blush stain her cheeks. "Forgive me. It's the only name we have for you, and the only word Rapunzel has said since we returned home."
"Eugene, your majesty. Eugene Fitzherbert," he said as he gave a choppy bow. Had he bowed the last time? Blondie was asking for him? He wondered if he had done something, said something, that had twisted in the royal family's minds until they decided he needed to be executed. Or worse, thrown in jail.
"A pleasure," the Queen said with a gracious nod of her head. "I have a proposition I would like to give to you."
"You had better accept, boy," the Headmaster snarled behind him. Eugene had forgotten he was even there and the reminder made him flinch.
"If you would not mind, Headmaster, I would like to speak to Mr. Fitzherbert alone, please," the Queen said. A touch of frost was in her voice. Still, Eugene was just trying to get over the fact that someone had called him Mr. Fitzherbert. It was always Eugene. Or boy, or brat, or any other colorful names the Headmaster had for him.
Eugene could hear the Headmaster's jaw click as he opened and closed it. "As you wish, your majesty." The door shut a moment later. After all, no one refused the Queen, not even the Headmaster.
The Queen's smiled defrosted and Eugene could see why the people adored her. Even at thirteen his heart tumbled in his chest and wanted to accept whatever it was she wanted of him if only she would keep smiling at him like that.
"Mr. Fitzherbert, I'm sure you noticed an attachment my Rapunzel developed for you," she said.
He shifted. "I have a way with children, your majesty."
Her smile wilted somewhat. "A gift I wish I had," she said. "My daughter...I don't have the time I wish I did. I am with her every single second I can be, and I know it's still not enough."
Eugene thought to the night the Queen was last there. Goldie's face held the look he had seen on many happy children's faces and none of the fear on the others. He opened his mouth but it was a moment before he spoke. Could he say this to a Queen? "The Princess loves you, your Majesty. I can see it on her face. You're good to her."
Her eyes widened and he wondered if he would be executed on the spot. Then her eyes warmed as her face glowed from happiness. He was dizzy from the radiance and the relief at no execution. Maybe.
He cleared his throat. Pretty soon he would need to sit down and he was not sure he was allowed to in front of her. "What is your request, your majesty?"
"Before I give it, I want you to know it is just that. A request." His confusion must have shown on his face. "I am not here as a Queen, but as a mother."
He nodded slowly, still not understanding.
"I was wondering if you would be interested in coming to the palace to be Rapunzel's Storyteller. There is a room ready to be prepared if you accept."
Against his wishes he sat. He had no choice, his legs hollowed of their own accord until they could no longer support his weight. The palace? Him? His mind raced at the possibilities. He opened his mouth to accept before he heard the muffled yell of the Headmaster. "I can't leave the younguns."
He thought he said it quiet enough but her shoulders sagged. "I understand."
Eugene's mind raced for a moment. The Queen was saying something and the guards were shifting to move out but he was not paying attention. Blondie's bright eyes smiling up at him drifted through his vision. There had to be a way he could do both.
"Wait," he said. He had no plan, but wanted to somehow do this. Yet not leave the younguns. Then he remembered the field where he would work next summer. The words tumbled out of his mouth in a panic. "We get jobs. We go out and come back and bring something and I know it's not the same but I do want to do this but I can't leave and I don't know if you would want to do that but it's the only thing I can think of and-"
"Eugene," the Queen said. His name on her lips along with her warm hand on his shoulder halted his desperate ramble. Though her hand was so small, he felt so much tinier beneath it. "That is a perfect solution."
Relief coursed through his veins as he slumped in his chair. Then she mentioned her suggested wage and asked if that would be sufficient. His eyes bulged. He could feed the children on that. And he'd have enough to save for emergencies, or when he moved out. It likely wouldn't be much, but he would not be destitute as so many of the others feared being the morning of their eighteenth birthday.
"That's what the taxes are for," the Queen said. Once again, he had not realized he had spoken out loud. "They are to support many things including this orphanage."
Before he could think he snorted. "Money dwindles as it sifts through hands." It was an old saying, and everyone here knew it. More so at the hands of the Headmaster. Then he remembered who he was speaking to. "Uh...your majesty."
The Queen looked at him. "Very well. We will draw up a contract, which you will then sign on your first day. We can discuss how often you visit before I leave."
Eugene nodded. Over the next hour, it was decided that he would come over once a week. Thursdays were Blondie's free day, so it would be the best. It worked for him, as well. They were short days for the older children, and so they'd be getting home as he left. He would stay for some hours, depending, and his meals would be taken with the Princess in the library.
Being fed was a bonus Eugene had not expected. Nor was the promise of payment even in weeks the royal family would be out of town. Illness was also covered. Eugene was hardier than most, but he still got sick. And the last perk was that the Queen suggested the Headmaster learn of his wages from Eugene and not her. The sly look in her eye told him he had her permission to maybe fib a little on that matter.
Also, through her words and the observation honed through the years, he learned that Blondie was perhaps a little difficult at times. It was requested that he try to get her to open up and to perhaps expand her vocabulary to more than her new favorite word.
His one big request was that this was to be done with them and them alone. The Queen's eyes filled with panic and he was quick to explain. He knew of Blondie's near abduction as a baby and so knew that the fear he saw was not directed at him, but at possibilities. There could be as many guards as they wanted outside the doors. They could have the door open if they desired. They could bar the windows if that made them feel more at ease. His reasoning was that he did not know how to deal with children when more capable people were around. He did not voice this out loud, though, just made a vague remark about one on one usually working best for him.
By the end, Eugene was dizzy with it all. As she prepared to leave he was flooded with apprehension. Could he really do this? He had gotten children out of their shells before, and in those cases the children usually came from less than ideal parents. And the children here had no parents, or at least none that would claim them. Fear and doubt flooded his mind. Was it too late to take it back? To suggest someone more capable?
"Eugene?" the Queen said as she stood in the door. He turned and caught her smile. When she smiled like that, her eyes glowed as bright as Blondie's. "Thank you. She will be so excited when she finds you next Thursday."
He blinked. "She doesn't know?"
The Queen tilted her chin down. "I did not want to get her hopes up in case you said no. If I had told her and you refused, she would have been crushed."
Any idea to suggest someone else flooded from his mind.
I am amused that Gothel's name was suggested to be changed to Brothel and Othello...
I ended it open-ended on purpose. Also, not sure how this will be received. If you've read this, I've cleverly hidden the fact that this is my first Tangled story ever. (Sneaky, I know! Muahaha.) Heck, it's my first Disney story ever. So I may be a bit insecure. However, I did leave it at a place that could suit as an ending, but it can also continue. I do have ideas, if there's interest. (Or heck, I may just write it anyway.)
If anyone feels along the lines of 'OMG so much OOC!' let me know. I think I went with an AU on purpose. I've read so many wonderful fics in so few short days that I don't even know if I can write them well in the correct setting!
Also, I am so new to the fandom. I mean, it became my Number Two favorite Disney Movie of all time within weeks of it's release! (Mulan will always be Number One for me, more due to personal reasons.) However, until recently, I had no idea that it had a fandom that appears to be large, or that there was still one around! So um...HI!
Okay, I shall stop my rambling. Heh.