King Asyrion of Corona was in his court, speaking to his advisors about the recent border problems they were having with the Windelheim borders, when a wheezing messenger burst through the throne room doors. "Your Majesty!" he panted, "Dire news!"

"Tell us, don't worry about formalities," the king nodded at the messenger, granting him permission to speak out of habit.

"The Windelheimers, Your Majesty. Their battleships are at our ports, and they'll hurt innocent citizens if they aren't let in." The messenger's eyes flicked up to the king's and then back to the ground. "They insisted you read this. It's confidential." No sooner had the words come out of his mouth, he was overtaken by a series of asthmatic coughs.

Asyrion took the message, eyes darting back and forth across the page quickly. His eyes widened. "Rapunzel."

The princess in question was in her royal bedchamber, humming while she carefully sewed the pieces of what would soon be Pascal's new coat. She'd tried sewing him a dress, but he wasn't so enthusiastic about wearing it, so they'd compromised on a coat.

She had just finished the left sleeve and was about to size it to her unwilling model when she heard a polite knock at the door.

Tap-tap.

Her father's knock was loud and hearty, three or four strong thuds on her oaken door accompanied by a cheerful greeting. Her mother usually came right in. She opened the door abruptly, shoving wind in the palace guard's face, although his practiced mask of indifference didn't waver.

"The king requests your presence," said the guard, clipped and brusque, and then spun on his heel and marched somewhat snootily away, his boots making an annoying clicking sound on the polished floors.

She changed into a more formal dress than her usual comfy pink-and-purple garb, and held her head high as she trudged down the corridor, hoping that the sinking feeling in her gut was wrong.

Charmagne Frost was on top of the world. Well, on top of Corona, anyway. Ever since his father had taken him to Corona, he'd known he wanted it for himself. As he grew older, he eventually realized that Corona's defenses would be too strong to take them down while he was in his prime. He'd have to wait for a son if he ever hoped to live there even in his elder years.

So he'd waited.

A few years later, his wife had a son. A small, premature baby boy they named Jack. All the chambermaids and ladies fussed over the little prince, and although Charmagne didn't like it, he let them. Until the boy was of age, that was.

Then, Charmagne began by having Jack tutored in all forms of manly sports. Simply put, the boy was a failure. Always messing around, cracking jokes. Charmagne had been a very serious, introverted knight, always following the rules, doing the right thing, his life completely bound to his knighthood. Jack was the opposite; always lollygagging, never sincere or committed, and quite belligerent at times. Charmagne tried, but he knew Jack had his mother's spirit; he always had. She'd always had a free will, traveling the world off her father's money, never settling down, a family far from her mind. He'd gotten her in the end, but only because she would lose the throne if she didn't marry. She loved him; just she'd rather be single.

Charmagne could faintly hear the King's diplomats explain the situation to him. Without all the fancy wording it was simple: Rapuzel would marry Jack, or Windelheim would attack the vulnerable Corona. Charmagne knew he had chosen an ideal moment to strike.

He tuned back into the conversation. "And if we refuse?" he heard Asyrion say, eyebrow raised.

"Then Corona will be destroyed," Charmagne's diplomat said in a matter-of-fact tone.

The king kept his composure, but Charmagne could tell he was uneasy under his calm mask. A captured squirrel desperately trying to escape from the coils of a snake.

Rapunzel politely waited outside the doors, waiting for her father to call her in. The sends ticked by slowly.

Tick-tock-tick-tock-tick-tock-tick-tock.

Like a heartbeat.

Ba-bum, ba-bum, ba-bum, ba-bum.

A dying heartbeat.

No, don't think that way, Rapunzel.

She shook her head to clear it.

Shortly, the doors opened and four men emerged. One she recognized as the ruler of Windelheim, and his son, it seemed. The other two were palace guards. The prince looked her up and down, with a slight smirk on his face. She held his gaze, irked. He just widened his smirk.

What a knave.

However, she focused her mind in whatever her father wanted her for, and put the churlish Windelheim prince in the back of her head.

After a few minutes, a voice that sounded much too small and dismal for her normally lively father said, "Come in."

She went in the doors and immediately dropped her princess façade. The king's head was in his hands, tracing small circles in his temples. "Father!" she rushed over him.

"Rapunzel…" the king forced a small smile before explaining their current predicament.

"It'll be okay," she offered her own sad smile, hugging the king. "We'll work it out."

Asyrion returned the hug. "I hope so, Rapunzel. I hope so."