Looking back on it… I kinda wish I had said “No.”
Six months of living in the palace, and Eugene still felt a twinge of terror whenever the king approached him. Whether it was because the man was king or because he was Rapunzel’s father, the young man couldn’t say.
But Eugene had a reputation to maintain - a real one this time. So he smiled at the king and did his best to be both suave and humble.
“What can I do for you, your Majesty?”
The older man looked around, then abruptly yanked Eugene into a coat closet. Normally such a thing would be cramped and awkward, but as this was a palace closet, it was just awkward.
“Do you remember when Rapunzel spoke about the wooden shoes?”
Of course he did; “Rapunzel” and “shoes” were so rarely in the same sentence. “Yeah,” Eugene said. “She had run into some peasant family that was preparing for Christmas, and they told her about the wooden shoe tradition. She seemed really excited about it.”
The king nodded. “You were raised in a Christian orphanage, weren’t you?” he asked.
“Yeah.” That old, familiar pang. Even now, he didn’t like remembering that time in his life.
“So you’re familiar with the Christmas rituals.”
“They’re not really -“ Trying to explain Christmas to someone completely unfamiliar with the minor little religion was more trouble than it was worth. “Yeah, pretty familiar,” he said instead.
“Excellent!” The king took a deep breath. “I would like to do Christmas.”
Eugene blinked. “Do Christmas?”
“Yes,” the king said. “Rapunzel seemed so excited about it. I thought that it would be nice if we did Christmas this year, for her.”
“Okay, first of all, you don’t do Christmas. You celebrate it. And secondly -“ Remember who you’re talking to. “I think that sounds great!”
The king clapped Eugene hard on the shoulder, far more forcefully than he thought was necessary. “Then I am putting you in charge of organizing the Christmas celebration!”
“I am curious to see how you manage,” the king said. “If you do well, I may put you in charge of larger projects.”
Great, this was a test. A test to see if he was worthy of one day being king.
The king clapped him again on his still-throbbing shoulder and strode off.
I should’ve expected it, really. I mean, you don’t just let a former thief run your country. Most people wouldn’t let a former thief run their stables. But I had honestly never thought about it. Flynn Rider had never had to prove himself to anyone. Flynn Rider had done as he pleased, for his own amusement alone.
Flynn Rider was gone, though. And if Eugene Fitzherbert wanted to make sure his dreams came true, he had a lot to prove.
Right, enough of that third person junk. Basically, I decided that I was going to put on the most Christmasty Christmas that ever did Christmas. A pull out all the stops, no holds barred bananza.
Of course, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Why hadn’t anyone told him that organizing an event would be so much work?!
He had even decided against making it a huge celebration. If it at all seemed that the royal family had converted religions, the kingdom would be in uproar, and the point of this whole exercise was Rapunzel’s happiness. The king had been surprised by this decision, but once Eugene had explained his reasoning, he understood and even seemed to approve.
Huge celebration or no, there was still a lot of planning to do. He had wooden clogs custom made, and stockings too. He had to coordinate with the forester to find the biggest, nicest evergreen tree…and then somehow figure out how to sneak it into the castle. He had to find a room to put it in, too, where Rapunzel wouldn’t find it until he was ready. He commissioned local craftsmen to make ornaments for it. Then there were garlands and wreathes and other decorations, not to mention the countless hours he spent in the royal library, trying to plan the perfect traditional Christmas dinner - the question being, which tradition?
The winter chill had finally set in, and this morning found Eugene huddled practically in the fireplace, a gigantic tome of world cuisine in his lap and a quill set on his floor with which he was taking notes.
Eugene yelped and jumped into the air as Rapunzel came up behind him. “Nothing!” He slammed the book shut and sat on his notes, wincing as he thought about the ingredients list that would now be stained on his butt. He did his best to smile at Rapunzel. “Nothing at all.”
She peered at the book cover. “World Cuisine… I didn’t know you were interested in cooking!”
He laughed nervously. “Everybody needs a shameful hobby. This one’s mine.”
“It’s not shameful at all!” Rapunzel protested. “I really like cooking too. I’ve kinda missed it since…well…you know.” There was an awkward silence. Mother Gothel was a taboo topic in the castle. “Maybe we could cook together sometime!” she continued in one breath. “Wouldn’t that be fun?”
“Yeah! Fun!” If he didn’t get the final menu and recipes to the head cook tonight, the kitchen staff was going to roast him on a spit and serve him for Christmas dinner. “Golly gee, I just remembered I have an appointment at another part of the castle. We’ll talk about this cooking thing later, okay? Great! Thanks! Bye!” He grabbed his notes and the book and fled from the library.
“…Okay,” Rapunzel said to the empty room.
For anyone who is worried, yes, I did get the cook the final menu on time. Unfortunately, this didn’t mean I was any less busy. I think I saw more of the servants than I did my own bed.
And then, finally, ’twas the night before Christmas.
Eugene took a deep breath and surveyed his handiwork.
“I done good,” he said.
And everyone else who had helped, of course. The forester had found the most exquisite evergreen, which stood proudly in the far corner, tall without towering. All over it were little ornaments in the shapes of suns and lanterns and chameleons - Rapunzel’s favorite things. Stockings for Rapunzel and the king and queen were hung over the fireplace, and a pile of stockings for the servants who had helped sat in a box on the chair. Under the tree were three wooden clogs, one for each of the royal family members.
The door opened, and the queen poked her head inside. “May I come in?” she asked.
“Of course, Your Majesty!” Eugene said.
The queen smiled as she closed the door behind her. “This looks beautiful,” she said, surveying the room. “You have done a marvelous job.”
“I promised the king the ultimate Christmas celebration, and I deliver. Pretty much every major Christmas tradition is represented, either in the dinner or in this room.”
“I noticed, however, that one was missing,” the queen said.
From behind her back, she produced a red outfit. “I believe Santa Claus is an important part of Christmas.”
Eugene looked at what she held. “You don’t mean -“
Her eyes glinted with what could only be described as “evil”. “You promised my daughter the ultimate Christmas celebration,” she said. “I would hate to think that your weeks of sacrifice were wasted.”
Yeah. You know where this is going.
He didn’t attend the dinner. Rapunzel deserved some quality time with her parents, and they deserved to have her all to themselves for awhile. He ate his dinner with the servants and then headed up to the Christmas room to change into his costume. While he waited, he snuck a little of the eggnog. There was no way he could get through this with his wits fully intact.
Finally he heard footsteps on the stairs, and the door opened. The queen gave Eugene a little wink as she led her husband and her daughter inside. Eugene watched Rapunzel’s eyes light up as she looked around the room, and almost forgot his lines.
“HO HO HO!” he said, patting his padded belly. “MERRY CHRISTMAS!”
“EUGENE!” Rapunzel squealed and tackled him.
“Ooof! I’m afraid you’re mistaken, young lady!” Eugene said. “My name is Santa Claus! I bring presents to good little girls and boys! Now tell me -“ With her father in the room, he decided to forego the lap-sitting tradition and simply patted her on the shoulder. “Have you been a good girl this year?”
“Yes, she has,” her mother said, as Rapunzel seemed to have no idea how to answer.
“Good! In that case, you get this.” He handed her a small wrapped box. “My sources tell me you both have been good, too,” he said to the king and queen as he handed them small boxes too.
“Thank you, Santa,” the king said gruffly.
“Eugene.” Rapunzel grabbed his hand. “You did all this for me?”
With silent permission from the queen, Eugene broke character and pulled off his beard. “I had a lot of help,” he said. “There are gifts in the stockings, and some clogs too, if you wanna take your chances.” One of the maids had agreed to sneak into the royal chambers that night and leave a few sweets in the wooden shoes. “And there are stockings for the servants who helped me over there. I thought we could put some gifts in them and I’d hang them over the kitchen fireplace tonight. A surprise thank you of sorts.”
“That’s so sweet!”
He shrugged uncomfortably. “Sweet” was not an adjective usually applied to his person. “They deserve it,” he said. “It’s been an intense few weeks.”
“I know,” she told him. “I’ve missed you.” She giggled uncomfortably. “I actually kinda thought that maybe you were sick of me, and that’s why you were avoiding me.”
He cupped her cheek. “Never,” he swore, and was rewarded with a smile.
“I got you something too,” she said. “Mother, where did you -“
The queen pulled out another wooden clog from some corner that he had managed to miss and brought it over.
“I knew you weren’t the type of person to put out a shoe,” Rapunzel said. “But I thought it was a nice tradition so I got you one and filled it with some trinkets. Nothing much.”
“I…don’t know what to say.” Eugene took the shoe, not even caring what was inside. He and the other children at the orphanage would set out their ratty shoes on Christmas Eve, but the institution was too poor to put anything more than a simple peppermint inside. After leaving, he had ignored the Christmas tradition entirely. “Thank you.”
“Thank you,” the king said, clasping his shoulder. “This is more than I had even dreamed.”
Rapunzel pulled them both into a tight hug, which her mother quickly joined.
“Next time, make yourself a stocking too,” the queen whispered in Eugene’s ear. “You’re part of our family now.”
Actually, you know what? The whole stupid headache was worth it.
But I’m never doing it again.