If eighteen years locked in a tower had taught her one thing, it was that you'll never get anywhere if you don't stick up for yourself. Running away with Flynn, standing firm against her kidnapper, and patiently explaining to Eugene that he should really stop proposing to her and find himself a nice gentlewoman thief to buy that island with had only reinforced this lesson. Yet, for some reason or another, the value of standing up for what your heart wants most dearly still managed to slip her mind whenever Merida was around. It just seemed so like the redhead to make the first move, to be the bold, brash partner in any adventure she set her mind to. On the many trips she had taken from Corona to DunBroch, the first kingdom the Princess had been assigned to maintain good relations with, Rapunzel had never known her to shy from danger. If Merida hadn't shown her affection yet, she rationalized, it must be a lack of interest, not shyness that motivated her reservation.
“I mean, if I made the first move, if I tried to initiate anything...” Rapunzel tried to push this thought from her mind. She failed. “Well, It might ruin our friendship! Not to mention create stress between our kingdoms. Imagine if my first diplomatic duty ended in accusations of,” she blushed “, you know... romantic harassment.” Pascal made a small croaking noise, clearly tired of rehashing this onesided conversation. Maximus snorted beneath her in what felt slightly more like a reassurance.
“I'm over thinking it aren't I?” She sighed, halting her bothering briefly to admire the trees around the path she was following. She had grown used to the trails between their kingdoms, the differences in the plants and animals, the food and music. She had grown used to the royal family: the boisterous King and his troublesome sons. Even the Queen, whose graying black hair had sent her own hair on end at their first meeting, had become quite a friend to her. As for Merida, she was more than used to the Princess, she was downright head over heels for her. She had known for quite a while that men were not her type: even without the pointy teeth, even ones as genial as her friend Eugene. Merida was the first girl she came to know after gaining her freedom, her first crush, and she was left nervous and naive by the feelings the redhead gave her. It was hard to think straight around the girl: she was as powerful and fickle as the winds, stronger and cleverer than any other Princess she knew. Rapunzel came to the top of a hill, a now familiar peak that gave her a glorious view of the hills and water by the castle, and her breath caught in her throat. DunBroch was a beautiful land indeed.
“Someday I'll remember to bring my paints and easel.” She chided herself as Maximus made his way towards the bridge that led to the entrance of the castle “You'll remind me, won't you Pascal?” The chameleon merely croaked again. When they arrived the King and Queen were waiting for them, smiles upon their faces.
“Princess Rapunzel.” The Queen greeted her at the gate, giving a slight curtsey.
“Queen Elinor.” Rapunzel bowed in turn, her elaborately braided hair shifting around her shoulders.
“It's good to see you lass!” King Fergus gave her his massive hand, allowing her to dismount from Maximus with minimum clumsiness.
“Very good indeed, Sir- ah, excuse me- Your Majesty.” Rapunzel flushed. She was unused to the language of the court, her tutors were always scolding her for misplacing her titles.
“Just call me Fergus.” He shared a brief, warm look with his wife. “No need for formalities, you're a... a family friend.”
“That means a lot to me Sir- Your Ma- Fergus.” Rapunzel smiled despite the voice in the back of her head saying It sure means a lot to lose, doesn't it? “May I ask where Princess Merida is? She's normally here to greet me.” The royal couple shared another look.
“Archery practice, in the forest I believe.” The Queen shook her head, tutting softly “I told her she'd miss your arrival, she didn't listen! Now, ” she put her hands to Rapunzel's shoulders in a painfully maternal way “, let Fergus put your steed away and we can have a bite to eat.”
“Of course, Your Majesty.”
“Oh hush, it's Elinor.” Once inside, at the table, Rapunzel chewed politely at her haggis and listened to the Queen talk about the prosperity of the clans and the use they had gotten from Corona's innovative oil-lamp technology.
“-and so Wee Dingwall has his hands quite full with proposals.” Her store of news finished, Queen Elinor quieted briefly, stirring her drink. “What of you Princess Rapunzel?” The girl started.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Do you have any... offers of betrothal?” Rapunzel's mind flashed to the dozens of entirely awkward proposals she had endured from Eugene before he realized that her disinterest was genuine. Pascal, sensing her anxiety, rubbed his scaly head to her neck in reassurance.
“No, not at the moment.” It was a technically accurate statement. The Queen's eyes sparkled.
“Anyone you have interest in?” Rapunzel choked on her food, Pascal turned a sympathetic yellow.
“I- That is- It's a complicated-”
“Ah! I shouldn’t have said anything.” Elinor fretted. “I can see it makes you uncomfortable. I was merely asking for my daughter's sake. Our kingdom once had a custom of betrothal, she was curious to know if yours was the same.” Rapunzel relaxed slightly, Pascal regained his green blush. “She'll be glad to know it isn't.” The Queen's voice had that maternal edge again, and she was smiling with her sons' mischievous eyes.
“Mum!” Rapunzel turned to see Merida, her red hair wild and flecked with leaves, her arm tense on her bow, at the doorway. She felt a blush rising to her cheeks again.
“Can't I have a chat with your friend?” Elinor tutted. The Princess merely huffed, fiddling with her sleeves and striding over to Rapunzel.
“I'm terribly sorry for having missed you. I rode into the woods to gather my thoughts, and I lost track of time.”
“I understand. Your kingdom is very beautiful, it's easy to get lost in it.”
“Well.” Merida bounced anxiously on her heels “In that case, would you fancy a ride in the woods, Princess Rapunzel?”
“I would enjoy that very much Princess Merida.” Elinor followed them out as they came to the stables, sharing a brief banter about horsemanship with Fergus, before mounting their steeds. The King and Queen of DunBroch watched, standing together in a comfortable silence, as their daughter rode off with the Princess of Corona.
“What do you think, my Queen?” Fergus inquired jovially. “Will our lass gather the courage this time?” Elinor rolled her eyes.
“Ach, she'd better. I'm close to confessing to the girl for her.”
As soon as they were free from worrying parental eyes the girls sped their steeds to a gallop, laughing as the wind rushed through their hair. Rapunzel did not know the woods as well as Merida, but she was a quick study of the clearer paths, and the redhead gladly guided her through the trickier obstacles. Their horses whinnied to each other in turn, teaching each other tricks, and Pascal clung desperately to Rapunzel's shoulder. They rushed through the valleys, skirted the circles of standing stones, wove through the ancient trees, followed the flow of the river. Merida told her the legends of her land and the land of her neighbors: the tale of four kingdoms divided and a prince turned to a bear, the legend of otters that came from the water to eat fishermen whole, the story of a pale faery girl that aided her father in the fight against the northern invaders. Rapunzel imitated the call of birds, named every flower and fern on their path, shared with Merida her meager knowledge of Corona's own past. Finally they came to the wall of a long crumbled castle and agreed to take a rest there. They sat upon the wall's stone edge, watching their horses roam and graze.
“Would you like something to eat? I saw an apple tree nearby, and there's sure to be some strawberries somewhere about this area.” Rapunzel's stomach grumbled involuntarily. The haggis she had indulged in at the castle had done little to fill her up, and she was grateful for the offer.
“Yes, please.” She watched the redhead jump from the wall, make her way into the more densely wooded area. Her heart was beating at a feverish pace, and she suspected it had nothing to do with exercise. “Pascal,” she hissed “, would you mind giving us some... privacy?” The chameleon croaked, she imagined he was wishing her luck, and crawled off of her shoulder. She tried to make her heart behave. She tried to remind herself that she couldn't get anywhere if she didn't put herself out on a limb. It was difficult. Before she knew it Merida was back, her arms full of food. Rapunzel graciously accepted her portion, savoring the taste.
“I'm sorry about the Queen, in the hall I mean.” Merida laughed, her voice strained with casualty. “You know how Mums are.” Rapunzel was quiet because she did not, in fact, know how moms were. Merida realized this soon enough, and her cheeks tinged to match her hair. “I didn't- I didn't meant to say that. Not like that at least. I'm sorry.”
“No, its fine, really.” Rapunzel smiled apologetically, tucking into her strawberries. After a long silence she looked up, turning to Merida to tell her something. The Princess started, Rapunzel realized she had caught her staring. Staring at me? Merida moved her mouth mutely, her cheeks flushed, before turning away and making herself busy picking leaves from her red curls.
“You know, if you braided your hair it wouldn't get so tangled.”
“Mum braids it too tightly. I don't like it.”
“Why not braid it yourself?” Merida's face turned even more sheepish.
“I don't know how to.” Rapunzel lit upon an idea, smiling slyly.
“I can show you.” She reached up, easily undoing one of her many braids and laying it out over the wall. “Here.” She leaned over, gently separating a length of Merida's hair. “If I braid our hair together, you can see how the different colors follow different paths.” Merida slowly let the tension out of her shoulders, leaning against Rapunzel and training her eyes to the Princess' clever hands. “You see, you separate it into three parts. My hair will be on the right, yours on the left. We'll make the middle a mix.” Merida nodded, watching her intertwine the locks of their hair. “Now you try.”
“Me?” The Princess' voice was nervous.
“You.” Rapunzel reassured her “It's easy once you get used to it. Just try it.”
“Alright, but you can't make fun of me when I mess it up.” Merida muttered, taking the lengths of hair in her grip. Her movements were clumsy at first, error prone and uneven, but with feedback and practice she learned to form a braid of an acceptable quality.
“You'll thank me for this the next time you don't have to pick a branch full of leaves off of your head.” Rapunzel laughed, taking the opportunity to press her arm to the other Princess'. Merida's cheeks were red again, her pale skin helpless against her emotions, and she gave the other girl a sliver of a smile.
“I'm sure I will.” They sat there, wind blowing their hair, watching the sun fall to the horizon as their horses frolicked with each other. Soon it would be too dark, too cold to stay out. Soon they would ride back to the castle, eat their dinner, and go to their separate rooms. Soon it would be the next day, time to leave again. Soon this would be just another day when Rapunzel was too shy and too scared and too confused to actually put her dignity and her friendship on the line for what she wanted more than anything in the world. Soon... no. No way she was going to let that happen. Not again, not this time. Rapunzel flung her arm over Merida's shoulder, craned her neck so that her lips met the skin behind the Princess' ear, and kissed her. When Merida started, turning her head, she took the opportunity to kiss her fully on the lips. It was warm and soft and everything she had dreamed of. It was perfection. She withdrew, her smile nervous, preparing for the consequences of her boldness. Merida's face was still red, but her smile was wide and toothy.
“It's about time!” It was Rapunzel's turn to blush.
“ 'About time?' I didn't know you were waiting on me to make the first move.” Merida laughed, leaning over to kiss Rapunzel's neck in turn.
“Honestly? I was too scared to.”