Rapunzel was ecstatic for her first carriage tour of Corona. Admittedly, Rapunzel would get ecstatic for breakfast oatmeal but this was different. Corona wasn’t just any kingdom, it was hers. One day she would rule it, though hopefully not for many, many years. She couldn’t responsibly do that until she’d seen it with her own eyes.
Eugene was coming too, of course, and would be acting as guide. He knew the kingdom as only a wanted thief, a criminal constantly hiding from both the law and betrayed comrades could. Very well. From the manors of the well-to-do landowners to the scummiest bars of the slums, especially the best ways to sneak in and out unseen and where to find the shiny things.
Rapunzel’s parents had wanted to come too, but the King of Corona had important duties and where week long parties celebrating the return of a long lost princess ended, politics picked up with a vengeance. Neighbouring countries were already trying to use Rapunzel’s return as an excuse to lower Corona's export taxes. There had even been a few marriage proposals already. All perfunctorily refused. The Queen, however, couldn’t have been kept away if she had to fight her way through a fierce band of hardened criminals, even the vaguely creepy ones who began second careers as mimes.
While the coachmen took an immediate liking to Pascal, even inviting the chameleon to sit on his shoulder as he drove, the coachman had stuffily and steadfastly refused to let Rapunzel sit at the front of the coach with them. Instead she had opened the window curtains wide open so as to not miss seeing a single twig or pebble of Corona - her kingdom.
As they rode over the bridge from the island capital to the main land, Rapunzel waved at a group of young boys, between nine and fourteen years old. Some of them were too busy pretending to sword fight with sticks and branches to even notice the ornate carriage passing by.
“Is that what all boys do?” Rapunzel asked, looking back at the children, “Pretend to be knights and soldiers?”
“All the ones I’ve seen” the Queen replied. “Though I don’t have as much experience as I would like.”
“I bet not some boys pretend to be master thieves,” Rapunzel teased.
“Or dragons,” Eugene said absentmindedly. Seeing the looks this comment inspired, he continued, “What? They have lots of gold. And they can fly and breath fire. These things are important when you’re nine. And not to brag,” Eugene added, clearly bragging, “but I was the fiercest dragon in all the lands.”
“As a fantasy, it doesn’t sound much different from being a thief,” the Queen joined in teasing. Rapunzel and the woman she only just found out was her real mother, laughed together.
In her heart, Rapunzel was happy, the happiest she had ever been in her entire life. The thought of everything she was about to see and experience filled her with so much joy it was beyond words. But still, Rapunzel was also beginning to realise how much she had missed. In the past, crazy week of celebrations there had been so little time to get to know her parents. Rapunzel didn’t even know her Mother’s sense of humour or her favourite food. She realised with a jolt that she didn’t even know her own mother’s name.
In the past week, whenever she’d been alone with her parents, they had been all questions. Wanting to know everything about Rapunzel in the missing eighteen years. Now, her own mind filled with endless questions. Instead of asking any, Rapunzel stayed silent for the rest of the journey that day. One question growing, engulfing all the others: how does a daughter really talk to her mother? Even after everything, Rapunzel couldn’t hate Mother Gothel, only pity her. How many hundreds of years had she been alone? Eighteen years with Rapunzel must have seemed like no time at all. In the end, Gothel had simply lived too long; she had forgotten what it meant to connect to anyone. That was something Rapunzel knew would never happen to her. She had Eugene. She also had a real mother now... but what did that mean?
That night, instead of stopping at an inn, they made camp in the forest.
“A night under the stars,” Eugene exclaimed. “A kingdom doesn’t stop being a kingdom just because night falls. If you want to get to know Corona, you need to see it at all hours.”
“Not welcome at the nearest inn, are you?” the Queen asked, bluntly.
Rapunzel laughed as Eugene sputtered excuses and the coachmen began setting out bedrolls and making a fire, all the while looking very much like a suffering martyr, Pascal drooping melodramatically on his shoulder completed the image.
As the fire burned and they all sat around the small blaze, Rapunzel looked up at the tree tops and the stars beyond.
“What do you see?” the Queen asked.
“Up there, something’s shining.”
“Oh, that’s just a fairy charm,” Eugene explained offhandedly. “There all over the forest. Cheap metal disks with a little engraving.”
“You’re supposed to dip them in milk and hang them as high as you can,” the Queen continued. “They’re supposed to bring good fortune from the little people.”
“Except fairies don’t exist,” Eugene countered. “And it’s not very good luck when you fall from the top of a tree.” The coachman nodded wisely beside him.
“I’ve never seen a fairy,” Rapunzel said wistfully.
“Like I said, they don’t exist.”
“Nobody hangs fairy charms for luck,” the Queen remarked. “They hang them for hope. The higher the charm the greater the hope they bring.”
Rapunzel thought of a hundred glowing lanterns drifting through the sky, as high as the clouds. Then she had another thought. This time the image in her mind was that of a tower, all alone in a hidden valley at night. A light in the uppermost window. Herself staying up late to read or paint by candlelight.
“Mom,” Rapunzel began shyly.
“Yes, Rapunzel,” her mother answered.
“What’s your name?”
The Queen blinked back tears but her smile shone brighter than the fire.
Suddenly all Rapunzel’s questions which had been filling her head all day disappeared and she hugged the Queen, her mother, Clementine.
All my life, Rapunzel thought, I’ve had a mother. But now I have so much more. Now I have a family.