A/N: Hello, folks! It's been a while since I last posted a non-TBF multichaptered fic, but this is one that has been on my to-write list for a long, long time. Several years ago, I joked about a Tangled AU, which immediately garnered a life of its own and now, finally, I have a completed(ish) fic :) It's only a short prologue today, but the regular weekly updating will commence next Saturday.
Once upon a time, there was a magic flower.
It had the ability to heal the sick and injured, and it grew only in the Cat Kingdom, sustained by the eternal noon sunshine of the world. And, like any precious thing, it was jealously guarded.
Hidden away in the palace, the Cat King kept the flower to himself, using its power to grant him youth and immortality, so that while the years wore on for those around him, he did not age. Eventually, though, even the best-kept secrets linger on loose lips, and the tale of the flower with magical healing powers reached the ear of a human king.
The King's wife was fatally ill and so, with the help of a palace cat, he stole into the Cat Kingdom and took the flower. When the Cat King discovered this, he was furious. He raged and refused to let the King return to his world.
"Your Majesty," the human king pleaded, "I do this not to harm you, but my wife is sick and with child, and both will die unless I bring this flower back."
Now, the Cat King was clever, of a sorts, after all his years, and he saw an opportunity. Having been cut, the flower would yield only a single drop of power before it ran dry and so, even if he regained the blossom, it would be of little use to him.
"With child, you say?" the Cat King asked. "In that case, you may borrow the flower and heal your wife. I also was a father once–" until old age had claimed his son long before it even glimpsed the father "–so I will offer you this kindness. Heal your wife. Return the flower. That is the deal."
"That is the deal," the human king agreed, and he returned to his own kingdom.
As promised, the flower indeed healed the Queen, and she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl who they named Haru, for she was like the first breath of spring after a bitter winter.
And, just for a moment, everything was perfect.
Until the Cat King arrived.
He appeared before the King and Queen and recited the deal the King had struck, but became once again enraged when he was given the dead remains of the blossom. "This was not the deal!" he roared.
"We returned the flower," the King said. "That is what we agreed."
"This is not the flower," the Cat King retorted. "This is a dead thing, its magic gone." He pointed to the royal babe the Queen cradled. "That is the flower."
"Impossible," the King said.
"Look at its hair – as golden as the flower you took, and bearing the same magic too. Let me show you." Before either human monarch could intercede, the Cat King approached the child and, taking the golden locks in his paws, recited the same song that had unlocked the flower's abilities. Even as the humans watched, bright sunset light filled the air and chased away the flickering strands of grey in the cat's fur that had appeared in the previous months. "She is the flower," the Cat King reiterated, "and I will take the flower back. That was the deal."
"Then we shall make another deal," the Queen said.
"I want nothing else."
"Then we shall play for it," the Queen pressed, for she knew the fae-like nature of the Cat Kingdom, and all fae loved to play. "A challenge. A game."
The Cat King's eyes lit up. "A game," he agreed. "Very well. Guess my name within three nights, and you shall keep the flower. Fail, and it is mine. That is the deal."
"That is the deal," the Queen echoed. For how hard could it be to guess the Cat King's name?
One night passed. Their names fell short.
Two nights passed. Still the Cat King went unnamed.
As the third night reared its head, the King tried in desperation to separate the baby from the bloom, and took a blade to his daughter's hair. But he only removed a single lock before the magic backfired onto him, a dark, potent thing, and it tore the room to ribbons. When the dust had settled, the King was gone and only the babe remained, unharmed.
Grief-stricken at the loss of her husband, the Queen did not see the lady-in-waiting take her magic-born child with hair of healing and health, and steal off into the night. It was only when the Cat King arrived to finish the deal that the kidnapping was realised, but by then it was too late. The princess and lady-in-waiting were gone.
For the third time, the Cat King raged, but this time his anger could change nothing. The Queen had not acted against him – the deal not broken, but delayed – and thus there was nothing the Cat King could do, but search for the missing babe.
And so, as the years passed, hope for the princess' return dwindled and the kingdom moved out of mourning. Only the lanterns that were released into the sky once a year served to remind the people of what had been lost and what, perhaps, would one day be found.