Tangled Up in You
A/N #1: See previous disclaimer from Chapter 01. A special thank you goes out to bStormhands for incredible help in writing this chapter.
A/N #2: In response to a review (thank you so much, BTW) I decided that this "Where are we now;" author's note was needed as it has been awhile since we had heard from Rapunzel, Eugene, Pascal, or William and Catherine as reining monarchs. So I am including this recap before continuing with the build up to the climactic finale; in about another twenty chapters or so. They will be back in a few more chapters, as I bring the story back to the present; replete with OCs that are the children of the OCs developed so far; thus the need for this flashback. So, as a refresher, here is the story to this point…
Eugene, after sharing a couple kisses with Rapunzel on the boat and gazing deeply into her emerald eyes, realizes that she is the Lost Princess; as he remembered seeing a similar set of eyes in a distraught Queen Catherine several years earlier during a heist; eyes that haunted him even after several years. Knowing the right thing to do, risking all, and willingly facing any potential fate, he returns her, despite her reservations about his status with the kingdom, to the Royal Dock (the same dock he crashes into in the movie). While Eugene is being accosted by the Royal Guard; in the form of the Guard Lieutenant (the Guard Captain, horseless, is still walking back to the palace, yet unaware of the momentous events thus far); the king and queen, who were out for a walk after the lantern ceremony, intervene after recognizing the boat as the one they had commented on earlier; the boat containing two love struck young people.
Using two different methods, the Royal Couple realize that Eugene is telling the truth; that Rapunzel is indeed their lost daughter; bringing them much happiness and elation, yet concern on the part of the king. Eugene's apparent act of betrayal infuriates the Stabbingtons and alarms Gothel, who all believe there was no way he could not have seen the lantern or to willingly give up the riches of the tiara (the true power of Rapunzel yet unknown); or even know the power of Gothel's flower. Later, while scheming to get the young couple, the trio runs from the beach after the unusual glow of their lantern is noticed by a passing ship, thus missing the most remarkable sight of Rapunzel's glowing hair.
Meanwhile, two sensitives, Amanda and Rupert use their gift to realize the feelings that Rapunzel and Eugene feel for each other. The implausible love story of Eugene and Rapunzel reminds them, while sharing their thoughts, of their own fairy tale story, as well as how they got to where they are, the amazing journey they under took on the way to becoming the leaders of a special force; a force that will soon bring out the kidnapper and her two dimwitted accomplices, ensuring the safety of the Crown Princess and those closest to her.
Finally, and not yet developed within my story, the king realizes that there is more to Eugene than meets the eye; recognizing the truth of a revelation made to him decades earlier, during a mission (now ongoing) ordered by King Jonathan, his father; to be revealed within the few chapters.
Thus, this multi-chapter / multi-generational flashback; going back in a stair step fashion; serves to bind the original story to my now very much expanded "What if…?" story; expanded from eight chapters to...
Thank you for your patience and please, please, please review. Reviews make me so happy!
Now back to the story…
Chapter Nineteen: Eugene's Revelation, Part Nineteen
I See the Light! (Part Six)
Having finished the introductions with the five Kunoichi and as he prepared to introduce the five Shinobi, Stephan realized that he had overlooked an important aspect of the team; the individuality and normal independence of its component parts. He was introducing the team to the prince as a single entity. He realized the prince needed to know the background of the team and to further explain his role as its leader as he knew this information could prove vital to the prince when he became king in a few years time.
"Yes; Sir Stephan?"
"Forgive my oversight, but I realize that I did not fully explain myself concerning this team."
"Explain yourself in what context, Stephan?"
"Your highness; this force is actually made up of several separate, yet unique, teams."
"Is this what you meant by the term you used to describe yourself?"
"Yes. You see, the Kunoichi and Shinobi form the independent Maneki Neko. This name, loosely translated as feline, relates to their apparent ability to appear where needed, at will; just as cats can strike at the unwary mouse; their stealth being their number one asset. They also complete missions on their own, without the other team members, when so ordered; hence my position. I go on all missions, whether the full team is deployed, or not."
"I see, Stephan. Thank you for this important clarification; however, I wonder if you have the appropriate rank to go with the responsibility. While a knight of the realm is a fitting title, I do not think it does you justice."
"Actually, it has never come up your highness."
"Well, I will have a word with my father when we return, and rectify this."
"Very good;" Sir Stephan replied, barely keeping his excitement at bay; ever curious to what the prince had in mind.
Thus armed with this additional information, Prince William and Sir Stephan moved to the next group; the five men of Maneki Neko, who were not totally dissimilarly dressed from the women. Two of the men wore the traditional garb of practitioners of ninjutsu; the other three wore unusual clothes of dark brown tunics and black pants tucked into black boots. They were wearing what appeared to be armor on their arms and torso, yet none like the young prince had ever seen; seeming to be of a thick leather. Additionally, they also wore two swords, the scabbards tucked into a wide sash, at their waist; both gracefully curved, yet of unequal lengths.
"That is quite impressive Sir Stephan, and I can appreciate the importance of this new knowledge. Let's continue the introductions."
"Yes. But of course, Prince William."
"The men, naturally, are even more capable than those five absolutely amazing women; their home kingdom being patriarchal in nature, as was Corona prior to your father's reign. Thus, the men are expected to attain such skills and become most proficient at them. During my intensive research and interviews with these ten extraordinary individuals, I have found that they do not let physical characteristics or limitations prevent them from attaining a desired goal. I find that the women benefited from the actions of their great great-grandfather. His breaking of the norms of tradition enabled them to develop skills that they might not otherwise. We are most fortunate that they decided to remain, and I hope word of their successes will empower others to strive for their own goals. That said, there are two principal differences between the two gender groups;" Stephan remarked, pausing briefly to allow the Prince time to look over the five men of the Nihon Koku group.
"First," Stephan continued as he saw he had the Prince's attention; "the two groups have sought to master different disciplines. Fukumitsu-Natsuki and Fukumitsu-Natsumi, as well as Fuschida-Saika and Fuschida-Misaki; have mastered two primary disciplines, that of invisibility and a preferred fighting style. Kuribashi-Naomika, on the other hand, has mastered three; invisibility, the use of the knife and the use of the shuriken. Second, while each woman is a Kunoichi, signifying their dedication to the art of ninjutsu; the men are not all Shinobi, the male practitioner of ninjutsu; they are warriors, referred to as Samurai as denoted by their unique uniforms. They consciously chose those ninjutsu skills that best serve their desired fighting style. I did not mention it here, but all ten of these individuals also seek to master the discipline of Seishinteki kyōyō; which is the art of seeking spiritual refinement and health."
Prince William paused to consider what he had learned so far. It was simply amazing to the young prince that such capabilities existed; resigned he had become to the reality of the mediocrity of the real world. He was beginning to understand the biggest secret to effective leadership; put the right person, regardless of gender, in the right position. It was patently obvious that his father had done just that. He hoped that such remarkable people would always be available. He eagerly nodded for Stephan to continue the introductions as they continued to walk along the second rank of the team.
"This first man," Stephan remarked in reply to the prince's gesture and coming to a stop in front of a massively strong man, standing about six feet tall; "also aboard the same vessel as Kuribashi-Naomika, is an expert assassin, named Kimiyama-Takahiro. He is 28 years old."
Prince William took a moment to commit his appearance to memory. He was handsome, despite a vicious looking scar that ran from the corner of his mouth across his right cheek, before ending at his ear. He had jet black hair, like the five young women, tied into a pony tail to keep it out of the way. He also had piercing, almost jet black, eyes; eyes, the color of which exactly matched his hair.
Stephan, pausing while he noted Prince William considering something, soon continued his briefing; "He is a top level ninja specializing both in Taijutsu, the art of unarmed combat; and, Hensōjutsu, the art of disguise and impersonation. The first skill refers to his fighting style of relying, not on regular weapons, per se; but his bare hands. The second skill is what it implies. He is a master of disguises and is able to impersonate anyone his size. The most amazing fact is that he can speak English with absolutely no accent when required, or he can mimic the local accent. The injury you see resulted from an unfortunate incident while on a mission supporting his emperor back home. We are most fortunate that he decided to remain in Corona. He has already taken care of some interesting Kingdom business which I am sure helped to maintain the modicum of peace we had enjoyed until just recently."
"I am pleased to meet you, Prince William-sama;" Kimiyama-Takahiro stated in perfectly unaccented English while simultaneously and smoothly bowing from his waist, his self-confidence evident.
"Kimiyama-Takahiro; I too am pleased to make your acquaintance;" Prince William answered in reply.
As Prince William and Stephan stepped in front of the next man, a Samurai warrior from the chosen garb, the young prince took in his appearance. He stood approximately 5 feet 11 inches tall; and, unlike the other men of Nihon Koku, he had a fully grown, yet neatly trimmed beard and moustache.
"Now;" Stephan continued, as he gestured to him; "I wish to introduce Tomonaga-Hideki. He is not dressed as the others as he is not a ninja. He is of the warrior caste of Nihon Koku; the samurai. He is 24 years old and has trained since he was but eleven. His father, and his father's father, having had the honor of actually serving the shogun; or, a general responsible for a particular region, and appointed by the emperor. He arrived in Corona on the ship, nominally as the leader of the vessel's security forces, sent to recover the survivors of the shipwreck. These individuals, amazed at the many sights of both the continent Io in general, and the kingdoms of Corona and Estrella in particular, decided to remain, as did he; the Shogun sending his approval for them to remain as well as an open invitation for some of our citizens to visit Nihon Koku. He and his amazing swordsmanship quickly came to your father's attention."
"A Samurai; I guess your research covers them, as well?"
"Yes, your highness. Samurai is the term used to denote the military nobility of Nihon Koku. It is also associated with the middle and upper echelons of this warrior caste. They follow a clear and inviolable set of rules called Bushido. They practice a form of martial arts known as Kendo; the way of the sword. Speaking of swords, you will no doubt notice that he has two such weapons. They are known as Katana and Tantō; translated, they literally mean big and small."
"Stephan, I am once again so impressed with your vast knowledge."
"Thank you, your highness; you are most kind in your praise."
"I am also most pleased to meet a warrior such as you, Tomonaga-Hideki."
"I too am pleased to meet such a fine warrior prince such as you, Prince William-sama; a high level of respect your brave familial line has earned. I know we will meet with much success."
"I agree completely, Tomonaga-Hideki. Very well, Stephan; please continue."
"Yes, of course; your highness."
Prince William and Stephan moved in front of the next man. He was the tallest member in the group, almost reaching six feet, four inches tall; with massively wide shoulders, powerfully built arms and hands; and an intense look; from closely spaced black eyes; that Prince William had never seen before. He also noted that while he carried the same weapons as Tomonaga-Hideki, which should have signified his position as a samurai; wore the same type of uniform favored by the five women.
"Prince William," Stephan softly spoke, gently regaining the young prince's attention; "I am now pleased to introduce Okuma-Takehiko. He is approximately 29 years old; a very experienced samurai who arrived in Corona from the Kingdom of Estrella. During a high level conference between your father and King Hubert, it was agreed, with Okuma-Takehiko's consent, that he would remain to assist our kingdom as necessary to maintain peace, hence his presence here. He, too, is a ninja, although only having just recently attained the second level. He conducts most of his training with Kimiyama-Takahiro; concentrating on the discipline of Shinobi-iri; the use of stealth and infiltration. He also helps train the conventional Royal Army forces in various sword fighting techniques; although he has to hold back, less the general population learn of his true identity and capability. Finally, he has been closely working with Kuribashi-Naomika to develop new swords for the troops."
"You never cease to amaze me Sir Stephan. The amount of study you have conducted, yet you are not a general? You have met every condition my father, the king, has vocalized as being vital to effective leadership. It is obvious to me that you know these personnel."
"Thank you," Stephan replied, barely maintaining his bearing at yet another compliment from the crown prince, continuing; "This discipline consists of five principal methodologies. First, Nyukyo no jutsu; the correct use of timing to enter an area unobserved. Second, Monomi no jutsu; the skill used when discovering the weak point in the area's defense. Third, Nyudaki no jutsu; the skill used when exploiting a guard's psychological weaknesses. Fourth, Yoji-gakure; the skill used when distracting a defender; such as throwing an object to cause distraction. Finally, Joei-on jutsu; the skill used when apparently erasing light and sound. The mastery of this skill is most useful in helping train an operative to keep light between themselves and a defender; effectively blinding the defender. I am sure that you will get to see all five in practice during our upcoming mission."
Prince William considered the wisdom of Sir Stephan's words as he stated, "I am most pleased to meet a warrior such as you, Okuma-Takehiko."
"Prince William-sama; I too am most honored to meet such a brave prince. I know we will return peace to our lands."
"Agreed, Okuma-Takehiko. You may continue, Stephan."
The man standing to the left of Okuma-Takehiko, garbed in the clothes of the Samurai, stood only about five feet, three inches tall. Wide shoulders and powerfully built arms belied his small stature. Prince William knew instinctively that this was no man to cross. He wore his hair in a unique way, short and thick on top, shoulder length in the back.
"Of course, your highness; next, I wish to introduce you to Tanaka-Takumi, who is 27 years old. Like Okuma-Takehiko, he is a samurai who has completed the first two levels of ninjutsu training. His specialty is the hira shuriken, the throwing star. He and Kuribashi-Naomika spend many hours during the week seeing who has the most accurate throw. It is simply amazing to watch them. He has also aided the kingdom in many ways. In one case, he came to the aid of a family traveling right outside the Coronian border. He so quickly dispatched the criminals; with a single shuriken to the neck, quickly and silently killing the attackers; that even the guards traveling with the party was unable to identify their savior, as they rushed the family to the safety of the city. Fortunately for us, one of our members was the first to encounter the party and recovered the shuriken from the bodies prior to their discovery."
"I also read that report, and was intrigued by that fact; as well as wondering to what they were referring when the report stated that the 'devices' were recovered. Our Royal Guard are quite eagle eyed, yet they had made no mention of the perpetrators cause of death."
"Indeed, Prince William. We were most fortunate not to have our identity revealed."
Prince William studied the final member of the Maneki Neko to be introduced. He stood about five feet, eight inches tall. He had closely set brown eyes. His black hair, tied in a pony tail, fell about six inches below the bottom of his thick, obviously well muscled neck. Obviously, he was not one to be fooled with.
"Finally, I wish to introduce the final member of the Maneki Neko, Urogataya-Dai Shiro, who is the elder, at 31 years old. He practices several arts simultaneously, although Kayakujutsu is his primary specialty."
"The art of Kayakujutsu; please forgive my ignorance."
"Yes; of course, your highness, no problem; the practitioners of the art of Kayakujutsu are experts in the use of pyrotechnics to shock and surprise an enemy."
"Ok. I know that pyro- means fire; and technics I guess means a mechanism of some sort?"
"Yes, your highness. Urogataya-Dai Shiro uses devices that emit a bright flash and loud banging noise, such as that made by thunder to assist other team members in accessing a building. Rather than explain further, your highness, I wish to indulge your patience. I am sure that in our coming attack, you will more than understand the value of such devices; once you see them in action."
"Of course, that is most reasonable."
"Does he have any other arts that he practices?"
"Yes. He is also a practitioner of Gokuiatemi sakkatsuho."
"I will not even begin to pronounce that, let alone try to figure it out!"
"Very good your highness; it is actually the art of killing an opponent with a single thrust; a blow delivered to certain regions of the body sure to cause an incapacitating injury that results in death."
"A single thrust;" Prince William questioned, continuing to be amazed that such capable people chose to make Corona home.
"To reverse the familiar saying of a person being "…a jack of all trades, a master of none; Urogataya-Dai Shiro is truly a master of all. There is no discipline or war art that he is not at least somewhat familiar with. Thus, to conclude these initial introductions; I am sure that the true capability of these ten amazing individuals are probably only known by King Jonathan, and now entrusted to you. I am sure you can appreciate how important maintaining their secrecy is; as secrecy is one of their most important by-words."
"I fully understand my father's decision making processes. I can only hope to be half the leader he is."
"Sire, I am sure that you will have no issues in that department."
"Of course, Stephan, I know you are right. I have the fortune to be surrounded by some of the most amazing people I have had the privilege of ever meeting; please continue."
As Prince William looked over the second group; all Ioian, he observed; he was sure he had seen these individuals before. For the life of him, however, he was having difficulty placing them; as they all chose a similar dress to the Kunoichi and Shinobi, and had some of the most amazing weapons available in Corona; he dithered.
"These next eight individuals, four women and four men are actually hidden out in plain sight. They form the cadre of a unit known as Der Eizen Nebel Garde; tasked with the safety of the Royal family; principally, your parents, siblings, and yourself. I am sure you recognize the women as chambermaids, and the men as chamberlains?"
As Prince William gave the second group a closer look, it suddenly dawned on him that he had seen them before; in and around the castle and surrounding lands!
"Why, yes. Now that you mention this fact, I can say that I do recognize them. What are their special skills?"
"Sire; the women are expert knife fighters, as well as expert with the crossbow, each actually armed with the sharpest and strongest knives that Kuribashi-Naomika has ever manufactured for us. They actually train for three to four hours, every day; practicing with Kuribashi-Naomika and Fukumitsu-Natsumi. In the castle, these nondescript women are responsible to ensure the queen's, your mother's, safety. Let me begin with Carol, who is 24 years old."
Carol; a five foot, six inch tall redhead, crossbow held at the ready; with startling bright hunter green eyes; quickly curtsied for her prince, stating; "Your highness, it is an honor."
"Carol, I always knew you to be a remarkable young woman, but this…"
"Yes; your highness. You see, your father saw me one day practicing with the Royal Archers, and rather than being upset, he decided to let me develop my skills, as well as learning new ones. On another occasion, I actually rescued an older gentleman being accosted by a thief…"
"I struggled with the attacker, relieved him of his knife, and then used it against him. The gentleman was quite relieved."
"Very good, Carol. I remember reading of that incident, although the report failed to name the rescuer. I am sure you will prove yourself."
"Thank you Prince William;" Carol replied, lightly blushing at the Prince's complement.
"This next woman," Stephan remarked, gesturing to a blonde haired blue eyed woman; "is Monica, who is only 19 years old. She too was discovered by your father. It seems he found her in the Palace Staff courtyard; juggling five very sharp, yet immaculately balanced, knives. Amazed at what he saw, he waited until she finished her routine, and then asked her what other skills she might possess."
"And, what skills were those, Monica;" the prince asked.
"Well, your highness; Richard, is one of the Royal Crossbow archers. He sort of, well, he sort of let me practice with his weapon. When the Royal Guard Crossbow Sergeant, Ruben, saw me; rather than being mad, he notified your father. Your father allowed me to continue to train with him and improve my skills."
"That is very good, Monica. I am sure to continue many of my father's programs; especially those that make such good use of our citizen's skills."
"Yes, your highness," Monica stated, blushing ever so slightly at the kind words from the Crown Prince.
"This next woman, who is 22 years old, is…"
"…Aubrey! I should have realized you would be a part of the team!"
"You see, Stephan;" Prince William began, smiling at the five foot two inch tall brunette with the most amazing hazel eyes; "Aubrey here actually gave me some of the most entertaining and informative lessons in archery; her brother, Alexander, having been too preoccupied to provide the lessons as scheduled. Obviously her father took the time to teach both her and her brother."
"I see, Prince William. You will also find that Aubrey is very adept with knives, swords, especially the Katana and Tantō, and the crossbow."
"This team, so far, is simply amazing, Stephan. I cannot wait to learn of the men."
"As you are aware, just as the women are responsible for seeing to your mother and sisters safety; likewise, the men, who are also similarly armed and see to you and your father's safety, also enjoy beating each other up for fun several hours each day, as they learn the finer points of a Martial Art called Judo. They train with Tanaka-Takumi and Urogataya-Dai Shiro for several hours a week as well."
Prince William studied the four men; each similarly dressed in all black as too the women; each heavily armed with crossbows, knives and, in the case of Walter; a Katana and Tantō worn at the waist. Two of the men had blond hair; the third's brown, while the fourth's was dark black. Stephan drew his attention to the left most individual, a young looking man with long blond hair.
"I will begin these introductions with Ruben; who is six feet tall and 22 years old. He pulls double duty. First, he serves incognito in the palace as what appears to be a mild mannered chamberlain. Second, and when the need arises, he is the Royal Guard Crossbow Sergeant. In this capacity, he ensures the Royal Guard has the latest and best crossbows and knows how to use them."
"I am most pleased to meet you under these vastly different circumstances, Prince William."
"So too am I, Ruben. I had no idea how safe my father kept us or, more importantly, how our protection hid in plain sight."
Stephan next motioned to the man standing to the right of Ruben, a black haired young man also dressed in all black, a moustache and goatee gracing his young face.
"Your highness, this is Mark. He is 26 years old and, when not shining the finest palace silver, also enjoys practicing with his Katana and Tanto alongside Okuma-Takehiko. He also sometimes partakes of the fun of the shuriken throwing competitions, although his control is still developing."
"I am pleased to have you on this mission. Your parents would be so very proud of what you became, Mark."
"Thank you, your highness;" Mark replied, surprised at the kind words from his crown prince.
"We are now to the last two members of Der Eizen Nebel Garde; the twins Peter and Walter."
As Prince William studied the two 26 year olds, he noted that they were more easily discernible than the two pairs of twin sisters Fukumitsu-Natsuki and Fukumitsu-Natsumi, and Fuschida-Saika and Fuschida-Misaki. Peter, his face graced by a neatly trimmed moustache and goatee, wore his blond hair short. His slightly older brother; Walter, his face clean shaven, wore his brown hair long.
"I cannot seem to remember seeing these two around the palace grounds. What do they do when in garrison?"
"Peter masquerades as one of the principle grounds keepers. In this endeavor, he is constantly able to ensure the security of the palace grounds from unwelcomed guests."
"I see. And, what role does Walter fulfill?"
"I am not surprised that you know not of Walter and his role in the palace. He provides normal security after dark. He is what many call a 'night owl,' constantly on the prowl at night; ever ready to sound the alert when necessary."
"This is quite the team, Sir Stephan."
"Yes it is your highness. We are eager to serve. Many of the team members are ever eager to try out new skills. In this mission, we are expecting them to demonstrate their new found skills of invisibility and stealth to get them close enough to the Midland Guard officers and senior sergeants to eliminate them; with, I believe the words of your father used, extreme prejudice."
"That is correct. We are going for complete shock and awe. Very good, Stephan; I can see that this is the most remarkable and capable team my father could form; although I am still unaware of its full name."
"Yes, your highness, this team, known in total as die Schwindler Jäger, or the Shark Hunters, is ever ready for your orders."
"The Shark Hunters; given our maritime centered culture; a very unique name for the most amazing group of individuals I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Let's gather the team and I will brief them on the mission as well as Lord Marcus' role.
A/N #3: Please review!
A/N #4: Please read bStormhand's, Rapunzel Goes Home Extended Edition