Summary: As Rapunzel's coronation to be queen approaches, her crown is stolen again.
Crowning glory – the greatest or most beautiful thing (Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus)
"The crowning glory of a person is not their professional achievements, wealth, or status, but their ability to do goodness while they are alive. Your character is the only thing you own that you can take with you when you leave this world."
It all started when Rapunzel learned she'd have to give up her crown.
Corona had a tradition. The ages-old tradition that once the Coronan crown prince or princess finally became king or queen, he or she would forfeit the crown of their youth or maiden days. This crown would be replaced by a new permanent one to be worn till the monarch's dying days.
The old crown would be melted down and the stones removed and all of it donated to the charity of the new king or queen's choice; in this case, ironically, it was to be the same orphanage where Prince Consort Eugene had grown up.
Rapunzel's crown wasn't just any crown. Not to her. But as Rapunzel's coronation to become queen came closer, only two people in the entire kingdom understood that.
Rapunzel had never been a selfish person. Not even when she had been subject to Gothel for the first few years of her life would she ever dream of refusing to do something that would help another person, especially someone in need. How else could she have possibly lived with the horrible witch all those years and let her use her hair? Self-centeredness was not in Rapunzel's blood.
But doing this…having to give up her crown, and not just give it up but to see it be melted down…hurt. Try as she could to tell herself it was the right thing to do for her people, it still hurt.
Rapunzel stood silent when the royal advisor first told her the news weeks before the big event. The time had come for her parents, the king and queen, to step down. There would be a big hullabaloo over it all. Everyone who was anyone would come around. More lanterns released.
And then the part of the ceremony where she would remove her crown. Her crown. And be given some other soulless piece of gaudy head jewelry instead which could never mean as much to her as her real crown did.
"Let me get this straight. I take you to see the lights, bring you back home, and you'll give me back my satchel?"
Eugene teasingly 'stealing' the crown off her head as she hugged the little girl in the celebrations for the lost princess's return.
Rapunzel waking up one morning to find the crown had gone 'missing' again. Well, once a thief…"Eugene! Did you take my crown again?" Rapunzel stood with her hands on her hips.
"Er, you talking to me Blondie?" Eugene Fitzherbert simply couldn't help the triumphant smirk from crossing his face no matter how much he tried to hide it.
"Yes, you," retorted back Rapunzel.
More smirking from him.
"Well, if you want it back, you're going to have to catch me!" He dangled her crown from his fingertips and took off as Rapunzel chased him through the palace's back gardens.
Rapunzel was almost in tears when Eugene came into their suite. She wiped her eyes surreptitiously as Eugene glanced at her.
"Blondie?" he said cautiously. "What's the matter?"
Rapunzel silently pulled the crown off her head. "It's stupid. And wrong. No, I'm wrong. It's all wrong."
Her husband eyed her uncertainly. "Are you worried about your father? We've talked about this, Rapunzel." He gently took her hands in his. "His health is fine. He's just decided to step down so he and the queen can go off somewhere and be merry, you know? Travel. Sleep past 5 a.m. Maybe find an island somewhere," he added moodily, no doubt thinking of how the royal advisors had vetoed their vacation to the nearest island last week.
Rapunzel sighed. "It's not my father. It's my crown."
"Yeah, I know. Your father's stuffed shirt-"
"Your father's advisor told me about it a few weeks ago." He gently tilted Rapunzel's chin up so she'd look at him. "I take it you're not happy about it?"
Rapunzel sighed. What if Eugene thought she was being silly, too? "It's my crown, Eugene."
"I know," he said quietly.
"It's why…it's how…I mean if you hadn't stolen it…or the time you stole it when I returned or…"
"I know, Blondie."
"Yes, I know exactly what you mean. To them, it's just a crown. To you…"
They were silent for a few moments.
"They're going to take it away and melt it and I hate that and I know I'm being silly I mean I know it's stupid and it's selfish of me but I don't want that and now I feel awful because if they didn't, the orphans won't get their gold, you know?" The entire thought came out at a dizzying pace.
"And I just feel…I feel awful, Eugene! Horrible! I want to take gold away from the orphans! I'm a dreadful person! I'm a dreadful princess! I'll be a dreadful queen!" With no warning she threw herself into Eugene's arms, her tears dissolving into full-fledged sobs.
Eugene circled his arms around her, stroking her hair.
"Blondie…Rapunzel," Eugene said sharply. "You are not now, nor have you ever been a bad or dreadful or selfish person or princess - and you'll be a wonderful queen."
"Of course you will!" He grasped her shoulders. "You feel how you feel, you know? It's not your fault. I understand how you feel."
"Well, yeah, sort of," he said, taking the crown from her and brushing a piece of lint off it affectionately. "I mean, if it hadn't been for this shiny thing…"
"We would've never met."
"And you'd never have conked me on the head 50 times and your frog wouldn't have stuck his tongue in my ear-"
"And I might…still be living with - with her."
"And you would have never known you were the lost princess."
"And I might have never married you."
Eugene exhaled slowly. "Well…"
"I have to give it up, don't I?" Rapunzel sounded tearful. Eugene looked away from her, not knowing what to say.
"Your highness, I must speak with you." This type of thing had to be taken to the king. If he couldn't understand how much this bothered Rapunzel, no one would.
King Edward raised his eyebrows warily. Much as he'd worked to establish the eventual, often grudging, respect for his former thief of a son-in-law, there were times when it was tested nevertheless. "Eugene?"
No reason to beat about the bush. "Rapunzel is unhappy."
The king's frown deepened.
"About giving up her crown."
Now a thoughtful head tilt accompanied the king's frown.
"She, I mean we, I mean…" Eugene's voice petered out in frustration.
What was he supposed to say? That the princess's pretty headband of gold and shiny rocks was more important to her than getting another, even bigger headband of gold and gaudy rocks?
All people should have such problems.
But no one would understand sentimental value better than Rapunzel's parents. They'd once held onto the lost princess's crown and spared no resources to get it back when Corona's most notorious thief stole it.
"It's important to Rapunzel that her crown stay intact, your majesty. Is there not a way that we can, well, surpass this tradition?"
The king sighed, taking the heavy overstuffed armchair next to him as he motioned Eugene to sit down.
"I mean, yes, everyone else would think it's ridiculous but she can't help it. We can't help it," added Eugene almost vehemently.
"Corona is not big on foregoing tradition, my boy."
"Corona was never big on letting their princess marry a thief, either."
"Technically, ex-thief." The king smiled a little tightly. "And that wasn't so much a tradition broken as, well, just ignoring common sense by trusting a thief not to steal my most precious possession – my daughter."
"My advisors and royal committees would frown heavily on this. Foregoing such an important tradition for what they would think to be a, well, frivolous concern."
Irritation bubbled up in Eugene. "But surely…I mean…given this crown's history-"
"Which, sadly, means something to you but nothing to them."
Eugene's irritation gave away to anger.
"But that's not even the real problem, you see," said the king suddenly.
Eugene frowned. "Sire?"
"In fact," the king continued, "the royal committees might've even considered your request-" He held up a hand to stop Eugene from speaking "-if, well, circumstances were different."
"I don't understand."
King Edward hesitated, not knowing how to put this news to the very person who'd caused this trouble. "You see, Eugene, this tradition was started centuries ago for a very particular reason – to use the crown's gold and jewels to help the poor."
Eugene wasn't sure where this was going. "Okay…but surely, some other gold and jewels in the royal vault can be used for the same reason?"
"Actually," said the king very quietly, "they can't."
"Because a great deal of our vaults have been cleaned out over the years with the treasures never returned."
Suddenly Eugene felt dizzy. "Oh," he said weakly.
"Which is not to say that there is nothing left in the vaults at all," said the king quickly. "Of course not. But, well, you see, the situation is obviously more complicated than you realize. Many of the officials could consider another substitute for Rapunzel's crown, but given how much treasure has already been, er, lost over the years" he said a bit pointedly, "I'm afraid this would be too generous a request from you. Even for Rapunzel."
"Even for Rapunzel?"
More sighing from the king. "Much as I love my daughter and grateful as I was when you returned her to me, try explaining everything that's happened since then to all the angry court officials I deal with every day." He held up his hand again, cutting off Eugene's chance to protest. "To this day, many of them still believe you're nothing more than a gold digger out for this kingdom's riches, and have duped me, my wife, and especially my daughter into thinking your intentions are pure. And given the first chance you get, you will reveal your true colors and revert to your former thieving self."
And the anger was coming back. Eugene blinked in outrage, not knowing how to respond. They doubted him, even after all this time.
But what was even worse was that they thought he'd actually run out on Rapunzel.
Eugene's jaw tightened.
"So no matter how honorable your actions were back then – giving up your life to save Rapunzel, even – some people will just never be convinced."
Eugene sat dazed. This was all his fault.
"So – so Rapunzel will have to give up something that means so much to her? Because - because of me?"
"I wouldn't say it's entirely because of you, but you have played a big part in this. Right now, Rapunzel's crown is one of the most valuable treasures the kingdom possesses. It'll bring more gold to the orphanage than many other things left in the vaults would. But even more, melting it down would be the ultimate act of unselfishness from, well, you. A symbolic way to say that you are, indeed, completely reformed – by turning over the greatest treasure you've ever stolen."
"It's just a crown! I don't think anything I do would ever change their minds about me. Not really!" Eugene snapped. He could no longer help it.
"Be that as it may," said the king wearily. "It is what you have to do. Or else…"
"Or else what?"
"Find another way to show that you really have changed." King Edward paused. "In other words-"
"If you don't want Rapunzel to give up what she loves, then you must give up something you love."
Eugene was not in the mood for cryptic conversations. "I really don't know what you mean-"
This time the king's sigh was irritable. "Figure it out, Fitzherbert. Give it some serious thought. The answer really isn't as hard as you think it is."
And with a wave of his hand, he dismissed Eugene from the room.
Three days later, Rapunzel's crown disappeared. No one seemed to know where it had gone. All they all knew was that when the princess woke up and reached toward her nightstand for it, it wasn't there.
Needless to say, Eugene was the person they suspected first – even though he absolutely insisted he had no idea where it was.
The castle was turned upside down, as were the courtyards, the stables, and every single room, garden, shack and grounds where it might have been. Rapunzel's steps were traced and retraced.
But their frantic searching did not turn up the crown.
Eugene started spending more and more time away from the castle; Rapunzel assumed, probably because everyone suspected him of stealing it again. No one knew where he'd go off to. Even Rapunzel didn't know where he was exactly because whenever she asked, Eugene said he was off taking Maximus for long rides in the forest. Clearing his head before the big day.
Between the stress of the upcoming coronation ceremony and now this, frustration levels had reached an all-time high.
Court officials eyed Eugene suspiciously wherever he went. Mutterings behind Eugene's back about where his rightful place in the kingdom ought to be: not sitting on a throne, but rotting in the palace's dungeons.
Glaring back at them worked at first, but then there was no point to it. Eugene just shrugged his shoulders resignedly when he walked past them.
The king wasn't pleased. "Surely the crown didn't just get up and walk away by itself?" Grumpily, he kicked the ottoman in the royal washroom out of his way. "I mean, really. Where could one little crown have gone off to?"
Queen Anne gazed at him, her eyes narrowed. "Rapunzel says she's searched everywhere for it. So has everyone in this castle." She paused.
"And Eugene still denies taking it?"
One would've thought they'd know their son-in-law better than that.
"I believe him," admitting the king. "But it's too much of a coincidence that-"
"It disappears right before the coronation after Eugene tells you how upset Rapunzel is?" finished the queen sagely.
Edward remained quiet, scratching his beard thoughtfully.
"You know…I have a pretty good idea who stole the crown."
The queen put her arms around him. "I think I do, too," she admitted.
"What do you think we should do?" he asked his wife slowly.
"I don't know. I just hope the, er, guilty party knows what they're doing."
By the morning of the coronation, the crown still hadn't been found. By then virtually everyone in the kingdom had given up looking for it.
The king and queen were upset.
The stuffed-shirt royals and nobles were upset, openly blaming Eugene for their troubles.
Everyone in the kingdom was upset, including Maximus, although in his case it was more because of him coming down with a mysteriously sudden case of what the royal veterinarian claimed was indigestion.
Certainly, it was not the ideal day to crown their queen.
Eugene and Rapunzel seemed most upset at this turn of events, Eugene because he was still being blamed for the theft, Rapunzel, because her beloved crown wasn't going to be melted, but was now lost to her forever. And both, because the orphanage would not get their gold.
A pervasive air of gloom hung over the great royal hall in the castle where Rapunzel was to be crowned queen. Even Pascal, sensing Rapunzel's down mood, appeared to be an unhappy shade of blue.
King Edward sat in his place beside his queen as the royal procession filed in in accordance with tradition. "Maybe we should have cancelled the ceremony," he whispered to his wife.
The queen looked scandalized. "Cancel the coronation?"
"Well, just until we could get this ugly mess sorted out," he whispered back, looking around to make sure they weren't being overheard.
"I still don't think there's any need for that," said the queen firmly, scanning her eyes for Eugene and Rapunzel at the back of the procession. "I still think things are under control."
"I guess we'll find out soon, won't we?"
The queen was about to respond to him when suddenly, the trumpeter blew his horn. "Presenting their royal majesties, Princess Rapunzel and Prince Consort Eugene of Corona!"
The ceremony was about to begin. But as all eyes focused on the princess and her prince consort, they noticed a glaring omission. They'd both been announced, but only Princess Rapunzel stood in her place as she was supposed to be.
Eugene wasn't there.
The crowd buzzed with shocked, bewildered (and angry) buzzing:
"Wasn't he there just a second ago?"
"Where did he go?"
The king's advisors now looked positively murderous.
"Well, I don't suppose he stepped out to use the royal john?" remarked the queen dryly.
The king decided to play along. "Why not?"
"Because I saw him use it just five minutes ago."
"You never know," snickered Edward. "The boy does often appear to have a bladder the size of a thimble."
Before the queen could continue their verbal sparring match, a court messenger raced into the front of the hall.
"Prince Consort Eugene requests everyone's presence in the courtyard before the commencement of the coronation!" Before anyone could question the messenger, he ran back from where he'd come.
What was this all about? The crowd's buzzing continued as the king and queen stood up, the king signaling to the trumpeter to get everyone's attention.
"I think Eugene has something to show us. Please, everyone, let's step out to the courtyards."
Confused as ever, everyone started to file out of the hall toward the enormous courtyard overlooking the sea. A very anxious-looking Rapunzel held back and joined her parents.
The queen put her arm around her daughter comfortingly.
"Okay, seriously, what do you think is going on?" All banter aside, the queen sounded completely concerned.
"I have no idea." The king took his nervous wife's hand in his. "Maybe he's finally decided to-" He stopped abruptly as they reached the courtyard and saw Eugene standing next to a large, tarpaulin-covered wagon.
The crowd circled Eugene and the wagon, still buzzing about what was going on.
"What is all this about, Rider?" The captain of the guard advanced menacingly on Eugene, pointed his sword at him.
"Eugene?" Rapunzel now came up to her husband, her green eyes wide with fear. "What's going on?" She glared at the captain.
The queen calmly put a hand on the captain's shoulder, silently beckoning him to back off.
"I'll handle this, Captain. Eugene, what is going on? What's all this?" Edward gestured to the wagon.
Eugene hopped off the wagon and gestured a couple of the guards to step forward. Wordlessly, all three of them grabbed the tarp and pulled it off the cart.
Everyone else gasped.
Gold. Silver. Gems and jewelry. Fine silks, crystal dishes, goblets, coins of all kinds, antiques with the Corona sun emblem on them. Piles of treasure carefully pilfered over the years by the kingdom's greatest thief lay in the wagon.
Open-mouthed and confused, all eyes turned on Eugene as he spoke.
Eugene cleared his throat. "I know Rapunzel's crown is gone. I know everyone thinks I stole it and am trying to cheat the king and queen and Rapunzel and the orphans out of everything. I know that."
"I wasn't a good person before. I was an orphan and then a street urchin and a thief. I started out stealing food and other things I needed to survive. But then I got greedy and started stealing gold from the palace. I was turning into a bad person, and I'm not proud of it." He paused.
"And then I met Rapunzel. And everything changed. My life changed. My priorities changed. I didn't need to steal and I certainly didn't want to. Because as far as I'm concerned now, I have the greatest thing in this kingdom already – your new queen, Rapunzel."
He walked up to Rapunzel and put his arm around her as they smiled at each other.
Eugene's eyes narrowed as he looked the captain squarely in the eye. "The crown's gone, and I can't get it back for you. But here," he gestured to the wagon "is everything I stole over the years, well, what I stole and didn't hock. It's not much, it's not everything, it's not Rapunzel's crown but it is what it is and it's all for the orphanage if they'll have it."
So that's where Eugene had been going off to with Maximus. Recovering the stolen treasures he'd been hoarding.
More murmuring went throughout the crowd.
Eugene held up a hand. He was getting to be more and more like the king every day.
"This was my stash before, when I wanted to steal to get my own island somewhere. I'm giving it back. It's my way of saying I'm sorry, by giving back what I took. Well, except for Rapunzel's crown, what I can't get back. It's everything I've got, though. It's my way of cleaning the slate and, I know it's not the crown, but I hope you'll accept it."
"I hope you'll accept me. Me, not the person I was before, but the person I am now: a good prince consort, a good leader, and most of all, a good husband for Rapunzel."
The royal advisors, knowing this was directed at them, looked at each other uncomfortably.
Eugene smiled even more broadly at his wife. "If you knew me at all now, you'd know there's no way I would run away with anything in this kingdom. Well, except for Blondie, here, of course." He playfully pulled Rapunzel into a kiss as she giggled and obliged.
Several moments of quiet, thoughtful murmuring followed as Eugene's speech sunk in.
The king stepped forward, smiling. "Well, Eugene, I don't really know if 'thank you' is the right thing to say for an occasion like this. But even still…thank you."
The queen followed his lead. "It's not the lost crown, but this will be a good donation to the orphanage. Wouldn't you agree, Captain?"
Looking slightly mollified, the captain grudgingly stepped forward and shook Eugene's hand.
Eugene grinned, as suddenly the crowd burst into appreciative applause, cheering, and catcalls. "Soooo, anyway, what're you all standing around for? We've got a coronation to get to! Lanterns to release! Wine to enjoy!" Everyone's spirits lifted considerably, the crowd started to file back into the castle for the coronation.
Eugene pulled the captain aside.
"Oh, by the way, Captain: Maximus accidentally swallowed your royal guard seal ring on the way back from a cave – but don't worry, the court veterinarian said you'll get it back after another two to three days."
And Eugene smirked and cheerfully skipped away to the castle with Rapunzel, leaving the captain standing there with another murderous look on his face.
"So, all's well again, I suppose," said the queen as she brushed her hair.
Edward scratched his beard thoughtfully. "Hmm."
The queen carefully set her brush down on her vanity. "You want to know what he did do with the crown, don't you?"
He shrugged. "I want to believe he's telling the truth, but-"
"Once a thief."
"Well, yes, of course."
The queen stood up and yawned. "Well, as long as the orphans get their gold. And Rapunzel is happy."
"So how do you think he stole it this time? Especially with all the guards around the palace?"
The queen rolled her eyes. "Ed, do you know what a great suitor and a great thief have in common?"
"Huh? Uh, no. What?"
"They're both excellent thieves who will never reveal the secret of how to get exactly what - or who - they want."
They got into bed. "Oh, by the way, Maximus will be all right, won't he?"
"Sure. As soon as he, er, excretes the captain's ring, Sol has assured me he'll be just fine."
"Too bad Maximus couldn't have swallowed that ugly turquoise brooch your mother gave me as a wedding present instead," muttered the queen under her breath.
"Did you say something, Anne?"
"Oh, nothing, dear, nothing at all."
Rapunzel carefully took off her new crown and placed it on the bedside table. As she put her head down on the pillow, she felt something underneath it.
Reaching under her pillow, she pulled it out.
The crown. Her crown!
Rapunzel frowned. Something about it looked a little different. As she examined it, it took her a few seconds to notice the inscription now engraved into the crown's golden rim:
"To my Blondie, on her big day: her greatest treasure. Because you are my greatest treasure. I love you. ~Eugene."
Rapunzel hugged her crown to her chest and smiled happily. Best. Husband/thief. Ever!