- Chapter 3
~ The Feral Princess Reaches the Palace
Eugene Fitzherbert was trudging though the dark forest of the night. He couldn't stop. Something inside him pushed him to keep going.
He was carrying the Lost Princess now, she had fallen asleep long ago. She wasn't waking up, but she was breathing. The long golden hair trailed along behind them, at least it wasn't getting in the way. He had no way to carry that too, but it scared him deeply how light she was. The cloak she was wearing was the heaviest thing on her.
A lost child needed to be with her parents again. He had lost his own parents to the darkness of death, but he knew her parents still lived and where. She had to be returned home. Nothing else mattered to him anymore. A family deserved to be together.
How many times could his heart be broken? His emotions churned. Why did the kidnapper treat the princess like an animal? Worse than an animal!
She had been chained up, naked, in a dark room. As far as he could tell she had never seen the sun or even outside since the kidnapping. She couldn't even get her mouth open enough to bite into an apple. Had the kidnapper not even fed her solid food!?
The princess was afraid of knives, afraid enough to run from him and into a dark cave. His stomach clenched. What had the kidnapper done to her!?
He would carry her to the palace, her real home, with her real parents, no matter the cost. The palace would have food and clothes and everything she needed that he didn't have for her. It wasn't all that far now. She had to be able to live that long. She just had too. He could not stop! He would not stop!
* * *
After ages, Eugene Fitzherbert was on the road near the island. He could smell the sea. The road curved and he could see the torches at the end of the bridge, and then men moving in the light.
"Help! Please, help us!" Eugene called. He saw soldiers take up torches and run toward him, the breastplates and swords reflecting the torchlight.
"We're coming! What's wrong?" called a soldier.
"Help us. I found the Lost Princess. Please, she needs help. She's ...in bad shape." He begged, tears running down his cheeks, as he admitted to himself her condition.
Torches were running toward them. The guards skidded to stop as they saw Flynn Rider's face in the torchlight. They pointed their swords at him.
"Yes, I know. I'm Flynn Rider. I surrender myself. I have the crown here in my satchel. But none of that matters, we need to help the princess. Please," he begged, offering them anything to get them to help her. He swung his hip slightly to reveal the satchel. His legs burned as he stood still for the first time in hours.
They cautiously surrounded him and signaled for more men.
The princess woke up to his shouts. All the light and men was scaring her and she threw herself around his neck, holding on for dear life.
"Please, she needs a doctor, and the headmistress of the orphanage, and her parents, and food, and please, please, take us to the palace, please." Eugene begged, standing here was not getting her closer to the palace.
The guards looked at each other, they had orders to bring in all claiming to be the Lost Princess, but this was Flynn Rider. Yet he was begging for help like a hurt child.
The Captain of the Guard and another squad arrived. He had been inspecting the security lockdown of the island. Everyone was being checked. He had gotten back to the island with the Stabbington Brothers after Flynn had knocked him off of his horse. He was still hurting from that and Maximus was still missing too. The Captain had sent out more squads of men and horses, they'd be tracking Flynn Rider all the way to the border and beyond.
The Captain of the Guard stopped in front of Flynn Rider, his sword out and steady at the thief.
"Rider... What are you up to?" He rumbled quietly, then he looked suspiciously out into the dark forest. Several men turned outward, making a perimeter, expecting an attack from the forest. Others kept their weapons on Rider expecting him to do something.
"This is not a trick! We are alone! Please, sir. I know you want me, take me if you want but we need to get the princess to a doctor quickly, just look at her," begged the man known to all as Flynn Rider, swinging the princess toward the light of the torches.
The girl burrowed herself into the shoulder of Flynn Rider, but she peeked out with a scared look on her face. She had huge green eyes and blonde hair, but the terrible tight skin and prominent bones made her look almost monstrous in the torchlight. The hands locked around Flynn's neck looked so much like his grandmother's withered hands. The girl looked, at once too young and too old, to actually be the Lost Princess, but what could Flynn Rider possibly gain with this rouse? Rider already had the crown. What more was there to steal?
"We are obligated to take anyone claiming to be the Lost Princess to the palace to be Tested," scowled the Captain of the Guard, his sword still held steady at Rider's chest. "But if you try anything, Rider. Anything at all. I will personally end you." His eyes bore into Eugene's.
"Done!" agreed Eugene. "Please, let's get to the palace. And send for the Headmistress of the Orphanage, please. She's dealt with abused and starved children before. She will know how to help."
They started to trudge forward, the hair slithers over the ground. "Uh, is this ...hair?" Private Conli asked holding up his torch and looking back into the forest.
"Yes, it goes back 50 feet, probably more. Don't ask why, I have no idea. This is how I found her," said Eugene, trying to skirt around the glowing hair thing he had seen. She needed to be cared for first they could worry about the hair later. "Could someone pick it up, please. It'll make it easier to carry her."
The Captain of the Guard nodded curtly and Conli gathered up the hair and carried it as Flynn Rider hurried them to the palace.
The Captain of the Guard sent runners ahead and had half his men surround Flynn Rider, just in case this was some bizarre trick.
* * *
They found the seneschal, the royal doctor and the headmistress of the orphanage in the candlelit testing chamber. The room was warm and smelled of honey from all the candles burning around the room.
"Eugene, you've been a bad boy," chided the headmistress, matter-of-factly, as the older woman pushed herself up from one of the chairs by the desk. The princess whimpered at the word 'bad.'
"I know, I'm sorry about that, but I'm not anymore," said Eugene looking down at the princess. "Please, she needs help."
"Put her here on the sofa, we'll need to evaluate her first." The doctor said.
Eugene tried to put her on the sofa, but she whimpered and clung tighter to him.
"It's okay dear, we're trying to help you. It's okay." The headmistress says in gentle, comforting tones. Eugene feels her death grip on him loosen a little.
"They are good people and will help you," said Eugene as he tried to reassure the princess. "I've known her my whole life and she is a good person."
"Good?" asked the princess her massive green eyes looking deeply into his hazel eyes.
"Yes, good. They are good and will be good to you," said Eugene confidently. The princess let go of Eugene and sat curled up in a corner of the sofa.
"You are a good girl," reassured the headmistress. Many abused children knew the word bad, but it looked like the princess knew the word good as well.
"Good," stated the princess with a happy smile and put her arms around the headmistress. Who hugged the frail child gently, cooed and rocked her. The headmistress had rehabilitated several children that had been found starved and dying. She had not been able to save all of them. The princess looked worse then any of them.
The doctor turned toward the guards, "You better wait outside, this will get rather personal for her soon."
The Captain frowned at Flynn Rider.
"I'll stay with you," said Eugene. The Captain nodded. They and the other men turned toward the doors of the testing chamber.
"Ah, ah, ah," grunted the princess as she saw him leaving. She had her arms out toward him and was making grabbing gestures.
"It's okay. It's okay. I'll just be outside those doors. Just like when I got you your clothes. They will stay with you. It will be good." Eugene went back and reassured the princess again, but many people traded glances over what it meant for Flynn Rider to have gotten the girl clothes.
The princess looked scared, and held onto the headmistress, but let Eugene leave as the headmistress and doctor began to examine her.
* * *
As soon as the doors closed, Eugene let out a breath he didn't realize he had been holding. As a child in the orphanage, he had been a rock to some of the kids, helping them though the pain and loss of not having a family anymore. The princess was going to have her family back, but they needed a rock as they dealt with the consequences of the kidnapping. Flynn Rider had gotten him out of the orphanage, but he needed to be Eugene Fitzherbert again. He needed to be himself again.
He leaned over and put his hands on his shaking knees. He really needed to sit and rest for a while. He walked a lot further today then he had expected and he certainly didn't expect to end up here of all places.
The seneschal and the Captain of the Guard came up to Eugene. "So, what's the story, Rider? Where did you find her?" The seneschal asked.
"Eugene. My real name is Eugene Fitzherbert." Eugene said straightening, inside and out.
The seneschal and the captain traded glances, they hadn't known that about the thief, and somehow he looked completely different from how he had a moment ago.
"The kidnapper lives in a tower that is very well hidden in a canyon behind a wall of vines. Do you have a map? Excellent! If I remember this morning correctly, you chased me through here...." Between the Captain and Eugene they sketched out approximately where the tower was.
"She's probably been back since and is looking for the princess in the forest. Unless she will be back tomorrow morning. She left to make some hazelnut soup for the princess' birthday as a reward for taking her punishment so well." Eugene's fists clenched as he remembered that.
"Punishment?" The Captain asked.
"She was lashed 500 times because she spilt the bucket of her own urine, which she also had to lick up." Eugene stated grimly. The seneschal gasped and the Captain of the Guard ground his teeth together as he flexed his hands over and over.
"Last I saw her. She was wearing brown leather half boots, a red dress and black cloak. You're going to have to be careful. She looks a lot younger then the wanted posters make her out to be, about 25 with curly black hair. Since the princess is also looking young, we have to assume she is a witch."
"Of course she's a witch. That would explain so much." Rumbled the Captain of the Guard sarcastically. "We'll search the forest and set a trap at that tower of hers. Conli keep your squad here and keep an eye on Rider. I'm going to the barracks to rouse the troops. We're going to drop on the kidnapper like a ton of bricks."
* * *
The maid invited them back in. The princess held out her arms toward Eugene who sat next to her on the sofa. She climbed onto his lap and put her head on his shoulder.
"Normally, I would listen to the story the Lost Princess candidate had, but under the circumstances it would be best to get to the heart of the test." The seneschal said as he went to his desk and withdrew a pair of scissors.
"Scissors bad! Scissors bad!" screamed the girl. She clambered over Eugene and the sofa. She scurried into a corner, pulled her hair close around her and wept in utter terror.
After a shocked second of trying to comprehend what was happening, the headmistress spun on the stunned seneschal and commanded him in her most no nonsense voice, "Put those away, now!"
The seneschal flung them back into drawer and slammed it shut, almost catching his fingers.
"It's okay. It's okay," said Eugene as he went over to the girl. She threw her arms around him and burrowed into his chest.
"You're a good girl. Nothing bad will happen to you. You're a good girl. We won't hurt you," said the headmistress kindly, also approaching.
It took time for the weeping girl to calm down. As the seneschal and the doctor looked on in confusion.
"Something I forgot to mention is that she doesn't like knives. I tried to slice an apple for her, because she couldn't get her mouth open enough for a whole apple and she reacted much the same way," explained Eugene.
"It's okay, but thanks for saying it now," said the headmistress to Eugene. She turned to the girl and stroked her head. "Why are scissors bad?" She asked as gently as she knew how.
The girl picked up some of her hair and said, "No cut. Scissors bad. Cut punish. No punish. No punish." She pleaded.
"Cutting your hair is bad and you would be punished?" Checked the headmistress.
The girl nodded and held on tight to Eugene.
"You are a good girl and we won't let anyone punish you," stated the headmistress with iron firmness.
The girl looked at the fierceness in the headmistress of the orphanage and believed her. She nodded and began to relax.
The headmistress levered herself up and stalked over to the seneschal. The seneschal gave ground as she came up to him.
"Okay, spill it. What is the test?" She demanded in no uncertain terms.
"Um...," he said looking over to Flynn Rider.
"Tell me! She cannot afford another panic attack. I'm not even sure what is keeping her alive at this point. We can't have this test hanging over us. We need to take care of her now! What is it?" The steel in her voice brooked no argument.
The seneschal looked around feeling like a caged animal, then he sighed, "This is top secret information, but I guess we have no choice and I haven't found any way to duplicate it in any case. The test is simple to administer, if not easy to explain. We found a lock of hair in the crib of the princess, it was brown. Yes, we know the princess is blonde." He held up the vial with the lock of hair in it, but glanced at the blonde girl huddled in the corner with Eugene.
"Since the king and queen saw enough to know the kidnapper was an old woman. This hair had no grey in it. So the logical conclusion was that this lock of hair was from the babe and it changed because of the magic, golden flower the queen drank. The brown lock looks very much like the queen's hair but there are reflections of light in it. The test is to cut some hair which should turn brown and compare. It would definitively identify the princess."
The headmistress thought about that for a while, it seemed to all fit together.
"In our examination we did find that lock of short brown hair on the back of her head. I didn't think much of it because we were looking for injuries and infestations," added the doctor. The seneschal looked sharply at the doctor at this news.
"Very well. I'll see if I can convince her. Be ready to act quickly." She went over to Eugene and the girl.
Kneeling before them she held out her arms. The girl turned and hugged her. "You are a good girl. We will never punish you for cutting your hair. Good girl, no punish," said the headmistress to the girl leaning into her shoulder. She wrapped her arms around the girl and gestured for Eugene to hold them as well.
"We need to find out who you are. He needs to cut your hair. We will not punish you or let you be punished for it. We love you. We will protect you." The girl nodded. The headmistress turned her head slightly and nodded. The seneschal moved quietly and quickly, pulling out the scissors and snatching up an end of hair and snipped the end, the end in his hand turned brown as did the long length running up to her temple.
The princess Solara saw the brown run pass her and she started shaking and keening in despair, hugging the headmistress with all her might.
Eugene was repeating, "Good girl, good girl, good girl."
The headmistress was cooing and rocking them back and forth. In moments the girl tired again and fell asleep. They picked her up and moved back to the sofa. Eugene held her in a protective embrace on his lap.
"She is the Lost Princess, the Princess Solara," the seneschal of the Kingdom of Corona declared, but there is no joy in his voice, just the sound of tears. How could he explain this to the royals?
"She has been terribly abused by the kidnapper. She is starved and malnourished, but she appears otherwise healthy. No obvious injuries or marks. She appears to have the mentality of a young child," summed up the doctor.
The Seneschal nodded, stood and left the testing chamber.
"How is she still alive?" asked Eugene. "I saw her lick up her own urine and then watched as she was lashed 500 times."
The headmistress just shook her head, she had seen so many awful abuses. She had cleaned up one child that had lived in his own feces. Others had multiple broken bones and worse. Starving children had been recovered from the forest from time to time. She had tried to nurse them back to health, not all had been strong enough. The princess was the worst she had ever seen. The headmistress was not sure if the princess would survive.
If the guards failed, she knew some older orphans, out on their own now, that could deal with the kidnapper.
"It sounds like some kind of magical effect, the flower her mother the queen ingested had healing properties. She must have inherited something from that," said the royal doctor. "Though why she looks so young is a mystery."
"The kidnapper was looking young too, about 25. My guess is that the kidnapper is a witch and cast a spell to make them young to make them hard to find."
"Do you think the kidnapper took the princess to be a spell component?" asked the headmistress.
"That would be my guess," said Eugene.
"I'm not so sure. It doesn't look like there are any marks on the child. Blood, hair or skin are often used. Urine and feces are possible, but why would she have had to lick it up," the doctor said.
"Can we give her something to eat, please? I have no idea when the last time she ate was, and I'm scared she might not last much longer. She keeps falling asleep so much." Eugene asked fearfully. The digression had taken precious time.
They looked at each other, nodded and the headmistress said, "Broth, she needs warm broth. Children this bad off... Well, I've ever seen anyone this far gone and still be alive, but they could only handle broth. It'll take time to build her up to solid food safely."
The doctor gave quiet orders to the maid who ran off.
The seneschal escorted the royal couple in.
The queen looked so scared to Eugene, but he nodded and encouraged them to come over, as the doctor and headmistress got up and consulted in a corner. The princess was asleep on his shoulder as he cradled her gently, holding her like her would never let go.
The king supported his wife as they got close enough to see their partially grown-up baby. The queen fell to her knees before them. Tears filled the eyes of the royal couple as they saw the deeply sunken cheeks, the hard outline of her bones under the thin skin of their daughter.
"Oh my baby, my poor baby, I'm so sorry," she wept, her shaking hand reached out to touch her baby's brow.
The princess roused from hearing the weeping, turned and looked at her mother.
"My dear Solara, you're home again. You're home. We'll keep you safe," promised the queen.
"Ma-ma?" There were few memories in the princess beyond the dark room, but the magic had kept them alive all these years.
The queen's heart imploded as she saw the muscles move around the mouth of her daughter, the deep lines of the muscles and bones sharply outlined under the skin.
"Yes, mama. I'm your mama." A smile bloomed through the tears.
The lost princess reached out and pulled her mama close, put her forehead to her mama's and with a giggle, puts her arms around her mama and held on tight. With great wracking sobs the queen holds her abused baby for the first time in eighteen years with her whole soul.
"So, Flynn Rider brings my little girl home," said the king, as he sat next to the former thief.
"Not anymore. My real name is Eugene Fitzherbert." Eugene took off the satchel and handed it to the king, "This is yours. I'm sorry for taking it."
"If stealing the crown let you find our daughter, I can forgive that. What happened?" asked the king.
Eugene told the story, as the maid came in with a tray.
Everyone gathered around, as the maid handed the princess, sitting on her mama's lap, a tea cup of broth. The princess just held it, with a puzzled expression. She was fed only very rarely from a battered metal bowl on the floor, though she did get a bucket of water to drink and clean with. Gothel knew the hair would keep her alive, so why waste perfectly good food on her?
The headmistress came over, and with a very gentle look on her face took the cup, held it in her hands and showed the princess how to take a sip, smiled and made appreciative sounds, then handed it back.
The princess took a sip of the rich, protein-laden liquid. Her eyes went wide as her tastebuds screamed in need for it and sloshed the whole thing into her mouth and swallowed. After licking the cup and her fingers that had picked up the spills on the sides of her mouth, she shyly looked at the headmistress, who asked gently, "More?" holding out her hand.
"More," Solara said, tentatively holding out the cup, looking scared but hopeful. She was always hungry, but the kidnapper never let her have more. The headmistress took the cup and handed it back to the maid, though the doctor warned, "Slowly, we don't want to make her sick by feeding her too quickly."
The princess watched carefully, as everyone took their time refilling the cup and handing it back to the princess. Solara cautiously held out her hand and took the cup. She slurped it down greedily and asked "More?"
Then the guards brought in the prisoner. The kidnapper was strictly shackled, heavy chains went from collar to wrists to waist to ankles. A gag was wedged in her mouth.
The princess dropped the cup, which shattered on the floor. Solara climbed onto Eugene for safety as she whimpered and moaned in fear. Eugene nodded and said, "That's the kidnapper."
The headmistress, doctor and seneschal all stood and interposed themselves ready to defend the princess.
Gothel would have sneered at them, though her contempt was clear.
The king nodded, his daughter's fear was obvious. The two testimonies were enough, and ordered, "Have her secured."
The kidnapper was removed from the room and taken to the prison.
The queen and the headmistress and Eugene were able to calm Solara. Soon, she had so many cups of broth her stomach was distended. She was also sleepy from the good food.
The doctor told the maid to get more, but to take her time. The kitchen was to make quite a bit for the princess. He explained to the royal couple that it may take a couple of weeks before she is ready for solid foods.
"I'm not surprised she's scared of her. She gave her a terrible lashing, but I don't understand how she survived it, much less how ordering her to sing could do anything about it," said Eugene as the princess began to doze on his shoulder.
At the word sing, sleepy Solara began to sing her special song. One of the only good things she had ever heard from her captor as she snuggled on Eugene. Everyone stared in wonder at the glowing hair, and then as the gray left the king's hair, and the pain left the queen's and headmistress' knees and back, the scars on the doctor's fingers healed and he grew young, Eugene's legs felt strong again and wonder of wonders the princess herself began to glow all over, fill out and grow and age. She now looked like a 16 year old.
The hair had been keeping Solara alive by sheer dint of magic. Since she went weeks and months between feedings, there were limits on what it could do. Her body was like a perfectly formed machine, without any fuel to let it run. Finally, with access to protein and other molecular building blocks, it could finally start doing more. The magic could keep her alive and barely functional, but her body had just not been able to function properly without the needed inputs of nutrition.
"Whoa. What kind of magic was that?" asked the king, concerned.
"I have no idea," the doctor replied.
"But the princess is looking a lot better. Sing again, please," the headmistress asked.
Solara sang again, but only the hair glowed.
"It didn't happen the same way that time. Why?" Asked the queen. Everyone looked at each other.
"Food! That was the major difference. She needs food to effect herself!" exclaimed the now much younger looking doctor, after a moments intense thought.
The doctor jumped up and ran to the kitchen to override his previous order. Her body could heal itself with the magic somehow and they needed to give her food so it could. They needed as much broth, honey and cream as they could get as soon as possible. They would be the easiest things for her to eat right now, until they could figure out how the magic worked.
They let the princess drink as much as she could and then asked her to sing. By the time the sun was rising the princess was looking like a normal 18 year old girl. The hair glowed but the princess herself did not, so they stopped and let her sleep.
The headmistress had never seen anyone make strides like this before.