Ultrapunzel – Chapter 2
Written by argonaut :: [Sunday, 22 March 2015 18:54] Last updated by :: [Sunday, 22 March 2015 20:55]
Enter Flynn Ryder
The countryside lay below her like a patchwork quilt, in squares of farmland and meadow divided by stone walls and blooming hedgerows. From time to time she swooped down to smell a wildflower or watch a brood of ducklings paddling behind their mother. There were people about -- men working in the fields and women hanging out laundry and children playing a noisy game of tag -- but none of them glanced up as Rapunzel flew overhead.
Soon a forest loomed ahead, stretching as far as her eyes could see, its leafy canopy interspersed with wide clearings. And it was through one of those clearings that she saw a man running -- running as fast as his legs would carry him.
He was a young man, of medium height and build, with dark hair and dark eyes and a patch of dark beard on his chin. He wore a leather vest and leather boots, and he was clutching the straps of a leather satchel as his long strides carried him swiftly across the rough terrain.
Rapunzel wondered if he was one of the thugs and ruffians Mother had warned her about. He didn’t look like her idea of a thug or ruffian; in fact, she thought he looked rather nice. He reminded her of a picture of Robin Hood from one of her books. She wondered why he was in such a hurry, and where he was going. Wherever it was, he certainly seemed to know the way …
A thought struck her. What was it Mother had said? “It wouldn’t be proper for a young lady to travel without an escort.” Maybe this nice-looking young man would agree to be her escort -- to take her to see the floating lights?
She wondered how she should approach him. Should she swoop down beside him and say “Hello”? No -- she didn’t want to startle him. Maybe she should fly ahead, find a tree with a low branch where she could sit and think of what to say to him while she waited for him to run past …
Suddenly she heard hoofbeats behind her. The young man must have heard them too, for he looked back over his shoulder for an instant before picking up his pace. Rapunzel looked down. A troop of horsemen in scarlet jackets, with crossbows slung over their shoulders, were galloping over a rise in the ground, gaining swiftly on the fugitive.
Rapunzel didn’t know that these were soldiers of the palace guard, or that the man they were chasing was a wanted thief. All she knew was that one man -- on foot and unarmed -- was being hunted down by six men on horseback. Six against one! Shame on them, she thought.
The man with the satchel was about to duck behind an oak tree at the edge of the clearing when he tripped against a root and went sprawling head-first on the ground. He scrambled to his feet just as the captain of the guard -- a man with a square chin and a neatly-trimmed black mustache, mounted on a magnificent white stallion -- pointed a gloved hand at the fugitive.
“There he is! Don’t let him get away!”
Rapunzel swooped down just as the soldiers were aiming their bows. Still careful not to let her feet touch the ground, she stood between the horsemen and their quarry, arms folded, chin raised, eyes flashing in defiance.
The captain held up his hand. “Hold your fire!” he shouted. He had no idea who this girl was, or how she’d appeared so suddenly, but he couldn’t let her come to harm -- even if she was interfering in the apprehension of a wanted felon.
But it was too late. A volley of arrows were whistling though the air …
Rapunzel’s arms flashed back and forth in a lavender blur as she grabbed the arrows in mid-flight -- one, two, three, four -- and tossed them to the ground. Holding the last arrow between her thumb and forefinger, she drew back her arm and threw it like a dart, straight toward the captain’s tall visored cap. The captain flinched as the arrow pierced his cap, knocking it off his head and plunging deep into the trunk of a tree behind the line of soldiers.
Sputtering indignantly, the captain jumped down from his saddle and picked up his cap.
“Rider’s getting away, sir,” said one of the soldiers. Sure enough, their quarry had vanished into the forest..
“And the girl,” said another. “She’s gone, too.”
“Shall we go after them, sir?”
The captain examined the holes in his cap. He reckoned that the arrow had missed his scalp by a fraction of an inch. They had come to the edge of the clearing; the forest lay ahead, dense and shadowy. Who was that girl? Was she an accomplice of Rider’s, or did she want to capture him herself and collect the reward? Either way, he felt out of his depth.
“No,” he said thoughtfully, brushing the dirt from his cap and putting it back on his head, “I think our jurisdiction ends here today.”
* * * * * * * *
This day was not turning out the way Flynn Rider had expected.
Sure, stealing the crown from the royal palace -- that had gone without a hitch. Being chased by the palace guard -- he figured that might happen. Leaving his partners, the Stabbington brothers, in the lurch and running off with the crown -- okay, in hindsight, that might not have been the smartest move, but hey, he’d seen an opportunity and he took it.
But then things had gotten weird.
He was about to be captured by the palace guard -- or impaled by their arrows -- when someone had intervened. He’d had only a fleeting impression of a girl -- a girl in a lavender gown, with long golden hair -- suddenly standing between him and his pursuers. The captain of the guard had shouted “Hold your fire!” … and Flynn had darted off into the forest. He had no idea who the girl was, or why she’d come to his rescue, but Flynn Rider was not a man to look a gift horse in the mouth.
He had no time to think about it anyway, because then things got really weird.
An enormous white stallion -- it looked like the one belonging to the captain of the guard -- had come charging at him through the underbrush, eyes glaring, nostrils flaring, snatching at the leather satchel with its teeth. In the ensuing struggle, the satchel had flown out of Flynn’s hand and over the edge of a nearby cliff. But instead of falling to the ground below, it had gotten snagged on the end of a thick, weathered branch growing from a crevice in the rock face..
So here he was -- Flynn Rider, swashbuckling rogue, daring adventurer, wanted thief -- shinnying along the branch, a hundred feet above the ground, with an angry horse pawing the turf at the cliff’s edge, ready to cut off his retreat.
Yup -- this was definitely not how he’d expected his day to turn out.
Cautiously, Flynn moved a little farther along the branch and stretched out an arm toward the satchel. But just as his fingers were about to close around the leather strap …
“Looking for this?”
“Yikes!” Flynn nearly let go of the branch, but caught himself just in time. He twisted his head around and looked up …
It was the girl in the lavender gown. She was standing near the end of the branch, her bare feet level with Flynn’s eyes, with nothing but air between her and the ground below. Her golden hair trailed behind her in a long winding train -- a very long winding train. She was young and pretty -- Flynn couldn’t help noticing -- with large green eyes and an upturned nose, lightly freckled. She stood with her left hand on her hip, dangling the satchel from her right forefinger.
Flynn stared at her for a moment. How could she be standing on air like that? And was that a frog sitting on her shoulder? But first things first. He cleared his throat.
“Yes -- yes, I am.” He reached out for the satchel. “Thanks.”
But instead of giving it to him, she lowered herself until their faces were level.
“So,” she said. “Um -- what’s your name?”
“Rider -- Flynn Rider.” He flashed a roguish smile. “You can call me Flynn.”
“Well -- Flynn -- ” The girl blushed, averting her eyes and twisting a strand of hair around her finger. “I was watching you run through the forest -- ”
Flynn waggled his eyebrows. “Were you now?”
“You seem to know the country pretty well.”
“Like the back of my hand.”
“Good,” she said eagerly. “Because tomorrow I want to see the floating lights -- ”
“You mean the lantern thing they do for the lost Princess?”
“Lanterns!” the girl said to herself. “I knew they weren’t stars.” Then she turned to Flynn with an anxious appeal in her eyes.
“Anyway,” she said, pressing her hands together in supplication, “would you be my -- my escort? Please?”
Flynn was taken aback for a moment. Her escort? Then he shook his head. “Sorry, Blondie -- ”
“Gesundheit. No can do.”
“But -- ”
“Hey, I understand. You want some arm candy for the festival. I’m flattered -- really. And you did me a solid back there in the forest -- thanks, by the way -- but what do you say I buy you a beer and we’ll call it even? Oh, and I’ll be needing that satchel -- ” He held out a hand …
But the girl made no move to return it. She regarded Flynn thoughtfully for a moment -- then disappeared.
Flynn blinked. There’d been a rustle of silk, a sudden breeze -- and the girl had vanished. A moment later, she was back, just as suddenly -- but without the satchel.
“Wh--where’s my satchel?” Flynn stammered. “What did you do with my satchel?”
The girl folded her arms and raised her chin. “I’ve hidden it,” she said. “Somewhere you’ll never find it. So here’s my offer, Flynn Rider. You escort me to the -- the floating lanterns, and afterwards you’ll get your precious satchel back. Do we have a deal?”
Flynn groaned inwardly. Who was this girl, and why was she so eager to see the floating lanterns, and why did he have to be her escort? The royal city was the last place he wanted to be right now. The streets would be crawling with soldiers of the palace guard, and “wanted” posters with his name and face on them would be plastered everywhere. On the other hand, the girl was kind of cute -- and if he wanted to get the crown back …
But just then his thoughts were interrupted by a loud crack! And a sickening lurch. The branch had torn loose -- the ground at the edge of the cliff had crumbled away -- and Flynn and the stallion were both plunging toward the ground below. They stared at each other in wide-eyed terror, their animosity forgotten, as the ground rushed up to meet them at dizzying speed …
But Rapunzel was already swooping down after them. Stretching out her right arm, she hooked a finger into the collar of Flynn’s vest; reaching out with her left, she grabbed the horse’s harness. Carefully, gradually, she slowed their descent as she began lowering them gently to the ground.
A weather-beaten tree, gnarled and twisted, grew by the foot of the cliff. Rapunzel paused to hang Flynn Rider from a low branch by the collar of his leather vest.
“Hey!” he protested. “What’s the big idea?”
“Oh, hush,” said Rapunzel. “I’ll let you down in a minute. In the meantime, you can think about my offer.”
While Flynn squirmed at the end of the branch, Rapunzel lowered the stallion and set him gently down at the foot of the tree, giggling as it nuzzled her cheek in gratitude.
“Who’s a good boy?” Rapunzel cooed. “You’re a good boy -- yes, you are, aren’t you -- ” She read the metal tag on the horse’s bridle. “Maximus? I bet you like apples, don’t you?” She took the apple from her pocket and held it out on the palm of her hand. Maximus picked it up daintily between his teeth and munched happily while Rapunzel stroked his mane.
“And now, Flynn Rider -- ” she said, turning to look up into the tree. She blinked in surprise.
Flynn’s vest was dangling from the branch.
But Flynn was gone.
Rapunzel rolled her eyes. Are all men this difficult? She wondered.