The prologue of this tale is both short and fragmented, like the recollections of a terrible dream. A bargain made under cover of night, a peasant couple exchange their first-born daughter for their very survival. In those grim times, such a trade is not completely unheard of. But, the creature who had caught the husband thieving in her garden was no ordinary landowner. She held the pair in thrall, and with insidious whispers, convinced them that their baby would be cared for as well as any child that ever lived.
The witch named the girl Rapunzel, after the rampion stolen by her now forgotten parents. As promised, she was raised well, and grew to become an energetic young girl. As if in direct contrast to the squat, shadowy aspect of her Mother Gothel, Rapunzel was tall, fair of skin and spirit. She was dressed in gowns of vibrant blue and gold, many of which she’d learned to sew herself. She often played on her own in the gardens and trees that surrounded the house of the great witch. A tall wall of stone, which defined the limits of her personal universe, sealed off the grounds. Unseen and unknown to the outside world, all of Rapunzel’s learning and knowledge came from the bitter lips of Mother Gothel.
As Rapunzel continued to grow, so did her hair. Golden blonde, its texture was as fine as silk. By age six it draped down to her feet. By twelve, it was so long it had to be woven into a single complex braid so as to be in any way manageable. Wrapped around her neck and shoulders, one might have mistaken it for a scarf of exceptional quality and beauty.
Rapunzel’s twelfth year of life brought other changes as well, one’s that would alter things forever. It began with the gradual, subtle growth of her chest. Thin, curly strands of hair appeared on her pubis. All of these things passed without incident or comment, but the smear of red that marked her thighs send Mother Gothel into hysterics.
“Do you know what this is,” the witch hissed, rubbing the bright blood between her claw-like fingertips.
Rapunzel shook her head; afraid she’d done something terrible.
“It is your menses,” she said. “Your first, so it seems. Very powerful magic, this is, both unclean and pure.”
Rapunzel still didn’t understand.
“You are becoming adult,” Gothel told her. “Soon, you will yearn for the company of men, who will in turn covet both your beauty and your womb. This cannot be allowed to happen.”
But, even she couldn’t halt the course of nature. The only thing to do was to put Rapunzel away; somewhere she could never be touched.
Mother Gothel made her adopted daughter gather all the clothing she could, then led her off into the dark woods not far from their home. Here, the forest ground was littered with the disordered and moss grown stones of a long fallen castle. The witch set Rapunzel within a circle of these stones, and with a spell, made the girl fall into a deep sleep.
Rapunzel awoke with the morning sun beaming down onto her face. Turning over, she found that the sunlight was actually streaming forth from a narrow window. Rising up in a near panic, she came to realize that that window was the only opening within the large circular chamber she now found herself.
“So, you are awake.”
Mother Gothel sat cross-legged on a straw mattress set against the curving wall. It was one of the few bits of furniture in the otherwise barren stone room.
“Where am I,” Rapunzel asked, continuing to take in her surroundings. The place was unlike anything she was familiar with from their house.
“This is your new home,” the witch told her. “It is a tower, twenty ells high, without stairs or doors. There is no hope of either escape or entrance”
Rapunzel stared at Mother Gothel in horror.
“To keep you pure and untouched. Here you will remain until your monthly flows finally end. Both virgin and finally barren, you will be ready to become what I am.”
The full meaning of those words was lost on Rapunzel. She couldn’t know that the witch intended to sequester her until the time of her menopause, some thirty or forty years from now. She was ignorant to the secret of Mother Gothel’s longevity; the exchange of flesh for flesh that would ultimately negate her existence in favor of the witch.
All Rapunzel knew was that she was to remain here, an irrevocable prisoner. Every few days Mother Gothel would visit, bringing food, water and other supplies. With the absence of any entrance from the ground, the witch concocted a strange and terrible method to ascend the tower. As arranged, Mother Gothel would shout out, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel; let down your golden hair!”
On this call, the girl would unwind her plaits, then twist them around an iron hook set close to the window. Throwing out the remarkable length of her thick braid, the witch would climb as if it were common rope.
If the conditions of Rapunzel’s imprisonment seemed cruel, at least she was capable of finding some moments of happiness. Eventually provided with a spinning wheel and a small loom, she could create new clothes for herself to suit her growing and changing figure. She would also invent tapestries, in order to cover the gray and disheartening stonewalls that surrounded her on all sides. Sadly, this situation didn’t last long, was they both realized how those fabrics could be made into a form of escape. Gothel snatched them all up, offering nothing in return to make up for the loss.
Rapunzel also learned to sing; inspired by the birds she spied through her solitary window. In time, her voice became refined and equally melodic. Unheard, her songs were so full of longing and hope; they could have evoked tears.
She also took meticulous care of her body. This was an age when soap was thought to be mildly poisonous, and hygiene of any kind was largely the purview of the aristocracy. Rapunzel, however, was immaculate. Every morning was consumed with the ritual of bathing, using a copper basin and the fresh water Mother Gothel would bring. Every part of her pale, lean body received attention, but none more so than her hair. Soaked in soap and water, she would scrub the entire length clean. This often required unbraiding and brushing it out before reassembling it into it’s original long plait. When it was still damp and loose, she would fan out around her like a vast golden fleece, or the expanding wings of an angel. Still, much clung to her body in thick, difficult to manage tendrils.
If Mother Gothel imagined that Rapunzel’s isolation would keep her from the temptation of carnal desire, she wasn’t entirely correct. With so little to occupy her time and attention, Rapunzel could only find comfort and amusement in her own flesh. She didn’t know whether what she did was right or wrong, but her instincts told her to keep this a secret from Mother Gothel, just as she wished she’d hidden that smear of blood on her thigh so long ago. So, under the blanket of evening darkness, Rapunzel would lie naked on her rough cot, and sooth and explore her body with her fingertips. She delighted in the sensations she could evoke, sometimes even using her own hair instead of her hands when she was feeling very needful indeed. It all felt strange and wonderful; the rubbing between the thighs, the warmth and the wet.
Six years after Rapunzel was first imprisoned in the tower, events conspired to change things once again. The agent of that change arrived in the form of a young man riding a black stallion. This was no ordinary traveler, however. The youth with wild dark hair was none other than Stefan, third prince to the royal throne.
Despite possessing all the comforts and security that only an aristocratic heritage could bring, Stefan’s heart was restless. So, he had taken to crossing the land on horse, exploring the obscure corners of his modest kingdom.
Stefan’s adventures were not of a grand scale, these being quiet and untroubled times. Certainly there were injustices to be found and corrected, but most were of a kind beyond the ability of any one man to repair. His wanderings had made him more aware of the plight of the commoners than his siblings, but it was a futile knowledge. And so, he would return to the castle at the end of each day, his heart a little more heavy than before.
Then, as he was riding in the dark woods of the borderlands, he caught glimpse of a tower through the trees. Intrigued, he urged his steed forward, curious to have found such a structure in this place. As he neared the spot, he detected the melodic strains of a woman’s voice raised in song.
He found Rapunzel’s tower in a small clearing, surrounded on all sides by the wood. There were no other buildings or settlements such as one might expect to find. The growth of briars and moss on the tower’s surface suggested great age and neglect. If it weren’t for that voice, he would have believed it to be an abandoned ruin. And that was what truly grabbed his attention; that voice, that song.
He circled around the girth of the tower, but could find no entrance. Head craned upward, he could make out the opening of a window near the top; unmistakably the source of the heartfelt singing. As much as he tried, he couldn’t see anything through that aperture at this steep angle, leaving him helpless to guess the identity of the unseen singer.
In the end, he returned to the castle, unable to join the woman who was so inexplicably unreachable in that tower. But, what he’d heard had touched his heart so deeply he returned the very next day, and every day after, to hear it again.
Once, when he was hidden behind the bulk of a tree, he saw a strange figure approach the tower. It was wrapped in thick robes and carrying a heavy burden on it’s back, so he could make out very little detail. The way it walked, however, was strange in a way it was hard to define. It was as if the legs hidden beneath the gown were not entirely human. When it came to the foot of the tower, it cried out; ‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair!’
Much to Stefan’s amazement, an extremely long plait of blonde hair came tumbling from the open window. The witch took hold of the woven strands and swiftly climbed to the top, betraying a strength and dexterity that again beggared human skill.
“If that is the ladder by which one ascends,” he thought, “I will try my luck myself.”
The next day, as it began to grow dark, he returned to the tower. Dismounting his ride, he approached the silent tower. As he’d witnessed, he cried out; ‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair!’
Within very short order, the hair came streaming down towards him. Holding it in his sweaty nervous hands, there was no doubt that this was indeed living hair. It was smooth and soft to the touch, and possessed a mild pleasant fragrance. The king’s son now gripped it tightly, and ascended the height of the tower.
Cresting the sill, his first sight was of the young woman standing by the window, a small knot of her long hair wrapped around an iron hook. Her wide blue eyes opened in shock and horror at his approach. She quickly unfixed her braid from the hook and ran to the opposite side of the chamber, long hair pulled up after her.
Stefan remained frozen as he was, perched on the sill, staring in wonder at this beauty. She was tall, thin and pale. Her complexion was not unlike some of the ladies of the court, except that no powder was required to make her skin so white; only the isolation from the sun she’d experienced for so many years. She was clad in a long blue dress, the fabric of which was ill fitting and worn. Perhaps it had been years since she owned any new clothing. Her feet were bare, and she possessed no jewelry or decoration of any kind. Clearly her most remarkable feature was her preternaturally long hair, which surely must be beyond normal human powers to have grown to such an extent. The young woman clutched the length to her, as if the golden strands could offer some protection from the intruder.
For Rapunzel, her heart raced in panic and fear at the sight of this man. Indeed, she had never seen the opposite gender of her race in her entire life. His eyes were livid hazel, and he had short hairs growing around his chin in a way she’d never imagine was possible. He was broad and powerful, like a beast of the forest. But his open face was empty of malice. As the two watched each other, Rapunzel’s panic receded, though her fear remained.
“Please, don’t be afraid,” he said at last, stepping lightly now inside from the sill. “I’m not here to hurt you. In fact, I am the kings son, if that fact has meaning for you.”
It didn’t, but the soft tone of his voice put her on ease.
“I apologize if I’ve done anything wrong by coming here,” he continued. “It’s just that, I heard your song, and it touched me so deeply that I had no peace. I had no choice but to come see you.”
Rapunzel nearly broke into tears on the spot. Hearing those words, knowing that her voice had finally reached another soul -it was as if a dam had burst loose inside her. Long suppressed and forgotten emotions all rushed in on her at once. Stefan thought he might have erred by speaking those words, until he saw her smile.
Stefan knelt down before her, taking her hand in his as she looked down at him in joy and wonder. It was some moments before either spoke again.
“I... My name is Stefan,” he finally said, feeling the shivering of her hand finally abate. “What do they call you?”
“I am Rapunzel,” she replied.
“I’m glad to have found you,” he said, smiling. “It is a remarkable thing to have happened. Would this strange place be your home or your prison?”
“I... I suppose it is both,” she told him uncertainly.
She drew back her hand from his, laying her palm now against his face, feeling’s it unfamiliar contours. There was so much beauty and kindness in that face, it was hard to believe this was truly a ‘man’, such as Mother Gothel described in harsh whispers.
Stefan let her touch his skin, enjoying the warmth of her slender fingertips.
“How long have you been here,” he asked, suspecting it must be a very long time indeed.
“I don’t know,” she shook her head. “Years. I’ve grown much since Mother Gothel first brought me to this place.”
Stefan nodded, a growing sense of horror creeping in at the thought of what this gentle woman had endured.
There was such a strong air of desperation and need in Rapunzel that he wanted to draw her into a long embrace. Something in Stefan’s expression must have betrayed his thoughts, because Rapunzel dropped to her knees and joined him on the floor. She wrapped her slender arms around his neck, and he in turn hugged her close, cradling the back of her head with one hand through thick golden hair. As if making up for all the years of isolation and neglect, she held him so tight as to nearly take his breath away.
“I have to ask,” he said, when they had separated themselves enough to look into each other’s eyes, “and I pray you do not feel me foolish for asking; Rapunzel, will you have me for your husband?”
Rapunzel had no knowledge of the term, but seeing how young and handsome this man was, it was clear to her that he would lover her better than old Mother Gothel. As far as she could tell, he was asking if he could be hers. It almost made her laugh. If anything, she felt as if she should be asking if she could be his.
“Yes,” she said, clasping his hand this time as he had held hers. “I will gladly go with you, but I do not know how to get down from this tower.”
Stefan glanced about, seeing how little she had been afforded in terms of material possessions. Apart from the length of her voluminous hair, there seemed no hope of escape for either of them.
“If I had a blade, I could cut...” he began, reaching for her golden braids.
Rapunzel reeled back, eyes wide with horror.
“No, no, I don’t mean to harm you,” he quickly apologized.
There was no way that the girl was going to part with her precious hair, and he could sympathize with her reaction. She’d hardly be the same without it. In fact, any kind of change was going to be difficult, they both realized. Even as a prisoner, this had been her home for so long, and to have been outside the company of humanity for her entire life -the adjustment would require time.
It was Rapunzel who came up with the solution.
“When you come, will you bring a skein of silk with you every time?” she asked. “I will twist it into a ladder, and when it is long enough, I will descend by it. Then you can take me away with you on your horse.”
Stefan readily agreed. He would have done anything, endured anything, to be with this unique creature. He couldn’t imagine falling in love with anyone else after looking into her deep humid eyes.
“I will come as often as I can,” he assured her.
“But only at evening,” she told him, “for the old witch only comes during the day when there is light to see.”
When the king’s son had left, descending on her golden locks as he’d arrived, Rapunzel felt her heart race like never before. She could still smell his masculine scent in the air, and especially on her hair from the exertion of his hands. She lay on her cot, wrapping herself in her own coils of hair, one hand pressed amorously between her thighs. The vivid and present memory of holding Stefan tight, of his hands in her and her hands in his, of his strong body pressed close; they all feed her mounting passion until the final, breathless moment.
Mother Gothel didn’t visit the next day. This left Rapunzel with nothing to do for the duration of those hours but to pace and worry. She knew he would return, but there was that anxious, terrible fear that perhaps he wouldn’t. Not since she was first imprisoned in the tower had she ever felt so trapped. She looked out the window, praying for the hours to slip by. And of course, she would sing...
Finally, with the first onset of twilight, she heard the patter of hoofs approaching the tower. When she heard the shout, ‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair’, she was already fixing it to the hook before throwing out her braid to him. It was strange, but even though he looked taller and larger than Mother Gothel, he didn’t feel nearly as heavy climbing up. Perhaps her eagerness to see him made it seem less of a burden.
Hardly had he stepped inside the tower then Rapunzel threw her arms around him, and the two newfound lovers embraced for what felt like hours. When they managed to finally part, Stefan showed her what he’d brought with him. In addition to the length of silk, he also carried a small, prepared meal for them to share, and a skin of red wine.
The two sat, side by side on the cot, sharing the exotic cheeses and bread that the king’s son took with him. Using her own cup, she took a measure of the wine as well. The two talked of the future, what Stefan would offer her, and of the countryside vistas that she would soon her. She talked of her music, of the hours spent at the window watching the birds and perfecting her voice. As the darkness settled in, the two hardly needed to speak at all any more, and simply gazed into each other’s eyes for long moments.
Rapunzel had no experience of alcohol, and so the wine she took had a profound effect. She felt all warm inside, and tired in a pleasant way. She leaned against Stefan’s shoulder, whose arm was wrapped around her own.
“Perhaps I should leave now, before it gets too late,” he suggested.
“No, please don’t,” she murmured, hugging him closer. “Not yet.”
“It can get dangerous riding out at night,” the prince reasoned, though he wasn’t very eager to leave either.
“Then stay the night,” Rapunzel said, somewhat ignorant of what that plea suggested.
Stefan looked into her eyes.
Leaning forward, he laid his lips on hers, and they shared their first kiss. Blinking, she was startled at first by this strange action, but she quickly realized how wonderful a thing it was to do. Even when his tongue slipped past her lips, she didn’t recoil, not at all.