Tower in the woods

“This is madness,” Prince Theodore thought, clinging to a thick rope and climbing as fast as he could towards a tower window. The stench of unwashed hair assailed his nostrils. He gagged and willed the bile to recede from his throat.

He panicked, “How am I to propose successfully if my hair stinks so much that it repulses even me?”

“She’ll understand. I’ve been without shelter for nearly a week,” he consoled himself and imagined his parents beaming and no longer nagging, a very jealous best friend, and his people rejoicing in his choice of a bride who had such an exquisite voice it made them forget that he found her in the middle of the forest living in a tower. A tower with no doors. How the devil did she get up there in the first place? These thoughts kept his mind off the smell and when at last the wave of nausea passed, he resumed climbing.

With one final grunt, he pushed himself upwards and tumbled in a heap through the window. He stood in what he hoped was a dignified manner as he surveyed the room. Richly decorated, neat, except for a the large coil of rope that ended behind the smiling maiden, who, to his delight, was rather beautiful.

“So that’s how it held my weight,” he thought, “she sat on it. Smart girl.”

“I’m delighted to make your acquaintance. I’m Theodore, from the kingdom to the west,” he bowed and stepped towards her. She stood, offering a hand to be kissed, and replied demurely, “I’m Rapunzel. Welcome. Please, sit.”

The rope moved with her. To his horror, he realized it was HER HAIR. He scaled the tower by grabbing at her greasy unwashed hair! Suddenly he regretted not being more conventional in his search for a bride. Then he reminded himself that he didn’t want the conventional marriage and he should really admire her for tolerating his weight yanking at her scalp. Besides, it meant that his hair was probably still rather fresh.

“I hope I haven’t hurt you while I was climbing. I’m most grateful for your assistance.” Perhaps the latter part wasn’t completely truthful, as he would have preferred a real rope, but never let it be said that he was without impeccable manners.

She blushed, “Oh, I’ve gotten used to it. Mother tied most of it that post and let me have enough free to move about the room. I hardly feel a thing, really.”

The prince envied the ease with which his childhood friend Percival had entered matrimony. Percival, prince of the land just east of his kingdom, married a distant cousin of Theodore’s. Growing up around her brother Frederick had made her one of the most understanding and sensible women Theodore knew. Remembering Frederick’s encounter with that strange princess with an affinity for former frogs suddenly made this Rapunzel (was she named after a lettuce?) a whole lot more desirable.

“Do you ever leave the tower?”

“Oh goodness no. I promised mother I’d leave the tower when I get married. I almost got married last year, but Mother didn’t really approve so she pushed him out the window and he went blind and well, that was the end of that. I didn’t mind much.”

With a start, he realized the man must have been that brute Andrew from the kingdom to the south. Andrew went around saying he lost his eyes in a very princely and ultimately victorious struggle against a swarm of vicious dwarfs. Imaginary victory or not, Andrew’s parents refused to let him be heir after the incident and pinned all their hopes on their younger son. The prince rather liked the younger brother. He was very friendly with Frederick, and they’d all gone hunting together on several occasions.

Aside from the possibility of being thrown from a tower and going blind, he was warming to the idea of proposing. If she’d never set foot outside this tower, then she couldn’t possibly know the normal expectations wives had of their husbands, and he’d essentially be a free man! She was good looking, sang well, and it seemed she had a good eye for art and a good head for books from the paintings and overflowing bookshelf he saw. His parents would absolutely love her.

“Are you here to marry me?”

“Er, I suppose, if your mother doesn’t throw me out a window first. Does she visit often?”

“Oh yes, everyday. She brings my meals. She should be here soon with supper.”

After some more awkward silences and small talk, he heard the very welcome sound of a woman’s voice calling, “Rapunzel! Rapunzel!!”

Rapunzel leapt out of her seat, but the prince polite said, “Allow me,” and hid his revulsion at handling the thick rope of hair as he tossed it out the window.

“Hello there,” he called, looking down at a dumpy, middle aged woman who held a basket, “If you’d just hold on, I’ll pull you up.”

“Thank you! Ready when you are!” she shouted back, grinning with delight. She recognized royalty when she saw it, and well-mannered princes came so rarely to this part of the forest.

The mother could barely contain her delight during introductions and supper. She explained that Andrew had not, in fact, proposed to Rapunzel. He offered to make her a mistress, as, “I’m not sure I want to settle down just yet. I’m supposed to make a strategic marriage for the good of the kingdom. Well, that and I don’t think a bluestocking would be too popular with my people,” she mimicked.

Theodore could barely contain a snort. “Oh that’s rich. The indecisive part doesn’t surprise me, but ‘strategic marriage?’ His parents were at their wits end because he’d been refused by just about every girl he proposed to.”

“I like you,” the mother said, “if you want to marry her, you’ve got my consent. She’ll agree too. And my Rapunzel is too polite to tell you this, but she doesn’t like company much. And she won’t be happy without a good library.”

“Not a problem,” Theodore replied gallantly, “I’ll set her up in an isolated part of the castle with as many servants as she needs and instruct them to leave her alone. My family’s library is quite extensive. I’m sure she’ll find whatever she needs there.”

A pause. “And, er… her hair?” he asked timidly, “would she mind um, trimming it?”

He felt as if he’d commited a terrible faux-pas when the mother’s only response was to stare woefully at Rapunzel.

“Yes,” she finally said, “I suppose it’s time. In fact, let’s do it now.”

And that’s how Rapunzel lost 20 years worth of hair. “My head is so light,” she marveled, walking every which way.

“We’ll just give this to the birds,” the mother said, untying the rope of hair from the post. Too late, Theodore watched as she shoved it out the window. “Whoops. I guess we’ll just have to stay here until her hair grows out again.”

She laughed at Theodore’s look of horror. “Oh dear. I’m joking. There’s a door behind the tapestry.”

“A door. Behind the tapestry. All this time. Why? But I didn’t see a door at the bottom of the tower.”

“Oh, the door’s just a few feet away from the tower. It’s right by that tree there. The door’s always covered by a net of leaves. We haven’t used it much. Rapunzel never needs to leave the tower, and I like the exercise from climbing.”

Doubt briefly coursed through his mind as he considered Rapunzel’s unusual upbringing, but the thought of his mother introducing him to more social climbers whose only talents lay in embroidery and flattery suddenly made his present situation seem like a miracle. So he smiled.