Prince Theodorick chases after Rapunzel's siren song to the tower of the enchantress.
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“She locked me in a tower high,
Where clouds abound and ravens fly.
But from my cage, I see you near,
And from our youth, I hold you dear.”
The black mare was coated with white lather and frothing at the mouth. Theodorick rested against his horse’s flank as the sweet melody drifted to him on the wind. Her voice was throaty, and soft as the fluff of a dandelion. His eyelids fluttered closed as he tried to envision how the owner of the voice would appear, but he could think of nothing besides the melody, not even the words. Like tendrils hooking beneath his ribs, she seized him and dragged him onward.
I am coming, Rapunzel.
He’d first heard her voice in his study, high in the castle tower. She sounded so lost and lonely. Theodorick had to save her. His two elder brothers both had the same idea, setting out on their stallions in search of her. Even his father would have followed, had the Queen not locked him up. But none of them would reach her before he did. Her song was for him alone. The music told him things, whispering in the dark between fireflies and campfire smoke.
They come for me on dappled steeds,
To melt my heart with cunning deeds.
I see their hearts are made of stone,
And wish once more to be alone.
Theodorick’s horse tripped into a valley, leaving the dark forest behind in a wash of moonlight. As the poor creature fell to its knees and groaned, he rolled free and strode into the field. His eyes locked in wonder on the sight before him. A crumbling tower spiraled up into the clouds; its black frame extending from the ground like the finger of a skeleton jutting through the earth, struggling to escape from hell.
I’ll get you out. No matter what it takes. Even if we have to live like paupers in some faraway cottage.
He trampled the wild rampion as he began to run, crushing the violet bell shaped heads under his boots. The night air was filled with a bitter smell, stinging his nostrils. In his footsteps were dark pools of blood, the sight of which sent a chill creeping beneath his tunic.
It is only the enchantress’s magic. Do not heed it.
He reached the tower’s base and circled it, scanning every stone for the hint of a doorway. There wasn’t a break anywhere, and the walls were coated with thorns that extended as far up as he could see. His rescue was hopeless. Theodorick crashed to his knees and wept. He had failed her. When his brothers came they would see what a fool he was. No doubt they would have brought along something useful instead of rushing off like a madman. They would rescue her and win her heart. A sharp whinny confirmed his suspicion.
When they find it is you I call,
How fast their sorry faces fall.
They climb the rocks that bind me here
And think me frozen fast with fear.
Just as he lifted his rueful gaze to the rampion field, a cascade of silken gold poured down from above him. He reached out to find a rope woven of hair. He stared blindly up, but couldn’t see anything in the darkness. He knew, however, that only Rapunzel could have such beautiful locks. Bracing his foot on the prickly wall, he began to climb. He hoped that he didn’t snap her neck in the ascent.
At last he reached her window, and pulled himself over the ledge, releasing her hair. Inside the small, fire-lit room, was his love. She was more beautiful than he had dreamed. Her skin was like cream, translucent above the steep neckline of her gown. Her eyes were as violet as the flowers in the field below, and glowed with a witch-light that made his knees tremble. He understood why the enchantress had trapped her here, keeping her beauty safe from unworthy eyes.
“I knew you would come for me,” she said, approving. “Do you remember me? Do you remember how we once played together before my mother brought me here?”
“I could sooner forget the faces of my own brothers than you, Rapunzel,” he breathed. Then, his senses returning, he asked, “Where is she? The enchantress?”
Rapunzel laughed; a hard, sharp sound. “She’s away. You need not worry. Would you like some stew?”
Theodorick followed her gesture to the fireplace, where a huge pot was simmering. He walked over and looked down into the viscous stew and breathed it in. The mixture smelled rich and meaty, with the bitter smack of the flower from the valley. He ladled some into two wooden bowls nearby, and they both fell to feasting.
Rapunzel savored each bite, swiping the spoon clean with her pink tongue, while Theodorick wolfed down bowl after bowl. He’d been searching for days, and hadn’t brought many supplies. Another whinny sounded outside and he remembered his brothers were on their way. He and Rapunzel needed to be gone before they arrived.
“Come, let’s leave this place,” Theodorick said, not sure at all how he was going to accomplish his words.
“What do you mean? So you can be free of course!”
“I do not care for freedom any more. I’ve learned how to survive here all on my own. My mother hasn’t come for ages, so please don't fret. I only want to be with you.”
“But my brothers are coming. I hear their horses below us!”
Rapunzel smiled. “Get me some more stew, will you?”
Confounded, Theodorick took her bowl and returned to the pot.
“I know how cruel they were to you, my love. The big one beat you and the little one made jokes. They did not love you.”
“Exactly! Soon they'll be trying to take you away from me,” Theodorick said. He didn't want to explain to her how he wouldn't be able to stop them if they tried. Instead, he scraped the bottom of the pot, hearing a strange clink in the amber liquid.
“They have already come, you silly boy. They have come and now they are gone away. Just like my mother. Now we can be together forever. We never have to leave here.”
Theodorick barely heard her as he fished the hard object out of the soup. He had found a ring. His head spun as he noticed the crest of a lion, rubies laid in a gold band. His eldest brother’s ring. His eyes combed the room, wild. They bounced from the pot, to the bloody knife on the counter, to the chest in the far corner. The lid trembled, and Theodorick heard a soft moan from inside.
“What have you done?” he asked. He shuddered as his insides soured, shuffling away from the horrible stew. The rich, delicious, terrible meat. In his haste, his legs hit the window’s edge and he toppled backwards, out into the open air.
“No!” Rapunzel screamed, clawing at the space where he had been. “Come back to me!”
Theodorick grabbed hold of the golden braid and swung down into the thorns. The force of his fall pressed the spines deep into his eyes, puncturing the orbs and ripping the flesh around them. His legs snapped as they struck the earth. Beside his broken form plopped the endless golden braid, bits of scalp still stuck to the roots. Her wail rang through the forest, so frightening and guttural that men for miles shuddered and drew closer to their wives.
I lure them in with song so sweet,
And in my stew I boil their meat.
For wicked are the hearts of men
And so they meet a wicked end."