Announcement

Collapse

Welcome to Moorcock's Miscellany

Dear reader,

Many people have given their valuable time to create a website for the pleasure of posing questions to Michael Moorcock, meeting people from around the world, and mining the site for information. Please follow one of the links above to learn more about the site.

Thank you,
Reinart der Fuchs
See more
See less

When Rapunzel Met Rumpelstiltskin

Collapse
X
 
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts
  • In_Loos_Ptokai
    Abrogate all rituals
    • Apr 2007
    • 802

    When Rapunzel Met Rumpelstiltskin

    When Rapunzel met Rumplestiltskin

    Once upon a time, when the land was full of kings and you couldn't throw a stick without hitting one - I threw a stick over my shoulder one day and it hit two, and they started a war over which one had hit the other with the stick, rolling around on the ground, kicking, punching, scratching and biting each other until their Mums came out and told them to stop it - a farmer had a daughter. ( A lot of farmers have daughters. ) She was pretty, but she was lazy. And she couldn't do anything, or she wouldn't do a thing - she wouldn't help her Mum with the cooking, washing the dishes or anything else. Her Mum was a champion at spinning wool, and this girl just sat and watched her spinning the wool her Dad had sheared that morning - and then asked her tired Mum for a drink and something to eat, because all that watching had made her hungry and thirsty. Her Mum was too tired to blow up at her, so she just let that slide.

    Well, one day a really wild wet and windy storm brought in a very bedraggled king from the neighbouring valley - he and his three knights, his chief cook and bottlewasher, and the stableboy. (He was not a very wealthy king, just young and good-looking, or so the farmer's daughter said privately to her Mum. Very good-looking. Very very good-looking. "Don't get your hopes up, lazybones," her Mum replied. "He might want you to work for him.")

    The king stayed in the house while the storm raged and told a tale of woe only too familiar in those times, when kings built castles, but without the slightest idea of how to waterproof them. Half his castle had been washed away when the rain started pelting down.

    So the king stayed the night and the storm blew itself out by breakfast time.

    "Well, I'll be off," he said, before the farmer could press him to stay for breakfast. "But listen, can that girl of yours do anything?"

    "Oh yes," the farmer said, inwardly grinning. He must've been thinking, 'Let's see if I can put one over on this dope of a king!'. "You see all this stuff she's spun and wove?" He waved his hand around the room. "All the straw she's spun, all the straw she's woven? We save heaps on clothing because she's so good."

    "Wait, you're telling me she can spin straw into thread and weave it into cloth?" The king looked astonished. This was way outside his field of expertise.

    "Oh yes. She usually spins it into gold, she's that brilliant. But yesterday she was doing it for our winter stock. That's why she was resting last night - it wears her out."

    "Such a skill! She would make a splendid queen, with her beautiful eyes, her lovely flowing hair, her cute toes, her ...." and the farmer couldn't hear the king's voice any more and the king muttered to himself about how pretty the girl was. Then he looked up and smiled at the farmer. "Look, I've got an idea. I've got a lot of straw in the dungeon, and if I got it spun into gold I could use it to rebuilt my castle and my realm. I'm also looking for a queen, and a girl with that sort of skill would suit me fine."

    The farmer laughed. "Hey darling, how do you like the idea of being a queen?"

    * * *

    In those days, if a man and a woman were in agreement and their folks were also in agreement, they got married pretty quickly. The king had lost his folks earlier during a war with another king - in fact he had lost most of his lands and people during that war, and since his father, who had been king before him, was killed during that war, he became king.

    The farmer and his wife were very happy to see their daughter married off. She was happy to have such a handsome young king as her new husband, and he was overjoyed that he finally had a queen.

    So they had a feast that day, with fruit from his orchards, and some of the farmer's mutton, and fish from the streams in the two valleys, and some of his prized pickles, and plenty of drink from his cellars ...

    Then the wedding party was off, to see their new - and extensively damaged - home.

    "Before you get too comfortable, darling," the king said, "There's something I've got to tell you."

    * * *

    The dungeon was the biggest room in the castle. Parts of it were walled off, and that's what the king called the cellars. But the dungeon was also the driest place and it was packed with straw, recently mown and dried and some wood burned in the fireplace, so she wasn't freezing. But the new queen was horrified at what her father had told the king she could do. "I can't even spin wool and then weave it into cloth, let alone straw into gold!"

    But she hadn't said that to the king, and so he had packed her off to the dungeon to spin the straw into gold for him.

    The spinning wheel was light and well-balanced, she could tell that. It had belonged to his mother, he had told her proudly, and she had spun and wove everything for her husband and children from the time she married him until she died of grief when her husband had died in the useless war with the neighbouring king and thief. It was hers now, and because it had been stored in the dungeons, it was dry and ready to go.

    "What'll he do when he finds I can't spin and I can't weave, and I can’t cook or wash anything and I don't know how to do anything!" she wailed. "And he's so fierce when he talks about that other king. What'll he do to me when he finds out I don't know how to be a queen, a proper queen!"

    Silence. Not a sound. Even the owls seemed to have shut up and gone to sleep.

    Then a voice spoke, just behind her: "He might get angry. He might get furious. He'll storm off to your Dad, and they'll have a shouting match, and neither will win that, and he'll finally forgive you, but he won't believe a single thing you say, after that, and you really won't get along at all. Pity that, but you can't have it all."

    She shivered and looked behind her. "Who are you? What are you?"

    "Just one of the locals, míssis. Your local friendly helper." And he was ugly. He was also very small, a mere two and a half feet high, if she guessed rightly. It was hard to tell in the firelight.

    "Mum said there were folk like you around, but I've never seen any."

    "We stay out of your sight, yes, best to stay out of trouble's way. But we do a lot of stuff behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly. What's your problem?"

    Between her sniffles and sobs and wailing, she was able to explain her predicament: "And none of it's my fault," she said when she finished telling him.

    "Well, it's not in my ordinary line of business," the little man said, when she had finished. "But tell you what, I do know something. I'll spin this whole dungeon of straw into gold by tomorrow morning, and your hubby will have the means to reclaim his former realm - do me good too, I used to love meeting the others like me and partying and fighting with them. But you've got to promise me something."

    "What do you want me to promise? I'll promise anything as long as you get me out of this mess."

    "It used to be the custom around these parts to ... no, that the wrong way - you're too young. Nobody's done that for at least a thousand years."

    "Done what?"

    "It'll take another thousand to explain, so if you'll promise ...?"

    "Okay, I'll promise, but what is it you want from me?"

    "When you have a baby - and I've seen how the king looks at you, I know you'll have one soon - you give it to me, no questions asked, no answers given."

    She turned pale. "My child? Why?"

    "No questions asked, remember, no answers given!"

    She looked down at the floor, at the straw, and the fire, and at her feet, then slowly raised her eyes to the little man. "Okay. I promise. I can't turn this straw into gold; you can." She hugged herself; the room seemed very cold suddenly. "I promise to give you my first-born child."

    The little man sat down at the spinning wheel and started spinning. Gold flowed from his fingertips as the straw passed into his hands. The young queen passed him the straw, piece by piece; her hands were scratched and sore by the time the sun rose. "No time to hang around," said the little man, and disappeared.

    The king threw open the dungeon door, and paused, stunned into silence by the sight of all the gold lying on the floor. He opened his arms and embraced the queen, who burst into tears.

    "My baby," she whispered. "My baby!"

    * * *

    The young king soon became renowned for his generosity to travellers. His new castle was built of the strongest stone and he hired the best knights and men-at-arms. He reclaimed his father's lands and his army was by now larger than his enemy's, so his enemy backed down and surrendered them to him. Some of the bigger towns in the region swore oaths of allegiance to him, and the queen's father found himself taking an honoured place as the king's advisor.

    The queen found she had many more things to do than she had managed to avoid ever doing at her father's place, and she found she excelled at doing them, and what is worse - from her original perspective - she enjoyed doing them. So much so that she began to enjoy the king's company at bedtime much more than she originally thought she would enjoy it, so she could sleep at night. And not surprisingly, she found herself pregnant.

    She had forgotten all about the little man.

    She had forgotten who had spun the gold which her husband's good fortunes were built on.

    She had forgotten all about the promise.

    * * *

    In the very early morning after she had given birth to her son, she lay back and rested, busily feeding her newborn baby son who was newly washed and wrapped in baby clothes and busy having his first meal.

    The midwife was asleep, the other castle servants who had assisted at the birth were also asleep, and she was only staying awake to stare in wonder at her son lying on her breast.

    Then a voice spoke, just behind her: "He's ready."

    And behind the bed an ugly little man squeezed out.

    "What do you want?" The queen was now fully awake and focused. She dimly remembered an ugly little man from somewhere, but she couldn't quite place him. Something to do with straw? Or was he a gold miner? Something to do with gold, anyway ... what was he doing here, anyway? This was woman's work, this birthing chamber, and perhaps she ...

    "Did you forget your promise, then?"

    "What promise? I never made any promise to you!" She paused for a moment. Something wasn't quite right about what she had just said. "I mean, I don't remember making any promise to you."

    He gazed at the fire for a moment; his expression seemed pensive. "I don't suppose you do. All very convenient for you: I do the work and you make the promises and then conveniently forget them. You promised me your firstborn child."

    In the fire she saw straw, and the memory came back: herself in a dungeon surrounded by straw that her father had claimed she could spin into gold. And a young threadbare king needing her to spin it into gold for the renewal of his kingdom.

    "No!" she cried, holding the baby tightly. He burped up some of the milk.

    "Women lose their firstborn all the time," the ugly little man said. "It's nothing new. Anyway, you made me a promise. I kept my part of the bargain: you keep yours."

    "Please ... you seem a reasonable person. Could I have at least one year with him?"

    "No."

    "Half a year?"

    "No. A bargain's a bargain."

    "A month? Please? You know, you held all the cards when I made that promise. I couldn't do what the king wanted me to do. So I didn't have any choice."

    "Trying to sneak your way out of the promise? Won't do. But, I'll leave you this chance - if you can guess my name within a week of today, you can keep the baby. You have three times three guesses. I do keep my promise: you keep yours."

    The queen sighed. The baby started crying softly. "A week, then. And if I don't guess your name by then, I'll let you have the baby."

    She put out her hand, and the little man put his hand on hers and his other on the baby. "Agreed."

    She didn't see him disappear. She fell asleep the moment he took his hand away. But the baby cried before he fell asleep.

    * * *

    She'd made friends of the various messengers and raised the question of their finding out the ugly little man's name. She told them as little as she could about what had happened. But they were glad to do what she asked when she showed them the little prince.

    "You should be resting," her husband the king said, when she found him in the courtyard mounting a horse. "Didn't the midwife tell you to take care of yourself? If she didn't, I'm telling you!"

    "I had to show you our son," she said. "And I've had to ask the messengers to find something out, so I couldn't ask them if I was lying in bed, could I?"

    She held their son out to the king, who laughed suddenly when he held the baby boy in his hands. "What should we name him, darling? Carolus after my grandfather?"

    * * *

    The week crawled like a snail when she was expecting the messengers to return. The week flashed past like a boat on a flooded river when she thought of the ugly little man. Would she ever learn his name? Would her little boy ever be safe?

    Every morning she woke from a troubled sleep, only to tell her husband that nothing was wrong, everything would be fine, and it was time to feed baby ... he didn't believe her.

    But the king found his question about the name was answered by some of the serving women, who took to calling the baby Prince Charming, because of his smile. It seemed every woman in the kingdom had to drop by to see the little prince, just to see his smile, and then run off to their towns and villages and homes to talk about the beautiful baby the queen had been blessed with, and his beautiful smile ... such a charming little prince ....

    Some of the messengers came back with sad news to tell - some of the villages reported some little folk with names they had forgotten, or without names, but no one had found any names that belonged to the little folk.

    Her spirits sank, like a capsized canoe.

    But on the last day, the youngest messenger came back. He had gone to a far-away part of the kingdom. He had visited his family - but though that was not exactly what she had asked, she forgave him, because he had news. He had crossed a small group of high hills to the south, where his family lived, and where a witch was reputed to live. He steered well clear of that little valley, which put him on a very stony trail climbing the hill. As darkness fell, he had crept up close to a cave, or a little house built next to a cave, he wasn't quite sure.

    A fire was burning, and he thought he might need to ask for shelter for the night. But what he saw put that out of his head. An ugly little man was dancing in front of the fire, singing something that made him listen:

    Three time three guesses she must make
    And after that her baby I'll take.
    She'll never guess, the state she's in,
    Sure as my name's Rumpelstiltskin!

    Her eyes lit up with delight, and she gave him ten gold pieces in thanks.

    * * *

    The ugly little man came late that evening. She was expecting him.

    Her husband was dozing by the fire - he'd had a hard day solving a dispute between two leading citizens. Neither had given an inch, so he had taken it. Neither were happy, but at least they no longer had that dispute.

    Her servants were also dozing. So she held her baby in her arms, and stared at the little man as he came from the shadows and stood before her.

    "Guess my name," he said. "First guess."

    "It's not Jindyworrabaksheesh, is it?"

    "Wrong. Second guess."

    "Could it be Nimby?"

    "Wrong again. Third guess." He seemed pleased.

    "Might it be Numpty?"

    "No. I don't belong to that noble family. Fourth guess."

    "Is it Puku?"

    "Wrong again. Fifth guess."

    "It's not Ematchisit?"

    "No. I don't have the privilege. Sixth guess."

    "Andykleimagz? Could it be that?"

    "Wrong again. Seventh guess." He was getting positively excited.

    "Any chance it's Eggwetter Gree?"

    "No. Eighth guess."

    "Could it be Seddon Dunn?"

    He stretched, for a moment seeming larger than the world. "You're not a very good guesser. Ninth and final guess."

    "Let's see. My memory's rumpled like my hair and my dress, the baby's clothes are rumpled - why, you must be Rumpelstiltskin!"

    He shrieked. the sound seemed to fill the world, and as it faded, echoing off the walls, he seemed to grow to fill the room. "Who told you my name? Did you bribe some witch or other? Thief! Thief! Thief!"

    He stretched out his hand to take the baby, but a look of fear came on his face and he stamped his foot hard on the floor and put his foot through it, and then the rest of him seemed to slide into that hole. She looked away, and when she looked back, she could not see any holes at all.

    She kissed her baby. He was safe now. "Now, little prince, charming you may be, but you've got to get some sleep, and so do I - indeed, so do we all. Everybody, time for bed."
    Last edited by In_Loos_Ptokai; 05-17-2021, 05:26 PM.
    sigpic Myself as Mephistopheles (Karen Koed's painting of me, 9 Nov 2008, U of Canterbury, CHCH, NZ)

    Gold is the power of a man with a man
    And incense the power of man with God
    But myrrh is the bitter taste of death
    And the sour-sweet smell of the upturned sod,

    Nativity,
    by Peter Cape
  • In_Loos_Ptokai
    Abrogate all rituals
    • Apr 2007
    • 802

    #2
    Once upon a time when the world was so full of bewitching witches that it was positively bewitchingly bewitched, a young man, Henry, married a young woman, Liza, and set up house in a small valley just over the ridge from his parents and hers. There was a tower on the rise just behind the place they settled, and it was surrounded by a garden full of the most bewitching vegetables.

    But they had been told by some very concerned people in their parents' village that the owner of the tower was a witch, and they must not trouble her, because she held grudges.

    So they had settled close to her, because if they were frightened of her, others must be terrified, and they might be free of the robbers who lurked in the forests around the kingdom. They didn't think much of the king, even though Liza was rapturous about the little baby prince, "the little baby charmer!!!" She had managed to cuddle him one day, and was grateful to the queen for that.

    She wanted her own baby, of course.

    And as is the way of things between men and women, she became pregnant.

    After a while, she began to crave things from the witch's garden. And so her Henry began to climb the wall every now and then to bring her what she craved. At first he just brought small amounts, just so the witch wouldn't get suspicious.

    But this didn't satisfy his wife, who said, "I need as much of that rapunzel cabbage as you can get, dear Henry."

    "As you wish, dear Liza," Henry replied, and set off later that evening, to get it.

    He took a couple of rapunzel cabbages one night and was just about to climb over the wall when the witch turned up. She recognized the rapunzel he was carrying, and she was angry.

    "So instead of living quietly next door, you've decided to rob me of what is mine, have you?" In the light of her walking stick's eerie glow, her face was lit and shadowed in strange ways. She raised it to strike him, and he trembled, but stood his ground.

    "A stupid ignorant villager like you and you think to rob me?"

    He stood straighter at this accusation and spoke angrily: "I … I only took these because my wife has cravings. She is bearing our child."

    "So you're not completely a coward, eh? What would you do to keep me from turning you into something loathsome and letting her kill you in terror?"

    "You would do that? Just for a couple of rapunzel?"

    "Because you're stupid enough to get caught! Well, what would you do?"

    "Work for you. I don't have much land and when I have finished working it I would work for you."

    "What do I need you for? Nothing - my powers compel the Powers to keep me fed. What is it you have that I might want?"

    "I don't know. I don't know what I might have that you want."

    She laughed. The light flashed off her teeth and he shuddered. "You don't know? Well, then, that settles it. You may take my rapunzel to your lady wife, for her pregnancy. You may take more if she needs it. But tell her this! When she weans her daughter, you are to leave her at the door to my tower. I have wished for a daughter for many a long age, and found no one strong enough to give me my desire. Consider yourself lucky that it is your daughter I will take and not your life. Now go!"

    He went.

    A short while later he noticed a shadow hanging around the cottage, listening as his wife wept at the thought of losing her daughter; but he soon forgot the shadow. He had to comfort his wife, after all.

    * * *

    Liza’s mother Gertrude came out to see them when she was ready to be delivered of her daughter. Some other women came as well, and they took over the cottage. He slept outdoors, hunting for birds, rabbits and hares and catching fish in the streams that flowed from the hills.

    Some things were not for men, according to them. He brought his catches to the door, and ate what they left him.

    After two days of screaming and silence, he heard his mother-in-law laugh. "You have a beautiful daughter, dear."

    A few moments later and he was pushing his way into the cottage. "It's alright, he's got to see his child."

    A few moments of holding the wonder of their child, and then his wife looked at him, eyes blazing. "Just until she is weaned, according to what you said the witch told you to tell me."

    All the women insisted on hearing the story: they were divided as to who was most to blame. But they left without doing more than shaking their fists at the witch's tower.

    And the little girl grew in their love, until the time came to leave her at the door of the tower. She cried. The mother wept. The father hid his face against the oak that sheltered their cottage and let his heart break.
    sigpic Myself as Mephistopheles (Karen Koed's painting of me, 9 Nov 2008, U of Canterbury, CHCH, NZ)

    Gold is the power of a man with a man
    And incense the power of man with God
    But myrrh is the bitter taste of death
    And the sour-sweet smell of the upturned sod,

    Nativity,
    by Peter Cape

    Comment

    • In_Loos_Ptokai
      Abrogate all rituals
      • Apr 2007
      • 802

      #3
      The witch consoled herself that this child was no more difficult than any child she'd witnessed the bears or wolves or cattle or deer giving birth to. The little girl was standing at the window gazing down at the cottage off near the oak tree, and sobbing.

      "Mummy, you've got to save them!"

      The witch sighed, then moved closer to this ... annoying ... child. She had asked for her, after all. "Who must I save, child?"

      "Them. You told me she was my original Mummy and he was my original Daddy and ... he's hurt."

      She looked out the window, over the girl's head, and saw that was indeed the case. The man was leaning against the wall, bleeding profusely from his leg. His axe lay next to his feet, its head bloody. The woman, the mother of this child, was wringing her hands and a large cloth that was soaked with his blood.

      "Nothing we can do about that, child." She put her arm around the girl's shoulder in a clumsy hug, in an attempt to mollify her. "He's too badly injured. He'll die whether or not I do anything."

      "You told me you could do things. Why don't you help him? If you can build extra rooms in this tower while I'm asleep, you can help him get better!"

      "I can't. He'll die in a few minutes. Nothing I can do, sweetie."

      The girl screamed and ran, down the stairs. The witch followed her. The doors were locked on the ground floor, and the rooms she had lived in were now storage rooms for her earlier successes - and failures. She would not let the girl in those - yet. She still had no sense of her own power, and the witch had no intention of letting her know before she was old enough.

      Enough that she had power. enough she herself had this child. It would not do to love her too greatly. That was one of the lessons that gaining great power taught.

      She heard the little girl crying in the dark in the hallway, and left her there. She headed back up the stairs and peered out the window. As she had expected, the man was crumpled on the ground, his wife - his widow now, she corrected herself - lying on him, shaking convulsively with her weeping.

      She waited for the girl, who finally crept upstairs when the sunlight faded. But she went straight to bed, for once not having any food.

      The witch sighed again. Children were so difficult.

      But she noticed the little girl paid extra attention to her lessons the next week. She had not wanted that man to die.

      * * *

      Some time later the little girl asked about why the woman wasn't coming outside any more. The witch only noticed the cow lowing unhappily in the cowshed because it wasn't being milked.

      The couple weren't her problem, she fumed, as she went outside to investigate.

      A few minutes later she was back, with a pail of creamy milk for the little girl. "She's sick," she told her, "and I had to milk the cow. I gave her some milk, but I doubt she'll survive the night."

      "Then why aren't you helping her?"

      "I didn't ask for them to come here. They didn't ask me if they could stay. It's not my problem if they have accidents. And since we're hardly on speaking terms, they can hardly blame me for ignoring them."

      The little girl didn't cry that night, though. The witch felt minute traces of magic being worked, but knew that the little girl would deny trying to work magic if she did decide to punish her for working it.

      * * *

      In the morning, she went to the cottage where the young couple had made their home, and found she had been right. The woman had died, of grief, starvation, loneliness, cold and illness.

      Watched by the little girl from the tower's top window, she dug the child's mother's grave, alongside the child's father's grave.

      It had been the woman's pregnancy cravings for her cabbage that had finally forced her to acknowledge her unwelcome neighbours, and she now had their child. She couldn't continue calling the little girl, 'Child' anymore. "Rapunzel, did you use your magic last night," she called from the cottage door.

      "Yes, Mum," Rapunzel replied. So she knew that her mother had chosen that as her name. Good. The witch then milked the cow one more time and set it free.

      It lowed loudly as she drove it away from the little shed that had been its home since the couple had moved in.

      "Why did you do that?" Rapunzel asked. "She wanted to be around here. She was not very happy with you."

      "But she'll be happier without worrying about us. Trust me, I know what's best for her."

      But she doubted her own words. The cow might find its way back through the forests, back to its calfhood village, but it wasn't likely.

      * * *

      Some months later she was woken from her usual afternoon doze by Rapunzel's cry of alarm. "Come, Mummy, come quick!"

      She roused herself, got to her feet and hurried off to see what the problem was. She wasn't as young as she'd been three hundred years ago, that was for sure. Why had she saddled herself with this child?

      Rapunzel pointed out the window, down at the cottage. The cow came into view, bellowing and pursued by a young bull, also bellowing. She recognized the bull immediately - she had after all helped his mother through a difficult birthing, and had nearly been gored by the herd's bull for her troubles. The cow reached the cottage and stood before the door while the bull came up behind her and mounted her.

      "Mummy, why is that other cow being mean to her?"

      "Peace, Rapunzel. He's a bull, a fine young bull from one of the local wild herds. And he's not being mean to her. He's only doing what she wants him to do."

      "He's what?"

      She almost laughed, but that would upset Rapunzel. She hugged her briefly and kissed her forehead. "You're only young, darling. You'll learn all about it by and by. But soon she will have a wonderful little calf."

      * * *

      Spring came, and so did the cow, heavy with her calf and ready to give birth. The young bull had decided that the meadows near her tower were safe, and the rest of his herd were there.

      She went down to assist with the birth, since the cow clearly associated human dwellings with safety and would accept her presence. The bull was a little nervous, but she mostly ignored him.

      Out of a fit of sentimentality she took Rapunzel down with her, the first time since she had received her from the couple that now lay buried in this land, that she had taken her out of the tower and its grounds. For the first time in ages she unspelled the great door on the ground floor and let the wind rush in from the outside, up the stairwell where she had told Rapunzel to wait until it was safe for her to come down and follow her mother out of the door.

      "Rapunzel, the door's safely open. I want you to come down and bring those things I packed for you to carry.""

      Then she took her by the hand and led her through the garden, past the various herbs and shrubs and vegetables, including the rapunzel cabbage which had given the girl her name, up to the gate which only answered to her and her alone. The wall wasn't particularly high, but it did let wild creatures know and the occasional lunatic human who might wander past, that this wasn't open for them.

      "They're so ... big," Rapunzel said in a very very quiet voice. "They're not going to ... eat us?"

      "No," she replied, also speaking quietly so as not to startle any of the wild cattle. "They wouldn't eat us. We'd taste all bad to them - they eat grass."

      "Oh."

      A smell of blood filled the air as they approached the cow in labour. The calf's head was starting to protrude and its hooves were already straining towards the ground when they stopped. The cow snorted and rolled its eyes when she saw them, but didn't do anything more. She heaved some more and the forelegs came fully out, together with the head, and then with a rush of blood, out popped the rear legs and then the hindquarters and the calf lowed plaintively, standing shakily on its own four feet. The cow turned around and licked it clean of the blood and birth fluids then half-turned away as it nuzzled between her legs to find the teats. It started suckling while the cow placidly bent her head down and started to crop the grass again. Some other cows approached and nuzzled her and the calf.

      The witch approached as well, followed by Rapunzel. The cow lifted her head and permitted a brief caress by the witch and Rapunzel's tentative caress, and the calf largely ignored them as the witch laid her hand upon its back.

      "The calf is a female," the witch said. "In spite of this being her first birth, the cow had less trouble than I thought she would. Come on, let's get home."

      "What was my real mother’s mother’s name, Mum?"

      The question stopped the witch in her tracks. "Gertrude. I heard your father call her several times. Why?"

      "The calf's name is Gertrude."

      "She's not your pet, darling. She won't come when you call." Yet, looking at Rapunzel's fiercely determined face, the witch felt sure this was something that she would not change her mind on. "Alright. The calf's name is Gertrude. What does it matter?"

      They passed a group of pigs rooting around the roots of the oak tree. They had originally been in a sty next to the cottage, but after Rapunzel's mother Liza’s death, she had released them so they would have a chance at surviving. They seemed to be thriving, and one looked up at her with apparent recognition: she nodded courteously to him and climbed the slight slope to the gate to her garden.

      "I asked the Powers to bless Gertrude," Rapunzel said, in her quietest voice.

      The witch turned startled eyes on her. She was expecting a fight, it seemed, but completely nonplussed, the witch could only hold the gate open for her.

      Children!
      Last edited by In_Loos_Ptokai; 05-12-2021, 12:41 AM.
      sigpic Myself as Mephistopheles (Karen Koed's painting of me, 9 Nov 2008, U of Canterbury, CHCH, NZ)

      Gold is the power of a man with a man
      And incense the power of man with God
      But myrrh is the bitter taste of death
      And the sour-sweet smell of the upturned sod,

      Nativity,
      by Peter Cape

      Comment

      • In_Loos_Ptokai
        Abrogate all rituals
        • Apr 2007
        • 802

        #4
        The witch liked to sleep in the afternoons. Nights were her time for activity: she felt so powerful at midnight and - probably - looked terrifying to all and sundry, including wolves and bears. And marauding bandits, too.

        It helped that Rapunzel had a sweet voice, and would often while away the afternoons singing nonsense, after she had been coached in negotiating with various Powers for various reasons, and finding the secret power inside herself.

        The witch slept very soundly to the tune of Rapunzel's singing. Until she shrieked and the witch sat bolt upright.

        What was this? The winter sun hung low in the sky, and she shivered as she hurriedly pulled on her coat and slippers, before hurrying out to Rapunzel's room and the big window that she had insisted on having, looking out over the oak and the cottage and the meadows, and the forest that loomed darkly in the background.

        "What's the matter, darling?" she said, putting her arms around the girl, who clung to the window sill and sobbed.

        For answer Rapunzel pointed out over the meadow. A cow was running through the snow towards the cottage, now broken down under the weight of the snow that lay heavily on it. Chasing the cow was a pack of wolves.

        It took the witch a few moments before she recognized the cow as the one she had tried to midwife, the one whose calf Rapunzel had named Gertrude.

        The cow came to a halt before the cottage, and lowed. And then the wolf pack fell on it and it disappeared under their jaws.

        "I hate you. Why didn't you save her?"

        The witch faced the little fury as she tried to punch and kick her. "She would've died sooner or later, darling. And why would I deny the wolves their meal? They have to live as well, and they don't do that by starving."

        "You should've saved her!"

        But Rapunzel’s voice was muffled as she buried her face deep into her coat and sobbed as though her heart would break. The witch made no answer to her, and only hugged her tight.

        A while later she was all cried out and sat on her bed, staring disconsolately out the window.

        * * *

        A couple of months later and when the snow had stopped falling, she was startled awake during her afternoon nap by a loud and hysterical giggle. She got to her feet slowly, found her cloak and slippers and shuffled into her slippers and draped her cloak around her shoulders to hold back her shivers. Whatever was amusing and shocking Rapunzel this time?

        Rapunzel was standing at the window, leaning on the sill and staring down at a couple of wolves playing some game of chase in the snow - she immediately recognized the old male wolf, and then a few seconds later, the young female wolf. Mating in the snow? All right for some, she supposed. She was not a wolf, but if the wolves enjoyed that sort of thing, then she had no problem with it.

        Finally the female wolf slowed down and stopped in front of the cottage, now covered in snow and barely visible. There were a few "caves" showing, though, and she guessed why the female wolf would be interested in it. It would make an ideal den for bearing the cubs and raising them - snug and secure.

        The male wolf started to - "Mummy," Rapunzel wanted to know. "The bigger wolf is licking the other wolf's butt! Why?"

        She controlled the anger that swelled up inside her for a moment, and sighed. She had demanded that she be given this holy terror, after all. It was all her own fault. "It's something wonderful that wolves do. The big one's a daddy wolf, and the little one's a mummy wolf, and they'll get together and have baby wolves."

        The male wolf had finished licking his mate and mounted her, grunting as he did so.

        "Mummy, why is he being mean to her?"

        "It's the way daddy wolves help girl wolves become mummy wolves, darling. Now if we let them alone they'll ..."

        Rapunzel screamed. The male wolf had climbed back off his mate and they stood, butt to butt, and glared up at the two of them in the tower watching the drama at the cottage under the oak.

        "Come, sweetheart, I'll give you some honey. It's what I got late in autumn and I've been saving it up for a special occasion. I think this is it!"

        * * *

        The young female wolf had settled into her chosen den in the snow-covered cottage. She was by this time heavily pregnant, and Rapunzel was constantly exclaiming about her bulk.

        "She's going to have cubs," the witch said, constantly it seemed. Which of course never stopped the girl exclaiming again, and again, and again, that the wolf was growing bigger and bigger and bigger ...

        The witch wondered out loud if all little girls were this noisy, but she replied, "I don't know. I only know me."

        Then one evening the wolf went into her den and didn't come out the following morning. "She'll have had her cubs now," the witch said, returning from her nightly excursion into the deeper forest that lay past the hills on the other side of the broad valley.

        "I want to see them," Rapunzel said. "What do they look like? Are they cuddly?"

        "The mother wolf'll rip your head off if you so much as look into her den," the witch said, quite crossly. "Wolves are like that - they don't like people poking their noses in their dens, not when they've got little cubs to feed."

        "Why?"

        "She doesn't want little girls pocking their noses into her den, that's all."

        "But why?"

        The witch cuffed her on the head and said, angrily, "I don't have to explain everything to you, young lady."

        * * *

        Rapunzel had planned her excursion rather well, the witch was forced to admit to herself, much later. If she hadn't had to deal with the spells she had placed on the door to prevent her escaping - no, making this sort of excursion, she corrected herself - she herself would never had known what her adoptive daughter had done.

        But the spells had delayed Rapunzel leaving the tower until very late in the night, which meant she had only got to the she wolf's den very early in the morning.

        She found the door slightly ajar on her return, and her suspicions aroused, quickly found that nobody was in the tower except herself.

        Hurrying back down the stairs, she discovered that the markings she'd previously mistaken for some inquisitive animal she'd previously not met, taking an interest in the tower in hopes of a free meal of some sort, showed much too much heel ... she'd been blind! She followed the faint traces around the tower, to a path through the garden. Inside her own footsteps, she could see Rapunzel's. And a tall shrub near the wall, its branches bent and some broken, told its own story.

        She hurried over the wall, noticing in passing that someone had scraped her hand on the wall top and left some blood there.

        Was she going to see the wolf? The wolf would be hungry!!! She hadn't saved this little girls from her foolish parents' foolish attempts to make their home beneath her tower ... just to see her throw her life away trying to play with wolves!!!

        She called up a little light to help her see her way under the oak's spreading branches, and also to help her see into the she wolf's den, and - hoping against hope - to rescue her little darling. Or to bring enough of her out to bury her.

        She hadn't felt this amount of anguish, or grief, for over a hundred years, not since her last raven had died under a hawk's beak. Which is why she had surprised herself by taking in this little girl and caring for her. Which was why she had not tried to rescue her parents from the grim fate that had befallen them. It had been predictable that the man would injure himself seriously while trying to cut wood in the forest; it had been predictable that the woman would stay to care for him instead of going to help; it had been tragically foreseeable that she would attempt to cling on and try to keep a presence here, near where her husband was buried. She had tried to keep from getting involved, but she had buried the dead woman, Rapunzel's birth mother.

        It would break her heart again, one hundred years after the last time her heart had been broken, if she did not get to the wolf's den in time to save Rapunzel.

        * * *

        "Hi Mum," Rapunzel said brightly, when she found herself in the she wolf's den. "She likes me!"

        The she wolf looked up from nuzzling one of her cubs suckling on her teats and licked the girl's face.

        The witch was dumbfounded and could hardly speak.

        "Rapunzel!!! Come here!!!"

        She crawled over. "Mum, I did take care. I asked your friends to help me make friends with her." She put her hand over near the wolf's muzzle, and the she wolf took it gently in her bone-crunching jaws, in a friendly nip, and let it go.

        Much to her shock, Rapunzel then picked up one of the cubs and cuddled it. It licked her face. "They're cuddly, aren't they?"

        And the she wolf let her.

        "Yes, darling, but you're not a wolf, and I need to talk to you. Right now."

        "Okay, Mum, okay." And she put the wolf cub down and followed the witch out of the den, crawling until they were clear of the fallen root beams and were out in the snow. "She's my friend, Mum. I wonder if she'll be friends with Gertrude?"

        "You are playing with powers, darling, that you don't understand!"

        "But they like me, Mum. I only asked them. I didn't demand anything. I only asked, and they agreed."

        And to that there was no answer.
        sigpic Myself as Mephistopheles (Karen Koed's painting of me, 9 Nov 2008, U of Canterbury, CHCH, NZ)

        Gold is the power of a man with a man
        And incense the power of man with God
        But myrrh is the bitter taste of death
        And the sour-sweet smell of the upturned sod,

        Nativity,
        by Peter Cape

        Comment

        • In_Loos_Ptokai
          Abrogate all rituals
          • Apr 2007
          • 802

          #5
          It was not that Rapunzel had shown an unusual ability to talk to a class of animal she herself left strictly alone, that was the worst of it, she realized. This became obvious one fine spring morning when she returned from communing with her friends the owls in the deep forest high on the foothills.

          Rapunzel stood out in the middle of the meadow, next to the little brook that at times ran from the hill her tower sheltered under, the hill that her own people had said many, many years ago belonged to the Little People, when her people had lived in this part of the forest. On one hand she caressed the head of the she wolf, and the she wolf's cubs ran around her feet, and licked and nipped them in play. On the other hand her birth mother's cow's calf, Gertrude, stood and shivered. Gertrude though, was no longer a calf. She had matured into a fine young cow, with a glossy black and white coat and her own calf nosing at her udder.

          And as she watched this impossible scene, the young girl she had taken under her wing, so to speak, brought her two hands together and brought the two animals nose to nose.

          "Grumpy Girl, this is Gertrude. Gertrude, this is Grumpy Girl. You are friends of mine. Please be friends to each other."

          She could not believe either what she had just heard, or what she was seeing. The she wolf - Grumpy Girl, obviously - licked the nose of the cow, Gertrude, and Gertrude nosed the she wolf as though the she wolf was a longstanding friend.

          Or rather, she would believe it, she realized. It wasn't impossible. Completely impossible, that is.

          She'd just have to talk to Rapunzel about obeying orders. She had expressly forbidden her to leave the tower without first asking her. And she was growing up. What would she be like in just a few years time? If she was this headstrong now?

          Rapunzel noticed her and turned with a smile and a wave of her hand. "Hey Mum, they're friends now!"

          She didn't reply, just waved her hand to tell her to hurry up, finish what she was doing and return to the tower.

          Disobedient daughter! And to think that ... what a way to spoil a blissful morning! She wouldn't get much sleep today, that was for sure. She'd be too busy fuming over her disobedient, disrespectful daughter ...

          * * *

          The fight didn't happen. But after a few harsh words, Rapunzel withdrew for a time into herself, and didn't even sing. The witch missed this on afternoons when she lay awake and weary wishing for her sweet voice to rise, taking her thoughts on a journey through her memories, of the birds and bats she had known, of the farmyard animals she had known when she was herself a very little girl and as yet unaware that not everyone could talk with the animals as she did. In particular, as she lay wishing for sleep, she remembered the big bluff bull who had been her first animal friend, and the cows he had led, the calves he had sired, the things he had to say about her father the farmer, and his farm hands.

          Reporting her friend's comments on the farmhands had been a mistake, the first of many she had to admit, she had done over her three and a half hundred years long life.

          In her stillness, she could barely hear Rapunzel whispering something to a sparrow that had alighted on the window sill. She smiled, and relaxing, she fell asleep.

          sigpic Myself as Mephistopheles (Karen Koed's painting of me, 9 Nov 2008, U of Canterbury, CHCH, NZ)

          Gold is the power of a man with a man
          And incense the power of man with God
          But myrrh is the bitter taste of death
          And the sour-sweet smell of the upturned sod,

          Nativity,
          by Peter Cape

          Comment

          • In_Loos_Ptokai
            Abrogate all rituals
            • Apr 2007
            • 802

            #6
            In the years that followed, they set up a wary pattern for living in peace. The witch would leave on her nightly excursions and come back at dawn or around that time. Rapunzel would not ask where she went. Rapunzel was free to visit her animal friends - by now this had also included the pigs that had been her birth parents', who had joined a group of wild pigs and who had also been eaten by hunting wolves - any time that she was either out, or asleep. But she had to be in the tower to welcome her, and had to have something to eat prepared. Being a crotchety old witch does have some form of compensation, the witch thought; the girl can cook.

            It was true, of course, that she was not keen on cooking the mice her owl friends gave her in gratitude for times when she helped them. But she persevered with it, and eventually got the girl to agree to roast them. She insisted she couldn't throw them away, because the owls would be very disappointed in her, very upset, and this seemed to carry the most weight ...

            And during those years the little girl grew, and she was no longer so little ...

            * * *

            "I'm a big girl now," Rapunzel said, standing directly in the witch's way. It was, the witch ruefully admitted to herself, a paradox. Now she was a very, very old woman, she was shrinking; her charge, little Rapunzel, was rapidly growing, and would soon be taller than her. Much taller if she took after her father, a giant of a man if she remembered him correctly. It had been fortunate that he had been afraid of her - and equally fortunate that she had got him off on the wrong foot. She hadn't always been so fortunate, or so smart.

            She straightened up to smile at her. "Yes, Rapunzel darling, I'm going to have to make some new clothes for you - or maybe I could see how well you've learnt those things I taught you about sewing and knitting, and make something yourself, for yourself."

            "You mean that? You'll really let me?"

            The idea had more appeal than she had thought. "Of course I will. I'll measure you again, but you'll cut the cloth and sow it yourself."

            Rapunzel clapped her hands and jumped and danced around, shouting, then, without asking permission, she dashed off down the path into the smaller forest, through the almond trees and the poplar, shouting wildly. That would scare anyone except the pigs who were her friends, and the witch knew that she was off to tell them about the new challenge she had now she was a big girl.

            The sow who was her particular friend would regard that with much bemusement, the witch knew: she'd communicated with her on several occasions and knew her reasonably well. She was also a mother of several litters of piglets, most of whom had survived growing up; she regarded Rapunzel as a perpetual piglet who would never grow up and loved her on that account.

            It might put a damper on her high spirits; it might make her take things seriously for once!

            The witch grumbled about her foolishness in taking on such a challenge as this child, then she opened the door and went upstairs. Rapunzel had remembered to make her meal; she smiled contentedly and ate it, then lay back on her bed and fell asleep.

            She didn't see Rapunzel trudging up the path wondering aloud to herself what her friend had meant by her thoughts ... boars, sows, fun and need and piglets ...

            * * *

            The girl, mercifully, didn't pester her with questions about her breasts when they budded. She instead watched her friends the wild pigs, the wolves and the wild cattle and tried to learn from them what it all meant.

            It was a form of peace, and she felt she deserved that, that her three hundred years of watching and guarding the forest - to the limit of her powers - had earned her that.

            It was a different matter with her first period. Quite a different matter, altogether.

            * * *

            She had been asleep. It was early morning, and she'd had her visit to the owls and had seen some other forest friends. She had come in during the early dawn, when the light shone under the horizon giving everything a startling - always startling to her, in spite of her three hundred and fifty years - silhouette against the horizon. Rapunzel had made her her breakfast and it had gone cold, as was expected when she arrived in the early morning. She had gone to sleep quickly. She really hadn't expected anything to happen this day ...

            She was woken by a shriek from the girl's bedroom. "Mum, Mum, help me!"

            She pushed her bedclothes off and fumbled for her clothes. She had just got her feet on the floor and her dress draped over her shoulders, when Rapunzel burst into the room, clutching a blanket around her shoulders. She was crying.

            "What happened, darling?" she asked.

            "I woke up and I was bleeding, Mum. Make it stop. Please!!!"

            The witch sat up with a twinge. She had expected this, only not now! She tried to remember what her own mother had told her on her own first period. "Darling, it's natural. All women bleed. It means you now can have a baby."

            "I don't want to have a baby, not right now.”

            She sighed. How did things get this complicated? "What I meant was your body has grown enough to make it possible for you to have a baby, with the right circumstances. It doesn't mean you are going to have one right now."

            She put her arm around Rapunzel and hugged her tight. "Light the fire, darling. I'll go down to the well and draw up some water, and give you a hot bath. I think you need it."

            * * *

            Going all the way down to the door and unspelling it open, then hauling the water up in the third floor was exercise she found she needed. It was hard to face up to her realization that she had taken on the care of this girl-child without ever planning on handling what girl-children eventually turned into. She had thought of the cuteness of the little child, her innocence, her trustfulness, her ... well, all girl-children eventually turned into women, and often, into stroppy, bolshy women with very strong opinions on just what needed to be done.

            She already had a mind of her own. She had shown admirable strength in gaining the support of the Powers in making not only the she-wolf and the cow and the sow her friends, but also in making them trust each other.

            She only hoped that when Rapunzel grew into her full strength, she would remember her old "Mum" with affection at the very least.

            With Rapunzel's help, she eventually got the water hot enough to give Rapunzel her hot bath, and she said as she scrubbed her down, "You are no longer a little girl. You are not yet a full woman. You will grow into your womanhood. There is nothing to fear."

            While she thought to herself, "Nothing that is, that I know of."

            When the bath was done, she carried the warm water down and poured it over one of her plants, one that always appreciated the warmth. After that she climbed back into bed and fell asleep, remembering too late that she'd left the door unspelled. And Rapunzel would take advantage of that.
            sigpic Myself as Mephistopheles (Karen Koed's painting of me, 9 Nov 2008, U of Canterbury, CHCH, NZ)

            Gold is the power of a man with a man
            And incense the power of man with God
            But myrrh is the bitter taste of death
            And the sour-sweet smell of the upturned sod,

            Nativity,
            by Peter Cape

            Comment

            • In_Loos_Ptokai
              Abrogate all rituals
              • Apr 2007
              • 802

              #7
              Her Mum had decided on remodelling the tower. Rapunzel sat outside and watched as the Little Folk argued and talked, argued and talked, argued and talked, and put another three storeys on top of the three she'd grown up with. Her Mum was elsewhere - she'd left her to watch and make sure that the Little Folk didn't do any more than had been agreed, and didn't take anything they weren't entitled to.

              She sat with Grumpy Girl, her old friend, and Big Fat Mamma, her best friend amongst the pigs. The two were discussing her, soundlessly. She didn't mind; she could mute it to a buzz, though at times she listened most closely.

              Right then they were discussing how easy it was to find a mate amongst their respective species.

              - but where can we find a mate for our young human friend now she has matured enough to need one?

              That was Grumpy Girl. She licked Rapunzel on the cheek as she spoke in her thoughts.

              - she should find it in her herd.

              That was Big Fat Mamma. She nuzzled Rapunzel.

              - she has no herd, I mean pack.

              - we'll have to look for her.

              - how?

              - you're a wolf. you should know how to hunt up a suitable male for her. just don't eat him first.

              Grumpy Girl snorted with irritation. Then she licked her nose.

              - you spend a lot of time rooting around trees and digging up roots. perhaps you should dig a male up for her.

              - did i find our tall friend in the roots? i don't think so.

              - don't mind the fat pig, friend. she's just jealous. she's a grubby grubber of roots.

              - i know where to look for food, and mates.

              - yes, but you're no huntress. if we didn't have our tall friend keeping us together, i'd be eating you.

              - oh, so that's how you view it, is it?

              - you're no huntress.

              - never mind. you wolves are quite tasty yourselves, did you know that?

              Grumpy Girl leapt to her feet and backed away. Her teeth bared and her neck ruffed up, she looked fearsome - and fearful, Rapunzel thought. She hoped it wouldn't become a fight, because she had no idea how to handle that.

              - you! what was that you said?!?

              - i was grubbing for roots one day with my piglets when i noticed a yearling wolf creeping up on my piglets. i didn't like the look of that, so i crept up on him. he was lazy. i bit him, intending to scare him, but he dropped dead, so i ate him, me and the piglets.

              Grumpy Girl was now in a state.

              - you ate a beautiful yearling cub?!?

              - me or him. he was hunting my piglets, and i don't like that. i couldn't smell your scent on him, so he wasn't one of your kin. very tasty, though.

              Grumpy Girl now raised her muzzle to the sky and started to whine.

              - no!!! no!!! no!!!

              - you're a mother. you know how angry we get when we think our piglets are in danger. i won't harm you or yours. our tall friend won't like it.

              Big Fat Mamma sat down next to Rapunzel and nuzzled her again.

              - tell our wolf friend i won't hurt her or her piglets.

              "She won't hurt you, Grumpy Girl. She's trustworthy."

              - but she ate a wolf yearling. a beautiful wolf yearling!!!

              - who eats the dead wolves so you don't mess up the forest? some badgers, yes, some rats, yes, but most of them we eat.

              "You see, Grumpy Girl. She's not going to hurt you."

              - she's just a pig. a rubbish-eater.

              "She's my friend, she's your friend, and you're just upset. Calm down and make up. I insist."

              The two approached each other hesitantly, and touched noses, then sat down next to Rapunzel, who hugged them both.

              When she next looked at the tower, she almost swallowed her tongue. The Little People had put her room on top of another three storeys, and the distance from her room to the ground was ... much bigger now!

              One of the Little People hurried over to her. "We've done as your Mother asked. Now about payment - she said we could have the green apple tree. That's all we ask."

              She smiled - that was all? "That's fine."

              He hurried off and Grumpy Girl added as he left

              - those are not nice to taste. one of my pack bit one just to see how he tasted, and got his nose broken. he's terrified of them now. silly boy.

              Rapunzel nuzzled her, then Big Fat Mamma. It was good to have her friends friends with each other again.

              * * *

              Rapunzel was outraged to learn from the witch that the door at the base of the tower would be permanently locked now.

              "Can't have lowlife males sniffing around here! You're my daughter. You deserve the best protection we can give you."

              "And how are you going to visit your friends the owls, now?"

              The witch laughed. "You're going to help me."

              Rapunzel didn't like the sound of that. "How? I mean, you'll have to give me the spell to open the door and you wouldn't have gone to all this trouble just to let me have that."

              "Nothing like that, darling. Listen, you've seen the bears climbing trees, haven't you?"

              ""Yes, Mum! I have indeed seen bears climbing trees. Mostly to escape you!"

              "And remember how you were always pestering me for a spell to give you long hair because you thought it made you look fascinating? Like the princesses you thought lived in the town over the ridge?"

              "Mum!!!?"

              "Well, darling, I'm going to give you long hair. And you are going to be as strong as a bear. When I say to you "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair," you are going to let your hair down. the spell will lengthen it, and I am going to climb down it. When I call "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair," you are going to let down your hair, and I am going to climb back up. Then the spell will shorten it again."

              "What???!"

              "You'll get used to it, darling. Remember I'm only doing this to protect you. Marauders won't be able to get at you, and you'll be able to live in peace."

              Rapunzel stared out the window in horror. How was she going to go out to visit her friends now?

              "Don't worry, darling. They'll get used to it."

              From the den under the oak she thought she could just "hear" Grumpy Girl thinking

              - don't worry. we can still "talk."

              * * *

              The witch was less than sanguine when she learnt just what the payment to the Little People for their services had been.

              "We'll never be able to eat a single apple from the garden, you dolt! All apples are green when they're growing! You silly little girl!"

              Rapunzel shrugged. "You never told me not to."

              "Well, now I'll have to go out of my way to get you the apples you want. I don't know that I like having to get so close to villages and towns merely to pick an apple or two for - it's hardly safe - but I'll have to, won't I?"

              Rapunzel thought she'd never hear the end of it, but the witch seemed resigned to it, and never mentioned it again.

              * * *

              In order to keep her spirits up, which had sunk rather low because she could no longer go out to visit Grumpy Girl and Big Fat Mamma, she started singing at her window.

              She sang about the loneliness of living in a tower far above the ground, of being separated from her friends, of not knowing what she wanted to do with her life, of not knowing what her Mother the witch wanted her to do with her life ... in other words, she sang about her unhappiness.

              And as the days turned into months, and the months into years, her voice grew to fill the meadows and the woods.

              She grew to hate the spell that lengthened her hair, and she hated having to pull her Mum up the sheer wall into the tower, but she always did it.

              Grumpy Girl and Big Fat Mamma were always pleased to hear her voice; and that pleased her.

              Otherwise the days seemed empty and hollow; between letting her Mum down the tower walls for her night's adventure and hauling her back up the tower walls for her daily sleep, and studying magic she was not now likely ever to use, time stretched out like snail tracks on dying plant stalks before the chill of the autumn frosts and the fury of the winter storms ...

              And so she sang, and sang, and sang ....
              sigpic Myself as Mephistopheles (Karen Koed's painting of me, 9 Nov 2008, U of Canterbury, CHCH, NZ)

              Gold is the power of a man with a man
              And incense the power of man with God
              But myrrh is the bitter taste of death
              And the sour-sweet smell of the upturned sod,

              Nativity,
              by Peter Cape

              Comment

              • In_Loos_Ptokai
                Abrogate all rituals
                • Apr 2007
                • 802

                #8
                Prince Carolus was bored. Growing up was not all it was cut out to be, it seemed. He had successfully routed some bandits from a road that ran through a forest then through a gorge, as his father had requested he and his young friends do, now that their elders were getting too old to undertake such tasks themselves.

                None of the girls in any of the towns, villages or castles his father ruled, interested him. He was widely known as Prince Charming for his effect on women, but it had long since stopped being important to him.

                He had gone out hunting with some of his friends, but the hunt had been long and arduous, and somehow he had become separated from them. This didn't worry him - if need be, he could always beg shelter from some farmer or huntsman in the wilder lands surrounding his father's kingdom. If the worst came to the worst, he could always sleep under a tree.

                And so he came to the broad clearing that ran out into a wide meadow under the cliff-face and the ridge that his mother always held in some regard, though she never explained why.

                The sun had just set when he first saw the tower, and heard the faint words of a song, sung in a high, clear voice that sent shivers up his spine. "I'd like the meet the singer," he thought. "I'll bet her face is as lovely as her voice."

                Then the voice stopped, and a rougher voice spoke quietly, but loud enough for him to hear: "Rapunzel! Rapunzel, let down your hair!"

                There stood a tower under the cliff-face and the ridge, he saw. A light shone in a window that opened high above him, about six storeys high, he guessed. And by the light in the window he saw the strangest sight - an elderly woman was letting herself down the wall of the tower, holding on to the strangest rope. It was a young woman's hair, which she held on to tightly as the elderly woman reached the ground, and then it seemed to shrink, to withdraw into itself, and the young woman sighed. The elderly woman turned an irritated face upwards, but the young woman was gone by then.

                "Rapunzel? Is that her name? Why would she be called that?" he muttered to himself.

                Coming out into the meadow, he noticed under an oak that stood out from the forest, a tumble-down pile of ruins that had been a cottage once, it seemed. "I'll tie dear old Blossom up under this and hopefully there aren't any wolves around."

                His mare, Blossom, was less-than-enthusiatic about this, but he still had some apples in his pockets, and she hungrily ate them while he tied her reins to an oak branch that had been cut off, trimmed, and stuck upright into the ground next to the ruined cottage.

                Something sniffed his feet, rubbed against his legs and licked Blossom's face after he had finished: he didn't see anything. Blossom shied for a moment, then she took some hurried breathes and quietened down.

                Then he set off for the tower. At the very least he could beg shelter for the night.

                * * *

                A wall stood in between him and the tower, he found, and after climbing it he found a vegetable and flower garden scattered all higgledy-piggledy over the ground between wall and tower. He had no intention of trampling over anyone's garden, and the new moon came out just as he started towards the tower.

                A withered apple tree stood in one corner, near to where he had jumped down off the wall, and he blessed his luck he had not fallen on it. Some branches still looked strong, and he could've done himself a nasty injury - "It never pays to turn up to a pretty girl's house looking as if you've done yourself an injury," the father of one of his friends had said once. "If you do go scarred, make sure it's been earned honourably. Girls love that sort of scar, but not the kind that prove you're a dimwit!"

                And then he was next to the tower, under the window, and a light still shone faintly off the ceiling down to him. "Now or never, Carolus," he thought. "Hopefully she's not the sort who loves travellers, stewed, boiled or as soup or roast."

                "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair," he called in his best tenor voice. He had brought one of his mother's ladies-in-waiting to faint from sheer pleasure at hearing him sing once; it had been her favourite love song, and he'd been mercilessly twitted about it by his friends. If he got it wrong, of course, the chances were she'd pour a bucket of slops on him, the way one of his friends had had a bucket dumped on him once, when the girl he had been serenading had disliked his song.

                But no, a long strand of beautiful hair tumbled down around about him, and he gripped it and tugged on it, and leaning back against it, proceeded to climb.

                A young woman's face appeared, just within the window, staring out with a frown of annoyance. That changed to a puzzled look as he got closer, then alarm crossed it, and wonder ... he gripped the window sill and pulled himself in.

                She had a beautiful face, he saw, and she was not as tall as him, and her dark eyes caught his and held them for a long moment before releasing them. As she looked away, he noticed that her hair was now apparently normal length, and she was shapely, her arms crossed over her bosom as if she had been going to say something cross to him, and behind her he noticed a stout oak branch, trimmed and shaped for easy handling.

                He smiled, feeling foolish, then he he relaxed. If she had wanted to belt him with the oak branch, she would've done it by now. "Hello, I saw your light in the window and ..."

                "You're a male." She sounded relieved. He reminded himself that unlike some of his more unruly friends, he had been raised to strict standards, which had included not climbing into young woman's bedroom windows at night.

                "Yes, I am a male."

                She smiled back at him. "Are you going to be mean to me?"

                His smile dropped away, like he would've if he'd let go of her hair.

                "Why is your mouth hanging open like that?"

                * * *

                Rapunzel had been more than a little annoyed when she heard, faintly below, "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair," a second time that evening. It was not her Mum's habit to go away then come back within so short a time. Still, her hair grew to its required length, and tired as she was, she had leaned out the window and hauled in the strangest creature she had ever seen. It - no, he - looked like her, except he didn't. He was straight where she was curved, had had no obvious bosom, so he would not be able to suckle any cubs or piglets - were they the right words to use in this context? She'd have to ask her Mum, or maybe she could ask this strange individual. Her Mum was not always forthcoming on matters to do with the rest of humanity.

                To some degree, he reminded her of herself before she grew up and started bleeding every month. But she had never had that faint hairiness around the mouth, had she?

                And then she had to go and ask him that question, that one question that leapt instantly to her mind when he replied that he was a male. She'd been told often enough that she was now at an age when she could bear young. She just didn't know how other humans managed it.

                After he closed his mouth, and looked stricken at her, she added, hurriedly, "I mean, like a bull is mean to a cow when he gets on top of her and then she has a lovely little calf, or when a boar is mean to a sow and she had a litter of piglets, or when a he-wolf is mean to a she-wolf and then has to lick himself off her and she has such a lovely litter of cuddly cubs ..."

                She saw he wasn't taking it all in the way she had hoped: indeed, he took a step back and tripped on his foot and sat down on the floor with a thump and a bang and a clatter.

                "Oh dear, are you alright?"

                He smiled as if he was wanting to reassure her. "I've had worse tumbles. I'll live."

                Then she offered her hand and with a great many groans on his part she helped him to his feet. He appeared to think for a moment, then said, "My Mother made me promise to her that I would never be "mean" to a woman unless she asked me for it. But first, how did you get to live all alone in this tower? Out in the wild forest?"

                * * *

                "So you will be mean to me?" she asked, eagerly. "All my friends seem to like it."

                "Your friends?" He seemed lost and her heart went out to him.

                "My friends. You met one of them this evening. I call her Grumpy Girl - she," and she paused for a moment. "She says she likes you. She saw you being good to your four-footed friend and she liked you immediately. Otherwise she would've eaten you."

                "Oh, yes, well, I like to give Blossom - that's my horse - apples. She likes them and ..."

                "And have you got any more apples? For me?"

                "For you?"

                "Ever since the Little People made extensions to the tower we haven't been able to grow apples here. It's a pity because I love apples."

                She felt herself blushing, and blessed the darkness for hiding that. She didn't want him knowing just how much she was craving a juicy apple just then.

                "Err, yes, I've got an apple in my pocket." He fished around and pulled out a ripe apple. Her mouth watered. He handed it to her and she made herself take it slowly. It had been ages since her Mum had brought her any apples.

                "I won't eat it right now. You show me how males are mean to human females first."

                * * *

                Prince Carolus, better known amongst the admiring female population of his father's kingdom as Prince Charming, found himself with the most difficult task in his life. He was the first human besides her mother, that she had seen for quite some time, and as he explained the various aspects, including the disrobing, she would giggle, and once, burst out laughing.

                It is difficult to enter, rampant, when you are mortified by the thought she can't stop giggling at the sight of you, hairy and upright. You wilt.

                He finally got some order into the proceedings by mentioning that many men and women preferred to let the night hide themselves and let only the light of their love light the way.

                * * *

                Rapunzel felt the pain and then the pleasure, and afterwards she knew she would want more of it.

                As she crunched the apple, she found herself considering the options for his next visit. "If you come late in the evening, she won't be here and I will have the tower - and you - all to myself. If you come during the day when she's asleep, we'll wake her up, and we don't want that."

                He grinned, bemused. She found herself thinking, so this is why Grumpy Girl, Big Fat Mamma and Gertrude always went back for more. She ate him up with her eyes.

                "I'll get my father to send me to the nearest town, so I don't have so long to go before I get here."

                "Good. Next time bring some more apples and I'll stew them for you."

                "Poor Blossom! I'll keep some for her."

                She laughed. "Poor Blossom indeed! Grumpy Girl thinks she's a wise horse."

                Then she got up out of bed and draped her nightgown around her, while her hands helped - and hindered - her Prince in getting dressed.

                "So when will I see you next?"

                "About six or seven nights from now. Then I hope to see you every second night."

                They went to the window, and she breathed in the air, delighting in the cool night air on her bare skin.

                "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair."

                She kissed him and he went down, and away. She watched him fade into the darkness, and then slept very, very soundly.

                * * *

                The next few months flew by for Rapunzel and Prince Carolus. They lived in the bliss of young love, and its fulfillment. If the witch noticed that Rapunzel's singing was even more beautiful, she did not bother to mention it; if she did not notice, it was because Rapunzel poured all her soul, her heart into cooking for her Prince, and some of that overflowed into her cooking for the witch. The witch slept very soundly as a result, so she never heard how the subject of her singing had changed, from the lonesome girl bereft of her friends, to the eager maiden waiting for her lover ...

                Grumpy Girl and Big Fat Mamma agreed, it was the happiest time of her life, and they were happy as a result.

                But all good things come to an end ...
                sigpic Myself as Mephistopheles (Karen Koed's painting of me, 9 Nov 2008, U of Canterbury, CHCH, NZ)

                Gold is the power of a man with a man
                And incense the power of man with God
                But myrrh is the bitter taste of death
                And the sour-sweet smell of the upturned sod,

                Nativity,
                by Peter Cape

                Comment

                • In_Loos_Ptokai
                  Abrogate all rituals
                  • Apr 2007
                  • 802

                  #9
                  Some of Prince Carolus' oldest friends hailed him as they met at the entrance to the hostelry where he stayed on the nights when he was not with Rapunzel.

                  "We haven't seen you for so long, we worried your old man had exiled you."

                  "Oh no, I've just been assigned here to train the local lads. We've got a good lot of likely lads who are likely to become a worthy squad."

                  "We'll have to meet them, then. But later. Let's have some drinks."

                  They went into the bar and sat down. The barmaid brought them some drinks and winked at Prince Carolus; without him noticing. She snorted and glared at him.

                  One of the local "likely lads" spotted them and came over to join them. "So you know our boss, do you?"

                  "Known him since I was a kid, lad. And you?"

                  "I'm in his squad. He's training us to take on the bandits and highwaymen who terrorize the honest farmers around here at times."

                  "That how you got that scar?"

                  The likely lad ran his thumb down the side of his face. "Bandit near took my head off that time. But the Prince took him in the belly with a branch and then cut his head off."

                  He looked around conspirationally then leaned over and whispered, "We think he's got a girl somewhere. He disappears some nights and nobody can find him, then he comes back, purring like a cat that's got the cream."

                  "Hey Carl, your mate's saying you've got a girl. About time."

                  "Okay, can't deny that. She's the loveliest girl I've ever met. She sings beautifully, she's got the most beautiful smile you ever saw. And, she's a good cook."

                  "Come on then, let's celebrate!"

                  Prince Carolus never remembered the rest of that afternoon. But he finally begged off so he could go visit her, and they finally let him go.

                  It was good for him that Blossom knew where to go, because he couldn't think clearly at that point.

                  It was nice to meet up with his old friends again. Perhaps his girl - what was her name again? - would have something to make the world stable again, to stop it swinging around from side to side whenever he moved his head ...

                  * * *

                  Rapunzel was finally in strife with her Mum. The witch had come in that morning, tired and weary, climbing the wall and then dropping into her bed like a log being felled.

                  She was woken by Rapunzel cursing savagely in her room, and then coming into her own room and staring down at her. "Mum, I don't think this is very funny."

                  "Uh, what?" Daytime is for sleeping, at least for me, darling, get on with it. Let your old Mum go to sleep.

                  "I said, Mum, I don't think this is very funny. All my dresses are too tight now. Have you been sowing them tighter?"

                  "Darling, would I do that to you?"

                  "Well, did you?"

                  The witch saw she was in a fury. And a rather tight dress. But she had never in her life - okay, when she was very, very young, and very, very silly, and resenting her older sister for being so pretty - but never for this infuriating daughter of hers!

                  "Darling, are you feeling well?"

                  "Mum, stop changing the subject."

                  It could be, it was very possible, it was ... that sneaking, conniving little minx!!! "Darling, what have you been up to?"

                  A sudden blush, and a guilty glance towards the window and her bedroom, and a sudden clutching of her stomach. She knew, oh, how she knew.

                  "Rapunzel, you little ..."

                  "Yes, so I did, what of it! It's fun, Mum, it's fun!"

                  "You're pregnant, Rapunzel. Yes, it's fun, but that's just part of it. You're pregnant, like your friends. You'll have a baby."

                  And she drew herself up, fury blazing inside her. "I thought I would spare you the misery. Now get out of my sight, you little ..."

                  She threw on her dress and stormed out of the bedroom, leaving Rapunzel pale and shivering behind her.

                  Part of her - a very small part - rejoiced at the thought of new life. the rest of her was chilled at the thought of the misfortunes that lay ahead if she had no luck with the baby or the father.

                  And part of her remembered the anguish she had felt on finding her older sister dead after the marauders had raided their village those three hundred and thirty years ago, and her sister's husband lying disembowelled over their dead child. As always, on the rare occasion that she felt strongly enough about some human thing to remember that, the grief threatened to overwhelm her. But, she had newly come into her powers then, and had made sure that the marauders learnt that, to their cost.

                  * * *

                  Rapunzel sat on her bed and cried. This was something where Grumpy Girl and Big Fat Mamma could help her, and Gertrude’s daughters and granddaughters, and she was all alone and so high up and nowhere near them and where was her Prince? And she was angry with her Mum and her Mum was angry with her, and all the three hundred years her Mum had hadn't shared any of her wisdom and yes, piglets - no, cubs, surely, because they weren't going to be calves, surely - no, what did the humans call their cubs?

                  Feelings of support came in from Grumpy Girl and Big Fat Mamma immediately.

                  Where was her Prince? She needed him so very strongly just then.

                  * * *

                  Prince Carolus was just then getting back up after tumbling off Blossom. He washed his face in one of the little creeks that ran down the forested hillside and got most of the muck off. He was getting closer to his girl, now what was her name?

                  Had he gone and forgotten it?

                  It started with an "R", he knew. Most definitely an "R". Not Rose, or Rosey, or ... what had his friend's father told him about girls and foolishness?

                  Hadn't his Mother told him about someone magical called some weird name starting with an "R"?

                  Could that be it? What was it?

                  Ah, the tower swam into view. He wasn't going to be sick, not now, not when he was so close to her, and he wasn't going to be sick on her, either.

                  He wiped his lips with a leaf and drank some water, and climbed back on Blossom, who looked a question at him, as if to ask if he was up to it.

                  "I'm just drunk, old girl," he said, and hanging on for dear life to her mane, he watched the tower come closer and closer and tumbled off before he bumped into the garden wall.

                  He clambered over the wall and crawled through the garden. Holding on to the tower wall to keep it upright, he remembered. Remembered, and he bawled out, "Rumpelstiltskin, Rumpelstiltskin, let down your hair!"

                  Down came some straggly hair, greasy and unkempt. "Bad hair day, Rumpel ... stiltsk ... in. Bad hair day."

                  Then he climbed up. He threw himself over the window sill, and found himself staring at an ugly little man with snaggly teeth, who grinned and said, "You called me by my name, Prince! We meet again, though you don't remember the first time, do you?"

                  Then he opened his big mouth and gobbled up Prince Charming.

                  And lived happily ever after.

                  * * *

                  Or so he thought. Life can be such a bitch at times.

                  * * *

                  Rapunzel crawled out from under the bed, where she had hidden when Rumpelstiltskin first appeared. She clutched the oak branch with a deathlike grip. She was furious.

                  "You gobbled up my boyfriend! Give him back!"

                  She lashed out with the oak branch. Rumpelstiltskin tried to escape.

                  But a girl who has spent a few years pulling firstly an ancient witch up a tower wall, and then a strapping young man up that same wall, is not at all weak. And a girl who has learnt as much as she could about her Mum's magic powers, is not to be escaped easily. Even for one of the Little People.

                  Rumpelstiltskin tried and tried and tried, to escape. but Rapunzel did not let up. "You give my boyfriend back, you thief!!!"

                  The witch appeared and stared in shock at her daughter beating the living daylights out of one of the most senior of the Little Folk.

                  Finally he gave up and upchucked Prince Carolus, also known as Prince Charming. He was ever after known as Prince Chuck. (This must be the reason why so many Princes and Kings took Chuck as their royal name. So we have King Chuck the First of Great Britain and Ireland, who had his head therapeutically amputated because he wasn't using it; the Holy Roman Emperor the Great and Magnificent Upchuck; and of course General Chuck de Gaulle ... not to forget the greatest of them all, Chuck Chunder of the Space Patrol without whose untiring assistance we would've been rid of the threat of alien invasion many many moons ago!!!)

                  * * *

                  The witch stood and stared at her daughter Rapunzel, who in her rage and fury had won back her boyfriend Prince Chuck from Rumpelstiltskin. She could not find any reason to deny them each other.

                  "But take care," she said to Prince Chuck. "You now know she's got a temper. And she can do things. You've got a lot to live up to. Poor boy."

                  She told Rapunzel she would explain her choices and her actions some day soon. As far as I know, Rapunzel's still waiting.

                  * * *

                  Rumpelstiltskin was so badly shaken by Rapunzel's fury and power, that he did not seem able to stop. He regurgitated many, many more people than anyone expected. It must have been ten or twenty thousand years worth of swallowing people up that he reversed in a single evening. At any rate, the witch had to hurry downstairs to open the tower door and then the garden gate and Grumpy Girl and Big Fat Mamma got badly scared by the sheer number of people who poured out of the tower.

                  Blossom was rather more blase about the whole thing. As she explained to the she-wolf and the sow, if you've seen one human, you've seen the lot. Occasionally you find someone who's worth their weight in grass, apples, and hugs, but for the most part, sheer weight of numbers isn't the major problem. She boasted of it later to her foals - it's not a regular occurrence, a horse getting the better of a wolf, but it does happen ...

                  Prince Chuck took control of the vast number of new "subjects" he had acquired. He had been trained to take command, and soon everyone except the witch was off through the forest to the local town.

                  * * *

                  Rapunzel and Prince Chuck had a magnificent wedding. It was the first (and only) wedding I've ever been to where two of the Matrons of Honour were a she-wolf and a sow, and the carriage-driver was an ugly little old man who looked terrified at the bride.

                  Unfortunately, after I had played my part as trumpeter, announcing the arrival of the bride, I was treated to a fast and furious discussion between two of the Matrons of Honour:

                  - long and boring! why do humans go to all this trouble just to mate?

                  I looked at Grumpy Girl with surprise. I was not expecting to hear her complain. She ignored me.

                  - it's the human way. we get it done in a hurry because we want it so much. i guess that humans are lazy.

                  Big Fat Mamma sounded disapproving. Thankfully she ignored me as well.

                  - yes, i suppose you're right. but she's already pregnant with a litter.

                  - hush, Grumpy Girl. humans don't have litters. i think this whole boring thing is to allow him the right to visit her in her wallow.

                  - don't you mean, her den? that's weird. that also shows a lot of trust. the he-wolf that fathered my cubs, i never let him in my den.

                  - i know. well, the only time a boar threatened my piglets, i let him have it. he never bothered them again. i think she can stand up for her piglets, so she lets him in her wallow.

                  - you mean, her den ....

                  Just then the two Matrons of Honour, the sow and the she-wolf, moved back into the building that served as a cathedral, and I couldn't hear them any more.

                  But all's well that ends well, and they lived happily ever after (with all the fights and reconciliations and children that go with such matters ... poor people! :).

                  The END
                  sigpic Myself as Mephistopheles (Karen Koed's painting of me, 9 Nov 2008, U of Canterbury, CHCH, NZ)

                  Gold is the power of a man with a man
                  And incense the power of man with God
                  But myrrh is the bitter taste of death
                  And the sour-sweet smell of the upturned sod,

                  Nativity,
                  by Peter Cape

                  Comment

                  Working...
                  X