This story is by Elizabeth Collins and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“We need soldiers to defend the castle, Agnes,” said Rapunzel to her cousin. “Our scheme has raised funds but how do we recruit them? Who can we trust to gather men from within the realm? There is no-one,” said Rapunzel feeling dispirited.
“Take heart, Rapunzel,” replied Agnes. “Word is spreading. The beautiful maiden with flowing locks that glisten blue-black against the tower walls where she is imprisoned by an evil baron,” she quoted as she fairly danced around the room. “We have been fortunate to have a silver-tongued minstrel willing to spread our tale.”
“We paid him well, Agnes,” remarked Rapunzel.
“Look there, past the brook” said Agnes. “Another nobleman riding a destrier, waiting to be snared.”
”He is comely,” said Rapunzel, “Help me prepare the wig. It is so long and heavy, I look forward to a time when I no longer have to use it.”
The two young women lifted the lengthy tresses and tied them to an iron hook embedded in the wall near the window. Rapunzel took the shorter end, which had been fashioned into a wig, and placed it on her head. As she stood by the window, it appeared as though she had a very lengthy mane of hair.
“He is riding towards the castle, Rapunzel. Lean out and hold out your arms, beseeching him to rescue you.”
“My bodice is rather low cut, Agnes.”
“An added incentive,” Agnes replied.
A tall young man came closer to the tower. His face was truly handsome, his bearing erect yet he did not appear like the other princes and noble men they had captured. His eyes, though viewed at some distance, appeared gentle.
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair,” cried the young man.
Immediately, Rapunzel lowered the weighty locks down the tower wall where upon the young man rapidly ascended. Once he reached the window and climbed into the room, he looked in amazement as Rapunzel took off her wig, revealing her own lustrous hair.
“How ingenious,” he declared. “When I first heard of a fair maiden who could only be rescued from an evil baron by climbing the locks of her hair to the tower where she was imprisoned, I wondered how a maiden’s hair could hold the weight of a well-built man. Now I see how it’s done, I must compliment you on your resourcefulness. Let me introduce myself. I am Prince Harold.”
“Welcome Prince Harold,” said Rapunzel. “I am Rapunzel and this is my cousin, Agnes. You shall be our guest until your father pays for your release.”
“What’s this? I thought you were imprisoned by an evil Baron.”
“Let me explain,” replied Rapunzel, “but first you must be weary from your climb. Please accept a goblet of this delicious mead.”
“A goblet of mead would be welcome – while you explain what’s going on,” he said fixing Rapunzel with a penetrating gaze.
Rapunzel noted that his eyes were the deepest blue and were, as they seemed at a distance, quite gentle. Yet there was strength in that gaze.
“Please drink and I shall explain,” she replied.
Both young women waited until the Prince had finished the final drops.
“That was delicious,” said the Prince. “Now, for your . . .”
The Prince was unable to finish and began to stagger around the room.
“This is not the time for explanation,” said Rapunzel who called out, “Guards, take him to the dungeon!”
“Treachery!” exclaimed Harold as he tried to draw his sword and stand against the two burly guards who entered the room. His strength deserted him and he collapsed onto the floor. The guards picked him up and dragged him down the stairs.
Several hours later, Rapunzel and Agnes sat outside the dungeon, watching Prince Harold stir.
“You,” he said bitterly. “It was a trap to rob my father of his gold. What evil hearts lie in the bodies of two comely maids?”
Rapunzel, standing and walking closer to the bars, drew back the sleeves of her gown revealing extensive cuts on her arms.
“Three months ago,” she said, “I was taken to the castle of the man who was to become my husband. He was a wealthy baron and my father, who had mismanaged our estates, offered a generous dowry hoping to ensnare a wealthy suitor.
The wedding was a grand affair. Nobles from far and wide attended, magnificent gifts were bestowed on us and my husband gave me a priceless pearl necklace as a wedding gift. Guests cheered and all seemed well.
He was a handsome man but I noticed that many of the maid servants looked at him warily whenever they were called to fill his goblet or attend to his needs. He returned their looks with a malicious grin as though deciding on what wickedness he could engage in.
The night of our wedding, he tore off my wedding dress and threatened me with a knife. I raised my arms to defend myself. Fortunately, Agnes heard my cries and entering the room picked up a silver candlestick and hit him across the head knocking him senseless. We quickly changed into travelling clothes, packed our jewellery and fled from the castle.
Agnes and I travelled for several days existing on nothing but berries and nuts and drinking water from streams we came across. We were exhausted and wondering what would become of us when we saw this castle nearby. We reached the iron doors and throwing all caution aside, knocked loudly. The guards were amazed to see two young women and took us to the chamberlain. We told him we had fled from a cruel master and he took us to the Baron.
Baron Lichtenstein was an elderly man with flowing silver locks, a heavily lined face and kindly eyes that bore into our hearts. It was impossible to lie. I told him the truth, revealed my cut arms at which point he offered us sanctuary.”
Prince Harold gazed at Rapunzel steadily.
“This is a disturbing tale and one I am sure is true but it does not explain my imprisonment.”
Agnes took up the tale.
“While staying here we have discovered that the Baron has no heir, the castle is poorly kept for he is increasingly infirm with only a few loyal servants He has a small contingent of guards but no army.
We suggested that we raise money for an army by selling our jewellery and recruit trustworthy men to defend his castle. He was delighted by the idea. However, there was no opportunity to sell our jewels so we found a scheme by which we could raise the gold we needed.”
“Unfortunately,” interrupted Rapunzel, “we have no way of recruiting soldiers. We cannot trust the chamberlain to negotiate on our behalf. He is a good man but too honest. Soon all nearby kingdoms would know our true state and invade. We decided to entice young noblemen to the castle and require a ransom from their fathers for their release. We then gave them a potion to erase their memory and took them to a place designated for the handover of the ransom. It worked well. Unfortunately, we have no way of recruiting soldiers even though we can pay them handsomely.”
“Perhaps I could be of help,” said Prince Harold. “My younger brother is more suited to be king after our father passes. For my part, I am more given to caring for our estates. I have a great interest in husbanding the soil, growing healthy crops and breeding sturdy livestock. Much of my time, when I am not undertaking daily fitness routines and combat practice, is spent in the library, reading about estate management or inspecting the property.
I must confess, though, I also enjoy reading and sometimes writing poetry.”
Rapunzel and Agnes looked at him in astonishment.
“That is all very well, Prince Harold,” said Rapunzel who was the first to regain her equilibrium at an encounter with an ideal male, “but how could you raise an army on our behalf?
“That would require some thought,” he admitted. “Let us confer with the Baron.”
Later that day, after lengthy discussions, Rapunzel, Agnes, Prince Harold and the Baron were in agreement.
“Rapunzel and Agnes,” said the Baron. “Prince Harold has agreed to recruit soldiers on your behalf and he is interested in returning to manage these estates. Can you trust him to be true to his word? It would mean releasing him with his memory intact and some of the gold that you have.”
That night Rapunzel slept fitfully but in the morning after she reflected at some length on the honesty she saw in his eyes, her decision was clear. Agnes was in agreement and together they told Prince Harold that he had their trust.
Nearly a month passed until one day, Agnes saw Rapunzel gazing out of the window and smiling as Prince Harold leading an army of sixty men galloped towards the castle.