The Rapunzel Girl
(Really, what excuse did Rapunzel have to not climb down her hair! Anyone?)

________________________________________

Prince Charmings generally were only capable of riding by in time to rescue damsels in distress or to cause said distress in the first place. The current model felt rather out of place, then, having just scaled a high wall to catch sight of a lovely maiden with a gruesome haircut lobbing produce at a tower. She was aiming at its top, but her throwing arm left something to be desired. There were signs of improvement, as the splatter stains on the stone were fresher higher up, but there was a good thirty feet of spotless wall beneath her target: a gaping square hole, out which obscenities screamed.

"Oh shut it, you stupid hag!" the maid shouted back as she hurled her latest turnip. "It's no skin off my nose if you starve to death from your own stupidity! I wasn't the one who hacked the only way down to pieces in a snip of pique!" It was here that the wall-bound prince noticed the pieces of what had been an incredibly long, golden rope lying scattered at the tower's base.

The girl stalked closer to the tower, grumbling. She was kneeling to pick up something else to throw when a shadow fell crookedly across the garden row. Her gaze kicked up sharply to stare into wide, blue eyes.

The prince stared back. Despite the awful, sliced and diced state of her hair, she was quite lovely. He nodded awkwardly. "Uh, hello."

She stumbled back. "Don't come any closer!" she cried. "I've got a"—she squinted at the oddly-colored root in her grasp—"rapunzel…" Her voice trailed off, the rapunzel root tumbled from her grasp, and for a moment she seemed to forget the pillager with beady, pretty, blue eyes. When he took a step towards her, though, she snatched it up again and scowled. "Hey! Despite appearances, I'm not afraid to use this! Back, savage, uh, you savage…hey! What are you, anyways?"

He stared at the strange, insane creature masquerading as a beautiful girl.
She quickly grew irritated. "Come on! You have hair on your chin; if you're even human, you're the oddest woman I've ever seen." As he spluttered and hemmed, she cast a glance up at the tower window. "This isn't fun anymore, Hecuba! I want to go back up! Please?" The last was soft, almost a sob, but she swallowed any possible tears as she moved to put a patch of pumpkins between her and the human-like creature she had never seen the likes of before.

"I'm a man, thank you very much!" the charming prince finally managed to scoff.

She froze, lost her grip on the rapunzel, and had to fumble for it in midair. "Oh," she managed weakly, then hardened and thrust out the root again in a threatening manner. "I said stay away!"

He disregarded her command. "And it's not a lie to say that you are the oddest woman I've ever had the displeasure of laying eyes on." He stalked forward, she stumbled back, and then they repeated the actions, eventually making a neat little circle around the tower. Had he not been fuming, the prince might have noticed that the tall stone structure had no doors. "Me, a woman! You—"

"—Hey!" she cried defensively. "It's not as though I've got a basis for comparison. Men don't exactly spring up full-grown in the garden!" When he stopped short, she added, "Uh…you don't, do you?"

"You've never seen a man before?"

She brandished her rapunzel as her eyes flashed. "No, but I've read all about them, so don't think you can fool me into thinking you're harmless!"

He blinked. "You can read."

"Doesn't everybody?"

At this, he laughed. The situation had officially become too absurd to be offended. He dropped down to the ground and carefully brushed what spattered vegetables he could from his clothes. Until he spotted the poison apple on his sleeve, that is. In seconds, he was stripped bare of his shirt and tunic. The girl was staring at him as though he were the mad one. Then her gaze strayed to his chest.

"Oh. Um, I didn't realize you were so young. How old are you, sweetling?"

"Excuse me?"

She huffed, "Well you can't be that old; you're completely flat-chested!"

"…Excuse me!" His mouth worked. "First of all, men do…not…and furthermore, I am twenty years old, you idiotic slip of a girl!"

"Well. In that case…" They were suddenly back to waving about rapunzel roots like deadly weapons. "You'll never take me alive!"

_____

And so they went around the odd door-less tower again—and again. And again.

...Or at least they went that way until they decided to break for lunch.

_____

The sweet prince bit into a sweet apple, only to wince when yet another shrill shriek drifted down from the tower window. "Who is that, exactly?" he asked the girl sprawled on the ground by his side.

She took another bite of poison apple before answering, oblivious to her companion's shudder. "Hmm? Oh, that's Hecuba." The name seemed familiar for some reason, but he couldn't place it. "My guardian, sort of. She doesn't sound like much, I know, but you've caught her at a bad time. She's rather brilliant on her good days."

"How so?"

"Well, once she got a couple to trade their firstborn child for a rapunzel root."

He laughed. "That doesn't say much for the couple's intelligence, does it."

She was quiet for a moment. "…No. I don't suppose that it does." She sighed and tossed the poison apple over her shoulder, much to his relief. Her eyes went to the sky and stayed there. He didn't need the magical gift of wit to notice that she was rather enamored with staring up.

They were silent for a time. Unfortunately, the quiet only served to make old Hecuba's shouts all the more grating.

"So…uh"—uncomfortable, he jerked a thumb at the tower—"what happened?"

Her gaze returned to earth. She stared at him a moment before giving in to a sad chuckle. "Well, as you now know, Hecuba can be very brilliant. This is one of those other times. That"—she jerked her thumb towards the golden mound lying at the base of the tower—"was my hair. A week ago, it was attached to my head, and, when it was suitably wrapped around the bedpost a few times and then thrown out the window, someone could climb up it. Hecuba could, I mean. There was no one else around to do the climbing. You're only the second person I've ever met."

"I'm honored. I think."

"Anyway, a few weeks ago I got bored, and I decided I wanted to try my hand at weeding." He stared at her, and she bristled. "Hey! How was I supposed to know it was that horrible? I'd never been out of the tower before."

"You… Never?"

"Yes, never. So the only way to get in or out of the tower was by climbing down my hair. I think there used to be a rope ladder when I was little, but it fell to pieces years ago. Well, I wanted to get down, but it's impossible to climb down a rope that's attached to your head."

He thought for a moment. "I can see the dilemma."

"Yes. Then I saw the shears in Hecuba's sewing basket."

"Ah." That explained the gruesome haircut.

She stood and pressed her fists into the small of her back. "So I tied my braid to the bedpost, climbed down, and learned of the joys of weeding. While I was around the back of the tower, Hecuba came home and climbed up into the main room. And if you think this is bad,"—she pointed to the tower—"you should have heard her when she saw what I'd done to my hair." She let out a breath in impressed horror. Then she sighed. "Unfortunately, Hecuba flies into these destructive rampages when she's mad. My hair was still tied to the bedpost—I mean, I needed a way to climb back up again—and I guess she saw the shears lying on the bed."

A thought occurred to her audience, and he turned to look at the pile of chopped hair. "She didn't."

The girl nodded. "She did. And she's been stuck there ever since. I thought it was hilarious until three days ago."

"What happened three days ago?"

"The shrieking started."

He started a new apple after his wince of sympathy. "Why?" he asked.

She threw up her hands, picked up a tomato, and lobbed it experimentally towards the window. It burst apart on the stone several feet below the mark. "Well, usually we have a pretty impressively stocked larder, kind of like what those king people in the books have. That's what the garden is for. Unfortunately, Hecuba hadn't been around to restock it for a few weeks—that's why I was so bored—and when she realized she was stuck up there, she had all these pity feasts. She started screaming at me after she ran out of food. Three days ago." She shrugged and glanced around for any spare produce lying on the ground. "I've been trying to throw her some fruit or something, but the window's just too high." She spotted the half-eaten apple in his hand and brightened. "Oh, thank you."

He made an offended noise when she plucked it from his grasp, but she ignored him, wound up, and hurled. When the red semi-sphere ricocheted off the middle section of the tower to plummet back towards the ground, she threw up her hands in exasperation and cried, "See! It's hopeless! …Well, I think it's safe to say that lunch is over. Now, where were we?" Her gaze fell on her much abused rapunzel root. "Oh yes."

_____

It was turning out to be a very long day.

The prince, less sweet and more ready to let loose a scream that would put Hecuba to shame, held out his hands in a placating gesture that wasn't working. "Look," he said to the maiden he'd taken to calling the rapunzel girl, "just put down the root. I promise I won't hurt you."

The rapunzel girl wasn't listening. With a wild gleam in her eye, she cried, "Right, because of course my root beats your dagger hands down. I don't know about you, but I dice up daggers for dinner with my root all the time!"
He glanced down at his inoffensive little belt knife and sighed, "Then how about this? I put the…dagger down, and we end this nightmare." Without waiting for a reply, he tossed the miniscule thing aside.

"You idiot." She was staring at him. "Now you're defenseless, and I've still got my root."

He let loose a laugh of unadulterated pain and dropped down into the dirt. "My Lady, I very much doubt that anyone ever came to harm because of a rapunzel root."

He voice was soft. "You obviously don't know much about rapunzel roots." But then she shrugged and lay down by his side. The tower was colored shifting hues of orange as the evening slowly approached, and she yawned accordingly. "Very well, Kind Sir. I am so honored by your trust that I shall not slay you with a rapunzel root but shall ask for a truce."

"Granted. Gladly." He let his head fall back into the dirt and sighed, enraptured by the sudden peace. Then Hecuba piped up, right on cue. He groaned. "Does she ever—?"

"—Shut up? When she's dead. Maybe." The rapunzel girl smiled. "To tell the truth, it's nice to get a word in edgewise for once."

"My pleasure. …Do you think she'd stop screaming if I managed to get her some food?"

"After three days? I think she'd do anything."

"Even give me permission to court you?"

Confusion bloomed on her face. "Uh…"

"Never mind. She'll understand." He rolled up into a crouch and shook his head when she moved to follow. "Just stay here. I'll be back in a moment.

Not long after he had scaled the wall and dropped out of sight, there came an indignant whinny. When he returned, she called to him. "What was that!"

He grimaced. "My horse."

"Ah. The Noble Steed."

"I call him my Royal Pain of an—" He stopped himself short at the sight of her wide, childlike eyes.

"Pain of a what?" she asked.

"Never mind. I found what I was looking for." He held aloft a sort of leather strap.

"What's that?"

"A sling. I used it as boy before I was taught archery, and I held onto it…for some reason." He failed to mention that his archery tutor had declared him a complete failure. As had his fencing tutor, and his jousting tutor, and, not surprisingly considering his horse's name, his riding tutor. He was sure there was at least one tutor that hadn't immediately dismissed him as useless, but no one was coming to mind. To keep from sighing, he picked another apple off the orchard tree. "Now, I used to be pretty good at this, surprisingly…ahm…though I've never tried to lob produce before..." He shut up quickly and loaded the sling. The rapunzel girl watched it spin about with rampant curiosity before he let loose. Right after, she let loose a cry of joy as the fruit smashed into the tower wall. "It hit above the window! Oh, you're the most wonderful man I've ever met!"

He beamed.

She calmed down and looked at him seriously. "Do you think you can get it in the window?"

"Oh, with a little practice, I'm sure I'll manage. Now, I'll talk to your guardian while you gather up ammunition." At her blank look, he clarified, "I mean food, small enough to throw." She grinned and ran off. He tucked the sling into his belt and up to the tower. "Hecuba!" he called out. He frowned. Why was that name so familiar? He cried the name that was so elusive to his memory again and was eventually rewarded with the sight of a seething mad hag. With a confidence he had rarely ever possessed, he shouted, "I have an offer for you! I have the arm and the aim to give you food from you garden, and I will in return for your silence and your permission for me to court your ward!"

The woman retreated into the tower, screaming obscenities. He blinked and wondered why he was even bothering to protect the rapunzel girl's supposedly virgin ears.

Said rapunzel girl came up behind him just then with a load of produce in her skirt and asked "What did she say?"

He blushed when he saw the curious tilt of her head. "Well, er—" He managed a rather shaky debonair smile and replied, "She isn't completely sold on the idea yet, but I guess there's no sense in letting the poor woman starve. Let's throw something up as a, er, peace offering."

"Great. Here." A fruit was pressed firmly into his palm. He stared dumbly at its lush, red shape a minute before letting loose a scream and hurling it away.
As she watched him desperately wipe his hand on his breaches, she frowned and put her hands on her hips. Her skirt fell back towards earth in the process and spilled two dozen of the small red fruits to the ground near his feet. He jumped back. She stared at him. "What is it with you and tomatoes!" she exclaimed in exasperation.

"I'm not touching a poison apple!" he shouted back.

He paused a moment. "…What's a tomato?"

She groaned and stepped towards him through the littered produce. "Fine! Use this instead." She pulled the ever-present root from her waistband and handed it to him.

He frowned at it. "What is it you and rapunzel roots? …Never mind. HECUBA!!!" He cried the last in warning before taking up the root in the sling and hurling it towards the window. They both squinted to catch sight of its flight and gasped softly as it plunged through the square hole. They could hear themselves gasp, too, as, right when the root entered the tower, Hecuba's hoarse screams stopped, quite dead.

The rapunzel girl was the first to react. "YOU DID IT!" she cried and threw her arms around her hero.

The prince, meanwhile, was still staring up at the tiny window out which was streaming nothing but deathly silence. He finally swallowed, scarcely believing he was going to risk ending the quiet. "HECUBA! If you have any qualms about me courting your charge, speak now or hold your peace…forever."

He bit his lip in worry.

The rapunzel girl stared up at the tower expectantly for one…two…

…twenty…

"Well!" he finally laughed. "I'll take that as a yes. Let's go, then—Now." And he moved to pull her away, but her feet faltered.

"Shouldn't we give her more food…"

He smiled reassuringly. "Oh, I'm sure what she…got will tie her over until we can send for help. Amazing thing, rapunzel root."

"Yes, I guess it is." She returned his smile weakly when he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and led her away towards the garden wall. It was difficult to keep up with his hurried pace, but she still let herself slow to turn back towards the tower, the only home she had ever known, and call out, "I'LL BE BACK SOON, HECUBA! PROMISE!"

With her head turned away from the prince, she missed his wince that preceded a confused knitting of his brows.

That name

_____

Much later that day, the rapunzel girl leaned back against the chest of her prince charming and stroked the mane of the Royal Pain as they rode into the sunset. She was completely enamored with the unfamiliar beast, which was fortunate as it kept her from realizing how poor a rider he was, as well as some other…damning faults of his. As it was, despite the circumstances, he was having the best horse ride of his life. He smiled softly as she turned her head to fit it under his chin.

She gave a little yawn. "I forgot to ask this during our dagger-root standoff, but what's your name?" she asked softly.

She was right. They had skipped over the introductions and gone straight to courtship. Fortunately, she couldn't see him blush from her current position. "Ah…well. I am Prince Charming," he replied uneasily.

He felt her lashes blink slowly into his chest. In his haste to remove his shirt during the poison apple mess, he had somehow ripped off the top two buttons, and it no longer completely closed, leaving her to press her cheek against his bare skin. For some reason he didn't really mind. "Prince Charming?" she finally repeated in wonder. "Actually? …It suits you. My name is Rapunzel."

It was his turn to blink. "Actually?"

Yes. Hecuba…had her reasons." She shifted. "So. Tell me again, why are we going to see your father?"

She couldn't see his grimace from her position, either, and for that Charming was immensely grateful. With the bad taste still in his mouth, he replied, "I need his…blessing so I may ask your hand in marriage."

_____

"ABSOLUTELY NOT!"

Charming groaned. He turned to the window and tried to see if Rapunzel had heard King Vitriol's outburst from the palace garden. She was still running her fingers through the flowers in wonder. It had taken some doing to convince her that, despite the lack of produce, the large open area in the courtyard was indeed a garden (and no, the flowers weren't edible), but it had been managed and she now wandered it with the innocent joy of young child. The prince took a steadying breath and tried, "But Father…"

"NO!"

He didn't care to turn back to see what shade of red the man was currently sporting on his angry face. Instead he kept his gaze on Rapunzel. The resident Ladies in Waiting, having no queen or princess around to pamper as royal females had a habit of dropping down dead in Vitriol's presence, had all but jumped the poor waif when he brought her through the palace gates. Her muddied skirts had been quickly replaced with an ethereal gown and her awful haircut transformed into a beautiful length of golden silk that trailed down to a spot someplace past her shoulders.

"…TELL ME!" Vitriol was currently demanding. "TELL ME WHY I SHOULD ALLOW YOU TO WED THAT"—a meaty finger jabbed in the girl's direction—"THAT…!"

Charming swallowed while his father struggled to come up with a proper title for the rapunzel girl, and he opened his mouth to answer, only to falter. "I…I...fell in love with her at first sight," he said, his head bowed. He really didn't care to see what violent shade of violet the King was quickly turning.

"You stupid, romantic fool."

Vitriol's voice had gone soft. Charming's hands gripped the window sill tightly. That was never a good sign.

"So you wanted a troubadour tale's ending for yourself. FINE. But tell me this, Charming. Couldn't you have had the decency to go get yourself swallowed by a dragon and CHOKE THE THING TO DEATH!"—he missed his son's acute wince—"AT LEAST THEN I COULD MAKE IT SOUND LIKE YOU'D DIED A HERO INSTEAD OF—this!"

The prince's shoulders sagged. He knew he was a failure, but did the man have to be so vicious in pointing it out? "Is that what you want me to do?" he asked quietly as he dropped into a chair.

"WHAT I WANT YOU TO DO IS TO SEND THAT…THAT…BACK TO WHATEVER PLACE YOU CONNED…THAT…OUT OF!"
"Father!" He blanched. "Please. I can't…do that because…" He clenched his jaw.

"Because what?"

He shivered at the sound of the softest tone Vitriol had ever managed. Well, he supposed glumly, it was now or be banished forever. "Because…I KILLED HER GUARDIAN!" he ground out in a shout. "HECUBA!"

_____

What followed was a very long silence.

"You?" Vitriol's voice was a veritable whisper. "You slew the Hecuba, the Witch who has terrorized our countryside for nigh a hundred years?" The prince risked a glance. His father was staring at him as though the son he'd never had had actually been there all along.

Charming blinked and repeated, "Witch?"

Suddenly he recalled why that name had been so familiar.

"So how did you slay her, son?"

He started to answer, then balked.

…Son?

"Ah. Well," he stuttered. "Am—A—Amazing thing, r—rapunzel root."