Chapter 13

One Year Later

The cool gently breeze brushed against Rapunzel's cheeks as she rode on the back of Ronald's stallion. They journeyed together through the small woods just outside the palace. At first after Ronald ran away last year, King Harold roared that he would never allow the young prince to leave the castle again. Queen Gretel, however, pleaded that Ronald just wanted to see how the common people lived to help him become a better king one day. Fortunately for the young prince, the king accepted this explanation.

"We should probably go inside soon," Rapunzel said. "I promised my mother I would be home in an hour for dinner."

Now that the Grapes of Youth were inaccessible, Rapunzel no longer needed to worry about being out in the open, at least not as much. The young maiden found she quite enjoyed life out in the open. She had recently just learned to swim by her real father and found it quite pleasurable.

"It's a bit early for dinner, don't you think?" Ronald responded as he slowed down his horse.

"I know," Rapunzel replied, brushing her now almost waist-length hair out of her face, "but I told Mother I would help her actually prepare the dinner so I don't want to let her down."

It was not until she tried living on her own that Rapunzel realized just how much her mother did for her. She could not help but feel a bit guilty that she was hardly any help at all. Ever since then, Rapunzel made more of an effort to assist Gothel in any little thing she can think of. She also decided never to grow her hair as long as she originally had it as it had caused mostly trivial hassles.

As Ronald rode up to the stables just outside the palace, he demounted his horse and assisted Rapunzel down.

"Well, my parents should be here soon," Rapunzel mentioned as she slid off, landing on her feet.

Ronald winked at her and commented, "Let's hope your dad didn't slip up and take something. He could be locked up now for all you know."

"He's working on his habit," she answered, though she could not help but grin. "Besides, even if he did steal something there's no way anyone would catch him."

After the incident at the temple last year, Gothel insisted that Carlos and Lillian had helped her entrap her sister in the temple. Since then, the people of Tiare celebrated these former thieves as heroes as they have feared Rengonda so. King Harold even provided them with jobs in the market, but Carlos had difficulty kicking his stealing habit. Rapunzel felt she could relate.

"You are coming to the ball tomorrow night, right?" Ronald asked, as he lifted the saddle off his horse.

Rapunzel smiled and nodded. "You know I never miss those."

After Ronald finally returned home, he confessed to his father and stepmother that he had grown quite found of the young maiden and desired to marry her. At first, King Harold did not approve, as Rapunzel was no royal. Queen Gerda, however, intervened and insisted that if Ronald was truly in love with this maiden they should be allowed to marry. The queen stated that Ronald would be a much better king if he understood the true meaning of love. King Harold agreed with his wife but wanted to insure that Rapunzel was the one. Once a week, he would host a grand ball where princesses would come from various lands for the young prince to meet. The king agreed to do this for a year and if by then Ronald still has not met anyone else, he would be permitted to marry Rapunzel. The prince was indeed relieved that year was almost at its end.

Carlos and Lillian arrived by horse to pick up their daughter. Over the past year, Rapunzel spent a great deal of time with her real parents. She however, still lived under Gothel's roof since this was the woman that raised her. No matter what, Rapunzel will always think of her as 'mother.' Strangely, as the time, she had come to accept the two former thieves as her 'parents' too.

Just as Rapunzel waved goodbye to Ronald and mounted on the horse with Carlos, Ronald fumbled around his belt and demanded, "Hey, where's the rope I use to tie the horses?"

For a moment Rapunzel stared at him confused, but then opened her cloak and pulled it out of her pocket. "Oh sorry, I didn't mean to take this."

As she tossed it back to him Ronald sighed, while Carlos let out a chuckle.

Lillian looked at her husband sternly. "Carlos, you shouldn't encourage her. If she becomes queen she has to break that habit."

"Oh, come now," Carlos said, still laughing. "Everything she takes is harmless. Its no big deal."

Lillian sighed and rolled her eyes, yet stilled smiled at her daughter. She supposed maybe there was something she did not quite understand about her husband and her daughter's stealing habit.

Once Rapunzel arrived home, she found that Gothel had already prepared most of the dinner.

"Oh Mother, I was going to help you this time, I promise!" Rapunzel insisted.

Gothel smiled and patted her daughter's head. "I know you would have, sweetheart, but I thought I'd give it a head start. After all, you need a good night's rest for the ball tomorrow. Isn't this the last one?"

"I think so," Rapunzel said. There seemed to have been a hundred balls over the past year.

"So do you think he's going to ask you tomorrow night since it's the last one," Lillian asked with a grin, exchanging glances with Gothel.

"Ask me what?" Rapunzel inquired, looking between the two women, confused.

Gothel beamed and just said, "You'll find out tomorrow, we hope."

The motherly sorceress winked at the two former thieves and put her arm around her daughter and guided her in. Rapunzel still felt a bit befuddled but she decided not to question any further. After all, she loved surprises.

Instead, she asked Gothel, "Is Frederick coming to dinner tonight?"

Gothel sighed and shook her head. "No, he's still trying to manage things at my sister's old manner."

Since Rengonda had trapped herself in her temple, she left a great deal off guards and servants with nothing to do. Frederick had taken the time to help them find jobs. Some were harder to convince than others than the sorceress would never return. They remained loyal for a while and wanted to carry out her will, which was not good for anyone. It took some time, but Frederick was finally convincing the last few to move on with their lives.

"So when are you two going to get married?" Rapunzel asked, causing Gothel to over-pour her water.

"Rapunzel!" Gothel exclaimed, as she turned to face her, appalled. "We are only friends, now. A year ago, he was still in love with my sister."

"Exactly, a year," Rapunzel pointed out. "You know how much people's feelings can change in that time?"

Gothel looked at her daughter, curiously. "When did you get so insightful?"

"I guess just the life experience," Rapunzel replied, as she grabbed a towel to help her mother wipe the water. She then turned back to Gothel and raised her eyebrow. "You still haven't answered my question."

"Oh, Rapunzel…. We just... uh," Gothel paused and then smiled at her daughter. "You know what, sweetie, I just don't know right now."

Rapunzel returned the smile. "Well, I think you two will be really happy together. He seems really nice."

Rapunzel's insightfulness did indeed turn out to be accurate. In two weeks time, Frederick asked Gothel to marry him. That was not long after Ronald proposed to Rapunzel. Every once in a while Gothel would send a messenger dove to her sister to keep her updated on the news. She figured Rengonda must be pretty lonely being trapped in the temple by herself. She, however, had what she wanted, eternal youth.

At first, Rapunzel thought it would be nice to be young forever, but seeing how her Aunt Ren was willing to sacrifice everything for this desire made her think twice. She knew what it was like to be alone and would not want to live that way forever. The young maiden, now a princess, had everything she ever wanted in life, a loving husband and three caring parents. To Rapunzel, that was all she needed to be happy.

The End