Chapter 1: Tangled
The squires frantically run after the prince—astride his large chestnut horse: Maximus. The Prince ignores them and continues to fly towards the trees, the air frantically whipping at his mahogany hair, and the smell of the wet forest in his nostrils.
“Calm yourselves, gentlemen.” The prince’s melodious voice is strong, yet gentle. He stops and turns to address them better.
“I shall return as soon as I finish my hunt.” It was impossible not to fall for that voice, the way he spoke made every man envy and respect him all at once.
He stops for a moment at the edge of the forest, waves a gloved hand at the squires and turns Maximus to the forest.
“Now,” he whispers to his trusted steed, “Ride on, my stallion, you know the way.” The horse bolts into the woods. Weaving through the trees with ease, the forest around the pair steadily grows darker, damper, and gloomier. Until at last they stop before a cave in the mountainside, in the deepest part of the woods. Where Ben dismounts and walks to the mouth of the cave. He whistles into the blackness, and a clicking sound responds.
“Henry,” commands the Prince, “Come now. I’m in a bit of a rush today.”
“And why is that, your high and mighty-ness?” the smug, raspy, voice of Henry the Hermit penetrates the gloom.
“I seek a fair maiden.”
“You mean: you seek a wife?”
“Mother has been fretting about my upbringing.”
“Explain this to me; after all I am only a simple minded peasant.” Ben doesn’t need to see the look on Henry’s face to know that he’s being mocked. So when Henry steps into the low light of the woods, Ben is hardly surprised to find a smug smile on his best friend.
Henry’s frock—today bearskin—used to scare Ben, but now the prince knows more than to take Henry’s look seriously. Henry’s matted hair is a color that the Prince has never been able to describe. The hair could have been brown, black, or blonde for all Ben knew. All that he could be sure of was that Henry was hairy, and all of the hair on the hermit’s body was matted and grisly.
He looked rather intimidating and scary, until one got to know his kind heart. His heart matched his eyes: Kind and good, easy to trust, and always swelled with eagerness. Yes, Ben was sure that the man’s brown eyes were windows straight to the soul of this kindly hermit in the woods.
“Well,” Ben looks around as he sits down on a log, “Where to begin?”
“How’s ’bout the beginning? Always a nice place to start.”
“I do believe this whole thing started when I was born. I was born the eighth child to my father, but I was the first son. However, soon after my birth, came my half brother—Randall—the brute has strength to spare and just enough wits to make it through life,”
“Whereas you have wisdom beyond your years and the strength of a normal, mortal, man.”
“One could say that.” Ben blushes; he hates the empty compliments (And is thankful that it’s too dark in the woods for Henry to see). “But that’s not the end of the story.”
“No this is where it gets good though.” Ben rolls his eyes at the hermit and continues.
“Right then. Well, Randall was obviously far better suited to become king. Father always liked Gertrude better anyway, and as she mothered Randall…either which way, I was born first. Making the throne mine. I had a betrothed, and she and I were to be married the eve of her eighteenth birthday. That’s three months from yesterday. Putting me at twenty years and forty days old.
“Randall has no betrothed. He’s had three, but all of them died within a week of becoming betrothed, so there are no more suitable ladies of nobility for him to have. So that leaves me and Lady Bethany the rightful heirs to the throne.”
“Then why do you seek a bride? If thou already have one awaiting the day?”
“I warned you; ’tis complicated. Well, just this morning I received dreadful news: my bride-to-be died last night. The poor chap who brought me the news; looked like he’d been running since sunup—without a break—and he was positively enthralled by the fact that I wasn’t going to have him flogged to death!
“Well, that leaves me without a bride and now Randall and I are equals. If it comes down to it—Father’s death, I mean—then Randall and I will have to fight to the death. Randall would clearly win in any brawl between us. If he wasn’t such a tyrant, I would hand him the crown. However, his hostile nature is one that shall never grow dormant. I fear him to be like Lord Nicolas.
“That sorry excuse for a man.” Ben growls in the darkness as he recalls one of the (Late) Lords of the land. “He would ride around his estate, hacking the heads off of anyone whom he felt like. And when he grew board, he would just decide to dismember any young man that he felt like!” He was positively glowing with anger at the thought of Late Lord Nicolas. “Randall has been known to do similar. And it makes Father so proud of his little cretin!”
“So, you seek a bride? So that you may lay claim to the throne? Am I correct?”
“Well, I know a way to solve your problem, and get rid of a nusciance of my own too! We need to ride about ten miles south of here. A client of mine could be exactly what you seek. But, be warned,” he cautions as they set off on Maximus, with Henry’s burlap sack and bow over his back, “My client, Scarlet, is part hag.”
“Then why show her to me? Not to be shallow, but looks are certainly good in a bride.”
“The young woman that lives with Scarlet is your prize. Trust me; the young lady is quite the looker. Scarlet is obviously a witch of some kind too. She has all kinds of potions that she brews. She needs a great deal of spices and roots and things, but she makes for good business.”
“I could have any fair maiden in my kingdom, so why would I seek this girl with a hag of a mother?”
“Scarlet ain’t Rez’s momma.” Henry grumbles.
“I don’t know the girl’s real name, but I think she’s Scarlet’s sister. Scarlet only mentioned her a couple of times. I know ‘Rez’ is short for something, I just never bothered to ask.”
“And what am I going to say to this Scarlet? ‘I heard your sister is gorgeous, can I meet her and marry her?’”
“Not if you say it like that. Naw, see, I know where the girls’ll be. Today’s a nice cloudy day. Rez don’t like the sun much, she stays inside mostly. But whenever it’s cloudy, boy she loves it. Oh, stop here for a minute.”
Ben stops Maximus and Henry jumps down and gathers some plants. They’re small, light purple, bell-like flowers with long, thin, green stems.
“Henry, what on earth?”
“Repunzal, your majesty. The leaves are like spinach, the roots; like parsnips or turnips. Rez absolutely adores them. She pays good money for them too. She makes the most savory stew with them and some squirrel meat. And she knows how to make a nice healthy bread to go with it. She’s a pretty good cook, but Scarlet is better.”
“These are lovely flowers,”
“She braids them in her hair.”
“Yeah, her hair is pretty long too.”
“What do you mean?”
“The long golden locks are longer than she is tall. It might go on for a mile or more, it trails behind her when she leaves her tower. But she’s never walked out far enough for me to see the whole length.
“Scarlet has curly black hair. Rez’s hair is straight as an arrow, and she has large eyes. I’ve never really seen the color before, so I couldn’t tell you. Scarlet’s are bright green. Like the moss in the sunlight after a spring storm.” Henry looks off into the distance as he re-mounts the prince’s steed. Henry looks somewhat like a puppy trailing after his beloved master, but that’s just Ben’s opinion.
Ben holds his tongue about this Scarlet, she sounds like quite an unsavory character to him.
“You fancy her, don’t you Henry?”
“Rez hasn’t really caught me fancy, sire.”
“But her sister has, no?”
“I appreciate the inner beauty more than the outer.” Henry continues to avoid the question; he’s not as dumb as one might think.
“And Scarlet has such beauty?” a sly smile creeps over the Prince’s handsome features.
The Hermit exhales loud and low, and growls his answer, all manners forgotten:
“Yes, and iffen ya wanna show Rez your pretty face, ya better shut your trap NOW! Scarlet has a gorgeous soul, and that—to me—is far more attractive than Rez’s physical looks. I can look past any and all flaws that Scarlet has in appearance, but I could never look past the flaws in personality that many pretty little faces hide. I know that most men just look at a maiden’s pretty little face, and waist. Then the eyes head south, straight for the a—“
“Art thou accusing me of being such a man?” The prince cuts across; he doesn’t need to hear the rest.
“Of course not, your Majesty...I was just—Good morning Lady Scarlet!” Henry suddenly cries out the greeting, as a castle appears in front of them. As he jumps off the horse, his eyes light up like a child who has just been bestowed a fantastic new toy.
The castle is completely surrounded by rose bushes; tall as Ben, and full of leaves and flowers. There is a single draw bridge—no moat of any kind—the only way in or out of the castle. The castle itself appears to be nothing but a very large tower, about a hundred yards from where the prince is now. But he knows that there must be more to it. After all, no one would just live in a tower in the middle of the woods. Ben dismounts from Maximus.
“Henry!” The voice is defiantly female, but it’s low, yet it still has a soft sweet note to it.
“My fair Scarlet! I wonder; where is your sister? I have some repunzal to give her! Freshly picked and at a fair price too.”
“Henry, you wild minx you! She’s just in the garden, but could I bother you for some herbs and –?” She comes out from the draw bridge, and catches sight of the prince.
Henry was right; she was most certainly part hag. Her black hair was stringy and straw-like; to call it curly was criminal! It was a tangled mess, and her black satin witch hat wasn’t helping the image. Her skin was pale, but not warty. Her eyes were green, and squinty. And her black brows were knit in a shape of loathing what she saw. Her lips were pale and pursed; her bony elbows were sticking out of her overlarge black cloak. The spider-like hands clutching her thin hips. The cloak hid the rest of her body from view, and swept along the forest floor. Her pointy black shoes peeked out from the bottom of the cloak. Ben (obviously) felt like she was some sort of witch. And yet, he felt that there was no real evil in her.
“Scarlet,” Henry breaks the silence, “This is my friend and associate, Ben. Ben, this is Lady Scarlet of the Shadows.” He smiles sweetly at her, and she blushes a bit at the title given to her.
“M’lady,” Ben bows to show respect, and he looks around the frail Scarlet to try a glance at Rez.
“Sir.” She curtseys—stifly and a bit too curtly—and looks back to Henry. “Rez is in the courtyard; I can get her money and be back in a few minutes.”
“M’lady,” Ben can see a golden window of opportunity, and he eagerly takes it, “Why don’t I go in and speak with your sister? That way you can speak to Henry about your herbs.”
The woman looks like she wants to refuse, but after a moment of internal struggle, she looks at Henry, but answers Ben,
“She’s in the shadow of the tower, just go in with the repunzal, and she’ll pay you as much as you wish—she’s not one for haggling.”
“Many thanks, M’lady.”
“Don’t step on my flowers!”
Henry hands over the bag of repunzal and Ben takes it with a swift nod. Before he realizes what he’s just done, he’s over the draw bridge and walking with great speed towards the tower. At the base of which he sees the small garden. The aroma of roses, violets, petunias, and—for some strange reason—garlic, penetrates the prince’s nostrils as he comes nearer the tower, and he can see the fair maiden in the shadows. He calls out to her.
“Good morning! Rez, is it not?”
She screams in fright, and runs under the doorway, he can only see her eyes—large and brilliant blue—and her hair. Oh! Her hair! Henry was most definitely not exaggerating with the length!
“My apologies, M’lady, I did not mean to frighten you. I suppose I should have introduced myself first. My name is Ben, and I am an associate of Henry’s. I have a large bag of repunzal here for you, and I wish to negotiate a price for it.” She starts to come out from behind the wall, her skin is milk-white and her body is long and thin, but she is still about a head shorter than Ben. She seems a bit underfed and is obviously hungry—the look in her eyes confirms it.
The prince takes another step towards her, and she flies out of her hiding space, her arms raised as she races towards him.
“Not a step closer!” she warns in a sweet voice, it is soft and delicate, and sounds like the song of a morning dove.
“This garden is enchanted. My sister is a Witch, and has great power. She has cursed this flower patch; so that anyone who steps over it might not leave, lest they experience a terrible pain!”
“Are you under such a spell?”
“Indeed I am! But she does this for the protection of the innocent. She says that I am a creature that the world should not see.”
“My dear, you are a beauty beyond words! And anyone like that should show the whole world their divine beauty! Might I know your name?”
“You said you had some repunzal for me?”
“Yes,” the prince is irked that she will not tell her name, but he is eager to speak with her more, so he goes with the change in conversation. Pulling out the bag of repunzal he looks at her, she takes out a bag jingling with money.
“No, M’lady. I will not let you pay for such an abundant plant. I can find this weed anywhere in the forest. I can bring you cartfuls of the stuff. But your money need not be wasted on this pitiful plant!”
“Repunzal.” Her eyes are full of hidden meaning as she looks at him, sadly.
“Yes, this weed—“
“’Tisn’t a weed! ’Tis a beautiful flower, and hearty plant! And it happens to share the name of the maiden standing in front of you!”
“Your—your name is…Repunzal?”
“Yes, it is! So I would very much appreciate it if you would not insult my namesake!” tears begin to well up in her brilliant blue eyes.
“A thousand apologies, my dear. I had no idea, but now that you say so, I do see the beauty in these little flowers. A beauty that I never have seen, or would have seen, without your help! Oh, do forgive me, my dear, sweet, Repunzal. Do forgive me, please!” He reaches over the cursed flower patch (the garlic smell is quite unbearable) and grasps her hands in his.
She looks up at him, and his heart melts for her. She has the look of a caged song bird, one that is too sad to sing. He knows in his heart that this young woman is ‘The One’—that she will be his bride—that she alone can have his heart! He knows that she will keep his heart, he can feel it in the very depth of his soul, that she is the one for him. And—above all else—he feels that he must take her away from her horrid life. He must rescue her…
They sit on either side of the flower patch for a long time. They talk about anything and everything—including their families. Ben feels Repunzal has the saddest story of all time.
“My sister means well. She must not know how painful it is for me. Our parents abandoned us when I was a small child. Scarlet could never leave this place, she loves it too much, and so does Draco.”
“Does she have a husband?” for the first time since setting sights on Repunzal, he thinks of Henry.
“No, no.” she shakes her head and laughs, the sound is like tinkling bells, “Draco is her pet. He’s an ugly thing. But Scarlet loves the beast, I hate him. She rides around the woods on that horrid thing. He hates me too; I can see it in those big brown eyes.” A moment of silence passes between them. She seems to be lost in thought.
She snaps out of it after about a minute and asks;
“So, what is your family like?”
He was dreading this part, as much as he loves her, he still doesn’t want to say anything about his title. He looks at her, and finds himself staring into her deep blue eyes, telling her everything.
“I’m a prince. Prince Benjamin, the first son of King Rupert, by Queen Kendra. They rule over the land, together, and prepare me to take the thrown. My whole future is based on my kingship. My father would never approve of falling for a peasant, but who cares? I love you, Repunzal, and I want to spend all of my eternity with you! Please, M’lady?”
He kneels before his lover. He wrings his hands, he begs. She sits on the ground and watches as he practically throws himself across the garden to try to reach her. She playfully (yet forcefully) pushes him back again.
“I will, my Prince!”
She leans over to kiss him, he takes the opportunity. As they kiss, she begins to squirm, then she starts to whine lowly, as if she’s in pain. He tries to pull away, but she places her hands lovingly on the sides of his face. He pulls out of the sweet embrace; as an acidic burning smell reaches him. He looks around for the source.
And finds it in form of Repunzal’s knees. They’re pressed in the dirt of the enchanted garden, and are smoking lightly. She pulls him back into the kiss, her hair (well, part of it) flies forward, and covers their faces. She whispers near his left cheek.
“I would sooner die, then have this moment end.”
“But—your knees—aren’t you in pain?”
“I didn’t notice until we stopped.”
Being the gentleman that he was, Prince Benjamin decided to distract the fair maiden from her pain.
They kiss until Ben is gasping for breath, and his shoulder is being clutched by a crushing force.
He knew that it was mad, he might never understand what compelled him to do it, but he also knew that this pure emotion was enough to move mountains! So what if the warning was still ringing in some distant part of his mind? So what if he had only known her for a few hours? He could feel the joy, the passion, as they had kissed under that tower.
He had felt that fire of pure loathing when Scarlet came and threatened Repunzal with life on a chain! And—more than anything else that drove him—he had made a promise to Repunzal as they were pulled apart. Whilst Henry and Scarlet desperately clung to their captives, and pulled with all their might against the two lovers, Ben had whispered a sweet promise to her:
“I will free you tonight, my love, and we shall be married upon the marrow!”
She had whispered only one word back:
No one else had felt those emotions, so no one else could understand the way he felt.
He stands facing the wall of rose bushes—which look far more menacing in the light of the full moon—and tries to calm his heart. He takes a few deep breaths to steady himself; then, he steps through the bushes. He goes as fast as he can, without making much noise. He gets through with only a few cuts and scrapes. Drawing his knife he creeps over to the tower. High above, the window looks down on Ben with a dark, gaping, stare. A chill climbs down his spine, but he presses forward—driven by burning, passionate, love for the gorgeous woman inside.
“Repunzal, Repunzal,” he whispers hoarsely, “Let down your long hair!”
From the depths of the room above, a long rope of golden hair is thrown. He catches it, and climbs swiftly to the top of the tower. Stepping inside the window, he finds himself in a small room.
It’s bare, there’s a bed with sparse, pale purple, hangings, and only one pillow. A chair and table, with a quail feather quill, and small inkwell. And a basin full of water on a small stand. The room is circular, with a door opposite the window, which faces the west. Everything is pristine and virtually untouched. She’s a great housemaid. But that’s to be expected of a girl who has spent most of her life in a tower in the woods?
Repunzal sits on the bed, in a pale purple nightgown and black satin slippers. She has her hair braided like a rope. The braid starts about halfway down her back, and reaches the end—this is what Ben had been climbing.
“Ready, my love?” he asks crossing over to hold her in his arms.
“Do you have the knife?” she kisses him on the neck, just below the jaw line. Her skin is cold as ice, and Ben wishes he had brought an extra cloak for her.
“Right here.” Pulling it out, he shows her the smooth blade.
“Let’s do it then.” She turns around, giving him the angle he needs.
“Are you certain?”
Reassured by her certainty, he brings the knife to the base of the braid, preparing to cut the hair.
The door bursts open with a loud whoosh, and Ben is thrown to the ground, a clawed hand at his throat. The knife is out of his hand, and has slid out of sight. Ben struggles to see past the main of grizzled black hair the surrounds his vision. But Scarlet is stronger than he could have ever imagined.
“HOW DARE YOU?” she howls at the prince and his love. “You have NO IDEA what you almost did! This CREATURE,” she points accusatorily at Repunzal, whom—Ben can barely see—is trapped under the claw of a vicious large lizard.
“A dragon!” the prince chokes out his shock, Repunzal had said nothing of her sister’s ‘pet’ being a dragon. But he recognizes the large brown eyes that Repunzal mentioned, and the beast is quite certainly big enough for Scarlet to ride on.
“NOT THAT CREATURE!” Scarlet smacks Ben across the face, and Repunzal is dragged out of sight by the dragon.
“SHUT UP! That creature—the one you think you love—that vixen of the night! The world shouldn’t have to behold something as shocking as that!” She spits out the last word, as she pins Ben to the cold stone floor with ease.
“YOU,” roars Ben, finding his strength, “ARE THE MONSTEROUS CREATURE THAT SHOULD BE LOCKED AWAY!”
Leaping up he pulls his sword, swinging it at the witch, he hears the horrid squeal of agony and pain. And his left hand is drenched in warm blood; he hates the sound it makes as it stains the carpet: A slow drip that gets muffled by the thickness of the wool.
He swipes at the dragon, and chops off its head. It rolls away, landing at the side of his master, still screaming in pain, and clutching her side. She will die slowly and painfully, but Ben feels no remorse. She deserves it, the way she treated Repunzal. She would have died a slow and lonely death, at the hands of her own sister! Repunzal scrambles out from the under Draco’s tail, and kisses her hero and heart’s true love.
“Thank you!” she sobs into his chest, as the witch continues to writhe in agony by the table. “Now we can go.” Ben looks at her and realizes that her hair had been cut. He hadn’t noticed in the fray, but now he sees her hair is starting to form waves; golden waves of hair, cascading down to the middle of her back.
He grabs the end of the cut braid and ties it to the bed leg, cradling Repunzal in his right arm he holds on to the hair-rope with his blood-soaked left. Entangling his arm in the rope, he leaps from the window. Repunzal giggles and squeaks with delight as they fly down towards the ground. Ben smiles, and wishes the ride will never end. Wishing that he could freeze this feeling of joy and triumph, bottle it, and hold onto it for eternity.
But like all good things, it does come to an end, they reach the ground. Tumbling over each other, he looks at her. For a moment, she is bathed in the light of the full moon. And he catches the glare of the knife, still clutched in her hand. And his eyes have no time to adjust before the clouds block the moon. He finds his sword, still soaked with the blood of the witch, and then he remembers her.
Scarlet is still screaming in pain and agony up in the tower, the prince tries to remember how he struck her. He thinks that he caught her around the waist, and sliced a rib or something. He only vaguely recalls the witch clutching her side. But then, Repunzal grabs his hand, looking into his eyes, she reassures him.
“She was cruel, and deserves what she got.”
He can see the remorse reflected in her eyes, but he can also tell that she means every word that she says.
And they escape to the forest under the cover of the clouds, never coming into the light of the full moon.
They walk on for hours, speaking occasionally, but mostly walking hand-in-hand. Ben does most of the talking; he tells Repunzal all about the life they will share. He is practically skipping with joy, but he notices that there’s something…different.
As they walk, it appears that Repunzal’s hair is growing darker, and curlier. Her eyes, too, seem to be darker…almost black. But he dismisses this; The woods are dark after all, probably just the low light playing tricks on me.
The sun is about to peak over the mountains as they approach the edge of the forest. He knows that they are close, but he doesn’t even get the chance to speak—before Repunzal stops dead and looks around.
“What is it, my love?”
“I can smell the most delicious…” she sniffs the air and licks her lips. Ben smells the air as well—honey buns from the bakery at the edge of the village. He laughs. Of course Edith would have made something special. I did tell her about Repunzal just a few hours ago, on my way to fetch my new bride.
“The baker’s wife, Edith, has outdone herself. The bakery is just on the other side of the field up here.”
“Where is the town square?”
“Not far from the bakery, just up the road a little ways.”
“Good, I want to meet everyone in town!”
“There’ll be plenty of time for that.”
“I want to do it today.”
Before Ben can say another word, they reach the edge of the woods. Edith is in front of the bakery with a large tray of hot honey buns. She’s smiling—as usual—ready to take on the day, and sell plenty of baked goods to the hungry people of the town. Ben turns to look at Repunzal in the first light of dawn.
Repunzal’s hair is black as tar, her eyes are like coals. Her skin is paler than ever, and her lips are red and full. She takes one look at the town—hunger shining in her new eyes—and takes off. She runs right into Edith, and about three seconds later, Edith drops to the ground: dead and soaked in blood.
Repunzal runs towards the town center, but Ben is frozen where he stands. He can’t believe what he’s witnessing. What could have happened to the innocent girl he met in the tower? Why is she single-handedly massacring the entire town? He struggles to understand what possibly could have happened between the moment he saw her, and this moment now.
He watches in horror as the Main Square and street turn to a river of blood, littered with the bodies of all the people he knows and loves.
Make that: Knew and Loved
A dragging step, and ragged breathing. Scarlet pulls herself from the forest, and stares regretfully at her sister’s path of carnage.
“I told you,” she says through ragged breaths, tears forming as she looks at the path of carnage left by her small sister, “that a creature like her shouldn’t’ve been let loose on an innocent and unsuspecting world... I told you.”
Ben just stares at the eyes of his gorgeous lover; the burning coals are alight with a happiness that Ben had never seen before. He doesn’t know what to think; as Repunzal dances through the town, her pink dress stained with the blood of the townspeople. The townspeople that only see her pretty face.