This April, we are posted one of our winning entries from the March Fairytale Retelling Competition. Check the blog each Monday for the latest winning story!
“Loonyloonyvish” is a writer & the author of idlejabber.wordpress.com. She loves reading, especially fantasy, but is less than keen on romance. Besides describing herself as a Potterhead, she is fond of Hollywood movies and Superheroes, as well as food and tea. When not writing/blogging, she keeps herself company by talking to herself (but of course she isn’t mad!).
In conversation with Rapunzel
It happened some four years ago. I was a reporter with the —- magazine. When I joined, I had been warned that the editor was a bit eccentric but when I met him, I realised that calling him that would be a bit of an understatement. He would shuffle about wearing pink suits and a yellow spotted tie, his nails painted blue, hair a deep shade of green. But this story isn’t about him, or me either; it is about a task he set us.
He was quite fascinated by those princesses of old; they had provided him with quite a lot of material for the magazine when they were young. “The case of the missing shoe”, “Beware of poisonous apples”, “Frogs are good kissers indeed: a new revelation”, etc. But he wasn’t satisfied with all the happy endings. He believed that the public would want to know what happened to them now that they are old and no longer trending. So we were assigned the task of looking for those royalties which was not an easy task given that most of the places they used to frequent are now government property. So, by the end of the month, I was the only one without a story.
I was quite desperate and understandably so. Most of the people on my survey list were either frauds or had severe cases of hallucinations. I could have interviewed them and got it over with but the real princess (if alive) would have sued me for publishing the wrong story. I mean, there was an old woman pretending to be “The Belle”. As a matter of fact, her husband was a passable beast but she was no beauty. So I continued my search for the real princess but in vain, that is, until a few days before the deadline. A few of my trustworthy sources revealed that in a town in the valley (whose name I won’t disclose for protection of her privacy), lives a lady whom the townspeople believe to be the real Rapunzel. I was quite unsure but decided to give it a try. If she was who she claimed to be, I could as well save my job.
The valley was quite beautiful: no wonder she chose to stay here. Just to make sure, I asked a particularly old goldsmith (who turned out to be her friend) about how long she had stayed here. He said that she had moved here some 57 years back which is roughly the number of years that have passed since Rapunzel had been rescued by the prince. Satisfied, I headed towards her house which was at the edge of the town, just where the mountains began.
I knocked on the wooden door which was presently opened by a sweet old woman in a lavender night gown. Although her face was wrinkled, her hair was the colour of gold, only shorter than the story goes. I thought that she was yet another fraud and that I could very well give up the dream of becoming a popular journalist. I must have been staring for she raised an eyebrow questioningly. I didn’t want to offend her so I stated the particulars of my business here and asked her if she knew some Rapunzel.
“ You are standing right in front of her, dear. Come on in,” she said, holding the door open for me.
The room was sparsely furnished and airy, the smell of freshly cut grass wafting in through the open window. She bade me sit down on a stool by the dining table which was covered in a patchwork table-cloth. Meanwhile, she disappeared behind a curtained passageway and returned bearing a tray full of tea and gingerbread-men.
“ They are my favourite,” she said. “You know, I never used to get them in the tower.”
I smiled. I still couldn’t come to terms with the idea of a short haired Rapunzel and so I asked her about it.
“Oh!” she laughed. “ I just cut them. You cant expect me to tend to them at this age, can you?”
Sensing my disappointment, she said, “They’ll grow back in a month’s time and then you will be convinced that I am the real me.”
Even though I had a few misgivings, I warmed up to her and even described my not so normal editor.
“Ah men! They are a peculiar lot. Not all of them but all the ones I encountered surely were. Take my father now. He agreed to hand me over to the witch without hesitation. And my saviour, huh! I shouldn’t even call him that. He just made my life all the more miserable.”
“But he was a prince and a rich one at that. Didn’t he take you to his palace and make you his queen?” I asked, intrigued.
“I did run away with him but he turned out to be a peasant without land of his own. When he had rescued me, he had dressed up a prince for a local parade, and I had believed him to be one! Those people who wanted something to gossip about, made up a story of a long haired princess being saved by a valiant prince and their living happily ever after. But no one bothered to check on us after the talks died down and so I had to carry the bulk of my hair everywhere until we stumbled upon a tumbledown cottage which was to be our temporary retreat. He was so poor that he could not even afford to buy a comb!”
She sipped at her tea a while, then continued, “ I hated him. You see, when I had lived in the tower, the witch had given me all I needed but with him, I starved. So I sent him out to look for a job.
“It so happened that while roaming in the streets of a nearby town he came across a tavern and stopped there for a drink. There he heard the story of a poor girl who had been locked up due to her father’s unbelievable claims and had been asked to spin gold from straw if she wanted to see the light of another day. So my fool of a husband decided to visit her and get some gold for himself. When he sneaked into the room, he found that she could do no such thing and she would be executed the first thing in the morning.
“Now however guileless my husband is, I must say that he has got cunning. He exchanged all the straw for a portion of my hair which the king took for golden threads. He was awarded a ring by that girl along with all the straw in the room which he brought home.”
“Wait a minute. Who is your husband?” I asked.
“Well, it’s Rumpelstiltskin, of course. Thought you had figured that out.”
“No… no that cannot be. He cannot…”
“Well, of course it is him. How else would all that straw turn into gold if my hair was not used? What do you think, some fairy godmother helped her?”
Now that I come to think of it, it all makes sense. So I prodded her to continue.
“The king must have rewarded her probably, I don’t care. My husband got the straw home, all right, but he lost the ring. He lost the damn ring!” she cried in exasperation. “What a husband I have got! I really preferred the old hag over him. What was I supposed to do with the straw? So I sent him out again because we had nothing to eat. Well, he set out and did not return for three whole days until life was slowly ebbing out of me. And what does that fool bring me? Nothing but a bagful of beans.
“It so happened that on the second night of his travels, he had come across a monastery. As it was snowing outside, he sought refuge in there. And that is where he chanced upon a few monks talking about a few magical beans which, when planted, would sprout out a huge beanstalk leading straight to the land of giants. Whoever’s heard of such gibberish?” she spat. “Well, even my beloved did not fall for that and brought them home. I thought I should cook the beans lest we wanted to survive the winter on stale bread ..”
“Wait… what! You couldn’t have cooked them! That was a grave mistake!” I told her. Now where would Jack get his beans from?
“You’re right in saying that, my dear. They tasted like a horrible mixture of.. of spinach and shrimp flavoured porridge! So I filled a bag with the remainder of the beans and sent my husband out again.” Here she coughed a bit and adjusted her lopsided spectacles. She is quite an amiable lady now that she is old but I really pity her poor husband. I bet there isn’t a single person out there who has been thrown out of the house these many times.
She continued with a smile, “He must not have gone too far when he met a boy called Jack who did not surpass him in wits. He persuaded him to trade his cow in exchange of those apparently magical beans, and he readily agreed. He actually bought the tale! He must have got a good spanking when he reached home.
“It went alright for another few days but you can’t survive solely on cow’s milk, right? And then my hubby dear heard about that gold spinning girl’s plight and went off to do some good. He had planned to exchange my hair for some gold but when he heard that she was to marry the king, he asked for her first child instead.
“I didn’t think it was a good plan until he explained that the child could be used to extract money from the king. I must admit it was quite clever of him but then, when the child was finally born and he found that queen-girl in tears, he offered a bargain. If she could guess his name in three days, she could keep the child. True, he doesn’t have a particularly common name but then only a fool would take such chances.
“My hopes did go up when even on the second night that stupid queen could not guess his name. Only a day was left and there were thousands of names left in the world. I’d heard that the queen had sent spies everywhere to intercept him and I did warn him but he had to go to the tavern and get drunk! Now, he is not particularly sane even when he hasn’t touched his drinks so it was not very surprising to hear the next day that he had been singing and shouting out his name for the world to hear.” She snorted.
“So the queen won the game after all,” I finished the tale for her. “But then, what did you do?”
“Um… nothing much. He was too ashamed to come home so he went off someplace else. Good riddance, I’d thought. I would be much better off without him to look after. But a few days later some soldiers arrived on my doorstep with my husband in their hold. His clothes were torn and he had a blackened eye. I think it was his left eye. The soldiers told me that he had ventured into their lands and had heard the news of their princess’s 100 year sleep from which she could be wakened only by a true love’s kiss. And what does my husband do? He sneaks into her bedroom and kisses her. What’s more, she indeed wakes up!”
“ What!” I spat the tea out of my mouth. “She really woke up?”
“Well yes but apparently the news had been outdated and some prince had already done the needful, and she had just been enjoying a good night’s sleep, as if she just hadn’t had enough!”
I smiled at her. I desperately wanted to meet her husband now. The first hand version of his tale would sell greatly. So I asked her about him.
“You cannot expect him to be here unless you believed in life after death,” she said.
Upon my incredulous questions, she nervously smiled and said, “Oh… well he was …uh embarrassing and you couldn’t expect decent married men to go about ogling other women, let alone kissing them. So I poked his eyes out. If he won’t have eyes for me, he will not see any other woman either.”
“But that doesn’t explain his death.”
“ About that… um… he went off strolling in the dark (not that it would matter to his sightless eyes) and fell off a cliff and died,” she ended flatly.
“ But this does not mean I killed him, right?” She twirled a lock of her beautiful hair and looked at me expectantly. “All the same, you mustn’t tell the authorities. You wouldn’t want to ruin the last few years of my life, would you?”
I looked at her awhile, ruminating over the numerous times she had turned her husband out of the house and how he had lost his life to her. If this didn’t work with the public, I do not know what else will. “No,” I replied. “The authorities won’t hear about it but only if you lend me your story.” I looked at the troubled face of that much hyped about lady and added, “The more uncomfortable parts will be left out, of course.”
And so, I saved my job and wrote a marvellous article which pushed me up the ladder to fame and fortune. Rapunzel got to keep her secrets until her death a few days back which provided me an opportunity to relate the few interesting titbits which I had discreetly left out earlier, hence trending more than our beloved heroine. And the old lady has also left in me a permanent impression of the nature of wives chosen in a hurry.