Writing Prompt: Fairy Tales from a Different Point-of-View
The blood rites were finished, the words of power chanted, and the potion prepared. A drop a day would save the afflicted babe, but Ana felt ravaged from the inside out. This spellwork had stolen years of her life, but what alternative did she have? If she did nothing, she might as well murder the baby herself.
The sobbing parents arrived at dusk, motivated, Ana assumed, by fear. Everyone feared Dame Ana Gothel, and Ana bore the loneliness without complaint because the alternative was chaos. Her words of power would be used to kill, her runes to imprison, her magic plants to plague and poison.
No one else remained to protect the Walled Garden from men.
When the miserable couple reached the edge of her verdant estate, the mother’s sobs matched her babe’s. The smell of rotting leaves rolled off this mother, the stench of despair. Ana understood despair – she understood the pain of losing her only child – but this mother would not see her child die.
The father stank of frustration and regret, the stench of a bog mixed with the smell of iron and blood. He blamed Ana for this, of course, but Ana’s focus remained on the babe, on the squalling her parents assumed was natural. It most certainly was not. This babe was in agony, spiky roots tightening around her heart.
The mother wailed and clutched her newborn daughter to her breast. “Why must you steal our child, Dame Gothel? How have we wronged you?”
“The babe was never yours.” Ana maintained the stately pose she had cultivated to hide doubt and pain.
“I carried her!” the mother wailed. “I birthed her!”
“If you believe our bargain unfair, your quarrel is with your husband.” It was the greed of this father, after all, that sentenced his child to death.
“A bargain is a bargain.” The father motioned, impatiently, to the mother. “Give her the child, Nan.”
His emotions now smelled like spoiled oranges – guilt. Ana knew then he had not told his wife what the stolen rampion had done to their child in her womb. Men like him did not admit fault.
“All we took was a plant!” the mother wailed. “Why must I trade my child for a plant?”
“Ask your husband.” Ana stared at the man until his eyes fell.
“You’ll kill her!” the mother shouted. “You’ll sacrifice her in some blood rite! I won’t let you!”
“Your daughter dies already. Do you not hear the truth in her cries?”
The mother gasped. “You ensorcelled my child?”
“The rampion you stole from my garden did that. The plant you so foolishly gorged upon is strangling your child’s heart.”
“That can’t be true!” The mother’s eyes welled as she glared at her husband. “Eddard! Tell me it isn’t true!” The smell of her betrayal hung on the air, sickly and sweet.
The father’s downcast eyes damned him more than any word from Ana ever could. Ana stared at the mother. She stared at the dying babe. And with one more sniffle, that babe was hers.
* * *
Fortunately for young Rapunzel — named, Ana decided, for the enchanted rampion wrapped around her tiny heart — drops of Ana’s potion slowed the plant’s growth and kept the baby alive. As years passed and the babe grew into a young girl, who grew into a young woman, Ana began to hope this child — her child, now, because she could no longer think of little Rapunzel as anyone else — would one day venture beyond the Walled Garden. If Ana could find some way to unwind those hungry roots from her heart.
The answer came on a fresh spring day, Rapunzel’s twelfth birthday. As Ana helped her daughter trim the ivy choking their garden’s walls, she saw its true nature. Tendrils around Rapunzel’s heart.
As ivy grew in the direction of water and light, so might the roots of the hungry rampion. Ana could not destroy the rampion, but she could lead its growth elsewhere. Ana would coax the magical plant out through her daughter’s brilliant blond hair.
That night, after Rapunzel slept, Ana returned to her mother’s tower. She carved, and scribed, and chanted, sacrificing decades of her life so her daughter might one day be free of the rampion curse. Ana knew when she was done, breathless and quivering with pain, that this blood enchantment would draw the rampion out of her daughter — but only if Rapunzel remained in the tower until the healing was complete.
Given enough years in this enchanted tower, the roots strangling her daughter’s heart would grow into luxurious blond hair, strong as hemp rope and long as the ivy clinging to the Walled Garden’s stones. Why strangle a heart when you could spread your blond roots, drinking in sweet sunlight and fresh air?
Ana would not live forever, certainly not as long as Rapunzel, not now. She had sacrificed so much of her life, and when she died, who would conjure the potion that kept the rampion from strangling her daughter’s heart? This tower was her only daughter’s salvation.
Some day, Ana would make Rapunzel understand.
* * *
The moon was bright when the prince climbed the strong blond curls that had once strangled Rapunzel’s heart. When he saw Ana waiting for him, he almost fell right off the tower, and Ana was sorely tempted to let him fall. He was the reason her daughter hated her.
“Dame Gothel!” The prince’s eyes narrowed as his hand brushed his sword hilt. “Where is Rapunzel?” Like all outsiders, his first solution to conflict was violence.
“Not here,” Ana said.
“Foul enchantress! What have you done with her?”
“I haven’t made her pregnant, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“I’d never…” the prince began, but his flush gave him away. “We didn’t … we only…”
“Rapunzel is gone, you fool.” The air shimmered as the rage Ana restrained writhed inside her. “She hates me, and will always hate me, but she is now free.” This prince had filled Rapunzel’s head with lies, seduced her, used her, but he would not kill her. “You will never see her again.”
“You imprisoned her!” The prince pointed an accusatory finger. “You kept her in this tower against her will!”
“I saved her life, foolish boy.” Ana’s grief and despair smashed against her mental gates, shaking the tower and forcing the prince a step back. “I loved her, protected her, taught her, and now you have poisoned her heart against me. Yet you failed to kill her. I stopped that.”
“What do you mean? Why would I kill her?”
“If you had dragged her from this tower before her healing was complete, the decades I’ve sacrificed would be wasted. I sheared Rapunzel’s fatal curse from her head this morning, even as she shrieked at my cruelty and demanded her release. I love her, I will always love her, and so I set her free.”
Rapunzel’s curses and threats had ruined Ana worse than rampion around her own heart, strangling, crushing, feeding. There was no pain like the hate of one’s own daughter.
“Where is she?” the prince demanded.
“Why do you care? You’ve already sown your wild oats.”
“I love her, Dame Gothel!” The sincerity of his emotions rolled off the prince in waves. “We are betrothed!”
His love was the smell of cherry blossoms in bright spring, a fresh rain on clean grass. It might not ease Ana’s grief, but it could ease Rapunzel’s. “Prove it.” Could Ana save her daughter one last time?
“I will do anything to find her. Anything! Please, help me.”
The prince craved magic. They all craved magic, just like Rapunzel’s birth mother craved that stolen rampion. So be it. Ana was done protecting these fools from the garden’s magic, done sacrificing her life for people who feared and hated her. Her own daughter had cursed her and left her alone, to die.
Ana clapped her hands and said the words.
Where once a prince stood now flapped a bird, small and blue and chirping with outrage. As Ana approached, it fluttered and squawked around the room. Ana spoke loud enough for the bird to hear.
“Fly to your Rapunzel, little prince. Fly far. If you truly love her, and if you can find her, her touch will restore your form. Find your betrothed and bring her, and her child, the happiness I never could.”
The transformed prince fluttered to the window sill, glanced back. Then he was off and flying before Ana’s legs gave out, before she collapsed on the cold stone floor, exhausted. Her life drained.
Dame Ana Gothel would never see another sunrise. She had given everything for Rapunzel, and now her tower, her garden, and her legacy would crumble to dust. She would die alone, wrapped in her daughter’s hate, but Rapunzel would live on with her prince, happy and alive.
If Ana left nothing else to the world that hated her, she left that.
About the Story:
This theme was incredibly similar to that of Fairly Wicked Tales, the anthology of twisted Grimm fairytales that published my short story “Rum’s Daughter”, so I was initially a bit unsure where to go with this one. I’d already twisted one fairytale into knots (Rumplestiltskin!) and no others jumped out at me as obvious propaganda from the winning side of a conflict.
That changed when I read the wikipedia entry for Rapunzel, specifically some of the older versions and variations. Pretty much immediately, I knew that Dame Gothel had been on the wrong side of history, maligned and misunderstood, and a much different version of the Rapunzel tale popped into my brain. At that point, all I had to do was write it down.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/7156765@N05/24572547029″>Spokane Washington ~ Spokane County Courthouse ~ Central Tower</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>