Written by argonaut :: [Monday, 02 February 2015 22:03] Last updated by :: [Monday, 02 February 2015 23:42]
Her Adventure Begins
Propping her elbows on the windowsill and nesting her chin in her hands, Rapunzel gazed upon the high cliffs and dense shrubbery that concealed her tower from the wide world beyond. A warm summer breeze caressed her cheek, bearing the fragrances of wildfowers and apple blossoms and new-mown hay from fields and meadows and orchards that she’d never set eyes on, but longed to see.
She raised her eyes toward the horizon and sighed. Tomorrow night she’d sit at this window and watch the floating lights rise into the sky and mingle with the stars – just as she’d done on her last birthday, and the one before that, and the one before that, for as long as she could remember.
Mother said that the floating lights were just stars, but Rapunzel knew better. She’d watched the stars, night after night, and they were constant in their procession across the sky. But the floating lights – whatever they were – danced among them in an ever-shifting pattern, like a swarm of fireflies.
Mother also said that their appearance on her birthday every year was just a coincidence. But Rapunzel couldn’t help feeling that there was some connection – that the floating lights were meant for her, somehow – that they were calling to her, trying to tell her something … if only she could find out what.
She sighed again. Now that she was about to turn eighteen, she’d been hoping that Mother would take her to see the floating lights in person – and yesterday, she’d finally summoned up the courage to ask.
“Now, Mother,” she’d said, nervously twisting a strand of her long golden hair around her finger, “I know you think I’m not strong enough to handle myself out there --”
“Oh, darling, I know you’re not strong enough to handle yourself out there.” Mother’s voice had that light, mocking inflection that always made Rapunzel’s confidence falter. “How many times have I told you – the world outside is a very dangerous place, full of ruffians and thugs and goodness knows what else.”
“And look at you! Why, you’re as fragile as a flower.” She laid a finger on the tip of Rapunzel’s nose. “Not that you aren’t adorable, darling. But a frail little thing like you – why, you wouldn’t survive an hour out there. You know that’s why you can’t leave the tower. It’s for your own safety. Am I right?”
“I suppose, but --”
“Of course I’m right. After all. Mother knows best. Besides, it wouldn’t be proper for a young lady to travel without an escort. And you don’t know any eligible young men, do you?”
“I don’t know any young men.”
“Yes, I suppose we’ll have to do something about that, one of these days,” Mother said carelessly. “But until then,” she added, suddenly serious, “promise me that you won’t set foot outside this tower.” Rapunzel stood with downcast eyes. Mother raised an eyebrow. “Well?”
“I promise,” Rapunzel said softly.
And that was that.
Rapunzel turned away from the window. Her room, large and airy, was full of things Mother had brought over the years to keep her occupied – books and games and musical instruments and a set of paints. But none of them appealed to her at the moment.
She wandered into the adjoining chamber – a tiny room with one narrow window where Mother got ready for her daily trips to the market town a mile from the tower. Aside from a full-length mirror, its only furnishings were a small table and a row of pegs for Mother’s cloak and basket.
Mother had returned from market an hour ago, then gone out again, leaving her basket on the table. I might as well take this down to the pantry in the kitchen, Rapunzel thought. She removed the cloth covering and began inspecting the basket’s contents – parsnips and eggs and apples … and a book.
Curious, Rapunzel picked up the book. It was a small volume, bound in supple black leather. Mother must have bought it from a bookstall or a peddler’s wagon.
Rapunzel loved to read, but she’d already devoured every book in the tower’s library – except for a few dusty tomes that Mother kept locked away in a cabinet, explaining that they weren’t suitable for a young lady. Had Mother bought this book as a birthday present for her? She felt vaguely guilty for spoiling the surprise – albeit unintentionally – but since she already knew about it, she might as well look inside …
Slipping an apple into a pocket of her gown, she carried the book over to her reading table under the skylight and drew up a chair. Pascal, her pet chameleon, clambered up onto her shoulder, turning from green to lavender to match the color of her gown, and watched curiously as Rapunzel opened the book.
The pages were vellum, yellowing and cracked along the edges; the ink was faded, though the words were still legible. Rapunzel was disappointed to see that the book was in Latin. She’d learned a little Latin from a tattered textbook in the library, but she was hardly fluent in the language. Still, she might be able to translate a few of the words in the book. She turned to the first page and began reading aloud.
“Celerior quam sagitta volucris – fortior quam mille homines – potens alta aedificia saltire --”
Rapunzel’s eyes widened as the page she was reading from began to glow. Threads of golden light spiraled from the open book, growing larger as they rose. Frightened, Rapunzel stood up, jumping back from the table, but it was too late. The strands of light were coiling up her arms, holding her fast, then lifting her up off the floor.
Terrified now, Rapunzel struggled to free herself, but the glowing threads had wrapped themselves around her legs and begun weaving a cocoon around her torso, growing brighter and brighter as they crept upward. A strange tingling sensation was sweeping through her body. She squeezed her eyes shut …
And then it was over. The tingling stopped; she could move her arms. Cautiously, she opened her eyes, breathing a sigh of relief as she beheld the familiar room and all the familiar objects in it.
And then she looked down.
She could see her bare toes, peeping from the hem of her gown … six feet above the stone floor. She was still suspended in mid-air. Pascal was staring up at her from underneath the wardrobe, his protuberant eyes even wider than usual. Rapunzel tried flailing her arms and thrashing her legs, but without effect. Maybe she could swing herself along a rafter, then shinny down one of the oaken posts that held up the roof. She stretched her arms upward – but the rafters were just out of reach.
Rapunzel cast her eyes around the room, looking for something – anything – she could hold on to. Mother might return any minute, expecting her to come to the window and let down her long golden hair. How am I ever going to get down? She wondered frantically.
But no sooner had she formed the thought than she found herself descending, slowly, gently, until her toes touched the cool smooth stone of the floor. That was easy, she thought, relieved. I wonder if I can go up again?
She was soaring upward, much faster than she had come down, past the rafters and toward the skylight high overhead. Stopstopstop,she thought desperately – and slowed to a halt mere inches from the ceiling.
She was starting to get the hang of this. She began descending carefully back down to the floor. But her eyes widened as they came level with the rafters. One of the beams bore a deep, splintery gash that certainly hadn’t been there before. She ran a finger along its rough edges, then looked down. A chunk of age-darkened wood was lying on the floor. Pascal was inspecting it cautiously.
“Pascal, did I do that?” Rapunzel asked.
Pascal looked up, nodding, then pointed to the back of his head with his tail. Rapunzel touched the back of her own head, feeling the scalp underneath her hair. There was no bump or bruise, no tender spot – yet her head had knocked a chunk from a heart-of-oak beam.
Still hovering in mid-air, Rapunzel had an idea. She stretched her arms sideways, then swung her torso down and her legs up until she was parallel to the floor. Slowly at first, then faster and faster as she gained confidence, she began flying around the circumference of her room, weaving her way among the rafters, her long golden hair – all seventy feet of it – trailing behind her in loops and arabesques.
“Look, Pascal!” she cried excitedly. Yes, she was definitely getting the hang of this …
But just then she brushed against the tall china cabinet. It began to teeter and sway; plates and bowls and cups and saucers began sliding off its shelves. In another moment, they’d be shattered to pieces on the stone floor. Mother would be furious …
Instantly, instinctively, Rapunzel swooped in, her right arm moving in a blur of super-swift motion as she plucked the dishes from mid-air and stacked them in the crook of her left elbow. In the blink of an eye, she’d saved the endangered china; but now the cabinet was toppling forward …
Still cradling the dishes, she caught the cabinet with her free hand and set it upright. With a sigh of relief, she began putting the dishes back on the shelves; but something was puzzling her. The cabinet was seven feet tall and made of solid mahogany, yet she’d lifted it as if it weighed nothing at all. She put the last saucer back in its place, then floated back and regarded the cabinet thoughtfully.
Tentatively, she reached out and pressed a fingertip against the underside of the top shelf, then pushed upward. The cabinet rose off the floor, its three hundred pounds supported by one dainty finger.
Rapunzel set the cabinet down again, then floated down to the floor, turning to face Pascal.
“So,” she said, grinning. She put her hands on her hips and threw her shoulders back. “Mother thinks I’m not strong enough to handle myself out there, does she? Wait’ll she sees this. Ha! Then she’ll let me set foot – set … foot …”
A thought had struck her. She’d promised Mother that she wouldn’t “set foot” outside the tower – but now that she could fly, she could leave the tower, explore the world that lay beyond it, without setting her foot anywhere.
But she wasn’t sure that Mother would go along with her logic: She was so … protective. Rapunzel stood for several moments, considering her dilemma, then remembered something a character had said in one of her books: “Sometimes it’s easier to seek forgiveness afterwards than permission beforehand.”
Impulsively, she walked over to her reading table and took paper and ink from a drawer. She thought for a moment, then wrote a brief note: “Dear Mother: I’ve gone exploring. I’ll be back soon. Please don’t worry and don’t be angry. I’ll be perfectly safe and I’m not breaking my promise. You’ll see when I get back. I love you. -- Rapunzel.”
She placed the note on the table, using the ink bottle as a paperweight, where Mother was sure to see it. She picked up the little leather-bound book, which was still lying open on the table. She noticed that the page she’d read from had crumbled into dust, leaving only a few tiny flakes of desiccated vellum behind. She blew the dust off, then closed the book and put it back in the basket where she’d found it.
Returning to her own room, she walked over to the window and took a deep breath. This was it. She was actually going to leave the tower! She climbed up onto the windowsill and knelt at the edge, looking at the ground seventy feet below. She could feel her resolution faltering. It was one thing to fly a few feet above the floor of the room she’d known all her life; it was another to launch herself from a high window into an unknown world.
She flung her hair over the bracket outside the window and held onto it – just in case. Then she looked back into her room. Pascal was sitting on the floor, regarding her quizzically.
“Coming?” Rapunzel asked.
Pascal shook his head emphatically.
“Aw, come on. Don’t be a scaredy-cat.”
Pascal turned a vivid shade of yellow.
“Okay … last call …” Rapunzel turned to look outside, grinning as she heard Pascal’s feet pattering across the floor. She waited for him to jump up onto the windowsill and climb up onto her shoulder and dig his claws into the fabric of her gown.
“Ready? One – two – three!” Shutting her eyes, Rapunzel jumped from the windowsill. Don’t fall don’t fall don’t fall, she told herself. She opened her left eye, then her right. Sure enough, she was floating just outside the window. She let go of her hair. Nothing happened.
Spreading her arms, she flew around the pointed, slate-covered roof of the tower, startling a flock of ravens that had been roosting along the eaves. As they flew off, cawing indignantly, Rapunzel circled the ancient stone tower several times. How strange to think that she’d lived in it all her life – and was only now seeing it for the first time.
But there was much else she wanted so see. The world stretched away from the tower in every direction under a cloudless blue sky, inviting her to explore it. “Which way should we go, Pascal?” she asked.
Floating in an upright position, her toes pointed downward like a ballerina’s, Rapunzel held out her right arm like a signpost, forefinger extended. Closing her eyes, she began spinning around, her hair winding itself around her torso, Pascal clinging nervously to her shoulder. When she slowed to a halt, she saw that she was pointing westward.
“Look. Pascal!” she said. “That’s where the floating lights come from!”
Joyously, she flew off toward the west, her golden hair unwinding behind her, her eyes wide, eager to see the wide world and everything in it.
This was going to be the best day ever!