It was no time to be a maiden.
All over the land, infant girls were being stolen from their soft, glistening cradles and swept away in the moonlight. In the girls’ innocence and beauty lied power, and their wicked kidnappers used the babes as a means of siphoning that power for their own evil purposes. As the girls grew, they knew no other life. They were often too weak and drained of energy to try to explore, but as a precaution against escape, the maidens spent languid days locked in isolate towers.
Indeed, it was no time to be a beautiful maiden, but Eldora was no maiden. Beautiful? Certainly. Her hair shined like ravens’ wings, and her eyes glowed as if possessed by emeralds. However, Eldora was a sorceress. She, personally, found all the baby stealing archaic and unnecessary, and further, she had never had much patience for children. What would one do with a baby to tend all day, no matter how lethargic it may be? She much preferred the company of Adragaron, devoted companion and wizard, in their quiet home nestled just beyond the Great Forest. The crumbling tower had seemed a far stretch when they stumbled upon it, but with time, it proved excellent as a base for summoning and flight. Completely isolated from the town, they could conduct their magic peacefully and undisturbed. In fact, they had not seen a human pass by in over a century.
This is why it came as such a surprise when Prince Herbert appeared at the foot of the tower one shining spring morning.
“Hark!” he cried, peering up at the tower, the sun in his eyes. Eldora kept a distance from the window but stared out at him curiously.
In truth, Prince Herbert was not the brightest in the land. He had failed time and time again to convince his father, King of Everbrook in the East, that he was a worthy heir to the throne. After Herbert’s bumbling attempt to win at the Kingdom’s latest mock battle, the King was exasperated.
“One final test, Herbert,” he said, with a slow, exhausted drawl while rubbing his eyes with his thumb and forefinger.
“Yes, Father!” Herbert was all-too-eager. Never dissuaded by his failures, he remained confident, a trait the King suspected was a major reason why Herbert always failed. He was confident, often with no right to be so.
“I have no more trials for you. You must embark on a journey,” the King began.
“Yes. I send you out, my son, to find your own test. Go beyond the Great Forest and bring me any proof that you are worthy to one day be King. Anything. But do not return until you have done so.”
Herbert wavered for a moment. He had never left Everbrook in all his days. Nonetheless, he set out the next morning on his horse with a sword at his side.
On this day six-hundred-and-eighty-five of his journey, the sword had not proven to be very useful. Herbert had used it once to strike a gnome who had dared to try to steal a parcel of his bread, but even in that case, the assailant got away with nothing more than a bump upon the head.
The journey had been widely uneventful and was, refreshingly, much more accommodating than the King had made it seem. Herbert had had the pleasure of staying in any number of inns and farmhouses along the way. It was amazing the kindness one can receive with dashing good looks and a throne in one’s sight. On any night, Herbert could guarantee to find himself with a stomach full of stew and port and a soft feather bed in which to rest.
All of this was very pleasing, but the problem still remained of what, exactly, Herbert could bring back to his father.
“All you’ve gotta do is rescue one of the maidens,” slurred Ashton, a gangly man who had drunk too much of the aforementioned port while dining with Herbert at a local tavern.
“Maidens?” Herbert asked.
“Ya, maidens. The ones up in the towers. Where’ve you been the past twenty years?”
“I’ve…been in Everbroo—“
“Ne’ermind that,” Ashton interrupted. “Go find’ya tower. Any tower. Save the girl inside, and it’s a done deal. All the guys like you save maidens. You bring her back home. Your father’s happy, and then you get to marry her. What more could you—“
And with that Herbert stood from the table. “I shall find me a maiden!”
“Hark!” Herbert cried, this time with a fist thrust to the air for emphasis. “Fear not, beautiful maiden. I have come to save you from the depths of your despair!”
“Excuse me?” Eldora said, creeping to the window. “What…do you want?”
“Ah, beautiful maiden! I have come to save you from this terrible prison.”
“This is my home. Understand, you must be mistaken. I ask you move from here.” She turned to retreat from the window.
Prince Herbert was confused. He had found the tower. Inside, there was surely a maiden. Is this the test? he wondered.
He paced and thought, looking back and forth from the tower to the ground, his brow furrowed. For a moment, he thought to inquire of his horse but received no reply, only a somewhat judgmental side-glance as the beast chewed a clump of grass.
Suddenly, a thought occurred to him and he ran to the tower with gusto. “Maiden! Fairest Maiden!”
Eldora slowly appeared, arms crossed and clearly confused at his persistence. “Yes?”
“You are enchanted!”
“I am what?”
“Enchanted! A spell has been placed on you. Of course that is the reason. It explains why you think this is your house and why your golden hair has been turned so black…”
Eldora twisted a section of hair with her fingers and scowled down at Herbert.
“It makes perfect sense,” he continued. “You are under a spell. But trust me, dear maiden, the world outside of this tower is far better. I will show you so. I will break you free and take you back to Everbrook where you will be my queen.”
“I am Prince Herbert,” he said with a flourish of the hand. “You will make an excellent bride once I break this –”
He slashed at the base of the tower furiously with his sword.
Eldora leaned on the window ledge and shouted, “Stop that at once! I am not a prisoner. I chose this as my house and am quite happy here, for that matter. I am not a maiden and I will not be your bride.”
Herbert paused, not prepared for such a hostile response. “But…every maiden wants to be a queen,” he mumbled. “Why would anyone choose this as their house?”
“The real estate in this area was quite limited and –”
He continued to dash his sword at the stones at the base of the tower. Each strike let off a little ting! although Herbert made no progress. Eldora dropped her head and sighed. She muttered an incantation that drew a protective jade glow around the tower and retreated inside.
“Why don’t we just cast a spell to send him away?” Adragaron asked while stirring his morning coffee, careful not to dip his beard in the cup.
Eldora looked up from her crossword. “It’s such a waste of resources, don’t you think? Surely he will go away soon. ”
Adragaron peered out the window and took a sip. “He’s resorted to climbing.”
Outside, Herbert struggled to find footing. He hoisted himself inches above the ground only to slide down the side of the tower after a second or so.
“He’s going to wear himself into exhaustion. Soon, he will give up,” she said. She tried to return to her crossword but was soon interrupted by sharp cries from outside.
She held her pencil firm in her hand and did not look up, but he did not cease.
Eldora threw the pencil across the room and walked to the window. She stood stone silent.
“There you are, beautiful maiden! As you can see, I am having a bit of a struggle scaling this tower. I’m afraid I must require your assistance.”
“Assistance?” she asked, her voice stony.
“I thought perhaps you might throw your hair down the tower so I might climb it to your window.”
“And what will you do when you get up here?” Eldora replied, coolly.
“Why, I will rescue you, dear maiden!”
“And how do you plan to rescue a ‘maiden’ with a broken neck?”
“Because that’s exactly what would happen,” she continued. “Your weight would certainly fracture my spine.”
“That can’t be!” he shouted. “It is the surest way to save a maiden. I went to town in the night and begged the assistance of the local barkeep, and he said just this.”
“Did he now?”
Eldora twisted her hair in her hands and dangled it over the side of the tower. It came nowhere close to the grass fifteen feet below, and she, of course, knew this.
As she walked away, Herbert shouted after her. “How long, might you think, would it take for your hair to grow long enough?”
Prince Herbert was gone for the rest of the evening. Eldora was in high spirits, as she believed she had finally rid herself of the bothersome caller. That was until she heard a great rumbling in the field beyond the tower and saw Herbert approaching, pulling a medium-sized dragon by a muzzled leash. Eldora put her face in her hands.
“Maiden! Come forth and see what I have brought you!”
“Let him go!” she cried.
“I will slay him right here to defend your honor.” He held his sword high.
“Take him off that horrible leash.”
“…but he’s a dragon.”
“His name is Percival, and he’s a respected member of our community. His children –“
Herbert pulled the leash. “–are plundering the villages like overgrown magpies.”
Percival gave a great snort of indignation, and a puff of smoke blew from his nostrils.
Eldora put her hands on her hips. “He is a peaceful dragon. That’s why a fool like you was able to catch him so easily. He could have killed you if he wanted.”
At this, the dragon cast a rolling eye toward Herbert, as if he thought to reconsider his passivism.
“I thought it would impress you, dear maiden.”
“You have done no such thing. Now let him go.” She pointed Herbert to the Great Forest and then cast her attention to Percival. “Sir, I’m so sorry. I hope you won’t be too offended…”
Herbert loosened the muzzle, and the dragon flew off in a huff, grazing the treetops with his tail.
Prince Herbert fell asleep in the woods that night, too tired from pulling the dragon to bother with the trek back to the village. While he slept, Eldora and Adragaron discussed their options.
“He’s causing a ruckus,” Adragaron said, flustered from the events of the evening. “He is an idiot, but he will bring ruin to anyone unfortunate enough to be in his path.”
“What is one to do?” Eldora sighed. “He will surely be back in the morning. How are we ever going to prepare for the Summoning with him wandering around?”
“We haven’t flown in a while,” Adragaron mused.
“No. And I do miss flying.”
Suddenly Adragaron’s eyes began to twinkle in the way that a wizard’s are prone to do. “Do you remember, my dear, the place we met?”
Eldora’s red lips curled into a smile. “Of course. The rocky cliffs of Arganthmere. The lightning was beautiful.”
“It’s been a while since we visited. Not a long flight…”
“A vacation would be nice, Adragaron, but there’s so much to do.”
“It’s not a vacation,” he cooed. “Not really. It’s more of a day trip.”
And Eldora’s lips curled even further.
The next morning, Prince Herbert woke with the sunrise, feeling more passionate tham he had in the days before. He mounted his horse and rode to the tower. The soft pinks and yellows of the sky glowed softly behind the grey structure, and this time, Herbert noticed something different.
As he rode closer, he saw what he thought to be a rope. First he panicked, as he thought perhaps robbers had harmed his maiden in the night, or even worse, maybe another prince had won her before he could. However, as he grew closer, he saw that there was, in fact, no rope. What hung from the tower window was a long, shining, black braid.
Herbert could hardly contain his excitement as he wrapped his hands around the locks and began to shimmy up the hair. His life of leisure had not made him the most fit prince, but he inched ever so slowly closer and closer to the top.
“You will so enjoy being Queen!” he shouted as he paused to tighten his grip.
Then, suddenly, the long braid flew loose from its mount at the tower window, and Prince Herbert dashed to the ground with a thud. As the sun rose, he sat confused, a mound of black hair all around him. His horse nibbled grass near the Great Woods but gave furtive glances from time to time and seemed, if a horse could, to be holding back a chuckle.
Herbert held the hair in his hands, bewildered, and in the air there was the faint sound of passing laughter and the smell of smoke beneath black wings.
When presented with this prompt, I immediately knew the song I wanted to use: “Let’s Talk About Your Hair” by Have Mercy. Although I defend it, my boyfriend thinks the title is silly, so I had to use it for this story.
“Let’s talk about your hair and how it’s grown and how we know that we’re not getting anywhere.”
This is a bit of a genre jump for me, but I just had to write a play on Rapunzel. I began the idea with an opening line and an ending, but I had to come up with a way to make poor Prince Herbert deserving of his fate. I went back and forth with a couple options and finally decided to make him something of a street harasser. (A tower harasser?)
In any case, I hope you enjoy it. This is about as much traditional fantasy as I have in me.