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Folktales

Rapunzel

retold by Robert Hoffman

The ancient stone wall surrounding the property of the witch, Mother Goethels, had been built in a time out of memory. It was there when the city was built and would still be there when the city is destroyed. It is a permanent mark on the land. Over time the stones had become weathered and smoothed by the harsh German winters and the frequent storms of autumn and spring. In this time, the stones had lost their color and blended together. The mortar made the wall into a seamless barrier held together by magic.

When the young couple first moved into the house next to the witch's property, their thoughts were not of the wall and what lay beyond it. Instead they concentrated on themselves and making their home into a good place to raise children. But, as sometimes happens, the young woman did not become pregnant. Years went by and still their desire for children was not granted.

When she finally became pregnant, they were the happiest people in the country. Each day was greeted with huge smiles and even the discomfort caused by her condition seemed minor. The lady's husband took to his new role of trying to grant his wife's wishes very well.

One morning she refused the breakfast he had prepared. He was not concerned until she had also refused lunch and supper. He called for the doctor and after examining her, the doctor could find nothing wrong. "She will have to eat. If she doesn't eat, the baby cannot grow. Try your best."

That night he watched her as she slept. The tears welled in his eyes and he prayed silently for her appetite to return. All they had hoped for and dreamed was in the balance. Whatever could be done, must be done.

Before he left for work in the morning, he prepared an elegant breakfast for his wife. Placing the tray on a table near the bed where she could easily reach it, he left for work. All that day he worried that she might not be eating as she should. His fears were rewarded. When he returned home he kissed her tenderly and softly said, "Darling, you are going to have to eat. What is the problem?"

"Nothing looks good to me. I know you are doing your best, but I simply cannot eat."

The next day a magical aroma wafted in on a breeze through the open window. The smell caused her mouth to water and her stomach rumbled loudly. Struggling from the bed, she stepped softly to the window. As she looked beyond the stone wall that told the border of their land, her eyes fell on the garden beyond the wall. Everything seemed so wonderful. There were plants she recognized. Lettuce, carrots, potatoes -- all grew wonderfully.

But, there were many plants that she did not recognize. The smell that caused her hunger to grow must be one of these for she did not recognize its aroma. When her husband returned home, she asked him about it. Sniffing the air, he said, "I think that is rampion."

"Rampion? What is that?"

"Rampion is a green leafy plant. You might know it as rapunzel?"

"No, I never heard of it. But, I would dearly love to eat some. It smells wonderfully."

"Tomorrow, I will look everywhere to see if I can find some for you. I am glad you are hungry again. It is better for the baby."

When he returned from work he had purchased a large quantity of the vegetable. Upon arriving home, he immediately prepared it for his wife. When he took it to her, she frowned. "What's the matter?"

"This doesn't smell nearly as good as that does" She said pointing toward the window. "Can't you get me some of that?"

A cold shiver found its way from the back of the man's neck to the soles of his feet. He knew the lady next door was evil. She had a terrible reputation as a powerful witch. People said she commanded the black arts as no one ever had. Mother Goethels was her name and he wanted nothing to do with her. The few times he had seen her, he had not even dared look at her.

"I cannot. The woman who lives there is evil. If I were caught . . ."

"Well, I cannot eat what you have prepared. I will only eat the rampion from the garden."

"Please."

"No. It will be the rampion from the garden or nothing at all."

"I will try."

The man waited until the sun had set and still he stared at the garden from the upstairs window. When the pale moon had risen through the clouds of late summer, he still waited. When the moon finally slipped softly from the sky he moved downstairs.

Walking from his back door to the wall his feet made little sound. Pausing before the wall he looked back at the house once more. It would have been easy to turn around and go back to his warm bed. But, he said he would try.

Searching the wall in the sparse light that escaped from the windows of his house, he found a place for his feet and hands and tentatively placed the toe of his boot into the crevice in the wall. An owl hooted mysteriously in the distance as he found a chink in the wall for his other foot. After the third step had been found, he was on top of the ancient wall. Though the night was warm, the wall was not. It was much colder than he would have believed possible. It was so cold that it caused him to pull his jacket a little closer.

Hanging his legs over the side he looked down into the gloom of the witch's garden. With a sigh he pushed his body away from the wall and fell to the ground. Landing on his toes he hardly made a sound. Walking quickly to the rampion he filled a bag. Instead of taking one clump, he removed a leaf here or there in hopes that his theft might not be discovered. When the bag was filled, he returned to the wall and carefully looked for a way to get out of the garden.

Climbing the wall on the witch's side proved easier than on his side of the wall and after only a few minutes he heaved his body over the wall and rested in the damp grass. Not daring to move, he listened for sounds that might tell of his discovery. He heard none.

Waking his wife gently, he offered her the rampion. She ate it hungrily. When she had eaten the entire plate he had prepared, she asked, "Is there more? This is the best food I have ever had."

"I have some more. I was saving it for tomorrow, but if you want it now. . ."

"I do. Please get me some more."

After she had finished all that he had brought, she closed her eyes and went to sleep. Her husband watched over her. Already her cheeks, which had become pale, were full of healthy color. The man smiled.

The next day she left her bed for short periods of time and began to hum happily as she worked on the clothes for the baby she had been knitting. In her despair she had left them undone in her workbasket. The man smiled as he left for work.

When he returned home in the evening, his happiness turned once more to sadness. Instead of the happy and healthy lady he had left, she had returned to bed and appeared to be more pale than she had before.

"What's the matter, honey?"

"I am hungry and there is nothing to eat."

"There is a lot to eat. Your favorite things are all here."

"Not all of them."

"What do you mean?"

"Rampion from the garden, I must have more!"

"No. I dare not. I was lucky last night. I don't wish to do that again."

"Rampion from the garden or nothing at all."

Watching her sleep he convinced himself to try again. He waited, as he had before, for first the sun to set and then the moon. Walking through the damp grass from his back door to the ancient wall he felt cold shivers move over his body There was a feeling of impending doom but he continued. The love he felt for his wife and child were strong -- strong enough to face the unknown.

Finding the toeholds in the wall he climbed it as quietly as he could. When he reached the top of the wall, he jumped over without hesitation. Landing softly he moved to the rampion and helped himself. Instead of being careful to only take a leaf here or there, he began to rip great clumps of the green leaves and stuff them into the bag. In the stillness of the night the sounds of the leaves tearing filled the garden. If he had not been so energetic in his collection, he might have heard the sounds of quiet footsteps behind him.

When the bag was filled he turned and started back for the wall. As he turned a shadow loomed from darkness. It was an old lady bent with age and leaning on a staff. He started to open his mouth but she silenced him by saying, "Don't bother trying to explain, thief! Don't you know who I am?"

"You are the witch, Mother Goethels."

"Yes I am and now you will feel my wrath."

"Mercy. Please, mercy. I was only trying to please my wife."

As he said the words he saw her face soften a little. She spoke less harshly, "Why? What does you wife need with my rampion?"

"She is with child and refuses to eat anything but the rampion from your garden. I tried to get some in town, she refused it. I was only trying to save the life of my wife and unborn child."

Mother Goethels scratched her long, hooked nose and sighed. Her staff, which she had been holding in front of her like a spear, moved to her side and she leaned on it. "Thief, if you wish to live through the night you must do what I ask."

"Anything!"

"When your wife delivers the girl she carries, you must give the child to me."

"For what?" Visions of evil filled his mind and he was ready to die rather than let that happen to his child.

She saw his doubt and then added in a soft voice, "I swear that nothing will happen to her. I will raise her as if she were my own child. She will lack for nothing and you and your wife will soon have another baby. I can help with that. Now, what is to be, your death or my wish?"

The man cried in the night for long moments. When Mother Goethels lifted her staff to strike him, he quickly said, "I will bring the child to you when she is born. And may God have mercy on her."

"Take all of the rampion you need and come back as often as you like. I want your wife to be well satisfied."

The man helped himself to the leaves and quickly started toward the wall. The witch stopped him by grasping his arm in her claw-like hand. "Stand back," she said. Raising the staff over her head she whispered some words deep in her throat and the end of the staff glowed with a greenish light. The stone wall, cold and solid a moment ago, opened and a door from his property to the witch's appeared. "This will make it easier for you to supply your wife's needs."

Shaking with fear the man walked back to the house without once looking back. Moving to the kitchen he prepared the food and brought it to his wife. She took it from his hands and greedily ate every morsel. "Is there more?"

"All that you want."

"Then bring me more. I'm still hungry."

When he returned with another plateful of the rampion she noticed the tear that had formed in the corner of his eye and trickled down his ruddy cheek. "Why are you crying?"

"Mother Goethels caught me stealing the rampion."

"What did she do?"

The man went on to explain that it was required that they give the girl child she would bear to the witch. The man expected his wife to be upset at this but surprisingly, she was not. She sighed, "Is that all. Why I would do anything to have a supply of this wonderful vegetable."

In time the baby arrived. The promise to the witch was nearly forgotten in the joy of the moment. When the husband heard a knock on the door he expected it would be more of their friends and family coming to call and wish the new baby well. When he opened the door Mother Goethels greeted him, "Do you remember your promise?"

"Yes. But do you want her now. It has only been a few hours."

"Bring her to me."

With great sadness he handed the baby to the witch. She smiled at him and reassured him saying, "No harm will ever come to her. I will care for her as if she were my own."

Walking through the passageway she had created from her garden to the man's house she smiled grimly. As she passed the border of her land, she uttered a few words and the passageway closed silently behind her -- never open again.

Time passed and the couple often looked from their window to the garden below to see the child running and playing. She was growing to be a beautiful girl. Her long hair already hung nearly to the ground and sparkled golden in the sun. Her face was soft, gentle, and very pleasing to look at. Often he had heard the witch call her in from her rompings, "Rapunzel, Rapunzel." Thinking that was a funny name for the pretty young girl, he learned to accept it.

Though the couple now had five children, when the man looked at the little girl in the garden, sadness gripped his heart. When weeks had passed without seeing the little girl, the man suspected that the child had been taken from him finally.

The witch had seen the looks on the people's faces as they were passing by and she was jealous of the child's beauty. In order to ease this pain, she decided to lock the child in a tower far from the city. Taking her there on a cold, cloudy day in October she raised a ladder to the window high in the tower. Urging the girl up the ladder with the point of her staff, the child climbed into the window.

"This is your new home, Rapunzel. I will come every day and visit. It is better if you were away from the city and this is the place I have chosen."

Years passed and the child grew in both beauty and gentleness until she would have been the envy of all the young girls -- if they could have seen her. But, locked in her tower deep in the woods, no one saw her. Her hair had continued to grow until it was as long as a golden rope. The ladder to the tower had been abandoned by the witch and now when she came to visit, she called, "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair." Rapunzel would take her braided tresses and wrap them around a strong hook that had been placed by the window for that purpose and throw the rest down to the witch.

Rapunzel would help the bent old woman climb the rope ladder. For being alone in a tower makes one glad of any company. Though Mother Goethels was strange she was never mean to Rapunzel. In fact she had everything a young girl could want.

One day Rapunzel woke with a song in her heart. Though she sang softly to herself, her voice carried beyond the tower to the woods. A prince from a neighboring kingdom was hunting in the same area. The deer he had shot had wandered off into these woods and the prince followed on horseback trying to catch up with the fleeing animal.

When he heard her crystal clear voice, his heart was moved. He stayed the horse from following the trail of the wounded buck and moved the animal toward where he heard the voice. Stopping the animal in a thicket far from the tower, but with a view, he waited to see what would happen.

Soon an old woman driving a cart pulled by a donkey arrived at the tower and called out, "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair."

With little warning the golden hair cascaded out of the window. The witch was lifted into the tower window. The prince stayed and watched. His horse munched the rich green grass of the clearing and the prince placed his back against the tree.

After several hours the witch left the tower the same way she had arrived. When the sounds of her passing were gone, the prince walked to the tower and trying to imitate the witch's voice, said, "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair."

The golden tresses fell out of the window and the prince climbed up the tower wall easily. When he arrived at the window he placed his heavy hunting boot on the sill and stepped into the room.

"Who are you?" Rapunzel demanded."

"Just someone who fell in love with your voice."

"Get out. What if Mother Goethels comes. She will kill you."

"I will take that chance for a few minutes alone with you."

The couple spent many hours in deep conversation. All of the things she felt -- he felt. It was as if a doorway to another world opened before her. Soon the shadows became long and the prince said, "I have to go now. Can I come again tomorrow?"

"I would like that. Just call for me when you are ready."

Weeks passed and after Mother Goethels would leave, the handsome prince would arrive. When they were together the hours passed as if they were minutes and the minutes like seconds. Rapunzel had never been happier and she positively glowed with anticipation when she knew it was time for him to come.

One day she was feeling particularly happy when she heard Mother Goethel's voice. Letting her hair down she helped pull the witch into the tower. When she finally made it to the top Rapunzel said, "It is much easier to pull the prince up. I don't know why that would be, do you?"

"Whom did you say?"

Rapunzel realized her mistake and when she saw the look on the witch's face regretted her saying anything. "Well, child, who is the prince?"

In fear of the witch, she told the entire story. The witch examined her and could tell that she was in the first blush of being with child and her anger doubled. Her face grew cloudy and she reached into her cloak and took a pair of silver scissors out. Grasping Rapunzel's hair in one hand, she cut through the beautiful locks with the other.

"You won't be needing this long hair where you are going. It might attract all sorts of beasties from the swamp."

"Why are you doing this, Mother?"

"Don't you know? I raised you to become me when I am gone. But you have now disobeyed me. Tell me you have not been with the prince and we can see if that is still possible."

Rapunzel looked at Mother Goethels and frowned, but kept her mouth tightly closed.

Taking Rapunzel's hair from the floor, she wrapped it tightly around the hook and pushed Rapunzel out of the window and down the golden thread. Following her down immediately, she spoke an incantation that kept Rapunzel frozen in place. She took some cord from her apron and roughly bound her hands behind her back. Pushing her ahead she made her lie on the floor of the cart and took care to make certain that the cord from her hands was tied securely to the seat in the front. Rapunzel was trapped and would not be free to move until the witch released her.

The cart started moving and though she had moved to a position where she was sitting with her back against the front of the wagon, all she could do was watch as the tower became smaller and smaller the further they traveled. Even from her view from behind she could tell that they were traveling on roads that she never knew existed. Instead of the light of sun playing on her face, she felt the coldness of the deep woods caress her. Soon the smell of decay that Mother Goethel identified as the swamp filled her nostrils.

The cart came to a rough stop and Rapunzel's head bounced off the back of the seat as they stopped. Removing her from the wagon, Rapunzel was led into the small house near the edge of the swamp. Mother Goethels called for her sister. A witch more hideous to look at than Rapunzel could ever imagine came from the shadows and the two led her into a small room where her hands were released. The door closed behind her and she could hear their muffled voiced as they talked for a long time.

After her sister agreed to keep her locked in the room, Mother Goethels returned as quickly as the donkey cart would take her to the tower. Taking care to hide the cart, she climbed the golden rope into the tower and waited for the prince to arrive.

As an after thought she spoke an incantation and pointed her stick at the ground. Briars grew almost immediately and surrounded the tower. When the prince came riding up on his horse, he was so anxious to see her that he didn't even notice the addition of the treacherous thorns.

"Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair," He called with a smile in his voice. He was hopelessly in love with the young girl and it was his intention to remove her from the tower and take her to the castle that very day.

The hair slipped smoothly out of the window and he climbed up the tower easily. When he reached the top of the hair rope, he looked into the tower to see his love. Instead of finding her, he saw only the old witch standing over him with her staff pointed at the hair he clung to.

He heard the witch speaking an ancient language, forgotten by men, deep in her throat and suddenly began to feel the tresses begin to move in his hands. Instead of the secure rope he held, he soon was trying to hang onto a writhing snake. Screaming loudly, he lost his grip and fell into the briars. Cruel thorns pierced his body in a thousand places and two of them blinded him. The witch left the tower never to return with the prince still trapped in the briars.

In time he freed himself but he was quite blind. Without the ability to see he journeyed far to try and make it back to his kingdom. Without the benefit of being able to see he was forced to beg for his bread. Months passed and he could not find his way back home. By this time he had wandered far and despaired of ever finding his home.

We can only imagine the terrible time that Rapunzel had in the cottage by the swamp. Endlessly tormented by the insects that infested house, her body was stung until her skin was raw. But, she did manage to survive and in time she delivered a child -- a boy. The prince's son. The arrival of the child in no way eased her torment, instead it seemed to incense the witch and her sister. But, in time the witch's sister died and Rapunzel escaped the cottage/prison with her child.

Without a place to go she wandered through the countryside carrying the baby in her arms. She had no idea of what to do. One day as she sat in the cool shade of a friendly tree, she saw a beggar walking down the road tapping a stick in front of him. She called to him, "Though I don't have much, I will share."

The beggar came closer and she recognized him as her prince. The tears welled in her eyes and she cradled his head to her chest. The tears fell down her cheeks and washed the prince's face clean. A tear found its way into each eye and he was healed of all the ill the witch had done.

Their gladness at finding each other filled the air. With his sight restored they found their way back to his kingdom and lived happily every after.

The End


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