A Shadowspawn Tale

By Margaret L. Carter

©2011, Margaret Carter

This is a work of Fiction. It is based in part on the series of books known as “Shadowspawn,” written and copyrighted by S.M. Stirling in 2010. The author agrees to abide by the Stirling Fan Fiction site disclaimer. This work is copyrighted by Margaret L. Carter in year 2011, except for those parts derived from “Shadowspawn books,”, which are copyrighted by S. M. Stirling and used here by permission. All characters in this fiction are, in fact, fictional, and any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.

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Once upon a time a man and his wife lived in a cozy house on one side of a high stone wall. On the other side of the wall stood a mansion surrounded by a beautiful garden, the lair of a powerful witch, Lady Gothel. The man and woman had wanted a child for many years, but their prayers had not been answered.

Finally the woman discovered she was going to have a baby. She and her husband were filled with joy. But as the months passed, she became ill. From her bedroom window she gazed into the witch’s garden day after day, growing weak and sad. When her husband asked what ailed her, she said,“If only I could eat a salad of the rapunzel growing in that garden, I would get well.”

Her husband feared the witch, for the whole town knew of Lady Gothel’s strength and cruelty. But he decided to risk her wrath for the sake of his wife. That night he climbed over the wall and crept to the bed of rapunzel.

The moment he began to pull up the plants, the enchantress appeared. With a wave of her hand and a magic word, she froze him in his tracks. Vines snaked up his legs and wrapped around him, until he could hardly breathe.“Thief! How dare you steal from my garden? Speak!”

At the snap of her fingers, his tongue was freed.“Please, Lady, my wife is with child and very ill. She needs a salad of rapunzel to heal her.”

Now, Lady Gothel knew all this, for she had used her sorcery to place the craving in the woman’s heart. Little did the man and woman suspect that the witch’s brother had visited the woman disguised as her husband, so that the child’s true father was a Shadow Lord. He had since fallen in combat with an enemy, and Lady Gothel wanted to raise her dead brother’s child as her own.“I will show mercy and let you live,” she said. “And you may take the rapunzel to your wife on one condition. When the babe is born, you must give her to me.”

Seeing no other way to escape alive, the man promised. The witch gave him a basket of rapunzel mixed with other herbs best suited to nourish a child of her blood. His wife soon got well and in due time gave birth to a beautiful baby girl with golden hair and gold-flecked eyes. She and her husband prayed that Lady Gothel might have forgotten the bargain, but one night the witch burst into their house and snatched away the infant.

The enchantress carried her off to a solitary tower in the middle of a forest. The tower had no doors, only a high window. Paintings of fantastic beasts decorated the walls of the chamber, and the ceiling showed the courses of the moon and stars. The witch entered and departed through the window in the form of a giant bird. The child, whom she named Rapunzel, grew up without ever seeing any other person besides the witch. Lady Gothel fed and clothed her in luxury and tutored her in the secrets of magic suitable to her tender age. She also taught her such maidenly arts as reading, writing, music, spinning, and embroidery, for she wanted her foster daughter to be worthy of her in all ways. She had already betrothed the child to a noble Shadow Lord whose friendship she wished to keep.

She nourished the girl’s half-blood gifts with an elixir red as rubies, which she brought in a crystal vial. She never cut Rapunzel’s glorious hair, and it grew so long its braid reached from the window to the ground. To save her power for other uses, the witch no longer always flew into the tower. Instead, she would call up to the window, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair.” When the girl obeyed, Lady Gothel climbed up the braid like a ladder.

As Rapunzel grew to young womanhood, her foster mother ventured to leave her alone in the tower for days at a time. Rapunzel began to feel lonely, so that her curiosity about the lands and people she had read about in her books became stronger. Whenever she begged for permission to leave her home and explore those lands, the witch rebuked her severely. “The outside world is too dangerous for you. Ignorant folk who hate our kind would try to slay you with silver blades or burn you to death. Or they might steal you from me.” She would grasp the girl tightly in her claw-like hands and gaze deep into her eyes. “I will never allow that.”

One evening at twilight, a prince who had become separated from his hunting party rode past the tower and heard Rapunzel singing. Enthralled, he paused to listen. As he lingered behind a tree, a huge, black cat ran into the clearing. To his surprise, it changed into a woman of cruel beauty. She shouted, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair.” A shining braid tumbled down, and the enchantress climbed up. In the window the prince glimpsed a beautiful girl.

He waited for hours until the witch climbed down again, transformed to her cat shape, and disappeared into the forest. Then the prince stepped beneath the window and cried out the words she had used: “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair.”

When he pulled himself up, Rapunzel was amazed to see a young man instead of the woman she called Mother Gothel. Frightened, the girl backed away from him. The prince held out his hand and spoke softly: “Don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you. I couldn’t resist the beauty of your song.”

“You didn’t bring a silver blade to slay me?”

“Of course not. Why would I want to harm such a vision of loveliness?”

After a few minutes Rapunzel lost her fear and yielded to her curiosity about this strange new person. Not only was he handsome, he bore a fragrance almost like the ruby elixir Mother Gothel provided her. He smelled as delicious as spiced wine and summer night air. They talked until dawn. Before the prince left, he promised to return as soon as he could.

He visited her every night he could safely escape the witch’s notice. Little by little, he and Rapunzel fell in love. He begged her to escape with him and marry him.

“Could I dare leave the safety of the tower?" she said. “Mother Gothel says the outside world is too dangerous.”

”I won’t let anything harm you.”

”But how could I get down from this height?” she asked.

After thinking for a moment, he said, “When I come tomorrow night, I’ll bring a rope ladder.”

So their plan was made. When the witch visited at twilight, though, she felt a strange excitement in Rapunzel’s mind. “Something is different about you tonight, my child. What are you thinking of?”

“Nothing, Mother.”

“That is not true. You’ve never lied to me before.” She seized Rapunzel’s hair and bent close to sniff it. “You smell of lies — and the scent of a man.” Flinging the girl onto the floor, she screamed, “You wicked, ungrateful girl! You’ve had a man here!”

Rapunzel covered her face, sobbing. She knew it was useless to deny the truth any longer.

The witch shouted in her wrath, “I have plans for you. I will not allow you to waste your beauty on a mere mortal.”

Rapunzel’s anger kindled. “He’s mine. I want him. You can’t take him from me.”

The witch silenced her with a whip-crack of magic.

When the prince arrived at the base of the tower, he called for Rapunzel as usual. And as usual, the golden braid tumbled down, and he climbed up. When he slipped over the windowsill, though, a terrible sight awaited him. Rapunzel lay on the bed, frozen in place by the witch’s magic. The witch lurked in wait in her cat shape. She pounced on him and clawed out his eyes.

While he writhed on the floor screaming in pain, Rapunzel cried, “Please, Mother Gothel, don’t kill him.”

The enchantress returned to her woman form. “Not I, child. You must drink his life to awaken your hidden powers. And you can keep this man if you want him. I will teach you, if you promise to obey me faithfully from now on.”

For the first time, Rapunzel’s thirst burned at the luscious scent of her beloved. So she vowed to submit to the witch’s rule.

“That’s my good daughter. Come, drink. It is time for you to claim your rightful heritage and explore the realm you will someday rule.”

Rapunzel drank the prince’s sweet blood and drew his life into her. Lady Gothel showed her how to imprison him inside the tower of her mind, where he dwelt as her lover forever. As for Rapunzel herself, the enchantress taught her how to fly on the wings of the night wind. Together they soared from the tower window to seek Rapunzel’s destiny, and for all I know, they fly through the moonlit sky still.

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