It all began with a ride in the Bohemian Forest. It was a lovely summer’s day and I was feeling bored with playing chess with my father, the king. Every afternoon, after his meeting with the king’s men, he’d call me.
“Prince Henrick, come, we must have a game of chess to sharpen your mind. One day soon you will be king.”
On this particular day, my father had fallen asleep thinking about his next chess move. I took the opportunity to escape to the stables, saddle up my faithful mare, Matilde, and go for a ride in the Bohemian Forest, adjoining my father’s kingdom.
Nightingales sang in the forest, and the air was like a Brahms’s melody with the bird and animal sounds. It was then that my ears were enraptured by the most melodious and haunting music I had ever heard in my 20 years. I was drawn to the plaintive notes of a young maiden’s voice; so lonesome and sad it brought tears to my eyes.
Suddenly, the forest turned dark and sinister. The maiden stopped singing. I found myself standing outside a large tower that reached up to the heavens. I hid behind an old oak tree and waited.
A large, ugly hag with blackened teeth, misshapen nose and dark glittering crow eyes stood directly at the bottom of the tower. She smelt like she could do with a good soak in a bathtub full of lavender and primrose.
Then, I heard the old crone whispering so as not to let anyone in the wood know what she was saying.
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.”
I thought she was a mad woman who had escaped from the woods, because her command did not make any sense: “Let down your hair?”
What on earth did she mean? How can one let down one’s hair?
I had been studying English, as well as German, French and Latin, just like the Brothers Grimm; but nowhere had I come across that syntax or vocabulary.
I had just about made my mind up that the old crone was cuckoo, or batty, as you say in Australia, when a cascade of silken threads the colour of spun gold descended from the casement of the tower.
The old crone hitched up her long black cloak, revealing thin chicken legs and large boots and scurried up the golden tresses like a white-tailed rat up a coconut tree.
After a few hours, the crone descended and disappeared into the forest.
This was the most exciting adventure I had encountered in all my twenty years in the palace. I had not seen the maiden’s face and wondered if she looked as beautiful as she sounded. So without hesitation, I mimicked the old crone’s gravelly voice:
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.”
“What is it, Grandma Gromel? Did you forget your keys?”
Her golden tresses were like a stairway to heaven. I scaled up and was at the casement within a few minutes.
Rapunzel’s eyes widened, “My, My. Look at you.” Her violet eyes sparkled with amazement.
“Aren’t you the king’s son?”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“Oh the birds and the bees fill me in on all that goes on in the neighbourhood,” she replied with a wink.
To cut a long story short, we spent all afternoon in the cool of the tower, getting to know one another.
Over the next few months, we spent a lot of time together, managing to fool Gromel, Rapunzel’s nickname for her witch grandmother.
One day, however, Rapunzel got impatient with Gromel.
“Oh come on Grandma. Don’t take all day. The prince is a lot quicker than you.”
As soon as the words were out, Rapunzel would have given anything to take them back because she knew the jealous old crone would punish her.
The Bohemian Forest hath no fury like a witch humiliated. Gromel cut Rapunzel’s beautiful tresses and confiscated her princess attire, and then banished her to the outer woods, where werewolves and bears lurk.
I had to go away to battle for a few weeks and was not aware that our secret had been discovered.
You could have blown me down with a feather, when I scaled the beautiful golden stairway to find the glittering coal black eyes of the old crone staring into my face. The shock of her face at the casement and her foetid breath made me lose my balance. Gromel gave an almighty shove.
I found myself freefalling into the briar bushes at the bottom of the tower. The thorns scratched my eyes. Day became night. I was blinded.
I wandered for months in the Bohemian Forest unable to see or find my way out. The birds and animals in the forest, who had got to know me through my visits to Rapunzel, brought me nuts, fruit and berries to sustain me.
I had been wandering in the forest for about twelve months, when I heard the sound of babies crying and a maiden singing. The song haunted me because it sounded so much like Rapunzel’s siren call.
I called out, “Rapunzel?”
The singing stopped, but the crying continued. I took out my violin and played Brahms’s lullaby and the crying stopped.
“Henrick, is that you?” Where are you?
“Outside your cottage door,” I replied.
Rapunzel rushed into my arms.
She looked at my scarred, blackened face:
“What happened to you? Why are you squinting. What’s wrong with your eyes?”
“They call me Scarface,” I said, trying to lighten the mood. “I think your Grandma, the old crone, did not take kindly to our rendezvous in the tower.”
Rapunzel said, “Funny that, because she responded just as childishly with me. Well, she cut my hair and turned me out. In hindsight, she may have been right because my hair, my crowning glory, has caused me to fall from grace. My problems have doubled.”
With that she pointed to the twins lying on a bed of straw.
“Oh, Henrick, what are we going to do?” Rapunzel’s tears drowned my eyes.
Suddenly there was flash of light so blinding that I had to close my eyes. The whole forest was bathed in a sea of colour: emerald green, saffron, indigo, violet and sapphire. My sight had been restored. I could see again.
I grabbed Rapunzel and waltzed around the cottage. She looked like a fairy queen with the sunlight glinting through the window on her hair, the colour of spun gold. The following morning we rode back to the palace with the twins.
How I was going to explain Rapunzel and the twins to my father the king was going to be another story.
Bhama Daly was born in Kuala Lumpur. New horizons beckoned and, in the 1970s, she pursued a career in nursing in London. She migrated to Cairns with her husband Simon in 1978. They have two sons. Bhama’s career has embraced not only nursing but also academic work at the University of Queensland and the James Cook University, Cairns. Her research and writing are informed by stories, myths and legends and the way in which they provide explanations for being in the world. Bhama’s interests include writing, reading, Yoga, Tai Chi, Zumba and, a topic of endless procrastination, how not to write the best-selling novel.