Roughly two miles outside of the village of South Glenn stands a tall stone tower. There is no road through the forest to the tower, and some wonder how all of that stone came to stand in the center of their forest. There is no door in the tower, only a small arched window set just below the gable, leaving many questioning how someone would enter or leave the tower without a ladder. When the villagers speak of the strange tower, which they do as little as possible, they do so in hushed whispers lest the witch who inhabits it overhears.
"There was singing," Dame Gellar hissed to her neighbor late one afternoon over tea. "In the forest. My son heard it when he was hunting." The women shared a knowing look and made the sign against evil across their chests.
Dame Leary stared through the kitchen window towards the woods that surrounded their village. "Been some years. Poor thing."
"Do you think another prince will come round?" Dame Gellar's voice rose a hair above a whisper, causing her neighbor to shoot her a look.
"Lord, I hope not." She spoke softer than before, as if to balance out Dame Gellar's change in volume. "You remember that last one?"
They shook their heads in near-unison. "God rest his soul." They crossed their chests.
A brief moment of silence passed between them and then Dame Gellar leaned across the table, bumping the wood with her rounded stomach and making the teacups rattle. She crooked her finger and Dame Leary shifted closer, her eyebrow quirked with curiosity. Dame Gellar glanced around the room, seeming to search the shadows for hidden listeners. When she spoke, Dame Leary had to strain to hear.
"I hear they had a son. He was taken too, snatched the same as the girl was."
"You don't think..."
A hawk cried in the forest, startling them both. Dame Gellar stood quickly and crossed the room to pull the shutters closed. She shut the latch firmly.
That was the last they spoke of the strange tower and the girl who had once been imprisoned there.
Lucian did not like the tower. It was cold and far too quiet. The latter was easy to fix, at least for a small time, but singing to himself was not the same as being surrounded by the bustle of a village. His memory of the village was starting to fade, blurred by each day that passed, and with it went the memory of his grandparents. He had little memory of his mother but he missed her all the same. All he could remember of her was her long blonde hair - a shade that he had inherited though he would never be able to match hers in length - and the lullabies she had sung for him when he'd been a small child.
"Rapunzel!" Lucian shuddered and quickly rose, straightening his skirt as he did so. He wished – not for the first time – that the witch would bring him something besides his mother's old dresses to wear.
Stone ground against stone as a section of the wall slid away to form a small doorway. "Ah, there you are, my dear." The witch grinned at him from the top of the stairwell. There were more gaps in her toothy grin than the last time she'd visited and she walked a bit slower.
"I've neglected you for far too long. You will forgive me, of course?" Lucian tried not to shudder as she embraced him. He weakly returned her hold.
"Yes, godmother, of course." He had no idea how many days had passed between visits, but it had been quite a while. He'd learned to be conservative with the food she left him, never sure if it would be weeks or months between her visits, and his current stores had dwindled almost to nothing.
Her expression shifted in a flash. Gnarled fingers twisted in his hair and pulled roughly. "Too long. It's too long." Her eyes glinted feverishly.
Lucian cried out as she pulled him over to the vanity. He sat quickly, before she could push him into the chair. She opened the top drawer and pulled out a long pair of shears. Lucian sat very still.
"Can't have that." The witch's fingers moved, hacking away at his hair with fast, sure snips. "Certainly can't have that." Snip, snip, snip. "Too long, too long." Snip, snip. "Why do you always grow it so long, my dear? Trying to lure another prince in?"
"No, godmother," he assured quickly.
He stared at his reflection in the mirror. When his hair was long, he looked like his mother. Her picture sat on the vanity, half-hidden behind a vase of flowers. He could never tell which days the picture would make his godmother sad or angry, but both were outbursts he'd rather avoid. There seemed to be more sad days than angry. On those days it seemed like she might be close to remembering that he wasn't his mother, but her faulty memory quickly carried such near realizations away. The scissors cut his hair, changing the reflection in the mirror into a wild-looking boy. The witch didn't bother cutting his hair even, instead chopping it into rough chunks near chin length. He'd fix it later, when she was gone and she wouldn't even realize the difference.
"There." Her long, thin fingers ran through his choppy hair, raking it further askew. "Now we can't have any more accidents." The fingers clenched briefly in his hair then relaxed. She stepped away. "Clean that up." She waved towards the hair shavings.
Lucian grabbed the broom and dustpan from where it stood next to the vanity. The witch watched him closely as he gathered up every last hair and dumped it out of the window. A strong breeze picked up the hair and carried it away into the forest.
"Good girl." He'd given up on trying to correct her. "Now come help me with these heavy things."
Once again, she smiled at him, her expression bordering on manic. He wasn't sure which he preferred – her company or the silence.
Lord Alec Vilonay spluttered as the wind carried a patch of straw into his face. He coughed and brushed the straw out of his face. A few strands came away in his hand, they were too thin to be straw. He rolled a few pieces between his fingers and peered into the woods. Hair? Out here? The next village, a small town called South Glenn, was still a good distance away.
Alec halted his horse on the empty road and considered. There had been a legend surrounding the previous prince's death about a woman trapped in a tower. He'd been little more than a boy when the prince had died but he remembered parts of the story – how he'd been found by the villagers in the woods, his face scratched up and blinded, then died shortly after from his injuries. A few years later a rumor had surfaced that the prince had left a child behind, born from the girl in the tower, but neither the woman nor her child had ever come forward.
Curiosity made Alec turn his horse and head into the woods. He checked that his sword was loose in its scabbard and that his bow was fully strung. There was a good chance that he would find nothing but Alec had never been one to turn away from a possible adventure.
It took him three days to find the tower. There was a thick patch of briars surrounding the base, their thorns nearly as long as his finger. He circled it once but could see no entrance beyond the window set at the top of the tower. Twilight was approaching, casting the forest in growing shadows. A faint light came through the window. Smoke curled out of the thin chimney.
"Hello?" He shouted.
There was a faint sound and then a head appeared in the window, staring down at him with blatant surprise. Instead of a lonely maiden, a young boy stared back at him. His blond hair fell about his face like a halo. The boy bit his lip and shouted back. "Go away."
Alec gaped. "Pardon?"
The boy's eyes scanned the woods around them. "You need to go away."
Alec stepped closer. A wide grin spread across his face. "Because of the witch? Are you Rapunzel?"
"Yes. And, no. She was my mother. If you know of her then you should know why you need to go away."
"I'm not going away." This was the rumored child! He couldn't believe it. The legend was real and here he was, staring up at the prince's son trapped by a witch in a tower. He had to rescue the boy and take him back to the palace. The king and queen would be ecstatic. First, however, he needed to find a way into the tower. "What's your name?"
The boy leaned further forward to watch Alec as he tied the reins for his horse to a tree and carefully pushed his way through the briar patch. A few of the thorns pricked him, but he found that if he moved slowly enough, the brushed off his clothing. "If I tell you my name, will you go away?"
"No." He smiled up at the boy.
The boy rolled his eyes and frowned. "If I don't tell you my name, will you go away?"
"Oh, definitely not." He felt a thrill of pleasure as the boy glared at him. "How does the witch get in? You certainly don't seem able to lower your hair."
"She never used the hair, only the prince did. There's a door."
Alec pulled off a glove and felt his way along the wall. There had to be a catch hidden somewhere that would open it. He circled the tower three times but found nothing. If there was a latch, it was too well hidden for him to find in such low light. "I can't find it."
"Then go away."
"Not a chance." He couldn't remember when he'd had this much of a challenge. An idea came to him and he pushed his way back towards his horse. Alec pulled a thin length of rope from his saddlebags and tied it to an arrow. "Please go inside."
The boy's eyes widened as Alec pick up his bow. He ducked back inside and Alec aimed. The arrow buried itself deep in the underside of the roof, just above the window. He pushed his way back through the briar and tugged. The rope seemed like it'd hold his weight. The boy's head appeared again.
"Go away! You can't do this."
Alec stared up the wall. "You won't dissuade me."
The boy's hand wrapped around the shaft of the arrow. "I could pull it out. You'd fall."
Alec turned to stare down at the briar patch below him. The thorns were quite thick but if he fell just right he could avoid too much damage. He took another step up the wall. "Then do it. I'm coming up."
The boy glared at him but he released the arrow and disappeared back into the tower. Alec grinned with victory. Relief washed through him as he finally reached the window. He held tight to the rim of the window as he threw a leg over and started to pull himself inside. He stopped on the ledge and stared. It seems he'd have to change his impression of the boy. He – or was it she? – was dressed in a soft blue gown with ruffles around the base.
"My apologies. I took you for a boy at first."
"I am." He flushed and stared at the wall to the side, avoiding Alec's gaze. "There aren't any other clothes up here."
Alec tried very hard not to smirk. He let his eyes rove over the boy's slender frame. The dress fit him in all but the chest. If he'd been a girl, he would have looked ravishing. As a boy, he was still quite fetching, but there was an extra air of eroticism seeing him dressed so strangely. Alec shifted and tried to stamp down on his interest.
"You never did tell me your name," Alec reminded.
The boy looked at him, blushed, and turned back towards the wall. "Lucian."
Alec let himself grin at the boy, and hoped his slowly growing desire wasn't showing too badly. He stepped forward and took the boy's hand. "A pleasure to meet you, Prince Lucian." He pressed his lips to the back of Lucian's hand. His words hand the desired effect of flustering Lucian.
Lucian spluttered and snatched his hand back, holding it protectively against his chest. "P-Prince?" The blush remained on his face, giving Alec the idea that Lucian wasn't entirely opposed to the kiss Alec had placed on him.
"You are the son of the prince who met Rapunzel in this tower, correct?"
"Then you're a prince." He bowed again and gestured towards the window. "Your kingdom awaits. Will you be okay climbing down? I can lower you if needed."
Lucian shifted on his feet and took a step back. "I can't. She'll come after me."
Alec straightened and let his hand settle on the pommel of his sword, putting on a show of confidence greater than he felt. "Then I shall dispatch her for you."
"No!" Lucian's sudden shout rocked Alec back a step. He gaped.
Lucian fidgeted and toyed with a strand of his hair near his ear. "She's just an old woman." He wavered visibly for a moment and then seemed to gather his resolve. "I know that she's not the most honorable of people but you can't kill her."
"She's a witch. She killed your father and imprisoned your mother. I can-"
The slap came unexpectedly. He heard it before he felt it. Shock spread through him as he finally registered the sting on his cheek.
Lucian stood inches away, his hands on his hips. "She's a lonely old woman. She thinks I'm her adopted daughter, Rapunzel. I know she's done bad things, but-"
"She's holding you here against your will," Alec argued, cutting Lucian off. He fingered the sleeve of Lucian's dress. "Can you honestly say that you want to stay here?"
The boy faltered for a moment. He pulled his sleeve away. "I can't just leave. She'll come after both of us."
Alec shifted closer. He tried to touch Lucian again but he pulled away. "I can protect you."
"Are you sure? She's a witch. I don't know how much power she still has, but I don't want anyone to get hurt because of me."
"I'll take you to the castle," Alec insisted. "There are guards. We can make sure she doesn't get near you. You'll be safe. I promise."
"And what will you do when she does come?" Lucian asked softly. "Will you have the guards kill her? She won't leave without me, and if you don't kill her, she'll kill you."
Alec had no answer, at least not one that he felt wouldn't earn him another slap.
Lucian's hand settled on his chest, keeping an arm length of distance between them. He looked uncertain and Alec had a feeling that if he pressed, just a little bit further, then Lucian might give in. He didn't get the chance to.
"I'll make you a deal." Alec quirked an eyebrow. "The witch has been getting forgetful. She's growing older, and I don't know how much longer she'll keep coming back. If a year passes and she doesn't return, then I'll go with you."
Alec glanced pointedly around the small, sparse room. There were a handful of sacks and two crates stacked near the dresser, but little else visible in the way of provisions. "A year is a long time and you can hardly provide for yourself up here."
"I'll be fine." Lucian's expression didn't match the confidence of his voice. "She leaves me enough provisions."
"Half a year," Alec countered. "If six months pass without her return, then you'll return with me."
Lucian hesitated a moment. "Alright."
"Then we have a deal." Alec smirked and shifted closer. He placed his hand on Lucian's hip and rubbed the boy's skin through the fabric of his dress. "Would you be so kind as to grant me hospitality for the night? I promise to leave in the morning."
The shy smile on Lucian's face was answer enough. Alec bridged the small gap between them to kiss Lucian lightly on the lips. They didn't part for the rest of the night.
The villagers of South Glenn got few strangers passing through their village, thus it made quite a stir when a young lordling came to stay at their inn. The lord stayed for three days. On the second day he rode out into the forest, not returning until early on the third day, when he gathered his belongings without a word to the villagers and went on his way. Six months passed before the villagers saw him again, then another six months, and another. Each time he came, he stayed for exactly three days, always disappearing on the eve of the second.
"He's possessed," Dame Leary whispered, in the same tone usually reserved for talk of the tower.
"He's in love," Dame Gellar countered. She'd seen much the same look on her own sons' faces before they'd announced their intentions to marry. "And not so pleased about coming away with naught," she added. She'd chanced upon the young lordling a few times on the third day of his stay, and he'd never seemed happy to leave.
A commotion on the road drew their attention away from their tea. They both hurried over to the window. The lord was due to return this morning, and Dame Gellar had been hoping to see him pass. They caught sight of the lord easy enough and with it, the reason for the villager's commotion. The lord had returned from the forest, and this time he wasn't alone