Once upon a time, there was a large town called Braid. Braid was powerful and traded with many other towns, making the people and their king very wealthy. He decided to use his wealth to build a castle that all would admire and when completed, the castle truly was magnificent. Its white stone walls were reflected in the stream that ran beside it and many turrets and towers dotted the top of the structure like candles on a cake.
Unfortunately, the town fell on rough times. War with neighboring countries battered the gleaming castle walls and turrets. When peace was finally restored, the only part of the castle still in good repair was the main tower. Everything around the tower lay in ruins. The prince of Braid, who had taken over after his father’s death, decided to build a new castle in a new city he had conquered.
Sometime after the first Once upon a time, a baker’s daughter named Zelly lived in the town of Braid. Unlike most people, Zelly believed in staying clean. Every day she woke up early and bathed in a stream on the edge of town. Then she would dry her hair in the sun and tie it in a bun so it would stay out of the dough as she helped her father make bread. Zelly’s blond hair grew quite long and took longer and longer to dry. The stream where she bathed was next to the white castle. As she waited for her hair to dry, Zelly would lean against the tower and sing to keep herself amused. Zelly had a very beautiful voice, so beautiful that it awoke the stream, ironically named Lake. The stream became fond of the pretty sing-ing girl, and when Zelly spoke out loud about her problems, Lake would listen silently.
One day Zelly walked to the village after her morning bath and discovered the royal carriage outside her father’s bakery. Zelly made a face. The royal family was no longer beloved by its people. They had a reputation for being rude, unkind, and caring only for themselves. There was little hope for the next generation of royals since the son, Prince Wally, was even worse than his parents.
So Zelly quietly slipped in the back door of the bakery. If the royals were looking for serving maids to work in the castle, Zelly did not want to be seen. She slipped into the kitchen, then stopped to listen to the voices coming from the shop.
The prince was talking to her father. “Yes, that is correct, peasant. I need to marry your daughter. My parents say it would be good for our appearance if I wed a commoner. Personally I think my appearance is already impeccable.”
“I’m sorry, Your Royal Highness, my daughter cannot possibly marry you because she ... ahh, well, she isn’t here.” Zelly’s father desperately hoped she had stayed at the stream but Zelly didn’t wait to hear any more. She grabbed some bread and ran back to the stream. There was no way she was going to marry the fathead prince, no matter how rich he was. Not paying attention to where she was going, she ran smack into the side of the white tower. Zelly hadn’t planned on crying, but the shock of hitting something hard and cold changed her plans. She started bawling. Who can blame her? The stream, Lake, heard her crying and decided to ask what was wrong. In all his 50 million years, Lake had never talked to a human before. These first words could make a big difference in his future relationship with humans. He cleared his throat and then uttered a greeting.
“What?” Zelly said in response to a weird noise, looking around for its source.
“Oh, sorry, wrong dialect,” Lake said, now in Zelly’s language. “I heard you crying and wondered if you would tell me your problem. Maybe I can help.”
Zelly located a face in the water and realized the stream was talking. Zelly had read stories about talking streams.
“Well, you see, good stream, the cruel Prince Wally has decided to marry me. I really can’t bear the thought of marrying such a horrible person. He cares for no one save himself.” The girl had stopped crying and was resting her throbbing head against the tower.
“Hmm, that is a problem,” Lake said, thoughtfully. “Why don’t you hide in the tower so the prince cannot reach you?” Zelly looked up the tall tower to the room at the very top.
“How will I get up there? There is no door or stairs.” Zelly wasn’t a very good climber.
“No problem, I’ll lift you up on a spout of water. You might get a little wet.” Zelly had no other ideas so she agreed. Zelly stepped into the stream. Lake created a spout of water like that of a whale’s blow-hole and a very wet Zelly soon reached the top.
The tower room was nice with pillows to sit on and straw for a nice bed. Plus the window had a great view of the countryside and the town of Braid. Zelly looked out, exclaiming, “Oh dear, here comes Prince Wally. Father must have been forced to tell him where I was.”
Sure enough, on the other side of the stream, Prince Wally’s carriage could be seen rolling up the hill. The carriage’s loud colors of orange and pink contrasted sharply with the pale colors of the steam and meadow flowers. When it reached the stream and stopped, Prince Wally, dressed in much the same colors as his carriage, stepped out to address Zelly.
“Maiden Rapunzel, whom I spot in the tower, you must come down now so we can wed on the morrow. Hurry up ... I am hungry.”
What a gentleman, Zelly thought.
“Please, Your Highness, I go by Zelly. I am sorry to report I cannot meet your request. As you can see, the tower has no stairs or other means to climb in or out. I cannot come down and you will have to invent a way to get me down before I can marry you.” He’ll never be able to marry me now, Zelly thought, triumphantly.
Oh, drat, the Prince thought.
“Char, come here and help me.” Char, Prince Wally’s personal assistant, stopped brushing the horses.
“How do I get her down?” Wally whined. “I would marry another commoner, but this one makes good bread.”
“Why don’t you ask her how she got up there?” suggested Char. Zelly heard that, and had to think quickly.
“An enchantress flew by and saw me by the stream. She said she hadn’t done anything bad all day so she flew me up here to make herself feel better.”
“Oh,” said Prince Wally.
Right, thought Char.
Later for supper, Zelly ate the bread she had brought. When it got dark, Char set up the Prince’s tent and everyone went to sleep. In the morning, Zelly woke up quite early. She looked out and wished she could wash her hair since she was so used to washing it every day. She took it out of its bun and let it fall down the side of the tower. Her hair had grown so long that it reached the ground! Char woke and saw Zelly’s golden hair streaming out of the tower window.
“Would you be a dear and pour water from the stream on my hair?” she asked.
“Sure, but I can’t reach all of it,” Char replied.
“I guess you could climb up it,” Zelly said, hoping this wouldn’t hurt. Char took a bucket from the carriage and began washing her hair. When he had washed all he could reach, he refilled his bucket and climbed up and poured it onto a higher spot. Back and forth between the stream and the tower, Char finally reached the top of the tower. He lay on the floor panting.
“Thank you so much!” Zelly exclaimed. Before Char could reply, Prince Wally woke up. He actually had more brains than most people thought because he was able to realize that he, too, could climb Zelly’s hair to get to the top. Then they could cut it off, tie it to the window and slide back down.
“I’ll climb up to you, Rapunzel,” the prince called.
“Oh dear,” Zelly said. “We can’t have that. Char, help me pull my hair up.” Rapunzel’s hair was heavy from the water but they managed to pull it out of the prince’s reach.
“So, you don’t want to marry him?” Char asked.
“Who would?” Zelly replied. The prince ran to the base of the tower and began shouting for Rapunzel to throw her hair back down. He even started beating his fists against the tower.
“I hate working for that guy,” Char pointed his thumb at Prince Wally. “He’s a real loser.”
“I know how we can both get rid of him,” said Zelly. “This water is making my hair heavy; why don’t we drop it on him?” Meanwhile, the Prince had decided to stop screaming and try some poetry. Prince Wally began, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let your golden hair down ... ”
So she did, and crushed him flat on the ground.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.