"That," he said, "is the Tower of the Daughter of the King. The princess, also known as Rapunzel, was never locked up in a turret in a dank European forest, cooing at hunters. She was here."
"Oh," said Norah, taking a doubtful sip of Champion Cola. "You are going to tell me about this, aren't you?"
"Thought you'd never ask," he said, helping himself to another biscuit.
"Rapunzel was born in the castle, shortly after her father had arrived to take control of the garrison and protect the gap in the mountains for the Crusaders. Her mother had died in childbirth, as all beautiful young mothers do in stories. But the princess had never missed her mother, because she had never known her. She became a great favourite in the castle, and day after day, they would see her running through the stables and the kitchens, hunting rats with her terrier. She was a terrible tomboy, with a dirty face and scuffed and bloody knees from climbing over the great stone blocks that were being used to build up the walls and turn the castle into the greatest fortress in the East.
"She had contests with the archers, seeing who could spit further into the valley from the battlements. She drove the priests crazy, by swapping all the words around as she sang the psalms they taught her until they made rude rhymes. She swam in the moat, and dripped all over the thick rugs in her father's chambers."
"This," said Norah, "is not the same Rapunzel as the one I know."
"Oh, you know how stories change over time. No mother wanted to tell their children this story, and put rebellious ideas into their heads. So, the years passed, and Rapunzel grew and grew, and one day her father called her to his chamber and asked her to sit down. 'Daughter,' he said, 'you are not a child any more.'
"She hid her dirty fingernails by sitting on her hands, wondering if she was about to get a lecture for hiding the Knights' underpants. 'Oh,' she said, 'I suppose you think I should pay more attention to my lessons. My Latin's pretty good, you know.'
"Her father sighed, looking at how fast she was growing up, and how pretty she was becoming under all that grime. So very like her mother, he thought sadly. His voice became very stern. 'You are growing up, Rapunzel, and a young woman can not run freely around a castle full of soldiers and Knights. They are men. One day they will notice you are not just a charming nuisance under your feet. And then what will we do?'
"She shrugged. The only books in the castle were prayer books and manuals for building catapults. The only songs she heard were slightly bawdy comedies. She'd never heard tell of Romance and Trouble and Adventure, and didn't have a clue what he was talking about."
"Uh oh," said Norah, "she's not going to be happy at the next part, is she?"
Henry pouted at his wife. "Stop trying to guess ahead. You said you didn't know this story."
"Her father sighed, and told her that it was for her own good. He lead her up to one of the new towers, round and round the spiral stairs, and showed her the new chambers he had had built for her. 'You will have to stay here, Rapunzel, until we return to Europe, or Jerusalem.' She sat down on the silk eiderdown that was spread across the feather bed, and looked at her father. 'I am sorry,' he said, locking the heavy door behind him as he left.
"She was astonished, and her mouth flapped open and closed as every protest and question dried up in her confusion. 'Shit,' she said. 'I could understand going without supper for that trick with the underpants, but this is a little extreme.' She lay on the bed, staring at the stars painted onto the ceiling, and recited the name of every horse in the stables to stop herself from crying."
Henry crushed the thin can, and wrapped it into a plastic bag with the other rubbish from their picnic. "The years went by, and Rapunzel was stuck in the tower. Her hair grew long, and her muscles grew hard and lean, because she could not waste away like your usual delicate princess. Every day she walked clockwise for three hours, did some push ups, and walked anti-clockwise for three more. She pulled back the rug and played hopscotch on the stone flags, she bit her fingernails short and brushed the endless tangles from her long, long hair. The rest of the day she sat by the window, looking out across the countryside, watching the troops charging around in the open air, playing football.
"As the years flew by, she grew sadder and sadder. She had no company except the servant who brought her meals, took away her laundry and swept her high tower room. The servant was deaf, and dull, and impervious to Rapunzel's demands for news and stories. Finally, Rapunzel howled out of the window in despair. 'Won't somebody tell me a joke? I'm so bored.'
"A young squire was patrolling at the bottom of the tower and heard her voice.
He called up, 'Two lions were walking around the castle. One lion turned to the other and said, 'Quiet round here, isn't it?'"
"No he didn't!" objected Norah.
"You're right," said Henry. "He was a saucy young squire, with a fine crop of pimples, and it was a joke about a monk walking into a brothel. But that's far too obscene for your shell-like ears.
"Unlike you, Rapunzel laughed at the joke. The squire shrugged, and continued his rounds, thinking nothing of it. No one had told him that a beautiful young woman was locked into the tower above him. Everyone had forgotten the tomboy who had run through the castle kitchens and stables, hunting rats with her terrier. No one imagined that she was still here, growing up, miserable and alone in the tower.
"The next day, she called out again, 'Won't somebody tell me a joke? I'm so bored.' But no one heard her, and no one answered.
'That's it,' said Rapunzel. 'I am sick to death of rotting away in this tower.' She shredded her sheets into long strips, and knotted together, hanging them out of the window. Looking down, Rapunzel realised that it was too short. She'd break her neck jumping from the bottom of the bed linen rope. She hauled it in, and threw it on the floor in disgust.
"She kicked the walls and rattled the doors, and swore loudly. So she walked clockwise around her room for three hours, thinking. She did her push ups, thinking some more. She walked anti-clockwise around her room for another three hours, and was still no closer to an answer.
"She pulled back the rug and played hopscotch on the stone flags. She bit her fingernails short and brushed the endless tangles from her long, long hair. 'Ah ha!' she cried, examining the two thick plaits that fell to her ankles. She found the knife that the boring servant had left for her to cut her bread, and she sawed through her hair, cutting it close to her head, and sat down cross-legged on the floor to tie her long plaits onto the rope made from sheets.
"Rapunzel laughed as she tied it to the window frame, shimmied down. She planted her feet against the wall of the tower, and pushed with all her might. Holding the very end of her hair and bed linen rope, swung far out over the moat.
"Moments later she was dropping lightly onto her feet on the ramparts of the outer wall. She ran along the ledge, and vaulted onto the back of a horse who was idly grazing at the particularly fine patch of clover. He reared up in surprise, but she clamped her knees against his sides, and galloped him inside the castle, around the corners, down the stairs, and through the corridors.
"'Emergency!' she yelled at the guards as she galloped towards where they blocked the gate. 'Urgent message for the King!' They sprang aside, too well-trained to question the ragged-haired knight in long skirts.
"And so she galloped away from the castle, and from the tower, to find her fortune and her freedom."
"No prince?" asked Norah, "No kissing?"
"That's another story," said Henry, "for another day."
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