We’ve had a story written revolving around the time before Rapunzel’s fairytale began for our Twisted Fairytales themes. We are ecstatic that Shahd Thani choose to continue with her piece revolving around her take on what potentially could happen after Rapunzel’s fairytale ended; with an Emirati Twist as well! Enjoy
Once upon a time in the kingdom of Far Far Away, Mother Goose reigned and all the tales spun inevitably towards their endings except for ours. The story of Rapunzel has been told over and over, late at night, to children tucked into safe beds all over the world. In another land, where sand dunes rolled like waves, an Arab prince declared that he would only marry the woman with the long golden hair. His Mother thought he would outgrow such childish fantasies, but he never did. Confident in the magic that hummed in his veins, the love he carried in his heart, and the boundless courage he inherited from his ancestors; he knew that if he fought hard enough then destiny would reward him.
Rapunzel was born promised to the Enchantress who lived in the house next door. She never knew just how much she was doted upon, waited upon, and her future dreamt of. She never knew the fierce love that would have enfolded her had her parents not been so afraid of the Enchantress. Her shrewd emerald green eyes were the first that met hers and it was her beautifully cruel visage that Rapunzel would look upon for the rest of her childhood.
The Enchantress had demanded the couple’s first born as retribution for being foolish enough to dare steal from her garden. Once she acquired the child, she had been charmed by her golden innocence. She thought of all the spells she could design using Rapunzel’s hair, tears, but most of all her trust. She insisted upon the child that she was her mother and carefully raised her in an obscure cottage. When Rapunzel was twelve years old, the Enchantress decided to have her locked up in a tower to guard her purity.
“Mother, I can’t stay in a tower all alone,” she wailed plaintively.
“What nonsense,” The enchantress said dismissively. “My dear, all a person needs is their own company, the sooner you learn that the better.”
“But it’s so lonely!” whispered Rapunzel, lowering her head to hide the tears streaming down her face. “What if I get scared?”
The Enchantress was most often impatient with ‘displays of weakness’ as she called it, but this time she took Rapunzel’s hand and squeezed it comfortingly.
“I’m doing this to protect you, Rapunzel” She said. “Solitude is good for the soul. There will be books and I will visit you every day.”
Rapunzel accepted her exile out of the little cottage she grew up in with the enchantress. The next day, they set out for the Tower. To Rapunzel, the Tower seemed to loom menacingly as it stabbed at the clouds. Rapunzel’s hand was in the Enchantress’s throughout the trip. The memories of that day faded, but she always remembered the warmth. She liked to think that the Enchantress did not want to let her go and that after a few days she would take her back home.
For a week, Rapunzel sobbed missing the comfort of her own bed in her own room. She wanted the Enchantress. She wanted her mother, but she never came. Rapunzel came to the realization that her mother was punishing her for crying by not coming. She learned to temper and hide her feelings.
True to her word, the Enchantress had made sure Rapunzel always had books. The library was sensitive to Rapunzel’s whims and age. As she grew older, the books she found in the library were more complex. She never found the same title as before unless she desperately wished for it. She read of adventure, love, passion, and found herself constantly yearning.
When the sun was about to set, painting the skies a glorious gold and lavender, she liked to sit on the window ledge and comb out her long golden hair. It was the only way she could braid its weighted length. She sang along to the chirps of the evening swallows and as her heart soared with the notes she knew that as long as she could sing she would never be lonely again. That was about the time the Enchantress resumed her visits to Rapunzel.
“Let down your hair,” she would snap irritably.
Rapunzel obliged, wincing throughout the ordeal. “Mother, can’t you levitate instead?”
“Ungrateful children,” huffed The Enchantress. “We bring you into the world and this is how you treat us.”
Late that evening, long after the Enchantress had climbed down Rapunzel’s hair and gone back to her life, Rapunzel heard someone calling. She hesitated before her curiosity got the better of her and she peered out of the window. He spoke a language she did not recognize at first, but when she slowly shook her head, he spoke in English.
“Will you let down your hair and let me climb the golden stair?” He asked and despite the height of the tower, Rapunzel felt like she was standing right in front of him.
“Who are you?” She asked, feeling shyness overcoming her.
“My name is Ahmed,” he introduced himself. “And you’re Rapunzel. I came all this way to find you.”
“You’re not from Far Far Away?” Rapunzel was curious about this foreigner.
Ahmed sat down under the shade of a tree and spoke to her of his life. It did not matter how high she was up in the tower, she could hear him as if he was in the room with her and his quiet voice mesmerized her. He recited Arabic sonnets to her. He taught her his language. He taught her songs. Rapunzel found herself looking forward to his visits. He spoke to her of his family and how magic was in his blood.
He asked her each time to let down her hair but she never obliged. There was a formality and a sense of honoring a ritual in his request.
When he would leave, she would look back inside her room feeling his absence. She turned towards her library and found them changing to Arabic Sonnets, Arabic History, and Arabic fairy tale. She read it all voraciously anxious to know more about this visitor.
He visited her every day and she found herself waiting for the sight of him on the horizon. She always felt besieged by his presence. He had long lashes lining dark vivid eyes that speared her like a flung dagger. He had dusky skin, a closely shaven beard, and she began to think of him the night to her day.
“Would you fight the Enchantress to come away with me?” He asked her at some point, his voice subdued.
“I would,” she said fiercely. “I’m so tired of being locked up! I want to be free to love who I love!”
“Who do you love?” He asked teasingly and Rapunzel blushed prettily.
“What would you sacrifice?” He asked sadly.
“Everything,” she breathed
“Are you sure?”
“Rapunzel? Rapunzel?” She felt a hand shaking her awake and looked up into the eyes of her husband Ahmed. His eyes met hers tenderly and his voice turned into syrup with affection. “Are you feeling well?”
Rapunzel woke up feeling disoriented. Her recurring dreams felt more tangible than her own reality at times. Her memories tugged at her consciousness.
“I’m fine,” she said quietly. “I was thinking about how we met and I must have dozed off.”
He enfolded her hand in his and she felt the warmth of his closeness seeping into her.
“What were you thinking?” he asked her
“I remember when you asked what would I sacrifice?”
The corners of her husband’s mouth tightened grimly but his touch on hers was tender. She always wondered what that question meant. She had fought all the odds, the woman she thought of as a mother, and left the land she had grown up in to be in his. She wondered what else she had sacrificed.
She remembered Ahmad’s stories of this land. She remembered dreaming of something bigger and greater. She thought love was infinite, immortal, and that it would finally banish the deep seated loneliness that permeated her bones. She found instead that they existed side by side. Love waned when her husband walked into their room looking irritable and haggard. He would grunt and fling himself on the couch not wanting to speak. Rapunzel would have been waiting all morning full of things to say only to find herself pushed aside.
“I don’t sing anymore,” she confessed suddenly, seizing his sudden closeness. “It feels like it’s blocked and I feel so sad without it.”
“You still have a beautiful voice,” said Ahmed. “I wouldn’t worry too much about it.”
“But…” she struggled to put words to the wound within her.
“It’s only singing,” he said absently as they both heard his mother calling for them to come down.
Ahmed stood up quickly. His hand was still in hers, a welcome presence beside her, but there was an ache deep within her. It felt like her lungs had collapsed in on themselves and crushed her heart.
Rapunzel knew that Ahmed loved her madly. They had fought so hard to be together. She had left her homeland and chosen to live in his. Did they love each other better when they had the Enchantress fighting to keep them apart?
The indifference to the fact that she never sang anymore devastated her. He never asked her where her voice had gone. She minded all that mattered to him, so why didn’t something that was the essence of who she was matter? Rapunzel did not know much about relationships but why was she loving deeper and harder than she was loved in return?
“We’re coming, Mother,” he called down.
They went down the steps and Rapunzel breathed in the pungent scent of Arabic Gum and something reminiscent of her past. The smoke swirled in front of her eyes turning into shapes and words she could almost read. She hated coming downstairs to his mother’s living room. She could not explain it, but she felt unsafe.
As they stepped into the living room, she saw his mother wearing a red and white polka dot dress. She had a light black Sheilah.
“Come closer, child,” she said softly and as Rapunzel dutifully stepped closer.
His mother flung herbs into the Midkhan and a burst of heavy smoke choked Rapunzel’s lungs and she coughed heavily. She heard her husband asking “Don’t you think it’s too much?”
Rapunzel felt lucid until she saw his mother’s eyes glow an unearthly emerald green as she waved the smoke towards her. The fog around her threatened to suffocate her and she struggled to keep her senses. She had just learned something important but it was trickling away. Rapunzel remembered The Enchantress’s eyes glowing the same green when she spoke her incantations.
Rapunzel tried to speak. Her throat felt raw. She heard music playing in the back of her heard. She heard the chirping of birds, the gurgling of babbling brooks, and endless melodies. All at once, there was silence.
She felt her husband’s arms wrap around her. The scent of him brought her back to her senses.
“What happened?” She asked him in a small voice.
“You lost your balance,” he said.
“I feel weak,” she whispered to him. She could not bring herself to turn towards his mother.
“I’ve got you, Rapunzel,” he reassured her. “Even fairy tales could not keep us apart.”
Rapunzel looked up at him puzzled. He kissed her forehead gently and helped her sit down.
“I wish you did not have to do that to her.” She heard him say to his mother quietly so she wouldn’t hear.
“You had to fall in love with a fairy tale,” his mother huffed. “A foreign fairy tale. There are sacrifices to be made.”
Author: Shahd Thani