They take Rapunzel’s children away and give them to nurses and nannies. Brook, her son, goes with a storm of passionate tears, but she looks out the window a few minutes later and sees him chasing a ball across the lawn and laughing as if he’s been given the moon in a birdcage. Rose, her daughter, went without protest, but while Brook plays and smiles and fairly glows, she sits quietly beneath a tree and does nothing.
“Daughters are like that sometimes, your highness,” the head nanny says. “They miss their mothers more than boys do. She’ll get over it in a few days, there’s a good royal lass.” Rapunzel thinks what a heavy burden it had been to lay on a child, to name her after the thorns that had (protected her mother) scarred her father, and nods.
Gothel had kept her clothed in cotton spun fine as silk, dyed the colors of the sky and the fields and the flowers that grew scattered across the earth. Rapunzel lets herself be dressed in heavy velvets woven through with threads of metal; she lets precious stones be hung around her neck.
“I’m so glad I can show you off as you deserve,” her husband says, and Rapunzel runs her fingers across the skin-warm gold chain at her throat and smiles and nods.
She feels grounded, like a broken-winged bird. She had wanted out from the tower, away from Gothel, but now that she’s down she feels like she’s falling and about to hit the ground with a crash that will break every bone in her body. It’s too close, and she can’t see the horizon anymore. There’s a wall around the castle and guards at every door.
Her husband is the heir; the king is dying. He is a busy man, and has no more time to talk to her. Rapunzel learns to embroider, creating forests filled with phoenixes and gryphons and unicorns, but it isn’t enough. She pricks her fingers and they bleed. Her ladies-in-waiting spring to her rescue with silk handkerchiefs.
From outside she can hear Brook’s bright laughter, and no answer from Rose.
She springs from her seat and walks to the door as quickly as she can with layer on layer on layer over her legs: one petticoat of cotton, five of starched linen, two of silk; a heavy silk underskirt embroidered all over with gold thread; the velvet overskirt slashed open at the front. There is time, more than time, for the page to swing the door open before her so she can walk through without halt or hesitation.
Doors open all before their princess as she hurries outside. Rose is sitting beneath a tree, still, with little silk slippers on her outstretched feet and grass smudged all over her pale-pink gown.
Rapunzel snatches her up and holds her close. Rose’s hair smells like sunshine and wind.
There is a tower in the center of the castle. It is old, built of a dark rough-cut stone, and the heavy carvings on the lintels and around the fireplaces are not the sprites currently in fashion but the monsters of centuries before.
Rapunzel orders firewood brought, chairs and tables, a loom and a mattress. She knows they think her half-wild at best, perhaps even mad, but from the top of the tower she can see the castle grounds spread out beneath her like a toy or a soldier’s model. She can see past the walls and down into the untidy heap of the city below. She can see the glimmers of wild green beyond the city’s limits, of wheat-gold and the dappled brown of fallow fields. She can see the clouds above and the paths of the birds when they fly past.
She weaves tapestries now, great splashes of color and scene. A knight bows to the unicorn, battles the dragon, reveals tumbling dark curls when she pulls off her helmet. The firebird settles with orchard-spanning wings tenderly, wistfully on the outstretched arm of the king’s youngest son. They go down from her tower and into the castle, vibrant and glowing, and they bring with them the rare swift air of the sky.
Soon, Rapunzel thinks, she will teach Rose to create.