Short Story of the Day

11/25/20

The North Star

There once was a childless couple who desperately longed for a child. For years and years, they tried everything they could to help them conceive but it was all futile. Finally, a blessed miracle occurred and the woman's belly grew with new life within her. As her baby grew so did her hunger pangs. One day, she looked down onto the garden of an old woman who lived next door, and when she saw the rampions, she desired them for herself. She convinced her husband to steal the coveted herbs from the old woman's garden but he was caught. The man managed to convince the witch to let him go and to have her rampions. The witch had one condition, however. Their firstborn child was hers to keep. Months later, the woman gave birth to a beautiful, healthy daughter, Rapunzel. You know the rest of the story. The girl in the tower with golden hair that reached the ground, the prince riding into the forest, a secret love affair, the prince losing his eyesight after falling among the briars growing around the tower's base when the witch discovered their indiscretions, and then finding Rapunzel again in the desert years later, then recovering his sight thanks to her healing tears.

But that's not the real story. This is. And even then, I'm not sure I believe it myself. My name is Rapunzel Blackthorne, the Northern Star. I was born to Sir Reginald Blackthorne and his wife, Lady Yseult. My father was King Wilhelm's best general, a loyal friend, and his most trusted advisor. My mother, Lady Yseult, was the daughter of the North Star himself and a mortal woman. She was the granddaughter of the Sun. At the time of my birth, the kingdom of Amorellia was at war with the forces of the Mad Queen, the dark sorceress Gothel. It was prophesied that my birth would signal the beginning of the end for the witch-queen and her forces. And so it was that my parents hid me, or so I've been told. We lived in a little cottage in the woods until the age of two, when an old rival of my father's betrayed him and we were found out. Gothel's mercenaries burned the cottage down and took me away. My mother and father tried to protect me but it was too late. My mother was murdered. My injured father escaped by crawling under a pile of fallen jilail tree leaves. Now I am in my twentieth year and living in captivity in this tower—if you can call it a tower. It's more like a dried up well with a window at the very top to let a sliver of light in. There was no door anywhere, only that solitary window. It was Gothel's way of making sure I didn't escape. It was impossible to escape from unless you had a rope, or if you were a witch like Gothel, a broom. My prison cell was furnished with an ordinary-looking cot covered with fur, a table, a chair, some candles, and a mirror. My floor was the caked, cracking earth on the bottom of the long-dried well. Sometimes, I would scratch on the well's stone walls in desperation until my fingers bled. Life in "the tower" wasn't all that bad, however. I wasn't alone. In my isolation, I made a friend. One day, a wounded dove wandered into the tower. She had perched on the windowsill, but her strength failed her and she plummeted downwards. Before she could hit the ground, I caught her in my hands and set her aside while I searched my cell for scraps of cloth I could use to bandage up her wounds. Once, when Gothel visited me as usual to bring me my food, I asked her she could spare me some healing herbs from her garden. She brought them with her the next night when she came to visit me again. She was a kind jailer in that regard. I dressed the dove's wounds, cleaned them every day, fed her, and gave her water to drink. Weeks passed and she began to grow stronger. When she was strong enough to fly freely, I took her in my hands one last time, and released her. She flew around my circular prison but never up. I tried a couple more times, but the result was the same. She would not leave my side. Once, she flew up to the window of the tower and I thought that was it. I would never see my only friend again. But then she dived straight down, alighting on my shoulder. She was bound to me from then on and I was bound to her. I named her Milky.

Early one morning, even before the sun had begun to rise, I heard the frantic flapping of wings. Milky never did that unless she was startled. And that usually meant Gothel. Still drowsy from my slumber, I slowly got out of bed and wondered what in the three hells Gothel wanted with me so early. But it wasn't Gothel. It was a man. He called out to me, knew my name.

"Lady Rapunzel?" he shouted from above. "Lady Rapunzel, are you in there?"

"Who goes there?" I called back, alarmed. "And how do you know my name?"

"It is I, Prince Rodric of Amorellia," the voice said. "Son of King Wilhelm, rightful and true ruler of Amorellia! I have come to rescue you."

Through the pre-dawn darkness, I could see the glint of a lantern's light but I could not make out the figure of the man holding it.

"How will you get me out?" I wondered. "The well is many fathoms deep!"

As if in answer to my question, the prince let down a rope long enough for me to tie securely around my waist.

"Tie the rope around your waist and I will pull you up," Prince Rodric answered. "Hurry! We must leave."

I did as he had instructed, tying the rope around my waist and holding on tightly to the rest of the rope in front of me. Ever the faithful companion, Milky flew straight up after me, landing on my shoulder. She would not leave me alone. When I reached the top, I climbed out the window with trembling arms and legs.

"I have you, my lady," Prince Rodric said gently, helping me out of the tower's window.

I was right. The "tower" was an old well that had been sealed up. The window was at ground level and had been placed there by Gothel to let light and air in. She always came in through the mouth of the well. She would remove the stone covering it and fly down on her broom. Then she would seal it again by magic.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I stepped out into the open, filling my lungs with fresh, crisp morning air. I gulped it in like a traveler on a long journey who had run out of water and was dying of thirst. I had lived in the bottom of that well for so long that I had no idea just how invigorating it was. The air down there was stale despite the window that Gothel had provided me with. Sadly, that stale air was all I'd ever known. But I had no more time to reflect.

Gothel's soldiers had found us and we had to run. And run we did. Prince Rodric grabbed my hand in his, pulling me along with him.

"Let's go," he said. "No time to explain!"

We ran through the forest, with the Knights of Gothel hot on our trail. We found some bushes to hide in while Gothel's goons combed the place. I was about to say something when Prince Rodric clapped his hand over my mouth to keep me quiet. The search party moved on and he removed his hand from my mouth. Then we crawled out of our hiding spot and found his horse. He helped me onto its back, telling me to hold tightly to his waist. I did so, and off we went, away to safety and into the rebel camp. Everything was a blur of dark green, black, and deep purple. But out of the corner of my eye, I saw something white. Milky was flying right beside us as we galloped. When we had put some considerable distance between us and the Knights of Gothel—or the Goons of Gothel, as I like to call them—we stopped to rest for awhile and Rodric built a fire to warm us up. As the first streaks of dawn changed from deep purple, to light purple, to red, to orange, I began to see Rodric's features more clearly. His sandy hair was neatly combed and swept to the side. He had piercing blue eyes like a cloudless sky and a smile so bright it could rival the sun itself. His beauty caught me off guard, but I couldn't trust him just yet. Not now.

"You have questions," he observed.

"I do," I said. "First of all, how did you know my name?"

"Your father sent for you," Prince Rodric answered. "He made my father promise to find you, and so I did—for them both. He said you were the people's North Star, the promised Savior."

"I don't believe in prophecies," I said. "And my father died years ago. I'm just an ordinary girl."

"That's where you're wrong," Prince Rodric said. "Your birth and your eventual rise was prophesied eons before you were born. It is said that a child of the North Star's daughter will bring the light of hope to the people of Amorellia. You are that light, Lady Rapunzel. Yours is the flame that will spark the blaze of revolution and end Gothel the Mad Queen's tyrannical reign."

"Hah!" I said, pointing an accusatory finger at Prince Rodric. "Now I know you really are lying! There's no way that old hag is a queen. She's just an ordinary witch, strong perhaps, but ordinary nonetheless."

"You're right," Prince Rodric said. "Gothel is no queen. She's a usurper, a pretender who stole the throne and the crown from my father."

"I still don't believe you," I said stubbornly. "If what you say is true and I am the people's prophesied Savior, then why hasn't she killed me yet? She just kept me locked up in that well."

"She needs you as a bargaining chip," Prince Rodric reasoned. "You're much valuable to her alive than dead. Besides, with how powerful you are, you'd be a formidable ally. Perhaps she thought she could turn you to her side."

"And what of this prophecy?" I asked, still doubtful. "What more does it say?"

"The prophecy also states that your voice and yours alone could wake the Sleeping Knights in the Isle of Death," Prince Rodric explained patiently. "And only you can break the chains guarding the entrance to the Cave of Sleep."

"What rubbish!" I exclaimed, shaking my head. "Me? An ordinary girl?"

"You are no ordinary girl, Lady Rapunzel," Prince Rodric said. "Consider all the strange things that have happened in your life. How would you explain them?"

I knew what he was getting at. From a very young age, I had discovered that I could manipulate fire, light candles with a wave of my hands, control light, and so much more. It used to scare me and so I pushed it down. Until one day, they stopped. They lay dormant inside me, unused. How could I help the cause now, much less lead it?

"I have no way of explaining them," I said.

"You are the child of the North Star's daughter," Prince Rodric said. "As I've told you before. Lady Yseult's father was the North Star and her grandfather was the Sun. This bloodline has granted you so much power—power that even Gothel the Usurper is afraid of."

"And my father?" I asked. "Gothel said my father was dead. That he was an old neighbor of hers who stole her rampions for my mother to eat. And that she allowed him to take her rampions in exchange for me, their firstborn daughter."

"Is that what Gothel had been feeding you?" Prince Rodric said. "Nothing could be further from the truth, my Lady! Your father was a loyal friend and First Knight of my father, King Wilhelm. He was also my father's wisest advisor. He was wounded, protecting you and your mother from Gothel's assassins when they came to kill your parents and take you away."

"Where is he now?" I asked. "Is he still alive? Can I see him? Does he know I'm alive?"

"Sadly, he gave his life for the cause," Prince Rodric said. "Three days ago, Sir Reginald was out on patrol when he and his men were attacked by a squad of Knights of Gothel. He died just before midnight, last night. And he made my father promise him that we'd look for you."

I never knew my father, but in that moment, I felt tears sting my eyes and my throat tighten. Gothel had taken so much from me. My childhood. My freedom. My parents. She had to be stopped, once and for all. I still wasn't sure if I believed this whole prophecy thing entirely or not, but one thing I knew. I had to fight. To avenge my parents. To help King Wilhelm reclaim the throne of Amorellia. My end goal is to kill Dame Gothel and to send her, body and soul, to burn in the third Hell. I turned to Prince Rodric with a determined look and asked to borrow his dagger.

"What for?" he asked.

"My long hair won't do us good in battle," I said, proceeding to hack at the golden strands with Rodric's dagger. "It will just be a liability. And we can't have liabilities, now, can we? There's too much at stake here."

When I thought my hair was short enough, I gathered the fallen strands and dropped it into the fire, watching the flames lick my once glorious tresses. It crackled and hissed, smoking. I was free at last. My long hair was a symbol of my captivity. But I was no longer a prisoner. I was glad to see them go. After breakfast, Rodric put out the fire and we set off again. This time, on foot.

"Aren't we taking your horse?" I asked.

"Stella knows her way back to the camp," Rodric assured me. With that, Rodric slapped his horse in the arse twice and she began to trot and then gallop.

"I sure hope you know what you're doing," I said, with a raise of my eyebrow.

"Trust me, I know," Rodric said.

We had been walking on the road for half a day when we heard angry cries from behind us. We'd been made. But it wasn't the scouting party from earlier that morning. This was bigger. It was an infantry consisting of twenty knights. They meant business, but so did I.

"Run!" Rodric shouted. "We cannot face them head on! It would be utter foolishness."

I had to admit he was right. It would have been utter foolishness for two people to fight twenty men. What's more, my abilities lay dormant for a long time that I was having difficulty wielding them. I had to reawaken my powers. But now was not the time. We would have been crushed. I was more valuable to the cause alive than dead. And so we ran. As we neared the entrance of yet another forest, I heard the whizzing of arrows as they sailed through the air. Panicked, Milky frantically dived down to safely hide in my satchel. A number of our pursuers fell and a band of rebels armed with swords, daggers, axes, and slings burst through the forest before us like the rushing flood from a broken dam. Among them was Prince Rodric's twin brother, Prince Godric and a woman dressed in mercenary clothing, who I would later learn was Prince Rodric's childhood friend. Newly encouraged and strengthened by this act of bravery, I shouted for Prince Rodric to hand me his dagger. He had drawn his sword himself. I unsheathed his dagger from its scabbard and gripped the handle tight. I was itching for my first battle. I still did not believe. But if I had to fight, I would fight.