I’ve been writing and rewriting quite a bit lately, and I think it’s time to share a piece of the result. This is from my (stubbornly still unnamed) rewrite of the fairy-tale Rapunzel. Enjoy
“Where have you been, Raven? I thought I warned you that I would need you to take care of Luda this morning.”
Tolina’s frown melted away as her daughter came crashing down the stairs, landing with an unceremonious thump on her tail. Raven laughed wryly and rubbed the bruise. She stared up at the tall, dark-eyed woman before her, hoping vaguely that she would forget about being angry.
“I’m sorry…I forgot the time. The sun was so warm and bright and I just had to – ”
Tolina’s dark eyes bored holes into Raven, unceremoniously cutting off her excuse. “Luda’s been calling for you for half an hour, Raven.” she stated flatly. “Now I want you to go and apologize to her, and give Luda her medicine for me. I have to leave, and ought to have done so an hour ago if you hadn’t gone and disappeared after breakfast. It’s time you started thinking about more than just yourself.”
Raven scowled inwardly, but dared not say anything. She ducked her head and trudged down the stairs to the little cottage at the base of the tower. A heat wave rolled over her, and Raven instantly regretted coming down. Despite the fact that spring was well-advanced, Luda insisted on having a roaring fire in her quarters. Raven already felt hot and sticky as she stepped into the tiny room.
Luda sat wrapped in a cheerless quilt, scowling hawk-like at the fire crackling obediently in the hearth. The old woman rocked insistently, her gnarled hands fiercely engaged with knitting needles and drab yarn. Spying Luda’s project, Raven grimaced. No doubt the grayish shapeless object was destined to become hers…whatever it was intended to be.
“Well, there she is!” Luda exclaimed to her knitting. “I thought she’d never get here!”
“I’m sorry….” Raven hung back.
“Oh, of course.” Luda sneered. “So sorry she won’t hurry up and do as she’s told. Hop to it, young lady!”
Raven hastily obeyed, scampering to the high mantle-piece and taking down the heavy crock that resided there. She half-heartedly removed the lid, bracing her senses as an overpowering sickly sweet smell filled the room.
Raven gagged at the stench, and breathed through her sleeve while Luda painstakingly set her knitting aside and dipped a pewter spoon into the sticky black goo. As soon as the utensil cleared the opening, Raven clapped the lid back on and deposited the crock back on the mantel with a sigh. She ran to the narrow little window and breathed the fresh air in relief, before gladly escaping back up into the tower.
“I hope you apologized properly to her.” Tolina called as Raven dashed by. Raven skidded to a stop, nearly tripping on the rag rug in the middle of the floor.
She gritted her teeth. “I did.”
“I’m glad.” Tolina drew Raven into a hug. “I know she vexes you, but there’s nothing we can do to change her behavior.” She kissed Raven’s forehead. “I’m going into town now, so I need you to watch Luda’s fire this morning. Her fever is worse today, and I don’t want to risk her getting cold.”
Raven groaned inwardly. “Alright.” she finally managed.
“Thank you, sweetheart.” Tolina squeezed her shoulders and hurried downstairs. Raven watched out the window as her mother, cloaked and carrying a basket, began the slow journey down the hill to Penworth.
‘I wish I could go too.’ Raven frowned, and half-heartedly backtracked down to the cottage, convinced that the entire morning would be spoiled.
“Well, look who decided to visit me.” the old woman exclaimed to her knitting. “I wonder what would prompt her to come again so soon!”
“Mother is going to town and she told me to watch your fire.” Raven scowled. Why did Luda always have to aggravate her?
“That explains it.” Luda viciously stabbed a knitting needle through the yarn and fell silent. Raven ignored the caustic comment and leaned on the window ledge, trying to feel the spring breeze that played just out of reach.
“Why can’t I go outside the ruins?” she asked suddenly, turning to the cantankerous old woman.
“Because your mother was foolish, that’s why.” Luda rocked harder. Raven narrowed her eyes, and turned back to the window.
“She’s not foolish…” she muttered fiercely to herself, and then stopped. After all, why did Tolina think Raven couldn’t go out on her own? And why didn’t she ever tell Raven about their past? And why did they live in the castle ruins in the first place?
“What do you mean?” Raven turned suspiciously to look at Luda again.
“Now what nonsense are you talking about?” Luda held up her knitting and scrutinized it closely.
“Why did you call Mother foolish, and what does it have to do with me?” Raven prodded impatiently.
“I called her that because she is.” Luda snapped. “And it has everything to do with you. It’s her fault.”
“Why? What is her fault?” Raven asked, trying to quench the horrible doubts that rose inside her.
“Ask her yourself.” Luda retorted, and nearly stabbed herself with her knitting needle. She swore and threw it down. Raven squinched her eyes shut, and wished she could do the same with her ears.
‘Why do I have to live with this woman?!’ She moaned, and pushed her face close to the window. Sweat rolled down her back, and her hair felt nasty and sticky. If only the breeze would decide to be kind and blow inside for a change…Raven’s palms were sweaty, and she was suffocating in the heat.
“The fire is getting low.” Luda observed dryly. Raven turned around, feeling light-headed. Luda was knitting away, and the fire burned as brightly as ever. Raven’s vision blurred for a moment, and she swayed.
‘Have to…get out…’
“Raven! Did you hear me?” Luda exclaimed. “I said the fire is getting low.”
“I…have to go upstairs…” Raven mumbled weakly, and dragged herself up the staircase before Luda could object. Finally reaching the top, she collapsed on the stone floor in relief, letting the feeling seep into her body and cool her hot forehead. Her head slowly stopped spinning, and her wits returned.
‘I do believe I nearly fainted!’ she realized, and shuddered to think what Luda might have done if she actually had. Probably shove some of the nasty cordial down her throat, or maybe hit her with a knitting needle until she woke up. Raven sighed, and turned her head to the other side. Her gaze ran idly over the room. There was the many-colored rag rug in the middle of the floor… the old worn-out tapestry…the great bookshelves along the walls… Raven wondered how many of those books she had actually even read. And how many were just pieces of leather wrapped around disintegrated paper. Most of them looked like the moths had taken an interest to them. She crossed her eyes and watched the colors blur together. Red, brown, green…white…blue…or was it…purple? Surprised, Raven stood up and pulled the little book off the shelf.
‘It is purple! Where did it come from?’ Raven turned the book over in her hands. There were no markings on the cover. Curious, she opened it to the first page. Tolina Kirghen was written on it in a fine, neat hand. Raven stared.
“Mother’s diary!” she breathed. “But why haven’t I seen it here before?” A little guiltily, she realized just how very little she had read at all in the past few years. It would have been easy to miss a thin little diary amongst the great big books.
“Raven! Raven Tahuer, you come back here this minute!” Luda shrilled.
“Tahuer?” Raven’s heart jumped. Tahuer! Marcus had mentioned a Tahuer. But why would Luda… “What nonsense!” Raven shook the thoughts from her head. “You’re losing your mind, Raven. You just imagined it.”
“Raven!” Luda screeched again. Raven groaned and hid the little book under the stair, and slowly descended to Luda again. She would have to retrieve and read it a different time.
* * * *
Marcus trudged through the streets of Penworth, his mind anywhere but in the tiny town as he pondered his adventure that morning. His daydreams were abruptly arrested however, as a tall lanky lad suddenly burst around a corner and collided with Marcus.
“Hullo, what’s this all about?” Marcus exclaimed, disentangling himself from the other boy’s sprawled limbs. “Dan’l? What’s the matter?”
Dan’l hauled himself to his feet with a groan, his face pale. “There’s trouble afoot in the smithy.” he answered, replacing a battered cap on his tawny hair.
Marcus perked up. “What’s going on?” he asked eagerly.
Dan’l hesitated, his eyes shifting nervously from side to side. “Wahl…” He stalled, then drew closer and whispered confidentially, “I seen the ghost go in there.”
Marcus’ face lit up immediately. “You saw the ghost? When? What did it look like?” he prodded eagerly.
“You’re mad!” Dan’l exclaimed, his face going a shade paler. “You cain’t mess with spirits! It ain’t safe!”
“I know, I know.” Marcus brushed Dan’l off impatiently. “You let me worry about that. What did it look like? Is it still there?”
“’Tis your head.” Dan’l shrugged. “Don’t care if you want to get yourself cursed.”
“Well?” Marcus urged.
Dan’l gave in. “I saw it just a few minutes ago. It was walking around Mister Tahuer’s shop like they allus say it does, an’ it was all flowy an’ black.” The boy shuddered at the memory. “Marcus, you’re mad if you go anywheres near the place!”
“Was there anything strange about it?” Marcus prodded.
“Strange?” Dan’l scoffed. “Why, you are mad! Ain’t a ghost strange enough for ye?”
“Oh, forget it.” Marcus gave up with a sigh of disgust. He stalked down the street towards the smithy, leaving Dan’l gaping after him. Marcus couldn’t help but smirk at the other lad’s astonishment. As soon as he was out of sight however, his confidence waned and in spite of his bold pretenses he could not bring himself to peek through the window. Heart thumping, he slid down against the rough wall and waited.
“Marcus?” a deep voice broke the stillness. Marcus didn’t wait to see its source. He took off like a shot and never once looked back until he was safe inside his barrel behind Mr. Gateworthy’s shop.