Some days, when he would awaken from a tentacle-filled nightmare to find himself in a cold sweat, her hair everywhere, sticking to him and suffocating him with its paranormally long strands, he’d wish he could do it all over again.
Okay, so rescuing her was kind of inevitable. He was a dashing prince out to establish his reputation, sow a few royal wild oats along the way if the gods were kind. She was a princess with hair the likes of which fairy tales were told, and she was trapped in a tower. Pretty standard stuff, except for the bit about the hair. Apparently, though, the hair was long and thick enough that he could use it to climb a tower that, through some enchantment, did not have any stairs or other means of access.
He’d studied up for a while, and unless he was willing to travel three months to North Umbria through dangerously cold, wintry conditions, through mountains as frozen as, well as frozen as rocky snowy high peaks could be, she was the nearest princess in need of rescue. He thought a lot about the hair. It bugged him out, but he positively despised the cold. Like a lot of princes, he was pretty-well pampered and a bit of a neat freak. Hair that long just had to have….uggh. He tried not to think about it, and he also purchased a set of otter-skin gloves before setting out to emancipate her, and all that…hair.
There were a few other young princes out there prowling around, so he didn’t have a lot of time to waste. He rescued the damsel from her imprisonment, got married, had a kid, and even found a small four-bedroom castle just outside of town, on the other side of town from Castle Denkrock, home of her highness’s father, a barrel-chested lunatic of a man whose idea of fun was hosting a State dinner in his underwear, along with some horses and goats tableside to boot. The king was a bit of a maniac, and he was always challenging the young prince to wrestling matches, which often grew very uncomfortable. Especially given the unitards the king demanded they wear.
The king’s mercurial nature, though, went a long way towards explaining why the newlyweds ended up on the other side of town, in their own castle.
In the beginning, the prince had hoped things could work out. It took weeks for him to convince her to cut her hair, even by only a hundred feet or so. After that it took ten men with machetes to trim it down to a length which only then draped behind her like an empress’s wedding train.
Initially, they sold the excess follicles to a wigmaker in town. Went off like a bang. The man made a fortune in short order. The prince used some of the money to renovate the castle, to hire a full-time maid to clean up after all the hair. He even installed an in-ground pool in the backyard of the courtyard of their modest castle. Swimming in it during the early evenings became his favorite pastime. His time alone.
As it was his own pool, he liked to swim sans clothing. Man, that felt good. No wonder the damn heathens got all crazy over this sort of thing, he thought. Feels positively magical.
He’d swim for an hour or more at a time. But always, after drying off, with a towel that invariably held a number of her hairs, he would return to his hair-infested castle and deal with his hair-infested life. He wanted more out of life. If not electric romance, then at least something more reasonable than his current situation.
The problem was that even after they cut her hair, it grew back, at a pretty alarming rate. It grew at a supernatural rate. This was a by-product of some witchcraft, to be sure, but they’d never found a witch who could counter the spell. So, the hair just kept growing and growing. His life was out of control. Every other week, he just had to chop the hell out of it, like hacking his way through some curly blonde jungle.
Sometimes, he would sit on his couch, watching their child Jasper play about in mounds of the stuff, wearing his neck-guard and wraparound mouth protector, all designed to stop the child from choking to death in one fashion or another, and he would sigh.
Her highness caught him one day staring off at the wall, at the nothingness.
“You wish you’d rescued some other chick,” she said. “You wish you’d rescued that stupid Goldilocks chick. Dumb broad doesn’t have enough sense to know she’s burglarized a bear home. They’d have been well within their rights to have eaten her. That’s the dumb broad you’re thinking about, isn’t it? Pathetic.”
“Oh, for god’s sake, the Williamson’s are vegetarians .”
“You think that tramp knew that?”
Fights like this were commonplace. If it wasn’t Goldilocks, it was some other young woman. They’d always end with Pun in a puddle of tears screaming: “You think I want all this hair! You think I want this life!”
After a couple months, the wigmaker had enough of the stuff. He didn’t have any more space for it even if he could somehow figure out how to process any further shipments. There were only so many people who wanted wigs anyhow. The market was saturated. Soon everyone would be walking around like clones of Jayne Mansfield. The wigmaker was looking into a mass dye operation, create some new colors and styles, open-up some foreign business, but that was all months away. He was backordered throughout the holidays and then some.
So, the prince built a shed out back and just wove the stuff as best he could on the end of a pitchfork and tossed it in there. Goddamn biohazard, he thought, hoping like hell a lightning strike would just burn the stuff to the ground in one single blast. Burning it by other means was absolutely unacceptable. The stench would’ve been enough to drive the entire country into a fit of insanity.
Eventually, the Winter Solstice came and with it the festival of the Resurrection of Light. This meant a great fair with vendors and performers from throughout the region and beyond descending upon the small fiefdom. It also meant the incoming of witches from various parts, arriving to play their roles in the magic as over three days the sun disappeared on the horizon, and was then reborn , marking the death of winter and the oncoming of Spring. There would be many different feasts and rituals designed to honor a host of gods, big and small, many dances, a lot of drinking. It was a time when people started to awaken from the slumber of winter, and rejoice that the worst of the darkness was over, and that each day after would bring more sunlight, more warmth into the land.
The prince kept on top of things, and he knew that among all the various witches, one in particular, a sorceress from a far-off land, was expected to arrive and oversee the ceremonies. If anyone could fix their marriage, deliver him from his hairy hell, it had to be her. If not, he would lose his mind, go off someplace to a monastery, give up the prince game. He was twenty-four, a decent age to be a newlywed, and he was looking down the long barrel of a life in a hair swamped hell. It was making him jittery and prone to drinking large quantities of honey mead.
Pun wasn’t against the idea of seeing a sorceress. She knew their loveless marriage was on the rocks. Her husband was still too much a child to buck up, and relationships did demand some sacrifice. It was give-and-take. Some part of her did sometimes question the marriage thing entirely. It was like some nagging feeling that it could never be right, her the princess, he the prince. They were roles with expectations, and she, like her prince, wanted more than the responsibility of living up to a role she did not want. The whole conventional life was bogging her down, but she was terrified to admit it. Maybe if they could break the spell of the hair, decrease his workload, he could soften up and they could kindle their passion. Maybe she would be attracted to him if they could get this issue behind them. It had to be worth a shot.
A month later, when the fair came to town, he made arrangements through his intermediaries to have a meeting with this witch of great renown, this Alice the Black.
When the day came, he and Pun, though surrounded by a coterie of armed horsemen, were still nervous as they entered the old woman’s tent. Thick clouds of incense were dancing in the air lit by nearly a dozen torches. The floor was covered in animal skins. The place smelled oily and musky.
At the far end of the tent sat the old crone, huddled in black robes, only the skeletal thin features of her hands and drawn face visible. Beside her sat several attendants, young women with dusky skin, tattoos on their faces, wearing dark robes and displaying an arrogant, almost deadly regard for the two persons who entered their tent. Their hair was cut into shapes and forms neither the prince nor Pun had ever seen. One of them, with particularly flaring eyes, stared at him fiercely, her head shaved to a mohawk.
“Sit,” the old woman commanded, gesturing to a bear skin in front of her. “Have tea with me.”
The pair took a seat, and a moment later a young woman who’d been hidden in the shadows stepped forward and poured a strong cup of tea for the pair of them.
“So, you wish to break a spell?” the old woman asked. “No easy task.”
“We never suspected it to be so, which is why we have humbly come here to request your intervention,” the prince replied.
“Come here, girl,” the woman commanded the princess. “Let me see you closer.”
The princess rose in a half crouch and approached the old woman. In any other circumstance, being referred to as girl would have elicited a strong, even vicious response, but not here, not now.
“You’re one hairy chick!” the woman cackled.
“We’d be ecstatic if you could make our lives a bit less hairy,” the princess replied.
“I’ll wager you would, wager you would,” the woman chuckled. “Who put this spell on you anyhow?”
“She said her name was Alia. Gave me a poisoned bowl of guacamole at a festival, I woke up in a tower, this poor lug uses the hair to come up and rescue me, the rest is…”
“No fairy tale ending, eh?” the crone asked. “They seldom are. Enchanted guacamole, you say. That does sound like Alia. She’s a right nasty piece of work, that one. You’re lucky I’ve come.”
“Can you overturn this spell, give us some normalcy?” the prince asked.
“Those are two separate things, my young prince,” the crone replied. “I can remove the spell, but it is deep, goes to the core of who your young wife is. A seed has been planted. You may not be happy with the outcome, and upon that matter I can offer you nothing. Neither of you will be the same, though beyond that I see only a blank slate.”
“You can stop her hair growth, though, give us some sort of normal life on at least that front?” the prince asked.
“I can stop the hair growth. What happens after that is for the fates. You enlist my services at your own peril,” the sorceress replied, looking down and drawing a symbol in the dirt with her forefinger.
“We were committed before we came here,” Pun said. “Just tell us what we must do.”
It took several hours before the ritual was ready to begin. Oils and fragrances were produced and meshed into hallucinogenic combinations of roots and mushrooms. The prince figured it was mostly for show. Not that he didn’t believe in magic, rather he believed those capable of wielding it had to resort to some bit of showmanship, or their tradecraft would lose its chic, and they’d lose their place.
So, during the Winter Solstice, he and his wife danced around a tremendous bonfire in a crowd of electric chaos, mushroomed out of their minds beneath a cold and wide-open night sky, while Alice proceeded to chant indecipherably, and shake her bone rattle to draw out any evidence of her colleague’s mischief.
During the midst of the dancing ritual, Pun was picked up and removed to a place away from the main bonfire. There she had her head shaved by a group of physically imposing Amazonians, acrobats enlisted by the crone.
Her hair was chopped down and then her hair shaved until all that was left was a thick blonde mohawk.
He watched her rejoin the dance around the bonfire in all its heathen intensity and he felt a great lust rise inside of him, something he’d not felt since their wedding night. She danced around the fire, her skin shiny and oily in the light and his lust rose.
One of the crone’s attendants, the mohawk woman from the tent, joined the newly shaved princess and together they danced, moving closer until they were entwined in sweat, writhing and dancing as one. The night went on for hours. The heat of the bonfire, the drums and chants, and the dance of its flames mesmerizing. The two mohawk women never quit dancing together. At some point he lost track of them entirely.
He found the note the next day. Tucked under the sugar bowl. He didn’t need to read it to know what it said. But he did so anyway, just to drive the needles home.
She had found someone, she wrote, someone who understood her needs, someone who accepted her for all her faults. She was saddened, but she knew that Jasper would live a better life without her. She knew that he would be a good father. Blah Blah Blah. He tucked the note away, and he went to back to bed, remaining there for several days, despite the sincere efforts of his loyal servants who doubled their duties, taking care of Jasper and now nurse-maiding their prince through a tremendous heartbreak, keeping an eye on him so that his rash temper didn’t give way to a rasher action.
He fell into a well of depression, and if it hadn’t been for his servants, young Jasper would’ve fallen into a true state of disrepair. He felt emptied as he looked about the castle, finding only an occasional hair now.
He was several weeks into a deliciously self-indulgent despair when a knock came at his castle door. He hadn’t had visitors lately on account he’d become a rather morose, even ill-mannered host.
On this day he decided, out of sheer boredom, that he would answer the castle door, and perhaps even offer the offending person a vicious scare.
He pushed the slightly-secret red button near the door, hinges and chains went to work, grinding and gnawing and complaining about their lot in life, and the door opened up to reveal a girl in her late teens, wearing a short yellow frock. She had golden curls draping down from either shoulder, but her eyes betrayed a woman of far more years than she pretended.
“Hi, I’m Goldi. Neighbor down the street. You wouldn’t happen to have any porridge. I’m fresh out and the maid’s on holiday till next Tuesday. I’d go to the market, but my brother has my horse, and anyhow, I figured that seeing how you were my neighbor and you were sexy and you were single and all that, I should probably come over and give you a good story just so I can take a shot at you,” she said, pushing her way past him.
She found her way to the living room, to where Jasper was sitting in a pile of wooden toys.
“Kooorrr!!! That’s a baby, that is. You’ve got a baby boy!”
“Yes,” the prince said, standing in the doorway and folding his arms. “So, it would appear.”
She picked the child up and cradled him. He turned his chubby face upwards, smiled and gurgled.
“Not good, you know. Raising a baby without a mum. Kid will grow up only understanding half the world. He’ll be forever subjugated and manipulated by the other sex.”
“You’ve a fair point, but what’s the alternative?”
Goldi smiled, cradling the baby. “You and I are adults. We have to think more practically about our lives. I’m getting older, you’re getting older. All I’m saying is you could do worse. I can cook. I’m good with children, and I’m a stick of dynamite in the sack,” she winked.
He thought about North Umbria and the cold. He didn’t think he could manage the trip even if he’d wanted to, and he didn’t. He thought about growing old alone. He wanted a partner, someone to help him look after Jasper. He looked at the beautiful young woman in front of him, her head a mouse-trap of pragmatism, except perhaps when it came to identifying bear dens, and he said to himself: “She’s got a point, that one. Not a half bad smile as well .”
“How about we maybe start with a dinner date,” he suggested. “Take it from there.”
“Fair enough. You like tacos?” Goldi asked.
“Sure. Just so long as we skip the guacamole.”