The Hairy Peasant

Once upon a time, there lived a girl named Rapunzel. Don’t ask me why – she was an amiable girl, and almost certainly didn’t deserve it, but so it was, and she was stuck with it. Rapunzel lived with her parents in a small hovel near the village of Hornswagger-Upon-Lyme (it didn’t deserve it, either), where they tended a farm. Their land, and the village, and a lot of other things that I would mention if they weren’t so very dull, were owned by Lord Aussohl McLaudeponce, who certainly did deserve it.

Rapunzel and her family were, as is usual for peasants (and if the word hovel had not made it clear enough) very poor. They were humble people, however, and were no more given to complaining than the average farming peasant (a tendency that I shall charitably leave to the reader’s imagination) until the approach of Rapunzel’s 16th birthday. Rapunzel’s coming of age ought to have been an event of celebration, but alas, for girls on Lord Aussohl McLaudeponce’s land, this was a time of great fear and despair.

On some estates, perhaps, some girls would have been protected by a lack of certain personal charms, but McLaudeponce could not be accused of fussiness – merely of being a gigantic, unutterably foul, disgustingly base, odiferously malodorous scumbag. He preyed on young women according to an ancient, and thus repugnant law, which stated that a Lord could claim the unmarried daughters of his tenants provided they were of age. The scarcity of the population meant that this rarely happened, and most families ensured their daughters were safely married to the closest available Nice Young Lad before they came of age, but a dearth of Nice Young Lads meant that Rapunzel, despite being rather plain, was now facing the very worst of fates. And McLaudeponce was as happy as a… as a… Well, as happy as a thoroughly debauched man when faced with legally justified debauchery, the bastard.

Fortunately for Rapunzel, her parents had a Plan. Rapunzel’s mother had a sister, whose name was Winnifred Weeshcroft (poor dear). In a turn of events that should have surprised nobody, Winnifred had, as a young woman, Got Ideas, and had thus been run out of the village for being a witch. Concluding that, if one were to suffer the indignities of being an accused witch, one might as well go the whole hog and deserve them, Winnie had promptly settled down to a life of arcane study, devil worship, and the under-the-table healing of everyone in the village. For while one must publicly condemn all witchcraft, it is quite another thing to trust a mere doctor to treat a fever.

Winnie built herself a small tower in the woods, with a single, large room at the top, where she lived. The tower had no doors or windows other than those at the top, and its smooth walls were utterly unclimbable. The only way in was to fly (Winnie, as a witch, naturally had a broomstick for this purpose), which meant that not only was Winnifred safe from tedious witch-burning parties, but she never got woken up by Jehovah’s Witnesses on Saturday mornings.. It was to Winnie that Rapunzel’s parents turned, begging her to hide their daughter from McLaudeponce until they could find the requisite Nice Young Lad for her to marry.

Winnifred, who had kept herself out of village business for so long that she’d been quite unaware of Lord Aussohl’s ‘tradition’ (which his father, by the by, had not followed), was absolutely incensed. She agreed at once to take Rapunzel into her home, and declared that she herself should do something about the puffed up little tadpole who called himself a lord. Rapunzel was immensely relieved to be free from the immediate danger (although she hoped to yet convince her aunt to take her on as an apprentice, and thus avoid the necessity for finding a Nice Young Lad), and she and Winnifred slipped away from the village under cover of darkness the very night before Rapunzel’s birthday. (Perhaps, dear reader, you think they ought to have arranged Rapunzel’s escape a little further ahead of the dreaded date, to avoid any unnecessary danger, and I am quite of your mind. But pray remember, her parents were peasants, and one can only expect so much of people who spend 10 hours out of every 12 thinking of turnips.)

As soon as she had made Rapunzel comfortable in her new home, Winnifred immediately began to prepare for her first foray into political activism. Her first concern was to make it possible for her niece to exit and enter the tower unaided, since it would be rather unpleasant to be stuck in the top of an unassailable tower without the means to get down, no matter how safe you were from the local lordship. Winnifred therefore laid a charm on Rapunzel’s hair that made it grow unnaturally fast and long, until there was a great rope of it coiled about Rapunzel’s feet, enough to allow her to abseil down the side of the tower if she chose. It was, of course, magic hair, which would obey only the commands of the wearer, so perhaps Winnifred thought it would be safer than a garden-variety rope ladder, but the general opinion when the story was told later, was that this solution was utterly ridiculous. Witches often are ridiculous; it was believed at the time that there was something in magic itself that rendered practitioners a little doo-lally, but the truth is (as I’m sure you, enlightened reader, are well aware) that all humans are completely ridiculous, and magic merely provides the opportunity to be more obvious about it.

Rapunzel waved her aunt farewell with good cheer, having that innocent faith in the power of witchcraft that is common to commoners in general. She settled into her new home to wait and be Bored – something not frequently experienced by farmers, and something which Rapunzel planned to enjoy to its fullest extent. She had only just begun to feel restless, however, when she heard a voice hailing her from outside. She frowned, and crossed her arms, and attempted to ignore the hullooing from outside, but it was no use. She was Interested, and once one was Interested in something, all hope of true Boredom was instantly banished. She sighed and went to the window, determined to send whoever it was on their way as quickly as possible, and fervently hoping they said nothing original with which she would be obliged to be fascinated. Sadly for Rapunzel and her determination, the figure who waited below was quite the opposite of Boring, and quite failed to realise how really inconvenient this was.

“What do you want?” demanded Rapunzel, rather sharply. The figure below, who had just this moment alighted from her horse, looked up. She was clearly a knight, although not the daft kind, who ride around on hot days in metal pots attempting to broil themselves and bash each others’ brains in with lances. She was dressed instead in sensible chain mail, wore sensible boots, carried a sensible sword, and overall looked rather too sensible to be a knight in the first place, but I suppose everyone has their little whims.

“I say,” said the figure, “what are you doing up there?”

“I live here with my aunt,” replied Rapunzel, and added, “She’s a witch, you know,” in the hope that the knight would take the hint and go away. Sadly for Rapunzel, this did not have the desired effect.

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry,” said the knight. “Would you like me to rescue you?”

Rapunzel frowned, rather puzzled that anyone would think she’d need rescuing from her own aunt.

“No, thank you,” she said (for her mother had taught her to be polite, even to people who made no sense). “I’d really rather stay where I am, since if you take me home, Lord Aussohl McLaudeponce will have his wicked way with me, which is why Aunt Winnie brought me to stay with her in the first place.”

Now it was the knight’s turn to look puzzled.

“Are you sure?” she asked, after a moment’s thought. “Only, it’s usually witches who are wicked, and noblemen who do the rescuing, you see.”

“Have you met any noblemen?” said Rapunzel, quite astonished at this hitherto unheard-of phenomena of noble noblemen. The knight thought for another moment.

“Good point,” she said. “Well then, if your aunt the witch is keeping you here to keep you safe from Lord Wotshisface, where is she? Surely she shouldn’t leave you alone up there?”

“Oh, she’s gone to give Lord Aussohl a right thrashing,” said Rapunzel. “I’m perfectly safe up here. Nobody can climb up, you see, and I can get down if I need to, by using my hair.”

“Fair enough,” replied the knight, who by this point, was willing to accept almost anything. “Are you sure you don’t need rescuing?” she added, rather hopefully.

“No, I’m quite all right.”

“Well, suit yourself,” grumbled the knight (whose name, I should perhaps have mentioned earlier, was Sir Beatrice Rideswhelle, for some incomprehensible reason). “Would you object if I went and offered my services to your aunt?”

“Not at all,” said Rapunzel. “I’m sure she’d be happy to have you.”

“I’ll bid you good day then!”

“Good day, and good luck!”

And with that, Sir Beatrice rode off, leaving Rapunzel to her quest for Boredom, which you will be happy to hear, she achieved a mere two hours and thirty six minutes after Sir Beatrice had left, which shows some natural talent, I think.

It was, as it turned out, rather fortunate for Winnifred that Sir Beatrice had been in such desperate need of a rescue mission. Winnifred had begun her quest to give McLaudeponce a right thrashing with quiet aplomb, but it had quickly gone Aussohl up. Upon approaching the keep, she had easily disabled or terrified the guards (three of whom ran away and became quite excellent sailors as a result of her sudden appearance in the gatehouse), had made at least two noble ladies faint at the state of her shoes, and had managed to blast open the doors of the main hall with surprising ease.

Sadly for her, she was here set upon by not only Lord Aussohl’s personal guard, but also his personal wizard, Sir Vankstein. She could have beaten either of them on their own, but together, they were too much for her. She promptly found herself chained, thrown in the dungeon, and facing death by burning the next day at noon (dawn is more traditional, but Lord Aussohl wasn’t a morning person, and he hated to miss a good witch burning). She was feeling quite cross with herself, and wondering just how she was going to get out of her fix, when Sir Beatrice showed up. Faced with the prospect of not only giving an evil lord a good thrashing, but also of rescuing an innocent political prisoner (innocent can mean almost anything to the right kind of mind), Sir Beatrice was happier than a unicorn eating cake on a rainbow.

The rescue itself was, to Sir Beatrice’s mind, rather dull. Her horse pulled the bars out of the window with pathetic ease, Winnifred squeezed through without any of the usual unnecessary comic relief of getting stuck halfway, and the blacksmith was having a half-day holiday, so it was no trouble at all to borrow his tools to remove the witch-proof manacles from Winnie’s wrists.

“I say,” said Sir Beatrice, as they made their way stealthily back toward the main hall. “I hope this Laudeponce’s guard is going to be a bit more challenging than this rescue lark.”
Winnifred, who never hoped for unnecessary hardship if she could possibly help it, looked askance at her companion.

“I should think they’ll be challenge enough for one knight. There are twelve of them, after all.”

“Excellent,” said Sir Beatrice. “I’ll leave wizard to you then.”

One might have expected them to have come up with a rather more complex plan than this, but Sir Beatrice wasn’t really the tactical type, and after being locked in a dungeon all night, Winnifred was feeling rather too testy for strategy. Fortunately for them, they didn’t require it. Winnifred was quite capable of disabling Sir Vankstein (I shall not describe the process, in deference to my more delicate readers), and Sir Beatrice had a lovely time giving Lord Aussohl’s personal guard a right thwacking. (It would pay to add that if the personal guard had paid attention in guarding lessons, they would have had a far better chance against the knight; but they still had the vague notion that it was unsporting to take on a fellow swordsperson more than one or two at a time, and therefore allowed themselves to be roundly beaten.)

Lord Aussohl and the few lesser nobles of the keep were initially too surprised to react at all, and by the time they realised they should have been running away, Winnifred had already bound them to their seats with magic rope (the ordinary kind just isn’t reliable – after a few good spells, it frays quite alarmingly). As you can imagine, Lord Aussohl McLaudeponce did receive his thrashing, and more besides, since when the villagers found out he and his soldiers were at their mercy, I’m afraid they rather let themselves get carried away. The result was that, by the end of the day, McLaudeponce, his nobles, and his wizard, had all been beheaded, their heads displayed from the keep walls, and their bodies burned on the pyre intended for Winnifred.

Rapunzel’s parents were quite surprised when their daughter announced she had no intention of coming back to be a farmer, but when they considered how useful it was to have a witch in the family, they weren’t too disappointed. Winnifred was glad of the company in her tower, particularly once she found that her niece’s hair made the finest magical rope in existence. They became quite wealthy selling it to wizards (who are generally hopeless at those sort of handcrafts, the lazy buggers), and were eventually able to buy from the Crown the land on which the villagers – and Rapunzel’s parents – lived and worked, and return it to those who needed it most.

And no young maiden was ever forced to marry a Nice Young Lad before her sixteenth birthday ever again, which not everyone was happy about, but as I am rather on the side of the young women in this case, I shall say no more about it.

This adaptation is the property of Cambrey Payne 2017. Please acknowledge sources when sharing and do not repost without original source.

Image from:—sqf1replRQ


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