#fridayflash: ever after

This is the conclusion to a three-parter, although I did try to make them independent stories too.
Part One is "The Girl with the Golden Braid".
Part Two is "A Blue Dress and a High Tower".

Once upon a time a young woman lived all alone at the top of a tower in the middle of the forest. The tower had neither a door nor a stair. The only way in or out of it was to use magic, as the young woman did, or to climb up using a rope anchored to one of the its four windows.

The young woman's name was Rapunzel, and on market-days she could be found in the nearby town, selling fruit and vegetables from an enchanted garden she kept behind a small house. She stayed in the house the night before and the night after the market, and in the forest any other time. The garden was tended magically, Rapunzel was free to come and go as she pleased, and life was peaceful and quiet. She still missed her mentor and old "aunty", Rose, who had passed away two years previously, but the grief was less keen than it had once been.

One evening, when she was enjoying a sunset from her tower's west-facing window, a young prince came riding by. His breath was taken away by the sight of the maiden dressed in blue in the warm light, her long golden braids hanging much lower than the sill of the window and seeming to catch fire in the sunset's glow.

The prince left his horse to graze and stood under Rapunzel's window, reciting poetry and begging her to let him into the tower. Rapunzel explained the tower's unusual construction, at which the prince jumped to the conclusion that she was imprisoned.

Rapunzel grew annoyed at his eagerness to rescue her despite her reassurances that she did not need rescuing, and left the window, calling for him to meet her in the town on market-day if he was truly in love with her.

The prince swore he would be there, but on market-day he walked right by her in her work clothes without even giving her a second glance.

A few months later, Rapunzel was mending a stocking in the morning sun of the east window when another young prince happened by. Like his predecessor, he claimed to be instantly enamored of her, and begged her to let him in the tower. Again Rapunzel explained the tower had no door for her to open. The prince cried she must let down her hair, and he would use it as a rope to climb up to her.

"Don't be silly!" said Rapunzel. "No-one's hair is that long, and besides, you'd yank it all out and hurt me! And I don't have any real rope up here, so you can't use that either. Meet me in town on market-day if you want to talk to me."

But the young prince grew angry and called her horrible names, then rode away.

The south window let light into the tower's kitchen, and Rapunzel was standing in front of it one afternoon, peeling apples, when she heard a sound and glanced out to see a third young prince riding by.

This one was different. He was wearing sensible travel clothes instead of velvets and brocades, although his rank was given away by his horse and saddle. His face brightened when he spied her in the window, but he didn't get all gooey-eyed. And when he dismounted and halloaed up to her, his accent was most definitely foreign.

"Are you the lady of this castle?" he said.

"I'm no lady, but I'm the only one who lives here," answered Rapunzel.

The prince frowned. "You aren't the grand-daughter of Rose Red?"

Rapunzel dropped the apple she was peeling and leaned over the windowsill. "How do you know of her?" she said.

The prince doffed his cap and bowed. "I am Arthur," he said. "If you know Rose Red's name, then you must know of Snow White. I am her grandson. I came to see where my family are from, and your tower is all that's left of the castle, from the looks of it." He pointed to his saddle, where Rapunzel could just make out something furry hanging from the pommel. "I snared two rabbits about an hour ago. If you have some carrots and onions to spare, you could bring them down here and we could make a fine stew to share. I could tell you what I know and you could tell me how you are not my kin, but are so excited to find someone who knows of Rose Red."

Rapunzel decided it was a fair exchange, so she gathered some vegetables and joined Arthur in the clearing.

Arthur told her all about the two brothers who had married the two sisters, and how their father had divided the kingdom between them so they could both be kings, and how the portion belonging to Rose Red's husband had been invaded and overrun before his brother could send help. Rapunzel told him about the Rose Red she had known, the old woman with the garden and the market-stall. Arthur decided she must have disguised herself and hid before anyone had realised who she was.

"Snow White and Rose Red grew up in the forest a long way from here," he said. "She would have known how to hide and live in the woods. But how did you come to live with her?"

And Rapunzel told him how she had been given away as a child in payment for all the food her father had stolen from Rose's garden. She even told him about what her life had been like in her parent's old hut by the quarry. It was the first time she had spoken about it to anyone since she had become Rose's ward, and she was shocked at how strongly the memories flooded back.

Arthur told her about growing up in a castle, and showed her a few enchantments that she'd never even seen Rose use. They talked and talked, and it came as a surprise to both of them when they noticed the moon was high and the only light in the clearing came from their cooking-fire.

Rapunzel invited him to stay as a guest in the tower, and Arthur said he would be honoured. He stayed for a month, catching game and helping her at market, and when he asked her if she would return home with him, she readily agreed. He bought a horse for her to ride, and helped her put protection charms on the tower.

Rapunzel remembered how little she had brought with her from the quarry hut to Rose's house. This time she brought a few changes of clothes for the journey, her favourite cooking knife, her sewing kit, and the blue dress Rose had made her. She never wore it the entire journey until the day Arthur told her they would be home before nightfall.

Their arrival was greeted with much joy and wonder, and with more joy still when they declared their intent to marry. They were husband and wife before the start of winter, and in the spring Rapunzel gave birth to a daughter, whom they named Rose, of course.

And they all lived happily ever after.