Bones litter the ground.
From my perch in the tower, I pretend they’re fallen branches, bleached from the sun, and not the remnants of those who came before. A carpet of men who’ve tried and failed.
You’d think by now, they would have stopped coming. The single tower, rising a dizzying eighty feet above the ground, is carefully hidden. To find it, adventurers and suitors alike must travel through a vast forest, cross a rapid river, and match wits with the wild creatures that call this valley home.
Still, they venture out, the brave and determined, arriving battle-scarred and hungry at the base of my prison, only to find saving me to be the greatest challenge. I am the stuff of legends. A princess trapped in a tower awaiting rescue. Beauty unlike any other with hair long enough to reach the ground.
So many have tried.
All have failed.
Yet, every arrival fills me with renewed hope.
I lean out the window and survey the small valley. It’s been almost a month since the last one. I keep track by carving the days with charcoal onto the wall. The longest between rescue attempts was a year. The shortest three weeks.
My stomach rumbles, and I give up my watch to make breakfast. A set of stairs leads to the top of the tower, where a small landing holds my vegetable garden. Meat is a luxury, and the traps I lower to the ground rarely produce more than an occasional rabbit.
A sack of rice will pair well with the ripened tomato I twist from the vine. The rice was a gift from a previous rescuer. They always bring gifts, placing them in a bucket I’ve arranged on a pulley system. Food, I welcome. It’s the jewels I have no use for. They sit discarded and forgotten in the corner, not unlike the bones at the base of the tower.
I asked a rescuer once, called down to him from my window. “Why do you bring me offerings of gold, yet you bring no one else to fight off the vicious creatures?”
The man kneeled before me. “I offer you gold to celebrate your beauty and come alone as a show of strength. A strong man needs no other.”
“Look around you, sir. Strong men’s bones are at your feet. They should send someone wise.”
He smirked. He didn’t die with a smirk, though. He died with the gold still clutched in his hand, a look of horror spreading across his features as the blood drained from his veins.
A lot of good gold does you in this valley.
I prepare breakfast, humming to myself as I chop the tomato. My hand stills over the vegetable when I hear a sound below.
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.”
I smile, excitement thrumming through my body. A new rescuer has come. I smooth the fabric of my gown and try to calm my racing nerves. Will this man be the one? Have they sent someone worthy of the challenge? Or will there be a new set of bones to add to the macabre collection below?
The long golden braid, I’ve cultivated over the years, curls around the room. I drag the length with me to the window and peer over the ledge.
A man stands below, alone. His legs braced apart, gives him the appearance of a sturdy tree trunk. He’s strong like the others, but is he wise?
“Have you come alone?”
“Yes, my lady. Throwdown your hair before the beasts arrive.”
I study him further. A bag is slung over his shoulder and a sword is strapped to his lean waist, yet he looks like he could fight a beast with his bare hands. Not that I’m worried about that. I simply want to make sure he can make the climb. I lost a rescuer or two when they slipped halfway up the tower.
It’s such a waste.
“What’s your name, sir?” I ready the braid to toss over the ledge.
I test the name on my tongue, liking the way it sounds. I always speak their names out loud, a tribute to their brave attempt, and in all cases before, their sacrifice. I throw my braid out the window, wincing when Alexander takes hold.
“Be careful!” I shout, bracing my arms on the ledge, taking his weight as he begins to climb.
Up close, Alexander is a handsome man. His jaw is chiseled and square, nose hawkish, and lips firm. Black as soot hair tapers at his neck. I find myself caught in his hypnotic gaze. I’ve never seen eyes so blue that they rival the sky.
I’ve never been in love. There’s little use for that emotion when all my suitors die, but I find myself hopeful, even for a moment, that I may experience it with him.
He watches me too, taking in every inch of my body, and settling with determined eyes on my face.
“You’re beautiful. The rumors don’t do you justice.”
I lift a brow. “Flattery and a rescue? Must be my lucky day.”
“Or maybe mine.” He smiles, slow and suggestive. I return the gesture, reveling in the attention. I crave it. Years of being alone makes these attempts special. A gift in their own right. I cherish them all, even knowing their bloody outcome.
“You must be hungry.”
He watches as I spear a slice of tomato onto a knife and tip it toward his mouth. My grip tightens on the hilt as he leans forward, never breaking eye contact, and takes a bite.
“How many have made it this far?”
I consider his question. Telling the truth will diminish his enthusiasm. All my rescuers want to be the only one.
“You’re the first.”
He nods, accepting the lie so easily. They all do, and they all die one way or another, leaving me waiting for the next.
“How far have you traveled?”
“Across the sea. Two weeks.” He brushes past me, taking in my prison cell. His fingers dust shelves laden with books and trinkets from past rescues. He pauses at a leather strap with a round metal medallion on the end.
“Gifts,” I murmur, moving beside him. I feather my fingers over his, skating over his weathered palm. “Have you brought me a token of your intent too?”
Alexander nods. From his pack, he removes a wine bottle. A Merlot, if I’m not mistaken. I breathe in the heady scent and lick my lips in anticipation.
“Most bring me gold.”
He hands me the bottle. “What use do you have for gold? You can’t spend it and its worth pales in comparison to the prize that already lives in this tower.”
“Charmer.” I smile and uncork the bottle, taking a long sip. The bitter flavor coats my tongue and a tiny bit dribbles past my lips. I offer him the bottle, but he’s focused on the stain of red on my skin. He wipes it away with his thumb.
“Will you rescue me now?” I can’t keep the coy tone out of my voice. It’s laced with years of expectation and even a little bit of a challenge.
“Is that what you wish for me to do?”
Such a simple question. The answer isn’t so easy.
“It’s why I wait in the tower.”
He tilts his head. A dark expression flickers across his face. “You’ve waited a long time. So long your hair reaches the ground. Tell me, why don’t you simply cut it and use it to climb down on your own?”
They’ve sent a wise one, after all.
“The creatures would tear me to shreds. The bones of their victims are proof.”
“Aye, the bones are plentiful. And broken. Odd for an animal attack.”
I turn from him and take another swig from the bottle.
“Tell me, princess, were your rescuers killed by the mysterious beasts?” He pauses and I reach for the knife I left near the table. “Or were they killed from the fall?”
A muffled sound echoes through the room, drawing our eyes to a small closet. The door shudders from the other side, boots rattling wood. My secret choosing that moment to make himself known.
I grip the knife and answer his question. “The fall, my Lord. But, by then, they beg for it.”
I bare my teeth, letting my fangs elongate. The anticipation of blood increases their length. No one has ever guessed my intentions. No one sees the end I have lain in wait for. They’re blinded by beauty, by pride, and by the promise of being the one. The one to rescue the girl in the tower.
I don’t need rescuing.
I need their blood. And they come to me like lambs in a slaughter. Sometimes, I keep them alive. Like the man bound and gagged in the closet. It’s the only reason for my garden. But, eventually, they become a burden, and I toss them over the ledge. Their skeletons aren’t the only trophies I savor. Their belongings adorn my tower like badges of honor.
Alexander isn’t like the others.
His eyes widen when I turn and swipe the blade through the air. He catches my arm, halting the death blow, but it’s only a distraction to get close. I can smell the blood pumping through his veins. His breath heaves from his lungs, and he bends to thrust me away.
I sink my fangs into his neck, climbing him like they climb my hair, wrapping my legs around his middle. Blood spurts into my mouth and I moan, drinking him in, pulling deeper. The coil of my hair tangles around his legs like a snake engulfing its prey.
It’s euphoric that first taste. It soothes my insides. Makes my eyes drift shut. I lose myself in the drink. His life ebbs with each pull. His heart stutters, desperate to keep beating. That erratic beat pulses in my ear, making me wish I could keep him forever.
Alexander’s body jerks, staggering a few steps. Still wrapped around him, I feel the window ledge against the back of my thighs.
Silly man. I drink deeper. Feel him losing strength. There won’t be enough left to push me over the ledge. I’ll kill him here, with a view of the valley the last thing he sees before his sight fades.
I Iick the wound and murmur in his ear, “You were wiser than most. But, it wasn’t enough. You shouldn’t have come alone.”
Eyes glazed with pain, he whispers, “I didn’t.”
The wooden bolt slices through my back. I gasp as cold air sucks at the hole. Another bolt glides through the window, striking me lower than the first. My limbs disengage from Alexander, going limp.
I turn and look down. Another man kneels among the bones, a crossbow perched on his shoulder. Alexander’s blood drips from my lips as he grips me by my hair, slicing the length, a trophy of his own.
His eyes hold mine the whole way down. I fall like every one of my rescuers, landing with a crack among the bones. The sun sizzles my skin and the last thing I see is my tower and Alexander in the window. The man I kept alive for weeks stands at his side. Their likeness is uncanny. I should have made the connection sooner.
“Did you think we came here to rescue you?” The man on the ground asks.
I did. Fool that I turned out to be.
He laughs and plunges a stake into my unbeating heart.
Thank you for reading The Girl in the Tower. I wrote this short piece as inspiration for one of my future books in the Ever Dark, Ever Deadly series. Each book covers a new fairy tale and follows a new couple. You can purchase Spellbound After Midnight now on Amazon or add it to your Goodreads list. It’s also available in Kindle Unlimited