Rapunzel is the key. Her tower, with no doors or windows below the fourth floor, stands atop a hill and sets its roots deep within it. Every night, she cuts her long, golden hair, and every morning cuts it again — it grows fast. She takes the braids to the spinning room for the miller’s daughter. The morning braid becomes steel, the night braid rope or bowstrings.
She wheels coils of rope to the roof garden, where Della works on the trees. Her tears water them, and periodically one will shower her with gold or arrowheads; they are learning how to be useful. Della sings to herself and works barefoot, the better to feel the soil. A layer of rich dirt hides the scars that cross her feet like the veins of a leaf. Rose smiles at Rapunzel and adds a mark to her slate; the bearskin cloak around her shoulders nearly brushes her feet as she turns to watch the work far below.
They’ve cleared the woods from their hill and planted a hedgemaze of briars and nettles. Little Bri-Rosie weaves branches together without fear. Her fingers are heavily callused, and not even the sharpest thorns can draw blood. She works tirelessly, too hard for someone not yet sixteen. If she’s not exhausted by the end of the day, she tosses and turns through the night, unable to rest. The wall is almost to her shoulders.
At noon, Bri-Rosie meets Gretl, who carries baskets of bread and sweets. Each day, their occasional cook leaves for her workshops, where she builds things that are not exactly fireworks, and comes back with black hands and baskets that smell faintly of candied ash and sulfur. Her bodyguard wears red — the girl wants to be Rose when she grows up, and would hunt bears instead of wolves if she could find any. The group returns by blonde rope and pulley, the same way they left. Lunch is set out in the great hall, then it’s back to work.
Rose watches it all, making notes. Everyone works together, princess and peasant. She strokes the glossy bear pelt as she plans. At supper, she leads the prayer. Remember Snowie, remember your sisters, remember the sea foam, remember your mothers. She mostly remembers Snowie as she reaches for the apple tarts.
After dinner, Gretl starts the fire; she likes to watch things burn. The rest of them know not to bother her but sit, talking, sewing, sharpening knives. All in a circle, each more beautiful than the last, the way leopards are beautiful, or the very best swords. Rapunzel cuts her night braid, Della covers the birdcages, Bri-Rosie empties the fairy traps into the jar for the compost heap. When they retire, it is to soft, soft beds; the one who finds a pea has to make breakfast tomorrow.
They wait for their princes to come.
Catherine Krahe lives in Iowa. She plans to save the world by telling stories and planting trees.