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Hansel felt like he was in a pot of boiling water while he waited for Rapunzel. One second he was plotting ways to sneak from the castle, and the other he was imagining himself at her table, drinking tea.
The minutes seemed like days, and he was certain a month went by before he heard movement behind the large doors at his back. It was the unmistakable sound of royalty—Rapunzel’s shoes echoed throughout the throne room. By the sound of her footsteps, he could tell she was taking small, noble strides, like the Queen she was. Each collision of her heel to the floor coincided with the thud of Hansel’s heartbeat, until she drew nearer when his heart was doing double time. Finally, after a few agonizing seconds, he could see the top of her head from his place at the maw of the staircase.
She stopped and looked at them as they stood at the place between her throne and her city. Hansel gulped. It had been five years since he’d last seen her, and she’d grown more beautiful with age. She was about as tall as he, and was draped from head-to-toe in a solid white dress, the bodice of which clung perfectly to her shape. Her legendary hair was woven into a thick, rope-like braid and placed delicately over her shoulder, hanging all the way down to her kneecaps.
When she saw them, she smiled, her white teeth set against rosy lips. Her eyes were done up with golden flecks. In paintings, she was always depicted as young and soft, but in reality, she had jagged cheekbones and a diamond-shaped head, with large, pouty lips that drove Hansel mad. Her eyelashes were full and long, an expression of her femininity.
She held her smile as she descended the stairs, holding the train of her dress. Each step she took was slow and deliberate, and she fixed her eyes on the two of them. Taking the last step, she walked toward Hansel. For a second, he froze, lost in her golden-brown eyes. He shook himself out of his stupor and bowed to her.
Laughing, she said, “There’s no need to be so formal, Hansel.” She hugged him.
It was as inappropriate to hug her back as it was for her to hug him in the first place, but he placed his hand on the small of her back and felt nauseated by the sensation. He was disappointed when she let go, but to his surprise, she stepped back and placed her hands on his cheeks.
“You’ve grown up,” she said. “And what a man you’ve grown up to be.”
Rapunzel lingered for just a second, and then turned to Gretel, smiling warmly. After a brief hesitation, they walked toward each other, arms extended outward. They embraced for a moment, then Rapunzel stepped back and examined Gretel the way she had Hansel. She made a face, like the smell of rancid meat had carried through an open window, and proceeded to run her fingers through Gretel’s hair. “It’s so nice to see you both,” she said, pushing stray hairs out of Gretel’s face.
Stepping back, Gretel crossed her arms. “I’m sure that you have a good reason for all this?”
Immediately, Rapunzel’s smile faded, and her eyes fell. She began to fidget with the train of her dress nervously. “You just got here,” she said to Gretel, regal but aware of the girl’s tone. “There’s no need to go into all of that so quickly, is there?”
“As a matter of fact, there is,” Gretel stated. Seeing that she’d made the Queen uncomfortable and feeling the shift in power among them, she stepped closer to her, her voice insistent.
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