"Come on or we’ll get caught in a blizzard.”
Rapunzel was nervous. She was about to tell her mother the biggest lie she had ever had to tell in her entire life. Such a thing wasn’t easy, especially with a strict mother like hers, who could usually see through a lie in a second. Rapunzel prayed that Elsa was as good a liar as she claimed to be.
Glancing outside at the snow, Rapunzel sighed. Why did winter have to be so cold? Elsa always claimed that the cold never really bother her, but it bothered Rapunzel, who was so fond of going about barefoot in a thin cotton dress throughout the rest of the year, when it was hot and dry. But in the winter she was forced to don a thicker dress and thick boots and a cloak and muffler and gloves – the whole lot. Thankfully, Emily hated the cold just as much as she did, so she wasn’t alone.
“Rapunzel! Rapunzel! Let down your hair!”
Rapunzel looked down to see Elsa waving up at her and smiled. “Very funny!” she called back before throwing the rope ladder down to her best friend. Elsa laughed and scaled up to the tower window, brushing snow carelessly from her dark dress.
“Hello, Mrs Beam,” she grinned at Rapunzel’s mother, Gothel.
Gothel nodded her head. There weren’t many people in patch of countryside where they lived that she approved of, but she approved of Elsa and Emily, her daughter’s friends. Elsa was, after all, from a good family by birth, although she had been recently orphaned and lived on the small country estate she had inherited alone, hence the reason she spent so much time with Rapunzel and Emily. Emily, on the other hand, lived with her father, having lost her mother to illness as a child. The act had made her father very bitter and resentful of other people, even her, and secretly Elsa and Rapunzel wished he would just hurry up and die so that Emily could be free of his terrible hold.
“And where are you two off to?” she asked, glancing at the fact that Elsa was wearing her travelling cloak, not that she really needed it, force of habit sort of thing.
“Well,” Rapunzel began.
“You didn’t tell her?” Elsa grinned, confidently at Gothel. “Emily’s getting married.”
“Yeah, so we’re going over to hers for a party.”
“Yes, we’re throwing her a party,” Rapunzel added, trying to sound bright.
“You’re throwing her a party...at her house?” Gothel frowned.
“It’s a surprise party,” Elsa replied.
“What about her dad? What does he have to say about all of this?”
Rapunzel had an answer ready, an answer that her mother would accept. “He’s round at his friend Lawrence’s place, so the house’ll be empty. That’s why we’re having the party there tonight.”
Gothel accepted this easily. Everyone knew that whenever Emily’s father spend the evening at Lawrence’s place it usually ended up with him spending the night there in a drunken stupor and staggering home the next morning with a hangover. “Alright, but how are you going to get in? I’m assuming Emily’s out?”
“Yeah, she’s gone to town,” Elsa lied easily, referring to the pretty little country village not far from Emily’s cottage, “but we know where she keeps the spare key. Just remind me to put it back, hey, Punz?”
“Right,” Rapunzel agreed.
“Well, come on or we’ll get caught in a blizzard,” Elsa replied, swinging her legs out of the window.
“I’ll be back later,” Rapunzel promised.
Gothel glanced at Elsa. “You’ll see her back?”
“Of course,” Elsa promised.
“Bye, Mother,” Rapunzel said, hurrying down the ladder after her friend. They quickly ploughed their way through the snow, neither daring to speak until they were confident that there was enough distance between them and the tower for their voices not to be carried on the wind.
“So, where are we meeting them?” Rapunzel asked.
“The outskirts of Withersedge,” replied Elsa. Withersedge Woods was a place that they had sometimes played as children, and where in their childhood, they had spread stories of witchcraft and dark magic in order to keep others away from their secret play place. It was also the only barrier standing in the way of their rural country landscape and the large city into which none of them had ever dared venture before.
“I can’t believe I just lied to my mother and she believed me!” Rapunzel grinned.
Elsa laughed. “Well, if Emily can get away with lying to her dad, saying that she’s given up Lord Barkis, then you can get away with telling your mother that we’re throwing an engagement party for our dear best friend.”
“Instead of joining the pair of them on their elopement as Emily’s bridesmaids and witnesses to their secret wedding,” Rapunzel agreed.
Lord Barkis Bittern, the mysterious stranger who had shown up in Emily’s life only four months ago, may have only known them a short time, but they both felt that his affections for her were genuine and Emily was deeply smitten. The trouble was her father, in his bitter, twisted way, had given no consent whatsoever to their marriage and tried to force Emily into giving him up. Hence they were to elope tonight and run away together. Although both Elsa and Rapunzel felt a twinge inside, wondering whether after tonight they would ever see Emily and her husband again, they were both also happy that she was happy and eager to make sure that her secret elopement was never discovered. After all, it had been their idea.
“What am I going to do?” a despondent Emily had sighed upon learning of her father’s disapproval. “I want to marry him more than anything, but Father will never agree to it.”
And both Elsa and Rapunzel had thought and both hit upon the same idea at the same time, although it was Elsa who voiced it.
“You could elope,” she suggested.
“That’s not a bad idea,” Rapunzel agreed. “And if you need witnesses, we’ll do that, gladly.”
Emily had needed no further encouragement. The acquiring of a dress had been no problem either; for although they couldn’t hope to get one made in the village for fear of arousing suspicion, Emily’s mother’s dress fitted her like a glove and she made for a beautiful bride.
“Brr,” Rapunzel shivered, wrapping her cloak closer about her. “Are you sure you don’t feel the cold, Else? I’m freezing.”
“Not really,” Elsa admitted, putting an arm around her. “Just keep on moving, you’ll be fine.”
“The church had better have a fireplace,” Rapunzel muttered, leaning on her friend. “Or central heating.”
Together they shoved on forwards through the snow, which was as deep as their knees, and still falling. Withersedge Woods looked beautiful in the snow, in spite of the girls once having fooled the children of the village into thinking it was haunted. Rapunzel couldn’t help thinking that it was a romantic place for the four of them to walk through to the church in the big city; a perfect setting for such an occasion.
“What do you think-?”
Rapunzel never finished the sentence, for as they were approaching the hill leading upwards to the woods, a shrill, short scream rang out, cutting through the air like a knife. As it reached them, both girls froze, feeling like the snow had suddenly frozen their blood and hearts. Then, as it suddenly cut out, leaving nothing but an eerie silence behind, they turned to each other, hearts and blood racing once again.
That was Emily.
Neither of them spoke because they didn’t need to. Then, common sense prevailed fear and they began to run, stumbling up the hill, slipping and hitting the snow and getting soaked but then picking themselves up and hurtling on upwards until they were on the flat and then, avoiding tree roots hidden by snow and flapping tree branches, shot onwards with aching and soaked limbs until they stumbled upon a sight that froze them both in their tracks once again.
Emily, lying beneath the tree, could have been mistaken for a sleeper or the victim of a faint...if it weren’t for the fact that her body had been hideously mutilated, the flesh slashed and gaping open, bones showing white through the rose red wounds. Spatterings of blood lined the snow around her body and she was already beginning to turn blue with the cold. Elsa drew in her breath, remembering how to do so as she roused herself and tripped over in a clumsy attempt to reach her friend’s body. Crawling through the snow she touched Emily’s wrist, delicate as fine bone china, and felt for a pulse she knew wouldn’t be found.
Rapunzel’s breath was ragged as she reached her. “She...is she..?”
Elsa’s voice was a breath on the wind and if Rapunzel hadn’t been standing right beside her, she wouldn’t have heard it at all. Covering her eyes with her hands, Rapunzel sank to her knees, ignoring the snow as it soaked through her dress and felt tears come uncontrollably. Elsa hung her head and soon she too was crying beside Rapunzel, crying for their lost friend.
“We didn’t even get to say goodbye,” she realised.
They buried her there under the tree as morning began to dawn. Both wished they could give her a proper funeral, with a coffin and flowers and people reading poems, but this wasn’t an option. It would mean revealing then what they had really been up to, and besides they doubted that Emily’s father cared enough to bury her properly anyway. So, they tidied her up as best as they could and used a large slab of bark fallen away from an oak tree to lay her body on. There were no flowers growing nearby, so they knotted some pretty ferns together as a funeral wreath and lay them on top of Emily’s clasped hands.
“Night,” sang Elsa softly, remembering an ancient song about death and hope they had learned in their childhood, “and the spirit of life, calling, mamela.”
Rapunzel joined in. “And a voice with the fear of a child answers, mamela.
Wait, there’s no mountain too great
Hear these words and have faith
Oh, have faith
They live in you
They live in me
They’re watching over everything we see
In ever creature
In every star
In your reflection
They live in you...”
“We don’t have a shovel,” Rapunzel said, dully.
Elsa sighed and fished around on the ground for a piece of curved flint. “We have to make do.” She crossed herself respectfully before she began to dig through the snow to the earth beneath. “Godspeed, Emily.”
“What do you think happened?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well...were they attacked...or...?”
Elsa met her gaze. “You know you know what happened, Punz.” She spread her arms. “Lord Barkis happened. He killed her.”
“But...but why would he do that?” Rapunzel stammered.
Elsa sighed. “We should have seen it coming. A charming, suave young man, down on his cash, genuinely falls in love with a country girl who has a considerable dowry?”
Rapunzel realised what she meant. “He had it planned all along? He courted her to kill her?”
Elsa blinked back tears. “Don’t talk, just help me.”
“Goodbye, Emily,” Rapunzel murmured, bending down to dig the hole. The snow had subsided by now so it was a little easier to dig. When it was dug enough, the lowered the bark bearing Emily’s body into it and then threw a handful of earth each on top to say goodbye. Then, with heavy hearts, they filled in the hole.
Neither of them told Gothel, or Emily’s father, what had happened. They lied their way through it, pretending to the former that the party had gone well but that Emily and her husband-to-be had plans to elope since they couldn’t get her father’s blessing, and convincing the latter that they had no idea where his daughter had suddenly disappeared to. However no lie they told could stem the guilt they felt at having played a small role in the death of their friend.
“I just can’t help thinking it’s my fault,” Elsa said one day when they were alone in Rapunzel’s tower. Gothel was out, buying hazelnuts to make soup with. Elsa sighed and turned away from Rapunzel. “I was the one who suggested they elope.”
“I know how you feel,” Rapunzel replied. “I feel it too.”Elsa glanced at her. Rapunzel pulled back a curtain to reveal her latest wall mural. It showed a sinister scene of a male figure looming over a screaming bride. “I’m haunted by it too. Anyway, I’m as much to blame; I encouraged her too.”
Elsa sighed. “We can’t go on like this. There has to be something we can do.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean there has to be a way of making peace with Emily’s murder.”
“Maybe,” Rapunzel suggested, “if we go back to Withersedge. Just...walk.”
The moon was high by the time they got there, but Rapunzel was past being scared of being in trouble with her mother. She was past caring about her mother altogether, quite frankly, with all her fussing and smothering and boundaries, never letting her have an inch of freedom.
“You remember when we used to joke about these woods being overrun with witches?” Elsa smiled, though it was a rather limp smile.
“Yeah,” sighed Rapunzel. “I kind of wish they were.”
“Wish? Did I hear someone wishing?”
Both girls jumped and stared up at the moon as the shadows within curved into a shape they knew from folklore, although they had never quite believed it.
“The Oogie Boogie?” Elsa whispered.
“If there’s something your heart desires, you can pray to the Great Goddess Ursula and she will grant your request,” the Oogie Boogie, spirit, deamon, of the forest grinned.
“She will?” Rapunzel asked.
“For a price, of course. All magic comes with a price...and it may be a curse upon you all.” The Oogie Boogie smiled, wickedly. “Are you willing to take that risk?”
Elsa and Rapunzel exchanged a glance. They were both thinking the exact same thing. “Yes,” Rapunzel said, finally. “It’s worth all the risks.”
The ritual needed candles, a bowl of water and three inanimate objects belonging to those the spell involved. For this, Rapunzel used her favourite paintbrush. Elsa laid down her treasured gloves. And, thankfully, they had a copy of Emily’s favourite book, Wuthering Heights, to hand. In the midst of Withersedge Woods, they laid the bowl down and set the three items in triangle points around it. Then, clasping hands for comfort, the girls chanted, as Oogie Boogie had told them: “Oh, Great Goddess Ursula, we call upon you for our hearts desire.”
Immediately, the water began to boil and bubble and then from within the great goddess Ursula, tall, purple skinned, rotund and menacing, rose up before their eyes.
“And what, pray, do you require?” she sneered.
Rapunzel trembled but Elsa stood firm. “Great Goddess, we offer you these items as tribute for granting our wish. Our friend Emily was...murdered...and it was sort of our fault. Oh, Great Goddess Ursula, let her live again...please.”
Ursula smiled wickedly. “Keep your trinkets. I don’t need them.”
“But the Oogie Boogie-!” began Rapunzel, but in the burst of a bubble Ursula was gone.
Then, the ground began to tremble, knocking both girls to the floor and spilling the water, melting the snow in a line that spilled towards the wooden cross marking Emily’s grave.
“I will grant your requests!” Ursula’s voice rang out as the earth around Emil’s grave began to fall away and the girls, sitting up, felt as though cold hands had been thrust inside them, as if planting something within them. “But the price will be on all three of you!”
Then, all at once, the forest was still.
Rapunzel and Elsa, feeling the cold tingling in them gone, scrabbled to their feet and peered down into the grave of their friend, their breath raspy and trembling as a familiar voice rose up from within.
“So goes the story of the Withersedge Witches;
Of two girls and a friend they could not save
But onwards and onwards their guilt itches
And thus they pull her up from the grave.
One with the power to heal all.
One with the power over ice and snow.
One the power to talk to animals.
Beware Withersedge Woods; ere you go.”
“We can’t go on like this. There has to be something we can do.”
“The Oogie Boogie?”