Once upon a time to come, there lived a princess named Rapunzel. And she was renowned for her beauty, as well as her heart and purity. In all the land, and in all the pages of the celebrity magazines and blogs and all over the world, her people loved her. Women admired her. Men desired her. And little girls who would be princesses looked up to her, and dreamed that one day they too could be like Rapunzel.
At the same time there lived an ugly troll. He told nasty lies about princes and princesses (and also revealed harsh truths) and was rewarded with gold by all those who liked to hear stories about those who were more important than they were. The troll was bitter and hateful, for he had no kingdom of his own, but that he could steal from the would-be royals with his cutting pen and biting blog. And his name was a secret kept from all those who would do him harm (of whom there were many). But he loved one thing above all others – an expensive, shiny, one-of-a-kind snakeskin jacket, which he had worn so often and in such compromising situations that it was worn and rumpled.
And for that reason his friends (such as they were) called him Rumpled Snakeskin.
And one day Rumpled Snakeskin came upon some interesting documents (and pictures, and videos, and more) that he could use to his own advantage, to earn gold beyond his wildest dreams – and more besides. And Rumpled Snakeskin laughed and laughed, because at last he would have a princess all to himself.
For the documents showed that Rapunzel had not always been a princess pure and perfect. In her youth, in tougher times, when all she had was blinding beauty and burning ambition, she had let down her hair for many men. And the men had done things of which Rapunzel was now ashamed, but which she had managed to keep secret when she came into her power as a princess.
But Rumpled Snakeskin had plans.
And so he contacted the princess. “Guess what I've found?” he wrote, but she didn't have to, because he had included a few of the files in his message.
And Rapunzel was afraid. “Where did you get those?” she asked. “What do you want?”
And Rumpled Snakeskin smiled, because he knew he had her where he wanted her. “Never mind where I got it,” he wrote back, laughing all the while. “What I want is for nobody else to have to see them. And I think that's what you want as well.”
“Yes,” Rapunzel said. “I want that very much, I'll do whatever you want for them to stay secret.”
And Rumpled Snakeskin smiled to himself some more, because he knew the princess would try to harm him to get the files. But he also knew that she had no way of finding him. “Yes. You will. But don't bother trying to trace this mail. It's quantum-encrypted and employs scattered logic. And there's no way you can find me – you don't even know my name.”
And Rapunzel trembled in fear. “What do you want?”
“Gold,” said Rumpled Snakeskin. “Lots and lots of gold. I want it in cash – I'll pick it up myself.”
And Rapunzel grew less afraid, because that would mean she would know his face, and she could make the problem go away.
But Rumpled Snakeskin had other plans.
On the appointed day when she was to give him the gold, Rapunzel made her way to a seedy castle, long ago fallen into disuse. And she left the gold and waited by the phone, as she had been told to do.
The phone rang. She answered.
“It's me,” said the troll.
“What do you want?” Rapunzel replied.
“I want you to drink the potion next to the phone.” And Rapunzel looked – and lo, there was a potion beside the phone, bubbling with a strange concoction. “Then I'm going to visit you, and we're going to have some fun.”
“Never!” Rapunzel thundered, because princesses have their pride.
“Really?” replied Rumpled Snakeskin. “Because these pictures say you're quite a lot of fun. And we don't want everyone to know that, do we?”
Rapunzel was quiet for a while. And then she said, “I'll find you. Come close to me and I'll track you to the ends of the Earth and make sure you never bother anyone ever again.”
“You don't even know who I am,” Rumpled Snakeskin laughed. “Now drink the damn potion.”
And Rapunzel knew he was right. And having no other option, she did. And soon she began to feel strange, and she could no longer trust her senses, or easily control her actions.
And then Rumpled Snakeskin came to her, and he ordered her to let down her hair. And she refused, but he reminded her of the pictures and the files and the like, and that she didn't want her secret getting out. And so she let down her hair for him. And the troll took his pleasure. And he left, taking the gold with him.
And then Rapunzel wept, and wept, and finally she slept. And when she awoke, she recalled some of what had happened, and she wept anew. But thanks to the potion she had drunk, she could no longer remember what the troll had looked like, or anything about him – except for his designer rumpled snakeskin jacket.
And later that very day, Rumpled Snakeskin contacted her again, with new evidence of her unprincess-like behaviour, showing how she had let down her hair for him (though again, he could not be identified from it). And he demanded from her yet more gold, and more visits, and said that he had more potions to share with her, and the princess wept with despair.
But the princess was not some damsel in distress. And she had gone through terrible things to get to where she was, and there was no way in hell she was going to throw it all away because of a stupid little sh!t like Rumpled Snakeskin (or so she told herself, as she looked into her magic mirror).
So Rapunzel stood up, and spoke to her mirror, and used her treasure and her influence, and her charm – and her connections – and she called to her side her many huntsmen.
The huntsmen were men who could find anybody, and deal with them appropriately, and who would keep a secret if the price was right.
And the princess told them that there was evidence that she wanted to be rid of (and that if they tried to get their own hands on said evidence and use it against her, she had no remonstrance about hiring more huntsmen to find them, and they knew she was not lying). And she told them about the Rumpled Snakeskin, and she sent them out to find him...and deal with him appropriately.
Far and wide they searched, throughout the land, and in many other lands. And many rumpled snakeskins did they find – but none of them belonged to the troll that had hurt the princess. And so they kept searching.
And then one day, in a dark tavern not too far from the princess's own castle, the huntsmen came across a man in a rumpled snakeskin coat of the sort the princess had described. The man – more of a troll, really – was holding court with his friends (a vile and vicious lot, it seemed) and buying beverages with a heavy purse of gold.
“Just you watch,” the troll-man was saying to his admiring friends in the pub, “there's plenty more cash where this came from. I'm finally going to reach the big time – and I'm getting the best action of my life out of it as well. Famous action. Star quality.”
And his friends begged him to tell them who he meant, but Rumpled Snakeskin only laughed, because he knew his power lay in the secret, and he would use it for all it was worth.
“You ever have the world's most beautiful woman let down her hair for you?” he teased his friends. “It's amazing. And the best part is that she doesn't even know my name.”
And everybody laughed. But the huntsmen knew they had found their Rumpled Snakeskin.
And late that night, as he was staggering back from the tavern, alone, they grabbed him, and threw him in a bag, and hauled him off to the castle of the princess.
And when he was released from the bag, he found himself kneeling in front of Rapunzel, who was flanked by many huntsmen.
“Nice to see you again,” she said, and smiled, and it was not a pretty expression.
“What's the meaning of this?” he replied, feigning indignance. “Why have you brought me here?”
“It's no use,” she laughed. “I know it was you. And you can save yourself a lot of trouble if you just tell me where the evidence is, and how to get rid of it.”
“I'll never tell,” he said, “unless you set me free and give me more gold – and kneel before me.”
But Rapunzel just shook her head. “I'm sorry, that's just not how this works.”
And she waved one of her henchmen over, and he brought a tray with many instruments on it. And Rapunzel selected one, a knife whose blade was keen and strong. And she placed it against Rumpled Snakeskin's ear.
“Care to try that answer again?” she said.
And Rumpled Snakeskin trembled, but he would not give in to this pathetic woman (he told himself desperately). “You wouldn't,” he said, his lip quivering.
And the princess nodded. And then she cut off ---
But no, let us not dwell on that. Suffice it to say that Rapunzel did in the end find the files the troll had kept. And she destroyed them, and thanked her huntsmen. And she went on to reign for many more years, beloved of her people, admired by women, desired by men, and looked up to by little girls who hoped someday to be princesses. She did not live happily ever after, but for a very long time indeed. And when she died, people came from far and wide to weep and pay their respects.
And the troll was never heard from again. But until the day she died, the princess would often show off her beautiful rumpled snakeskin coat. And many would ask how she came by it, but Rapunzel would only smile and say, “A princess has to have her little secrets.”
And people would nod and smile, and think no more on it.