Rapunzel has no magic of his own, and so he cannot see into people's hearts or discern their true natures. But he cannot help but notice the faint scent of blood or ash that lingers when the Lord Mage kisses his forehead, and that the Lord Mage never mentions specifics when Rapunzel asks about his day. "An upset customer," the Lord Mage might say, or "Good business today." But he never tells Rapunzel about the people he meets, or what exactly it is that he is buying and selling.
Still, Rapunzel accepts what he is told, and does not question further. The Lord Mage says exactly as much as he wishes to say, and to push further would be to overstep his place. Besides, if the Lord Mage thinks Rapunzel does not need to know, -then Rapunzel can accept that, and does not need to know.
Rapunzel has never really believed that the Lord Mage is a good person, in the most common sense of the word 'good'. There are many shades of grey between black and white. And the Lord Mage may not be 'good', in the most common sense of the word, but he is the first, best, and only important thing Rapunzel has ever known.
This is the first thing Rapunzel learns about lies: people sometimes lie to those they love if it will keep those people happy or safe.
The Lord Mage never asks if Rapunzel is curious about other people, or the world outside the tower. And Rapunzel, for his part, does not bring those things up. He already has everything he needs, and even if his understanding of the world outside is not precisely correct, it is of little consequence. If the Lord Mage thinks it is not an important enough matter to discuss or to mention -- then it is not an important matter to Rapunzel, either.
In the mornings, the Lord Mage brushes and braids his hair, and in the evenings, Rapunzel greets him with their evening meal and says 'Welcome back.'' Like this, they co-exist in a steady equilibrium.
In the springtime, the Lord Mage brings Rapunzel the white flowers from his childhood home, and makes them float like snowflakes on the wind because he knows it will make Rapunzel smile. The Lord Mage says that the flowers are beautiful, despite growing from dirt. To the Lord Mage, the color of light is the most beautiful thing in the world.
"So you must never be stained by the darkness as I am," the Lord Mage says, as if he expects Rapunzel to understand.
But Rapunzel lives outside the rest of the world, and does not share the world's ideals of what is good and what is evil. He does not think darkness ugly, or light beautiful. To Rapunzel, darkness is the most wondrous thing of all, precisely because the Lord Mage walks in it.
When Prince Claus arrives at the tower and lifts the veil from Rapunzel's eyes, Rapunzel looks into the sky where the midday sunlight is blinding, and wonders what exactly the Lord Mage finds so beautiful about it.
Anybody else in the world might be delighted to be free, and overjoyed to be reunited with their long-lost family. But Rapunzel has lived all his life outside the world, and does not share the world's ideals. In the tower, Rapunzel already had everything he needed. Out here, on his own without the Lord Mage by his side, the harsh sunlight overhead only blinds him.
I came back to be with you, Rapunzel says when he returns to the tower. I want to stay with you forever.
At Rapunzel's request, the Lord Mage - Wild, Rapunzel can call him by his name now - casts the spell of eternal youth. It breaks over him like an ocean wave, bright and pulsing, a shimmering veil that fades as it falls, and leaves no trace.
Many days later, Rapunzel will realize that the shadow it left in its wake was the first stain.
This is the second thing Rapunzel learns about lies: people may also tell them for selfish reasons.
Late afternoon, when sunlight through the western window stretches Rapunzel’s shadow out before him, and it flickers with movements Rapunzel did not make. That evening, when Rapunzel undoes his braid and brushes out his hair, he sees that the ends have been faintly stained.
He must have been careless and let his braid dip into his inkpot, he thinks, and takes a small knife to the offending locks. Wild likes his hair pretty and clean and bright, so Rapunzel would like to keep it that way. The offending strands fall to the ground, and the darkness comes away like ink on Rapunzel's fingers before fading.
The second day, another patch of black appears, bigger than the last, and Rapunzel is quite sure he had not been careless this time.
Distraught, he goes to the library. Wild had taught him to read not only the spell-runes of magic, but also the letter-runes of alchemy, and now Rapunzel measures and mixes tinctures until he finds something that will remove pigmentation from keratin. The burning substance leaves his hair brittle and makes ugly patches on his clothes, but it returns his hair to its original pale gold, and that is all he needs.
The next morning Wild braids Rapunzel's hair, combing long fingers gently through the pale strands as he passes section under section over section, and murmurs that something seems different. He must have noticed the difference in texture and weight; there is nothing about Rapunzel that escapes his attention.
"I have not been caring for it properly," Rapunzel admits. "But I will take more care in future."
Wild's brow furrows in concern. "Let me find you a fortifying potion," he says, and Rapunzel's heart sinks both for love of him, and the weight of the lie.
By the third day Rapunzel's hair has deepened all the way to black. Staring back at his own eyes whose colour cannot be a trick of the light, Rapunzel thinks he knows what this is. He thinks that, on some level, he has always known.
The stain on a soul cannot be washed away. Where it lands, it sinks deep into the body like thorny tendrils, takes root, and spreads. There had been no saving him since Wild's spell first touched him. No, Rapunzel thinks; there had been no saving him since the first day he met Wild.
Selfishly, Rapunzel is fine with this darkness, because it means he has come one step closer to Wild.
But Wild hates the darkness. He hates himself for walking within it.
And Rapunzel cannot bear the thought of Wild hating him, too.
As long as I can stay by your side.
The want claws through him and rends deeper than any wound. But if Wild had covered that up with a gentle manner and a kind smile, all those years ago, then Rapunzel can too.
Rapunzel begins with rudimentary concealment spells, then stronger ones, weaving silver threads like mirrors to reflect light in such a way that will veil his eyes in blue and cast his hair in gold. Rapunzel is human, with no magical ability, and he should not have been able to command even the whisper of an illusion. But whether from the darkness that stains his appearance and wraps his heart like a vise - or merely his love, and wanting not to be found out - the tower's magic responds to him.
Wild must sense that something is wrong. Rapunzel's technique is shoddy from unfamiliarity, and in such close proximity, a powerful sorcerer such as Wild must surely notice the magical traces left behind when he braids Rapunzel's hair, or kisses Rapunzel goodnight.
But even if Wild notices, he does not know the secret, only that Rapunzel is hiding something. And Wild does not press, just as Rapunzel had not pressed, all those years ago. Like this, they coexist in a steady equilibrium, but the distance between them opens like a terrifying chasm.
Rapunzel can keep up the pretense. As long as he does not tell, that is one more day Wild does not need to know.
If it means that I can have one more day with you.
Wild says that the world repeats itself, over and over.
This is the third thing Rapunzel learns about lies: they do not last forever.
Like fine clothes, they must be maintained, day after day, cleaned and mended with the greatest care to keep them useful and beautiful, undoing the damage time does just by passing.
Eternity is a very, very long time.
Just as Prince Claus had come to the tower all those years ago to tell Rapunzel the truth about his family, so does Ishuca arrive at their house to dispel all the secrets that keep the fragile peace between them, and lay Rapunzel's true face before the person he had wished most not to betray.
In the end, Rapunzel is no child of light and no being of goodness. If Wild must hate, then let him hate. Rapunzel is done lying about who he is and what he wants, and there is only one thing Rapunzel wants in the world, and that is to be with Wild.
I am not as pure as you think I am, he says, and feels his heart break.
But Wild only holds out his hand to him, and says, "You too are beautiful."
Centuries ago, Wild had seen something in a shadow, and stepped onto the path of darkness without fully knowing what it held for him. This time he walks into the dark with his eyes open and his head held high, and there will be no regret, because Rapunzel is there. That love will always persist, as simple and constant as the passage of time.
There was something else Rapunzel had not managed to say, on another starlit evening an eternity away - that he had only found the white flowers beautiful because it was the Lord Mage who brought them to him. Now, as the stars and the moon cast Wild's profile in faint light, beautiful and sharp, only visible against the backdrop of velvet night, Rapunzel knows - and knows Wild knows - that there is nothing to hate about darkness, and everything to love, for it is in the deep color of the night sky where the pale light shines.