Clark Gillian

The Devious Dragon and the Fall of the Emperor


Chapter 22.
Naming the nameless.

The days ticked by, each one another bead strung on the necklace of time. Meanwhile, unseen hands manipulated the loom of fate, weaving the intricate tapestry of the upcoming wedding. The serpent, the sorceress, the High Priest's envoy, and the cunning Countess plotted and schemed, their machinations cloaked in secrecy from the unsuspecting bride and groom.

Each morning, the envoy, a stern figure radiating an air of self-importance, would summon the Fool. "Time for your 'Kingship Rules' lesson," he'd declare, his voice clipped and official. These pronouncements were followed by hours of tedious instruction – 222 tasks, 222 chores, and 222 duties to be memorized before the Fool could even dream of marriage, let alone the crown.

The Fool, his head a jumble of names, dates, and arcane protocols, never questioned the deluge of information. He understood little of marriage, or courtly matters in general, and wouldn't pretend otherwise. As a true Fool, he accepted everything at face value, a blank slate upon which knowledge, both useful and nonsensical, was inscribed. The trouble was, there was quite a lot to inscribe.

One particularly monotonous day, boredom gnawed at the Fool. Seeking refuge in his haven of books, he rummaged through dusty tomes, hoping to glean wisdom from their worn pages. After all, learning was his primary reason for leaving the whimsical realm of the fairies. Suddenly, a familiar flicker caught his eye – a movement in the corner vision, seemingly emanating from the mirror. This time, curiosity trumped denial. He strode towards the polished surface, drawn by the unexplainable shift.

His gaze lingered on his reflection, a troubled question forming in his mind: "Why do I get this strange feeling like this story isn't mine anymore?"

One evening, John Cook, harboring dreams of becoming the Royal Cook after the wedding and the establishment of the new Court of Hearts, approached the Fool with a proposition. He offered to cook dinner, eager to showcase his skills and secure the coveted position.

The Burgomaster, however, harbored deep skepticism. John's thin frame fueled his doubts. "Cooks, as everyone knows," he declared, "need to be plump! Skinny cooks simply cannot be trusted."

The Fool, bewildered by this logic, decided to put John to the test. "Then let him cook for us," he proposed, "and judge for yourselves!"

"Brilliant idea!" chimed in the Delegate Envoy, ever shadowing the Burgomaster whenever the Fool sought updates on his wedding arrangements. "Indeed, most excellent! It is only logical, wouldn't you agree? A cook is a necessity, after all." The Envoy's talent for stretching simple statements into verbose pronouncements never ceased to amaze the Fool.

"Would you care to join us, esteemed Envoy?" the Fool inquired, eager for company.

"Why, of course!" the Envoy beamed, delighted to be included. "It would be my pleasure."


The evening descended, cloaking the castle in soft shadows. In the grand dining hall, a long table stretched before them, one side deliberately left vacant. This would soon be filled with the culinary creations of John Cook, who bustled in the kitchen, fueled by dreams of becoming the Royal Cook. Mad Meg, the ever-ambitious maid, would serve the dishes, eager to display her own skills and secure a future amongst the Fool's royal circle.

Yet, the merriment anticipated failed to materialize. The Fool, unfamiliar with the intricacies of formal dining, cast a shadow of unease over the meal. Despite his persistent smile, it seemed to dim with each of his inquisitive questions.

"Why are these formalities necessary?" he asked, addressing the Envoy who sat perched near him.

"Why?" The Envoy said, echoing the Fool's words,  across the table.

"Yes," the Fool reiterated, his voice gentle yet firm. "Why must we conform to these rules and customs before becoming King and Queen?"

His gaze remained fixed on the Envoy, oblivious to the carefully prepared dishes Mad Meg presented with practiced grace. His attention, instead, was absorbed by the High Priest's Deputy Envoy, who mirrored Mad Meg's efforts with equal zeal.

The Envoy, clearly flustered, cleared his throat and straightened in his seat. "The rules," he began, his voice adopting a practiced air of authority, "are there to assure everyone of our collective commitment. They demonstrate, dear Fool, that we all approach this endeavor with seriousness and unity." He gestured towards the steaming quail on his plate, deftly navigating the cutlery with practiced ease.

The Fool, ever curious, nodded along, a contemplative crease forming between his brows. Of course, to the Burgomaster's utter horror, the Fool had chosen the wrong utensils altogether for his vegetables, and worse, used his bare hands to tear into the succulent quail. Mad Meg, her composure ruffled, scurried to the kitchen to relay the culinary atrocity to John Cook.

Undeterred, the Fool continued his inquiry, his mouth half-full of quail. "So, by remaining apart until marriage... the Princess and I... it makes people take me seriously?"

The Envoy, stifling a sigh, shook his head. "Nay, your Future Majesty! It goes beyond mere seriousness. These are the very same customs followed by all princes and princesses before you, their adherence honoring the legacy of countless others who trod this path."

"Honor?" The Fool tilted his head, his brow furrowed in thought.

"Precisely," the Delegate chimed in, his voice dripping with self-importance. "It's about honoring the institution itself, a testament to the generations who built this kingdom upon tradition and respect."

Meanwhile, the Burgomaster, blissfully oblivious to the unfolding dialogue, focused solely on savoring John Cook's culinary creations.

The aroma of John Cook's culinary creations filled the kitchen, yet his only concern lay with the silence emanating from the dining hall. "So? What are they saying about the food?" he pressed Mad Meg, his dance around pots and pans momentarily halted.

"Nothing," she replied, her face troubled.

"But what are they talking about, then?" his anxiety bubbling over.

Mad Meg offered a helpless shrug. "I have no idea."

Meanwhile, inside the hall, the Fool's innocent question reverberated like a stone cast into a still pond. "To honor is simply to do again what they have done, seems to me," he mused, his voice carrying the weight of unfiltered curiosity.

The Envoy, initially caught off guard, fixed the Fool with an unnerving stare. His smile, once practiced and charming, began to shrink with each passing moment. "Precisely," the Delegate interjected, his voice dripping with self-importance. "Habits, we call them. And after a while, they become traditions. And all traditions together are what we call our own civilization."

Civilization. The word echoed in the Fool's mind. He vaguely recalled hearing it whispered in his old village, always accompanied by laughter, never fully understood. A small movement within his collar drew his attention. The ever-present mouse peeked out, its whiskers twitching. "Can I have some of those fried carrot slices?" it squeaked.

Without hesitation, the Fool sliced off a small piece and discreetly tucked it deeper into his collar, allowing the mouse to nibble unseen. The other guests gaped at the bizarre exchange, but the Fool remained unfazed. "Now I understand," he announced, his voice calm despite the astonished stares. "People want to see that we are civilized."

The Delegate beamed, clearly pleased with the Fool's seeming compliance. "Exactly! The entire ceremony is more a service to us, rather than for you two, so to speak. The important thing is that everyone knows the new king and queen are... how shall I put it... royal?"

The Fool's gaze shifted to the Burgomaster, who was currently shoveling food into his mouth with gusto, a dark stain of hunter's sauce clinging to his chin. The image painted a stark contrast to the Delegate's lofty words. Mad Meg, witnessing the scene, couldn't help but rush back to the kitchen, eager to relay the latest developments to John Cook.

The Delegate, sensing a shift in the atmosphere, continued, his voice taking on a more persuasive tone. "For to be kingly - that is to say, royal - means knowing that you are doing what you can do for your kingdom with what you have. What a king does for his kingdom, he does for himself. That's what we call kingly generosity."

"Kingly generosity..." The Fool turned the phrase over in his mind, savoring its weight and meaning. The mouse, emboldened by the silence, piped up from within his collar, "Kingly generosity, indeed! These portions are practically miserly! Are you going to finish that?"

The Fool, however, remained absorbed in his thoughts. Memories of his parents danced across his mind, their faces etched with concern at the news of his impending kingship and the daunting responsibility of "kingly generosity." He hastily popped another piece of meat into his mouth, its delectable flavor momentarily erasing the worries about royalty, weddings, and duty.

"So many words," he finally sighed as Mad Meg cleared the plates with a beaming smile. "Words for things I never knew existed, just waiting to be spoken."

The Burgomaster, his face flushed with wine, declared, "Of course! Things need names, lad, else how can we talk about them!"

"Indeed," echoed the Delegate, nodding sagely.

"And talking about things," the Burgomaster continued, his voice thick with importance, "allows us to reach decisions!"

Another approving nod from the Delegate as he swirled his wine glass.

The word "decide" struck the Fool like a thunderbolt. An odd sensation crept up his spine, as if the chair beneath him had shrunk, no longer fitting him comfortably. Deciding? Why, in the carefree paradise of the Elfen realm, deciding was a thing of the past. With a furrowed brow, he challenged the Burgomaster, "But before you decide, wouldn't you need to first want to decide?"

The Burgomaster, momentarily flustered, stammered, "Well, yes, of course. To reach a decision, you must first understand the matter at hand, what needs to be chosen. Hence the importance of clear names for things..."

To the Burgomaster's chagrin, the young man's brow remained furrowed, his understanding seemingly incomplete. "But wouldn't that mean only things people wanted to decide about got named?" His words, innocent yet profound, echoed around the table.

The Burgomaster, unaccustomed to questioning the very foundation of "how things are," felt a dull ache blossom in his head. "Well, of course, lad! How can you decide on something if you don't even know what it is?"

"Exactly!" chimed in the Delegate Envoy, eager to regain control of the conversation. "Therefore, naming things is crucial!"

But the Fool, undeterred, continued his musing, almost talking to himself, "So then, only things you desire get a name?"

Mad Meg, sensing the tension, silently replaced the used cutlery with pristine utensils for the next course, her movements a quiet counterpoint to the escalating dialogue.

The Delegate Envoy, his smile strained and eyes glacial, kept the Fool under constant scrutiny. "And what, pray tell," he inquired, his voice laced with veiled threat, "do you propose we name next?"

Unfazed by the icy tone, the Fool simply replied, "There's so much left unnamed. Every day, I encounter experiences devoid of labels." He reminisced, his voice tinged with wistfulness, "The Elven folk from the well, the fairies in forgotten castles, even the mysterious horn... these magnificent things defied definition."

The Burgomaster and the Delegate exchanged bewildered glances. Such topics were rarely, if ever, broached during formal dinners.

"And the curious thing is," the Fool continued, a gentle smile gracing his lips, "I'm realizing these things don't require names to be felt, experienced."

"Whatever are you babbling about?" the Burgomaster grumbled, impatiently waving his hand towards Mad Meg. "Desserts, girl! We haven't got all night!"

"And that's precisely the point, isn't it?" interjected the Delegate Envoy, his voice laced with condescension. "We can't delve into your cryptic musings if you can't articulate your experiences with proper words."

The Fool, unfazed by the Envoy's sharp tone, tilted his head thoughtfully. "These are fleeting moments, you see," he explained, his voice soft yet firm. "They arrive, touch me, and then slip away, too ephemeral to be confined by a mere name."

The High Priest's representative, his initial amusement giving way to genuine surprise, disregarded Mad Meg's silent pleas for attention. Even she, usually laser-focused on her serving duties, couldn't help but furrow her brow at the Fool's words.

"But what you describe," the Delegate scoffed, "that's simply life itself!”

The Burgomaster, ever the pragmatist, grumbled to himself, "What gibberish is he spouting on about?"

"True," the Fool readily agreed, "but mere descriptions cannot capture the essence of the experience itself."

"What experience?" the Burgomaster pressed, exasperated. "If you can't name it, how can we possibly understand?"

The Fool met his gaze with a gentle smile, the enigma deepening. "It's a feeling, a knowing, beyond the reach of words."

The Burgomaster, utterly bewildered, shook his head. "You lost me, boy. If you can't put a name to it, it doesn't exist, far as I'm concerned."

Wine! The Burgomaster's booming request cut through the tension hanging heavy in the air, a welcome distraction from the Fool's unsettling inquiries. The Fool, overwhelmed by the sudden deluge of words and introspection, erupted into laughter. The intense conversation, filled with abstract concepts and nameless experiences, left him dizzy and lightheaded. "You only listen to what I say, not what I mean!" he chuckled, barely able to catch his breath.

"But how can I understand your meaning if you won't clarify your words?" he grumbled, muttering under his breath.

The Delegate Envoy, ever the eloquent scholar, intervened. "Ah, the pursuit of expressing the inexpressible! This, dear Fool, is the very essence of both poetry and art. The attempt to capture the essence of the nameless, to show what words cannot describe. Yet, these endeavors ultimately strive in vain, forever chasing the elusive goal of labeling the unlabeled." His voice held a certain smugness, directed both at the Fool and the High Priest.

Meanwhile, John Cook's masterpiece of a dessert sat untouched, a victim of the philosophical debate raging around it. Mad Meg, filled with horror, could barely bear to look at the neglected creation: a decadent cake bursting with creamy custard, adorned with shimmering icing sugar and delicate mint leaves.

A strained smile, tight as a drumhead, stretched across the Delegate's lips as he turned to the Fool. "But tell me, my dear," he purred, his voice dripping with veiled threat, "the tale of the Enchanted Deer... a mere fairy tale, wouldn't you say?"

The Fool, unfazed by the underlying hostility, let out a hearty laugh and dug into the cake with gusto. After all, a delicious dessert was something he understood perfectly well, no words needed.

Later, after the dinner had concluded, the Burgomaster, his head heavy with wine and confusion, offered John Cook thunderous applause. The elaborate meal, despite the baffling conversation, was something he wholeheartedly appreciated. He then turned to the Fool, his words slurred, and declared, "You must hire John Cook, boy! Make him your Royal Cook!"

John Cook, overcome with emotion, promptly burst into tears, much to Mad Meg's mortification. In this unexpected outburst, fueled by gratitude and perhaps a touch of theatrical flair, one could almost see the future Royal Cook bowing before his sovereign, ready to serve delectable masterpieces at the upcoming wedding.