Clark Gillian

The Devious Dragon and the Fall of the Emperor


Chapter 20.
The idle fisherman.

Now it so happened, after the disaster with the dark bird cloud, that the Fool was given a room in the Burgomaster's townhouse, while the Princess resided in the Countess's mansion. As everyone knew, a man and woman must be kept apart in the days preceding their wedding.

At least, that's what the Countess declared, and the Princess heeded her advice faithfully. The Countess, after all, possessed considerable expertise in organizing proper marriages.

In the Fool's assigned room stood a tall mirror. He swore he sometimes glimpsed something move in its reflection, something that sent shivers down his spine.

Meanwhile, lackeys diligently delivered him piles of books, fulfilling his request to the Burgomaster for materials to learn and study. Their journey, both his and the Princess's, had this very purpose: to learn, to understand, to devour knowledge.

But the Burgomaster's generosity surpassed mere expectations. So many books arrived that the Fool struggled to choose where to begin. He adopted the habit of reading each book's first chapter to gauge its relevance, yet never finished any, for ever more volumes appeared, delivered tirelessly by the lackeys.

"I wish this wedding were already over," he muttered to himself, perched on a heap of books in the corner. His gaze, darting occasionally to the mirror, felt drawn to its silent allure.

Undeterred, the Fool returned his attention to the stacks, now overflowing onto every chair and table. "If these are just the Burgomaster's picks for the best of the best," he mused, "how many books must exist in total?"

More than you'll ever be able to read, the mirror seemed to whisper. The Fool glanced up, then approached the mirror for a closer look. Yet, there was nothing but his own reflection staring back. For some reason, it filled him with an inexplicable chill.

Driven by an unknown impulse, the Fool spoke to his reflection: "I'm going outside." He left the Burgomaster's townhouse despite the warnings about the muddy paths after the rain. Past the city gate, past Huntress's house, he wandered with no destination in mind until he reached it.

There, by the river whispering through the forest, sat a fisherman. Unwavering, he cast his line, eyes glued to the slightest twitch. "Hello, fisherman," the Fool greeted, but received no reply. The man remained fixated on his line, silent and stoic. Undeterred, the Fool sat beside him, seeking solace from the city's perplexing chaos in the quiet company of this solitary figure. He began to sing a tune through the reeds, drawn to the fisherman's wordless companionship.

The fisherman possessed few belongings: a knapsack and some sticks. "I used to carry a knapsack too!" the Fool exclaimed, sparking a flicker of response. "I have a rag bag," the fisherman mumbled, retrieving it from his side.

Curiosity piqued, the Fool asked, "What's in the rag bag?"

"Drink," the fisherman offered. The Fool took a swig, instantly erupting in sneezes. "Strong, eh?" the fisherman chuckled. "Very strong," the Fool agreed, the silence returning briefly.

Then, as if a dam had broken, the Fool spoke: "My father was a tanner."

"Oh, yes?" the fisherman responded mildly.

"Yes, the best in the village," the Fool boasted. "We made many patch bags."

The Fool felt a pang of emptiness, remembering the hundreds of bags crafted alongside his father, none of which he possessed anymore. "Where is yours then?" the fisherman inquired, his voice carrying a quiet understanding.

Shamefaced, the Fool could only stammer. Silence descended once more, a peaceful hush mirroring the gentle flow of the river. The only movement came from the occasional twitch of the fisherman's line.

Finally, the fisherman broke the silence. "I fish," he stated simply.

The Fool smiled and nodded. "And what do you do?" he returned the question.

"I watch," the Fool uttered, the realization dawning on him that this indeed formed a significant part of his actions.

The fisherman let out a hearty laugh. "Is that all you do? Just watch?"

The Fool pondered. It was true, a large portion of his time was spent observing. "I think so," he admitted finally. "But I also ask questions whenever they pop into my head."

"And does that... prove beneficial?" the fisherman inquired, a hint of amusement in his voice.

The Fool hesitated, once again lost in thought. Before he could formulate an answer, the fisherman offered his own. "That's how you learn," he asserted, casting his line back into the water. "By asking questions. People tend to believe knowledge only comes from books and heard words. But there's wisdom gained from experiences beyond written pages or spoken truths."

"I believe that," the Fool wholeheartedly agreed.

"That's why I come here," the fisherman explained.

"To fish?" the Fool queried, surprised.

"To learn," the fisherman corrected.

"And what is it you learn?" the Fool pressed, his curiosity piqued.

The fisherman let out a deep sigh. "To deal with it," he replied cryptically.

Suddenly, the fishing line sprang taut, a fish yanking from the other end. With a practiced flick of the wrist, the fisherman landed the catch, tossing it into his knapsack with others. The Fool couldn't help but be impressed.

"You see," the fisherman remarked, "idleness isn't emptiness. It's how I lure my catch."

The Fool's admiration grew. "I want to be a fisherman too," he declared.

The fisherman's expression, momentarily peaceful, contorted into anger. "I'm no fisherman!" he snapped.

"You...aren't?" the Fool stammered, confused.

"I am a king," the fisherman proclaimed, gesturing grandly. "Behold my kingdom!"

The Fool squinted past the trees and bushes, expecting majestic landscapes. Instead, he saw only crumbling ruins of a derelict castle and a broken well.

"A beautiful kingdom you have," he mumbled, unsure what to say.

"The most beautiful!" the fisherman insisted, his voice surprisingly fierce. "More beautiful than anyone can imagine."

The Fool, unsure how to respond, rose and wandered towards the ruins. Reaching the well, he peered into its abyss. It was so deep, its bottom lost in darkness. His mind recalled the mirror's whispers, and he imagined the well echoing them in its creaking depths: "Make your wish."

He pondered for a moment, then whispered, "I wish I could be a king, like the idle fisherman."

The Fool's impulsive wish triggered a whirlwind of change. As his words faded, a torrent of tiny elves erupted from the well, engulfing him in a giggling, sparkling tide. They flitted towards the transformed castle, weaving through windows and disappearing into overgrown turrets. Dazed, the Fool saw magnificent wingless fairies materializing, their forms shimmering with otherworldly grace.

"Magnificent!" he exclaimed, still struggling to his feet. He turned to the Fisherman King, seeking his reaction, but found the spot empty. The once idle figure had vanished.

Intrigued, the Fool ventured into the castle, now teeming with fantastical life. Fairies, elves, and fae bowed towards him, acknowledging their new "king." In return, the Fool offered his own respectful bows, feeling the weight of his unexpected role settling upon him.

He couldn't resist asking the ethereal fairies why they resided here, away from the elven realm. Their explanation was startling. When the Enchanted Deer had divided the realms, these fairies had faltered at the crucial moment, their indecision leaving them stranded between worlds. They became the "fairies of the in-between," tethered to the forgotten spaces carved out by humankind.

"We carry hope for humanity," one of the fairies declared, her voice echoing in the vast hall. "We arrive when summoned, but forgotten, we fade from memory."

Their long, elegant smiles held a hint of curiosity and longing. They revealed their existence had fallen into oblivion, their whispers lost amidst the silence of decaying structures and overgrown nature. Only the occasional curious wanderer stumbled upon their hidden realm.

"Why not simply rejoin the other magical creatures?" the Fool wondered, gesturing towards the newly formed gate.

The fairies exchanged glances, their faces clouded with unspoken wisdom. "Our tale is long," one began, her voice laced with mystery.

Before she could delve into their history, a silver platter materialized before the Fool, bearing a magnificent horn overflowing with exotic fruits. The fragrance filled the air, beckoning him to partake in this unexpected feast.

"How is that possible?" the Fool blinked, bewildered by the endless bounty of the horn.

"Take it," the fairies urged, their luminescent forms glimmering. "Eat to your heart's content. It is a reminder from the elven world, offering what you need when requested."

As the Fool savored the exquisite fruit, unlike anything he'd ever tasted, the fairies addressed his earlier question. "Know that we, elves and fairies, can freely travel through any well to the elven realm."

"But why remain here?" he persisted, curious about their choice.

"We wait for something," they hinted, their voices laden with hope as they turned to him. "And it seems our wait may be ending sooner than we anticipated."

Their hopeful gaze settled on the Fool. "He, like us, is in-between," they murmured. "And so are you, having returned from the fairy world. You understand, perhaps better than most, why we choose to stay."

Their ethereal laughter filled the hall. "There was a time when humans regularly came to the well, seeking wishes," they reminisced. "We are glad you visited us today."

With that, they presented the horn as a gift. "A wedding present," they declared, "to help you remember and never forget us."

"How could I ever forget?" the Fool vowed, touched by their gesture.

The fairies chuckled, their laughter echoing in the vast hall. "You're not the first to make such a promise," they said, their words carrying a hint of sadness. "But perhaps... you might be the first to keep it."


Meanwhile, the Princess, locked in her own chamber of quiet contemplation, couldn't help but be surprised. Even with her blatant use of magic, with no restraints or threats looming over her, a strange sense of contentment settled over her. Could it be, she dared to ponder, that here, in this unfamiliar land, her witching abilities could be embraced rather than feared? It was a novel thought, exhilarating even.

"The serpent was right," she whispered, a smile tugging at her lips. "Here, I can learn, grow, and tap into power I never dreamed possible, unburdened by the stifling restrictions of Fairyland."

Just then, the door creaked open, revealing the Countess, her usual smile plastered on even wider with two armored figures flanking her.

"Just checking in, dear Princess," she chirped, her voice saccharine sweet. "My loyal guards will accompany you from now on, purely for, of course."

"Of course," the Princess replied, keeping her voice neutral. "Safety is paramount. Is there anything else I require?"

"Certainly not, my dear," the Countess purred. "Worrying is for lesser beings. I, myself, shall see to everything, ensuring your perfect, royal wedding."

The Princess couldn't help but bristle at the insincerity dripping from the Countess's words. The woman's constant, unnerving smile grated on her nerves.

"Perhaps I should have some say in the proceedings, Countess," she countered firmly. "After all, it is my wedding."

"But of course, Princess!" the Countess exclaimed, her smile widening impossibly. "You are the star of the show, the reason this will be a grand spectacle, not just another mundane ceremony. You are special, indeed, as everyone witnessed in the..."

Her voice trailed off, a flicker of unease crossing her face. The Princess, however, froze, a jolt of recognition shooting through her. The nervous twitch, the subtle shift in posture – it all clicked into place.

"You!" she gasped, springing from her chair. "You were there, at the Imperial Ball!"

The Countess's smile evaporated, leaving her cowering in the ornately carved chair that suddenly felt as fragile as her composure. Sweat beaded on her neck, each droplet reflecting the fear flickering in her eyes.

"Recognize me?" the Countess croaked, her voice betraying the terror she tried to mask. "What... what do you mean?"

"From the ball," the Princess hissed, her voice laced with ice. "The Imperial Ball where my parents were imprisoned. You, shouting loudest for their chains!"

The Countess stammered, unable to form a coherent response.

With a flick of her wrist, the Princess plunged the room into darkness, her eyes the only source of light, burning with potent magic. This amplified glow pierced the Countess's soul, laying bare its darkest depths.

A jealous crack spiderwebbed across the mirror in the corner as the Princess's power crackled in the air. The guards lumbered closer, but a wave of her hand rendered their armor unbearably heavy, sending them crashing to the floor.

"Don't think I rely solely on words, Countess," the Princess purred, her voice a predator's caress. "I have other ways of extracting the truth. Look me in the eye, or vanish forever!"

The Countess trembled, tears mingling with the sweat dripping down her face. "Mercy!" she rasped, her voice cracking like an owl's cry. "My husband... I lost him! My life, my title, my home... all gone!"

Recognizing the Countess's voice from the ball, the Princess felt no pity for her pleas. "Look at me," she commanded, her eyes glowing like moons in the darkened room bathed in bright sunlight.

The Countess knew her choice: reveal her soul or lose her title, her very identity. Trembling, she met the Princess's fiery gaze, an experience forever etched in her memory. Like comets, the Princess's eyes pierced her mind, burning away secrets, laying bare every hidden thought and action. The Countess was stripped bare, exposed for who she truly was.

And all this, bestowed upon a young witch gifted a kingdom without lifting a finger. Fury welled within the Countess. Why offer her a crown, only to reveal her darkness in such a humiliating way?

"You see what I've endured?" she choked out, voice betraying no anger, "The humiliations from queens, even your mother, the Empress?"

"They didn't humiliate you; you humiliate yourself if you don't show yourself as you are, and everyone notices!" the Princess countered, her voice laced with ice.

"That may be true, Princess, I must have embarrassed myself in the eyes of the nobility, but... Who came to my aid from them? Nobody! And then the people call them... royal." the Countess sputtered, defensive despite the Princess's sharp words.

"Would you have accepted help? From what I saw, there was no room for it, with all the jealousy and anger that is crammed into that little head of yours." Each word of the Princess hurt the Countess. Because she had seen her in her painful completeness, she could hardly say anything that wouldn't cut through the charade of the Countess's politeness. She stared at the younger woman, speechless.

"You can't call on the guards one day to lock me, my father and mother up in the dungeons of our own palace — hoping that one day your husband would become Emperor — and then volunteer to organize my wedding the next. What is it you think you are doing?" the Countess finally spat, her voice trembling with barely contained rage. "What game are you playing?"

"I play the hand I'm dealt, Countess," the Countess returned, her smile strained. "Haven't you noticed? I do what I must, climb whatever rungs are available, to reach my desired position."

"Tried," the Princess corrected, a disappointed sigh escaping her lips. "Forget about the wedding. You have a funeral to attend to, Countess."

With that, the Princess turned and swept out of the room, leaving the Countess trembling in the echoing silence. 


The Countess, still reeling from her showdown with the young Princess, hurried towards the High Priest's Deputy Envoy. In her mind, the Princess and her potent magic loomed large, a threat she alone seemed to grasp.

"Countess," the Deputy greeted her warmly, "what can I do for you today?"

"I need to remain Countess," she blurted out, desperation lacing her voice.

"There's no need to panic," the Deputy soothed. "You're handling everything admirably. We stand with you, of course. Dealing with a witch alone would be unthinkable."

Her anxiety eased slightly. "That's reassuring, but... how can I be sure these promises hold weight?"

Suddenly, the mirror behind the Deputy shimmered, revealing the unsettling visage of the Sorceress. Another powerful witch, the Countess thought, heart sinking. As if summoned by her fear, a white snake emerged from the Deputy's sleeve.

"My condolences," the serpent rasped, its voice surprisingly smooth. "The Count's passing, particularly under such... unusual circumstances, is deeply regrettable. My researchers are still unraveling the mystery of the starry rain that struck the City of Flowers, but my true purpose here, dear Countess, is to offer solace."

Meeting a witch in the morning and a talking serpent in the afternoon was beyond anything the Countess thought she'd experience.

"What solace do you have to offer?" she asked cautiously.

"Your husband's legacy," the serpent replied. "Through his collaboration with the Royal House of Coins, he secured your position as Countess."

"Is that... what he was working for?" The Countess felt a tremor of unease.

"Indeed," the serpent hissed, its forked tongue flickering. "And you, dear Countess, must continue his work. Only then can your future prosperity be guaranteed."

"Work for you?" the serpent sputtered, surprised by the Countess's unexpected question. "No, my dear Countess, people don't work for me. They work because of me. If wealth is what you desire, wealth in any form, then I have the power to grant it. Isn't that marvelous? But of course, there's always a price..."

"I understand," the Countess lied smoothly, a practiced smile gracing her lips. This pleased the serpent immensely.