Clark Gillian

The Devious Dragon and the Fall of the Emperor


Chapter 9.
Whispers over blades of grass.

The salty wind whipped at their faces as the Princess and the Fool trekked further along the desolate coastline, searching for a final resting place for the snake's box.  The air was charged with the roar of waves crashing against jagged rocks, each resounding thud threatening to drown out their conversation.

Reaching the edge of a rocky escarpment, they carefully descended onto a beach littered with dark, rounded boulders. Red crabs scuttled for cover amongst the stones, startled by the intrusion. The Princess clutched the box close, its smooth surface strangely warm against her skin. The intricate carvings, depicting forgotten stories from a life she barely remembered, seemed to pulse with a faint energy.

"Careful!" the Fool shouted, his voice barely audible over the wind's howl. He reached out, his hand finding its way to her shoulder, a grounding touch amidst the chaotic scene.

"Why not simply toss it into the sea?" he yelled, straining to be heard. "The depths would swallow it whole, a secret forever locked away."

The Princess hesitated, gazing at the box with a mixture of longing and uncertainty. Its delicate beauty, a stark contrast to the harsh landscape surrounding them, evoked a bittersweet pang. "I don't know," she confessed, her voice barely a whisper. "It feels… connected to my past."

"But how can you be certain it truly belongs to you?" the Fool countered, his brow furrowed. "You haven't even opened it."

The Princess's fingers tightened around the box. The Fool's words echoed in her mind, resonating with a truth she couldn't ignore. With a sigh that mirrored the wind's mournful cry, she looked out at the endless expanse of the sea. "Perhaps I'll never know," she murmured, her voice lost in the roar of the waves.

With a final push, she shoved the box into a shadowy crevice, a tomb beyond any accidental discovery. Yet, the weight of it pressed on her heart, even as she attempted to resume her carefree existence with the Fool. The image of the hidden box gnawed at her, a nagging doubt whispering that escape wasn't just about location.

One evening, beneath the cascading starlight waterfall, she confided in a luminous moth, its wings wider than her own hands. "Is it truly different," she queried, "this escape with the Fool, from my own pursuits? Or is it just another act in the play?"

The moth, silent and graceful, fluttered towards the dancing lights on the river, leaving her question unanswered. With a final, affectionate kiss on its fuzzy belly, she watched it join the ethereal dance of elves amidst the glittering water.

Seeking solace, she found herself sitting amongst the whispering blades of grass, their gentle caress cooling her palms. Leaning in, she whispered a simple command: "Grow."

As if summoned by her voice, a group of elves materialized from the nearby fields. "Hold on!" they chirped in unison. "That's our job!"

Bewilderment filled her eyes. "Is it? Each blade?"

"Of course!" affirmed one, settling on her shoulder. "They all yearn to grow, but sometimes, hearing the plea awakens them faster."

"Every blade?" she breathed, the vastness of their task sinking in.

"Every blade, every bud, every stem," one declared, flitting around her head. "Every living thing!"

"Across the world?" her voice barely a whisper.

A burst of laughter filled the air. "Are we meant to be barred from our own fair realm?" they chuckled.

The seed of possibility bloomed within her. "Then I want to come with you," she declared. "Show me this wider world you speak of."

"The human realm?" they echoed, amusement lacing their voices. "Didn't you just leave there?"

The wind whipped at the Princess's face as she stood back on the desolate grey beach, the elves hovering nervously behind her. Before them loomed the jagged rock formation where she'd hidden the snake's box.

"Lovely and cool here," one elf chirped, their wings fluttering uselessly against the chilling wind. The others remained silent, shivering despite their ethereal forms.

Following an unspoken urge, the Princess began the perilous climb over the slick rocks. Waves crashed against the shore, soaking her instantly. Reaching the crevice, she plunged her hand into the cool darkness, fingers brushing against the familiar wooden box before grasping it firmly.

Suddenly, a rogue wave slammed against the rocks, causing her to lose her footing. A scream tore from her throat as she tumbled, sharp edges threatening to skewer her. In a dazzling display of speed, the elves swooped down, their shimmering forms like tiny, living shields. They caught her by the clothing, hauling her through the churning water and depositing her safely on the shore.

Gasping for breath, the Princess offered a shaky smile. "Thank you, elves," she managed to say.

Curiosity burning in their eyes, they inquired, "What secrets lie within the box you clutched so tightly?"

"That's precisely what I'm about to find out," she replied, wiping the salty strands from her face. Carefully, she placed the box on the smooth pebbles and turned the lock with trembling fingers.

Inside, nestled amidst soft velvet, lay a trio of treasures. Two beautifully illustrated books, filled with stories of valiant knights, fearsome dragons, and glittering treasures, instantly brought a smile to her lips. These were her childhood companions, their vibrant pages holding memories of simpler times.

But beneath them lay a sealed letter, bearing the crimson wax and Imperial signet ring that signified her father's hand. With a crack that echoed through the wind, she broke the seal and unfolded the parchment.

Her breath hitched as she read the words, her voice barely a whisper as she shared the revelation with the silent elves. "It says... that I... that I'm going to be queen."

A stunned silence followed, broken only by the rhythmic roar of the waves. Then, in a chorus of tiny voices, the elves exclaimed, "Queen?!"

"I shall be Queen of Hearts!" declared the Princess, her voice alight with joy. "And… I'll have my own kingdom!"

Suddenly, a voice sliced through the air, silencing the wind that whipped through the rocks. "And who, pray tell, will be your king?"

The Princess spun around, startled. There, atop a nearby boulder, coiled a white snake with gleaming red eyes. As if on cue, the elves scattered like leaves in a storm.

"My... what?" she stammered.

"Your king," the serpent hissed, its voice smooth and slithering. "No queen reigns alone, do they?"

"Why not?!" The Princess's retort came so swiftly, even she blinked in surprise. A flicker of pleasure danced in the snake's eyes.

"My dear," it said, its tone patronizing, "have you not read the fairytales? Every queen stands beside a king."

"True enough," the Princess conceded, "but I have always been a princess, and I needed no one else."

"Indeed," the serpent purred, "but being a princess is about your own journey. Being a queen, however, is about ruling for others. Do you understand?"

The Princess faltered, a seed of doubt sown.

"Perhaps you are right," she admitted grudgingly.

"And what is true for oneself," the serpent continued, its voice dripping with meaning, "becomes official only when recognized by others. How else will they know your reign is legitimate?"

"But why should they care if I am a true queen?" she questioned, a defiant edge creeping into her voice, the witch within her stirring.

"Whether it matters or not is irrelevant," the serpent hissed, its voice low and confident. "Once it is official, the question vanishes, wouldn't you agree?"

Hesitantly, the Princess nodded.

"My dear Princess,"said the serpent who squirmed closer and closer, "I see that you don't know how it all works anymore. These things, though, you simply need to know. You just haveto know these things. You have to remember these things, always."

"Yes, that’s true isn’t it,"said the Princess, lost in thought, "If I forget all these things, then I can't decide anything properly, can I?"

"That's it!" said the snake hissing with contentment, "That's it my dear Princess, and you don't know any of these things that behoove a queen to know because as you’re offered a crown of your own, you're sitting here, far away from anything and everything!"

"But this is paradise!"

"Perhaps," the snake drawled, its forked tongue flicking, "as long as you don't think. After all, in paradise, what need is there for thought? It exists solely in its own perfection."

The Princess fell silent, a flicker of truth igniting in her eyes. "It's true," she whispered.

"But," the snake continued, its voice dripping with insidious sweetness, "without the ability to think, how can you ever truly know...?" It trailed off, leaving the question heavy in the air, a seed of doubt taking root.

"Know what?" the Princess pressed, but the serpent only coiled tighter, concealing its head within its sinuous body.

"What is it?" she demanded, curiosity warring with unease.

"Well," the snake finally hissed, a hint of triumph slithering into its voice, "if you truly wish to know, and that's a promising sign indeed, you'd understand... as long as you remain here, isolated from the human world, you will..." it paused for dramatic effect, "...stay dumb. Dull your spirit."

"Dumb?" the Princess echoed, fear creeping into her voice.

"Yes, stay dumb," the snake confirmed, its forked tongue flicking. "In paradise, what need is there for intelligence? Only blissful ignorance exists."

The Princess remained silent, the snake's words echoing in her mind. "That's right," she conceded, her voice barely a whisper. "Here, being smart or stupid... it doesn't matter."

"Exactly," the serpent hissed, its coils tightening further. "All those lessons learned in the witch's tower, all those struggles to reach your family after years of imprisonment and pain... none of it holds meaning here. True or not?"

The Princess hesitated, the weight of the truth slowly settling upon her shoulders. "It's true," she admitted, her voice heavy with a newfound understanding. "Here... none of it truly matters."

"Ah, a breakthrough!" the snake hissed, glee coiling around its forked tongue. "It warms my scales to see your mind sharpening even now. But tell me, Princess, does your purpose still hold meaning within these gilded walls?"

The Princess's silence spoke volumes, a symphony of doubt echoing in the pause. The snake pounced on the opportunity, his voice dripping with honeyed promises.

"Imagine the boundless knowledge waiting for you beyond this paradise! There, every struggle, every sacrifice, retains its weight. There, you can truly learn, grow, and fulfill your destiny as a queen."

The Princess eyed the serpent with narrowed eyes, seeking flaws in his logic, yet his words resonated with a troubling truth.

"Let me simplify," the snake purred, its voice closer now, a sibilant caress against her ear. "If nothing here holds significance, what harm could come from leaving?"

Her gaze drifted to the book in her hands, the gilded pages glowing with an unreal light. Gathering her thoughts, she spoke, her voice barely a whisper.

"I suppose... you're right."

"The smartest words you've spoken all day, my dear Princess," the serpent whispered, its voice a seductive murmur against her skin.

"Smart indeed."