Clark Gillian

The Enchanted Deer and the Dreams of the Fool


Chapter 15.
A life for a life.

The Fool shifted restlessly in the back of the wagon, trying to find solace in the rhythmic rumble of the wheels. Sleep remained elusive, his mind plagued by recurring visions of merging with the enigmatic Witch, adrift in the vastness of the Realm Beyond. Each jolt from the uneven road triggered another headache, further fueling his frustration.

With a sigh, he abandoned the pretense of sleep and crawled towards the front, joining the Bard who steered the wagon with practiced ease. The lanterns cast a warm glow, illuminating the Bard's weathered face etched with a quiet urgency. The rhythmic rumble of the Dwarven wagons trailing behind offered a strange comfort, their grinding against the road a counterpoint to the Fool's pounding heart.

"Bard," he spoke, his voice barely a whisper.

The Bard acknowledged him with a gentle hand on his shoulder, his gaze remaining fixed on the road ahead. They travelled in comfortable silence for a while, the only sound the creaking of the wagon and the soft chirp of crickets hidden in the tall grass.

"Is the Witch your present?" the Fool finally asked, his voice filled with curiosity and a hint of unease.

The Bard chuckled, a low rumble that echoed the wagon's rhythm. "Present? In a way, I suppose. Not for me, though."

The Fool frowned, confused. "I... I found the knapsack you left at my doorstep…"

"Ah, that," the Bard interrupted, a knowing smile playing on his lips. "I wanted to thank you for the wonderful gift you had come to bring me that day."

The Fool stammered, unsure how to express his gratitude. "Oh, but that was... Nothing at all... I... I don't know what I did to deserve such a gift. Thank you, truly."

The Bard winked, his smile widening. "Think nothing of it. Now, about stopping for a rest... I don't require much sleep, especially when time is of the essence."

The Fool nodded. “I can’t sleep either,” said the Fool. “My dreams have been keeping me up for a while now.”

“Now that’s incredible,” said the Bard solemnly. “Since you cannot dream while awake.”

The Fool thought for a moment about what the Bard had just said and smiled. He never laughs when he tells jokes, and always when he tells truths, he thought.

He decided to share one of his own observations, his voice taking on a conspiratorial tone, "Speaking of truths, I once encountered elves... deep within the woods. This happened after I met a Seer, perhaps even a High Priestess, in a temple."

The Bard remained focused on the road, only acknowledging the Fool with a slight shift in his posture. The mention of elves and Seers piqued his interest, yet he didn't want to interrupt the Fool's train of thought.

Sensing the Bard's change, the Fool hesitated, unsure if he should continue. However, seeing a contemplative furrow appear on the Bard's brow, he decided to press on. He watched as the Bard glanced over his shoulder repeatedly, his demeanor shifting from casual to thoughtful.

Finally, the Bard spoke, his voice laden with meaning, "Yes, considering the interplay between chance and destiny, such connections aren't entirely surprising."

Encouraged, the Fool elaborated, "And ever since… whenever the Witch is in danger, any pain she suffers, I feel it myself."

The Bard listened intently, his hand briefly touching the book clutched tightly in his grasp, a treasured relic from his father's tower. He recognized the turmoil in the Fool's voice, the yearning for understanding.

"Your mind has found no peace," the Bard began, his voice low and solemn. "Ever since the flash of light in the flower fields, haven't you?"

The Fool nodded, his expression strained. "Indeed. The fear of not knowing the reason haunts me, stealing my sleep."

The Bard let out a hearty laugh, its booming sound echoing through the wagon. "Then, my friend, you face a difficult choice. You can attempt to suppress your dreams, but that would mean a slow death of the spirit. Or, you can chase after your dreams, a path fraught with the greatest dangers you can ever imagine."

The wagon wheels crunched rhythmically on the dirt road as the Fool mulled over the Bard's words. His brow furrowed as he weighed the options.

"One path is a life not worth living," he muttered, "the other, life-threatening."

"Indeed," the Bard confirmed.

The Fool sat in silence for a moment, his eyes reflecting the determination hardening in his gaze.

"Then there is no choice at all," he declared, his voice firm.

"There isn't?" the Bard echoed, a knowing smile mirroring the Fool's. They both understood, their words simply confirming what their hearts already knew.

The silence resumed, pregnant with unspoken understanding. But the silence couldn't last forever. "What will become of the Witch when you reach the Capital?" the Fool finally asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

The Bard sighed, the weight of his burden evident in his tired eyes. "I'm not sure. But the Emperor demands to see her, that much is certain."

The Fool winced. The Emperor's reputation preceded him, a tapestry woven with threads of ruthlessness and ambition. "And what will he do with her?" he pressed, fear creeping into his voice.

The Bard shook his head, his silence speaking volumes. "I can't say for certain," he admitted, his gaze fixed on the endless road ahead. "But trust me, Fool, taking her to the Capital is your best chance."

With that, he reached into his coat pocket, producing a worn leather-bound book. Its cover, adorned with the intricate image of a majestic stag, instantly drew the Fool's attention.

"The Enchanted Deer!" he exclaimed, recognizing the title, his voice tinged with surprise.

The Bard winked, his expression enigmatic. "Indeed. Take a look. I marked a passage specifically for you."

His hands trembling slightly, the Fool opened the book, his eyes falling upon the marked page.

'The Sorceress and the Princess,' or so the title read.

Once upon a time, there was a knight, and that knight was the very best knight. He was so good at being a knight that he stood head and shoulders above the other knights. He fulfilled quests and other knightly assignments like no other, as if it were nothing, as if he was made for it. So it didn’t take long for the other knights to crown him as their king.

Now the knight was also very good at being king, for he was strong and smart. And so clever was he that he stood head and shoulders above the other kings. He united a divided land and brought everyone together under his rules as if it were nothing, as if he was made for it. Quickly the other kings saw that he was not a king who had just become king, but the king of kings. No king dared to wage war with a king as strong as he, and it was not long before he became Emperor.

Yet it happened that during his many conquests in distant lands, something happened that he never expected. He fell in love. And he didn’t just fall in love with a pretty girl. He fell in love with the most beautiful girl. And he didn’t just fall in love with the most beautiful girl. He lost his heart to her.

She was a sorceress, the one to whom he lost his heart. When she danced, she moved not only her own body but stirred something in his heart. From that moment on, he couldn’t let her go. And now it so happened that they spoke to each other one night. And when they talked to each other, they didn’t just talk about the things, but about the things behind things, the things that come before things, and especially the things that brought them together.

And he stole her away to the city where he lived and from which he ruled: the capital of his realm, the City of the Stars. But what the sorceress noticed after a while was that living between stone walls in a stone city so far away from nature couldn't make her happy. And so the Emperor came up with a solution so that they could stay together. He built a tower for her in the wild forest not far from the city. And he had the tower built so high that he could see perfectly from his palace if she put a candle in her window.

When the tower was finished, she was very happy living so close to the forest, the source of her magical powers. Often at night, he would take his horse to visit the sorceress and talk about those things and be in love, be together. So their happiness lasted for a while.

However, it did not last long. The Emperor began to get busier and busier and left the sorceress alone in her tower for longer and longer. And she set a candle on the windowsill every night, sometimes two candles, and after a while, even a whole candlestick would burn up in the hope that he would remember she was still there and be reminded to visit her. One day, after the Emperor had not visited the sorceress for a very long time, she decided to leave the forest and return to the city.

In the city she so detested, in the hustle and bustle that disturbed her so much, at the gates of the palace where she once lived with the Emperor, the guards stopped her. They had been given very strict instructions not to let her in. The sorceress became as furious as furious could be. Was she not the consort of their own Emperor?

Now, a simple gate can’t stop a powerful sorceress such as her. So the Sorceress opened the great locks and beams of the gate with her magical powers effortlessly and blew all and any guards out of her way.

She enchanted the stones of the tower so that they formed a staircase on the outside, and so walked she to the highest tower of the palace. But the Emperor was not to be found in that high tower. So she continued to the second tallest tower of his castle. He was nowhere to be found there either. She didn’t find him in the third-highest tower of the palace either, but what she saw through that window stunned her all the same.

A manger with a child and a cat to guard her. So sweet and innocent she looked, sleeping calmly and peacefully in a luxuriousroom decorated with the emblem of the Emperor, her Emperor—or so she thought. And next to the manger lay in a bed a tired woman, surrounded by ten chambermaids. The chambermaids took turns praying at her bedside with their hands folded. Before the sorceress could burst into rage, it was the Emperor himself who burst into the room and threw himself on the bed crying.

The woman with her ten chambermaids was dying, the doctors said. None of them could wake her from her deep sleep. The chambermaids took turns, very carefully dabbing the cold sweat that ran from her head. And the Emperor did not leave her side. Her hand squeezed tightly in his, he sat quietly at her bedside. The medicine men, with nothing left to do, bowed and left the tower room. The woman was about to die.

All day long, the sorceress looked unseen through the window at the Emperor and his grief. When the moment came, and she could feel very clearly that the poor woman was about to take her last breath, she burst through the stained glass window.

“Why don’t you use magic to save her?” cried the sorceress. “Why didn’t you come to me?”

The Emperor, caught by the sorceress, fell to his knees.

“I did not dare to ask,” said the Emperor. “I did not dare to ask the woman I once loved to save the woman I now love.”

“Once loved?” the sorceress repeated, torn by her husband’s betrayal.

A furious wind began to blow around the room. The whirlwind of the Sorceress’s fury grew so big that everything in the room started to fly around. All the chambermaids fell to the floor like stone bricks, while the storm allowed only the voice of the sorceress to be heard.

“A life for a life,” was what she shouted.

And as quickly as the whirlwind had come, it lay back down. The Emperor lay frozen on the floor in icy silence, too scared to see what the sorceress had done. Suddenly he felt the Empress squeeze his hand. He threw himself back on the bed in great relief and joy and saw that the Empress had opened her eyes. No more pain, no more disease. She seemed safe and sound.

The chambermaids cheered with joy along with the Emperor, except for the chambermaid whostoodhunched over the manger.

“It’s empty,” said the maid.

“A life for a life,” the sorceress had said, and only now did the words sink in. That night, great tears were shed for the lost Princess.

But the Emperor knew exactly where the sorceress lived. He gathered his generals, soldiers, and horsemen to storm the tower and bring back his daughter. But when they got to the sorceress’s forest, the forest where he had built the tower for her, it was nowhere to be found. And no one, not even the Emperor and his entire army, ever found the tower or the sorceress again.

The Fool, eyelids now heavy as lead, let the story on the gold-rimmed pages sink in, and the more he let it sink in, the deeper he fell asleep.