Clark Gillian

The Enchanted Deer and the Dreams of the Fool


Chapter 19.
A silent night under the moon.

Tiny, glittering creatures flitted from the dark woods, their wings shimmering like spun moonlight. "Little elves!" the Fool cried out, relief washing over him. The elfin swarm fluttered around the panicked horse, their high-pitched chirps weaving a calming melody.

"Thank you, fairies," the Fool murmured, his voice trembling with exhaustion. He clung to the reins, feeling precariously perched on the edge of the treacherous mountain path. Without the fairies' intervention, he might have tumbled into the abyss below, never to be seen again.

Now, surrounded by the gentle hum of the elves and the reassuring warmth of the horse's flank, a profound loneliness swept over him. The Bard, the Prince, the Dwarves – all gone, vanished into the unknown depths of the mountain. He was adrift, once again lost in the maze of this strange adventure.

He dismounted with a sigh, the weight of his knapsack suddenly unbearable. Moonlight, freed from the cloud's grip, bathed him in a soft, silver glow. With a weary groan, he flung his pack aside and scratched his head, his mind buzzing with unanswered questions. The whirlwind of events – the confrontation at the gate, the Bard's enigmatic gift, the terrifying escape – swirled in his thoughts, begging for understanding.

Yet, despite the chaos, a strange emptiness settled within him. He closed his eyes, seeking solace in the quiet contemplation he cherished. The fairies settled around him, their tiny bodies nestled contentedly in the grass.

But even with their comforting presence, he couldn't escape the pull of the moon. In its luminous face, he saw a reflection of his own isolation. "Why do you make me feel even lonelier," he whispered, a tremor in his voice, "when you gaze down at me with such knowing eyes?"

The moon, undisturbed, continued its silent vigil, casting its ethereal light upon him.

As the Fool averted his gaze from the moon, his eyes adjusting to the returning darkness, he noticed something curious. This place, nestled amidst the mountain's embrace, seemed to be the source of the aqueduct's lifeblood. The rumbling sound of water, a thunderous melody against ancient rock, guided him closer.

Finally, he emerged into a clearing dominated by a magnificent waterfall. Wide and broad, it cascaded down a cliff face with both ethereal grace and raw power, illuminated by the moon's gentle touch. The little elves, drawn to the spectacle, flitted ahead, their iridescent wings dancing in the mist rising from the crashing water.

The Fool, drawn by an unseen force, ventured closer to the rocky face. A hidden path, barely visible between jagged edges, led him behind the curtain of water. There, nestled like a secret gem, lay a small, crystal-clear pond into which the water flowed with a serene calmness, a stark contrast to its tumultuous descent.

The surface of the pond was impossibly still, almost like a mirror reflecting the starry night sky. As the Fool leaned closer, captivated by the scene, the elves fluttering around him, the slightest ripple disturbed the reflection. A flash of images, like fleeting glimpses of a forgotten world, shimmered on the water's surface. He saw swirling clouds, hiding within them a dark keyhole, a symbol of mysteries yet to be unlocked.

Startled by the fleeting vision, the Fool lost his footing on the slippery stones and tumbled into the cool embrace of the pond. The elves, ever playful, mistook this as an invitation to join him. They dove in with gleeful shrieks, their tiny bodies glowing like miniature stars, illuminating the depths of the pool. A small red lobster, its peaceful solitude disrupted, scuttled out of the water in a flurry of claws and antennae, disappearing into the undergrowth.

As if summoned by the ripples of his thoughts, the Fool's gaze landed on the Witch, standing beyond the cascading curtain of the waterfall. She wasn't alone. A sleek black fox, its fur shimmering like midnight embers, stood beside her. Intrigued, the Fool watched as the Witch's hands moved with surprising grace, manipulating the wreckage of the Bard's broken chariot.

The shattered wood, twisted metal, and scattered bolts started to dance in the air, drawn by an unseen force. With a series of clicks and groans, they reformed, piece by piece, into a magnificent little boat that glistened on the calm water flowing towards the aqueduct.

Nearby, the Dwarf was also in conversation with the fox, his booming laughter echoing in the cavernous space. Yet, as they approached the pool behind the waterfall, a hush fell over them.

It wasn't just the thundering roar of the falls, muffling their voices. The moonlight, perfectly reflected in the crystal-clear water, seemed to demand reverence. Each tiny drop shimmered as if imbued with some hidden essence.

"This is it! The pool!" declared the Black Fox, leaning over the edge to gaze at his reflection. His usually playful voice held a note of solemnity.

"Not much has changed," he mused, a hint of longing in his tone.

The Witch, perched on the newly reconstructed boat, scoffed. "You haven't even taken a sip!" she cackled, snapping the quiet spell.

The Witch's irritated voice snapped the tension. "Why are you hanging back there like a scared rabbit?"

"For your own safety, of course!" the black fox retorted, his voice laced with mock indignation. "Wouldn't want to be caught in the blast zone if you spontaneously combust."

The Witch snorted. "Explode? This ain't that kind of waterfall, you old fool." Her voice softened slightly, "Or at least, I don't think so."

The fox peered again into the pool, its silver surface reflecting the moonlight. "Right," he muttered, the uncertainty evident in his voice.

Hesitation gave way to determination. With a deep breath, the fox plunged his muzzle into the water and took a long, greedy gulp. He held his breath, eyes squeezed shut, waiting for the transformative magic to take effect.


"Seems like a dud," the Witch remarked, her voice dripping with amusement.

The fox's ears drooped. "Blast it all. I was hoping to turn human. Imagine the possibilities! A house, a bed, maybe even a pet goldfish..."

"That your ultimate dream?" The Witch cackled, a harsh sound that echoed through the cavern. "You truly are the dumbest fox I've ever met."

"Heard that one before," the fox mumbled, unfazed by her mockery. "But it's true, isn't it? My fur always made me an outsider. I hoped the water would change it, make me...normal."

Suddenly, a voice interrupted their banter. The Fool, emerging from the shadows, spoke with surprising confidence. "It's a sign," he declared, "a sign that you're already perfect just as you are."

The Witch whirled around, her fury momentarily forgotten. "You again! Can't you get lost?"

"Please, wait!" the Fool pleaded. "I'm not here to capture you like the Bard or the Prince. I don't want to hurt you."

Disbelief contorted the Witch's face. "And I'm supposed to believe that? Get out of my sight!"

"Hear me out!" the Fool persisted, his voice earnest. "We both know what happened in the flower fields. We both I understand your pain, your anger. It's etched in your eyes, just like it is in mine."

The Witch stood rigidly, her expression unreadable. But the flicker of surprise in her eyes betrayed a crack in her hardened facade.

"This isn't who you truly are," the Fool continued, his voice barely a whisper. "You're more than this anger, more than this pain. Let me help you."

The black fox, captivated by the exchange, tilted his head curiously.

"Stay out of this!" the Witch's voice screeched, echoing ominously in the cavern.

But the Fool remained undeterred. "She is," he countered calmly, as the echoes faded.

The Witch stared at him, the fire in her eyes dampened to embers. No witty barbs, no riddles, no cruel amusement. Just silence.

"Don't you wonder?" the Fool pressed, his voice surprisingly gentle. "Why did that… energy surge when we touched hands?"

The Witch hesitated, then sighed. "It's not something I wonder about," she began, her voice tight, "because I know what it is."

"You do?" both the Fool and the Black Fox exclaimed in unison.

She met their gaze with a heavy weariness. "I am cursed, you see."

A hush fell over the group. Even the ever-cheerful elves seemed subdued. The rhythmic beat of the waterfall became deafening, amplifying the anticipation as the Witch began her tale.


Indeed, years ago, the sorceress had spirited the Emperor's child away, tucked her amongst dusty tomes within a hidden tower shrouded deep in the forest. The child, unaware of her royal lineage, slept soundly on a pillow of forgotten spells, the weight of destiny yet unknown.

Haunted by the Emperor's betrayal, the sorceress had taken the child not out of malice, but as a twisted form of justice – "a life for a life," she'd proclaimed, the echo of her own shattered heart fueling the chilling truth. Even she, however, struggled to reconcile the pain that birthed this act with the innocent life entrusted to her.

"Let her remain thus," the sorceress decreed, vowing to shield the child from the perils of love, the very force that had wrought such havoc on her own existence. With a muttered incantation, the tower's solitary door obeyed, forever locked against all but those burdened by hearts fractured and broken. "Let only those with a broken heart open this door," the spell whispered, etching its invisible sigil upon the ancient portal.

But vengeance, like magic, rarely adheres to neat narratives. Beyond the enchanted door, another, more treacherous spell wove its web. "The tower will be unfindable to those who seek it and unseekable to those who find it," the sorceress chanted, her voice laced with both bitterness and a desperate hope. No valiant knight, no loyal soldier, no desperate emissary sent by the Emperor could pierce the tower's veiled existence.

The sorceress' spells, fueled by grief and righteous fury, were indeed potent. They ensured the princess' seclusion, a gilded cage protecting her from the world and, supposedly, from the heartbreak she believed love inevitably brought. In her twisted logic, a heart untouched by love could never be broken, and a door sealed by a broken heart would remain eternally shut.

However, in the depths of her own grief, the sorceress failed to recognize the seeds of another truth. This gift, born of bitterness, was also her final act of love for the child she had taken.

The years blurred into decades, each spring equinox marking a cruel theft of the princess's youth. While the sorceress, fueled by her twisted magic, remained eternally youthful, the child she imprisoned bore the brunt of the spell's burden. Each year, she aged three times faster, transforming from an innocent babe to a stooped figure with wizened features and hands gnarled like ancient roots.

Yet, beneath the physical toll, a different kind of transformation was taking place. The princess, witness to the sorceress's cruelty and fueled by her own stolen years, mirrored her captor's bitterness. The whispers of magic the sorceress carelessly scattered around the tower became the princess's secret obsession. Each dusty tome, each parchment filled with cryptic symbols, became a weapon in her silent rebellion. While the sorceress, blinded by her own hatred, saw only a frail, aging servant, the princess devoured forbidden knowledge, her mind sharpening with each stolen sunrise.

Days bled into nights as she deciphered ancient spells, her thirst for escape growing with every unanswered question. Why did the enchanted door only yield to a broken heart? What secrets hid within its aged oak panels? The princess, now a woman burdened by both age and stolen knowledge, vowed to unlock the mysteries that bound her. Her once innocent gaze hardened, mirroring the unforgiving lines etched upon her face.

The sorceress's beauty extended beyond her youthful facade. Outside the tower, nestled in lush green rows, grew pumpkins unlike any others. Big, round, and impossibly vibrant, they attracted merchants and villagers like moths to a flame. Little did they know, these weren't mere vegetables, but monstrous creations fueled by a dark secret.

The girl, trapped within the tower walls, discovered this horrifying truth at the tender age of ten. She witnessed the sorceress lure unsuspecting men – hunters, peasants, even knights – into her seemingly idyllic garden. With a flick of her wrist and a honeyed smile, they'd be enthralled, oblivious to the danger lurking beneath the plump foliage.

Then, the screams. Awful, muffled shrieks swallowed by the greedy tendrils of the bewitched pumpkins. Their roots, twisted and dark, weren't seeking water, but flesh. Through intricate pipes, the men were devoured whole, leaving only the chilling creak of bones and the slurping sounds of a monstrous feast.

Night after night, the girl lay awake, haunted by the macabre symphony of death. Sleep offered no escape; the memories clung to her like cobwebs. She stopped looking out the window, unable to bear the sight of another unsuspecting soul falling prey.

But in the depths of her despair, a spark of defiance ignited. "If only I could warn one," she whispered, a desperate plea echoing in the lonely tower. Perhaps, she thought, one might escape, return to the village, and raise the alarm, freeing her from this living nightmare.

But how? The sorceress guarded her carefully, using the very pumpkins she fed on as payment for her dark deeds. Yet, within the girl's growing knowledge, a plan began to form. The sorceress would leave to sell her harvest, leaving the girl alone with the monstrous plants. That was her opportunity.

As the pumpkins swelled to grotesque proportions, a silent tension stretched between girl and garden. Soon, it would be harvest time. And this time, the girl wouldn't just watch; she would act.

Spring equinox had arrived, its cold breath carrying an unwelcome familiarity for the girl trapped within the tower. This year, however, held a glimmer of hope. Hidden amongst the dusty grimoires and forbidden scrolls, she'd deciphered the secrets of the moon and stars, learning to anticipate the sorceress's arrival to steal another three years of her youth.

The night before, under the watchful gaze of constellations, she'd whispered a desperate plea to the heavens – a yearning for escape, a prayer for freedom. As dawn painted the sky, the sorceress emerged, her youthful facade masking a predatory gleam in her eyes. The girl braced herself, but before the ritual could begin, an unexpected sound echoed through the tower – a man's voice resonating from the overgrown garden.

Curiosity warring with caution, the sorceress rushed downstairs, drawn by the intrusion. The tower door, normally impenetrable, swung open to reveal a young knight, lost and searching. "I seek the lost princess," he declared, his voice echoing with genuine sincerity.

From her hidden perch, the girl's heart pounded in disbelief. Could her wish, uttered under the starlit sky, have manifested with such speed? A knight, a champion, had seemingly materialized to break her chains.

"Lost, are you?" the sorceress inquired, her voice laced with both suspicion and a tinge of fear. The knight, unaware of the danger he inadvertently courted, chuckled. "Aye, madam. But perhaps finding myself lost led me directly to your peculiar tower."

His declaration hung heavy in the air. The knight, unassuming and seemingly naive, had unknowingly breached the very spell that bound the girl captive. His words were a double-edged sword, revealing not just his quest, but also exposing the existence of a princess the sorceress had kept hidden for years.

The sorceress's facade faltered. Her ears rang with the weight of his unintended challenge. This "lost knight," no more than a squire, had inadvertently unraveled a significant thread in the intricate web she had woven. "So," she stammered, her voice tight, "you came not for the tower, but for the princess."

"Indeed, ma'am," the knight replied, unaware of the storm he had conjured. "Searching seemed tedious, so I thought I'd skip to the finding part."

"Too clever," the sorceress hissed, her amusement tinged with a dangerous edge. "Clever enough to stumble upon what you sought."

As if on cue, a voice crackled from above, shattering the illusion. "Run!" the princess cried, desperation echoing in her aged voice.

But the knight stood rooted, confused. He tilted his head to the source of the cry, his gaze landing on the wizened woman at the window. "Are you the mother of this… maiden?" he stammered, gesturing upwards.

"Mother?" the woman cackled, a dry, rasping sound that sent shivers down the knight's spine. "No, dear knight. Quite the opposite."

"Opposite?" the knight furrowed his brow, his bewilderment growing. "What… how can that be?"

The sorceress, radiating a chilling mirth, swept towards him, her youthful facade momentarily forgotten. "Indeed, you have found her," she purred, gesturing dramatically upwards. "But perhaps not in the way you expected."

A flicker of incredulity crossed the knight's face. "That woman… she's the princess?"

The sorceress's laughter exploded anew, echoing through the clearing like a chilling melody. "She is indeed royalty," she confirmed, wiping a tear from her eye. "A princess by blood, the Emperor's daughter herself."

The revelation struck the knight like a physical blow. He stumbled back, his spear clattering to the ground. In a blur of motion, he raised his sword, its tip trembling as he pointed it at the sorceress. But before he could react, a wave of unseen energy struck the blade, sending it flying across the clearing.

"Such a shame," the sorceress tut-tutted, her voice dripping with condescension. "So much potential wasted. Perhaps you could have learned something here, young squire. Learned what it truly means to be a knight."

The knight stared at her, his bravado replaced by a gnawing fear. "Knights only seek," she continued, her voice weaving a strange spell. "Seeking is their purpose, their lifeblood. Finding, however, is anathema. For what trophy, once acquired, can hold their interest? No, they crave the thrill of the hunt, the endless pursuit of the unknown. You, however, seemed to desire only the end, the capture. No seeking involved. Tell me, dear boy, are you truly a knight at all?"

The knight's gaze darted between the sorceress and the princess, his mind reeling.

The knight's spear hung frozen in the air, mirroring the paralysis gripping him. The sorceress, her confidence oozing like molten gold, took her time, scrutinizing his face like a map leading to buried treasure.

"Apologies," she murmured, inching closer, her voice laced with a deceptive sweetness. "You remind me of a young knight who once stole my heart, long ago."

The knight instinctively clutched his shield, the echo of her words sparking a flicker of fear. "Let her go!" he rasped, fury battling trepidation. "Even in her current form, she is the princess, daughter of the…"

But his outburst was abruptly muted. A snap of the sorceress's fingers sealed his lips shut, the air suddenly thick with unspoken urgency.

"Breathe through your nose," she purred, a hint of cruelty playing on her lips. "Unless you wish to add unconsciousness to your repertoire."

Panic choked the knight. He clawed at his mouth, struggling against the invisible clamp, his eyes wide with despair.

"If only my own knight had held his tongue all those years ago," the sorceress mused, a wistful tremor in her voice. "None of this would have unfolded."

With a rough yank, she seized him by the harness, dragging him towards the ominous silhouette of her pumpkin patch. "But then," she whispered, a dark thought slithering across her face, "how would I have nourished my darlings so efficiently?"

With a chilling laugh, she flung him into the heart of the vegetable garden. Thorny vines coiled around him, tendrils digging deep into his flesh, dragging him into the hungry earth. His struggles subsided, swallowed by the silence of the soil, leaving only his helm glinting defiantly under the sun, a silent testament to his tragic end.

The next day, the sorceress, her cart laden with bloated pumpkins, departed for the market. Meanwhile, the princess, imprisoned in her high tower, stood before the unforgiving mirror. The reflection staring back was a cruel caricature of her former self – a withered form trapped in a shell of age. What use was escape, she thought, if the world could only see the wrinkles and not the youthful spirit trapped within?

A single tear traced a path down the princess's cheek, a salty testament to the love she longed for, the freedom to love herself that remained just out of reach. Yet, amidst the despair, a glimmer of hope emerged. As she wandered the tower, lost in her grief, she inadvertently brushed past the enchanted door. And to her utter astonishment, it creaked open.

Disbelief battled with a surge of cautious hope. This door, once an immovable barrier, now yielded with a gentle push. Her fingers trembled as she grasped the handle, hesitant yet yearning. With a deep breath, she pushed it open, the world beyond bursting into her vision like a forgotten dream.

But her euphoria was short-lived. The sorceress's power loomed heavy, a constant threat waiting to snatch away her newly tasted freedom. Escape, she realized, wasn't enough. She needed to turn the tables, to bind the one who had bound her for so long.

A plan, fueled by defiance and a flicker of hope, began to take shape. When the sorceress returned from the market, buzzing with news of an upcoming Imperial Ball, the princess listened intently. The knight's mention had sparked a desire within the sorceress, a need to prove her superiority over the Empress.

"I want to see how the couple fares," the sorceress declared, tossing her earnings into a chest with a metallic clang. But attending the ball, she declared, came with one condition: a dress that outshone the Empress's, a garment that screamed her triumph. The image sent her into a fit of cackling glee.

"The perfect measurements," she announced, her voice laced with malicious amusement, "can only be found in the remote village of Old Wives, deep within the forgotten woods." A sly glance met the princess's eyes. "Surely you haven't heard of such a place."

A shiver ran down the princess's spine, but beneath the fear, a spark ignited.

"Raise the pumpkins, girl!" the sorceress bellowed from the garden. "I'm off again, selling the best to the farthest village - the land of Old Wives. They'll be tempted to give me the measurements!"

But the girl had a plan. Using a dark spell from an ancient book, she'd enchanted a mirror, binding it to the ropes used for hoisting pumpkins. This spell, whispered in forgotten tongues, promised to imprison whoever stood directly beneath it. Now, everything was ready. She waited, anticipation thrumming through her veins.

When the sorceress called again, the girl didn't move.

"What are you waiting for, girl?" the sorceress's voice crackled with impatience.

Still no response.

Exasperated, the sorceress snarled, "Do I have to do everything myself?"

She yanked on the ropes, pulling with all her might. Above, the princess pushed the enchanted mirror out the window, adrenaline surging through her.

"Why is it so heavy?" the sorceress grunted, straining every muscle. Then, with a final heave, the mirror plummeted down. The sorceress looked up, catching a glimpse of her youthful self before the glass shattered into a thousand pieces, raining down upon her.

Silence. No screams, no cackles, just the wind whispering through the leaves.

The girl lingered by the open door, ears straining for any sign of the sorceress. Only the soft whisper of wind through the trees answered. Tentatively, she stepped outside, the fresh air a revelation against the stale confines of the tower. Looking down, she saw the shattered mirror, its glittering shards scattered across the ground. As she leaned closer, a faint voice hissed from the fragments.

"I will haunt you forever!" the sorceress shrieked, her voice barely a whisper. "Every mirror, every reflection will show you my face!"

But the girl, far from fear, met the threat with a newfound defiance. "Better a witch trapped in cold glass than a warm breath on my neck," she declared, her voice ringing with newfound strength.

As the sorceress's impotent curses echoed from the shards, the princess, truly free for the first time, walked across the scattered pieces. A smile, genuine and joyous, bloomed on her face. Relief poured out of her in laughter, starting as a quiet chuckle and escalating into a full-blown cackle that echoed through the clearing.