Clark Gillian

The Enchanted Deer and the Dreams of the Fool


Chapter 13.
Come out, come out, whoever you are.

A stirring sensation tugged the Fool from the depths of sleep. Sunlight filtered through his eyelids, and as they fluttered open, he saw the Witch's form on the opposite peak, also blinking away slumber. She seemed just as disoriented as he felt, but the dream he couldn't quite grasp lingered at the edges of his mind. Had she dreamt the same?

When she fully roused, her gaze flickered towards him, not with the usual venom, but with a flicker of unease. She instinctively touched her side, where the gash had been, but found only smooth, unmarked skin. Healing, swift and complete.

The Fool, perched on his jagged perch, pondered their sudden ascension. How had they ended up atop these strange peaks?

Their eyes met, and a jolt of recognition passed between them. The Witch saw him, truly saw him, and the depth of that understanding sparked a mixture of confusion and fear in her eyes. It was a fleeting connection, a glimpse of humanity before she scrambled down the peak, her target clear: the dwarf and his unsuspecting horse.

"You!" she shrieked, her voice harsh. "Your horse. Hand it over."

Terror curdled the dwarf's blood. He screamed, digging his spurs into the horse's flanks, desperate to flee. But the Witch was faster. With a flick of her wrist, the reins whipped around the dwarf's arms like a serpent, tightening with chilling intent. The horse, startled, stumbled and crashed to the ground. The Witch's cackle echoed across the field, a sound laced with cruel pleasure.

"Perfect!" she gloated. "Stay put."

Seeing the unfolding scene, the Prince and his dwarven companions sprang into action, determined to aid their fallen comrade. 

But his pleas fell on deaf ears. The Witch raised her hands, dark claws against the sky, and began to weave her arcane tapestry. Murmurs of forgotten tongues slipped from her lips, coalescing into a thick, swirling mist that billowed from the ground. It climbed relentlessly, its tendrils creeping past their feet before anyone could comprehend what was happening.

Panic set in. The fog choked the air, blinding and disorienting. Stumbling figures tripped over their own feet, lost in the swirling grey veil. The terrified dwarf, still entangled with the fallen horse, let out a cry for help that dissolved into the suffocating mist.

"I'm here!" the Fool shouted, his voice barely audible above the chaos. "Follow my voice!"

But his words were muffled, swallowed by the swirling fog. The dwarf's desperate struggle intensified, his pleas for help turning into choked sobs.

From within the opaque curtain, the Witch's frustrated growl cut through the confusion. "Silence! Can't you see I'm suffering a splitting headache?"

She glided effortlessly through the mist, seemingly unaffected by its touch. Reaching the bound dwarf, she looked down with indifference. "Leave," she rasped, her voice devoid of its usual venom.

"I can't!" the dwarf whimpered, his voice trembling. "I'm trapped!"

The dwarf's desperate struggle tugged at something unexpected within the Witch. A strange urge, an unfamiliar warmth, flickered in her chest. She opened her mouth, intending a harsh command, but the words caught in her throat. "You... you..." she sputtered, the usual venom utterly absent.

The dwarf, convinced his fate was sealed, continued his mournful wail, tears streaming down his face. "Stuck... can't breathe... just wanted to see..." His voice trailed off into choked sobs.

The Witch wavered, the harsh retort dying on her lips. The dwarf's raw desperation, his simple desire to experience life beyond his monotonous tasks, somehow resonated with her. For the first time, she witnessed her reflection in his fear, a glimpse of a life devoid of adventure, devoid of connection.

Silence enveloped them, broken only by the dwarf's whimpers. The Witch stood transfixed, the fire in her eyes extinguished, replaced by something alien and unsettling.

Then, to the dwarf's utter astonishment, he felt a weight settle behind him. The horse, sensing the shift, shook its head and whinnied. The Witch, with surprising tenderness, unraveled the reins from his wrists. Taking a firm hold, she guided the horse forward, leading them both away from the swirling fog.

"We," she spoke, her voice barely a whisper, softer than he could have imagined, "we are going to be friends."

But their newfound peace was short-lived. The horse, perhaps spooked by the rising tension or the lingering echoes of the Witch's magic, reared back suddenly, throwing both riders off balance. The reins slipped from the Witch's grasp, and the dwarf tumbled backward, landing with a thud on the ground.

The Witch, momentarily stunned, scrambled to her feet. Her eyes flashed, the embers of her former cruelty reignited. 

A figure emerged from the swirling fog, their form obscured by the ethereal mist. A voice, deep and resonant, spoke into the silence.

"Someone once asked me," the voice boomed, "whether magic is real or not."

Across the field, perched on his flower-covered peak, the Fool felt a surge of warmth wash over him. "He's back!" he cried out, his voice filled with elation.

"Who's back?" the Prince called, struggling to climb the rocky peak with the dwarves in tow.

"The Bard! The Bard is back!" the Fool announced, his eyes glued to the figure in the fog.

"And what do you think you're doing?" the Witch shrieked, her anger cutting through the mist. "Get out of my way, you buffoon! I don't need these two anymore. Don't interfere!"

The Bard stepped forward, his voice calm but firm. "This is my concern," he said. "You've taken one of my companions."

"Your companions?" the Witch scoffed. "I'm liberating him, not kidnapping him!"

"And where are you headed with such haste?" the Bard inquired, his voice laced with an underlying challenge. "Surely not out on the open road without an invitation to the Emperor's ball?"

A hush fell over the scene. The Witch narrowed her eyes, momentarily speechless. "How do you know about the ball?" she finally rasped, a tremor of uncertainty creeping into her voice.

"It's no secret," the Bard replied with a knowing smile.

With a flourish, the Bard pulled a book from his coat pocket, the gleaming cover depicting the Enchanted Deer shimmering even through the mist. He hurled it towards the Witch, landing squarely at her feet. "Consider yourself fortunate," he called, his voice echoing through the clearing with unexpected authority. "For that very location is our shared destination!"

The Witch's disbelief warred with a flicker of hope. This infuriating bard seemed determined to both taunt and offer solutions. Briefly, she considered dismounting, asking how he proposed reaching the ball. But years of broken promises from countless men hardened her resolve.

"Predictable, aren't they?" she scoffed, her expression hardening. "Empty promises that only prolong my misery." With a flick of the reins, she urged her horse away, refusing to engage further.

But the Bard remained unfazed. From the swirling mist, his voice boomed, counting down with theatrical urgency: "Three... two... one!"

"What game is the Bard playing now?" the Prince muttered to the Fool.

The Fool, along with the dwarves, simply smiled. They knew, unlike the others, that the Bard never truly stopped playing.

"Come out, come out, whoever you are!" he declared, a playful glint in his eyes. And with that, he spurred his horse forward, emerging from the dissipating fog. With a graceful somersault, he flung contraptions from his pockets - intricate spheres of bronze adorned with cogs, wheels, and whirring screws. These devices, marvels of clockwork engineering, promptly devoured the remaining wisps of fog, clearing the air instantly.

The Witch, caught off guard and momentarily vulnerable, could only watch as the Bard and his fantastical devices dominated the scene. The question hung heavy in the air: would she choose confrontation or accept the unexpected offer, a path leading towards the very destination she craved? The story seemed to hold its breath, awaiting her decision.

The Witch, caught off guard by the Bard's swift action, barely reacted before she found herself entangled. His sling shot a contraption, not harmful but meticulously designed, and in a blink, her face was securely gagged, muffling any potential curses or spells. She landed unceremoniously among the flowers, frustration simmering beneath the fabric.

Curiously, as the Witch struggled, the Fool on his peak cried out, clutching his head with a groan that mirrored hers. A strange connection, a shared pain that sent shivers down the Prince's spine as he rushed to the Fool's side. "Gods above, what's wrong?" he exclaimed, fear lacing his voice.

Meanwhile, the Bard approached the subdued Witch, his movements measured and purposeful. With practiced ease, he bound her hands, his voice calm but firm. "Silencing a witch is the only way to silence their magic," he explained, a hint of regret softening his tone. "Forgive the unorthodox methods, but now that fortune has presented you to me, I cannot simply let you slip away."