Clark Gillian

The Enchanted Deer and the Dreams of the Fool


Chapter 22.

The House of Spears swept into the City of Stars, drawing cheers from the city walls. Knights, flag-bearers, and royal carriages shimmered in the sunlight, a spectacle the awestruck citizens eagerly embraced. As the procession reached the Imperial Palace, names of the king and queen echoed through the crowd, held back by determined city guards.

"Such pushy city folk," remarked the Queen of Spears to her husband.

"They welcome us," the king countered softly.

"That too," the queen murmured, a shadow crossing her face.

For the Empress's ball, the city was resplendent. Flags danced, pennants fluttered, flowers bloomed, and decorations wove through the streets like vibrant threads. Yet, the Queen and King of Spears remained shrouded in black. Two sons, two losses. One, who vanished within these very palace walls, and the other, on a misguided quest to find a missing princess.

The queen clutched a white dove's feather, its message a fragile hope nestled in her palm. She couldn't help but think: if the Emperor's daughter hadn't been lost, would her son have embarked on his perilous quest? And if their elder son had been better protected, would he have fled? Grief gnawed at her, heavy and silent.

The stark black of the Queen and King of Spears stood out like a shadow against the opulent splendor of the Empress' sitting room. Both couples bowed deeply, a formality steeped in unspoken tension. The Queen of Cups, her face an unyielding mask, gestured for her servants to present their gifts.

"Such generosity is unnecessary," the Empress murmured, her voice laced with veiled skepticism.

"Yet, it brings me pleasure to offer joy to my fellow monarchs," the Queen of Cups countered, her voice devoid of warmth.

The Emperor smiled warmly. "If it brings you pleasure, Queen, we are content." 

The servants unveiled the gifts on crimson-draped tables. Exquisite glassware shimmered in a spectrum of colors, each piece intricately detailed as if woven from light.

The Emperor's eyes narrowed.

"Wine would sing within these," he acknowledged, his voice betraying a flicker of genuine intrigue.

The Queen and King of Spears bowed once more, their faces unreadable. "It is our honor to present you with this glass," the Queen offered, her words carrying a subtle weight.

The Queen's gaze, unwavering, ignored the Empress's murmur of "Is that right?" Glass, as she began, her voice a low hum, was "a humble material, not inherently valuable."

The King of Spears, a knowing glint in his eye, offered a silent nod. The Emperor and Empress, their expressions a tapestry of curiosity and unease, leaned closer.

"But in the hands of a skilled artisan," the Queen continued, her words gaining weight, "it transforms. Fire, the fiercest, hottest fire, ignites its hidden potential. Colors dance, shapes morph, each breath of the blower sculpting its destiny."

The Emperor, captivated, breathed, "Magnificent."

"Yet," the Queen's voice dropped to a hushed whisper, "only when the flames relinquish their hold, only when the glass cools entirely, is its true form unveiled. The hidden becomes visible, the potential, realized."

Silence stretched, heavy and laden. The Queen, her gaze meeting the Empress's, held a subtle challenge. "Isn't life, Your Majesty, the same?"

The Emperor, stroking his chin, felt a spark of understanding ignite within.

The Queen's pronouncement, like embers fading after a fierce blaze, settled into a heavy silence. Each monarch, adrift in their own churning thoughts, saw glimpses of themselves reflected in the glass's multifaceted depths. The Emperor, perhaps, saw mirrored the specter of conflict simmering between kingdoms, the Empress a reflection of a cherished life irrevocably shattered, while the King and Queen undoubtedly bore the ghostly visages of their lost sons. The weight of unspoken truths hung thick in the air, daring any of them to break the spell.

Finally, the Empress's voice, a silken thread laced with both gratitude and veiled ambiguity, sliced through the stillness. "No other kingdom," she murmured, her gaze lingering on the Queen, "cherishes the art of creation quite like the Spears. This gift is exquisite, truly."

The king and queen bowed again deeply. The Empress instructed her lackeys to place the glassware in a suitable place in the palace.

As they came to collect the glassware from the tables, the Queen of Spears added:

“Careful. It’s fragile.”


If only the Queen knew that less than twenty-five feet below the polished marble and glittering tapestries, their son, the Prince of Spears, languished in a cold, damp cell. As fate would have it, the two guards responsible for the recent pigeon incident were assigned to watch him later that day. Deemed unfit for the festivities due to their "overreaction," they found themselves relegated to dungeon duty. Of course, their "overreaction" involved shooting down a messenger dove for suspected poisoning, much to the horror of the Queens of Cups and Spears.

Now, it so happened that while brooding in his dank confinement, the Prince overheard these two bumbling guards grumbling about their lot. They wished they were guarding against actual threats like "dangerous witches," unaware that the Emperor had already deployed hundreds for that very purpose. Naturally, they couldn't possibly know the dove wasn't actually poisoned. Though he couldn't glean much else, the word "witch" resonated in the Prince's mind. He decided to test the waters, perhaps manipulate them to his advantage.

"You can't be sure a pigeon's poisonous until you shoot it, can you?" he challenged, his voice laced with feigned nonchalance.

"Exactly what I said!" exclaimed the clumsy guard, a hint of validation washing over him. "See, someone else gets it!"

"Shut your mouth and stop talking to the prisoner!" snapped the other, clearly irritated. "You know the rules!"

"Sorry, mate," mumbled the clumsy one, but a triumphant smirk lingered on his face. "Proves I ain't the only one thinks that way, though!"

"I don't care what you think!" retorted the other, frustration evident in his voice. "Especially if it keeps getting us into trouble! Just... stop it!"

"Stop thinking?" The clumsy guard chuckled, but quickly clamped his mouth shut under his companion's stern glare.

Hearing this, the guard tried to remain silent, but he wouldn't be held down for long. "My candy, see," muttered the one guard, "ended up hidden under my bed sheet, not in my pillow like always."

"You are beyond belief," said the other guard, rolling his eyes. "Now listen, I actually believe it now. I truly do believe you're a complete and utter idiot of a man. Why I'm condemned to spend my days with you, I don't know."

"Condemned?! You should be proud to be standing with someone who saved the Empress from a possible poisoned pigeon!" retorted the first guard.

"Poisoned pigeons? Don't be ridiculous!"

"Believe what you want," the first guard shrugged. "I'm fulfilling my duty by doing whatever I need to do to protect the Emperor and his family."

"Do you think you are protecting the Emperor and Empress by locking me up here?" the Prince now challenged, his voice echoing in the damp cell.

"Shut up and spare me your stories, you scum!" yelled the second guard.

But the first guard, curiosity gnawing at him, leaned closer. "What do you mean?"

"Silence!" roared the other guard.

"I am a Knight of Spears," the Prince declared, his voice firm despite the oppressive darkness. "Before I was unjustly thrown into this dungeon, I was on the verge of stopping a Witch from entering the Emperor's ball!"

"Did you hear that?" whispered the first guard to his companion.

"Trusting a prisoner's word?" scoffed the second. "And if you're truly a Knight, where's your spear? Why aren't you at the ball?"

"Taken from me at the Blue Gate," the Prince replied.

The first guard chuckled, but the second's face remained grim. "If his story's true, and we did nothing... what do you think the Emperor will do when he realizes we could have warned him? That'll be the last straw, won't it? He'll throw us in these very dungeons himself!"

"Not much worse off than we are now, that's for sure," muttered the other guard.

Another heavy silence descended upon the damp cell. One guard refused to entertain the Prince's claims, while the other couldn't shake them off.

"Suppose, for a moment," the first guard finally offered, "that you truly are the Prince. How could you possibly prove it to us?"

"Sadly, I cannot," the Prince admitted. "My word is all I have."

"The word of a prisoner?" scoffed the second guard. "Do you take us for fools? For all we know, you're just some sorcerer masquerading as royalty. I've seen my fair share of shape-shifters, and a creepy bunch they are."

"Magic is beyond me," the Prince replied curtly. "But the Witch, on the other hand, wields some of the most potent magic I've ever encountered. And she's headed here as we speak. That's why I needed to pass through the gate – to stop her, or at least warn everyone! Don't you see? Instead of wasting your time guarding me, you should be scouting the city walls for her!"

The chilling silence returned, broken only by the echoing drip of water somewhere in the darkness. Then, abruptly, the second guard burst into laughter.

"What if he's telling the truth?" the first guard pleaded, hope flickering in his voice.

"Doesn't matter! He's a prisoner, and you're a guard. Your job is simple: keep him locked up. Don't concern yourself with knightly titles or not. That's not your duty."

The disappointment in the first guard's eyes was palpable. "Have you no respect for your oath as a city guard? We swear to protect the Emperor and Empress from all threats, especially witches!"

He turned to the Prince, his voice low but determined. "Can you offer any proof, any shred of evidence to substantiate your claim of being the Knight of Spears?"

The Knight, desperation lacing his voice, slid towards the bars. "My parents, the King and Queen of Spears," he declared, "would recognize me by my voice alone! Keep me chained, cover my head, take me before them. My words will prove my identity, no need to even remove the shackles."

The guards eyed each other, the proposal hanging heavy in the air.

"That would settle it, wouldn't it?" one murmured, a flicker of hesitant hope in his eyes.

"But if the officer catches wind of it..." the other countered, his voice tight with fear, "it's our heads."

"Only if he catches wind of it," the first guard countered, a steely glint in his eyes. With a swift movement, he snatched the keys from his companion's grasp, who could only offer a helpless roll of his eyes.


The Fool watched the Princess's hair flutter in the breeze, her back turned to him as she sat peacefully in the boat. A heavy, oppressive silence pressed down on them as they glided across the aqueduct.

"Don't you yearn to see what lies beyond the rainbow gate?" he'd asked her earlier in the cave.

Her voice trembled as she replied, "Am I… part of you? Made from you?"

"You don't belong to anyone," he murmured. "You are… me. And I'm you. We are each other's… missing pieces. We are both… parts of one another."

The Princess gazed at the aqueduct stretching towards the imposing City of Stars, its towering walls a stark contrast to their open-air journey.

"I only want..." she started, her voice barely a whisper, "I only want to be myself."

She turned to him, and he saw a change in him too. He seemed stronger, more resolute, driven by a purpose she couldn't fathom.

"I don't want to lose who I am when I'm with you," she continued, her voice gaining strength.

The Fool nodded slowly, understanding glimmering in his eyes.

"I only want to help you," he said, his voice firm yet gentle. "I don't want to take anything away. I just want us… to be whole."

The Princess glanced back at the Imperial capital bathed in the golden morning light. It represented her destination, her escape, the completion of her own story. A fierce determination settled in her gaze.


The King of Coins fidgeted in his plush seat, a jittery excitement thrumming beneath his royal façade. Whispers in the darkness had fueled a fiery ambition within him, an insatiable hunger for expansion. He couldn't wait to unleash his grand vision, to manipulate his vast wealth into an even more colossal empire, ready to be traded, bartered, or hoarded.

With a practiced smile, he launched his proposal. "Your Majesty," he began, his voice tinged with urgency, "your kingdom flourishes like no other. But why not extend that prosperity to others? My system, built on the unyielding value of coin, can be the key."

The Emperor, a pillar of calm amidst the King's nervous energy, stroked his beard thoughtfully. "Growth is indeed commendable," he conceded, "but why do you believe these foreign lands will embrace your methods so readily?"

The King bristled, a flicker of impatience sparking in his eyes. "Because, Your Majesty," he retorted, his voice tight with conviction, "a coin cares not for king or pauper. It serves those who use it."

"And those who make it, wouldn't you say?" countered the Emperor, his gaze sharp.

The King scoffed, the tedious detail grating on him. "Naturally, coin creation is our expertise," he conceded grudgingly. "Until minted, however, their potential remains dormant. That, your Majesty, is where our mastery lies."

The Emperor studied the King, his keen eyes probing the man's barely concealed nervousness. "The power of a coin hinges on trust, wouldn't you agree?" he said, his voice a gentle prod. The King, ever eager to dismiss dissent, fidgeted in his seat, his smile strained.

"I fail to see the connection," he muttered, forcing a chuckle. "Once established as the official currency, their worth transcends mere belief. It becomes law."

The Emperor's lips curved into a knowing smile. "You share more with the High Priest than you realize, King."

The King's face contorted, the forced smile cracking under the Emperor's scrutiny. "Such comparisons escape me," he said stiffly. "Let's just say," he continued, his voice hardening, "if coin becomes the official law, faith becomes irrelevant."

The Emperor gazed into the King of Coins' trembling eyes, his gaze piercing the veil of composure to glimpse the storm raging within. "Such a fervent urge to build," the Emperor remarked, his voice a low rumble. "You weren't always consumed by this ambition."

The King, startled by the Emperor's sharp observation, stammered, "No? How not, Your Majesty?"

"No," the Emperor repeated, his tone firm yet laced with a hint of nostalgia. "What captivated me about your kingdom was the lifeblood of your economy: coins flowing freely, hand to hand, across borders. They nourished lives, smoothed transactions, and kept trade alive."

"And they still do, Your Majesty," the King insisted, his voice laced with defensiveness.

The Emperor paused, taking a deliberate sip from the jeweled goblet offered by the Queen of Spears. The King mimicked the gesture, his hand betraying a slight tremor as he brought the goblet to his lips.

"However," the Emperor continued, his eyes narrowing, "I've noticed a troubling shift. The coins seem to stagnate, accumulating in ever-larger… vaults. They no longer dance through hands and lands, but gather dust in hidden chambers. The lifeblood becomes the sole obsession, stifling the very life it once sustained."

The King carefully placed his goblet on the table, his fingers trembling more noticeably. "I haven't been privy to the letters you've received, Your Majesty," he said, his voice strained. "But great works are being built in my kingdom! When you grace us with your presence again, I'll unveil magnificent streets and towering palaces – testaments to our prosperity!"

"All built upon foundations of treasure chests and coin-laden vaults," the Emperor countered, his voice heavy with meaning.

The King squared his shoulders, his tone hardening. "As it has always been, Your Majesty."

"Palaces and castles may be erected with gold," the Emperor replied, his gaze unwavering, "but they cannot be sustained solely on wealth locked away. Remember, King, true prosperity is a thing shared, not locked away."

The Emperor leaned forward, his gaze cutting through the King's facade. "Indeed," he said, his voice low and measured. "Let us indulge in a thought experiment, my King. Imagine these coins, spilling like rivers from the hands of craftsmen and traders, flowing not into markets but into vaults... endless, echoing chambers hoarding wealth instead of nurturing life."

The King recoiled, the metaphor striking a raw nerve. "A ghost town?" he blurted, his voice laced with disbelief.

"Precisely," the Emperor nodded, a knowing glint in his eye. "A city of magnificent palaces and towering castles, devoid of souls, echoing only with the footsteps of unseen owners."

A strange calm settled over the King. "That doesn't sound wrong," he mused, his voice devoid of its usual fervor.

The Emperor studied him, a silent understanding passing between them. He raised his goblet, the glint of jewels catching the firelight. "Long live the Empire," he declared, his voice a solemn reminder of their shared oath.

The King met his gaze, a tremor running through his hand as he raised his own glass. His voice, barely a whisper, echoed in the vast chamber, "Long live the Empire..."