Clark Gillian

The Enchanted Deer and the Dreams of the Fool


Chapter 14.
Hear what you want to hear, see what you want to see.

Through the muck and grime of the city streets, a creature slithered unseen. It navigated the murky depths of fountains, traversed the polished marble of the Imperial Capital with eerie grace. This sinuous being was no ordinary serpent; it was the outcast, the one who'd abandoned the fantastical realm of fairy paradise.

Unlike any serpent known, it possessed a singular ability: understanding the human tongue.

While humankind had forgotten the language of beasts, this serpent, through sheer will and time, had cracked the code of human speech. Now, it lurked in the shadows, a silent observer, a voyeur of humanity's vulnerabilities. Like all creatures attuned to nature's whispers, it sensed the moments when humans retreated inward, fleeing life's complexities. But unlike its animal kin, the serpent felt no sorrow, only cold, calculated understanding.

It had witnessed firsthand how humans, through their own choices, had become self-tamed, docile prey. Years of observation yielded more than just language comprehension; it had mastered the art of human manipulation.

"Learning their tongue is child's play," it would hiss to other creatures, who recoiled in disgust at its chosen existence amongst humans. "They crave validation, yearn for narratives that reaffirm their desires. Nothing like it in fairyland, I tell you!"

The other animals, their voices laced with horror, would plead, "But why, serpent? Why tame them?"

The serpent's response, invariably, was a chilling reply dripping with false sincerity. "But I help them, do I not? Offer them what they long for, is that not so?"

He whispered desires into their ears, veiled as their own, and watched as they toiled, constructing grand palaces and overflowing orchards to satisfy insatiable cravings they believed their own. The serpent played them like instruments, extracting power and comfort from their self-imposed servitude.

From its shadowy perch, it observed their every move, their dreams and ambitions laid bare before its cold, reptilian gaze. It knew their desires before they did, anticipating their wants and turning them into gilded cages, each opulent addition fueling its own influence.

But then came the blinding flash, a tear in the veil separating human and elven realms. For a fleeting moment, the serpent found itself exposed, its darkness stripped away. It glimpsed the other side, a primal reality where time moved differently, and came face-to-face with the majestic Enchanted Deer, embodiment of the wild heart that lay at the core of the forest.

"So you have been here all along," the Deer boomed, its voice resonating beyond the need for words. The serpent trembled, a primal fear stirring within its ancient scales.

Before the veil slammed shut, plunging the creature back into its comforting darkness, it hissed, "He knows. How terrible!"

The serpent knew, instinctively, the gravity of that brief exposure. It had seen not just the Deer, but the Witch and the Fool, merging into a singular entity, defying the boundaries that separated realms. It had witnessed untamed humans, a force it never considered possible.

"When the veil disappears," the serpent thought, slithering through the city's underbelly, "when the gate breaks... what will become of all I have built?"

A deep, unsettling sigh escaped its reptilian form. The game had changed, and the serpent, for the first time, felt a tremor of uncertainty slither through its cold blood. The humans, once predictable pawns, were awakening, and the consequences were as vast as the unknown realms beyond the shattered veil.

"And there's so much more to do!" the serpent hissed, its voice echoing through the fetid tunnels. "Palaces to rise, orchards to bloom, entire lives sculpted by my whispers!" It writhed with renewed purpose, scales catching the faint glints of light filtering down from the grates above. "There are still corners untouched, alleys unexplored, backrooms begging for my influence!"

With a sinuous surge, it propelled itself deeper into the muck, navigating the hidden waterways with practiced ease. Filth gave way to clearer streams, and soon, the serpent emerged from a hidden crevice within one of the Imperial Palace gardens, its scales glistening in the dappled sunlight.

"Time is of the essence," it muttered, urgency lacing its reptilian voice. "I must weave my whispers where they hold the most sway, influence the minds that shape this human hive."


"Your Excellency," a footman announced, his voice cutting through the flurry of parchment covering the Count's desk. "There's been an attack at the Countess's flower field."

The Count, engrossed in blueprints for yet another opulent castle, looked up with a frown. "An attack? What in the world?"

"Indeed, sir," the footman continued, his tone measured. "A large explosion ripped through the field, light visible leagues away. The Alchemist, you know, the one who creates the Countess's perfumes..."

"And concocts ingenious new weapons for me," the Count interjected, a touch of pride coloring his voice. "Don't underestimate his talents. He's proven most valuable to our House."

"...and invents weapons for you," the footman continued imperturbably, "was at his research tower during the attack. It seems highly likely he was the target."

The Count's brow furrowed. "An attack on my Alchemist? Who in blazes would dare..." His voice trailed off, the audacity of the act sinking in.

The footman, his expression unreadable, waited for the gravity of the situation to settle. "Your orders, Excellency?"

The Count rubbed his temples, frustration etched on his face. "Isn't it enough that one of my construction sites has been swallowed whole by some aberrant forest magic?"

The footman offered a slight nod. "And your own flower field is under siege..." he murmured, leaving the unspoken implications hanging heavy in the air.

The silence stretched after the footman's words, heavy with unspoken implications. "Shall I leave you to ponder this grave matter, Your Excellency?" he asked, his tone neutral, masking any deeper meaning.

The Count, face flushed red with a mixture of anger and unease, barked his response. "No! Send my cavalry, the swiftest riders we have. I want a full report as soon as they lay eyes on that blasted field. Now!"

"At once, Your Excellency," the footman replied with a sharp snap of his fingers. From the silent figures flanking him, two darted towards the barracks, another vanished into the dovecote, and the last hurried towards the Countess's chambers.

"Madame Countess," the lone footman announced, his voice laden with urgency, "there has been an attack on the flower fields. Your perfumer..." he hesitated, the weight of the news hanging heavy in the air.

The Countess and her embroidering ladies looked up, startled. "An attack on my perfumer?" she echoed, her voice laced with disbelief.

"Indeed, Your Excellency," the footman confirmed, his expression grave. Gasps rippled through the room, needles pricking fingers as delicate hands froze in mid-stitch.

"But that's akin to an attack on me!" the Countess declared, her face crumpling in a mixture of shock and fury. "Who would dare-"

"The motive remains unclear, Your Excellency," the footman interrupted, his voice steady but carrying a subtle edge.

A tense silence descended upon the room, the unfinished embroidery abandoned like fallen soldiers. The Countess's eyes darted nervously between her attendants, seeking answers in their bewildered expressions. "Could it be..." she began, her voice barely a whisper, "...the Queen of Spears?"

A chorus of dismissive "impossibles" rose from the chambermaids, but their quick dismissal lacked conviction. The Queen, a name whispered with fear and respect, loomed like a dark cloud on the horizon. Could this be the opening salvo in a brewing conflict?

The footman stood impassively, his face an unreadable mask.

The chambermaids' murmurs of disbelief echoed in the tense silence that followed the Countess's accusation. "But the Queen of Spears..." some began, their voices laced with fear and disbelief. "A woman known for her wisdom and justice..."

The Countess, pacing restlessly before the stained glass window emblazoned with the Count's coat of arms, cut them off. "Her son," she spat, bitterness lacing her words. "Sent to court her daughter, promised in marriage. Yet, he never arrived."

"Missing," the chambermaids breathed in unison, a collective gasp escaping their lips.

The footman, ever stoic, lowered his gaze to the floor as protocol dictated. But a flicker of something unreadable crossed his features before it was masked once more.

"Could that be it?" one of the bolder maids dared to whisper.

The Countess stopped her pacing, her trembling hands betraying the fear masked by her bravado. "I don't know," she admitted, her voice barely above a whisper. "But who else has the power, the audacity, to attack me in my own domain? My flower field, no less! It screams of her doing. As if..." her voice dropped to an even lower register, "...we are to blame for her missing son."

"But surely, Your Excellency," the footman intervened, his voice calm but firm, "we, a count and his countess, cannot be held responsible for a prince's actions. They are of royal blood. It was their duty to ensure his safety. This young prince, some say, was known for his recklessness. Perhaps he..."

The Countess shot him a withering glare. The audacity of this mere footman to remind her of her station, as if the pain of the attack wasn't enough!

"What of the Count's decision?" she demanded, her voice regaining its sharpness.

"The cavalry has been dispatched to investigate," the footman replied, his expression unreadable.

The Countess stood tall, her back straightening with newfound resolve. "Prepare my hunting attire, girls," she commanded, her gaze sweeping over her attendants. "And you, footman," she fixed him with a steely glare, "saddle my horse. I ride with them."

The chambermaids scurried to obey, their faces filled with trepidation yet admiration for their mistress's courage. The footman bowed his head slightly, a hint of something akin to amusement lurking in his eyes. The Countess, riding out with the cavalry, was a sight rarely seen, but in this time of turmoil, perhaps unconventional action was precisely what was needed.

"At once, Your Excellency," the footman replied with a bow, his eyes glinting with something unreadable. The Countess's love for the hunt was no secret, so her decision to join the cavalry caused little surprise. Her stallion, swift as the wind, outpaced the others, reaching the ravaged flower fields just as the sun dipped below the horizon. The remaining riders wouldn't arrive until darkness swallowed the land.

She dismounted, expertly tethering her mount to the research tower's entrance. With practiced ease, she ascended the creaking stairs, each step crunching on scattered shards of glass. The top floor awaited her, bathed in the flickering light of a single candle. There, slumped in his familiar chair, sat the Alchemist. She had seen him countless times in that pose, deep in contemplation, seeking answers in the swirling smoke of his concoctions.

"Alchemist!" she cried, her voice echoing in the stillness. "What has transpired? Are you hurt?"

He turned, his face pale and drawn, startled by her sudden arrival. "Countess?" he croaked, his voice hoarse.

"It is I," she confirmed, her eyes scanning the room. The air hung heavy with the acrid scent of burnt chemicals, and the floor was littered with shattered vials and strange contraptions. Panic clawed at her throat. "Were you attacked? Did someone harm you?"

"No attack, Your Excellency," he rasped, his voice devoid of its usual vigor. "But I am far from well."

"Explain, Alchemist," she commanded, her voice laced with urgency. "What horrors have unfolded here?"

He met her gaze, his eyes filled with a deep sadness. "It's... I succeeded," he confessed, his voice barely a whisper. "If only I knew how I did it..."

The Countess's heart hammered against her ribs as she awaited the answer. "What are you talking about, Alchemist?" she demanded, her voice barely a whisper.

He gestured towards a dish resting on the central worktable. With cautious steps, she approached it, her eyes fixated on the object within. Tentatively, she lifted it, its weight heavier than expected. In her hands, gold glinted under the flickering candlelight, its beauty breathtaking.

Years of shared research, countless experiments funded by her and the Count, all culminates in this? The dream of alchemy realized, lead transformed into shimmering perfection. A triumphant laugh rose in her throat, but it died before escaping her lips.

"But how?" she breathed, her gaze flickering back to the Alchemist. "How did you achieve this?"

He ran a hand through his disheveled hair, worry etched on his face. "That's the very question that plagues me. I was calibrating the heat, balancing the chilling agents... then, a blinding flash! I woke up sprawled on the floor, my apparatus shattered... and this..." he gestured weakly to the golden disc.

The Countess held it tighter, a chill creeping down her spine. "No attack, then," she murmured, realization dawning. "This... this was your doing."

"So it seems," the Alchemist agreed, his voice heavy. "But then I looked outside..."

His words trailed off, prompting the Countess to peek out the window. Below, the cavalry had arrived, their torches casting an eerie glow on the scene of devastation. At the center of the ravaged flower field lay a massive crater, its edges smoldering ominously.

The arrival of the cavalrymen marked a grim shift in the scene. Their torches illuminated the crater's monstrous maw, its edges still smoldering but the interior strangely untouched. An unsettling sight met their eyes: within the devastation, the flowers thrived. Instead of lying flattened like their fallen brethren, they stood tall, vibrant, some even larger and more robust than before. Only the ground trampled by the horses bore the usual scars of their passage.

"What sorcery is this?" the Countess exclaimed, her voice laced with a mixture of awe and unease.

The Alchemist, peering over her shoulder at the crater with a vacant expression, mumbled, "A witch's doing. What she did... she was the key."

His words sent a shiver down the Countess's spine. A witch? Could these be the Queen of Spears' machinations, a dark spell cast against her? The Alchemist, lost in his own confused haze, slumped back into his chair, offering no further explanation.

Her unease festered. "Where is this witch now?" she demanded, her voice sharp with urgency.

Heaving a heavy sigh, the Alchemist muttered, "My son captured her before I could intervene. He's taking her... to the capital, to the Emperor himself."