Clark Gillian

The Enchanted Deer and the Dreams of the Fool


Chapter 26.
Names that fit the thing.

In the forgotten bowels of the colossal palace, the Princess and the Fool emerged from beneath a loosened tile, blinking away the dust. Moments ago, with a whispered spell from the Princess, they had shrunk themselves and the Cat King to a mere three inches tall, allowing them to navigate the palace's hidden network of cat-sized tunnels unseen.

The sight of the familiar grand hall brought tears to the Princess's eyes. "Home!" she exclaimed, her voice choked with emotion. "This is what I've dreamt of for so long, yearned for with every fiber of my being. It looks and feels exactly as I had dreamed... I can't believe I'm here."

The Fool, ever the pillar of strength, squeezed her shoulder reassuringly. "We did it," he said, his smile warm and unwavering.

"Now," purred the Cat King, stretching languidly, "let's reach the ballroom, unseen and unheard." With a feline grace that belied his regal stature, he offered his back as a mount.

The palace, once a vast and intimidating structure, had always been the Cat King's playground. He navigated its labyrinthine corridors with practiced ease, squeezing under tapestries as tall as village houses, scaling marble pillars with silent agility, and leaping across ornate balconies with the silent grace of a shadow. Every nook and cranny held no secrets for him.

The Fool, clinging to the Cat King's fur, marveled at the opulent surroundings. The tapestries, each depicting stories woven in threads of gold and silk, stretched higher than the houses in his village. He couldn't resist reaching out, his fingertips brushing against the intricate narratives frozen in time.

As they navigated deeper into the palace, the sounds of the distant ball grew louder, the faint hum of conversation and the rhythmic strains of music weaving through the air. Anticipation crackled in the atmosphere, urging them onward towards the heart of the celebration, where secrets waited to be unveiled and destinies intertwined.

The Cat King led them deeper into the palace, weaving between conversing counselors and guarded officials. Their hushed discussions and stacks of papers hinted at the weighty matters they handled.

"Behold," the Cat King purred, gesturing towards a painting. "The famed 'Green Painting'."

The Fool tilted his head, his tiny brow furrowed. The canvas gleamed a vibrant red, not a trace of green in sight.

"But... it's red," he pointed out, confused.

The Cat King chuckled. "Indeed, young friend. It used to be green, centuries ago. Alas, the fickle paint couldn't withstand the sun's touch, morphing over time until... well, you see the outcome. Yet, its name remains unchanged, clinging to a forgotten past."

The Fool frowned. "Why not call it what it truly is? Wouldn't 'Red Painting' make more sense?"

The Cat King winked. "Welcome to the counselors' world, little one. Here, you'll find names clinging to things they no longer represent."

Their path led them past a solemn procession of statues – valiant knights and noble heroines frozen in marble. Their lifelike forms sent shivers down the Fool's spine, convinced they might awaken at any moment. Above each statue stood a winged angel, a golden trumpet poised for a celestial announcement.

The Cat King, noticing the Fool's wide-eyed wonder, nudged him playfully. "Curious about history, are we?" he purred.

Each statue, in the Fool's newfound vision, pulsed with unspoken narratives. The Cat King, still basking in his fish fantasy, purred, "Your heart, young one, perceives far more than meets the eye. It discerns not just the form, but the soul behind it. Why something exists, the emotions woven into its creation. That, friend, is the true sight."

The Fool pondered these words, a quiet understanding blooming within him. "So... the heart remembers not just what is chosen, but also what is left behind."

"Aye," the Cat King confirmed, his rumble a low symphony. "And not just the spoken word, but the unsung melodies of the soul."

Before the Fool could respond, the Cat King cut him off, his excitement bubbling over. "And so much more! It grasps the intent behind each utterance, the silent whispers your lips refuse to form."

With each revelation, the statues shifted in the Fool's perception. No longer mere stone, they became conduits of the artist's spirit, their expressions echoing unspoken emotions. His gaze drifted upwards, seeking the meaning of the angels hovering above.

Suddenly, the heavy palace doors groaned open, spewing forth a flurry of agitated men. Angry voices filled the air as they rushed past, their urgency palpable. Amidst the chaos, a tall, dignified figure stood unflinching, radiating quiet composure.

"The... the Emperor," the Cat King whispered, his voice tinged with awe.

As if on cue, the Princess launched herself off the Cat King's back, her tiny form vanishing behind a gleaming marble pillar. Peeking cautiously, her heart pounded with a mixture of fear and anticipation. There, across the bustling hallway, stood her father, his face etched with lines she had only seen in dreams.

"Why isn't he at the ball?" she whispered to the Cat King, her voice barely a breath.

The scene before them crackled with tension. Men jostled and argued, their frantic gestures and raised voices painting a picture of urgent turmoil. One bellowed with outrage, another erupted in manic laughter, while a third interjected with indignant fury. The remaining figures stood mute, their curt nods and worried frowns hinting at a brewing crisis.

Despite the confusion, the Princess felt a powerful urge draw her forward. Unable to contain herself, she cried out, "Father!"

An abrupt silence descended upon the room, so sudden it felt deafening. The flustered men froze, their gazes darting towards the unseen voice.

"Who's there?" demanded a gruff guard, his hand instinctively reaching for his sword.

"Party-goers aren't allowed here!" barked another.

Ignoring their warnings, the Princess repeated her plea, her voice gaining strength. "Father!"

Chaos erupted. Shouts of "Magic!" and "The palace is invaded!" resonated through the hall. Counselors around the Emperor descended into panicked whispers, their faces drained of color.

But the Emperor stood firm, his calm demeanor a stark contrast to the surrounding frenzy. His gaze, sharp and unwavering, sliced through the discord, and his voice, a beacon of control, boomed, "Silence! Let her speak."

The Princess, momentarily stunned by the commotion, stood rooted to the spot. With a mixture of pride and apprehension, she met her father's gaze.

He spoke, his voice surprisingly gentle, "Tell me, child, whom do you claim as your father?"

Uncertainty washed over her. With dozens of watchful eyes upon her, each glinting with the cold steel of drawn swords, her voice faltered. She glanced at the Cat King, seeking guidance.

He nudged her affectionately with his head, his silent message clear: Speak your truth.

Taking a deep breath, the Princess met her father's eyes and, with newfound determination, declared, "My father is... you. You are my father."

Her words hung heavy in the air, igniting a wave of incredulous gasps and murmurs. Some counselors swayed as if faint, their faces contorted in a mix of shock and disbelief.

"My father." The single word hung heavy in the air, echoing through the stunned silence that enveloped the room.

All eyes darted towards the Emperor, his gaze fixed on the empty space where the voice originated. Panic and disbelief rippled through the advisors and commanders surrounding him.

"Impossible!" they exclaimed, their voices laced with fear. "She must be using magic! Do not trust her, Your Majesty!"

Their warnings fell on deaf ears. The Emperor, his demeanor calm yet resolute, silenced them with a single, authoritative gesture. "Show yourself," he commanded, his voice resonating with power.

Hesitation flickered across the Princess's face, but the Cat King's reassuring nudge spurred her forward. Together, they emerged from the shadows, bowing deeply before the astonished Emperor.

The Princess, gathering her courage, stepped forward. The silence in the hall was suffocating, broken only by the faint tremor in the Fool's hand, barely concealed by his excitement.

"But... why are you so small?" the Emperor finally uttered, his voice laced with bewilderment.

"It's just a spell," the Princess replied, her voice clear and steady. With a flourish, she spread her arms wide, spun three times, and snapped her fingers. A gust of wind swirled around her, followed by a flash of white light as she grew back to her full size.

Pandemonium erupted. "Magic!" the counselors shrieked, their faces pale with horror. "This is forbidden! She cannot be trusted!"

Swords were drawn, glinting menacingly as they were pointed at the Princess. Yet, she stood her ground, her eyes unwavering.

Undeterred by the chaos, the Emperor strode towards her, ignoring the frantic protests of his advisors. As he approached, he reached out and snatched a sword from a nearby guard. But instead of turning it on the Princess, as everyone expected, he used it to deliver a swift blow to the guard's stomach, sending him crumpling to the floor with a pained groan.

The clang of the sword hitting the marble floor echoed through the stunned silence. The Emperor stood tall, his eyes blazing with defiance. 

Witnessing the tearful reunion, a wave of understanding washed over the Fool. The undeniable resemblance etched in their faces confirmed it - the tall man was indeed the Princess's father. With tear-filled eyes, the Princess stood before him, the Cat King offering silent comfort by curling around her legs.

The Emperor, overcome with emotion, scooped the Cat King into his arms. "My loyal companion," he murmured, "to whom I entrusted my secrets, hopes, and regrets... surely you recognize her?" He confessed his own tears, his voice thick with love and relief.

Despite the drawn swords and spears encircling them, the Princess calmly snapped her fingers. Weapons clattered to the ground, paving the way for a heartfelt embrace between father and daughter. His words carried the weight of years of longing: "After all this time, you're... back! And even more incredible than I imagined."

Speechless with joy, the Princess felt an unfamiliar warmth blossom within her. The ache of loneliness that had shadowed her life was replaced by a profound sense of belonging. Holding her hand tightly, the Emperor announced, "Come, meet your mother!"

Their departure left the palace swirling in chaos. Shamefaced and furious, the counselors trailed behind the Emperor, attempting to engage him in hushed discussions. Some celebrated the reunion, while others grumbled with discontent. Their voices, however, fell on deaf ears.

Alone in the vast hall, the Fool remained, still tiny and unnoticed. "Wait!" he cried, his voice a mere squeak lost in the echoing hall. No one turned. The moment, filled with the promise of a new beginning, had swept him aside, leaving him small and insignificant.

The weight of abandonment settled on the Fool's shoulders like a heavy cloak. Leaning against a pillar, he closed his eyes, fatigue washing over him in waves. The journey, fraught with danger and excitement, had taken its toll.

"How can I find the rainbow gate when she's left me behind?" he murmured, a touch of bitterness lacing his voice. Exhausted, he drifted off to sleep.

In the quiet depths of his slumber, a curious transformation took place. He felt himself grow lighter, lighter than a dandelion seed carried on the breeze. A strange sensation of weightlessness filled him, followed by a gentle wind caressing his face. He was flying!

His eyes fluttered open to the sound of giggling, and a group of mischievous, brightly dressed elves greeted him with cheers.

"Surprise!" they chimed, their tiny voices filled with glee. "Don't sleep on the job, little one!"

"You'll miss out on all the fun!" another chirped, tugging playfully at his hair.

Confused, the Fool looked down. The castle hallways blurred beneath him as the elves, with surprising strength, whisked him through the air.

"Where are we going? What am I missing?" he cried out, the wind whipping through his hair.

"The fireworks! The fireworks!" the elves chorused, their laughter echoing through the halls.