Clark Gillian

The Enchanted Deer and the Dreams of the Fool


Chapter 29.
No man's land.

A dark cloud descended upon the Fool's village in the Land of Old Wives. Deputies from the scheming counselors, their faces grim, marched in, flags flapping and trumpets blaring. The absence of the Princess and the Fool, off on their mysterious journey, served their purpose well.

"Who owns the forest beyond your fence, the fields where your livestock graze?" a counselor boomed, his voice laced with authority.

The villagers, simple and trusting, explained their communal usage of the land for their animals and crops. They knew no other way.

"And who, then, can I buy this land from?" another counselor pressed, ignoring their answer.

"It's not for sale," the villagers replied, bewildered. "We all use it together."

This was precisely what the counselors craved. Huddling in the square with their mercenary guards, they hatched a plan. Their voices echoed through the village: "By the power of the Imperial Council, this land is now ours! Rejoice! Our brave mercenaries will protect you from bandits!"

The villagers, naive and relieved, cheered their supposed benefactors. Soon, the mercenaries and villagers, under the counselors' watchful eyes, began construction of a village house – built, ironically, from the very trees the Fool had brought with his enchanted deer.

Within the newly constructed town hall, a chilling truth unfolded. The counselors, under the guise of aiding the ravaged village, demanded a "special room" for their elusive pet – a veiled threat and a tangible reminder of their growing control. Blinded by relief at the village's restoration, the villagers complied.

Soon after, counselors from the City of Stars descended, their agenda cloaked in smiles and false concern. "Who owns the forest?" they inquired, their eyes gleaming with avarice.

The weaver's wife, unaware of their true motives, proudly spoke of the Tanner's son and the Enchanted Deer: "He has given us a vast paradise, even reaching the dark forest! Wood is abundant, thanks to the Fool's gift."

Father Tanner, echoing her sentiment, affirmed the truth. The counselors, their smiles betraying their intentions, posed another question: "But how will you provide for the council and their protection? Are your meager fields enough?"

The villagers, confused, countered with their reliance on the bountiful forest, its diverse wildlife sustaining them as it had always done. To further convince them, they offered a tour of this "magnificent garden."

The counselors, impressed by the forest's opulence, feigned further curiosity: "Why such generosity from the Enchanted Deer? This surpasses even the imperial gardens!"

A heavy silence fell upon the village. Shame tinged the air, a stark contrast to the vibrant forest beyond. Finally, the butcher's son and baker's son spoke, their voices filled with pride, "As children, we ventured with the Fool, searching for the Enchanted Deer. We dismissed it as a game, yet he found it! He is our hero, indeed."

Their joy failed to appease the counselors. "He attacked the City of Stars with a vile witch! Is that heroic?" they bellowed, their voices dripping with contempt.

Though the Fool's friends found this exploit impressive, they knew better than to voice their opinion. Yet, another villager dared to speak, "I hear rumors. Not an evil witch, but the lost princess, forced to learn magic to escape the sorceress and reunite with her parents."

Ignoring this statement, the counselors barked orders to the mercenaries, "Raze the surrounding forest! Leave no hiding places! Start searching where the Fool found the deer!"

Protests erupted from the villagers. "This is our home!" they cried.

But the counselors remained deaf, their voices rising again, "Search! Find the witch! Find the Fool! Do not return to the City of Stars without them!"

The very mercenaries promised to protect the village now turned their weapons against them, silencing their cries with cold steel.

A chilling whisper rippled through the village: "They're worse than the Witch ever was. She took one thing; they steal everything." As the counselors strutted out of the hall, a question lingered: what fate awaited the villagers?

The butcher's son and his friend, refusing to accept the counselors' cryptic response about the Fool's capture, decided to take matters into their own hands. Under the cloak of night, the baker's son kept watch outside while the butcher's son, nimble and silent, scaled the town hall's facade. Clinging unseen to the highest window, he peered into the council chamber.

Inside, the scene unfolded like a twisted tableau. The counselors, with self-important ceremony, hung a grand coat of arms, symbolizing their imperial rule. Toasts were made, goblets raised. But then, the butcher's son witnessed something that sent shivers down his spine.

A serpent, sinuous and emerald-green, descended from the coat of arms. Heads bowed, the counselors awaited its message. It slithered down, wrapping around their limbs, hissing secrets into their ears. They listened intently, faces grim, before clinking their goblets in a chilling pact.

"This… can't be true!" the butcher's son choked, a gasp escaping his lips. "The Fool, our hero, needs to know! He has to help us!"

But before he could act, a cold, forked tongue flicked out from the shadows. A second serpent, unnoticed till now, had infiltrated the room. With a swift strike, it sank its fangs into the butcher's son's neck, silencing his cry with a venom-laced hiss.

"Perhaps," the serpent rasped, its voice echoing through the chamber. "But for now, some secrets must remain buried."

A somber mood settled over the village as the butcher's son was laid to rest. Rituals and songs filled the air, punctuated by tearful whispers and shared grief. Thankfully, the Bard and the Knight of Spears arrived for the funeral, offering a glimmer of hope amidst the darkness.

As the villagers, voices laced with despair, inquired about the never-ending sadness and imposed changes, the Bard requested to see the deceased. The butcher's son lay in his final slumber, clothed in pristine white garments adorned with brilliant flowers. Yet, a horrifying discovery awaited them - a serpent's mark etched onto the young man's neck.

Following tradition, they buried him with a newly sprouted oak sapling, singing a mournful yet hopeful farewell:

"He walks now in the Eternal Garden of Mysteries," they sang, voices trembling."One with the earth that birthed him, one with the joy that nourishes the soul, one with the sun that fueled his life.""He is one with the purifying water, the air that gave him voice, the endless sky and its guiding stars."

But even as the earth settled over the grave, eyes turned with growing suspicion towards the coat of arms adorning the village hall - the crowned serpent, a chilling symbol of their oppressive reality. The weight of their loss intertwining with a newfound resolve.