Clark Gillian

The Enchanted Deer and the Dreams of the Fool


Chapter 8.

"Impossible! A forest materialize out of thin air? Never in recorded castle history!" Planners screeched, capturing and binding the hapless Fool abandoned by the vanished elven horde.

"Impossible? Look for yourselves! Real, they are. Touch the bark," Worker 235 countered, hands running over rough trunks and grasping thick roots.

"Silence, you insolent clod!" roared the Planners.

Their anger stemmed from the very real destruction before them, a testament to the undeniable existence of the trees.

Meanwhile, the Witch, disguised as a stunning magpie perched on the Fool's shoulder, observed the chaos the fairies had wrought.

"Silence! Since your arrival, only trouble follows! What use is a Fool like you?" the Planners bellowed at Worker 235.

"Sometimes things don't go according to plan," the Fool retorted, cuffed and bound to a pole. "Is this really a reason to tie me up?"

"Expert on proper imprisonment, are we?" the magpie whispered, voice laced with amusement.

Surprise flickered across the Fool's face as he glanced at his shoulder. "Witch?" he whispered, incredulous.

In response, a delighted cackle filled the air as the magpie took flight.

"No reason to tie you up?" the Planners screeched, their shock morphing into horrified gurgling. "You've decimated the entire castle! And in its place, a towering monstrosity of foliage offers us zero strategic advantage!"

"What deer monster curse did you unleash upon us?" they spat at the Fool.

"Me?" he stammered. "No! It was all an accident, I swear!"

"Accidentally?" the Planners echoed, disbelief lacing their voices.

"Completely," the Fool insisted, bewildered by the accusation. "I'd never laid eyes on an elf before, and then suddenly, they were there."

"And these magically gifted beings just decided to whisk you away on their backs?" they countered, suspicion coloring their tone. "Who even are you?"

Young Worker 235 perked up at the question.

Just then, a booming voice sliced through the chaos. "He is my squire!" the Prince declared, effortlessly navigating the floral debris that littered the former courtyard. With a single, fluid motion, he dismounted his horse.

"Release him at once!" he commanded, his voice leaving no room for debate.

Recognizing the unmistakable glint of royalty etched in the intricate symbols adorning his armor and the opulent decorations of his saddle, the Planners bowed low, their backs straining under the weight of their forced reverence.

Mortification colored the Planners' coughs as they sputtered, "Your Highness!"

With purposeful strides, the Prince reached the Fool and severed his bindings with a swift swipe of his sword. "Explain yourself," he commanded, his tone leaving no room for ambiguity.

"A thousand apologies, Your Highness! We were unaware this young villager belonged to the royal house of Spears."

"That insufferable royal pest!" grumbled the Witch to herself, choosing a new branch for a better view. "Always ruining a good time."

"However, Your Highness," the Planners continued, their voices dripping with feigned sadness, "our meticulously crafted plans, devised in cooperation with the esteemed Count, are now, I'm afraid, utterly ruined."

"Which Count is this?" inquired the Prince.

"We serve under the banner of the King of Coins, with orders and protection granted by the Count of the Proud Flower City."

The Witch's wings fluttered excitedly, drawn to the mention of the Count. "Isn't everyone aware of the Count's recent obsession with cold stone castles? Let him build them within his precious city walls!"

"Hear, hear!" echoed the Fool. "Perhaps the elves even did you a favor, finishing your castle in a single night! Look around! It's breathtaking! Everything's immaculate, truly magnificent!"

"Magnificent?!" shrieked the Planners. "Do you consider it magnificent that the workers, drawn here by our plans to provide for themselves and their families, are now jobless? Do you find it magnificent that they face starvation?"

"If the plan is the issue," interjected Worker 235, "make a new one! We have a unique castle now, half-stone, half-wood, unlike any other!"

Meanwhile, the Witch alighted within the tent, papers scattered chaotically around her. "It must be here," she muttered, her gaze raking over the Count's documents.

Back outside, the Planners' sneers turned venomous as they addressed the young worker. "Why should we heed your words, boy? You're a greenhorn, unproven and untested. Nothing but a good-for-nothing!"

The youth remained silent, yet his fellow builders offered him silent encouragement through reassuring touches on his shoulder. Everyone present recognized the Planners' unnecessary cruelty, a habit honed through years of castle construction and the meticulous planning that underpinned it.

"Is this the standard practice in the Kingdom of Coins?" the Prince bellowed, his voice laced with disgust. "Shameful! An appalling display!"

"With all due respect, Your Highness," the Planners retorted, their tone shifting to polite defiance, "you lack understanding of our labor. Without discipline, we cannot deliver the results expected – results owed to our castle lord, of course. Our service is to him, above all."

"A service you seem to relish excessively," the Prince observed, a hint of mockery in his voice.

"Naturally," they bowed in unison, "as humble servants, we strive to excel."

"I believe I understand your 'humility' quite well," the Prince countered, a sardonic smile playing on his lips. "There's nothing humble about claiming humility."

He placed a hand on the Fool's shoulder, silently returning his knapsack retrieved from the horse's saddle.

"And this, I presume, is how Spearish princes conduct themselves?" the Planners inquired, their voices dripping with sarcasm. "Impulsive and belligerent, yet prone to flight?"

"Flight?" the Prince chuckled, disbelief coloring his tone. The workers hesitated, unsure if they were permitted to join in his amusement.

"Flee from what? A brawl? How could a knight engage in a fight with a gaggle of bloated frogs like yourselves?"

Fear-tinged laughter rippled through the castle builders. Even without drawing his sword, the Prince exuded an undeniable mastery of swordsmanship. The Planners darted nervous glances around them, realizing their builders were unlikely to fight on their behalf.

When the Prince's laughter subsided, he added, "Your lies are so polished, you even believe them yourselves. It's comical, really. All these supposedly meticulous plans for every eventuality... yet no contingency for when things go awry?"

"Because..." they stammered, their voices thin and unsure.


Desperate for an answer, they exchanged panicked glances. The builders' eyes narrowed with growing suspicion. For mere promises and convoluted schemes, they had toiled under insults and harsh treatment, barely scraping by.

"Because... because... we only plan for things that work!" they finally blurted out.

The Prince looked at them again and shrugged with a sigh.

“I haven’t traveled that far from home to argue with people who think there’s good use in meanness. Come, squire.”

He turned his back on the Planners.

"Your Highness, we understand," they chirped, chins held high. "You're an outsider, unfamiliar with our ways. Perhaps someday we'll visit your kingdom and discover equally baffling customs. Nonetheless, you leave us heartlessly amidst this wreckage. Our Count will receive a detailed report explaining why a Spearish Prince sent his squire to curse his unfinished castle with a monstrous deer ghost."

Hearing this, the Fool turned around angrily and said:

“The elves are not monstrous! They are beautiful little magical creatures who only wish that humans, animals, and elves can all live together again in one world without boundaries.”

Now the planners couldn’t contain their laughter.

“Is that your squire,” mocked the planners, “or the High Priest himself?”

"Leave it," Prince commanded, gesturing towards the spluttering Planners. "Their words hold no merit." With a single, powerful swing, he sent the final tentpole crashing down, its thud swallowed by the chaos of scattered papers. A lone sheet fluttered above the rest, marked "235."

"235," the magpie chirped, her black eyes gleaming with intrigue. This number thrummed with an unexplainable power, a promise waiting to be unlocked. But who, what, where...? she flitted between the papers, each number whispering stories, yet none resonated like 235. Why? Her keen gaze scanned diagrams and floor plans, the scandal radiating from this particular document pulsating stronger than any other. Snatching it in her beak, she swooped down to the bewildered Fool.

Worker 235 gaped, pointing with trembling fingers. "Look! He's tamed the magpie! And she brought him a scroll!"

"What paper is that?" the Prince demanded, his gaze flicking between the magpie and the Fool.

"Give it back!" the Planners shrieked, faces contorted in fear.

"Read it!" the magpie cawed, her voice sharp and urgent.

"Why?" the Fool blinked, confusion clouding his features.

"Why?" the Prince echoed, his hand outstretched. "What does it say?"

The Fool turned the paper over, lines of scribbles dancing before his eyes. Frustration etched onto his brow. "I... I can't read."

The magpie screeched in exasperation, feathers ruffled. "Useless creature!"

"I can only recognize these numbers... 2, 3, 5... right here at the top," stammered the Fool, tracing the digits with his finger.

His words sparked a surge of excitement among the young workers. They crowded closer, their faces etched with anticipation.

"What does it say?" someone cried.

"Number 235, that's all I can decipher," the Fool repeated, frustration lacing his voice.

"Read more!" the workers pleaded, their voices rising in unison.

"Nonsense!" the Planners scoffed. "Reading that paper serves no purpose. It's just a mundane work contract, filled with tedious details and irrelevant stipulations. Return it at once! These are official documents under the protection of the Count's castle works!"

The Prince, who had quietly retrieved the paper from the Fool's grasp, examined it with narrowed eyes. "This doesn't resemble a contract," he declared, skepticism coloring his tone. After a moment of silent perusal, he held the paper aloft. "Here, read it yourselves. I suspect you'll find its contents rather enlightening."

With a flick of his wrist, he sent the paper spiraling towards the Planners' of feet. But before it could land, nimble hands snatched it mid-air – the young workers, their eyes gleaming with newfound determination.

"Give it back!" the Planners shrieked, their facade of composure crumbling.

Undeterred, the magpie descended upon the workers, showering them with a hailstorm of papers. Each scrambled to find their designated number, their hearts pounding with trepidation.

One worker, his hands trembling, stumbled upon his entry: "Number 235: naive, stubborn, asks too much, wants too much." Shame burned in his cheeks as he read further. "Solution: take away grindstone. Brings other builders into suspicion. Breaks trust. Prevents collusion. Punish when asking too many questions."

Each word felt like a searing brand, leaving raw anger and disillusionment in its wake. The youth, ears burning with indignation, listened intently, their eyes locked on the damning document.

Fury contorted the young builder's face, his body trembling uncontrollably. "So you took my grindstone all along!" he roared, his voice laced with barely contained rage. "And punished me for questioning it?"

With a lightning-fast lunge, he grabbed one of the Planners by the collar, his grip tight enough to leave red-faced imprints. "You'll pay for this!" he snarled.

The other builders, fueled by shared anger and betrayal, joined the fray. The Planners, overwhelmed by the sudden onslaught, crumpled to the ground, pinned beneath the weight of their fury.

"Are these deceitful schemes part of your castle-building repertoire?" the builders roared, their voices echoing across the square.

Those Planners who hadn't been apprehended scrambled to their feet, scrambling backwards with panicked cries. "Just reports! Just reports!" they wailed, their protests falling on deaf ears.

Across the square, the Prince watched with a steely gaze. His hand rested on the hilt of his drawn sword, a silent promise of retribution. The Fool, his expression grim, stood beside him, his horse snorting nervously.

As the builders rained blows upon the cowering Planners, a cloud of vibrant purple and green smoke erupted before them. It swirled and morphed, revealing the cackling Witch, emerging from her magpie form in a flash of light.

"Need a hand?" she purred, a sly smile playing on her lips. With a snap of her fingers, the builders were sent flying, landing in a stunned heap several feet away. Fear settled over the crowd as they stared at the transformed Witch.

Undeterred, she strode through the parted sea of people, her eyes fixed on the trembling Planners. The Prince and the Fool watched in stunned silence.

"You might have something I need," the Witch murmured, her voice low and dangerous. "An invitation."

The Planners, wide-eyed with terror, stammered, "An invitation? We... we don't know what you mean."

She stalked closer, hand outstretched. With a sickening snap, the neck of the most vocal Planner contorted at an unnatural angle, his body jerking upwards into her gnarled grip.

"Surely," the Witch rasped, her voice raspy and aged, "amongst the Count's documents, you possess an invitation to the Emperor's annual ball. Every Count receives one."

"Only official papers pertaining to the Count's orders, your Grace," the remaining Planners squeaked, their voices barely audible.

Angrily, the Witch peered into the Planner's terrified eyes. Her touch seemed to sear, eliciting a bloodcurdling scream that echoed across the square.

"Prince," the Fool urged, his voice urgent, "we must leave before she turns her attention to us."

"Abandon these people to their fate?" the Prince countered, his gaze narrowed in thought. "No, Fool. I have a plan."

The Fool studied his expression, recognizing the glint of determination forming. "Why is attending the Emperor's ball so crucial to her?" he wondered aloud.

The scream abruptly ceased, replaced by a sickening thud as the Witch released her grip. The crumpled form lay at her feet, contorted in a posture that defied naturality. Both Planners and builders stared in horrified silence.

"I'm weary of being dictated to," the Witch declared, her voice laced with venom. "I will attend that ball. One of you will help me achieve it."

Trembling, the Planners remained rooted in place, their eyes fixated on the fallen comrade. None dared to utter a sound.

"I can help you," the Prince interjected, his voice surprisingly steady.

"What are you doing?" the Fool hissed, but before he could protest, the Witch's gaze snapped towards the Prince.

"Excellent, Prince," she crooned, a predatory smile spreading across her wrinkled face. "A Prince will suffice. Grant me your invitation to the ball, and I shall spare your life."

With a flourish, the Prince mounted his horse, effortlessly pulling the Fool up behind him. "Catch us if you can," he winked at the Witch before urging his steed forward in a burst of speed.

"Insolent fool!" the Witch shrieked, fury twisting her features. "You'll pay for this!"

As she launched into a furious chase, summoning crows from the depths of the forest, the workers seized the opportunity to surround the remaining Planners. Sensing their vulnerability, the Planners scuttled away like panicked rats, melting into the crowd. Only the young builder stood his ground, watching the unfolding drama with wide eyes.

"Why are you helping us?" he shouted above the commotion, his voice barely audible over the Witch's enraged screeches.

"Don't presume to speak for me!" the Witch retorted, her voice sharp as a shard of ice. "This decrepit skin holds the scars of past kindnesses gone sour. All I have left is this wretched visage, a constant reminder of my folly. I serve myself now, and only myself! If my actions benefit you, consider it happenstance. It holds no bearing on my motives."

As she spoke, the summoned crows flocked around her, their dark feathers clinging to her form like a macabre cloak.

"Witch, wait!" the Planners cried out, suddenly exposed and vulnerable before the workers they had mistreated for so long. "Help us! Please!"

The Witch, now airborne, surveyed them with detached amusement. "What is it you desire? Escape?"

"Yes!" they chorused desperately.

"From the castle grounds?"




"Very well." With a snap of her fingers, the Planners were transformed in an instant. Gone were their human forms, replaced by lanky white rabbits who scurried through the workers' legs and vanished into the depths of the forest, their hurried retreat dissolving into terrified squeaks. The Witch's laughter echoed through the air, a chilling cackle that sent shivers down the spines of all who heard it.