Clark Gillian

The Enchanted Deer and the Dreams of the Fool


Chapter 27.
Safety above all.

The Black Fox, notorious for his boldness and mischief, yanked the grumbling Dwarf onto the sorceress's tower roof. "Look at the view!" he exclaimed, his voice brimming with excitement.

The Dwarf, more concerned with avoiding a potentially fatal fall, sputtered, "Wait! This roof is narrow even for a dwarf, let alone a reckless fox!"

The Fox, ever the whirlwind, chuckled. "Don't worry, grumpy one, I'm here to help!" He led the way across the circular rooftop, their presence a stark contrast against the eerie silence of the cursed tower.

They'd found the tower easily, not by searching, but by embracing a different approach: "finding" rather than "looking." And what they found was indeed unexpected. A garden teeming with pumpkins and skeletal figures, an eerie entrance guarded by shards shimmering with strange eyes and voices – it was a sight both macabre and fascinating.

But the true treasure lay within: a library overflowing with books on every floor, even in the kitchen! Yet, it was the roof that truly captivated the Black Fox. From his vantage point, the world unfolded like a magnificent tapestry. Villages nestled in the distance, animals roamed the forest below, hunters scoured for game, and on the horizon, if the clouds permitted, the City of Stars shimmered like a celestial beacon.

"What do you think?" the Fox asked, barely containing his exhilaration.

The Dwarf, speechless for a moment, finally breathed, "Magnificent! Breathtaking!" He soaked in the panorama, each detail etching itself onto his memory.

The Fox, unable to contain his joy, launched into a playful dance across the rooftop tiles. "Careful!" the Dwarf yelped, fearing for his friend's safety.

"Relax," the Fox replied, his voice filled with confidence. "I've spent most of the day here, memorized every nook and cranny."

The Dwarf raised an eyebrow skeptically. "One day isn't a long time."

The Fox paused, tilting his head thoughtfully. "Actually, you know what? I think you're right." He settled down beside the Dwarf, sharing the silence and the breathtaking view.

As they gazed at the star-dusted canvas of the night sky, a newfound sense of freedom washed over them. This wasn't just any sorceress's tower; it was their sanctuary, a place where they could shed the burdens of their past and simply exist.

"I already feel… human," the Black Fox mused, exhaling contentedly.

The Dwarf chuckled. "A human wouldn't dare to dance across those roof tiles like you!"

The Fox grinned, undeterred. "Maybe not, but they might feel this same liberation," he gestured towards the vastness above.

Their moment of peace was shattered by a sharp, shrill voice echoing from below. They flattened themselves against the tiles, peering cautiously over the edge. No one was there, but the shards of the enchanted mirror glowed with an eerie light.

"Those pesky things," the Dwarf grumbled. "Just ignore them."

"What's their deal?" the Fox queried, his curiosity piqued.

"They moan about this being their tower, that it belongs to them alone, and spout a string of curses I won't repeat."

"Typical ghost behavior," the Fox scoffed. "Can't they find a new hobby? The Princess bestowed this place upon us, and I doubt she'll be back anytime soon, what with claiming her throne and all."

"Palace?" "Princess?" The mirror shards erupted in a cacophony of outraged shrieks. "Emperor? Ball?"


The Alchemist, enjoying a rare moment of solitude, was startled by a chilling vision in his bronze device. A fearsome face, accompanied by a tinny wail, flickered in the candlelight, leaving him with an unsettling feeling. "To reach the impossible," he muttered, "one must face the unimaginable."

Meanwhile, the Princess stood on the threshold of the ballroom, her heart pounding with anticipation. Finally, she was about to meet her mother, the Empress. Yet, amidst the joyous preparations, a single serpent harbored a different sentiment. He, unlike the Fool, understood the true nature of the events about to unfold.

"I need an ear!" he hissed, desperately seeking someone willing to listen amidst the music and merriment. "An eager ear, someone who craves whispers amidst the celebration." But the grand hall offered little solace.

Suddenly, his gaze fell upon a lone figure, a noblewoman whose demeanor betrayed a deep discontent. Her shoulders slumped with a weariness that seemed to beckon him. Seizing the opportunity, the serpent slithered closer, his voice barely a whisper in her ear.

"Look at this mess," he hissed, his words dripping with disdain. "Dancing for what? Every move predetermined, every smile choreographed. Where is the nobility in this? How can they call themselves anything but desperate, obsessed with praise and advancement, their worth measured in gold?"

A triumphant smirk played on the serpent's lips as the Countess's words confirmed his carefully chosen target. He had found fertile ground for his discontenting whispers, a soul ripe for manipulation.

"Indeed," he hissed, his voice barely a ripple in the ballroom's cacophony, "their envy is as thick as their jewels. But fret not, dear Countess, for they have nothing on you. Your radiance outshines them all, even if their blind eyes fail to see it."

His words, laced with flattery and veiled truths, were a potent potion, intoxicating the Countess's already inflated ego. The serpent, a master puppeteer, knew exactly how to pull the strings of her insecurities and weave them into a tapestry of resentment.

He subtly pointed out perceived slights, real or imagined, fueling the flames of her indignation. He painted the other nobles as shallow, power-hungry creatures, their smiles masks hiding malicious intent.

As the Countess listened, her posture straightened, her chin lifted a notch higher. The serpent's words were a balm to her wounded pride, a validation of her self-perceived grandeur. He had, in a matter of moments, transformed her from a discontented observer into a potential pawn in his game.


The Sorceress swept through the palace halls, her voice echoing amidst the gleaming gold. "Unchanged!" she scoffed, her tone laced with disdain. "This monument to opulence remains as cold as it shines. A place fit for statues, not life! Life that throbs, that roars, that cries out – that's what endures, not gilded facades!" Her words, sharp as daggers, pierced the sterile silence. "Marble pillars and painted ceilings? Spare me! A sorceress craves life, raw and untamed, and that, my dear Emperor, is something you'll never understand."

Her search led her to the grand ballroom, where a sight more infuriating awaited. The Emperor, tears glistening on his cheeks, watched as his wife – the imposter, in the Sorceress's eyes – embraced the Princess. The woman's voice, choked with emotion, whispered words of longing and reunion. The Princess clung to her mother, as if afraid to ever let go.

"It's okay," the Empress murmured, her voice thick with disbelief. "Like a fairytale... you're here. You're here."

"I'm here," the Princess echoed, her voice trembling before dissolving into tears. The Emperor gathered them both in a tight embrace, a tableau of familial love amidst the astonished silence of the assembled court. Guests bowed low, their murmurs rippling through the hall. "The Princess! Returned!" "Where has she been?" "How is this possible?"

As the Emperor embraced his reunited family, a hush fell over the grand ballroom. Guests, including the four Kings, four Queens, and even the silenced musicians, bowed their heads in respect. Whispers fluttered like excited birds: "The Princess has returned!" "How is this possible?" "Where was she all this time?"

The Sorceress, hidden amongst the glittering jewels, watched with narrowed eyes. Her gaze lingered on the Countess, adorned in wealth that mocked her own ideals. But it was from a different jewel, nestled amongst the Countess's finery, that a voice emerged.

"All that effort," the voice lamented, tinged with bitterness. "To spare her from heartbreak, from the very ones who shattered mine. Wasted. She cast me aside, just like her father. A true tragedy."

The serpent, perched on the Countess's shoulder, hissed in agreement, his smile widening.

The Princess, now the center of attention, addressed the captivated audience. She spoke of her imprisonment in the witch's tower, of her desperate escape fueled by the power of sorcery. The Empress, tears glistening on her cheeks, clung to her daughter, absorbing every word.

As the Princess finished her tale, the Queen of Cups, overcome with emotion, wiped away tears and began to applaud. Her gesture sparked a thunderous ovation that echoed through the vast hall. The once-skeptical whispers had transformed into cheers of celebration.

Amidst the thunderous applause, a single figure remained still, her face contorted in an icy anger she couldn't quite grasp. It was the Countess, her jeweled finery doing little to mask the storm brewing within. The Princess, catching the applause, seemed to awaken to the grand spectacle surrounding her – a room filled with the cream of the realm, all bowing at her feet. Another wave of bows followed, orchestrated and polite, fueling the Countess's ire further.

"Atrocious," hissed the sorceress, her voice echoing in the Countess's ear.

"Atrocious indeed," agreed the Countess, her voice hardening. "Another to bend the knee to, isn't it?"

Her outburst garnered unwanted attention, causing her husband to shush her with a worried glance. But the Countess wasn't alone in her skepticism. From a secluded corner, the Prince of Spears observed with his parents, his brow furrowed in doubt.

"How convenient," he murmured, "that the Princess appears just tonight, at the grand ball."

"Indeed," agreed the Queen, her voice laced with apprehension.

"The very same princess your brother has been searching for," the King added, his gaze fixed on the reunited family.

The counselors, too, stood apart, their heads buzzing with murmured conspiracies. They needed no serpent's whisper to fuel their distrust. "Didn't we witness magic just moments ago?" one whispered, his voice tense. "This woman wields sorcery! She's no princess, she's a witch!"

The murmur swelled, doubts echoing through the previously celebratory atmosphere. "How can we be certain she's truly the lost princess?" another chimed in. "What if she's an imposter? The Sorceress herself, returned in disguise?"

As the counselors' whispers morphed into growls and grumbles, the ballroom transitioned from joyous reunion to a cauldron of suspicion. The annual ball, meant to celebrate, now threatened to boil over with accusations and fear.

As the counselors' whispers escalated, morphing into accusations and outrage, a hush fell over the ballroom. "Even if she's not the Sorceress," they hissed, "as heir to the throne, imagine a witch ruling the Empire!" Their low growls echoed through the stunned silence.

Just then, the marquises, barons, and earls approached the Princess, their expressions unreadable. The counselors seized the opportunity. "A scandal!" they cried out, their voices laced with venomous intent. "How can we be certain, esteemed Emperor, that this is your daughter, when she's demonstrably a witch? A mistress of spells!"

The accusation hung heavy in the air, its impact immediate. The jovial atmosphere evaporated, replaced by a thick tension.

"Have you not heard her story?" the Empress countered, her voice trembling with indignation. "Kidnapped by the Sorceress, forced to learn magic to escape, to return home! How dare you question her!" She placed a comforting hand on her daughter's shoulder.

"Ignore them, my dear," the Empress whispered. "You'll learn their ways soon enough. Come, let us feast tonight. Tomorrow, we begin to rule – not just your father, but we women too, together. This Empire is ours, daughter, ours to understand and guide, not theirs to claim from the sidelines. They think their contributions outweigh all else, but true understanding comes from being part of the fabric, not merely inheriting its threads."

The Queens, in solidarity, exchanged knowing glances, their silent support a counterpoint to the counselors' dissent.

But the opposition wasn't limited to whispers and murmurs. The Prince of Spears, consumed by his years-long hunt for the Witch, trembled with rage. He was convinced this was an elaborate ruse, the Witch manipulating the Emperor and Empress in a bid for power. The counselors' accusations fueled his suspicions, igniting a fire within him.

Unable to contain himself any longer, he burst out, his voice echoing through the tense silence, "Stop, Witch!"

The Prince's accusation reverberated through the ballroom, silencing the music and stealing the breath from every guest. All eyes turned to him, a mixture of astonishment and unease swirling in their gazes.

"Hear my story!" he cried, his voice echoing with conviction. "I have hunted the Witch for years, and I recognize her tricks! This woman, she may very well be the Witch herself, seeking revenge on the Emperor and Empress by posing as their long-lost daughter."

He thrust his spear towards the Princess, who stood frozen, her cheeks burning with indignation. The accusation hung heavy in the air, a poisonous dart that threatened to shatter the fragile peace.

"Lower your weapon!" boomed the Emperor, his voice laced with fury. "It is an order!"

But the Prince remained defiant, his spear unwavering. "If she were not your daughter," the Empress interjected, clutching her close, "but the vile Sorceress, she would have struck us down the moment she arrived." Her voice trembled with a mix of fear and protectiveness.

The Emperor repeated his command, his tone hardening, yet the Prince stood his ground, spear still fixed on the Princess.

Suddenly, a new figure stepped into the fray. The Prince of Coins, his sword glinting in the firelight, appeared beside the Prince of Spears. With a swift, practiced movement, he sliced the offending spear in two, the clatter echoing through the stunned silence.

"Heed the Emperor's command!" barked the Prince of Coins, his voice leaving no room for argument.

As if jolted awake, the Prince of Spears stammered, "Coin?"

"Spear," the Prince of Coins returned, his sword's tip now aimed at his former comrade. "Decided to rejoin us, have you?"

Shamefaced, the Prince mumbled an apology.

Relief washed over the Emperor's face. "Thank you, Prince of Coins," he said, his voice hoarse. "Bind him. Now."

But before the order could be carried out, a new wave of tension rose. The Queen of Spears, her sharp eyes flashing with fury, could not tolerate such a public display of humiliation. How dare the Emperor demand such a thing in front of the entire court? In front of their allies and rivals alike?

The Queen of Spears' fiery outburst ignited a chain reaction. "He's protecting us from the Witch!" she declared, emboldening others to voice their dissent. For the first time in the Empire's history, open defiance crackled in the usually reverent ballroom.

Amidst the uproar, the Prince of Spears whispered desperately to the Prince of Coins, "She's the Witch! I followed her trail, I know it!"

The Prince of Coins, with dark circles under his eyes, replied, "Perhaps if you hadn't gone alone, we wouldn't be in this mess." His voice held a hint of reproach, of battles fought unseen.

As guards roughly shoved the Prince of Spears to his knees, the Princess spoke, her voice cutting through the chaos. "He did capture me," she admitted, "bound me to a tree, left me starving for days while I… gathered fabric for a dress."

A shocked gasp swept through the room. Even the Prince of Spears, now subdued, sat up with wide eyes. "It's… really you?" he stammered.

"Shut your mouth, Spear!" the Prince of Coins hissed, tugging at the handcuffs with frustration.

Meanwhile, the Countess observed the Empress's tight embrace of the Princess. The serpent, its voice a seductive whisper, echoed in her ear, "Isn't that the same one who attacked your Alchemist? Destroyed your flowers?"

The Countess, her smile growing colder, murmured, "This is no coincidence."

Just then, the Counselors' voices boomed above the fray, "Enough! How long will we tolerate a Witch's lies?"

"Release the Prince of Spears!" the Countess's demand cut through the buzzing tension. "Let him speak of his witch hunt!"

Her call was echoed by the Counselors, their voices rising in a feverish chorus. "Witch trial! We demand a witch trial!"

Panic flared in the Empress's eyes. "A witch trial? For my daughter?"

But the Countess, fueled by the serpent's whispers and her own simmering resentment, pressed on. "She attacked my Alchemist, destroyed my research! Can anyone be certain she won't strike again, against you, the other Kingdoms?"

Her words sparked fear. The Kings exchanged worried glances, the Counselors' cries grew more frantic, and even the Queen of Spears joined the clamor, demanding the Prince's release and the Princess's imprisonment.

"For everyone's safety!" the Counselors roared, their voices turning into a roar that swept through the ballroom. Panic began to take hold, fueled by the image of a vengeful witch wielding unknown magic.

The Princess, once embraced by joyous reunion, found herself the target of terrified stares. The adulation had morphed into fear, leaving her speechless and alone.

Just as the room teetered on the brink of chaos, a new, unexpected element burst through the doors. A dazzling throng of white elves flooded the ballroom, their leader, the Fool, crying out in a high-pitched voice, "She's the Princess! Truly the Princess!"

He landed unceremoniously at the Princess's feet, leaving the Counselors bewildered. "Who is this? Another sorcerer? An orchestrated attack?" they sputtered, confusion replacing their earlier fervor.

"She really is the Princess!" the Fool's shrill voice echoed through the stunned silence, drawing every eye to the cluster of bewildered fairies. He remained thumb-sized, barely visible amidst the shuffling courtiers eager to catch a glimpse of the enigmatic speaker.

At the Princess's feet, the Fool tugged insistently at her pant leg. "Make me big again, please!" he pleaded. Hesitation flickered in the Princess's eyes. The fear of magic, once a shield in her time of need, now choked her in this moment of supposed homecoming. The entire room held its breath, awaiting her next move.

"Alright," she conceded to the Fool, "stand still." With a deep breath, she raised her hands, clapped once, and blew gently on the tiny figure. A snap of her fingers, loud enough to crackle through the tense atmosphere, and in a flash, the Fool materialized in his full human form.

The reaction was immediate. A wave of panicked murmurs rippled through the crowd, and in a flurry of motion, guards and footmen whipped out their weapons, pointing them accusingly at the Princess.

"She truly is a witch," the Prince of Coins breathed, his disbelief tinged with a sliver of dread. "You were right, Spear." Shamefaced, he loosened the Prince of Spears' shackles. "I apologize," he murmured, "I should have listened."

The Prince of Spears, a flicker of his old camaraderie sparking in his eyes, placed a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Forgive me too, Coin. Glad to see you."

As the Prince of Coins prepared to speak, the bumbling Fool, now human-sized, pranced towards the Prince of Spears. "Believe me," he declared, his voice echoing in the tense silence, "she is the Princess! The Emperor and Empress' own daughter! And we, the fairies, aided her return."

The Prince of Coins, taken aback, stepped back with a questioning glance. "You know him?" the Queen of Coins asked, her voice laced with surprise.

"Yes," the young Prince admitted hesitantly, "he's a close friend."

Meanwhile, the Emperor, surveying the chaos unfolding in his own palace, felt a wave of disbelief and despair. The accusations, suspicions, and now open defiance painted a grim picture of mistrust and infidelity within his own court.

"Lower your weapons!" he boomed, his voice echoing with both frustration and authority. "Anyone disobeying will face treason charges and imprisonment!"

But the Counselors, emboldened by their growing numbers, signaled the city guards to surround the Emperor himself, swords drawn. The audacity of their action stunned the court into shocked silence.

"Treason, you impudent fools!" the Emperor roared, his voice trembling with anger. "Do you think only of yourselves and your own power? Shame on you all! Shame on your disloyalty!"

Undeterred, the Counselors held their ground. "Stand down, guards!" they countered, their voices dripping with false authority. "Your Majesty, rationality! You cannot rule without your Counselors, the ones who have kept the Empire stable for so long!"

"A fine stability you've carved out for yourselves," the Emperor spat, his voice laden with sarcasm. "All done under the guise of protecting the Empire, I suppose."

The guards, spurred on by the Counselors' commands, shoved the Emperor and Empress to the ground, their faces etched with a mixture of fear and determination. They swiftly bound the royal couple's hands, the sight sending shockwaves through the crowd. Even the Princess, caught in the maelstrom of accusations and power plays, seemed on the verge of collapsing, her emotions teetering between rage and despair.

"This is a coup!" the Emperor roared, defiance flickering in his voice even as he lay restrained. "If you seize the throne through force, force will be your only means to maintain it!"

"Thankfully, force is precisely what we possess tonight," one of the Counselors retorted, his voice laced with a chilling confidence.

But just as the guards moved to seize the Princess, the Fool felt a familiar pang of pain pierce his head, time seeming to stutter around him. He witnessed the Princess, fury contorting her features, sparks of fire dancing around her arms. In a heartbeat, he knew she was a hair's breadth away from unleashing a fiery inferno that would engulf the entire ballroom, leaving none unscathed.

Panic seized the guards, their hands hovering near her wrists, frozen by the threat of her magic. The Princess, her voice raw with barely contained rage, turned to them, her words dripping with defiance, "You think you can bind a witch?"

The Fool's voice, laced with desperation, cut through the tense silence. "Stop! Don't do it!"

But the Princess, consumed by the fires of anger and betrayal, seemed oblivious to his plea. "Fools!" she spat at the guards, her voice echoing with power. "You have no idea what you've unleashed!"

As the Princess stood on the brink of unleashing her wrath, a new twist emerged. The Prince of Coins, fueled by ambition, attempted to restrain her, declaring his desire to usurp the throne. But the Princess, quick and cunning, retaliated with a flick of her hand, rendering him unconscious with a mysterious tap and snap.

Chaos erupted. Accusations of "witchcraft" and "murder" rang out, fueled by fear and misunderstanding. Even the serpent and the sorceress, lurking in the shadows, reveled in the unfolding turmoil.

Amidst the pandemonium, the Fool, defying the cries of imprisonment, rushed to the Princess. He pleaded with her, urging her not to succumb to the madness. The Queen of Spears demanded capture, while the Countess echoed the sentiment.

Torn and overwhelmed, the Princess stood on the precipice, her power threatening to consume her and ignite the entire ballroom. But then, she met the Fool's gaze, his face filled with understanding and serenity. Hesitantly, she allowed him to take her hands, feeling a calming light emanating from him.