Clark Gillian

The Enchanted Deer and the Dreams of the Fool


Chapter 4.
The knapsack.

Mother Tanner's intuition prickled as she tucked her son into bed, the echoes of his strange ramblings still ringing in her ears. "Just treat him like he's ill," she instructed Father Tanner, unable to shake the feeling that something fundamental had shifted.

But morning unveiled a new twist to the puzzle. The first light barely kissed the village when she noticed a peculiar knapsack lying by the threshold, its vibrant colors clashing with the muted stone of their doorstep. Gold and silver threads caught the nascent sunshine, whispering of distant lands and untold secrets. A shiver ran down her spine. The Bard's wagon, once a fixture in the square, was gone.

Drawn by an unseen force, Mother Tanner cautiously edged closer. Her mind conjured images of hidden dangers, yet her curiosity gnawed at her. With trembling hands, she lifted the knapsack, a tinkling sound barely muffled by the dawn's stillness. Slipping it into her water bucket, she hurried inside, the hushed sounds of waking life already stirring within the house.

Hidden behind the cool embrace of the well's stone walls, away from inquisitive eyes, Mother Tanner finally allowed herself to examine the object. She sat, the knapsack resting on her lap, and with delicate fingers, slowly began to untie the knot, praying for silence. The first rays of the sun, painted in a breathtaking orange halo, peeked over the horizon, momentarily sharing the sky with the waning moon's silvery glow.

The knapsack's contents unfolded before her like a forbidden treasure map: a dazzling silver cup adorned with cryptic symbols, a hefty gold coin whispering of distant lands, a dagger's gleam both alluring and menacing, and a wand seemingly plucked from a forgotten fairy tale. Any heart might have leaped at such riches, but Mother Tanner saw only peril. These weren't gifts; they were hooks, baiting her son down a path with no return. Fear, sharp and cold, clawed at her throat. She wouldn't surrender her son, not to trinkets and temptations.

With trembling hands, she refastened the knapsack. Dawn's gentle light bathed the scene as she held it aloft, poised above the well like a sacrifice. Hesitation flickered, but resolve hardened her features. With a final push, the knapsack plunged into the cool, silent depths, disappearing into the well's inky heart.

Returning with a bucket of water, as if nothing had transpired, she pretended not to hear the whisper carried on the morning breeze. "No one can reveal it..." Was it the rustle of spring leaves, or a voice echoing from the watery abyss? She lingered, straining her ears, but only the soft gurgle of the well met her. Shaking her head, she dismissed it as imagination and continued inside.

Yet, as she tended to her son, weary from his encounter with the Bard, the faint voice returned, clear as a bell, "...No one can hide it..." Panic surged through her. Hurriedly, she busied herself with chores, masking her unease. Later, by her son's bedside, she dabbed his brow with a cool cloth, her gaze lingering on his peaceful face.

"Did I miss the sunrise?" mumbled the tanner's son, his voice groggy.

"Sleep is what you need, my dear," Mother Tanner soothed, a tremor in her voice she struggled to hide. "The world can wait."

But the world wouldn't wait. Not for her, not for her son. The next morning, she crept out with her water bucket, aiming for the well before anyone stirred. Just as she stepped over the threshold, something snagged her foot. A chilling whisper of déjà vu ran down her spine as she saw the knapsack, gleaming in the pre-dawn light.

This time, there was no hesitation. With a grim resolve, she snatched it, the clinking of treasures echoing her fear. Reaching the well, she hurled it into the darkness, watching it disappear with a splash that felt less like victory and more like a desperate gamble.

Returning home, she braced herself for questions. Instead, she found her son awake, already at the table. "What was that awful clatter?" he asked, eyes wide. "Sounded like you were wrestling demons in the kitchen."

Panic clawed at her throat, but she forced a laugh. "Just morning clumsiness, dear. Nothing to worry about." She busied herself with chores, hoping to divert his attention. He seemed satisfied, the strange noise forgotten.

Little did she know, her troubles were far from over. Stepping out into the village, she felt a shift in the air. The baker's wife averted her gaze, the butcher's wife abruptly ended her conversation, and even the mayor's friendly greeting held a chilling emptiness.

"Not all sons and daughters are the same, you know," the Weaver's wife said, her voice laced with a knowing comfort. "There's always one that's a bit...well, different. You know what I mean, don't you?"

Mother stared at her, the Weaver's words echoing the whispers she'd been trying to ignore. "Are you saying this happened to you?" she finally asked, a tremor in her voice. The weight of the question seemed to pull her shoulders down, mirroring the sinking feeling in her heart.

"Indeed," the Weaver replied, her voice steady even as she continued weaving, the rhythmic clacking a counterpoint to their hushed conversation. "Everyone's heard the whispers, haven't they? But fret not, dear. It isn't the end of the world."

Mother was barely listening. Sleep had been a stranger since the Bard and the knapsack.

The weaver's wife continued, her voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper, "Listen to this. I haven't slept a wink in nights, worrying about this…."

Mother, rubbing tired eyes, interrupted, "The Witch again?"

"The Witch indeed!" The weaver's voice rose, laced with fear. "Trust me, if you had a witch after you, you wouldn't sleep either! Curses and hexes lurking in every shadow!" She glanced around nervously.

"But have you actually seen her?" Mother pressed, a sliver of hope clinging to her voice.

"A glimpse, perhaps," the weaver conceded, her bravado fading. "But her cackle, that I heard clear as day! A witch's cackle, I tell you!" She shivered dramatically, the memory seemingly chilling her to the bone.

"Once heard, never forgotten," she continued, her voice dropping to a hushed whisper. "Like a burn that lingers just beneath the surface."

"But why would she want you?" Mother pressed, her curiosity battling with growing unease.

The weaver's voice regained its pride. "The best looms, the finest threads, patterns passed down for generations," she boasted. "All hers for the taking, if she could! But not on my watch! Over my dead body!"

Mother shuddered, the weaver's words painting a terrifying picture. "Don't speak that way," she cautioned, a hint of fear creeping into her own voice.

Undeterred, the weaver's wife continued, her voice laced with desperation, "Never will I let those measurements and patterns leave my sight. They are my very being. Without them, I'm naught but an empty shell, a weaver without her loom."

Mother Tanner offered a sympathetic nod. "Don't speak such despair," she cautioned gently.

"But it's true, and you know it," the weaver countered, her gaze sharp.

Understanding flickered in Mother Tanner's eyes. She, too, carried the weight of a secret burden.

"Yet, even with this witch's torments," the weaver continued, her voice trembling, "I persevere. Fresh meat rots within a day, milk sours by nightfall, and my bed crawls with unseen things. My husband and I, we can barely endure this living nightmare."

As if on cue, the weaver himself entered, leading a sheep. He greeted Mother Tanner with a curt nod before setting to work, shearing the animal with practiced hands.

"I told you, wife," he muttered, his voice rough with exhaustion. "The blessed cloth, the one I was born in, passed down through generations, protects our tools. No witch can touch it." His words, though meant to reassure, held little conviction. The dark circles beneath his eyes mirrored the sleepless nights they endured.

Seeing their plight, Mother Tanner's heart ached. "I'll bring you my pot of good salt," she offered, her voice firm. "Draw a circle around your house, it will ward off the witch's evil."

Hope bloomed in the weaver's wife's eyes. "You would do that?" she breathed, her voice thick with gratitude.

"Of course," Mother Tanner replied, her resolve unwavering. "Two circles of salt, the witch cannot break through. Surely not."

"Wonderful!" the weaver's wife chirped, a manic edge to her voice. "The witch wouldn't dare approach a house guarded by two circles of salt, would she? Every day, I draw mine faithfully - I've nearly depleted our entire season's supply!"

Mother Tanner offered a reassuring smile. "I'll bring you another pot of salt," she promised, heading for the door. Unbeknownst to her, she stepped right over her own salt line, unwittingly breaking the protective circle.

Reaching home, she rummaged through her spice cabinet for the large pot of "good salt" when a bloodcurdling shriek pierced the air. Rushing back to the weaver's cottage, pot in hand, her husband and son trailing behind, she found a scene of utter chaos.

The weaver's wife lay sprawled on the ground, clawing at the dirt with manic desperation, her nails torn and bloody. "They were here!" she shrieked, her voice raw with terror. "I saw them! Just for a moment, and then...gone!"

"Who's gone?" Mother Tanner asked, gently attempting to comfort the distraught woman.

The weaver's wife's gaze snapped up, locking onto Mother Tanner with chilling accusation. "You!" she spat, her voice hoarse. "It's you!"

As if on cue, the crowd gathered outside recoiled, murmuring amongst themselves. Fear and suspicion painted their faces, treating Mother Tanner, her husband, and even their son as if they carried the plague.

"Too late with your salt, aren't you?" the weaver's wife sneered. "Or perhaps you delayed on purpose, giving the witch time to plunder us bare?"

"No! I..." Mother Tanner stammered, bewildered and hurt. "I came as fast as I could!"

"I kept watch, I swear I did!" the weaver's wife wailed, her grief morphing into a chilling keening sound that would haunt Mother Tanner's nights for weeks to come. "He was here, and then...he wasn't! The tools, the patterns, even my husband...she took them all!"

Gasps and curses rippled through the crowd. The weight of their accusations pressed down on Mother Tanner, suffocating her.

"It was an accident!" Mother Tanner protested, her voice drowned out by the rising tide of anger.

"No accident!" someone shouted. "It's that Fool son of yours! Believes in fairy tales, doesn't he? Probably believes in witches too! Bringing bad luck upon us all!"

The accusation spread like wildfire. "He believes in fairy tales, therefore he believes in witches! And witches bring misfortune!"

The villagers recoiled from the Tanner family, their faces etched with fear and blame. Even the son, though innocent, felt the weight of their scorn. "Please," he pleaded, his voice barely audible, "the Enchanted Deer has nothing to do with this!"

"Cursed Fool!" the weaver's wife spat, her sobs turning into venomous rage. "Leave us be!"

With heavy hearts, the Tanner family retreated under the villagers' angry gaze. That night, the son lay awake, guilt gnawing at him. He hadn't lied, but his truth had brought shame upon his family. "I don't just believe in fairy tales," he whispered to the darkness, his voice barely a tremor. "I believe in what I've seen. And sometimes, those things are the same."


Mother's fingers trembled as she creaked open the door the next morning. Her heart hammered against her ribs, dread painting a familiar chill down her spine. There, bathed in the pre-dawn gloom, lay the knapsack on the doorstep. Was it all a waking nightmare? Her past days a grotesque tableau?

Clutching the bucket, she slowly lowered the knapsack within. Peering into the well's deep, still darkness, she couldn't even glimpse the bottom. The water seemed serene, oblivious to the chaos unfolding in her life. Yet, it wasn't serenity but oblivion she craved.

Taking a deep breath, she held the knapsack over the edge. "Please, well," she whispered, her voice laced with desperation, "keep it hidden. Let it sink deep, where time loses meaning and hands of the past cannot reach. May it slumber undisturbed until long after we're gone. Grant me this one plea, well. Let things be as they were."

The splash that followed sounded like a mournful hymn. Sighing with a burden lifted, she filled her bucket and started back, only to freeze at the sound of faint whispers drifting from the well.

"...precisely because things were as they were..."

Her blood ran cold. She whipped around, but saw only the rising sun casting an orange glow, birds chirping in morning symphony. Surely, it was her imagination.

"...things are as they are..."

Entering the house, she found her son, the Fool, already setting the table for breakfast.

"Up early?" she managed, hiding the tremor in her voice.

"Yes," he simply replied, "wanted to help."

"Good," she said, the word hollow even to her own ears. "Very good."

The Fool continued laying the silverware, oblivious to the storm brewing within his mother.

"I want to help the weaver's wife," the Fool declared, startling his mother.

Before she could protest, he continued, "If she sees me helping her find what she lost, even if we had nothing to do with it, then she might finally want to mend things with us. With you. You could be friends again."

A flicker of pride warmed her heart, battling against the lingering fear. "That's a noble thought, son," she admitted, "but how on earth can you find a witch no one's ever seen?"

"I don't know," he confessed, and as if summoned by his uncertainty, a chilling whisper danced on the morning breeze:

"...Precisely because things were as they were..."

Mother spun around, heart pounding, but saw only the golden light of sunrise washing over the village square. "What's happening?" the Fool asked, his gaze following hers.

Her voice barely above a whisper, she replied, "It looks like… a prince on a white horse?"