Clark Gillian

The Enchanted Deer and the Dreams of the Fool


Chapter 5.
The witch is angry.

A young prince, cloaked in white and adorned with a crimson blindfold, arrived with a flourish. He hailed from the Kingdom of the Spears, a land of grand castles and soaring cliffs, known for its chivalrous knights. Yet, this knight seemed burdened, his restlessness betraying the outward show of confidence. Only some, like the Fool, possessed the sight to pierce through the facade.

With a booming voice, the prince declared himself champion of the weak and defender of justice. The villagers, awestruck, gathered around, their gazes lingering on his gleaming armor and the curious pigeon cages on his saddle. His every move, deliberate and assured, commanded silent respect.

He gently stroked a dove, tied a white ribbon to its leg, and released it into the sky.

"Are you truly a prince?" the Fool blurted out, drawing the villagers' ire.

Unfazed, the prince confirmed his royal title, proclaiming himself the Prince of Spears. The villagers, captivated by his nobility and prowess, readily embraced him. His difference, interpreted as superiority, earned their instant devotion. After all, in the Land of Old Wives, difference was only acceptable if it represented an improvement.

The Fool, his curiosity insatiable, interrupted the prince's grand pronouncements. "But why the blindfold?" he blurted, earning jeers from the crowd.

Undeterred, the Fool pressed on, ignoring the villagers' disapproval. "Are you blind, then?"

To their surprise, the prince chuckled, easing the tension. "No, young lad. I wear this blindfold by choice, to train myself for the day sight may fail me."

The Fool, though impressed, couldn't shake the strangeness of the prince's words, their cadence oddly guttural. "And what brings you on this quest to our remote village?" the prince continued, his voice regaining its commanding tone.

Intrigued, the baker's son piped up, "What are you searching for, noble prince?"

The prince cleared his throat, instantly silencing the murmurs. "The world's end," he declared, his voice echoing with an unsettling gravitas. "I yearn to glimpse beyond its edge."

Gasps rippled through the crowd, punctuated by nervous laughter from the elders. "The world's end, lad? Far beyond these lands. No one here has ever laid eyes on it."

The prince pondered their words, then the Fool, his voice brimming with mischief, chimed in: "Perhaps on your journey from the Kingdom of Spears, you encountered the Enchanted Deer in the forest?"

The prince, caught off guard by the Fool's sudden question, whirled around. Laughter erupted, quickly morphing into angry curses directed at the Fool. Unfazed, the prince chuckled, his deep, resonating voice silencing the crowd.

"No, young one," he replied, "I haven't encountered any...enchanted deer."

"Pity," the Fool mused internally. An idea sparked in his mind. "A witch, then?"

Another torrent of curses rained down on the Fool, laced with genuine anger this time. But instead of joining the outburst, the prince surprised everyone by removing his blindfold, fixing the Fool with an intense gaze.

"What was your question, lad?" his voice demanded.

"Did you see a witch on your journey here?" the Fool repeated, his voice steady.

The prince held his gaze, his eyes like cool pools reflecting the sky after a summer rain. "I haven't encountered a witch," he finally answered, his tone as tranquil as a frog basking on a lily pad. "But I will help you find her."


The weaver's wife, consumed by grief, glared daggers at the Fool as the Prince knelt, sifting through dust for clues. He rose, his voice grave. "Dragged away by three boars. The witch... she is not pleased."

"Of course not!" the weaver's wife shrieked, defiance laced with despair.

The prince's gaze turned grim. "Your husband... he is gone."

His words sliced through the woman's denial, unleashing a torrent of grief. "No! He can't be!"

"The cloth used to bind his tools," the prince explained, "enraged her. She cast a spell." He pointed towards a barren patch of earth, the plants withered, the soil ashen.

Driven by a morbid hope, they followed. The Fool gasped. "Is that... hair?"

The weaver's wife paled, her knees buckling. "It's his... all of it!"

The prince, spear pressed against the ground, spoke quietly. "Nails. Teeth."

Life drained from the woman's face. Grasping a chillingly familiar lock of hair, a tooth, a nail, she felt only revulsion.

"A powerful and evil aging spell," the prince declared, his voice heavy. "I haven't seen one so potent in years."

"Aging?" the Fool echoed, bewildered.

Meanwhile, the prince pressed on, following the boars' fading tracks.

"A year older with every passing breath," the Prince intoned, his voice heavy with grim authority. "Crafted by words so vile, so twisted, they would curdle the blood of a god."

The weaver's wife, clutching the hair, teeth, and nails, wailed uncontrollably. The Fool's attempts to comfort only fueled her anguish.

"Thirty years lost in an instant," the Prince continued, gesturing to the scorched earth. "But a sliver of hope remains."

Hope. The word sparked a flicker in the woman's tear-filled eyes. "He lives? An old man, perhaps? We can still save him!"

With a sharp whistle, the Prince summoned his horse. He reached for the Fool, hoisting him onto the saddle with practiced ease. "If he draws breath," he declared, his gaze unwavering, "I will return him. And if not, you'll have your closure. Your tools, however," he added, his voice softening a touch, "those I shall see safely back with you."

And so, they rode, following the fading trail of the bewitched boars. The Fool, his mind racing, recalled his childhood encounter with the Enchanted Deer, the furthest he'd ever ventured from the village. The Prince, his focus laser-sharp, tracked the fading hoofprints. Soon, they emerged into a clearing, a solitary apple tree silhouetted against the encroaching darkness. As they drew closer, they saw why they had been led here. Three monstrous boars circled the tree, their tusks glinting ominously. Beneath its skeletal branches lay a still form, clutching tools and the cursed cloth.

"Stay here," the Prince commanded, dismounting and positioning the Fool a safe distance away. With a cry that startled the very air, he dug his spurs into his steed. Galloping around the tree, he locked eyes with one of the boars and unleashed his spear. It flew true, a deadly arrow of justice, piercing the beast through and through.

The Fool erupted in cheers, but the Prince, his focus unwavering, ignored them. He swiftly retrieved his spear from the slain boar, his horse nimbly maneuvering away from the remaining beasts. With another determined cry, he executed a perfect turn, locking eyes with the next target. The Fool, enthralled by the Prince's skill and daring, barely registered a chilling darkness creeping closer from the shadows.

Another mighty throw, another boar vanquished. But the final beast wouldn't be tamed so easily. It snorted and stomped, showering the clearing with apples before charging at the Prince with feral fury. The white horse, valiant but outmatched, stumbled and fell, pinning the Prince beneath its weight.

Fear surged through the Fool, urging him to help, but a cold grip clamped around his throat, silencing his cry. Panic clawed at him as he saw the monstrous boar repeatedly slam into the Prince, its tusks glinting menacingly. Above it all, a witch's cackle echoed through the clearing, laced with sadistic glee.

A tear escaped the witch's eye as she cackled, a momentary lapse that gave the Fool his chance. "Take off your armor!" he screamed, his voice hoarse with desperation.

The witch's hand flew to cover the Fool's mouth, silencing his cry with a venomous hiss, "Shut your trap, you sniveling whelp!"

But it was too late. The Prince, amidst the boar's relentless assault, caught the Fool's desperate shout. With a surge of adrenaline, he wrestled free of his cumbersome armor, sweat drenching his brow. Reaching the fallen boar, he ripped out his spear and roared, "Come on, beast! Face me!"

"No!" the witch shrieked, her control momentarily slipping. But her monstrous pet was already charging, a blur of tusks and fury. The Prince stood his ground, spear held steady, waiting with laser focus. At the last possible moment, with a swift jump and a powerful thrust, he sank the spear deep into the boar's skull. The final foe crumpled lifelessly to the ground.

"Curses!" the witch screeched, her magic whipping into action. She snatched the terrified Fool and whisked him high into the apple tree, beyond the Prince's reach. A snap of her fingers sealed his lips shut, and thorny branches coiled around his arms like cruel shackles.

Below, the Prince knelt beside the weaver's withered form. Gently, he pried open the skeletal fingers, revealing the cloth with its meager contents: a circle, a square, and a triangle. He searched for the Fool, but an unsettling silence hung heavy in the air. His gaze returned to the cloth, a knot of unease tightening in his gut.

Suddenly, the witch cackled, dropping down from the tree with the tools snatched from the Prince's grasp. Before he could react, she ripped the spear from the boar's carcass and plunged it into his shoulder. Blood welled, painting his armor crimson.

"Without your armor, you're nothing more than a whimpering cur," she taunted, her laughter echoing through the clearing.

"Why the obsession with these tools, witch?" the Prince rasped, defiance flickering in his bloodshot eyes despite the searing pain.

The witch's smile turned feral. "Must an evil witch have no desires of her own?"

Descending from the tree, the witch landed with a sneer, facing the wounded Prince. "Unlike you, grand knight, I don't chase danger for fleeting glory and medals," she spat, her voice dripping with scorn. "Danger clings to me like a shadow, unwanted, relentless."

With a cruel twist, she ripped the spear from his shoulder, eliciting a choked cry from the Prince as he collapsed. "Where are my accolades?" she demanded, her voice echoing through the clearing. "Where's my statue, my recognition? I've slain knights, bandits, priests – all hypocrites, all self-serving! Sweet until they get what they want, then sour and ungrateful. Not a shred of compassion for a witch's plight!"

A dark chuckle escaped her lips. "All buried," she declared, her tone laced with grim satisfaction.

Crouching beside the Prince, she snatched the fallen tools from the cloth. "Thank you for unwrapping them," she said, tucking them away with a possessive glint in her eyes.

"Medals are for knights, tools of fear and control. Because people like to fear the strenght of knights, indeed, it makes them feel secure. But witches? We evoke a different kind of fear, one that unsettles, that cracks their sense of safety."

While the witch rambled on, the Prince, unnoticed, used the cloth to fashion a makeshift rope behind his back with surprising dexterity.

"No wonder witches are always angry," the witch concluded, her voice rising in self-pitying indignation.

High above, the Fool saw a plump apple dangling directly over the witch's head. An idea sparked in his eyes. Focusing all his willpower, he strained against the thorny branch binding his arm, willing it to shake loose. The apple remained stubbornly still.

Despite his pain, the Prince rasped, "Why those tools, witch? Return them to their rightful owner."

His words, laced with defiance, triggered a cackle from the witch. The sound shook the apple tree, slightly loosening the thorny grip on the Fool's arms. Seizing the chance, he wriggled free, silent as a shadow. Crawling towards the tempting apple, he kept his gaze fixed on the cackling witch below. Then, with all his might, he hurled the apple.

The impact was direct, silencing the witch's laughter and sending her crashing to the ground, unconscious. Acting fast, the Prince dragged her limp form to the apple tree and secured her with the makeshift rope.

When the witch awoke to the blessed cloth's burning touch, she screamed in agony. The Fool retrieved the tools, prepared for another curse, but the Prince silenced her with a strategically placed apple. Yet, amidst her tears, the Fool saw a spark of the same grief that had moved him to help the weaver's wife.

Their eyes met, holding a silent connection before the Prince, weakened from his wound, pulled the Fool away. His vision blurred, exhaustion threatening to overpower him. Mounting his horse proved a struggle, leaving the journey back to the village to the surprisingly capable Fool. As he rode, a sense of wonder filled him. He, the Fool, had played a crucial role in this adventure. Reaching his humble home, he dismounted, still buzzing with the excitement of it all.

The thunder of hooves startled the Fool's parents from their peaceful evening. "Mother, Father! Help!" the Fool cried, rushing in with the wounded Prince.

As they tended to the Prince, his life seemed to ebb with every labored breath. The Mother's frantic cry for salt filled the air, followed by the sting of its application. Miraculously, the Prince surged, only to be subdued by the tanner's sons until a blessed faint overtook him. Then, the herb lady arrived, her ancient magic swirling with fire and song, tending to the wound with potent herbs and whispered charms.

"What happened?" the Mother finally asked, her gaze settling on the Fool.

His breathless recounting captivated the entire family, though disbelief lingered in some eyes. That is, until he revealed the three tools: circle, square, triangle. Doubt melted like snow under the summer sun.

Later that evening, the Fool and his mother found the weaver's wife, grief-stricken yet brimming with gratitude upon seeing her husband's tools. The Fool, warmed by her forgiveness, couldn't shake the memory of the witch's tearful eyes, mirroring a sorrow he recognized. As she thanked him, her words resonated deeply: "You saved my life."

As night cloaked the village, the Mother lay awake, haunted by the mysterious prophecy from the well. Her heart pounded, as if echoing the fall from the sky she dreamt of. Rising, she rubbed her eyes, the moon's watchful gaze urging her to face the dawn. "Calm down," she whispered, but beneath the surface, a storm brewed.

Entering the kitchen, she found the Fool asleep at the table beside the recovering Prince. As she tiptoed towards the door, hoping not to disturb them, the Fool stirred.

"Mother," he mumbled, his voice thick with sleep, "I can't ever repay the Prince for what he did."

A cold realization washed over her. She understood now, the pieces clicking into place. "...just because things were as they were, things are as they are..." she murmured, closing her eyes, a wave of dizziness washing over her.

"What did you say?" the Fool mumbled, still half-asleep.

Taking a deep breath, she leaned against the table, studying her son's innocent face. A newfound resolve firmed within her, a warmth she hadn't felt in years.

"Son," she said, her voice surprisingly strong, "fetch me some water from the well. Then we'll talk."

He obeyed, bewilderment clouding his sleepy eyes. As he left, she sat where he had been, gazing at the Prince's healing wound. Lost in thought, she gently touched his bandaged shoulder, the sound of the returning Fool breaking her reverie.

"Mother! Look!" he exclaimed, setting down the bucket and pointing at the windowsill.

She knew exactly what he saw.

"What is it?" he asked, curiosity blooming.

"Take it," she instructed, wiping away a silent tear. "Everything you need is there."