Clark Gillian

The Enchanted Deer and the Dreams of the Fool


Chapter 17.
Remember and never forget.

A disquietude gnawed at the Queen of the House of Swords. Pacing, letters clutched in hand, she murmured her thoughts aloud, a habit that helped unveil patterns buried deep within. Today, however, the tapestry of messages from across the Empire revealed only tangled threads.

Gazing out at the ancient peaks encircling their kingdom, she sought solace in their timeless grandeur. These mountains, the kingdom's silent guardians, held within their heart the true source of their strength – rich ore deposits, the finest mines in the Empire.

Five letters lay across her desk, mirroring the disquiet in her own hands. Two in one, three in the other. Each held whispers of turmoil: The Queen of Spears demanding another search for her missing sons, the Countess of the Proud Flower City fearing an assassin sent by witches, and tales of castles vanishing into encroaching forests.

"I cannot make sense of it," she sighed, gathering the letters and shuffling them, a futile attempt to discern order. Each missive was laid bare, side by side. "News from the Kingdom of Cups contradicts that of the Kingdom of Spears, while whispers from the Kingdom of Coins mirror the pronouncements of the Imperial Court itself. An unsettling… difference pervades it all."

The Queen let the papers flutter to the floor, her gaze drawn once more to the sprawling landscape below. Nestled between peaks and valleys, villages and towns clung to the mountainside, some even perched precariously on the summits. Life seemed to flow as it always had, houses unchanged, routines unbroken. What, then, had shifted?

"The letters," she murmured, the realization dawning. "They've changed. But why does that unsettle me? What has become so different?"

Sinking into her fur-lined chair, she rubbed her temples, absentmindedly braiding her hair. This tangled web of messages gnawed at her, demanding her full attention. Not even the gilded carriage awaiting her, the one destined to whisk her to the Imperial Ball in the City of Stars, could pull her focus away.

The servants had packed and polished, leaving the room bare except for the Queen and her disquieting correspondence. Rising, she paced back to the desk, the letters splayed before her like a discordant symphony. Each held unique tales about a shared concern, each proposed solutions that diverged, each twisted a simple matter into a knot of complexity. All presented themselves with a jarring dissonance, a stark departure from the usual clarity.

In days past, letters had relayed actions, concrete steps taken by the kingdoms. Now, they spoke of intentions, individual approaches to a collective problem.

"Ah!" The realization struck the Queen like a bolt of lightning. "These letters no longer tell us who will do what, only how they want to be perceived. It's as if each House is reintroducing themselves over and over again, crafting a persona in every message. Each letter becomes a tedious, self-serving... parade, as if we are strangers!"

She delved deeper into the tangled thicket of her thoughts, the elusive common thread inching closer. "It's no longer a conversation," she finally declared, the revelation striking like a thunderbolt. "It's not about actions, but appearances. Suggesting alternatives - what was once mere debate - has become an affront, an insult. Each kingdom preens in a self-serving parade, desperate to be perceived in a specific light."

Disbelief tinged her voice. Glancing out the window, she saw the King descend towards the waiting carriage, footmen fussing at his side. In a flurry of motion, she donned her coat and shoes, a nagging fear gnawing at her despite the unearthed truth.

"This... whispers of war on the wind," she muttered, a chill settling over her. "No room for equals if equality itself is deemed an insult."

"Is something the matter, Your Majesty?" inquired a nearby footman, eyes expectant.

"Nothing," she replied, forcing a smile. "But gather my writing supplies and some doves. Letters must be sent."

"At once, Your Highness," the footman bowed.

Joining the King in the carriage, she offered a practiced smile, yet her mind remained a whirlwind. The King, accustomed to her quiet contemplations, offered no questions.

"Why must one diminish for another to rise?" she murmured, her voice barely a whisper.

And so, the Queen of Swords carried her thoughts, dissecting and weaving answers to questions yet forming. Throughout the Empire, no mind was sharper, no wit keener than hers. As the carriage rolled towards the  the Empress' ball, the Queen pondered.


Fatigued and troubled, the Prince of Coins found himself in between restful sleep and wakefulness, exactly where the serpent needed him to be to whisper his poisonous words and gain access to the Emperor's court's affairs. He whispered:

“Feel how strong you become when you remember what you suffered—yes, suffered—as a royal prince! And yet it is they— that scum, that scum— who parade carelessly in the streets as if they own every stone of it. You actually own them! The stones and that scum both! You will soon be their king. Only they don’t know it yet. Yes, my prince, it is so, you alone know how you have had to give up all your freedom to learn to fight for theirs, learn to be considerate of them, learn to be polite and civil to them, and at the same time, they do nothing for you except be terrible, drinking and boozing and insulting you with their sword fighting challenges. But don’t you see how strong you have been? How they all lost out when you took up their challenge. As if that scum, that scum, could be a challenge for you! Remember how you rattled them? You taught them a lesson – yes, my prince – you taught them all a lesson. You have much to teach them because you have endured so much, so much trouble, so much pain, yes, you had to endure so much, alone. This is something you can blame them for if they don’t bow to who you are, a prince, a royal prince. Yes, that is you. So much more than what they will ever be. Listen to these words: constantly remember your pain, your anger, your burdens, and your fears. Yes, fears too, my prince. Your heart beats faster because of it. And this is your fear: the fear of not being enough, the fear of being disappointing, the fear of failing in the eyes of everyone and everything because deep down you know— oh great prince— yes, you know deep down that everything and everyone is focused on you. Do not forget that. Do not forget that. So think, good prince, think of the kingdom you will build. Think of the kingdom you will rule. The empire you could rule! Think of what it is that you will leave behind. You have the power to shape, to decide, to accomplish. Remember and never forget. Remember and never forget.”

And once the Prince of Coins woke up in the morning with big purple bags under his eyes, he thought about it constantly and never ever forgot.


Despite their makeshift chariot and the lingering tension, a peculiar peace settled between the Witch and the Dwarf. Gone was the forced merriment, replaced by a comfortable silence as they journeyed deeper into the unknown.

"Why the Emperor's ball?" the Dwarf finally ventured, curiosity getting the better of him.

The Witch's reply was a curt, dismissive "Hush." But the seed of inquiry was planted.

Undeterred, the Dwarf persisted, his voice barely above a whisper, "The flower field...the crater...what happened?"

The Witch stiffened, memories twisting within her like barbed wire. "Ask something else."

Their gazes drifted forward, the rolling hills and verdant landscapes a stark contrast to the turmoil within. The Land of Old Wives, with its familiar tales and whispers, faded into the distance.

A rumble from the Dwarf's stomach broke the quiet. "Hungry," he mumbled, more to himself than anything.

"Not my problem," the Witch retorted, her voice devoid of warmth.

They rode on, the silence once again settling like a thick fog. Yet, beneath the surface, a strange connection simmered. Perhaps it was the shared experience of being outcasts, or simply the comfort of not being entirely alone.

"Think this contraption will hold?" the Dwarf ventured, gesturing at the skeletal remains of the wagon.

The Witch shrugged, a hint of amusement flickering in her eyes. "We'll find out."

As the sun dipped below the horizon, casting long shadows across the land, the Witch found herself unexpectedly enjoying the lack of solitude.

"They'll recognize us in the City of Stars, wouldn't you say?" the Dwarf's voice broke the lull.

"Oh, I always get noticed," the Witch replied, a wry smile playing on her lips.

"Me too," the Dwarf sighed, a shared understanding passing between them.

The Witch's smile broadened. "Then let them notice. Why hide? Why pretend? People don't hold back when they see an ugly witch. They point, they laugh, they judge."

"Me too," the Dwarf echoed, his voice tinged with sadness.

"Both of us," the Witch declared, her gaze meeting his. "No reason to hold back now. Does an ugly witch fear stares?"

"Absolutely not!" the Dwarf proclaimed, a spark of defiance igniting in his eyes.

"Just as I thought," the Witch chuckled, a genuine sound that surprised even her.

Their laughter, rough and discordant against the quiet evening, echoed through the valley. And as they crested the final hill, the sprawling City of Stars unfolded before them, its glittering lights a beacon in the gathering darkness.

"Look!" The Dwarf's voice crackled with excitement, tinged with awe. "The Blue Gate, already!" He gestured toward the colossal aqueduct, its magnificent light blue stones gleaming in the distance. It spanned the valley like a majestic bridge, a direct path to the fabled City of Stars.

Even the Witch, accustomed to the wonders and oddities hidden in the world, couldn't help but feel a twinge of wonder. The closer they rode, the more elaborate the structure appeared, each archway intricately carved, the vibrant blue stones glowing with an ethereal light.

But as they approached, a sense of foreboding settled over them. The once grand entrance was sealed shut, high fences barring their path. Only one archway remained open, and before it stretched a monstrous queue – a tangle of people, animals, and carts under the relentless sun.

"Not exactly the grand welcome I imagined," the Witch muttered, her lips twisting into a wry smile. The closer they got, the more oppressive the line felt, seemingly frozen in time.

"Are they even…moving?" the Dwarf's voice trailed off, worry etching lines on his brow.

The Witch surveyed the scene, her eyes gleaming with a dangerous glint. "Looks like queuing won't get us anywhere." Her fingers twitched, power thrumming beneath her skin. "Perhaps a little nudge from magic…"

The Dwarf's eyes widened in alarm. "Destroy the gate? You'll cause chaos! Not to mention draw unwanted attention, which we can hardly afford now!"

The Witch chuckled, a harsh sound devoid of amusement. "Oh, you yearn for freedom, little friend? A taste of rebellion?"

But beneath the sharp words, a flicker of understanding softened her gaze. This wasn't the time to push him away.

"Fine," she sighed, surrendering with a heavy grace. "Never thought I'd say this, but…we take a detour."

"A detour?" The Dwarf echoed, curiosity replacing his apprehension.

"Of course! This blasted aqueduct has to end somewhere," the Witch declared, her voice cutting through the oppressive heat.

The Dwarf shook his head, a worried crease forming between his brows. "But do you have any idea how long that would take? The aqueduct stretches all the way to the source of the river, high up in the mountains! That's why they built it."

A defiant glint sparked in the Witch's eyes as she yanked on the reins, urging the horses forward. "Then we shall ride to the source, Dwarf! No queue, no gatekeeper, just the open river and our freedom."

A mix of fear and excitement flickered across the Dwarf's face.


Hundreds of souls, weary from their prolonged queueing at the Blue Gate, perked up at the sight of the unorthodox chariot taking a detour. Driven by the Witch's defiance, one by one, they abandoned their place in line, following the creaking wagon like moths drawn to a flame.

"Look!" the Dwarf exclaimed, pointing at the growing tail behind them. "They're...following us!"

The Witch smiled, a knowing glint in her eyes. "Indeed, friend. Those who tire of waiting long enough at a gate built to keep them out find their own path."

Suddenly, a sleek black fox with mischievous eyes leaped onto the cart, startling both companions.

"Greetings!" the fox announced in a velvety voice. "Tell me, what draws you to circumvent the Blue Gate?"

The Witch squinted at the creature, suspicion etched on her brow. "Who are you, and what business do you have here?"

"A mere black fox," the creature replied, unfazed by her scrutiny. "But one with keen senses and a sharp mind."

The Dwarf, always keen for conversation, chimed in with a cheerful, "Hello, black fox! Welcome!"

"Beware, Dwarf!" the Witch hissed. "This might be a cunning demon, using trickery to deceive us!"

The fox chuckled, its laughter light and airy. "Fear not, good Witch. Magic is not my domain, though I recognize yours clearly. You wear your power like a well-worn cloak."

A flicker of surprise crossed the Witch's face. "You see through me?"

"Perhaps," the fox replied, curling its tail around its paws. "Now, tell me, why this urgency to bypass the gate?"

The Witch hesitated, then began to speak, her voice laced with frustration. "The City of Stars...we sought the Blue Gate, but..."

"But the queue displeased you," the fox finished, understanding glimmering in its eyes. "Waiting is not in the nature of a witch, wouldn't you agree? Only those who can forge their own path deserve the title."

With that, the fox let out a delighted bark, mirroring the Witch's growing laughter. Her complaints flowed freely, fueled by indignation and amusement.

"To stand in line? Waste precious time in a queue? Never! Not while life offers adventures around every bend! Only a foolish witch, one incapable of taking control, would submit to such tedium!"

The black fox's joy at discovering a fellow truth-teller in the Witch was infectious. "Fantastic!" it squealed, twirling in a flurry of black fur. "A Witch who speaks honestly? Rare as snow in summer!"

"Don't push your luck, little fox," the Witch warned, a playful glint in her eyes despite her menacing tone. "Turning you to stone would be child's play."

The fox remained undeterred, meeting her gaze with its own mischievous grin. "Can you now? Surely with so many witches crossing your path, you'd have honed your truth-detecting skills by now. But fear not, I wouldn't lie. After all, how many black foxes have you encountered in your travels?"

A flicker of surprise lit the Witch's face. The fox had a point. Her intuition rarely failed, yet this creature's confidence was intriguing.

"And yet, here I sit," the fox added, settling comfortably on the makeshift chariot.

A comfortable silence settled between them, an unspoken truce forming. Curiosity sparked a question from the Witch. "What brings you to these mountains, fox?"

"The waterfall," the fox replied, its voice filled with excitement. "Hidden beneath it lies a pool, formed from the gentlest, purest drops. They call it the Mirror of Truth."

The Witch raised an eyebrow. "Ambitious for a fox," she noted, a hint of amusement in her voice.

"Indeed," the black fox chuckled. "For it is said that one who drinks from the pool sees their truest self reflected."

The Witch glanced back at the growing procession following them. For the first time, she wasn't met with fear or scorn. This strange journey, prompted by her impatience, had unexpectedly brought companionship, even understanding. A peculiar warmth bloomed in her chest.

"And what truth do you seek, little fox?" she asked, her curiosity piqued.

"They say," the fox's voice dropped to a whisper, "one sees not only their true self, but their true destiny."

The Witch's laughter echoed through the mountain air, a stark contrast to the serene beauty of the waterfall cascading nearby. "Are you sure you want to drink it, little fox? That Mirror of Truth can be a harsh mistress, revealing secrets you might not be ready for."

"Absolutely!" the black fox declared, its confidence unwavering. "Only good fortune awaits me, I can feel it!"

Just then, a flash of white caught their attention as a dove soared overhead, carrying a message tied to its leg. It came from the other side of the mountains, from the carriage of the Queen of Swords herself. With a graceful swoop, the dove followed the aqueduct towards the City of Stars.

A sly smile crept across the Witch's face as she watched the dove disappear into the distance. "Now that," she murmured to herself, "is not a bad idea at all..."