Quicken, the Chase, the Deer


by Silvia Park

I slice my palm with a knife and hold the jade blade so my brother can take it by the hilt. I look away because he’s struggled before with cutting himself and nothing rouses his embarrassment into rage like my neutral gaze. In the royal pavilion, surrounded by silent nobles and courtiers, we grip hands squeezing our mingled blood onto the skull of our last hunt many years ago. The blood hisses on the curved beak of the phoenix, a creature long-dead but the bone still heats up with a murderous fury. My brother coughs.

“Attend to the Crown Prince,” our mother the Queen says. My brother bravely holds up his wounded hand for the royal physician. I rub my palm across the crimson silk over my leg and a servant hands me my bow.

Today is my brother’s coming-of-age ceremony. The sun shines fierce with the occasional light breeze. It’s too hot for a hunt, but we’re also standing close to a phoenix skull radiating with such malice. I step down from the pavilion and my brother, surrounded by his attending servants, calls out, “Elder Brother, are we having another bet?”

“You would lose on the day you become a man?” I mean that as a light jest, but our mother has told me before that my smile is infrequent and sinister.

“The last hunt, I would have won,” he insists, “if you did not rush for the kill.”

“I was saving your life,” I mutter, although it would be his word against mine, and my brother has his retinue, members of the Flower Guard who have devoted their lives to their future king.

I usually hunt alone. Our mother has suggested this morning that I pay my respects to our Western guests by inviting them to join.

Our Western guests declined. They sit with our mother the Queen under the cool shade of the pavilion, and if not for them, she’d be the most decorative object. They are motionless, clad in their thick brocade laced to the throat, without a drop of sweat to spare. We share a common ancestor, but their faces and eyes and hair have been leeched of all color. These are the Eldar who chose to leave and head West, and for centuries they have shunned us until one day they glided into our ports in ships white as bone, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, remote as the far-off peaks of mountains, faded from cloud and snow. Standing along the railing were these beautiful deathly passengers. They didn’t disembark but stared down at us without a word, their crystalline faces frozen, those lips blueish.

Only the White Wizard, positioned by the bow, greeted us with a wide smile.

“Where is the White Wizard?” my brother says, lifting his head, peering for that tall gray figure. “Hasn’t he said he will be joining us?”

I tug at my brother, bringing him close. “Let us not be so friendly with our Western guests.”

Our kingdom is in a vulnerable state with the passing of our father four winters ago. Tomorrow my brother will ascend the throne. For the Eldar to show up at our shores after ignoring our diplomats and gifts and entreaties for so long, the timing is suspicious.

Even so, my brother finds these exotic guests exciting. We were raised on stories of the Elves who sailed West across the Great Sea. My father said it was the father of his father who made the decision to stay behind. Centuries after the death of his father, my father had heard the Eldar had finally found their treasure in the West: the secret to immortality.

“What can they do on our land?” my brother says. “We outnumber them, we would slaughter them before they could raise a hand against us.”

“At least forbid the White Wizard from your coming-of-age tomorrow, even if we risk offense.”

The White Wizard is not of the Eldar. He wears the stooped form of a mortal Man like a weather-beaten cape, but they say the Wizard carries powers beyond our imagination.

“Then bet on it, Elder Brother,” my brother says.

This is for your safety, I want to shout at him, but the days when I could scare him into obedience with a sharp rebuke are long-gone. Wearily I ask, “What would you win in return?”

The last hunt, he asked for my horse, and before that, my squire, and before that, my swordsmaster. Always, he has wanted to take the living things from me.

His gaze falls to my sword. Our father the King passed it onto me on his deathbed. The naked blade laid across his body, trembling with the rise and fall of his hollowed chest. Take it, he said, and who was I to deny my father’s final wish?

I remember the look of devastation on my brother’s face when I left our father’s chambers with the sword in my possession. It is the sword of a king, passed on from one king to the next, but I knew, and our father knew, this was the consolation prize for the throne that should have been mine.

I gently refuse. “This is too valuable for a trifling bet.”

“Value is what makes a bet. If you win, you can have the throne.”

I say nothing. My brother’s eyes squeeze into slits as he laughs until he breaks into a mirthful wheezing fit. “You don’t have to look so frightening, Elder Brother.”

A servant comes up to me, shrinking away when I look at her. She comes with a message from the Queen, who is speaking to one of the Eldar, hiding her pointed face behind her silver fan. She hasn’t looked me in the eye all day. But her message is straight as an arrow.

Protect your brother. Let him win. Don’t trust the White Wizard.

The White Wizard joins me for the hunt. He rides a gray dappled horse that sticks close to mine, like a stallion in heat sniffing after a mare. “Has the crown prince always been a betting man?” says he, a smile hidden under that filthy gray beard.

“Don’t you have siblings, wizard?”

“Indeed, my brethren,” he says, voice brightening. “There is Radagast the Brown who has vowed to speak only with squirrels for ten years. Dear Olorin the Gray whose beard leaves a trail of floating dandelion seeds and Alatar the Blue who journeyed Far East but was never able to set foot in your kingdom—”

“Do you all take that wretched form of Man?”

The Wizard chuckles at my insolent tone. Surely he knows how duplicitous it seems to choose a form so false. The Wizard is a head taller than most our subjects, taller than me and I am thought a giant in our kingdom. Yet he showed up at our court undetected and unannounced when my father was already ill in bed. None of us had laid eyes on a Man before, and my brother and I found the thousand web-like scars on the Wizard’s sagging, papery skin fascinating, carved by wind and sun and time, his hoary beard so thick I’ve spotted little lizards dart out and disappear. His gaze was so pale I thought he had gone blind until I saw the Eldar and their faded, frigid eyes.

I dismount my horse and tie her reins to a tree, as her bulk will likely alert our quarry. I throw some dirt into the air and it whorls like fickle snow. The breeze is coming from all directions, spreading our scent everywhere.

The Wizard trips over the hem of his robe. He laughs at his own clumsiness and begins wheezing, as if his lungs cannot hold his breath. Knock away his staff and he is a frail mortal who could easily fall—from an arrow in the back, a knife in the throat.

“Your murderous scent is strong, my prince.”

I catch myself before I look at him. “We have a cursed creature to hunt.”

“Your father told me of your hunting prowess. The finest in the kingdom. Was it not you who caught the Black Phoenix?”

Unbidden, a prick of warmth spreads across my chest. “I felled the creature together with my brother.”

It was the first time my brother had hunted with me. He stuck close to me the whole day, a nervous smile flickering whenever I glanced down at him. It was he who prepared the fireproof net. When I shot down the phoenix with an arrow in the shoulder, he insisted on throwing the net and holding it down with his own strength, but the net tore under its sharp obsidian beak and the bird burned my brother’s arm. I will never forget the billowing fury of the bird in flames, immune to arrows and blades. I had to break its neck with my gloved hands and to this day, when the sun shines bright, the scars on my palms waft with the stench of burning meat.

“The last time I visited your kingdom, you and your brother seemed much closer,” the Wizard says in a gentle tone, as if to prepare me for disappointment. “It wasn’t so long ago, was it?”

I shoot him a look. “Four years, Wizard,” I say. “By the time you boarded your ship, our father was dead.”

I have wanted to kill the Wizard since I saw him in my father’s chamber. He was granted a private audience, an unthinkable exception granted to a foreigner, with my father so weakened. But we were mad-eyed with grief, grasping onto the hope the Wizard would present my father the Gift of the Eldar, a cure for his sickness.

“My prince, I am not your enemy. I vowed to protect you from those closest to you.”

How can I trust those twisting words? What I saw was my father reach out to the Wizard in supplication, but the Wizard merely smiled and ignored the thin, trembling hand. For the briefest of seconds, his face transformed. He shed the appearance of a ravaged elder Man and for a second he wore an unblemished, almost womanly face, rosy and clear-eyed, mocking my father on his deathbed.

“You are the eldest,” the Wizard says. “Eleven moons separate you and your brother, and I hear you outstrip him in intelligence and prowess. You may be overserious and taut as the giant bow you string but even your swordsmaster has said the gap between you will never—”

“Quiet. Don’t you know of my swordsmaster’s fate?”

The Wizard blinks with the smug calm of a cat. “Your mother reserves such rancor toward you, one would think you were not born of her womb.”

“It is because I am her trueborn my existence torments her all the more.”

The funeral for my father lasted a full moon cycle. As soon as we shed our colorless funeral hemp, I felt the uncontrollable urge to leave. I felt as if I would burn from the inside out. My brother begged me to stay—for the kingdom, for him. He pled and threatened, for he was still but a child and did not understand the delicate threat of my presence to his ascension.

I would not be deterred. When I strapped on my sword, I was tall and invincible, finally embodying the youthful, unravaged version of my father, ready to fulfill his greatest dream. When I set foot on the boat to sail West and felt the first wobble of the ocean, I grew small with doubt, for I had my weapon and my horse and a light pack for provisions. I had no one on my side.

I wandered for three years. What was I searching for in the West? Not the Gift of the Eldar, which I could no longer bestow on our father. Perhaps, I think now, the destination had never mattered, only that I would never return. My mother was desperately relieved to hear of my intended journey, and secretly she must have thought that would be the last she’d see of me, for the morning of my departure, she wept, “My child, if I had anything left, I would give it to you.”

I hear the crunch of leaves; I lift my hand signaling to the White Wizard who slithers to a stop. I throw another handful of dust. We’re downwind and close to the river. At the start of the hunt, my brother picked west since the river flows with the arc of the sun and gentles into a creek, far from our palace. But I know this forest and three summers ago a dried-up brook toward the east revived with a burble.

An arrow notched into my bow, I creep through the bushes, then straighten up with a pinch in my brow.

It’s a deer but not the one we seek. The corpse rests against the trunk of an old oak, strung by the hind legs so the slit throat flows freely. The arrow is still embedded in the tendon of the neck, the fletching dyed in my brother’s gold. I’ve taught him to save arrows. He left it in the deer’s throat, as a message. A taunt.

“This Cursed Deer,” the Wizard says. “Why has it been deemed cursed?”

“Only the Queen would know,” I reply, as I lead him closer to the brook. After we reach the water, I mention that my mother was the last to have an audience with the woodcutter who spotted the Deer before she had his hands and tongue removed.

“For what terrible crime?”

“Punishment for cutting down trees in the royal forest.”

“You sound doubtful, my prince.”

After her private audience with the woodcutter, our mother the Queen declared the Cursed Deer a most ominous sign and ordered its extermination. Five reputed hunters entered the forest. Three days later, only one returned with a weeping blackened hole in his stomach and collapsed at our court, unspooling his intestines. Gored into his guts was the broken branch of an antler. Under a thick glass, the royal physician detected flakes of gold and chipped rubies embedded in the antler.

Our mother, who has never expressed interest in hunts or war games, is determined this beast is killed before my brother ascends the throne.

The Wizard muses the Cursed Deer must have been a truly terrible sight to strike such fear in a queen’s heart.

I tell the Wizard to be silent and keep watch as I weave together a camouflaged tent from leaves and branches, and prop it to a tree by the brook so we can crouch inside and wait. It’s still midday but with the sun shy behind the canopy, it feels like dusk. I am hungry and so is the Wizard who makes a low groaning noise, like a pregnant cow. Following me on foot, his robe had snagged on all sorts of branches and insects.

I peer out at the brook through a gap in our tent. The water’s hypnotic glimmer beckons me.

“Wizard,” I say. “I had a dream about you.”

“Was it a sweet dream?”

“It began as sweet as a butterfly’s tongue. I was in an enchanted forest. It was winter, blanketed in a glittering snow, but I felt no cold. You were with me, guiding me through this forest. But,” I glance at him, “you did not look as you do now.”

“What shape did I take, my prince?”

“I do not remember,” I lie, and shiver from the chill of my sweat. “But I didn’t sense malice from you, not then. You brought me to a secret path through the forest. The path was lined with frozen animals. Baby animals, in pairs. Baby rabbits, baby chipmunks and mice and squirrels, and larger animals too, but still infants, those wolf pups and kitten tigers. Their eyes were open and veiled in the same pale blue, but they seemed asleep.”

“Not dead?”

“I don’t know. I looked down at them and peace was in my heart.”

As I recount this dream, I feel the soporific effects of the peace it inspired. I close my eyes, slow to open them. I must stay awake. Despite his soothing presence in my dream, I do not trust the White Wizard. I cannot trust anyone.

The Wizard begins to snore.

What a hopeless creature. I lay my head against the trunk. In my dream, the Wizard did not take this helpless form. He was naked. He was neither man nor woman. When he moved, his skin rippled like cream in a bowl. His eyes were a pale veiny blue. Blood blacker than coal was caked around his nostrils. He was missing teeth and his voice when he spoke splintered like the treacherous surface of a frozen lake. He looked like a creature I had never seen before.

Yet I was not afraid. Why was I not afraid? Maybe in dreams we no longer fear what is so unfamiliar in reality.

I feel a cold prick on my face. Raining? The sun was so belligerent this morning. My mother will be displeased, although I’m sure if the court can claim the sun was shining bright on my brother with divine approval, they can also argue the rain signals a bountiful reign.

Across the brook, I see a tree shudder. No: a head full of antlers. The sliver of sunlight is weak and all I can make out is the bulk of the deer, head bowed to the water. The antlers alone are a sight to behold. They are black as wrought iron. They spread the width of a thousand-year-old tree, claws curved into blood-tipped points. Trailing from the antlers are tangled hoary greenery, ivied with gold and jade and pearls and rubies. Quietly, as the Deer drinks, the antlers shake and the gems weep, tears from pearls, blood from rubies.

When the Deer lifts his head, I will aim for the flesh behind the shoulder and pierce the lungs. Never the head, I told my brother, but he favored that spot, deeming it more of a challenge.

I have the shot. I can win the bet. My brother was surely jesting. Unless he knew he could make such a tasteless joke under the assured knowledge I would not leave this forest alive.

More cold stings my face. At this, I raise a hand. It isn’t rain but snow. A smattering of flakes. My arrow dips as I look around, stunned by the sudden change. Did the snow follow me here from the West?

The Wizard snorts awake.

I startle and so does the Deer. The Cursed Deer raises his eyes and stares deep into mine. Wet stars in those black eyes. A snuffling snout glistening with saliva. Draped across the muscular shoulders are white flecks of snow. I cannot move.

Then he is gone.

I did not even hear those jewels shake. He vanished so swiftly, he could have been a ghost.

I curse the Wizard who is yawning as if nothing has happened. His eyes crinkle in bemusement from my outburst and questions if I am serious in my intent to win this bet.

“I want to end this farce,” I shout, and grabbing my weapons I tear down the tent, crush the branches under my feet.

I return to retrieve my horse and the Wizard his; the Wizard’s gray horse paws the dirt in agitation but mine is gone. The reins to tether her hang loose, severed by the clean cut of a blade. I search the mud for her hoof prints, but I can’t trace any panic. If she had cried out in surprise, I would have heard her.

A complacent trail of her hoofprints lead me through the forest to the edge of a deep ravine where I find her at the bottom. The river laps around her corpse.

“The poor creature,” the White Wizard whispers into my ear. “What could have frightened her?”

“She wasn’t frightened,” I say. “She was led here.”

With one last look below, I snap an arrow in two and drop the pieces into the ravine. Had I found my horse still breathing and suffering, I would have shot her between the eyes.

The Wizard offers his horse, but I turn him down. Without a ride, if an enemy spots me, I cannot outrun them, but on a horse, I am easier to track.

I think of abandoning the hunt. I should abandon the Wizard who sits astride his gray horse. He appears younger now. In the last hour since my horse’s death, the haze in his eyes has receded. Even his straggly beard has shortened to a wisp that tickles just underneath the pinkened chin.

“Why did you say you would protect me?” I say.

The Wizard looks down his long misshapen nose. “I promised your father.”

“Why now? Why would you bring the Eldar to us after scorning us for so long?”

To them, we are the Avari. Too cowardly to accept the summons and embark on the Great Journey West. We were the Unwilling.

“My prince, while you were traveling West, what did you see?”

“I saw towns, villages. I saw Men slay each other for patches of grass and the avariced retreat to their dank caves of gold. I saw the Elves disregard the rest. They were no different from our people in the East.”

“What you did not see is the great evil that spreads day by day,” the Wizard says. “The Eldar are proud and just, but they cannot fight against this evil alone. They cannot afford a foolish, selfish king as an ally.”

“What evil do you speak of?” I say, but the Wizard shushes me.

We reach where we began, but I stay under the cover of the woods, watching my mother from afar. She has left her throne under the pavilion and is walking in a slow circle with one of the Eldar, servants close behind with fluttering fans of waxed crane feathers. The sun looks stunning outside the forest. My mother can’t stand the heat. Once, she told me winter was her favorite season and this filled me with such joy, for I was born in the middle of a snowstorm.

My mother refused to hold me at my birth. Our father the King was away, and she has told me time and again how fortunate I am that he did not lay eyes on me when I was still fresh from her womb. He would have had me killed on the spot. It was her mercy that spared my life—mercy, as if I had committed an unspeakable crime for taking my first breath.

The Wizard places his hand on my shoulder, startling me. “Your mother does not love you,” he says.

I glance at his hand. On my shoulder snowflakes stick to my clothes like chestnut burrs, refusing to melt. I turn on my heels and stalk into the forest, leaving the Wizard behind.

It’s snowing in the forest, harder now. My footsteps are soft for the ground beneath me can still betray my secrets. But the forest is ready to embrace me and for a moment I think I could disappear. I follow the birds as they rustle and flit anxiously between the leaves. Their chirping fades, leaving only the susurration of snow shaken from the branches, and at the gentlest point of the river I cup my hand over my eyes and see the Cursed Deer behind the bushes.

Soft puffs of cloud exhale from the flaring dark nostrils. The Deer steps through the bush.

I see why it is cursed.

The Deer is heavily pregnant. The belly bulges obscene, full as the moon. Yet the Deer raises the crown of antlers and stares me resolute in the eye.

I stagger into the water. Ice-cold crackle draws my eyes down. The river has frozen over. When I look up, I can barely see. The thick churn of snow clouds my vision. The Deer is gone. I slosh through the river quickly to firm land when I hear a voice crying for help.

It is my brother. He calls for our mother. Then he calls for me.

I can’t help but answer him. “I’m here,” I shout back. “Can you hear my voice?”

“Elder Brother,” he screams. “Where are you?”

He sounds so young. I continue to shout his name until I see a dark figure through the storm. The snow isn’t frigid nor is there a wind harsh against my face but the swirl makes it difficult to breathe. We have to find shelter. There is a cave westward in the forest, but can I trust my feet to bring us there?

My brother flings himself into my arms. When he raises his head, I am shocked by the roundness of his face, how slight he now feels in my embrace. He looks as he did when I left him to journey West. Still a child.

“Why did you leave me?” he weeps. “You promised to never leave my side.”

The last time he hugged me like this, it was after our hunt for the phoenix. He had suffered a light burn on his arm. For that, our mother punished me. That night, he asked to see my hands and held them in his, and seeing his stricken, reddened eyes, I thought he could be king. I swore over a burnt palm that I would protect him.

In the cave, my brother asks when the snow will end. He worries that people will be looking for him. Given his younger appearance, I thought he would not remember about the hunt. But my brother asks what happened to his Flower Guard. I tell him I did not see them. I do not mention my horse. Or the White Wizard.

I throw my cape around him and tell him to stay here.

“Don’t go,” he says.

I try to reassure him, but he starts coughing. I feel for his forehead and he bats away my hand, with embarrassment.

“Tell me about your journey West,” he says.

In the past, I told him grand tales. I made up stories. But even though he has appeared before me as the child who could love me, I tell him the truth.

“It was always snowing,” I say.

It was this same unnatural snow. Never the howling storms or lashing winds, just gentle and harmless and ceaseless. No matter the season, the shy grass, the lusty flowers. The cold was slight too, the temperature of my hands after I’ve dipped them in a spring. But the relentless snow filled me with dread. In one of the villages, I asked a wide-eyed woman, with bloodless lips, about the snow and she asked what I meant, it was still summer. Then I realized, the villagers all had lips of blue, eyes faded, and they would move and mutter. They did not seem to know they were dead.

I left the village in a hurry. Then, a few days later, a trickle of blood slipped down my leg, uninjured. I began to bleed unnaturally.

“Were you dying?” my brother says.

“I thought I was,” I say.

“Father coughed until he bled. Mother said that is why I couldn’t see him. But you were allowed.” His tone turns accusing.

“Mother did not have to worry for me.”

“Do you think Father loved you more?”

I feel my mouth twitch. Incredibly, I want to smile. “What does it matter? Father never knew the entirety of me.”

“But Mother does,” my brother says.

“Yes,” I say. “She knows what I am.”

After my brother falls asleep, I continue my tale. In the West, alone in a foreign land, I bled like a woman for the first time. The pain felled me to my knees. I did not want to move at all. I was sure I was dying. I freed my horse and carved my name, and my father’s name, into a stone, and wept at the futility of it.

I laid my sword down and waited. I greeted the sun the next day. The day after that, and after that, and the bleeding subsided. So I picked up my sword and began the long journey home and mere weeks after my arrival the death ships reached our port, with the White Wizard near the helm.

Standing outside the cave is the Wizard. His robe slithers across the dirt. The snow dances around him as if an invisible force repels them. His hair and his beard grow darker, a curling shade of rust.

“This is your chance, my prince,” the Wizard says, as the echo of the cave carries his whisper. “You do not even need to lift your blade. All you have to do is leave him and walk away.”

At my feet, my brother curls up tighter, registering the chill without my presence when I rise.

“It is what your father would have wanted,” the Wizard says.

I bleed still, every few months. When I realized I wasn’t going to die, I was relieved. Not because I yearned to live, but because I had discovered this entirely on my own. For if I had stained the sheets in my bedchamber my mother’s spies would have reported back to her. Once again she would have made my body her humiliation.

Would my father have shunned me if he knew the truth? I will never know. Perhaps this is the mercy my mother has granted me.

I draw my sword. The blade plunges through the Wizard’s chest where his heart should beat. He releases a soft gasp. Did I think he would vanish in a puffery of smoke and lies? Yes. But his body slumps heavy at my feet. The red seeps quickly into his white robe and the toes of my boots.

Instead of wiping my sword, I leave it unsheathed when I return to my brother’s side but he is gone, leaving nothing but my crumpled cape.

Outside, it has stopped snowing.

When I find my brother, he is no longer a child. He is laughing, surrounded by his Flower Guard.

They have formed a circle around the Cursed Deer. Arrows quiver from the flank. None have hit the Deer in the belly that hangs swollen. For this is why my mother has deemed the Deer cursed. A stag who dares to bear a child, or a doe who dares to wear a crown.

My brother shoots another arrow. The Deer dodges it to protect the pregnant belly. The arrowhead pierces deep into the rump. Soon, the Deer falls. Now they aim for the belly. With every thunk, the body twitches helplessly. My brother is laughing so hard he’s coughing. The tickle in his throat is back.

“Look at this monster,” my brother says. “It just won’t die.”

His gaze latches onto me and I feel the turn of a key as his expression locks into place, the contempt he has reserved for this dying creature a mere echo of the disgust he feels for me.

A mistake, my mother has called me. A monster born with parts belonging to both man and woman, promising I would be neither. As she wept on the morning of my journey West, she whispered that I was just a doe, foolish enough to think fallen branches would make antlers. She said I would never seed a child with my cursed body.

His Flower Guard surrounds me. I give him my congratulations. He’s won the bet.

I hold out our father’s sword.

His eyes turn cool. “Keep it, I have no need of it.” He gestures. “Why not use it to finish off this creature.”

When did he become lost to me? Is it the moment I abandoned him, so soon after our father passed, and stayed away for three years? Is it when our mother told him the truth about me?

He crouches in front of the corpse, and shoves a handful of leaves between the deer’s teeth to soak the blood.

“Make it clean,” my brother says. “I want the antlers to be perfect.”

After I behead the creature, I pull out the knife attached to my ankle. I slice the belly without touching a single organ, even a belly as full as this. I strip the skin and separate the limbs, and by the time I look up, my brother is walking away, his Flower Guard with him. Two of his guards carry the crown-laden head, too heavy it requires both their strength.

The rest of the body is discarded. Without the crown, it is a dead pregnant doe.

I sit on the grass for a breath, then two, and wipe my bloodied hand across my sleeve. The blood is too heavy for my silk to soak.

Then I see the corpse twitch. The foreleg jerks from something writhing inside the belly.

A sweet rotten smell turns the air. With a squelch, the slit in the creature’s belly widens like the slow blink of a giant reddened eye. I hear scratching noises, the clawing of a little hoof, as a drenched, gummy creature fights its way out of the belly. It scrambles up on shaky legs, tilting on just three, the fourth decomposed or unformed. The fawn’s head twitches, snout dripping with thick brackish fluid. It stares at me with blue-white eyes.

“My prince,” the fawn says, “why are you crying?”

The White Wizard is nowhere to be seen. But the fawn speaks in the Wizard’s lilting voice.

I know what you are, I tell the fawn.

The fawn clops up to me and nuzzles against my arm. “I knew you would recognize me. I am the opalescent air that has coiled in your brother’s lungs. I am the silent embrace that will sweep through your kingdom. I am the love that kisses each and every one of you equally.”

“You should have let me die. When I was journeying West, I found those villages, frozen like the little creatures in my dream. Hundreds, no thousands. Man, dwarf, elf, it did not matter. Moving until they stopped. Even then, they would not rot.”

“You could have turned us away,” the fawn sighs. “Your captain awaited your orders. You could have shot us from afar with arrows kissed with the flame of the dead phoenix, but you did not. You stayed your hand because you knew.”

Tomorrow my brother will be king. He will take everything from me and what is everything but nothing? How foolish of my brother to sneer at me, thinking he has won this bet and every bet to come. How foolish of my mother to wish my death when soon her favorite son will succumb. How foolish of the Eldar to sail West in search of a fatal cure.

“I made a promise to your father,” the diseased voice says. “You, my prince, will still be king.”

  1. Lit. “hunting deer in the central plain.” Fig. “attempting to seize the throne.” ↩︎

About the Author

Silvia Park is the author of the novel Luminous (Simon & Schuster, 2025). Her specialty slants speculative, applying it as a lens to render the strange ordinary and the ordinary strange. Her fiction won the 2018 Fiction Prize from the Sonora Review and was chosen as a finalist for the 2019 Black Warrior Review Contest. Her stories have been published in Black Warrior Review, Tor.com, The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, and elsewhere.

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