Grab a coffee, pop your feet up and settle in for a short story…
I saunter through the forest enjoying the feel of the soft moss underfoot. I can just see my little one out of the corner of my eye chasing a butterfly, frolicking over the greenery of summer. The bluebells are long gone leaving behind a wet spring. The sun, now warming the earth to a more pleasant temperature, indicates summer is finally here. I shouldn’t complain too much about the rain, the damp season has left the land fertile and the stream full and flowing; there will be plenty to graze on these coming summer months.
A subtle-sweet taste brings me to a halt. I lift my nose into the air searching for the direction of the scent. I sniff. I flick out my tongue tasting around my nose. I know that smell, bilberries. The taste makes my mouth water. I call out to the herd letting them know these exquisite berries are nearby.
I trot over the forests carpet and through the green coarse bracken, my nose keeping me on the trail of the scent. It fades a little by the big oak tree, I have to stop and search out the smell again, my long neck reaching up towards the thick canopy of the ancient oak. I walk around the tree focusing through my nose; the sound of a green woodpecker mocks me, its laughing chirp irritating. Where is that scent? At the right moment the breeze blows through the forest carrying the bilberry fragrance on its waves. I follow the current as it dances through the air streams tantalizing my taste buds.
At last I fall upon the berries growing in abundance, the scent now so strong I feel as if I am already chewing them. I dip my head and gorge on the ripe fruit. The berries explode as I pick them with my lips, juice running down my throat and squirting out from the corner of my mouth, sticking to my fur. Sensations take over my present and for a moment I forget where I am.
A loud snap jerks me back into the forest. My head shoots up. I freeze. Adrenaline fires my heart into a race and my legs ready to gallop. Then I hear a laugh I know well and any sense of danger disappears as quickly as it came. Foss, my fawn, trots into sight. A paradox of emotions envelope me, I’m impressed at his stealth but saddened he is growing so quickly. Hor elegantly walks into view; his majesty brings me into a bow.
‘You did well my Son,’ he praises. His magnificent antlers pierce the atmosphere above him. He dips his head into the bilberries to graze for a moment. Not once dripping juice around his mouth, he gracefully eats his share then backs away to give the others room to graze. He trots over to me keeping my eyes locked with his. His strength radiates a magnetic aura around him, a field of seduction, and once again I am momentarily immersed in sensations as he gently nuzzles his strong jaw down my nose; a moment of affection before he is gone ahead of the group to keep watch.
‘Come on little one,’ I nose Foss forward away from the berries, ‘save some for the others.’ Foss springs along by my side as we move away from the bilberry bushes.
‘Mother, when will father teach me to lead?’
‘You have a little way to grow before you become like your father,’ I smile. ‘Don’t be in a rush to grow up too soon; it’s a great responsibility to lead a herd.’ Foss runs up in front. I watch father and son share a moment of affection then Hor retakes his striking position watching over the herd.
‘It’s time to move,’ he calls to the herd, ‘forwards, to the meadow,’ he instructs and we all follow obediently.
The fawns run ahead. Near the meadow, the trees thin out giving them more room to spring about. I watch them stop abruptly near the stream. They haven’t been this far to the edge of the woods yet. We’ve been keeping them deep in the forest for safety. Their trepidation over the stream amuses me; I watch them slowly crawl near the flowing water then jump back instantly. I’m not sure if it is the sound of the stream or the speed of the flow that makes them apprehensive.
The males go ahead. The fawns watch their fathers walk through the stream. They realise it’s not too deep and one decides to jump in. Unfortunately, all too eager to follow the stag, he stumbles and goes under. His mother comes to his aid, grips him by the scruff of his neck and lifts him out onto the opposite side. Foss waits for me before he attempts to jump in.
‘All you need to do is walk in, Foss,’ I gently urge him, ‘follow me.’ Carefully he feels his way through the water. I stop for a drink, the bubbling cold water flows into my mouth refreshing me. Foss watches me and does the same. ‘See it’s not so scary is it?’
‘No mother.’ He bounds up the small bank on the other side and enters into the grassy meadow. Hor approaches.
‘Be careful now, Foss, don’t wonder too far from the group. Keep your eyes and ears alert and run if you sense any danger.’
‘Yes father,’ Foss replies as he runs off to join his friends. I cast my gaze over the meadow to admire its beauty. I watch the long grass sway in the breeze; seeds float across the top of the grass, each on its own destination. Contentment sweeps through me as I enjoy my surroundings. Up ahead I watch rabbits leaping about the entrances to their burrows. The starlings glide, twist and turn dancing in a kaleidoscope of movement. I activate all my senses to check for danger, none present, so I dip my head into the grass and start to graze.
The summer heat, now cooling, feels delightful on my hide. Warmth radiates through my body as I crunch the meadows green offering, the musky smell of the earth swaying through my nostrils as I search for the grass roots. Our young playing and laughing as they spring over one another, my most cherished sound; my favourite time of year is in full swing. A gentle breeze tickles my fur. I lift my head to check the scent brought to me on the currents of the air. I breathe in and taste the air and breathe out a happy sigh; all is well in the meadow.
I trot over to Hor for a nuzzle but something makes me stop before I reach him. My fur is prickling at the back of my neck, tingles of fear pulse down my body connecting my pathways of nerves. I look over my shoulder. I can’t see anything but it feels as though something is watching me. My guard is up, adrenaline pumps through my veins but I don’t move. I still can’t see or hear danger though my inner alarm is ringing. Something is not right; the sense of bliss that had enveloped me is now a buzzing of trepidation. Hor catches my eyes. He feels the alarm rolling off of me and stands to attention. He can sense it too. He calls out to the herd, a low call not audible to many creatures. Fos stops jumping and looks at me with curiosity, too young to be alarmed at the stags alert. I creep over to Fos, the long-wavy grass barely moving; my instinct to protect him over powering my initial sense of fear. My baby. My life.
Like a crack of thunder a deafening sound ricochets through the meadow sending flocks of birds skyward, feverously flapping their wings to escape. Rabbits dart here, there and everywhere disappearing down the nearest burrow into the safety of the underground. I realise I’m running. My legs are galloping over the grass my survival instinct taking over the momentum of my limbs, I see Fos just ahead of me running towards the woods.
‘Run Fos, keep running, into the woods, don’t look back, keep going!’ We get to the stream and jump into the trees and the safety of the forest.
The second bang, taking nothing by surprise, rips through the atmosphere splitting the heavens and earth. I hear him scream. Hor! I stop instantly and look back. Hors’ magnificent antlers wobble and bob just above the grass as he struggles to get to his feet. I hear the thud of the earth as he collapses on his side. He cries out to me, pain screeching from his lungs and I feel it, I feel his pain surge through me like fire burning me from the inside out. Then I see them. Humans with long black weapons heading towards my love and I know he’s doomed. These are his final moments; his last breaths. The herd kneel down, the knowing our leader is about to pass from this world into the next echoes through us as a group, a painful whisper joining us together in grief.
We watch on in horror as they bring his life to an untimely end. They drag him through the meadow by those magnificent antlers. None of us move. We stay hidden amongst the trees, shock keeping us motionless. A deafening silence falls through the forest, the kingdom of trees paying its respect to their fallen king. A high pitched wail breaks the silence. I lose the use of my legs and fall to the floor. Then I realise the wail is coming from me.
The colours changing in the canopy indicate the coming rains, the forest ceiling transformed from green to burnt and rust. The summer was hot but Hors death left an icy imprint, never warming, always there. I graze, filling my body with as much as I can before our food source thins. The monotony of daily routine the only thing I can focus on.
Snow covers the forest floor; the herd stays together for warmth. We’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel warm, a common problem of the white season.
Mendip, Hors’ brother, leads the herd through the snow. The silver moonlight shimmers and dances across the white landscape. Tiny sparkles of ice crisp beneath our feet as we journey to the place the red winter berries grow. Mendip strides out ahead, keeping watch, making sure our passage is safe. A deep orange glow ahead illuminates an old church no longer used by humans. They come to look at it during the day though I’ve always wondered why they are fascinated with a building crumbling under the stress of time, no longer loved or cared for.
The building opposite to the church overflows with human life. The warm glow of their light fashions strange shadows on the snow. I want to see their habitat. I look up at Mendip to make sure he is not looking. We are forbidden to go too close to human territory. My curiosity pulls me towards the shadows. I can see fire, a large fire burning at one end of the room. My instinct tells me to go no further but I have to, something other than my instinct is pulling me towards the picture I see of dancing flames and humans laughing.
I’m close to the window now; I can feel warmth coming through the window from the fire. I can’t feel my body but the fear rolling through me reminds me I’m alive. One more step and I’ll be next to the window. I inch my head forward, my nose almost touching the glass. With a skip of my heart I freeze. Hor’s magnificent antlers pierce the atmosphere above them as his dead eyes stare back at me.