Winter had reached the Point, and it was furious. What was usually a calm warm breeze in the three other season was now frozen and vicious. It whipped hailstones like bullets at the tall doe’s hide, stinging like a horsefly’s bite with every hit. She should have crossed the Spit an hour ago, but a chestnut stag had made an attempt to cross before her vigil was done, and now the storm was whipping the sea into a frenzy.
Chasing the stag off had put her a fair way down the western beach, and by the time she made her way back to the Point, the sandy Spit was already covered by the white-water tide. The gale-force wind pulled at her tail, threatened to push her from the sodden dune that she stood on. Knowing she couldn’t stand out here forever, she resigned herself to having to stay on the mainland for the night.
It would not be a terrible hardship - there was shelter nearby up beyond the trees and she’d rested there before - though passing through the belt of weak eucalypts during an ice storm was not favourable. The high winds would tear at their branches, and there was always the danger of fallen trees as she passed under them to the rocky shelters beyond. Still, it beat standing out in the freezing sleet waiting for the tide to recede.
She pushed her tired body into a lumbering trot, making her way toward the trees with one last lingering glance back at the Spit. She hoped Ket wouldn’t worry. Now the Autumn rut had passed and the stags’ blood was cooling along with the weather, there had been far fewer challenges at the Spit, but one or two stags were still hopeful to find a doe still in season out on the Point and Étaín and the other guards still kept a constant watch on the entrance to the peninsula.
As the large grulla doe ducked under the low tree branches covering the slim path, she could at least feel glad that the season was coming to an end. Her own body was still insistent that it wasn’t quite over yet, but she hoped this would be her last heat cycle for winter. It was hard to make your point to a stag when your voice said, “no”, but your body clearly lied to them, “yes”. Not that many stags would look twice at her. Despite what must be a tempting aroma about her, that was about all that turned the heads of any stag turning autumn. As soon as they saw her giant stature and blunt masculine features, they soon decided they’d rather find a different smaller and prettier doe. Some even mistook her for a stag, and her scent as an indication that somewhere she held a viable doe for them to steal. She soon saw to them with a hard kick.
Does on the Point were not forbidden for finding stags during rut, but stags themselves were certainly forbidden for seeking out does on the Point. She knew of a few does who would likely be birthing come spring or summer, and even though it would be many years before they were grown, Étaín would be glad for the extra numbers. Some of the first does to be born on the Point would soon be coming of age to help defend their home next year, and Étaín made a note to talk to Ket about increasing their training now they would be less preoccupied with visiting stags.
Despite the handful of fawns born into the herd each year, they were not really increasing in number. Not all of the does who came to join them were cut out to stay. Some became frightened and returned to their birth herd, whereas others simply realised they did not enjoy a life without the protection of stags. Étaín did her best to keep them safe - and they had been without incident for years now - but they would always need more warriors, and not all members were cut out for the rigors of training and fighting.
The wind howled above her, and without warning a brittle branch snapped from its bough and whipped the doe across the face. She squealed and tossed her head, the burn of a new cut searing her brow. Almost snarling, she stamped on the offending branch where it had landed on the floor and continued on, eyes slitted against the wind and ears pinned back.
Thankful at least it hadn’t blinded her, she stepped over a fallen tree trunk and pushed through the overgrown foliage on her quest for shelter. She found herself wishing for wind powers of her own, so she might fight back against the storm, but she knew that was impossible. She had never possessed any inkling of power. She usually relied on Ket for that kind of backup.
Her mind wandered back to the prospects of the herd. They needed more numbers if they were going to present a strong front for next year. The stronger they became, the more the rumours grew. The more their rumours grew, the more stags came looking for them. The more stags that came looking for them, the stronger they had to be. It was a cycle that would never end, and Étaín was conscious that next year they might not be so lucky if they could not increase their numbers, particularly of those that were ready to fight for what they believed in.
She would talk to Ket on her return about going out and finding more does to join their cause. It had been few years since they’d actively recruited, and perhaps by now there were more does out there willing to join them. How many of them though would be warriors? What she really needed were more does like her and Ket, but short of filling the herd with their own daughters, she didn’t see how that was possible.
She almost tripped on a rock as the path started to climb, and that last thought rang clear and loud in her head. Snorting, Étaín shook her head and started up the steep path. She was not cut out for motherhood, as she had already proven in her birth herd. She’d left a son and a daughter there, but even before she joined the Point Splinter does, she had not been the most loving mother. She’d simply had fawns because it was expected of her, and allowed any stag to claim her that could stomach the sight of her. Suffice it to say, there had never been a fight over which stag would get that right. Some would even fight with the sole purpose of losing her to another stag.
Étaín had long grown out of doing things just because it was expected of her. The fawns had grown up with a mother who fed them, and protected them, but could not love them. The same would probably be said for any fawn she produced now. But someone will love them, chimed an unhelpful voice in her head that was slowly getting louder. There were does on the Point who would not care that the fawn was hers. They had more than enough love to share. Any fawn of hers born on the Point would be loved, if not by her than by her adopted sisters.
Étaín grumbled and hefted herself up a rocky bank, finally clearing the trees and turned to look out over the windblown forest below. Cockle Bay was dark and black, ringed with white-crested waves. It matched the ominous black clouds overhead, and the doe knew the weather was about to get a whole lot worse. She turned to the rock-face, orienting herself with the cliff before her. Somewhere along here was a cave big enough for her to fit inside, where she could wait out the storm in relative comfort. She looked right and left, and hastily set off in what she hoped was the right direction.
Her hormones were usually in check - stags held very little appeal to her even when in heat - but something that little voice was whispering was making the whole idea of having a foal very appealing. She tried to reason with the voice, reminding herself that even if she wanted one, she was hardly going to find a stag out here now she’d chased them all away, let alone one that would care to mate with such an ugly doe. Besides, the idea of letting any stag who wasn’t brave enough to face her in combat sire a foal out of her would defeat the entire purpose. She needed a daughter who wasn’t afraid to beat the odds, who would fight for what she believed in. She wouldn’t get that from any stag she knew on Windborne.
She let out a sigh of relief when she saw the opening to the cave up ahead, and she ducked into it without checking inside first. She knew from experience it was usually empty. Bracing her legs, she shook the ice and rain from her coat with a mighty full-body shiver, and as her eyes and ears adjusted to the gloom and relative silence, she made her way to the back of the small rocky alcove to wait out the storm.
The tired bone-cold doe lowered her head lest she knock her horn on the sloping roof above. She instantly felt warmer now she was out of the wind and rain, and sighed contentedly. It would be nice to sleep with a roof over her head for once. Windborne was a harsh place, hardly the sort of place to bring a foal into. The problem was, she knew it could be done, and the idea was as stubbornly set as any plan she’d made in the past.
Her tail gave a satisfied flick, and the big broad doe sighed. If she was right in thinking this was going to be her last heat of the season, then it would have to wait for next year for her to sate that little voice in her head, the one controlled by hormones. She’d stamped it down for six years, it would wait another. She wasn’t going to find any stag out here before her cycle ended, and the chance of ever finding one that passed muster was next to none. She’d have to lower her standards, that was for sure.
Sometimes, Tor had to admit there were perhaps better courses of action than those he chose. Well, a lot of the time. But where the bay stag could usually just brush off rash actions and be on his way none the wiser, there were times like this were he really knew he had gotten in over his head.
The wind and snow and hail cut at him from all directions, despite his best attempts to fend them off. When the angry clouds had appeared in the distance, the rest of the herd had hunkered down. Winter was interminably boring, ignoring the shortage of food, there were never any promises of fighting or skirmishes, as the splinter herds and the main group entered an uneasy truce, more content to battle with the elements. Sure, he could have stayed back in the sheltered grottos behind the mountains with the actual Stormbringers to divert the worst of the raging storm, but where was the fun in that? Or so he’d thought.
Unlike the mostly wet summer storms that lashed the isle, winter storms had added ferocity; rain hardened into ice and the clouds screamed down at any who dared defy them. Stormchasing was forbidden - officially - in the main herd; the Stormbringers said it was foolhardy and dangerous. But Tor had spent his spring and summer fending off the storms, meditating at their edges like he’d been taught and learning to breathe as they do, to harness their power and make it his own. Only, this storm made his summer romps look like little more than a light breeze.
He was thoroughly lost, had been for hours, and he was quickly coming to the limits of his mental and physical endurance. There was no lightning to strike him down quickly, only the bitter unrelenting cold. What a horrible and boring way to die. He made another frustrated - or desperate - jab at the wind, trying to part the haze before him and find shelter.
Spotting something that could have been a rock face and a copse of trees, he charged through the storm praying he wasn’t imagining things already. At least the movement kept his limbs from seizing up. Half stumbling over rocks and fallen branches, he was relieved to have some of the brunt of the storm removed at least. He nearly ran headlong into a mighty cliff face that he swore just materialised out of the gloom. He was almost prepared to just stand there shivering until he froze completely or the storm blew itself out, likely in that order, but he kept going in the dwindling hope that some better shelter might exist.
Momentarily the winds turned away from the towering pillar of rock and he thought he might have seen an entrance, or perhaps a dark patch of moss, but he made for it at pace regardless before it was again consumed by the storm. He assumed his gamble had been a good one when he all but fell through a crack in the granite and into a surprisingly muffled cave in a great puff of snow and ice. The change and the stillness were dramatic, and he paused just for a moment to slam up a shoddy defence against the wind blowing through the entrance before half shivering half shaking off as much snow and ice as he could. His beard felt stiff and he was certain he caught a glimpse of small icicles forming on his antlers.
His senses had been somewhat overwhelmed by the noise and the wind, and were sluggish to recover, however he could have sworn that was the smell of-.
There was an angry snort from somewhere deeper in the cave and he threw his head up in surprise to find a few patches of white and gleaming eyes standing out against the gloom.
She’d been half asleep - so as deeply slumbering as Étaín ever slept - when there was an almighty clatter at the cave entrance. She jerked awake, instantly defensive. Was it a rockslide? Had the storm become angrier still and decided to mock her for taking shelter? Her bleary vision picked out a silhouette against the entrance, and she snorted. Not an avalanche, a stag.
Standing to her full height and lowering her pointed horn in the direction of the intruder, she felt a familiar thrill race through her cold body. There was a fight coming. The kinder - the weaker - part of her knew if she forced him out, he would have the storm to contend with. But the stronger part of her countered that if a stag feared her more than a storm, then they would hardly be missed if the ice and wind took him from this world.
Étaín squared herself with the stag, one forehoof scraping ominously at the rocky floor. “You have exactly three heartbeats to--” Her nostrils flared as the gust of wind that had come in with him brought her his scent and she stopped in mid-threat. If does could growl, she certainly would have. She didn’t need any light to see him clearly in her mind’s eye. He’d hounded her all Autumn, a stag so desperate to get past her to the does beyond that he’d visited a multitude of times. But no matter how many times he came, and she turned him away, he just kept coming back. He was either brave, or stupid. She was betting on the latter.
All she could see of him was a dark shape, backlit by the slit of a cave entrance, but she could describe him from memory now. He was a rich red bay, with dark points and back. He was young, yet he was already growing in enough hair for a stag a few years his senior, and his antlers were already multi-pronged with a few tines each. He was a hand or more shorter than her, with a build that looked thicker than it really was with all that hair. She knew he would have an insufferably smug expression, and no matter how many times she beat him, she couldn’t seem to wipe it from his face. He was bull-headed, brash, with a tongue that he wished was silver but actually belonged to a snake. Worst of all, she knew his name: Tor.
Worse than gleaming eyes was the dull glint of a lowered horn, but even in the poor lighting and with the darkness of her coat Tor knew it was the dark doe from the Point.
“My lady?” He was too startled to even bow, or add a wittier addition to her now familiar nickname. He was more startled by her mere presence in the dim cave than any of her actions or threats. Those he’d come to expect by now. Her resistance to his advances both intrigued and frustrated him, he’d had a relatively easy time collecting a rather substantial harem this season, and they had all been more than willing. Except for her. Perhaps for that reason there was some unknown allure about her that had him coming back all through the autumn and now the winter. Well, that and the other does on the Point, but none of them afforded any where near as much of his thought process or his time.
Despite what he was sure she thought, his little excursion had been purely born of instinct and the call of the wild wind, and not out of motivation for does. Winter still held on stubbornly, but its presence was surely running out of time, and most of the available does who were going to breed had already done so. Though judging by the musk filling the confined space, the dusky doe hadn’t - a fact which didn’t surprise him. He’d been trying all season to get on her good side without avail, the idea that any of the other dolts about might have been able to was laughable.
The doe had frozen as well, probably shocked to find someone she actually recognised in this storm, and Tor took advantage of that fact as he visibly recomposed himself. “Frightful weather isn’t it?” His tone still hinted at its usual cocky edge, but there was a caution with it as well, as though he was unsure of how to proceed. “Would you believe me if I said I wasn’t looking for you this time?”
There was a moment of stunned silence as the pair of them tried not only to come to terms with the fact they were having to share the same place with unexpected company, but also the fact that somehow coincidence had chosen two Fawnlings who could not be less compatible to share a confined space for any length of time. She didn’t believe in gods, but if there was one, she - or he - was cruel to prove her wrong by sending this stag to her in the middle of nowhere. Could it not have been any other? She was prepared to lower her standards, but definitely not this far.
The stag broke the silence first, and Étaín remembered just how annoying the stag could be. Just his voice had her ears pinned back, lips curling back from her teeth in warning. Her instant reaction was to simply force him back outside, tell him to find his own shelter. The problem was, she knew this was the only shelter close by and from the howling of the wind at the entrance, sending him back out into the storm was as good as killing him herself. She might detest the young buck, but he was harmless enough not to deserve death, or what was essentially a sentence of it.
She believed him at least he hadn’t come into this cave purposefully to find her, but there was no doubt in her mind that he was in the general area for anything but another futile attempt to get onto Point Danger. She gave a derisive snort. It might have been the only time she hadn’t heard a direct lie coming from the smutty bay’s mouth.
He was lucky then that she was feeling generous. Confucious say, those that actually read this far deserve some bacon. Note us, we'd like to give you some for reading, but don't comment and give the game away! Still, if he were stupid enough to go back out into the ‘frightful weather’ of his own accord, then who was she to argue with Darwinism? “Get out,” she grumbled, holding her defensive position, but making no move forward to see him off physically. Very lucky indeed.
That was more like it.
“No, I didn’t think you would - your trust issues are legendary,” he continued, slipping into his more comfortable role that he assumed with her; the sole source of conversation. Though unlikely many of their other encounters, there was really no where either of them could go before the gale outside exhausted itself. Curiously, she didn’t make any further aggressive advances at him, becoming like the stone all around them, which he took as a sign of progress. Of a kind.
“Why is that? Have I ever given you reason not to trust me? You truly are the most unfair lady of all; pushing away everyone isn’t healthy you know,” he continued, not really expecting a more intelligible reply. By all right she should bore him and yet she never did. He could even call her particularly expressive - her face as far as he was aware wore but one glare, he didn’t need any light to see it.
Taking a leap of faith, he moved a little deeper into the cave, hooves clacking against the cool rock. He was cautious about making any sudden moves - the doe was known for being... volatile, and he didn’t want to set her off. Partly because he enjoyed her company, partly because he really didn’t want to end up outside again. And he’d be lying if her scent wasn’t damn alluring, now he was here. Not that he had any illusions about the likelihood of her being any more accommodating than on any of his other visits, but it wouldn’t hurt to try. Much.
As if to prove her point that nothing that came out of his mouth was truth, or of any real importance or substance, he started to ramble. As was customary for their ‘meetings’, he tried repeatedly to provoke her into conversation. Étaín had never given him the satisfaction of answering any inane question he cared to ask. He would learn soon enough that she was not going to be personable, friendly, or have any manner of merry conversation with him. He was a young stag, with an uncanny ability to be highly annoying, with such persistence in his desire to get across the Spit that it was tempting to teach him a real lesson; if she could ever catch him.
She didn’t trust him. As personable as he thought he was, Étaín knew there was only one thing on his mind when he approached the spit: the does of Point Danger. And no jumped-up upstart was going to get past her just because he thought to dazzle her with quick wit and smooth words. She was immune.
Nevertheless, she might be letting him shelter in the cave but that did not mean he was permitted to come any closer than the furthest reaches the cave would allow. As he started to pace, she dropped her head further, stamped a sturdy hoof on the rock floor and lashed her tail in anger. “Stop,” she commanded, her voice a gravelly warning.
He came to a halt at her snappy retort, the usual single syllable. He eyed her silhouette wryly, though she was unlikely to make out his expression. “Alright princess, whatever you say.” This time he did bow, rather indulgently. “Your wish is my command.”
The stag all but ignored her angry motions, though his gaze did drift to her lashing tail as his eyes adjusted to the low light. He didn’t get any closer, thinking it probably wise to heed at least some of her warnings.
“But really, you avoiding the question is rather unsubtle. Were you always this eloquent?” There was a grunt from her general direction and she swung away in a sign of solidarity. “I’ll take that as a yes then.”
Pausing to look around their surroundings as though there might be something mildly interesting to notice, he began to pace again, though not in her general direction this time. “You know, we are going to be stuck here for hours. I’d really rather not talk to myself the whole time but if you leave me no choice I’ll have to start filling in for you.”
More silence. He cast a solemn glance in her direction and raised his voice. “Ok then, have it your way.” He cleared his throat and pulled himself more upright, rolling his shoulders.
Lowering his voice, he began. “Oh Tor, this weather is truly frightful! Whatever are we going to do, even in this cave we might freeze to death! My lady, that is a grave thought indeed, what might we do to save ourselves from such a cruel fate? Come a little closer, and perhaps we may survive this ordeal... together? Wise words my unfair lady, but first, I must have your name! I will not be satisfied until I do, even if it kills me!” He paused in his pantomime, eyeing her out of the corner of his eye to see if that inspired a reaction.
He stopped moving at least, but nothing short of ramming her single-pronged antler through his face would ever stop him from talking. She simply grunted at his question, lifted her head and turned away. Perhaps he’d respond better to the subtle hint of her ignoring him.
No such luck. The cave had the advantage of sheltering her from the wind, but it also had the unfortunate feature of making the stag’s voice loud and clear as he continued on, and omnipresent as it echoed off the wall behind her. Her teeth grit together, and he surely would have thought twice if he could see the murderous expression on her face.
Was he trying to provoke her to violence? She was used to being the butt of jokes, but Tor’s incessant mockery was starting to grate, and despite her resolution not to react, she was finding it increasingly difficult to resist. When he paused, as if waiting for a reaction, he got one, though not likely the one he would prefer.
Usually Tor was too fast on his feet for Étaín to even catch him, but the cave was only a few strides across, and it only took a bunching of haunches and a swift lunge before she was upon him. Shoulder slamming into his, she shoved the stag with all her weight and momentum with the aim of pinning him up against the wall. Her joints were stiff from the cold, and she slammed into him with more force than she intended when she tried to halt and her knees gave a creaky resistance. Her head dipped, the point of her spiral horn come dangerously close to his eye. There would be no dancing out of her way here, and no amount of quick quips would set him loose.
She gave a snort, her teeth grinding audibly. It had the double effect of disguising her chattering teeth. “Either shut up, or get out, stag.” She tilted her head, and the tip of her horn pressed the soft velvety side of his muzzle. With no bone to protect it, the threat was clear.
And boy did she react.
He might have been able to dodge her lunge, despite the limiting quarters, but he took the gamble judging on the fact she hadn’t really directly threatened to impale him since he’d entered the cave that she didn’t intend to maim him at least. And there was nothing wrong with being pinned against the wall by her, ignoring the jarring impact that would probably bruise later. She might have been shoving her horn in his face, but she hadn’t openly attacked him with it. He again took this as progress.
Her threat fell on virtually deaf ears for all the effect it had - perhaps she should make less of them - and he snorted. “My lips are sealed. This is nice.”
He wasn’t lying in any sense of the word either, pressed this close her scent was intoxicating and it was pretty cold, he was still half frozen. The body heat was a nice addition. Really, he sometimes wondered who was courting who; he hadn’t tried to press himself up against her so intimately at any point. There couldn’t have been too many other positions where they were touching at more points - her face and horn all but plastered to his, chest to chest, flank to flank. Talk about frustrated - locking yourself up with a bunch of other does was clearly not as wholly satisfying as the dark doe had thought.
She wasn’t a killer by choice, she’d avoided that kind of finality in fights wherever she could, but she might be able to make an exception for Tor. The storm would probably blow over before his body began to stink up the cave, and she was fairly sure he’d shut up if he didn’t have a throat. Probably. She gave an exasperated sigh as he just had to pipe up again, and she put a touch more pressure on the point of her horn against the fleshy part of his muzzle. “Shut. Up.”
She’d made a mistake. She shouldn’t have reacted. Ignore him long enough, and he might have given up but now he knew he could get a reaction, and she knew for a fact he didn’t respect a threat. He’d ignored enough of them in the past. Although, he had just remained silent for a good dozen heartbeats. Perhaps she was getting through to him after all.
With a grunt, she tilted her horn away and with one last play of her weight, she crushed her shoulder against his once more so he might feel the cold bite of the wall before she stepped away. His flank had still been chilled from the outside, and she ruffled her own coat to keep the water transferred to hers away from her skin. She’d spent enough of her own energy drying herself in this cave before he turned up, she wasn’t about to waste it on him.
Returning into the dark recesses of her side of the cave, she resolutely turned away from the stag this time. Her head lowered, her hip cocked, and she closed her eyes as if to feign sleep.
For once he didn’t actually say anything - he didn’t need to. The thought had been voiced, the seed planted, and every second longer they remained firmly pressed together against the rock face was a victory. He’d be lying if there wasn’t something incredibly pleasing about the entire situation, and he’d have been content to simply remain smugly there for as long as she wanted to be stubborn about what appeared to be an automatic reaction. Eventually - too soon - she gave a not inconsiderable shove and released him from her clutches, much to his disappointment.
Shaking the grit and more excess water from his shaggy winter coat, his ears flapping against his antlers, the stag tilted his head and watched her stalk off appreciatively. Really, even if he didn’t know her name she was so incredibly entertaining, and he now he’d gotten good at knowing how far he could push her, any time spent together was well worth a few bruises. Maybe even a scar or two. They were manly.
She cocked a hip - looking far less full than they had in the summer and autumn he noticed - and shut her eyes. What she really needed was a whole plate of cured pig slices to fatten her up. We salute you. Note us again if you read this far. Just because she couldn’t see him didn’t mean he wasn’t there, but he refrained from pointing this out. He’d only get more silence and he knew it. He rather suspected his trek across country and through wind and gale had exhausted more of his energy than he cared admit, almost to the point where he was tempted to try sleeping and being quiet himself. Almost.
“I wasn’t joking you know. We’re going to freeze.” Now that he wasn’t stumbling blindly through the landscape, the bitter cold was truly beginning to set into his bones. He had his coat to insulate him - luckily he was well endowed when it came to fur compared to many of the other Windborne fawnlings, and as bothersome as it could get in the hot summers, it certainly helped here. From what he could feel, the doe’s winter coat was nowhere near as impressive and her condition had worsened as the season had gone on, perhaps even more so than usual, probably due to extensive exercise thanks to her near constant vigil. Point being, neither of them were going to be faring very well, and the longer they stayed here - even with his improvised fix to stop the colder gusts from filling the cave - the worse it was going to become. He bet that she wished she hadn’t hacked off her long mane now.
Grunting, the doe resisted the urge to give him another warning, perhaps his last. She was cold, but there was more likelihood of her lifting her tail for him than admitting it. He was a regular size for a Windborne stag - id est, shorter and more lightly built than her - and better adapted for the trials of Windborne with his longer fur and less surface muscle to lose heat from. She’d been fighting all season, her fat reserves were spent, and her short mane offered little comfort. Still, she would never admit a weakness, especially not to a stag, and especially not to Tor.
“Speak for yourself, little stag,” she grumbled under her breath, not even giving him the courtesy of opening her eyes. A little harsh, perhaps, he was offering to help her keep warm though she suspected the only reason for that was that he too was suffering from the chill. She was just a convenient windbreak and body-heat reflector to take advantage of. He no more wanted to help her than he wanted to help himself. Whatever ‘we’ he was imagining was not going to happen. She’d survive without him.
“Suit yourself, princess,” he replied with an air of faux indifference, as he began to pace around the cave. He refused to succumb to the cold like this, and he needed to keep moving so his blood didn’t freeze in his extremities. He didn’t want ears - or anything else - falling off when he eventually escaped the perils of the winter’s night.
His breath clouded, now fully visible that his eyes had become accustomed to the cave’s low light, and he wished that he knew how to warm the air currents in there, but the best he could do was block the door. The smokey doe remained resolutely in one of the farthest corners, and she had to be freezing - she’d been still for longer than he had.
“Still won’t give me your name, my lady? We’re going to be here for hours - days! - may as well tell me now; it would be rude not to. Two creatures trapped in a perilous situation such as this - I could be the last living soul you see upon this earth! Of course, we’d have a better chance of not dying if you’d stop being so stubborn... Old habits die hard right? With emphasis on the dying part.”
Did he even know the definition of ‘quiet’? And was he always so melodramatic? Actually, she already knew the answer to that. Nothing Tor did was short of a song and dance. He couldn’t say things simply, he had to pick the most long-winded way to go about it. She tried pinning her ears to shut his incessant voice out to no avail.
With a grumble, she opened her eyes and turned to glare at him. She hadn’t given him her name before, and she wasn’t about to give it to him now. She didn’t want him to die happy, after all. “We won’t die,” she spat definitively. Though shoving him back out into the elements to do just that was getting tempting.
What she wouldn’t do for Ket and her other does back on the Point. They were likely packed tight against the storm, the magic users among them keeping the worst of the wind chill off. The wind that had been so insistent on blowing through the entrance to the cave had abated, and she realised it had stopped howling in as soon as Tor had stepped in. She knew the stag had some magic, though he was not as well trained as Ket.
One ear flicked forward momentarily. She had no magic of her own, but she knew from Ket that a sustained application of will against the wind would tire him out. Snorting, she squashed down any thoughts of sympathy. He’d stranded himself out in this storm, he would pay the price.
A second ear flicked forward. He was young though, and if he were worried enough about the cold to whine so much, keeping the wind at bay would surely aide him towards exhaustion and then his worries about freezing to death may well come true.
The clack of his flint-like hooves on the stony cave floor as he paced finally snapped her patience. “Stop that,” she turned and stalked a half-circle around the cave, passing in front of the door with the intention to drive him deeper into the ancient sea cave. If it would shut him up and keep him still, he could share her warmth, but only if he stopped being such an infuriating nuisance.
“Everything dies,” he replied loftily, “Us included. Though we have a choice about dying, at least for the moment.”
Alright, so he was showing off just a little. Sometimes he felt like he was the only intelligent fawnling in the herd, aside from his mother and his siblings to a varying degree. Of course, the doe could indeed be quite intelligent indeed and just not a fan of extended conversation, though all evidence so far indicated she preferred to use her head for more physical things, like impaling unsuspecting stags only trying to be friendly.
“I have no plans to die, stag. Get in the corner,” growled the doe, aiming a none too kind nip at his rump, “Now.”
He jumped in surprise, momentarily laying his ears back instinctually before he recover
“Gosh princess, there’s no need to be so pushy. The best things in life take time, lets not be too hasty now! Enjoy the moment,” he replied as she continued to glare in the direction of one of the deeper corners of the cavern. Not that he wasn’t pleased about the sudden change in pace, but he hadn’t exactly expected it. She must be really cold. And really like his rump by the looks of things.
Before he could comment though, the doe gave him a shove that almost staggered him for a few steps. She might be thinner but she was still hefty. “Shut up, before I change my mind.” He went along with it if it promised physical contact. It must be his lucky day. Maybe he’d go looking for random blizzards to shelter from more often.
More pushing and shoving, most of which he didn’t mind, found them in one of the recesses of the cave, though now the wind was hardly a problem he wondered why she’d even bothered. This corner was about as warm as any other, though if she was offering warmth it was the best corner in all the Isles and beyond as far as he was concerned.
For one blissful quiet minute, it seemed as if the stag might actually behave himself. For one blissful minute, she was deluded. She’d pushed him into a corner of the cave where she could act as a windbreak, give him a chance to warm between her and the wall without his body heat dissipating into the cold cave. She’d left enough room between them that her flank only met his when either of them took a deep breath. Étaín still didn’t trust him enough to be even this close to him. Even his mediocre set of antlers could do a lot of damage, and in the dark when he couldn’t see her flaws, she was just like any other doe in heat.
That minute passed, threescore heartbeats, and then the stag inevitably began to fidget. His flank - still chilled with damp - pressed against hers. With a squeal, she feinted a nip at his muzzle but strangely, did not move to put the distance back between them. The stag was cold, and she’d harried him over here to take pity on him over just that. He could stand close, but the warning was clear: that was all he was entitled to do.
Unfortunately her warning didn’t cause him to move away, but she felt a guilty pang of sympathy when the young buck began to shiver against her. He might have huffed and puffed about the dire need to keep warm, but it hadn’t all been show. While she might not want to spend the length of the storm’s fury crammed up against a rather infuriating stag who seemed to make it his life’s mission to frustrate her, it was the morally right thing to do.
And she had to admit, his shivering served to warm his skin and hers. He was good for something then, at least. Grumbling, the big doe cautiously lifted her head and draped her neck over the top of his. Their antlers gave a clack as she maneuvered hers to rest under his lowest tine. It might give him some extra warmth, and she could keep a better handle on his antlers in the - admittedly unlikely - case that this was in fact all a plot and he was going to use them against her.
This was more like it. He could definitely get used to this.
Despite the slightly emasculating experience of having a doe pulling the same moves he’d used on other does earlier that season, when considering which doe was the one pulling them it was a pretty fair trade. Never mind the fact that her side was warming his very nicely and he didn’t think his blood would start developing icicles, if someone had told him that the perpetually ill-tempered doe from the summer and autumn would be draping herself all over him he would have laughed and told them they were crazy. Sure, he was pretty suave, but he knew a hopeless case when he saw one. Or at least, he thought he did. And once again, he was definitely not complaining.
As if the enclosed space hadn’t been enough, all entwined like they were it was like being surrounded by a haze of intoxicating scents, all bombarding his senses. Had the doe realised how much more difficult they made it to form coherent words she might have tried this sooner. Taking in another deep, shuddering breath, he reached out experimentally with his tail to find hers, curling around it possessively. He half expected her to pull away from the contact, or somehow try and snap at him or both, and he was half correct as she jerked her tail free. Still, the lack of teeth involvement was new. He supposed she must not want to poke out an eye. His monologue was momentarily stopped in its tracks as a new wave of her heat hit him, and had she not been keeping it locked in place he would have shook his head to clear it. Really, if snuggling was all he was going to get did she have to make it such a torment?
Whether it was the hormones or the unfairness that he couldn’t do any draping or his apparently constant need to bother the doe as much as possible, he reached out to twine his tail with hers again, and this time she didn’t pull away. Victory, though he couldn’t help but wonder whether this was a trap. She’d made no mystery about her feelings - mostly homicidal - toward him before, this sudden change warranted suspicion. His more intelligent mind warred with his more primal side, but as in so many cases the latter won out and he instead decided to take his own advice and enjoy the moment instead.
She realised at some point when her logicial screamed above the sudden rushing torrent of hormones that she wasn’t cold anymore. The large doe had stayed close up until this point due to a mix of pity and pride but the longer she stayed with near enough her whole right side pressed against him, her nose all but buried against the corner of his jaw, the more demanding her hormones became. They didn’t care that this stag did not respect her, mocked her constantly, or repeatedly tried to thwart her. They only recognised his gender, and the musky alluring scent of his pheromones in reaction to her heat.
It’s natural, that voice that had once been quiet proclaimed to her loudly.
It’s against everything I fight for, the logical voice countered, somewhat meekly.
It felt wrong to submit to her body’s demands when every day she preached equality between the genders. If she let a known cad seduce her, what message would that send?!
Nobody would know, whispered the voice she was starting to hate.
I would know, logic bit back. If it were any stag but Tor, one without a reputation for harassing her, she might just succumb and let nature take it’s course. Nobody would question her motives for having a fawn, but they would question her choice in mates.
His tail gave a twitch, moving hers along with it, and her head gave a jerk upward in response. He was holding her tail at a more suggestive angle, and the sheer sensation was so surprising that she simultaneously wanted to give in to him and stab him in the eye for his insolence.
The toss of her head made her single horn, still locked between his main branch and brow tine, slip forward. The short blunt back of his main right branch came to rest on her forehead, and her nose came to rest involuntarily low on his cheek.
Part of her wanted to instantly jerk away. She was too close to a stag she didn’t trust and would go as far as so say, despised. But that pull of her tail, the connotations were too much for her hormones that any logic at the moment could override. It was only when her logic decided to cruelly add fuel to the fire that she thought about moving.
What was it he’d said? Everything dies. No matter what lies he tried to feed her in the past, that was the truth. Some sooner rather than later. She might well be dead by next season. All it would take was one stag to get the best of her between now and then, and she’d be gone. If she didn’t have a fawn this season, she might not make it til next year’s rut.
It seemed that this outing would be full of situations rendering him speechless. He hadn’t made the conscious decision to try anything more serious than teasing with the doe, lest it lead to his death or worse castration, but well, she’d started it. Sort of. He was a stag, she was a doe, and she was in heat. These things happened.
Again he would have expected anger and for her to remove herself to the other side of the cave, with an unspoken barrier around her that was not to be breached under any circumstances. At least, that’s what every single encounter featuring her would have had him expect. Instead she gave a jolt of surprise but remained mostly where she was, though through some freak accident or intent she ended up with her muzzle pressed against his cheek. As if he needed anything else to surprise him. Tor was fairly sure the doe shared his feelings in that moment, at least, in the sheer shock of finding her muzzle in his face in a way that didn’t promise violence. It occured him he might have died already out in the snow and this was the glorious, glorious afterlife.
Experimentally, he gave her tail another tug, bracing in case it sparked instant and explosive anger. His more intelligent mind might have been rendered catatonic, but thankfully his hormones seemed to know how to run the show, lest he just stand there like a drooling fool. No teeth, no horn, no kicking, squealing or maiming, she just gave his cheek a nudge. That in itself was almost enough to have him keeling over in surprise, but thankfully he remained upright.
Of course, remaining upright was easier when you weren’t being shoved away by a fawnling that weighed more than you. The doe swung her hips with force and nearly did have him sprawling on the ground. With a great wrenching of antlers they were disentangled, and the stag made a low sound in his throat. Oh no, she wasn’t backing out that quickly - he’d been joking, she hadn’t. The very idea of her responding to any advances - no matter how polite - had been laughable to the point he hadn’t even tried in any sort of seriousness. No, that was not the response of a doe who was disinterested.
“I saw that princess, don’t think you can deny it,” he growled, the smallest amount of triumph leaking into his voice. Part of him wanted to bugle his victory from the highest mountains, she wasn’t made of stone! Most of him however had rather more immediate concerns.
Her rump swung in his direction, though he didn’t trust the movement was quite as friendly as he would have liked. Throwing his head up warily in case she aimed a rather nasty kick in his direction, she instead called over her shoulder, “Shut up, before I change my mind.”
Was that amusement he detected? If he didn’t know better he might have even called her tone wry, but he was in no position to be questioning such things. There was a blinding flash from outside the cave, followed almost instantly by a deafening crack. The light faded, cloaking the pair in complete darkness and the sound of the still-raging storm.