The Hunt

She sat in his lap, giggling as he gnawed at her white throat. Her laughter was pitched like silver bells chiming in a playful cadence. Her dark eyes lit with delight until they happened upon the trophies mounted on his cottage wall. The laughter on her lips subsided to a faint, faraway smile; the glee in her face suddenly languishing with doubt.
“You know, I do not think I could ever shoot a deer ,” she said. “They are simply too innocent! How can you shoot them and then decorate with the poor wretches’ heads? It seems…barbaric.”
“It is not barbaric,” he said in his deep, guttural voice. “It is the Natural order of things.”
She nodded reluctantly. “I suppose you would know more about such things than myself, you being a gamekeeper, but I nonetheless believe it would give me pause to kill such a beautiful creature, even were I starving for food.”
“Such prey is easily killed,” he said, his teeth raking playfully at the downy of her neck. “And skinned and eaten. It is easy to hunt what you despise.”
She nodded pensively, her hand on his bare chest— pressing against the hairy mat in both affection and to caution a distance between them. She pulled slightly away from him, looking again at the deer mounted on the wall.
“Why should you despise them, though?” she asked. “It perplexes me greatly.” Her dark eyes flashed luminously as the flames of the hearth crackled and billowed.
“Naturally you would not understand,” he said. “A lord’s daughter rarely is taught the truths of the world. But I will explain as best I can.” He took a swig from a bottle of wine, and then offered her some, which she gladly quaffed. After she had overcome a momentary fit of choking and coughing, he spoke again. “It is because they are stupid creatures, and are stupid because of their complacency; complacent because of their stupidity. Having no predators has rendered them stupid and complacent over many generations. No bears live here now, nor wolves. Only the deer remain, untouched in their thickets. It is thus easy to slay them. And I happily assume the role as the surrogate predator which Nature needs.”
She had seemingly lost interest in what he was saying, her eyes wandering in the dark brown hairs of his beard and chest; her dainty little fingers playing there, twining and twining in nervous anticipation.
“Father was utterly wroth when he heard of my cousin’s situation,” she said. “Being with-child out of wedlock is a terrible thing for a nobleman’s daughter. Poor Miriam is destined for the nunnery. Father raved like a lunatic upon receiving the letter informing him. Of course, he has been of an ill temper lately in every matter. Not a morning passes that he does not foul the air with maledictions against the French rabble. He swears such a revolution would never happen in England, or else he would beat all of his servants…” She smiled like a mischievous elf, gazing into his eyes. “…including you.”
The gamekeeper lifted the young lady with one arm, shifting his legs slightly and resettling her once again upon his lap. Her lithesome figure was a small burden for his burly arm.
“The dandy is welcome to try,” he said.
“Oh, but you would not hurt him too much, would you?” she said, puckering her lips and batting her eyelashes. “If only for my sake.”
“No more than what would be needed,” he said. He did not laugh. The light in his eyes was not gleaned from the fire in the hearth. They burned of their own will. “The wolf never means pain for the fawn,” he said. “Only death. The former is an unavoidable consequence of efforts toward the latter.”
She glanced again at the deer on his cottage wall. “How many deer have you slain?”
“Hundreds of bucks,” he said. “And I have mounted hundreds more of does.”
Her nymphet face wrinkled quizzically. “I count only three,” she said. “And all bucks.”
Instead of addressing her confusion, he pulled her tight to his chest. “You are very dear to me,” he said.
She lightly smacked his cheek, then played in his chest hair. “You tease me so.” She glanced down at her long flowing nightgown whose flowering fabric overspread his lap. Beneath her stockings were his leather pants, and beneath that, more. She felt it stir beneath her. “You wear leather every day. This I know. I have watched you so much, ever since I was a little girl. You are not like those foolish fops father hopes to marry me to. You have a hard-boiled leather soul.”
“A gamekeeper must,” he said.
“What kind of soul do you think I have?” she asked.
He regarded her for a moment, rubbing his chin in mock-contemplation. “Silk and lace, perhaps, or perhaps fawn felt.”
“Fawn felt?” she said. She tossed her head left and right, a single finger to her chin, considering it seriously. Her auburn tresses burnished gold in the firelight. “I rather like that. A frolicking sort of softness that is rare and pretty anyhow. Yes. I have a soul of fawn felt.”
“You are still young in your pelt,” he remarked. “And yet, as you say, many bucks gather in the glade to clash for your favour.”
“And they weary me so!” she exclaimed, sighing in agitation and swooning with the pretense of fatigue. “Between them, father, and my governess, I scarcely have a moment’s peace.”
“And yet, here you are,” he said. “How did that come to be?”
“Father believes me abed,” she said.
“Very soon you will be,” he said.
She shifted uneasily in his lap, eyeing again the deer mounted on the wall. “The most difficulty I had was escaping my governess. She can be such a hound at times!”
“She is jealous of your youth,” he said, eyeing her ironically. “And how did you shake that hag-faced hound?”
The young woman giggled. “It was so simple. I offered to serve her an evening tea, and she condescended. Naturally, she corrected me in my manner and method, but what else are such tutors for? She did not observe the herbal elixir I poured into it, however. She now suffers the most unladylike of afflictions. Presently, she is engaged with her bedpan as industriously as a boatman with a bucket upon a sinking ship.”
They both laughed.
“Have you noticed my new heels?” she asked after a moment, lifting her feet. “They are lovely, though it was difficult walking through the woods in them. Especially at night. But I am fond of them. I fancy that they elevate me in my maturity.”
She stood up, abruptly, and took a turn about his cottage—mindfully near the fire and the bed, both of which seemed dangerous with her long gown blooming around her. She walked proudly, with her chin held high, yet awkwardly also, a self-conscious exactness in each step, not unlike a young fawn learning to hoof through the thick clover and thistle.
“A proper lady must not only be educated about the world,” she said, “but be ready to stride about it with confidence and poise.” She tripped over his bear rug and he caught her, taking her up into his arms. She spoke breathlessly thereupon. “I have no love of History, but I must confess myself possessed of a long-lived memory. History bores me so, but I take pride in my heritage, and so must present myself respectably to others. Or so father says. He claims all lords and ladies have such an ancestral pride, and must, or else they would forget themselves.”
“Is that your worth, then?” he asked. “Remembering that you are crowned among the other animals in the forest? Much good that does anyone between a wolf’s teeth.”
He carried her bodily toward the fur-covered bed. She weighed little— being a mere sapling when compared to the busty, brawny laundresses he usually bedded. She weighed even less than the farmers’ daughters he had enumerated among his herd. Flinging her unceremoniously, he then unbuckled his belt and let the last remnant of human skin fall away. She sprawled upon the bed, her willowy legs flailing out from her gown’s translucent skin. She laughed gleefully as the fur’s coarseness rubbed against her virgin thighs.
Climbing atop her like a wolf upon a fallen fawn, he consumed her utterly, the rapture of the hunt hushing all other sounds from the wilderness beyond the cottage walls. The dead deer stared on, their eyes gleaming blankly in the firelight. She did not cry out except in pleasurable ruin. He did not cry out except in exultation, having devoured the most stupid and complacent of prey.

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