Summer was intolerable for the big doe. The thick muscle she built over summer was a layer of insulation she did not need on the isle of Windborne, a place known for its intense summer heat. Her pelt was charcoal-dark like the cinders of brush after a fire, and it soaked up the summer heat greedily. Étaín spent a lot of her summer days wading in the surf, and sheltering under the mangroves of Point Danger. Spring and Summer were quiet seasons on Point Danger. Rarely did a stag bother the herd of does outside of rut but there was always one intrepid soul who had to just come and take a peek.
Nobody would call Étaín a sociable doe, and she honestly felt more at ease out on her own guarding the Spit from would be intruders. Summer would soon be coming to an end, and she would have to be on the lookout for stags that really couldn’t take a hint. Currently she was grazing on what sparse grass she could find. The coastal grass was sharp, silica edges like blades on some of them, but she daren’t roam further and leave her post unguarded. She hadn’t seen a stranger in days, though experience told her that letting her guard down was sure to invite trouble.
One of her ragged ears flicked, and she kept grazing as a sound reached her. A kangaroo? She lifted her head, single-pronged antler still in velvet pointing to the sky. She perked the other ear forward and stopped chewing her mouthful. No. Fawnling. With a grunt, her gaze narrowed on a movement out by the boulders closer to the mainland. Her nostrils flared, and she caught the scent of stag on the salty breeze.
From a distance, all she could pick out was a russet shape and velvet antlers not even rivalling the height of hers. She huffed and returned to her chewing. A youngster like that, half her age, was hardly a threat. No doubt he would continue back onto the mainland realising all that lay ahead was the narrow Spit and Point Danger.
When the stag called out to her, a young voice full of optimism and pride, she inwardly shuddered. “Ho there fair maiden!” It was hardly even the end of summer and the stags were already crawling out of the bush to seek their autumn prizes. Well this one would learn quickly that he would be better off seeking them elsewhere. Too many stags had tried and failed to make it past Étaín, and a well-mannered opening line like that was hardly going to help his case.
“Fair maiden?” She fairly growled. He was blind as well as stupid. She was a too-tall doe, with a musculature that made her more masculine than feminine. The profile of her face was bowed, built up around her pedicle and once her velvet shed, her antler would be nearing a foot and a half long. She was hardly a candidate for the classification of ‘fair maiden’, especially not compared to the classically handsome category this flashy red, white and black stag had come from.
“You are a maiden are you not?” he replied, and she vowed that he would know what it was to be a maiden if he came within striking range.
The stocky doe squared up, warning the stag with a lowered head and pinned back ears. “The Point is off limit to stags. Return to your mother, colt, or she’ll be one son less.”
“Well that’s not very fair! I thought you does were all about equality,” he retorted having stepped a little closer.
Étaín lifted a forehoof, pawing the ground if aiming her horn at him hadn’t been enough of a warning. “And the day I find a stag that is my equal, then that is the day a stag might set foot on Point Danger. Now leave.”
“I might stand out here in this heat equally as long as you - maybe even longer. What were the words of our Kingdom’s foundation? Freedom for all? Am I not free to walk on our hard won lands?” He replied quickly. He found words easy, she’d give him that, but Étaín was not a doe of many words. If her velvet had shed, she’d not bother with more. As it was, she could not risk damaging her single tine before the rut, so she would have to suffer words a while longer until she could sink teeth into his hide and send him running. She refused to move from her point. He looked like he could be fast on those feet, and she was not built for speed. She would not give him the chance to dart around her by moving from the narrow sandbank.
“Since you have not won this land, I will not let you pass unless you can win it from me,” sandy soil kicked up as she pawed at the earth, head weaving. “And you won’t win that right today,”
“More’s the pity, I did so want to seek the dangerous secrets of the Point. I guess I’ll have to stay here then. All day. You don’t mind do you, maiden who refuses to be called fair?” That gleam in his eye - he knew exactly how much she would mind. The part of her that needed no rut to push her into a rage threatened to boil over, and she pushed it down hastily. No stag would provoke her into a hasty attack.
She deigned not to respond, and went to stand lower on the sandbank. A glance across the water showed that the Spit was now covered in shallow seawater. The tide was coming in, and soon it would push her further up the bank towards the stag. The water was easily fordable, but Étaín was not a fan of getting her feet wet when she could help it. There were dangers in the water far greater than the uncomfortable company of this persistent young stag.
“So tell me a little about yourself,” he blithely continued. She ignored him, but he carried on. “No? Here, I’ll start us off. My name is Tor, I assume named thus for the high craggy places my mother and father liked to romp, or thunder, as you know how the herds are about their weather names. My hobbies include long runs on the beach, mountain climbing, exploring and wombat racing. Oh, and talking to un-fair maidens such as yourself. Now you try.”
Suddenly facing the sting of a jellyfish or the bite of a saltwater crocodile didn’t seem so unappealing. Her ragged ears still pinned resolutely to the nape of her neck, the stag seemed to think that was a cue to come closer. The tide was rushing in fast, and when the waves would lap at her feathers, she took a sidestep further up the bank. When the water was deep enough, she would relax her vigil and see the droning stag off. At the rate he was prattling on, she hoped the water would come in sooner rather than later.
What she wouldn’t do for a shed tine.
Closer he crept and further she was pushed by the water. She refused to reply to him, instead keeping one wary eye on him and the other on the encroaching water. It would be hours now before she would be able to cross the spit. She didn’t intend for the stag to be keeping her company for that long though.
For Étaín, stags were a commodity, not a creature that automatically garnered respect for the mere reason of their gender. While the dark grulla did share her herd’s desire for equality, she was the type of doe that expected something from a stag that she had yet to find one possess: respect.
Stags - in her experience - thought one of very few things about her. Some simply disregarded her, she was a tall and ugly doe, she was no use to a stag who wanted a doe purely for her genetic predisposition toward producing attractive offspring. Some went so far as to be disgusted by her: an ugly doe who spoke of equality?! When could she ever hope to be equal? Surely it was a ploy to simply get the attention she lacked. Some stags would fight her, and they either walked away fearful or vengeful. Regardless of what they thought of her, Étaín regarded them all with an equal amount of disdain. And this colt questioned her fairness? Pssh.
And he would never stop staring. It was offputting, and more than a little annoying. “Come now, nothing? I know you are not mute, though you do a very good impression of a stag. It is a most commendable trick. You aren’t so rude as to deny me your name, oh un-fair maiden, when I have given you my own?” He asked when she did not respond.
Oh, she was certainly rude enough. This stag was not getting her name to spread all over the High Country, he could continue to call her ‘the un-fair one’ for all she cared. She’d heard worse.
The sea had pushed her up the bank enough now that she was on an eye-level with him, though she still had a fair few inches more to climb. Like most Windborne bucks, he was a slight and short thing, much lighter in build than she and almost a head shorter. He might fill out given time - he couldn’t be much more than six or seven with those antlers - but he would never match her for height. No full-blooded Windbornes could.
She took her eye from the sea and turned them both on him. If he was stupid enough to cross the Spit with the water could lap up to his stomach, she wouldnt need to chase him over to kill him, he’d manage it himself soon enough.
Bunching her haunches, she made the slow calculated leap from the earthy sand to the sandy earth that was never touched by the tide and looked down on the Windborn stag that called himself Tor and was more annoying than a horsefly embedded in her rump. “I think it’s best that you leave now,” she said slowly, the threat evident in her near-black eyes.
As a younger doe, Étaín had no particular love for stags but she tolerated them as it was her duty. When she realised that her duty was an age-old custom that was borne out of habit rather than anything to do with what she wanted, she abandoned the herd to join the does on Point Danger. She had not instantly become a threatening monolith, but she found - with so many things in life - that letting fawnlings make their own assumptions was often easier than trying to make them believe something.
If she looked threatening, chances are the other fawnling would assume that she was and think better than to provoke her. As the years passed and her training turned her body into a real weapon, she found it easier to enforce those assumptions. This stag was frustrating, but ultimately harmless. In rut, it might be a different matter but he still was unlikely to be much danger to her. But it wasn’t just her she was protecting. For all her animosity and rudeness, there were far many more does that would benefit from every stag believing that the Point was unattainable.
Come rut, her reputation might be the only thing holding back a wave of stags, coming to ‘remind’ the resident does of their duty. That idea spawned such fury in the doe’s heart, a hatred that made this little stag’s persistence hardly a prickle in comparison.
“Come now, there’s no need to be like that. I was only making friendly conversation. Don’t you does like that either? Maybe I won’t be exploring the dangers of the Point after all, they must be awfully dull if you have nothing to say about them.” He crooned, and Étaín lunged. Teeth bared, she aimed for his face. She was bargaining that he wouldn’t try and fight back with his antlers - his were just as vulnerable as hers at the moment - and the sheer panic-factor that an unprovoked attack outside of rut would send him scurrying.
Thankfully, she had been right, and the bay nuisance wheeled and bounded away, calling back with that same mocking tone, “Till next time then, my un-fair maiden!”
She snorted her response, stamping the ground with her hooves and watched him leave, but for no other reason than to make sure he was gone. She did not doubt that the young buck would return, perhaps in rut when his resolve was greater. Let him come, she would see him off just as easily, though perhaps not so bloodlessly.