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Samhain's Child: Part Four

That night, when they were gathered around the campfire, eating a roasted boar, Fern began the story that Elanor had asked her to tell. She made sure to keep looking directly at Hamish, so he would know that she was telling the story directly to him, despite how many others were there.

“It all started when the world was still new,” Fern began. “There was a young man who fell in love with a princess, and she loved him in return, but her father did not think the young man was good enough. So, he put an impossible task in front of the young man, thinking that he would easily be rid of the boy that way.”

“What was the task?” Elanor said eagerly, a smile splitting her face, and Hamish had the impression that this was a well-rehearsed exchange.

“The young man had to find the white stag,” Fern said. “Find it and bring it back to the village alive and unharmed.”

“How could he have managed that?” Elanor said. “Surely, the stag would have tried to fight him to escape.”

“And that is what the king was counting on,” Fern said, raising a finger to the air. “He was sure the stag would run and fight to save its life, and the young man would never manage to bring it back without having done it any harm.”

“So, what did he do?” Elanor said.

“Well . . .”

The young man had been roving the wilderness for months, having found no hint or sign that the white stag was anywhere about. He wasn’t even sure that the white stag was real; it might have been nothing more than a bedtime story.

His mind wandered often to the princess as he searched, wondering if she was waiting for him and hoping that he was not hoping for no reason. He feared that she might have forgotten about him, he had been away from her for so long, even though she had said that she had loved him.

Hearts could stop desiring someone, if they were away for too long, and he felt like he had been away for far too long already.

But he loved her, and he was determined to do what he had to, to prove that he was worthy of her, despite having no standing or wealth. He would prove that he was good enough for her.

And as his determination was starting to surge through him again, it took a blow by a thought that broke into his mind; what if this impossible quest had been set up by the princess herself? What if she wanted to be rid of him, but didn’t know how to tell him that she wanted him to go? So, she sent him off, hoping that he would be daunted by the task and would not return.

He suddenly stopped, his heart aching at the thought that she might not have really loved him, despite how much he had loved her, and tears ran down his face. His body shook, but he put a hand over his mouth and would not let out the sounds that wanted to escape from him.

The sound of a snapping twig in front of him made him look up sharply, and he saw a shape moving among the trees. He was sure that it was a stag from what he could see of the creature., and when it got close enough, he was sure that the creature was white.

He blinked several times and wiped his eyes, trying to clear them, and when he lowered his hand, the white stag was standing calmly in front of him; when it looked at him, he was sure that it was looking into him; it made him shudder.

The stag moved slowly to him, and he wasn’t sure if that was because it was trying to decide if he could be trusted, or if it was showing him that it could be trusted. It might have been a little bit of both.

When it was close enough, the stag rested its head on his shoulder, and he pat its neck gently. He was not as afraid of the creature as he thought he would have been with those antlers (and them being so very close to his head); instead, he was calm and felt a sense of peace washing over him.

Sure that the creature had posed the question in his mind, he told the stag why he had been searching for it, that he needed to prove himself worthy of the girl that he loved. He begged the creature to come back with him, and once he could prove that he had accomplished the task that had been laid out in front of him, he would let the stag go; he had no intention of harming the stag.

The stag thought over what had been asked of it, and after a minute, it agreed, backing away from the young man (who was now overjoyed).

The two of them walked calmly together for several days, making their way back to the young man’s home.

When they arrived together, there was a great commotion in the village as the villagers saw the white stag walking calmly next to the young man. They were sure that it was a sign, but whether it was good or bad, they were not sure.

The king and the princess came out of their dwelling as the young man and the stag stopped in front of it, the word of their coming having travelled quickly in front of them, and when the king saw the white stag, his eyes grew wide.

He took a few stops toward the creature, his hand raised as though he were going to touch it, but the stag reared back, and the king stopped, and his expression changed. He gave a quick glance to one of his guards, and the man raised the bow in his hands.

The young man called out in surprise and tried to move to position himself between the arrow and the stag. The stag, sensing the danger, turned and bolted, and the arrow sunk deeply into the boy’s shoulder.

“What happened, then?” Hamish asked eagerly when Fern had stopped.

“Well,” Fern said, grinning at how invested the boy had become in the story, “the stag got away, and the young man recovered.”

“Did he ever see the stag again?” Hamish asked.

“No, he didn’t,” Fern said, shaking her head, “but because he had been honest with the stag, and tried to save its live, he lived a charmed life after that.”

“So, he got to marry the princess after all?” Hamish said.

“No, he didn’t,” Fern said sadly. “Because of the king’s treachery, the princess soon became ill. None of the wise women that the king called upon knew what the sickness was, or how they could cure her, and she died not long after.”

“That wasn’t fair,” Hamish said angrily. “It wasn’t her fault that her father had tried to hurt the stag.”

“But she was what he valued the most in all the world,” Fern said. “Taking her away from him caused the king the most amount of harm, and he died of sadness not long afterward.”

“But the young man would have missed her as well,” Hamish said.

“And he did,” Fern said, “for the rest of his life. But when it was time for a new king to be crowned, the people decided that they didn’t want anyone from the old king’s line. Instead, they wanted the young man to be their king, and he was the best king that they had.”

“But he didn’t know how to govern, did he?” Hamish said skeptically.

“Not at first,” Fern said, “but he had people to help him, people who instructed him and gave him good advice. “

“And what happened to the stag?” Hamish said.

“I would imagine that it grew old and died,” Fern said, “and it was reborn into a new body. That is the way of the white stag. It is born, grows old, dies, and comes back to us again. The spirit of that stag the young man saw was the same one as the one that is in the stag that you saw.”

“So, there’s only one of them at a time?” Hamish said.

“Indeed, there is,” Fern said.

“So, what does that mean, that I saw it, and it nodded at me?” Hamish said. “Elanor said that it was good luck. Is that true?”

“It is, indeed,” Fern said. “The stag must have seen something in you that it liked, and now, it is willing to give you at least a bit of a blessed life.”

“How long will it last?” Hamish asked.

“I don’t know,” Fern said. “It might be only a short time, or it could be for a very long time. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Hamish thought it was ominous that she said “we,” instead of “you.”

“Alright, children,” Fern said with a clap of her hands. “It’s getting late. Off to bed with all of you, and I don’t want to hear any arguments.”

There was a bit of grumbling, but none of the children put up much of a fight.

As Hamish crawled under the wagon where he slept, he slowly drifted off to sleep, his mind filled with thoughts about the white stag.

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