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The Gold-Antlered Doe


Pushcart Nominee

Image by Casey Horner

     I walk up the hill, to the highest point. I want to see her. I have exciting news.

     The sun dips lower in the sky and I raise my head, high as I can, impatient. Is it time? I see my shadow on the hilltop, stretching as the sun prepares to set, and I know the exact moment I'm finally holding the sun in my antlers because Fauna, my Goddess and the Goddess of all animals, appears in front of me. She is wrapped in her coat of leaves and her tiger eyes are shining from deep under her hair of butterflies and the majestic antlers that crown them. 

     I bow my head. “Fauna, it is you.”

     “My favourite doe,” she says.

     She reaches out to adjust her coat and I notice her hands are delicate antelope hooves today. They change depending on her mood, from snake heads to hyena paws, dragonflies, bear claws and fins. I like to see the variety, though sometimes, I’m curious about her real form. But between gods, it doesn't matter. My own antlers change too, depending on what gets caught in them as I wander from hill to pasture, guarding and helping deer across the world. Some nights they carry the moon, other times, stars flicker in them and some days, I shake them free and they simply shimmer with gold. This evening, they are holding the sun.

     “You'll be pleased,” I tell her. “You told me harrowing tales just last week, humans murdering humans for loving the same kind as themselves.”

     “Yes, they've turned a bit bigoted lately,” she says.

     “Big what?”

     “They persecute, like you say, love between the same sex, as if it was a bad thing.”

     “Which is strange because it's truly fun,” I say.

     “So all animals tell me.” Fauna nods. “I never even thought about any of this, when I created…,” she hesitates, “” She doesn't say she created humans. She never says it, even though it’s true.

     “Well, today I was meandering,” I say, “visiting the herds, checking how the fawns are doing, when I found two humans. Two men, obviously outcast lovers. I led them to the greenest pastures, the bluest lake, the lushest hills, so they could find a home.”

     “Did they follow you?”

     “They gave chase. Not often do you see a doe with stars hanging in her golden antlers. I galloped until I got them to the lake, then I disappeared.”

     “Well, you did a good thing. Where are they?”

     I nod to the distance, where two men sat by a fire.

     “You fool.” Fauna bursts out laughing. “Those are two brothers, Ménrót’s sons. Hunor and Magor. Neither lovers, nor persecuted.”

     I ponder my mistake. “Wanderers, then.”

     “That, they are. Seeking a home.”

     “I have done the right thing, still?”

     “You certainly have. This is their new beginning. That is all they needed.”

     We sit in silence, enjoying the cool air, and then bid goodbye, bowing our antlers. I shake the sun free, letting it drop below the horizon.

     “I’ll see you soon again, my favourite doe. I’ll come see the fawns.”

     She did visit the herds with me, time to time, like she did every year. The fawns came and went, herds came and went, and the rivers and hills gently moved as a thousand years passed.

     It’s spring again, and I spend the day moving across continents, checking on the expectant deer and some of the early fawns as they are toddling around blinded by the first rays of sun. In the evening, I sit down on a hilltop, exhausted. The pale sun dips lower and I hold my head up to let it get a moment’s rest on top of my antlers before having to rise on the other side of the globe.

     Fauna appears, her butterfly hair heavy with pupae and her coat of leaves thinned to twigs, but her tiger eyes smiling.

     “Spring is back,” I say.

     “It always comes,” she murmurs. “It's good to sit with you, my doe. My sister, Flora has been away for the winter, and I get tired without her.”

     “I know. But she's coming back now,” I say. “Look around. Everything looks so alive. The hills, the trees, the river.”

     Fauna looks around, too, taking in the scent of budding nature.

     “This is Hungary,” she says suddenly. “You're loved here. By humans.”


     “No, you. They tell stories about you. Not just stories. They make songs, paintings, statues.”

     “How so?” I am amazed.

     “Remember the two brothers you led to the lake, a thousand years ago? This is where their children settled. They are called Hungarian for Hunor and Magyar for Magor. They call you the Gold-Antlered Doe and the Wondrous Doe, and they tell your tale through the generations. They remember the brothers who were lost, how they needed a home and how you helped them find one.”

     “Good. Tales of kindness are worth repeating, they teach us how to live.”

     Fauna scratches her head. Her hand a red fox paw today. “Perhaps. But, do you see that fence in the distance?” She points past the hills, and when I squint, I can see the glimmer of a thin, grey line snaking around the horizon. “They built it to keep out wanderers who need a home. And they built systems so gay couples cannot have children, so transgender people cannot exist, so Roma are judged and excluded.”

     “What are systems?”

     “Invisible fences.”

     “But they talk of me with love? I took them in as wanderers. I am a doe with antlers,” I say, confused.

     Fauna shrugs. “It’s no use talking to humans.”

     Humans are the only ones that truly left Fauna’s world behind. Not only did they leave, they took her beloved ox, fowl, boar and shaped them beyond recognition for their own use. It makes sense that she is a little bit bitter about them.

     “It must be hard for them, not having you by their side,” I say. “They have to construct their own existence.”

     “Plenty of them understand the basics of decent behaviour,” Fauna grumbles. “It's not a high bar, not hating. It’s the leaders who do all this, they drive them apart. They invent differences that aren’t there.”

     “Sounds like they need to learn about leadership,” I say. “Our role is to minimise division. There’s enough fighting already in and among the herds.”

     “Yes, any one of you here could teach them. Even that harvester ant over there.” She points to two hills away. I squint, out of politeness, but only Fauna can see all creatures at all times. She remembers and holds out her paw. “Or this swift.”

     I see her paw turn into a tree branch. A crescent shape flies past me and a small bird with shimmering gold wings lands on Fauna’s hand.

     Fauna smiles at him. “Have you led the flocks across the ocean?”

     “I have.”

     “What's the secret?” Fauna asks.

     “Include. Guard the slowest. Help them. Everything else is failure,” the bird says, and then nods brightly, flutters his wings and flies off in such a hurry, I only see a dash against the sky. A tiny golden feather was left in his spot, drifting in the air and slowly circling towards the ground.

     “Celebrate difference, celebrate joy,” I add. “Think together, everyone involved, you’ll do better.”

     Fauna sighs. “Thinking together. That’s what the ant said, too. Ants do things you wouldn’t imagine, you know, because they’re so small, but even they think together. And they certainly don’t tell one story, then do the opposite. No one does that.”

     “I'll talk to these humans.” I stand up.

     “I told you, it’s no use,” Fauna says, yawning. “Let them do their thing.”

     “But it’s not their thing. You said it yourself.” Fauna doesn’t answer, so I lower my head to show determination and I add, “I have to try. We have to try.”

     “How will you talk to them?”

     I think for a bit. “We’ll create another story. Our conversations. Will you write them down for me?”

     Fauna contemplates, and then she smiles and nods. Her hands are now lemur paws picking up the tiny golden feather from the ground.

Kasey Szavai was born in Hungary and now lives in the UK, working for a social housing organisation and writing stories in her free time. Her works appeared in anthologies such as The Casebook of the Manleigh Halt Irregulars, Revolutions 2, and in online journals The Drouth and blankmedia. Her Twitter is @KatSzavai and her Instagram is @DnDnHoops. She wrote this story because she loves Hungarian culture, but despairs at the far-right government being in power and inciting hatred. She thinks we could learn something from our own stories and from animals.

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