A quick sketch of a deer-taur transformation folktale.
Men tell many tales of the Lady of the Wood, of her cruelty and caprice. They say that any son of man who enters into her Greenwood must either be fool, or desperate.
Desperate indeed I was on that night. The king's hounds were upon my trail, and his men so close behind I could hear their hue and cry. I had little choice but to enter the wood, or face the sword. I hoped, perhaps, that the men would turn their horses back at the edge of the kingdom, that they might be more superstitious than I, but still I could hear them. They were more distant, slowed by the branches and bramble that pricked my cheeks and tore at my legs, but still they pursued me.
I fled deeper into the forest, under roots taller than a man, over streams that wound silver in the moonlight. My breath was ragged, my face stained with blood and sweat. Still I ran, until from the woods around me, I heard a voice speak, "Halt."
The word chilled the blood in my veins, but I could not have moved even if I had wished. Where I stood, roots rose from the ground and twined about my feet, such that my legs were held fast, like a striding statue.
Before me stood the Lady of the Wood. Her skin was pale as birch-bark, and her dark hair was bound back by a reed band. At a glance, she might have seemed human, but in her face and eyes was the ferocity of every wild beast. "Why are you here, son of man?" she asked.
I bowed, as deeply as my legs would allow, and said, "Fair Lady of the Wood, I beg sanctuary. The king's men pursue me and will surely kill me."
"I have no sanctuary for man," she said.
I raised my eyes, only as high as the girdle tied about her waist, and said, "Then do what you will to me. I offer my life to you, my lady." By my body, I was desperate.
The Lady of the Wood laid her hand on my shoulder and said, "If you want my protection so dearly, then you will have it—no longer son of man, but daughter of the wood."
Confused by her words, I raised my head to look at her once more. Before I could speak, the roots tightened about my feet, and my balance shifted uneasily. I leaned back to remain upright, but beneath me, my legs stretched longer and more slender, while the roots kneaded my feet into shape like a potter working clay. I stumbled free, but found myself perched on two pairs of small, slender hooves.
In a rush of wind, my trousers vanished, flickering away into nothing. My heart beat terribly against my chest. I stared down at the red dun fur, soft and tawny and sleek, climbing my legs. It felt as if I was being wrapped in pelts, yet the pelt was my own. Behind me, the tuft of a tail burst from the base of my spine, and quivered briefly, as if stretching.
The Lady watched still, quiet and contemplative, while I tried to grasp what was happening to me. Was I to be some sort of satyr, I wondered?
By degree, my back bent, and I felt a strange stirring in my stomach. My breaths mounted as my eyes fluttered backward. All I could see in my mind was the Lady's face, hanging in front of me like a mask, cocked curiously to one side. With a sudden rush and a cry from my lips, a new-formed pair of legs stretched out and met the ground, already flush with soft, tawny fur.
From head to waist I was a man; from waist to hoof, I was a deer. I turned one way, and then another, testing my feet, chest heaving slowly and eyes wide. Reaching back, I touched my own lean flanks, and trembled slightly at the touch of my own hands, like a nervous doe might. And doe I now was. Yet stranger still was how naturally my body could move, as if it had always known how to stand on all fours and walk on slender hooves.
"My lady," I said in surprised, yet I spoke softer and with more passion than I had expected.
The deer's pelt had grown no further than my navel, but as I brought my hands to my waist, I felt the muscle beneath my fingers slide and shift. In another gust of wind, my tunic was torn away, and out of pure instinct, I threw my arms up around my breast and gasped. Only as I relaxed, dropping my shoulders and lowering my arms, did I see the delicate breasts that now sat upon my chest. Even the part of me which remained human seemed to still bear a doe's tender grace.
Nor was my face spared. There was no water to serve as my looking-glass, but with my light fingertips, I could trace the shape of my chin and cheeks, and with my eyes watch my nose grow smaller and darken, like an animal's. My eyes themselves grew wider-set, and as I would later learn, so wet and dark they sparkled like the night sky. All around me, my hair tumbled down, until it met my shoulders, long and braided and soft brown like my fur. Long, narrow ears parted my hair on both sides and swiveled as I turned my head.
I looked at the Lady of the Wood, who now seemed to glow in the moonlight, almost too bright to gaze upon. "My lady...how?" I gasped, in a voice which suited the deer-faun I had become. I was in awe. I was not bound or cursed; I felt as comfortable now as if I had merely slipped off my clothes.
"Things which are one way in the domain of man are another in the domain of the wood," the Lady said. She stretched out her lily-white hand and stroked my head. I leaned against her palm and let her fingers curl around my ear.
"Now, my daughter," she said to me, "I must go and see to the men who have entered the wood. Go, I will find you when I am done." With this, she was gone, leaving only the rustle of leaves in the wind.
Ever since then, I have lived in the Greenwood, and served my Lady when she calls on me. I know not what happened to the king's men, save that once, I saw a buck who bore a mark like the king's coat of arms upon the fur of his chest. I have felt no need to return to the world of man; in truth, I feel the Greenwood is more my home than the kingdom ever was.
There are many tales of the Lady of the Wood, but few of her kindness. This one is mine.