Here you'll find
In a hunting lodge, in the middle of the vast Black Woods of Beltrionas, someone is waiting and dreaming. Related (though not connected) to Perchance to Dream.
There's no one around to hear the quiet squeak of hinges, or to see how the trap door leading to the attic opens a little.
First there is just darkness, then a pair of slanted eyes peek over the edge and the hatch is yanked properly up. A pair of slender legs appears, followed by an equally slender body and a huge mass of shaggy hair. There's a whisking sound, a thump, and then the figure is already standing on the floor.
The carefully polished, massive hard planks don't echo under swift feet that hurry across the room and to the windows. They are shuttered, but the shutters aren't altogether tight and those luminous eyes can see quite enough of the small yard through the cracks, even though it's getting dark outside.
The night will fall soon, already the light is scarce because of all the tall, dense trees around. There's no wind, heavy dew has descended and by morning it will have turned into ice, frosting everything with silver. Tonight the forest is holding its breath, listening to the crackle of water freezing on leaves and trees and in footprints on the ground. Tonight all animals will be tense and frightened by the sound of their own hooves and paws, ready to bolt, ears pricked and eyes wide open.
He turns away from the window with a sigh. No need to watch out any more; nobody will be coming tonight. The house is all his.
The cupboard beside the stove is tall, he has to climb on the table and kneel on it to reach the correct shelf. Then the thing is in his hands, slim arms cradle it firmly as he hops down once more and pads to sit on the bench beside the table. It's tightly closed but he knows how to open it, skinny fingers pry the lid open and then he curls up around the big jar, purring in anticipation. One hand dips into the jar, quick as the little fish in the brook, and scoops up a dollop of strawberry jam.
Green eyes narrow into happy slits as he slowly licks the thick red jelly from his fingers, savoring every droplet. It's so sweet, so incredibly sweet and velvety, like nothing else he's ever tasted, and he just loves it. He knows that he shouldn't be doing this, shouldn't leave any traces of himself here, but it's just too good and the jar is so big. Just a little of it... nobody will notice anything. No they won't.
He giggles as he remembers again how upset he was when the people first came here with their tools and accessories, made a camp and started felling trees, digging the ground, hauling stones around. In his favorite spot, deep in the forest! Couldn't they have gone elsewhere? Or, if they so much liked the winding brook and the soft mossy stones too, why couldn't they just leave it alone?
For a while he'd thought about trying to drive them away. But hadn't his parents always warned him to stay away from humans as much as possible? Of course they'd known that it was all in vain, that sooner or later he would lose the fight against his nature, but nevertheless they'd wanted to keep him safe and taught him to be careful. He'd been so careful, too, and yet there was no denying that humans fascinated him like nothing else.
So he'd just stayed around and watched them. He'd seen the buildings emerge, side by side. Sometimes, at night, he'd crept closer past the sleeping men to touch the big logs, to feel the warmth still clinging to them. He'd watched the steady progress of the work, seen the house take shape, and liked what he saw.
On the outside the house is sturdy and dark, a little mysterious but welcoming in its own quiet way, with long eaves and natural stone and rough log walls. It's been let to weather so that now, not too many years after its completion, the house already looks like it had always been here, on this small clearing deep in the forest. There's moss growing on the roof, he's seen to that, and nobody seems to mind. It looks altogether like his house.
Of course he's known all along that it's not so; he's young but not that naive, not even back then. He'd been trying to imagine what kind of people would be living here, so far away from all others. People usually liked being close to other people, and those few who habitually went out into the forest like the hunters and loggers didn't have houses like this. No, they moved from place to place and slept in tents or other small shelters. So who would it be? What kind of people?
Then, one day, he'd seen Them. They'd come riding on magnificent horses whose sides gleamed in the sun, one dark bay, the other like a mottled thundercloud. All the men working on the clearing had immediately put down their tools and come to greet them, bowing and saying "Your Grace". Then they'd dismounted and gone inside to see the buildings, and he'd crept as close as he could, barely able to believe his luck.
Would these two men come to live here would they really? They hadn't stayed long and for days and days afterwards he'd hardly slept at all, just dreamed of the two men who had been there and then ridden away once more. He longed to see them again but was afraid to follow, because that would've brought him closer to the forest's edge.
He looks around and smiles dreamily. When the builders had finally left, servants had arrived with loads of things: mattresses and blankets, rugs, bed linen, towels, foodstuffs. When they'd gone, too, he had slipped in for the first time. Such a wondrous place to snoop around in... Chambers with sturdy log beds that seemed to grow straight from the walls. The mighty stone fireplace in the living room, merging into a cooking stove on one side. Dark earthy colors, soft cushions, robust armchairs. Rugs on the floors and walls and benches. And then he'd found the attic and the lovely little cranny, and decided that this was where he'd be living from then on.
This is his home now, and he loves it. It's dark and chilly inside, and if there were people now, they'd be lighting candles and lamps and feeding a crackling fire. The chill and dark don't bother him too much, but he wonders when they'll be coming again. It's been a while and he's expecting them any day now.
Not that they'd be coming regularly, oh no. They are busy men, the Count and his private secretary, and sometimes weeks pass between their visits. In the autumn they're here more often, frequently with guests: other handsomely dressed men, and sometimes women too, with whom they ride out to hunt deer and wild boar and then return here to have a party. During those visits he hides in the attic, hoping that they'd go away soon. Those aren't the visits he's looking forward to.
Mostly they come alone, just the two of them, and every time his heart leaps for joy as he watches them arrive and groom their horses in front of the small stable. How they enjoy it all, doing menial tasks, being alone and without servants around all the time, he doesn't fully understand it but he's heard them talk about it often enough. The horses know him and know he's there but they don't tell, and so he watches as they rub the animals until they're all sweaty, give them water and fodder, then go inside and start settling down.
They light a fire in the fireplace, not knowing that it's not the servants but he who has arranged the logs there and placed a handful of dry moss and twigs and bark in the middle, so that the fire catches easily. He wants the air to get warmer soon, because that means they'll take off their jackets and roll up the sleeves of sweaters and shirts. He loves to watch all those casual touches, listen to their low voices, feel the closeness and warmth that they bring into the lodge. It's not just the fire; it comes with them.
They touch each other a lot and then just smile, and it makes him hot all over to see it. Or maybe it's because he can smell it in the air, the musky tang of desire hanging around them when they're here? Maybe that's what makes them so irresistible to him?
He loves the smiles and the words they don't need to say. The intimacy. The look that tells they're soon going to take off their clothes and crawl to bed. That's when he has to go outside and peer in through the small windows, because there's no way he could stay in the attic and watch through cracks between floor planks how lips mesh together and tall bodies entwine. He cannot control himself then, at some point he invariably feels the shimmer that always precedes the transformation and then it's already too late to do anything. No matter how desperately he fights against it, at some point it all just gets too much and he turns into a black stag again. And yet he cannot stop watching them, cannot stop torturing himself, even though he must never let them know and never, ever call either of them.
Oh, he couldn't do that. For one thing, which one would it be? The Count, tall and muscular, with black-brown hair and commanding eyes? Or his secretary, long-limbed and gorgeous, always dressed in black that makes his golden hair shine all the more brightly? He couldn't possibly choose one over the other! Besides, it's the two of them together that he truly loves. They belong to each other; they belong together. He knows it from the way they just fit, how they kiss each other, grab and hold and bite and own. Not his.
No, they're not for him, and so he just watches even though it makes him ache inside. Even now, when they aren't here, he closes his eyes and sees them again, wrestling in the bed, legs entangled, growling and panting. And afterwards the sated whispers, the laughter, the languid kisses. He sees it all and longs to be there with them, to wedge his slim body between them and run a hand along the blond man's back, to tickle the Count's hairy chest and feel the low rumble of a chuckle under his palm. Not just see and hear it feel it.
He shivers a little and opens his eyes, so bright in the dark lodge. He knows they won't be coming any more today, but tomorrow? Maybe tomorrow he'll hear once more the hooves and see them ride out from the shadow of the trees, side by side, the flanks of their horses almost rubbing against each other. Maybe tomorrow night they'll sit on these benches, leaning their elbows on the table, holding steaming mugs in both hands and looking at each other across the table? And then he'll be outside, watching and smiling and dreaming.
He blinks a little, then sighs and looks at the jar in his lap. Perhaps they will indeed come tomorrow, so just in case he has to close it and replace it on the shelf... but first he'll take just one more tiny little lick. Nobody will notice for sure.