The boy remains completely frozen in his tracks by what he sees. In his common clothing and with the dirt on his hands, you would never have guessed that he was a prince. You wouldn't have expected to see a prince gallivanting in the woods, anyway.
The subject of his gaze doesn't notice him. She wears feathers and braids woven into the mass of tangled hair that has never been touched by scissors. It falls beyond the expanse of her back, tickling the creases of the back of her knees. She hums a wistful tune to herself, almost like a bird's whistle, as she plays with the tall blades of grass around her.
The sun has left her skin brown and freckled, and faded her brown mess of hair with streaks of red and tawny gold. And, he noticed first, was what seemed to be shyly poking out through her thick shimmer of her hair...
As natural as a limb, a pair of long antlers. Reaching out like tanned hands with searching fingers, mossy and tall.
The prince cannot help but stare at such a thing. As he watches, a twig breaks underfoot. The girl looks up, her sharp eyes are alert and wildly scanning her surroundings. She freezes, as still as if maybe she truly was a part of nature. A flower, a rock. There is a marked terror in her eyes as she sees him. A question in her wide green eyes asking: Are you a hunter? Are you my enemy?
The prince holds up his hands, the universal signal for peace. There is a strange tremble in his arms that he isn't accustomed to. "Who are you?" He asks, his voice slightly wavering. He doesn't want to scare this amazing creature away.
At the question, the deergirl tilts her head the slightest bit forward, curiously. Her nostrils flare, she is sniffing the air for a threatening scent. Out of nowhere, her lips curve into a smile. It swallows the wildness of her face, makes her look as sweet and innocent as an angel. Though, perhaps, a dirty-faced one. She does not answer, but the young prince takes the smile as a sign of encouragement. "My name is Aidan." He said, smiling back. "Do you have a name?"
Aidan drew closer, and she didn't flee. She was clothing in mud and leather hide that only covered her bottom as well as it should. He pulls off one of his tunics and hands it to her, which he is thankful he brought considering it was a warm spring day. She pokes at the clothing for a moment, feeling the soft sheepskin of it and, finding it pleasant, gingerly slipping her arms into the sleeves.
There are wolves in this forest, he recalls, looking at the jagged scar on her leg. How had she survived this long? Assuming that this was all she ever knew, which was pretty much a given considering the expression on her face as she looked down at the tunic as it clothed her breasts. Confused.
"Would you like stay with me and my family?" Aidan asks her, though he doesn't expect a reaction. "We have many rooms, with no guests to speak of. Servants, friends who take care of you. So," He spoke now with growing enthusiasm. "What do you say?"
Deergirl looked at him with widened eyes that revealed no indication to whether or not she understood a single word he spoke. He laughed at the childlike wonder of her expression, and she imitated him as easily as she imitated the bird's whistle. A loud, twinkling laugh. "C'mon, then." He said, walking back up the path. She followed cautiously behind him with the skittery movements of her long limbs that were undeniably like that of a deer.
The village was shocked at the news of a girl with antlers moving into the royal household. A girl with no history or good named family to speak of. And with a practically nonexistant grasp of the human language. Though, she was a fast learner, and by the time the news had spread, she was beginning to understand a few simple words and most gestures.
The prince was shocked when he entered the room and he was greeted by her saying "Aidan!" rather cheerfully. "Hi!" The latter of which she was becoming prone to chanting, much to the irritation of many.
No one could explain it. She wasn't a mutant, this suggestion was angrily brushed away by the prince. The antlers seemed to be the only animal aspect of her form. She had no hooves, nor a white little tail. The rest of her, upon the doctor inspection, was human and positively female. "Why bother trying to understand her?" The queen, who was growing quite fond of her, remarked. Aidan agreed. "She's a mystery."
Some of the maids made it a personal mission to turn the deergirl into a lady. It was certainly more fun than chores. They dressed her up in flowing dresses with restrictive corsets and hung from her antlers plumed ostrich feathers and jewels. Deergirl seemed okay enough with the dresses and enjoying the fluffy ones that twirled around her as she moved. But she did not like the tight corsets that squeezed her ribs, or when heavy objects got tangled in her antlers and she always managed to tear the dresses somehow.
The maids were quite proud of their little project. And true, word was spreading of her and deergirl was becoming quite a celebrity. "Did you hear that Lady Béatrice was seen in Bath wearing fake antlers in her hair? Can you imagine! We've made our girl quite the talk of the town!" Katherine, who was the oldest of the girls, announced. They all laughed and smiled at each other.
It was also the maids who suggested she should have a name. "Make her more part of society, it would." Said Elsie, the youngest and most bright-eyed of all of the house maids.
It took quite a while, but Aidan, along with his mother and the maids, managed to pick one. The suggestion was by the queen, and the maids, so pleased to be in the presence of the queen and without her using the words clean or dust, they would have agreed to anything. Though, luckily, they did in fact like it. "Clara." The queen declared, in that way only a member of a royal family can. She turned to the antlered girl. "You are Clara."
The deergirl smiled at them, at Aidan. Anyone in their presence could see that she was very fond of him, and would follow him anywhere if she could. Her look seemed to state: Whatever you say.
When the prince woke up that fateful morning, he was certain she'd be gone. There was something in the air, something that suggested she might have up and disappeared as swiftly as she had arrived. The wind was thick with change, the same feeling he got the day his uncle died and his father became king. He got up quickly, still in his dressing gown, and rushed to her chambers. His heart pounding in his chest like a sparrow in a cage.
And when he went into her room, there was was. Smiling, her eyes glassy and blissful. Her hair was growing darker as the season when on, he noticed. Her tan had begun to fade as well. She was becoming domesticated, in a way.
And, on this morning, her antlers were gone.
"Clara!" He gasped. Because that was her, completely. She was Clara, and her antlers were gone now. Through her open curtain window a breeze rushed it. It wrapped itself around them, hugging them tightly as they looked at each other.
Like everything else, she changed. A metamorphisis of chance. She was considered human now, and she was loved by many. Especially Aidan, who was rarely seen without her. The court loved their wild lady, and loved the sight of her and their prince together. They were both incredibly thankful.
The maids knew that they were in love before the young couple did. They knew their prince well. And they were aware of how Clara seemed to wilt when she wasn't around the prince, the boy she only knew as the dark haired boy with the sweet smile who was more gentle to her than a rabbit. Clara didn't always understand speech, but she understood love.
Aidan is more than happy to have her into his life. After her antlers were shed, the public became very accepting of her. There was something about her you couldn't help but fall a little bit in love with.
But, Aidan thought, If they were to grow back in the winter (For, with her, things were always abrupt.) I wouldn't mind joining her in the woods for a while. Running into the forest with her. Deergirl.
Maybe he would.