Title: Stag Hunt
Author: Laura DeLuca
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Short Story
Publisher: Pagan Writers Press
Release Date: April 30th, 2013
Length: 34 pages
In ancient Britannia, the warrior who brought down the king stag was named the defender of the land.
Eartha’s brother Balen has been in love with Princess Galiene since they were children. Upon the death of the High King, the tribesmen of the realm vie for the throne, and with it, the hand of the fair princess.
Balen is desperate to win his lady, but a rival tribesman is equally determined to keep them apart.
With her brother, her dearest friend, and the country she loves all hanging in the balance, Eartha must do the unthinkable to ensure her brother’s victory in the stag hunt. Sometimes true love needs a helping hand…or some blood to be spilled.
This short story centers around Celtic pagan folklore, specifically the symbolism of hunting/killing the king stag to prove you’re meant to be king of the land. I’m not sure if this is an actual historic Celtic occurrence or a neo-Pagan adaptation, but there’s definitely an element of magical realism at play, so I’m calling it fantasy. It’s a quick read, but a nicely empowering one.
I think the biggest thing I appreciated about this story was that the two female characters are both sympathetic. Eartha is frustrated by what she sees as passivity in Galiene, but as the reader you’re never led to believe Eartha is more worthy or Galiene is weak. The male characters are a little more delineated- Balen is framed as sympathetic, although we don’t see enough of him to understand why he’d make a good king (only that Eartha loves him and he adores Galiene). But by contrast the primary rival for Balen is devious, a liar and cheat, prizes the kingship role over Galiene, and is otherwise clearly framed as the Bad Guy.
The plot goes as you’d expect for a YA short story- Eartha must prove herself (and thus save her brother and Galiene) through cunning, patience, and her innate understanding of the wilderness. Although no twists, the tension remains through most of the story (which is a feat, considering waiting for a stag to show up in the forest is on its surface a very boring thing). And the language throughout is evocative and descriptive, which made it a compelling read.