To another deer she would, almost certainly, have been identifiable without this peculiarity: the hindquarter markings of every deer are subtly different from those of every other. Each carries, as it were, a coded marking as individual as a human fingerprint -- and far more visible. She was, therefore, already unique. But nature had added, perhaps for man's pleasure, this paleness as well. She was a pretty animal. This year, at the autumn rutting season, she would find a mate. As long as the hunters did not kill her.
Her instincts warned her still to be cautious. She turned her head left and right, listening for other sounds. Then she stared. The dark trees turned into shadows in the distant gloom. A little way off a fallen branch, stripped of its bark, glimmered like a pair of antlers. Behind, a small hazel bush might have been an animal.
Things were not always what they seemed in the Forest. Long seconds passed before, satisfied at last, she slowly lowered her head.
And now the dawn chorus began. Out on the heather, a stone chat joined in with a whistling chatter from its perch on a gorse bush -- a faint spike of yellow in the darkness. The light was breaking in the eastern sky. Now a warbler tried to interrupt, its chinking trills filling the air; then a blackbird started fluting from the leafy trees. From somewhere behind the blackbird came the sharp drilling of a woodpecker, in two short bursts on a bark drum; moments later, the gentle cooing of a turtle dove. And then, still in the darkness, followed the cuckoo, an echo floating down the woodland edge. Thus each proclaimed its little kingdom before the time of mating in the spring.
Over the heath, rising higher and higher, the lark sang louder still, above them all. For he had glimpsed the rising sun.
Excerpted from The Forest by Edward Rutherfurd Copyright© 2000 by Edward Rutherfurd. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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