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Hunted

For those of you counting at home, this is Melissa Mead's 34th story published in Daily Science Fiction.
"My loyal huntsman," the Queen purred.
The Huntsman began to sweat beneath his uniform. He stood straight, then bowed low. "Your Majesty."
"So skilled at your trade. You've brought me everything I've asked for. Even the heart of my stepdaughter."
The Huntsman knelt to the cold flagstones and lowered his eyes. Let the Queen see it as submission and loyalty. In truth, his legs were buckling, and he dared not let her see his face.
"So tender, it was. Like the very finest pork."
"I'm grateful to have pleased Your Majesty," the huntsman murmured.
"Are you?" The Queen's voice sharpened. "Then how do you explain this?"
She swept aside the silken covering of the mirror beside the throne. He looked. There was the dear little princess, scattering birdseed in front of a dainty cottage. Despite himself, he sighed with relief, and quickly looked away.
"My loyal huntsman," said the Queen, and now her voice was a growl. "I think now that you are neither loyal nor a huntsman. In fact, I think you are not even a man. Look in the mirror."
He kept his eyes down.
"Look in the mirror!"
He looked and saw, not a flushed, frightened man, but the face of a stag, crowned with finer antlers even than those on the head over the Queen's fireplace.
"I'm not...!" he shouted in terror, but a stag's bellow came out.
He looked down at himself, and thought he saw his own human body, fully clothed- but the mirror showed a wild-eyed stag. He couldn't straighten up. He tried to take a step and fell forward on hands and knees, hearing the clatter of hooves on flagstone. The scent of the hearthfire quickened his terror.
"So easy to mistake human and animal for one another." The Queen smiled a slow, predatory smile. Then she gathered up her skirts and screamed.
Armed guards poured into the throne room, pikes set. He knew these men, knew their wives and children. His protesting cry came out as a bleat.
They charged. He ran, one flailing hoof barely missing the mirror. A bench splintered as he charged through it. He leapt over a table. His antlers snagged in a chandelier, raining shattered crystal.
Then he was out the door, running for his life, hearing the Queen's voice whisper in his ear:
"And remember, it's hunting season."
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, April 8th, 2021
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