The Stranger in the Forest

A strange deer has come into Bambi's forest. Who is he? What does he want. Why does he not even have a name and just how does he know all about Man? He is big, he is powerful, and he is unlike any deer in the herd. With what this deer knows, he may save or doom all the deer in the herd.

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5. Promises

CHAPTER FIVE: PROMISES

 

The growling noises from the Man animals continue for several days and then stopped as suddenly as they had started. When they looked at night, the large Man animals had gone leaving the forest in peace. The Man path through the opening in the trees was still there along with fresh dirt that was piled-up and made flat near the small spring. Other than the fading scent of Man and his animals, everything looked back to normal. None of them knew where Man had gone or why he had come in the first place.

The herd returned to its former habit of eating in the meadow until first light and then leaving for the forest. Nothing else interfered in their lives. The only bad change to the herd was that a large black bear had come down from the hills. From the scent, it was the same black bear he had smelled on his first day in the forest. He chased a two doe and some fawns, but could not catch them because the herd kept watch and warnings were given. The bear had to remain content with the other creatures he could catch along with the berries, nuts, and leaves from the forest. Both Bambi and he knew if the bear ever caught a deer, it be the end of them.

Another change occurred soon after the Man path was made. A few members of the herd became more tolerant of Claris and himself. When they ate, not all the deer moved away from them. A few deer like Ronno, a young doe Marol, a senior male Duris would actually talk to them at night. Whether it was because of their friendship with Bambi and Faline, or what had happened on the meadow that night, he was not sure. The two of them were still not welcomed by the most of the herd. The others in the herd, continued to ignore them. That group was lead by Duro, Duris’ younger brother, Sinno, a deer with limited intelligence, and Fulcon, another senior male. Kragus still hated his guts and made no attempt to hide it. However, Kragus found himself ignored by an increasing number of deer after displaying his cowardliness at the gathering. All of the males and most of the females wanted nothing to do with him. On more than one occasion he could almost feel Krakus’ eyes burning through him as Claris and he fed at night.

How long into summer this continued, he did not know. After feeding and drinking, both Claris and he lay in the same place near Bambi’s cave. If Bambi and Faline minded their presence, they said nothing. It did allow Claris to mind Veron when Faline and Bambi were away. He was growing into a small, yet powerful male. Very often Veron would play with him by lowering his head and try to make charges at him. This was fawn play and he did not take it seriously, but he did push back and so did Bambi when Veron tried mock combat with him. It was how male fawns learned to fight, and more importantly, learned their place in the herd. He could see Veron would not be a large deer like his father, but his body was compact with heavy muscles. He was very strong for a fawn his size and age. Minding him also had the effect of bringing Claris and Faline closer to each other.

They passed through the middle of summer with no more interruptions to their lives. All the deer put on enough weight to see them through the upcoming winter. The sparing among the herd males was getting more intense. Even the senior males started to spar among themselves. Although it looked like play, it was not. Males were determining who were the strongest to set their place in the herd. The stronger ones got first pick of doe and highest position within the herd. This would prevent unnecessary fights near The Season. Only when two males who were nearly the same in position, wanted the same doe, and neither would back down, would you see a major fight. Most of the time, a lower position male would give way to a senior position male, unless the lower position male felt he could beat him.

He did not enter the contest except on two occasions when a younger male ask to be shown some of his tricks. He showed them a little, but none of the tricks he learned from Man. Those he shared only with Bambi. Bambi and he would spar in private away from their cave where no other deer could see them. This kept them both in practice. It became apparent that the only competition each of them had was each other in strength, stamina, and skill. Between them, Bambi and he could take on the senior males in the herd by themselves. Besides it was good exercise.

Summer past them and the days grew shorter. The next problem arose on the morning he first noticed his velvet was starting to itch. A sure sign The Season was approaching.

“Krack,” sounded from the meadow. It was followed by two more in quick succession.

They were startled awake by the loud noise. It was not as loud a sound as when the Man animals had appeared, but it was loud and sharp and he knew at once what it meant. He shot upward from his glade startling Claris who got up quickly beside him. He looked across the stream and saw Bambi and Faline in front of their cave with Veron standing behind them. Both Claris and he waded across the stream and stood next to them.

“Man?” was all Bambi asked.

“Yes,” he answered. “I do not think for us. It is still early, our racks are still not out and The Season is not yet here. The sound is also less than the big killing sticks Man uses on deer.”

Three more bangs followed. “Any deer on the meadow?” he asked Bambi.

“No,” the big male answered calmly. “They all left when we did at the start of day. That is unless someone was stupid enough to go back.”

He shook his head knowing if any deer did go back they probably were dead already. “If they did there is nothing we can do,” he said. “If we went now, they see us for sure, and then we be next.”

Then they all heard it, a yelping noise carried on the wind from the meadow. He could just make it out.  “Here….Here,” it called out.”

“Dogs,” Faline gasped and sunk back into the cave next to Veron. Her cheeks turned white as snow.

Both Claris and he looked at Bambi who also looked badly shaken. It was the first time he had seen fear on the big deer’s face. Bambi bowed his head and spoke in a low voice. “Back in our first forest, Faline was chased by dogs. I stopped them,” he sounded as if he was in pain. “It was the same time I was hit, by Man,” he said and motioned to his right hindquarter. He had noted the scar there before, but never felt it was his business to ask the cause.

‘It is alright, my friend, “he said to Bambi. “I do not think they are coming here.”

“Dogs have always frightened me,” Bambi went on. “They chased me as a fawn. They almost killed me twice.”

“I understand,” he said trying to be of comfort. “We should wait until dark. Man will leave by then.”

Bambi turned silently and went back into his cave. Claris and he turned and went back to their glade. He heard Bambi try to reassure Faline, “They are not coming here.” he told her gently.

Claris went back to their bed of dry leaves and lay down. “Will they come here?” she asked him. He could tell she was also afraid of the beasts.

“I do not know,” he whispered as he lay besides her gently licking her ear with his tongue. “Now sleep, the night may be long.”

That evening several deer came to Bambi’s cave to see if it was safe to use the meadow. No one wanted to go anywhere near the meadow that night and he could not blame them. As before, he knew there was only one way to find out.

“I will go down to that spot you showed me,” he told Bambi. “I will see if Man is still on the meadow.  I can come back to tell all of you. For tonight, I suggest we eat in the forest.”

“That is a good idea,” Bambi said. “I will go with you.”

He was going to say he would do it alone, but stopped. He looked at all the deer in the clearing. They were all looking at Bambi, looking to see what the herd leader would do about this. It then dawned on him that the other deer thought as herd leader it was Bambi’s task to do this. It was not said, but he felt that is what the herd expected him to do. It was obvious Bambi felt it too even though he was afraid of the dogs.  The big deer looked at him. He saw the fear in him, but he also saw the determination not to let the others down. Bambi started to walk toward the meadow and he followed right behind him. Of course no one else came with them.

Both he and Bambi picked their way quietly down toward the meadow trying not to make a sound. As they got closer, they stopped. Their noses alerted them to danger. The air was filled with smoke, only this was not just the smoke from fire. The smoke carried another smell, one of birds, but the birds smelling burnt. He remembered from his time with Man that they put meat from animals they killed on fire before eating them.

“They are burning the birds they killed before they eat them,” he told Bambi who was put off by the smell like he was. “Man likes his meat burnt. I have no idea why. I think Man is here this time to kill birds and not us.”

“That awful smell,” Bambi complained and made a face at it.

He followed Bambi around past the stream until they came to a part of the forest that intruded into the meadow by a few lengths. There, they were still hidden in the trees, but could see the entire meadow bathed in the soft glow from the lesser light. It was then they saw it. A strange light was glowing brightly from the far end of the meadow. It was white. Other than the lesser light, he had never seen anything so bright at night. The light showed there was something standing near the spring. It was something that had not been there before, but he knew it at once.

“Man cave,” he continued to whisper. “Man is here.”

Bambi froze for a moment as he realized just what that meant “We will not be able to use the meadow again,” he said looking at him with a concern on his face.

“Yes,” he said, “but let us watch here for a while. Man always sleeps at night. We might be able to use the meadow when he is asleep.”

They both waited. At first things only got worse. First one Man came out and sat on some sort of strange looking rock he carried. A second Man came out a while later and sat on another. Two dogs came out with them and lay on the ground near their masters. Bambi wanted to leave right then, but he knew the dogs were not hunting and should not be able to smell them from this distance.  This was true since the wind was also blowing into their faces so their scents were not carried to the dogs. They waited and watched the two Men light their mouths on fire and begin to smoke. Although he had seen this before, Bambi had no idea what they were doing. “Who lights themselves on fire?” he asked.

“Something Man likes to do,” he whispered. “Do not ask me why.”

The two Men sat on their rocks for a while puffing white smoke and raising something to their lips. Finally, as the lesser light rose the wind shifted direction and started to blow from behind them. A moment later the dogs stood up, faced their direction, and started to bark loudly. Both Men rose, and one went inside the Man cave and came out with a stick. It was a killing stick. The other man went over to the dogs and made a motion with his hand. Immediately both dogs ran off directly toward them.

“Run!” he yelled and he and Bambi leaped away running side by side. Both of them ran away into the forest. The both knew better than to run back to their cave; the dogs and Men might follow them there.

“Krack,” he heard from far behind him. Neither of them slowed down. They both ran until the sound of dogs barking because less and then finally stopped. Only then did they stop running.

 “Did you get hit?” he heard from Bambi.

“No,” he said. “Are you alright?”

Bambi nodded and looked around. “I know another way back to my cave. It will take longer to get there, but we will not have to go near the meadow.”

“Good,” he said and off they walked together. It was near day before they got back to the cave. Both Faline and Claris were standing looking toward the meadow. Both did not hear them as they approached from the other side.

“Faline,” Bambi called out. Immediately both doe turned around and ran over toward them.

Claris came over and licked the front of his face, “You are alright?

He nodded and nuzzled her cheek. The running had tired him and made him hungry. Later that night they ate in a small patch of grass past the cave. A few deer stopped by near the rising of the greater light and asked what to do. Bambi told them not to go to the meadow until he said it was safe again. He told them to find food in the forest. They heard no more shooting that night and into the early morning.

They stayed awake until it was full light. After that he was so tired, he lay down in his clearing. He closed his eyes and felt the warmth of Claris’ body next to him. The one thing he felt as the darkness drifted over him was Claris lying fully against his side and rubbing his muzzle with hers. The inward warmth came back, but he felt troubled. Man would soon be back looking for them. He knew what that meant. It was time he spoke to Claris.

They slept through most of the day. He got up while it was still day feeling refreshed. Claris got up with him. He looked over to her and nuzzled her neck and then asked, “Would you walk with me?”

“Yes,” she said in her soft voice and they walked away from Bambi’s cave into the dense forest. When they were far enough away that he could not be overheard he stopped.

“What is wrong?” Claris asked. Had he become that obvious to her?

He stopped and tried to speak, but as always struggled to find the right words. “You know it is hard sometimes for me to talk about things close to me.”

“You do not have to speak,” Claris said with a grin. “I already know what you feel.”

“Well there is something else you must know, and I feel I must tell you now,” he said then took a deep breath. “Claris, I have never been with a doe like you. I have never felt for a doe the way I feel about you. When The Season comes, I want you to be with me.”

She smiled and started to answer, but he stopped her. “Before you answer there are things you must know. When The Season starts, Man will be back with his killing sticks. When Man comes, he always tries to kill the largest male deer. That means Bambi, Ronno, some of the larger herd males, and it also means me.”

The green eyes dimmed as Claris realized what he had just said. “No,” she muttered and rubbed him affectionately on the neck.

He did not return the affection. “Yes me,” he continued. “So far, I have been wise enough not to be hit and die. Bambi is the same way. What I do not know is how long that will last. I want to spend my life here with you. What I do not know is how long that life will last.”

Claris pulled away and looked at him with those green eyes almost sparkling. “No one knows that,” she said softly. “As long as you live, I want to be with you.”

That was the first thing he wanted to say, now for the harder part. “You also know that like Bambi I will do things like I have done before with the Man caves and the Man animals. I do these things because with what I have learned among Man, it allows me to understand better what needs to be done. I will not stop doing that.”

“No, you will not,” she repeated calmly. “You and Bambi are different, yet you are both the same this way. I know what may happen and so does Faline. We talk about it when you two are not around. We both know one day neither of you may be here. Until that day I promise I will be here with you, just as Faline will be here with Bambi.”

She already knew. How silly of him to think he was the only one with such thoughts. In that moment he realized for the first time that Claris may be stronger on the inside than he was. He still wanted an answer to his first question. “When The Season comes, will you come with me?”

“Of course,” she said and licked his face. He did the same thing. For a few seconds he wanted her now, but it was not yet time. After a long while nuzzling each other he lay against the side of a down tree that supported his head. Claris could then lay against him with her head against his neck. In that moment, he realized just how much he wanted to be here. For the first time in his life, he felt content.

Later on just after dark, they came back. Both Bambi and Faline were lying outside their cave together with Veron lying next to his mother.

“Have you heard anything more from the meadow?” he asked Bambi.”

Bambi did not bother to get up. “Just some noise when the greater light was setting and then nothing. No more noise from the killing sticks.”

“Maybe they are gone,” he said looking to the meadow. “After dark we should look.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Bambi answered. He lay down near Bambi and Faline. Claris lay next to him. From seeing them there, you would think they were one family.

Just after dark, the two of them went back alone to the same place they had been the previous night. They could see from their viewing spot the light was gone. The man cave had vanished and there was no more scent of Man, or his dogs on the meadow. It was safe to use the meadow again at night. As he turned to go back to the clearing, Bambi stopped him.

“I saw when you got back today with Claris, you both seemed different and more relaxed. Did you talk with her?”

Maybe he was getting that obvious to those who knew him. “Yes, it was time we had a talk. There were things I wanted her to know,” he said. Even though it was night he could still feel those two black eyes on him.

“May I ask what you talked about?” Bambi asked. Normally he be put off by the question but he felt Bambi was asking for a reason, so he told him, everything.

“Good, I have known for some time you two would stay together like Faline and me. I am also glad you told her about what you want to do and what may happen because of it. Now I have something to ask of you.”

With that Bambi turned away and looked almost like he did while trying to ask something he was not sure how to do. Then he turned and spoke in a low voice. “I did not want to say this in front of the doe. Like you, I talked with Faline when we first came together. I told her what my duties were with the herd and what may happen because of them.”

Bambi seem to swallow hard, this was not like him. He was worried and he was showing that worry to him.  Then he looked him straight in the eye and said with some hesitation, “We know what may happen to us. Both you and I have seen death up close. If it is me lying dead in the meadow, I want you to do two things for me.”

That shocked him. He had never heard Bambi talk like that. “Bambi, I do not think . . ..” he started to say,

“Stop!” Bambi ordered. “Let me finish.”

He then seemed to gather his strength before he went on. “I want you to look after Faline. I do not think she will need protection, but I want someone to protect her, especially from the fools like Kragus. Will you do that?”

“Of course,” he answered firmly. “I will gladly look after her. However if it is me lying dead in the meadow, I want you to do the same for Claris. I do not want her living without a friend.”

“Of course I will,” Bambi answered. “Now the next and hardest thing I want you to do. If I am dead, I want you to be the herd leader until my son Geno is old enough to take my place.”

For one of the few times in his life he was stunned silent. Bambi wanted him to be herd leader? Him the deer everyone wanted nothing to do with. “Bambi everyone runs away from me. They would never accept me as herd leader. Ronno would take it.”

“Ronno is useless as a leader,” Bambi spat out. “Besides, I know you could easily beat him. I do not trust Ronno or any of the others as leader. I do trust you.”

“But why,” he wanted to know.

Bambi walked up to him and rubbed his side, “Because Faline is correct when she says to me that you and I are mostly the same. We would both work for the herd. The others I think want the name leader, but would not know what to do with it.”

He did not know whether to laugh or weep. He felt his throat tighten and his body shook. For one of the few times in his life, he felt fear at what might come. “Are you sure, my friend?” was all he was able to say.

“Yes, I am sure, my friend,” Bambi answered, and again looked at him with those piercing back eyes.

“So be it” he said hesitantly, “I will do it. I promise”

They walked silently back to Bambi’s cave.  Bambi called the herd to the meadow to feed until it was almost light. He found he had no appetite.  All he could think about was what Bambi had asked him. He wondered if he was wise enough to lead the herd. He hoped he never have to find out.

It was then he realized he was standing with only Claris next to him. She was looking at him with a look of concern in her eyes. “What happened out there?” she wanted to know. “You look in pain.”

After making sure no one could hear them, he told her what Bambi had asked.

She looked at him in disbelief. “What will you do?” she asked.

“I will do the best I can,” he said simply and walked off the meadow. 

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