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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2. The Herd

CHAPTER TWO: The Herd

 

It was late spring. The forest was in full bloom. The trees were putting on their coverings of leaves; the bushes and grasses were sprouting in abundance. There was food in plenty for all. By now he no longer resembled the haggard, half-starved deer that came here at the end of winter. His summer coat was a dark hazel brown with a white ring on his long nose and a patch of white fur on his chest. His muscles were completely restored to full strength. Already his rack was growing in. It would be as big as it had been last year.

 

He spent the time since his meeting with Bambi on the side of the hill he had come across in late winter. There were no deer there, and therefore no one bothered him. He in turn talked to no one and went out of his way to avoid other deer. In the open area just beyond the edge of the forest was a spring that gushed out cool, delicious water. The spring fed the small stream that ran through the meadow. He spent the time eating, running, and then practicing the fighting skills he had learned from the human fawns that had fought with him and at times hurt him. It was not the type of fighting male deer used, but he found it worked well on other deer. His type of fighting was the source of much of the trouble he had run into with other herds. The problem was not in the fact that he beat almost ever deer that tried to fight him or insult him. Their fears seem to stem from the way he move, the way he thought, and the knowledge he carried. It was all considered un-natural for a deer. The other deer looked at him as being different, perhaps dangerous. A deer that did not fit in with what the herd thought a deer should be. Most importantly, he was no deer you would want to spend time with, or even get to know.

He walked to the edge of the meadow. Inside its large expanse he saw the many deer that made up the local herd. He could not count the numbers that were there, but it was many. The old herd over the hill was larger, but they were spread out over a much bigger forest. To one side, the younger males were congregated together already mock sparing with each other. They were showing off their strength and power. They were all looking to become senior males in the herd and have their pick of doe. The senior males were also together in a group near the center of the clearing, but they were not playing around. Being older and larger deer, they had already established their place in the herd and did not need to put on a display of strength. They would remain in that group until defeated by a younger male. Usually there were a few older males that had been beaten in mating fights, discarded by the herd, and left to die. He saw no older males here. That was unusual. All the deer here looked no older than he was.

The females and new fawns were together. Their main activity was trying to stay out of the way of the antics of the younger males. The females with fawns concentrated on eating enough food to provide milk to their young. During early spring, the fawns were all too young to have been weaned off their mothers, so they depended on them for life itself. The last group was made up of yearlings now in their second spring. Both males and females stayed off to the side. They were all too young to have any place in the herd. No one would pay attention to them until near The Season.

He tested the air with his nose. Scents of flowers, deer, squirrels, raccoons and other familiar scents filled his nostrils. Not a trace of Man. Yet he knew there were Men by the lake near the Man cave the forest master lived in. That was far over the hills. He wondered why the herd was out in full daylight, but there was no danger around he could smell. The breeze was softly blowing into his face. The ground was still cool from the evening. There were no shrill bird or animal calls to warn of any danger. It all looked perfectly safe. As he studied the herd below him, two things stood out. First, there was a young doe standing well away from the herd by herself. The herd seemed to ignore her. No deer made any attempt to approach the doe. He knew that feeling well enough. That was odd though; doe normally stayed together at this time of year. She was also without a fawn, yet she looked old enough to have one. The second item he noted was he saw Bambi along with a doe and young male fawn enter from the woods. At once all the deer stood up. In most herds, the leader was ignored unless he was giving orders or there was a fight on. These deer were much more respectful. He must be a good leader. That made him wondered if he should try and meet the herd now.

“Why not,” he said to himself. After all Bambi had invited him. Other than Bambi, he did not see a deer that looked big enough to challenge him.

He walked into the open of the meadow trying to show no concern at all. Almost at once he felt the eyes of all the deer fall upon him. All the males, especially the senior males, looked him over carefully. He slowly walked up toward them but stopped well short so they could study the new deer before them. He did not want to make the mistake again of scaring them with his sudden presence. He bent over and started to fill his stomach with the tender young spring grass. It tasted delicious. Although he did not look directly at the herd of deer, he kept an eye on them. Sometimes strangers were attacked, but usually that was done by the herd leader. He was sure Bambi saw him, but this herd leader didn’t seem to care if he was here or not. Bambi made no move toward him.

He saw the senior males talking together. After some time, the largest deer in the group started to walk toward him cautiously. He was as old as Bambi, but not quite his size or his strength from the look of it. He puffed out his body showing off his large muscles and growing rack, no doubt to impress him. This deer approached him with his head down, but not in a threatening position. He was being cautious of him because they did not know why he was here. He liked caution in deer, you tended to live longer. He went on eating until the deer was about five lengths away. Then he stood up and faced him.

“Can I help you?” he asked the deer.

The deer looked surprised but stood his ground. “I am Ronno,” the deer said respectfully but firmly. “I have not seen you before. May I ask your name?”

At least he was polite. “Most call me Stranger. I have no name of my own. My mother died before she could give me one.”

“That is strange,” Ronno said. “Do you want to join our herd? You must ask permission of the herd leader, Bambi, if you want to do so.”

“I have already met Bambi,” he told him. “No, I am not joining your herd” he said calmly. “In any case I do not seek permission from anyone to do what I like. For now the grass is all I came for.”

Ronno took a step back looking at him like he was something that had just fallen from the sky. He was odd and it showed, but he knew you never show weakness especially to a strange deer. There was commotion among the senior males. He knew they expected him to be more reserved, more submissive toward a senior male. He was not acting how they thought a deer should. Despite what happened to him in the other herds, one thing he would never do is be submissive to another deer.

After discussions among the senior males, another deer stepped away from the group and walked toward him. This was a younger deer, but one just as big as Ronno. This one was brasher, more assertive in his step. The new male looked at him with contempt. He was showing off before the other males. He had seen the type before: a young male trying to prove his place in the herd. The young male walked over and stood next to Ronno head high up like he was herd leader here.

“I say there, you are not polite,” he said harshly. “This meadow is only for our use; we did not give you permission to enter.”

He clearly saw how this was going to turnout. He could either back down and leave, or confront the haughty male. Although he knew it would not stand him in good stead with the rest of the herd, he decided to stand his ground. He turned quickly, facing the new arrival, his black eyes squarely fixed on the white and brown spotted face. “I did not ask permission from you or anyone else to come here,” he told him firmly. “This meadow belongs to all the creatures in the forest. It is you who are being rude and not me. Now go away and have your mother teach you some manners, fawn.”

He could see the new male fill with rage. Without a word, the male lowered his head and charged forward, forgetting his antlers were only partly grown and covered in a sensitive and thin coating of velvet. He stood there motionless not even bothering to put his head down. He knew it looked to the others that he was going to let the charging male have an open lunge at his chest. That is exactly what he wanted. He waited until the male was two lengths from him and then he quickly jumped right, planting his front feet hard in the dirt and bringing his rear legs around catching the male across his front knees in mid-charge. The other male did not have time to react. He knocked the legs out from under the charging male who tripped, fell forward with a crash, and buried his face in the dirt. As the male tried to get up, he leaped over, and again planting his front legs firmly, he kicked the side of the male deer hard with both rear hoofs. The male toppled over on his side like an old tree falling. He moved quickly in front of the now struggling deer. This time he planted his back feet and brought his right front leg up to catch the deer in the face. That blow knocked him senseless to the ground. In an instant he was on him planting his right hoof squarely on the neck of the down deer and pressing hard to cut off his wind.

“Listen fawn,” he growled, “I do not like rude deer with more brashness than sense. I can kill you now easily, and it will not bother me a bit. Now leave me alone and go away, before I scatter your body across the meadow.”

With that he took his hoof off the neck of the down deer that was glaring back at him wide-eyed with terror. He quickly backed up two full lengths so the down deer could not lunge at him. The male struggled to regain his feet. He was off balance, dizzy, and beaten. He let the down deer get up slowly. As the beaten male finally got to his feet he stepped forward and glared at his beaten foe looking ready to hit him again.

“Leave now or die!” he bellowed.

Instantly, the large male darted across the open meadow into the forest his voice bleating in fear. He turned and faced Ronno again who went into a defensive stance, head down.

“I will cause you no trouble unless you start it,” he said calmly and once again tried to appear to the others like a normal deer. He stood up and showed no threat. “You were at least polite, unlike that thing,” and motioned his head toward the fleeing male.

Ronno just gazed at him in bewilderment. “I never saw a deer fight like that.”

“I know,” he said.

By now the other senior males looked at him with a mixture of shock and confusion. Having a strange deer come in and beat up a senior male was rare. None of them knew what to make of him.

He then turned and saw the approach of an even larger deer, but this deer held his head up high. Not to show brashness, but because he was the herd leader and every other deer on this meadow knew it. This one was not looking for a fight, but he was clearly not afraid of one either.

“Greeting, Bambi,” he said and dipped his head slightly in respect. “I am sorry if I caused any trouble.” He noted the doe and fawn that followed Bambi stopped about ten lengths away. No doubt they did not trust him. That was wise of them. Again caution and wisdom were showing in this herd.

“There is no trouble,” Bambi uttered in a normal voice. “Kragus has been pushing his weight around the herd. Either I or one of the larger males would have needed to put him in his place soon. You just did it first. I came over to ask you if you wanted to join the herd. You are big, you are strong, you fight well, but strangely, and you do not seem to be a bully.”

“I try not to be,” he answered. “No Bambi, I have no interest in the herd, they are yours. I prefer to live alone. It works better that way for me. I am not popular with other deer as you can see.”

Bambi looked around him at a gathering of brown furry faces that showed emotions from the bewilderment of Ronno, to outright dislike among the senior males and many of the doe. Some of the doe were even showing fear of him. It was starting again. Another herd he had started out on the wrong hoof with. Maybe it was just his fate to be this way.

“Suit yourself,” Bambi said looking back at his doe and fawn.

“Yours?” he asked.

“Faline, my mate and Veron, my youngest son,” Bambi said almost in passing.

He smiled and looked at them. The doe was the most beautiful he had ever seen. Sleek, with perfect body, lovely face, and shiny coat. She was pleasing to look at. She was also together with her mate and it wasn’t even near The Season. Males and doe seldom stayed together or remained close outside of The Season. It was unusual, but he had seen it before. Bambi was lucky to have a doe like that for a mate. The male fawn was a bit small, fidgety, wanting to leap forward at him to play, but Faline called him back with a grunt.  He looked back to Bambi. “You can tell them they can approach me if they want. I do not attack doe and I never strike a fawn. They are safe with me.”

Bambi nodded his head in appreciation. “Thank you. May I ask where you learned to fight like that?”

“While living with Man,” he replied. “Man taught me many things. Most of what I saw living with Man would sicken you. A few things like my fighting can be of use at times.”

Bambi and Ronno said nothing for a second. He was sure they did not believe him. Finally Ronno said, “You are very, very, strange.”

“Yes I know,” he repeated.

As he looked past Ronno in the direction Kragas had fled, he saw the deer he had noted before: the doe standing alone and away from the herd. She was standing upright while looking directly at them. She looked more curious than anything else. Bambi must have noticed his stare.

Bambi motioned to the doe, “That is Claris. She is another strange one like you,” Bambi said sounding regretful. “She told me she does not like the company of other deer. Last Season she took up with no male and had no fawn this spring. She said she just wasn’t interested in any of the herd males. Most in the herd find her strange, so they treat her badly, although she does not deserve it. I was thinking you should talk to her. I think you may be alike.”

“Strange like me,” he answered and looked the doe over carefully. “She is not a bad looking doe. Is there anything wrong with her?”

“There is nothing wrong with her body,” Bambi answered. “She is just like no other deer in this herd.  Like you, the others mostly ignore her and she does not mind. You remind me of her. That is why I think you should talk to her.”

He wondered what Bambi was getting at. Herd leaders cared nothing about who talks to whom unless it was to their own doe. There was something else going on with this herd leader. That intrigued him and raised his interest.

“Why do you think we may be alike?” he asked Bambi.

“Because you both seem to have the ability to make other deer wary of you,” the herd leader told him flatly.

“And because you both kick hard,” Ronno added. “I approached her Last Season, and she kicked me in the side and told me to go away. It hurt me halfway through winter.”

He fought back the desire to laugh in Ronno’s face. Doe never lash out at males except in desperation. If this doe could put a male like Ronno off, she must be something. Again he was intrigued and interested. What did he have to lose by talking to her except maybe a sore side?

“Very well, I will go over and introduce myself,” he told them.

Bambi nodded his approval.

“Good luck,” Ronno said shaking his head. “I am not the only male in this herd who has a sore side after trying to breed her. I would be careful, Stranger.”

“I am always careful,” he told Ronno. “You live longer that way, but I find her to be interesting. I bid you both good day,” he told them and walked away toward the doe.

As he got closer he saw she certainly was a good looking doe. She was not sleek, with a shinny coat, or perfectly shaped body like Faline. She was shapely, had a beautiful face, and a bushy white tail. Her legs were larger than most doe and more heavily muscled. Her fur was brown except for a large white patch on her stomach. She looked fast, hard, and ready to run or fight as needed.

It was the way she stood that got his attention first. Most doe are timid and shy away from males. The way she stood, it was like Bambi. She looked as if she didn’t care if he came close or not, and he liked that. Most deer were herd creatures, or at the very least liked being around other deer. The moved with each other, ate with each other, fought with each other, and thought like each other. They were all the same and that was the major difference between him and all the other deer. His time with Man had made him different and taught him to be by himself. Since he had no other deer to play with, he never learned how to be a deer. He only learned how to be himself. That is what truly made him different from the others. The only exception to herd behavior was during The Season when tempers and feelings got the better of them all.

He walked slowly toward her and stopped about five lengths away as not to scare her. She continued eating, but he could clearly see she had her eyes on him.”Greetings,” he said. “The others told me I should not try and talk to you if I did not want to be kicked in the side.”

She raised her head and turned to fully face him. Unlike the other doe, she did not look upon him with distain or fear, only curiosity. “That is good advice,” she said. Her voice was smooth and confident, yet had an aggressive tone. She was concerned about him standing there, but she wasn’t afraid. “Most of the males in the herd I have kicked so they keep away from me. They do not interest me.  I see you are different. Bambi already told me there was a new deer in the forest. A strange deer like me. Your scent tells me you are the new deer. I can see you are strong and fight well,” she told him while she continued to study him carefully. Then after she had a thorough look at him she added, “The others pay me no mind, why should you?”

He could see she was direct and to the point like Bambi; not your typical doe. “That is true,” he replied. “You see I also do not care what others think of me either.” He paused before adding, “You are the same way. For a doe, that is unusual and I was curious.”

“Along with being cautious,” she said noting the distance between them.

That sounded like an invitation. “May I get closer?” he asked.

“As long as you do not try to do anything else except talk,” she said and seemed to relax a bit.

He slowly walked up until they were separated only by a length. He brought his head down as not to look too pretentions. “Thank you,” he said. “I am called Stranger. If I may ask, why do you like to be alone?”

She snapped back, “I do not like being around the other deer, they dislike me. I think it is my scent they don’t want. Besides, with the exception of Bambi, they are all alike. All the males want from me is to make a fawn during The Season. I want more than that.” Then she looked him over carefully again. “Why do you like being alone?”

Again she was forceful and direct. It then occurred to him she spoke more like a herd male rather than a doe. He gave pause before he answered taking in a deep breath through his nose. It was filled with her sent that smelled like thick black soil mixed with musk. “Like you, most deer do not care for me; I am too different from the rest. It is because I was raised much differently than the others. I do not think the way they do, and I do not act the way they do. I will not bore you with the story. By the way, I think you smell fine.”

She actually seemed to smile. It was then he noticed her green eyes. It was a very unusual color for a deer’s eyes. They almost glowed even in the daylight.”I have time,” she said softly.

He was just about to speak when suddenly the forest was filled with two loud thunder claps. The sound cut through the trees bringing everything to a stop. The noises were distant, yet close enough to be dangerous. He knew it was the sound of the killing sticks of Man. 

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