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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6. The Hunt

CHAPTER SIX: THE HUNT

 

The days got shorter. The grass did not seem to grow back as quickly, and there was a chill in the air at night. All were signs of winter approaching. He knew that both he and Claris had enough muscle and fat on them where they could easily survive the winter unless it became very, very, cold. It was the same for all the deer in the herd. One thing about this herd, there were no old deer here. He asked Bambi about this and he was told that those few older deer that survived the fire and the hunting by Man in his old forest had decided to stay there. Some of the younger deer born right after the fire had also remained there like Bambi’s son Geno and his daughter Gurri. Bambi and many of the other deer had come here because the old forest could not support that many deer after the fire. No deer here expressed an interest to go back despite the fact the old forest was just a two day walk down the stream from the big meadow.

His rack started to itch and he found several small saplings to scrape off the velvet. After he finally stripped the last of the covering away from his rack, Claris came up to him and looked it over. He could see the pleasure in her eyes. “You have a wonderful rack,” she told him. “It is as big as Bambi’s.”

Somehow that comment was pleasing and yet he felt bothered by it. He did not want to be compared to anyone. Still when he went into the herd, none of the other males even tried to challenge him. With his body fully filled out and his muscles at their peak, he could easily dominate the other senior males. He made a point however of not putting on displays like other males did like walking through the male herd showing his rack or his body. In deer herds that is what males did at this time of year. They show off to the other males and the doe claiming their position in the herd. This way no one would want to fight them during The Season, and the doe would come to them. It took a tremendous amount of effort and strength to fight other males. Effort and strength that would be needed to survive the winter. Not having to fight meant a better chance for males to live to see spring. The best way to prevent a fight was to prove to the other males, that they had no chance in fighting you. Fortunately, in this herd, no one disputed his place as the senior male just as no one disputed Bambi as herd header.

 Little Veron was no longer so little and was spending more and more time away from his parents and with other fawns of his age. He was asking all sorts of questions about the forest and what his place was in it. Bambi and he tried to teach him the best way they could. He was also becoming more aggressive in his fawn play. He charged both Bambi and him harder. They in turn, pushed back harder. Even though not a yearling, the pull of The Season affected his smaller body too. One thing all of them tried to teach him was that he was never to go into the meadow without one of them being with him. That lesson was being taught to all fawns by their mothers. The fawns still did not understand what the presence of Man meant. Soon they would all know.

One evening after eating on the meadow, they walked back to the cave as normal. As he walked across the stream he was suddenly hit with a powerful scent from two doe. It was the scent of a doe becoming ready to breed. It not only came from Claris, but also from Faline.  He stopped and looked at both of them. For a second he felt the urge to go over and have Faline much like he like to have Claris. He stopped himself and looked up right into the black piercing eyes of Bambi who was looking at Claris the same way. He knew Bambi was feeling the same as he. In other deer herds he had seen males, who were close friends, argue and fight with each other at this time. It was the way The Season put its hold on everyone. He did not want that to happen between Bambi and him. He had to do someone about it now. There was only one answer.  He walked up and yet stood several lengths away from Faline because Bambi had come up to block his movement.

“Bambi, I feel The Season coming on,” he told him.

“Yes, I feel it too,” he said eyeing him carefully.

“I think it may be good if Claris and I were to rest at some other place else until it is over. Would you and Faline be offended?”

Bambi seem to think about it for a second before answering, “No, I think that is a wise move. We are coming to the time when we want to be alone with our doe.”

He looked back and stared at Claris who heard everything. She just smiled at him.

“If you need me, call me,” he said and bowed his head.

“I will, and call me if you need me, my friend.” the big deer told him and turned away.

He went back to Claris and nuzzled her along the side of her face, “Come with me,” he said and without a word she did.

Over the next two days he spent a lot of time with Claris. They selected a spot near the large oaks where Claris use to lie alone before he came to the forest. Near the old oak there was a small glade that would just fit the two of them. They bedded there during the day mostly because there were no other deer nearby. It was close enough to the meadow where they could easily feed and drink, yet far enough away from the others where they could be alone. Already he could see the herd starting to break up, especially the males. There were loud clashes of fighting with racks crashing against each other.  The fight for doe had started. Unlike last Season in Hilgass’ forest, he felt no urge to join the fight or to go after any other doe. In fact the only urge he felt was for Claris. She started giving off scent indicating she wanted to be with him. He followed her around waiting for a sign from her. Occasionally they saw other male deer. They would look at him, and then walk quickly away. The herd males wanted nothing to do with him or Claris. Even Ronno avoided him. Kragus he never saw, although he smelled his scent in several places.

One day, just after they left the meadow and before the start of day, there came loud noises from where the Man animals had been. There were banging noise and shouting of Men voices. It sounded like there were many Men present. When the wind shifted, it brought the scents of Man to their noses. Claris looked worried, but did not seem afraid. These noises were louder and were not the same as the noises he heard before. He could hear or smell nothing of Man walking through the forest or chasing deer. He knew Man was not hunting because despite all the noise, there were no sounds of killing sticks. Man was doing something on the meadow and he did not know what. He dared not go look during the day. He knew his rack was full and The Season was almost here. That meant that Man had come for deer this time. The hunts would begin soon.

It was after the greater light was overhead when he started to hear Men shouting again. It sounded like they were all shouting the same thing at the same time. It woke them out of a fitful sleep. Claris was lying close against his side. He was feeling warm and comfortable, but now he knew there was danger. He did not want to move around in the forest during the day with Man so close. He still could find no smell or sound of Man in the forest, but he knew that did not mean Man was not looking for deer. Several deer from his former herds had walked around in the forest during the day thinking Man was not around.  They died in agony and were later eaten.

He wished he could see into the meadow, but that would mean being near the opening. That was death. He looked over and saw the large oak of the old owl. He got an idea.

He got up and moved silently the short distance over to the large oak and kicked the trunk with his hoofs. “Friend Owl,” he called out softly.

The large grey owl staggered out of his hole and onto the branch looking at him crossly. “What is it, Stranger? First there was all the noise and now you.”

“Friend Owl, I need you to do something. It is very important. The noise you here is from Man, and he is on the meadow. I do not know what Man is doing, but I think he is here to kill deer.”

That brought the old bird to attention,” Yes it is the time,” he squeaked. “What do you want me to do?”

He explained carefully to the old boy. “I like you to fly to the meadow keeping very low in the trees and see what man is doing. Then I want you to find Bambi and have him meet me at the place where we saw the Man cave before. I will meet him there after it is fully dark.”

“Oh, alright,” he groaned, “But do not wake me again during the day.”

With that the old owl flew off toward the meadow. He looked back to Claris standing behind him. “We will stay here until dark and then go to the place Bambi and I saw the Man cave.”

“I understand,” she said “You want to see what Man is doing.”

“You are learning,” he told her with a smile. “Are you afraid?”

“Not with you and Bambi near me.”

Just before the day became dark, the old owl returned. The two of them walked over to greet the old bird.

“Friend Owl,” he called. “What did you see?”

The bird looked down at them and squawked loudly. “There are many Men by the edge of the meadow,” the bird reported.” There are four Man-caves near where the first one was at. There are many small caves along the edge of the meadow near the Man path.”

“Any dogs?” he asked.

“Not yet,” Friend Owl said. “But more Men were coming in those Man animals of yours.”

“Were they in the forest,” he wanted to know.

“No, they were all together,” the owl reported looking curious. “It was strange, but I think they were making merry.”

That made sense to him. He remembered from his time with Man that just before the hunt, and afterwards, Man always made merry. Like he heard earlier today, Man would all shout together the same thing at the same time. Now he was sure they were getting ready to hunt. “Thank you,” he said. “I am sorry I woke you before.”

“Just please do not do it again,” the old bird squawked.

After it was fully dark, they walked slowly through the forest as quietly as possible. Often they test the air with their noses for the scent of Man. The wind was blowing down the hills toward the meadow and he could not pick up a scent in that direction. They moved quietly around taking the long path to the part of the forest that sticks out into the meadow.

They walked slowly down the stream until he could see their edge of the meadow. They circled around the way Bambi had showed him until they came to the place where the forest sticks out into the grassy field. They walked quietly to the location as the lesser light rose filling the meadow with a dim light. Suddenly there were two familiar scents from behind them. He turned and saw two deer, a male and a doe. Both moved as quiet as Claris and him. They came close before Bambi spoke up.

“Come with me,” Bambi told them, “I know the way better.”

The four of them walked close to each other being careful not to make any noise. As they got closer to the spot they had been before, the breeze brought another scent, the putrid smell of Man. This time there were many scents. Then they heard a dog bark. They all froze in place. Then slowly they walked forward until the trees became thin enough where they could see the entire length of the meadow.

The owl was right; there were many Men on the meadow. At the other end of the meadow were many lights that shinned brightly, filling that part of the meadow with the light. He could see several dogs sleeping outside the four Man caves. He saw the smaller caves that were just on the edge of the meadow, almost in the trees. The four large Man caves were like the one he had seen when Men came to kill birds. Man was back in great number and for only one reason.

“Man is here for us,” he told them.

Bambi nodded, “We must go deep into the forest until Man leaves. I will tell the others.”

“I agree,” he nodded. “Man will try and hunt us on the meadow. If they find us there, they will kill us.”

“I know,” Bambi said and started to turn away.

For some reason something was starting to make him feel angry. It had to do with the scent Bambi gave off. He wanted to speak up, but stopped himself. He wanted to leave with Claris. He would have taken Faline if she even seemed slightly interested even though she belonged to Bambi. The feelings coming over him were different this time than before. In the other herds, males avoid each other at the time of The Season. He wasn’t sure why he felt like this, but he did not want to remain near Bambi.

Bambi looked at him also showing anger. He could tell Bambi did not like the way he was looking at Faline. Bambi was about to say something when he saw an image of something racing across the meadow. He turned and looked. There was a male deer running across the open space at full gallop about halfway between them and the Man caves. Immediately, all the dogs started to bark loudly. Men got up and started moving quickly toward their caves. He knew what that meant.

“Run,” he called out and an instant later the four of them took off in two directions

Once Claris and he had run far enough as to lose sight of the meadow they stopped. Bambi and Faline took another path. They were alone.

Follow me,” he told Claris and the moved quickly yet quietly up the hills near the edge of the forest. It took them the rest of the night because he went around the long way just in case some Man or dog was following them. Just before the greater light rose they made it to a place where they could hide.

“What do we do?” Claris wanted to know.

He looked around. He did not want to move about the forest in the light with Man nearby. “We stay up in the hills until night; then we go back to our place.”

“I do not know this place,” Claris said.

“Neither do I,” he answered. “It looks far away from Man.”

They walked around the hill and looking for a place to sleep where they be hidden. As he walked around a new scent caught his nose. It was weak and smelled of fur and meat.

“There is a bear nearby,” he told Claris. “He is not here now, but he has been. We must be careful of him also.”

Claris caught the scent. “It is the same scent as the bear that chased those two doe and fawns,” she added.

“Yes,” he said. “We will stay here and wait. Once light comes, Men still start to hunt us. Whatever happens, do not run into the meadow. To be in the meadow is to die.”

They did not go any further. Instead they found a small glade under some pine trees. There they lay down on the grass and leaves and went to sleep for a little while.

“HHHHAAAAYYYAAAAA.” they heard just after daylight. It was a Man shouting. Then he heard the same loud noise, but from another direction, “HHHHHHAAAAYYYAAAA. ”  It was like no animal sound he knew. Then he heard the yelping of the dogs, still far away. There was more shouting, and all sorts of other banging noises. None of it seemed to be coming their way. The shouting went on until the greater light was overhead. The dogs’ barking first got fainter, and then after the greater light was overhead, got louder again. Man and dogs were moving through the forest.

“Stay still,” he told Claris. “Man is in the forest, but not near us. If we stay still and the dogs do not come we should be alright.”

She snuggled up even closer to him, which made him feel even better.

Then there was more yelling from far away. It sounded like the yelling was moving toward the meadow. “BAMMMMM” he heard followed by “BAMMM, BAMMM.” This was followed by more sounds of the killing sticks. By the louder noise he knew these were the big killing sticks Man used to kill deer. They got as low to the ground as they could and waited. No unusual scents came to them.

“Do not make a noise,” he told Claris. “Man cannot kill us if he cannot find us.”

“Crash,” he heard like something was smashing its way through the forest. He heard louder crashing of broken branches and twigs. Who was ever running was fleeing not taking care how much noise they made. Then he heard a voice “AHHHHH. . . AAHHHHHHHH.” It was a deer. He got up and listened, the crashing noise was in front of him and seemed to be coming up the hill toward them.

“One of us,” he called to Claris. He smelled the air. It was now coming from the meadow. There was no smell of man. There was no sound of dogs.  He got up and started slowly walking toward the sound where he heard the deer. Claris followed him also trying not to make a sound. The crashing continued and then it suddenly stopped. He walked carefully down the hill when he caught a smell in his nose. A foul odor was in the air, yet one with the scent of a deer. Then he recognized it from his time with Man. Blood and death; the smell when they brought back the dead deer to be burnt and eaten. He followed his nose until he came to a long red streak on the grass. He followed it many lengths until he saw the limp figure of a deer lying still on the ground.

The deer was a young male. This would be his first season after being a fawn. A small rack was on his head. He looked at the side. Halfway down his flank was a gaping hole gushing out blood. The amount that was leaking onto the ground indicated to him the deer would not live. He walked to the font. The eyes were still open and he was still breathing. He remembered the deer, but he did not recall his name.

“They came,” he gasped. “They chased us. They had dogs,” He stopped looking to catch his breath. “I and the others ran. They chased us to the meadow, then the killing sticks. I was hit and ran.”

“I think his name is Talis,” Claris said looking horrified at the deer below.

“Talis, was anyone else hit?” he had to know.

“There were others.” The voice was starting to rattle in his throat. “I do not know.” With that he collapsed.

It was then he picked up another scent, this one smelled of dirt and fat, he heard a large bush break from behind them.

“Bear,” he told Claris and they backed up several lengths.

A large black bear charged down from the top of the hill. Both he and Claris backed away further. The bear did not come after them but instead stopped on top of the prone deer and looked at them “MINE,” he growled.

“Yes yours,” he said watching the bear closely. “He has suffered enough; do it quickly.”

The bear looked at him for a second seeming to want to say something and then he stopped and turned his attention to the deer below him. He raised his huge paw and in a flash brought it down on the back of the neck of the terrified figure. There was a loud noise like a branch breaking.

“AHHHH,” he heard and all four legs lunged outward, stiffened, and then rested motionlessly on the ground. Talis would not move again.

“You should leave before I do the same to you” the bear roared.

Claris turned and ran down the hill, but stopped after several lengths waiting for him.

He did not move. He did not have to. “I do not think so,” he said. “You have your meal. You do not need to kill us to feed you. Besides, I do not think you can chase us down. It would also be foolish to run through the forest with Man killing anything that moves.”

“No,” the bear said studying him closely. “Perhaps you are right.”

“Thank you for making it quick,” he said as he started to back away.

“You do not hate me for killing your friend,” the bear said eyeing him.

“He was going to die anyway, you just stopped his pain,” he explained. For some reason he had no fear of the bear. “For you killing Talis is in the Way of All Things, for Man it is just killing.”

“What does that means?” the bear asked seemingly more interested in what he had to say that trying to make a meal out of him.

He thought for a second before he tried to explain. “You killed and will eat Talis for food because you need it to in order to live. Just as we deer eat the grass and plants to live. Man does not kill to live, but for his own pleasure. There is a difference.”

“Yes and Man will also kill me if he can,” the bear continued. “I understand what you are saying. You must be the strange deer I hear of, the deer that knows Man so well.”

“Yes, that is me,” he said.

“BLAMMMMM,” they heard again, both he and the bear cringed.

“I must go before Man finds us,” he said quickly.”If I were you I go deep into the forest until you hear no more Man sounds. Besides, I do not want to watch you eat Talis.”

The bear picked up Talis’ body and started to carry it up the hill in his huge jaws. He could still hear the bear say, “I hope to see you again.”

“I hope not. I have no interest in ending up inside you,” he said with a smile and walked away.

He thought he heard the bear laugh, but he was not sure. In any case they were standing too much in the open. He found Claris and motion her to lay with him besides some trees. There they would want until after dark.

Claris looked at him strangely. “Were you not afraid of the bear?” she asked.

“Do not worry about the bear,” he told her. “Worry about Man.”

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