The Stranger: Taking Charge

The second story regarding the Stranger. Now Man has come to live in the forest. This pushes the deer into a making a terrible choice. That choice will affect the lives all all those in the forest for years to come. New friends and new enemies will appear resulting in great triumphs and heartbreaking tragedies. It will force new responsibilities onto Stranger that he did not plan on nor want. All of this, plus a growing family, will tax even the skills of the Stranger.

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1. Hard Learning

The Stranger: Taking Charge

by

Wilber Arron

 

Year 3

It started in spring, not long after the doe had given birth to their fawns. The noise had been constant for days. The Man animals that had made the Man path the year he arrived in the forest had come back; only this time they stayed for much longer. The noise and the smells were so strong that only in the dead of night did Bambi dare lead the herd onto the far side of the meadow to eat. The herd ate nervously always eating with one eye on the still Man animals. Thankfully, they only moved when Men were in them. In the darkest of night,  they were quiet. It was only then the herd dared to feed on the rich grass of the meadow. They were all back in the deep forest before the first sign of the greater light appeared.

After many days of noise, the Stanger had brought Bambi the herd header, Bambi’s mate Faline, Bambi’s daughter Gina, his mate Claris, and  his son Stabo  with him. They looked over the activity on the far side of the meadow. Already the Man animals had torn up the ground and other Men had raised what looked like thin branchless trees in the air for some reason. The Man path had been widened; pieces of wood lay everywhere. From the ground rose a Man cave as large as any he had ever seen. That meant Man had come to stay and hunt from their new cave. The killing sticks had not been used so far, but they all knew that would not last. The putrid scent of Man lingered on the meadow. There was no doubt in his mind, this was a Man cave and Man had come to their forest.

“Does this mean Man has come to stay, Father,” Stabo looked up at him his deep black eyes showing fear.

“Yes, my son,” he answered quietly. “It looks like Man has come back here to stay.”

“Then the meadow is lost to us,” Bambi said in realization.

“Unless we go only during late night,” he answered.

"I mean when the hunts begin," Bambi added.

He nodded his head and reminded them,  “Remember, Man only comes after us during The Season. Other than that I hope Man will stay away."

"We shall see," Bambi said not looking convinced Man would ever go.

“The others will not want to come onto the meadow even at night with the scent of Man around,” Claris said. “I do not like even being here. I remember the last time this happen during last Season; poor Ducas and Flaco now gone like the others.”

“And with more Men next Season, how many others will be gone next time,” Faline added in.

“Indeed, it will be more difficult to hide” he answered and looked at his scarred left side.

“Father, will we have to leave and go to another forest?” Gina asked the question that was on all their minds.

Bambi looked down at his daughter now just over a season old and living on her own. She looked like a stocky version of Faline. Not sleek looking, but charming in her own way. “I do not know, Bambi told her calmly. “The others will need to have a say. I will call a gathering and we will decide.”

“First I must talk to someone else,” he said. “He should be there now.”

Bambi nodded, “Yes, he is your friend, but not mine. Just be careful.”

“May I go with you?” Stabo asked.

He looked at his son. Normally he would have said no, but he could see the first signs of the rack his son would grow by The Season and the fact he was getting as big as he was. It was time he learned about this and other things.

“Yes, son, but you will stay close to me at all times. If I say run, you run back to our thicket as fast as you can, and you do not look back.”

“Yes, Father,” he said meekly.

We need to go back to Ata at the thicket. Greta and Stena will be hungry by now,” Claris said looking not too happy at where he was going.

Faline turned and started back. Bambi, who wanted nothing to do with his friend, followed closely.  Claris and Gena moved off quietly behind them.

He led his son down around the far side of the meadow and then up the hill. He took in the air through his nose that was filled with other scents. More importantly, he could feel the eyes of the other animals on him and his son. The badger and bobcat were out hunting. He could smell the coyotes too.

“Do you smell them, my son?” he asked.

“The bobcat, badger and coyote are nearby," his son told him looking at the hidden menace. "I do not think they will attack both of us.” Stabo continued stepping lightly over the ground. His son was still not as quiet as he was, but he was learning. Soon he would be able to vanish like a light breeze. Something only Bambi, Faline, Claris and he could do.

They walked up the hill until they caught another scent. This one smelled of wet fur, fat, and dead meat.”

“That is the scent of a bear,” he told his son. “If you ever smell that, you run as fast as you can. A badger may be able to kill you with effort, so can a pack of coyotes, but a bear can break your back with one blow. You must never allow one to catch you. To do so is to die.”

“Yes, Father,” his son said.

They climbed the hill until they came to a familiar stand of trees. He remembered the hours of pain he had spent there two winters ago as he recovered from being hit by Man. He had almost died there and would have if the bear had not helped him.  He owed the bear his life and that is why he had come to help repay that debt.

“Friend Bear,” he called out. “It is Stranger.”

“I was wondering what foolish deer would come to visit me,” the voice called out from the side. In the darkness he saw a black mound start to move and pick its way through the trees and bushes until the huge body stood not more than five lengths from him.  Stabo pulled back mostly by reflex, but he did not run.

“This is my son, Stabo,” he said formally.

The bear looked at both of them with his glowing red eyes studying them as if sizing them up for a meal. ”Yes, you smell like your Father,” the bear growled. “Tell me deer, are you afraid of me?”

Stabo looked at the huge mound for a second before stammering, "I…I am afraid of what you can do to me, yes.”

The bear nodded approval. “He is smart,” the bear said. “Now why are you here?”

“Man has come back to the meadow,” he told him. “You heard the noise. Well it looks like he is going to stay. They are building a Man cave and that will mean more Men and more hunting. The meadow and the forest may not be safe for any of us.”

“And you came to warn me, Thank You,” the bear growled.

“I still owe you much,” he added.

“Will your herd leave?” the bear asked.

“I do not know. Bambi will call a gathering and a decision will be made. I know Man will come after us, at the time of The Season, but he will also come after you and your kind sooner.”

“True,” the bear said sounding reluctant. “I will go over the hill to the other forest. Man is only there at times during the fall.” Then the bear look at him and his injured side. “How are you feeling?”

He actually got closer to the bear and presented his side to him almost inviting attack. “I am still not as fast as I was, but I am faster than when I was here. You might have some problems running me down.”

“I can see it is healing better than I thought it would. You are lucky Stranger, you should be dead. Well I see day will come soon, you better get back. I am pleased to meet you young Stabo. Listen to your father. He has a lot of wisdom you could learn from.”

“Yes, Friend Bear,” Stabo called out and then added unexpectedly “Can I learn from you too?”

That comment surprised him and the bear. “Why would you want to do that?” the bear asked.

“My Father says you are wise like he, my mother, Bambi and Faline. I have learned much from all of them. I was thinking I could learn much from you.”

The bear actually grinned and looked directly at him. “Perhaps one day near winter,” the bear said  looking Stabo over carefully. “Do not come back here without your father,” the bear warned him. “Sometimes there are other bears here and they would kill you without question.”

“I understand,” Stabo said with a slight bow of his head, “Thank you.”

Stabo left, but the bear held up a paw for a second so he stayed in place. “Did you know he would ask that?”

He shook his head no. “No, lately he has a habit of surprising me and his mother. He is smart, especially for someone his age, but he is not reckless. He has his own ways, he is stubborn, and he does not act like the other deer. He is living by himself up the hill on the side of the meadow near where the stream leaves the forest. Sometimes he does worry me.”

“So he is just like his father and mother,” the bear told him.

It was his turn to smile. “Yes, he is” he said. "If something happened to me, he could take my place. If necessary, I like him to be able to take my place with you."

The bear growled internally not liking that idea. "For now he is still too young. Put another season or two on him and yes he might be ready. You are teaching him?"

"Every day," he answered.  "Hopefully he will not have to get to know you the way I did."

"Let  us hope so," the bear said with a wide grin. "Saving deer is a habit I know others of my kind would never understand. Now you must go."

“Stay healthy,” he said to his friend and turned away.

“You too,” the bear answered and went back to his den.

He caught up with his son who was walking slowly waiting for him to catch up. They walked silently until they were back on the other side of the meadow near the stream. There Stabo stopped and smelled the air.

“I smell nothing,” Stabo said.

He could only smell a lingering scent of Man. It was not recent and it was not near them. “Nothing fresh,” he replied. Then he stopped and looked at his son. “Did you mean that about learning from the bear? It is very dangerous. I still do not trust him completely.”

“Only if I am convinced he will not have me for a meal,” Stabo added. “He could have had you for a meal as you told me, but he did not. I was thinking he might show the same behavior toward me.”

“Listen to me,” he said sternly to his son. “He could have had me for a meal, but he did not, mostly because of the way we felt about each other and our places in the forest. One day he may feel about you the same way he feels about me, but for now do as he says and do not try and meet him without me being there. Right now there is enough to learn from me and the others.”

“Including how to fight in that strange way you have?” Stabo asked him politely.

“Wait a while until your rack is bigger, then I will teach you what I have learned. For now you are learning fast, I hope not too fast to make you reckless. Other deer thought they were wise. Most of them have their heads in a Man cave. I do not want you to follow them.”

Stabo looked him directly in his eyes. He was respectful of him as his father and a senior male in the herd, but he wasn’t afraid of him. “As Bambi said, the more you know, the longer you live,” Stabo repeated the lesson. “I intend to learn all I can, because I intend live to be a very old deer. I want to have many children with a doe that I care for like you care for mother. I cannot do that lying dead in the meadow.”

He was surprised how far Stabo had come and how fast he had done it. He could only hope he did not get too sure of himself and get careless. “I hope you do have a long life and many children and the care of a beautiful doe. I also hope you do not have to pay the price I did to get them.”

Stabo walked up and nuzzled the side of his neck in affection. “I am tired, Father,” Stabo said with a yawn. "I will go to my bedding place.”

“God day, my son,” he said. “If you need me, you know where I am at.”

With that they both took different paths home.

He walked back to their thicket. He saw Bambi standing at the cave entrance with Faline lying down with Greta lying next to her. He saw in the thicket Claris was still feeding little Stena.

“You saw the bear?” Bambi asked.

“Yes, the bear knows,” he said plainly.

Bambi studied him as closely as the bear. “And what else?”the big deer asked.

He told them of Stabo’s talk with the bear and himself.

“Stabo is getting as strange as you,” Bambi said.

"I do not think the forest can hold two Strangers," Claris said with a grin.

"It has enough problems holding one," Bambi added.

Just then the noise from the meadow started up again, he could hear the sounds of the Man animals. There was more banging noises, more shouting, more trouble. Then he thought he heard even louder shouting then:  “KAAABAMMMMMMM”

They all cringed. “That was a big killing stick,” he said. “It is too early to be for us.”

They waited for a while, nothing happened. Even the Man animal noise stopped. It was all quiet until he head a deer bellow loudly.

“COOOMMMMMMMMEEEEE,”  It was Stabo. They all recognized it. Claris shot to her feet as did Faline. He quickly turned.

“You stay with Stena,” he told Claris. “The fawn is still too young to be without a mother. “It did not sound like he was hurt. I will go.”

He took off and found that Bambi was walking just behind him. They did not run. Instead they walked carefully while constantly testing the air. He knew about where Stabo lived, but did not want to run and expose themselves. Both he and Bambi moved as silently as the Old Owl. He heard nothing more from Stabo.

"DAAAAAAAAAA," he heard a deer scream. It was a death scream and thankfully, it was not from Stabo.

Bambi and he looked at each other and stopped for a moment. They heard or smelled nothing more. They continued moving through the forest. There were the scents of other deer around, but they stayed bedded down. Bambi and he went quietly through the trees not saying a word. Then he smelled a scent of Man coming from the meadow. The breeze brought it to him and it was strong. Both Bambi and he froze. Then his nose picked up another scent and it too was close. It was Stabo’s.

He looked around and saw nothing in the trees then he heard a crack, like someone broke a twig. He dropped low and faced the sound. He saw a brown mound with a white chest also low to the ground. He was many lengths away. Stabo did not look hurt. He motioned for him to stay still.

Both Bambi and he waited. They saw nothing come through the trees, heard no movement in the forest. The scent of Man did not change. All three of them stayed put. Then he heard shouting from ahead and then the sound of something being dragged. There was more than one Man scent now and more shouting.

They all stayed still for some time. After a short time the scents of Man got weaker and the dragging noise got further away. None of them moved until they heard and smelled nothing. Then he and Bambi slowly got up and made their way to Stabo.

“What happened?” he asked his son.

“I will tell you when we get to the cave,” Stabo gasped sounding out of breath. He could clearly tell something had shaken Stabo badly. His body was still twitching and it wasn’t from running. Very slowly and as quietly as possible, they made their way back to Bambi's cave. The Man animals started up again along with the banging noises.

 As they approached, Claris smelled them got up and ran over and kissed Stabo on the side of his face like a fawn.

“What happened,” he wanted to know from his son.

Stabo made a couple of attempts to try and tell his tale and nothing came out. Finally he just spat it out.”Marro is dead,” Stabo said.

He knew Marro, who was a year old male near the same age as Stabo and Gena.

“What happened?” Bambi asked.

Stabo swallowed hard and went on. “I had just lain down in my bedding place and I heard the Man animals come back to life. I did not think much about it, but a little while later I heard the killing stick.”

“We all heard it,” he said.

“I then heard the sound of crashing through the woods and the sounds of pain coming from a deer. It sounded as if it was near me. I checked the air and went to look. I saw Marro lying on the ground near the stream. There were Man scents, but they were far away so I went to look at him. When I got to him he was still breathing, but he had a huge open wound in his side in the middle of his flank.”

Stabo stopped still shaking hard at his experience.

“Please go on,” Bambi told him.

“I tried to talk to him, but only blood was coming out of his mouth. He looked at me as if asking me to do something, but I did not know what to do. That is when I called you. I was hoping you might be able to help him.  Right after that I heard movement in the forest by the meadow and I smelled two scents of Man. They were coming toward me. I then knew if you came, you would walk into the Men, so I looked at Marro and I knew he wanted me to stay, and then the Man scents got even stronger and you were coming so all I could say to Marro was I am sorry, and I had to leave. I ran away toward the cave. I got away and then I heard shouting from the Men and then ….” his voice trailed off.

He walked up and rubbed Stabo’s side. “Finish your story,” he said.

“I heard Marro scream as the Men killed him,” he said now almost in tears. “He was dead and I left him. I then ran toward the cave and saw you and Bambi. The Man scent was still strong so I broke a twig to warn you and got down low. I was going to call to warn you, but you told me not to call with Man so close. All I know is Marro is dead and I could do nothing. Father, I thought you said Man only comes for us near The Season.”

He looked at Bambi and then at Claris who like Stabo was almost in tears. She started to go toward him again no doubt to comfort him. He felt that was the wrong thing to do.

“Stop Claris,” he said loudly. She did and looked at him wondering why he did that. “He does not need to be mothered. He is almost an adult, and today he learned a valuable lesson. He must live with it like the rest of us have.”

He walked up to Stabo and looked him in the eyes, not as his father, but as a herd male and leader. “I am sorry you had to see that, but all of us have seen it before. You did the right thing in not staying with Marro. The only thing that would have done is gotten you killed also. Once blood comes out of the mouth, there is nothing to be done, that deer would have died no matter what any of us would have done.”

“But Father the way he looked at me,” Stabo said still shaking.

“It does not matter,” he said loudly. “Marro made a mistake in going into the meadow or too near the meadow in the light. It was a mistake that killed him. Most times Man waits until The Season to come for us, but in this case Man did not. This is why we always avoid Man. You also made a mistake. You should never call any deer to someplace where Man may be. That will just get more of us killed. I am glad you saw what would happen and tried to find us to warn us, but you should have never called us to begin with. After you smelled Man coming near you, you should have run away. Once you were sure no Men followed you, then you should have come back here and told us. That is a mistake you cannot repeat. Do you understand me, Stabo?”

Stabo looked taken back at his harsh tone, but he had to learn or next time it might be his son or someone else being killed.  Finally all Stabo could do is just nod.

“Good,” he said and then lowered his voice. “Remember this day. It is something I saw when I was younger than you when I lived with Man. Death is never pretty, but it is final. You told me this morning you want to live to be a very old deer. Well this is how you do it. You learn by watching others die and learning from their mistakes. Now do not go back to your bedding area today. Go up the stream and sleep near the open pond. Come back here after dark when Bambi calls for a gathering of the herd. Now go; the rest of us here must sleep.”

Stabo looked at him for a moment and then slowly backed away and started to walk up the stream toward the small pond. As he left he looked at Bambi. Bambi took a deep breath and went silently back into the cave with Faline and Greta. There was nothing more to be said. He followed Claris back to the thicket and lay next to Stena. Claris came and lay on Stena's other side.

“That was hard on Stabo,” she said looking at him with those green eyes.

“I know, but he has to learn or next time it could be one of us or him,” he said. “He will not sleep much today, I know I did not, but he will become wiser.”

They spent the day trying to rest and sleep. The smell of burning deer meat coming up from the meadow did not help matters any.

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