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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4. Adjustments

 

 

It was several mornings after Bambi and the others had left that the noise from the meadow started up again. It was loud and came from the area where the new Man cave was.  There seemed to be a lot of shouting like the last time many Men came here. This time there were no Man animal noises. Soon after the noise started came the sound of the killing sticks, only these was not as loud as before. This went on all day. They also heard something else. The unmistakable sounds of dogs. There were several of them there, but the important thing was there were dogs on the meadow. That meant it be easier to find deer or any other creature. The sound of the killing sticks went on until near the setting of the greater light. Then came the merriment. As he had heard in the Man cave he grew up in, the Men seemed to shout the same thing at the same time. Soon afterwards, they could smell the burning meat odor coming from the meadow. The burnt scent was difference than before. He was not sure who it belonged to, but it didn’t smell like deer.

Just before dark he went over to Bambi's cave. Jolo like to bed down some distance away. Claris and Gena followed him.

“As soon as it is dark, Jolo and I will go look and see what is happening,” he told Claris. Stena had started sleeping next to him but no longer between them as she had when she was a fawn. She looked at him and asked, “Can I come with you Father?”

He was not sure about that. He looked at Claris and said nothing. Claris nodded and added, “We will all come.”

“Very well,” he said. “One thing Stena you stay next to your mother. If she starts to run, you run with her. You run and you do not look back. Do you understand this, because it is very important?”

“Is because like what you told Stabo, if I do not run fast I might die?” she said that in all seriousness.

He looked at Claris who seemed as surprised as he was. Stena seemed to be trying to understand at an unusually early age. Usually fawns are almost a full season old before they can fully understand the dangers of Man. “Yes,” he told her. “It is exactly like I told Stabo. It is time you learn about Man.”

“Thank you, Father. I want you to teach me like you taught Stabo and Jolo.” She seemed happy she was being treated like a big deer and not a helpless fawn.

They waited until after dark when Jolo came to his thicket to see if he had anything to do. “Tonight I want to look at the Man caves,” he told him.

“The noise from today,” Jolo said. “You think Man is here for us this time?”

“No,” he said. “It is not The Season yet. Sometimes Man comes for the birds that live in the meadow. Let us be off, Claris and Stena will come with us.”

Jolo shot a glance at Stena, he could tell he was about as happy with this as he was. “We all must learn sometime,” he told Jolo and left for that place in the forest he could view the meadow.

As they moved, all of them walked silently except for Stena who would occasionally break a twig. She also was asking all sorts of questions. Finally, as they got near to the place they watched the meadow, he stopped.

“Stena, look how your mother walks; do you see how she does not step on branches or anything else that makes noise? You must not make noise around Man, or he will hear you. Also do not talk anymore. Sometimes Man or his dogs can hear our voices.”

Stena started to say something and then stopped. All she did was nod her head and started to try and pick her way around branches and other things on the forest floor. It made her slower, but that was fine with him. No one learns all of this in one night.

They walked slowly until they came to that place in the forest they all knew well by now. As he looked through the few trees, he could see the Man cave brightly lit up from fires on the ground and from lights inside. Many Men were sitting on their rocks and smoking at their mouths. Men were also lifting something to their mouths. He had seen this before; it was how Man drank. The more they drank, the louder the shouting seemed to get. They could also see dogs lying on the ground looking at their masters. The wind was blowing across the meadow, so the dogs could not smell them from this distance.

He motioned all of them to come close to where he stood so he could whisper. “We need to wait for Man to go inside their caves to sleep. Then maybe we can use the meadow.”

He folded his legs under him to lie down. Claris lay next to him, but Stena lay next to Jolo who did not seem to mind. They waited and watched. When the lesser light was nearly over head, the Men put out the fires and all went inside their caves. He waited until all the lights in the caves went out before he got up.

“I think we can use the meadow now, but I am not sure,” he said in a low voice. “I want all of you to go back into the forest. I am going to step out on the meadow. I know Man cannot see me, but the dogs may smell me and make a noise. If you hear the dogs bark loudly, or see lights go on in the Man cave, you all run back to our thicket and wait for me.”

They all nodded and went deeper into the woods. He slowly walked out onto the meadow. The wind was still blowing across the meadow so his scent was not carried to the dogs. He stepped out and started to chew on some grass. At first all was fine, then he felt the wind change and blow over his tale. A short while later one of the dogs began to bark, followed soon by others. He had to go. He ran into the forest until he was sure the dogs were not chasing him and then made his way back to his thicket. The others were already there.

“Did the dogs smell you, Father?” Stena asked. “We heard the dogs bark and we ran back here.”

“We heard no killing stick,” Jolo said.

“I left before Man could see me. You all did the right thing,” he said mostly to make sure Stena understood.

“We cannot use the meadow. We will have to feed in the forest,” he told them.

“Many of the others are in the clearing,” Jolo added.

“Fine, we will eat there tonight,” he said and led them back to the small clearing.

He told the others to eat in the forest and not to go to the meadow until he told them it was safe. They then ate and drank their fill. By then the first sign of the greater light was in the sky. They all went back to their resting places.

As they rested together Stena lay next to him. He leaned over and licked his daughter on her nose. “You did well tonight,” he told Stena. “You must learn how to walk quietly. Last night it did not matter. It might matter soon.”

“Yes, Father,” was all she said.

“Practice as you walk around with your mother. You must learn not to make a noise as you move through the forest.”

With that they all started to sleep. The quiet did not last for long, It wasn’t much later when they starting hearing the killing sticks. Stena had not heard them often so every time one went off she would cringe. That continued well into the day. They did not get any sleep until the greater light was well past overhead.

"I wish Man would learn to be quiet," Stena complained as she lay down.

This went on for three days and then one morning it stopped. That night they all went to look again and saw the Man cave was empty and there were no lights. There was no fire, no dogs and no Men. It was safe on the meadow again. With no Men around it was time for him to do something he wanted to do since Man came.

He waited until after they ate on the meadow that night. After eating their fill, he called Claris and Jolo over. “I am going to leave and go to the forest were Stabo and Veron went and see how they are doing. I want to do this now before The Season gets closer and Man comes back for us. Jolo, I leave you here.”

“Can I come, Father?” Stena asked.

“Not this time,” he said, “maybe when you are older.”

Stena looked disappointed, but said nothing which was good.

“Be careful,” Claris said and nuzzled him on his cheek.

“I try to be,” he said and left them there.

He went around their side of the meadow. The side their thicket was on because he did not want to walk close to the Man caves. As he moved, he could feel the eyes and pick up the scents of some of the other hunters. They were interested in him, but he was too big for most of them to attack. They kept their distance and so did he. He walked until he was at the end of the meadow the Man caves were at and he was able to look across the grassy opening at them. He was closer now than he had been before. These caves were bigger than he thought. The Man cave he had grown up in was only so high that a Man could reach up his hoof and touch the top of the cave. These caves looked much taller and much bigger than the cave he grew up in. Many Men could stay here and in The Season that meant many Men with killing sticks.

He came to the end of his forest. The trees and bushes stopped and there was a hill over which lay the other forest. There was an open space between his forest and the other forest. It was covered only in grass. The space between forests was not much, but he would be in the open. He smelled the air and other than the three coyotes following him, he smelled nothing out of place. He smelled no dogs and no Men. He decided to run, but not run in a straight line. He darted out and ran one way and then quickly changed direction and ran a different way, all the while getting closer to the other forest. He did this four times before he ran into the trees of the other forest. By the time he got there, his rear left leg was hurting where he had been hit by Man. It still had not healed completely. As soon as he was sure he was safely in the other forest he stopped and started to smell, looking for the scent of other deer. He picked up the scent from some waste and followed it toward the Man path. Then he smelled other deer near him. He came to a small clearing and saw several deer eating in it. He walked into the herd. Several of them stopped eating and came up to him.

“Stranger is that you?” one of the two season males asked. He remembered his name was Kelor

“Yes,” he answered. “I am looking for Veron and Stabo.”

“They ate here and went to look at the Man path,” Kelor told him. “Veron told the rest of us to stay here.”

“Can you show me the way they went?” he asked.

Kelor took him to the end of the clearing and pointed to where they had gone into the forest. He leaned over and could smell three scents from Veron, Stabo and Gina. All the scents were fresh. “If you see them, tell them I am here looking for them.”

He followed their scents which was not hard. They were using an old deer path. He walked taking in large qualities of air. He had no idea what hunters were present in this forest, and he wanted to find them, before they found him. He moved for a while and then the deer scents got stronger. He quietly approached and he could just see the opening in the trees the Man path made when he heard breaking of branches as deer started to run. They must have heard him. He stopped and let out a low bleat they should all know. They all approached him from different directons.

“Father,” Stabo said. “Sorry we heard you, but did not smell you so we ran because we were not sure who it was.”

“You all did the right thing,” he said. “When in doubt, run, we can always talk later.”

“Veron broke into a smile. “You know you are starting to sound like my Father. Have you heard anything from him?”

“No, and I do not expect to until after The Season or even Winter,” he said. “How goes things over here.

“Things are fine,” Veron said. “We found five two season females and one male that came back. They said the forest they went to was crowded and they felt there was more food here.”

“We have looked around and found lots of small clearings, but no large meadow except at the this end of the forest,” Gina told him.

“Do you have enough food to last the winter?” he asked.

“Yes,” Stabo said. “I would feel better if we knew what was on the other side of the Man path. If we found some more clearings it would make things easier.”

“Any bears or other hunters?” he wanted to know.

“No, so far just the raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, mice, moles, ground squirrels, and birds,” Veron answered. “There are small hunters like ferrets, owls, and hawks, but nothing large.”

Did you have any problems with Man and the killing sticks?" he asked.

"No," Veron answered. "They did not come into this forest. They seemed only interested in the birds."

"I did see two Men walking in the forest," Stabo added. "I followed them. They were looking for something, but I do not know what. I do  know they found no sign of any deer."

"How do you know this?" he asked his son.

"I followed them, like you taught me. I always stayed with the wind in my face, and they had no dogs. They also did not look to have killing sticks."

He was going to warn his son, but kept quiet. It is the exact same thing he would have done if he could. Stabo was learning and he was glad he learned well and remained cautious. It made the time he spent with him feel worthwhile. He looked up in the open space of the Man path at the sky starting to lighten. “Morning is coming; let us find a place to lie down for the day.”

“Gina and I have a place, Stabo said. “Veron is nearby.”

He looked at the two of them standing close together. That was not unexpected, but he did not think it would happen until next year. Usually one of the larger three season males would drive Stabo off until he got fully grown and that would not happen until the following Season. His rack, while nice size, was not big yet. Veron was going to have a big rack like his father. He would need to be particularly careful. Man liked to kill deer with large racks. It made them happy for some reason. He followed his son back to his bedding area where Stabo and Gina slept next to each other and he slept alone. Veron disappeared into the forest. There he slept until nightfall.

He spent the next night looking around their forest noting the number of deer. The thing that got his attention was  the two season males and even the two three season males looked to go along with anything Veron said. There were no arguments, no questioning. Everyone was happy. The deer accepted Veron as leader. He doubted this would last as The Season came on. He waited until the four of them were together before he spoke up to them.

“I will leave early tomorrow night to go back. I do not want to leave your mother alone for long. I need to explain something mostly to Stabo and Gina.”

Both of them peaked up their ears. “Stabo, you are not going to be big enough to fight for Gina this Season. You are still not fully grown and your rack is not grown out. One of the larger male could force you away.”

Stabo looked shocked at what he was saying. “I can fight Father,” Stabo said angrily. “You taught me.”

That was what he was afraid of. “I taught you how to fight a deer of your own size. The three season and older males are simply too large for you and Gina is too good looking of a doe for them not to be interested in her.”

“Are you saying I should allow a male to have her, NO!” Stabo said and stamped his foot.

“I do not want another male,” Gina spoke up.

“NO I am not, now listen,” he said tersely. “When you both feel The Season coming on, you must both leave the herd. Get far away from the other deer so they will not smell you. The older deer will not come after you if they cannot find you. You both leave and stay away from the herd and from each other until the Season passes and you Stabo lose your rack. After that, all will be fine. Next year when you are fully grown and have a grown rack, then you can fight anyone that challenges you for Gina. Besides, Stabo, you are also too young to be a father. I myself was a three season male before I could fight well enough to breed with a doe and I was a five season male when I met your mother. It is not that I do not care what you two feel for each other, but I have lived long enough to know this is the way of the forest. This is not the time for you to join together.”

Then he turned to Veron. “As herd leader you will be expected to breed with a doe this Season. Pick a good one. Do not worry if you do not feel for the doe like your Father and Mother feel for each other. That will come in time. You will meet the right doe and you will know it. Also once The Season starts, one of the three season males may challenge you. If so, you must beat him, and make sure everyone knows you beat him. A herd leader can have no challengers if he is to remain herd leader. Do not kill him however. In most cases it is The Season that drives males to do this. During The Season, deer act differently. Once The Season starts, deer do not think the same. Even Bambi and I moved apart during The Season because we got angry at each other.”

“I remember,” Veron said.”

“Good,” he told them. “That is the best advice I can give all of you.”

Gina still looked shocked and Stabo was still angry. Veron only nodded his head in acceptance. Finally Stabo got a hold of his temper. “Very well, Father, Gina and I will leave the herd when we feel The Season coming on, but we will go together.”

That was about all he could expect, “You are both old enough to do as you want. I can only tell you what I think is best, just stay away from the larger males. They can hurt you, or even kill you Stabo.”

Stabo did not look convinced. Only Veron spoke up. “Very well, I will do as you say. I hope you are right about finding a doe that I want.”

“I am,” he said and smiled. “As for this forest, you have all done as well as I think you could have. I am proud of you all and I think Bambi would be proud of you. I only hope things turn out well this for you this winter. If you need me, you know where to find me.”

All three of them looked pleased at his words, but he could tell he had put Stabo and Gina off. They all spent the rest of the night looking over the forest and eating their fill. He slept by himself in the morning.

Early the next night he walked alone to the edge of the Man path forest where he could see his forest in the distance over the small hill. After it was fully dark, he smelled the air many times for any unfamiliar scents. Then he ran back to his forest the same way he ran here. It took a while and his left leg hurt again, but he made it with no problems. For once something had gone right. He only hoped Stabo and Greta would listen to him. He would know for sure in the spring.

It was an easy trip back to his thicket. He stopped along to way to see Friend Owl. He had not visited the old fellow since early spring when he started training the others.

“Hello Friend Owl,” he called up.

“Stranger,” he heard from a nearby tree. It was the owl and he looked tired. His feathers were even grayer and his face was almost pure white.  The old boy was looking a little thinner.“Sorry, I have not been feeling well lately,” he said.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” he wanted to know.

“No, I am just getting old. It is getting hard to catch mice, but I am still here. Where have you been?”

He told the Owl where he been and what he seen. The Owl took it all in like he always did and when he was done he said. “I think you did the right thing with Stabo and Gena, not that I think they will listen. I am glad things are working out for them. Now how is the new herd leader doing?”

“As well as can be expected,” he said. “We need now to get ready for The Season and the return of Man,” he said.

“Man has made one big nest over by the edge of the meadow,” the Old Owl told him.” This does not look well for you deer.”

“I know,” he said walking off. “I have to get back to my thicket with Claris. I will talk with you later.”

He was never sure what the Owl said in return, but it sounded to him like, “perhaps.”

It was near dawn when he got back to his thicket. As he got closer a familiar scent came to his nose. It smelled like Faline, but it was slightly different. He then smelled Claris and another young deer he did not recognize. That made him cautious and he approached his home with the wind in his face. There was something wrong here.

 He got into the bush and walked quietly toward his thicket. He saw Claris, Stena, a deer that looked like Faline, and then Faline herself walked out of her cave. There was also another fawn from this year playing around with Stena that he did not know. Jolo was also there with a large frown on his face. He approached from the rear, but when was still many lengths away, Claris turned around quickly.

“Stranger,” she called out almost in a plea. “Come here please; Bambi has returned and it is terrible.”

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