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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3. Higher Education

 

It was late when he got back to his clearing. The light was already bright, yet there was no sound from the Man animals in the meadow. He was exhausted. His talk with Bambi, Veron, Jolo and Stabo had taken all of the night and into the day, but he had finished it. Even though he had not eaten, he was not hungry in the slightest. What little thirst he had was quenched in the stream. Bambi had already heard most of his story, so he showed almost no emotion to his tale. When he was done, Stabo, Veron and Jolo looked almost stunned. They did not even attempt to ask a question. What bothered him the most was the way his own son looked at him. It was a mixture of fear and disbelief. He could only hope they understood what had happened to him. He had come back alone. The four others just lay in the clearing after he was done. It must have shown on him. Faline had gotten up at his approach thinking Bambi was with him. He could see she was going to ask him were Bambi was, yet she took one look at him and went silently back into her cave.

He lay down next to Claris and Stena. Even through sleep was the last thing on his mind, the exhaustion of last night and the fact he hadn’t slept much the previous night weight down upon him like a great rock. He felt himself falling into a deep sleep. Even though he knew he had awakened Claris, she had said nothing to him.

He awoke well after dark, alone. He was hungry, very thirsty, and felt his insides were ready to explode. He got up quickly and moved away from their bedding area and let the waste flow out of him. It seemed particularly noxious like the poisons in his body he had created by telling his tale needed to be were expelled. It all flowed out of him. Afterwards he felt much better. He took a long drink from the stream and  moved quickly out onto the meadow. As expected, the herd was there eating. He found Claris and starting eating the grass next to her.

“I am sorry if I woke you,” he told her.

She looked up from eating and looked into his eyes, her green eyes still blazing. “I was going to ask you about what had happened, but I saw the look on Faline’s face and knew to leave you alone. What happened last night?”

“I told the others my whole story,” he explained. “They had to know this if the herd was going to split up and survive. I will now teach them all I know. Stabo can help Veron, in the new forest. Bambi will learn to see Man as I see Man, and Jolo will know what to do.  . . .”

“In case something happens to you,” Claris interrupted. “I hate when you think like that. It is almost as if you are already dead.”

“I know and I am sorry," he said turning toward her, “But I have to start thinking about the good of the herd and that comes before me. Things will be changing for us soon. This is not what I wanted, but it is what will happen. For that reason, they had to know, so I told them. I just hope they don’t dislike me for it, especially Stabo.”

“I always felt pity at what happened to you, but I could never hate you,” she said and nuzzled him on his neck.

“Thank you,” he said and nuzzled her back. “I do not know what I do here without you.”

He saw Bambi, Veron, Jolo and Stabo standing together off to the side. He had finished eating. It was time to start the training. He walked over to the four of them who all stood firmly in place.

“Are we ready to begin?” he asked them.

“I will take Veron, you take Stabo and Jolo,” Bambi said and walked away.

“Come with me,” he told the other two and they walked off into the meadow. When they were far away from the others he stopped and turned and faced the darken Man cave in the distance.

“Both of you turn and face the Man cave,” he ordered.

Both did as he said and when they were looking right at it he added. “Now what do you feel?”

“I feel some fear of what Man can do,” Stabo said.

“That is always a good thing, but what do you feel on your body?”

Both of them looked at him like they thought he was crazy. “The wind,” he said curtly. “How do you feel the wind?”

“I feel the wind on my tail,” Jolo said. “Stabo nodded his approval.”

“Correct and here is what to remember. When the wind is on your tale, you never approach Man, especially if you think he had dogs. With the wind at your tale, they will always smell you, before you can smell them. With the wind in your face, you will smell them, before they can smell you. You must always approach Man with the wind in your face. If you do not have the wind in your face, then go someplace until you can feel the wind in your face and approach. Never walk toward Man with the wind at your back. It is a sure way to die.”

“Why is that Father?” Stabo asked.

“Because the wind carries your scent like a stream carries water. Remember how at times we can smell Man on the meadow and sometimes we cannot. It is because of the wind. When the wind blows from the meadow, it carries the scent of Man to us. When the wind blows from the hills, it carries our scent to Man and his dogs. Do you understand? This is something you must remember if you plan to live long around Man."

“What happens if the wind blows on our flanks?” Jolo asked.

Then you cannot be sure who will smell who first. Remember, Man cannot smell us, only his dogs can. Man can see us, and if he can see us he can kill us. This is why when Man comes; the best thing to do is to run deep into the forest where he and his dogs cannot find you.”

“But man does not see well at night, correct?” Stabo added.

“Yes, but his dogs can see well at night and can smell well at night,” he said and waited for more questions, but there were none.

“Come with me, I want to show you something more,” he said and led them to the place the forest sticks out into the meadow. They reached it and he took them several lengths into the trees so they could still see most of the meadow.

“If you must watch Man, or what Man is doing, do it only from a place like this. Here we can see the meadow, but it would be hard for Man to see us. Even when you stand here, stand near a tree or a bush so you are partly hidden. Never stand in the open, even inside the forest with Man about. I did that once and you see what happened.”

He turned around and showed them the scars that ran along the back half of his left side. “I almost died from this. Poor Marro and the others did die. If you have to hide, lie down behind some bushes or trees that are close together. Again, it is hard for Man to see you. The only time you do not try and hide is when you hear dogs. They can find you no matter where you hide. When you hear dogs, you run deep into the forest until you do not hear them anymore. You never run near any deer with dogs behind you. You will lead Man and his killing sticks to the others and more of us will die. Do you understand what I am saying?”

“I have heard that sometimes the dogs will come without Man,” Jolo said.

“Yes, that is true. If there are not many and you have a rack, you can fight the dogs by using your rack on them, but many dogs will attack you at once. That is why they are so dangerous like coyotes. One dog is not a danger. Many dogs are.”

He stopped and looked at both of them wondering if either one understood. They both seem to hear what he was saying. They didn’t ask any more questions. He wasn’t sure if that was good or bad, so he went on to another point and continued until it was near light.

By the time he had come back, the light was growing in the sky. He could see Bambi walk from the open space. Faline and Claris were already bedded down with the fawns. “How did it work out?” he asked Bambi.

“Veron wants to learn, he is just too young. He has not seen enough to completely understand. It took my Father almost a full season to teach me, and I still did not learn everything. How is it with Stabo and Jolo?”

“The same,” he said. “We will do more again tonight.”

With that he went back to Claris and Stena and slept soundly again.

The next night Bambi and Veron came with him.  He took them to  the stream that  flowed out of the forest toward the old forest Bambi would soon go to.

"Here is something to remember," he told all of them. "Man and dogs cannot track you through water. If you think you are being followed by Man and dogs, get into a stream if you can and walk away. Once the dogs lose their smell of you, they will wander around looking for it. That will slow Man and the dogs giving you a chance to get away. Do this only if Man cannot see you. Remember, anything Man can see, Man can kill."

"How does Man kill," Jolo asked. "I know he can cause terrible wounds like when you get struck by a rack, but how does he do that."

"It is his killing stick," he told him. "Inside the killing stick is a small black stone. When he uses the killing stick it makes a great noise. That stone flies through the air faster than any deer can run. When it strikes you it is like getting torn open by a bear or coyote. If the stone gets deeply inside you, you will die. If the stone is close to the skin, you can take it out and then you may have a chance to live. That is how the bear saved me."

"It also hurts very much," Bambi added.

"Father, just how then do you stop Man from killing all the deer in the forest?" Verson asked." All he had to do is point his killing stick at us and we are all dead."

Bambi looked at his son with a serious look on his face. "It is like Stranger says, Man can only kill what Man can see. If he cannot see you, he cannot kill you. That is why we stay off the meadow when Man is around. It is too open and too easy to see us. Deep in the forest Man needs dogs to find us."

"So to keep Man from killing deer in my herd, I need to keep them deep in the forest when Man is around," Veron went on.

"Yes," Bambi told him. "A good herd leader is always looking for Man trying to see where he is at and lead the herd to another place. Sometimes a deer is foolish and will not listen. Those deer unfortunately die. Some deer are just in the wrong place and are seen by Man when they do not realize it."

"I never heard or smelled the Man that hit me," he told them. Again, they all looked at his injured side. "Bambi is also correct when he says it hurts more than anything else if you are hit."

He looked closely at Stabo, Veron and Jolo. He saw the realization in their faces that this was not a game like fighting males or breeding doe. This was the difference between life and death.

During the next day at near the time the greater light was overhead, they heard a cry from a deer  that was on their side of the meadow only closer to the Man cave. Bambi and he knew what it meant and decided to show the others. They all went to look after dark and found a yearling male that was attacked by three coyotes and torn apart. A badger had come over and also eaten his fill.

"Remember Man is not the only thing in the forest that kills deer," he told them after seeing the bloody mess on the ground with the insides of the deer scattered along the ground and eaten.

"Another part of the duties of the herd leader is to keep the herd together and watching for danger'" Bambi told them. "This male went out alone and it killed him. He had no warning when he was attacked and killed."

He could see the site where the blood and insides from the dead deer  lay scattered around them, especially, the gnawed head This had upset Veron, Stabo and Jolo greatly. That was good, better to be upset now than be dead later on.

They continued, night after night for many risings of the lesser light. He told Stabo and  Jolo everything he could remember. He showed them how to disappear without a trace. He showed them how to circle around a Man to get him off your trail. Also, there was how to avoid Man when they hunt in groups. He then showed them how to watch Man without being seen. Another important thing was how to run away from Man in the open which meant never run in a straight line. Night after night he showed them and repeated what he said and asked questions about what he said. He talked to them until he could tell both Stabo and Jolo were tired of listening to him and he still went on. Both Stabo and Jolo seemed to understand, but the proof would come when Man tried to hunt them.  Sometimes Bambi and Veron would come with them and learn. Bambi also taught Stabo and Jolo on how to be a herd leader.

When their racks got bigger, he showed them mock combat. Most important was how to shift your enemy’s weight to force him down. Next came how to kick an enemy and how to trip him. Even Bambi listened to him. This was his odd way of fighting he learned while living with man.

 

He got both Stabo and Jolo together. "The most important thing to remember when fighting another male is never get mad and lose your head. Let me show you why. Jolo charge me like you would a male during The Season."

Jolo took position about five lengths away from him and then they both put their heads down. Both Jolo and he charged together; only Jolo charge fully at him while he pulled up after one step, turned quickly to the right, planted his front feet and then brought both his rear legs up hitting Jolo lightly across his chest. He then stopped and went back to them.

"If you can do that you can trip  the deer you are fighting, or if you want to be more forceful, hit him hard across the mouth. The whole thing is never think you know what the deer you are fighting is going to do. If you act fast, you can trap him and he cannot trap you. Most deer only know to lock racks together and try and push the other deer down. There is more to fighting than that."

"How did you learn all of this," Stabo asked.

"From Man when I lived with him," he answered.

Again there were more strange looks from the deer. He ignored it and went on with the lesson.

The lesson went on that day and for several more to come. Jolo was big enough where he could use this. Stabo was still too young and would need to grow another season or two. In the end they would both be deer no one would want to fight, and that was the whole point. Win without fighting, it was easier, safer, and less exhausting.

By the time of high summer everyone was exhausted by their nightly get togethers. Finally Bambi said it was time for them to go. He took them all into the meadow for one final lesson.

“I have taught you everything I can,” he told the four of them. I will know when winter comes if your listened well enough.”

“How is that Father?” Stabo asked.

“If you listened, you will be alive. If you did not, you will be dead,” he told them

He turned to face them and made the most serious face possible. “Although we played this as a game, this is not a game. If you do this wrong, if you make a mistake, it is not you get to do it again the next night. You will be lying dead in the meadow or the forest with blood pouring out of your bodies. Then Man will come, cut off your head, and put it in their Man cave. Then they will burn and eat your body. All the time they will be happy and enjoy themselves, because killing deer is fun for Man.”

Even Bambi swallowed hard. That was the one thing they had to understand. To make a mistake around Man is to die, and die horribly.

“Understand this,” he said as seriously as he could. “Man does not need to kill us like the bear does, or the coyote does. The other animals kill for food so they can live, Man has all the food he needs. I have seen this myself. He can get all the food, all the meat he wants just for the asking. He kills us not to live, but for fun. That is why he does not belong in the forest like we belong. We are here for a reason, Man is not. I wish I could change that, but I cannot. That is the last thing I want to teach you. You are now on your own. I wish you good luck.”

With that he turned and walked away to the other side of the meadow and into the forest. He didn’t feel like being with any of the others. His insides were a mixture of accomplishment because of what he did, fear because he might have done it improperly, and dread at the consequence of what would happen if he was wrong. Part of him was happy he had shown others what he knows, and part of him was sorry at what might happen.

A familiar scent crossed his nose and he smiled. “I smell you my friend. Have you been watching for long?”

“I have been watching you teach the others,” the bear’s growly voice said from behind some trees. “The wind was blowing from the meadow so I heard what you told them. I think now I understand your purpose in being here.”

That made him curious, “What is that?”

“You are here to teach them what you know, so that others can be taught and maybe make life better for all.”

That was an idea he never considered. He hoped the bear was right. “I hope it was worth it, I did the best I could,” he said with a shrug. “Then again we both remember what happened the last time I did my best.”

“Yes, but as in last time others were saved because of the pain you took on yourself. That is why you belong here and why I will not eat you. The herd is breaking up now, correct?”

“Yes, Bambi and a few will go to the old forest down the stream. I will stay here with some others, and a few will live in the forest with the Man path. I am afraid the hunting will not be good around here for your kind this winter.”

“I can go elsewhere,” the bear said.”Stay alive, Stranger.”

“You too,” he answered and started to walk the long way around the meadow.

When he got back to the small thicket Claris and Stena were standing.

“Pa Pa, are you hurt?” Stena asked. Her voice was growing stronger.

He leaned over and rubbed her tiny mouth with his tongue. “No I am not hurt, I am just tired. I have been teaching your brother.” He looked up at Claris. “Do I look that bad?” he asked.

“You look like you are carrying the entire forest on your back,” she said and rubbed his cheek. Again he felt warm and happy inside.

That night was the time of parting. Ronno and Marol, Bambi and Faline, Ate, and the others all gathered just after darkness.”

Bambi started out. "My friends I will leave you now. "

Bambi looked direct at him and Claris. "When I leave there will be no herd leader for this forest. There will also be no herd leader for those going to live in the Man path forest. I ask the remaining herd here if they will accept Stranger as herd leader. I ask those going to the Man path forest if they will accept my son Veron as your herd leader. That decision belongs to you and you must make it now."

"I will accept Veron as herd leader," Stabo spoke up at once. "Of all the deer going to the Man path forest he is the wisest and strongest. I will help him as much as I can."

He was proud of his son for saying that. Of the deer leaving there were many nods and no one spoke up against it.

"I also accept Veron," Gena said and then she did a curious thing. She went and stood next to Stabo. He had not expected that. Until now they have never shown any interest in each other.

"I also accept Veron, a yearling spoke up. He did not remember his name, but he did sound like he meant it.

There were no more words spoken from this group. Bambi just nodded his head.

"My son you are herd leader," Bambi said. "Try and remember everything Stranger and I taught you. Stranger will be here in this forest if you need him."

"Yes, Father," Veron said his voice choking. "Thank you for all you have done."

"I accept, Stranger as herd leader here," Jolo spoke up. "He is the wisest deer here and knows more about Man than anyone else."

There were no other sounds from the deer staying in the forest. He had hoped others would speak up to support him, but all remained quiet. He looked directly at Sinno and the other few senior males who had always ignored both him and Claris before. They could not do that any longer. As senior males, they had the right to challenge his leadership. Of course he had the right to pound their tails into the ground, something he was prepared to do right now. There were no objections. Most of the other deer just accepted him because most of them knew they could not do it.

"Then it is settled," Bambi said forcefully. "Stranger will be herd leader here and Veron will be herd leader in the Man path forest." Bambi then seemed to relax and actually started to smile. "I have  been proud to be your herd leader, but things change. and we must change with them. I wish the best for all of  you."

With that the herd separated and all went their different ways. After all this time there was little more to say. He kissed Gerta on the cheek and then Faline, he then nuzzled Bambi. Claris and her mother embraced. There were words of goodbye and good luck. Then he said good bye to his son, Veron, and Gena, and off they went. Although he knew his son would be nearby, he wondered if he would ever see Bambi and Faline again. He suddenly realized just how much he would miss them and just as suddenly realized just how many were depending on him now to lead them. It gave him a cold feeling in his stomachs. As soon as they were all out of sight and smell, Jolo came up to him.

“Herd Leader,” what do you want us to do?”

He cringed at the words, but spoke as clearly as he could to all around him. “For now we change nothing. We eat on the meadow at night.  We hide in the forest by day. Stay away from the meadow during the day or you may end up like Marro. Jolo and I will watch the Man caves to we see if Man is getting ready to hunt in the forest. In that case, I will call you all here and we will decide what to do. Does anyone have any questions?

None did, why should they? The old leader was gone, the new leader was here. That was the Way of All Things. Nothing lasts forever. Not even him.

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