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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10. Moments of Truth

Chapter Ten: Moments of Truth

 

Year 4

“It does look peaceful now,” the bear said looking at the greening meadow.

“It is always peaceful this time of year before Man gets here,” he replied. “The pity is it won’t stay peaceful.”

“How are you doing?” he bear continued.

“I am as fine as can be expected. I was not hurt during the hunts. Poor Bambi almost lost his family. With Geno gone, he has only Veron and Gena, and I have not heard anything from them or my son Stabo since long before winter started. I plan to go over as soon as Claris gets over Sterus’s and Stera’s birth. She never had twins and it took a lot of strength out of her.”

“How is your daughter and Faline?” the bear asked.

“Stena is fully healed and the same as always only a bit more careful. Faline is better now that she has Gorro to care for. He seems a fine fawn and at least I see Bambi smiling again. As you noted life goes on, it is just not the same life. How about you, did your mate produce cubs?”

“I think so,” the bear said confidently. “Unlike your kind we don’t gather as a family. If I approached my mate now with her cubs, she would attack me. I might never see them. The only reason I know about my other children is mostly by chance.”

He looked at the large mound of muscle sitting next to him. “In a way I am sorry for you. I have found being close to your family is one of my greatest joys. It can also be one of your greatest sorrows if they are ripped away.”

“Even if I never know them, I am content that they exist,” the bear said with what sounded like happiness. “No matter what happens to me, at least I will know the best in me will go on.”

“That may be so,” he said, “However, I still do not understand is why Man feels the need to kill us when he already has so much. If he needed to eat us, then I could understand, but all he finds is pleasure in it. How anyone can find pleasure in killing a fawn not even a year old. It makes no sense to me.”

“Perhaps we are not meant to understand,” he bear said getting up. “All we can do is live our lives the best we can and accept the rest since we cannot change it."

"You are most likely correct," he had to admit. "We in the forest have little choice." Then he smiled. "My daughter Stena wants to come with me on my next visit to you. Would you mind?"

The bear just shook his massive black head. "You have unusual children. No other fawn would even dare come within sight of me. Yet she sounded like she understands our place in the forest. It must be good to be able to have children like that. If she wants to come with you, that is fine with me."

"I do like her," he said. "In a way she is most like me. She sees things as I see them and at such a young age. I hope she does better than I have."

"You have not done badly," the bear told him."You try and make life better for all of us. That is something I have never seen a bear or deer try to do."

"Whether I am succeeding or not depends on what deer in the forest you talk to," he said thinking of Duro and Sinno. "As for me I will go on as long as I can. Keep healthy, bear."

"You too, deer.," the bear said walking away. "For now I need to be getting back over the hill. There is plenty of food there and I need to put on weight for the next winter.”

He turned and went back down the hill toward his forest. He had to admit the idea of he and the bear forming a friendship was almost crazy. Any deer would be scared out of their wits being that close to something that could kill them with one swipe of his huge paw. Yet he could sit next to him with almost no fear. The bear had plenty of chances to kill him and yet he had not. Like Bambi, and Faline, he felt the bear as a close friend that he just did not see very often. He made his way back up his hill and walked quickly past the old cave and his thicket into the clearing beyond. Past that was the pond. On the right side of the pond, Bambi and Faline had taken a new bedding place. To the left was Claris and him. Stena and Balo lay closer to the clearing. As he walked up Stena and Balo came over to him. Stena got close and then came next to him and took a long sniff of air.

“You have been to see that bear again,” she said. “Father, one day I would like to know him better. That is assuming he will not eat us.”

"I will bring you next time," he told her. He smiled and looked at her brown eyes.  She was starting to grow out. By The Season she would be a mature doe. Other than that scar, she be  pretty to look at as her mother.  That was something even Balo was starting to notice. She was just a little too forward at times.

"One other thing young doe," he said firmly. "You may have a good nose, but sometimes you can put it in places others do not like.”

“I am sorry Father,” she said and lowered her head slightly. “I just smell more deeply now and more often. As much as I like Bambi and Faline, I am not going to end up like Gerta.”

He stopped in this tracks and looked sternly at his daughter. “Stena, I do understand you, but you will never say that in front of Bambi or Faline. They hurt enough over this.”

“I know Father,” she said, “and I will not.”

“There is something else,” Balo said sounding seriously as if a yearling male could say anything that sounded serious. “I was wondering if you and Bambi would start teaching us what we need to know to be herd leaders someday.”

He was going to say they were both still too young, yet Balo already came up to his shoulder. In another year, he’d be able to look him in the eye. He was going to be a big deer. Balo was right. “Very well, as soon as Claris gets better, we will start.”

“Thank you, Stranger,” Balo said.

His daughter just rubbed his cheek and walked away with Balo.

“So it begins again,” he said to himself.

He walked into the clearing and noted Faline walking away from Claris resting place with Gorro lagging behind and pulling on his mother’s tail in play. He walked up to her and kept his voice low. “How is she doing?”

“Weak but getting stronger. She can get around now. Her problem is she does not produce enough milk for both of them. I have plenty of milk for Gorro so I do not mind helping.”

That was something else that nagged at Claris, she was not a great milk producer. With a single fawn, there was plenty, but with two fawns there were times when it was not enough. He rubbed Faline along the cheek. “Thank You, for everything."

“It is unusual,” she added. “Most of the time doe have a single fawn at first and then two or even three later. I had two the first time and then single fawns since then.” At least Bambi has a new son he can teach.”

“Bambi is also looking forward to this,” he heard the voice from behind. The large deer walked out looking near normal again. He seemed interested in life again instead of death.

“That is good,” he said, “because you can start teaching right now. Both Stena and Balo have been pestering me to start teaching them how to be herd seniors or even leaders. I think it is time we started.”

Bambi came up to them, kissed Faline and motioned for him to follow. There was something on Bambi’s mind. They walked toward the back of the clearing near the pond where he stopped.

Do you think Balo can be a herd senior male or leader?” he asked.

“He will be big enough,” he said. “I cannot say anything about his rack yet, it is too soon.”

“It is not his size that bothers me,” Bambi went on. “He does not push himself forward enough. Stena does most of his talking and he just accepts it.”

He took a deep breath. “I know,” he said. “I do not know if it is because his father died before he was born, or his mother was killed, but you are right. If Stena had a rack, she would be a better herd leader, but she is a doe, and a doe cannot be herd leader although she can advise the herd.”

“And she is smart,” Bambi added. “She has your head and courage with her mother’s looks.”

“In short, she would be the perfect mate for a herd leader,” he added.

“The perfect mate, only we do not have one that is not a close family member, except Balo,” Bambi went on.

"Then who else do we have?" he asked Bambi "It will be a year before Gorro and Sterus are ready."

"With Veron and Stabo gone, we have no one," Bambi said.

He thought about for a while and one possible solution came to mind.“There is one way, but they will not like it,” he said.

Bambi nodded seeing the same solution he did. “I take Balo and go away for a while and teach him like my Father taught me. If he does not come out and be more assertive, then he will never be a herd leader. Meanwhile you teach Stena.”

“Yes, I can do that” he said. "We can start tonight."

Then he looked at Bambi. “Faline has been a large help to Claris. I thank you for it. Many deer would not care to help and let one or both of the fawns die.”

“You two are now my closest family,” Bambi said. “Faline feels the same way.”

“Thank you,” I also feel the same way,” he and then stopped and swallowed hard. “As someone who never had a family before I came here, you do not how much Claris, you and Faline have meant to me. I think if I had not met you, I would be already dead. I certainly would not be this happy.”

"It did require some effort if you remember," Bambi said with a grin.

"I do remember. I just hope it is all worth it," he said

Bambi smiled and kept on walking. “Ok let us plan how we are going to separate the two of them as least temporarily.”

They waited until nightfall when they went on the meadow. They all discussed it among the four of them and then called over Stena and Balo and told them. He was right; Balo and Stena did not like the idea of separating for a while. Finally after lengthy argument he literally put his foot down, hard.

“Listed to me,” he said raising his voice. “You want to be taught how to be leaders, well here is how it is done. Bambi will teach Balo as his father taught him. That requires Balo and Bambi to be alone. I will teach Stena what I know and for that we also need to be alone. What you two have to learn is similar, but not the same. After we are done, then both of you together will be a powerful leaders. It will not be for long, but will take up most of the summer. As herd leaders you must know it is not what you want that counts. It is what is best for the herd. Now that is how it is going to be.”

“I agree,” said Bambi, Faline and Claris all at the same time. It is nice to work these things out before you confront unruly children.

They were hurt, but in the end they both agreed. That night after the argument both he and Bambi started. Claris and Faline took care of the fawns. At least now Claris could get enough grass, but she still needed occasional help from Faline. After eating, Bambi took Balo out to teach him how to walk, fight, and think. He took Stena out and told her to face the Man caves

“What do you feel,” he asked her.

“The wind at my tail,” she said with a smile, “So I do not walk toward Man.”

He smiled openly. Like he said earlier, once again it begins.

It was during the late spring that Man returned again to the meadow, only this time it was different. He had heard the noise on the meadow and that night, Bambi, Balo, Stena and himself went to their viewing place. As they got closer an unfamiliar scent came to them from the meadow.

"What creature is that?" Stena said. "I have never smelled anything like that before."

"Nor have I," he admitted.

The odor was that of an animal like them, but different. The odor was one of earth and grass, but the odors were heavier. It smelled a little like a deer, but was much stronger. It was certainly not a man, or dog. This was something else.

"I have never smelled that before," Bambi told him.

Once at the viewing area he saw lights on in the Man cave, but there were no Men outside. There was also no shouting, no dogs, or anything else that seemed to indicate Man was there to hunt. What got all their attentions were several creatures near the Man cave. They were huge, much larger than a deer. They looked much larger than a bear. They were on four feet, but had a large thick necks and a big head. They had a long tail and their fur seemed shorter. As a precaution, they ate in the forest that night.

The next morning they heard the Man sounds of traveling through the forest. The Men made no attempt to remain quiet. They walked toward where the Old Owl used to live. After a while they started to hear banging noises. From time to time he could hear a great crashing in the forest as if something fell. Late in the day they could all hear something being dragged through the forest. There was no noise of killing sticks. There were shouts from Man and also high pitch noises he had never heard before. Once it was dark, they all went over to where they heard the noises. It was right near where Oswell lived.

"What have  you seen," he asked the owl.

"It was awful," Oswell said. "Men came and they cut down several tress near here. After they cut them down, they then got these large animals and pulled them away from the forest. I never seen animals like that before. They were big, powerful, and did what Man told them to do. They had four feet like you deer do, only they were much bigger."

"Man sometimes cuts down trees," Bambi said. "They have use for them."

"They make their Man cave from trees," he said. "You can smell the oak and pine when you are inside a Man cave."

"They do not seem to be hunting," Bambi added. "I think it might be safe to use the meadow."

"I want to look first," he said. He went down to the edge of the meadow closest to Oswell's tree. Out on the meadow he saw the Man cave was dark. There were no dogs. The large animals were all near the Man cave except one that wandered onto to the meadow. That gave him an idea. He turned to face Bambi.

"I want you to keep a close watch on the Man cave. Call if you see any lights go on or anything unusual."

"What are you going to do?" Bambi asked.

"I am going to go out to that animal and see if I can talk to it," he told them.

"He is not a hunter," Bambi said. "It looks safe. I will go with you."

"So will I," Stena said with glee.

It took a few seconds, but Balo nodded he would come too.

This did not surprise him. "OK this will be like me visiting the bear. If I say run, everyone runs. Watch that creature and if he looks like he will attack, we run. Does everyone understand?"

The three of them nodded. They all went out and approached the  creature slowly. When they got within a few lengths, the creature stopped feeding and looked up. He heard the animal snort, but he made no move toward them.

"Greetings," he said.

"HMMMM," the creature said.

"I am Stranger, the deer herd leader. May I ask your name."

"I am Jolly," the creature said in a deep even tone of voice.

"We have not seen creatures like you before," he said. "May  I ask what you are."

The animal blew a breath out through his nose, looking at them almost with disgust. "I am a horse," the animal said sounding disappointed. "I am surprised you do not know this. I thought all the forest creatures knew about horses."

"What is a horse?" Stena asked politely.

'Very well," the animal said in resignation. "A horse is an animal  that helps Man do work. We pull his machines, we help grow his food, we carry Man around at times, and we help gather trees."

"Man does not kill and eat you?" Bambi asked.

"Of course not," the horse said with alarm. "Man only kills animals that are of no use to him. You deer do not help Man so he kills and eats you. For us horses, Man feeds us, keeps us in  homes like his. He takes care of us. You wild animals have no use to Man; therefore, he kills and eats you as he pleases. Man is all powerful and we the wise animals serve him."

"So you serve Man and he feeds and keeps you," Bambi said. "How can any animal serve Man."

Again the horse snorted in disgust. "Ask the dog, the cow, the pig, the chicken, and all the others that serve Man. Those animals that serve Man are kept by Man.  We have no worries and he treats us well.  It is only you wild creatures he hunts and eats. Except for the cow and pig. Man likes to eat them also."

"I serve no Man," he said with a growl.

"Then die," the horse told him. "Now excuse me, I am hungry and I have better things to do than talk to a group of  wild animals that mean nothing."

With that the horse turned away and went back toward the Man cave. They all walked away back into the forest.

"That was rude," Stena said.

"Just like dogs," Bambi said. "They serve Man yet he will let them hunt and die for his pleasure. I rather be hunted than serve Man."

He had to agree. He had served Man once, and he would never do it again. He rather be dead. The all went back to their bedding places. Man and his horses left two days later.

Over the late spring he showed Stena how to look at Man, how to avoid Man. Then he showed her how to get Man off your trail, how to get away from dogs. The list went on and on. He constantly questioned her. She absorbed what she learned. She was smarted than Stabo, maybe smarter than Veron. It was the same things he taught to Jolo and Stabo the previous year. She was so tired by daylight she mostly slept near them but not next to them. She also helped her mother with the fawns in every way except feeding. Both Bambi and he kept the two so busy over the spring, they did not have time to miss each other.

It was in early summer when Sinno came over to them once again with news of a new deer. This time he said, “This one is not a stranger. I remember him from before, it is Ronno.”

 Bambi and him looked at each other. “Ronno,” Bambi repeated.

“Yes, Ronno,” Sinno told them. “He came up to me and asked me politely if he could see you, Bambi. He said it was important.”

“Go back and tell him where I am,” Bambi told him.

Bambi told Faline and he told Claris. The four of them and the three fawns came out and met the old stag in the clearing. Ronno looked old. He was getting gray around the face and along the back. His face was carved deeply with wrinkles.  He was not the hard looking, active male he remembered from the first time he came to the forest.

“Greeting Bambi” he said politely, but did not bow his head. “You too Stranger.”

“Greetings, Ronno,” he said. “What brings you to our forest?”

“I have come to talk to Bambi, in private,” he said.

Bambi shook his head no. “What you can say to me, you can say to the others. Before you start, let me tell you we saw Geno and heard what happened. He is not here if that is what you want?”

“That is part of it,” he said. “Did he tell you I became herd leader?”

“He did not have to,” Bambi answered. “I always knew you wanted to be herd leader so it was no surprise when Geno told me you took over after you did the wise thing and threw Geno out.”

“You are not angry at us for chasing Geno out?” Ronno wanted to know.

“No,” Bambi said. “It was the wisest thing you could have done. He was more for himself and not the herd. He forgot everything I taught him,” he said in disgust. “Now, how do you like being herd leader?”

Ronno dropped his head. “I do not like it,” he said in a low voice. “I am not very good at being leader,” he continued with a pause. “I do not understand things like you and Stranger do. I do not think the others in the herd are happy with me. That is why I came to see you.”

“You want me to teach you how to be a herd leader?” Bambi asked. “You are a bit old to learn now.”

“No,” Ronno said. “I want you to come back and be the herd leader.”

That stunned them all. Even Faline drew in a breath. Only Bambi was not surprised.

“You want me to come back after what Geno did to me?” Bambi asked his voice rising slightly.

“Yes,” Ronno said. “The others also want you to return. They say things were best when you and your father were herd leaders. They want it to be that way again.”

“Why should I do that?” Bambi spat out.

Ronno stood up and looked Bambi straight in the eye. “You need to come back for the good of the herd,” he said as a fact.

That answered stunned Bambi. It was the last thing any of them ever expected to hear out of Ronno. If he was forced to come to this conclusion, things had to be bad. Bambi said nothing for a while and then looked up at the sky which was now in full light.

“Stay here for today and I will give you an answer tonight.” With that Bambi turned and silently walked back to his bedding area. Ronno walked up to Faline. “Sinno told me about Gurri, Jolo, and Gerta. I am so sorry about that. I always liked Gurri.”

“Thank you,” Faline said and walked back after Bambi. Ronno then came over to them. I see you have two this time,” how is Stena?”

“Fine,” he said. “I have been teaching her. She looks to be a pair with Balo.”

“I never got to know Balo that well,” Ronno said. “His father was a big, strong deer, but not the wisest. He did not deserve to die the way he did. Then again neither do any of us.”

“You can stay in the clearing until night,” he told Ronno. “It is day and we are going to bed down.”

“Thank You,” Ronno answered. He watched him go to the edge of the clearing and lie down.”

He bedded down next to Claris and the fawns. “Do you think Bambi will go?” Claris asked.

“Yes, he will go,” he answered truthfully.

“Why, his home is here,” Claris said showing alarm.

“He will go for the good of the herd,” he told her “Bambi will always place the herd before himself. Ronno knew that which is why he said it. Bambi also knows if Ronno is forced to admit he is not a good leader, then the herd must be in awful shape. The herd needs him and because of that need, he will go.”

“Then what will we do?” Claris asked looking worried.

“We will do our best,” he answered and went to sleep.

It was just after dark when all of them gathered in the clearing. Stena and Balo were there. He had told them about what happened. Ronno was there. Soon Bambi walked out with Faline and Gorro on her tail.

Bambi walked up and looked at Ronno right in the eyes and said , “I will come back, but during the middle of summer. The fawn needs to grow more. I also need to teach Balo some more and that will be done by then.”

“I understand and accept your decision” Ronno said formally. “Very well I will leave and tell the others. They will be happy. I welcome you back, herd leader,” Ronno said with a bow of his head.

Even Stena and Balo did not seem shocked by Bambi’s decision. Bambi then turned to Balo. “Come ,” he said. “We have much to do and as usual not much time to do it in.”

“Bambi lead Balo away and he took Stena onto the meadow.

 

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