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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9. Winter of Darkness

 

 

He crept slowly along the stream testing the air often. He smelled nothing except the lingering scent of the Skunk. The wind was mostly in his face and he smelled nothing of Man. He crept up toward his old thicket and caught the smell of blood. Lots of blood. He suddenly went cold. As he moved forward he caught two other familiar scents. Bambi and Faline were there. He looked into Bambi’s cave.  There Bambi and Faline were lying next to one another almost motionless. They did not even say anything to him.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“We are unhurt,” Bambi said. Bambi had a strange look to him. He looked lost, yet tense. Faline was the same way. They both looked out of their cave like they expected Krono or Geno to appear. It was almost like they were half dead.

“My Friends, what has happened?” he asked.

“We are waiting for Man to return so we can kill him,” Bambi said plainly. Faline just nodded.

“Kill Man,” he repeated not believing what he was hearing. It sounded like they both lost their heads completely. “Bambi if you try and kill Man, you will both die.”

“That no longer matters,” he said as if it was nothing to him.

He stood up and took a step back. This was so unlike them. “Why?” was all he could say.

“Go over by that large Burch tree and smell there,” Bambi told him.

He did as he was told, the smell of blood got stronger. There on the ground was a huge pool of blood still soaking into the ground. He bent over to smell it. It took him only a second to realize the pool had the scents of both Jolo and Gurri. He quickly realized with that much blood spilled, they had to be dead. His throat started to tighten.

“They are both gone,” he muttered.

“Now come back to where the Spruce tree grows in front of my cave and do the same thing,” Bambi ordered.

Again he approach, again there was a smaller, but still a large pool of blood. He smelled that. It smelled of Gerta. In a moment he realized she was gone too. He dropped his head almost to the ground and fought back the urge to start crying again. Jolo was a large deer with a good rack, Gurri was a large doe, but Gerta was hardly more than a fawn. Why her, he asked himself? He walked to the end of the clearing with his back to the two of them and just let his emotions run out. After a short while he gained control of himself and went back to the cave.

“I am so very sorry,” he said with a sob.

“They came for us this time, Stranger. Not just any deer, they came for us. They used the skunk odor so we could not smell them until it was too late. They tried to kill us all. If Jolo and Gurri had not raised their tails, they would have killed us all. Now they have to die and I will kill them myself. Faline will help. Then we will go join our daughters.”

That was crazy. “No,” he pleaded. “They are both dead. We can do nothing about that. We have to live for the ones that are still here. Balo is alright, he is with me. You have to live for him.”

“I knew he was alright. He ran off with Stena,” Bambi said.

“Stena was almost killed,” he said and then told them what had happened to her.

They both just shook their heads and went on. “Go, Stranger,” Bambi ordered. “Do not come back here. This is a place filled with death and the smell of death. Soon there will be even more death here. Take care of Balo. He and Stena will make a nice pair.”

He backed away from the cave not knowing what else to do. He felt the need to get away. He felt a burning in his throat. He almost ran from the cave. Bambi was right, he would not come back here again. He ran almost until he got back to the clearing and then stopped. As he collected his thoughts it occurred to him the pain had not yet ended. He still had to talk to Balo. He stopped, took several deep breaths, and fought to get his control back. He could not be weak. Others depended on him. He gathered himself and walked into the clearing. Stena was resting on her knees. Claris and Balo were around her. He bent over and rubbed the side of her face.  Then he looked up at Balo.

“Balo come here,” he said like the herd leader.

The tone of his voice must have warned him. He timidly walked over to him. There was no good way to do this so he just said it. “Balo, your mother can no longer be with you, she is gone. She is gone with Jolo and Gerta.”

“No,” Stena muttered. “Gerta is dead,” she said and broke into tears. He heard Claris also sobbing. It was all he could do not to join them.

All Balo said was “Mother,” and turned to walk away. Balo went to the edge of the clearing. He lay down with his tail toward them. He looked at the fawn for a second, and felt the urge to try and comfort him.

He then heard Stena grunt and saw her forcing herself up on her wobbly legs. She got up to her feet, but her face was racked in obvious pain.

“Stena, lie down,” her mother told her.

She shook her head no and looked up at them both. “ Balo needs me more,” she said calmly.

With that she stumbled over, lay her good side against him and lay down and nuzzled him along the side of the face.

He turned to face Claris, tears running down both their cheeks. They lay down in the clearing close together just happy to be alive. “That is settled,” he said looking at the two of them. Then they both sobbed until they fell asleep.

Thankfully, that was the last hunt of the year in his forest. He heard in the distance forests sounds of the killing sticks, but nothing nearby. Men still used their Man caves, but as he watched he noticed they left the caves early in the morning and returned after the greater light set with their mangled victims. At night there was still yelling, shouting, drinking, and the sickening smell of burning deer meat, but there was no hunting in their forest. He tried to force from his head who they might be burning. Several deer came to the clearing and he told them what happened. Other than the three deer he knew about, there were no other deer killed other than Jolo, Gurri and Gerta. He spent a couple of days going around the forest and noting if there was anyone else that had been killed. There was no one else.

After several days, both Bambi and Faline came back to the clearing, still shaken, but thankfully alive. With Jolo now gone, Bambi was the only other leader he had. Both Bambi and Faline lay together in the open part of the clearing and said nothing to anyone at first.

 Eventually Stena and Balo came over to them. Bambi looked at her side and was about to say something when Stena said sobbing. “I am so sorry for Gerta and Gurri,” and started sobbing again. Bambi kissed her like he would his own daughter and Faline kissed Balo. There was a lot of sobbing that day and for days to come.

Most of the herd went their own ways. Word of what happened to Jolo, Gurri and Gerta had gotten around quickly. Most deer  had the sense to leave them alone. The only problem that arose is when Sinno and Duro came to visit the clearing. They both glared at him so he figured they were not happy for some reason.

"I said that I did not know if your plan to hide in the hill would work. We still lost six deer." Duro said it as an accusation.

That angered him and saw Bambi was getting angry. "We lost three deer because they did not listen," he reminded him. "We lost three more due to a trick of Man."

"Then Man fooled you," Duro came back hard.

Even Sinno back away from his friend. He fought to remain calm. "Yes, Man fooled me. Sometimes that happens. Last year we lost deer too."

"That should not have happened," Duro added. "You should not be herd leader."

Bambi started to move forward toward the two deer. He shot a glance to him telling him this was his problem. He turned and dropped his head as a threat.  "If you can do better, you can challenge me for herd leadership. I do it while you still have your rack."

Duro laughed openly, "I cannot challenge you. You are far too strong," Duro said with spite in his voice. "However being strong does not make you right."

With that Duro turned and left in a hurry with Sinno and two other deer behind him. He watched him go fighting back the urge to smear his backside throughout the forest.

"Ungrateful pile of waste," Bambi said.

He turned to face his old friend. "I agree with you. However, that does not mean he is not  correct."

He felt empty on the inside at Duro's words and walked out of the clearing. He wanted to be by himself. It was late the next day before he came back to his new home. All he could think about was that he did not see the Man trick and three deer close to him had died because of it.

No one ever mentioned that conversation to him again.

The days grew shorter, the wind picked up, and the air was cooler. Soon his rack loosen and then fell out. Once that happened he knew the season for killing was over. The weather warmed for several days. Most of the herd used those last days before the cold of winter to feast in the meadow once more before the snow covered the grass. What little weight was lost during The Season and the hunts was quickly regained. As the fall went on, there was quiet in the meadow. Man had left. At least he was happy Men would not stay or come year round. Many of the other members of the herd came to the clearing, telling him what was going on, which was not much, and then left. Most often everyone concentrated on getting as much food as possible in case the winter was hard.

Stena did get a fever from her injury. He was pleased that Balo asked him about the bushes he had used to cure himself and Bambi. He showed the now young male where the plant grew and how much to take. Balo brought the leaves to Stena every day. He also helped her stand to eat. She grew stronger fortunately before the first winter snow came. Stena never came back to him and Claris to sleep, but instead found a place near the clearing where she and Balo bedded down each night. Even Bambi had to admit they were a pair and there was no changing it.

It was just after the first snow fall that Claris told him she could feel the new fawn growing inside her and that she would have a fawn in the spring. Faline was the same. He thought again about the Way of All Things. Some life was gone, and other life would replace it. Life in the forest would continue, but with different animals. He wondered how long it would be before it continued without him, but there was no telling that, so he decided to followed Claris’ suggestion and just enjoy what he had now.

The first snow was mild and vanished almost as soon as it fell. He took to taking walks in the forest to check on the other deer. They all seemed to be in good shape. Soon Bambi and Balo joined them and later Claris, Faline and Stena. By now the bear was in his den sleeping. It was well after the first snow that they walked near the tall oaks again. Bambi had realized they had not see the Old Owl for some time now. Bambi suggested they visit him so they all walked near to his tree. They came up to the large old oak tree the owl had lived in for many seasons. Bambi kicked at the tree.

“Friend Owl,” Bambi called since he had known him the longest.

“A young, well developed Owl stepped out on the branch. “Can I help you,” he said to Bambi.

That was a surprise to all of them. He had no idea who the new owl was. “We were looking for the Old Owl,” Bambi said. “Have you seen him?”

“No,” he said. “I am from the other forest over the hills. There were many of my kind there so I decided to come here. I came to this place and found it empty although Owls have lived here before.”

“You have not seen an Old Owl?” Bambi asked.

“No unless that is him over there under those two smaller Oaks. While catching field mice I came across the remains. They had been scattered by the ferrets.”

“Where?” Bambi spoke up.

The young Owl flew to a branch many lengths away and called. They went over. At the base of the two young oaks were scattered bones. They were remains of a large bird scattered about along with some old dark-gray and white feathers. Bambi leaned over and took a deep breath through his nose. At once his eyes closed tightly. Bambi stood up quickly and turned away from them.

“I have known the Old Owl from the time I was born,” he said in a low voice. “He came here with me when we left the old forest behind. Now he is gone too,” he said his voice now chocking. “They are all gone. There is almost nothing left.”

He wanted to go over, but sensed Bambi wanted to be alone. Bambi walked off by himself toward the clearing.

“I am sorry,” the young Owl said. “My name is Oswell, and I live here because it is close to the mice and shrews I eat.

“I too am sorry,” he said. "We are not being good guests; the Old Owl was a friend of ours for many seasons. He used to help us at times. We are just sad at the passing of a friend.”

“I understand,” Oswell said showing some sympathy. “I am afraid I do not know many of the deer in the forest. From your size I think you are the deer they call Stranger, the herd leader. The other deer that left I think is your friend Bambi.”

“You are wise,” he said. “That is correct. The others here are my mate Claris, Bambi’s mate Faline, my daughter Stena, and her friend Balo.”

“Pleased to meet all of you,” the young owl said. Now I must get back to catching mice.”

With that he flew away. They all walked back to the clearing except Bambi. He went back alone. He did not return until the next morning. Both Claris and Faline were also very sad that night.

After the first snow, the sky cleared and there was another period of unusually warm weather. They were actually able to use the meadow for a while longer. The grass was soggy, but it was good to eat.  By now Stena had recovered from her wound. The wound was not as deep as his had been and the damage to her muscle was not as great. It took her a while to get her rear legs to move like they did before, but by mid winter she was  back to normal. She did make fun out of joking that now she even looked more like her father. It did leave a scar like his, but Balo did not mind in the slightest. It looked like it was going to be a mild winter and that meant few deer getting sick and dying of disease. Since they had no old deer in the herd, he did not think he lose any of the herd over the winter.

It was right after the second and heavier snow fall that Sinno came again to see them again. He and Duro lived near the edge of the forest where the stream from his forest flowed out toward Bambi’s old forest and into the large lake there. He looked concerned, but not frightened this time.

“I have seen another strange deer near where I live. He is big like you two,” he said.

“Was it the same deer that came before,” Bambi asked.

“No” Sinno said with relief. “This one did not attack me. He is also bigger than that other deer. He just looked at me and went on his way. Another thing, it looked like he was limping.”

“Interesting,” he muttered. “I will go back with you and look for him.”

“I will go too,” Bambi said, “Just in case it is someone else from my old forest who wants to cause trouble.”

“The rest of you stay here until we find out who this new deer is and what he wants,” he told the others. “Bambi and I will take care of this.”

They followed Sinno back to his bedding area. It was day, but there was no activity from Man around. This was the season they were left in peace. He took them past the old cave, down the hill, across the meadow and followed the stream outward. The ground rose on both sides of the stream as it left the forest for the great open field that lay between them and Bambi’s old forest. These hills were filled mostly with pine tree and a few young oaks. Man had cut many of the larger oak tress down some time ago. Finally near the edge of the forest Sinno looked up and said.

“I saw him at the top of that hill,” he said and pointed his head to the right.

“Thank you, Sinno, now you stay here,” he told him and Bambi and he started to climb the hill.

They got to the top and started to smell around with their noses. At first there was nothing, and then they came across a patch of waste. He smelled it and he thought is smelled a little like Bambi. Bambi smelled it and froze as still as a tree. Then he raised his head quickly to look around. He could see the concern on his face.

“Stranger, it is my son Geno,” Bambi said almost in a whisper.

“Geno here,” he repeated. “Why would he come here?”

“I think I know,” Bambi said and walked quietly across the top of the hill. They walked for a while. The air was still and cool. Bambi constantly had his nose and ears in what little wind there was searching.”

As they walked in silence, Bambi motioned to him they were being followed. From time to time he thought he could hear some leaves moving behind him. Whoever it was, that deer was quiet. Finally Bambi stopped and without changing directions called out loud. “You still cannot sneak up behind me, my Son.”

He turned quickly and out from behind the tress walked a large deer, as big as or maybe bigger than Bambi. He was limping from his left front leg. As he got closer he also noted other cuts and marks on his head and flanks. He had been in a fight and had not come out well. Geno stopped about five lengths away keeping his head straight upright.

“Greetings, Father,” he said almost politely. “You must be Stranger the others have told me about.”

“What do you want?” Bambi asked with contempt in his voice.

“A place to stay until spring,” he said simply. “Then I will leave.”

“NO!” he said flatly. “After what you did to your Father, and after sending Krono, you are not welcomed here.”

“I could insist,” he said.

“Go ahead and try,” he said dropping his head. “Unlike your Father I will hit you back so if you do not leave on your own, I will chase you out.”

That did not seem to affect Geno in the least. "Normally, I would take you up on your challenge, but I admit I am too hurt to fight well now."

"Then go" he ordered him.

“And go where?” Geno asked.

He didn’t care, but he had one idea. “You see the hill behind me to the right of the meadow?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Climb to the top of that hill, where the trees end you will see a large forest in the distance. Maybe a day and night's walk. If you are lucky maybe no one will kill you while you are in the open. They do not know you in that forest. You can do as you please there.”

“Go, Geno,” Bambi said angrily. “This is my home now and here I will fight you myself if you stay.”

“You did not even ask why I am here,” Geno said.

“I do not have to,” Bambi told him. “The other males threw you out like I knew they would."

Geno seemed surprised his father knew what happened. "They all did. Not one of them could fight me on their own so Ronno got many four and five year male deer together during The Season and they attacked me, Krono, and Roto at one time. I killed two, but they overpowered me and killed Krono and Roto.  I barely escaped."

"Krono is dead, that is good news," he said.

"I assume Ronno is now herd leader,” Bambi added.

“How did you know that?” Geno said looking again surprised.

“He knows because he is a good herd leader and knows about his herd and the deer in it,” he told Geno bluntly. “He also knows how to treat deer and earn their respect, something you never did. If you had studied your herd, you would have known Ronno always wanted to be a herd leader but could not with Bambi or me around. He could never get enough deer together to go after your father or me so he could do nothing here. We were too popular with the herd because we took care of them. We heard from your mother and sister what had happened and how you led your herd. It would have been easy for Ronno  to find deer to get rid of you. Sooner or later they were bound to throw you out. You are lucky they did not kill you."

His words seem to sink in. Geno nodded his head. “One more question,” Geno said, “Mother and Gurri?”

He could see the pain cross Bambi’s face, he answered instead. “Your mother is fine. Your sister Gurri and your younger sister Gerta were killed by Man just after The Season along with Gurri’s mate Jolo. For that I am sorry.”

There looked to be a show of pain on Geno’s face, but it vanished in an instant. “I am sorry to hear that too," he said in a low voice. "Very well, I will eat in the meadow and then go up the hill. I will cross over tonight to the other forest.”

“Fine,” he told him. “Now be on your way.”

Both Bambi and him followed him down and watched him eat his fill by digging up grass under the snow of the meadow. He drank in the stream and without a word started climbing the hill toward the other forest.

“It is a pity,” Bambi said in a moan. “He started out as a good boy, the one who I wanted to follow me as herd leader. What did I do wrong? Maybe I am not a good Father.”

“Not a good father,” he repeated. “Look at your other children. There was nothing wrong with Gurri and Gerta, they were both fine deer. You son Veron and your daughter Gena are fine deer. “Sometimes things just go badly with no one to blame,” he said and rubbed his friends back.

“Let us go home,” Bambi said and turned his back on his son.

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