The Stranger: Stepping Out

In the third story about the Stranger, a series of personal tragedies have devastated the Stranger. His own mate has left him. This he will not accept and so must undertake a perilous journey to get her back. On the way, he will be challenged by by many situation, some ugly and violent, There was also be major changes made to his life. This will cause much personal hurt and sorrow.

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1. Lonely Spring

The Stranger: Stepping Out

By

Wilber Arron

Historical note: I know many of you hunters out there will tell me that the hunting tactics I use in this story are completely out of date. I know this, but remember this story occurs in the late 1930s where such hunting parties along with off season hunting were more common according to my research.

 

Year 5

“Father, are you alright?”

The Stranger looked down at his daughter Stena looking up at him with worry on her face. Her mate Balo was standing next to her also looking at him with a concerned stare. Next to Stena stood a small spotted doe fawn hardly more than a few days old. The fawn also looked up at the huge deer next to her, but, like her parents, she also appeared to know something was wrong.

“I am fine,” he said leaning down to nuzzle the small fawn standing next to his daughter. The infant returned this embrace and started to lick the side of his face. His daughter's first fawn was beautiful and healthy, which gave him no end of happiness under the circumstances. He straightened up and looked back at his daughter and Balo. “I will be fine,” he repeated. “It is your mother that I am worried about. Losing her fawn along with the deaths of your younger brother and sister last winter has made your mother feel terrible. She has this feeling that somehow this is all her fault. I have told her that is silly, but she does not listen to me. These things happen.”

“I know father,” Stena answered looking at her own healthy fawn. “I can go see her if you wish?”

“For now she wants to be alone,” he told her. “You will have all you can handle with your first fawn. You pay attention to little Delene. I will take care of your mother.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Balo asked. Balo seldom talked much. He was content to let Stena speak for him most of the time.

“You can watch the herd and let me know if anything is going on,” he said. “I am going to be spending a lot of time around Claris. She needs me now." Then he looked back at the small little quivering mound of long legs and brown fur. Then he looked back at his daughter's mate. "That does not mean neglect Stena and Delene. They need you also."

Balo nodded, "I understand, Stranger. I hope you will also continue my training. I wish to learn more about becoming a herd leader."

Balo was right. With Bambi living in his old forest and the hunts killing Jolo, there were few deer left who could taken over from him. Only his first born Stabo could, but he was living in the Man path forest with Bambi's son Veron. He claimed he was not interested in this forest.

"Later in the spring," he told them. "You both will need little more in training. All you need now is to finish growing. That you will do this Season and next."

“One other thing,” Balo said. “I saw the bear yesterday. He had come down from his den after his winter’s sleep. I think he was looking for you.”

“You did not go near him, did you?” he wanted to know. The bear would not eat him he knew; he doubted he eat Stena or Stabo. Other deer he was not so sure of.

Balo shook his head no. “No, I stood several lengths away and just introduced myself. He said he knew who I was and then went away. You may trust him, Stranger, but I do not.”

“Good,” he told the now two year old male deer. “You never go near him unless I am with you,” he reminded him.

“I know,” Balo said sounding a little annoyed he was still being lectured to again about this.

“I will go see him now,” he said. “I feel the need to talk to someone. I wish Bambi was here. I could always depend on him to give me good advice.”

He regretted saying that the moment he uttered the words. It made him sound like he didn’t trust his daughter and her young mate, but they were only two years old. They did not have the years of experience Bambi and the bear had. They were also his family, and would keep anything they thought was wrong about him to themselves; something Bambi or the bear would never do. At times he knew he needed that type of advice. He looked at his daughter and Balo. Both looked hurt. He lowered his head and spoke in a low tone. “I am sorry; I did not mean it like that. I just miss my old friends at a time like this.”

With that he walked away toward the other end of the forest. The meadow was becoming fully green again. The weather was getting warmer. It was barely spring, and as usual, at this time of year, there was no sign of Man. He was still not going to take the chance of cutting across the meadow in the increasing light.  Not all deer are killed by Man near The Season.  He walked around the far end of the meadow well inside the trees and crossed the stream that ran out of his forest and toward the big forest Bambi and Faline had come from and then had gone back to last year when the herd there was led by Ronno. That deer had made such a mess of it, the herd fell into a very poor state. Because of that, Bambi had to go back to his old home to straighten it out.

Once he got to the other side of the meadow he started to walk up the hill towards the bear’s den Normally this would be the height of folly for a deer since the bear could easily kill him with one blow. Yet the bear had saved his life now over three seasons ago and could have eaten him easily where he was lying more dead than alive after being hit by Man. The bear had become his friend. They rarely spoke, but each had come to depend on the other for information to keep them both alive. The bear was also wise which is why he listened to him and the bear did the same. He trusted the bear. One day the bear might eat him, but that is the fate of most deer to be eaten by others or to be killed by Man. Very few like Bambi’s father get to live long enough to die of old age.

The hill got steeper and soon his rear left leg again started to protest at the effort. It had never fully recovered after being hit by two of the small black stones from Man’s killing sticks. The bear had taken them out saving him. He was tired by the time he got to the top of the hill. There was the den that the bear dug into the hill side. There were the pine trees he slept under while he recovered, and the healing bush the bear had use to save his life. By now, the wet fur and dead meat smell of the bear filled his keen nose.

He called out, “Bear.”

From the den out came a large black mound of muscle, black fur, four huge paws, and the biggest head he had ever seen. The bear walked until he got within five lengths of him and lay down. He came in closer and lay down also.

“Hello, my friend,” he said.

The bear studied him for a second. “Hello,” he responded. “What has happened?”

Was he that obvious? So much for hiding his emotions. “It has been a bad winter for me, and the spring has also been poor. There have been many deaths in my family.”

“Your family,” the bear said. “You had said in the fall you were worried about your youngest son and daughter.”

“Yes, they never got as big or as strong as they should have during last summer. Claris had a difficult time when they were born and did not have enough milk for both of them. Faline helped out, but neither of them grew like they should have. When the snow came, they both got sick and died. There was nothing Claris or I could do. Then Claris lost the fawn she was carrying this spring. It was born dead. Now she blames herself for what has happened and won’t listen to anything I tell her.”

“I am sorry, my Friend, but these things do occur,” the bear said. “I have heard there are some doe that cannot make healthy fawns.”

“I know, but Stabo and Stena are certainly healthy and are getting as strong as me. She had made two very healthy fawns.” He had thought the same thing, but usually doe like that never make a healthy fawn and often die before they get very old.”

“I would not know about deer. Among my kind that does not happen. All the cubs I have seen are healthy. In cases where there are many cubs in a litter, one or two will be the weaker than the others and die soon after birth, but that is just normal. What will you do?”

He let out a deep breath. “Help her,” he said trying to hide his exasperation. ”What else can I do except try again next season? I still do not believe I cannot have healthy fawns with Claris.”

"I suppose that is best thing to do," the bear replied and then changed the conversation.“Have you seen anything of Man?” the bear wanted to know.

“Nothing, even the hunts last year were done elsewhere. We did not lose one deer last Season to Man. Maybe they will leave us alone again this year, but I would not count on it.”

“Nor would I,” the bear said. “They killed one of the large bears in the forest over the hill last year. A couple of young males are moving in there and may challenge my presence. I think one of them may be a son of mine. I do not have much to worry about yet. I am still far too big and powerful for them to fight me and chase me out. However that will not continue. Like you I am getting older and I am starting to feel it.”

“I know,” he said calmly. “That is why I am hoping Balo grows as big as his father was said to be and learns all he needs to know. Claris hates it when I say this, but neither of us will last too many more seasons. If I must give up being herd leader, I rather give it to someone I know and trust rather than be beaten by some idiot like Sinno or Duro. That is assuming Man does not kill me first.”

“Me too,” the bear said with a grin.

“Did your mate have cubs last winter,” he asked.

“I suppose so,” the bear answered. “I am going to go over the hill and look for her, but I will not try and get close to her. She would attack me. Still I know that my other cubs are growing. I have found other sign of bears in the other forest that may be mine.”

"Any chance one of them may be as wise as you?" he asked.

"I have seen no sign of it," the bear said showing disappointment in his voice. "They did not grow up like you and I. I am afraid I will be the only one who tries to have a friendship like we do. When we are gone, it will be lost."

"No, not lost," he said. "It may be a while, but if we can do this, so can others. I am teaching my family. I just wish it was possible for your to teach you family."

The bear let out a deep breath. "I wish I could too, but it is not in the ways of my kind  to learn like this. You have to learn it for yourself as I did."

"Well then let us hope one of your children are as smart as their father," he said with a smile.

"I hope you are right," the bear said almost in a whisper.

“Good,” he said getting up. He felt it was time to go. The bear got up also.

“I need to go back to Claris,” he told him.

“I need to feed over the hill,” the bear said.

“Stay healthy, bear,” he said and bowed his head.

“You too herd leader,” the bear said and walked up the hill.

He walked around the end of the large meadow to the small stream. He followed the stream up- hill past Bambi’s old cave and their old thicket, past the pond, and the smaller clearing until he came to the woods.  He smelled the scent of other deer including Stena and Balo along with the rabbits, squirrels, mice and other creatures of the forest. For the most part they paid him no attention. They were busy hunting food without becoming food. As he called it, 'The Way of All Things.' Life in the forest went on around him as it had done all of his life and would continue long after the scavengers made a poor meal of his dead body. Maybe Claris was right, and he should not think about that, but he had seen so much of other dead deer as he grew up in the Man cave, he could not picture it in any other way. Maybe that was one reason why he was truly the Stranger. He went to the place in the woods near the small clearing that he and Claris bedded down in. He found Claris standing there looking tense. She looked at him, walked up slowly, and nuzzled his face. 

“I need to talk to you alone,” she said pulling away from him. Her voice was also tense as if afraid. He looked into her eyes and her green eyes that were usually sparkling were dull and pale. She was also agitated and upset.

They walked until they were both sure they were alone and she turned to him. “Stranger I have been thinking about our fawns,” she said in a low voice.

Already he did not like this. “What?” he asked.

“Stranger,” she choked out. “I still feel much for you, but I know I must go away.”

That took him by surprised. He took a step back. “What! Go away, that is nonsense….”

“Stop,” she interrupted loudly, almost yelling at him. She had never done that before.

“You are herd leader,” she said. “A herd leader needs to have a doe that can give him fawns. I can no longer do that. That is why I must leave. You need to find another doe that can give you  those fawns. There are several four year old doe in the herd that are healthy and have already produce healthy fawns. One or more of them can give you the children you need. You need a son that can follow you, and I can no longer provide you with that.”

He  was stunned. “Claris,” he pleaded. “You do not know you cannot have any more fawns. What happened last year and this year is unfortunate, but it does not mean you cannot make more fawns.”

“Yes it does,” she said now choking to get the words out. “I can feel it inside me. I cannot have any more fawns. This is very hard for me to say, but you must find another doe for your children.”

 He did not believe this for a moment, but he knew Claris was utterly convinced she was telling him the truth. What if she was right? It did not matter, he felt nothing for those other doe. Other than the feelings that came about during The Season, he would feel no interest in saying with them. Not like he had with Claris.”

"Claris, I have no interest in those doe. I chose you and I want you. They mean nothing for me. I want you to stay here. I still feel for you. Even if you cannot have any more fawns, we still have Stena and Balo. We still have Stabo and Gena. They can produce as many fawns as I will ever need.”

“NO!” she yelled at him. “It is not the same. A herd leader’s mate must be able to make fawns. If she cannot, then she is not suitable for her position. I can no longer do this. You must find someone else.” Then she took a long look at him and said. “Goodbye Stranger, I really did feel much for you.” With that she turned around and started to walk off into the forest.

“No wait,” he yelled and started after her. He got behind her and then suddenly she leaped up and kicked out with both her hind legs hitting him firmly in the chest. The move surprised him. The impact knocked him back and he fell on his side. It sunned him for a moment. By the time he got up, she was gone.

He stood there not knowing what to do. It was almost like the time he had been struck by man. Everything about him stopped. He could not picture in his mind not having Claris next to him for as long as either of them lived. He just stood there for a while trying to understand what had just happened. The only thing he could think to do was go find his daughter and Balo. Maybe both of them could convince her to stay. He hurried back to the pond and the small clearing where he knew Stena and Balo had their resting place. He smelled Stena’s scent and followed it to her bedding place. He saw her, Delene and Balo lying together. As he got close the two of them rose. Stena took one look at him and cried out. “Father, what has happened?”

“Your mother has left me,” he told her exasperated. “She has convinced herself she cannot have any more fawns and this makes her unsuitable to stay with me. She told me she was leaving. He told me to find another doe.”

“Is she the one that kicked you,” Balo said looking at the two imprints on his chest, one was bleeding slightly. He hadn’t even noticed it.

He nodded. This was still almost too much for him to take in. “I am sorry, I simply did not know what else to do so I came here.”

He saw Balo and Stena turn toward each other looking at him strangely. He then saw little Delene come up and start to nurse at Stena and at that moment he realized what a fool he had been. He had let his emotions interfere with his thinking. Stena was in no position to go looking for her mother.  She had her own fawn that required her full attention. Balo needed to stay near Stena for now. He was the one who was always telling others to think. He had not thought this through for a moment other than to concern himself with his sudden loss. He felt like kicking himself as hard as Claris had.

“Look, if either of you see Claris, please tell her I want to see her,” he told them. “I am going to go look for her now. If you do not see me around for a while, that is why.”

“Stranger, perhaps I can help,” Balo said.

“No!” he told him. “Your place is with Stena. Stena needs to stay near Delene. She is still far too young to travel. If this was late summer, then yes, but not now. I will go find your mother. I was foolish for trying to involve you two because I did not think and I felt sorry for myself. Just keep your nose in the wind and tell me if you can see or smell Claris.”

“What about the herd?” Stena asked.

“You two can take care of that. I do not think there will be much happening for a while. For now the main thing is to make sure everyone is eating enough to put on weight for The Season and next winter. I will not be gone that long.”

With that he turned away and went back to his thicket. He was still mad at himself for acting the way he did. He went back to where Claris had left him and did what he should have done to begin with. He had a nose and a good sense of smell. It was time to use them. He put his nose to the ground and smelled around. He smelled a faint scent of Claris along the ground. He followed it. The easiest place for her to go was the Man path forest with her son, but her scent did not go that way. Instead, it led in a different direction. She started to climb the hill. He followed the scent around toward the top of the hill and then on past where they had hid the time Man come for them and Gurri, Gerta, and Jolo were killed. He followed it along the top of the hill and then back down to the stream that flow into their forest from the other great forest in the distance where they had chased Geno. He then followed her trail down his hill toward the meadow.

He had no idea where she was going. She seemed to be wandering aimlessly like he had before. She circled about and went through the woods that were on the far side of the meadow away from the Man cave. From there she went down the hill to the larger stream that flowed out of their meadow and out of their forest toward Bambi’s old forest. He followed the stream and her scent until he came to the edge of their forest. The scent went on into the open. He looked up. The only thing he saw for as far as he could see was the open grass covered ground. He knew in the distance was Bambi’s old forest. It was then he realized Claris was not wandering. She was trying to throw him off her trail. She knew he would follow her. She knew exactly where she was going. It was to the one other place she knew she have friends and family. She was going to Bambi's old forest.

“She had gone to be with her mother and her friends,” he said out loud.

It made sense. He also knew he just couldn’t follow her. Going to the other forest meant leaving his forest, not for a short while, but for days, maybe even an entire season. It was also a dangerous trip and would get more dangerous the later into spring and summer it got. She knew that. He only hoped she was wise enough to cover the distance safely by herself.

He had a choice. He could leave her go and live by himself, or he could follow her. He remembered living by himself. He was never happy until he had met her and he was not prepared to give that up. He was determined to go after her, fawn or no fawn. He would follow her, but not now. He could not just leave the herd unprotected to take care of his problem. He had to made plans to protect the herd while he was gone. He thought about it for a while and decided what he would do. He looked at the series of hills Claris had vanished over and took a deep breath.

“I do not care what you think, I am coming after you,” he said out loud.

 

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