The Stranger: Visitations

In the fourth story in this series, Stranger seems to be finally getting his life on track. Then he is visited by friends and enemies from his past that will cause him much happiness and much pain. New tragedies will test even his great strength. Add to this the fact that old age is finally catching up with him. All of these problems will force Stranger to turn to new and old sources for help to cope with a world seemingly spinning out of control.

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10. Surprising Help

 

They had gotten up when it was dark. They then walked most of the night and were now near the hill at the end of the lake in Bambi's forest. They had eaten and drank out of the lake. Although they had seen other deer feeding as they approached the hill, there was no sign of Bambi or his family. They went out of their way to avoid the other deer. He did not want to talk to anyone here until he had spoken to Bambi. As soon as the first light of the new day shown, the other deer left the meadow. No one had to tell them to leave.  He looked around the forest and took in a deep breath. He smelled the pine trees and other animals. There was a many scents of deer, but no Man. He reminded himself he never smelled Man when Ronno and Marol were killed They continued walking among the trees noiselessly until they got close to the end of the lake. He did not catch any familiar scent there. They found the small glade that Bambi and Faline had bedded down in before, but there was only a light lingering scent. They had not been here for a long while.

“They could be in the deep forest clearing,” Claris said.

That was a good idea. “Let us go there,” he agreed. They walked and as he walked he felt his head itching. A sure sign his rack was getting ready to fall out. They walked quietly, wind in their faces. The closer he got to the clearing the larger the lump forming in his chest felt. He dread what he was about to do. As he got closer he smelled four familiar scents. They still approached cautiously. He saw the small clearing in front of them. He saw no one, but then they might be bedded down by now. He waited until he was close and then made a small bleating noise.

A moment later he heard movement near the clearing. Out into the open walked Bambi followed closely by Faline.

“I will do this,” he told Claris. There was no argument.

The lump grew in his chest as he walked closer. Then Gorro and Delene came out. Gorro’s rack now might be as large as his father’s.  Both Claris and he walked into the clearing. All four deer looked surprised for a moment that they were there. Bambi walked up to him looking to greet them as always. He got within three lengths of him and then stopped dead in his tracks along with Faline. His huge black eyes sank as they came closer, Bambi dropped his head and closed his eyes. Bambi must have seen it in his face.

“Which one,” Bambi stammered out.

“Veron,” he told him softly and then told them all the same tale Stabo had told him. By the time he was done, that lump was in his throat and even he had trouble speaking without choking up. No one said a word. All he could do when he was done was add, “I am truly sorry.”

“He was afraid that was going to happen,” Gorro said looking at him with tears in his huge black eyes. “Maybe if I had been a little faster when we fought those four large males, he would not have gotten hurt and he would be alive now.”

He did not like where that was going and stood up straight. “NO!” he shouted. “This is no one’s fault. As herd leader he defended his forest. He protected his mate, his family, and their unborn fawn. Gorro this is no one’s fault, especially yours. Do not think this.”

“He is right, my son,” Bambi said head still hung low. “You are not to blame here. I was the one that taught him what to do and how to behave. If anyone is responsible, it is me.”

“That is also not true, my friend,” he said tersely. “None of us were smarter or better than Veron, only luckier.”

There was dead silence around them. Even the forest seemed to have paused. Nothing else was said for a while.

Finally he offered, “If you all wish to be alone, we will leave.”

“No,” Bambi said barely getting the words out. “You are as much our family as my son was. Thank you for coming to tell me yourself. I know it was difficult and dangerous at this time of year.”

“It had to be done,” he said in a low voice.

Bambi uttered, “My son,” and then turned his back on them and walked away looking like he was many seasons older. He did not follow him, he knew he wanted to be alone.

Faline looked heartbroken, sobbing. “I remember when he was just a fawn,” she stammered out. “It was when you came into the forest Stranger.”

“I remember,” Claris said and walked up to her. They both nuzzled each other and Claris followed Faline into the forest.

Gorro also walked back into the forest without a word, sobbing. Delene followed close at his side. He was left alone in the clearing feeling disgusted at himself for being the one to bring such sadness to those who did not deserve it. His only consolation was at least they heard it from him. He lay on the ground and even though like Bambi, he disliked showing deep emotion to others, let his own emotions out and sobbed uncontrollably.

He must have fallen asleep because sometime later he felt Claris lie next to him and get in close for warmth. They lay there the rest of the day trying to sleep. For the most part they did not succeed. The greater light had already set when they were awakened by the approach of the others. They got up and silently walked out into the open area by the lake to feed on the dwindling grass still partly covered by the melting snow. The grass was wet and mostly tasteless, but it did fill the gnawing hunger in his stomach. He first smelled and then saw the other deer of the herd out feeding. They ate without talking to each other and then drank out of the lake. Bambi and his family stayed apart from the others and Claris and him did not intrude. Several deer had approached them to ask why he was here, but he put them off telling them Bambi would explain. The lesser light was overhead when Bambi, Faline, Gorro, and Delene approached them.

“We have not been kind to you two and I am sorry,” Bambi said.  His voice was back to normal. “This just struck us all very hard. I ask you to forgive us. I guess you will have to leave soon before the snow?”

“There is nothing to forgive, my friend,” he said. “Yes, I need to get back. It is too easy for others to follow us in the open with snow on the ground. Also it is much colder in the open and I want to be back before the real cold of winter begins. I also have to prepare. It is going to be a very busy spring.”

They all looked at him. “Why is that?” Bambi asked.

“There are many who have asked to be trained to become herd leaders. Veron’s son and daughter want to be trained. Stabo daughter Young Claris wants to be trained as does his son Koren and his two new daughters.  Stena’s and Balo’s son Delon wants to be trained, and my son Stuben wants to be trained. I will have a full time of it.”

“That many?" Gorro asked. "Do you have any help? “I could come back after our fawn is bigger in the early summer.”

“No,” Bambi said. “You will be needed here." Then the big deer looked at him, "Do you have any help, my friend?”

“Just Balo and Stena, but they will have a family to take care of, as will I,” he said “Stabo needs to be herd leader in the Man path forest at least until Young Bambi is old enough to take over. It will be a struggle, but I will manage. I have too. Who else is there?”

“I see,” Bambi said and looked at Gorro. “Let me think about this. I am pleased so many want to learn. It makes me feel better that there will be others to come up to replace my son and us.”

They talked for a while, mostly about little things. He was happy to see that Gorro and Delene were definitely now a pair. He did not need his nose to tell him they were a mated pare. In the spring she would have a fawn also. Life in the forests does change, but it does so with new life. He was happy for them. The rest of the herd left them alone. At this time of year and well into next spring there will be only winter’s hardships to deal with and the natural predators. Man’s influence would not be felt for awhile. Claris, Faline and Delene went off by themselves and he and Bambi did some light sparing. It was hard because all their racks were loose. It was more exercise than training, but it kept their minds off of other things. As soon as the greater light showed its first sign, Bambi told the herd to go back into the forest. He followed them back to the clearing before Bambi stopped them.

“There are things I must discuss in private with Faline, Delene, and Gorro. I know you are like family to me, but this I must do alone with my son and his mate. Please do not be offended.”

That did surprise him. He looked at Claris and shrugged.” I understand. We are not offended. We will bed down near your old place by the hill,” he told Bambi. Then all four of them walked away to their clearing in silence.

As soon as they were well clear of the others Claris looked at him with puzzlement. “What was that all about?” she wondered.

“I have no idea, but I think we will find out soon,” he answered.

They found the old place he had slept when he was in Bambi’s forest before. They lay down and slept through most of the day. Around him he heard nothing. They drifted off to sleep before something woke him when the greater light was nearly overhead. He looked out onto the large clearing around the lake. It was free of any large animal. If Man was around, he had nothing to kill today. They both woke again as the greater light was setting. Both of them walked into the woods to empty themselves and eat some of the leaves near the hill. It was well after dark when he saw movement in front of him. Bambi and his family were walking into the open.

Bambi stopped and took in a deep breath. He let out a loud call. “HERE. . . HERE. . . All Come Here.”

“He is calling his herd,” he told Claris.”Bambi didn’t say he was calling for a gathering. They slowly got up and walked over. Several of the deer recognized him and greeted him. Claris was looking around and soon saw her older sister Cara; she had a male fawn near her losing his spots and growing a winter coat for the first time. They looked at each other and ran to embrace.

“Sister,” Claris said and nuzzled both her and her fawn. He did likewise.

“I did not expect to see you back again,” her sister said looking happy.”This is little Roko, who is my son.”

“The fawn looked shy and tried to move away from the strangers. All the while Claris was looking around.

“Where is mother?” Claris asked.

Cara dropped her head. “Mother got sick last winter and it carried over into the spring. She seemed to be getting weaker. One day last spring she said she wanted to walk in the forest by herself. No one ever saw her again.”

“Mother,” Claris muttered and turned and walked away.

“I am sorry,” Cara said to him. “I did not mean to spoil your visit.”

“It was already spoiled,” he said, and told her about Veron.

“Poor Bambi,” was all she said and walked away after Claris.

After a while the open clearing was filled with deer; some of the older deer still had their racks. There were also young fawns for whom this would be their first winter. There were more deer than he could count. Bambi’s herd was at least twice as large as his. He stood in the back. After a while Claris joined him again.

“I am sorry about your mother,” he told her in a low voice.

Claris looked straight ahead and said in a clam voice. “At least she died that way rather than being killed by some Man.”

Bambi turned and called to them. “Come here.” They both went and stood next to but behind Bambi and Gorro. It looked as if Gorro had eaten something sour. Delene looked worried too. Something was up. As they approached Bambi noticed the look on Claris’s face and then saw Cara.

“I am also sorry about Ate,” Bambi said and rubbed Claris’ forehead. "She was a fine doe."

All Claris could do was nod

He decided to change the subject.“What is going on?” he asked.

“Watch and listen,” Bambi ordered.

What that Bambi walked out alone and spoke loudly to those deer around him.

“As you can see Stranger and Claris have come back to our forest. They bring the sad news that my son Veron was killed by Man during the hunts. My son was a good deer and died defending his herd. He has children, but they are far too young to take over his position.”

There were choruses of condolences and well meaning talk. Bambi ignored it. “Stranger has also brought word that there are many other deer in his forests that want to learn how to be a herd leader: too many for him to teach alone. He will need help and I and Faline have decided to help him.”

That got his attention. He never thought or wanted Bambi to leave his native forest. There were cries of no and please don’t go. Even the older males looked shocked and a bit scared remembering the disasters of Ronno and Geno on the herd.

Bambi acknowledge the herd's reaction. “I know what you are thinking, but I have a son Gorro, and I have taught him much better than my first son, Geno. Gorro will not make those mistakes. Gorro is wise and knows what to do. He knows how to avoid Man. Both I and Stranger have taught him well. What I must ask the herd is will you accept my son Gorro as my replacement?”

That was the tricky part. If one of the senior males objected, there would be a blood fight right here. He didn’t think the senior males would try to gang up on Gorro with him and Bambi there. That would not stop them after they had gone. Gorro was going to need help and he did not have anyone to send him.

“I wish to speak,” one of the large herd males said and walked forward proudly. He had to be five or six seasons old and still had a large rack, but smaller than his, Gorro’s or Bambi’s He recognized him as Ceon, one of the senior males in the herd.

“Ceon may speak,” Bambi said. Even Faline and Delene were nervous.

Ceon stepped forward and also spoke loudly. “I have seen Bambi teach Gorro much like he taught Geno. The difference between Geno and Gorro is while Geno was strong on the outside, he was weak on the inside, He gave into his feelings too quickly. Gorro is not weak on the inside and like his father, he keeps his feelings under control. I knew Bambi would one day turn the forest over to his son. I wish it could be a season later than now, but that is not to be. I have also seen Stranger come here before and help Bambi rid us of Tarro who was even more of fool than Geno. If Bambi and Stranger think Gorro is ready to lead, then I will follow. I know I cannot do it.”

He stepped forward. “Gorro has also visited my forest. I too have taught him as well as I can how to avoid Man and how to keep the herd out of danger. He is like another son to me. He is brave, wise, thoughtful, and I feel he is ready to lead.”

Bambi and Faline smiled openly at him. He looked around. There seemed to be general agreement among the herd. Then Gorro stepped forward until he was alone in the middle of the herd.

“I will lead you if you wish,” he said loudly, “But it has to be your decision. No one can decide this for you. If anyone objects to me being leader I want them to speak up now.”

"I say no," a voice called from the herd.

Neris one of the four year old males stepped forward. He walked boldly toward them. He stood in the center with three other males standing behind him. He looked at Gorro almost with disgust and then looked at Bambi.

"Your place is here and not going with Stranger," he said directly to Bambi. "I have always accepted you as herd leader, but I will not accept Gorro. He is too young. The next senior male in the herd is Ceon. If he does not want to be leader, then it should come to me or one of the other senior males."

He could see Bambi stiffen. Gorro's face also went from humility to anger. Finally Bambi stepped forward and said in a barely contained voice. "You have not been trained to lead the herd. You have never taken an interest in leadership. You have never helped when Man was in the forest. You know nothing about leading a herd. Gorro, I have at least trained and so did Stranger."

"What you say is true, but I am older, stronger and I think wiser than Gorro so if Ceon does not wish to challenge, I do," Neris called out loudly.

 It was a direct challenge to Gorro.  He walked slowly over to Gorro who was starting the shake with anger. Bambi also came up and  stood next to him. There was going to be a blood fight.

"I know you are angry," he heard Bambi say. "Do not fight him with anger. Remember what I have taught you. Also remember your rack is loose."

"He looked Goro straight in the eye and said calmly. "Remember what I showed you. You will have to beat this male and beat him badly Expect one of the others to attack you also. If they all attack, your father and I will step in, but Neris you must do on your own."

Gorro just nodded and then put a big smile on his face and walked slowly over to Neris. The challenger looked bewildered. Neris expected him to drop his head and charge at him in rage. Gorro just walked up calmly until he was within five lengths.

"You wish to challenge me, so challenge me?" Gorro yelled out almost in a mocking tone.

Neris dropped his head and leaped forward. Gorro did the same only once Gorro landed on his second bound he jumped right and brought his rear legs around. It caught Neris under his feet.  Neris stumbled and fell head first, his head hitting on the ground with a thud.

Gorro did not charge and attack while Neris was on the ground which he thought was a mistake, but instead stood away. "You fight funny on the ground," he said still mocking Neris.

He hoped Gorro was not getting over confident. He closed the distance until, by the time Neris got up and faced him, he was only three lengths away. Too close for a full change. He could see what was coming, Neris did not. Again Neris  put his head down and came at him. Gorro reared back on his hide legs and brought up his two front hoofs directly under Neris's head as he closed the distance. He caught Neris under the chin with both hoofs  almost lifting the font of the older deer off the ground knocking him off balance. In the time it took Neris to stead himself, Gorro leaped away to the right side of Neris and then drove both his hind hoofs into Neris' flank hard.  He heard a loud pop from Neris' side and saw two cuts open up behind Neris' shoulder and start bleeding. The impact knocked Neris on his side. This time Gorro did not hesitate. He leaped over, reared up again and came down on Neris' flank. He stomped once and then stopped. Neris was lying still on the ground, but still breathing.

Then Gorro walked over to the other three males standing there and looked them in the faces. "Anyone else wish to challenge," he shouted at them. No one made a move.

With that Gorro spun around and walked directly away from the other deer which he thought  for a moment was foolish and then he understood. Gorro had read the other deer correctly. Tuco from the group put his head down.

'Die!" he yelled out and charged Gorro unprotected rear thinking Gorro was unaware. As he came in close, Gorro once again kicked out hard with both rear legs. Tuco had his head down and did not see it.  Both hoofs caught Tuco squarely on the forehead.

"Crack," he heard loudly. Tuco fell to the ground like a stone falling from the hill. Neris was still moving, Tuco was not.

Gorro turned around and faced the herd. "Is there anyone else who wishes to challenge me for the position of herd leader."

You could have heard a snow flake fall in the silence. Hearing nothing, he walked back to Bambi and him.

"My Son," Bambi called out. "That was exactly like I taught you. I also see some of what Stranger taught you."

"That you did," he told him.

By now Delene and Faline had come over to them. Delene kissed Gorro long and lovingly. Faline embraced her son. He turned and looked closely at the older males. Males do not normally like being told what to do by a younger male. After the fight he saw faces of concern. He did not see any males that had looks of dissatisfaction. For now Gorro had made it clear that he was in charge.

Bambi walked out into the herd one more time “Does anyone have anything else to say?” Bambi asked.

There was nothing but silence.

“Thank you for allowing me to be your herd leader,” Bambi said finally. “I ask you to show Gorro, the same respect you showed me. I do not think I will be able to return here. I was proud to be your leader, Farewell.”

With that Bambi stopped and walked away with Faline following. A few of the herd walked up to Gorro to ask what they should do.

“We will feed now and drink,” Gorro said with authority. We must be off the meadow before the rising of the greater light. I do not think Man is here, but we should be careful.”

There were more questions and more congratulations. He could tell Gorro was nervous, but that would change with time. Some deer even asked him about his forest and the deer in it. They talked with the herd all night in between mouthfuls of grass or drinks of water. There seemed to be support for Gorro now, but what of when Man came back during The Season. As soon as the first sign of the greater light appeared, all the deer left the meadow. He and Claris made their way back to Bambi’s clearing. He found them alone.

“You did not have to do that” he said to his friends, “But I thank you for it.”

“It is necessary, but Gorro should have help,” Bambi added.

“I can maybe send Balo and Stena if they agree. They will have to come now before the snow comes and before the fawn Stena carries get so big as to limit her movements.”

“Then we need to leave tonight,” Bambi realized.

“Yes,” he answered, “Tonight. Rest now, we will all need it.”

“Can you convince Balo to come?” Faline asked.

“If Bambi and Stranger ask it, I think he will do it,” Claris said. “Stena will follow Balo whether we like it or not.”

“We can only hope,” he said.

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