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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Teens
- Theme: Fantasy stories / Fairy Tales
- Subject: Novels
- Published: 08/22/2018
The Stranger in the ForestBorn 1956, M, from Orlando/FL, United States
The Stranger in the Forest
Introduction: Version 2
Over the past year since I first published this story, I have picked up many comments and tips about improving both my writing style and clarity. Looking over the six stories I wrote about the Stranger, I decided that with what I know now, and from your helpful comments, I could do a much better job with these stories. There were also errors in my original work I would like to fix now. Several of you also told me that certain sections of the story needed expanding which I am also doing now. For these reasons, I have decided to rewrite The Stranger in the Forest and re-present it for your consideration. If you find it worth the read, I will continue to rewrite the other stories. Thank you for all your help and I hope you will take the time to send me comments on what you think of the new story.
In his classic story, 'Bambi,' Felix Salten set the tale in the German woods of the late 19th to early 20th Century. Bambi and his friends are roe deer. How they related to the other animals and Man is the crux of the story. I am changing that somewhat and putting Bambi in as a North American Whitetail deer somewhere in the forests of the Southern USA. The time period is the 1930s to 1940s. There is no specific place I have in mind for the story; it is a mix of locations I have visited during my life. I am doing this because I think most of my readers will be American and therefore might relate more to this setting rather than some story that took place in the early 1900s in a location that most likely got chopped down ages ago. In this story, I am relying on both Walt Disney's film mixed with a heavy amount of Salten's original work. His books were favorites of mine when I was between 6-10 years old. You will see some familiar characters here, but you will not see all of them from the movie and book. The logic I used for this story is that whoever can best advance the story will be used. Those characters that do not advance the story will remain out. There is also an attempt to increase the impact of the story by giving the reader new information. Whereas every kid in my generation saw Bambi the movie as they grew up, I doubt if many of us read the books by Salten. The author encourages you to read the original work by Salten. I am hoping to capture the flavor of both book and film with this tale. I hope you enjoy it.
Chapter One: A Chance Meeting
"It would be better if you left. No one wants you here now."
Hilgass' words still rang in his ears as he stood on the top of the hill. He looked back the way he came. The forest he was leaving was large, and the deer herd was equally large. Despite the size of the forest and herd, it was not large enough where he could live there. He was too different, the other deer too uncomfortable with his manners and exploits. He scared more deer than he befriended despite his best efforts to fit in. Hilgass, the herd leader, had put it plainly; there was no room for him there. He needed to go.
Hilgass and the other senior males of the herd did not try to chase him out. The few males that tried to push him around were still recovering from their injuries. He knew that made even more enemies, but the others had tried to fight him for doe during The Season. They were also the deer that taunted him. He beat them, some of them badly, and took their doe during The Season. He bred the doe and soon fawns he would never know would be born into that forest. As soon as The Season was over, the doe had left him, repelled by his manner. The doe accepted him as a mate, but never as a companion. It was the same in this forest as in the first two forests he tried to live in. He could not blame them. After all, he did not even have a name. Deer never raised him. To himself and the others in the herds, he was, is, and forever would be, The Stranger.
He walked silently down the hill and through the late winter forest. He put his hoofs carefully as not to rustle the dead leaves and let every creature know where he was. The ground was almost clear of snow. Only a few scattered patches of white remained in shaded areas under the tall oak, pine, and maple trees. Already new shoots of grass were poking through the mat of dead leaves and vegetation from last winter. He could smell the earthy, mossy odor of the dark brown soil as it too woke from its winter sleep. That was a relief.
Although there was usually little snow in the forests, it had been a bad winter with three major snowfalls. It had also been very cold, the coldest he could ever remember in his short life of now going into five springs. The grass and leaves died, or were under so much snow that it made them hard to get to. He looked at his long thin body covered in shaggy brown fur he was shedding. His muscles, usually bulging at the shoulders, legs, and neck, looked wasted. His weight was down, and he felt weak. He was still lucky; he made it through the winter. Many of the older and sick deer had not. The forest floor had too many remains of deer and other animals that froze to death and were now thawing out. The odor was awful. The scavengers were still eagerly picking over them.
Almost at the bottom of the gently sloping hill, he saw an opening through a break in the nearly leafless trees. There was a large meadow in front of him. It lay between this hill and another on the other side of the large clearing. Thick forest surrounded the meadow. It was daylight and he saw a few deer like him on the meadow eating the new grass. They must be hungry to risk Man's killing sticks during the day. On the other hand, it could be that like him and knew Man did not usually kill deer this early in the season. That would come later nearer winter when The Season came upon them. Like him, they were thin. No doubt, the winter had been bad here too. A small stream ran down one side of the meadow. Another smaller stream came down from the other hill. Two deer were drinking at the smaller hill stream. They looked unconcerned. The grass was only now turning from brown to green. It looked like a nice place to eat, assuming they did not try and chase him off. Although he knew the killing of Man did not take place until The Season, he still felt uneasy to put himself in the open in the increasing light of a new day.
He found a bare spot free of trees and pushing up new grass and warmed by the greater light. He chewed the fresh green shoots swallowing them quickly. His empty stomach was delighted. He ate more and more until an odor of fur, fat, and dead animals came across his nose. He looked up quickly, tense and ready to flee. He strained his eyes and ears to see and hear. There was a bear nearby, or one had come by recently. A bear could kill him with one blow and he did not intend to be near one. He looked over the trees and saw nothing. It looked safe.
There were scents of other deer near here. His nose could pick up many different deer scents: a male, three doe, and four or more fawns. The wind from the meadow also brought him odors of raccoons, possums, porcupines, bobcats, baggers and one or two coyotes. These other creatures he could deal with unless the coyotes attacked him in a pack. He walked quietly back and bent over and eagerly swallowed more of the first grass of the season. He ate quickly, not wanting to stay in an unfamiliar place for a long time. He would chew his cud later.
After eating for some time, he felt satisfied. He knew he had to get his weight and strength back to survive. He was not going to let himself get run down by a black bear, or slashed by some bobcat, or torn to pieces by the coyotes. There was also his concerned not to have some senior male deer beat him because he was weak. He vividly remembered being beaten like that when he was a yearling. As he was finishing, his nose caught the whiff of fur followed by the strong scent of a male deer. He lifted his head and turned his large body around in a snap. An equally large and imposing male deer walked into the small opening. This deer moved quietly like he did, and that was rare. He only heard the male when he was on top of him. The male was about his height and built, but perhaps a bit larger. Nice looking face, sleek body, and heavy muscles not nearly as wasted by the winter as his were. From the large bumps on his head, he could tell this male have a large rack by the time of The Season.
"Greetings," the male said in a deep powerful voice. "I am Bambi, the leader of this herd."
He looked straight into the black eyes of the male. "You are very quiet," he answered looking at the male carefully. They were still a long way from the time of The Season, so there was no need for fighting. Still, that did not stop some deer from pushing their weight around.
"So are you, I did not hear you except for the chewing," Bambi said also eyeing him carefully. "You are new here. I would remember a male like you."
He nodded, "I am from over the hill. I was looking for new grass to grow back my muscles. It has been a hard winter," he went on. "I need to gain weight and strength before the bears decide they want to eat me."
Bambi shook his head no. "Not too many bears around here. Most have been killed by Man."
"All it takes is one and you end up in someone's stomach," he went on.
"True," Bambi said. "Still I have not seen you or smelled your scent in this forest before. Your scent is different, not like any deer in my herd."
"I do not belong to a herd," he said knowing how strange that would sound.
Bambi stared with disbelief, "No herd," the big deer repeated. "It is not wise to be alone."
"I have lived alone all my life," he answered almost with a moan.
"That is not good," Bambi said with certainty. "We deer exist better in a herd where there are many to warn of danger. Alone, you have no one to look out for you. Most deer do not live long when they are alone. You have done well to live this long."
He felt like saying you have to live alone when no herd wants you but decided to keep quiet for now.
"Are you going to stay in this forest?" Bambi went on.
He knew what Bambi was thinking; was he a threat? "I do not know," he answered truthfully.
Finally, Bambi just said it. "You will be strong by The Season, will you challenge me?"
Then he would be the herd leader. As if he needed to add to his problems. "No," he told him. "Most herd leaders I know end up inside Man caves. Besides, I do not need to be a leader to get my doe. They come to me during The Season. If someone challenges me for them, I may have to hurt a few of your herd males."
Bambi stepped back looking at him with a puzzled stare. "Man caves?" Bambi asked.
Did this herd leader not know about what Man did to them? "Places where Man lives," he explained. "They are like caves but larger and more comfortable. Man lives inside of them. It is where they sleep and eat. After Man kills a deer or some other animal, they bring them to the Man cave. In the Man cave, Man cuts off our heads, puts them on wood, and then puts the heads and racks inside their caves to show other Men. Then they put the rest of the deer on a fire and eat them. All this time Man is having great fun. Man really seems to like killing deer."
Bambi looked shocked, "How do you know this?"
He did not know why, but he felt compelled to answer the question. Something he usually did not do. "I lost my mother right after I was born. I was too young to live on my own. Before some fox, coyote, or the crows could find me, the keeper of my forest found me. He was a Man. He took me in and raised me with this own family. I learned many things from living with Man. Most would disgust you as it did me. When I was old enough, I left to live on my own. I have been wandering ever since."
"You lived with Man and you have no collar?" Bambi added. "I knew a deer raised by Man. He wore a collar and thought Man was his friend. Man later killed him."
That sounded about right to him. "That is why they take us in so they can raise us until we are large and then kill us. It seems to have something to do with our racks. That is why they come for us at the time of The Season. I have no use for Man. In fact, I hate Man."
"Hate is not the way either," Bambi said.
How would this deer know? This Bambi had no idea what he had seen while living with Man. He could not recall the number of dead deer and other animals Men brought to the large Man cave. Bambi never saw how the Men laughed, drank, and ate the deer they killed. He had never seen the pleasure on the faces of Men when eating deer. Bambi never smelled the unbearable stink of burning deer meat. He never had Man fawns attack and fight with him. Bambi was never held behind Man vines that were so strong he could not break them. It still filled him with horror. Finally, he shook his head and stared at Bambi.
"I will say what my way is," he told him.
"As you wish," Bambi said. "How long will you stay here?"
"For a while at least," he answered. "Why, do you object?" Was Bambi going to tell him to leave this forest also?
"No," Bambi said quietly. "As long as you do not challenge, or try and replace me, I do not care if you stay."
"Good," he said almost with relief. He wanted to walk away before Bambi reconsidered. "Perhaps we will see each other again," he said pleasantly. "Hopefully there will be plenty of food during the seasons."
Bambi stood rock steady; he was not done with him. "Do you have a name?" Bambi asked.
"No," he said bowing his head. "My mother died before she could give me one, and I do not know who my father is. Most of the other deer simply call me Stranger."
Bambi said nothing, yet continued to study him carefully as if looking for something. "I am sorry for you," Bambi continued. "You should join a herd. You will live longer."
He did not ask for, nor did he want, Bambi's pity or approval. He stood up straight and looked directly into Bambi black eyes. "I am not so easy to kill," he said slowly and deliberately. He was starting to get tired of the questions.
Bambi went on as before. "I can see you are large and strong. You must also be very wary to have lived this long. My herd could use a strong male like you."
That was different. Most herds were eager to get rid of him. "All the herds I ever tried to join wanted nothing to do with me," he told Bambi. "They were always afraid of me. I was too different for them to accept."
"Well I am not afraid of you," Bambi said lowering his head slightly. "I see strength and wisdom in you, and that is rare in a deer. I can use that in my herd."
That was interesting, but he was still not sure about this Bambi. There was also the way his body looked, weak and diminished. You never show weakness in a herd; it was a sure way to have some male attack you. He knew that from experience. "I will not go to a strange herd until my strength returns," he told the herd leader.
This time Bambi openly showed his approval. "That is wise, Stranger. When you are ready, come visit my herd. I think you may enjoy it."
He had never been invited to a herd, only asked to leave them. This Bambi was different. He was not just a deer who kept his position through sheer strength, but with wisdom also. He was intrigued by the offer. "I will think about it," he said cautiously.
"Very well, Stranger, stay safe," Bambi said and started to walk away.
"Good day," he said to the large deer and went the other way. It was clear to him that Bambi was not afraid of him. He was not like the other herd leaders he ever knew. Maybe this place was different.
Chapter Two: The Herd
It was late spring. The forest was in full bloom. The trees were putting on their coverings of leaves; the bushes and grasses were sprouting in abundance. There was food in plenty for all. By now, he no longer resembled the haggard, half-starved deer that came here at the end of winter. His summer coat was a dark hazel brown with a white ring on his long nose and a patch of white fur on his chest. His muscles were full and restored to full strength. Already his rack was growing in. It would be as big as it had been last year.
He spent the time since his meeting with Bambi on the side of the hill he had come across in late winter. There were no deer there, and therefore no one bothered him. He, in turn, talked to no one and went out of his way to avoid other deer. In the open area just beyond the edge of the forest was a spring that gushed out cool, delicious water. The spring fed the small stream that ran through the meadow. He spent the time eating, running, and then practicing the fighting skills he had learned from the human fawns that had fought with him and at times hurt him. It was not the type of fighting male deer used, but he found it worked well on other deer. His type of fighting was the source of much of the trouble he had run into with other herds. The problem was not in the fact that he beat almost ever deer that tried to fight him or insult him. Their fears seem to stem from the way he moved, the way he thought, and the knowledge he carried. It was all strange and frightening to all other deer. The other deer looked at him as being different, perhaps dangerous. A deer that did not fit in with what the herd thought a deer should be. Most importantly, he was no deer you would want to spend time with, or even get to know.
He walked to the edge of the meadow. Inside its large expanse, he saw the many deer that made up the local herd. He could not count the numbers that were there, but it was many. The old herd over the hill was larger, but they spread out over a much bigger forest. To one side, the younger males were congregated together already mock sparring with each other. They were showing off their strength and power. They were all looking to become senior males in the herd and have their pick of doe. The senior males were also together in a group near the center of the clearing, but they were not playing around. They were the older and larger deer and already established their place in the herd. They did not need to put on a display of strength. They would remain in that group until defeated by a younger male. Usually, there were a few older males that were beaten in mating fights, then discarded by the herd, and left to die. He saw no older males here. That was unusual. All the deer here looked no older than he was.
The females and new fawns were together. Their main activity was trying to stay out of the way of the antics of the younger males. The females with fawns concentrated on eating enough food to provide milk to their young. During early spring, the fawns were all too young to been weaned off their mothers, so they depended on them for life itself. The last group was the yearlings now in their second spring. Both males and females stayed off to the side. They were all too young to have any place in the herd. No one would pay attention to them until near The Season.
He tested the air with his nose. Scents of flowers, deer, squirrels, raccoons and other familiar scents filled his nostrils. There was not a trace of Man. Yet he knew there were Men by the lake near the Man cave the forest master lived in. That was far over the hills. He wondered why the herd was out in full daylight, but there was no danger around he could smell. The breeze was softly blowing into his face. The ground was still cool from the evening. There were no shrill bird or animal calls to warn of any danger. It all looked perfectly safe. As he studied the herd below him, two things stood out. First, there was a young doe standing well away from the herd by herself. The herd seemed to ignore her. No deer attempted to approach the doe. He knew that feeling well enough. That was odd though; doe normally stayed together at this time of year. She was also without a fawn, yet she looked old enough to have one. The second item he noted was he saw Bambi along with a doe and young male fawn enter from the woods. At once, all the deer stood up. In most herds, they ignored the leader unless he was giving orders or there was a fight on. These deer were much more respectful. He must be a good leader. That made him wondered if he should try to meet the herd now.
"Why not," he said to himself. After all, Bambi had invited him. Other than Bambi, he did not see a deer that looked big enough to challenge him.
He walked into the open of the meadow trying to show no concern at all. Almost at once, he felt the eyes of all the deer fall upon him. All the males, especially the senior males, looked him over carefully. He slowly walked up toward them but stopped well short so they could study the new deer before them. He did not want to make the mistake again of scaring them with his sudden presence. He bent over and started to fill his stomach with the tender young spring grass. It tasted delicious. Although he did not look directly at the herd of deer, he kept an eye on them. Sometimes strangers were attacked, but usually the herd leader did that. He was sure Bambi saw him, but this herd leader did not seem to care if he was here or not. Bambi made no move toward him.
He saw the senior males talking together. After some time, the largest deer in the group started to walk toward him cautiously. He was as old as Bambi, but not quite his size or his strength from the look of it. He puffed out his body showing off his large muscles and growing rack, no doubt to impress him. This deer approached him with his head down, but not in a threatening position. He was being cautious of him because they did not know why he was here. He liked caution in deer; you tended to live longer. He went on eating until the deer was about five lengths away. Then he stood up and faced him.
"Can I help you?" he asked the deer.
The deer looked surprised but stood his ground. "I am Ronno," the deer said respectfully but firmly. "I have not seen you before. May I ask your name?"
At least he was polite. "Most call me Stranger. I have no name of my own. My mother died before she could give me one."
"That is strange," Ronno said. "Do you want to join our herd? You must ask permission of the herd leader, Bambi if you want to do so."
"I have already met Bambi," he told him. "No, I am not joining your herd," he said calmly. "In any case, I do not seek permission from anyone to do what I like. For now, the grass is all I came for."
Ronno took a step back looking at him as if he was something that had just fallen from the sky. He was odd and it showed, but he knew you never show weakness especially to a strange deer. There was a commotion among the senior males. He knew they expected him to be more reserved, more submissive toward a senior male. He was not acting how they thought a deer should. Despite what happened to him in the other herds, one thing he would never do is be submissive to another deer.
After discussions among the senior males, another deer stepped away from the group and walked toward him. This was a younger deer, but one just as big as Ronno. This one was brasher, more assertive in his step. The new male looked at him with contempt. He was showing off before the other males. He had seen the type before, a young male trying to prove his place in the herd. The young male walked over and stood next to Ronno head high up like he was herd leader here.
"I say there, you are not polite," he said harshly. "This meadow is only for our use; we did not give you permission to enter."
He clearly saw how this was going to turn out. He could either back down and leave, or confront the haughty male. Although he knew it would not stand him in good stead with the rest of the herd, he decided to stand his ground. He turned quickly, facing the new arrival, his black eyes squarely fixed on the white and brown spotted face. "I did not ask permission from you or anyone else to come here," he told him firmly. "This meadow belongs to all the creatures in the forest. It is you who are being rude and not me. Now go away and have your mother teach you some manners, fawn."
He could see the new male fill with rage. Without a word, the male lowered his head and charged forward. He seemed to forget his rack was only partly grown and still covered in a sensitive and thin coating of velvet. He stood there motionless not even bothering to put his head down. He knew it looked to the others that he was going to let the charging male have an open lunge at his chest. That is exactly what he wanted. He waited until the male was two lengths from him and then he quickly jumped right, planting his front feet hard in the dirt and bringing his rear legs around catching the male across his front knees in mid-charge. The other male did not have time to react. He knocked the legs out from under the charging male who tripped, fell forward with a crash, and buried his face in the dirt. As the male tried to get up, he leaped over, and again planting his front legs firmly, he kicked the side of the male deer hard with both rear hoofs. The male toppled over on his side like an old tree falling. He moved quickly in front of the now struggling deer. This time he planted his back feet and brought his right front leg up to catch the deer in the face. That blow knocked him senseless to the ground. In an instant, he was on him planting his right hoof squarely on the neck of the down deer and pressing hard to cut off his wind.
"Listen fawn," he growled, "I do not like rude deer with more brashness than sense. I can kill you now easily, and it will not bother me a bit. Now leave me alone and go away, before I scatter your body across the meadow."
With that, he took his hoof off the neck of the down deer that was glaring back at him wide-eyed with terror. He quickly backed up two full-lengths so the down deer could not lunge at him. The male struggled to regain his feet. He was off balance, dizzy, and beaten. He let the down deer get up slowly. As the beaten male finally got to his feet, he stepped forward and glared at his beaten foe looking ready to hit him again.
"Leave now or die!" he bellowed.
Instantly, the large male darted across the open meadow into the forest his voice bleating in fear. He turned and faced Ronno again who went into a defensive stance, head down.
"I will cause you no trouble unless you start it," he said calmly and once again tried to appear to the others like a normal deer. He stood up and showed no threat. "You were at least polite, unlike that thing," and motioned his head toward the fleeing male.
Ronno just gazed at him in bewilderment. "I never saw a deer fight like that."
"I know," he said.
By now, the other senior males looked at him with a mixture of shock and confusion. Having a strange deer come in and beat up a senior male was rare. None of them knew what to make of him.
He then turned and saw the approach of an even larger deer, but this deer held his head up high. He was not trying to show brashness, because he was the herd leader and every other deer on this meadow knew it. This one was not looking for a fight, but he was clearly not afraid of one either.
"Greeting, Bambi," he said and dipped his head slightly in respect. "I am sorry if I caused any trouble." He noted the doe and fawn that followed Bambi stopped about ten lengths away. No doubt, they did not trust him. That was wise of them. Again, caution and wisdom were showing in this herd.
"There is no trouble," Bambi uttered in a normal voice. "Kragus has been pushing his weight around the herd. I or one of the larger males would have needed to put him in his place soon. You just did it first. I came over to ask you if you wanted to join the herd. You are big, you are strong, you fight well, but strangely, and you do not seem to be a bully."
"I try not to be," he answered. "No Bambi, I have no interest in the herd, they are yours. I prefer to live alone. It works better that way for me. I am not popular with other deer as you can see."
Bambi looked around him at a gathering of brown furry faces that showed emotions from the bewilderment of Ronno, to outright dislike among the senior males and many of the doe. Some of the doe were even showing fear of him. It was starting again. Another herd he had started out on the wrong hoof with. Maybe it was just his fate to be this way.
"Suit yourself," Bambi said looking back at his doe and fawn.
"Yours?" he asked.
"Faline, my mate, and Veron, my youngest son," Bambi said almost in passing.
He smiled and looked at them. The doe was the most beautiful he had ever seen. Sleek, with a perfect body, a lovely face, and shiny coat. She was pleasing to look at. She was also together with her mate and it was not even near The Season. Males and doe seldom stayed together or remained close outside of The Season. It was unusual, but he had seen it before. Bambi was lucky to have a doe like that for a mate. The male fawn was a bit small, fidgety, wanting to leap forward at him to play, but Faline called him back with a grunt. He looked back to Bambi. "You can tell them they can approach me if they want. I do not attack doe and I never strike a fawn. They are safe with me."
Bambi nodded his head in appreciation. "Thank you. May I ask where you learned to fight like that?"
"While living with Man," he replied. "Man taught me many things. Most of what I saw living with Man would sicken you. A few things like my fighting can be of use at times."
Bambi and Ronno said nothing for a second. He was sure they did not believe him. Finally, Ronno said, "You are very, very, strange."
"Yes I know," he repeated.
As he looked past Ronno in the direction Kragas had fled, he saw the deer he had noted before: the doe standing alone and away from the herd. She was standing upright while looking directly at them. She looked more curious than afraid and that interested him. Bambi must have noticed his stare.
Bambi motioned to the doe, "That is Claris. She is another strange one like you," Bambi said sounding regretful. "She told me she does not like the company of other deer. Last Season she took up with no male and had no fawn this spring. She said she just was not interested in any of the herd or senior males. Most in the herd find her strange, so they treat her badly, although she does not deserve it. I was thinking you should talk to her. I think you may be alike."
"Strange like me," he answered and looked the doe over carefully. "She is not a bad looking doe. Is there anything wrong with her?"
"There is nothing wrong with her body," Bambi answered. "She is just like no other deer in this herd. Like you, the others mostly ignore her and she does not mind. You remind me of her. That is why I think you should talk to her."
He wondered what Bambi was getting at. Herd leaders cared nothing about who talks to whom unless it was to their own doe. There was something else going on with this herd leader. That intrigued him and raised his interest.
"Why do you think we may be alike?" he asked Bambi.
"Because you both seem to have the ability to make other deer wary of you," the herd leader told him flatly.
"And because you both kick hard," Ronno added. "I approached her Last Season, and she kicked me in the side and told me to go away. It hurt me halfway through winter."
He fought back the desire to laugh in Ronno's face. Doe never lash out at males except in desperation. If this doe could put a male like Ronno off, she must be something. Again, he was intrigued and interested. What did he have to lose by talking to her except maybe a sore side?
"Very well, I will go over and introduce myself," he told them.
Bambi nodded his approval.
"Good luck," Ronno said shaking his head. "I am not the only male in this herd who has a sore side after trying to breed her. I would be careful, Stranger."
"I am always careful," he told Ronno. "You live longer that way, but I find her to be interesting. I bid you both good day," he told them and walked away toward the doe.
As he got closer, he saw she certainly was a good-looking doe. She was not sleek, with a shiny coat, or perfectly shaped body like Faline. She was shapely, had a beautiful face, and a bushy white tail. Her legs were larger than most doe and more heavily muscled. Her fur was brown except for a large white patch on her stomach. She looked fast, hard, and ready to run or fight as needed.
It was the way she stood that got his attention first. Most doe are timid and shy away from males. The way she stood, it was like Bambi. She looked as if she did not care if he came close or not, and he liked that. Most deer were herd creatures, or at the very least liked being around other deer. The moved with each other, ate with each other, fought with each other, and thought like each other. They were all the same and that was the major difference between him and all the other deer. His time with Man had made him different and taught him to be by himself. Since he had no other deer to play with, he never learned how to be a deer. He only learned how to be himself. That is what truly made him different from the others. The only exception to herd behavior was during The Season when tempers and feelings got the better of them all.
He walked slowly toward her and stopped about five lengths away as not to scare her. She continued eating, but he could clearly see she had her eyes on him."Greetings," he said. "The others told me I should not try and talk to you if I did not want to be kicked in the side."
She raised her head and turned to face him. Unlike the other doe, she did not look upon him with disdain or fear, only curiosity. "That is good advice," she said. Her voice was smooth and confident, yet had an aggressive tone. She was concerned about him standing there, but she was not afraid of him. No scent of fear came from the doe. "Most of the males in the herd I have kicked so they keep away from me. They do not interest me. I see you are different. Bambi already told me there was a new deer in the forest. A strange deer like me. Your scent tells me you are the new deer. I can see you are strong and fight well," she told him while she continued to study him carefully. Then after she had a thorough look at him she added, "The others pay me no mind, why should you?"
He could see she was direct and to the point like Bambi; not your typical doe. "That is true," he replied. "You see I also do not care what others think of me either." He paused before adding, "You are the same way. For a doe, that is unusual and I was curious."
"Along with being cautious," she said noting the distance between them.
That sounded like an invitation. "May I get closer?" he asked.
"As long as you do not try to do anything else except talk," she said and seemed to relax a bit.
He slowly walked up until only a length separated them. He brought his head down as not to look too pretentious. "Thank you," he said. "I am called Stranger. If I may ask, why do you like to be alone?"
She snapped back, "I do not like being around the other deer, they dislike me. I think my scent they do not like. Besides, with the exception of Bambi, they are alike. All the males want from me is to make a fawn during The Season. I want more than that." Then she looked him over carefully again. "Why do you like being alone?"
She was forceful and direct. It then occurred to him she spoke more like a herd male rather than a doe. He gave pause before he answered taking in a deep breath through his nose. It was filled with her sent that smelled like thick black soil mixed with musk. "Like you, most deer do not care for me; I am too different from the rest. It is because I was raised much differently than the others. I do not think the way they do, and I do not act the way they do. I will not bore you with the story. By the way, I think you smell fine."
She actually seemed to smile. It was then he noticed her green eyes. It was a very unusual color for a deer's eyes. They almost glowed even in the daylight."I have time," she said softly.
He was just about to speak when suddenly two loud thunderclaps filled the forest. The sound cut through the trees bringing everything to a stop. The noises were distant, yet close enough to be dangerous. He knew it was the sound of the killing sticks of Man.
Chapter Three: Starting Point
"Come with me!" he barked and starting running toward the closest part of the forest. An instant later Claris was running right beside him. She was running as fast as he was. They bound through the air several lengths with each stride.
He glanced back onto the meadow; Bambi was already fleeing into the woods following Faline, Veron, and the rest of the herd to safety. There was a panicked run by all the deer to get out of the open as quickly as possible. The two of them bounded six times before they made the closest line of young Oak trees. He heard nothing else from behind him. There were no more sounds of killing sticks, no scent of Man. He knew they had to go deeper into the thickest part of the forest to escape the death brought my Man. In the deep woods, Man could not see them, and that was their only protection. He continued to run at full speed dodging around the trees until he could see no sign of the meadow in the distance. He saw a thin spot of trees under which thick stands of bushes were growing. He stopped now hidden behind the green leaves. There, Claris and he tried to catch their breaths.
He took several deep breaths of cool air into his burning chest until he felt recovered enough to speak. He then turned back to Claris who was now standing only half a length away. "Are you alright?" he asked trying to sound concerned.
She nodded and then spoke while trying to breathe in, "Were you hit?"
"No, I do not think Man was after us today. He has other creatures he uses his death stick on. He has one death stick to kill birds, one to take fish out of the water, one to kill smaller animals, and the biggest one to kill us. The noise was too far away to be for us. Besides, if Man wanted to kill us, at least one of us would be lying dead in the meadow and I saw no one hit."
"Do you think it is safe to go back?" she asked.
"I am not sure," he said looking back the way they came. "I would not go now. It is safer to wait for dark. Man does not like going out into the forest after dark."
She eyed him curiously as if she was suddenly not sure about him. "You seem to know a lot about Man," she said.
"Before we got interrupted, that was part of the story I did not want to bore you with," he told her. "It is not a nice story to hear."
"Well we have time now," she said and lay down on her knees to rest.
He lay down near her but not next to her, as he did not want to seem too forward. "As you wish," he said.
He was reluctant to tell his story. If deer thought he was strange now, what would they think after they heard what happened to him while he lived with Man. There were the sights of all those deer being burnt and eaten, the laughter of Man as they drank and ate the meat, the pain when the Man fawns attacked and hit him until he learned to fight back, and being kept behind vines so hard he could not get away. Then finally, after he got away, how long it took him to learn how to act like other deer or even speak with them. He could not remember what was worse at that time, having the Man fawns hurt him, or older male deer beating him because they wanted nothing to do with him.
"I am afraid that if I tell you what has happened to me, you might think I am so unlike a normal deer you will be disgusted with me and leave," he told Claris in a low voice.
"I will not," Claris said flashing her green eyes at him. "You are strange, but inside I see you are hurt. You try to hide it, but it is there. I think that is what Bambi saw in you. So please, tell me your story."
The Stranger swallowed hard and did something he had never done before in his life. He told Claris his whole story from the time Man took him in until he came to this forest. As he promised, it was not a pleasant story to listen to. He kept asking himself why he was telling this to someone he hardly knew. For some reason, he felt compelled to tell her about his life. He did not understand why. Claris listened and asked several questions, but was not repelled by his story. By the time he was done, and answered all the questions she asked, they both were tired and both of them went to sleep.
It was near night when he awoke. He was hungry, thirsty, yet he felt warm and comfortable inside. It took him a second to realize he felt warm because Claris was lying against his side. She must have moved closer to him for comfort while he was sleeping. It was a new feeling for him to lie next to a doe. He felt a liking for this doe, something he had also not felt before. During the past Seasons, doe had approached him and he had bred them. Usually, that only consisted of a few moments of coupling, grunting, and then a rush outward of himself into the doe. Following the act, the doe went one way, and he went another. After his part of The Season was done, the doe wanted nothing more to do with him. There was no tenderness like this. Although he felt a base pleasure in having coupled with the doe, he never felt the inward warmth he did now. He was not sure what to say or feel. He felt strange.
He also felt inward pressure building up in his rear. He must empty himself. He got up slowly as not to disturb her and moved away to an empty part of the forest many lengths away from where he lay. There he passed what was inside him. He moved back to the clearing and saw Claris was gone. He wondered why she had left, before she appeared, gliding silently into the clearing from the forest. From the strong scent in the air, he realized she had done likewise and yet the odor was different. The scent was like what a doe gives off when The Season was near, yet they were still a long way from then.
"I am . . . am sorry," she said stammering. She dropped her head in shame. She was embarrassed about the scent she gave off.
He walked quickly over to her and lifted her head with his until he could look into those deep green eyes. "You do not have to be sorry," he said showing affection. "I like the feeling of you next to me, I like the scent of your body, and I like you. Thank you for listening to my story. You are the first one I ever told it to. I hope I did not bore you or scare you with it."
"Did all of that really happen to you?" she asked.
Yes," he said knowing his tale was a bit much. "Does it make you frightened of me?"
"No, I am not frightened of you," she answered immediately. "If all those things happened to you, I feel more sorrow for you than fear. I also understand why you are so strange." Then she stopped for a second as if unsure about what she wanted to say. "You are not like the others. No male has ever said he liked me. I think that is because, like you, I am so different. My story is different from yours, but in a way it is the same."
Claris then told him her story. She was younger than he was. This was her third spring. It was his fifth. She was born after her mother came to this forest with Bambi and several others after Man had burnt down their forest. Her mother, Ate, had come with a young male Morro. They mated and she was born. Ate and Morro were not close which was good because Man killed Morro just before Last Season began. She did not know why, but even as a fawn, she would like to be by herself. She put off the other fawns. Claris felt it had to do with how she behaved. The other fawns just wanted to play. She preferred to stay near the older deer and try to learn from them. The only deer that talked to her on a regular basis was Bambi. When Last Season came around, she told him she felt no desire to be with a male. Those that came and tried to breed with her she put off, some violently. The males did not feel it was worth the effort to breed her with other more receptive doe available. She did not know why she felt that way, but she did. It made her feel strange, and the way the other deer treated her made her feel stranger. She just thought she was different, and just as he had found out, being different in a deer herd is not a good thing for you.
"I used to think I was the only strange one around her," he said after she finished. "Thank you for telling me your story." He walked over and nuzzled his nose against her face. "I like you," he told her.
"Stranger, I like you too," she said and rubbed her muzzle against his returning his show of affection.
Her action surprised him for a second. No doe had ever done that. He was not sure what to say. He did not know how to react. He finally stammered out a simple, "Thank you."
He hoped he had not put her off for some reason. He wanted to change the subject. "If I may ask you a question, what did Bambi tell you about me?" He was curious about why Bambi looked to be so interested in getting them together.
"He told me you were strange, and not like the other deer in the herd. He told me I might not feel the dislike for you the way I feel about the other males. Then he said I should listen to you." She then stopped for a moment before adding, "I am glad I did."
Again, he wondered why Bambi should care. "Does Bambi often do this?"
"I do not know," Claris said. "I know Bambi is one of the few deer who will talk to me. I found him to be strong and wise like his father the Old Prince. My mother told me that Bambi's father was the wisest deer that ever lived. He died from being old just before Bambi and the others came to this forest. Bambi is like his father my mother tells me."
'Interesting," he muttered. "This is certainly a different type of herd."
Claris looked up at the darkening sky. "We should be getting back. Not that anyone would care if we came back or not."
"I do not know, maybe Bambi or Ronno might care, but I doubt if anyone else would," he said grimly. "I will follow you this time."
Claris knew the woods better than he having lived here all her life. He followed her back, but she did not go the way they had come. She followed a path around the meadow, yet still deep enough in the forest that no one could see them from the large clearing. She took him around huge oak trees. Around them he heard the sounds of the forest: ferrets sneaking through the grass, mice scampering about trying to avoid them, the sounds of crickets and frogs, birds above them, and screeching of the bats. All hunting for food while trying not to become food. That was the Way of All Things as he called the struggle of life. All became food in the end.
"Hooo," he heard from above. He looked up and saw a great owl looking down at him. He was old, grey, had a pale face, with wide gray eyes. His feathers were ragged and white with age.
"Hello Friend Owl," Claris said looking up at the darken shape.
"Hello Claris," the owl screeched. His high-pitched voice sounded almost like a scream. "I was wondering about you two. You must be Stranger the new deer I heard about. You certainly know how to make yourself known. At least you are both alive," the owl said looking them over carefully as if not believing it. "Bambi was concerned."
"Thank you," Claris replied. "Where is he now?"
"Him, Faline, and Veron are all by the stream with some of the other deer. I sure he won't mind if you both show up."
"Is Kragus among them?" he wanted to know. He had his fill of fighting for one day.
"No one has seen that deer since you wiped his face in the ground," the owl went on. "I'd be careful about him, Stranger. Kragus has a mean streak as wide as the meadow. I would not turn my back on him."
"I do not intend to," he said. "However, if he leaves me alone, I will do likewise."
The owl seemed to shrug his great wings. "We can only see what happens. In the meantime, please excuse me. The mice will not catch themselves," the owl said and flapped his wings. He was gone as silent as a light breeze.
He followed Claris again. The forest on this hill was thicker. The trees also looked taller. Around him, he could hear many animals running around. He did catch a scent of a badger, but that was the only predator he detected. They passed families of possums and raccoons, but they paid them no mind. The lesser light was high overhead before they came across a small brook. The frogs were especially noisy here. They both stopped and drank their fill of the cool water. They also stopped to nibble on some plants. That got rid of his immediate hunger. They followed the stream until his nose picked up the scent of several deer. As they got closer, he could see the outlines of Bambi next to Faline and Vernon in the glow of the lesser light. Ronno was standing in the rear. While they were still many lengths away, Bambi tuned and faced them.
"Well, you both managed to live through it," he said and looked happy about it.
"Thanks to our Stranger," Claris said.
By now the other deer there: a collection of three males, several females, and their fawns. Immediately they all started moving away from them, as if they had some illness they could all catch. They wanted nothing to do with either of them. He was sure Claris noticed it too. By now he used to it, but other than being different, neither of them had done anything to deserve such scorn.
He walked over to Bambi who stood his ground like a rock. "Today Man was not after us," he told him.
"I know," Bambi said. "Do you think it will be safe in the meadow tomorrow?"
"It is not The Season yet," he answered looking into that hard yet calm face. "Man usually waits for the Season to come for us. It is about our racks, he wants. He wants them full and at their peak and that happens only during or just after The Season. To be certain, I would suggest we all go into the meadow now and feed. If we are in the forest when the day comes, Man will have nothing to see. He has a much harder time finding us if we are not out in the open. That is why he uses dogs. They can smell us, Man cannot."
"How can you know anything of this?" one of the males called out with obvious disgust. "How can you know about Man?"
Claris turned about sharply. "He knows that and a lot more," she rebuked the male. "If you listen to him, maybe you might live longer."
In his entire life, that was the first time anyone ever stood up for him. He suddenly felt the same warm glow inside himself that he felt earlier when she lay next to him. The male did not like being talked to like that by a doe and started to rise up to put her in her place. He turned quickly and stepped forward, his side rubbing against hers.
"NO!" he said coldly.
He looked deep into the eyes of the male who was smaller and weaker than him. The male backed away into the cover of the forest. He then looked down into Claris' green eyes and openly smiled. "Thank you," he said.
She said nothing only rubbed her muzzle against his. The warm feeling suddenly got much stronger.
"He told me part of his story," Bambi said loudly enough to get everyone's attention. "I believe him and will follow his advice. We will feed now and leave for the forest before the greater light comes."
With that Bambi lead the way. He and Claris stayed behind until the others had moved into the meadow. They followed and stopped near a place covered with a rich layer of grass. When they bent over to feed, the other deer moved away again. They ate alone and in silence. After they had eaten their fill, Bambi came over to them.
"I am sorry about the others," he said. "They should not treat you both like that."
"It is their fault, not yours," he told Bambi.
"It is still rude," Bambi went on. "Even Faline is uncomfortable around you both."
What was there to do? Even Bambi could not change what others felt. It was then he recalled what Claris had told him about Bambi and his father. Maybe he had an answer to his question. He wanted to ask it then but was afraid others would laugh at him if they heard it. He was more afraid that Claris would laugh at his question. "May I speak to you alone," he asked the large deer.
Bambi seemed puzzled at his request but walked away and motioned him to follow. "I will be back shortly," he told Claris who also seem puzzled.
He followed the large deer to the end of the meadow before he stopped. "We are alone," he said still wondering what he wanted to say.
"I cannot say what I am about to tell you in front of Claris or any of the other doe. I am ashamed of this, but you must know if you are going to allow me to stay here."
"You do not owe me any explanation," Bambi said in a friendly tone. "I can see into you. Yes, you are strange, but you are also good, despite the deep hurt you carry inside you."
"That comes close to the matter," he went on. "Bambi, in all my wanderings, I have never had anyone close to me. I lived apart, only taking part in The Season because something inside me told me I had to. I could not control it Yes I enjoyed it. I chased the doe and fought the other males who wanted them. I won most of the fights I was in. I lost a few, especially when I was younger."
He stopped for a second, he was having trouble saying this and his chest was tightening up. "Go on," Bambi encouraged.
"With the doe, it was always just the feeling of The Season. None of them ever followed me around. None of them had the slightest interest in me afterward. I never had any of them who care for me like Faline cares for you. It is easy to see you both feel for each other. No one ever showed they cared for me until today, and I do not know what to do. I am frightened that I will do the wrong thing. You see I did not grow up among my kind as you did. Man held me until I was a yearling. The only learning I had was from Man. When I finally got away from Man and fled into the forest, I did not know how to speak to the other deer. I did not know how to act around them. I had to learn as an adult what a deer was: how we spoke, how we lived, what we ate, how we even breed. As a result, I never had to be near a doe except at the time of The Season. Once we bred, most left me in a hurry. I never had a doe who said she likes me until today with Claris. You are the herd leader. I hear you are wise like your father. What do I need to do? How should I act?"
For a moment, Bambi looked at him stunned. He wondered if Bambi even understood what he was saying. How could he? How can any deer feel like he did?
Bambi stood there motionless for what felt to be a long while. Then he said in a hushed tone, "My father once told me there was One above us and Man. That One put you here for a reason, but what that reason is, I do not know. There is nothing wrong with you. You are not like a herd deer, but then neither am I. You grew up your way. I grew up my way. I had my troubles growing up too. My father had to raise me after Man killed my mother in a meadow like this one. I was awkward, I was slow, Ronno kicked me around a few times before I finally put him in his place when I bred Faline. I did not think about it with Faline. I let it happen. That is my advice, let it happen and enjoy what you have together."
All he could do was nod. Had this deer finally understood him? Most deer just jump around, eat, and play. He felt there was more to his place in the forest than that, and maybe so did Bambi.
"Thank you for telling me this. It explains much," Bambi continued and rubbed his own flank against his in a show of friendship. Bambi looked at the increasing light. "We need to leave in case Man comes back."
"Agreed," he said.
"Bambi barked out a deep loud command to the herd. "Go into the forest now."
He trotted back to Claris who was standing next to Faline saying something. As soon as he approached, Claris broke off whatever she was saying and came after him. Once they passed into the forest and they were alone, he stopped and looked back. "Will you come with me?"
She seemed shocked for some reason. "No, not now," she said turning away. "It is still too soon. I have to know you better before I will do that."
He felt deflated, but then he remembered Bambi's words 'let it happen.' She was right; they had half a day and a night together. They both needed more time.
"I understand," he said in a low voice. "Can I at least see you again on the meadow or in the forest?"
She turned and walked up to him again and muzzled him on his mouth. "Of course you can," she told him in a soft airy tone that brought back that warm feeling.
She turned away and quickly vanished into the trees.
He wanted to follow in the worse way. His body urged him on, but instead, he turned around and walked the other way toward the nearby hills. There would be other days, he hoped.
Chapter 4: Man Path
It started a few days after his first meeting with Claris. The herd was feeding on the meadow near the rising of the greater light. In late spring, the grass was growing quickly, and would soon reach its peak. It would remain that way until after The Season when the first chill of winter came to the forest. Eating your fill was easy, and all the deer and other animals were putting on weight and muscle to prepare them for the next time of hardship. The heat from the greater light had increased. It was hot in the open when the greater light was overhead. To go into the open during the day, even for a short while, meant you were covered with sweat. It was best to spend the days in the shade under the trees and come out only in the cool of the night and early light.
Most of his time with Claris took place in the meadow. They had both come to know each other better over the nights. The more he looked, the more he liked her and he sensed Claris felt the same way. If they wanted to rest during the night, they rested next to each other. While feeding, they kept to the far end of the meadow away from the others who ate by the stream from the hill. Bambi, Faline, little Veron, and Ronno were their only companions. They were still ignored by the rest of the herd who did not attempt to get to know them. After dawn, Claris would go back to her resting place in the forest and he would go to his. Claris still did not feel secure enough around him to stay with him all day. They had just finished eating and the first traces of the greater light appeared in the distance.
"BOOOMMMMM!' rang through the forest. Both the ground and air shook. The noise was much louder than the sounds of killing sticks. It was the loudest noise he had ever heard. The shock was so great, it took all his effort to remain standing and steady Claris so she did not fall.
"BOOOMMMMM!" came again.
The whole forest shook with the noise. He saw trees in the distance start to fall down. A column of black smoke rose as if from a fire. It was like nothing he had ever seen or heard before. Instantly birds flew off into the sky straining to get away. Squirrels and other tree animals scurried up the branches to the top. Even Friend Owl flew quickly away into the deep forest. The second noise pushed him, almost knocked him off his feet again. It was like a male deer hit him in the side. The sensation paralyzed him for a moment along with all the other deer. Then he smelled it on the wind: acrid, putrid like spoiled fruit. He knew the scent.
He turned and faced the herd. Some smaller deer were only now getting to their feet. "MAN!" he bellowed out as loud as he could. He turned to Claris. "Run," he yelled. She took to her heels running like a bear was after her. She was fast and flew past him like a stiff summer wind. He ran after her slowly gaining. She slowed to turn her head.
"Don't look back," he yelled out loud enough to be heard across the meadow.
She dug in her hoofs and ran even faster. She was first into the trees; he was right behind her. They both ran as fast as they could until they reached the place they had run to the first day he met her. She stopped and fell sprawling onto the ground. He stood standing next to her, head down panting, trying to get air into him. There was soon another huge roar, and another one like the first. The ground, trees, and even the rocks were shaking. He thought it might be the end for all of them. He could see even more smoke in the sky. Then he smelled the scent of burning wood. There was fire in the forest. Claris smelled it too.
"What do we do?" she tried to say through her wheezing.
"If the fire smell gets stronger, we will have to flee deeper into the forest toward the top of the hills," he panted.
"I have never been that deep in the forest," she said looking scared. "Are we going to die?"
He was frightened too but did not want to show it to Claris. "Not now we are not," he said to reassure her. "What happens later, I do not know. If there are more huge roars the whole forest may end."
"Then I am glad I am with you," she said calmly. She looked away toward the far end of the now hidden meadow. "I hope the others are alright."
"Bambi is wise, he will guide them. For now rest," he said and lay down beside her. "Try not to sleep, but keep your nose in the air. At the first scent of Man, we run into the deep forest as fast and as far as we can. Do not look back after me. I will be alright."
"No," she told him."I stay with you."
He reached over and nuzzled her again and she did the same. If this was the end, he was in good company.
They lay awake until the greater light was directly overhead. There were no more loud roars. Soon he could hear the birds sing again, and saw the raccoons, squirrels, and possums come down from the trees. Even the insects came back to buzz around their ears. Then there was another noise, not as loud as the roar, but a constant growl like a huge animal moving about looking for food. The noise did not get louder and the scent of Man did not get stronger. Soon even the smoke odor vanished. Both of them spent the time chewing their cud from last evening. She lay fully against him, and again that warm feeling came back to him. After the greater light was overhead, they were both so tired they could not hold their heads up anymore and they lay on the ground asleep. They did not awake again until after the setting of the greater light. Near dark, the growling noises stopped. All was quiet once more in the forest.
After they woke, they both emptied themselves. Then they looked around for what to do next. Part of him wanted to go to the edge of the meadow to look, but that was too dangerous. Finally, Claris looked into the deep forest.
"We should go see Friend Owl," she said. "Maybe he saw something."
That sounded like a good idea to him. He looked at her and nodded his head. "I will follow you."
They started back toward the other side of the meadow where they had met the old owl before. The air was still and no scent could he smell other than those familiar to him. The forest had returned to normal. He could hear the sounds of hunters and hunted. A possum mother carrying four babies asked if they knew what was happening. He had to tell her no. Claris made for the big oak tree and the owl. Maybe he would know. Friend Owl was there looking like he was waiting for them.
"Greetings Friend Owl," Claris said again. "Do you know what is happening?"
"Never in all my days have I seen anything like it. Huge animals are at the edge of the meadow. They seem to be eating rock, dirt, and trees. Men are with them. It even looked as if Man was in them.
"These creatures are eating Man?" he asked. That made no sense to him. Man only ate; he was never eaten.
"No, no," the owl said with a hoot. "They seem to be getting in and out of the large animals."
That struck a memory in him when he lived with Man. "Yes, I have seen that before. Man has some animals that move. Men get in and out of them, but the animal do not eat them. I saw it, but never understood how."
He could see the owl and Claris had no idea what he was talking about. The owl listened then spoke out. "Bambi has called for a gathering in the deep thicket. He wants to see you. He even asked me to come."
"I do not know this place," he told the owl.
"I do" Claris, cut in. "I will take you, but I do not think they will be happy to see us."
"Bambi will be happy," the owl said poignantly, "and so will I. I cannot be expected to know everything that happens."
"Thank you," he said to Claris and the owl. "We will go there right now." Inwardly he had a bad feeling about this.
The trip to the deep thicket took until the lesser light was high in the sky. The thicket was much smaller than the meadow. It lay near the small stream that came down the hill. It was just a larger opening in the forest. It lay beyond the place Claris had shown him his first night with her. As they approach, his nose filled with the scents of many animals. It was crowded with deer, rabbits, raccoons, possums, and a collection of the other forest creatures. There were so many, he could not pick out individual scents. Most of the herd was crowded together in that small space.
"I brought them," the owl called out from above. "I brought Stranger and Claris."
"Come forward," Bambi called to them. They both walked close together through the herd. He saw the look on their faces of the males and doe that ranged from disapproval to disgust. Despite the crowd, the deer parted away from them as if they did not even want to be touched by either Claris or him. He felt anger starting to build up inside of him. The others wanted his help but would not even talk to either of them. For a moment, he was tempted to turn around and let them suffer on their own. He took a deep breath and kept reminding himself they were here for Bambi and only for Bambi. Claris walked straight ahead not turning to face any of them. They walked up and both dipped their heads as a show of respect for the herd leader.
Bambi stepped out into the middle of the group and spoke loudly. "I know what you think of these two. How you feel about them is unimportant right now. We need the advice of Stranger because there is a great question to be answered. That question is can we go back to the meadow?"
"Why is that a concern?" one of the larger males called out. "We have plenty of food in the forest. We can eat that."
"And what of the snow," Bambi added. "We eat the meadow grass because it is in great supply in the summer until it is covered by the snow, or dies in the winter. Then we eat the grass in the forest because the snow does not cover it as deep. If we eat that grass now, what do we eat when the snow comes?"
Distant murmuring came from the others. Most deer could not think that far ahead. Those same deer were the ones that thought they were so much better than Claris or himself. Then Bambi added, "We need the meadow grass and we need it soon. We have to know if the meadow is safe."
"Why not ask the Stanger and his doe" he heard Kragus called from the back. "We can send them out to talk to their friend Man."
He thought about stomping Kragus' face again. He was going to say something, but Bambi beat him to it. "Enough Kragus, if you have nothing useful to say, keep quiet."
Then he understood what to do. There was a way to know if the meadow was safe. It would be dangerous, but the others would know one way or the other. The problem was he needed help in order to do it. Who could he depend on here?
"I must disagree, Bambi," he said respectfully. "Kragus is right, we might need to ask Man or find out from him the answer."
All of them, even Claris, looked at him as if he finally lost his head completely. There were gasps, moans and looks of utter astonishment from the others at his words. He tried to explain. "The only way to know is to go out and look. If these animals are like the others I have seen around Man, if Man is not in them, they do not move. If so, we can use the meadow when Man is not there and that is at night. If the Man animals do not move, then it is safe."
"And are you just going to walk out there and ask Man?" Kragus' voice cracked again not even trying to hide his contempt. "Do you want to die, not that I care one bit?"
Claris walked up to him," NO!" she said simply, her eyes getting cloudy.
"No. I do not want to die," he said keeping the coldness in his stomach at bay. "Not now at anyway," he said looking squarely at Claris "However if we eat the forest grass now, then many of us will be dead before next spring."
The thicket became as quiet as death. Nothing moved or tried to speak. He then stood in the center next to Bambi. "I will need help, however. Friend Owl I need you to see at night from above to watch for movement of the Man animals. I need you to call out if they move. I will go out and get close to the Man animals and see if they can move. If I am right, they will not move and we can use the meadow at night. "If I am wrong, it will not matter. I will need someone to come with me and act as a messenger in case something happens to me. What about it Kragus, do you want to come with me? You say you are big and brave. Care to prove it?"
Again, there was dead silence from everyone. All turned to the brash young male halfway back in the pack. Finally, the big deer backed away. "I am going to die someday," he said trying to put on a brave show. "I see no reason to charge headlong to meet it. I will not go with you."
"Did not think so," he muttered. Bambi heard him turned and smiled. Then he looked directly at him and said, "I will go with you."
A chorus of No filled the thicket like the roar this morning. The loudest shout coming from Faline, her normally smooth voice was as shrill as the owl's.
He looked directly at Bambi. "No, if anything happens to you, who leads the herd? You want Kragus as the leader?"
Bambi smiled and shook his head no. "Ronno can lead until my older son Geno is ready. Besides if we can no longer use the meadow, the herd will need to break up to have any chance to live through the snow."
"I will go with you," the old owl called down. "I will fly above the end of the meadow. If I see the Man animals move, I will shriek twice."
That was something he did not expect. Bambi was brave, but this was risking both of them. That could lead to much death for the herd when Man came during The Season. Why he cared about the herd he did not know, but he did. He wanted them and Claris safe and the only way to do that was to go out and see. There was little noise that night; the animals were not moving. He saw the old owl leave for the meadow. He walked quickly past the others, down the stream, and to the edge of the meadow. Bambi was near him and walked in silence. None of the others came with them except Faline and Claris. Faline left Veron with Claris's mother, Ate, in the thicket. The two doe were braver than most of the males.
He looked at the open expanse of the meadow. It was dark on the other side. It was hard to see if anything was moving. He could see Friend Owl circle overhead, so far silent. He looked at Bambi. "I think we move around near the trees on the other side of the meadow. If I can get within several lengths of the Man animals and they do not move, then it should be safe to use the meadow."
"Yes," Bambi said but did not look at all convinced of his plan
By now, both Faline and Claris were standing there. The fear was evident in their faces. What could he say at this point except, "let us go, the day is coming soon. Then he turned back to the doe. "You two go back."
At least neither Faline, nor Claris made a fuss despite both knowing what might happen. He was glad of that. Both Bambi and he moved out close to the trees picking their way carefully along the ground. Both of them moved quietly as shadows. They were walking at a normal pace picking carefully along the ground as not to make a sound. It took them some time to move around to the other side of the meadow.
They heard nothing. The air filled with scents. A light putrid order of Man filled the meadow. Nothing he could smell had a strong odor of Man. He did not think Man was there. Soon they got so close he could see the large animals. One was half as big as a tree. The tall one had a huge claw that seemed to stick out to grab things. The other was shorter and had some bone or heavy skin in the front that reminded him of a large turtle. These were not the same animals he saw when he lived with Man. The animals at the Man cave he grew up at were smaller and less threatening. They got halfway down the meadow with nothing more to see. Owl was overhead, still quiet. He motioned Bambi to go into the trees with him. Once they gone a few lengths into the woods they stopped.
"I go on alone from here," he whispered to Bambi. "If you see me fall, stay in the trees and get back to the others. They should not see you here."
"Very well," Bambi said. He could tell the herd leader was glad he did not have to go on from here.
He moved out into the open. It was quiet. The forest noise was much lower than usual. The loud noise of the Man animals during the day had scared off most of the forest animals. It made the few insect noises stand out. He watched his footing carefully. This far out in the meadow there were no twigs from the forest to break to give him away. He crept in closer to the end of the meadow. The animals had not moved. The only thing he felt was wetness on his feet from the dew.
No scent came to him other than fresh earth and grass. No animal smells. Then he smelled it, a trace of smoke, but he did not see where it came from. He crept in closer. There was a rush of air by his left ear. He froze instinctively.
"Nothing," squealed the voice from the old owl as he flew past.
The ground in front of him was torn up. He saw an opening in the forest on the far side of the meadow. Someone had pulled up all the trees to leave the ground bear making an open path through the forest that was so wide, the whole herd could travel on it at one time. The torn up earth extended to the edge of the meadow. He knew there was a small spring there that flowed into the stream. It looked like they were piling dirt up around the edge of the meadow near where he had stayed before he met the herd. There were also some new tall and thin trees without any branches or leaves. They were all sticking out of the ground that Man had planted.
Just then, he caught the first glimmer of the greater light off in the distance. He saw and heard nothing; all was still. They must see him. The Man animals were either dead or sleeping. It was time for him to go. There was nothing moving around here. It looked safe; they could use the meadow at night. He turned to walk away. An instant later, he saw light at his feet. He looked back and saw two large glowing eyes moving through the new path in the trees toward him. Then there were two shrieks from the owl. They were after him; he ran.
It was not very far to the trees. He ran into them as the glowing eyes came up between the trees toward him. He ran along the side of the meadow just inside the trees. He finally got to where he had left Bambi. It was there he stopped to catch his breath. He looked around. He smelled Bambi, but did not see him. Then he heard leaves move from the nearby branches
"You are alive," Bambi said with relief, "I thought that creature was after you."
He looked back at the end of the meadow. The two eyes stopped next to the two Man animals. The eyes suddenly dimmed and from the side of the animal out came four Men. They walked over to the animals.
"Like the animals I saw when I lived with Man," he told Bambi. "They came at the start of the day. Before that, the animals were cold and not moving. That means they move only with Men in them. They will only work during the light. We can use the meadow at night."
Almost at once, there were glowing eyes from the two Man animals as they began to move. "We need to go," Bambi said.
"Slow," he said. "They do not seem to be coming after us."
It was fully light before they reach the stream and followed it back to the thicket. There were a few others there. As they approached close to the thicket, he heard a cry from Claris. An instant later both Faline and Claris rushed out to meet them. Claris came over and kissed him on the muzzle. Faline almost knocked Bambi to the ground she was so happy.
"You are both alive," Claris squealed in happiness. Faline then yelled out, "We saw the eyes come closer and the Man animals start to move and thought they killed you."
"They came after Stranger, but he got away," Bambi explained.
The light was full, the Man-animals were roaring in their work. He was tired and it was a long walk back to his place.
"I am tired. I think I am going to sleep near here for today," he told the others.
"Down the stream past the pond is a small cave. That is where Faline, Veron, and I sleep. Across the stream, there is a small opening in the forest. No one uses it anymore. You can sleep there."
"Thank you," he said and walked wearily toward the opening with Bambi and Faline. "His heart was still pounding from fright and running. He was soaked with sweat even though it had been at night. It was then he noticed he was not alone. Claris always walked away at early light toward a small grove of trees where she slept alone during the day.
"Are you not going home to sleep?" he asked.
"I am going home to sleep," she said then added almost as an afterthought, "with you."
Bambi and Faline said nothing but looked straight ahead suppressing smiles.
This might have been worth it after all.
Chapter Five: Promises
The growling noises from the Man animals continue for several days and then stopped as suddenly as they had started. When they looked at night, the large Man animals had gone leaving the forest in peace. The Man path through the opening in the trees was still there along with fresh dirt that was piled-up and made flat near the small spring. Other than the fading scent of Man and his animals, everything looked back to normal. None of them knew where Man had gone or why he had come in the first place.
The herd returned to its former habit of eating in the meadow until first light and then leaving for the forest. Nothing else interfered in their lives. The only bad change to the herd was that a large black bear had come down from the hills. From the scent he smelled on his first day in the forest, it was the same bear. He chased a two doe and some fawns, but could not catch them because the herd kept watch and warnings sounded. The bear had to remain content with the other creatures he could catch along with the berries, nuts, and leaves from the forest. Both Bambi and he knew if the bear ever caught a deer, it would be the end of them.
Another change occurred soon after the Man path. A few members of the herd became more tolerant of Claris and himself. When they ate, not all the deer moved away from them. A few deer like Ronno, a young doe Marol, a senior male Duris would actually talk to them at night. Whether it was because of their friendship with Bambi and Faline, or what had happened on the meadow that night, he was not sure. Most of the herd still wanted nothing to do with them. Some even shunned them. That group was lead by Duro, Duris' younger brother, Sinno, a deer with limited intelligence, and Fulcon, another senior male. Kragus still hated his guts and made no attempt to hide it. However, Kragus found himself ignored by an increasing number of deer after displaying his cowardliness at the gathering. All of the males and most of the females wanted nothing to do with him. On more than one occasion, he could almost feel Krakus' eyes burning through him as Claris and he fed at night.
How long into summer this continued, he did not know. After feeding and drinking, both Claris and he lay in the same place near Bambi's cave. If Bambi and Faline minded their presence, they said nothing. It did allow Claris to mind Veron when Faline and Bambi were away. He was growing into a small, yet powerful male. Very often Veron would play with him by lowering his head and try to make charges at him. This was fawn play and he did not take it seriously, but he did push back and so did Bambi when Veron tried mock combat with him. It was how male fawns learned to fight, and more importantly, learned their place in the herd. He could see Veron would not be a large deer like his father, but his body was compact with heavy muscles. He was very strong for a fawn his size and age. Minding him also had the effect of bringing Claris and Faline closer to each other.
They passed through the middle of summer with no more interruptions to their lives. All the deer put on enough weight to see them through the upcoming winter. The sparing among the herd males was getting more intense. Even the senior males started to spar among themselves. Although it looked like play, it was not. Males were determining who were the strongest to set their place in the herd. The stronger ones got first pick of doe and highest position within the herd. This would prevent unnecessary fights near The Season. Only when two males who were nearly the same in position, wanted the same doe, and neither would back down, would you see a major fight. Most of the time, a lower position male would give way to a senior position male, unless the lower position male felt he could beat him.
He did not enter the contest except on two occasions when a younger male ask him to show some of his tricks. He showed them a little, but none of the tricks he learned from Man. Those he shared only with Bambi. Bambi and he would spar in private away from their cave where no other deer could see them. This kept them both in practice. It became apparent that the only competition each of them had was each other in strength, stamina, and skill. Between them, Bambi and he could take on the senior males in the herd by themselves. Besides, it was good exercise.
Summer past them and the days grew shorter. The next problem arose on the morning he first noticed his velvet was starting to itch. A sure sign The Season was approaching.
"Krack," sounded from the meadow. Two more sound of killing sticks followed in quick succession.
They were startled awake by the loud noise. It was not as loud a sound as when the Man animals had appeared, but it was loud and sharp and he knew at once what it meant. He shot upward from his glade startling Claris who got up quickly beside him. He looked across the stream and saw Bambi and Faline in front of their cave with Veron standing behind them. Both Claris and he waded across the stream and stood next to them.
"Man?" asked Bambi.
"Yes," he answered. "I do not think for us. It is still early, our racks are still not out and The Season is not yet here. The sound is also less than the big killing sticks Man uses on deer."
Three more bangs followed. "Any deer on the meadow?" he asked Bambi.
"No," the big male answered calmly. "They all left when we did at the start of the day. That is unless someone was stupid enough to go back."
He shook his head knowing if any deer did go back, they probably were dead already. "If they did there is nothing we can do," he said. "If we went now, they see us for sure, and then we be next."
Then they all heard it, a yelping noise carried on the wind from the meadow. He could just make it out. "Here….Here," it called out."
"Dogs," Faline gasped and sunk back into the cave next to Veron. Her cheeks turned white as snow.
Both Claris and he looked at Bambi who also looked badly shaken. It was the first time he had seen fear on the big deer's face. Bambi bowed his head and spoke in a low voice. "Back in our first forest, Faline was chased by dogs. I stopped them," he sounded as if he was in pain. "It was the same time I was hit, by Man," he said and motioned to his right hindquarter. He had noted the scar there before, but never felt it was his business to ask the cause.
'It is alright my friend, "he said to Bambi. "I do not think they are coming here."
"Dogs have always frightened me," Bambi went on. "They chased me as a fawn. They almost killed me twice."
"I understand," he said trying to be of comfort. "We should wait until dark. Man will leave by then."
Bambi turned silently and went back into his cave. Claris and he turned and went back to their glade. He heard Bambi try to reassure Faline, "They are not coming here.," he told her gently.
Claris went back to their bed of dry leaves and lay down. "Will they come here?" she asked him. He could tell she was also afraid of the beasts.
"I do not know," he whispered as he lay beside her gently licking her ear with his tongue. "Now sleep, the night may be long."
That evening several deer came to Bambi's cave to see if it was safe to use the meadow. No one wanted to go anywhere near the meadow that night and he could not blame them. As before, he knew there was only one way to find out.
"I will go down to that spot you showed me," he told Bambi. "I will see if Man is still on the meadow. I can come back to tell all of you. For tonight, I suggest we eat in the forest."
"That is a good idea," Bambi said. "I will go with you."
He was going to say he would do it alone but stopped. He looked at all the deer in the clearing. They were all looking at Bambi, looking to see what the herd leader would do about this. It then dawned on him that the other deer thought as herd leader it was Bambi's task to do this. The deer did not say it, but he felt that is what the herd expected him to do. It was obvious Bambi felt it too even though he was afraid of the dogs. The big deer looked at him. He saw the fear in him, but he also saw the determination not to let the others down. Bambi started to walk toward the meadow and he followed right behind him. Of course, no one else came with them.
Both he and Bambi picked their way quietly down toward the meadow trying not to make a sound. As they got closer, they stopped. Their noses alerted them to danger. The air filled with smoke, only this was not just the smoke from the fire. The smoke carried another smell, one of birds, but the birds smelling burnt. He remembered from his time with Man that they put meat from animals they killed on fire before eating them.
"They are burning the birds they killed before they eat them," he told Bambi who was put off by the smell like he was. "Man likes his meat burnt. I have no idea why. I think Man is here this time to kill birds and not us."
"That awful smell," Bambi complained and made a face at it.
He followed Bambi around past the stream until they came to a part of the forest that intruded into the meadow by a few lengths. There, they were still hidden in the trees, but could see the entire meadow bathed in the soft glow from the lesser light. It was then they saw it. A strange light was glowing brightly from the far end of the meadow. It was white. Other than the lesser light, he had never seen anything so bright at night. The light showed there was something standing near the spring. It was something that had not been there before, but he knew it at once.
"Man cave," he continued to whisper. "Man is here."
Bambi froze for a moment as he realized just what that meant. "We will not be able to use the meadow again," he said looking at him with a concern on his face.
"Yes," he said, "but let us wait here for a while. Man always sleeps at night. We might be able to use the meadow when he is asleep."
They both waited. At first, things only got worse. First one Man came out and sat on some sort of strange looking rock he carried. A second Man came out a while later and sat on another. Two dogs came out with them and lay on the ground near their masters. Bambi wanted to leave right then, but he knew the dogs were not hunting and should not be able to smell them from this distance. This was true since the wind was also blowing into their faces so their scents did not carry across the field. They waited and watched the two Men light their mouths on fire and begin to smoke. Although he had seen this before, Bambi had no idea what they were doing. "Who lights themselves on fire?" he asked.
"Something Man likes to do," he whispered. "Do not ask me why."
The two Men sat on their rocks for a while puffing white smoke and raising something to their lips. Finally, as the lesser light rose the wind shifted direction and started to blow from behind them. A moment later, the dogs stood up, faced their direction, and started to bark loudly. Both Men rose, and one went inside the Man cave and came out with a stick. It was a killing stick. The other man went over to the dogs and made a motion with his hand. Immediately both dogs ran off directly toward them.
"Run!" he yelled and he and Bambi leaped away running side by side. Both of them ran away into the forest. They both knew better than to run back to their cave; the dogs and Men might follow them there.
"Krack," he heard from far behind him. Neither of them slowed down. They both ran until the sound of dogs barking because less and then finally stopped. Only then did they stop running.
"Did you get hit?" he heard from Bambi.
"No," he said. "Are you alright?"
Bambi nodded and looked around. "I know another way back to my cave. It will take longer to get there, but we will not have to go near the meadow."
"Good," he said and off they walked together. It was near day before they got back to the cave. Both Faline and Claris were standing looking toward the meadow. Both did not hear them as they approached from the other side.
"Faline," Bambi called out. Immediately both doe turned around and ran over toward them.
Claris came over and licked the front of his face, "You are alright?
He nodded and nuzzled her cheek. The running had tired him and made him hungry. Later that night they ate in a small patch of grass past the cave. A few deer stopped by near the rising of the greater light and asked what to do. Bambi told them not to go to the meadow until he said it was safe again. He told them to find food in the forest. They heard no more shooting that night and into the early morning.
They stayed awake until it was full light. He was so tired by then, he had to lay down in his clearing. He closed his eyes and felt the warmth of Claris' body next to him. The one thing he felt as the darkness drifted over him was Claris lying fully against his side and rubbing his muzzle with hers. The inward warmth came back, but he felt troubled. Man would soon be back looking for them. He knew what that meant. It was time he spoke to Claris.
They slept through most of the day. He got up while it was still day feeling refreshed. Claris got up with him. He looked over to her, nuzzled her neck, and then asked, "Would you walk with me?"
"Yes," she said in her soft voice and they walked away from Bambi's cave into the dense forest. When they were far enough away that he could not be overheard, he stopped.
"What is wrong?" Claris asked. Had he become that obvious to her?
He stopped and tried to speak, but as always struggled to find the right words. "You know it is hard sometimes for me to talk about things close to me."
"You do not have to speak," Claris said with a grin. "I already know what you feel."
"Well there is something else you must know, and I feel I must tell you now," he said then took a deep breath. "Claris, I have never been with a doe like you. I have never felt for a doe the way I feel about you. When The Season comes, I want you to be with me."
She smiled and started to answer, but he stopped her. "Before you answer there are things you must know. When The Season starts, Man will be back with his killing sticks. When Man comes, he always tries to kill the largest male deer. That means Bambi, Ronno, some of the larger herd males, and it also means me."
The green eyes dimmed as Claris realized what he had just said. "No," she muttered and rubbed him affectionately on the neck.
He did not return the affection. "Yes me," he continued. "So far, I have been wise enough not to be hit and die. Bambi is the same way. What I do not know is how long that will last. I want to spend my life here with you. What I do not know is how long that life will last."
Claris pulled away and looked at him with those green eyes almost sparkling. "No one knows that," she said softly. "As long as you live, I want to be with you."
That was the first thing he wanted to say, now for the harder part. "You also know that like Bambi I will do things like I have done before with the Man caves and the Man animals. I do these things because with what I have learned among Man, it allows me to understand better what needs to be done. I will not stop doing that."
"No, you will not," she repeated calmly. "You and Bambi are different, yet you are both the same this way. I know what may happen, and so does Faline. We talk about it when you two are not around. We both know one day neither of you may be here. Until that day I promise I will be here with you, just as Faline will be here with Bambi."
She already knew. How silly of him to think he was the only one with such thoughts. In that moment he realized for the first time Claris may be stronger on the inside than he was. He still wanted an answer to his first question. "When The Season comes, will you come with me?"
"Of course," she said and licked his face. He did the same thing. For a few seconds he wanted her now, but it was not yet time. After a long while nuzzling each other, he lay against the side of a down tree that supported his head. Claris could then lay against him with her head against his neck. At that moment, he realized just how much he wanted to be here. For the first time in his life, he felt content.
Later on just after dark, they came back. Both Bambi and Faline were lying outside their cave together with Veron lying next to his mother.
"Have you heard anything more from the meadow?" he asked Bambi."
Bambi did not bother to get up. "Just some noise when the greater light was setting and then nothing. No more noise from the killing sticks."
"Maybe they are gone," he said looking to the meadow. "After dark, we should look."
"I was thinking the same thing," Bambi answered. He lay down near Bambi and Faline. Claris lay next to him. From seeing them there, you would think they were one family.
Just after dark, the two of them went back alone to the same place they had been the previous night. They could see from their viewing spot that the light was gone. The man cave had vanished and there was no more scent of Man, or his dogs on the meadow. It was safe to use the meadow again at night. As he turned to go back to the clearing, Bambi stopped him.
"I saw when you got back today with Claris, you both seemed different and more relaxed. Did you talk to her?"
Maybe he was getting that obvious to those who knew him. "Yes, it was time we had a talk. There were things I wanted her to know," he said. Even though it was night, he could still feel those two black eyes on him.
"May I ask what you talked about?" Bambi asked. Normally he be put off by the question but he felt Bambi was asking for a reason, so he told him, everything.
"Good, I have known for some time you two would stay together like Faline and me. I am also glad you told her about what you want to do and what may happen because of it. Now I have something to ask of you."
Suddenly, Bambi turned away and looked frightened, and was slow to speak. It was almost like he did while trying to ask something he was not sure how to do. Then he turned and spoke in a low voice. "I did not want to say this in front of the doe. Like you, I talked with Faline when we first came together. I told her what my duties were with the herd and what may happen because of them."
Bambi seemed to swallow hard, this was not like him. He was worried and he was showing that worry to him. Then he looked him straight in the eye and said with some hesitation, "We know what may happen to us. Both you and I have seen death up close. If it is me lying dead in the meadow, I want you to do two things for me."
That shocked him. He had never heard Bambi talk like that. "Bambi, I do not think . . .." he started to say,
"Stop!" Bambi ordered. "Let me finish."
He then seemed to gather his strength before he went on. "I want you to look after Faline. I do not think she will need protection, but I want someone to protect her, especially from the fools like Kragus. Will you do that?"
"Of course," he answered firmly. "I will gladly look after her. However, if it is me lying dead in the meadow, I want you to do the same for Claris. I do not want her living without a friend."
"Of course I will," Bambi answered. "Now the next and hardest thing I want you to do. If I am dead, I want you to be the herd leader until my son Geno is old enough to take my place."
For one of the few times in his life he was stunned silent. Bambi wanted him to be herd leader. Him the deer everyone wanted nothing to do with. "Bambi everyone runs away from me. They would never accept me as herd leader. Ronno would take it."
"Ronno is useless as a leader," Bambi spat out. "Besides, I know you could easily beat him. I do not trust Ronno or any of the others as leader. I do trust you."
"But why," he wanted to know.
Bambi walked up to him and rubbed his side, "Because Faline is correct when she says to me that you and I are mostly the same. We would both work for the herd. The others I think want the name leader, but would not know what to do with it."
He did not know whether to laugh or weep. He felt his throat tighten and his body shook. For one of the few times in his life, he felt fear at what might come. "Are you sure, my friend?" was all he was able to say.
"Yes, I am sure, my friend," Bambi answered, and again looked at him with those piercing back eyes.
"Yes," he said hesitantly, "I will do it. I promise"
They walked silently back to Bambi's cave. Bambi called the herd to the meadow to feed until it was almost light. He found he had no appetite. All he could think about was what Bambi had asked him. He wondered if he was wise enough to lead the herd. He hoped he never have to find out.
It was then he realized he was standing with only Claris next to him. She was looking at him with a look of concern in her eyes. "What happened out there?" she wanted to know. "You look in pain."
After making sure no one could hear them, he told her what Bambi had asked.
She looked at him in disbelief. "What will you do?" she asked.
"I will do the best I can," he said simply and walked off the meadow.
Chapter Six: The Hunt
The days got shorter. The grass did not seem to grow back as quickly, and there was a chill in the air at night. All were signs of winter approaching. He knew that both he and Claris had enough muscle and fat on them where they could easily survive the winter unless it became very, very, cold. It was the same for all the deer in the herd. One thing about this herd, there were no old deer here. He asked Bambi about this and he told him that those few older deer that survived the fire and the hunting by Man in his old forest had decided to stay there. Some of the younger deer born right after the fire had also remained there like Bambi's son Geno and his daughter Gurri. Bambi and many of the other deer had come here because the old forest could not support that many deer after the fire. No deer here expressed an interest to go back despite the fact the old forest was just a two-day walk down the stream from the big meadow.
His rack started to itch and he found several small saplings to scrape off the velvet. After he finally stripped the last of the covering away from his rack, Claris came up to him and looked it over. He could see the pleasure in her eyes. "You have a wonderful rack," she told him. "It is as big as Bambi's."
Somehow, that comment was pleasing and yet he felt bothered by it. He did not like to being compared to anyone. Still, when he went into the herd, none of the other males even tried to challenge him. With his body fully filled out and his muscles at their peak, he could easily dominate the other senior males. He made a point however of not putting on displays like other males did like walking through the male herd showing his rack or his body. In deer herds, that is what males did at this time of year. They show off to the other males and the doe claiming their position in the herd. This way no one would want to fight them during The Season, and the doe would come to them. It took a tremendous amount of effort and strength to fight other males. Effort and strength that males would need to survive the winter. Not having to fight meant a better chance for males to live to see spring. The best way to prevent a fight was to prove to the other males, that they had no chance of fighting you. Fortunately, in this herd, no one disputed his place as the senior male just as no one disputed Bambi as herd header.
Little Veron was no longer so little and was spending more and more time away from his parents and with other fawns of his age. He started asking all sorts of questions about the forest. He was trying to find his place was in it. Bambi and he tried to teach him the best way they could. He was also becoming more aggressive in his fawn play. He charged both Bambi and him harder. They in turn, pushed back harder. Even though not a yearling, the pull of The Season affected his smaller body too. One thing all of them tried to teach him was that he was never to go into the meadow without one of them being with him. The other doe taught that same lesson to all fawns. The fawns still did not understand what the presence of Man meant. Soon they would all know.
One evening after eating on the meadow, they walked back to the cave as normal. As he walked across the stream, he suddenly smelled a powerful scent from two doe. It was the scent of a doe becoming ready to breed. It not only came from Claris, but also from Faline. He stopped and looked at both of them. For a second he felt the urge to go over and have Faline much like he like to have Claris. He stopped himself and looked up right into the black piercing eyes of Bambi who was looking at Claris the same way. He knew Bambi was feeling the same as he. In other deer herds, he had seen males, who were close friends, argue and fight with each other at this time. It was the way The Season put its hold on everyone. He did not want that to happen between Bambi and him. He had to do someone about it now. There was only one answer. He walked up and yet stood several lengths away from Faline because Bambi had come up to block his movement.
"Bambi, I feel The Season coming on," he told him.
"Yes, I feel it too," he said eyeing him carefully.
"I think it may be good if Claris and I were to rest at some other place else until it is over. Would you and Faline be offended?"
Bambi looked to think about it for a second before answering, "No, I think that is a wise move. We are coming to the time when we want to be alone with our doe."
He looked back and stared at Claris who heard everything. She just smiled at him.
"If you need me, call me," he said and bowed his head.
"I will, and call me if you need me, my friend." the big deer told him and turned away.
He went back to Claris and nuzzled her along the side of her face, "Come with me," he said and without a word, she did.
Over the next two days, he spent a lot of time with Claris. They selected a spot near the large oaks where Claris use to lie alone before he came to the forest. Near the old oak, was a small glade would just fit the two of them. They bedded there during the day mostly because there were no other deer nearby. It was close enough to the meadow where they could easily feed and drink, yet far enough away from the others where they could be alone. Already he could see the herd starting to break up, especially the males. There were loud clashes of fighting with racks crashing against each other. The fight for doe had started. Unlike last Season in Hilgass' forest, he felt no urge to join the fight or to go after any other doe. The only urge he felt was for Claris. She started giving off scent indicating she wanted to be with him. He followed her around waiting for a sign from her. Occasionally they saw other male deer. They would look at him, and then walk quickly away. The herd males wanted nothing to do with him or Claris. Even Ronno avoided him. Kragus he never saw, although he smelled his scent in several places.
One day, just after they left the meadow and before the start of the day, there came loud noises from where the Man animals had been. There were banging noise and shouting of Men voices. It sounded like there were many Men present. When the wind shifted, it brought the scents of Man to their noses. Claris looked worried but did not seem afraid. These noises were louder and were not the same as the noises he heard before. He could hear or smell nothing of Man walking through the forest or chasing deer. He knew Man was not hunting because despite all the noise, there were no sounds of killing sticks. Man was doing something on the meadow and he did not know what. He dared not go look during the day. He knew his rack was full and The Season was almost here. That meant that Man had come for deer this time. The hunts would begin soon.
It was after the greater light was overhead when he started to hear Men shouting again. It sounded like they were all shouting the same thing at the same time. It woke them out of a fitful sleep. Claris was lying close against his side. He was feeling warm and comfortable, but now he knew there was danger. He did not want to move around in the forest during the day with Man so close. He still could find no smell or sound of Man in the forest, but he knew that did not mean Man was not looking for deer. Several deer from his former herds had walked around in the forest during the day thinking Man was not around. They died in agony and take by Man to be eaten.
He wished he could see into the meadow, but that would mean being near the opening. That was death. He looked over and saw the large oak of the old owl. He got an idea.
He got up, moved silently across the short distance over to the large oak, and kicked the trunk with his hoofs. "Friend Owl," he called out softly.
The large grey owl staggered out of his hole and onto the branch looking at him crossly. "What is it, Stranger? First, there was all the noise and now you."
"Friend Owl, I need you to do something. It is very important. The noise you hear is from Man, and he is on the meadow. I do not know what Man is doing, but I think he is here to kill deer."
That brought the old bird to attention," Yes it is the time," he squeaked. "What do you want me to do?"
He explained carefully to the old boy. "I like you to fly to the meadow keeping very low in the trees and see what man is doing. Then I want you to find Bambi and have him meet me at the place where we saw the Man cave before. I will meet him there after it is fully dark."
"Oh, alright," he groaned, "But do not wake me again during the day."
Looking angry at him, the old owl flew off toward the meadow. He looked back to Claris standing behind him. "We will stay here until dark and then go to the place Bambi and I saw the Man cave."
"I understand," she said. "You want to see what Man is doing."
"You are learning," he told her with a smile. "Are you afraid?"
"Not with you and Bambi near me."
Just before the day became dark, the old owl returned. The two of them walked over to greet the old bird.
"Friend Owl," he called. "What did you see?"
The bird looked down at them and squawked loudly. "There are many Men by the edge of the meadow," the bird reported." There are four Man-caves near where the first one was. There are many small caves along the edge of the meadow near the Man path."
"Any dogs?" he asked.
"Not yet," Friend Owl said. "But more Men were coming in those Man animals of yours."
"Were they in the forest," he wanted to know.
"No, they were all together," the owl reported looking curious. "It was strange, but I think they were making merry."
That made sense to him. He remembered from his time with Man that just before the hunt, and afterward, Man always made merry. They made sounds like he heard earlier today, Man would all shout together the same thing at the same time. Now he was sure they were getting ready to hunt. "Thank you," he said. "I am sorry I woke you before."
"Just please do not do it again," the old bird squawked.
After it was fully dark, they walked slowly through the forest as quietly as possible. Often they test the air with their noses for the scent of Man. The wind was blowing down the hills toward the meadow and he could not pick up a scent in that direction. They moved quietly around taking the long path to the part of the forest that sticks out into the meadow.
They walked slowly down the stream until he could see their edge of the meadow. They circled around the way Bambi had shown him until they came to the place where the forest sticks out into the grassy field. They walked quietly to the location as the lesser light rose filling the meadow with a dim light. Suddenly there were two familiar scents from behind them. He turned and saw two deer, a male, and a doe. Both moved as quiet as Claris and him. They came close before Bambi spoke up.
"Come with me," Bambi told them, "I know the way better."
The four of them walked close to each other being careful not to make any noise. As they got closer to the spot they had been before, the breeze brought another scent, the putrid smell of Man. This time there were many scents. Then they heard a dog bark. They all froze in place. Then slowly they walked forward until the trees became thin enough where they could see the entire length of the meadow.
The owl was right; there were many Men on the meadow. At the other end of the meadow were many lights that shined brightly, filling that part of the meadow with the light. He could see several dogs sleeping outside the four Man caves. He saw the smaller caves that were just on the edge of the meadow, almost in the trees. The four large Man caves were like the one he had seen when Men came to kill birds. Man was back in great number and for only one reason.
"Man is here for us," he told them.
Bambi nodded, "We must go deep into the forest until Man leaves. I will tell the others."
"I agree," he nodded. "Man will try and hunt us on the meadow. If they find us there, they will kill us."
"I know," Bambi said and started to turn away.
For some reason, something was starting to make him feel angry. It had to do with the scent Bambi gave off. He wanted to speak up but stopped himself. He wanted to leave with Claris. He would have taken Faline if she even seemed slightly interested even though she belonged to Bambi. The feelings coming over him were different this time than before. In the other herds, males avoid each other at the time of The Season. He was not sure why he felt like this, but he did not want to remain near Bambi.
Bambi looked at him also showing anger. He could tell Bambi did not like the way he was looking at Faline. Bambi was about to say something when he saw an image of something racing across the meadow. He turned and looked. There was a male deer running across the open space at full gallop about halfway between them and the Man caves. Immediately, all the dogs started to bark loudly. Men got up and started moving quickly toward their caves. He knew what that meant.
"Run," he called out and an instant later, the four of them took off in two directions
Once Claris and he had run far enough as to lose sight of the meadow they stopped. Bambi and Faline took another path. They were alone.
Follow me," he told Claris and the moved quickly yet quietly up the hills near the edge of the forest. It took them the rest of the night because he went around the long way just in case some Man or dog was following them. Just before the greater light rose they made it to a place where they could hide.
"What do we do?" Claris wanted to know.
He looked around. He did not want to move about the forest in the light with Man nearby. "We stay up in the hills until night; then we go back to our place."
"I do not know this place," Claris said.
"Neither do I," he answered. "It looks far away from Man."
They walked around the hill and looking for a place to sleep where they be hidden. As he walked around a new scent caught his nose. It was weak and smelled of fur and meat.
"There is a bear nearby," he told Claris. "He is not here now, but he has been. We must be careful of him also."
Claris caught the scent. "It is the same scent as the bear that chased those two doe and fawns," she added.
"Yes," he said. "We will stay here and wait. Once the light comes, Men still start to hunt us. Whatever happens, do not run into the meadow. To be in the meadow is to die."
They did not go any further. Instead, they found a small glade under some pine trees. There they lay down on the grass and leaves and went to sleep for a little while.
"HHHHAAAAYYYAAAAA." they heard just after daylight. It was a Man shouting. Then he heard the same loud noise, but from another direction, "HHHHHHAAAAYYYAAAA. " It was like no animal sound he knew. Then he heard the yelping of the dogs, still far away. There was more shouting and all sorts of other banging noises. None of it seemed to be coming their way. The shouting went on until the greater light was overhead. The dogs' barking first got fainter, and then after the greater light was overhead, got louder again. Man and dogs were moving through the forest.
"Stay still," he told Claris. "Man is in the forest, but not near us. If we stay still and the dogs do not come we should be alright."
She snuggled up even closer to him, which made him feel even better.
Then there was more yelling from far away. It sounded like the yelling was moving toward the meadow. "BAMMMMM" he heard followed by "BAMMM, BAMMM." Other sounds of the killing sticks followed shortly. By the louder noise, he knew these were the big killing sticks. The ones Man used to kill deer. They got as low to the ground as they could and waited. He could smell nothing unusual.
"Do not make a noise," he told Claris. "Man cannot kill us if he cannot find us."
"Crash," he heard as if something was smashing its way through the forest. He heard the louder crashing of broken branches and twigs. Who was ever running was fleeing not taking care how much noise they made. Then he heard a voice "AHHHHH.. AAHHHHHHHH." It was a deer. He got up and listened, the crashing noise was in front of him and seemed to be coming up the hill toward them.
"One of us," he called to Claris. He smelled the air. It was now coming from the meadow. There was no smell of man. There was no sound of dogs. He got up and started slowly walking toward the sound where he heard the deer. Claris followed him also trying not to make a sound. The crashing continued and then it suddenly stopped. He walked carefully down the hill when he caught a smell in his nose. A foul odor was in the air, yet one with the scent of a deer. Then he recognized it from his time with Man. Blood and death; the smell when they brought back the dead deer to be burnt and eaten. He followed his nose until he came to a long red streak on the grass. He followed it many lengths until he saw the limp figure of a deer lying still on the ground.
The deer was a young male. This would be his first season after being a fawn. A small rack was on his head. He looked at the side. Halfway down his flank was a gaping hole gushing out blood. The amount that was leaking onto the ground indicated to him the deer would not live. He walked to the font. The eyes were still open and he was still breathing. He remembered the deer, but he did not recall his name.
"They came," he gasped. "They chased us. They had dogs," He stopped looking to catch his breath. "I and the others ran. They chased us to the meadow, then the killing sticks. I was hit and ran."
"I think his name is Talis," Claris said looking horrified at the deer below.
"Talis, was anyone else hit?" he had to know.
"There were others." The voice was starting to rattle in his throat. "I do not know." With that, he collapsed.
It was then he picked up another scent, this one smelled of dirt and fat, he heard a large bush break from behind them.
"Bear," he told Claris and they backed up several lengths.
A large black bear charged down from the top of the hill. Both he and Claris backed away further. The bear did not come after them but instead stopped on top of the prone deer and looked at them "MINE," he growled.
"Yes yours," he said watching the bear closely. "He has suffered enough; do it quickly."
The bear looked at him for a second seeming to want to say something and then he stopped and turned his attention to the deer below him. He raised his huge paw and in a flash brought it down on the back of the neck of the terrified figure. There was a loud noise like a branch breaking.
"AHHHH," he heard and all four legs lunged outward, stiffened, and then rested motionlessly on the ground. Talis would not move again.
"You should leave before I do the same to you," the bear roared.
Claris turned and ran down the hill, but stopped after several lengths waiting for him.
He did not move. He did not have to. "I do not think so," he said. "You have your meal. You do not need to kill us to feed you. Besides, I do not think you can chase us down. It would also be foolish to run through the forest with Man killing anything that moves."
"No," the bear said studying him closely. "Perhaps you are right."
"Thank you for making it quick," he said as he started to back away.
"You do not hate me for killing your friend," the bear said eyeing him.
"He was going to die anyway, you just stopped his pain," he explained. For some reason, he had no fear of the bear. "For you killing Talis is in the Way of All Things, for Man it is just killing."
"What does that mean?" the bear asked seemingly more interested in what he had to say that trying to make a meal out of him.
He thought for a second before he tried to explain. "You killed and will eat Talis for food because you need it to in order to live. Just as we deer eat the grass and plants to live. Man does not kill to live, but for his own pleasure. There is a difference."
"Yes and Man will also kill me if he can," the bear continued. "I understand what you are saying. You must be the strange deer I hear of, the deer that knows Man so well."
"Yes, that is me," he said.
"BLAMMMMM," they heard again, both he and the bear cringed.
"I must go before Man finds us," he said quickly."If I were you, I go deep into the forest until you hear no more Man sounds. Besides, I do not want to watch you eat Talis."
The bear picked up Talis' body and started to carry it up the hill in his huge jaws. He could still hear the bear say, "I hope to see you again."
"I hope not. I have no interest in ending up inside you," he said with a smile and walked away.
He thought he heard the bear laugh, but he was not sure. In any case, they were standing too much in the open. He found Claris and motioned her to lay with him besides some trees. There they would want until after dark.
Claris looked at him strangely. "Were you not afraid of the bear?" she asked.
"Do not worry about the bear," he told her. "Worry about Man."
Chapter Seven: The Season
They hid behind some trees near where he had talked to the bear. Just before dark, the noise in the forest stopped. New noises started from where the Man caves were. Again, the noises were loud and sounded like Men shouting the same thing at the same time. It was Man making merry again. Soon afterward, another reminder of Man's presence came to their noses. There came from the meadow an overpowering stink of burning deer. The odor made them both sick to their stomachs. Who could chew cud after smelling that? Only when it was completely dark did they slowly made their way back to their resting place.
As they walked, he noticed that the scent from Claris was getting more powerful. He could feel his body start to stiffen. He found his attention focused more and more on Claris and not on what was going on around him. He had felt this before with the other doe, but never at this intensity. By the time they returned to their resting place, he was sniffing near her tail often, yet she still had no interest in him. She had not said a word on their journey back. It was getting near the rising of the greater light. They met no deer, but he clearly smelled their strong scent. He felt no interest in any other creatures of the forest. Claris just lay down in the grass. He felt ready to burst inside him. He also felt the inward pressure from the rear. He got up to move away and emptied himself. He started back and thought he heard a cry from Claris. He turned and rushed back. Immediately there was the scent of another deer. He ran back to where they lay before. There was a large male deer holding Claris down on the ground with his rack. He could see some bleeding from her side. It was Kragus.
Kragus looked up. "Not so powerful are you," he sneered. "Not after I kill your doe."
He said nothing and charged. All the pressure and stiffness inside his body vanished. In an instant, all that energy and desire refocused into one overwhelming compulsion: he wanted to tear Kragus to pieces. His vision turned red; his body felt like it had blown up to twice its size. His swift attacked surprised Kragus who only managed to get his head up and turned his body to face his charge.
The impact felt like he had run into a tree. The sound seemed louder than even the Man animals. His vision shook and his head ached, but Kragus flew back several lengths. He lowered his head again and charged him. This time Kragus managed to run a few steps toward him. The impact was even more deafening. He felt himself stopped in place stunned. Again, Kragus was thrown back hard.
"No strange fighting this time," Kragus said almost out of breath.
"I do not need it this time," he said deliberately.
A voice from inside him told him to be careful. Kragus was strong, and not without skill. He had to think through his rage. Yes, Kragus was strong, but all he knew was charge and force his opponent to the ground. He backed up opening the distance. Then he lowered his head looking to make a massive charge at him. Kragus smiled because he felt he was going to make the mistake of turning this fight into a test of strength. That was the type of fight Kragus knew how to win. He would have an advantage. He charged and ran several steps. Kragus did likewise. The large male vaulted forward at him only he stopped short and jumped aside planting his front legs in the ground. This time he did not try to trip Kragus, the deer would be expecting that. Instead, he turned and kicked out hard with his rear hoofs. He was not going for his flank this time. Kragus knew about that trick too and already started to turn away. He went straight for his head. His right hind foot hit him solidly in the side of his head, just behind his rack. He felt the impact of his hoof. He spun around quickly looking to meet a new charge, but Kragus continue to lunge forward. He crashed onto the ground in a heap. He lay still for a moment. He immediately turned back to Claris who was just getting up. He looked at the wound on her side. It was not serious; Kragus had only cut her. Still, it enraged him even more.
"I thought it was you," she said whimpering. "I never smelled him. My nose filled only with your scent. He knocked me down and rubbed his rack against my side cutting me. He said he was going to kill me."
He walked over to the down deer that was only now starting to stir. He bent over and put his two center rack points directly against his throat. "You hurt her, now I am going to kill you," he bellowed out not caring if the whole forest heard him.
"Kill me, yes, kill me," Kragus gasped. Be like the Man you lived with. You think you are so mighty because you are friends with Bambi and Faline. You are nothing, just another strange deer that that spends time with that useless doe you have."
He thought he actually heard the deer start to laugh. "You said hurt her. I was not going to hurt her. I was only going to force her down so I could breed her. I wanted to put my fawn in her, not yours, and then in the spring, kill them both. I hate you, I hate her, and I hate Bambi. I should be herd leader here," he yelled out. "I should be the leader because I am a deer, not a nameless wanderer, or some worthless male that pours out his boring, useless, wisdom like a running stream. You are all worthless. I am only sorry Man and his dogs did not kill you all last night when I tried to wake them."
"You ran across the field," he realized. His felt his anger building more in his body. He looked at Claris and at that moment, he realized she would never be safe with Kragus around.
"Claris leave," he ordered. "Go into the forest, I will join you later."
"No," she said, "I want to stay…."
"LEAVE!" he shouted at her, "go now."
Claris looked stunned he would raise his voice at her but slowly she backed away and moved deeper into the forest. He now looked down at his fallen enemy below. His eyes must have given him away because suddenly Kragus started to shake. "You really are going to be like Man. You really are going to kill me."
Kragus was right. He was going to kill him. He felt his rage build up in his body. He put his two large center points against his throat. All it would take is one lunge and Kragus would die gurgling in his own blood. He deserved nothing better. He started to push his point into the soft flesh when he heard Claris called from behind him to stop. He did not care. All he wanted was this deer's blood on his racks and he was going to have it now.
"Die!" he said grimly.
"Stranger, NO!" Claris yelled out from behind. "Please do not do this. Think what Bambi would say. Think about what it will do to us."
He stopped and breathed in deeply. He was breathing as hard as if he just ran across the entire forest. His two center points were already firmly pressed in, he saw a trickle of blood. He smelled Claris come up from behind, "Please," she begged him.
Her voice rang in his head cutting through the rage he felt at this down deer below him. He stopped. He did not press forward killing Kragus. Instead, he pulled back slightly and slashed him with his rack opening several gashes along the side of Kragus. "DAHHHHHHHHHHH," Kragus screamed in horror.
He pulled back being careful not to give Kragus room to lunge at him. "Get up," he ordered.
He watched the large deer get up slowly and wobble on his legs like a new fawn. It took him a while to steady himself on his feet. Besides bleeding from his flank and neck, he was also bleeding from the side of his head where he kicked him. After he was sure Kragas had gathered enough sense to understand him he walked up and pushed his face into Kragus'; his eyes glaring through him.
"Leave the forest," he ordered. "Go over the hill to the next forest and live there. If I ever see you or smell you again, you are dead."
With that, he shoved Kragus back hard. He turned away and started back to Claris. He managed to walk three steps before he saw a sudden look of shock on Claris's face. He expected as much. He spun around quickly his rack out forward. Sure enough, Kragus tried to charge his unprotected rear. The attack was clumsy and weak, but against his unprotected rear quarters, it would be effective. Instead, all Kragus hit was his rack, which he bounced off. All restraint in him vanished. He lowered his head and pushed forward with all of his might. Kragus went flying away from him. The big deer landed a full length away and rolled. He got up faster and looked at him. For the first time, he saw real fear in Kragus' eyes. Kragus could see in him exactly what he was going to do. Kragus understood the only way to finish this fight now was death for one of them. The brown eyes went wide and Kragus spun around and fled as fast as he could. He chased him looking to run him down. He would chase him out of the forest if he had to.
Kragus bounded away from him, leaving a trail of blood he could smell. It only intensified his desire to kill the large deer. He kept his head lowered just in case Kragus stopped and tried to attack again. They both ran blindly. In the background, he thought he heard Claris calling loudly. He did not hear what she said and did not care anymore. Kragus was leaving the forest as a corpse.
Kragus fled out of fear and he chased him out of rage. They both ran blindly with him trying to catch the fleeing deer. He continued to chase him, not caring where he went. It did not matter to him, he chase that deer into Bambi's old forest if he had to as long as he could catch him and rip open his guts. He thought he smelled another deer close up. It did not matter. All he felt was rage at this deer. He chased him on through the trees. Then he heard a familiar voice call scream at him from behind.
"STOP! the meadow," it sounded like Bambi.
That brought him out of his anger. He saw he was about to run into the open meadow. He locked all four feet and skidded along the ground trying to stop while he was still in the trees. Kragus just kept running and bounded into the clearing. He lost his balance and hit a tree with his flank. That stopped him. He felt a deep pain in his side, but he was still several lengths inside the forest. He watched Kragus run across the meadow still fleeing for his life. He got almost to the other side when he heard it.
"BLAMMM," echoed through the forest. He saw Kragus' feet fly out from under him sending him sprawling onto the ground. The big deer did not move for a second and then he tried to get up.
"BLAMMM," came the noise again. This time Kragus looked like he was pushed over on his side as if he was hit by another large deer. Kragus went flat on the ground and did not move after that. He slowly got up, untangled himself from the tree and as quietly as possible sneaked back into the safety of the forest.
He was still breathing hard when he got back to where Claris was, he was surprised to see Bambi standing there with Faline.
"Kragus is dead?" Bambi asked.
He nodded. "He ran into the meadow and Man killed him. I am sorry; I did not want to see him die like that."
"I know," Bambi said. "Many in the herd will not like this"
Then he told both of them of what happened and everything Kragus had told him. "He wanted me dead, Claris dead, and you dead," he said directly to Bambi. He then turned to Claris. "I am sorry I yelled at you," he said bowing his head in shame. "Thank you for stopping me from killing Kragus," he said and nuzzled her gently before turning back to Bambi and Faline. "Thank you for stopping me or I'd be as dead as Kragus right now."
"Many in the herd will blame you for his death," Bambi said shaking his head.
That made him angry again. He glared at both Bambi and Faline. "If either of you, or the entire forest, wants to hate me for this, then go right ahead. However, know this; I was not going to let that worthless male kill the deer I care about, nor the friends that I care about. I am not going to give up the things that make me glad to live in this forest. I will not lose that to Kragus," he said and walked away from them.
He walked past the stream and up the hill toward some tall trees. He could not stay there next to Bambi and Faline anymore. He felt too angry and disgusted that others would blame him for Kargus' death. He heard some rapid hoofs run along the ground behind him. Claris moved past him and then got in front of him to make him stop. She flashed her green eyes and looked straight into his eyes.
"Thank you," she said almost in a whisper.
He said nothing, but moved forward and rubbed his long nose against hers and licked the side of her face. Then he told her in a soft whispered tone, "I want you more than anything in my life and no one is going to change that."
She broke away from him and walked away. Immediately, he was flooded by her scent and now a new odor; the smell of a doe ready to breed. "Come with me," she said and walked slowly back the way they came. Both Bambi and Faline vanished back into the forest, he did not care where.
He followed her closely sniffing at her tail that she filled with her scent. She walked until they came to the thicket where they had been sleeping. The bushes and trees were filled with their scents intensifying his feelings. Claris walked in and then stopped. She did not lie down this time, but instead stood, hunched her back, and raised her tail. It was an invitation to mount her. He climbed on top of her. His body felt like it would explode outward.
For the next two days, they did little but eat, sleep, and breed. As they lay next to each other they said little, but he felt for the first time in his life true desire. He had bred doe before, but never like this. This doe wanted him for something other than making a strong fawn. This doe wanted him because he was himself. He felt Claris was as happy and as content with him as he was with her. The memory of Kragus was distant and fading fast. His only focus was on this doe. From time to time, he heard more loud noises at the meadow, but that was someone else's problem. He had all he needed. Those two days passed in a blur. All he knew was he was happier now than he had ever been before.
On the third day, he felt the inner drive of the Season fade. He had done what he wanted to do. Claris, while still affectionate, made no further attempt to couple with him again. She too was finished with The Season. As they left the thicket, they both marked the place as belonging to them. They walked until they found some grass and water, ate, and drank their fill. He could smell other deer in the forest. It was time for the herd to come together again.
The first deer they found was Ronno, only he was not alone. He had a doe with him. A young doe having her first breeding season after her first winter. Her name was Marol. They were together and looked happy. He approached them, but they both moved quickly away from him.
"I want you and Claris to stay away from me and Marol," Ronno told him flatly.
He stood there stunned. "Why?" was all he could say.
"You killed Kragus," Ronno said looking at him with an intense look of anger and some fear. "It was unnecessary. I do not want anything to do with either of you."
What did this deer know? He was not there. "He was trying to kill Claris," he answered back as forcefully.
"I do not believe that Stranger," Ronno said and then he and Marol turned their backs on them and walk quickly away.
He did not go after them. He looked back at Claris who looked at him in silence. Ronno and Marol were the first. They turned and saw Duris walking alone. Duris saw them and immediately turn his back on them and walked away. Others on the meadow did the same.
Over the next few days, none of the herd deer would talk to them. The deer moved away as soon as they saw them. Some ran away in a hurry, without saying a word as if afraid of them. All the deer looked to avoid them. All the others in the forest knew what had happened. The entire herd made it clear that they were unwelcomed in the forest. It was worse than when he first came here. Then they were just ignored them. Now the other deer looked almost hostile. It was clear that both of them were now outcasts by the herd. On the meadow they ate alone, even Bambi and Faline ignored them.
They walked through the forest eating the grass, trying to put on as much weight before winter snow came. The air was chilly. They were alone. It was night they came back to the old Oak tree. In the branches, the old owl looked at them silently and sternly.
"Hello, Friend Owl," Claris greeted him as before.
"I heard what happened, Stranger, the owl shrieked. "I understand what you did, but I do not like how you did it. It was a bad way to kill Kragus. I am sorry but I think you both should leave the forest now. No one wants you two here any longer." The Old Owl turned his back on them and flew off.
"Oh," Claris said and dropped her head. "Him too," she muttered.
"Him and others," he heard a voice call out. He looked up and saw Bambi. He was alone. "The others in the herd do not want either of you around anymore. They say Stranger, you murdered Kragus by making him flee onto the meadow where you knew he be killed."
"You did not tell them what Kragus tried to do to Claris?" he asked.
"Yes, I told them," Bambi said. "Some did not believe your words. Most did not care. They tell me you should not have chased Kragus onto the meadow to be killed. You should have beaten him and let him run away."
"So I should have let Kragus kill Claris another day?" he said starting to let the anger in his voice rise.
"Most think that was just talk from Kragus. All think he would never have done it," Bambi said.
"And the cuts on her side was Kragus' idea of fawn play?" he said loudly.
"Again, the others in the herd say Kragus was not serious, and to many, that makes you a killer. Bambi was not getting mad. He tried to calm himself. After all, Bambi was the herd leader.
"Anything else," he said.
Bambi nodded and dropped his head. "Yes, the senior males have told me they want you two gone from the forest. They asked me to chase you out."
"No," Claris pleaded. "I was born here. This is my home."
"Yes, but the deer will no longer accept you anymore," Bambi said. "I am sorry, but you are both no longer welcomed at my cave. You will need to leave the forest."
"You are going to chase us out at the start of winter?" he told him bitterly. "We would both die in the hills during winter. You know that. No, Bambi, I am not going and neither is Claris. Not this time will I do this! Do not try and chase us out. You tell the others they had better not try to run us off the meadow. I will fight you or anyone else who tries it. And if I have to kill someone to stop them, I will."
"I know!" Bambi yelled. "If I do not try and chase you out, then I will look weak before many of the others. I will no longer be herd leader. If I try to chase you out, then we will fight, and I am not sure who would win. I am sure the loser will likely be dead and the winner will not be in much better shape."
He stopped and hung his head. Bambi was right, come or go, there was only pain ahead for all of them. "Look," he said regaining his calm. "I am not taking Claris out of the forest during winter. I will also not allow myself or Claris to be chased out of the forest. In the spring, after our fawn comes, and it becomes strong enough, we will go over the hill. There is another herd there."
"I will see if that will do," Bambi said, "But many want you gone now."
"That is the most I will offer," he told the large deer. "The others will just have to put up with us until then."
Bambi just shook his head. "I do not know," Bambi said. "I will talk to the senior males." With that, the herd leader walked back toward his cave.
He watched him go and turned to face Claris, who said nothing, but tears flowed down her eyes.
There was a way he knew, a way that Claris could stay. "Look, if I go now, the others will not throw you out," he said his voice choking up. "They will allow you to stay. The Season is over and you can live near Bambi and Faline. By myself, I can survive in the hills. You can live here in the forest. In the spring, I will come back after the fawn comes and then take you both out of here. If I stay, the herd may force Bambi to fight me. He is strong and I do not know if I can beat him. He is most likely right when he says the loser of that fight would be dead and the winner will be as good as dead. I do not want to fight that deer unless I have too."
"NO!," she said. "I go with you. I will always go with you. You are the only thing in this forest that makes me want to live here."
His chest tightened. He gently put his face into the smooth warm fur along Claris' flank and wept in frustration.
Chapter Eight: The Price of Forgiveness
They were alone. They avoided the herd, they avoided the meadow, they avoided everyone they ever knew and stayed by themselves up in the forest near the hills. They left their place they had bred in and walked away to a new place in the hills on the far side of the meadow away from Man. It was not an easy place to get to from the meadow. The hill was not a gentle slope but covered in rocks and hard to climb. There was a path there, Claris knew about it from her wanderings before he came to the forest. If you walked almost to where the stream left this forest for Bambi's old forest, then the rocks vanished and the climb was much easier. There were no deer there. For now, there was still plenty of food, but that would change when the snow came. If this place became bare, they have to move to another until spring came. They went there for the isolation. They both felt that if he avoided the other deer, there would be less call for the two of them to be run out of the forest. The idea was to remain hidden as much as possible from the other deer until spring when their new fawn came and then leave this herd like so many others. It worked; no one came up demanding they leave.
The Season had passed. Soon he knew he lose his rack and the call to remove them might be even less. It did not matter, he had made up his mind he was not going and he was prepared to fight, and if necessary kill, anyone who tried to force them out. The only deer that had a chance of doing that was Bambi, unless the herd males ganged up on him and that seldom happened. Most deer only wanted to be left alone. Besides, most of the herd males did not have the courage to attack him and he knew it.
The idea of being an outcast again did not concern him greatly; he had been one all his life. He could tell it bothered Claris much more. Even though the herd had ignored her since she was an adult, she still felt part of it, that part was now forever broken. His major pain was not in being shunned by the others that had always been the case. It was that the others had taken it out on Claris because of him.
His great overwhelming desire to be with Claris had vanished with The Season. He could sense it had done likewise with her. He still felt warmth when they were together. He still wanted to be with her. In truth, she still had strong feelings for him. But it was also true she had no place else to go. Like it or not, they had been forced together.
Over the next two days, Man came into the forest. He could hear Men walking through the forest trying to find deer and kill them. From time to time he heard the killing sticks so he knew they partly succeeded. At least Man did not come up here. The air turned colder again and one night they heard even louder noises came from the meadow. If anything, there were more Men were there than before. That night, the yelling was especially louder right after the setting of the greater light. As before, they kept yelling the same thing at the same time. There was also the yelping of many dogs. This meant Man was here in even greater numbers now and the danger was all the greater. As the night went on, the scent of smoke with the odor of burnt deer came to them from the meadow. This scent was sickening. It made him want to empty his stomachs on the ground. It horrified Claris, even though she had smelled it before. The wind changed directions soon after the rising of the lesser light and blew the scents away from them.
The next morning things became much more serious. He heard the noises of Men going into the forest below the hill. With them, they took many dogs. They moved toward the deep thicket and Bambi's cave. It sounded as if Man was trying to move through the forest and try to chase all of them into the meadow. Man was noisy; he crashed through the forest like the large lumbering bear. Man's scent carried effortlessly through the woods. The others could easily keep away from that, if that was all they did. The Men went up the hill near where Bambi's cave was and then stopped near the top. Then there was a loud shout from the meadow and then it started.
The light was still rising when he heard many Men yell, "HIIYAAAHEEHHOWNOWWWW" from many places along the top of the hill on Bambi's side of the meadow. It was repeated over and over. It sounded like they started high on the hill and were moving down toward the meadow. Although this was frightening, the noise did not seem to be coming near them, it sounded as if it was moving more toward Bambi's cave. There was also the sound of dogs yelping in the deep woods. He did not know what was worse the putrid odor of man, or the sound of the dogs looking for something to attack. He and Claris lay down hidden near some pine trees and bushes to wait. There would be no sleep for them this day.
Sometime later, he heard a crash and caught a familiar scent. He stood up and saw a doe and a fawn running below them near the bottom of the hill they were on. They raced past them past them fleeing in a panic. They were running away from the noise. Then they turned sharply and ran downhill, straight for the meadow.
"Stop!" he called out. "Do not go into the meadow, Man is there."
Whether or not they heard him, he did not know. They continued to flee toward the meadow ignoring them like they were not even there. A while later he heard the loud noise of the killing sticks. He looked down toward the meadow. Suddenly he saw what Man was doing.
"Claris, they are trying to get behind all the deer in the herd then chase them all onto the meadow. On the meadow, there are Men with killing sticks. Once the deer get to the meadow they will be in the open and Man will kill them."
"No," she called out. "They will all die."
Then he looked around him. There was no scent of man here. There were no Man noises. Here it was safe. The others did not know that. The others had to know, and he knew how to do that.
"Claris, I am going to call the herd here," he explained. His voice interrupted by more killing stick noise from the meadow. "If I call the herd here, they may be safe."
"Man will hear you," she said, "He will come here."
"No, I will call a few times from here and then we will go that way," he pointed with his nose down the hill near the stream. "There I will call to them again. Then when they come, I will send them up here. Get ready to run."
He stood up and after being certain no Man was near them he started to call out.
"HERE….HERE…Come HERE," he called at the top of his voice. He repeated it many times until he felt dizzy and had to stop. "
"Lets us go," he said to Claris and they started to go down the hill. They moved quickly and quietly, not hearing anything around him except the Man noises in the distance. When they got to the bottom of the hill, he could still hear and smell no trace of Man. Then he turned and called again many times. Then they waited. For what seemed the longest while there was nothing, then he heard a crash. A young male ran toward them.
"Run up the hill," he shouted to him. "Man is not there."
The young male flew past him not stopping to say a word. The deer turned and started up the hill. Others soon followed behind the young male. He told them all to run up the hill for safety. The killing stick noise from the meadow became quiet.
He next saw Duro running at them. The deer looked at him and slowed.
"Up the hill," he told him.
"They killed Duris," Duro yelled out as he passed. "They chased him onto the meadow and I saw him die along with many others. I heard your call and came. Stranger it is awful." Duro turned and fled up the hill looking panic driven to get away from Man.
More deer fled toward them. He directed them up the hill. He figured maybe half the herd had run by them. He saw no more. He hoped the others had fled another way to safety, but he did not know. He was about ready to leave with Claris when he caught sight of a familiar figure of a large male and his doe followed by an older fawn.
"Bambi, Faline, Veron" he called out.
Bambi heard him and pulled up. He looked around and then came over. "That was your call," Bambi said,
"Yes," he said and explained what Man was doing. Bambi listened, no sign of anger at him and Claris now.
"Thank you," Bambi said sounding sincere. "You managed to save many of us, but many were chased into the Meadow and died there."
By now, the wind shifted to blowing down the hills again. They could not smell or hear anything coming from the meadow any longer. They waited together and saw a few more deer run past them. Bambi and he directed them up the hill. A few looked at them as they ran past, but most were fleeing without much notice. The last he saw Ronno and Marol. They came from the other side of the forest. Ronno stopped and looked at them.
"Thank you for calling us here," he said to Bambi. Then he looked at him and Claris for a second. "I am sorry I acted as I did," he added. "I blamed you for Kragus' death. Perhaps that was not fair. You did help save us today."
"Thank you," he said. He noted the smile on Bambi's and Faline's face, but it was nothing as compared to the expression on Claris's face. Was he forgiven, he hoped so.
Ronno and Marol continued running up the hill and away from them.
"I only hope the others feel like Ronno," Faline said out loud.
"So do I," Bambi added. "You helped us with Man today, Stranger. That will not be forgotten by this herd."
"Hopefully there is no Man…." He started to say.
He felt a great weight push into his left flank." BAAMMMMM," he heard at the same instant. It sounded almost on top of them. He thought a deer had charged him. He fell sideways against Bambi and almost knocked him down.
"Run!" Claris yelled and three of them ran away. He stayed behind. For some reason, his left rear leg would not move right. He mouth was full of a strange taste like he was licking on a rock. He tried to move, but he seemed so slow. Everything had slowed down around him. He struggled to follow the others, but he could not keep up. His lungs felt like they were going to burst. His heart pounded loud in his ears. He took several steps and then remembering the advice from Hilgass, made as sharp a turn as he could to get away from whoever was there.
"BAMMMM" the ground shook again. He felt his left side again almost cave in. It felt as if fire was burning along his left flank. This was far worse than being hit by any deer. He struggled again and saw a large bush in front of him. He made it behind the bush and his legs collapsed from under him. He went down like a felled tree.
He lay there panting; then he heard footsteps come closer. They were huge like the bear. Then he smelled the odor of Man. Off in the distance, he thought he heard Claris yell something, but everything in his head was cloudy and spinning. Then he smelled it: strong and putrefying almost making him vomit. Something was coming close to him. It was Man He felt someone grab his rack and pull his head up.
"Da Tu no vee," it sounded like to his ears; then he heard Claris' voice scream, "Run."
He put all of his strength and pushed up with his front legs. His head came up. Instantly he felt his rack hit something. It was soft and he drove his points into it.
"DAAHHHHHH," he heard from on top of him. He got on his feet. There below him was a Man falling onto the ground. His was spilling blood on the ground like he did. He still felt confused, not knowing what to do.
"Come here," he heard Bambi shout clearly. "He moved awkwardly toward the sound. His vision was getting cloudy.
It was as if he was moving through deep water. He could not make his left side of his body do what he wanted it too.
"Stranger," Claris called out, and he slowly struggled to where he heard Claris' voice call to him. He was breathing heavily and he moved as clumsily as a new fawn. He walked some distance and then felt something against his side.
"You have been hit," Bambi said. "You are bleeding from two wounds on your side.
"Please come with us," Claris pleaded.
It was then he heard shouting behind him. It was more Men and he then heard dogs. They were after him. He looked at the others.
"Go," he said weakly. "Man is after me. I cannot run and I am bleeding. It will be easy for Man to follow me. If you stay here, you will be dead with me. "Go," he said and pushed Claris aside.
"No" she whimpered. "I will stay with you."
"GO!" he shouted with all the strength. "I am finished. I am bleeding. The dogs and men will follow me. I will lead them away from the rest of you. You can get away."
He looked up at Bambi's dark black eyes; he could see they were misty. "Take Claris and leave. Remember what I asked you before. You take care of her. She had no part in anything I have done. She does not have to leave the forest."
"Yes," Bambi said simply. The eyes were cloudy as he looked over his bleeding side. "My friend," he stammered and nuzzled him before turning away.
He then looked at Claris and struggled to speak. "Thank you, the best time of my life here was because of you. Now go, now take our fawn and live."
Her eyes were streaming with tears and the barking was getting closer. There was so much more he wanted to say, but he turned away and moved up the hill the best he could.
Claris started to follow him, but Bambi almost knocked her down. Both he and Faline were yelling at her, but through the gathering clouds in his head, he could not hear it. He thought he saw them go up the hill, but he could not be sure. His eyesight was getting cloudy now. He continued to stagger up the hill. He could feel his hot blood flow out of him as he climbed. A young fawn could follow him now.
As he went, the pain was all he could feel. Get far away from the others he knew. Up he climbed; his left rear leg was now useless and dragged on the ground. The dogs were getting closer. He saw pine trees in the distance. There was an odd smell he remembered, but could not recall it. The callings of the dogs were getting louder. They were almost on top of him. He could not run anymore. He turned and faced the dogs.
He saw the five dogs below him. There were no Men with them. They were alone but calling to their masters. He stood there in plain view and put his head down and waited. As soon as the lead dog was not more than two lengths away, he used the last of his strength to lung at it. He caught the beast in his rack and flung him aside. He heard the dog cry out in pain. The others came up. His world was spinning. He could not see straight.
Then suddenly there was that familiar scent again, this time very close. He heard a huge growl and something big and black ran by him. It hit the dogs and three of them yelled out in pain. Then the barking sound started to lessen. He sunk to his knees. That was all for him.
The huge dark figure came back to him; then he remembered the smell. It was the large bear. It had come for him like he came for Talis. In a way, he felt better. At least Man would not kill him.
He felt the huge mouth lift him by the neck and start to drag him. He expected a quick bite and then nothing, but it did not come. Instead, the large bear was dragging him up the hill. That was the last thing he remembered.
Chapter Nine: Strange Company
He woke lying on his unhurt side. The grass he lay on filled his nose with the stench of blood: his blood. His side throbbed in pulsating pain. He was dizzy, out of breath, and completely helpless. He could not move a muscle. He heard the wind blow above him in the trees, the sound of birds flying overhead, and the buzzing of insects crawling and flying near him. For a moment, other than the pain, things did not feel so bad for a dead deer. Then there came a very strong scent, but it was no scent of Man or deer. It was something else, a smell like dead meat mixed with wet fur. He realized he smelled it before. It was the scent of the bear and he was close by.
He struggled to move, to get away, but the lower part of his body refused to budge. It felt asleep. The bear scent got so close he could smell the damp, foul, odor of the bear's breath over him.
"Cannot move can you?" he heard the bear growl from above him.
He felt the touch of thick fur on his side and something large loom over him. He looked up into the black furry face of the bear that towered above him, studying him. The mouth was open showing long, broad, and well-used fangs to tear meat off of the bone.
"You brought Man and his dogs to me. That was not kind of you," the bear said. "Why?"
He tried to call up enough strength to speak, "I was struck by a killing stick; Man and his dogs followed me. I did not know you were there."
The bear broke out into a smile. "Very well, I understand, but now what am I going to do with you?" the bear growled and climbed over him. He could see the black underbelly of the huge creature. The fur was soft. Like Claris', but the smell.
"Just do it quickly," he said. His voice was starting to rattle in his throat. He swallowed hard. "I rather it was you than Man."
The bear paused and glared at him with those red eyes glowing. "Yes I think you would," the bear said calmly, almost purring. "I like to eat you. There is certainly enough of you for at least two good meals. However, I am full for my winter's sleep. So no, I will not eat you today. I am afraid all I have for you is more pain. There are two Man stones in your left side. I know about these wounds. Those Man stones must come out. They are what hurt you. If they do not come out, you will catch a fever and die. I can take them out, but this will hurt more than being struck by a killing stick. I am sorry for what I must do to you. No matter how much this hurts, you must try and stay still."
The bear moved over him to stand next to his injured side. He felt the movement of a sharp claw move gently over his side until it stopped where it hurt. Immediately his body +filled with agony; he stiffened like a tree.
"You must be still!" the bear growled. "This will hurt even more."
He felt the claw again only this time he felt it dig into his side. He felt it go into his body and stop. For a second he thought the bear was going to tear him to pieces, but the claw only went in a short way then out it came quickly. His body filled with pain. He could not even yell. He could not even breath.
A faint, "ahhhhhhhhh," was all he could manage.
"That is one," the bear said. "The other stone is deeper, I can hardly see it. I am going to have to go in deeper and this will hurt even more, but it must come out. Prepare yourself, Stranger."
The claws moved toward his hindquarter, his body racked through with pain piled upon pain. He felt the claw go in, much deeper this time. A pulse of utter agony passed through him. The bear then quickly ripped the claw out of him feeling as if he tore out his insides. A bright light filled his eyes, and then blackness engulfed him.
He came to his senses sometime later, body still filled with pain, but it did not seem quite as bad as before. He tried to move, but he still could not. All he could smell was his own blood and excretions that must have soaked the grass. He was still helpless. He looked to his side. He saw he was lying on fresh green grass. He could see a depression in the grass covered by his own blood and waste. That must be where the bear dragged him. The bear must have moved him again, but why? Why had he not used those large claws and broke his neck as he did to Talis. It could not hurt as much as he felt now.
"You are still alive," he heard from his other side. "I had to move you from that place of death. The Man stones are no longer in you. Now you must recover your strength. That will take time and soon I will go into my den to begin my long winter's sleep. The others like the fox, badger, and coyote have not come to finish you. My scent keeps them away. When I go into my den, I will not be around to drive them off. They may come in close. If they do and you cannot stand, they will tear you to pieces and eat you. Do you understand me?"
He nodded his head and he noticed he did not feel his rack on his head.
"My rack," he said.
"They came off as I was moving you," the bear told him. "You deer have a strange life. Your greatest protection is your rack and yet you throw them away every winter. It would like me throwing away my claws and fangs. It makes no sense to me."
What could he say? He tried to raise his head, but the forest started spinning again and he fell into blackness once more.
This time when he awoke, he felt hungry and thirsty. The air around him was cool and crisp. He could see the ground around him covered in a layer of bright multicolor leaves. He was still in the same place. The pain in his left side was there, but less than before.
"You woke up again" he heard the bear say. "You are full of surprises. You have laid there for two full days. Now you must get up. You must eat and drink or you will die and you must walk to do that. I cannot help you with this. You must do this on your own."
The bear was right, he was strong, but without food or water, he would die slowly. He rolled up off his side. As he moved, pain shot through him almost as bad as if the killing stick struck him again. He managed to get on his knees. He was upright again. He pushed down with his legs to force himself up on his feet. His front came up with no effort, His right rear leg extended, but his left leg lagged, Just using his right rear leg, he got up on his feet, but the moment he put weight on his left rear leg, it threatened to collapse on him and filled his body with waves of pain. He tried a step and almost fell onto the bear that was lying outside his large den he had dug into the side of the hill. He caught himself and steadied his stance. He tried another step, keeping as much weight off his left rear leg as possible. He could move, but he was very slow.
"Come," the bear said and led him to the other side of his den a few lengths. It took him a while for him to get there, but he did.
"See these green leaves," the bear said and pointed his long black nose to a bush he was not familiar with. "Eat them, they are bitter but they will help you heal, only eat a few at a time. Next to my den here is a small stream that runs down the hill toward your meadow."
"Meadow," he said aloud. Claris and the others must think he was dead. "I have to get back to my meadow," he said and started to turn around.
The bear moved to stop him. "If you try and go down the hill, your side will open, and you will bleed out. The others will smell you, find you, and then eat you alive. You have to stay here until you heal."
"But Claris and the others think I am dead," he explained.
"It is better for them to think you are dead than for you to be dead," the bear growled. "It will take time for you to heal, maybe all winter. Here, near my den, no one should come that can hurt you. You will have grass, and a little further past the trees are acorns and bushes you can eat. It will not be a feast like I have when I eat one of your kind, but it will keep you alive and healing."
Just taking these steps exhausted him. The bear was right, he never make it down the hill in his condition. He had to stay here."Thank you," he said never believing he ever owe his life to a bear. There was one thing that puzzled him.
"Can I ask you a question?" he said to reclining mountain of muscle and fat.
"Go ahead," the bear said licking his paws.
"I was helpless there. You could have easily killed me and ate me for food. Why did you not do it? I know bears like to eat deer."
The bear got up and started for his den. "I am not sure, but something tells me not too. I will think about that as I rest. For now, it is my time for me to sleep. I normally get up during winter. If I find you here dead, I will eat you. When the wind blows and the snow comes, you can sleep next to my den. The wind does not carry the snow to that side because the two tall pine trees block the air. Try to get healthy Stranger. Try to get your leg to move. You will have to learn to run again if you ever want to see that Claris of yours. Good winter." he said and crawled deep into his den. In a moment, he was alone.
The winds turned cool and then cold. The grass turned yellow and lost most of its taste. There were still enough leaves, berries, and acorns around to fill his belly. He ate the leaves the bear told him about. He ate a few every day. They made him sleepy, but it helped with the pain and his wounds seem to heal quicker. It soon became obvious that he would not die from these wounds.
His main problem was moving. He still hobbled around mostly on three legs, but he learned to move better. It seemed to him that his left rear leg had gotten shorter after being hit, but he realized it was the tightness in his muscles. The muscles in his left rear leg would not move so far or so easily. The muscles were also weak like those in a new fawn. The worst part was when he tried to stretch those leg muscles. The pain was awful, but he still stretched his left leg several times a day. As winter dragged on, the pain slowly diminished. It lessened to the point where he could put more weight on his left rear leg. By the first snowfall, he could walk very slowly, but he could not trot or run.
He kept working on his leg and it slowly got better. By the second snowfall, he could walk easily, and even trot a short distance, but a full run was out of the question. That made moving around the den easier and made it easier to feed. The bear awoke right after the second snow and came out of his den at night. He was sleeping and only realized the bear was there when the overpowering scent flooded into his nose
"So I see I do not have to eat you," the bear said. The bear actually looked to smile.
"No," he said and got up, and walked around slowly.
"And you can walk, very good," the bear complimented. The creature then went up and smelled his left side near his wounds. "I smell no sickness in you. I think you will live."
"I live thanks to all you told me," he answered, "My thanks to you for that."
"Any problems?" the bear asked.
"A badger got close once," he answered, "But once he smelled you in the den, he ran off."
"Has it been a bad winter?" the bear wanted to know.
"Snow, but not heavy," he said.
"That is a pity," the bear said as if disappointed. "When it is cold and the snow is deep, I normally find several of your kind dead." The bear did not seem to mind if his guest liked this conversation or not. "I will go over the mountain. The deer herd over there is not as careful as your herd. I will be back here by the end of day tomorrow."
He watched the bear go feeling both pleased and curious. He was pleased the bear thought it was a waste of time to try to kill a deer in his herd. He was curious why the bear would go through all the trouble when there was a much closer source of deer meat. He did not see the bear until the rising of the lesser light the next day. Although the bear still looked huge to him, he did note the bear had lost weight during his long sleep. The bear came back looking pleased. He could smell the scent of deer on him. The bear had found something to eat.
"I found a sick yearling that died in the snow," the bear said calmly. "I ate most of him and left the rest to the others. I am full now and have more than enough to last me to spring. I suppose you are happy I didn't have to kill it?"
"As I said before, I rather see you kill us than Man," he told him
"Why do you care who it is in the end?" the bear asked. "Whether it is me, or one of my kind that kills you, whether Man kills you, or the badger, or the coyote. In the end, you are just as dead."
"No," he said shaking his head "There is a difference."
The bear motioned him to continue. "As I said before, you kill and eat to live, same as me. I eat the plants and the grass. You eat meat. Man does not kill to live. He has all the food he needs without killing. Man kills for his pleasure, and nothing else."
"How do you know all of this?" the bear asked.
"For that, I would have to tell you a long story that might bore you," he told him. "You may not like to hear it."
The large black animal lay down in front of his den as if relaxing. "Please continue, Stranger. I have time before going back to sleep. I would like to hear your story" the bear told him.
"If you wish, it is the least I can do," he said and got down on his legs to rest. He told the bear the same story he told Claris. He even told the bear about his fight with Kragus; the how he was rejected by the others that wanted him and Claris gone. It took to the time the lesser light had set before he was finished. The bear heard him out only asking one or two questions.
"That is interesting. I had no idea you knew so much about Man." The bear yawned but still was impressed with his tale. "You tell an interesting story. I think your herd is foolish. They should not have tried to throw you out. It is hard for me to understand your herd. We bear don't live in herds, nor do we keep our mates close by. My kind does not get along well with each other. Now let me bore you with my tale."
The bear went on about his life. He was born in the hills on the far side of Hilgass' forest. He had a brother and sister, but his younger brother was small and weak and died their first summer. Their mother raised him and his sister. He never knew his father, but he suspected he was a large bear that roamed the hills there. He never tried to approach him, because his mother taught them, that he would kill them if he thought they were threats. They followed their mother for more than a full season and she taught them many things. She told him about the healing plants and the Man stones. She learned that and much more from his mother.
There was one thing the bear noticed about himself that was different from his mother and sister. He looked more closely at the forest and the animals than his family. They just tried to hunt. He tried to learn the ways of the animals. At first, this was because it made them easier to catch and kill for his food. He continued to watch after he left his mother and sister. After many seasons, he came to know that somehow all the animals were connected. Some animals ate plants. Other animals ate meat and fed on the plant eaters. Without the plant eaters, they would have little food. Although he ate berries and some plants when needed, his food of choice was meat, when he could get it. It filled him and made him stronger. He learned he could catch rabbits, raccoons, possums, by seeing how they acted and then planning better ways to catch them. As a result, he never was really hungry even in the coldest winters and so he grew into the largest bear he knew. He had been living in the forest for many winters, he was not sure how many, but he knew it was more than six so the bear was much older than him. As for mates, the bear never had trouble finding a female. He could beat off the males in these forests easily. Like most deer, after The Season, the bear and his mate quickly went their separate ways. He knew he had children in the forest. He could smell three younger males and two females that may belong to him, but he felt nothing for them. They were just other hungry mouths looking to feed on the same food he did.
"So how do you see Man," he asked the bear.
"Man is a killer, like me, but unlike me, Man is a different type of killer. I have to catch whatever I eat and kill it. Man reaches out at a distance and kills, almost without effort. If you are right about Man not needing to kill to live, then Man does not belong in the forest, because he is so different from the others that live here.
"This is true, "he told him, "But do you remember when I told you how Man gets into his animals and moves?"
The bear nodded silently.
"Well sometimes when Man comes back to his cave, he brings food with him, enough food to last many days. Man then puts that food into hiding places in his Man cave and then feeds off it. Some of that food is meat, but it is meat that is already dead. All man has to do is eat it."
"That is interesting," the bear noted. "So Man has someone else kill his food."
"Not only that but when Man gets together after they kill us, they make merry like new fawns on the meadow. They enjoy the killing and the eating of our flesh. If Man has all the food he wants without killing, and he kills only for enjoyment, then Man is not like us. I eat grass for my food. You eat meat. You kill to eat, but do you do find pleasure in killing?"
The bear thought about his question for a moment. "No, like you said, I kill for food I take no joy in killing your kind. It is necessary."
"Then now you know the difference," he added.
"Is that what you mean when you say you rather die by me than Man? You rather die by me because it is the Way of All Things as you say, not because some Man is having fun doing it?"
"Yes," he said almost with relief. Someone finally understood him.
"Then now I know why I did not kill you?" the bear said.
He had thought about that himself and thought he understood. "Because despite our differences, you and I are much alike in the way we look at the forest."
The bear nodded. "This is part of the answer, but not the whole part. The other part is that we have a place here. Man does not."
"You are right," he admitted. "You are a wise bear."
The bear's face seemed to brighten. "I hope that is true, Stranger, but there is something else. There is another reason and I must think about it more. I will talk to you about it later. I can see you are as wise as I heard your herd leader Bambi is. I hope you live through all of this. I like to talk to you again; however, I must go back into my cave and continue my sleep. I will see you again at the end of winter."
He went back to being alone. After living with the herd and Claris for a while, he was not use to being alone again for days on end. Every day he thought about the herd and wondered about Claris, Bambi, and Faline. Were they right now morning his death, or had they already forgotten the strange deer that came to live with them. Claris might have found another male by now. Could Bambi keep the others from chasing her out of the forest? Even if he did go back, would they still want him after Kragus? These were the thoughts that chewed at his inner self as much as he thought the bear would have chewed on his outer self. There was nothing he could do to answer this agony of his inner self. He still was not healthy enough to run from danger. He had to heal more.
He went back to stretching his left rear leg. He could trot easily, but running was still painful. Every day he ate the leaves of the healing bush and every day he tried to stretch his left leg more and more. It got looser and he got faster. Soon he ran around the area of the den and found he could make quick turns, but he was not as fast as he was before being hurt. He also did not turn as quickly. He wondered if he ever fully recover? He knew he had to get better. A slow deer was a dead deer.
There was one more light snow and then the sky cleared and the greater light started to shine warmer. On one night he watched the lesser light rise full, has it had done many times since he had been here. He started to see fresh grass try to break through the leaves on the ground. By now he had started to run at full, but only for a little while before his left leg hurt too much to continue. The bear could run him down if he wanted to, but he have to try hard. As the grass poked through the leaves of last winter and the leaves started to grow back on the trees, the bear came out of his den for the spring.
"Well, Stranger, you have survived the winter, I did not think you do it, but I am glad you did. Can you run yet?"
He did a short dash across the opening in front of the bear that went to chase him like a fawn would. It was not long before he caught him.
"Slow, but I think fast enough for the others. You are as healed as you are going to get being here. The rest will have to come later."
"What now?" he asked.
As much as I like having you around, you need to return to your herd," the bear said looking him over carefully. "You will stay here for another few days to make sure everything is working as best it can; then we will walk down the hill together. After that, it will be up to your herd to take care of you. I can do nothing more for you."
"I have waited all winter to hear that," he said with glee.
"We both have," the bear growled with a huge smile.
Chapter Ten: Reunion
It was several days later. He looked through the trees as they walked down the hill noting how near they were to the first place he had met Bambi a full season ago. It was also near the first place he had seen this forest for the first time. Below him, the new spring foliage hid the Meadow from his view. This was a good thing. If the herd saw him coming back accompanied by a large bear, they all would panic and run. The large open area was likely turning bright spring green from winter brown. His new summer coat was filling in. Other than the two long scars on this left side, he looked the same. His strength was still returning, but there was soreness in his left hind leg. He still could not run like he had. Whether that would ever come back, he did not know.
"I will leave you here," said the bear."Any closer and it will frighten your herd."
He turned and looked into the red eyes of the black bear. "Thank you for all you have done," he said sincerely. He bent over and nuzzled the bear as a token of friendship. The bear seemed surprised but after a moment did the same to his nose. "Will you tell me now the other reason why you didn't eat me during the winter?"
The bear hesitated and continued looking him in the eyes. "Besides the fact that you and I are the same in how we look at the forest, and that we both belong here, I did not eat you because something inside me said I should not. There is something about you, Stranger. You seem not only to belong here; you seem to have a purpose for being here. A purpose greater than mine I am sure. Greater than any of the other creatures I know. I do not know what that purpose is, but I am sure there is one." Then he stiffened, "But do not take this as weakness. If I can kill and eat any of your herd, I will do so."
"I understand my friend," he said bowing his head. "That again is the Way of All Things. You will forgive me if I tell you I am going to make sure we keep a close watch for you so you will not succeed. "
"I understand," the bear said and he started back up the hill. "You will not have to worry; I am going back over the hill to the other meadow. The food there is better. I will not be back until near winter."
The bear's words struck him. Two creatures told him he had a purpose here. Just what that purpose was and who gave him this purpose he could not understand, yet he felt it was true. He was more curious as to why someone would give him such a purpose when so many other creatures just seemed to wander around living out their lives as they always had. Did the other creatures have no purpose, or could he just not see what their purpose was.
"Stay well, and thank you, my friend for everything you have done," he said watching the large black figure climb up the hill until he was out of sight. He then slowly walked down the hill until he caught a clear view of the meadow. Already the first glow of day lit it.
He sniffed the air. The wind was blowing from across the meadow toward him. The air carried the familiar scent of the oak, pine, willow and other trees. Also in the air were the scents of the raccoon, the possums and the other creatures of the forest. It smelled familiar and he realized at that moment how much he had missed those smells. Then he smelled them, the scents of deer. His own deer herd. He watched from concealment the deer walk carefully out onto the meadow. Many yearlings this time were together, including Veron, but he saw familiar faces. Ronno entered the meadow and started to eat. The doe Marol was still next to him with a new doe fawn. The remainder of the herd males came onto the meadow all alone. The senior males took up their normal place in the middle of the meadow. Finally, the more mature doe entered the meadow; all of them had white spotted fawns that could not be very old.
The deer all stood up as Bambi came out with Faline. She was again with a new fawn, a doe. Then the bushes moved behind her and out walked another doe, this one was not stepping lively but seemed to walk along. He knew that figure at once, it was Claris. He almost flew into a run to greet her, but he stopped dead in his tracks. Behind her, a new fawn walked timidly out of the trees and walked alongside Claris. His heart almost rose out of his mouth. He looked at the fawn. It was a male, and it was his. He hurried the last few lengths to just outside the meadow and stopped. He sniffed the air again; there was no scent of Man. He looked over toward the place the Man animals had been before. The flatten ground was still there, the Man path was still there and the thin trees without branches were still there, but there were no Man caves.
He looked at the herd and wondered if he should go out. Suppose the others still wanted him gone. What would happen then? He thought about it, then came to the realization that after what he had been through, he did not care if they wanted him or not. This was his home; that was his mate and fawn. He belonged here. He took a deep breath and said, "I hope they still do not hate me."
Satisfied, he stepped out onto the open of the meadow. He walked a few steps. Instantly every deer stopped feeding and stood up straight to stare at him. He heard a collective gasp from the deer in front of him. He walked into the meadow and held his head up so all could see it was him. They stared at him and were all struck dumb. To them, he had returned from the dead.
He swallowed hard and called out, "Greetings."
After looks of utter astonishment, he could see movement in the herd. For a second, he thought they were all going to run away from him. He could not blame them, but they were not running away. Many were moving toward him. He looked over to Bambi who gazed at him with his mouth fully open in disbelief.
"Stranger?" he heard Claris call out in her voice. It sounded almost like a warning. Then several deer started to move. They moved quickly and they moved toward him. He looked toward Bambi who was breaking into a run along with Faline and their fawn. It was Claris who jumped ahead of them all and coved the ground running at full. He was afraid if she hit him, both of them might get hurt, but she pulled up and then leaped up on her two hind legs and wrapped her front legs around his neck and rested them on his back.
She looked right at him and through a fountain of tears all he heard between the sobs was, "Is it you?" she cried out. He leaned forward and kissed her on her soft muzzle. He smelled her familiar scent. "It is you," she said and buried her head in his shoulder. He licked the side of her head. He felt the wetness of her tears on his fur. He found his own eyes tearing uncontrollably. He finally stepped away and let her stand on her legs again facing him. He licked her face and on the side of her muzzle.
"I am back," he told her, his voice choked. "I am not leaving this time."
Next Bambi almost collided with his side rubbed his face along his neck and said in a cracked voice, "You are alive, my friend. I never thought I would see you again. You are alive," he repeated.
Faline came up and licked the side of his face. Several other deer crowded around him pushing him about looking at him in amazement. He was grateful for the chorus of thanks at his return. Although he was glad they wanted him back, he was far more interested in something else He shook his body and broke free of them. A fawn stood next to Claris. A little male fawn stood under his mother for protection from the crush of deer bodies. He leaned over and put his face next to the quivering infant. The fawn looked at him for a second as if studying him. Then the fawn raised his little head up and started to lick his face. His heart felt ready to burst and he wept as much as Claris. All the while the fawn stood next to him.
"His name is Stabo," Claris choked through her tears. "At least your son will have a name."
"Stabo," he repeated and nuzzled the side of his face again. The fawn did likewise seeming to know who he was.
He raised his head and acknowledged the welcome of his herd. He was as filled with happiness as ever he had been in his life. Then he noticed there were several in the heard who did not run to greet him but went back to eating the spring grass. Duro, Sinno, and several others looked uneasily at him. They made no secret they still did not want him there. There was still a chill in the air and it was not from the wind. He did not care about them. He stood up straight.
"My friends," he called to the others around him. "I have been away for a long while. I thank you for having me back. I will answer your questions later. I have much to catch up on. I would like to speak to Bambi, Faline, and Claris today. The rest of you I will talk with later on the meadow. I have much to learn about what happened while I was gone."
The others looked to understand and left them alone with a series of welcome back and glad you are still alive comments. He was surprised at the number of deer who greeted him. There was no yelling he should leave.
"Can we speak alone," he asked the three of them.
Bambi nodded and slowly lead them off the meadow and into the thick forest. The short climb made his left rear leg sore, but it was getting better. They made their way back to Bambi's cave. He could smell Claris and Stabo had spent their time there while he was gone. Bambi had watched over them.
"So tell us what happened, why are you alive?" Bambi asked.
"I will tell you, but you will not believe it," he said and then told them his story.
If not for the lingering scent of the bear on his fur, he did not think any of them would have believed him except Claris who spent the time standing against his uninjured side. Stabo drank his mother's milk as did Faline's doe fawn who was named Gina.
"I would never think that could happen, yet here you are," Bambi said as if still not believing it. "A bear," he said. "You are friends with a bear. None of us thought we would ever see you again. I still do not believe it, yet you are here. I am glad you are back."
"The bear is not our friend," he corrected. "If he can, he will kill any deer he can catch in our herd. However, there was something between us. In some ways that bear and I see the forest the same. It is an understanding about the forest and our place in it. In that way only are we alike. That is why he did not kill me, for which I am very happy about."
Claris leaned over rubbing his face. "I too am very glad," she said softly, her eyes were still watery.
He leaned over, and put his mouth on hers and kissed her for what felt like the entire day. He could feel her warmth flowing into to him as his warmth flowed into her. Yes, he was meant to be here with this doe and fawn. Little Stabo finished feeding and they lay down as one family again outside of Bambi's cave. Stabo wiggled between him and Claris with his tiny head sticking out between him. Gena did the same thing. Although he knew other does had his fawns, this was the one fawn he truly cared about.
"It is true," he heard a squeaking voice from above. Stranger, you have come back."
He looked up at Friend Owl sitting on a branch. He did not seem to be in a hurry to fly away from them. It was like before Kragus. That then reminded him.
"Do the others still want me gone?" he asked Bambi.
"Some still do not like you. They didn't even like that Claris stayed here during the winter," he said painfully. "I think most will be happy to have you back. We will have to wait and see. You called the herd away from Man. Then we all thought you died because of it. Many felt badly afterward and decided perhaps that you and Claris were treated unfairly. Many still dislike you both, but I think enough of the herd wants you here that I do not have to try and chase you off."
That was a relief for him, especially in the condition he was in now. "That is good, Bambi because I am not as strong or as fast as I was. You could easily beat me now. I do not know if my strength or speed will ever come back like they were."
"I can see," Bambi said looking at the scars on his left side. "I have never seen a deer hurt so badly and yet still live. You are indeed a strange deer."
"I can see you also took care of Claris and Stabo," he said. "For that I thank you."
"Bambi let me stay here," Claris added. "When Stabo came, Bambi protected us both like we were his own family."
"You are both are like my own family. You both are also welcome to stay here," Bambi told them. "This is your home now."
He took a deep breath. Bambi was right. This was his home. He was home, he was with his family, and for the second time in his life, he was content.
"Push back harder," Bambi told him.
They locked at the shoulder in mock combat. He tried pushing with all his might, but his left rear leg was still not as strong as his right rear leg. He could not push back hard enough to move Bambi. He felt Bambi give slightly before he applied more strength to his healthy rear legs and pushed past him. They came apart, Bambi looking at him.
"You are getting stronger, but your back leg is still weak," Bambi told him.
"I know," he said with frustration. "Another deer could use it against me," he realized. "I still need to be careful about fighting with deer."
"I would not worry," Bambi said. "Other than me, no other deer in this herd could challenge you. Especially with those tricks you have been teaching me and our doe."
"Thank you for helping me," he said rubbing the big deer's side.
"I enjoy it, and so do our doe. Even little Gena and been trying to kick the way you showed Faline and Claris."
"Doe need protection too, especially from males," he said.
"Stabo is learning too," Bambi added. "Did you see him with Ronno in the meadow?"
"Claris told me," he said with a grin, "He was playing with Ronno. Ronno tied to push Stabo back. Stabo slid around Ronno and hit him from the side."
"He did not hit Ronno hard," Bambi said with a smile, "I think Ronno was more shocked than hurt. I think it gave him pause to think he will not be the leader of the herd males much longer."
He stood up straight and faced the herd leader. "I have been thinking about that too. You know I plan to have more fawns with Claris. I think you will have more fawns with Faline. I am thinking of training them all. I also think we should start with Veron. One day he may have to take over the herd from you. "
"I just wish he was bigger," Bambi said shaking his head.
Stranger nodded his head. Veron was a bit small, but he was strong. "He will not be as big as you, but he is made of solid muscle. He will be as strong as you are. That I am sure of. In fact, next spring, he will almost be as strong as you," he told Bambi. "He needs to learn from his father just like you learned from your father."
"My father was the wisest deer I ever knew," Bambi said. He could hear his voice choking up. "I could never match him or be like him,"
He stopped and looked right into Bambi's deep black eyes. "The other deer like Ate who knew you and your father say different. They tell me you are just like your father and that is why you are so respected."
Bambi turned away from him for a moment. "Thank you," he muttered. "That means a lot to me."
"Unlike Claris and me with the herd males," he went on.
"That is also getting better," Bambi mentioned. "Yes, they ignore you both, but even the senior males no longer pester me to throw you out. Many have accepted you and Claris and many more will do so."
"That is good," he said with relief.
"So how do we do this?" Bambi asked.
"You will start to teach Veron and Gena, and I will teach Stabo. After a while, we will start teaching all of them together. Stabo could also learn a lot from you while you are teaching Veron."
"And Veron could also learn from what you know," Bambi went on. "I had hoped Geno would come over here, but he and Gurri must have decided to remain in our old forest. I have heard nothing from them since we left."
"All the more reason to train our children," he said and then stopped. "I know our doe do not like when I talk like this, but you and I will only last a few more seasons, and that is only if we are lucky enough to avoid Man and his killing sticks. Someone had to take our place or we give the herd ot to those like Ronno, or Kragus."
"And you think Veron and Stabo should follow us," Bambi said looking at him cautiously. "You know that is up to the herd, not us, to decide that."
"It will the same as with you and your father," he explained. "You took over the herd because you were the best deer available when your father died. The other deer knew it. When the time comes, either through old age or through man, we will die. They will take over because we will train them to be the best deer. The herd will accept them because of that. Besides, what other choices do we have, try and teach the herd males?"
Bambi shook his head in disgust at the idea of trying to teach the herd males anything. "I suppose so," Bambi said with resignation. "When do we start?"
"Now," he said," Because we do not know what will come tomorrow."