Chapter 8: Light and shadows

Unenthusiastically, Alani tugged a few long grass stalks until they gave in and detached from the ground. She slowly chewed, squelching the greens with her teeth, swallowed them and looked around the evening meadow. Yes, she already ate grass. She was a few months old now and everyone could see that she was about to become a beautiful young doe. Summer's end was approaching fast and it wouldn't be long until the leaves started to change color and silently fall to the ground.

Ama had told her about fall and winter. About how beautiful both looked, but that both were a time of misery and need. The grass would become brown and withered and the trees and bushes would lose all their leaves until only their bare branches would be left. Food would be very hard to find and sometimes, it would be terribly cold. And the beautiful snow would be so icy that it would cut into their sensitive legs until they would be sore.

Alani shook her head. No, she didn't want that.

But that wasn't which had downed her mood. The source was her dreams, what else.
She had had another last night.

Those dreams just didn't let her be. They occurred again and again, and they always followed the same pattern. She was all alone in some place, the teenagers appeared somewhere, she listened to parts of their talks, sometimes this white creature walked around, something bad happened and then, she woke up.

She had become a master of acting, by now, her mother didn't even notice anymore when she had a nightmare. When she had been younger, she had always woken up with a pounding heart, her eyes largely widened and her muzzle opened to scream. But not anymore. Since she had had the first dream with her, as she liked to call the white doe, she had never mentioned her special dreams again. Her mother was relieved, since everything seemed to be normal again.
But it wasn't, not at all.

Those dreams were driving her crazy. It wasn't that something terrible happened. Most of what she got to see of Alicia was very positive. She was good with animals, for example, Alani could tell that by the way how she cared for her dog. Alani had also noticed that her dog didn't at all look like the ones she was used to. He had short sturdy legs, thick white fur with black and brown patches, friendly eyes and two floppy ears. A very friendly little guy, Alani had even talked to him once.

Alicia also had a cat, a velvet black creature. He preferred sitting on branches and had a rather harsh nature, but he was very intelligent. The little doe liked him.

Alicia always behaved friendly towards her, although the girl was very stubborn. Especially when she was around her father. Alani snorted. Alicia was lucky to still have a father.

The nightmarish ends of her dreams didn't bother Alani, either. A deer had to deal with many things, why should a few minutes of fear bother her?

No, the thing that drove her crazy was that they just didn't stop, no matter how much she tried to forget about them. She couldn't even talk with someone about them, she was too afraid to be rejected and outcasted if someone found out how odd she was.

She remembered well how she had rested in her secret place, a depression under the fallen trunk of a beech, one day after such a nightmare. She had just run off, the fawn knew that Ama didn't mind.

She often let Alani on her own, this simply was the way of the deer. If something happened to her, Ama wanted Alani to be able to fend for herself. And the fawn was. She knew what she could eat and what not, was able to listen and smell, and knew how the days went in the forest. Basically, she would be able to live on her own, but that time wouldn't come in a while.

On that day, she had just lay there and stared at the leaves before her.

And the one who had eventually found her was none other than Caio. The nice, good Caio. He was the nicest of her friends, the one with the most sympathy. He was always there for her. Kind of like a brother. And he always defended her, it was really…cute.

It wasn't as if she didn't like Tino and Ronno as well. But Ronno sometimes made such remarks of which she never knew how to take them. It was hard to feel really close to him like she did to the brothers. Sometimes, she couldn't even have a real talk with him because it was so easy to upset him. But somehow, she still liked the buck fawn.

Tino…yes, Tino was a great guy. She was sure he would protect her as well, from Ronno, from other young bucks, just not from himself. He was reckless, adventurous, and when she doubted their actions, he always tried to calm her down. But sometimes, her doubts had their purpose. And that was when Caio was by her side.

He just understood her; she didn't know what else could describe it.

He had understood her that morning, when she had lay there, her body shivering. He had laid down beside her, put his head on her shoulders and stayed silent until she had stopped crying.

And then, he had calmly asked her what had happened. She would have liked to tell her, really.

But she couldn't.

She almost smiled when she thought about their conversation.

"Alani, no one acts like that if nothing's up. What happened? Is something wrong with your mother, Bambi, Faline?" His voice sounded worried, as it did often when something seemed to be wrong with her.

She sighed, clearly annoyed. She was a little sad, but she just couldn't tell him. What would he think if she told him? "They're all alright. As am I." She sniffed one more time and stretched her legs to get up.

"Could you put down your head?" she asked, a little harsher than she had actually intended to. Startled, Caio flicked his head back and looked at her with those trustful eyes, as if she had beaten him. Alani sighed and remained lying. "Caio, I didn't mean to…I…I'm just a little jazzed, okay?"

But why? He gently licked along the trails of tears on her cheeks. The fur below her eyes was still a little wet and tasted salty.

She closed her eyes and shook her head, so his tongue stroked her cheek. This…felt nice, really. Both of them felt it. But the two of them acted as if nothing had happened, although their blood rushed into their cheeks and they were glad that their fur hid it. They were still fawns, they didn't know how to judge the little fluttering feeling in their bellies.

"I…um…" Alani stammered. "I didn't sleep well. Nightmares, you know. Hey, where is your brother, anyway?" Just changing the topic would surely help.

"Oh, he is with that doe fawn we met lately." He giggled. "If you want to, we can go looking for them." He got up.

"Yeah, let's go!" Alani said enthusiastically. She was glad he didn't mention that incident again.

She sighed. That had been one and a half, almost two weeks ago. And once again, she was torn inwardly because of those stupid dreams. But actually, nothing bad had happened! She had just watched Alicia in a park. The girl had been very small, maybe around six years old, and had had a picnic with her family, played with a kite and her dad had carried her around on his back.

Why didn't all of this just end? Who was that girl?

"Someone of great importance."

Suddenly the white doe stood beside her and smiled gently.

"Oh, go away," Alani snarled. It was nothing new, that this…creature read her thoughts, simply appeared and disappeared again after a while. She most likely was just a product of her sick fantasy or her damaged psyche.

"I'm not," she laughed.

"Oh yeah? And why is no one else able to see you then, Jin?" That was the name the white doe had told her. It meant "golden" or something like that. Alani only snarled once more, for one thing because she was deeply irritated, for another because she didn't want to draw unnecessary attention by having "talks with herself". She was totally insane, anyway, she had to deal with it.

"Possibly because I don't want to be seen?" Jin replied totally unaffected, lowered her head and nibbled some clover, but then, she pulled a face. She actually didn't like that green stuff, as she didn't even have to eat.

"I don't want to see you either!"

"Well, I'm afraid you have to. By the way, Bambi and Faline are on their way here." She turned and casually walked off. Alani just shook her head. She had stopped following her long ago. There was no point in it, why should she waste her energy?

The doe fawn sighed once more and looked around. Usually, Jin was right in her predictions. And she was again this time – Bambi and Faline hopped over cheerfully.

"Hello, Alani!" Faline cheerfully greeted her. Bambi joined her, by no means less joyful. But Alani simply grumbled a short "Hi".

Bambi grinned. "Huh? Haven't you slept well?" He didn't mean to be mean, she knew so. Bambi was much too naïve to just think anything mean.

"You could say so, yeah," Alani nodded and nibbled on another bunch of grass.

"Do you still want to play with us?" Faline asked friendly, yet cautiously. She was more considerate than Bambi. She was already calming down her giggly personality, it seemed. Alani realized how much they all had changed throughout the last few months.

The reddish doe fawn briefly considered saying no, but then, she nodded and gave her two friends a small smile. At least she would be able to for a little while.

"Sure, why not?"

"Wohoo!" Bambi exclaimed and jumped around her. The two does laughed, until Bambi playfully lowered his head and charged at them, like he had done the day they met. Alani and Faline exchanged a look, both grinning widely, and bolted away, their laughter filling the air.

For a while, they just chased each other as they had done their entire life. Although Alani had already started to lose her spots – Faline and Bambi hadn't, much to her surprise – they were still fawns and fawns loved to play.

But as she was, Bambi and Faline were alone, since all does wanted their fawns to be able to be on their own.

"Hey guys!" a voice suddenly called. Alani quickly turned around, beaming, so she could greet the newly arrived friends.

"Caio! Tino!"

"Hello," Valentino called, whereas his brother merely smiled. Both of them had changed outwardly as well, just like Alani they had grown and their spots started to lose themselves in brown fur. With wide steps, the twins trotted towards the other fawns.

"Do you want to join us?"

"We were actually looking for Ronno, but we can't find him anywhere," Caio told them. The others couldn't tell if he was happy or disappointed because of the disappearance of their friend.

"Who is that Ronno, anyway?" Faline asked curiously. Up to this point, she had always only heard his name, but never encountered him. Somehow, they had always missed each other. With Bambi, it was the same.

"Oh, a friend of ours. Reddish fur, green eyes, a little tough to deal with", Caio gave a brief description, but still sounded friendly doing so.

"Aha," Faline said and looked at the two brothers. "And he is missing?"

"Yeah, he stormed off to find an older buck who made fun of him," Tino told, looking a little worried. A bad feeling crept into Alani's veins.

"You don't mean Schatten, do you?" Schatten was a rough young buck, full of strength and far too much pride. He had made fun of Ronno's smaller height when the reddish buck had bragged once more, and upset the fawn. But Ronno wouldn't…

"But if he challenges Schatten…" The thought scared Alani. She liked Ronno, really.

"He won't. Even Ronno isn't that reckless," Tino said reassuringly and decided to let that issue be. "I'm sure he will show up soon. You are still okay with us joining your game?" He looked around and was met by unsure faces. Bambi and Faline looked at Alani, who in turn gave the brothers a worried look. Alani tended to be overly cautious, that was true, but since they knew neither Ronno nor Schatten, Bambi and Faline weren't really able to judge the situation.

Tino sighed and smiled kindly. "Alani, you're worrying too much. I'm sure Ronno is fine."

"Yeah…maybe you're right", Alani answered slowly, unable to get rid of the feeling that he wasn't. She still looked rather unsure. But maybe she really was too paranoid, she told herself.

"He is! And now let's play!" Caio agreed with his brother and quickly bolted away, making the others follow him. For a while, they kept playing, chased each other and rolled through the grass.

But then, the white figure appeared to Alani again. Suddenly, Jin jumped out of the undergrowth before her. But for a change, she didn't smile, her face was serious instead and rose a even more uncomfortable feeling inside Alani.

"Follow me, quick," the white doe whispered and turned.

"But…what…," Alani stammered and looked at her friends, who hadn't even noticed that she'd stopped. Jin suddenly swirled around and gave Alani a sharp look, making the fawn back off in shock. "Don't ask, just follow me! It's because of your friend, Ronno!"

"…Ronno?" Alani croaked and quickly took off. Caio, Valentino, Bambi and Faline, who had now noticed her absence and called for her, didn't matter in that moment. She just ran, although she knew the others couldn't see Jin.

Her legs raced, her heart quickly pumped frozen blood through her veins. Her thoughts raced as well. What was up with Ronno? Was he in trouble? Dead, alive, hurt? She forbid herself to think horrible things.

But what if she had to be quick? What if she arrived too late? Although her lungs were burning, she forced her legs to move even faster.

She followed Jin with blind trust; there was not much else she could do. In serious situations, the white doe had never let her down. And she didn't this time, either, as Alani soon heard two familiar voices. She froze in shock.

"Take that back!"

"What do you want to do to me if I don't, Ronny? Tell your mommy about it?"

"Oh no!" Alani gasped and quickly jumped forward, through a bush. The branches ripped on her skin and pelt and surely caused some cuts, but she didn't care. Ducked in between the plants, she watched what was happening.

There was Ronno, hooves stemmed into the ground, staring grimly at the bigger buck. Schatten stepped forward, looking at him threateningly. Alani didn't dare to breath.

"Don't you dare coming one step closer!"

Ronno lowered his antlerless head and motioned it threateningly towards Schatten, who obviously didn't know how to think about it. He raised an eyebrow when Ronno moved into a fighting position. This little runt wanted to challenge him? Brave, brave.

But if he had looked closer, he would have noticed the tiny glimmer of fear in the green eyes of the little fawn. But Ronno immediately narrowed them in anger again. But of course, he didn't look. For him, this wasn't a fawn, this was only a trouble. He proudly raised his head.

"You want to play with the big boys, Ronny? You will never be as strong as I am!"

Alani couldn't tell what happened next, but suddenly Ronno was thrown back by the other buck, before he made painful contact with the ground. Possible that Ronno had attacked the older buck in his rage, possible that Schatten had made the first strike. Whatever it was, Alani froze. That wasn't possible! Which young adult would actually beat a fawn?! She was unable to move.

And it didn't stop just then. Now restlessly furious, Ronno got up after a short moment of daze and charged at the other buck. When Schatten swung his head towards Ronno, the fawn dodged him.

"Alani, what's - NO!"

Alani swirled around. Tino and Caio had arrived and stared past her, at the fighting deer.

Valentino was almost frozen, just like his friends he couldn't understand what was going on. But unlike Alani, he did something. His face became the one of a angry bull and an insane rage filled his whole being.

"Why aren't you DOING anything?!" he yelled, jumped out with one bolt of energy and charged towards Schatten and Ronno.

The older buck was so surprised by suddenly getting rammed in the side that he stopped charging at Ronno and looked at the little dark brown beside him. Valentino glared at him.

"What do you want, runt?" Schatten called with a tone of voice between anger and confusion. Tino kept glaring, seeing out of the corner of his eye that Alani and Caio ran up to Ronno, who in turn was standing some feet, head lowered.
"That's my friend over there! Leave him alone!"

Alani raised her head and looked at Valentino. She didn't know if to think of his behavior as foolish or as brave, but the doe couldn't help but feel a flash of admiration for her friend.

"Oh, really?" Schatten sneered. "You're friends with a coward like him?" He approached the dark fawn.

Tino shivered, stumbling backwards. When he looked at him from this point, Schatten looked much bigger and more powerful, especially compared to a fawn like him. "Y-yeah," he stammered. He even stomped, but his act wasn't really convincing.

"And you know what I do with friends of little cowards?" Schatten bared his teeth, which flashed in the last beams of sunlight. Alani shuddered. Sometimes, Schatten behaved more like a predator than a deer. Like that wolf.

The wolf…what had happened to that thing, anyway? Alani hadn't heard any more information of that thing. Maybe he had died, encountered a man's gun, or was simply gone. Honestly – she didn't really care.

Schatten and Tino, they were the ones who mattered now.

She mustered up as much bravery as she could, although she was scared, very scared, actually. But this was about her friends! "Please, stop it!" she cried with a mixture of rage and desperation.

"Yes, leave my brother alone!" Caio agreed and wanted to bolt forward, but one quick glance of Tino made him stay in his place. Caio was neither as brave nor as tall as his twin. Valentino didn't want his brother to get himself into trouble.

All of this happened very fast. Schatten looked down at Alani and Caio. "Uhhh – a girl and another runt to protect Ronny. How cute!" His voice was dripping with sarcasm.

He lowered his antlers. He wouldn't –

Suddenly, a black shadow appeared above them. Alani looked up. The rustling of wings reached her ears and she noticed that something lighted down to a tree near them. Whatever it was let a screech yell through the forest and made even Schatten and Valentino let go of their argument. Alani was relieved. She didn't know what was up with Ronno, yet, but she didn't want to see another friend getting hurt today.

„My my, beating fawns! Young bucks aren't to act like that!" the bird scolded him from up on his tree. Alani would like to have laughed as she recognized the darkened brown feathers and the gleaming yellow-orange eyes, which looked at Schatten with anger in them.

"What do you want to do about it, bird?"

"Me? Nothing, but the Great Prince, who is on his way here, surely will teach you a lesson," Friend Owl said, glaring at the young buck. His face fell when he heard the title of the herd's leader. Alani couldn't help but smirk. The legs of that jerk almost shivered with fear!

The young deer actually quickly looked around. Was the Great Prince already close to them? There was only one thing he could do: get away from this place. Under the glance of four watchful eye pairs, he took off. "I…I got to go, sorry!" his quick call got to them.

"Yes, run away!" Valentino called after him in satisfaction.

Alani laughed, she couldn't help it. What cowards were the bucks who always bragged the most! This was just downright ridiculous! Schatten kinda reminded her of Ronno…had to be a family thing by some sort.

But her laughter died away when Ronno crossed her mind.

"Ronno!"

That was Caio's voice. As if there had been a unspoken sign, the two brothers and Alani jumped towards their friend, who still stood there, shaking slightly. Alani couldn't blame him.

"Ronno?" Caio asked quietly and nosed his friend. The reddish fawn raised his head a little.

Alani looked at him, eyes full of pity. The buck fawn looked miserable – little cuts here and there, his fur was dirty, his ears had dropped and he seemed a little shaky. But that wasn't the worst thing. The worst thing was that air of hopelessness and shame that surrounded him.

Ronno was usually so full of himself, so full of satisfaction – now he finally seemed to be what he really was – a scared little fawn. There wasn't that pride in his eyes, he simply was too shocked to keep that mask up. Alani hoped with her whole heart that he would recover.

Because it was all her fault. She should have done something instead of just standing there and staring. She should have stopped him, should have stopped Schatten, anything. Of course, she wouldn't have stood a chance against the buck, she was far too small – but actually, he friends' chances weren't much bigger than hers.

It was just a fact that Ronno wouldn't be like that now if she had done something.

It was her fault.

But actually, she would soon discover something which would make the weight of guilt on her chest even heavier.

"Ronno, what the heck were you thinking?" Alani asked quietly and looked right into his face. There was no anger in her voice, not even blame. Ronno looked up, but it didn't seem as if he wanted to – or could – answer. It took him a while before he quietly said "I…oh, I don't know."

He behaved totally untypical. And to be honest, it was exactly this which scared Alani the most. She gently nosed him. Ronno immediately winced and his head shot up in the air. Slightly panicking, it turned left and right a few times, as if he feared another attack. "Hey pal, it's all right," Tino said reassuringly. Ronno looked at him, nodding. "Yeah…sure."

Alani lowered her head in shame and sighed. She looked at the ground.

And what she spotted there puzzled the doe fawn. It was almost not visible, as darkness had almost drenched the world, but the ground was noticeable darker in one spot. That looked like – no!

She quickly lowered her nose to the ground and sniffed to find out if her suspicion was right. Immediately, she raised her head again.

She was right. It was blood.

"Ronno, are you hurt?" she asked, but didn't wait for him to answer.

She stepped closer to him and examined him carefully. Shoulders, legs, neck, face – they were almost unharmed, no cuts which would bleed that strong. Eyes and nose didn't bleed either. Her gaze wandered up to his ears and she thought her heart skipped a beat.

One of his ears was ripped almost to the half and was bleeding heavily. Dang it! Dang it, dang it, dang it!

No wonder he appeared to be in a daze. The poor guy couldn't be blamed for being in a shock-like state!

Okay, Alani, stay calm.

"Ronno, your ear!" She almost screamed and thought to make out a slightly hysterical tone in her voice. So much about staying calm.

The others now noticed the young buck's ear as well and winced at the sight. Both Caio and Tino exclaimed something, but Alani didn't listen.

Friend Owl, who had watched them in silence, flew over to a branch closer to them. He carefully looked at the injury.

"I would suppose we better take care of that wound instead of freaking out." Unlike the fawns, he was complete and utterly calm. The night bird had much more life-experience than those young saplings, after all. Luckily he at least wouldn't be faced with "Being twitterpated" for a while. But soon, he turned his attention back on the injured fawn.

"You go and get the mother of this young buck." He pointed his wing towards Valentino, who nodded and looked very serious. The owl's gaze turned towards Caio.
"And you will help me with finding Mrs. Nettla. She knows many things about herbs and can surely help us out on this one." Finally, he turned his gaze towards Alani, who was still standing there, feeling uncomfortable.

"And Miss Alani stays here to keep an eye on your young friend."

Oh no, please. She didn't want to be alone with Ronno. Not right now!

But they all agreed. They couldn't refuse, they were to shocked and confused to do so.

"But won't my uncle arrive here soon?" Alani dared to speak up. The night bird shook his head.

"No, the Great Prince is busy with his duties. It was…bluffed, as you young ones like to say." He winked in the fawns' direction, but then, his expression became serious again.

"I also have to tell the Young Prince and his little friend that they can go back to their mothers or whatever. But let's not waste time, it's better if we start working," he chirped and stretched his wings. He took off into the air, the two brothers following him on the ground after briefly saying goodbye to Alani.

And then, the doe and Ronno were alone.