The forest was still. The birds had ceased their songs, the squirrels their chattering. Even the wind seemed to hold its breath as the woods prepared for the night. Rabbits had long since crept to their warrens, and mice were scampering to their burrows as owls shook out their wings to go hunt in the night air.
Only one figure was still awake under the trees, standing in a small clearing near the edge of the woods. It was the king of the forest, a magnificent buck, his huge antlers rising like a menacing crown around him as he stood silhouetted against the dying sun, his eyes piercing the gloom of the forest.
What exactly the buck was waiting for, he was not yet sure. Perhaps it was the quietness of the forest this night, or perhaps the instinct that told him that danger was lurking nearby.
A sudden change of the wind confirmed his suspicions, and from the bushes at the edge of the glade he could smell life—living, breathing, hungry life. Cougar.
The buck’s mind flew to other parts of the forest, where does and fawns lay asleep in the wood, so vulnerable and innocent. Without the buck to protect them they would be helpless, easy prey. Yes, the king was old, but if he did go down it would not be without a fight.
Slowly and cleverly he turned away from the bushes and pretended to graze along the ground, looking for all the world like unsuspecting prey. The trick appeared to work, for with a terrible snarl a huge mountain lion erupted from the bushes, his face distorted as he leaped for his prey. But the king was ready. Easily he sprang aside and the cougar crashed to the ground, where the buck’s sharp hooves rained down blows on him. But the cat was hungry. It had not eaten for a while. It would not let go so easily.
Almost too quick to be seen its paw flashed out, knocking the deer’s feet out from under him. The buck toppled and the cat leaped up, going for the neck. For a moment it was flailing hooves and claws, a blur of tawny and soft brown fur. But somehow the buck was back on his hooves before the cougar could pin him, and he rammed his great antlers into the cougar’s side.
That was enough. Yowling and screaming, the cat scrambled to his feet and fled from the woods, both hungry and beaten, never to be seen again.
The buck stood again at the center of the clearing. Once again, he was victorious. Silently, looking around the glade once more, the king passed into the darkening forest at last.
The sun set.