Sunday, December 5, 2010

Berend and the Bear

Colyne Stewart, January AS XXXVI (2002)

Once, not so long ago, a man from Holland came to Ardchreag. With him he brought his family and his skills at woodworking. His name was Berend, and though he was quiet at first upon his arrival, he soon became as one with the others who dwelt on the Cliffs.

With great enthusiasm Berend constructed a workshop from which looms, armour and other goods began to flow. Deciding one day to dabble in sharp instruments he became the canton’s first knife-maker. Other Chreaggers often said this with a good-natured laugh, for Berend had once sliced open his hand on a knife blade at Bonfield. Our knife-maker is not allowed to play with knives, we chuckled.

This worthy gentle was one day traveling through the woods from Ardchreag to Greenhithe when he heard pleas for help. Upon investigating he discovered a black bear hanging upside down in a hunter’s trap. To his surprise it was this very bear that was begging for mercy. Taking pity on the creature, he cut it down with his knife. The bear thanked him profusely then bade him travel to a nearby castle for a reward.

Having no pressing business, Berend decided to walk to the castle, which he found not too far away. The castellan granted him entry and took him to see the Lady who ruled there. The beauty of this woman, who was called Heltrada, struck Berend deeply. She thanked him for saving the bear from certain death, as it was one of her subjects. She then presented him with a gem-encrusted dagger and bade him stay and enjoy her hospitality.

Berend did as she asked and ate his full at her sumptuous table. When he made to leave the Lady told him that it was now dark, and the woods far to treacherous for travel. She implored him to stay the night. Finally Berend consented and went to the room prepared for him. He later awoke to find the Lady climbing into his bed. He jumped to the floor, wrapping his night cloak about him. The Lady pressed him to accept her love, but Berend was already wed, and he took this vow seriously. Angrily, the Lady left him, locking the door behind her.

Berend then found himself a prisoner of the castle, unable to leave. Every day the Lady went out into the woods, and every night she returned and tried to force her affection on Berend.

Finally, after three days of imprisonment, Berend decided harsh action was called for. After the Lady had left the castle for the day, a servant brought Berend his morning meal. Using his chamber pot, Berend knocked the man unconscious and fled the castle.

Soon after entering the woods he heard sounds of pursuit. Looking back he saw that it was the bear that he had rescued. Its muzzle was pulled back in a snarl and it had murder in its eyes. Knowing he could not out run the beast, Berend turned to face it. He drew both the gem-encrusted dagger and his homemade knife and prepared himself for the creature’s assault.

The bear flung itself upon him and bore him to the ground, then rolled off him dead. The dagger, its jewels glittering, had failed to pierce the animal’s hide, and had in fact snapped in twain. However, the knife he had crafted had struck true and slain his adversary.

Standing, he watched as the bear slowly transformed into the figure of Lady Heltrada. Tossing the broken dagger to the ground, Berend began the long walk home, his thoughts only on his family, his lathe and his forge.

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