“Shh! It’s not funny, Noxx!”
And to think that most, if not all, asura are too busy with their brawn to give me one single compliment when I achieve something. It is really frustrating, especially for the only daughter of the great Stone Stoneson, defeater of dredge and strongest in the minotaur weightlifting challenge! My father praises me and has high expectations. This is why I setup on a quest to defeat my first white bear champion, Bjerynd. Hidden in a Cave far from the Great lodge, it’s supposed to be sleeping soundly until the next Norn attempts to vanquish it.
And so, it is when I discovered the cave that my traveling companion, Noxx, an asura a little too tall for his race, decided that it would be funny to scream loudly and wake the beast. The bear stepped out of the cave right after I had found the perfect hiding spot; an oak tree I was tall enough to reach the lowest branch and swing my little friend over my shoulder. With a faint squeal, he hung on a branch and I propelled myself to a higher one than his. I frowned as I looked down, watching the bear sniff the air, and watching the surroundings.
“Great. Let’s climb a tree because no bear can do that!” Noxx spat out, his tiny asura feet dangling in the air in attempt to reach the branch he was holding onto.
I reached down, pulled his leg on the branch and allowed him to then sit properly on his perching spot. “Shh! It’s not funny, Noxx!” I almost whispered, fearing the bear to hear us.
But it didn’t. Slowly turning around, it headed back into the cave and we waited a few minutes before we could move or even speak again. “Are you mad? Do you really want to become bear food, Vjern? What if it would have smelt us? Do you honestly think that fighting in a tree is the best of styles?” asked Noxx, franticly waving his right arm as his left held onto the branch he was sitting on.
I shook my head. “The bear has a scar. Right under the left thigh. I highly doubt it could have climbed on the tree and if it would have, it would have been too weak to reach us.”
“How do you know that?” he said, his pointy teeth menacing. “How do you know the champion bear cannot climb trees? How do you know if its paws are strong enough to shake this whole tree or even break it in two with unleashed force? How do you know these things, Vjern?”
He waited for me to answer but my gaze remained on the ground, down below. The bear wasn’t alone. Cubs. Ten of them. If all ten were the bear’s, then it was a mystery, but they were all white, just as it was. They came out and sat outside the cave, waited for the mother bear to exit and then silently followed her as she strolled away to the south.
“Good! Let’s escape, now!”
I had to hop down a few branches and put my hand over Noxx’s mouth to make him stop. His voice would attract them if he would keep that up. His tiny arms and legs were flailing but my eyes remained on the bears as they padded away silently. “If you wish to get killed, I’ll snap your neck on the bear’s behalf. Quit being noisy when threat is around, little one.” I told him, looking into his huge black eyes.
He was terrified. I could tell. So as his head nodded slowly, I removed my hand from his mouth and he remained silent. It only took a few minutes when the bear and its cubs returned, just as silently as they had left but each one of them had a salmon locked in their jaws. They weren’t eating them, they were bringing them inside the cave. Usually, bears would eat their fish right on the spot. So why did the mother bear and her cubs come back with eleven giant fish just to go back into the cave? It was unusual. I had to investigate. As I made my way down the tree, Noxx was boiling inside, screaming in whispers to me to ‘come back up’. The bears were in the cave already, so there was no danger unless I would threaten or scream. I ignored his cries and approached as silently as I could, hands already on the hilts of the daggers by my hips. Stealth was my specialty.
The day was already coming to dusk and shadows covered the mountains almost completely. It was getting dark really quickly and while I was happy about this, Noxx was already pondering ways he could get killed in a far away place, in the cold weather of the Shiverpeaks, his body never to be found and disappearing with no progeny in the making. While he was struggling to get down from the tree, or debating if he should even be on the ground, I was already on the side of the cave’s entrance. I peaked my head inside the cave but it was so dark that I could not make any of it. I sniffed the air and sharpened my hearing, praying to Wolf to give me her strength and cunning to lead me in the dark place.
It smelt like a bad mixture of humidity and moss but further more, sickness. Something was dying in there, or at least was already dead. I couldn’t hear any munching, but I did make out the sounds of heavy breathing. It was shallow and quick. Perhaps my trophy was already waiting for me, in the dark, ready to pounce and attack, but I was ready! I would give the bear the fight of its life before I would return a hero amongst norn! They would sing songs of how I defeated eleven bears, vicious cubs and their protective mother! I would have enough fur to give to my entire family and make skins for our beds and keep us warm at nights. It was the best thing that could have happened to me in my search for the champion.
I decided to take a torch out of my bag and hit it with flint. The flame bursted as I had already prepared the cloth with the oil it needed. I waved the flame in front of me and while my right hand swung my unsheathed dagger, the bears did not move. The view startled me. They were not scared of me. They only sat there, fish at their feet, in circle as they surrounded the heavy breathing bear. It wasn’t the same one that had gotten outside of the cave but rather a smaller one so skinny you could see the rib cage through the thin fur.
Twelve bears. One of them was dying.
Would it make me a hero to defeat them in this moment? Would they sing songs of a hero who slaughtered a sick bear and its mourning cubs and wife? Probably not.
“What’s going on here?” the little asura said behind me as he peaked his head in and saw that I was simply standing there.
“Be quiet.” was the only answer I gave him. And while he walked towards me to stand at my side, I sheathed my dagger. Some cubs were pushing the big salmons closer to the dying bear’s mouth and as they did so, I felt like I was intruding. I was a stranger in these caves, a hero defeated by its feelings. I was ashamed because I could not bring back a trophy with such memory but at the same time, I couldn’t just stand there. So I walked towards the dying bear.
I knelt down besides it and reached for its head. The mother bear and her cubs let me, so I stroked my fingers in its fur.
It was cold. It was thin. You could feel death imprinting its claws into it. Sadness came through me and I whispered.
“Bear, give your dying child strength. The pain is true and the children heartbroken.” I started praying and the bears simply listened.
“I realize now that you’ve lead me here. You gave me a purpose. The mother is injured, the cubs powerless. The father suffers and waits until death comes.”
Noxx walked besides me, still cautious but very intrigued. I continued.
“I walked this path to become a hero. I walked this path to bring back a trophy. But I realize now that you were guiding me to protect them.”
It was clear to me. An injured mother could not protect her cubs forever. She, too, could die with such a leg injury. It was scarred, yes, but the way the had walked before showed weakness in her steps. I had to become the protector. I had to listen to bear’s command.
The bear’s last breath came at dawn, that day.
Noxx left for Hoelbrak to tell the tale. A hero became a legend, the songs sung of protection of our gods and acceptance of Bear. A norn living with the bears she went to battle. A new life amongst new friends.
This was the day I learnt what love was. To protect. To fight for. To face death with. To bring peace to.
No matter what race, no matter the differences. Families grow on love.
Families… Grow on love.