The following is part of a story I wrote this summer in hopes of eventually illustrating it and getting it published – I’ve put only part of it here online because I’d love some feedback. Also, I have not so much time to compose a blog post right now, so… here we go!
The Bright and Pale Cubs – A Selection From The Story
The great Bear God resided from time immemorial in the Valley of the Geysers, subsisting on nectar rich flowers in the spring, gorging himself on salmon in the summer, and secreting himself in moist, warm caves for the winter months. Far to the western border of his land was a small cabin in the woods at the base of a large volcano. These were the only humans the Bear God had ever seen – a she-human and two she-cubs. One cub resembled berries in the fall, golden and red as autumn. The other had the pale skin and dark features of a birch tree, straight and tall. When the Bear God tired of the company of bears and found himself lonely he would travel to the cottage and watch the cubs at play or work. Sometimes the she-cubs sang and those were his favorite moments; the Bear God loved to sing and would often make his way through the forest and valleys with a song bellowing out before him. There was no mate to the she-human and the Bear God began to felt protective of these creatures that were so strange and singular amongst the vast expanse of his lands. He feared that something should happen to them and then he would be bereft of the only other creatures in his land that spoke and sang songs. In his 5th year of observing the pack his worry grew so strong that he neglected to keep watch over the weather. The season between summer and winter is always swift in the Valley of the Geysers and soon snow began to fall. The Bear God was stranded in the woods with the cottage.
The winter winds howled through the valley bringing with them snows so deep that young saplings were lost under the thick blanket. Nestled into the edge of the wood, the cottage was sheltered from the worst of the weather. For as long as he could the Bear God kept his distance, not wishing to alarm the humans, but he soon found that he was dying. The cold was too severe and even with his thick layer of fur his great body was loosing heat. On the darkest night of the year he shambled his ice-covered form up to the cottage and dug himself into the snow at the base of the human’s chimney. The stones radiated a measure of warmth and as the snow covered him he drifted off, not knowing whether he was to meet death or awaken with the spring.
In the Valley of the Geysers spring awakens in late May, when much of the world is in flower. What the season lacks in length it makes up for in abundance as the heat of the geysers encourages the rapid growth of blossoms before even all of the snow has melted. The flora takes life so quickly that when the Bear God awoke with his yearly precision, he found himself covered in a thin layer of lichens and moss. Grumbling at his discomfort and stretching himself slowly, he rose up, leaning on the cottage for support and shaking the structure slightly with his massive form. When he lifted his eyes he met the inquisitive stare of the two cubs and their mother, all of whom were now of a similar size and had positioned themselves at a distance from the grimy beast. “Pardon me She-Humans. The winter has greatly diminished my beauty and before I can properly meet you I must bathe in the spring.” Leaving them at the cottage he shuffled around the tree line to the geyser pool located nearby. He took his time grooming himself, washing off all of the growth and letting the steaming water kill any bugs that had taken to his coat as a new home. When he was finished he made his way back to the human-pack, eating roots and flowers along the way in order to sate his sickening hunger.
When he returned he found that the humans had set out an alter for him, a gathering of boards atop tree stumps with dried fish and berries. This did not surprise him because he was a god, and well beloved by all in his land. The Pale and Bright she-cubs were standing at either end of the offering. “Where is the Elder She-Human?” he asked as he positioned himself to feast. The food was salty, which did not suit the Bear God, but he was famished and ate it all. The Pale Cub explained that the old she-human had taken a great fright upon seeing the God and was ill with a weak heart. Low in his chest the Bear God laughed, “She need not fear me! You are my only humans, I would not do without you!” The humans took comfort in his laughter and speech and as the evening wore on the Bright Cub wove flowers into his coat while the Pale Cub sang songs to them all.
As the spring progressed into summer the Bear God once again kept watch over his humans, but this time from within the yard of the cottage, singing and conversing with them after days full of fishing. At high summer a new human approached the cottage while the Bear God was away. When he returned in the evening he was startled, for it was a male-human. The Bear-God observed him with unease, afraid to approach and startle the newcomer. Though the summer air was warm, he slept with a chill in his heart.
Three days the Man stayed at the cottage. At first the Bear God thought perhaps he was the mate of the old she-human, but he seemed younger, more of an age to the cubs. The Man left on the fourth day with his cart and pony, leaving behind trade goods for the she-humans, making promises to return before winter. When he had gone the Bear God fished again, for he had dared not leave the cottage while the visitor was there, and in the evening he returned to his humans.
“Oh Great Bear, we have been so lost without you!” cried the Pale Cub on his return. The Bright Cub and the old she-human regaled him with tales of the traveler. They showed him bright goods that shimmered in the light and begged him to taste delicacies from across the mountains while the Pale Cub combed his coat and stroked his paws. As night approached the humans grew sleepy and made their excuses to bed down, but the Bear God lightly nudged at the Pale Cub. “Pale One, I must speak with you a moment.”
“Of course, Great Bear. What is it you require?” She looked up at him and he saw that her eyes were not the black of the birch but rather the dark blue of the winter night. “Sing me a song, Pale One, for I will leave soon and I wish to remember your voice in the wilderness.”
“Great One, why is it that you are leaving us?” Her voice was full of sadness and fear. “Have we displeased you? We wish only to make you happy.” She stroked his coat and laid her head upon his shoulder.
“You have done nothing wrong child. I leave now because I see that soon you and the Bright One will find mates and leave this place. I am loosing my humans who mean so much to me. There is sadness in my heart that I must ease with solitude.” The Pale she-human made sounds of distress, but could not deny that soon they would need mates. “Please, sing me a song before we part.” She sang to him then, a song of the Aurora Borealis in a voice sweeter than any birds’. When she finished she threw her arms around his neck and pressed her tear soaked face against his cheek. “Return to us once, please, before the winter.” He gently shook her off and made his way into the night.
Many weeks past and the days grew short and cold. Still the Bear God did not return to his humans. As the leaves fell and firewood was stockpiled the Pale she-human often watched the woods for signs of the Bear God and she sang songs to the stars at night for him. The Bright and Old she-humans were sad that they were no longer graced with the company of the lord of the land, but in their hearts they had known he could not stay forever. Gods were subject to their own will and humans of no more account to them than salmon or birds. The Old she-human often said comforting words to the Pale One, encouraging her cubs with thoughts of the traveling male-human, soon to return. Finally the first frost came, and with it the Man.
Much deliberation had gone on within the heart of the Old she-human since the Man first made her the offer of marrying one of her cubs. Both were beautiful, one Bright as berries, one Pale as snow, but the mother worried how her cubs would take to a mate. The Man and the Bright Cub seemed of a similar temperament, but as she watched the Pale Cub suffer across the summer and autumn, the Old she-human wondered if it might be best to match her with the Man to ease her loneliness. Her final decision yet unmade, the return of the Man brought with it a sleepless night for the Old One.
The conclusion of the story, will not be published on the blog as I am hoping to do some editing and submit it for publication. Those of you who are familiar with folktales and fairy tales may recognize the bones of the story as inspired by “Snow White and Rose Red” and those of you familiar with Russian geography my recognize the location of the Valley of the Geysers as Kamchatka.