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5
The Bear

A Mannish tale from the Vales of the Anduin


~~~

In the vales of the great river, under the eaves of the forest, lived a widow with her daughter and son. They tended their small farm, gathered nuts and berries in the forest, and sometimes caught fish in the river.

One day, as the girl was tending the kitchen garden and the boy was milking the cow, the widow heard a knock on the door. She got up from her spinning and opened it. There on the doorstep stood a bear carrying a great fish in its mouth. The bear bowed to the woman, and gently set the fish on the threshold.

The woman saw that the bear meant her no harm, so she curtsied and said, "Thank you, friend Bear, for the kind gift."

The bear bowed again, and said, "You are most welcome, neighbor. Eat it in good health." Then she turned and walked away.

When the woman served the fish for dinner, her children asked where it came from, for they knew she had not gone fishing that day. "Our new neighbor brought this as a friendship gift," she said, thinking that having a friendly bear as neighbor might be no bad thing.

The next week, the bear returned, bringing a large honeycomb, clumsily wrapped in leaves. This time, she stayed for a short while, talking with the woman. The woman called her children to meet the bear, and whom they greeted politely. Then the bear again departed.

The following week, the bear came back again. This time, she dragged a large tree that had been felled by beavers. The widow saw that it would be useful for both firewood and building. Again, she thanked the bear gratefully.

Then she said, "Kind Bear, you have been most generous. How can we repay you?"

The bear said, "Please, sit down, and I will tell you my story.

"As you know, I am a Talking Bear. I was not always so. When I was young, I was dumb and unknowing as most beasts. In those days, while I was still a cub, my parents were lost to me, and I was abandoned in the forest. There I encountered one of the Elves. They always wished to talk to everything, the old Elves did.

"This elf cared for me, and taught me to talk, and to live in the forest. When I became older, she sent me back to my own people to find a mate, and have cubs of my own.

"The gift of speech was not all she gave me, although her other gift was all unwitting. The Elves have the long sight, and can often sense the paths of the future. When she taught me to talk, I gained also some of the long sight of the Elves.

"Now, the orcs are multiplying in the mountains, the wargs are growing in number, and always there are more trolls and giants about than before. I see that this will do naught but grow worse. Thus, I come to you, that we may combine our forces. You, with your clever hands and tools of metal, and we, I and my cubs, with our strength and size, will be more able to combat the evil creatures of the world together than either alone."

Now this seemed more than reasonable to the widow, for she had had dealings with the Elves herself, and had gained in some measure the same foresight. Therefore, after discussing it with her children, she assented.

The Bear and her cubs came to live with the widow and her children. With the help of the Bears, they were able to build a strong stockade, and plenish it well with food from forest, field and river.

Thus they lived for some years, and it came to pass that when the orcs and wargs, the trolls and giants came that way, the widow’s family and the Bear’s family worked and fought side by side. Though they were hard pressed at times, always they were safe at last, due to the doughtiness of the Bears and the humans.

The Bear and the widow began to grow old. They took thought for the future, and said to each other, "If only our children could marry. Then their children would have the best of both."

But when they spoke of this to the children, the widow’s son said, "The Bears are my friends, but the bear maid is so large!" And the Bear’s son said, "The maiden is so small and weak, I fear to break her!".

The maiden said, "The Bear-youth is my companion, but his odor is so strong!" And the Bear-maiden likewise said, "The youth is no taller than my shoulder!"

So the widow and the Bear saw that not easily would this excellent alliance of Men and Bears be maintained. They went then one morning into the forest, and there they remained for three days and three nights, and on the morning of the fourth day, they returned exceedingly weary.

They called their children to them, and before any could speak, they cast over them a glamour, that to each the others would appear as one of their own. Thus, when the youth looked at the Bear-maid, he saw a lass, tall and strong, but comely. Likewise did the Bear-youth and the maidens see well-favoured Bears or Man.

So, in due time, the children of the widow and the Bear were married. Soon, they had cubs and children, to set upon their grandmothers’ knees. As they grew, the tallest, strongest and cleverest became a great leader of Men and Bears and other wild folk there by the river, and was known by all as Beorn.

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