Meanwhile, the forest queen listens to a killer of bears

Back in the deep forest, faced with a bear was more than a bear, Borysko backed up as best he could until he felt rough bark through his tunic and found himself with his back against a tree. The bear lumbered forwards, eyes glinting with malice, bent on his destruction...and for the first time in his life Borysko saw death approaching and knew he could do nothing about about it. Even when the poison was eating him from the inside he had known that there was hope; the mage healers were skillful. But now...now he was going to die, and because of his death Madame would die, and the strange dog she called Calla. Utterly helpless, the big warrior closed his eyes and waited for the killing blow.

But it never came. Instead he felt human fists pummelling his chest and a human voice wailing in frustration. His eyes flicked open, and met those of the beargirl.

"Boy blood wear off!" she shrieked, still trying to achieve with human fingernails what bear claws would have done to his chest. "But still I kill you!"

Borysko laughed as relief flooded through him, and he caught hold of her wrists and held them away from him. She squealed and tried to bite him, but relief made him strong again and she could not break free.

"Listen to me," he hissed. She growled and spat at him, and he shook her roughly. "Listen!"

The beargirl subsided then, but her face still reflected hatred.

"Y'speak, I listen," she said sullenly. "Then I kill."

"Do not be stupid, girl. The woman who told you I died, she is a liar and she hunts you down. She will put you in a cage and she will hurt you if you try to escape. But I, I wil not hurt you; I will make the boy make you you again."

"You are Bear Killer; why I believe killer of my people?"

Borysko thought of the bearskins he had put on the floors of the rich, and the snarling heads that he had put on their walls, and his mind recoiled from the thought.

"After this is finished, I will no longer be Bear Killer. I will never kill another bear. This I swear on the blood of my ancestors. I cannot erase the past deaths of your kin, but I will not add any more to their number."

She looked at him, eyes still sharp with suspicion. He looked back, hoping his own eyes reflected nothing but honesty. After a frozen second, she gave a short nod.

"Let go m'paws. I will not kill. But promise must be kept. All promise."

Slowly he released his grip on her wrists; she stepped back and rubbed them, but she did not attack again.

"I will keep the promises. All the promises. Now you must help me with Madame and the dog."

She nodded once again, and bent to pick up Calla. The dog was limp in her arms, very close to death. Borysko picked up Madame de Silva; she was also unconcious, featherlight in his arms. He held her tenderly to him, and the pair of them struck off through the forest towards the clearing where Borysko had left Drakon. As they walked, the warrior could not help staring at the girl beside him. She was a pretty little thing, for all that she was a bear inside.

"Beargirl...do you have a name?"

"I tell. She that can bite y'head off."

"That is a bear's name. Do you wish for a human one?"

"What are human names? They sound good?"

"Some do. My name is-"

"Bear Killer."

"No. Borysko."

She shaped her mouth around the name, and put her head on one side, a thoughtful look on her face.

"That male name?"

"Yes. This woman, her name is Nyssa de Silva. That is a female name."

"I like that name. I take too?"

"It would be confusing to have two females known as Nyssa. But there are other nice names..."

She looked at him curiously, and waited for him to tell her some. Borysko thought desperately of names for girls; he had not had cause to run across many. All he could think of was his mother's name, and the names of his two sisters. All other females had been his superiors, and therefore afforded honorifics, or his inferiors, and not accorded names at all. But he could dredge up a few.

"Well, there is...Berdine. Orsola too. Ursula, or Urska..."

The beargirl laughed, a sound so far removed from all the sounds he had heard from her before that he blinked in puzzlement for a moment.

"Urska I like. I take it. My human name is Urska!"

Borysko grinned despite himself, her enthusiasm infectious. But the next moment she grabbed his sleeve, and bared her teeth.

"People coming!"

The End

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