High Summer’s Night in the Forest

Three bears in a hollow, Urska's den. Two pairs of eyes bright, waiting; the baby was asleep, twitching his paws and mewling in his dreams.

You say these humans will be kind to bears? big Marron rumbled, still suspicious. Urska twitched her whiskers, a bear-shrug. Their language was not language as such; it relied as much upon ear-twitches and smells as it did upon any noises.

They say so. And this bear does say...they have been kind so far. Tho' they did not allow the killing of th' liar-woman.

The woman who is kin to th' cub-thief? She shares his smell.

Her. She should be killed. But they say she know...important things. How to make the big one, Borysko, make him good again.

Is that good, for him to be good?

I think so. The big one, he is very weak now.

Big Marron nuzzled against her neck, curious. He knew humans only as beings who, if they were not cruel to him, ignored him; he was unfamiliar with the idea of regarding them as friends, as Urska seemed to do.

If they are kind, why did you leave them?

You said there were others coming? I could not be caught. It would be...more dangerous for me.

Why is that?

Outside, the sun was disappearing below the horizon, twilight gathering in the branches of the great tree that sheltered the den. Urska raised her nose and smelled the air, then let out a whiffling bear-sigh. Rising to her paws, disturbing the sleeping cub who let out a complaining whimper, she lumbered out into the growing darkness. Marron rumbled inquistively; and then let out a startled roar and lurched to his paws as the sun disappeared below the horizon and Urska changed.

The big bruin's immediate instinct was to protect the cub from this strange being. Forgetting that it had once been Urska, he charged, teeth bared. The slender girl stood her ground, and raised a hand, baring her own blunt, human teeth.

Stop! She barked. See, I know still the bear-speech!

All confused, Marron jammed his claws into the ground and managed to halt his barrelling forwards progress.

How can this be? he asked, baffled, scraping the ground in half-hearted threat. You are still Urska?

It is th' little magician's doing, Urska explained, spreading her hands. I change in th' night-time. I am trying to make him make me me again.

Thus...you must find him?

I must. Now I am a human, I can go where bears cannot; I will find th' little magician, and he will make me me again. You can help?

Marron grunted and tossed his heavy head, wary still of being returned to captivity.

Will I be sent back to th' performance-place?

I will make sure you are not, the beargirl said fiercely. Tell th' cub t'stay here, there is nowhere safer. We will go. I will make sure all is good at th' end.

As y'say, the old bear said resignedly. Urska laid a hand on his old, scarred muzzle and smiled at him.

You will see, she said confidently. All will be good.

The cub did not want to stay alone in the den, although he was obedient to his elders and the strange girl who looked like a human but smelled like a bear; and he sat and watched mournfully as they disappeared into the night-time undergrowth and left him alone. With a tiny resigned sigh, he curled at the back on the den in a tiny unobstrusive furry ball and went back to sleep.

The End

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