Part 5: Bear And Maiden
The misshapen bears closed the circle around the warrior, and Mericc knew that there was nothing for it but to fight. About half a dozen cruel looking bears with crueler looking teeth and claws now occupied the shallow pool, growling as they stalked the man they planned on making their next meal. They watched him now as he prepared for their attack, shield held in front of him, his back to an old oak that they had used as a gathering place since time out of mind. In fact it was to just such a gathering that had brought them there that evening, normally they lived and hunted further north in the forest in great dens dug into the earth and rock, and came here only for special occasions. And here in this sacred place they find an intruder, they were not about to let him make it out alive.
Mericc surveyed the situation from the oak husk, it didn’t look promising. The lead bear was only about ten feet away, the others, farther out in the glade, made their way nearer, soon they would have him completely surrounded. The warrior took a deep breath and prepared to strike the first blow, he wasn’t about to wait and let them make a coordinated strike against him, one that he had a very small chance of surviving. Suddenly, before the first bear could react, Mericc charged and was upon him, his blade slashing across one of the bear’s powerful shoulders. The bear roared in pain and lifted itself up to it’s full height, the claws of it’s good arm came down in a revenge stroke, looking to put an end to this man who had dared give it battle. But the experienced soldier was faster, as the beast brought his arm down, Mericc swung his spiked shield up under its’ guard, fracturing it’s jaw and sending it reeling into the shallow pool. Before it could recover, Mericc’s sword struck a mortal blow, and the great bear fell dead.
Growls, now angry and fierce, shook the glade as the other bears saw one of their number fall and they rushed at Mericc from all sides. He meet them as they came, injuring one, but as the rest got within striking distance, the guardian found himself hard-pressed and was forced to retreat backwards towards the oak stump. Fighting animals as big and strong as a fully grown bear had it’s particular disadvantages, even a blow blocked with a shield jarred the body and risked knocking you to the ground if your footing was not solid, and a warrior off his feet very quickly becomes a dead warrior. Soon Mericc found himself with his back once again at the roots of the oak tree, he was bruised and battered but had given better than he had got, slaying another of the evil bears during the last exchange. The remaining bears prepared another attack and Mericc braced himself as best he could when a sound at the edge of the glade drew the attention of both bear and fighter.
A roar, like to a bear and yet greater rang in the glade and Mericc saw one of the biggest bears he had ever seen come crashing through the brush. It was at least half again as large as the biggest of the evil bears, it’s fur was a light brown and free from the scars and marks that covered those of the forest, and it was heading right towards them. Mericc sighed at his misfortune, and prepared for this new foe, things were looking grim. Feelings of foreboding turned quickly into those of shock, instead of attacking Mericc, the giant bear smashed into the nearest of his foes, sending it flying into the water. The other bears turned towards this unlooked for betrayal, attacking the newcomer with a fury, but soon found themselves vastly overmatched. Fur and claws flew as the giant bear fought with the three remaining bears, wielding his paws and teeth with ruthless efficiency.
Recovering from his momentary shock, Mericc made a quick decision, this new bear might not be his friend, but he was definitely no friend of the bears of the forest. It might attack him as soon as it finished off the last of it’s current foes, but somehow Mericc didn’t think so. At the least, he felt honor-bound to help since the newcomer had gotten him out of immediate danger. Mind made up, he charged into the fray, engaging the dread bears who were occupied in deadly conflict with the massive one. Soon the last of them lay slain on the field and bear and man stood facing each other.
For a moment they stood, both seeming to size the other up, experienced warrior and giant bear. Finally after pondering Mericc for some time, the bear turned around and headed back into the trees where it had come from. Before it made it to the edge though it looked back at the guardian and then back into the forest and Mericc wondered if it meant for him to follow. It wouldn’t be the strangest thing he had done and since he had failed to find any leads as to where his lost worker was, he might as well see where this latest development would take him. The bear stood at the edge of the glade waiting and repeated the motion towards the trees. Warily Mericc followed, hand on the hilt of his sword, it didn’t do to let your’ guard down, even amongst apparent allies, not until you saw what their intentions really were.
They travelled a little ways, the large bear in front leading the way, it was clear he knew exactly where he was heading. Mericc brushed a cobweb from his face and followed through the brush, keeping his eyes on the animal before him. As they walked a sound came to Mericc’s ears, first faint and then louder as they went on, and Mericc felt his heart lighten at once. A soft and melodious female voice, obviously elvish, sang quietly and as he got closer to it’s source, Mericc could make out words.
"Oh! Flowers of the ancient wood
Whose trees once spanned now faded lands
Whose beauty passed all reckoning
And all things made of mortal hands
Speak of those who loved you dear
And tended petal, leaf, and stem
Then fled, to whither none can say
Though in the breeze the wise still hear.
Of Merillif, beloved of all
Whose gardens rivaled elven gems
Fair Neldorlas the nurturer
Her flowers wondrous to recall
Silloth laughed beneath the moon
Unwearied hearts of fear and doubt
While Rhosthorn ever vigilant
Stood watch against the mounting gloom.
Tell of Lenhwest’s love and passion
Never dimming through the years
Of Dorollin whose branches skyward
Spread to heaven like a bastion
Cordofoneth, gentle mother
Sheltered all beneath her leaves
But Braiglad, wild, warned disaster
Untamed are the woods that love her
Oh! Flowers of the ancient wood
Sing of those spirits that you knew
They wait for days now almost spent
And yearn to see the spring anew."
Visions of a time long past, when the forest was young and unspoiled, appeared to Mericc as he and the bear came to an opening in the tree’s and it took an effort for his martial training to force him back to the present. But even then, the lingering notes gave him a greater appreciation of the forest, as something alien and yet, just as alive as he was, able to love and grow and also to despair and fall into ruin just as capably as himself. He looked up, and on a small hilltop sat an elf-maiden of quiet and graceful beauty, her hair was of the deepest gold graced with a circlet of white roses. She was singing to herself and Mericc noticed in her hands she held the petals of a flower that grew alone on the hilltop.
The elvish maiden looked up, a bright smile on her face as the bear and Mericc came into sight. "Dearest Morko, what have you brought with you?" She smiled and then laughed. "Do bring him here, it has been a long time since I have spoken with anyone but you, and as wonderful company as you are, it would be nice to speak with another". With that the bear, or Morko as she called him, ran over to her and laid himself at her side. The elf maiden stroked his fur as she regarded the warrior.
"Hail good traveler, please come and sit with me and my companion, you look weary and troubled and for that, perhaps I can be of some help", she smiled brightly. "My name is Laralini Lauremir."
"Mericc Angadraug at your service fair lady" He replied and bowed low. It would be good to rest a little but he looked up to see the first stars appear in the failing light, it was getting late, and he was running out of time.
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