Lee Pelham Cotton
My tale, little cubs, takes place long ago, when the sun and the moon were each of them hardly larger than a ravenís egg. Back in those far-distant days, there were not as many stars in the sky nor beasts in the forests as there are now.
Few of our folk roamed the woods in those long-past times, for life was perilous. There was much to fear in those ancient days of few stars, when the moon was but a babe. What few bears there were found themselves hard-pressed to survive.
Dangers lurked everywhere, often unseen. Should a bear venture to drink from stream or pool, fierce, slippery beasts might snatch at her paw and draw her down, strangling her in their slimy coils. Ferocious wildcats might pounce on a bear scooping honey from a hollow tree, slash his throat and carry him off. Immense, sharp-beaked birds might swoop upon an unsuspecting cub as does an owl upon a mouse.
How was it that our tribe managed to endure at all? A guardian they had, a champion. This heroic bear was twice the size of even the biggest bear today. Black as the velvety earth she was, with sparkling white shining here and there in her coat. Strong she was, strong and brave. None of the bloodthirsty beasts of the air, water or earth would dare prey on her; instead, it was she who was the predator. Many leagues would she range each night, roaming and roaring, protecting her people.
But, alas, there was only one brave black bear with white in her velvety fur. There were many and many cruel creatures to prey upon the other bears. Champion though she was, the great bear could not be everywhere.
And so it was that, on a fine spring day under the weak rays of the little round sun, a mother bear, fishing trout from a quiet place in a stream, was dragged down into the depths by a snarling, bubbling monster.
Her cub was left behind. This cub was dark brown, with a golden ruff around her neck and with golden paws. She was beautiful, but she cared nothing for that. She cared for her mother, stolen away by the creature with the gaping gills and the cruel claws.
The beautiful cub sat huddled on the stream bank, stunned into stillness by her mourning. The afternoon dwindled into evening. The small, setting sun reflected blood-red on the treacherous, dangerous waters.
What was she to do? There was nowhere to go, no-one to turn to. She was alone for the first time in her life.
It was then that she heard the thickets behind her rustle. Was it a great cat, come to slay her in her turn? The cub found she did not care.
"You should care."
Powerful and lovely was the voice that spoke these words, as unto the thunder of a waterfall heard from afar. But the miserable cub had not even the heart to look behind her.
"Your mother is dead. You must care."
The cub turned at that, and beheld what she had only heard of as a legend: the velvety black bear in whose coat gleamed the moonlight here and there like little, twinkling stars.
"Where were you?" asked the cub softly. "Why didnít you save my mother?"
"I cannot be all places at once, little one. I travel far, but I do not travel fast. I cannot see everything." Big Bearís voice gentled. "But know this: if I had been nigh, if I had seen, then I most certainly would have come to your motherís aid."
Little Bear pointed up at the sky. "If you were up there, up with the stars, then you could see everything and keep us bear folk safe. The monsters would then perish from lack of prey and nevermore seek to torment our tribe."
"Wise counsel do you offer, young one." Big Bear said. She tilted her muzzle to consider the handful of stars which had appeared in the evening sky.
"But wouldnít you be lonely up there, all alone?" asked Little Bear. She shyly came closer to press against the softness of the velvety black bear. "I have no mother now. Let me go with you. We could roam the skies together. I could keep watch with you to protect our people."
Big Bear nuzzled the cub at her side. "I would welcome your company, little one. I shall adopt your plan."
It was Little Bear now who was gazing up at the tiny points of light. "But how do we reach the sky?"
"We must find the sky cave," Big Bear answered.
"But the sky cave is only a legend," protested Little Bear.
"And so am I deemed by some a legend." Big Bear snorted, shrugging her massive shoulders. "Enough talk, little one: the time is passing. Letís no further delay our search."
And so it was that Big Bear and Little Bear began their long search for the sky cave. This cave, all bears knew then as we do now, is where the stars grow as bright crystal stones. When a star has ripened, it breaks free and sails to the sky to join its kin.
Past the Blackberry Time and through the Acorn Time, did the velvety black bear and her golden-footed friend roam the earth. When they found themselves high in the mountains, the snow at last threatened to fall. The two bears, just as we do even today, sought for shelter from the long nights and the cold days.
It was Little Bear who happened on the cave, just as the sun was setting. It was too dark to see much within, but the two companions were grateful for the refuge from the weather. Wrapping one another in a warm hug, they fell at once asleep.
They were awakened at dawn in great astonishment. The cave glowed and glimmered with the light from the risen sun. Little Bear saw rainbows playing over the white on Big Bearís black coat. She cried joyfully, pointing to the crystal-studded black walls, "Weíve found the sky cave." And so they had.
That night, the bears waited until the moon rose, reflecting from the surface of all those shining stones. One of the largest of the crystals began to twist back and forth in its socket of soil, as though wishing to free itself. Little Bear wrapped her limbs tightly around the crystal. Another, even larger, began to jerk back and forth in its soft bed. Big Bear took firm hold of that shining stone.
"Ooh," gasped Little Bear, as the crystal she held wrenched loose and, taking her with it, began to float skyward.
"Hold tight," cautioned Big Bear, as her huge crystal, thick as a tree stump, tore free and followed its mate upwards into the sky.
It was not long thereafter that the foul creatures which plagued the bears and other tribes became so scarce as to become legends themselves.
Remember this tale, little cubs, any time you look up at the sky on a night that is clear. See the pattern of stars? Thereís Little Bear and, close beside her, Big Bear. In the night-time, they watch over us; in the daytime, they use the shining surfaces of their crystals to make the sunís rays even hotter and brighter, so as to weaken any evil thing below. Ever vigilant, our two friends above will ever allow no harm to befall us.
Lee Pelham Cotton, in addition to writing and publishing her own articles, stories, poetry and book reviews, is the agent for several of her characters in a multi-volume historical fantasy entitled ShadowDance. She and her faithful readers, who receive a chapter every month or so, refer to it as "the neverending novel." At present, the first 55-chapter volume is done and she is well along with the second volume. Thereís no end in sightÖ.
Agent for her characters? Well, the people in ShadowDance spend a great deal of time telling stories, performing rituals, singing songs and doing dances. Although ShadowDance is a work in progress, Lee decided to offer these selections by the characters to publishers. So far, Sophia, Julian and Beanpole have all had work accepted.
Read another story by Lee, Tuyere
Published by permission of the author.