Authors: Erin Hunter
Special thanks to Cherith Baldry
Lusa stared at the grizzly cub.
He was twice her size; in the struggle when she was trapped under his weight, she had thought he would kill her for sure. But she wasn't scared of him now, as she watched him crouched in front of her with his flanks heaving. Red light from the setting sun trickled through the leaves, speckling Toklo's brown pelt with spots of burning russet.
She had found Oka's missing cub.
I could have searched for him all my life and never found him. Did the spirits guide me?
Toklo glared at her. “How do you know my name?”
“IâI've been looking for you,” Lusa stammered. “I've come all the way from the Bear Bowlâ”
“The Bear Bowl?” Toklo curled his lip. “What's that?”
“It's a place where bears live,” Lusa explained, on more confident territory now. “Black bears like me, and grizzlies, and huge white bears. Flat-faces feed us and mend us when we get sick, and other flat-faces come and look at us. There are other animals, too,” she added. “Tigers, and flamingos, and animals
with long, dangly noses.”
Toklo interrupted her with a huff of contempt. “You lived with other animals?” he growled disbelievingly. “Flat-faces fed you? Proper bears don't do that. What sort of bear
Lusa felt her belly go tight; he looked really angry, and she knew she wouldn't be able to fight him off a second time. But she had promised Oka that she would pass on her message to her only surviving cub. “The flat-faces brought your mother to the Bear Bowl. Sheâ¦she died there.” She decided there was no point making Toklo even angrier by telling him how Oka had been crazed with grief for her lost cubs, so deranged that she had attacked a flat-face. “Before she died she gave me a message for you. She saidâ”
Toklo turned away. “I don't want to hear it!”
Startled, Lusa took a pace toward him. “But I promisedâ”
“I said, I don't want to hear it! I don't want to hear anything about that bear. She abandoned me. She is
my mother.” He stalked away, his paws crunching through the dried leaves until he stopped under a twisted fir tree.
“She was sorry,” Lusa murmured.
She didn't think Toklo had heard her. Without looking at her, he snarled, “Go back to the Bear Bowl!”
Lusa blinked, puzzled. She had risked her life to find him, and to tell him what Oka had wanted him to know. She had expected that Toklo would be grateful to her. Maybe he would even become her friend, so she wouldn't be on her own anymore. What had she done to make him so hostile?
She couldn't go back to the Bear Bowl. The wild was bigger
than she had ever imagined, scary and confusing. But it was exciting, too. After the freedom she had known in the last moons, she couldn't think of returning to the little space where two or three trees made a forest. But what would Toklo do if she didn't leave? She clamped her jaws shut to stop a whimper from coming out. There was no way she'd show Toklo how scared she was.
Lusa turned to look at the other brown bear cub, who was sitting watching her with bright interest. She tipped her head on one side, remembering what she had seen just before her struggle with Toklo. She had been chasing a hare, hadn't she? A growl from her belly reminded her that she was hungrier than she'd ever been in her life. She'd been chasing a hare
and it had turned into this cub
Her mother hadn't said anything about hares that turned into bears, or any other animal for that matter. Was this a bear, or a hare? Would it change again? Lusa stared at it suspiciously, looking for long ears suddenly shooting up.
The brown cub stood up and padded over to her. He was smaller than Toklo, and his eyes were warm and curious. “My name's Ujurak. You're Lusa, right?”
Lusa nodded. “Areâ¦are you a bear or a hare?” she burst out.
Ujurak lifted his shoulder in a shrug, rippling his shiny brown fur. “I don't know,” he admitted. “I can be lots of other creatures, too. A salmon, an eagleâ¦sometimes I'm a flat-face cub.”
Lusa stiffened. Would Ujurak be a kind flat-face like the
feeders in the Bear Bowl, or one of the dangerous ones who shouted and shot their metal sticks? “Why would you want to be a flat-face?”
“I don't exactly want to be anything,” Ujurak replied. “Except a bear, of course. It just happens.” He glanced at Toklo. “I'm trying to control it, but I'm not very good yet.”
“So you're really a bear?” Lusa stretched her head up and checked. His ears were definitely small and round right now, nothing like a hare's.
“I think so.” Ujurak blinked. “I hope so.”
Lusa looked around. The trees grew close together here, with little room for berry bushes underneath, but there was no scent of flat-faces or dogs. “Is this Toklo's territory?” The big grizzly cub looked quite strong enough to score his clawmarks on the trees and defend his feeding ground from other bears.
“No, we're on a journey.” An amber glow lit deep in Ujurak's eyes. “We're going to the place where the bear spirits dance in the sky.”
Ujurak looked at his paws.
Definitely bear's paws,
Lusa thought. “We don't know exactly,” he confessed. “We're following the stars.” He looked up again. “But I
to get there. However long it takes.”
Something in Lusa prompted her to reach up and touch her nose to the cub's furry ear. “You'll find the place, I know you will.”
Ujurak turned his head to stare at her. “You understand,
don't you?” he said softly. “Because you kept going until you found Toklo.”
Lusa nodded. “I promised Oka that I'd find him, and I did.”
“Are you going to come with us?” Ujurak asked. “To the place where the bear spirits dance?”
Lusa wondered if Oka's spirit would be there, and if Oka would tell Toklo herself how much she loved him. Lusa wanted to see that happen more than anything. And she didn't have anywhere else to go. Besides, she'd been good at finding Toklo, hadn't she? Perhaps Ujurak would need her help to find the place he was looking for.
“Yes, I'll come,” she announced.
“Great!” yelped Ujurak, bouncing on his front paws. Even though he was younger than Lusa, he was bigger than her, and she took a step back to avoid getting bounced on.
“Do you think Toklo will mind?” she asked, looking at the brown bear standing under the fir tree with his back to them. “He doesn't seem to like me very much.”
Ujurak followed her gaze. “Toklo doesn't like anyone very much. Including himself,” he commented quietly.
Lusa glanced at him in surprise, but before she could say anything Toklo had swung around and pushed his way out from under the spindly branches. He glared at Lusa. “You can't slow us down,” he warned.
Lusa bit back a growl. It wasn't Toklo's journey, it was Ujurak's, so he shouldn't be bossing her around. But she just shook her head. “I'll keep up,” she promised. Though she
hoped they'd stop to eat soon, because her legs were feeling wobbly underneath her grumbling belly.
Toklo swung his head from side to side. “Why are we standing around here? We need to find shelter for the night.” Without another word he headed into the shadows under the trees. Ujurak trotted after him, his stumpy tail twitching.
Lusa stood still for a moment. Was this really what she wanted? Being a wild bear didn't mean traveling who-knew-where with two brown bears, did it? But the only other choice was staying here without them, and she had had enough of being on her own.
Even wild bears have company,
she reminded herself.
“Wait for me!” she called, and bounded off to catch up to her new companions.
Lusa shifted into a more comfortable position and parted her jaws in a huge yawn. Moonlight filtering through the leaves turned her paws to silver. She was curled up in a tree, where two thick branches met the trunk and made a bowl shape just big enough for a small bear.
She knew she ought to go to sleep, but her pelt prickled with curiosity and every time she closed her eyes, excitement made them fly open again. She had found Toklo, but now she was on another journeyâand none of them knew exactly where it would lead.
Toklo and Ujurak had squeezed themselves into a hollow beneath the roots of the tree. They weren't asleep, either; Lusa could hear them shifting about and snuffling below her. She
caught the deep growl of Toklo's voice, and craned her neck to hear him more clearly.
“This is ridiculous,” he was saying. “She can't stay with us.”
Lusa's belly clenched with fear. Was Toklo going to leave her behind after all?
I don't care! If they won't let me travel with them, I'll just follow them
“You said she could come,” Ujurak reminded Toklo.
“No I didn't!”
“Well, you didn't say she couldn't.”
“I'm saying it now,” Toklo replied irritably. “Why should we want a stupid black bear with us? You heard her. She comes from a place where she didn't have to catch her own prey. Flat-faces fed her, and
her. What kind of a bear is that?”
“I think she's interesting,” Ujurak replied.
Toklo huffed. “She's only a black bear. She'll just slow us down.”
Lusa wanted to jump out of the tree and confront Toklo. She might not have been born in the wild, but she had managed just fine for moons and moons. She
to be a wild bear, even if it meant never going back to the Bear Bowl, and her family. And black bears were better than grizzlies any day! Her father had said that they were the kings of the forest.
She was bunching her muscles to leap down when Ujurak spoke. His voice was soft, and he sounded older than before.
“I think I was meant to find Lusa. I think she is meant to come with us.”
A scoffing noise came from Toklo.
“If she can't keep up, she won't want to stay with us
anyway,” Ujurak went on. “But I think the spirits of the bears are waiting for her, just as much as they are waiting for you and me.”
Above them, Lusa shivered as she crouched on the edge of her sleeping place, staring down into the bear-scented darkness. Was Ujurak right? Were there bear spirits waiting for her?
But whoseâand why?