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Authors: Mette Ivie Harrison

Tags: #Love & Romance, #Magic, #Human-animal communication, #Kings; queens; rulers; etc, #Body; Mind & Spirit, #Juvenile Fiction, #Kings; queens; rulers; etc., #Fantasy & Magic, #General, #Royalty, #Science Fiction, #Fairy Tales, #Princesses, #Animals, #Girls & Women, #Fairy Tales & Folklore, #Fiction, #Magick Studies, #Time Travel

The Princess and the Bear

BOOK: The Princess and the Bear
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The Princess and the Bear
Mette Ivie Harrison

For Barry, Mensch

Contents

Prologue

The Tale of the Cat That Became a Man

Chapter One

The Hound

Chapter Two

The Bear

Chapter Three

The Hound

Chapter Four

The Bear

Chapter Five

The Hound

Chapter Six

The Bear

Chapter Seven

The Hound

Chapter Nine

The Hound

Chapter Ten

The Bear

P
ROLOGUE

The Tale of the Cat That Became a Man

L
ONG AGO
,
THERE
lived a wild cat that was the sleekest, fastest, and bravest of its kind. It had been triumphant in battles against the most fearsome beasts of the forest: bear and elk and charging moose. But it was said to have an uncanny intelligence and a look to the eyes that was almost human. Those who had seen it claimed that the wild cat would even leap straight through a bonfire or dive into a river’s raging water to get at its prey.

Legends grew up around the wild cat, which was known by the striping around its nose, and humans sought to prove their prowess against it. But no matter how often it was hunted, the wild cat was never caught. Arrows were not fast enough and swords slid past it. Those who rode against it did not return—or returned very different men from when they had gone out.

One day, a young student of magic decided to go into
the forest to see if even half of the stories he had heard about the wild cat were true. He found its trail and followed it. Then, with his own eyes, he saw the wild cat kill two deer in one leaping attack and defend itself against a pack of hounds that came against it in an attempt to take its prey. Two of the hounds were dead in the few moments it took for the rest of them to decide to retreat, and many more were injured in the battle.

The young man watched the cat carry off the carcasses, one after the other, to its lair. And then, late that evening, he heard a soft, warbling sound coming from the place where the wild cat had gone.

The student followed the sound until he had reached a small cave hidden behind a waterfall. He climbed to the entrance, then poked his head inside to see the wild cat playing a flute made out of bone. The bone had been hollowed out and the young man of magic could see strewn on the floor of the cave other similar flutes, perhaps of different tones, and even one lyre.

The student could hardly believe his eyes. A cat that could play an instrument stolen from a human was one thing. But a cat that could make the instrument? That was extraordinary indeed!

Now the student spread forth his hands and let the heat of his magic flow out. The wild cat made one strangled yelp before the magic overcame it, and then it began to change.

Slowly—one paw at a time, then a nose and an ear and a haunch—the wild cat was transformed into a tall, graceful man with tawny hair and faintly striped skin around the nose.

The young man of magic expected the new cat man to be pleased. He offered his own jacket and a few coins to help the cat man on his way.

“There is a town some miles south, past the edge of the forest,” the young man of magic explained in the language of the wild cats. “I am sure you will find all you need for comfort there.”

He nodded to the cat man and told himself that soon the wild cat would learn to speak as humans did. Then the student went on his way, proud of his success with such great and powerful magic.

But the cat man was not happy. He could not remain in the forest, for a man’s hands were too soft for the kill and a man’s teeth could not tear and rend flesh. He could not speak the language of the wild cats, for he no longer had the right shape to his tongue, teeth, and mouth. He tried to make the same sounds, but they came out tuneless and wrong.

He had no choice but to do as the student had bid him and leave the forest where he had felt himself the most magnificent of all animals. The journey through the forest was painful and slow, for the student had left him no boots, and his tender man’s feet were badly blistered in a
few hours’ time. His uncovered legs stung from too much sun and scrapes from the tree branches that seemed to grab at him.

At last the cat man arrived at an inn in the nearest town. Here, once he showed his coins, he was cared for, despite his lack of speech. He was given clothing and as much food and drink as he wished. Also a warm bed, soft blankets, and music far more beautiful than he had ever produced himself.

For a time he stopped longing for the forest and the life that had been his. He simply enjoyed each moment, for that is the way that a cat is, and every animal. Men might think of the future or the past, but for animals there is only this moment, and then the next one.

But it was not long before the few coins that the student of magic had given the cat man were gone. Evicted from the inn, he was thrown into the streets of the town and began to live as a beggar and a thief. He attacked passersby without compunction, combining a man’s clever hands with a cat’s vicious speed, and soon he was proud of having killed as many in the town as in the forest.

So it was that the student, returning to the town with his masters in his carriage, showed the proof of his talents, but not in the way he had expected.

The cat man leaped at the carriage with all aboard, growling and clawing and gnashing his teeth. The young man trembled, realizing he had transformed the wild
cat into a man without respect for what he had been or understanding of what he would become.

He tried to pretend that he knew nothing of the creature, but the tawny hair and striped face gave the cat man’s identity away. The masters were horrified at what the student had done and told him they would not teach him another day.

Angry, the young man turned on the fleeing cat man and caught his legs with magic. They changed back into their animal form, though he left the rest of the cat man as he was.

“What has become of you? How can you have done this with the great gift that I offered you?” he complained.

The cat man spat and bit and scratched, but could not answer in any language.

The student stared at the cat man and saw in him the cause of his failure.

He lifted his hands and gathered his power, intending to reverse his magic. But the student had another idea for revenge. He used his magic to make the cat man look wholely human once more. Then he bound the cat man with ropes and took him home to be his servant. For many years they lived together, until, one day, the man was found dead in his own chambers.

The ropes he had used to keep his servant tethered to him had been broken, and of the servant himself there was no sign. But the man had been old, and there was no
reason to suspect that there was anything to fear in the poor servant.

If some saw the strange servant roaming the forests and beyond, they said nothing of it. Nor did they connect the change in the forest itself, or in the other animals that lived within it, to the servant who had once been a cat man.

C
HAPTER
O
NE
The Hound

T
HE SMELL OF
the forest hit her first. Pine and moss and sweat-touched fur.

It was right again.

And so was she.

Her paws were on the ground. She could stretch her back and scratch herself as needed and she had a tail again to keep her balance.

She felt how strong and wide her jaw was now, and she tested her teeth by chomping at a branch of the tree at her side. It snapped instantly, cleanly, just as prey would when she was ready to chase it.

She could hear the distant call of a bird and the splash of a fish in the water not far away.

She tried out her strong legs and discovered she could run as fast as ever, leap over fallen trees, then turn around in a flick of movement and be racing back the same way again.

That was when she nearly careened into the bear.

And remembered why he was here.

The bear who had been a man, whose story she had heard when she was a princess.

The bear Prince George had brought her to, the one who had challenged her, then watched her change from woman to hound.

Where was Prince George? And the princess?

The hound had not seen them leave. She had been too busy rediscovering herself.

Now the bear sniffed in her direction.

She sniffed back and approached him slowly, head down, to show that she would not attack. Her lips twitched and she caught a snarl in her throat. The bear made a wordless sound like a groan, then gestured with one large paw toward the rocky part of the forest.

He took a step in that direction, then stopped. Waiting, but without threat.

She thought briefly of the year she had spent as human, when she had never been allowed to choose anything for herself. The boots she had had to wear, pinching her feet, the gowns that were “suitable,” the words she was expected to say, the curtsying and smiling.

But that was gone.

She was a hound again. And the bear was an animal, as she was.

She lumbered cautiously alongside him as they crossed twice over a cold stream and approached a cave.

The bear entered it.

She moved across the rocks and peered inside.

The bear settled at one end of the cave and stretched out on the floor near the back with his side to the rock wall. She could smell water in the air. It was dripping on the bear, but he did not complain.

She moved forward, then tucked herself in close to him, letting her legs curl up underneath her. She could feel the brush of his fur against hers.

She shivered, then moved closer to the bear, until she could feel the hurried breathing of his chest against her.

Gradually it slowed. And she slept.

 

The next morning, as the two drank by the stream, a herd of rabbits crossed their path.

The hound held back, allowing the bear the first kill. But his attack was so loud and wide that by the time he had the first rabbit in his mouth, all the others had scattered.

The hound spent long minutes chasing them, but they were gone, and so was any other hope of game that morning. The woods were silent, the animals warned by the great noise of the bear and the lingering scent of death.

Angry, she returned to the stream, expecting the bear to have eaten his kill.

Yet the bear held out the rabbit, freshly cleaned in the stream and an hour dead.

She took half of the rabbit meat, and left the other
half for him. He must have been offering half as recompense for ruining her chance to get her own.

But the bear would not eat his half of the rabbit. He pushed it toward her.

She pushed it back to him and whined.

He turned away from it.

She growled at him. How could he be so stubborn? She knew he must be as hungry as she.

But he would not take it.

So she turned her back on the meat.

They went back to the cave, her stomach only half full and his entirely empty.

What was wrong?

She could speak the language of the hounds, but he could not. His mouth could only produce the language of the bears, which neither understood.

BOOK: The Princess and the Bear
7.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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