The Lay Of The Lapsed Bear (And How He Became A Talking Bear Again)
He was the Lapsed Bear, and he didn't care.
It was all too hard. Perhaps once, when he was a young Bear, he would have had it in his heart to try, but those days were long gone. And his beautiful She-Bear was gone, too. But that, of course, was the reason that he was the Lapsed Bear.
Callisto. How sweet she had been, how lovely, with that silky brown-black fur, those bright black eyes, that little pointed snout! How wonderful it had been to sit with her curled up into his side, outside their cosy cave, watching the brook tinkling by into the forest.
But she had died – died, carrying his cub. Died, his darling, his Bear-wife; and on that day, Otso the Talking Bear had roared his pain to the heavens and never spoken again.
He had buried her in the soft earth, his Callisto, and growled and snarled at the other Talking Beasts who offered their help. He had covered her body gently, giving little moaning grunts all the while, and heaped woodland flowers on the mound. And then, he had turned and gone, leaving the cosy cave that Callisto had made into a home with him, tears streaming down his nose and dampening his brown fur.
He made his lair in Stormness, that cold rugged mountain. Few ventured there, and if by chance they did, he would snarl and attack them and drive them away. He never spoke, and as the years wore on, he thought less and less.
But there was always the memory of Callisto, warm and soft and smiling; and, always, there was a harsh smouldering anger that never burned away.
There was a Man – a Boy-Man, with hair like a shock of yellow corn and a ridiculous little human-nose that turned up at the end, standing on a high rock protruding from the dirty snow outside the Bear's lair.
'Ho!' he called, and his clear young voice echoed in the thin mountain air. 'Ho! Bear! Come out!'
Otso lunged out from the murky cave-mouth and snarled up at the Boy-Man, his lips curling back to show his sharp strong teeth.
The Boy-Man looked down at him, his hands planted on his hips. 'I'll box you, Bear.'
The Lapsed Bear growled again, more menacingly.
'Oh, come on,' said the Boy-Man. 'Box me. I know you can understand. If you win I'll go away and leave you in peace.'
Otso gave him a long silent look. Then he stood up on his hind legs and raised his fisted paws in challenge, a rather nasty smirk on his face.
The Boy-Man's eyes sparkled. He slithered down the tall rock and brushed himself off, then stepped forward, raising his own fists, which were quite large, for a human. 'I didn't bring anyone else for a timekeeper,' he said regretfully. 'But we'll just go on anyway. Count of three, all right? One – two – THREE!'
And they fell to.
The Boy-Man was quicker, and got his blow in first – a good clean hit to the Lapsed Bear's nose. Otso growled and swung a powerful paw, but the Boy-Man was too quick, and darted out of the way, and got his own blow in. It fell on the Bear's jaw and made him fall back and stumble.
And that was the end of round one.
'Well? Are you going to talk now?' the Boy-Man panted. He was sweating even in the snowy coldness, and had several scratches and grazes and tears in his clothing, but was otherwise unmarked. He was very quick on his feet.
Otso, on the other hand, had a spectacularly swollen eye, a sore ringing ear, and blood dripping from his snout, and his temper was not improving. He didn't have the energy to spare for snarling, so he grunted unpleasantly instead, and swung at the wretched Boy-Man again. He missed.
The Boy-Man gave a particularly annoying shout of glee, and ducked under the Bear's guard, yet again, landing a blow on his other eye that made him reel back.
And that was the end of round seventeen.
At the end of round thirty-three, Otso slumped on the snowy ground, his head fuzzy and aching. He couldn't see out of his eyes, and he clasped a paw over his nose to stop its copious bleeding. It was no use. Bitter as it was to admit it, he had lost the fight.
'Here, Sir Bear,' said the Boy-Man's voice. 'Drink.'
And a tankard of cool water was thrust into his paw. He slurped at it, too thirsty to care that his erstwhile opponent had provided it.
The Boy-Man seemed to be moving around him, examining him from all angles. 'Golly,' he said. 'I did you properly, didn't I?' He sounded half apologetic, half-impressed at his own handiwork.
Otso grunted. Then, to his own huge surprise, he growled, 'Yes.'
'So you are a Talking Bear!' said the Boy-Man, sounding pleased but not surprised. 'I thought you were. Why wouldn't you talk?'
Otso took another long drink of water, finishing the tankard. He wiped more blood from his snout, and opened his swollen eyes a crack. 'Don't like company.'
But the Boy-Man seemed either to not hear the words, or to disregard their meaning, because he sat down next to him on a rock and said, 'Oh, but come on – there must have been something else.'
There was a long silence, and the Boy-Man waited, his elbows on his knees and his chin resting on his hands. Then Otso rumbled, 'My Callisto – my Bear-wife. Died. The cub, too.'
There was another silence, and then the Boy-Man said awkwardly, 'I'm sorry. My mother – she died when I was little. She was called Thera. And I'm Corin, by the way. What are you called?'
'Otso,' said the Bear. And then, surprising himself yet again, he growled, 'Are you Narnian?'
'No, I'm from Archenland. King Lune's my father.'
'Oh. Hmp,' said Otso. 'Prince of Archenland, then?'
'Mm,' said Prince Corin. And then he said, hesitating a little, 'What was your wife – Callisto – what was she like?'
Otso swiped more blood away from his face. 'Sweet – sweet as honey, she was,' he said gruffly. 'Always smiling. Made a Bear laugh all day long. She would have – would have been a wonderful mother.' He brushed the back of his paw quickly against his eyes and turned away.
The Prince's hand was on his shoulder, and after a while he said, 'My father says – about my mother, I mean – that she's in Aslan's country. Waiting, you know – for the rest of us.'
'Why would Aslan take her away, then?' Otso said drearily.
'I don't – I don't know, I suppose – only He knows,' said Prince Corin, 'but I don't think my mother – and your wife – would want us to – to ruin our lives, because they weren't there any more, don't you think?'
Otso turned his head, very slowly, and looked at him, long and hard. Then he said, 'You are – you are right.'
He stood up, stretched out to his full height, and looked towards the east, to where the sun was turning the snow to a bright pin-point of light between the crags. 'Oh, Aslan,' he rumbled, so quiet that he could scarcely be heard, and two slow tears dripped from his eyes and mingled with the blood on his fur.
'Hold still now, Sir Bear, or I might hurt your injuries.'
Prince Corin was bathing his face with hands that were surprisingly gentle for one who was such a magnificent boxer.
'Thank you,' Otso said grumblingly.
'I know a girl like that,' said Prince Corin thoughtfully, after a minute. 'Like your wife. Sweet little thing, always laughing. Kind, too.'
Otso looked at him sideways, bear-sly. 'What is her name?'
'Merren. Oh, don't look at me like that! She's just – just like a sister,' said the Prince, but he was flushing hotly, all over his freckled young face, and grinning a little bit.
'Aslan's speed be with you, Prince of Archenland.'
'And with you, Sir Bear. But do just call me Corin.'
'Well, I will do that, then,' said the Bear. 'But my name is Otso.'
'Farewell, then, Otso,' said Corin. 'And you will come, won't you, to Anvard?'
'As soon as I am able. But first I must go to my Callisto's grave.' He reached out a great brown paw, and Corin shook it with vigour.
'Farewell, Corin, and thank you,' Otso rumbled. 'Go back and speak to the Merren-girl. She will make you happy, I think, and I would like to see her when I come to Anvard.'
Corin laughed, and flushed again, and rubbed his chin awkwardly. Then they parted ways, the Boy-Man and the Talking Bear, and it was the beginning of a great friendship.
And for a thousand years and more the minstrels of Archenland would sing the lay of Prince Corin Thunder-Fist and the Lapsed Bear of Stormness, who became a Talking Bear again.