Copyright © 2013, Lexi Ander
NOTE: This story uses old UK English
Legend of the Bearwere Curse
My gut pained me with the rising uneasiness. In a few days I would observe the turning of my ninth twelvemonth. I would not be with my father and brothers, who were home in Alba. This was the time of my change, when my name would be scribed on the wall of the cradle as the upcoming ruler of my clann of werebears. I travelled across the rough and violent sea to the land of the Gaels with Granfather Shaye. As one of the first-borns of the elders, he would induct me in the history of our clann.
I was excited for tonight, Granfather Shaye would give the account of the legend of the origin for our people, and how we had become what we were. I understood some of the telling, for I had listened in on the hushed discussions of the elders of my clann. Finally I would hear the whole story, not the scraps I had gleaned ere now. Where we had come from? Why I would share my body with the spirit of a black bear? Not too many days away, on the eve of my day of birth, my animal would waken from slumber. My bear and I would greet each other for the very first time. I could already feel him stir within me. The stories were to brace me for what would soon come.
Out of honour for Granfather Shaye, I sought to keep my elation to myself natheless it was difficult with my gut rolling and twisting with eagerness. Granfather beheld the journey and the keen understanding of the history as a dark occasion. He scowled at me when I failed to contain my yearning.
We had travelled swiftly to make the next Viking settlement ere we stopped for the eve. We were granted a space upon the floor of the longhouse. I waited with little patience for Granfather Shaye, who asked after ships, rivers, other settlements and after people, giving names of old friends from past travels. Once my gransire slaked his need for local tidings, we claimed a space nigh the hearth for ourselves. After eating a late meal, I climbed into the furs with haste. If Granfather Shaye did not start the telling soon I thought I would burst.
Granfather reached for the satchel, his wrinkled hands stroking the soft leather in thought. I pressed my lips together to keep from demanding he make haste. Raising the flap, Granfather Shay withdrew the rolled hide that was treated to shield the scrolls from that which would spoil them, including water.
I beheld how my granfather’s grave countenance pinched at the outer corners of his grey eyes. He was one of the few among the clann who was truly ancient, the dark beard and moustache streaked through with silver not of a length long enough to altogether hide the turned down lips. None of the other elders sported the white in their hair. Life as werebears gave us a long life compared to the rest of mankind. As the oldest among us, I beheld granfather with awe and wonder for he had yet to submit to the call of the forest, as the other elders of lesser age had. Even my own father this past year showed signs he was beginning to suffer from the werebear’s call to the forest.
“This be the most essential telling, Ewen.”
I met his eyes. “I understand.”
With care, Granfather Shaye unrolled the leather revealing the aged scroll with flowing script in a tongue I could not comprehend. Granfather Shaye’s fingertips traced the swirling lettering. “When yer time comes to read this to yer predecessor ye must handle this with caution, child. The scroll be spelled, the words impressed deeply by the will of magic from a goddess so we dinnae forget what came ere. Respect the writing, learn from the lessons of the days old, and pass down the knowledge, this be yer obligation.”
Granfather Shaye cleared his throat, glancing briefly at me. I gave my full attention to my gransire, relieved he would not require I wait longer.
Kernunnos, Horned God of the Forest, walked the wood of the world. Mankind honoured and adored him, paying homage to the eternal guardian of the wildwood. As ages passed, men moved from the old groves seeking the lush fertility of the glenns and flat faced plains. They built homes, then villages that grew into grand cities. Those who made their lives in the woods became fewer and fewer, forgetting the Lord of the Forest. They no longer understood how to live along side the creatures of the wild and how to abide by the needs of the land as they gathered material wealth unto themselves.
Saddened by the withdraw of man, Kernunnos continued to care for the lessening wilds. Mankind cut down whole groves of the ancient trees to build their kingdoms, to wage war, to sail the seas, and to clear fields for their crops. Every continent he travelled, this destruction met Kernunnos’s sight. Rather than raging at the loss, Kernunnos planted new groves seeking to replace those which had become lost.
On one of his many travels he crossed paths with two black bear cubs. The hunter’s arrow had claimed the life of their mother. Gathering the twins to him, Kernunnos nurtured the foundlings, his touch infusing them, causing them to be ware in a way not natural to the animals of the wild. Kernunnos determined the cubs would abet him with tending the forest. The human numbers grew and the ruin they caused multiplied as time went on. Their help would be beyond value to temper the confusion mankind wreaked upon the land in the wake of their passing.
Kernunnos named the twins, Avory and Fordel, teaching them to become keepers of the trees and all that took sanctuary under the broad branches. Avory and Fordel were inseparable as they tending to the wildwood. They found short spans of time to tumble and play, all the while, not ware that time rolled forward and ages passed.
Then one day Fordel stumbled upon a young boy lost in the forest. Not afeard, the child curled up against Fordel, nestling down into his thick fur for warmth. Fordel heard tales of mankind from the boar and the raven. “Beware,” they had whispered to Avory and Fordel. “Humans thirst for blood, spilling it from all creatures without need, they are insolent and have no respect for the wildwood. They destroy. They take by force and slyly steal, never to give back.” Yet Fordel perceived no evil in the innocent face that gazed up at him with trust and awe.
Fordel took the boy and followed the cries of the humans who searched for the boy at the edge of the forest. He beheld from hiding as the young one was taken up with much ado by a man the child called papa. Keeping to the deepest shadows, he trailed behind the humans not sure why. His deed was done and yet a new yearning bloomed in his core as the boy gazed over the man’s shoulder, smiling and waving.
When Fordel could go no further, he stayed until the men were gone from sight and yet he stayed at the forest’s edge until Avory found him gazing at the grasslands with such deep longing. When Frodel told his twin of the boy and the men, Avory chastised him for being foolhardy.
“Did a man not murder our mother for her pelt to leave us to die? If not for Kernunnos, we would have become easy prey for the wolf ere becoming overcome with hunger. Do not yearn for the world of mankind when we have all that we need in the wildwood.”
Avory pulled Fordel back to the heart of the forest, ever watchful over his suddenly moody twin. Fordel knew Avory spoke truth natheless he could only wonder about the whispered cities. He slyly slipped away from Avory’s mindful eye to make his way back to the forest’s edge hoping to meet the boy again or the man called papa.
On one such occasion Fordel stumbled into Kernunnos. The Lord of the Forest’s regal head was adorned with a wide wrack of antlers made of saplings where finches chirped from their perch within. He had a flowing beard as green as spring moss, a long golden mane of hair that reached past his waist. Kernunnos stamped his dark cloven hoofed feet on the clover, black clawed fingers ruffled Fordel’s thick dark fur. Kernunnos’s behold Fordel with large brown eyes, his smile full of warmth. “So it is true. Your brother told me you were curious of the humans.”
“Please, Guardian, I wish not to cause strife. I simply want to walk among mankind however if I leave the forest as I am, the humans will behold the bear, not your humble servant, and afeard they will try to smite me or seek to steal my pelt.” Fordel found that once he started speaking, all of his desire, all of his wishes spilled forth.
Kernunnos sat and listened with patience as Fordel spoke long into the night, with abounding trust he revealed all. If anyone understood the light Fordel felt blooming in his core, surely Kernunnos would.
When Fordel’s fevered talking came to an end, Kernunnos hummed with great mirth even as his eyes appeared sad. “You and Avory are my children just as if you came from my loins. I would that you be happy. Come, cub, and let us go and call upon The Morrigan. She may be able to help with your quest.”
Fordel heard of The Morrigan from the ravens. Goddess of battle and strife, the Great Queen, The Morrigan spurred fighters to battle madness and used her magic to reign over the field of war. Fordel never witnessed war, only the violence that caused the death of his mother. He perceived not that he should be afeard of the knowledge The Morrigan carried.
He followed Kernunnos brewing with curiosity and elation ere he even came face to face with the rare and harrowing beauty of the Goddess. She was dressed for battle, wearing hard leather armour tooled with images of ravens, carried a deadly sword sheathed at her side, and a wickedly tipped spear in her hand. Long, dark hair tied at the top of her head fell in shining waves to the backs of her knees. A high collar of raven’s feathers circled her neck. The Morrigan stared hard at Fordel as she hearkened to Kernunnos as he spoke of Fordel’s desire to walk among the humans.
The tone of The Morrigan’s voice lent to her countenance of concern. “Child, men are tools for destruction. They would harm you rather than lend you a hand. They spill blood oft without need, and oft without provocation. Walking among them will only bring you pain and grief.”
Fordel understood The Morrigan’s words natheless in his mind’s eye he still could behold the innocent gaze of the boy, feel the small hands grasping his fur in with complete trust. Surely not all of mankind lived as The Morrigan claimed. She was the Goddess of the field of battle, by chance did she ever enter the cities?
“To walk among the humans is what I want. To live as they live, see what they see, know what they know,” was Fordel’s final reply. He wished to determine for himself the manner in which men conducted themselves, albeit for good or not.
“As you wish, young on. I will grant you the ability to change into a human. Unlike the humans who bargain for the form of the wolf, thus becoming a werewolf, or those who desire to be the lion, becoming a werelion, you will become a bearwere for you are a bear bartering for the form of a human. In return, if—no—when you are on the field of battle you will act as my incarnation.”
Fordel agreed even though he did not believe he would ever willingly take a life. The Morrigan grasped Frodel about the neck and began a low haunting chant. His skin twitched and stung, rolling under her firm grip. Frodel began to swell, his skin stretching overly tight about his body as if something was being stuffed under his fur. The sense of being too full bordered on an agony he could barely endure until he could not stand to be silent anymore. Fordel released an yowl that spoke of the pain of his suffering rang through the forest.
When The Morrigan’s song ceased, Fordel knelt on the forest floor staring in wonder at very large human hands, the pain of the change forgotten. Kernunnos and The Morrigan helped Fordel to his human feet and he stretched out his new legs. Never had he gazed down at someone. Always he had looked up at others.
“There my child,” Kernunnos said. “Now you may wander among man and see what you would see. At any time you can change back to your bear form. It is as simple as calling to mind how to walk on four legs. And keep in mind, you can find sanctuary and solace among any forest. All you need is one tree and you will be brought to the grove.”
The Morrigan and Kernunnos clothed and taught Fordel what they knew about the lives of men. Charged with their knowledge, Fordel grabbed his packs and headed to the forest’s edge. Ere he stepped from the shadows, the call of a black bear made him glance back. Avory stood rocking to and fro on his front feet, bewailing piteously.
“I have to go, brother.” Fordel knelt on a knee and clutched his twin to his chest. I vow to return and when I do I will have such stories to tell you.”
Fordel had such an ache in his heart. He wished Avory would journey with him natheless his twin would not leave the wildwood. After his fond farewell, Fordel rose to his feet and strode from the forest, glancing back and waving as the boy-child once waved to him ere beginning his journey.
Fordel travelled the continents, the years passing by. He knew both cruelty and kindness as he traversed many, many wonders, and came to know first hand the toils of mankind. When he yearned for the haven of the grove, Fordel found a tree and stepped through the shadow where all he loved welcomed him home, natheless he still hungered for the world beyond the edge of the forest. Sooner or later he would leave again.
On one such trip, Fordel crossed paths with a great and wise king known by all far and wide. At once he knew the boy-child he had found lost in the wood years ere then. King Allard bid Fordel to sup with him. Not able to turn the boy—king down, Fordel followed after King Allard where they dined alone.
The king asked may questions of Fordel’s travels ere rolling out a scroll. Written within was a story about a prince who became lost in the wood and saved by a bear. There ere Fordel was a drawing of himself, not as a black bear but as the man he now was who wore a bear skin upon his head. “Some say the forest is enchanted making men to animals and animals to men. Although I beheld your face I clutched your fur in my hands. Tell me I am mad or call me brother, natheless you look now as I have always beheld you in my mind.” Fordel caught King Allard up in a back breaking embrace and named him friend.
Fordel stayed with King Allard, swiftly becoming not only the king’s closest friend but his most trusted advisor. All who met Fordel thought highly of him, honouring him when seeking his counsel. He quickly became known as a man of upstanding character. His life in the kingdom was rich and full and for the first time in an age he knew peace.
He stood by King Allard’s side when the news came that the queen gave birth to a male child christened as Prince Reginald. Together they exalted in the births of each of the king’s other seven children. Fordel fought beside King Allard on the field of battle, finally paying The Morrigan homage by becoming her incarnation when he raised weapon and shield in war. His very presence assured a win as Fordel fought for King Allard.
As Prince Reginald grew, he was pricked with jealousy over the people’s attention to Fordel. He fought to garner the same high regard and seemed to fail. As the years passed Prince Reginald became full of rancour, all the while on the outward he laughed and grinned. What made the wound fester more, Prince Reginald understood Fordel held a father-like affection for him. The prince would rather have had the king’s regard instead of Fordel’s. Although Prince Reginald sensed his father loved him, he felt invisible when Fordel entered the room.
One day in an envious fit, Prince Reginald slyly followed King Allard and Fordel on one of their outings to the forest. What he saw there made him question his state of mind, ere his very eyes Fordel changed into a large black bear. The beast sat at his father’s feet accepting playful tugs on his thick fur. Stung deeply by the lack of faith from King Allard and Fordel, Prince Reginald stumbled back to the castle and barred himself in his rooms.
Prince Reginald pondered all he knew of Fordel. His father had grown old, his skin becoming lined by age, and his sword arm weak and feeble. In spite of the passage of time, Fordel had not aged a day. Prince Reginald’s jealousy turned to a dark and twisted craving as he coveted the abilities Fordel had. He heard tell of the men who petitioned the gods to become a wereanimal. He began to plot, a new ambition taking root within him. If he too became a werebear, the people would love him more than Fordel. The prince set out to prevail upon the gods to behold him favour.
King Allard became ill and the royal physicians claimed naught could be done. The gods had not answered Prince Reginald’s pleas. Incensed, the Prince fell into a deep rage from the slight. He heard Fordel tell the king he would go home to his forest, may hap to never return to the lands of mankind. Prince Reginald grew alarmed. Fordel was the only one he knew who changed forms. If Fordel was allowed to leave, the prince’s only chance to become a werebear would go with him.
Working quickly, the prince had the kingdom searched for those who wielded magic. Many sorcerers were brought ere the prince natheless when they learned what he planned, each declined to abet him. All who denied Prince Reginald were murdered. The rumours of the sorcerers deaths by the hand of the prince spread far and wide, causing the others to flee into hiding until Eryl Drake was caught by the prince’s faithful men. When he was brought forward, Eryl agreed to execute the prince’s plan for he did not wish to die.
The day King Allard passed, all in the kingdom mourned for their beloved sovereign. Fordel vowed to the prince he would stay until the coronation, natheless he would head home to his own family afterwards. Upon entering the new king’s quarters to bid his farewells, Fordel became trapped in the sorcerer’s spell.
I was… I was… “Granfather, tell me…no, swear that Reginald would not do such a vial thing.” The promise that a thing of wonder would happen to me on the anniversary of my birth had been growing the whole trip. I would meet my bear who I had felt under my skin all my life and yet to know by what appalling means I came by this… what a terrible fate for our creatures!
Granfather Shaye pursed his lips and gave me a stern look. “Enough with yer loose tongue. Pay attention, child.”
Three days Eryl the sorcerer laboured to remove the bear from the human body. Fordel fought and pleaded with the boy he loved as his own. He wanted to return to his grove. He vowed he would never set foot in the kingdom again. In spite of the pained moans and cries for mercy, King Reginald turned a deaf ear to Fordel’s words and tears. The promise of rising to greatness, his need of power blinded him to the warning signs.
Kernunnos and The Morrigan sensed Fordel’s spirit being shredded and torn from him. With rising dread they searched for the bearwere. Knowing that none became a were without the blessed touch of a god, Eryl had foreseen their meddling and set wards to hide Fordel and King Reginald. The God and Goddess paced outside not able to enter the city as Fordel’s spirit was stolen from his body.
What Eryl could not guard against was Fate. The Goddess Cerridwen found them as Eryl placed the spirit into King Reginald body. That night every man, woman, and child heard the tormented cry Fordel gave at the loss of his body. All that was left was a human shell, and only as King Reginald began to order the death of that body, did Cerridwen step from the shadows. She claimed the human as her own, marking him with the sign of the crescent moon at the base of his spine. She placed him under her protection, forbidding King Reginald from harming Fordel’s body or any descendant thereafter.
“A scourge upon you! If you or someone by your decree takes the life of Fordel’s human you will assure your own death and cause the early grave for all of your children and their descendants until the end of time,” Cerridwen warned. “Your blood is now cursed, King Reginald. Those you father will be bound to the forest, not able to leave for any length of time without going mad with longing. They will lose their regal birth right becoming guardians of what you have sought to steal from Fordel for he is not a werebear as you thought. Fordel was not born human but a bear, the only one granted human form to become the first bearwere. Instead of robbing him of the essence of the bear, that which would grant you the might and abilities of the bear, you stole his very soul.
“Eryl Drake, for your complicit roll in this heinous crime, you too are cursed. You are stripped of the power to influence magic and are hereby bound by my words. Until you make right the wrong you have carried out this day, you will walk the earth all of your long days yearning for what you no longer have. Your suffering will be great each time you try to pass to yon, three days you will suffer as Fordel suffered ere you wake again. All sorcerers will know your name, know your visage. You will be shunned and they will give you a wide berth for they will fear being contaminated by you. This will make your quest doubly hard, for you will be without the use of magic. You will have to find another way to reunite Fordel with his body, the spirit to flesh, ere you find can peace.”
Cerridwen made her leave of the cursed men, her warnings rang heavy in the air. King Reginald drew his sword and ran Eryl through. He would not chance Eryl stealing the spirit of the bear back to break his own curse. The lethargic body that once belonged to Fordel was shipped across the sea to the north and sold into slavery.
King Reginald believed he had rid himself of all that would threaten his new status of a werebear. Alas, not all was as King Reginald anticipated for the bear’s essence fought him for command of his body. Over the coming days, the meaning of Cerridwen’s words began to sink in. He had not taken the bear from Fordel but taken Fordel from the human body. Fordel’s spirit fully comprehended who and what he was. He understood that King Reginald had stolen his soul. For the first time, King Reginald felt affright at what he had done. Grappling with Fordel, hearing the voice of the bear in his mind, a rage not his own dictated his actions. The struggle wearied King Reginald to the bone.
The first and only time King Reginald sought to change into a bear, Fordel made the ordeal so full of piercing torment the king took to his sickbed swearing he would never seek to change again. What Fordel did not have power over was the length of life King Reginald received, keeping him young and strong, his movement quick, and his prowess in bed became the stuff of legends.
Soon after stealing Fordel’s soul, King Reginald married his betrothed natheless he continued to bring many mistresses to his bed. Upon them he begot many sons and daughters. Every child born of his blood had a bear spirit within their skin. They had a peace and balance as werebears that King Reginald did not. Even so, the children sought out the confines for the forest, bound as they were by the curse, they were happy.
King Reginald and Fordel fought each other, never giving quarter. As the years waxed and waned, King Reginald became bitter, his mind fractured under the pressure until he went mad. Finally he threw himself from the edge of a cliff to plummet to his death.
The human body that once belonged to Fordel took another name as his own. Even though he had been sold into slavery he thrived and prospered under Cerridwen’s guiding hand. He fathered many children, growing the lineage of Fordel’s blood.
The once sorcerer, Eryl Drake, cursed by Cerridwen did not die as King Reginald wished. He suffered for three long days, the length of time Fordel suffered, ere coming awake and clawing his way out of the ground in the dead of night. After that, Eryl soon learned that every death, no matter the where or how, came with three days of torment and pain ere a new awakening. As Cerridwen decreed, Eryl was shunned by those he once called brothers, no longer able to work magic.
The descendants of King Reginald found that with the spirit of the bear, they could not endure to be away from the forest for very long. They became guardians of the woods and eventually the siblings parted ways. Clann Meinnear had become descendants of King Reginald’s eldest son, Prince Theodoric. In the line of the eldest, Fordel’s spirit would be reborn every few of generations, waiting for the sorcerer to discover a way to reunite him with the body he had lost, thereby breaking the curse.
“Granfather, Fordel’s body be long gone. How shall he be reunited if there be nae form to return to?” My elation over the awakening of my bear’s spirit had been tamped down by the horror of the story. I was a descendent of a man who defied the gods for loathsome and selfish reasons, trapping Fordel in a place not meant to be his.
“As long as there be a descendant of Fordel’s human side lives, then the sorcerer can break the curse. Until then we can only wait for what Fate has in store for us.” Granfather ruffled my hair and gave me a fond grin. “Now, it be time for sleep. We hae a long journey ahead with a few cold days of travel ere we reach the cradle. There yer name will be listed as the next in line to rule the werebears. Take advantage of the warmth and rest while ye can.”
I crawled under the furs and watched the people move about the Viking longhouse. On the morrow, we would enter the Black Forest and travel to the gorge of the River Wutach. It was a long and dangerous journey from where my family now called home.
An exclamation at the other end of the longhouse drew my sleepy gaze. A boy-child, no more than three or four with hair the colour of the sun was rushed to the fires and swaddled in thick furs. His pale skin was blue-grey with cold.
“Pulled him from the water, floatin’ on a slab of wood. Everyone on the boat drowned, sucked down into the murky waters by a dark spirit, I tell ye!” exclaimed the woman cradling the child. Her face pale from shock yet she sought to sooth the boy with humming as she rubbed his skin dry.
When the boy sat up and glanced about the room, eyes the colour of the land of ice to the far north met mine. A spicy aroma that spoke of clouds and sea and winds and magic tickled my senses. My bear, who should not wake for many more days, roused from his hibernation, suddenly alert. We sniffed the air again. I was not able to look away from those glowing eyes, and I became caught by a sense of familiarity as our gazes stayed locked.
My bear spirit gave a yowl of joyous tidings.
Please watch for the next part of the saga titled, Fated, coming to GoodRead’s M/M Romance group’s Love Has No Bounds event. Thank you for reading!!
And thank YOU, Lexi, for sharing the story and Fated!!!