Chapter 3. Bear
She had been playing tag with a few of the other children when the news of the wild boy spread through the settlement. Very little was known about the boy except that he had saved the lives of many by killing two hunters. She also heard that he was injured though the details of his injury were reserved to the quiet of the healer's tent.
A hour later, she learned that he lived in the cave downstream. Two of the sentries had followed him. One had returned to lead a healer to the cave. The boy was unconscious and it was deemed safe to approach him. She and quite a few other children had followed the small group that were going to the cave to the edge of the settlement. They were not allowed to go any farther as the wilderness would be dangerous. Today's instance with the two hunters served the parents well when warning the children about danger.
When the small group returned from the cave, they went straight to the elders' tent to discuss what was to be done with the boy. She did not hear anymore about him for several days, though she spent most of her time on that end of the village hoping to catch a glimpse of him. When she returned home for dinner, she found her father preparing to leave for sentry duty. This surprised her as he was out just a week before. Normally, his sentry shifts were once every two weeks.
She watched her father as he prepared his bow and asked, "Why do you have to go tonight?'
He smiled and gently ran his caloused fingers through her hair and answered, "Tonight, my sweet Anna, I will be doing sentry duty at the cave where the little wild boy is staying. He hasn't recovered from his injuries yet and the village elders considered protecting him while he slept would be a good way to pay him back for what he did for us." He planted a kiss on her forehead and asked, "Do you think that's a good thing to do?"
The little girl nodded several times, then asked, "Can I go with you? I really want to see him."
Her father laughed and returned to checking his arrows. "Another time, perhaps. Right now, he is sleeping pretty deep in the cave and you would not be able to see much of anything."
She tilted her head and smiled, her blue eyes sparkling as she said, "Daddy, promise me you'll take me as soon as he is better."
Her father grinned and shook his head. "There is no need for that look," he said. "If we find him safe, I will take you to see him. We think he may be since he only attacked the hunters, but we want to make sure."
"He won't hurt us. I know he won't," Anna said and left her father to help her mother with dinner.
While the wild boy, as the settlers called him, recovered, a small settlement boy was sent to the sewing tent. The healer had said that he was about the same size so the women in the sewing tent began making the wild boy a set of clothing that would fit this settlement boy. They made them a little large so he could grow into them. The clothing was then left just inside the cave where the wild boy would find them.
Two more days came and went before news arrived that the wild boy had awakened. The first thing he did was go to the river and bathe. Afterwards, he lingered on the bank long enough to forage some berries, then returned to the cave. The seamstresses were quite pleased when they learned he had put on the clothing they made for him. That night, one of the sentries brought a plate of food to the cave. As he placed it on a rock near the mouth of the cave, he heard the boy growl. The sentry remained calm as he took a few steps away from the food.
"Food, if you care for any," he said loud enough to be heard in the cave. The he moved up the hill to his post.
There were four spots chosen by the sentries that could be seen from the settlement and also had a view of the mouth of the cave. Two of these were occupied at all times. The sentries marveled that the wild boy always knew which spots were manned when he left his cave. After a few weeks, the sentries continued to watch the cave, more out of curiosity than necessity. The wild boy proved to be quite capable of taking care of himself.
The raised rock where the first sentry placed the food became a trading spot between the settlement and the wild boy. Usually, the settlement left useful items for him, mostly food. Sometimes he would leave things for the settlement, small game, smooth stones from the riverbed, or anything else the wild boy thought the settlement might enjoy.
After a month had passed, Anna's father fulfilled his promise to her and took her with him on sentry duty. He expected she would catch a few minutes sight of him before he disappeared into the forest for the rest of the day. Instead, he stayed close to the cave that day.
Anna and her father watched as the boy stepped from his cave and dropped into a low crouch, sniffing the air. He remained there for a moment, then crept back into the cave. Anna's father knew that something bothered the boy and pulled his daughter behind the rock and waited, watching the cave and holding tight to Anna. He peered behind the boulder and watched as the boy searched the hill around where his rock stood. After a few minutes of searching and testing the air, he turned away, starting down the hill to the river.
"What's wrong?" Anna whispered.
Her father waited until he was sure the boy would not turn back, then returned to the top of the rock. "You," he whispered back. "He sensed you up here and had to make sure you were not a danger."
They watched silently until the boy waded into the river. Then Anna's father explained. "We can stay on the rock until he decides to come back to the cave. Then we will hide again. He knows we are here, but doesn't want to see us. If we are visible, he won't come back to the cave until very late at night."
"What's he doing?" Anna asked, moving to the side so she could see better.
"He does this everyday." He absently pointed to the river and explained, "He goes to the river and washes his clothing with sand from the riverbed, then he will hang them on that tree." He pointed to a small birch that grew very near the river. "As they dry, he washes himself. When he's done, he goes to the other side of the river and eats some of the berries off those bushes there." He pointed again and waited until Anna nodded. "Sometimes he'll lie in the sun over there a while, other times he comes back, gets dressed and wanders away into the woods."
"What happens then?" Anna asked as she watched the wild boy use the sand to clean his shirt.
"After that, we'll just have to wait and see. This is the only predictable thing he does," he answered as he ruffled Anna's hair.
Anna was very pleased that he chose to lie in the sun this day. She thought he looked so small and frail and worried that he might be lonely. He remained there until the worst of the day's heat had faded, sometimes lying near the river, sometimes foraging for berries and sometimes sitting in the shade. Afterwards, he returned to the river. Anna expected him to swim across and get his clothing before heading off on some wildly dangerous excursion, instead, he searched the riverbed looking for rocks. Most of what he gathered, he looked at for a few moments, then threw back. A few, he placed on the bank in a neat pile.
After he had collected five nice stones, he returned to the birch tree and dressed. Anna's father pulled her behind the stone again. This time he allowed her to peer around the side as the boy climbed the hill to his cave.
When he drew near the cave he stopped and looked at the rock they were hiding behind. Anna felt her father's hand tighten on her shoulder. She saw his eyes clearly for the first time then as he extended the hand that held the stones in their direction before entering the cave. His eyes melted her young heart. She believed she had never seen, nor would ever see a sight so beautiful.
After a few moments, her father turned her to face him. "There is a large stone by the mouth of the cave. You can reach it without going in the cave. On top of it, you'll see the stones." He peered into his daughters blue eyes and smiled. "Do not linger and do not go into the cave. Come right back when you have his gift for you."
Anna felt her hands tremble as her eyes widened. "Do you think he's waiting there for me?"
"You will not see him," he answered shrugging. "If you do, all of us sentries will be greatly surprised." He tightened his grip on her shoulders slightly and repeated, "Do not linger and do not enter the cave. Do you understand?"
Words failed Anna so she nodded. When her father released her, she crept down the hill slowly. She saw the large rock and the five stones the boy had left for her and quickly picked them up, then backed away as her father had told her. Then she turned and ran back up the hill to where her father waited.
When she returned to the settlement, she placed the stones under her pillow. During the day, she placed her stuffed bear beside her pillow to protect the stones. Anna was allowed to visit the stone with her father every month after that. He no longer gave an indication of knowing she was there, but she knew he sensed her. She believed he would stop his daily bathing when the fall weather arrived, but he did not. She also noticed that he looked thinner, though his arms and legs began to show the muscle he had been developing during his daily outings.
As the months passed, she wondered how he could live without friends. He had no one to speak with or play with. She thought he must be very lonely. She had never seen him smile or heard him laugh. She could think of no other children that she could say the same thing about. She asked her father and he just shook his head sadly. That is when the stones began speaking to her in her dreams. In one of these dreams, she saw herself alone except she was not truly alone. She had her bear and she was happily playing with him. Then she saw the boy alone in his cave. He did not have a bear. Anna believed that she was given the task to make him one. The next morning, she told her father about it.
Her father chewed thoughtfully on his eggs, then said, "I guess you need to find out what materials you need to make the bear. The women in the sewing tent can help you there." He smiled at her then added, "Make a list and let me know. I'll see what I can find for you."
During the next week, Leanna spent most of her time planning the bear. She wanted it to have black hair like his and dark eyes that were large and beautiful. She also wanted it to be as soft as possible so he could hug it in his sleep and it would warm him and make him feel loved.
Then her next visit day came and the bear project was put on hold for the day. They waited for him to come out of the cave for his daily appointment in the river even though the weather was chilly and the day overcast. Her father assured her he would still bathe. Anna just shook her head in disbelief.
This day was different though. Usually when the boy stepped from his cave, he stopped for a moment to determine where the sentries were hidden. Today, he appeared quickly and crouched low searching the river farther downstream. Anna's father sent the warning signal to the settlement at once then readied his bow. He motioned to Anna to get behind the rock and waited as she did.
By then, the boy had gone, silently moving down the hill before climbing into a tree. Anna saw him pick up a large stone before climbing the tree and wondered what he would do with it. None of them moved for several moments. Then they saw the boy toss the rock into the river. That's when they caught sight of the hunter.
Anna heard the boy's voice for the first time that day and it terrified her. As soon as the rock hit the water, the hunter turned towards the splash. The boy leaped onto the hunter's back, a high-pitched cross between a growl and a snarl broke the silence. Seconds later, the hunter lay dead on the riverbank and the boy turned and headed back to the cave, his mouth, chin and shirt soaked in the hunter's blood. Before she got a really clear view, her father had taken her into his arms and tightly held her as she sobbed into his shoulder.
She had heard of the two other hunters that he killed during the summer and wondered how a child so small could achieve such a feat. Now she knew. She saw that he was like a wild animal protecting its den. During that next few months she had many nightmares. Most of them, she pictured the boy with large fangs and blood-soaked claws ripping the throats from the settlement people. The stones which had once spoken to her so sweetly in her dreams seem to have lost their magic. It came back though, and she realized it was there all along. She was just too terrified to hear them. They helped her fight back the dreams that tortured her now.
She did not return to the rock until late the next spring. She saw by his clothing that the boy had grown a little. The sleeves of his shirt and the legs of his pants rode high on his wrists and ankles. His hair, so black, was much longer and wild looking. He performed his daily ritual in the river, then dressed and disappeared into the forest. She did not see him again that day. That night, the stones reminded her of the bear in her dreams. They showed her pictures of him lying alone in the back of the cave and she felt the loneliness and saw the void in his arms where the bear should be.
After the death of the hunter, she had forgotten all about the bear. Now that the stones had reminded her, she resumed the project. It took months for her to complete the bear. Leanna put all the love she could into every stitch. When it was finally finished, she moved the stones to her toy shelf and placed the bear on top of them, hoping they would like it. Then she tried to find a way to let the stones know that she wanted to give it to him face to face.
Several nights passed without the stones talking to her in her dreams. When the dream finally came, she was told she would have to convince her parents that it was okay to give the wild boy the bear face to face. Anna was afraid to tell her parents about the dreams and the stones. She had never heard of anyone else having dreams like hers and she did not think her parents would believe her. Another winter came and went before the stones finally convinced her to tell them. She told them everything while they sat eating breakfast.
Her parents quietly listened to the whole story. When she was finished, he father said, "Let me borrow the stones for a few nights. If they speak to your mother and I, then I will take you to the cave and wait as you present the bear to the boy."
That night, Anna gave each of her parents two of the stones hoping they would speak to her mother and father as they had spoken to her. No more was said about the bear for the next couple weeks. Leanna guessed that the stones would speak to her parents when they were ready. Then, one night after dinner, her parents told her to wait at the table while they cleaned up. Afterwards, her father and mother told her what the stones told them.
Anna was going to deliver the bear that night. It was her father's turn to watch the cave and he would wait nearby for her. It was dark when they arrived at the cave. The cave itself appeared to be a black maw in the side of the hill and Anna almost left the bear on the rock out of fear.
Her father whispered to her, "Take your time and let your feet guide you." He handed her one of the stones and finished, "The stone will keep you safe." He hugged her then and smiled. "I'll be right here waiting for you."
She entered the cave and slowly walked to the back. As her eyes adjusted, she could just make out the outline of the boy's body lying on a blanket off to one side. She quietly crept to the edge of the blanket and knelt there waiting. She did not have to wait long. The boy sat up and looked at her, his head slightly tilted the way she had seen other boys do when they were curious about something.
As she held out the bear, she watched his expression, hoping to see him smile. He accepted her gift, hugged it and then smiled at her. She left him then, wanting to remember that smile forever but as she got to the mouth of the cave, the stone stopped her. It wanted her to go back and hold him while he slept. She looked at her father who sat nearby. He smiled and nodded as if he knew. She took a step back into the cave and looked at her father again. His smile told her he did know.
She returned to the blanket and waited a moment. Since the boy did not move, she crawled beside him and lie down, snaking her arm under his neck and pushing his head onto her shoulder. She gently ran her fingers along his spine at the base of his neck until she fell asleep.
When she woke the next morning, the boy and the bear were gone. She knew they would not return. She found her father resting close by. Together they returned to the settlement to let the others know that the wild boy had left.