Storytime Friday: East of the Sun and West of the Moon, Part 2
And now the story continues (read part 1 here).
Though she was scared to go she had made up her mind. The bear nodded to her as she walked over to him in the cool evening air. “Climb on to my back” he said in a deep, but not unfriendly, voice. He kneeled down so that she could climb up, which she did with only a moment of hesitation. The bear smelled nice, like fir needles and earth. He rose to his feet and said “Hang on tightly to my fur, and do not let go.” She grabbed hold of his thick white fur until she was satisfied that she had a sure grip. She looked back at her family, who had gathered outside to see her off. Her mother looked worried and her father looked unsure. She gave them her best smile.
“Don’t worry about me,” she said. “I’ll be alright. I’m ready to go now, bear.”
Suddenly she found herself in a world of motion. The bear was running through the forest at incredible speed. Trees whipped past her on either side, but no branches touched her. She was so surprised that she nearly let go of his fur, and if she had she would have surely fallen off and been smashed to bits. She closed her eyes and concentrated on keeping her hold on his back. After a few minutes she couldn’t hear any more trees rushing past. She opened her eyes and found that they were traveling across a broad clearing beneath a tall mountain. The air of the alpine meadows was perfumed with the fragrance of wildflowers. She had never smelled anything so nice before, and it made her laugh. To her surprise the bear laughed too, a low and jolly rumbling noise.
Soon they were traveling at great speed up a steep mountain slope. Far ahead she could see lights coming from near the top of the peak. When they drew closer she gasped at what she saw. The lights came from a magnificent palace, built of beautiful and honey gold stone. The palace’s towers reached up into the evening sky toward the brilliant Northern Lights. Within moments they were there, standing before its magnificent gates. The bear slowed to a normal walking pace and as he approached the two tall and broad oak doors they opened before him as if by magic.
Inside was a large and magnificent garden, filled with every kind of beautiful plant of the high mountains. Wildflowers in all the colors of the rainbow seemed the paint the garden with streaks of light. She had never seen such beauty concentrated in one place before, and it filled her with awed silence.
“I’m glad you like it,” the bear said in his heavy voice. “I planted it just for you.” She was surprised. No one had ever made anything so beautiful for her before. “I made this whole palace just for you.”
At the far end of the garden was large door covered with silver engravings of trees, flowers, animals, and stars. When they reached it the bear went down to his knees and she carefully climbed off. She stared at the door. It was beautiful, but it had no handle or ring or knob to open it with. She reached out and touched its cold silver surface and drew her hand back in surprise. As soon as she had touched it the door began to open, its silver hinges making no sound. The bear nodded. “This is your palace. There are no doors you cannot open, and no room that is not yours to do with as you please.”
Beyond the silver door was a grand entrance hall, thirty feet wide, a hundred feet tall, and three hundred feet long. On either side of the hall and at its far end were three giant fireplaces with logs the size of tree trunks burning cheerfully and warming the massive space. Far above their heads the ceiling was made of a graceful spider web of silver framing panels of clear crystal. The Northern Lights shone above their heads, filling the hall with pulsating light. Doors lined the walls, and four grand staircases occupied the corners of the room.
They walked slowly down the hallway. She took it all in with amazement. It seemed like a dream; there was no way such a magnificent structure could exist, and if it could exist it was impossible that it could be hers.
The bear led her up one of the staircases, which slowly and gently spiraled up into the palaces tallest tower. Halfway up he stopped at a door covered with carvings of the sun, moon, and stars. The door opened and revealed a magnificent bedroom. The room itself was bigger than her entire house had been and contained a magnificent bed covered with fine furs and thick quilts. There were also dressers, and wardrobes, and a golden mirror. It was so luxurious and so outside of her experience that she almost began to cry at the sight of it all. It was too much to believe.
The bear walked slowly to an end table next to the bed, on which sat a small silver bell. “Right this bell and ask for whatever you wish and shall have it.” She said, with a hint of excitement in his voice. “Food, clothes, jewelry, anything you wish. You will want for nothing here.”
She walked over to the bell, and lifted it carefully. It was engraved with the sign of a bear. “Well…um. I guess I wish I had a good nightdress, one that would fit better in this beautiful room.” She rang the bell, and suddenly on the table before her appeared a beautiful white nightdress. She gasped in delight, and picked it up. It was as real all right, and made of fine silk. She turned the bear, her eyes moist. “I’ve never had my own clothes before. I mean clothes that were just mine, and not my sister’s old things. Thank you. Thank you so much for…well for everything. It all seems too much…” She almost was crying now. It had been an overwhelming evening.
The bear stared at her for a while, and then politely looked away as she wiped her wet eyes dry. “There is one thing you must know.” He said in a much more serious voice. “I have duties elsewhere, and must go now. But tonight, when you have put out all the lights and gone to sleep, I will come back.” He pointed his nose as a tall chair that sat facing the bed. “I will sit and watch, and sleep myself. I will do this each night. Whatever you do,” and now he looked her straight in the eyes “you must not light any candles or try to see my face. It must remain perfectly dark in this room when I am here at night. Do you understand?”
She was confused, but she nodded. It was a strange request but she felt like she would do anything in order to stay here in this magical place. “I understand.”
“Good.” The bear replied, sounding pleased. “I will go now. I will be back tonight, but when you wake in the morning I will be gone again. I have many duties, and my work will often take me away during the day.” The bear turned, and left the room. In the hallway he looked back at her. “Good night, love.” Then the door shut.
That night, as she slowly fell asleep in her bed (the largest and most comfortable bed she had ever slept in, and the first one she hadn’t had to share with her sisters), she wondered whether she would wake up the next morning and find it was all a dream. The last things she heard before nodding off were the door quietly opening, someone sitting down in a chair, and gentle breathing.
End of Part 2