Storytime Friday: East of the Sun and West of the Moon, Part 5
Before she could say a word her mother shut the door, and turned to her. “Oh, my sweet baby. How are you really? What is that bear like? Has he hurt you?” She was surprised to see that her mother’s eyes were glistening with tears.
“N-no,” she replied. “He’s very gentle. He hasn’t done anything to me at all. I mean he plays with me sometimes, when he’s around.”
“When he’s around? What does that mean? Oh daughter, tell me everything. I could see that you’ve been holding back when we ask you.” Her mother began to sniff, the tears gently flowing now. “I was so afraid when you left. I’m happy to have this house, and I’m glad we all have enough to eat, but what kind of mother sells her own daughter to a bear? A bear!” Her mother pulled out a handkerchief and blowed her nose the best she could. “Can you ever forgive me?”
She stepped forward and embraced her mother, holding her tightly to herself. “Oh mother. Of course I forgive you. I agreed to go, didn’t I? And I really am fine. More than fine, actually. It’s all been unbelievably wonderful.”
Her words seemed to comfort her mother. After a few moments she regained her composure, and they both sat down at the table. Soon she was telling her mother everything; about the palace and the gardens and the bell that gave her anything she wanted. As she spoke her mother dried her tears, and began to listen with interest. She wasn’t too sure if her mother believed it all, but she felt comfortable just letting it all out. If there was anyone she could talk to it was her mother.
After she finished talking about the castle she told her mother all about the bear; how he could run like the wind, how he was so serious yet could be so playful, and how he would disappear most days but came back each night to sit in the chair by her bed. “Sit in a chair?” her mother interrupted. “But how? He’s a bear.”
“Well I’m not sure. He moves so softly when he comes in. I think…I think that he might not be a bear at night.”
Her mother looked surprised. “You mean you’ve never looked?”
She shook her head. “It’s pitch black in the room at night, and he told me to never light a candle at night or try to see his face. So I haven’t.”
Her mother was taken aback. “Oh daughter. Don’t you see? Night must reveal the bear’s true form. Why would he hide it from you unless he was something truly terrible? So terrible that turning into a bear is an improvement! He could be a troll! You must find out. For all we know he’s just fattening you up to eat you.”
“No!” she cried. “Mother, I promised him that I wouldn’t try to see his face. He’s been so kind to me, and given me such wonderfull things. He couldn’t possibly be a troll.”
“Then why did he have you make that promise?” Her mother replied quickly. “If he’s so good what does he have to hide? Why hasn’t he told you who he is or where he goes all day? Why all the secrecy?” She stopped suddenly. “I…I don’t want harm to come to you daughter. I know you’re happy in your golden palace. And we’re all happy here in this beautiful house. I wouldn’t want you to anger him, and risk taking all that away. But I’m afraid. All this magic worries me. If he’s really some terrible monster, and is just waiting until he’s hungry enough to eat you–or something worse–I couldn’t live with myself.”
“Oh mother…” she said, taking her hand as she spoke. “Don’t worry. I know he’s not a monster. I’m perfectly safe there, and happier than I’ve ever been in my life.”
“As safe and happy as pigs are up until the day they are slaughtered?” her mother snapped. “I’m sorry. I’ll try to trust your judgement daughter, but I’m having trouble doing so. Good men don’t hide behind darkness.” Her mother stood up, and walked over to a fine oak dresser, where she removed a small candle from one of the drawers. “Here. Take this with you when you leave. Hide it so he doesn’t see.” She began to protest but her mother cut her off with a gesture. “You don’t have to use it. I won’t force you to. But take it anyway, just in case. When it’s late at night, and he sounds as if he’s gone to sleep, then you can light it and take a good look at him.”
She could see that there would be no arguing with her, so she took the candle and hid it in the folds of her dress. Then she and her mother embraced, holding each other tight. “Don’t worry mother,” she said quietly. “I’ll be safe. I’ll visit often so you know I’m still alive.”
Her mother squeezed her tighter. “You better. I’ll try not to worry about you, but I know I will anyway. Stay safe, and please remember what I’ve said. ”
She promised that she would, and then they both left to join the family at the bonfire. Though her brothers and sisters were in high spirits, she found that something was weighing heavily on her spirits. What if she’s right, she thought. She shook off the thought. The bear had been good to her. She trusted him. She would keep on trusting him, not matter what.
But inside she wasn’t so sure anymore.
She stayed with her family for another week. On the day of her departure the bear appeared as silently as he had disappeared before. She wasn’t sure how he knew she was ready to go. Perhaps he had been watching her. She said goodbye to her family, who were all sad to see her go, and she promised she’d visit again soon. She climbed onto the bear’s back, and he walked slowly away from the grand farmhouse. The last face she saw was her mother’s. She looked terribly worried.
When the house was out of sight the bear began to run, flying through the forest like a comet through the night sky. After they had traveled some distance, the bear spoke to her. “Did you enjoy your visit?”
“Yes.” She answered. “Thank you very much for taking me there. And thank you for keeping your promise to make them rich.”
“A promise is a promise.”
They were silent for a while, as the trees left streaks of color as they shot by. Riding the bear was so peaceful and comfortable that she could almost fall asleep.
The bear broke the silence. “Did you speak with your mother?”
Her heart almost stopped in surprise. She couldn’t reply for almost a full minute. When she did the word came out like a small mouse under the eyes of a watchful hawk.
The bear simply nodded. Neither of them spoke for the rest of the trip. She wondered if he was angry.
When they arrived at the palace he stopped at the gate, and she climbed off his back. She coughed. “I’m…” she mumbled, “I’m sorry. I promised I wouldn’t talk to her alone, but…”
The bear stopped her with a kind look. “It’s alright. I know that you tried your best. Mothers can be hard to stop.” He looked straight at her with his sad brown eyes. “Just know this; if you listen to your mother’s advice you will make us both very unhappy. All this,” he looked up at the palace, and then back to her. “Will be over. Do you understand.”
She looked down at her feet. “I understand.” I trust him, she thought to herself. I really do. I really, really do.
But there was still a small part of her that wasn’t so sure.
End of Part 5