Sunlight flashed off burnished armor, and the bear shaded his eyes with a massive paw. "Greetings Sir Knight," the bear said. "I trust you are not hunting bears this fine summer day."
"Peace upon you, bear," the knight replied. "Unless you be a witch in bear form."
"No," replied the bear with a low chuckle. "Just an ordinary talking bear."
"Then peace again. I am not hunting bear, so you need not worry. My quarry is a much more fearsome creature. The dragon that lives in yonder dale."
The bear followed the knight's gaze. "Sir knight, I know these woods and fields, hills and dales for a fortnight's journey in all directions. I am relieved to report there is no dragon."
"No dragon? The Dragon of the Dale is famous! He has now imprisoned a beautiful maiden deep within his lair. I mean to slay the dragon and wed the fair lady."
"A noble sentiment, to be sure, Sir Knight," replied the bear. "Nonetheless, my report is true. There is no dragon. Furthermore, dragons are mythical creatures, the stuff of fairy tales."
The knight's lance dipped a bit, and his brow furrowed in deep thought. "No dragons? What, then, of dragon slayers? Who shall rescue fair maidens?"
"Oh, there are still maidens, but they hardly need rescuing. Take the maiden of the dale you were speaking of. She's living comfortably with her parents, and, between you and me, I happen to know her father can't wait to marry her off. You don't need to fight anything! Why, just walk up and ask for her hand in marriage! There's an adorable little 24-hour wedding chapel right in her town."
The knight, far from greeting the bear's news with joy, took off his helmet and hung his head. "No dragon, and a maiden for the mere asking," he muttered sadly.
The bear, for he was kind, tried to cheer up the knight. "Look on the bright side, Sir Knight. No more uncomfortable armor, no more long rides astride a horse -- a nice, fat horse, I can't help but notice -- no toil, no danger. Why, the dale has more maidens than you could dance with in a day if you danced from sunset to sunset again. And all of them are just waiting for a knight in shining armor. Take your pick."
But the knight shook his head. "No dragon. Maidens like ripe fruit just hanging from the tree to be picked. It's not the same, Bear. A knight is born for combat. There is no glory without risk, no prize without a contest. You know nothing of knights if you think to cheer me with these things."
"Perhaps you'll get used to it," the bear answered. "No risk, no prize, no code of chivalry to worry about. Just try your best to be nice. Maybe you could start a new order: The Knights of Nice. You could... well, you could go around being nice to people. You know. 'Hello there, nice weather we're having, wot?' and 'How's your liege lord? I say, he's a swell fellow.' Or how about a crusade?"
"Yes! A crusade!" The clouds of gloom suddenly parted and the knight gripped the pommel of his sword. "To ride against the infidel and liberate the Holy Land!"
"Not that kind of crusade. The king signed a treaty with the Saracens and it is against the law to call them infidels."
"Sorry. I had not heard. I have been off questing."
"But you could start a Crusade of Nice. Raise awareness for trendy causes like global cooling and such."
"No, Bear," the knight answered sadly. "It just wouldn't be the same as a real crusade. Frankly, it sounds slack."
The bear thought, then brightened. "Hey, how about we take turns chasing each other!"
"Would you kill me if you caught me?" A glimmer of hope like the glint of dragon's fire off a sword blade returned.
"Of course not!"
The fire went out in the knight's eyes. "No, Bear, thank you, but that is a mere children's game."
"I could tickle you if I caught you."
"That is very kind, Bear, but no."
And the knight then and there dug a deep hole, and buried his armor, his shield, and sword, He turned and left the way he had come. He seemed to the bear a shrunken, pitiful thing. The bear watched as the forest swallowed him, then shook his head and followed.