The Bear, forced to carry a pack across the Alps once more, escaped cruel Prior William's chains and iron muzzle by promising to hunt game for William's starving party. However, once free, the Bear left the men to their fate and began the long journey home.
The Bear caught a familiar and enticing scent. He could not account for it, however. Luckily, he was upwind. He could smell them, but they could not smell him. It would be simple for the Bear, weak as he was, to lie in wait, then take one of them down when they were close. There was the faint scent of man, but the Bear judged their numbers few. Whoever they were, they could not stop the Bear. The Bear was perfectly situated for the kill.
The snowfall had stopped. After awhile, he spied his quarry in the bright moonlight. A man leading a string of heavily laden horses. The Bear salivated. He would take the last horse. That would be cleanest.
When they were practically upon him, one of the horses caught his scent, and refused to go forward. Almost simultaneously, the Bear was among them. He clamped his jaws on the last horse's neck and wrestled it to the ground, making sure the hooves were opposite him. The next horse in line reared, and the Bear felt his prey being tugged, nearly out of his jaws. The line, however, could not take the strain and parted.
The Bear retained his prize, but the other horses scattered into the darkness. As the Bear gorged on horseflesh, he had one eye on the man. He had dropped to his knees in the snow, apparently praying. Eventually, the man stood up and walked over to the Bear, keeping a respectful distance.
"You look half starved," he said to the Bear. "You are welcome to the horse. How disfigured you are by muzzle and leg irons, my friend. It is sad that men cannot be trusted. But I am sure Abbot Corbinian told you that."
The Bear stood on his hind legs, towering over the calm figure before him, and gave a terrifying roar.
"For my heart hath been inflamed, and my reins have been changed: and I am brought to nothing, and I knew not. I am become as a beast before thee," the man recited. "Your disfigurement goes all the way to your soul, Bear, if you seek to frighten my ears because you have lost your tongue. In any case, it appears that God has brought me to my end, one way or another. My horses dead or scattered, and me without food, save what is contained on the back of your dinner," He sighed. "Oats. For the horses."
The Bear went back to his meal, his face covered in sweet blood.
"Peace to you, Brother Bear," the man continued. "I am Brother Gunther from the abbey you once knew so well. Surely you do not imagine that Abbot Corbinian's meetings with a talking bear year after year could go unnoticed! Your eyes are not those of a beast, either, even though you have crimsoned the snow around you. And Prior William's chains and muzzle were no secret. I can see their scars, even in the moonlight. You may have forgotten yourself, but neither I nor God have done so."
His belly full, the Bear grew tolerant. "Brother Gunther. Peace to you. Bear is going home. Where are you going?"
"I was going to Rome. Now I go to my death."
"Keep walking, Brother Gunther," the Bear said. "Prior William's party is a half day's journey. Bear shall not seek your other horses. Perhaps you shall find them. But the Good God set Bear free. This is not his journey."
"Thank you, Brother Bear. That is some hope, at least."
"The horse Bear took was lame, Brother Gunther. It shortly would have been of no use to you."
"I know," Brother Gunther replied with a slight smile. "What I do not know is this, How do you know this is not your journey? 'And whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him other two,' said Our Lord. But if it is your journey, on it you shall go, like Jonah went to Nineveh. Beware the great fish, Bear."
"Bear loves fish," he answered.
Brother Gunther laughed. "I do not suppose you could be persuaded to carry this pack and accompany me to Rome, Brother Bear? It would secure my survival and the success of my mission."
"Father Corbinian did not ask," the Bear replied. "Bear had no choice. Just like Prior William. Bear is done being a pack animal. And he does not eat oats."
"Then do it because it is right?" Brother Gunther asked.
"Bear is sorry, but it is not right for a Bear to carry burdens. That is not why God made Bears."
"Then two miles for Jesus?" Brother Gunther asked almost humorously.
The Bear thought, and could see no way out of this trap. Now that his belly was full, two miles would not be difficult, even carrying a pack. And he could not dislike Brother Gunther, who was so much like Father Corbinian, yet different. It is only two miles, he thought, and he would have discharged his obligation to Jesus.
The Bear said: "Yes. Place your burden on Bear."
"You may find it much lighter having accepted it voluntarily," Brother Gunther said.
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