As they got closer to Turin, they met more people. Some stared dumbly, some dropped to their knees and crossed themselves, and a few ran away. Prior William refrained from claiming ownership of the Bear, and contented himself with a pleasant "pax" as did Brother Gunther.
The Bear curled the corners of his lips up in what he hoped was a smile, and not a terrifying grimace. It seemed to have worked with boy he had given honey to, back when he lived in his comfortable cave, and St. Corbinian was alive. So long ago. If Bear gets out of this alive, he will go back home and have no more adventures. He gave everyone a pleasant good morning in the local tongue. Angest had taught him a few phrases he deemed useful.
The Bear grew more nostalgic with every step toward Turin. Finally, he asked Angest -- who was never far from the Bear -- to come close.
"Are we walking to our deaths?" Angest asked by way of a greeting. He was grinning ear to ear. "What a glory!"
"The black words you took from Prior William," the Bear said, ignoring Angest's strange comment. Every day his lieutenant seemed to become more excited, and more puzzling in his words. The Bear feared he was coming down with a distemper. "Bring Brother Gunther to me and give them to him."
Brother Gunther having been summoned and provided the parchments, the Bear said, "Prior William said Father Corbinian wrote bad things about Bear. Bear needs to know the truth. And if you pull some monk trick and refuse to read them, Bear will bite you in the face."
Brother Gunther smiled. "Threats are not necessary. There is no rule against translating a document." He examined it."It appears that there may be pages lost."
"Prior William burned them," the Bear said, and the memory made the Bear angry. Lost. What precious advice did Prior William silence forever?
"I will read the document," said Brother Gunther. "But first you must forgive Prior William. Genuinely, from the heart. Leave vengeance to the Lord."
"It is hard, Brother Gunther," the Bear confessed. "He is so different than Father Corbinian. Father Corbinian made Bear... special. What Bear is. He got Christianity through Bear's thick skull, but with love. Like a father. He was Bear's father. And Prior William tormented Bear, and even now, he is using Bear. He thinks Bear is stupid and does not know. Bear does not trust him."
"Trust is another matter, and on that prudential judgment we might agree" Brother Gunther said. "But know that it was God who made you what you are, not Abbot Corbinian. And you are unworthy to hear these words as long as you harbor the least bit of hatred for Prior William."
The Bear wrestled with his heart, with his Bear nature. Finally he said, "Bear says 'no' to anger and wishes Prior William well. But he cannot say his heart is perfectly clean."
"That is good enough, Bear," Brother Gunther replied. "We are all tempted by one thing or another. We win our crowns in fighting those temptations. Pray that those lingering wounds will be soothed by the light of Christ. Now let us see what Abbot Corbinian has to say." He scanned the half dozen pages slowly, and the Bear thought he would burst from anticipation.
"This seems to be a some sort of testament," Brother Gunther said. "It gives instructions, probably to the next abbot, on how you are to be treated and instructed. But here is the important part.
I have no doubt, and I believe I am speaking in the Spirit, that the Bear is a rational creature, no less so than a man. He was a savage beast who killed my pack horse, and miraculously became gentle to the pack. Moreover he was granted the power of speech, with the precedent of Balaam's ass. I have personally witnessed him make moral decisions, some good, some bad, but he is always amenable to instruction. He improves. He is more of a man than many men I have met. You object, 'He is not in the image of God. He is an animal, and subject to the will of men.' I say it is a mystery, but I also say that an Ethiopian looks different from a German, and there is no Jew or Gentile, and he is truly circumcised who is inwardly so, and a true son of Abraham. You may object, but God has wrought a marvelous thing for reasons I cannot foresee. All I know is that the Bear has an immortal soul. There can be no question on this matter if this testament means anything to those who remember me. It is my wish that everyone recognize the image of God traced within this Bear. It is possible that God demonstrates to us through this Bear, the constant exercise of the will to overcome the flesh -- our own bearishness. But God's will be done.Brother Gunther stopped reading, and the Bear pondered what he had heard. First he said, "Bear knew he had a soul." Then he thought, and asked, "What is Balaam's ass?"
"Balaam was a diviner who was persuaded by his greed to speak falsely in the name God. God sent an angel to prevent him, but only the ass could see him. Balaam began to beat the ass, but the ass was miraculously given the power of speech, and complained of Balaam's mistreatment." Brother Gunther thought for a moment. "Just an example, or something more?"
"What else does it say?" the Bear asked impatiently.
"I will read the most important -- and difficult -- part."
It is my wish, and I do not believe I speak against the Lord in this matter, that the Bear be baptized and receive all appropriate Christian sacraments. He has been better catechized by me than most to be baptized. But scandal must be avoided.Once again, there was silence for a long time as they walked.
"Brother Gunther, Bear wants to be a Christian!" the Bear finally burst out. "He believes in the Good God. How could he not? Does this mean Bear could someday see Father Corbinian again?"
Brother Gunther sighed. "It will be difficult," he said. "Neither myself nor Prior William are priests. But here is something Prior William missed. It says, 'It is my recommendation that I be succeeded by Brother Gunther, but in any case, may the Holy Spirit direct the brothers in the election.'"
"Angest, take this and guard it with your life, understand?" the Bear ordered.
"Aye, Captain Bear," Into Angest's bag it went, and, significantly, he rested his hand on the butt of the knife in his belt.
The Bear stuck his nose in the air, and his nostrils twitched. "Horses. Ahead. Many."
"We wanted to lure them out, and so here they come," said Angest. He spat. "They will either kill us or make of us gods."
"Don't you know what day it is, man?" Brother Gunther said with a quaver in his voice. "Today is Palm Sunday. And we enter the city. Today's hero is bait for crows tomorrow. Commend your souls to God," he said in a loud voice. "Our doom approaches."