The Bear has apologized for subjecting Prior William to the same cruelty he had subjected the Bear. As the party got ready to move forward, the Bear gave the two monks an unforgettable Bear ride, and for the time being, at least, harmony reigns as the party completes its passage of the Alps.
He and Brother Gunther had loved their Bear ride.
"Let's get going," Prior William said amiably. "We should talk as we walk. Yes, all of you, here by the Bear. I don't suppose any of you have been this far?"
"Bear has. Father Corbinian kept away from big towns. Bear supposes he did not want too many people to see Bear."
"This way goes to Turin," Angest said. "It is a big city, Captain Bear. You cannot imagine the size of it. The Lombards possess it. We're in their country now. They speak the vulgate Latin, not our bastardized German-Latin. I know their tongue, though. And Prior William and Brother Gunther's Latin ought to be understandable. They ought not to take two brothers and a handful of unarmed men amiss. A few of them are Arians, a few pagan, but most are Catholic. Lombards are warlike and ambitious." He shrugged. "Like everybody else."
"We should avoid it, then," said Bear. "Bear noticed you did not include him in things Lombards would 'not take amiss.' And Bear does not speak Latin of any kind. Only our German and Frankish.'"
Angest laughed. "I wouldn't speak Frankish in these parts. You never know which side anybody is on with these crazy Italians. Maybe the Lombards are friendly with Charles Martel, or maybe this season they're not. Liutprand is the Lombard king, or was, and has always cast a covetous eye toward Rome herself. Add the Byzantines, who claim control of the carcass of the western Roman empire, and our Pope Gregory II caught in the middle. There was a big fuss over holy pictures awhile back. The Pope liked them, but Byzantium did not. People were killed over it. I think Pope Gregory won. Never understood it myself."
"Pope Gregory II?" the Bear exclaimed. "That's Father Corbinian's pope! Would he still be in Rome?"
"Who knows?" said Angest. "The pope is a distant name. News travels slowly."
"Bear," said Prior William, "How did people react when they saw you and Abbot Corbinian?"
"They stared. Jaws dropped. Some of them knelt and made the sign of the cross. Bear does not think they knew what to do."
"We could avoid it," Prior William said, "or we could enter it with our Bear. After all, the plan was for him to recruit a real company."
Angest spoke up. "That's a roll of the dice, for sure, and putting our Captain here at risk, not to mention our throats, as well. There are people there that are still close to the land, and the land's magic. What if they decide this strange procession with an unnatural Bear, begging your pardon, Captain, was unwholesome? More practically, where are we going to put up Captain Bear in a city? And any recruits have likely been picked over."
Each of the party was silent with his own thoughts until Angest spoke up again. "On the other hand, anything a company might need can be had here. And I have a couple of special ideas of my own. We could put that fat purse to good use, and trade makes all men good fellows, no? And who with red blood will not be a man of the Bear?"
Up ahead was a small party on foot, perhaps two families. One chanced to look back, and then all of them kneeled and crossed themselves.
"I am Prior William!" he announced in a loud voice, as they passed, then extended his hand in blessing. "Peace be with you. Spread the word about Prior William and his miraculous Bear!"
"Good morning," the Bear said politely, although he did not know if they understood him.
After they had passed the party, still on their knees, Prior William observed, "Well, that went well."
"Bear does not belong to you," the Bear complained.
"My dear Bear!" Exclaimed Prior William. "Don't you see the benefit to all of us if people expect a miraculous Bear with a Christian Prior? This is the pass we shall need to avoid trouble and safely arrive at Rome."
"Prior William is correct. Of course it also promotes his claim," said Brother Gunther.
"That is uncharitable, Brother Gunther," corrected Prior William.
"I apologize, Prior. I will make satisfaction." Brother Gunther lie prostrate on the trail at the Prior's feet.
"Oh, get up," Prior William said. "We're not at the abbey."
"No, Prior. We are far from it. If I may speak my mind for the good of all, I believe there is a better way than going into Turin."
"Yes, speak, Brother Gunther," said the Prior.
"We let Turin come to us. It won't take many travelers to see our Bear and soon Turin will be afire with news of the Bear. Let us hope that they will be curious, but well-disposed. They will make a smooth way for our eventual entrance to the city. If, that is, our Captain approves."
"Bear supposes," he said uncertainly. "But he does not want to be called Prior William's Bear. If he belongs to anyone, it is Father Corbinian. Next time Prior William claims Bear as his own, Bear will turn around and go back home."
"That is understandable," Prior William said pleasantly. "And I agree with our clever Captain about Brother Gunther's suggestion. Although, now that I think about it, it was inevitable. In fact, it has already begun. How far to Turin, Lieutenant Angest?"
"Three hard days," Angest replied.
"We shall take a leisurely pace," Prior William announced. "What say you, Bear?"
"Bear is not stupid. He understands the plan. We shall abandon the spears lest people think Bear is captive."
"With any luck, we shall leave with much better," Angest said.
As they commenced their leisurely pace deeper into the land of men, the Bear grew less certain of himself. There were plots of men afoot, and nothing was as it seemed. The one person he felt he could trust had betrayed him in favor of Prior William. Angest was far from a simple German, and seemed to know this part of the world well.
The Bear no longer felt like the Captain in charge.
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