"And how do you know this, friend?"
The Bear pointed to his nose with a paw. "Dogs wish they had a nose like this. Bear can smell a female one hundred miles away when --"
"That will do, Bear!" Brother Gunther interrupted.
"A straight line, turning neither left nor right," the Bear finished.
"Very impressive, I am sure," Brother Gunther said. "May we please leave something to the imagination, though? You were talking about your nose."
The Bear and Brother Gunther walked quietly for several minutes. The Bear broke the silence. "Um, that was when Bear was just a Bear. Before Father Corbinian. Ever since, Bear does not follow his nose in season. It is difficult."
Brother Gunther made a wry smile. "Indeed."
After a long walk in silence, the Bear stopped. "Bear hears singing." Sure enough, a good half-mile further they found Prior William's party sitting around a fire, with a half-dozen empty wine bottles scattered about, and the horses secured along a picket line.
"Corbinian's Bear!" one of the men cried out. "It took you long enough, but you delivered on your promise and then some!"
"A song for the Bear," another man shouted.
"Bear did not --" the Bear began.
"The Bear did not rest until he delivered on his promise," said Brother Gunther loudly. "I swear that this is all the Bear's doing. Prior William." Brother Gunther walked up to him and they exchanged the kiss of peace.
As the men sang a drinking song that had nothing to do with Bears, as far as the Bear could tell, Prior William spoke to Brother Gunther. "I am surprised to see you, Brother. What business brings you here?"
"I am going to Rome to have my election to abbot confirmed, Prior William."
"I should have guessed," Prior William said. "You will fail."
"That will be Pope Gregory's decision," Brother Gunther answered with a slight smile.
Prior William made a weary face. "Very well. Of course, I will control all the supplies you brought, and will continue to be in charge of this expedition."
"Of course, Prior William," answered Brother Gunther with a bow. "I am your obedient servant."
"Then there is the matter of my Bear," Prior William said. "You will see to it that he is once again muzzled and chained."
"As far as it lies within my ability, I shall follow the Prior's orders, of course. May he be fed, first?"
"No. Muzzle and chains. Then you may feed him some scraps of the bear meat we recovered."
"He may feel he's earned the right to walk freely."
"What he feels is not my concern, nor yours, Brother Gunther! And for your impertinence, I am binding you to silence until I decide to release you."
Brother Gunther bowed again and searched for the hateful apparatus. Meanwhile Prior William cajoled his men into surrounding the Bear with spears, although they looked none too happy. There was grumbling about "our Bear." Brother Gunther stood before the Bear in silence, holding the muzzle.
None of this made sense to the Bear. What spell had Prior William cast over Brother Gunther?
"Brother Gunther?" the Bear ventured.
The only reply was stony silence as Brother Gunther again offered the humiliating and painful iron muzzle. What allowed an evil man like Prior William to be in charge, while a good man, so very like Father Corbinian, must obey him, and betray the Bear? The Bear was not worried about the men. It was doubtful they would fight very hard against him. If only Brother Gunther would give the word, the Bear would put him in charge, and the Bear was certain that then there would be no muzzle. "Bear begs you. Take charge. The Good God would want that, Bear is sure! Do you not see that Prior William is just like a killer bear?"
"The Good God," Prior William said with a sneer, "values obedience in his monks. You would do well to imitate good Brother Gunther. See, he is your friend, and he offers you the muzzle of obedience. Do not presume to judge me, Bear. Recognize my authority, as does Brother Gunther. Please God with your obedience. It is what Abbot Corbinian would want you to do. Holy Scripture says animals are subject to men."
The Bear thought a moment, and reached a decision. He stood up and roared more loudly than he had ever roared before. He slowly turned in a circle, rejoicing in the fear he saw in the men's eyes. He seized one of their spears in his jaws and broke the shaft. The men started backing away from him. He knocked another spear out a man's hands with a swipe of his paw, and broke it as well. "Lay your spears at my feet," he commanded with another roar. They complied without hesitation. Some of them even seemed pleased. The Bear then methodically broke every one of the spears, and tossed the pieces into the fire for good measure.
"Now sing," he ordered. "Sing Bear the song you were singing before."
The men quickly began a ragged tune.
They sang louder.
As the men sang, the Bear turned on Prior William, and was on him in three quick steps.
"Bear sees fear in your eyes, wicked old man. You are nothing like Father Corbinian. It is impossible that you would be in charge of anything, except... a dishonest sausage stall at the market." The Bear let his gaze linger on Prior William's terrified face, then he half-turned. "Men, stop singing." He picked up Prior William off the ground. "Would you follow this miserable creature to your deaths? Or would you be men of the Bear? The Bear who provides a feast out of snowy darkness? Who can lead you safely to the great Rome and back. The famous Corbinian's Bear! What say you?"
"The Bear!" they began cheering, and the Bear was surprised that it sounded genuine.
"What shall we do with this bad man?" the Bear asked them, giving Prior William a slight shake.
"Kill him! Put the chains on him! Make him wear the muzzle!" The men shouted different suggestions. "He mistreated our leader, Captain Bear! We serve no one but Captain Bear!"
"Seize him!" the Bear ordered as he dropped his prisoner, and stepped back. The men rushed Prior William, and despite his bitter orders to the contrary, they held him roughly, looking at the Bear expectantly. "Brother Gunther, bring Bear the muzzle." But Brother Gunther stood still, and gestured with the muzzle toward the Bear. "One of you," he addressed the men, "take the muzzle from Brother Gunther." He resisted, and eventually it took three men to wrench it away from him. He looked at the Bear with sadness, as the Bear gazed back with incomprehension.
Shortly, Prior William was bound, gagged, and the heavy iron muzzle was more or less fastened to his head ridiculously. "Behold your superior, Brother Gunther. This is what you take orders from? Still no answer? Chains." The men eagerly draped one segment of the heavy chains over Prior William's shoulders and around his waist.
"Brother Gunther, friend, Bear offers you command. You are the better man. Will you not speak?" Brother Gunther continued to look sadly at the Bear. Finally, the Bear snarled. "Fine. Between a crook and a good man who will do nothing, Bear will lead. Bear is not a monk. Bear is not an animal. He does not owe obedience to any man. Men of the Bear! Are we ready to continue at first light?"
"Yes, Captain Bear," said one of the older men. His face bore a diagonal scar. The Bear saw a strange, hot light in his eye.
"What is your name?" the Bear asked.
"Angest, sir. I had my own company when we fought the Lombards."
"Men will obey you, and you obey Bear," the Bear said.
"Yes, sir!" Angest answered smartly. Under the Bear's intense gaze, the other men nodded.
"Keep Wicked William on his feet where he stands until we set out," the Bear ordered. "Dawn is not far off."
"Aye, Captain Bear," said Angest. "And we'll be wanting to keep those spear heads. They might prove useful yet with new shafts."
The Bear nodded. Captain Bear. That pleased the Bear. He wondered how many men might follow Captain Bear.
The Bear tried to sleep, but Brother Gunther had moved next to Prior William, and stood beside him in the moonlight, in silent solidarity. Humans. Just when the Bear thought he had them figured out, they always did something like this.