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Bear's Last Autumn

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One day in the spring of the year after his mother died, Grimbeorn woke up out of a fog of grief and noticed that the sun was shining, but his father had gone grey. He watched his father closely and anxiously after that. Once it had caught his attention, it was hard to miss that Beorn laughed less loudly and moved more slowly and spent much time sitting in the sun with his two young grandsons on his knees, talking to them in his low rumbling voice about the preferences of bees and the ways of dogs and horses. Occasionally, he would look up and catch Grimbeorn watching.

Grimbeorn knew his father was much older than his mother had been. He had no idea how old exactly. Somehow, he had expected his father to survive him, but he was beginning to think the old bear had other ideas. His father had loved his mother deeply, he knew, although much of that love had remained unspoken.

And it was unmistakeable, too, that the times were getting darker again. Orcs were beginning to multiply again in the mountains. His father had encouraged Grimbeorn in all his plans to assemble the Woodmen about him and build stronger defences, but Beorn himself was usually happiest on his own, away from crowds, at least for long stretches of time.

Things went on for more than a year, however, and Grimbeorn was hoping that perhaps he had been wrong, that perhaps Beorn was enjoying being a grandfather too much to leave. But when autumn came again, Beorn came up to him where he stood by the door, after the children had been put to bed, and Grimbeorn’s heart sank.

‘Well,’ said Beorn, looking towards the Carrock. ‘I thought it might be in my lifetime that our people would return to the mountains, but now I find the time has not yet come and I am tired of waiting. Perhaps it will be the turn of our little Stirbeorn to go, if hope does not deceive us.’

Grimbeorn had never felt that Beorn thought any the less of him, because the bear had not come out strong in him, and had believed that Beorn was perhaps content to see the bear fade away in his line with the new Age of Men. But now he saw that it meant more to his father than he had guessed that the bear had come out stronger in his younger grandson, although he had always spoiled both children equally with pieces of honeycomb and bearish hugs.

Beorn saw the expression on his face and grunted, putting his large paw comfortingly on Grimbeorn’s shoulder and giving his cheek a brief lick.

‘Take good care of those two and do not worry. It will happen or it will not.’

Grimbeorn stayed by the door and watched him go, first on two feet and then on four, veiled by the gathering dusk.

 


 

 

At last, Stirbeorn had arrived in the small valley that his grandfather had described to them repeatedly before he left, making him and his brother learn the way up by heart. It was exactly where he had said. A few Beorningas were with him, young sturdy women and men, willing to try and settle this new old territory.

Where the swift mountain stream divided, he found the small Carrock. Stirbeorn stood beside it and called: ‘The time has come, Grandfather! The Dark Lord and his orcs are defeated. We are back!’

And as he spoke, he thought he saw the shadow of a very large bear quickly making its way through the pine woods on the upper slopes to the north, but he might perhaps have been deceived.