The Blood of the Bear, Part Two
This is the second part of a legend among the Northlanders concerning the Age of War. In Part One, Kiva met Benno, who was not of her village.
Though the Horde had not yet come to their village, Kiva's people were prepared. With the Growth season upon them, they knew that ways previously impassable were now easier to access. They had dug in defensive trenches lined with sharply spiked branches and stakes. They had watches every night, both for the bears that were awakening and for any sign that the Horde might be advancing their way.
Kiva was near the river gathering more wood when she again saw Benno. He stood at the edge of the melting ice, staring intently into the water. Before Kiva could call out a greeting, Benno reached into the water and with a quick swipe of his hand had knocked a fish onto the icy shore.
As he picked up the fish, Benno noticed Kiva watching him. "I have never seen anyone fish that way before," she said, coming closer. Benno laughed and bade her stand back from the icy edge. He braced himself on the riverbank and stared into the black waters. He stood still for so long, Kiva wondered whether he had frozen in place. Suddenly he bent forward, darting his hand at the water and flinging another fish to the shore.
"That is how we fish in my clan," Benno said, picking up the fish and putting it into a rough bag he had at his belt. Kiva laughed and said, "I have never seen that before; your clan must not be from around here." Benno glanced at her and said, "No. It is not." He turned to leave, then said hesitantly, "Are you curious to see where my clan is from?"
Kiva paused, considering, "Is it far? I am on watch and must be back before dark." Benno nodded, "You will be back before dark." And then without warning he scooped her into his arms and crossed the water. "Benno! The river ice is melting!" Kiva gasped, "The water bites with cold; are you mad?" He laughed and said, "This is nothing; I am of the North!"
Benno pushed through the snow-covered branches that hung low to the riverbank. Kiva had never walked on this side of the river before and she was fascinated. The trees grew tall and thick and were so closely set that no snow reached the ground. They came at last to an enormous tree, and at its roots, Benno pushed aside a leafy bush, revealing a hole into the ground.
Though Kiva had to stoop to enter (as did Benno, who was taller than the tallest Northman), she could stand upright once inside. The cavernous hole seemed to go on and on into the darkness. Benno lit candles and offered her honey mead. It was warming and delicious. He brought her dried berries.
"Where is the rest of your clan?" asked Kiva. A shadow passed over Benno's features. He said softly, "I am the last of my kind," then he said as though correcting himself, "Of my kin." Benno sat silently for a moment. "We lived in this place in the time of Growth, but at other times lived in other places. The Horde found us elsewhere. I alone escaped."
"I am sorry," Kiva said. "The Horde has not yet come here." "But they will," Benno said quietly. "They will never get what they seek. The time has come for them to be defeated. And when they are gone, I will join another clan. My strength will be theirs."
Looking around the empty cavern, Benno said, "Come! It is time for you to return to your people." He took Kiva's hand and stood for a moment, studying it closely; it was so small in his palm. Then he smiled at her and led the way through the bush into the woods.