After getting a long rest with Dubhe and Lilia in one of those super comfortable leaf bed I haven’t slept in since the enclave, I start a conversation with Dubhe about the bearfolk. Clearly, I don’t know the customs, nor did I make an effort to learn them on my way here.
Too much brooding over things I can’t change. I truly feel like I wasted a large portion of the last several months.
“So, uh… I shouldn’t talk unless spoken to, right?”
Dubhe tilts her head. “That’s right.”
“And… is it right that bearfolk culture is survival of the fittest?”
Lilia picks a fruit hanging from the ceiling. The fruits in this Gaia Tree taste different than those from the enclave, but Dubhe assured me that they are fully nutritional. She hands the fruit to Dubhe, who is sitting on the floor. After picking one for herself, they both look back to me to continue the conversation. “Well…” She thinks for a moment longer. “No, not really. But sometimes, yes.”
I sigh. That doesn’t really clarify for me. “So tell me what you mean.”
“We mean that sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t!”
Really? Yes. Of course. What?! “Yes… but I don’t know what that means… erm… in context.”
“We… No… Well, young bearfolk… er…” Dubhe looks up to Lilia.
Lilia smiles and sits with Dubhe, hugging her.
“We only know about ourselves, as many bearfolk are secretive of their adult life. As a child, we were always very… sure of ourselves.” She is smiling wryly. I can see her standing on top of a hill in my mind, holding a flag in victory or something. I smile back at her, but because of the image in my mind of her as a child, not because of anything she said just now.
“So, when it came time to go out into the world for ourselves… We suspect many bearfolk women have this experience. We had been told stories about needing to put down unruly males… But we were sure of ourselves.” She’s smiling a sad smile now. Somehow, I know where this is going.
“Our first husband… He was waiting for new bearfolk to go out into the world. He had claimed a small territory with plenty of open land on all sides. After a few of us went out to the open plots, he ate several of the young males that had made their territories next to us. We had hoped one day that one of them, our friends, would want to claim us.”
This was a bit sadder than I was expecting.
“When we grow up, often bearfolk women will move their homes to the edge of their territory near other women’s territory… so their kids grow up together. We were friends, many of these males. But he ate them, to show us how strong he was. He claimed their territory. That’s how it works. That’s how you find a strong male. We told ourselves that’s how it works.”
“It was somewhat exciting when he claimed us. He was strong, and older, and more experienced. We were foolish.” I can’t tell if she is mad or sad, or what she is feeling. Dubhe’s voice is very tense though. It feels a bit like the air is heavy around us.
“And then, when the night was over, and he thought he was strong and powerful… We put an end to him. He was strong and powerful. And violent. And rude, and we hated him. He hurt us.” She looks at her claws… Paws? The hand ones.
“He didn’t taste good, but we needed to eat him. It would be wasteful otherwise. Had we known it would have ended that way… We would have put an end to him before our friends had died. We raised our first litter to value their friends more than their customs.”
This was not where I expected it to go. Honestly, I’m quite impressed and very proud of her.
“The queen sent her husband to dispatch them when she found out. We didn’t have a husband to protect us, as we had eaten him. It’s easy to protect one’s self as a female bearfolk. It’s impossible to protect a litter of young children. Before we knew what was going on, both of our daughters were dead, and we were given the choice of giving up our remaining children alive to be raised by the queen or living in fear. We gave up our children…” She stopped. Her shoulders shuttered, and she started to cry loudly.
This is definitely not going where I expected it to go. This is terrible.
“He… He said he would take care of them…” She sobbed. “He killed and ate them in front of us after he was far enough away for us to not be able to stop him.”
Clearly… Not what I expected.
I hugged Dubhe with Lilia. I wanted to tell her that Lilia and I would protect our children with her… But we are effectively in the snake pit as it is.
After calming down, she continued her story. “We learned a few things from that. First, that we teach the culture first, and anything against our culture is taught in secret. And second, we pick the males, even if they think they pick us, that’s rubbish. We pick.”
“Uh…” I sat back a bit and looked her in the eyes. “So you picked me?”
She blinked at me a few times.
“It must be because I’m handsome, right?” I’ve always wanted to say that. I’m totally waiting for her to punch me though.
“Pffffft. Well…” She stifles a laugh and looks away. “We don’t think you’re particularly handsome, as you’re not very attractive by bearfolk standards. But…” She pauses, and looks at me with intensity I haven’t seen before. “We do love you.”
Thanks for the support! I am in your care!
Hopefully we can keep on 2 chapter a week, at least for a while. No guarantees though. That was a brutal chapter. Poor Dubhe.