His horse is galloping, galloping down|
the narrow trail through the woods, when suddenly
standing tall before him, emitting a ferocious sound,
is a bear. The horse careens wildly, throwing him heavily
to the ground. His head strikes a stone – things go ‘round.
Through his fog, he sees the bear lumbering toward him apace.
Mightily he tries to stand, but dizzy, he slumps out prone.
The bear fills his eyes, its hot breath washing over his face.
“Bear, I am ashamed of you! Never before have I ever known
you to attack a man,” scolds a maiden, showing no fear, not a trace.
The last he sees before losing consciousness is the young girl
playfully shooing the bear away… When next he groggily awakens,
he is in bed, head bandaged, in a peasant’s cottage. For all the world,
he cannot remember who he is or what was the road he had taken.
Walking outside, he watches the maiden as she dances and twirls.
The maiden is his age and of considerable beauty, remarkable grace.
She laughs – her delightful smile the embodiment of happiness.
“Get to work. Stop your daydreaming! Do your chores.” A brace
of butterflies resting as bows in her hair flitter away in distress,
as an older man approaches her with stick raised, her smile to erase.
“Hold! Do not strike that maiden,” the young stranger commands.
The older man stops, considers his options, then drops the stick.
“So, you are finally awake. Who are you to give orders?” he demands.
The young man cannot answer, cannot say, for there has been no quick
return of memory. The blow to his head has left him a confused man.
“I do not know my name, my rank, or even where is my home land,
but I do recall your daughter interceding, calling off her tame bear,
her saving my life.” The older man draws near, replies, “ Rather than
a daughter, she is my niece. Plague killed her parents. I took her. There
was nothing else to do. However, being stuck with her was never my plan.
“But she is addled, gets distracted easily, worthless, burns every meal,
can’t complete her chores. She will never make any man a fit wife.
And she is strange – the bear is as wild as they come. Animals feel
some unnatural connection with Madeline. Her mind is sharp as a knife
around all animals. She claims she talks with them, like it was no big deal.
“You, young sir, wear clothes of highest quality. You must come from wealth.
Feel free to enjoy my hospitality ‘til you recover from your fall.” So, it comes
to pass; the young man spends several weeks recovering his full health,
during which time he gets better acquainted with Madeline. For some
reason, she seems incapable of selfishness, dishonesty, or stealth.
In fragments, as bits of recollections from his past, he begins to recall.
“I seem to see a fight among heavily armed men, with brave friends
dying so that I might escape capture by a superior force. They all
were surrounding me, fighting to their deaths. Their action sends
me riding for my life…” Madeline feels his pain; her tears begin to fall.
“Enough of this! Let us talk of happier things. Tell me how do
you talk to the animals as only you can do?” She takes his hand,
leads him to the edge of the woods, where they sit. Soon, two
wolves draw near. “They are afraid of you. Keep as still as you can.”
The wolves nuzzle her like puppies. “What have you been up to?”
she playfully asks. She removes an embedded thorn from the paw
of the female, sending them frolicking. “It had put her in pain.”
He watches in total disbelief. It is unlike anything he ever saw.
Animal after animal flocks to Madeline. “You are not insane
nor bewitched. You have a true gift from God. I am in awe.”
Suddenly, a hawk lands upon the ground beside Madeline. Then,
“A group of armed men approach. We should hide.” They take cover
at the edge of the woods. A group of knights rides into view. When
the lead knight draws nearer, the young man exclaims. “ No other
knight sits a horse like that. I know that man! Why, we have been
friends since childhood.” He steps out from the woods, drawing
immediate attention. The lead knight dismounts and bear-hugs him
with joy. “You’re alive! We have searched for you for weeks, growing
less and less hopeful of finding you alive. There often seemed slim
chance that you had made a successful escape from the fighting.
“Why did you not return home? The Duke and Duchess have had
every foot of the duchy searched.” “Old friend, I suffered a blow
to the head which stole all memory. I hate that my parents were sad.”
Seeing and talking with his boyhood friend restore all there is to know.
He is heir to the neighboring duchy, hence the finery in which he’s clad.
That very day they depart for home. As he bids sweet Madeline farewell,
tears wet her cheeks. There is a forlorn look dwelling in her brown eyes,
a look that haunts him more each passing mile. “You are under her spell.
She is some sort of witch we heard.” “The ignorant always despise
what they don’t understand. In these past weeks I learned her nature well.
“She is filled with purity, goodness, happiness, love, and compassion.
I will never again meet such a maiden, never!” He reins in his horse,
then whirls the horse around and gallops away, now full of passion.
Outdistancing his entourage, he arrives at the cottage in due course.
Madeline is nowhere to be found. He tries thinking in her fashion.
The woods! She would go to the woods. He races across the fields
to the edge of the forest. There sits Madeline, surrounded and
seemingly being consoled by animals of every sort. Now, she feels
his presence. She stands, smiling with joy. “Tell me, Madeline, can
you read my mind?” “Yes; before reading a man’s mind held no appeal.”
Reading his, they embrace tightly, melting into a kiss for their first time…
They love; they marry; they live happily and long, ending this tale just fine.