Legends often start from humble beginnings. 1st. Place - Dec. 2020 "The Whatever Contest."
None of the Bear's friends came to his shop anymore, not since the sickness had taken him. Only the girl came, bringing food every day, despite his lack of appetite. The great strength that had earned him his nickname had been slowly sapped away, sickness wasting his muscular body until he was a shell of himself. Still, he worked every day at the small trinkets, one for each of the small villages twenty-seven children, as he had for every year's Solstice since coming to the tiny hamlet he called home.
She limped into the shop, carrying the soup and bread she had made for Bear's evening meal. She was pretty, yet no one would ask for her hand for fear of passing on her infirmity. The only man who had ever treated her kindly was Bear, always smiling and teasing her gently. He made her trinkets and offered protection from the village's bullies. She had to hide the small sob that almost escaped; her only friend, the man who held her heart, was dying.
"So, Little Princess," coughing out the words, "what have you brought me tonight?"
"The bread is fresh-baked," shyly, "and the soup is mutton with vegetables."
Dipping the bread into the soup Bear took a small bite. "Why do you still come, Little Princess? Aren't you afraid you'll get sick?"
"If — if I don't come, who will bring you food?" Almost choking on her lie, "so you regain your strength."
"Ah, my strength," sadness tingeing his voice, "I fear the Bear's strength is gone forever." Ending sadly, "as I soon will also be."
She changed the subject, lest the tears began to flow. "So, the trinkets for the children, are you done?"
"Not nearly, still some twenty to make," waving his hand, "my work is slow, each trinket takes two days, only ten days to Solstice, I fear" — his voice drifting off. "If only I could live forever." His thoughts were drifting away again.
"No matter," trying to be cheerful and bright, "I'm sure you'll finish!" Gathering the empty bowls, "I must get back; if I'm late, Mistress will be unhappy with me."
As she turned to go, he reached out, brushing her hand, "Mary, will you come tomorrow?"
"Of course, kind sir, my pleasure." Not adding her deepest wish, tomorrow and forevermore. She turned to leave, smiling sweetly at the wizened old man entering the shop.
Wise old eyes followed Mary as she left the shop before focusing intently on Bear. "Are you the town smithy, Sir?
"I am what remains of him."
"I fear I lost the ferrule at the bottom of my walking stick." Lifting the gnarled stave to show the bottom. "Might you be able to repair it?"
"Perhaps tomorrow, elder, the fire grows dim, as does my desire to work further tonight. Now, I need to sleep, if it comes, so I might labor tomorrow." Bear began to cough and choke. The old man moved with surprising speed fetching a cup of water. His back to Bear, he added a bit of powder from a pouch.
"Here, drink – slowly friend, sips not gulps."
Bear finished the water and looked at the cup suspiciously. "The water tasted odd, was something in —
The old man took the cup. "The sickness must be taking your taste." He helped Bear to his pallet. Bear wondered at the ease with which the old man lifted him. "Sleep now, worry not, all will be well."
Bear slept fitfully, his night filled with torment and odd dreams; one dream lasted in memory. His shop filled with busy little creatures, all were working on finishing the trinkets needed for his Solstice gifts.
Myrddin, the old man, sought refuge at the Inn. The serving girl limped to his table with the last of the bread and mutton soup. "What is your name, child?" he asked with a fatherly tone.
"Mary," she answered with a small smile, glancing nervously at the hearth. "The Mistress will be displeased if she sees me talking to the travelers."
Mistress began to frown from the hearth area, but a wave of Myrddin's hand glazed her eyes over.
"She'll not trouble us further." Pointing at the chair. "Sit, child. I have some questions."
He asked of her limp. When and how it happened, had a healer looked at her? He asked of Bear; Was he a kind man? How long had he been sick?
She was enthralled, not wanting to answer his questions, yet completely unable to avoid them. His final question puzzled and pained her the most. "Do you love Bear?"
He poured a bit of powder into the last of his mead. "Drink," he commanded.
"I mustn't, the Mistress —
Sternly, "I said drink it," Pointing at the flagon, "drink it all, the Mistress has no say here."
Mary, too slept fitfully; she dreamed of running into Bears strong arms, comforted by his warm kindness.
In the morning, Myrddin found Bear looking in wonder at the twenty-seven trinkets lining the walls of his shop. All looked as if he made them himself, well crafted, without flaw.
"My staff, have you the stamina to repair it Bear?"
"Ye– yes, I believe I do." Bear felt better than he had in days. He made quick work of the repair, molding a tight iron ferrule at the staves foot.
"And what do I owe you, Smithy?" The old man dug in his purse.
"Owe?" Bear was in wonderment of his renewed strength. "Nothing. Fixing your staff was a joy and a pleasure after being weak for so long."
A joyful cry of, "Bear!"
Bear and Myrddin turned to see Mary running along the path. Her arms flung wide open as she leaped into Bear's arms.
"Nicolas and Mary, I have given you both gifts, your health, each other, and an endless chance to make others happy." Sternly, "don't squander them".