ON THE BACK OF THE
St. Hubert, patron saint of hunters and first bishop of Liège.
According to legend, he was converted from his worldly life when,
on Good Friday, he beheld a crucifix between the antlers of a stag
he was pursuing.
"In the olden, golden days of Beardom, when honeypots were fuller and sweeter than now, and brightest of all the constellations shone the Ursas Major and Minor, there was born into a noble house a red-brown bear." So opens the tale of Sir Cinnamon, a knightly (Teddy) bear of the Middle Ages. Replete with references to Medieval history and legend, yet this story when read aloud has pleased many hearers unfamiliar with the period as well as those who understand the inside humour.
Ye Cinnamon Beare was published in The Mythic Circle Issue 7 and later in Australia's School Magazine. I hope someday to have it published as a picture book; I think that it has the potential to inspire delightful illustrations and to educate as well as entertain.
Behind the falls was a wall of rock and in the rock was a narrow opening. Through this the White Hart bore her, into a cave filled with blue stalactites and green stalagmites. At the rear of the cave stood a giant throne, with four bronze lions surrounding it. Behind the throne was a heart-shaped door.
The Hart trotted up to the door, and breathed on it. It opened down the middle, and Nancy was carried into an enormous chamber through which flowed an underground river. Bluebells and buttercups grew along its banks. Moored to an ebony post was a gondola painted with tropical birds.
Into the gondola the White Hart stepped carefully and cast off. The chamber's ceiling was covered with mirrors, and as the boat sped along, Nancy saw the reflections of fish that resembled every breed of cat and dog. The fish poked their muzzles through the water's surface and blew bubbles. As each bubble burst, Nancy heard a mew or a bark.
After a while the gondola passed into a larger chamber, and here towered a subterranean forest. The trees were draped with plum-coloured vines, from which albino monkeys swung to and fro. The chamber had its own sun, deep orange, which changed slowly into a pale silver moon. In and out of the moonbeams flew bat-sized butterflies with phosphorescent wings.>
Candles upon candles, all white, hung from ceiling and walls, dazzling Nancy's eyes. In the midst of them was a huge table, itself laden with candles, and spread with a white cloth embroidered with blue and yellow flames.
The Hart let her slide from his back to a bench at the table. He poured cowslip wine from a peacock-shaped decanter, and served it to her in a silver chalice. He laid before her a loaf of bread, baked from flour so finely ground, that it seemed to her that someone must have spent his whole life making it. And there were tiny wild strawberries with thick cream, and each candle sang to her in turn while she ate.
Cinnamon was trained from his cubhood to be a knight. He learned jousting, and archery, and falconry, and heraldry, and the most expeditious way of mounting a horse, and the precise requirements for a proper suit of armour, and how to chivalrously court a bear-lady. He studied hard in the bear bestiaries to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the sundry monsters he, as a knight, might be expected to battle. He learned that dragons are not ticklish except on their underbellies, that one should wear earplugs when pulling up a mandrake root, and that one must never, under any circumstances, look a basilisk in the eye.
When Cinnamon had reached the proper age, and had proven his mettle by serving first as a page and then an excellent squire to an old bear named Sir Tarragon, he was ready to become a "Sir" in his own right. He equipped himself with a suit of armour of dazzling brightness, a sturdy shield, golden spurs, and a well-tempered sword, which he named "Honeyseeker." He chose this device for his coat-of-arms: Argent, a bear rampant gules towering over a honeypot. Then having been duly dubbed "Sir Cinnamon" by Sage, the Bear-King, our hero settled down to a life at court.
He settled a bit too immovably. Now that he had demonstrated his worthiness by becoming a genuine knight, Sir Cinn felt that he had had quite enough of derring-doing and dragon-dashing and rescuing distressed damsels. I hope that you will not think too harshly of him when I tell you that he now fought all his dragons by proxy. And what did Sir Cinnamon do instead of riding out upon quests and adventures? He did what a bear, knightly or otherwise, does best.
He ate. And ate. He breakfasted on scones buttered with the ground bones of cameleopards. For dinner he had bannocks baked with (of course) honey. At suppertime it was peacock pie with peppercorns and mango chutney, chased down by a full barrel of Rhenish wine. Sir Cinn's dessert consisted of one tub of syllabub, a second of gooseberry fool, and a third of trifle made with a 10 lb. jar of raspberry jam. I won't embarrass you by mentioning what the bear had for snacks, except that his favourite was toast sprinkled with heaps of (yes) cinnamon.
Sir Cinnamon lifted his eyes to meet the King's — there was the beginnings of a tear in one of them. He could feel Lady Rosemary noticing how voluminous was the waistline of his surcoat. He himself remembered that when he had last put on his armour his overgrown fur had stuck out from between the plates and made him look like a mattress losing its stuffing.
"I will go on a quest, Sire," began Sir Cinn with a depressed sigh; then he decided, for the sake of his honour and his lady, to put on a cheerful countenance. He smiled so widely that all his teeth showed, which in a bear has a rather ghastly effect. "Surely there is some unfortunate soul abroad whose pet hippogriff has got out of hand, or some bourgeois bears from whom one might justifiably steal to give to the poor, or some foul worm who has been making his midnight meal on damsels. By the Great and Lesser Bears of Heaven," Sir Cinnamon growled with forced ferociousness as he unsheathed his sword, "whatsoever evil-doer I encounter, his evil deeds will I put to an end." The knight returned his blade to its scabbard with a bold flourish, but what he was thinking was, "Maybe — hopefully — the dragons are out of shape, too."
So Sir Cinnamon polished his armour and squeezed himself into it, donned a new sword-belt into which Lady Rosemary had woven some of her fur, and gathered together his yew bow, and his lance, and his dirk, and his shield, and his gauntlets, and his golden spurs. Nor did he forget to sharpen Honeyseeker until it could accurately pinpoint a freckle on a bumblebee's stinger. He put on his helmet with its phoenix-feather plume, mounted his good steed Oregano, and turned back towards the castle to wave a sad farewell to Lady Rosemary. The lady leaned from a turret window, and tossed him a honeycomb. Sir Cinnamon caught it between his teeth.
For a year and a day, Sir Cinnamon wandered from border to border of Beardom and to places beyond. He jousted in 90 tournaments, and, after the shock to his system of the first one, won them all. He slew 27 dragons, 15 amphisbaenas, and 3 sorceresses in whose invisible dungeons many knights bearrant were kept prisoner. He saved a paladin of the great Emperor Bearlamagne from death at the hands of the infidel, and fought by the side of the Spanish knight, El Bear. With the booty he gained from the wars and tournaments he relieved 114 poor widows and hermits. Throughout all his wanderings he concealed his true identity, but from the device blazoned on his shield and surcoat he was known as "The Red Bear Knight."
Since they were looking up and not down where they were going, Beary and Bluebeary arrived at the ground with a bit of a bump. When they had recovered from it, they looked around them with wide eyes. The House's garden was so enormous by miniature-bear measurements, that a trip to the next flower plot was like an expedition to another country. As for Next Door, it was continents away, as remote as the emerald rainbow around the throne of God.
"Do you know where It is, Beary?" whispered Bluebeary, beginning to be frightened again.
"If we bear fifteen degrees to starboard, the shores of Next Door should rise up to meet us dead ahead," answered Beary Budd with confidence, perhaps with more confidence than he ought to have answered seeing as how he had never been There.
The bears set out in the direction Beary had indicated. They trekked through the rhubarb patch, then through a long row of asparagus whose gigantic ferns formed lacy veils between them and the stars. They tramped through groves of prickly poppies and evening primroses, and plowed through thickets of honeysuckles, hollyhocks, and daffydowndillies. They braved the dangers of the Foxglove Forest and the Tigerlily Jungle. They encountered a flower called a blue sailor, which was so tall that when Beary Budd tried to salute to it, he tipped over backwards and landed on his bear-behind.
They passed through a topiary, where the bushes were shaped like bears. They walked under a waterspout and were drenched with leftover drippings from the afternoon's rain. In the centre of the garden the bears came upon an astrolabe. Beary Budd began to explain the nautical uses of this instrument to Bluebeary, but left off when he became even more confused than she was.
They were confronted by a dragonfly, which Beary was ready to chivalrously slay until it turned out to be mortally afraid of bears who were exactly two and five-eighths inches tall. They happened on a wonderfully fuzzy caterpillar, which shyly consented to let Bluebeary pet it. They met a pill bug who rolled itself into a ball at the first sight of them, and would not unroll however long they knocked. They journeyed on and on to the music of their mistress's wind chimes and to the fragrances of night jasmine, golden thyme, and English lavender mingling with the sea's. They journeyed on, bearing always fifteen degrees to starboard according to Beary Budd's instructions. They wriggled through a yew hedge, stumbled out of it all dusty and scratched, and realized that they were utterly, awfully lost.
Bluebeary tried hard to be brave, but she could not completely disguise her sniffles. "The night air is giving me a stuffly nose, Beary," she explained. Beary Budd understood; it was giving him one, too, and the salty pool in the corner of his right eye was not from the sea-spray. He was about to swallow his pride and admit that he had led her astray, when he saw spreading before them a lily pond, its surface reflecting the moonlight between floating flowers.
The bears trotted forward to the beach of the Backyard Ocean. "Four bells, and all's well," Beary bragged. "I told you I'd steer us to Next Door, right and true. Stow your sea-gear, Bluebeary matey, and get on board."
He helped Bluebeary onto a lily pad, procured a sturdy twig, and began to paddle with it to the further shore of the pond. True, it was not a very nice ship; there were no riggings and no crosstrees for him to climb into, and a paddle is vastly inferior to a tiller. But Beary put a captainly face on it, and crooned a halyard shanty whose chorus said something about blowing the bear down. He had just begun a second shanty about how "whisky is the life of a bear," when a neighbouring lily pad jostled against theirs with much more force than is usual for an uninhabited vessel.
Bluebeary looked over at the offending pad, and screamed. Upon it sat the most monstrous creature the bears could imagine (remember, they had never had a nightmare). The creature was, to be precise, a frog, and a rather friendly one, but of course the bears had no way of knowing this. They did not understand frog-language, and the great booming "ribitts" and "needeeps" the frog emitted in greeting made it even more terrifying to hear than to behold.
Beary Budd began frantically to paddle in the opposite direction. He wished that he had a pair of jackboots with pistols tucked into them such as real sailors wore, or a knife on a lanyard around his neck, or a musket, or a cannon, or something sharper than a twig to swashbuckle with. Bluebeary kept asking him questions to keep herself from panicking. "What is it, Beary? Is it a sea serpent? Or a kraken? Or a shark? Or a whale? Or a mermaid or man? Or a sweet siren? Or a . . ."
Beary Budd did not reply, but only paddled and paddled; it seemed to him that their little frigate was getting nowhere. He had forgotten, you see, or perhaps he had never known, that the lily pad was attached to the bottom of the pond by a stalk. The stalk had now stretched to its full length, and it held the bears' "vessel" as fast as any anchor. Beary was just beginning to wonder which of them the monster would swallow first, when the frog, seeing a tantalizing insect buzz past, put out its sticky tongue and downed the insect in one quick gulp. Then with a satisfied burp and a kerplunk! that got the bears all wet, the frog abandoned ship for another part of the pond.
Bluebeary's relief soon gave way to despair when Beary informed her that they were marooned. They could have paddled back to the end of the pond from which they had come, but it was in that direction that the frog had gone. They could see it now, sitting on the shore and burping rudely right at them — daring them, they thought, to paddle just a little bit closer. In fact, the frog was feeling sorry for the dear things in their plight, and was croaking to itself sadly, "They're sweet. They're sweet." The bears cannot be blamed if it sounded to them as if the frog were saying, "Bear meat! Bear meat!"
The albatross was just preparing to take wing, when another airborne creature landed not quite gracefully on the window sill beside them. It was their guardian Angel, but this time it was all of him. I will leave you to imagine what a bear looks like when his lumbering body has delicate wings the colour of the gold-leaf background in a medieval painting — very strange and, to tell the truth, rather silly. At least this is what Bluebeary and Beary thought, but they were too polite to say so. Besides, they knew that if they saw what the Angel really looked like, they would think him too scarily majestic. If his present appearance was silly, it was silly in a very comforting sort of way.
"Are you ready for a ride?" asked the Angel cheerily, keeping his jingling very soft so as not to wake the grandmama.
Beary and Bluebeary looked at each other in speechless happiness. With a miniature-bear-style "thank you" to the albatross, they scrambled off its back and onto the back of the Angel. They were high in the air before they could bid Next Door good-bye.
The Angel soared higher and yet higher. Bluebeary clung to his fur and shut tight her eyes, opened them again, looked below her, and discovered that she was not one bit afraid. She looked above her, and thought for a moment that they were bound for the moon, the Man-in-its face seemed so close. But all at once the Angel stopped rising and turned Westward, and with a rocket-rush of breathtaking speed he carried the bears past the Cornish cliffs and the rumbling breakers and out over the sea.
Black as a starless night and wide as the universe it rolled beneath them. The sound of the waves was terrible and cold. They had yearned oh so strongly to see the sea; its smell had beckoned them with a heartbreaking enchantment. Now they saw it, and it seemed to them a sight not meant for bears or even for angels but only for Someone wider than the all the seas and whiter than all the stars that have ever burned.
Bluebeary did not want to tell Beary that she did not like the sea much, because he was always talking about it and calling it his mistress, though he admitted it was not nearly so cosy as their mistress at Home. And Beary felt ashamed, because now that he saw the sea wide awake and not just in brave bear-dreams, he did not like it much either.
"I want to go Home, Beary," whispered Bluebeary. She wondered why the Angel-Bear had brought them.
Suddenly, the stars which had faded nearly away exploded into light. A red one burst open and poured forth its brilliant heart-rays, and then a green one, and then a purple, then silver, then blue, then gold. The stars glowed brighter and brighter, so bright that it hurt the bears' eyes to gaze at them. They glittered like a sunken ship's treasure-chest of jewels, like sapphires and rubies, thought Bluebeary, though Beary Budd thought they were like carbuncles and aquamarines.
"What's a carbuncle?" asked Bluebeary.
"You ask too many questions, Bluebeary," scolded Beary impatiently. He had been comparing the stars to the ones he had (supposedly) seen in the South Seas, very poetically he thought, and he was annoyed with Bluebeary for interrupting him.
Now Beary Budd was generally very nice to Bluebeary, but he did have a habit of acting as if he was quite smart and she was a little stupid. He should have realized that this would not so much make her admire him as hurt her feelings, but he didn't. His last remark was more than poor Bluebeary could bear. "I'd rather ask questions than pretend I know all the answers when I don't," she stammered, and burst into tears.
Beary felt every bit as horrible as Bluebeary had tried to make him feel in saying this. "She's right. I'm a cruel, conceited bear, I am. They should hang me at the yardarm, from the neck this time. I'm as worthless as a wrack of seaweed. They should make me walk the plank, they should keelhaul me, they should . . ."
The Angel for about one second turned completely upside down. The bears shrieked, and only just kept from letting go and falling down, down, deep into the dark ocean below. It was the Angel's subtle way of telling both of them to apologize.
"I'm sorry, Beary," said Bluebeary, drying her tears and hugging him. "I wish I knew as much as you. You are awfully smart, awfully."
"No, Bluebeary," Beary insisted humbly. "You're a lot wiser and better. I promise I'll never say . . ."
Then both the bears' apologies broke off, as the Angel swooped doooooooooown until the tips of his burnished wings skimmed the surface of the sea.
The bears gazed into the kingly, roaring water, and were filled with joy. The sea was no longer terrible, but blazed with the perfect beauty of the fiery stars. Creatures of the deep swam up to greet them, not only the tame ones, but the wild sea serpents, and krakens, and sharks, and whales, and mermaids and men, and sweet sirens. And none of the creatures were dreadful, for each one held a lamp of jeweled starlight in a different rainbow-colour.