Story for the Day: The Story of Mharac
Frewyn has many legends, but one that enchants the children of Westren especially is the story of Mharac, the hunter who was turned into a bear by Borras, God of the Hunt.
“The story of Borras and Mharac,” Ciran began. He furnished his hands with two puppets, one of a large man wearing little more than a bearskin and a breechcloth on his left hand, and the other of a hunter with a longbow draped across his back and a felt axe in his hands on the left. “A thousand years ago, before the Gods left Frewyn for the otherworld, there was a man called Mharac,” holding up the hunter, “who lived in the mountains. Mharac was so called ‘cause he loved huntin’ after bears, an’ though the bear is a sacred animal tae us as Borras’ effigy, the huntin’ o’ the males is allowed in the winter if food is scarce. Thess winter, Mharac, with his pelts an’ his bow an’ his axe, went a-fellin’ pines.” He made the representation of Mharac march from left to right, pretending to chop down trees along the way. “He felled a few o’ the pines an’ began harvestin’ the resin when, suddenly,” the puppet turned around in alarm, “he heard a growlin’ comin’ from the other side o’ the wood. He drew his bow, he crept close, an’ he saw—“ he moved his hand toward a large bear on the mantelpiece, “a great big bear!”
He growled, and Paudrig’s eyes flared.
“It came toward hem, roarin’, gnashin’, bitin’ an’ clawin’.” He made a dramatic flourish and gnarled as he pushed the bear forward. “Mharac shot the bear once, but tha’ didnae taek hem doun. He shot the bear twice, an’ the bear began tae stumble on hemsel’. He drew his bow a third time, an’ as the bear lunged and swiped for hem, he shot the bear in the neck, an’ the bear dropped to the ground, grabbin’ an’ wrawlin’ an’ fightin’ for breath. Mharac, feelin’ sure o’ hemsel’, approached the bear as it lay dyin’, an’ he took his axe over his head an’ was aboot tae bring it doun straight when the bear sprang tae life an’ swiped hem in the face.” He made the bear leap up and attack the hunter before pushing the bear on its side. He hovered the puppet over its prey. “Mharac bled from his wound, but he was right angry tha’ the bear got hem. He lifted his axe an’ cut through the bear’s skull, an’ as he was aboot to drag home his kill,” pulling the bear across the mantelpiece, “when he heard the sound of cryin’ cubs comin’ from the cave no’ far away. He left his kill there an’ went to the cave, an’ found a den filled with cubs onlae a few days auld. They were cryin’ and climbin’ over each other--”
“Who were?” Dimeadh called out from the other end of the room. He hastened over to the fire and sat down, his arm braced with a bandage, his aspect eager.
“The cubs were,” Ciran replied. He caught Paudrig’s ardent expression from the corner of his eye: his lips were pursed, his fists were clenched and he seemed to be doing everything in his power not to return the heated sibilations that Dimeadh had given him the evening before. “So,” recommencing, “Mharac, bein’ angry tha’ the bear attacked hem, decided tae taek the bear’s cubs for hemsel’. ‘Ahm gonnae kill ye!’ he says, ‘An’ skin ye an’ taek yur pelts an’ cook yur meat.’ He cut down the cubs with his axe, hackin’ an’ gruntin’ until all the anger was oot o’ hem, an’ when he calmed, he saw what he’d done an’ he had nae remorse for the wee cubs. He took ‘em anyway, and dragged ‘em over his shoulder back tae his first kill, an’ there, standin’ tall an’ a terrible, was Borras, God of the hunt and the wilds.” He held up his left hand and bent his forefinger and annularis to have the puppet of Borras place his hands on his hips. “’Hear me, mah son,’ said Borras,” said Ciran, in a sonorous and stentorious voice. “‘Why come ye with cubs? Have ye no’ a bear here ye’ve slain?’ But Mharac couldnae answer hem. He was feelin’ ashamed aboot what he’d done, but was tae proud to apologize or admit he was wrong in killin’ cubs so young. ‘Ye shall be a student of regret an’ cling tae remorse hereafter,’ said Borras, an’ with a wave o’ his hand, Borras turned Mharac into a bear.” Ciran pulled a flap from the bottom of Mharac’s puppet up and over its head, transforming the axe-weilding hunter into a bear, its dark hide tattered and grizzled with filth, its cheek scarred and sanguinary, its aspect ferocious and gnarled. “’Ye’ll be hunted by hunters yursel’,’ Borras cursed hem, ‘An’ ye’ll no’ return tae yur natural form till ye’ve repented for what ye’ve done.’ An’ so Mharac roamed the mountains,” said Ciran, with a somber and languishing air, making the bear wander over the mantelpiece, “huntin’ after rabbits an’ drinkin’ from streams an’ lookin’ for caves tae sleep in. He wandered till he found a sleuth o’ bears chasin’ a pack of wolves away from their den, an’ they took Mharac in an’ gave him from the fish an’ berries they’d gathered. An’ he lived with ‘em for th’while till he began tae forget hemsel’. He considered hemsel’ as a member o’ their clan. He took a mate an’ protected all the cubs in the den from hunters what came tae hunt ‘em for their pelts. Hunters began tae fear Mharac, the Great Bear o’ the mountains, thenkin’ he was leader of their clan. There was talk o’ hem in the village as attackin’ hunters what came into his territory. They learned no’ tae hunt after cubs, an’ if they saw the great bear lurkin’ under the trees that he was to be left aloan. They gave tribute tae Mharac, thenkin’ that he was a creature made by the Gods tae protect Frewyn’s borders, an’ after a few hundred years in his punishment, Borras released Mharac,” he announced, with a grandiose gesture, turning the bear to a man again, “an’ he said, ‘Ye’ve learned yur lesson, mah son. Yur free tae return tae yur people,’ but Mharac had grown tae love his clan an’ had grown used tae bein’ a bear an’ had nae intention o’ goin’ back. He asked a boon o’ Borras, beggin’ tae be allowed tae return tae his den, tha’ he may roam the mountains an’ defend his cubs and protect the Frewyn borders from its enemies. An’ so, Borras granted hem his wish, maekin’ hem a bear forever, allowin’ hem tae turn back tae a man at will.”
“What happened tae hem?” asked Dimeadh.
Ciran shrugged and removed the puppets from his hends. “Some say Mharac still lives, tha’ he’s still roamin’ the mountainside lookin’ after hunts and protectin’ our borders. Some say he comes intae toun as hemsel’ once in th’while tae see how we’re all gettin’ on, an’ some hunters say they seen hem as a bear, lurkin’ under the trees…”Ciran went on in the same style, relating the rest of the history regarding Mharac and his many supposed appearances, but throughout the whole of his speech, while Dimeadh was fervently listening, Paudrig’s mind had been roused to interesting cogitations. He debated with himself, reasoned and reproached and repudiated every suggestion that would otherwise have slept, had not a lingering suspicion plagued him. The description of Mharac, of his being a grizzled bear, browbeaten and careworn, did not summon any sentiments of similarity with regard to the bear in the garden, but there was something in the story, of Mharac being a mysterious creature still skulking about the wilds, that recommended him as Paudrig’s visitor. He considered it every way— it was impossible. Every thought revolted against the idea of his friend being the legendary bear, but every feeling was in strong accordance. He glared at Brother Ciran, his brow bending and contracting as he endeavoured to decipher something, though he knew not what. His intuitive powers were all alive, something between the appearance of the bear, the telling of the tale, and Brother Ciran’s remarkable fluency animating his suspicion. His gaze fell to the effigy of Borras hanging round Ciran’s neck, his perception trying to descry something which is unconscious mind had long since acknowledged.