Story for the Day: The Black Bear - Part 2

Mharac, the Great Bear, is servant to the Frewyn God Borras, God of Wilderness. Mharac began as a man who was turned into a bear and enslaved as a punishment for his crimes against the inhabitants of the Westren woods. He grew to like his ursine form and decided to remain in Borras' service even after he was forgiven and released. He returns to Westren for the seasonal hunts, to protect the bears and wolves from poachers. During his time in town, he often indulges in an evening's houghmagandy with the local women, which sometimes results in a son. The Sons of Mharac are Mharac's children, all of them born with the ability to change into an ursine form, just like their father. They often hide their abilities from the general public, fearing to invite circumspection and ridicule, but there are a few clever hunters, like Eadmhaird, who can find them out:  

A pause here, a fervent look on one side, a placid smile on the other, and Eadmhaird was instantly apprehensive. Something was amiss here; the steadiness of the boy’s expression told him so. It was unlike anyone to be so tranquil and unaffected by the presence of such an immense black bear regardless of its simply hurrying on, and while he knew that Dirrald enjoyed the wilderness and had a fondness for the natural world, his preferences should not answer his unmitigated unconcern at seeing a bear charge forth from the tree line. Anyone unsuspecting of such an imposing and possibly dangerous visitor would naturally be alarmed, but Dirrald was unshaken, his gaze steady, his character composed, leading Eadmhaird to believe that Dirrald in some way-- though he could not tell why-- was lying. The boy’s almost complacent expression after supposedly having been met with something as terrific as a rampant black bear betrayed that something here was very wrong.
The boy would never lie to me willingly, Eadmhaird conceived, and yet he is not telling me the truth about something. The bear could not have gone upstream without my having seen it. There is nothing in the way to disguise it. It could not have escaped that quickly, even with the boy’s helpbut why should a lad help a bear? Eadmhaird looked again upstream, shading his eyes from the stifling glare of the sun, searching for tracks, scattered rocks, or even for a black hide bounding in the near distance that would betray the bear’s presence and destination, but there was nothing to confirm the boy’s claims or even any evidence to support them, and Eadmhaird grew even more suspicious.
He meant to question Dirrald therefore, to press him into revealing something more, either about whither the bear had gone or about this loom of a lie which Dirrald seemed to be weaving, but Dirrald silenced him when, after a moment’s pause, he said, “Why’re ye after it? Ye cannae hunt bears anaewae.”
A strange and somewhat contemptuous smile surfaced, and Eadmhaird’s suspicions only increased.
“I wasn’t after it to kill it, lad,” the hunter explained. “It chased away a hart I’ve been tracking for the better part of two days. Now I must begin my hunt all over again. The bear seemed to be warning the hart of my presence, and I wanted to tire it so it wouldn’t disturb my hunt again.”
“An’ why’re ye after the hart?”
“It’s the best looking hart I’ve ever seen in these woods. Must be a grand male, three or four years old at least, a glorious beast that gave me excellent chase when I first spied it leaving the Dehir. It came here, and I followed it, and I will not leave off now. I wanted it for a prize to present to the Regent--" but Eadmhaird, eyeing the salmon in Dirrald’s hand, was silenced by the sight of four large gashes, evidently made by something larger and more vicious than a mere tall boy of fourteen, perforating the salmon’s scales. Eadmhaird’s suspicions soared when Dirrald, as though noticing the change in Eadmhaird’s coutenance, held the fish behind him, attempting to screen it from view. The deep lacerations in the salmon, Dirrald’s sudden diffidence and ignominy disclosed something altogether very wrong. What in the Name of Borras was this about? What made those marks? but the hunter knew what had made them. Eadmhaird peered first at the salmon and then at Dirrald, descrying a nervousness in the boy’s expression-- the tense shoulder, the furrowed brow, the look of avid determination-- his lips parted in a something like unspoken entreaty. While the steadiness of Dirrald’s voice when he had told the story of the bear having gone upstream might have deterred the hunter, the embarrassment in Dirrald’s eyes bepoke a consternation, an anguish that Eadmhaird could not but recognize. The colour of Dirrald’s eyes, too—their strange and splendid hue, amber tinged with black and wreathed round with ovher, a colour belonging to something uncultivated and untamed, their unquietness emenating a conscious desperation-- could not deceive one who had been taught to look for symptoms of ferity. How those gashes had been made, by what claws, Eadmhaird could not but be sensible of, but how did the boy come in possession of the salmon? Had the bear caught it and left it there? Had it even time to catch a salmon and leave it behind by way of thanks for the boy’s somehow allowing him to escape? How was any of this possible, and how Eadmhaird could make this intelligible to himself was a mystery not even his heighted sense of intuition could surmise. The scales of the salmon, however, attached as they were to the boy’s fingernails drew the hunter closer to the truth. His hands could never have made lacerations that deep, the hunter reasoned, and even a knife or a spear could not have made that sort of marking, but Dirrald had no knife or spear about him; he had only his tunic, his galligaskins, his fearful aspect, and the salmon, and the hunter’s imagination began to surmount him. The tracks leading to the stream, the want of tracks leading away from it, the serrated scales decorating the boy’s fingers-- It could not be, the lad was large for his age and altogether in possession of marked strength and stature, but it was unconscionable to consider old tales and indulge fantasies when there was certainly a way to explain the bear’s disappearance. It was fabrication run mad to think that a boy could- or a bear could- disguise itself somehow, one changing itself for the other. His mind drifted into the realm of inconceiveable things: of boys and bears, of brothers and sons, of servants and Gods — Eadmhaird checked this line of consciousness as well as he could. Foolishness to think of fables and legends when he knew the boy too well, but that dreadful intuition, that knowingness gnawing away at his conscience assailed him. It could not be—it was impossible—and yet his heart knew what his mind would not acknowledge: there must be some connection between the boy and the bear. He must interrogate, he must compel Dirrald into a confession, but a confession as to what even Eadmhaird would not admit to himself. It was an indefinable truth that the hunter was now after, something perhaps far more valueable than the whereabouts of a bear ever could be, and his eyes tapered, his mind was everywhere awake, and he glared at the boy with severe circumspection.