One

Do not ask me how he came to be there. Let it suffice to say simply that he was there, deep in a forest of the grandest trees imaginable, each standing straight and tall, like living towers that watched all in silent meditation. There he stood, clothed in a ragged green cloth that barely reached his knees and elbows, with a longsword sheathed at his side and a fierce light in his eyes. It was a light which could mean only one thing: independence. He walked slowly through the underbrush, looking about himself as if searching for some hidden beast that might at any moment spring forth and ambush him. Such was the way of the forest: one against all and all against one, strength against strength, survival of the fittest. Not that the forest was without law, for law is more than flesh and bone. Yet the law of the forest was this: give no mercy, for none shall be given you; spare no tactic to conquer, for none shall be spared you; forget no wrong and allow no insult. Such is the kingdom of nature.

Do not ask me why he was there. Let it suffice to say simply that he was there, a solitary human amongst the creatures of the forest. A human he might have been, but still he was a beast of the field; for there was no refinement in him, no eloquence, no cultivation. There was, however, a spark within his breast, a light among the darkness that would sometimes show itself, revealing in its shadows the remnants of someone who was once there, before he had taken the course of nature and decayed into something inhuman, something of the forest.

As he stood there, a burst of energy came from behind a few bushes to his left. It was followed by a howl and a thud, then footsteps — rapid and coming in his direction. A black bear burst forth from the bushes and charged toward him, with a swarm of bumble bees close behind, clawing at his backsides. The man leapt out of the way just in time to let them pass, and they vanished from sight as quickly as they had entered it.

Most of the forest dwellers would then have quickly slid away, counting themselves lucky to have escaped an encounter with one of the black bears, the ruling caste in forest society. But the man was only an adopted member of the forest, and his natural propensities took over.

“It is not for the sake of pleasure that bees chase bears, but for defense. And what do bees have to defend besides honey?” Such was the thought process of the man, and it was then that the law of the forest reared its influence within him. In the deep forest, honey is the most coveted delicacy, a sweet diversion from meat and roots. The bees congregated to protect themselves, forming a monopoly of such delicacies in only a few large hives. Such an opportunity as this could not be missed.

The man took the pot that was strapped to his back, emptied it of its mushrooms, and quickly made his way in the direction from which the bear had come. It took little tracking skill to see which tree the bear had been in, for its scratched limbs displayed the bear’s exact path of retreat. The man followed them upwards and soon found himself at a deserted hive of liquid gold. He quickly filled his pot and — with a light step — made his way down the tree, sparing no haste to be gone before the bees returned. He went off to the northwest — downwind of the hive — and after half a mile shifted his path to the southwest, entering a clear, open part of the forest. Ancient trees dominated the area, leaving no sunlight for any undergrowth; instead, it created a widespread porch: the trees pillars and their leaves a roof. A soft grass clothed the ground, littered with white bell flowers that smelled of butter — not that the man knew they did, for he had not smelled butter for many years.

He walked slowly and cautiously, making enough noise to broadcast his presence to even the most preoccupied of animals. His task was difficult — as risky as it was unprecedented — for the man had recognized the bear as one of the great hunters of the region, and knew he made his home in the area. And yet the bear was known to show mercy to his prey: sparing children and their mothers, even though few other animals would substitute the pleasures of tender meat with thoughts of mercy for the newborn. It was this strange quality that drove the man onward in his dangerous mission.

At last, the man came to the cave, kicking leaves before him as smoke before the fire. The bear angrily stuck out his nose, wondering who disturbed him in his pain. When he saw the man, he remembered passing him in his retreat and turned his head slightly to the left, donning a curious expression. His ears became erect and his eyes wary. The man advanced a step and placed the pot on the ground, bowing and stepping back. The bear came forward to inspect the pot. He tasted it and — seeing it was indeed honey — looked up once more at the man, who merely lowered his head to show submission.

The man began making signals to the bear, communicating the recent happenings. First, he imitated how the bear was chased by the bees; then, how he retrieved the honey; finally, how he offered it to the bear as a gift. At first the bear was confused, for this was unprecedented in the forest: showing mercy to one’s enemy. Indeed, under the forest law, the honey was worth more than the man’s life.

The bear thought for a moment. Then — as if relieved of a burden — he walked up to the man, snuggling his nose against his face like an excited dog. He stood upright and let out a resounding howl, a sound that frightened every animal within hearing. Except the man, for he had nothing to fear.

The forest law was a strange thing, for while it was heartless and wild, there were great bonds that could be made between two animals — or between a man and an animal. One of these was the Bond of the Blood Brother, joining the two as if they were of the same womb. Blood brothers became hunting partners, sharing the same game and habitation, protecting each other in the face of danger, and becoming inseparable companions.

The man had made a gamble that was quite daring, but in the end rewarding — for he made an alliance between a being of great strength and one of great wit. The pot of honey, seemingly meaningless to those outside the forest, represented his life — for its value was more than his own. It was as if he had sacrificed himself for the bear. There is no greater thing that one can do, and so they became blood brothers. It cleared the way for the man to become the king of all the forest, and eventually of all the land. How does he do this? Well, you shall see soon enough.

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