If you ever plan on going in a journey, make sure you do so with true friends, warns us ‘The Bear and the Travelers’, a timeless fable here retold for its killer advice on always considering the bare bones of a friendship.
The Bear and the Travelers, a fable
Once upon a time, when wild animals roamed the forests in peace and people mostly kept to their villages and, when forced to travel, they did so only by horse, donkey or cart… once upon a time two lads, still wet behind their ears but eager to see the world, decided to travel together. They were good friends, they could swear by it, so they started their journey relying on one another – for fun, for encouragement, and for safety.
The path ahead appeared clear, bordered by grass and flowers, winding only near streams and shady trees. It felt soft to step on it.
The two young men were merry, their journey easy. Chatting and laughing, not noticing when the path had turned narrow, stony, and that in places only one traveler at a time could step ahead. Yet they joked still, laughed, and took turns to go first. Here and there now stood a lone tree with little shade, but mostly shrubs by now.
And the path had turned hard and felt stony underfoot. Didn’t matter, for they were two at it, two friends.
Soon enough they entered the forest; dark, cool, and quiet. So quiet, that even the lads – although happy for its shade – had stopped laughing, and they had stopped chatting too. They just looked around, listened to tiny noises. What was that? A branch snapping underneath their foot? Or something else… What? Where? And they kept near one another.
They had only taken a few steps inside the shady wood when, all of a sudden, a huge bear fell on them. Jumping out of nowhere, crashing branches with his strong arms, scratching off the tree bark with his sharp, long claws. Roaring that it echoed to the end of the forest, and back again.
The lads froze. At first. Then one of the boys, thinking first and foremost of his own safety, climbed the nearest tree. And before he knew it, before the bear could even spot him, he was up, as agile as a monkey.
And just as shameful. He did not look for his friend, left on the ground.
The second boy, not as good at climbing trees for this is not part of the human nature, found himself standing alone to face the fierce black, furry giant. For this is how the bear appeared to him, waving his forearms, shaking his head, and growling, ‘grrrr,’ spit landing everywhere. Even on the boy’s cheek. Yet he dare not wipe it off. He dare not move a muscle.
If he could have stopped his heart from beating, he would have gladly done so.
For what else could he do? When he suddenly remembered his grandfather’s advice: not to look the beast into the eyes, but to fall to the ground and lay still. As if dead. ‘For bears,’ he could still hear his grandfather’s low voice, and he could still see his eyes sparkling from behind bushy, grey eyebrows, ‘for bears are not clever beasts, although they might look fierce. And they are might strong. But clever, they are not, and can easily be tricked.’
So the second boy let himself drop to the ground where tried his best to lie very still. As if dead.
‘For bears are not scavengers. They do not feast on dead animals,’ his grandfather had said next.
Once again, his grandfather’s words proved golden for the bear ceased growling, fell on all four legs, and looked at the hip of a boy on the ground. He turned his head left, then right, then took a step forward – making sure he’s not too close either (big animals are not as brave as they seem, you know?) – and from a safe distance sniffed at the boy. Then the bear took another step – the boy could hear all this, although his eyes were closed tight – sniffed again and, appearing convinced that a dead body indeed lay in front of him, turned away slowly, for he was a heavy bear who took his time, and walked away.
The forest closed behind the bear, and soon all was silent. None of the boys dare speak and they stood like that, one up in the tree, the other flat on the ground, until they heard the first bird song. And knew all was safe.
The first boy, the one that had climbed the tree, was the first to jump to the ground.
He looked around, listening, his heart hammering in his ears, ready to climb back up should the bear return.
Finally, he turned to his friend who was just brushing the leaves off his clothes. He did not ask him how he was, nor did he explained his rushed and coward gesture. Instead, he laughed, yet not staring his friend in the eyes.
‘Say, that was some bear! Chatty too. It looked as if he whispered something in your ear. What was it?’
The second boy had just finished patting himself all over and was now adjusting his travel bag. Only when he was done did he caught his friend’s shifty stare and smiled.
‘The bear said that it was most ill-advised of me to travel with someone who is a friend just by name, but not by his deeds, for, look, he had deserted me at the first moment of danger.’
Moral of the story:
Mishap is the test of true friendship.
The BLT, the Bear, the Lion and the Tiger is a picture book inspired by true life events, the real friendship between a BEAR, a LION and a TIGER.
Read more fables and animal stories on my blog here.