The Mountain Cat and The Mountain Bear: Azig’s Tale
Wandering mountain folks tell of an unlikely pair: an exceptionally large but reclusive male brown bear and a particularly meticulous and someone curious female blonde cougar. Those who hear the stories cannot tell, of course, whether the stories are true. It’s entirely possible that the somewhat reclusive and unusual mountain dwellers themselves have perpetuated these stories without actually having spotted this pair. Even so, here are some of the tales.
Once upon a time, far above the forested hills in the east, and many starshowers ago, Azig the trader, known for his abundant supplies of forest foods, had lost most of his inventory in a flash flood. The early vernal season had come particularly late that year, probably caused by snowstorms themselves foretold by the hidden white starshower that season. No one remembered an entire starshower hidden by clouds, but everyone everywhere agreed that the leaden skies were a clear message. Occasional daylight flashes were reported, but the people making those claims had in common their own unusual views about the Barrens or a tendency to believe in children’s stories about the mythic creatures spoken of during the estival stories. Azig was hardy and able to survive weeks without his stock, but this season exceeded even his cleverness. He was crouched over the nearly-frozen river, quenching his thirst despite wishing to quench his hunger, when he noticed a cougar eyeing him from atop a nearby boulder. The cat saw an emaciated older man, covered in tattered and thin clothes, staring back. The man’s scraggly and wild beard dripped with river water, but his eyes revealed that he remained sharp and potentially dangerous despite his starvation-fueled weakness. Azig saw a strong, lean, proud mountain cat, eyeing him curiously but not hungrily. The cat looked healthy and clean, but more disturbingly it seemed entertained or perhaps inquisitive, as if it were on the verge of asking a question of Azig.
Azig stood slowly but without fear, shook the water from his long beard and hair, and walked backward from the cougar, keeping an eye on the beast. The cougar sloped itself across the boulder, with an air of unconcern—not quite disinterest. Azig knew better than to run; and anyway he wasn’t actually afraid, given that the cat seemed well-fed. Even so, it’s always better to be cautious than to be dinner. He eventually was far enough away to comfortably turn around (though his ability to navigate the otherwise slippery terrain backwards would have been remarkable to anyone who might have been there to see) and return to his make-shift shelter. In a few days, if the better weather held, he’d be able to gather his few remaining items and make the day-long journey to the nearest permanent ranger’s lodge. It was unlikely anyone was there, but there should be food and firewood.
Days later, as Azig approached the cabin, the bear did notice the man. The fishing hadn’t been quite as abundant as in a normal early budding season, but there was enough food that the bear wasn’t hungry. Azig, however, smelled of hunger, the human’s body was depleting its reserves, but this individual was particularly strong and stalwart and so the bear knew that Azig could be a threat if he were startled while armed. The bear carefully watched the man from a distance, noting the saltiness of his sweat as he worked his way to the cabin. The bear extended the usual courtesy to the various humans who used the cabin by not breaking into the building and by being careful not to evacuate too near the area.
A few weeks passed, Azig grew stronger, and he prepared to leave the cabin to return to the mountain to salvage his cart and supplies—if anything remained. The bear and cat had spent that time patrolling the territory around the cabin, keeping the other predators away. Azig remained unaware; he believed the abundance of prey was a consequence of the abundant vernal season—itself a reasonable conclusion. Strong, well-fed, healthy and armed, Azig left the cabin early one morning and headed west. He did find his cart; it was badly damaged and all the food it had carried had long since been taken by animals of the mountains. However, most of the metal and wooden items remained undamaged, some of the clothing needed some attention but could be traded, and a few other minor goods would be tradeable even if not valuable.
A moon before the estival shower, Azig enjoyed his time in the trading town in the foothills. Many other traders had converged on the same town and were sharing stories, drinking wine, and relishing the warm evenings on the cusp of the greenest season. “Ho! Azig,” a friendly voice came from across the pleasant-smelling room shortly after the sun had disappeared over the western horizon on his first night there. “You look good. Was the hibernal season good to you?”
Azig smiled as he continued looking at the floor (the long day had fatigued him and he was easing into the time just before he’d retire for the night in his pack outside the lodge). “Nay, friend. The hibernal season was one of the worst I’d had. How about yourself? Were the snows beneficial or baneful for you and your trading?”
Azig noted that the voice came from a large, strong man, with hairy arms, a full beard, and deep brown hair. He shared a table with a lithe, strong, cheerful-looking golden-haired woman whose eyes seemed to study him closely. “The season was neither better nor worse than typical. We hunt and trade together,” he motioned a finger back and forth between himself and the woman sharing his table, “and that seems to serve us well.”
Azig nodded. “Perhaps I should find myself a partner,” he chuckled briefly.
“Perhaps you should,” the large man replied. “Good night to you. And good trading.”
Azig retired for the night. In the morning, he rose early, checked his cart, and set out for the farming towns where he’d continue rebuilding his supplies. He looked forward to hearing stories—the storytellers in the farming towns tended to be most lively around the emerald starshower, and that was coming soon. He smiled and headed on his way.