fox and bear
In a realm where castles guarded the borders and knights were still the symbol of strength and valor amongst the kingdoms, the Duchess of Esher died in childbirth. Both a solemn and joyous day, Lady Lelia of Esher was born with sun-touched red hair, freckled face and pale skin that resembled her father. The now only daughter of the Grand Duke of Esher, who commanded the Eastern border and oversaw the Knight Guild of East, finally had an heir. But in this pursuit, he had lost a loving wife and his best companion.
Growing up motherless, governances were Lady Lelia’s only source of female example. Stoic and stern examples of the ‘fairer sex’ that never stayed long enough at the Esher estate for Lelia to grow attached too, or feel loved. This was because the governances were quick to swoon or faint in the presence of the Knights of the East Guild, with imposing rough presences, strong swings of the sword and axe. Not to mention bloody countenances when returning from battle. This rugged environment of the Esher estate was too much for most ladies to bear for long. Lelia however, knew no other home.
All Lady Lelia knew of the world beyond the Eastern border was what she was taught by her Father, the governances and what she read in books. And what was considered a lack of beauty with freckled face and rusty hair, she excelled in poise and intelligence at the young age of 10 years. As quiet and observant as the little lady was, she was doted on by her father the Duke and therefore was very overprotective of his daughter. When Lelia showed more interest in the outside world, wishing to venture out occasionally in the woods or nearby village, Lelia was assigned a personal loyal Knight of her choice.
When presented by what was considered the best Knights of the East, standing in full regalia and pride, Lelia was more curious of the largest one standing to the side against the castle wall. This peculiar Knight his stature was menacing, his countenance concealed in black cloaks and furs, as he always wore his helmet in company of others to hide his hideously scarred face. And due to his image, it was clear that everyone stayed clear of him. All but a curious Lady Lelia who stepped up to the enormous man before her.
“What is your name, good sir?” Lady Lelia asked. But the large knight did not answer. He merely stared down at this little girl that had walked up to him with curiously cold eyes.
“Sir ‘Black Bear’ Belion.” Her father answered for the knight. A sense of pride was in his voice when he exclaimed it.
“Black Bear?” Lady Lelia repeated. She had heard of him within the castle walls. Sir Belion, the Black Bear, was known by the entire kingdom as the strongest and most vicious warrior to have ever joined the knighthood. Being squireless and always on his own, many would speak with a sense of fear in their voices when gossiping about the infamous Black Bear. Questioning his origins and morals, but also praising tales of victories. Her father however always spoke highly of him. A man of valor who had her fathers faith.
“Papa. May Sir Bear be my personal guard?”
Sir Belion almost lost his balance when he heard this request. And he wasn’t alone. All the knights, knaves and squires gasped and repositioned themselves. Everyone but the Duke.
“He has my permission if Sir Belion wishes it. But the choice is his in the end.” The Duke said. Lady Lelia had to lift her face high up as she tried to peer into the eyes of the large man before her. But his eyes were concealed in the shadows of his helmet. She then lowered her head and courtesies as she said. - “Then Sir Bear, I besiege you. Would you please become my Knight?”
There fell a piercing silence amongst those present and the wind could be heard brushing against the stone. For a few moments, Sir Belion stared down at the little girl whose head was lowered down. And when she looked back up to him, he was taken aback by a single gesture that made him buckle to one knee. He placed his large sword in front of Lelia’s feet and bowed his head low.
“My Lady.” Was all his low and booming voice said. Kneed down low before her, his size still towered over the little girl.
“Thank you Sir Bear.” she said and turned to her father. - “Thank you papa.”
“You are very welcome my dear. Now Sir Belion. I ask you to protect my daughter and heir of Esher with your life. And accompany her when and wherever she may have need you.”
“My Lord.” Was again all Sir Belion would utter as he rose.
“May Sir Bear accompany me now for a walk?” Lelia asked her father.
“You are now free to go whenever you would like. All you need to do is let Sir Belion know, so he may prepare himself. And then he will accompany you wherever you wish to go. Will you not Sir Belion.”
Belion simply nodded.
“Sir Bear, I wish to go for a walk. I will fetch my book and cloak and return swiftly.” Lelia said to Sir Belion, hugged her father and skipped away. The Duke of Esher also took his leave with a pleased expression on his face. The rejected knights cautiously approached Sir Belion, who stood motionless and staring in the direction Lady Lelia had disappeared.
“Congratulations. We did not think you would accept the role.” One Knight said. Sir Belion responded with a grunt.
“What made you accept the quiet role of protecting the child, Sir Belion?” Another knight asked. Swinging his sword back over his shoulder, the knights all flinched a little.
“She smiled.” Sir Belion answered.
“Lady Lelia, smiled.”
Soon the walks through the woods and trips to the village became a daily occurrence. Lady Lelia would let the servants know she wanted to venture out, would pick a book to bring and greet Sir Belion who stood ready at her door to accompany her.
Her little legs made her move slowly and Sir Belion would quietly follow behind her like a large looming bear befitting his name, wherever she wished to go. Every day she would find a new tree to sit under and Sir Belion would stand guard. On one of these walks, Lady Lelia returned home joyously and met her father on the training grounds. Exclaiming happily, she saw a fox for the first time.
“And Sir Bear said the fox's fur had the same color as my hair.”
It made the Duke of Esher smile to see his daughter so at ease and happy with her new found freedom around the castle, while his best Knight stood humbly guarding them both. It was an unexpected turn of events where the Black Bear of the East was now seen in a different light. As strong and vicious of a warrior Sir Belion was, he had shown a kind and patient side to him that was only displayed in the presence of the young Lady of Esher. And for many years after this encounter with the fox, the Lady and her knight became known as the ‘Little Fox and her Bear’.