Bear Maiden and the Boy Magician (6/10)
Thus it continued—Bear Maiden would leave in the morning for school, food, and time with the other villagers, and would return in the afternoon for a night with her new friend. They would share stories of the day, and Boy Magician would ask his questions. These questions would always include the who, what, when, and where, but increasingly began to focus on the why. Why did she play with the other children? Why did she spend time with the broken woman? Why did she give other people so much of her attention? Why did she care? Bear Maiden did not know how to respond to such questions, whose answers were so strong in her heart and mind that she could not understand how someone might not simply know them. Did love and companionship and compassion for others mean nothing to the boy?
The questions wearied her. As the days went on, she would return to The Tower quieter and more subdued. She continued to answer Boy Magician’s questions. Her words limped and plodded off her tongue, dropping to the floor and prostrating before the boy who demanded their presence, in hope they might assuage his untoward interest. The boy seemed to take no notice of how stilted and short the girl’s responses were becoming. Instead, the tone of Boy Magician’s questions changed again. He now asked: why could she not see how better she was than the other villagers? Why would she give her love to a broken woman who could not fully love in return? Why would she give her energy to people who did not see the world with wide-enough eyes? Why would she waste her time?
Bear Maiden grew fearful at the depth of scorn that leaked its way into Boy Magician’s voice as he spoke. His words, whose passion and vividness had enchanted her when first they met, changed to words tinged oily yellow-black with anger and envy. This she saw all too clearly. She did not like the change she saw in him. But Bear Maiden found herself unable to respond to this side of the boy, unable to hold onto her observations of his shadow-self for too long before they slipped through cracks in her mind. Try as she might, her reflections on his character and her uneasiness at his words smoothly avoided her conscious, grasping mind and darted deeper than she could reach.
In his longing to know and understand Bear Maiden, in his wish to keep her with him in The Tower, Boy Magician’s magic had been unleashed from the depths to which he had banished it so long ago. This magic sought only to please its master. Wild, forgotten, and uncontrolled, the magic wormed its way into Bear Maiden’s heart and soul and with each of the boy’s questions, subtly but surely strengthened an invisible cage inside her. Each night, the cage tightened ever so slightly on the bear spirit within her chest and the fears it had, sending it into a deeper and deeper sleep.
Once, catching sight of his reflection in the mirror, Boy Magician grimaced at the darkness in his eyes and the ebbs and flows of pale blue-gold magic underneath his skin. He brought his mind to bear on the magic, but it would not move, his need of it stronger than his hatred of it. To avoid having to face this realization, Boy Magician covered the mirror with a ragged cloth, unwilling to admit the lengths to which he would go to keep the girl with him. And so the questions continued. The magic continued. And each morning, Bear Maiden left The Tower more and more diminished, more and more silent.
The change in Bear Maiden was so sudden that even the other villagers took notice of her limp hair, dull eyes, and blurry features. They heard her silence, missed her listening, and noticed how she struggled to raise a smile. She was unconvincing in her laughter, and she disappeared more easily into her surroundings every day. To the villagers, she seemed ghostlike, lifeless.
Seeking to avoid both their concerns and Boy Magician’s questions, Bear Maiden stopped going to school. She stopped meeting with the broken woman. She stopped playing with the other children. She stopped doing anything in The Village that was not absolutely necessary, so that when she returned to The Tower she had nothing to report. Still, Boy Magician wanted to know more, and What did she do today? turned into What did she think about this? turned into What was she thinking? Bear Maiden tried very hard not to think at all, fearful that the boy would see signs of her thoughts on her face and begin yet another round of interrogation. Boy Magician was persistent though, and What was she thinking? turned to What was she hiding? as he sought to reveal every hidden aspect of the girl.
Bear Maiden grew quieter and quieter. Boy Magician could not admit to the cause of her change, so carefully did he avoid examining his own reflection. To ease his own troubled thoughts, he encouraged her to leave The Tower to spend time doing things she loved before, recalling how vibrant she appeared when happy. He pressed her to talk more and more, to open up to him again, to dream and imagine and share what she looked forward to. When she had nothing to say beyond wanting to spend more time with him, though, Boy Magician felt affirmed. Still, Boy Magician saw how diminished she had become, and wept to see her so changed. He could hardly understand his own mixed feelings, and so spoke to her in poetic tone from the depths of his heart in his frustration.
Bear Maiden recognized each tiny sweetness of Boy Magician’s character, and each powerful feeling behind his words. Bear Maiden saw his tears, and was reminded of the brokenness of his heart. She was compassionate, and sought only to fix him and help make him whole again. So she stayed, and diminished, and slowly lost herself, and in so doing forgot how to dream and imagine a life beyond what hers had become.