Time passed. Trees shed their leaves and modestly wrapped blankets of snow around themselves to cover their nakedness. Bear Maiden grew more and more pale and faded, until she could no longer recognize herself in the broken mirror or even care to look. The bear spirit still emerged each month, but Bear Maiden had grown accustomed to repressing it, not liking at all the beast she became because of it. Bear Maiden spent most of her time in silence, ignoring the pleas of the boy to speak, to communicate, or to share what she was thinking or feeling. In this silence, a new voice emerged.
At first, it only spoke when she was alone. It came when she sat in the windowsill watching the phases of the stone cold moon; when she looked down at The Village too numbed to be affected by the laughter of other children; when she lay in bed trying and failing to sleep. Bear Maiden was not at all sure she could trust this voice. After all, it had been a long time since she had heard any other voice in her head beside Boy Magician’s. But she listened skeptically to what it offered up in a whisper.
The voice carried with it the memory of pearly morning dew and the scent of baked honey apples, the texture of petals against her cheek and the taste of rainfall. It reminded her of the delicious strain in her legs following a joyous run through the fields; of the sensation of flying from twirling on top of a stone wall with her eyes raised to the sky; of the wind rushing past her and lifting her skirts and pulling her along. The voice raised images of people she had long forgotten about. Unbidden, the girl saw the broken woman smiling peacefully up at her in the garden of butterflies and flowers. She saw other children laughing and beckoning her to play. She saw the jolly baker offering her fresh bread and remembered licking at melted butter running down her fingers.
Bear Maiden grew to love these memories and found solace in them. A quiet peace came to her soul, and a small smile played at the corners of her mouth. But she guarded this voice and her small pleasure jealously, and would hide them away when Boy Magician was awake and around. Once, when he returned unexpectedly from a trek to The Village, Bear Maiden had to force her musings and fond remembering away. When he left again, Bear Maiden waited impatiently for the gentle voice to return. But there was only silence. She feared that she had banished the voice for good. In an effort to stave off panic and hopelessness, the girl quieted her heart and mind, stilled her breath, and listened.
There! There was something there! The silence that Bear Maiden heard was not an echoing, empty silence, but the sharp silence of an in-drawn breath. There was a presence here. She was not alone. Once she acknowledged this presence, Bear Maiden began to hear the voice more and more frequently, including when Boy Magician was around. This voice helped her think clearly and listen fully. For the first time in ages, Bear Maiden could hold on to her thoughts and piece them together to form a whole, unbroken picture of her life. She began to really hear Boy Magician’s words when he spoke to her about her madness and wildness, about the unworthiness of the villagers, and about how he alone loved her and helped her. The voice bid her question the truthfulness of these words. More and more, Boy Magician’s words lost their power over her. His magic failed to affect her. And with her newfound clarity, the girl saw how lost she had become.
The voice also bade her pay attention to Boy Magician’s heart and to her own intentions in staying there with him. She recalled his brokenness and her original hope to fix him. With her new clarity of thought, Bear Maiden watched and listened. She saw how he avoided the mirror, and how he spent long hours at the window watching The Village. She heard longing and pain behind his haughty judgments of the villagers. She felt his trembling as he fought to push away his magic after each full moon.
Once, watching through the eyes of her heart, Bear Maiden had a spark of insight. Deep down, far beyond the brokenness of the boy’s heart, she saw flashes of golden light—slivers, shards, pieces that looked to be exactly the right sizes and shapes to mend the puzzle of his heart and make it whole. The pieces of his heart had never disappeared. They had only been pushed deep within him, waiting to be brought out again, polished, and displayed proudly for all to see.
Bear Maiden felt very strongly that the answer to the boy’s loneliness and pain was to bring those slivers back to the rest of the boy’s heart. But she did not know how to do this. She tried inviting the boy out into the sunlight, encouraging him to step outside and join the other villagers. She tried suggesting that he explore his magic and share his gifts. She hoped that if she could just get his sweet spirit to emerge…But Boy Magician would not listen, certain that Bear Maiden had no wisdom to offer him. After all, he would think to himself, she is but a child and cannot know or understand.
In time, Bear Maiden came to see the truth of things. She realized that Boy Magician was not missing anything but himself. He was not broken but for the magic that he tried to stifle, the magic that terrified him and so was utterly rejected and cast out. He was not torn but for the loneliness that he bitterly hid. His chosen solitude was a prison to which he had sentenced himself. Bear Maiden was dismayed to acknowledge that her being there was not helping Boy Magician. Her presence was not fixing him. Indeed, no matter her good intentions, she could not heal his brokenness. Only Boy Magician could save himself. Only he could choose to leave The Tower, to accept his magic, to be his full self.
Bear Maiden’s new insights did not stop the bitterly frustrated bear spirit from emerging on nights of full moonshine. But while Boy Magician still subdued the beast with his words, strength and magic, Bear Maiden no longer pushed the spirit away, suspecting as she did that this was the voice she had come to rely upon. She grasped onto as much of the spirit as she could before magic locked it away again, and brought what she held into her heart. She listened to its fears and pain, and loved it. Though she did not notice it, each whisper of love to this spirit caused one more shard of red to appear and attach itself to the heart on her sleeve. Her very listening and attention gave the bear spirit within her strength and comfort. In time, the bear spirit ceased to rumble in its sleep, and instead it waited, and anticipated. And as the voice whispering in her mind and her heart took on the sound of her own voice, Bear Maiden heard a simple truth, felt it in the steady beating of her heart, and breathed it out in a slow exhale: It is time. It is time to go home.