Though he felt angry, sad, and betrayed, Boy Magician was not surprised to learn Bear Maiden was leaving. He had read the signs and had seen her intentions in the sudden calmness of her deep ocean eyes and in the electric poise of her now crystal clear features. Still, he tried as best he could to make her stay, using the power of magic and the power of words to cajole, to plead, to coerce. But neither his magic nor his words had any sway over Bear Maiden. For though her trust in herself was still new and precious, and needed tender care and practice, Bear Maiden felt only certainty and a profound sense of rightness in her decision to leave. She could recognize the truth of things. She could see.
Bear Maiden was admittedly scared to leave. It had been so long since she had thought for herself, had been herself, that she was nervous to be on her own again. But her excitement outweighed all of the fear. Bear Maiden realized that for a very long time, she had been acting only out of fear—fear of the Boy Magician and even fear of herself and what she was capable of. Now though, she was choosing to move forward in love—love for herself, and even love for the Boy Magician, whose happiness she could not provide for or force. Finally, the day came.
With a shaky breath, Bear Maiden looked out The Tower door at the field leading up to the ivy-covered stone wall, beyond which The Village lay. It was a beautiful spring day. The snow had melted. The trees, so proud and noble, boasted beautiful foliage while precious flowers beckoned to hummingbirds and bees. Bear Maiden glanced back up the spiraling stairs, but no, the boy was not coming to see her out or to say goodbye. With all the courage she could muster, Bear Maiden stepped out into the sunlight for the first time in several moons. The wind rushed to caress and embrace her, and she breathed in deeply the rejuvenating fresh air. With a sudden zing, Bear Maiden felt a vibration run down her spine and energy flow through her blood and bones. The bear spirit had awakened.
Stretching out limbs sore from forced sleep, the bear spirit smelled freedom and wind and wild spaces. Sensing Bear Maiden’s love and trust, the bear spirit dared to take on new form within her. With each step farther away from The Tower, each step forward into a new life, into her life, Bear Maiden felt a change in her being.
Her nose lengthened and broadened and in an instant she inhaled the scent of flowers in distant fields; caught the aroma of the baker’s cinnamon pecans as he brought them out of the oven; smelled the lavender perfume of the broken woman who lived on the far side of The Village. While her nose immediately returned to its original human shape, the sharp scents lingered in her memory.
Her eyes widened, saw all, and she gazed around in wonder at the vividness of each blade of grass, the distinct cracks and grooves in the stone wall ahead, the clear pattern of sunlight and shadow in the distant forest.
Her ears rounded, and she paused at the abrupt cacophony of sound, overwhelmed by an awareness of mice in the far-off wood scuffling in the underbrush and the fox farther beyond catching their scent; the florist’s bartering with the baker in The Village center over freshly brewed cider; the ragged breathing of a boy in a tower behind her…
Bear Maiden’s teeth elongated and sharpened, and for a brief moment she could taste moisture on the air predicting rainfall in the days to come.
For the span of a breath, Bear Maiden’s skin darkened with ebony fur. She felt the distinct hairs on her body move in the wind; experienced each blade of grass as a painter’s brushstroke against her legs; luxuriated in the exquisite heat of the sun melting her cares away.
Bear Maiden channeled the exuberant bounding and careless strength of a bear cub as she dashed headlong toward The Village. As the physical signs of her transformation faded away, flashes of insight and awareness overwhelmed her mind.
She was choosing herself, yes, she was becoming herself, yes, she was becoming the bear spirit, yes, but then that spirit was who she always truly was.
She felt pure joy, pure freedom, pure power, and for a moment it felt as if she was no longer moving herself but something bigger, something greater, was moving through her.
She looked down with haunting twilight eyes, down past locks of pure vibrant sunshine, down past the crystal clarity of her skin, down past her body that seemed to almost float with effortlessness…
She looked down to see her heart. It was an unbroken heart. It was a perfect, whole, and complete heart. It was a new heart, not the same as the one she had started out with as a younger girl. This heart shone. It gleamed. It radiated light. The familiar deep crimson pulsed with life and vitality, and glowed with precious gold that marked where the heart had before been cracked. Her heart showed the full history of her heartache and the triumph of her heart-healing. It was a heart made more beautiful for having been broken and pieced back together.
An onlooker would have marveled that for a single moment, as the girl danced each joyous step of freedom, the bear spirit and the girl seemed to become one. The full form of the bear spirit appeared underneath the girl’s skin, and her movements moved both bear and girl at once. After the span of a single breath, the bear spirit disappeared and melted into her. But instead of becoming pure girl-child, she became more than either girl or bear…she became a being a pure light.
Light emanated from her body. Light trailed as she twirled and twirled, her golden hair spiraling in waves behind her. Light played at her fingertips and toes as she danced and skipped through the field. To a villager, failing to understand fully what he was seeing, she would have appeared as an apparition, a great spirit, a goddess. But no villager was there to witness Bear Maiden’s transformation. And so she danced on, elated to have gained her freedom, ecstatic to have discovered her power, joyful to have found herself.
Boy Magician stood at the solitary window that broke The Tower’s wholeness. He witnessed her transformation. He recognized with a painful flash of memory the girl he had seen from afar and had chosen as his beloved playmate so long ago. He saw her freedom and whimsy and beautiful wildness, and knew that he could never have kept her. To do so would have—had almost—destroyed her. And so, with a shaky inhale, he said goodbye in his heart. With a ragged exhale, he let her go. Boy Magician turned away from the window to look at his room with the single bed, the single table, the single chair, the worn stuffed animal, and the broken mirror. He looked at his solitude. He looked at his face in the mirror. And he wept.