The Hunting of the Great Bear
The Hunting of the Great Bear
There were four hunters who were brothers. No hunters were as good as they at following a trail. They never gave up once they began tracking their quarry. One day, when the cold nights return, an urgent message came to the village of the four hunters. A great bear, one so large and powerful that many thought it must be some kind of monster, had appeared. The people of the village whose hunting grounds the monster had invaded were afraid. The children no longer went out to play in the woods. The long houses of the village were guarded each night by armed men with weapons who stood by the entrances.
Each morning, when the people went outside, they found the huge tracks of the bear in the midst of their village. They knew that soon it would become even bolder.
Picking up their spears and calling to their small dog, the four hunters set forth for that village, which was not far away. As they came closer they noticed how quiet the woods were. There were no signs of rabbits or deer and even the birds were silent. On a great pine tree they found the scars where the great bear had reared up on hind legs and made deep scratches to mark its territory. The tallest of the brothers tried to touch the highest of the scratch marks with the tip of his spear. "It is as the people feared," the first brother said. "This one we are to hunt is Nyah-gwaheh, a monster bear."
"But what about the magic that the Nyah-gwaheh has?" said the second brother.
The first brother shook his head. "That magic will do it no good if we find its track."
"That's so," said the third brother. "I have always heard that from the old people. Those creatures can only chase a hunter who has not yet found its trail. When you find the track of the Nyah-gwaheh and begin to chase it, then it must run from you."
"Brothers," said the fourth hunter who was the fattest and laziest, "did we bring along enough food to eat? It may take a long time to catch this big bear. I'm feeling hungry."
Before long, the four hunters and their small dog reached the village. It was a sad sight to see. There was no fire burning in the center of the village and the doors of all the long houses were closed. Grim men stood on guard with clubs and spears and there was no game hung from the racks or skins stretched for tanning. The people looked hungry.
The elder sachem of the village came out and the tallest of the four hunters spoke to him.
"Uncle," the hunter said, "we have come to help you get rid of the monster."
Then the fattest and laziest of the four brothers spoke. "Uncle," he said, "is there some food we can eat? Can we find a place to rest before we start chasing this big bear? I'm tired."
The first hunter shook his head and smiled. "My brother is only joking, Uncle." he said. “We are going now to pick up the monster bear's trail."
"I am not sure you can do that, Nephews," the elder sachem said. "Though we find tracks closer and closer to the doors of our lodges each morning, whenever we try to follow those tracks they disappear."
The second hunter knelt down and patted the head of their small dog. "Uncle," he said, that is because they do not have a dog such as ours." He pointed to the two black circles above the eyes of the small dog. "Four-Eyes can see any tracks, even those many days old."
"May Creator's protection be with you," said the elder sachem.
"Do not worry. Uncle," said the third hunter. "Once we are on a trail we never stop following until we've finished our hunt." "That's why I think we should have something to eat first," said the fourth hunter, but his brothers did not listen. They nodded to the elder sachem and began to leave. Sighing, the fattest and laziest of the brothers lifted up his long spear and trudged after them.
They walked, following their little dog. It kept lifting up its head, as if to look around with its four eyes. The trail was not easy to find.
"Brothers," the fattest and laziest hunter complained, "don't you think we should rest. We've been walking a long time." But his brothers paid no attention to him. Though they could see no tracks, they could feel the presence of the Nyah-gwaheh. They knew that if they did not soon find its trail, it would make its way behind them. Then they would be the hunted ones.
The fattest and laziest brother took out his pemmican pouch. At least he could eat while they walked along. He opened the pouch and shook out the food he had prepared so carefully by pounding together strips of meat and berries with maple sugar and then drying them in the sun. But instead of pemmican, pale squirming things fell out into his hands. The magic of the Nyah-gwaheh had changed the food into worms.
"Brothers," the fattest and laziest of the hunters shouted, "let's hurry up and catch that big bear! Look what it did to my pemmican. Now I'm getting angry." ….
To be continued
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