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Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 190

The Fairy Bear

Gilbert kept in his castle court an immense white Polar bear, dreaded by all for its enormous strength, and called the Fairy Bear. It was even believed that the huge beast had some kinship to old Earl Siward, who bore a bear upon his crest, and was reputed to have had something of bear-like ferocity in his youth. This white bear was so much dreaded that he was kept chained up in a strong cage. One morning as Hereward was returning with Martin from his morning ride he heard shouts and shrieks from the castle yard, and, reaching the great gate, entered lightly and closed it behind him rapidly, for there outside the shattered cage, with broken chain dangling, stood the Fairy Bear, glaring savagely round the courtyard. But one human figure was in sight, that of a girl of about twelve years of age.

Hereward Slays the Bear

There were sounds of men’s voices and women’s shrieks from within the castle, but the doors were fast barred, while the maid, in her terror, beat on the portal with her palms, and begged them, for the love of God, to let her in. The cowards, refused, and in the meantime the great bear, irritated by the dangling chain, made a rush towards the child. Hereward dashed forward, shouting to distract the bear, and just managed to stop his charge at the girl. The savage animal turned on the new-comer, who needed all his agility to escape the monster’s terrible

Alftruda

Hereward’s Trick on the Knights

“Where have they all gone, little one?” asked the young noble; and Alftruda replied: “We were all out here in the courtyard watching the young men at their exercises, when we heard a crash and a roar, and the cage burst open, and we saw the dreadful Fairy Bear. They all ran, the ladies and knights, but I was the last, and they were so frightened that they shut themselves in and left me outside; and when I beat at the door and prayed them to let me in they would not, and I thought the bear would eat me, till you came.”


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