Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away, in what must have been truly the remotest corner of that land, there lived a man who dreamed of flying. Not flying with a machine, like inside an airplane, or with a hang glider, jetpack or hoverboard, (none of which had been invented,) but flying himself. Either with wings, like a bird, or without them, by the simple expedient of magic.
He lived all alone, in a cabin near the top of a mountain. The mountain itself was situated in the middle of an ancient forest so difficult to traverse that the man never saw any other humans at all.
His only companions were the animals of the forest. The bears, the deer, the elks and the birds. The snakes, insects and the spiders as well, but for those he did not have quite the same fondness.
It was quite fortunate that this part of the land was so steeped in old magic that the animals were able to talk. Otherwise the man would probably have forgotten all about language in his solitude.
He would see his friends, the animals, when he climbed down the mountain to meet them in the forest. Only the birds could repay his visits from time to time. The mountain was simply too steep for the rest of them to climb all the way up to his cabin.
He quite adored the freedom of the birds’ movement through the air. How easily they made a journey that was, for him, a difficult climb.
This is how it started. He watched the birds, and wished he, too, could fly.
The wish came into his dreams, and every night he dreamt of flying. Flying down the mountain. Flying across the sky. Flying into a great, big city, where he would meet a woman who would become his wife. Flying her back to his home, the cabin on the mountain in the forest far from all. Flying with the children she would have with him.
The dreams began to fill his every waking thought. He wanted to fly. He wanted to find that wife and children his dreams promised awaited him, if only he could fly.
While the mountain and the forest was full of magic, he himself had no aptitude for using it. He knew no spells, no potions.
How could he learn to fly?
When the man finally spoke of his wishes with the birds, they told him to talk to the bears. This seemed to him a strange bit of advice, for what did bears know of flying? Still, he did as he was told. He climbed down the mountain and went into the forest to meet the family of bears that lived nearby.
The mother bear only looked at him, when he spoke of wanting to fly. She shook her head, and turned to leave, but her children spoke out: “But mom, what about Old Brown’s Son?”, “Yes, mom, why don’t you tell him about Old Brown’s Son?”
The mother bear shushed her children, but the damage was already done. The man now knew there was something to be known, and the mother bear could hardly pretend not to know it.
She had to tell the man about Old Brown’s Son.
“He lives in a cave some two weeks’ journey from here. His whole line has always been particularly strong with magic. If you kiss one of them, you will fly. Well, if you kiss him, since he is the last of his line.”
“Kiss a bear, and then I’ll fly? How is that a thing?”
“I don’t know,” said the mother bear, “but it’s always been that way, as long as anyone can remember.”
“Has he kissed many, this Old Brown’s Son?”
“No one, to my knowledge,” replied the mother bear. “And he might not be inclined to do so now, either, for magic like that always comes with a price. But his father, and his uncle, and his aunts, they all kissed someone while they lived. That someone flew. I saw it myself when I was but a little cub.”
“Then I should meet this Old Brown’s Son,” decided the man.
“Are you sure?” asked the mother bear. “For as I said, that kind of magic comes with a price to pay.”
“If the magic helps me find a woman to marry, and have children of my own, then it will be worth it.”
“You don’t know what the price will be,” replied the concerned mother bear. “No one ever knows beforehand. Not even Old Brown’s Son.”
“It will be worth it,” repeated the man. “Even if it is a bit strange for a man to kiss a bear…”
“For him to kiss a he-bear,” giggled the cubs.
“Hush, children,” admonished their mother. “A he-bear, a she-bear, what difference does that make? We’re all bears, and every bit as kissable the lot of us.”
“Eeeew, don’t kiss me, mom!” cried out the slightly bigger cub, as the mother bear gave his cheek a lick.
The cubs ran away. The mother bear shook her head and sighed the word “Children,” in that way all mothers know. “Still, I suppose I cannot blame you for wanting your own human cubs. The need to procreate is built in, in most of us, I think.” The mother bear looked at the man with some sadness in her eyes. “If you are certain, I might send word with the birds. Old Brown’s Son could meet you at a clearing halfway in the forest, if he is willing to at least talk with you about this. And the birds will let you know if he is not. So you’ll not have to walk two weeks in vain.”
“I would much appreciate that,” replied the man. “And yes, I am determined to do this if at all possible. I must fly. Fly to find my woman.”
“So be it then,” replied the mother bear.
And so it was that messages were sent forth and back with birds. Some more explaining of the man’s motivation for his wish to fly was needed, but eventually he received word that Old Brown’s Son would meet him halfway between the mountain and the cave. The man set off on his difficult journey in the ancient forest. One week later, man and bear met where agreed.
Old Brown’s son was a fairly large bear. Not the biggest ever lived, but impressive enough at close range. He had the most soulful eyes.
Exactly why Old Brown’s Son agreed to the man’s request of a kiss remains unknown. Perhaps he too felt a desire for cubs of his own, and could thus empathise with the man. Perhaps it was something else. In any case, after making certain the man truly understood that there would be a price to pay for the magic, agree he did.
Bear and man stood face to face. Bear taller than the man.
Bear bent down his head, and the man leaned in. Their lips met. The bear licked with his tongue.
Almost as soon as the kiss was over, the man could feel his feet rise in the air above the ground. He flew.
He laughed, and thanked the bear for his help.
He flew in the air so free. Above the treetops. Up the mountain to his cabin. Away from the mountain towards the to him unknown.
He flew into a large city, where he did, indeed, meet a woman. She fell in love with him, and he fancied himself in love with her.
They married, and had three children. But their happiness was far from perfect.
His wife had no wish to leave a city she loved. She had no desire at all to live in a cabin near the top of a mountain in the middle of an ancient forest far away from everyone and everything else. So they lived in the city, where he found work, but the man very much missed his home.
He missed his solitude. He missed his friends in the forest, the animals and the birds who knew how to talk. He missed his cabin. But that is not all he missed.
He could not stop thinking about the bear, Old Brown’s Son. The feel of his hair. His lips. His tongue.
He wondered if Old Brown’s Son ever thought about him, the man that he had kissed.
He dreamed of flying home with his wife and children. Of meeting Old Brown’s Son in the forest.
He began to dream of returning without her. Of meeting Old Brown’s Son… in the forest, in his cave, near a river, in his own cabin.
When he began to dream of Old Brown’s Son coming to his place in the city, the man knew it was time for him to leave. To return to his true home.
His children were aged nine, eight and six, when he kissed them and their mother goodbye. They all watched from a window as their father flew without wings to leave them. Promising to come visit them from time to time, but never to live in a city again.
As the man approached the ancient forest in the farthest corner of the land, his heart was pounding. Was Old Brown’s Son even alive anymore? How long do bears live? (Magical ones.)
He flew to the cave where he knew Old Brown’s Son had lived, but there was no one there. No signs of a bear having lived there, not for the longest time.
The man felt crushed. When he finally left the cave, his flight towards his own cabin was halting. Weighed down by grief and regret.
He decided to visit the spot in the forest where he and Old Brown’s Son had kissed. It would be torture, he told himself. He should not, but he could not help himself: he had to see it. He needed to stand where they had once embraced.
When he reached the clearing, he found his heart flooded with joy, for he saw Old Brown’s Son! The bear had taken residence in that very place. Had even slept his winters under only some branches and snow, and magic to keep him from freezing. Unable to leave the place where he had once known joy in the arms of a man.
Old Brown’s Son had indeed been thinking of the man every bit as much as the man had been thinking of him. If not even more.
The man and bear embraced. They kissed again. They laughed, and cried. Above all else, they talked. About all that had happened since the day they last met. About all that they had felt since then.
The man and bear walked through the difficult forest towards the mountain. When the bear could climb no higher, the man was actually able to fly Old Brown’s Son all the way up to his cabin.
The cabin was well built. Even after all these years, it stood waiting to welcome them home, in need of only a thorough cleaning and some small repairs.
And strangely enough, the man was right: it was a price worth paying. For the love of the bear and of the man for one another may have stemmed from the magic, and caused much suffering in their years apart, but it grew to sustain them both.
In a cabin on a mountain that rose in the middle of an ancient forest, man and bear lived happily ever after.