Sunday, January 06, 2008

Panserbjørn

The lady wrote with a quill-tipped pen. Dear Diary, she began, It has been long since I last confided in you, but my need now is great. I am of late much concerned with matters of the heart. Two gentlemen have assumed a high position within it - one, from love, the other, from friendship. Yet they share no such affection with one another, and are - I blush to write it - much enamored of me, sometimes so much that I question their reason. Geoffrey is the elder of the two by a year, and possessed of excess in all regards - wit - wealth - physical perfection. I have known him since I was a child, and, yes - it is he who I love.

Francis is just as earnest as Geoffrey, if not more so, though he is possessed of no such fortune. He loves me with a passion, thinking that I share his feelings, for I dare not tell him otherwise for fear of injuring him grievously. Both of them love me so, and think that I love only them, and I know not what I ought do.

Signed, Catherine.


The lady arose. A man standing nearby cleared his throat. The lady spun about, surprised. "Why, Geoffrey!" she remarked. "How long have you been there?"

"Not so long, dear Catherine," Geoffrey answered. "It would have been quite uncouth to interrupt a true lady in her writing."

"Why, you do flatter me, Geoffrey," Catherine replied with great warmth. "Why did you come to visit me to-day?"

"I need no reason to visit one so fair as you!" Geoffrey remarked jokingly, and, as Catherine covered her mouth with her hand as she laughed, Geoffrey continued, "And, so, I wanted to know some excuse that I might spend more time with you. Say, a hunt in the woods?"

"I have heard rumours that there is some terrible beast in the woods about," Catherine said nervously.

"Nonsense," Geoffrey replied. "There's nothing to be worried about. We will go hunting together, and you and I will make a lovely couple."

On those words, the door slammed open. Another man stood there, a scowl on his face. "Geoffrey!" he shouted. "What indignities are you perpetrating on my lady's honour?"

Both Catherine and Geoffrey started at the sound of the door. "Nothing," Geoffrey answered quickly, "We were just talking together-"

"With the door shut?" the interlocutor asked pointedly. "The blinds closed? And all alone?"

"How dare you accuse me so, Francis!" Geoffrey shouted. "To imply that I might impugn my lady's honour - these are grounds for the gauntlet!"

"I should be happy to accept it!" Francis replied angrily. His face softened as he turned toward Catherine. "Well, my love?" he asked. "Will you give me your favour for the duel?"

Catherine paused, hesitant. Both men watched her, and at last she decided, "I will give my favour to the winner."

"Then let it be so!" Geoffrey shouted. He ripped off his left glove and hurled it at Francis, who ignored the tiny impact. "Noon to-morrow, in front of Catherine's residence!"

Francis grinned confidently. "Rapiers. To the death." He turned to Catherine to kiss her hand in leaving, only to draw back, surprised, as he saw her face stretched tight with horror.

"No!" she complained. "You - you mustn't fight to the death! I couldn't bear it!"

"Why?" asked Geoffrey. "Surely you'll be glad to be rid of this nuisance?"

"Or, rather, this hateful scum who plagues you so," Francis retorted.

Catherine opened her mouth to explain: and could not.

The duel was on.

Three hours later, Francis and Geoffrey stood in the middle of the muddy street, rapiers drawn. A small crowd had gathered to watch them. Catherine watched from a balcony above, her heart dreadfully compressed. "Oh, do let them yield!" she prayed. "Do not let them die!"

The men exchanged oaths, crossed rapiers. They began to circle one another, their eyes searching for any weakness or hesitation to use as an opening. Each of them was certain that the other was no match, and was eager to make an end of it.

Then, above the murmur of the crowd, a voice spoke. "I need to find a synagogue."

The crowd parted, and Francis and Geoffrey backed away from one another, still watching each-other tensely. Their vision was occluded by a large shape, which loomed between them, turning its head back and forth. Again, in a more annoyed tone of voice, it rumbled, "Do you know where a synagogue is? If I don't get an answer soon, I will start tearing off heads."

The questioner was quite capable of carrying out its threat. It was a panserbjørn - an armoured bear. Several times as large as a man, it wore half its weight in iron armour on its back, and had metal tassels down its chest. If it were possible to tell the expression of an armour-plated bear, one might guess this one to be annoyed - and growing more so. Its six-inch claws flexed impatiently.

"...why do you need to find one?" Francis asked, still watching Geoffrey out of the corner of his vision.

The bear turned to look at Francis. Its breath smelled of fish. "My name is Hjørdis Ragnarsdottr, and today is Shabbat," she told him coldly. "I wish to worship. Where is a synagogue?"

Behind her, Geoffrey laughed. "So, even the godless bears have their Christ-killers," he said mockingly. "I suppose that's as close as they can get, though. They're only bears."

Slowly, with a clanking of metal, Hjørdis turned. "You just insulted me, my race, and my religion," she informed him. "The Lord teaches fairness, so I will give you five seconds to prepare yourself."

Catherine, watching above, gasped.

Geoffrey put up his rapier, braced himself against the ground.

Hjørdis finished her count, reached out, and tore off Geoffrey's head.

Catherine screamed, and the crowd scattered.

Hjørdis, completely unconcerned, licked the blood off her claws and turned to Francis. "Do you know where a synagogue is?" she asked.

Francis was white-faced and stunned. After a long moment, he stammered out, "No, no. I don't think there even is a synagogue here!"

Hjørdis shrugged, a massive shrug that seemed equivalent to earthquakes that shatter continents, and turned away. She seemed completely free of regret.

A police-man, turning a corner, ran straight into her. He looked up, looked down, and put his whistle to his mouth to call for reinforcements.

He died before he got the chance.

Francis was caught in the grips of a dilemma. He chased Hjørdis. "How could you do this?" he asked. "You just killed Geoffrey, and that man, for no reason at all!"

"They annoyed me," Hjørdis rumbled without turning around.

"But... I was dueling with Geoffrey, for my lady's favour! Now I do not know what will come of it! What if she cannot think of me without thinking of Geoffrey's death - if she comes to loathe me?"

"She's probably not worth the trouble, then," Hjørdis said dismissively.

Francis ran ahead of her and placed himself in her path. "I don't want to, but... I have no choice!" he said, face red, knees trembling. "You have killed innocents, insulted my love... I have no choice but to fight you!"

"Very well," Hjørdis.

Body parts littering the street, she continued onward.

Moral: Don't mess with the panserbjørn!

All due credit to Mr. Pullman, whose first work I enjoyed a great deal, and others... less so. Nonetheless, the panserbjørn remain excellent. Also, note that Catherine survived! This is a mark of my mercy. In the original draft, she did not!

Anyway, less violence in the next post, if I recall... wait, no. Well, in some post.

4 comments:

Oldboy said...

wooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

so cool

Cavalcadeofcats said...

Last night's partial posting is a thing for which I offer apology; it was late, and I was not thinking clearly. David, if you have now somewhat less affection for the finished piece than for the teaser, feel free to make amendment.

Oldboy said...

i liked it up to the point where it stopped being smexy (in the traditional sense)

but then it was still smexy (in a different sense)

(because armoured bears are sweet)

King Kessler said...

I totally remember the panserbjørne, despite the fact that I read the Golder Compass (I think it was that one, I might have read more of them) ages ages ages ago. Yay memory!