Little Bear's Son [1]

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Simon E. Phipp
Created On 20 April 2000
Last Updated On 20 April 2000
Copyright (c) Simon E. Phipp 2000

When the world was good, Votank the Hunter killed many beast for food. Once, he killed a great She-Bear in her lair and found a new-born baby boy where her cubs should be. He named him "Little Bear's Son" and took him home to his hearth. Little Bear's Son grew quickly and was soon taller and stronger than all the other children in the clan. When he played games, he did not know his strength and broke bones and smashed heads as he played. The women of the clan complained to Votank who, with regret, realised that Little Bear's Son was too big for the clan. He told his adopted son to leave until he could control his strength.

Little Bear's Son travelled the countryside, carrying his great stone club and his stone boots, until he met a giant standing in a river and catching fish with his moustache. He opened each fish as if searching for something, then ate eat fish raw. Little Bear's Son hailed him and asked who he was. "Moustache Man", said the giant, "and where are you going?" "Where my eyes can see and my legs can walk, would you join me, for every man desires companions?" Moustache Man agreed and the two set off.

After a while, they walked through the forests and saw a great giant levelling the trees. Some he smashed into the ground, others he pulled up so they were the same height. Little Bear's Son asked who the giant was, "I am Oak Man and I am strongest in all of Votankiland, except for one known as Little Bear's Son." "I am he" said Little Bear's Son and Oak Man agreed to accompany them.

A little later, they came to another giant who was carrying earth from the hills, taking a whole hill on his back and spreading it on the earth. Little Bear's Son asked who he was "I am hill Man and I know of none stronger than me, save one called Little bear's Son" "I am he" said Little Bear's Son, and Hill Man instantly agreed to join them.

The four companions travelled to the mountains where other giants lived and built a large house, big enough for all to live in. The giants decided to go out to hunt for food and they left Moustache Man to clean the house. he swept the floors and prepared the food, baking bread and cooking meat, fish and all kinds of good things. When the food was prepared, he sat down to wait for the others when the door burst open and an old hag burst in and demanded hospitality. Moustache Man gave her some food, but she ate all his food in a single mouthful. When she asked for more, he said that there was none left, so she beat him with an iron bar until he was black and blue, then she took a knife and cut a piece of his skin from his back. When his companions returned, Moustache Man complained that the oven did not work and filled the room with smoke that gave him a headache, so he could not cook the food.

The next day, the companions went to hunt, leaving Hill Man to take care of the house. He swept up and prepared the food and sat to wait for his friends. Once again, the old hag burst through the door and demanded food. When she ate everything in one mouthful and Hill Man could give her no more, she beat him black and blue with her iron club and tore a strip of flesh from his back. When his companions returned, Hill Man said that the flue was blocked and had filled the room with smoke, so he could not cook any food.

The third day, the companions went to hunt and Oak Man stayed to prepare the food. After cleaning the house and cooking the food, the old hag burst in and asked for food. Once again, she beat the householder black and blue with her iron club and tore a strip of skin from his back. When the companions returned, he complained that the wood was green and produced too much smoke, giving him a headache, so he could not prepare any food.

The fourth day, Little Bear's Son stayed behind and cleaned the house and prepared the food. When the old hag burst through the door and demanded hospitality, "The food I have prepared is for my friends and not for you" said Little Bear's Son and, when she raised her iron club to beat him, he grabbed her grey hair and beat her with his stone club. She cried out in pain and begged for mercy until she fell in a faint to the floor. Little Bear's Son locked her in a cupboard and waited for his friends to return home. They came in, expecting him to have been beaten, but were surprised to find the house tidy and food on the table, so they assumed that the old hag had not visited that day. After they had eaten, they went out to bathe, but the three giants were embarrassed about the strips of skin torn from their backs and turned away from Little Bear's Son. When he asked what was wrong, each said that when the smoke hurt their eyes, they fell and cut themselves on the stove, the floor or the wall. Little Bear's Son laughed and opened the cupboard, saying "here is the oven, the floor and the wall" and dragged the old hag out for them to see. She was cunning and pretended to be weak and hurt until she saw her chance to escape, when she leapt through the window and flew off in her bucket, before disappearing beneath a great stone.

The companions followed her to the stone and each tried to lift it but could not. Then Little Bear's Son took the stone in one hand and threw it over the mountains. Beneath the stone was a deep burrow, like a fox's and the companions discussed who should follow her down. Little Bear's Son asked them to lower him down and wait for him until he returned. They lowered him down until he reached the bottom and walked a long way until he reached the Underworld. There, many birds flew, although none had seen the sun. He wandered for a while and found a forest with a clearing and a hut on chicken legs circling around. He saw a maiden tending the herbs in the garden and asked her where he was. "You are at the house of a Baba Yaga," she said "and if she catches you here, she will surely slay you, as she is ten times as strong here as on the surface." "It is she that I seek" said Little Bear's Son. "Promise to take me with you to the surface and I will show you how to defeat her" said the maiden. She told him to hide until the Baba Yaga left, then come into the house. When the Baba Yaga left, he came into the house and the maiden took him to the cellar and showed him two casks of water and bade him drink from the one on the right. "How string do you feel?" she asked. "I could lift this house in the air" he replied. She bade him drink again and asked how string he felt. "Now, I could lift this house with one hand" he replied and she told him the secret of the two casks. The one on the right was Strong Water and gave the drinker great strength. The one on the left was Weak Water and removed the strength of the drinker. She told him to switch the casks and go upstairs and hide in the house. When the Baba Yaga returned, she said to attack her until she fled downstairs and drank from the Weak Water. When her strength had gone, he was to strike her one blow with her own sword and one blow only. Then, and only then, would she be killed.

When the Baba Yaga returned, Little Bear's Son leapt out from hiding and began to wrestle with her. They struggled and struggled but she could not break free, as he had drunk the Strong Water. She fled downstairs and drank from the cask on the right that now contained the Weak Water and was instantly as weak as a kitten. Little Bear's Son took her sword and cut off her head. Immediately, the witch's broom, house and broomstick cried out for him to strike her again, but he said "a brave man never needs to strike twice" and sheathed the sword. He then burned the witch's body and they left for the surface world. On the way, they came to a place where it was raining so hard that the drops were being forced into the ground, so they sheltered under a tree. Little Bear's Son heard cries from high in the tree and saw a nest full of fledglings and that the nest was flooded and the fledglings were about to drown. He climbed the tree and emptied the nest, sheltering the fledglings from the rain until it stopped. They went on their way and reached the hole where his companions still waited. Little Bear's Son put the maiden in a bucket and tied it to the rope and gave it a tug. His companions pulled the rope to the surface and were surprised to find the beautiful maiden. They decided to keep her for themselves and, when they pulled Little Bear's Son to the surface, they cut the rope and let him fall into the Underworld. Little Bear's Son fell and was grievously hurt and the companions returned to their house with the maiden and began to quarrel as to who would wed her.

Little Bear's Son should have been killed but was so strong that he survived. For one day he lay on his back. The next day he lay on his side. The next day he sat on the floor. Then he rose and began walking until a great bird greeted him and thanked him for helping her fledglings and offered to take him to the surface as long as she did not have to land, for as soon as she touched the ground he must get off. Little Bear's Son made a huge basket and put all manner of food in and mounted the great bird. She flew off and grew hungry, swooping down to feed, but Little Bear's Son reached into his basket and gave her some food. After many days flying, they reached the surface and he dressed as a beggar and walked to his companions' house. He saw his maiden tending the garden and asked her why she was there. She explained that the giants had fought over her but none had triumphed, so they decided that she would be their servant until one was proven superior. Little Bear's Son walked up to the door and asked for a drink of water. "We want no beggars here" said Moustache Man, and took a club to beat him with. Little Bear's Son took his own stone club from beneath his cloak and beat each of the giants near to death and sent them back to their original tasks.

Little Bear's Son then married the maiden and they lived happily in the hut in the land of the giants.


[1] This is loosely based on the Russian folk tale "Little Bear's Son".