The Bear Princess

From Once Upon a Time When the Princess Rescued the Prince by Rosemary Lake

Long ago there lived a king and queen who had no children. They ruled a splendid kingdom and the queen was famous for her beauty and her long shining golden hair, but still she spent all her time wishing for a child just like herself. Finally her wish was granted; a child was born, a lovely little girl with shining golden hair just like her mother's.

The whole kingdom celebrated, but at the christening the visiting fairies became troubled. It was the custom in those days for the fairies to tell the fortune of the new baby, but this time the fairies just whispered and shook their heads.

"Go on," the king urged them. "Do you see some misfortune for our baby? Have we forgotten to invite someone?"

"Do we need to get rid of all the spindles?" said the queen. "Good riddance, I'd say."

"No," sighed the eldest fairy, "it is not spindles this time. We are not sure what strange fate is in store for Princess Preziosa. Only, in spite of all the riches of your palace, it seems that she will find her fortune alone in the woods."

"Wearing nothing but a fur coat," aped the youngest fairy; but everyone immediately shushed her, saying it's not nice to wear fur. "Unless you're an animal," said the youngest fairy.

"Oh, hush!"

Since there were no prohibitions to be broken, everyone soon forgot the prophecy--except for one old nurse, a little gray lady, who took care of the princess while she was a baby, and as she grew up continued to visit and bring her lotions and perfumes and dress her golden hair.

When Princess Preziosa was almost grown, a tragedy struck the kingdom. The queen fell ill, and the best doctors of the world could not save her life. As she lay dying, her mind wandered, and she said to the king, "Promise me that no other woman will sit on my throne, unless she has golden hair just like mine."

In his grief, the king made the promise; and the queen died content.

Soon the state ministers said to the king: "By our laws, only a son or grandson of the king can inherit the kingdom. It is your duty to marry again so that you can have a son to be your heir."

Sadly the king agreed. "I will choose a new queen. But I will not break the vow I gave my dear wife. The new queen must have golden hair just like hers."

With this the ministers had to be content.

So the king searched for a new queen. He held a contest of beauty, calling all the women of the kingdom to parade before him. But none had such golden hair, so began to despair of keeping his vow.

Then he caught a glimpse of a young woman in the shadows, lEting down long golden hair that fell to her feet. "It is my dead wife come alive again," he shouted, running to her. "Guards! Light all the candles! Mademoiselle, come to the throne room at once!"

"Of course, Father," said Preziosa, for she was the golden-haired young woman. "Is something wrong?"

At this, the poor king went quite mad. "Preziosa, only you have golden hair like your mother's. You must sit on the queen's throne. You must marry my old servant and immediately have a son to be my heir. I will continue in charge, and you will ALL do exactly as I tell you."

Preziosa got mad. "Change the law, and I will be your heir myself. But I will not be your puppet! And I will not marry anyone just to produce a grandson for you!"

"Yes, you will!" shouted the king. "You are my daughter, and you will follow my commands."

"No, I won't!" shouted Preziosa. She ran and locked herself in her room and cut off all her hair.

Just as she finished, the old nurse knocked at her door. Preziosa let her in.

"Whatever have you done?" the nurse said, seeing the long golden tresses all over the floor.

"My father wants a blonde puppet for the throne! He can take this hair and stuff it!" And the princess told her everything.

The nurse hugged her and comforted her. "You are right, this is terrible!"

"I feel like running away," said Preziosa. "But where could I go? The whole kingdom knows me."

The old nurse mused, "Maybe this is the time to follow the prophecy."

"What prophecy?" said Preziosa.

So the nurse told her what the fairies had prophesied.

"Find my fortune in the woods, alone...?" Preziosa mused. "That would be a nice change! But how would I survive?"

"As an animal, no one would recognize you, and you could eat berries and such.... Is there an animal you would like to be?"

Preziosa grinned. "A big bear! Twice as big as my father!"

The old nurse took a small wooden hair clip out of her pocket. "Put this in your hair. You can change back and forth as often as you like."

"Are you serious?" Preziosa sat down on the bed and fastened her hair with the clip.

Immediately she saw her hands and feet turn into black bear paws. Then the bed collapsed. She scrambled up and looked in the mirror and almost screamed at the sight of a great black bear in the miple of her pink and white room. Then she clawed the clip off and stared at the mirror till she had changed all the way back to normal.

"Well?" said the nurse.

"This is great!" Preziosa hugged her, then sighed, looking around at the luxurious chamber she would have to leave: the lacy curtains, the thick rugs, the satin bedspread. Then she looked at the broken bed and laughed. "I suppose a bear will be quite comfortable in the woods without any bed at all."

"That is my brave girl! But I hear the king coming." The old woman slipped away just in time.

The king pounded on the door. "Come on! I have scheduled the weping in one hour!"

Preziosa put out all but one candle. "Stuff it."

The king burst into the room. "That is a royal command!"

In the shadows, Preziosa put the clip in her hair, and watched her hands turn to bear paws.

"Come at once and be married!" shouted the king.

"Grrr," said the princess.

"Don't be silly," said the king, who was somewhat nearsighted. "Take off that fur coat and put on a white dress."

"Grrrrrrrrrr," said the princess.

"I must have a grandson before the year is out."

"GGGRRRRRRRRRRR!!!" said the princess, and stepped into the light.

The king was so scared he immediately hid under the broken bed.

Preziosa the Bear stalked out of the room and down the hall, her claws scratching the polished marble floors, and out of the palace. All the servants, the nobles, the guards, and the soldiers ran from her.

Preziosa the Bear stalked through the garden and climbed over the wall, then walked all night through the cool moonlight, far away into the peaceful forest. She found a mossy hollow to sleep in, and indeed as a bear she was quite warm and comfortable with no bed or quilt except her own heavy bear-fur.

Next morning Preziosa the Bear explored the forest glade. At first the smaller animals who lived there ran away from her just as the nobles in the palace had done. But soon she learned to walk gently with her bear-feet and soften her bear-growl, so eventually they lost their fear and became quite tame.

The smaller animals grew to love her. They led her to a hollow tree to make her home. The birds showed her the sweetest fruit, the moles found truffles for her, the bees built their hive in her glade and shared their honey with her, and the small furry ones slept around her feet. In turn, she protected the animals and trees from hunters and woodcutters, and all lived happily together.

After a while Preziosa the Bear lost her memories of her old life as a human. She loved the bear-life: the fresh fruit, the living flowers all around, the warm animal friends.

Then one day the prince of a neighboring kingdom strayed into the glade. When he saw Preziosa the Bear looming over him, he froze in surprise. "Excuse me, good bear, and I will just leave very quickly," he said, backing away. "Gooood bear, niiiiice bear...."

His kind face and gentle voice attracted her. Carefully, as carefully as she had tamed the smaller animals, she approached him, wagging her tail, and putting her head under his hand to be petted.

The prince also quickly began to act tame and even scratched her behind the ears. "What a good bear you are," he said. "Beautiful bear, sweet bear. But I must go home now. Would you like to come with me?"

Preziosa the Bear liked this strange tall animal so much that she followed him home.

When they reached his forest castle, the prince, whose name was Jerome, led her to a beautiful marble pavilion in the garden and told his servants, "This bear is very special. Serve her just as you would me." Soon all the servants of the castle became her friends, and she visited often and spent more and more of her time in the castle garden.

One day when Preziosa the Bear was resting all alone by the prince's lily pond, the wooden clip happened to fall out of her fur.

At once she turned into a beautiful golden-haired princess (for it had been time for her hair to grow long again). "Oh, dear," she thought, looking at her reflection in the pool, "what is wrong with me? Where is my nice black fur?" Because of course she had forgotten all about her life as a human.

Just then Jerome happened to look down from his tower window and saw in his pool the reflection of a strange golden-haired woman wandering around in his garden. He ran to a balcony and vaulted over the railing, landing at Preziosa's feet just as she put the clip back in her hair and turned into a bear again. But in his haste he had plunged through a thick canopy of roses and wounded his eyes.

The prince caught only a glimpse of the transformation, and could not believe it. Stunned, he sank to the ground.

Concerned, the bear bent over him and gently licked his face.

Just then the prince's mother came into the garden and saw the prince lying on the ground with the bear bending over him. "What have you done to the prince?" she screamed. "Servants, slay that bear!"

Preziosa the Bear ran back to the forest and the servants chased her. She did not want to hurt them, so she hid for a while and then went home to her glade. Her animal friends were very glad to see her, and she soon resumed her wild bear-life there. But she missed Jerome, and every day she would take the clip from her fur, look at her fair skin and golden hair, and wonder what it all meant.

Now, when the queen's servants had chased the bear from the garden, as soon as they were out of sight of the queen, they had said to each other: "That bear is tame, she would not hurt the prince. Let her go."

"But the queen ordered us to slay her." So the servants went back and lied to the queen, saying that they had slain the bear.

When the Jerome heard this, he jumped out of bed like a madman and was about to make mincemeat of the servants. Just in time they whispered the truth to him: "Your bear is alive in the forest."

Then the prince jumped on his horse and, forgEting his injury, rode back and forth through the forest for days and nights, nights and days, till finally he found the bear's glade again. "Please come back with me," he coaxed, "please, dear bear, goooood bear. My mother is sorry, and the servants would never have really harmed you."

So Preziosa the Bear went back to Jerome's garden, but she was careful never to take out the hair clip again, since it had caused so much trouble before. She remained in bear-form, and the prince, remembering his golden-haired vision, sank deeper and deeper into love-sickness, till finally his injury worsened and he became quite ill.

In his illness the prince would not accept any food or nursing, or any physician except the bear. Finally his mother had his bed carried to the garden pavilion, and the bear took charge of his care. Her animal friends brought him herbs, fresh fruits, and honey. Soon the prince was as good as new, and his mother thanked the bear and gave her a hug.

Jerome asked the bear, "May I kiss you too, please?"

Shyly she noped. He kissed her and kissed her again, so hard and so many times that finally the wooden clip fell out of her hair. There in his arms she changed into a beautiful woman.

"My dear girl, what is this?" said the prince's mother. "Why were you disguised as a bear? Are you in trouble?"

Now Preziosa's memories came back, and she told them the whole story.

"You did exactly the right thing!" said his mother.

The prince said, "Will you marry me?"

Preziosa agreed, and then and there they knelt down before his mother and she gave them her blessing. They sent for the old nurse to come and live in their castle, and Preziosa and Jerome were married in a splendid weping in the pavilion, with all the animals from the glade in attendance.

Soon after, the Queen gave them her kingdom to rule, but they all continued living in the castle by the forest, in great joy and gladness for the rest of their lives.

The End

Expanded from 'The She-Bear' in the Pentameron.--RL

This story is from Once Upon a Time When the Princess Rescued the Prince, copyright 1996 by Mary Ezzell. All Rights Reserved.

Back to the Story Index