In contrast to the last wakeful hours of bliss and beauty, Bear's dreams dropped darkly. The images fell in jagged pieces. Bear transformed back into a man, and he looked around at a world that was dim and cloudy and hung with dark smoke. There was a jostling movement, and when he focused more clearly, he realized that he was riding a horse along a twisting trail across a high mountain pass. There were others with him, voices and tinglings of bells, and carts pumping over rocks and gravel. Children whimpered. He looked behind and saw a distant valley with a dozen lakes. Along the shore of the largest lake nestled a village.
The village was burning.
Another figure pulled up alongside on a dapple pony. His manner was of great urgency. At that moment the dream took on its own complete identity. Thunder roared.
"Nightfall will give us cover," blared Erin, the Village Ophir. "But we have to hurry. The man-folk be a catchin' wi' intent to finish us all off." Erin removed his hat and smoothed back his hair, pushing the long golden locks behind his pointed elfin ears.
"I. . . I don't know," barked the rider on the massive war horse. "I feel very weak and can't seem to think that straight."
"Aye! Ye spent th' day-through in fierce battle. If it hadn't been for ye, our whole kind would've surely been gone from th' earth forever."
"It may happen yet," replied the weary rider. "Our progress is slow. I think you are going to have to use your spells."
The wind suddenly came up with a gust. Drops of rain began to fall.
"But we have a great love fer this world," Erin shrieked through the gale.
"It's changing fast," the rider shouted back. "You may be the last tribe of wee folk."
"But if we use the power, we'll never be able to return. And this world will be bleached of magic." At the sound of hooves approaching, the little man spun in his saddle. "They be comin'! What do we do?"
The rider spied ahead and beheld a craggy pass. He drew his sword. "Get all the wagons over that yonder ridge. From the sound of the hooves there are two or three horsemen. I'll try to hold them off!"
Three great burly Celts charged up the path on stocky ponys. In their hands they swung battle axes. The rider met them with a great clash, his sword whirring. But the Celts pressed the larger horse perilously close to a steep cliff.
Then there was falling. . . down. . . down. . .
"Bear! Wake up! Wake up quick!"
Bear felt little fingers pulling at his ears. Hard! His eyes popped open. "O'migosh! I am falling!"
Leah gripped Bear's ears trying to stop the plunge. "Fly, Bear, flyyy!"
Bear had no time at all to doubt; therefore, his fall stopped abruptly. The two floated in the air. Behind them towered a huge mountain.
Bear croaked, "what happened?"
Leah, winging on the breeze in front of him, explained, "that cloud ran into something. I had just waked up and was stretching, when boom! The cloud hit something invisible. It got all smashed up on one end, tipped over and dumped us off. Sure was a good thing I was awake! I can't believe, Bear, that you can sleep right through falling!"
He hugged Leah in mid-air. "I was stuck in a nightmare. Gosh am I glad you woke me up. I wouldn't want to hit bottom! They say that if you hit bottom. . ."
Leah interrupted."Look down there." She pointed to the top boughs of a sugar pine; its crown branches cradled a nest, not an ordinary nest - a giant nest. "Let's fly down there and see if anybody's home. Maybe they have food. I am totally hungry!"
With her usual determination Leah zipped off. It took Bear a while before he followed. He still felt awkward at flying, but it was getting a little easier now that he had given up on doubt. Leah flew so naturally, like a hummingbird. So far Bear had flown straight up and then flew straight down. Now he had to perfect his technigue so he could follow Leah to yonder nest where she scrounged for food. Bear chuckled inwardly. He had just had the fright of his life, and Leah was hungry! At last he hovered all right. He flapped his front paws to get his nose pointed around in the proper direction, but how would he get over there? Could it be like swimming? Sweeping paws in a breast stroke, he kicked legs like a frog. The method worked sort of, but by the time he raked his way over to the nest he was exhausted.
When Bear touched down Leah was already busy. She was examining a note. "Here, Bear," she squinched her nose, "would you try reading this for me? I can't figure it out. The handwriting is awful."
Trying to catch his breath, Bear took the note, squinting eyes. It read:
"Dear friends. Please make yourselves at home, I have to go up to Clear Peak to work on my new mountain nest-- Sincerely, Crow."
Bear examined the date on the note. The date read, "day-before-yesterday."
"Oh, oh," clucked Bear, "I'm afraid Crow might be trapped inside the force field."
Puzzled, Leah asked, "Bear, tell me again what a 'force field' is. I forgot." ·
"Er. . . look up at that mountain, Leah. Do you see anything weird?"
"Well," mused Leah, "it looks covered with a green light or something."
"That is the 'force field'. That is what our cloud bumped into, and also the reason that Crow hasn't come back. I'm afraid he might be trapped inside."
Leah scoffed. "But it's only a light. I don't see how that can trap anybody, especially a bird."
Bear attempted to explain. "You see, there is a kind of wound up there with a scab to protect itself. Only the scab is made up of energy--that's my guess. I'm sure we'll find out pretty soon, because it's our mission to break through."
"That seems easy, Bear. Right now I'm hungry." Leah went over to raid Crow's icebox.
Crow's nest looked quite nice - tastefully furnished. The decor suggested Crow to be a bachelor-type. A complete kitchen was equipped with a red porcelain stove and cabinets filled with hand-thrown stoneware dishes. On the opposite end of the ample nest was a screened bedroom, silk linen with monograms, and around further a den, complete with lounge chair, sofa and music box. Also Crow owned a large collection of music discs. The final touch was gold and silver framed portraits of relatives--all crows of course.
Leah had discovered a cache of cream cheese, crackers and strawberry jam, and Bear joined her for lunch at the oak dining table. They were both busily munching when a loud knock sounded at the base of the tree.
"Haloo! Is anybody up there," a voice sounded.
Leah would not be sidetracked from her crackers and jam, so Bear excused himself from the table to look down over the rim of the nest. Far below stood a rather perky, dapperly dressed beaver.
"Haloo up there," again hollered the beaver. He held a familiar basket. "I'm looking for the owner of this stray purse."
Bear's thoughts whirled. The basket! Last night he had secured Shianna's going-away gift under a fold of cloud before he had fallen asleep.
Bear shouted back, "yessir, that is ours!"
The beaver saluted. "Be right up. I'll use the trusty limb elevator."
Observing with much curiosity Bear had never seen, a what, a limb elevator before. It proved to be a wonder of forest technology. Scooting over to a particular limb Beaver hopped up to cling. He then knocked stoutly on the tree exactly three times, and the branch with Beaver began to rise.
"May I introduce myself, my name is Benjamin Beaver. Here is my card." The card indicated him to be a master wood carver, cabinet maker and sculptor also chairman of the local craft guild.
Bear shook paws with Beaver. "Good to meet you," he said,"I'm ol' Bear, and the little girl at the table is Leah."
Leah leapt when she spied the basket. "My basket, drat! I always lose things."
"This is Mr. Beaver," said Bear.
"Hi," said Leah, "nice to meet you."
Beaver politely delivered over the basket. He was about to shake hands with the girl when he noticed that her hands were pretty sticky with strawberry jam, so instead he patted her affectionately on the head. He bowed. "I am ever so happy that I found the owner, as I am well aware of the value of its contents. I myself am an avid collector of rare bubbles. Upon examination of the bubbles herein I determined them to be the handiwork of the great Queen Shianna. I immediately tapped my tail on a log and telegraphed a message through the forest. The reply was quick and urgent. Thus I do know of your mission here. I'm more than willing to assist you."
Bear invited the newcomer to the table. Beaver seated himself and lit his hand fashioned pipe. Bear sat alongside to chat. Leah returned to lunch.
Bear spoke, "then you must know of the force field and the crack . . .oh what a dumb thing to say . . . here you live right at the base of the mountain. . ."
Beaver leaned forward and replied with sullen tone, "luckily I stumbled upon the mysterious field of energy almost the very moment it formed. In fact I barely escaped serious injury."
After a mild shiver Bear exclaimed, "did you say, 'injured'?"
Beaver held up a paw. "Let me explain. Day before yesterday, I was at the foot of the mountain looking for a perfect log for my sculpture. My search took me over to the base of Misty Falls. Of course I expected good log there as some of the finest washes over from higher on Clear Peak."
Leah interrupted, "where did you find my basket?"
"Oh pardon me, my little Lady. Actually I'm getting to that; I will shortly provide a complete explanation."
Leah humphed, but tried her best to remain patient, even if she would have to tolerate more explanations.
Beaver took a long puff on his pipe, then continued, "it was an awe inspiring, glorious day at the falls so I determined to rough out my sculpture on the spot. It was about a twenty-meter log lying parallel to the stream. I chose to start on the downstream end and work up. I was intensely involved with my art when a sudden burst of light snapped my concentration. Several moments passed before I could collect my wits; however, my task lay unfinished so I went right back to work."
"About halfway up the log as I was preparing to take a major chomp why my two front teeth struck and glanced off something extremely hard. It was indeed the designated force field. As you might imagine I was scared half to death. I almost broke a tooth. Of course my teeth are some of the most respected teeth in the whole guild. It would have been a calamity! I was very lucky, indeed!"
Beaver displayed his handsome teeth.
Again Leah broke the train of speech by asking, "but what about my basket?"
"Oh, yes," stated Beaver, "the basket fell early this morning when a huge nimbus cloud smashed against the force field and tipped over. Why that wee container, it almost bonked my poor wife, Beatrice, on the head. Barely missed."
More worried than ever Bear gulped. "That force field up there. It's real hard, huh?"
Beaver sucked on his pipe. "Extremely hard," he coughed, "and there is a second problem. . ."
"What? What is that," croaked Bear.
"Everything inside it including misty falls is solidly frozen."
Leah stated flatly, "then we will have to take plenty of candles."
Beaver questioned, "candles? Whatever for?"
Leah rolled her eyes. "To thaw everything out including poor Crow."