The Pale Bear

Surprised, John looks at the hunched figure in the dusty cloak that sits on the floor outside his front door. He had left work a little early today for errands and dinner. Finding this figure here in the city is quite unexpected.

“Will!” John shouts from a distance, “What brings you here? Did you miss our company? Or did Edith spin your head?” When he looks up, Will sees a broadly smiling face above him. The short nap, waiting for John or Edith, whoever would appear first, actually only made him more tired. Still, he manages to get up with a smile and place a hand on John’s shoulder. “Don’t drive an old man crazy, huh? There’s enough to worry about already!” That too is unexpected for John. Will always seemed to lead a carefree life. John sees that something is wrong. Making a serious face, he takes the hermit by the arm and helps him inside.

Once in the house, comfortably in an armchair and with a cup of steaming tea in his hands, Will seems to relax a bit. John leaves him alone. In any case, it’s better to wait a while until Edith is there too, so Will has to share his story only once. In the meantime, John cleans up and prepares dinner. Soon, spicy cooking odors fill the tiny house, and when he glances at his guest, he sees Will has dozed off. What has carried him away from the forest? The gang of robbers has long been chased out or imprisoned. Would there be such a danger again? Before, Will hadn’t been afraid of such gangs: there was nothing to get from the hermit anyway. When Edith comes home, notices their guest, and looks at John with questioning eyes, he shrugs. First let’s have some food, and he leaves it to Edith to wake the sleeping man with a warm greeting.

Will is silent during the meal. Other than a few questions about how they’re doing in town, and some good-natured gossip Edith picked up, it’s quiet. After the simple meal, Edith presents coffee, and they sit in the living room waiting for Will to start his story.
“Tupin has appeared… He is now looting some farms on the edge of the forest!”
Tupin? The pale bear? Here in the woods? He was in the cold Ciberforest, wasn’t he? John still remembers well that the villagers, together with residents of other villages and farmers in the area, sometimes went out with dogs, armed with knives and especially a lot of pans and lids. They used it to make noise to scare away scavenging bears. Usually these were young bears, who had not yet realized how the balance between humans and animals worked, and were drawn to the rich harvest, beehives and poultry of the vast farms. That chase was normally a harmless pastime, because the bears actually preferred to be in the shelter of the forest more than in the open meadows and fields. But Tupin? The legendary bear, who would look like a huge faded gray monster, didn’t come that close, did he? He was the Lord of the Ciberforest, far away from Landsgate.
Wil sees the confusion among the young people in front of him. It’s time for a little more explanation…

“What do you know about Ciberforest?” Will asks the young couple. They frown for a moment, but since it is Will who asks such a question, they shrug their shoulders. Not much is known about what goes on there, it’s just too far away. Now Will knows that he needs to elaborate a bit more in order to correctly represent the context of the current events. That is important for a good understanding. He seems to be dreaming away s bit when he starts talking.

“The Ciberforest and the wasteland beyond it are old, ancient even. It’s also huge, and it’s home to many people and animals. But because it’s so vast, you’ll seldom come across a living being there when you travel. The forest is treacherous, it is very cold for large parts of the year and it is a struggle for everyone to survive, making people and animals hardy, even cruel, and failing to build anything like Landsgate. There are some cities there, but due to the lack of mineral resources, the low level of development and the constant struggle for existence, these are rather poor. However, that seemed to change somewhat in recent years.” Will takes a sip of his coffee, thinks for a moment, and then continues his story.
“The cruelty of the inhabitants of the Ciberforest has resulted in there always being some kind of oppression. I do not believe that there was ever a situation where there was freedom, as we know it here. There always was a dictator, in whatever form, who collected money and power for himself and his friends, and who rewarded criticism and commentary with sentences in isolated prison camps or simply with death. That’s why it is a somewhat obscure area for us, from which we intuitively know that we don’t want to be there.”
John remembers something from school: “And D-khan? Wasn’t he from Ciberforest too?”
Will smiles, because he always knows how to tell his stories in such a way that people think more profound about things. John was right: “Indeed! D-khan was such a dictator too. He saw the prosperity in the countries around him, and decided to steal some of it. He unleashed a huge war, and his hordes flooded the neighboring countries with death and violence. He didn’t make very much profit though, because most of the treasure he had to give away to stay in power. And even that didn’t work in the end. Later came a series of other rulers, all called Sarian. They were not as cruel and warlike, yet they enriched themselves at the expense of others, and were eager to have a lot of land. Recently there were Ninle and Lastin , dangerous and very brutal. All those dictators did everything to stay in control, to show that they were great and powerful, even if many forest dwellers had to die for that. The stories they told were all lies in the end, and only intended as propaganda to make people believe in something to justify the situation.”
Edith shudders at the thought. Also in the countries around Landsgate the rulers used to fight among themselves, if this could distract the people from internal problems. Suffering and deprivation throw man back on the primary needs, and give no room for critical signals. Even in Landsgate, a city where many freedoms were allowed, it sometimes seemed as if a common enemy was being sought to divert attention from thorny issues.

Will takes a deep breath before continuing. “Actually, not much has changed in the Ciberforest in all those centuries. Life is still hard and the climate is relentless. The law of the fittest still applies there. In the meantime, the surrounding countries developed prosperously. There, attention is paid to knowledge, technology and philosophy. Artists are encouraged to make beautiful sculptures and paintings, and architecture also shows that functionality and beauty can go alongside with each other. The Ciberforest looked, and still looks, with envy at what was possible elsewhere in the world. At the edges of the forest, more and more people started living like their wealthy neighbors. They became farmers, and cut pieces of forest to make meadows and fields. They quickly got better too. And that stimulates others to follow their example. You understand that such a thing is seen as a threat to the power of the Ciberforest rulers. That is why they have always been rebellious, trying time and again to disturb things.”
John thinks again of those bears that were chased away. “But don’t bears regularly come here for raids? And we are far from Ciberforest.” Will laughs, and replies: “Yes, but that’s harmless. Those bears are smart enough to know what their limits are, and how they can benefit from living together. The young bears have to learn the limits, so they sometimes behave cheeky. You can’t compare them to the real Ciberforest dwellers.”

Will looks longingly at his empty cup. Edith gets the hint, and pours fresh coffee for everyone. When everyone has taken a sip, Will continues his story.
“The current ruler is Tupin , the pale bear because he roars so loudly, but otherwise is a colorless creature. Unlike that other ex-dictator, Rumpy, who openly beckons to the Ciberforest. Rumpy is a lot more colorful, but just as unreliable. He only wants to make money from the Ciberforest, but as there is nothing to get, such an attitude only arouses resentment. The luxury and prosperity that is out of reach only becomes more irresistible. And that is exactly why Tupin shakes up things now, leaves the Ciberforest, and overruns and destroys the new farms on the outskirts. He’s pretending to give that land back to the forest, as if to protect the peasants and farm workers from the temptation of wealth, but they never asked for his intervention, and now only have to deal with death and destruction.”
John interrupts the story: “He may be big, bigger than other bears, but he’s just a bear after all? Why not with a lot of people and dog packs to chase him back?” Will looks up in surprise for a moment, and then realizes that Tupin is more of a legend than reality in these parts. “I should have known you don’t know the truth. You take ‘the pale bear’ quite literally, but it’s just a nickname for a flesh-and-blood man. Just like those other dictators before him. They call him a bear, because he has huge armies that obey him, but he himself is a small man. Smart, but not an imposing personality. His power lies in oppression, as has been the case throughout the history of Ciberforest.” Will lets that message get through to John and Edith, who look a bit embarrassed because they had believed in some kind of fairy tale. “Unlike bears, Tupin also knows very well that barking dogs don’t bite. In other words, as long as all the towns and villages only talk about supporting the affected farms, and half-heartedly threaten to intervene, he can do his thing. People flee the areas under threat, and take the turmoil with them. At first, I was on my way in the Ciberforest, but eventually I had to turn back because of the danger.” When the memories overtake him, Will is silent for a moment.

John and Edith look at each other. What should you answer to that? Is the story actually finished? And if the threat is so strong, are they safe in Landsgate? Or do they have to move on, in search of better places. They can also return to their village to help with possible problems. As gloomy thoughts circulate, a few minutes pass. Then Will speaks again.

“You will be safe here for the time being. The further away Tupin is from home, the weaker he becomes. Not only the farmers in the border areas suffer from the war, his own civilians and soldiers are also having a harder time. In Ciberforest more protests are rising, and cities are refusing to give up troops. Which brings me to the next point: why Tupin undertakes such a campaign in the first place.”
“Tupin pretends he wants to restore Ciberforest ‘s old power, but that’s just propaganda for his own people. Ciberforest is mighty because it’s so big, but it’s never been a real superpower. The area has relatively little potential, and unless much more is invested in the people and in freedom, development will always lag behind the rest of the world. But Tupin is old-fashioned, and he can’t think of different, more progressive ways. While the surrounding areas are getting richer and more prosperous, the Ciberforest is getting poorer. Or no, that’s not right… nothing changes there, it just remains the same difficult environment to live in. Everywhere in Ciberforest, however, there are people who travel around and receive messages about what prosperity is possible. This also creates more and more movements that go against Tupin and his authority. Which he tries to suppress, of course, but the amount of information has become too large by now. He imposes restrictions, censors newspapers, but it is actually too late. What Tupin really fears is that he will be deposed by younger ambitious people, lose all his privileges, and possibly be killed if all his manipulations come to light. With a war he wants to show that he is still a great leader, that Ciberforest is a force to be reckoned with. At the same time, this war diverts attention from internal problems in the country, and if the surrounding countries unite, he will proclaim that as a confirmation of his propaganda.”

That’s information that John needs to process. It’s as if a new world is opening up to him. He already knew that people play games, sometimes cheat each other, and violate the truth as it suits them best. But that this could take such extreme forms seemed almost impossible to him. He would like to hear more about why Tupin came in this direction, and how Wil can be so sure about all this. Answering that is no problem for the old hermit.
“On the other side of Ciberforest is the land of the Great Dragon. And the Pale Bear is terrified of this Dragon, who has great power in that part of the world. The Dragon bites before it talks. On the other hand, the citizens over here do not react so quickly. They first want to talk, consult others, know what the pros and cons are of an approach. Then you can start making progress with your conquest with impunity. But on this side too, if all unite the ranks, a force comes alive that resists and pushes back Tupin. He only hopes that this confirms exactly what his propaganda keeps saying about our areas. Meanwhile, the borders around Ciberforest are closed, and the inhabitants receive even less of the goods they want. This will increase the internal discontent, and with it the opposition to Tupin’s campaigns.”

“After I met you,” Will continues, “I went to Ciberforest. Partly out of curiosity, and partly because I also considered traveling to the land of the Great Dragon. But once I crossed the forest border, I noticed how big the problems are over there. The suppression prevents a government decision from being laughed at, let alone the possibility of fair elections or asking questions about the state of affairs. A few acquaintances I met there, fled quickly, when they still could. Many people drink too much alcohol, probably to escape reality. Men act like machos, and women…. They survive by throwing all their charms into battle. It’s not a pleasant society there, and the thought of having to travel through it for a few months really irked me so much that I’ve retraced my steps. I’ll choose another challenge for my old brain!”

Then there is silence. Everyone is busy with their own thoughts. Despite the reassurance that it is still safe in Landsgate, a certain unrest prevails, as if in the distance an evil genius is planning to disrupt your ordered life. And for what? Preservation, ego, money and power? Edith gets up to prepare a place to sleep for Will. John helps, and clears out some things before all three of them lay down to rest.

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