Brienne and the Bear - an Empires and Puzzles fan fiction story


#1

This is my…fifth? Sixth? Story for the game. Brienne learns from bear spirit and dragon wyrd. Enjoy!!

"She’s certainly quiet, isn’t she?"
Layla glanced over at the fur-clad woman as she and Karil cleaned their weapons. Layla’s shimmering blades glinted in the liminal light as she carefully wiped and sheathed each one.
“Be honest, all I’ve heard her do is grunt,” Karil nodded. “No doubt she can talk, but… not much to say? Not like a nimble purple-clad pixie I could mention.” Layla grinned at the gentle nudge. She and Karil had been friends for a while, and she often jibed him about his drinking as often as he joked about her talkative nature.
“Quiet, she may be,” Bane commented as he joined the conversation, “but it’s her ferocity I admire. Did you feel it? She - " the olive-skinned man paused, trying to find the words. “She has this animal power in her, a kind of rage. When she pulls it up, it’s almost infectious. Next time we’re out there, stick close to her, you’ll feel it.”
“I stick close to her,” Karil whispered to Layla, “I’ll be picking twigs out of my hair.”
“You don’t have any hair, shorty!”
”…not that hair."
Layla paused to consider this, then laughed and swatted her friend on the shoulder. She glanced again over at the fur-clad woman, who had carefully removed the animal skull from her cowl and was holding it with reverence. For a moment it almost looked like she was talking to it.


Brienne grinned to herself as she dashed away from the village school. The young girl knew that book learning, language and history and all that, was important, but it all felt like something that belong to somebody else, somebody else’s life. Let Tarric and Sylvia sit cooped up, learning about things that happened two hundred years ago. Out here in the green forest, the mottled shade and verdant growth, this is where she belonged. Here her spirit was free, vibrant, alive!
Brienne danced along a forest path, looking up at the sunlight breaking through the treetops. A recent rain had left water clinging to leaves and forming puddles in the roots, and Brienne laughed aloud as droplets spilled from an overhanging branch and splashed her cheek.
She skipped over tree roots and ducked under low-hanging limbs, venturing further than she had before. Here the ground was definitely wild, the trees taller than anywhere else she’d seen. She trod more carefully through tangled roots and vines, wet leaves slapping her face.
A break in the trees showed her a small clearing ahead, and in the middle of it, a large white shape laying on the ground. Her curiosity aroused, she stepped closer.
When she broke into the clearing she found a large bear, with white fur and paws as big as dinner plates. The bear was laying on its side, its eyes open and its tongue hanging limp. Brienne had never been this close to a live bear before, and didn’t really know what to do. It was definitely alive, but barely so - its breathing was shallow and ragged, and she saw blood on its muzzle. She stood to get a better look and noticed three large arrows protruding from its flank.
Her eyes narrowed as she looked around - this bear was still alive, so the hunter must be close by - who would do this to such a beautiful animal?! She knelt down again and tried to pull an arrow out, and the bear twitched and turned its head.
…pain…
Brienne jumped back. She hadn’t heard the word, not with her ears, it was more like she felt it, in her mind.
This isn’t weird, she told herself. You’re in the forest. This is your home. This bear is a friend. Listen to her. Brienne shook the uncertainty out of her shoulders and leaned closer.
…let me go…pull them out…
Brienne looked from the bear’s face to the arrows and back.
“These arrows? Pull them out?” She asked. She felt the bear nod, even though the magnificent head never moved. She carefully probed deep down through the thick, blood-matted fur, pressed one hand against the flesh and gripped an arrow shaft with the other, and gently pulled.
In her mind the bear cried out, though Brienne heard no sound. She reached for another, and pulled it free. One last tug and the final arrow came out. Blood welled onto her hand, but she felt the animal relax.
…free…
Brienne had a fleeting mental image of a young white bear loping through the woods, heading toward an oval portal of light between the trees. The light flared as the bear drew closer, and when it faded the creature was gone.
Brienne looked down at the bear under her hand. The body was still, the eyes at peace. She felt a terrible, anguished longing build up inside her, and the young girl cried out aloud as she beat and slapped the bear’s body with her fists.
"Wake up! Wake UP! Oh Mother, why did she have to die? Who killed her? She’s a bear, she’s so beautiful! Why did she die?!!"
For several long minutes, the young girl lay with her head against the bear’s flank, one hand stroking the white fur.
“I love you, bear,” she whispered, "if I ever find the people who hurt you…"
Urda.
Brienne stopped and looked up.
"Who’s there?"
My name is Urda. You freed me, but my spirit remains,
“Mama?” Brienne looked down at the bear, tears stinging her cheeks.
"Urda? Your name is… How are you still talking to me?? You’re…"
Dead? Yes, my body is dead. I live in spirit, a wight.
“Urda…” Brienne repeated the name a few times, looking into the bear’s lifeless eyes, feeling the paw, the fur.
Let my form protect you. Spirit of Urda. Let me walk with you.
Brienne nodded and stood up. She knew what to do, but not how to do it. She drew her small knife and held it out, then stopped.
“I can’t, I… I can’t cut you…” She backed away from the bear, terrified of what it - Urda - was asking her to do.
My gift to you, child. My gift.

Over the next few days, Brienne returned to the bear’s carcass again and again. She made a few tentative cuts, but lost her nerve when she felt the knife dig into bone. Finally she went to find a tanner and brought him to the bear’s carcass, and made him promise not to tell anyone where the body was.
Together they worked on the hide, the tanner talking about bear spirit while he helped her cut the hide loose from the body. After a few hours Brienne held a large, white bear hide in her arms. Ignoring the smell and the gathering flies, she stood and lowered the hide over her shoulders, the giant head over her own. She wrapped the cloak around her body and stood up.
I am here, Brienne. Urda walks with you. I protect my two-legged cub.
Brienne and the tanner took the hide back to the village, and each night she helped him work it into a serviceable cloak.


“Line!” the metal-clad warrior shouted, and four other combatants joined him to face the approaching undead. Despite their shambling, clumsy appearance, the zombies were lethal in their relentless accuracy. Chao knew his fighters would need an edge, something to combat the zombie’s attack.
He knew he could rely on Oberon - despite his unease about working with necromantic forces, he had learned to trust those who swore alliegance to the Stronghold. The tiny dark skinned woman with the whirling blades had proven herself before, besides helping him come to terms with his reservations. But this new woman, in the furs and the dragon skull headpiece, had yet to win his support. She rarely spoke, and when she did it was little more than grunts or the shortest sentence. But Hawkmoon had vouched for her, claiming she had ‘strong medicine’. But Hawkmoon was the respected healer, not this woman in the ripped green leggings and the fur…
The zombies drew closer, and Chao’s soldiers met them with whirling steel. Kelile’s blades spun and black, ichorous blood spilled from shambling bodies.
Chao watched the woman, Brienne, with a calculating eye. She seemed capable with steel, but he knew that every warrior had a unique skill, and she had yet to display her own.
The battle raged on, and Chao found himself losing his edge, his adrenaline. He was halfway to considering retreat, when the woman raised her arms and cried out a strange invocation.
And in the middle of a field of battle at the edge of a cemetery, Chao was suddenly convinced he could smell the fur of a bear. He felt its breath in his lungs, felt its power surging through him. And above that, as if flying over his head, but also flowing through his shoulder blades, he felt the wings and the heartbeat of a… dragon?! In the space of two seconds, everything changed - he was confident, proud, filled with almost-uncontrollable rampant energy, fierce primal strength - but tempered with smooth, inner calm. He was the eye of the storm, at once part of the melee and able to look down on it from above, a detached feeling of engagement. He at once rode the storm, and was very much part of it. He glanced over at Kelile and saw that she felt it too - she shook her arms out and hunkered down, and for an instant it looked as if the rage pounding through her would tear her out of her own skin, a visceral wave of blade and fury.
Chao embraced the berserker rage, let it carry him forward. Suddenly he was moving faster than he knew how, landing blows he would have misjudged before. Chao and the others - including the fur-cloaked bear woman - tore into their opponents, quickly leaving them dazed and decimated on the battlefield.
And just as quickly as it had come, the surging primal wave of fury ebbed away, leaving Chao exhilarated and breathless, sweat beading on his upper lip.
The strange woman lowered her arms and looked at Chao, a steady gaze that met and held his eye.
“That’s your skill?” he asked.
“Power of the bear. Accuracy of the dragon. Berserker animism.” This was the most he’d ever heard her say, and he nodded sagely.
“This fight is not yet won, we have more ahead. Bring your bear, we can use you. That was - different.”
“Your eagle knows the call. Listen to her,” Brienne said as she turned her attention back to her weapons.
“How did that - I’m sorry, I must know,” Chao asked of Kelile, “how did that affect you?”
“My older sister is a dancer,” Kelile said, “I never had the gift for dance. But she used to explain how, after a few rehearsals, dance moves become natural, the body just knows where to go. Muscle memory, she called it. I never understood that before, but this - the fighter’s dance she gave us with her spell, suddenly I knew - my body knew - what to do. My thinking mind went… away. This was my body dancing. I could have done this blindfolded.”
“Brienne,” Chao called, and the woman ambled toward him. She never walked anywhere, she sauntered, as though walking upright were unnatural.
“We move across this ridge,” he said, “and there is a marsh beyond. We may encounter creatures from…”
“Bear walk with me. Dragon walks above me,” she replied, “and you walk the same road. We will be there.”


"I’m hungry."
You should have eaten back at that village.
"I’m not sure if I like… people food anymore. Stew. Cooked meat. Cheese. I am not cheese."
We will find nuts, roots. You need meat. And water.
Brienne nodded, as much to herself as to Urda, and pulled the cloak closer around her shoulders. It had been almost a year since she skinned the bear, and she could not imagine a day without Urda talking into her mind. The animal spirit - the wight - that was Urda, had become her friend, her mentor.
"The forest thins, Urda. Look, we have a river…"
Rivers mean fish. We will eat fish.
"I will eat fish. You will eat spirit of fish."
You offer me food, I take what I need, the essence of it. You have what is left.
"That explains why my sausage cakes taste so bland. You’ve already sucked all the taste out of them!"
Bears are smart.

The forest girl walked along, tracing the edge of the river. Far ahead was a mountain range, and what looked like a castle perched on one of the crags. She wondered briefly at the people who would build a castle so high up a mountain, then returned her attention to the task at hand - food!
As the Rathwood forests dwindled behind her, she saw a plowed field. A field meant food - vegetables growing in nice clean rows. But it also meant farmers, and men with weapons. She was capable - somewhat - with a long knife, but no match for a trained soldier.
Brienne considered her options as she walked the perimeter of a field. It looked like lettuce, tomatoes, maybe carrots? Anything to fill a belly. And keep Urda happy.
She ventured onto the field, stepping over heads of lettuce. A plucked carrot is harder to notice than a plucked head of lettuce! With a knife in her hand, she knelt down to dig a carrot or two from the ground.
Look up
Brienne glanced up to see two men walking towards her, one carrying a shovel and waving it in a threatening manner. She quickly stood and looked around, checking her surroundings. Her comforting trees were too far away, and no cover left or right. Brienne stood her ground, knife clenched in her hand and waited for the attack.
“No forest waif steals from u–” the man started to say, but his words were cut short. Both Brienne and the man’s friend stood and watched dumbly as a blue leathery wings wrapped around the shovel-wielding man. The shovel fell to the ground as he was lifted up, clenched in the talons of a small, nimble dragon. The man wrestled in its grasp and tumbled a dozen feet to the ground, landing heavily on one knee. He howled in pain and drew a small knife from his belt, thrusting wildly into the air.
The other man grabbed the shovel and flailed, striking the dragon’s foot, spinning it on the wing. The small dragon flew up and circled, pulled its wings in and sped down to strike its assailant. The man fell back, talons crushing his shoulder. His weight was apparently more than the small dragon could lift - it let the man fall, but he grabbed a leg and pulled the dragon to the ground as he fell. Both injured men closed on the prone creature, which lashed out with tail and talon.
“Should I help?!” she asked Urda, not sure if she was speaking aloud or thinking the question.
Not yet, watch the dragon. He’ll let you know if he needs help.
Brienne did not know how this fight would end, but she knew without thinking which side she should be on. She leapt up and charged at the man with the broken ankle, thrusting her knife deep into his back while he faced the grounded reptile. He screamed and fell away, and received a slash through the abdomen from the creature’s tail. The other man swung the shovel again, breaking the small dragon’s wing joint. It howled in agony and spun around, limping one wing as it faced the farmer. The dragon and Brienne both leapt at once, and though she didn’t see what happened she felt its breath hot on her leg, angry and bloodied.
In a split second she got an image as if seeing the world from above, looking down. Everything - the people, the fight - was moving slowly, like a dream. She felt as if she could - should - move as fast as lightning. She tasted the dragon’s hot breath in the back of her throat, and felt Urda’s muscle and claws in her own arms. Somehow she melded with the spirit of the dragon and the bear, embracing Urda’s strength and the dragon’s lightning reflexes and wild ferocity.
The man shouted again, thrusting with a boot knife, and Brienne saw the blade pierce the young animal’s hide. She felt the wound as a scrape in her own side, felt tearing flesh. In a detached, serene was she acknowledged that that should probably hurt. The man tore a ragged hole in the dragon’s flesh, grunting with exertion, while Brienne calmly, slowly stood up. In what seemed like an eternity to her, she slowly stood, reached for a fallen knife, pulled the man’s head to one side and casually drew the blade across his neck, severing an artery. He blinked and looked at her as if she’d suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
Blood splashed out and the man collapsed, one hand still clutching the knife and stabbing weakly at the injured dragon.
“Whose side you on, girl?!” the other man lying on the ground cried out, "us or the creature?! That’s the devil that Gray’s little brat let get away!"
Brienne paused to consider his question, and answered him calmly. “The side that owns this land,” she said.
Good answer.
The whirlwind sensation of energy ebbed. The injured dragon, bleeding and limping, and cradling a broken wing, looked from the man to the forest girl and back. It bowed its head to her, then limped to the fallen farmer, staring. Their eyes met in silence for a heartbeat, before it opened its jaws and tore the man’s head from his neck. It turned and limped toward Brienne, and died while she cradled its head in her lap.
She cradled it head, tears stinging her cheeks.
You embraced our wyrd, Urda whispered in her mind. Brienne nodded, only partially comprehending.
You harness the gift. Bear skin. Humans call it berserker. You breathe with our breath.
"I always have."
This dragon fought well, as did you. Honor him as you do me.
"Wings…I should have his wings?"
Remember the tanner’s method. Take the dragon’s skull. Let him watch over you. Let his wight guide you.
“Oh, another wight. Now I have two of you in my head, huh. Getting crowded in here.” Brienne wiped a tear from her eye and tried to smile.
Scrawww …yooby? the dragon’s spirit whispered in her mind.


Scarlett watched as the strange, silent woman set her dragon skull headpiece reverently to one side and shrugged out of her bear-skin cloak. The fight had gone well - between the swordswoman’s flashing blades and the woman’s ferocity influencing the team, they had the vampire and its minions dead or on the run.
“Bane spoke of you, girl,” Scarlett said. The barbarian paused and acknowledged her without looking up. “He said you have a primal way about you, like a rampaging bear. There’s not much to you, under all that fur, but you fight well. We need you.” The red-haired warrior held her hand out, and Brienne took it, pulling herself up. Even with the dragon headpiece she was shorter than Scarlett, but met her gaze with a measured eye.
“Come to the Stronghold with us,” Scarlett said, "we need to regroup and resupply. Meet some of my friends."
They seem to have accepted you, girl. Humans. But have you accepted them?
“We’ll see.”


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