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The Islander and the Bear

On the island of Grimsey it happened one winter that the fire died, so that none could be lit in any farmhouse there. The weather was still, but the frost so severe that the sound was frozen and men could walk across.

The islanders now decided to send men to the mainland to fetch fire, and for this task they chose the three stoutest fellows on the island.

These three set off early in the morning, under a clear sky, and a crowd of islanders followed them out onto the ice, to see them on their way and wish them a safe journey and speedy return.

Nothing is told of their journey until they were about halfway across the sound. Here they came upon a large strip of open water, stretching so far to either hand that they could see no end to it, and so wide that only two of them just managed to jump across, while the third dared not risk the attempt.

His comrades now told him to return to the island, while they continued on their way, and so he stood at the edge of the ice and watched them go. He had no choice but to turn back; but first he decided to follow the open water and see whether it might not be narrower at one point than elsewhere. As the day advanced, however, it became overcast. Then a southerly wind sprang up,bringing rain.

The ice now began to break up, and before long the man found himself on a fragment drifting towards the open sea.

Later that evening, though, the fragment drifted against a large sheet of floe-ice, and the man crossed over to it. Then before him, a short distance away, he saw a she-bear lying on the ice with her cubs. By this time he was cold and hungry, and to these was now added fear for his life.

When the bear saw the man, she gazed at him for a while. Then she got to her feet, came up to him, and walked all round him. After that, she made him understand that he was to lie down in her lair with the cubs. He did so, but with some hesitation. Then the bear lay down over him, giving him her teats to suck with the cubs. And so the night went by.

The next day the creature stood up, walked a short way from the lair, and made the man understand that he was to follow. When he came to her, out on the ice, she lay down before him and offered her back to be mounted. Then, with the man astride her, she stood up and started to shake herself and twist, until he fell off. Of this game there was no more for the time, though the man wondered greatly at it.

Three days now passed, and each night the man lay in the bear’s lair and she gave him suck, while each morning she made him mount on her back and shook herself until he could no longer keep his seat.

On the fourth morning, however, the man was able to hold himself on the bear’s back no matter how much she shook. And later that same day she set off with him on her back to swim to the island.

When they came to Grimsey, the man went ashore and beckoned to the bear to follow him. He then walked ahead of her to his house and to the cowshed, where he had his best cow milked forthwith, and gave the fresh milk to the bear, for her to drink as much as she would. After this, he went to the sheepshed, took two of his finest rams, and slaughtered them. Then he bound them together by the horns and laid them across the bear’s back.

The bear now returned to the sea and swam back to her cubs.

There was great rejoicing on Grimsey just then, for while the islanders stood gazing in wonder after the bear, they saw a boat coming from the mainland and running before the wind to the island. And they knew that these were the men bringing back the fire.