The huge beast reared up on its back legs, growling, claws flailing in the air. The beast strained at it’s leash, a huge chain clamped around one ankle. Jim watched the crowd surge backwards then forwards, people jostling for a view, faces caught between amazement and terror. Not in their wildest dreams had they seen anything like this. Jim had never seen anything like this. Magnificent snow white. Bear-like, only bigger than any Jim had seen, and he’d seen a few over the years.
The odd bit of beef wasn’t the only perk of guarding the tower. There was the uniform, or rather the way wenches flocked around him in the coach and horses inn when he was wearing it. And the animals. Not the ravens. They creeped Jim out with their beady black eyes, always watching. Jim felt on edge with the ravens, spying on him, waiting for him to slip up so they could report back to the master. The peacocks were his favourite, royal, if ever an animal was. Proudly strutting the grounds, with glorious tail feathers fanned out on display. The lion, his majesty’s predictable favourite, they all stick together those Kings.
Jim thought these foreigners had worked the king out. You want to get in Henry III’s good books, give him a beast. The stranger the better. It’s alright for the King, he doesn’t have to look after the bloody things, and woe betide if any of them die. You just better pray its not your watch.
To think of all the times as a young lad he’d gone poaching with his father, desperate for food. They would’ve been hung if caught. He had learned never to waste an arrow, his father’s beatings had taught him that. He wondered what the old goat would think of him now, guarding the Kings finest.
The beast with beautiful white fur. A present from some country off in the north. Huge paws, with giant claws like curved knives, ready to tear off a mans face if he got too close. Soft black eyes and a moist nose, gave a sense of vulnerability, soon forgotten whenever the beast gave a ferocious roar, revealing its mouth full of carnivorous teeth.
They didn’t know what to do with it at first. Red wine and red meat, who would complain at that? Just seemed to send the beast into some sort of lethargy, wilting in the english sun, slowly fading from existence. No one dare tell him, the King. The master had sent word to Norway, asking for help, praying it arrived in time.
That’s how Jim ended up by the river. He didn’t know whether he was guarding the Polar bear from the crowds or the crowds from the bear. People were fascinated, they had never seen such a thing, certainly not chained to a post in the middle of London. To great relief, hunting fish in the Thames had seemed to bring the beast back to life. God knows how anything from that sludgy old river, full of sewage, would bring anything back to life but it did.
The beast would stand in the river, watching, waiting, then with surprising quickness strike a huge paw down into the water. A fish flipped out of the water, would rotate in the air, falling to a quick end in the beast’s jaws. The crowd cheered at each catch. The beast had waded in as far as the chain would stretch, striving to reach the bigger fish that lurked in deeper waters. Clawing at the chain to no avail, the beast strained forward using all it’s might. The chain taught, unbreakable.
All of a sudden the beast fell forward, resistance gone, as the post flew out of its berth on the riverbank and landed with a splash into the water. The crowd stilled. Gasped into a nervous silence. The beast sensing opportunity began furiously swimming out to the centre of the Thames.
JIm sighed. Why on his watch? The change of guard was due soon, would it bloody wait? no! He felt sorry for the beast, it had never asked to come here and eat fish in the murky river, but orders were orders. Smiling ruefully, he thought of the beast reaching the south bank, the panic and chaos it would cause rampaging through the streets of London. The Coach and Horses Inn was over that way, maybe the beast could pop in and clear his slate.
He drew an arrow out of the quiver slung across his back, and fixed it onto his bow. Jim squinted. He could make out the white fur bobbing in the distance, thankful for the contrast with the murky river. A bead of sweat trickled down his right temple. It felt like half of London was watching. He would be drinking for free tonight if he got this shot right. He didn’t want to think what would happen if he didn’t. Jim pulled back the bowstring, feeling the tension in his muscles. Relax. Deep breath. It’s all in the breathing. Jim’s heart beat slowed, the world seemed to stop turning. Breathe slowly the old man whispered in his head.
The arrow, with its sharp iron tip, flew through the air. A thousand eyes following it’s flight. The crowd erupted with noise. Another arrow followed. The white beast of London, far from home, dipped from sight. Gone.