In the year of the Duck, a child was born unto woman in the land of Ozwaygo and he was called Kevin Love. The woman, blonde and strong, was married to a man, tall and feather haired. He was a strong man, a man of wonderful stock. Bold and tough and ready to teach, the parents raised the boy according to the laws of the kingdom of Hardwoodian. They taught him the importance of family, honor, and loyalty.
As the boy got older, he grew strong and powerful in body and mind. When it came time, on the eve of his eighteenth birthday, he was sent out into the Ozwaygo wilderness and was ordered to not come home until he had slain a Kodiak bear. This was the fate of all boys born into the kingdom of Hardwoodian.
So, with his pack of biscuits, he set out into the Great Forest in search of his prey. He tracked the beast for days, following him through rivers and over mountains until, one day, he finally cornered him at the top of Khan Cliff. They wrestled for hours above Westwood Ravine, each almost hurling the other over the edge many times. Then, just as the sun was setting, Kevin Love, gravel in hand, flung dirt and sand and rocks into the bear’s eyes. The bear stumbled, pawing at his face, and as the bear staggered, Kevin Love put his boot in the bear’s chest, and sent him to his fate.
As the bear hit the canyon floor below, the sky cracked. The Dipper, the all knowing watcher of Hardwoodian, came out of the sky and spoke.
“Kevin Love. You have shown great courage and honor. From now on, you shall be called The Great Bearded One, and you will be blessed with untold amounts of leaping ability, wisdom, and facial hair.”
The Great Bearded One stared up toward the booming voice above him.
“Thank you, Dipper. I will not let you down.”
On that day, Kevin Love died, and The Great Bearded One was born.
The fading sun painted the Ozwaygo sky purple and The Great Bearded One stood atop a redwood, above the tree line, surveying his land. The wind blew and he was a statue atop the tree. He donned a sleeveless red flannel shirt, cut off jean shorts, and brown boots. Staring at the horizon, he chewed on a wheat stalk.
Off to the east, away from the setting shine, he heard Wolf. Wolf screamed.
Where have you gone?
The Great Bearded One turned his head toward the bellow.
He let out a sigh.
“Not while I’m home, boy. This was supposed to be a vacation.”
You are needed. Time does not wait.
“Let me be.”
Impossible. You are the hope. You know that. Come.
The Great Bearded One placed his hands on his hips and put his head down. He pawed at the top of the tree with his foot. Bark flaked and fell with the leaves, raining down on the forest floor.
The Great Bearded One looked up as the sun finally fell into the mountain below.
“Very well. Fate cannot be shook.”
With that, The Great Bearded One gathered himself, bent his knees, and leaped. He hopped from treetop to treetop treating them the way a frog treats Lilly pads. It would be a long way back to The Lakes. Night was coming but One leaped and navigated with feel, not eyes. As he trampled on branches he raised his head toward the Dipper overhead.
“Is this what I am? Some errand boy savior? Am I not entitled to a holiday?”
The Dipper stared back. The Great Bearded One continued his trek. Enraged. The only noise that could be heard other than his feet shaking the trees below were the growls escaping his mouth.
Angered, The Great Bearded One continued, shouting.
“Am I not worthy of a response? Have I not always done what you wanted? Does hard work not earn play? Speak to me! Answer, I say!”
The sky shook and clouds rolled in. The blackness flashed white and was black once more. The world rumbled and the Dipper spoke.
I owe you nothing! You ought start the day on your knees in thanks for the gifts I have bestowed upon you. How quickly you forget your old self. Chubby handles at your hips, your beard nothing more than a chinstrap!
The Dipper’s words were deafening but he did not let up.
You were but a descendant of coastal children! That is it! Now you are spoken of within the same breathes as The Bird! Your beard full and your body lean. Despite all this you would dare complain when you are called upon? I ask for your loyalty, in exchange I give you all that the kingdom of Hardwoodian has to offer. And you want a holiday? A vacation? I scoff at you.
The Great Bearded One stared ahead at the blackness as the Dipper ripped. All the while, he kept moving. With each jump it got colder and soon he’d made his way to an oak that he’d rest in for the night. He reclined on a thick branch where it met the trunk of the tree, legs crossed at the ankles in front of him. He scratched his bearded face and started a fire in the tree. He ate a squirrel, graciously provided by the Dipper, and closing his eyes he nodded off.
Sleep set in and he dreamed.
He saw things.
His dreams were soft and clouds were pillows and he dreamt of the rings that come with being king of Hardwoodian. He was but a prince. Promising, yes, but still a prince. In the dream he had been walking in the wilderness of The Lakes for days without food or shelter. Finally he came upon a young Spaniard. The Spaniard dressed in the royal red of his native land and his hair was black as night. The Spaniard was a quirky fellow, fun and full of life. They ran and jumped throughout the wood and the trees. They were the best of friends. They made plans to leave The Lakes for good. They would live off the land and travel all throughout the kingdom. Then, a snake came along and bit The Spaniard in the knee. One saw The Spaniard fall and tried to save him. He did all he could, but as the Spaniard lay there, poison seeping into his veins, he spoke to One.
“I am dying, One. This is my end.”
“Don’t say that, Spaniard.”
“You need not be serious. You know what fun is, so have it. This day does not have to be an exception. It can be a rule. And you, you can rule.”
The Great Bearded One held the Spaniard’s head, brushing his hair out of his brown eyes.
“Spaniard! You will be better. Do not go! Do not go, Spaniard! Please! Please!”
And with that, The Great Bearded One, jolted awake. Confused and sad, he rubbed his eyes and tried to readjust them in the blackness of the night. He was still alone.
Morning would come to meet him soon and he would need his rest for the cold journey tomorrow. Despite being afraid for what dreams may haunt him further, he knew he must sleep. He looked to the heavens before he shut his eyes. He said a prayer.
“May this sleep be deep and tomorrow be easy.”
When he awoke, the birds chirped and the sun warmed him. He leaped down to the ground below and found his way to a nearby spring. He dipped his hands into the water, cupping them, and drank until quenched. As he raised up from the spring, he saw a man, towering and tall, mustachioed, dressed in all the colors of nature, his hair in rows like corn about his head, a green head wrap keeping the sun from his eyes. In his right hand the man held a bow.
“Hello,” said the stranger.
“Good day,” said The Great Bearded One.
“You’ve a fine shirt there.”
“Aye. It does me good.”
“Your face tells me you aren’t from these parts. Where is it ye headed?”
“I am from the land of Ozwaygo. I was back there, vacationing for a time, but I am headed to my new home now. It is far. Perhaps you have heard of it? The Lakes.”
“Aye. Perhaps I have. A fine land that is. Cold, yes. But fine nevertheless. What is your name?”
“I am The Great Bearded One, son of Stan, nephew of Mike, but you may call me One. And you? What is your name?”
“I am The Miller, but you may call me Mill. I was in charge of the hunting for a nearby village, Bradness.”
“Tis a joy to meet you, Mill.”
“You as well, my boy.”
“You are down here gathering water for your village?”
“No, son, no. It is time for me to move on from this place. I am tired and do not wish to continue my service here any longer.”
“Aye. I see. I fear I am not strong enough to make it to The Lakes alone.”
The Great Bearded One stopped and looked away. He felt The Miller’s eyes on him. He spoke as he stared at the bank of the spring below Mill’s boots. He raised his head and looked Mill in the eye.
“Would you join me, Mill?”
“Aye. I would.”