As she followed Gawain, her legs dragged. She looked up at the sky and sighed with exhaustion. Gawain looked behind him and laughed at her exasperated expression. He offered her a water skin. As she took it from him their hands brushed. When she finished drinking, he had his share. He wiped his wet mouth with the back of his hand and smiled at her when he caught her staring.
As their gazes lingered on one another, Mary noticed a sudden alertness take over his features. He listened, staring just above Mary’s head.
‘Gawain?’ she asked, watching as his eyes slowly widen in disbelief.
She tried to turn to look the other way, but he caught her hips and placed a hand on her lips to indicate silence. Gently, he guided her to move behind him.
When she was fully protected behind his back, Mary tiptoed and looked over his shoulder. She had to bite her tongue to stifle her gasp and whimper. Before Gawain, about a dozen yards away, a bear sniffed the ground. It was a huge beast, it’s fur mangy and tattered. It grunted softly as its heavy paws thudded the earth, the great weight shifting dramatically from side to side.
Mary placed her trembling fingers on Gawain’s sides, hoping his warm skin would make her less frightened. However, feeling the tension in his muscles, which indicated to his own level of fear, made her quiver more.
‘Gawain,’ she breathed gently onto his back.
He urged her slowly to tread backwards. Together they moved in little steps away from the bear. Mary glanced down at her feet to find the securest foothold. She hoped quietness would guide their steps.
But, they were still heard. The bear raised its head. Gawain grasped her hand, pulling them to a halt. Mary tugged on his arm with desperation, but Gawain only murmured: ‘Stop.’
The bear padded slowly towards them. It moaned lowly.
To her shock, Gawain replicated the sound. She stared at him, aghast as he then exploded like a man possessed. He screeched, he waved his arms and jumped about in front of her. Jeering his speer high in the air and releasing an unexpected holler, Mary was unsure whether to run from him or the bear.
The bear however, paused, deliberating if this mad, scrawny human was worth the fight. Seeing it’s hesitation, Mary realised Gawain’s momentary madness was strategical. His craziness was infectious. Her own blood started to sing and she stood beside his sporadic jumping form. She too began to copy. Shrieking as loudly as her lungs would allow, she raved and performed monstrous and mad sounds in front of the bear. She let her body twist and contort, flailing from left to right.
Gawain grabbed her, threw up her skirts and lifted her over his head and onto his shoulders. Had not Mary been behaving like a lunatic, she would have fought off this uncompromising hold. But as she was, hoisted high in the air, totally immersed in their insane chanting and screaming, she welcomed the feel of his warm, secure hands on her thighs.
The bear began to back away. Any animal would’ve retreated from their craziness.
When it turned and trotted back into the bushes, their insanity died quickly.
She sat there, on top of his shoulders, in awe of what had just happened. She was unable to supress the giggle that escaped her. Gawain then sniggered too. It was an awkward sound, his laugh. And when he laughed, he did so with the entirety of his face. His expression nearly made her double over in hysterics.
Eventually, their laughter drifted off; their hearts calmed. But still he continued to stroke gentle, comforting circles on her thighs.