The tale begins in the northernmost point of Rus Carpathina where a rising prince was to come to power. The prince was one of three sons and heir to a vast kingdom under the rule of an aging Tsar named Feodosi. One day the Tsar discovered his coveted golden apples that grew from a vibrant tree in the palace orchard were being stolen. He was furious and set his guards to catch the thief. Though they watched all night the royal guards were unsuccessful in catching the apple robber. The Tsar’s three sons stepped up to the challenge of apprehending the slick crook. The eldest son kept guard, but fell asleep on a grassy bank after walking the orchard grounds. When asked by the Tsar if he had good news his son replied “No father, I did not sleep a wink all night, but saw no one.” The following night the Tsar’s second son went to guard the orchard. He too, slept all night and the next morning told his father he too had seen no sign of a thief, although he had not closed his eyes. Now was the turn of the youngest brother, Prince Feodor, to guard the orchard. About halfway through the night he saw a light in the orchard. When he went to investigate he saw that the light was coming from a Firebird, which was sitting on the apple tree and pecking at the golden apples. When the young prince went to catch the bird it spread its wings and flew away, leaving a single tail feather in the prince’s hand. The Tsar took the feather, looked at it, and no longer felt sorrowful, but he thought a great deal about the Firebird.
One day he sent for his sons and told them, “My dear children, I want you to saddle good horses and ride forth into the world to see whether you can find and bring back the Firebird.” The young men bowed to their father, saddled good horses, and set out on their travels: the eldest in one direction, the second son in another, and Prince Feodor in a third direction. He rode near and far, high and low, along by-paths and by-ways – for speedily a tale is spun, but with less speed a deed is done – until he came to a wide, open field, a green meadow. And there in the field stood a pillar.
On the pillar these words were written: “Whosoever goes from this pillar on the road straight before him will be cold and hungry. “Whosoever goes to the right side will be safe and sound, but his horse will be killed. And whosoever goes to the left side will be killed himself, but his horse will be safe and sound.” Prince Feodor read this inscription and went to the right, thinking that although his horse might be killed, he himself would remain alive and would in time get another horse.
He rode one day, then a second day, then a third. Suddenly an enormous gray wolf came toward him and said: “Ah, so it’s you, young lad, Prince Feodor! You saw the inscription on the pillar that said that your horse would be killed if you came this way. Why then have you come hither?” When he had said these words, he tore Prince Feodor’s horse in twain and ran off to one side.
Prince Feodor was sorely grieved for his horse; he shed bitter tears and then continued on foot. He walked a whole day and was utterly exhausted. He was about to sit down and rest for a while when all at once the gray wolf caught up with him and said: “I am sorry for you Prince Feodor, because you are exhausted from walking. I am also sorry that I ate your good horse. Tell me why you have travelled so far, and where you are going?”
“My father has sent me to ride through the world until I find the Firebird.”
“Why, you could have ridden even on your good horse for three years and never found the Firebird for only I know where it lives. I ate your horse, so now I will serve you faithfully and well. Get on my back and hold on tight.”
Prince Feodor seated himself astride the grey wolf, and it loped away, past the green forests, and the azure lakes. At last they came to a very high fortress. There the grey wolf told Feodor: “Listen to me, and remember what I say. Climb over the wall and do not be afraid. All the guards are asleep. In the attic you will see a small window. In the window hangs a golden cage. In that cage is the Firebird. Take the bird and hide it under your coat, but be sure not to touch the cage.”
Prince Feodor climbed over the wall and saw the attic. And, just as the wolf had said, in the attic window a golden cage was hanging, and the Firebird was in the cage. He took out the bird and put it under his coat. But as he looked at the golden cage he could not help coveting it. It was made of precious gold. How could he leave it behind? He completely forgot what the wolf had told him. But as soon as he touched the cage the alarm was sounded all through the fortress where drums rolled and trumpets blared. The guards woke up, captured Prince Feodor and took him to Tsar Afron.
The Tsar was furious at this attempt to steal the Firebird and the cage, and asked the prince: “Who are you, and where are you from?”
“I am Prince Feodor, the son of Tsar Feodosi,” Feodor replied.
“How shameful! The son of a tsar coming here to steal!” the tsar exclaimed.
“That is as may be,” the prince retorted. “But your bird flew to our orchard and stole the golden apples.”
“In that case you should have come to me and asked me for the Firebird and I would have given it to you out of respect for your father. Now I shall see to it that all the world knows of your behavior!” And with the tsar’s words a trumpet sounded with mighty force. The guards took young Prince Feodor up to a high tower chamber where he was forcefully secured to a wall with incredibly thick and heavy chains. The prince soon fell asleep hanging, fatigued from his unsuccessful travels.
Coming out of a dream like state the prince’s teary eyes saw what appeared to be a hooded figure at his cell door. Due to his exhausted state the prince did not know if he was dreaming or if his circumstances were all too real. He lifted his head and said “who are you, am I dead?”
With a slight chuckle the dark silhouette blurred and suddenly appeared inside the cell only a few feet from the imprisoned royal youth. With a twist of shape the figure shifted into the grey wolf. To the surprise and joy of the prince the wolf said “I shall once again be of service to you.” The prince held his head steady and began to rejoice.
The wolf halted his celebration and said “I can help you once again young prince, however there is a price that comes with freedom.” The prince replied, “I am but to be shameful to my kingdom and country if I’m found to be guilty of such a petty crime. I will endure what fate may have me if only to be free from this wicked cell!”
A snide grin appeared on the face of the wolf and in an instant he bit Prince Feodor on his hand and said, “You are now under a spell which will free you from this chamber. Once you are free you are cursed to live your days as a stranger to all you know. However, you will be a most powerful being capable of living your days among solitary creatures like myself and will be unstoppable under the full moon light!”
Prince Feodor shook his wounded hand and shouted at the wolf, “Is this some kind of joke? Break my bonds and get me down from this infernal tower!”
The prince then began to curse and flail his harnessed limbs at the wolf who sat calmly observing the window and setting sun. With the light fading to night outside the tower the wolf replied, “Tonight is a night of nocturnal unrest. Tonight is the phase of a full moon. You will find your own way to freedom from this cell when the moon rises and shines it’s pale light into your chamber through the barred window!” With a flash of blinding light the wolf disappeared.
Confused the prince set out in his mind determined to flee from his chains. How could the wolf leave me like this? I’m doomed to become an embarrassing tale to my brothers and king father! The prince sobbed into exhaustion and fell asleep once more.
A raucous below the tower where a horse drawn cart had collided with livestock awoke the chained prince. Night had fallen and stars twinkled in the void of sky among shifting clouds. A faint glow behind a large span of trees and cloud cover created a hint of a spreading light on the floor before Prince Feodor. He stared quietly at the glow and thought of what the gray wolf had told him after he had bitten his hand. The prince’s focus returned and he gazed through the bars of the tower window. The clouds began to part and the distant circular glow had ascended to a great height.
Suddenly with a gust of wind a hole opened in the wispy nebula above. The full moon in all its glory flooded the cell with light and cast a singular beam upon the young prince. His face began to grow and his arms thickened. His eyes bulged and he buckled in anguish.
“That foul beast! What has the wolf done to me!” The prince looked at his arms and thick fur began to grow all over his body. His vision became clearer and the night was no longer dark. A surge of energy like that of the ocean tide came over his mind and limbs. He reeled back and belted a loud growling snarl. The chains had burst from the wall and he tore the remaining metal from his wrists like rings of parchment.
The prince had transformed.
Astonished by the ease of release and enthralled with power the once prince became aware of his new being. With animal instinct he peered to the moon, and tore the bars from the tower window. The menacing height caught him off guard and he began to lose his balance.
The large beast-man toppled forward through the portal. Upon falling another instinct of sorts kicked in and massive wings spread from his upper back. The once doomed prince was now a giant bear-beast flying by moonlight free from his captors.
Prince Feodor knew no better than to flee back to his family’s palace. He entered the orchard where the golden apples grew. Before getting to an entrance to the Tsar’s common room a guard caught site of him and sounded an alarm. All at once a team of his very own guard were upon him.
They began to siege the beast with spears and arrows while branding swords in his very direction. The intuitive senses of his animal being sprang to action and he began slaughtering the small army one by one. Chomping at the heads of his attackers the now full on were-bear threw punch after bloody punch, and raking the enemy with his claws. In a matter of a few minutes the entire brigade was decimated.
He then looked at the captain of the guard. It was none other than the face of his eldest brother. His brother was slain, and Prince Feodor’s knees buckle and his heart grew cold, an evident reminder of what he now was and forever would be from this day on.
The prince, ashamed and afraid, fled his homeland in hopes his royal reputation and family would not be scarred. His brother now dead because of the beast he became, the prince sought out across the land eventually climbing up into the precipitous Carpathian Mountain range.
He had found a new home. He was now the king of his own land and of the indigenous creatures that resided his territory. The once young prince grew to be the fiercest anomaly in the Carpathias… he was now Winged King Were-Bear!
References to this story were derived from the Slavic folklore and Russian fairytale The Firebird, and modified further from this tale.