Every once in a while I go on a wild Google hunt hither and thither for stories and lore about Gods and Spirits. On one such occasion I tripped upon a lovely tale of Artio, one who is very dear to me, and found the tale very much like my experiences with her. I thought it might be fitting to share.
From what I understand this is from a publication called The Pagan Heart: Pagan Myths and Stories, the March 2004 issue. It is The Story of Artio and Ardunna by Axiom.
Long ago, in the times of the ancestors, the first Ardunna of our family went out chasing butterflies with her brother, Birgus. They were foolish and did not pay attention as they wandered closer to the forest that edged the fields of their village. Birgus followed a beautiful butterfly in under the trees and his sister chased him.
It did not take long before the children were lost.
Night fell. The moon still slumbered beneath the horizon and only the grey light of the stars covered the land.
Deep in the heart of the forest Artio stirred in her nest, stretching and shaking the leaves from her fur. Something had woken her – a faint cry. A sound she had not heard for some time.
Curious, she set off through the forest, picking her way between the trees in the dark. Her eyes gleamed in the faint starlight, and she moved through the bushes without trouble. Loud rustling accompanied her as she traveled. Ahead she heard crying, a soft low sobbing that quietened as she neared.
The glade opened up and she saw two children huddled at the base of a thick oak tree. Tears stained their faces. When they saw her they froze, fear bleaching their skin.
“Ardunna…It’s a bear,” whispered the boy.
His companion nodded and swallowed, her eyes large. “Artio protect us,” she said, one hand rising to grip a thong about her neck.
Hearing her name – something unspoken by her people for many lifetimes, Artio lay down. She rested her head upon her paws, and simply watched them.
Tugging at the leather thong, Ardunna drew out a small pendant of jet from beneath her tunic. Carved to resemble a bear, the dark stone looked polished and smooth from much handling. With a deep breath, the girl shrugged free of her companion’s grip and inched closer.
“Ardunna!” gasped the boy. “What are you doing?”
She shushed him, her gaze fixed upon Artio’s. Her hand firmly gripping her pendant once more, she crept closer and reached out to touch one of the massive paws. Artio remained still, barely breathing, as the child edged closer still. Hope filled her – maybe my people still remember me, she thought. Then she spoke, her voice deep and rumbling.
The boy squealed and backed into the trunk, whacking his head. As he sat there, his hands clutched about his skull, Ardunna bowed down and rested her forehead upon Artio’s paw. Artio smiled and shifted to sit up, drawing the shivering child into her arms.
“Rest awhile, little one. You are cold.”
“Great One? I’m cold too…” came the quiet voice of the boy.
She reached out an arm and drew him in to sit in her lap as well. After a while they ceased their shaking and stirred.
“Are you lost?” she asked, and when they nodded, she shrugged them from her lap and lumbered up. “Follow me,” she said as she walked back into the forest.
Within moments she heard them tripping and falling behind her, unable to see in the thick dark between the trees. Artio turned back and snuffled at the girl until the pendant fell free. As the bear touched it it began to glow, the brilliant light chasing away the shadows. This time, when she walked away, the children followed easily.
It did not take long to reach the border of the woods. The moon had cleared the horizon and shone down, her face full and round. Beneath her silvery light, the cleared land, rich with thick grass and grain, stretched out before them. A collection of round houses marked the village, fires glowing before the doors of a number. The children laughed and ducked around her to race away through the field towards home.
Artio watched. Suddenly the girl spun about and ran back to her. Fear and determination filled Ardunna’s face as she neared the bear.
“I hear your voice in my head at night. Why?”
“I have called you. For many years I have called you. And now you have answered.”
Quick as an arrow, Artio’s paw swept through the air and sliced down. Ardunna whimpered and then looked down at her arm. The strong scent of blood filled the air as a few beads broke free of the curved scratch to trickle down her sun-browned skin. When she looked back at Artio, joy filled her eyes. She bowed low once more and then backed away a few steps before breaking free of Artio’s gaze and turning to run out into the field.
Artio watched, her heart content. Her children flourished in the valley, their village strong and healthy. The laughter of their newest priest filled the air as Ardunna ran home.