Chapters 23-24 Summary
Sitting by the campfire, Bear asks about Crispin’s mother. Hesitantly, Crispin explains that she was shunned by the others in the village, always given the hardest work even though she was small and frail. She rarely spoke except to express anger at her fate. Bear finds it difficult to believe that she had no family, but Crispin replies that she said they all died in the Plague.
Next, Bear asks Crispin to explain how he became a wolf’s head. Crispin tells his story honestly and completely, and Bear is obviously mystified. Like Crispin, he cannot imagine why Aycliffe proclaimed the boy a wolf’s head, especially when his only apparent crime was to see a piece of paper he could not possibly read or understand.
Crispin continues his story, saying that Aycliffe or his men killed Father Quinel. Bear is not a religious man, but he is nevertheless shocked that someone would murder a priest. Crispin says, “I think his death was my doing. God was punishing me." Bear mocks this idea, saying that the least important people—like Crispin—always assume that they are the center of the universe. God does not kill his priests just to punish unimportant, half-starved serf children. In Bear’s opinion, God does not care much about children like Crispin at all. He says that the priest must have been murdered for a reason unconnected to Crispin.
When Crispin’s story is finished, Bear advises the boy to laugh more and take life less seriously—even in times of suffering. “Lose your sorrow, and you’ll find your freedom,” he says. This annoys Crispin, who points out that his life belongs to his master. Bear seems upset by this, and he offers Crispin the freedom to choose whether to stay or go. Crispin refuses to make a choice, and this clearly angers Bear.
Before going to sleep, Crispin takes out the lead cross that used to belong to his mother. When Bear sees it, he scoffs and mocks religion. He says that many people had such crosses during the Plague and that he does not want to see Crispin’s anymore. Crispin solves this problem by turning his back. He prays aloud, asking God to save the souls of his loved ones and also promising not to listen to Bear’s sacrilege. The big man does not comment on this.
That night, Crispin lies awake thinking. He decides that Bear is crazy but kind. He also thinks about how God created lords and servants and soldiers and priests. Almost everyone, including Crispin, is meant to serve someone of a higher rank. These days, Crispin’s assigned lot in life is to serve Bear. This might or might not turn out to be good for Crispin, but it is not his place to question the will of God.