He emerged blinking into the daylight and made his way to the Square and of course, the first thing he saw was the dancing bear, up on his hind legs, lurching through the crowd. As he looked at the bear, an evil grin spread over his face as a plan began to form.
He rushed off home and spent the rest of the day making a potion. At last he poured three drops of thick liquid onto a tray. They cooled and solidified as they touched the cool metal. The alchemist knew they would do what he wanted them to, but they smelt disgusting and unless he could make them taste better, his plan would never work.
He remembered the brown beans he had transformed - they smelt sweet. He crushed them up, added some milk until he made a thick brown paste and he coated the lozenges with it. By the time they had dried and set, it was dark and all outside was quiet.
He silently slipped out into the night and made his way up towards the Square.
At last he found what he was looking for - the cage that held the bear. He softly called out to the bear and pushed the three lozenges through the bars towards the bear.
The bear sleepily opened his eyes. He sniffed at the lozenges and a pink tongue emerged between the sharp teeth and licked up first one, then another, then all three of the lozenges.
The alchemist crept away sniggering and the bear went back to sleep.
The next morning the bear woke up with a raging headache. The people in Shrewsbury were to learn the truth of the expression "like a bear with a sore head". He lifted his head and gave a tremendous howl. With one swipe of his paw he smashed the bars of his cage and lumbered out into the Square.
With blinding spots of pain before his eyes, he staggered backwards and forwards, sending stalls flying, apples rolling and people screaming in all directions. Panic reigned until the mayor was sent for and the leaders of the guilds. They discussed and wondered what they were going to do.
In the meantime, the alchemist made his grand entrance into the Square. He found a box to stand on.
"I alone know what ails the bear and I alone can cure him. This I will do for the good people of Shrewsbury on one condition - you must make me the ruler of Shrewsbury!"
The people looked at the alchemist in disbelief and then began to laugh - there was no way they would ever let the alchemist rule Shrewsbury - they would just have to find a way of dealing with the bear themselves.
By this time the bear was making his way across the Square towards Fish Street. The fishmongers had gathered together, debating what they could do to save their shops. They decided that they would have to build a barrier across the steps that led down to their street. All they had to hand was fish and so it was fish that they used.
They formed a chain, passing buckets of fish one way and empty buckets to be refilled in the other and bit by bit they blocked off the steps with an enormous mound of fish.
The bear was getting closer and closer and eventually collided with the mountain of fish. He began to tunnel through the fish, sending them flying with his paws, biting and tearing his way through. Then he stopped. He sat leaning with his back to the fish and happily munching his way through a prize salmon. The one antidote to the concoction of the alchemist's was fish!
Armed with a bucket of fish, the bear tamer led the bear away to a nearby stable. The rest of the people began to slowly converge on the alchemist, still standing on his box.
The alchemist turned and looked to run, but he was surrounded. They pulled him down from his box and imprisoned him in the bear's cage, mending the broken bars. And there they left him for the rest of the fair and the children were given all the rotten vegetables and fruit to throw at him.
Eventually at the end of the fair they let the alchemist go free on one condition - that he would use those brown beans to make a batch of sweet-tasting bears each week to give to the town and to remind him to keep to his place.
No one knows where that alchemist is now, but he must still be around somewhere, because to this day, there is always somewhere in Shrewsbury that sells chocolate bears. Keep your eyes open and you might just be able to buy some for yourself.
copyright Amy Douglas 2001