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Waking Again From Sleep

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You went as fast as your paws could take you, each beat of your feet against the solid ground agony to your limbs. But you could not stop. You knew stopping meant your life. You did not know how far away they were from you, but you knew you couldn’t even falter for a second. You used the last of your strength as you burst through the clearing and nearly collapsed in relief when you spotted the house as promised.

The bear man lives on the river. You hadn’t know which river, just that you’d find it eventually.

You collapsed just in the gates of the home, and were relieved to see that there was a faint glow in the windows. Someone was there. A broken howl tore through your throat, and then you were still, the darkness clouding your vision. The sound of the door bursting open was all you heard before it was silence.

You looked a proper sight. Beorn of the Bear Clan burst through the door, fully intent on changing, when he spotted you. The blood soaked into his stepping stones already, but that was not what he concerned himself with, willing himself not to change. It was the arrows protruding from various places in your body.

He had thought the howl meant wargs, but he was wrong. Very, very wrong. A Wolf Clan member was hard to come by in these parts. In any parts. They were the first to go. Beorn settled down beside you, breaking a few of the solid arrow shafts so that they would not hit the door frame, before he gently, and incredibly cautiously, picked you up.

You weighed nothing. He could tell that you had not eaten as the fur against his arms just felt like sagging skin. He wondered how you could have possibly made it here.

But instead of that, he focused on carrying you through another door frame before you were put onto the bed. He had been sleeping when you arrived, so the blankets were tousled, but he pulled them out of the way before setting you down. Each arrow needed to be removed before he managed to get you back into your wolf form. He couldn’t dress any wound in animal form.

Some wound, he could tell, had festered for days. Whereas others were fairly recent, perhaps not even two days old. He gave a grim look to them before glancing towards the windows, as if he expected someone to be knocking on his door at that very moment. You didn’t seem particularly dangerous. You were small, for a Wolf Clan member. And your body weight was mostly just skin and bones.

He left the bedroom for only a moment, grabbing a few cloths and a bowl of water, before he returned to your side, carefully breaking the rest of the arrow shafts and then slowly easing them out. Most were not serious wounds, save for those infected. The worst of them were in the hind quarters, near what he was certain was the shoulder should you have turned back into human form. And then there was what would become the thigh.

Your body flinched in pain as he worked, but you did not wake, leading him to believe that you had endured this kind of pain for long enough that it was not something you couldn’t sleep with.

So you had traveled for at least a couple weeks. With each arrow head leaving your body, he knew that he was doing more damage than good, but leaving them in would be a sure way to kill you. He would press a rag to the wound with each hole he created, and hold it there until you stopped bleeding. The meticulous work lasted well into the night, and when he had finally finished, he covered your body with a sheet, before he began to work on changing you back.

His hand stroked your head, between your ears. And as the fur began to tremble, and he knew you were near shifting back, he gently began to stroke the fur between your eyes. You shifted nearly right after the first stroke there, sending you into a soft groan of pain, but you still did not wake. He could tell that it was the first time you had shifted since you first sustained your injuries because you clutched your hands tightly, as if they were still paws.

He used a clean rag to clean the areas around your wounds before he dug around in the bedside drawer, finding a needle and some thread, and began to stitch the wounds together. It was all he could do, to help you heal. You would have to heal internally on your own.

Your hair was long, and twisted down your side in a hasty braid that had not been fixed in a long while. And there were bruises on your face as if you had gotten into an altercation, but otherwise, you were nothing more than a young woman. Likely a mere child when the skin-walkers began to die out.

You had the tell-tale features of a Wolf Clan member, though. The high cheek bones, the narrow face, and the equally as sharp angles. And your sharp nails that you had obviously tried to file down to blend in, but had been unsuccessful.

He packed the wounds with a mix of kingsfoil and other healing weeds, before he fished out some milk of poppy for when you woke.

But you did not wake for two days, and though your stomach growled, he could not give you food until you healed more.

“Don’t move,” Beorn instructed gruffly as you tried to turn onto your side - something he knew was because of the uncomfortable pain on your back from a few arrow wounds. Your eyes flickered to the towering man as he sat in the chair right beside you on the bed. And you took in what was around you. A dark home, but homely, smelling of honey and wood dust. Your head felt like it was pounding, and suddenly a creamy substance was being brought to your lips. “Drink this. You will feel better.”

You did not hesitate. Drinking as much as he’d allow, before you cleared your throat, feeling like you had swallowed sand or something equally as gritty. “Beorn… of the Bear Clan?” It seemed you were hoping for confirmation. He gave a careful nod and you relaxed into the soft cushions, relieved.

“I believed I was the last of my kind,” Beorn said gruffly.

You blinked lazily, the milk of the poppy already taking effect and making your brain fuddled. You could barely feel the hand attached to your arm as you tried to wiggle your fingers. “I have been hidden for a very long time. The world is dangerous… They came for me. They will come to you. I had to warn… Beorn of the Bear Clan.”

“Rest,” he said almost immediately as he saw you were trying to fight the urge to sleep. He did not know how long you slept for on the journey, but he knew that it had been little. The more sleep you could get the better. You were gone before you could even muster up something to respond with.

Beorn stared at you gravely as you slept before he reached for the arrows that were on the nightstand by his bed. Twirling the arrow in his fingers, he could see the pathetic care put into the crafting. Someone that only cared about quantity, not quality. Orcs. Orcs that had likely been the ones to capture them years and years ago. You could not have been more than a hundred years old, unless you were born after the war, in which case, there were more people in hiding than he had thought.

But it still seemed that Orcs hunted down your race with a vigor that had not faded. It was as if the two of you were no one else but your animal forms. No bigger value to this world than the price of your fur. You slept peacefully, and as he began to unbraid your hair, he could see that there were leaves and burs tucked into it as though you had tangled with many brushes on the way here. Some leaves he had not seen in years, as those trees did not grow in these parts.

You were from somewhere south.

A Wolf Clan member. He hadn’t heard of a member since long before his own Clan had begun to die out. The wolves had been the first to go, just before the horses, tigers, eagles, and then finally the bears. You knew his name, knew him. Could it have been that you had been running away to him in hope of an allied front? In which case, you would be sorely disappointed. There was little a small group of skin-changers could do. And even littler one could do by themselves.

He felt the soft skin of you wrist once he finished with your hair, listening to the pulse underneath the flesh. Strong, healing, and your skin was slightly warm. Fighting off fever and a possible infection or two. It would be enough now to just get you through the day.

And then he could worry about how you knew where to find him.

When you came to, your mind was muddled and he fed you the milk of the poppy once more to keep you from feeling the worst of your wounds - those in your legs and your shoulder. Even with the poppy, you could still feel the burning sensation of the arrow that had gone through your side, aching with each breath you took.

It wasn’t until you work the third time that you could concentrate enough on the herbs he was putting into a mortar and pestle, grinding them up either for consumption or packing wounds. Dogweed, kingsfoil, and rose petals. “Chewing it is faster,” you spoke softly. Beorn glanced to you briefly, before he continued the ministrations with the plants. And so your eyes darted to the fire, seeing that there were a few logs built up to encourage it to burn with maximum heat. And the flowers on the mantlepiece were wilted, as if they had not been watered that day, or a few days hence.

But still the bear ground away at the herbs, compacting them and making them into a fine powder. Definitely digestion, then.

“How long have I been here?” your voice cracked, dry.

“Nine days,” Beorn answered simply. You struggled to move, but a gasp of pain left you immediately and his hands set the mortar and pestle aside on the nightstand before they were gently pushing you back into the feather stuffed bed. “You will cause bleeding if you stir. Your wounds are healing well.” You swallowed, fighting back the tears that prickled your eyes, and shifted so that you were more comfortable, and your weight did not rest on a wound near your back. “Do you feel any pain?”

“The shoulder,” you admitted after a moment. Your hand rose slowly, and touched the area just beneath your collar bone on the left side. “Blazes…” you groaned, and your fingertips could feel the packed herbs that needed to be replaced. What he seemed to be working on getting to when you had woke. You couldn’t glance down very well to see it, but you knew that it was bad. “I need to leave,” you spoke as Beorn settled back into his chair, grinding away at the herbs. “I am putting you in danger. I only meant to come to warn you that they were hunting… not to stay so long. They cannot… cannot find you, too.”

“How did you know I was here?” Beorn asked cautiously.

“I have always known,” you said quietly. “It is not every day that a man that turns into a bear is whispered about by travelers. Word reached me from the shores of Gondor, and then my attackers soon discovered me.” You watched as he put the powder into a glass of water, stirring it and letting it sit before he moved towards your shoulder, pulling the packing from it. You grunted, biting your lip to keep the pained whimper out. The headache was getting worse. Beorn seemed to be inspecting the wood, likely looking to see if it was healing well, before he set the blood soaked packing aside.

He reached for the glass, lifting it to your lips. “Drink.” It tasted awful, but you obeyed.

When he pulled it away, swallowing back the aftertaste, you flickered your eyes up to him. “I am sorry for barging onto your doorstep… But I could trust no one else once I became injured. I went as fast as I could in this direction, hoping that the legends I heard were not fabricated for entertainment sake. A house hidden by the woods, on the stream.”

He was staring at you, waiting for some sort of confirmation that you were sincere. “Anyone else would have cast me away or sold me to the nearest bidding Orc.”

“What has become of your family?”

“Likely the same that has become of yours,” you spoke plainly, hissing as you jerked a little, causing the wound on your shoulder to sting. “Yes?”

“Likely.” You nodded quietly, but immediately regretted it once more. “Stop moving or you will make your wounds worse.”

“I have an awful migraine,” you murmured. Beorn sighed quietly, as if he had feared that, and reached for the wooden platter of cut herbs, and began to work on chewing the few pieces, before you watched him ball it up in his hands and press it back into the hole on your shoulder.

Oh, that hurt. “It is your body trying to get used to my weaning you off of the milk of the poppy.” That would do it. You squeezed your eyes shut as you worked, falling back so that your head was fully resting on the pillow under you. And when he stopped packing the wound, you let out a sigh.

“Thank you, Beorn of the Bear Clan. I am indebted to you for saving my life.”

He touched your forehead briefly, as if feeling for something. You weren’t sure what, but it did not seem to be good as he grimaced. “A sentiment that I hope would be returned.” But he was moving towards the fire, where you noticed something was steaming.

“We must look out for each other,” you agreed quietly. “It would be foolish otherwise. We are the only ones to carry on the deeds of our people in a favorable light. Most have forgotten us already.” You hesitated, before you spoke your next question, not wanting to raise your voice for fear you’d cause yourself more pain. “How much damage do I have?”

“Arrows wounds that are mostly healing, an infection in those that are not. I’m doing my best to stave the infection away, but you need rest.“ And when he turned back from the fire, a warm bowl of milk of poppy was in his hand. “This will help you rest, and take away the pain.”

No pain sounded wonderful, but you had not come here to stay so long. “I must leave. I only came to warn you, as the Orcs were talking of a bear… I did not mean to stay so long. They could be following-”

“Drink,” Beorn stated firmly. You winced, but knew that there was no other option. You accepted the bowl, letting him hold it to your lips, and you drank.

When you awoke again, your chest was still sore, but not more so than her muscles. You had run for nearly a month non-stop on your way here. And it had been the worst burn of pain you had ever felt. Only hours of sleep had ever separated you and your pursuers, until you gained the worst of your injuries.

You could see Beorn by the fire, and you felt weaker than you had in the last few days you had awoken. Your headache was excruciating this time, and your limbs felt heavy.

“They will find me if I do not leave,” you whispered quietly. He rose from his seat by the fire, and turned to you abruptly, as if pleased you were awake. As if he had been waiting. A wooden bowl was in his hand, and you hoped it wasn’t more milk of poppy, but it wasn’t. It smelt of soup, chicken soup. Oh, it smelt absolutely heavenly. “Has the area remained safe or…?”

He just nodded his head carefully. But a cough suddenly wracked through you, and you realized you were congested. Sick. You had caught an illness, likely from an infection. You would not let those Orcs win. But his hand steadied you so that you did not tear your stitches, forcing you to lay flat. “You have a fever still, and I suspect a minor infection. You will need to begin eating so that your body has enough nutrients to overcome it.” You did not need to argue it.

You caught your breath after the coughing had seized, eyes shut, but managed a nod. “I’m exhausted,” you admitted after a minute. “And incredibly sore.”

“I would imagine. Where you were not pierced by arrows, or swords, you have bruising.” You wished you could see, but you didn’t lift your head. Your chest throbbed. “How long were you running?”

“I left the sea by Gondor almost a month before I arrived here. It was a long journey, and one I could not stop for long on.”

“You had to cross mountains to get here.” He sounded alarmed.

“It was how they managed to get close enough to me to do some damage.” Beorn nodded. He had recognized that, then. “I kept running. Sometimes they’d draw close if the exhaustion consumed me. I can only run as fast as the wargs they ride.” Beorn gave another nod. “I changed course three days from here, taking the river to hide my scent. It was a longer path, but one that would delay them, at least. I could not hear the wargs, so I assumed they lost my tracks.”

“And if I was not here? If the stories were fake?”

“I would make for the forest of Mirkwood and hope that they’d find the sickness that dwells there too intimidating to follow. Maybe an elf would find me. I do not know.”

“Your scent will only be washed away until they bring in their hunting wargs. And then they will find you again.” You knew that. It was why you had to leave, to double back and lead them somewhere else. Maybe to the forest. You weren’t sure. He held the bowl in his head out to you, and you lifted a hand, taking it carefully. “It will help,” he spoke simply.

It was a strange concoction that not only tasted of chicken, but also of carrots. It was the best thing you had eaten since raw rabbits and grass from the plains. Once you had enough to fill yourself, you told him your name. “I don’t believe I had given it to you yet, but I could be mistaken.”

“Not yet,” Beorn informed you. “You know that mine is Beorn.” His words were careful as he sat, watching as you placed the bowl down on the nightstand. Some strength you still had, at least. “I am honored to meet a Wolf Clan member, after so many years.  You were the first of us to be hunted.”

“We were the Skin-Walker soldiers,” you agreed, almost bitterly. “And our pelts were the most priceless.” You swallowed. “Once I am able to leave, I must. You should flee as well, to protect yourself. Go someplace you know Orcs will not follow. If they could find me living a human life in a seaside down, they could easily find you.”

“You became a city dweller?”

Your look was pained as you stared at the ceiling of the cozy home. There were nests tucked away in the high beams, and you could even see a few mice scurrying along as they carried food in their hands. “I had to do what was necessary to keep myself safe, even if it meant leaving the nature I so desperately loved. I was only a teen when the war began for our lives. But I still remember roaming the southern mountains and Fangorn forest.” You glanced towards Beorn after a moment of silence. “If they were to kill either of us, the Bear Clan’s history or the Wolf Clan’s would be washed from history.”

“Are there others in hiding?”

“I suspect there could be, but I dare not hope too high.” You closed your eyes, feeling tired already, and your pounding headache did not seem to ebb. “But there are none that I have heard of but you. Just knowing that there could be a horse out there would give me the inclination that more of us escaped the purging. I barely survived when they started to imprison us… I hid in a merchant’s caravan as I was led south. A coward’s path, but I knew if they took me, I would die there.”

“They are still dark times.”

You suddenly froze, and pushed yourself up slightly so that you could see your body. You weren’t wearing any clothing, save for a thin sheep that was tucked around your body. It was not that you were modest, it just struck you as a surprise that you were wearing nothing - especially after being here so long. “I’m not wearing any clothing.”

“You have been covered save for me repacking your wounds.” You glanced up to see that he was looking pointedly at the sheet. The fact that he was a fellow skin-changer, however, made this situation seem much more intimate. You had not been in the same room as one of your own for years, and this was … this was all of your dreams coming true.

“I apologize, but I do not have any woman’s clothing here, and you have not been well enough for me to journey to the town.”

“How far is the town from here?”

“Twenty miles.”

A day’s trip there and another day’s back. “It’s fine,” you spoke quietly. “This isn’t my first run in with being caught without clothing after a shift. “How did you get me back to my human form?”

He eased her down so that you were not straining yourself as he explained. “I brought you inside and once the arrows were out, I had to relax you enough for you to involuntarily shift back.” You raised an eyebrow in confusion. “I stitched your wounds and you did not wake until a few days after.”

“Thank you,” you said quietly, but it was sincere. You had never received such kindness from any stranger, not even the people that had offered you lodgings in Gondor. None would have healed you once they knew who you were.

“As you’ve said. Rest. I’ll wake you when it is time for you to have more.”

You tried to stay awake, but you were simply exhausted. And before you could say another thank you, sleep took you into its grasp.