Chapter 1: Home by the Trees
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?”
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.
Chapter 2: Unwelcome Guests
You awoke after days of fading in and out of consciousness, finally, with some clarity to your mind. And strength. You were alone, which was the first thing you found strange. And the second was the fact that you were very hot in the bed. And you smelled nice.
“Ugh,” you groaned at the sore muscles that ached as you moved yourself into a sitting position so that you could investigate. You were wearing a cotton shift, with simple buttons down the front that had most definitely not been on you the last time you were awake. And the buttons obviously provided ample access to your wounds on your collarbone should Beorn have needed to check on them. Your hand tugging at the collar of the shift to see the shoulder wound, you saw that it was no longer packed, instead only stitched, and even those looked like they were slowly being removed as you healed. And then you looked to the similar progress on your legs and your arms.
Your hair was washed, too, you noticed as it fell into your face. Instead of the matted braid you had it in before you had fled, it was combed and soft, with a distinct scent of rose water hitting your delicate senses. He had washed you. You didn’t know if you felt more grateful or angry. But you knew that with open wounds, the worst thing to be was dirty. And he had not been unjust with his cleaning - you at least trusted his character enough to know that. You pulled the blanket from your lap, feeling the rush of cool air as you did so. It was nice, compared to the sauna that was underneath the covers. And then you tested the strength in your legs.
Weak. You would not be able to walk yet. The arrow that had gone through your thigh had done some lasting damage. Only one could lift up well. The other went half as high with double the effort. Tugging the blanket back to cover your feet, you leaned back and released a sigh. You were stuck here for a while longer.
The sound of clunking footsteps caught your attention and you glanced to the door just seconds before Beorn strode through, a wooden board in his hands that smelt delicious. When his eyes caught you sitting up, he gave you a nod, before gesturing to the food in his hand as he approached. He left the door to the room open, giving you a view of what was beyond. It was brightly lit, and hay covered the floor. But it was the various animals that really caught your attention. He kept animals in his home? You glanced to him briefly, in surprise, before the food was put onto your lap.
“I do not know what you do not eat, but I imagine it is not too different from what I do.” You gave him a small smile as you recognized the food on your lap. Cheese, some soft meats, and fruits. “You are well enough to sit up, perhaps, but not for too long.”
“Thank you, for the clothing, and … and bathing me. I didn’t realize how filthy I was until today.” He merely grunted and you glanced down to the food on your lap, your fingers picking up a cut piece of cheese, before you placed it in your mouth.
“I needed to go to town a few days ago.” You were ravenous, and put another few pieces of cheese in your mouth before you glanced up to him. “You were resting and the woods were clear of Orc scent. It was a risk, but necessary.” You gave him a grateful look before taking another bite of a strawberry. “There are a few more clothing items in the other room I’ve managed to pick up as well, for when you are well enough to move around.”
“As you’ve said.” He didn’t seem fond of gratitude. But you did mean it. “I recommend eating slowly. Your stomach is not used to such a mass amount of food and it will make you sick if you eat too much too quickly.” You knew. You just nodded to show that you understood.
“How long have I been here? I’ve never slept so much in my life, and my infection seems to be gone-”
“Three weeks.” You could hardly remember the time, just that you had been awake for a minority of a handful of those days. You glanced to him in surprise and he gave a nod to confirm it. “You have been sleeping off the infection. It is normal. By the time you arrived, it had been festering for days, weakening you. But you have fought it off and you will heal well.”
You swallowed down a strawberry. “I know you do not care to hear it, but I am grateful for your help… I have nothing to repay you… I left everything behind on my way.”
He waved it off. “The food is from my home. The cheese from the cow’s milk, the fruits from my own bushes, and the meat from my rabbits. It cost nothing more than I already had available.” But it still was generous.
“It’s delicious,” you said quietly. “How long until I am capable of leaving?”
He considered it, before he gave a small incline of his head. “I would consider waiting another week. You are too weak to walk long distances. Even if you were to leave, if an Orc caught your scent, you would not be able to run anywhere.” A death sentence. “Even at that point, you may not be ready.”
“But …” Your breath caught in your throat. “But if they manage to find me here? You will get killed yourself-” You moved the tray from your lap to the other side of the bed, and tried to get out of the bed, but he caught your shoulder. And the minimal amount of effort he was exerting to keep you still was embarrassing. You could not even stand, let alone walk out of here at this very moment. “You must protect yourself.”
“And leave you alone to die?” The sharpness in his tone caught you by surprise and you glanced up at his towering form. “This is my home. A home that I made for myself once I escaped the Orc’s captivity.” Your gaze slowly dropped to his wrists. You had not noticed before, but now you could see the iron cuffs clearly. And the broken chains that hung down. “If Orcs are trying to take my land from me, then they will have to kill me for it.”
“Then I must leave to draw the somewhere else.”
“If you did not mean to draw them here, then why did you come? Why did you risk endangering me?” You swallowed. “Because I was safe here until you arrived.”
“I…” You faltered and didn’t really have an answer. Truth was, you didn’t know why you would do something so reckless. Out a fellow skin-walker just to warn them? No, that would have just put him in more danger. “I had to warn you. I don’t know… Maybe a part of me wanted to see if the stories were true… if there was another one of us out there… But I never intended to put you in harm’s way. I only intended to stay for mere minutes, before doubling back and leading the orcs elsewhere…. I didn’t think my injuries had gotten so bad until they had. And by then it was too late.”
Beorn sighed, and he released your shoulder, seemingly satisfied that you were not going to be standing. “I have erased your tracks from my woods. They will not find you here unless they already know.” You glanced up to him in surprise, your eyes wide. “You must rest or you will never get your strength back.”
You nodded once, and began to take in the room once more. You were resting in the large bed, much larger than you. But the Wolf Clan was small, stealthy. It was best to be small in order to be the look outs. To guard the important things. But this bed stretched nearly another two feet more than your height. And an additional four feet out to the side. It was built for someone much larger than an average human guest.
“This is your bed,” you said quietly. You glanced towards him, frowning slightly. “Why have you given up your bed? I am perfectly capable of healing at the same rate on the floor.”
Beorn raised his bushy eyebrows before he sat heavily in the chair beside the bed. “I have other spaces to sleep.” You weren’t sure, but Beorn seemed firm in the matter. “You will need to finish eating, and then we can discuss how capable you are of healing.” You merely nodded. “You are not leaving until you are well enough.”
“Beorn-“ You began, but he gave you a firm look.
“Eat. Now.” It was a command, as if he was used to people following his orders. Or he used to be used to it. You had not heard of his name before the War began, not even during. You had only learned it in such a short time, compared to all the time you spent living. “How many Orcs were following you?”
“At least ten,” you said after a moment as you reached for the tray again, carefully. “I lost count. More joined a few weeks into the chase, and that was when I picked up speed. It could be more than ten, but I’m not sure.”
Beorn gave a small nod. “And how do I know that you are not in league with them in an effort to spare your life? Lead me into a trap?”
You lowered the cheese from entering your mouth and stared at Beorn like he had lost his mind. “Are you jesting? We could very well be the last of our kind, and you think that I would betray our people? Our history? I remember the wars. I may have been young, but I remember running in the middle of the night when our camps were found. I remember the people dying around me as arrows were fired and fire burned the forest. The bears helped the wolves long before we went into hiding. Do not think that I have forgotten.” Your voice had turned from incredulous to fierce, and you met his eyes unwaveringly. “The Wolves owe everything to the Bears for keeping us alive as long as we did. And it is something that I thank you for, a debt that I will never be able to repay. But saving your life from the orcs, warning you, was the least I could have done to try to repay that debt. Betraying you would be the stupidest thing I could ever possibly do.”
Beorn shifted in his seat. “And if I am to trust you?”
You glanced away, towards the fireplace that was unlit. “I do not know what our lives would come to if we could not trust someone of our own species.”
“I do not know either. If there are more than ten Orcs, I will be unable to fight them alone.” You glanced back to him, and he crossed his arms, looking resolute. “Hopefully they will not come while you are still injured. I will require your help.”
“Why did you take me in if you suspected that I had brought danger to your door?”
“Faith.” You swallowed before nodding. Trust. He had trusted a fellow skin changer. “I have noticed no one outside in my travels. If they had followed, they would have found you already.” You could only hope that was the case. It was all you could hope for - that they had lost the trail or followed the wrong tracks. “Orcs had wandered nearby recently, but there are many packs traveling south that go through these lands.”
“How many people know of you in the local village?”
“Enough. Will you finish eating or are you full?”
You were starving, but already your stomach felt queasy. “I want to finish, but I do not think I will be able to hold it down. I haven’t eaten real food since I left Gondor.” He nodded, as if he understood and took the tray from her, setting it on the nightstand to deal with later. “Do you have enemies in the village?”
“Wary folk - some have not heard of Skin Changers and do not know if we pose more harm than good.”
“I see.” You picked at the fabric of the thin shift you wore, still feeling hot. “The women’s clothing. You get these regularly then? Or were they even more wary when you asked for them?”
He seemed amused as you looked back to him, but it was gone, returning to his once more passive look. “I told them that a guest had come to stay with me and had lost some of their things in the long voyage. It wasn’t anything suspicious.” Unless an Orc were to overhear one of the wary folk discussing it. “You are welcome to stay here if you need someplace safe for however long. Though it is not much, here, it is private and it does keep out unwelcome guests.”
“I should not stay,” you said quietly. “I have to leave to divide them, if anything.” Beorn said nothing, just gave a nod, as if it was a valid counter point.
You did not get out of the bed for another week. Beorn allowed you to grip his forearms and you let him take most of your weight as you stood. It hurt a few of your muscles, but otherwise the action did not cause you too much pain. “Can you balance on your own?” You did not try immediately. You waited until you had sure footing before taking a deep breath, and releasing one of his arms, before you released the other.
“Where do you feel the most pain?”
“The leg,” you admitted nearly immediately. And you were leaning onto the uninjured one, that hadn’t had a pierced thigh. “Just a bit of tugging, it feels like. But other than that, it’s fine. Just really sore.”
Beorn nodded, guiding you to the doorframe of the bedroom, giving you your first real view of unobstructed sunlight in weeks. And as you gripped the doorframe to hold you up, Beorn carefully lifted the hem of the shift you wore so that he could see the old wound. You glanced down as well, seeing that it was angry and red, and looked like a pit against the skin. “It is still tender,” Beorn observed. “But I see no lasting damage. Perhaps try to avoid putting weight on it until it is better.” You did your best, and it did feel better. “You will not be able to shift into your animal form until you can walk straight.”
“I know.” He released the hem, glancing up to you as he rose to his full height. Incredibly tall. Bears were always bigger, but you did not realize how big. You had not seen a full grown Bear up close in a century. “If I could walk around a bit, though, I’d appreciate that. I need to start getting the muscle back, or I will never leave.”
“Tomorrow,” Beorn spoke simply. “This was simply a test of endurance today.”
“I can’t keep sleeping in your bed. You need someplace to sleep.”
“I’m fine,” Beorn ground out. “Let’s get you back into the bed.” He guided you patiently, as if you was a stubborn mule, and once you were sitting in the bed, you felt like you could breathe normally. You hadn’t realized you had been holding your breath. “I sleep just fine where I’ve laid my bed. You’re injured, you need the bed to help you heal.”
But he didn’t waver. You weren’t too exhausted, so when he asked, you told him all about your home in Gondor. A little shack on the sea, where you were able to fish for your food on the days you could not afford to buy any. And work in the town at the local tavern or the spinning wheels. It wasn’t ideal, but it paid decent enough for you to scrape by. “I kept to myself, I kept my head down, and I wore gloves for my hands.” You glanced to the tell tale sign of a Wolf Clan… A purebred Wolf Clan member. The thick pointed nails that were much like claws. “I was walking home from a tavern when I caught the scent of Orc. A perk of living by the sea meant that the breeze would keep my scent away from them. But when I was inland… I took off, and I heard them shouting to follow…” You frowned. “That was the last I was there.”
He was ever patient as he listened to your tales of your old home. And he asked questions when he generally thought of some, but he was otherwise silent. “Did people not grow suspicious when you aged slowly compared to them?”
“I moved every twenty years to a nearby village. I never strayed too far from the shore, and sometimes I’d skip towns that were too close to the last. Just to be safe.” He nodded. “If anyone noticed, I heard nothing.”
He left you to rest, before he left the home to do his patrols of the woods.
When he came back the next morning, he looked grim, but then he always did. After the wars, you doubted anyone would be chirpier. “Let’s work on getting you moving.” You didn’t ask why he was so urgent about it, just let him help you stand, before you took a deep breath to keep balancing. “Are you still in pain?”
“Not as bad as yesterday,” you admitted. “Still sore in the leg, but nothing I can’t handle.” He just gave a quiet nod. It was a long journey to the door, and you had to keep stopping to calm your breathing before you began to hyperventilate. But once you got the hang of it, you released his arm and did your best to stand on your own. “You’re worried about something.”
“I caught the scent of Orcs in the forest. The tracks were only hours old.” You glanced up to him in alarm, your focus on balance forgotten. You gripped the wall tightly, wincing as it tugged your shoulder wound. “I could distinguish about fifteen different scents, including wargs.”
“And they’re coming here,” you finished.
He gave a short nod. “Perhaps only hours away.”
“Hence the urgency to get me moving.” He nodded once more. You closed your eyes. “I’m sorry… I never meant to-”
“It’s done. And nothing can change it. But I can’t fight them alone.”
No. Not when they were likely to be surrounded. You opened your eyes, meeting his while giving a convicting nod. “I will do everything I can to help.”
“Your injuries could still hurt you if you shift.”
“I’ve been here for a month. The wounds aren’t too fresh, and they’re mostly healed. I think one shift will be fine. We’ll just have to make it quick.” Beorn gave you a concerned look. “I don’t know if I could last too long with my leg, but… I’ll do my best.”
“If it becomes too much, you must leave the fight,” Beorn said firmly. “You cannot be injuring yourself further or you’ll never heal.”
You gave him a small smile. “Your concern is touching, but I’ll be fine.” And so you were walked to the middle of the home, past a dining table. The home was bright, and there were hundreds of little things you wanted to look at. Wood carvings, animals, etc. And it smelt of nothing but honey. You took a deep breath of it, sighing quietly. It reminded you of home. Of home before the War. Of trade with the bears, and your mother making you honey cakes, which you had always loved. But your mother was not here anymore.
No one from your past was here anymore.
“You have a nice home,” you spoke, as your eyes opened. “And many animals.” Beorn was looking at you as though you were strange. Perhaps he had caught you inhaling the scent of honey. “Truly. Did you build this yourself?”
“Nearly fifty years ago.” You gave a small nod, taking it in.
“Is that how long you’ve been here? Or have you been hiding for longer?”
“That was when I escaped.”
Oh. Your eyes darted to him, understanding. But it was a distraction that stopped you from expressing sympathies. A howl. Faint, in the distance, but you would not have picked up on it if you hadn’t the heightened hearing that you did. “I hear wargs. Five miles to the west.”
Beorn glanced to you, before giving a nod. “I heard.” Good. You two were silent as you listened and as they approached, the two of you walked out the front door. He gripped your arm, helping you stand firm in the garden. And as you caught their scent in the wind, a growl rose in your throat. When threatened you were always closer to your instincts.
“Shift, now.” Your order was based off of what you could hear. Wargs were going to be sent in first. A handful. And then the orcs. But he needed no further instruction, because he was shifting, his body contorting until it was a massive bear, much larger than your own form. And you closed your eyes before feeling the rippling pain that changed you into a wolf. You whimpered slightly at the weight on your back leg, and Beorn glanced to you, his massive jaws no doubt capable of crushing you with one bite.
But you growled and steeled yourself for battle. You did your best not to be distracted from the sheer enormity of the bear. The last time you had seen one, you had been a hundred and seventy, just a teenager in the time span wolves lived. And those that you had seen were small, the children of the Bear Clans. The children that you had been sent to to hide with while the adults fought in the war. While the adults were carted away one by one to never be seen again.
And then the wargs were upon you. You let out a snarl and sprung, sending you crashing into the warg that was headed in your direction. As the two of you tumbled, the warg being only slightly larger than you, you used your claws and teeth to try to kill it quickly before you went after another. Beorn seemed to be effortless as he tore one warg aside and went for the other. And then there were Orcs.
You were forced to split up as Beorn ran out into the vast group, plowing them down. You counted far more than fifteen. But you were much more powerful when you were a wolf, and much more powerful than you had been a few weeks ago. You only hoped that strength would last you. Each collision hurt far more than the last, and each orc seemed to be taken down with more difficulty than the previous one.
You were given the orcs that managed to be diverted from Beorn’s assault - the stragglers, and the ones that were lucky. It was a reduced number, which you were grateful for. But they were still armed. Arrows fired towards you, to take you down, but you managed to dodge them, using the natural landscape to your advantage. Before you leapt at one of them.
At the roar of a bear, you faltered slightly, wondering if your host had been injured, and that was the distraction the orc closest to you needed as he swung a club, crashing it into your backside. You let out a high-pitched whine at the pain, the blinding pain that shot through you. And your back legs seemed to crumple under you. Looking back quickly, you could see that your weak leg was broken. Not only broken but twisted from the weight that had been forced onto it by the orc.
You snarled, turning to the Orc as best you could and you hauled yourself up, putting absolutely no weight onto the broken leg, and sprung for him, snarling viciously. It was only when there was silence that you stopped tearing into the pathetic, screaming orc. And it was then that you collapsed onto your side, lifting the leg up to keep it from touching the ground, and turned to inspect it closer. It was broken where the patch of skin, devoid of fur, was. Where you had not yet had fur grow back from your wound. Your femur.
Already weakened by the arrow, likely. A lumbering figure was suddenly standing over you. And before you could snarl, it was no longer a figure that stood on fours, but a man on two. You glanced back to your leg as he crouched down beside it and noticed that he did not seem to wear clothes - he did not seem to have any on him after he changed with them on. When you were young, those that went off to fight often came back naked. Nudity was nothing new to you. It was a normal occurrence for skin-walkers. A thing of nature.
But as he touched your leg, you whined and he glanced to the Orc, whose blood you were covered in. “Did he do this?”
You only huffed out a response, unable to speak.
“You need to shift back.” Oh, heavens. That was going to be hell. You nodded, and laid onto the ground, so that your claws were digging into the earth, and you closed your eyes. But, for the life of you, you could not shift. You growled in frustration, and squeezed your eyes tighter trying to ignore the pain. When a hand came to your head, running between your ears, and down your neck, you stiffened in surprise.
Oh, that felt heavenly. He continued, and you could feel your body relaxing. This must have been what he meant. Getting your body to relax enough to shift back. And when his hand swept down your muzzle, between your eyes, you felt like you had ascended some other plain. No one had comforted you like this in over a century. Not since your mother had told you of your father going missing.
“Oh, fuck’s sake,” you groaned as your leg gave a jostle when your body settled.
“It’s a clean break. You aren’t bleeding,” Beorn spoke. Well that was a relief. “This will hurt.”
The next thing you knew, he was lifting you. You couldn’t even yelp in surprise as you instead hissed in pain. “He came up behind me,” you gritted out. “And put all his strength into the blow.”
“It seems the leg was not as strong as I thought. It might have even been fractured when you first got here, but was hidden behind your bruises.” At least he wasn’t blaming you for pushing yourself. You noticed that you were not, however, being taken to the bedroom. Instead a small room off to the side of it, and placed down into a wooden basin.
At least he was gentle. One you were settled, a piece of fabric was tossed to you, to cover up. “I’ll put some water on so that you can wash. And then I will have to bind the leg.”
You just sighed. “Thank you.”
He shot you a smirk of amusement. “I almost think you did this on purpose so that you wouldn’t leave.”
You shot him a smirk in return. “I wish.” You waited until he left to lift the fabric covering you, inspecting the leg that rested on the rim of the wooden tub. It seemed to be carved out of an ancient tree, massive and solid. You could see dark bruises already forming, and though it did not look obscure in any way, it was swelling. And it hurt just to look at.
Ugh. You dropped the cleaning cloth and sighed. You were greeted with warm water when you heard the door open again, and not only that, but the water smelt of roses. Oh, he was wonderful. You decided it right then. It wasn’t too hot, either. Just perfect.
“How do you get the water to your house?” You asked as he passed you some soap from a shelf across the room. “You live miles from the river.”
“I have a system underground I pump it from.” Interesting. He nodded his head to you. “I’ll leave you to bathe. I trust you will not injure yourself?”
You gave him a wry smile. “I can’t make any promises in this state, I’m afraid.” You were quick about washing, and by the time the water was the color of orc blood, you, thankfully, were not. You noticed a clean shift for you to change into resting at the base of the tub, unable to remember when he put that there. But you took a deep breath before hauling yourself out of the water, sucking in your breath as you balanced on one leg, and then threw the cotton gown over your head. It was better than walking around naked unnecessarily, at least. You were unsure how close by he was, but you knew he had good hearing, as well. “Beorn?”
The door opened not even a minute later, and you smiled a tad sheepishly as he gave you a disapproving look for being up on your own. “Let’s wrap it before we get you back to bed.” He, too, was dressed this time and you gave a startled cry, as well as a painful one, as he stepped towards you and lifted you, not providing a crutched like you had originally thought. And as he set you down on the bench parallel to the dining table, you were given an excellent view of his chest. You glanced away just in time, as he looked up, instead you looking pointedly to a bird nest in the rafters. Instead of ogling the man that had taken care of you.
That wouldn’t do. Not when you would be leaving soon. “It’s not too bad,” he assessed. And you glanced to him, looking hopeful. “A couple weeks, before you can walk on it, but it’s fine.”
You nodded, and he stood, making you lean back slightly. “I don’t mean to be such a pain. I would have no qualms if you kicked me out now to wash your hands of me.”
Beorn gave a considering nod. “I’ve thought of it once or twice. A few minutes ago one of them.”
You couldn’t help but smile slightly. “And…? The verdict?”
“I will put up with you for longer, if I must.” Your smile seemed to grow and he moved abruptly towards the area where the cattle were grazing. “But you’ll need to start working to keep up the animals.”
“Name it and it’s done.” But you didn’t mind. Any way you could pay him back for what he had done, you’d be sure to do so. Animals were a great way to start. He certainly had plenty of them laying around here. And even some most people didn’t keep in their house. Like the giant bees that had her good mood instantly fading, and she squeezed her eyes shut, as if she hadn’t seen it at all. That was one thing she did not do. Bees.
Chapter 3: Light Labor
The extent of the chores Beorn allowed you to be apart of did not extend further than milking the cows, feeding the indoor animals, or sweeping. He did the heavy lifting, and he was the one that moved you when you needed to be moved.
You were growing frustrated. Though your leg was bound tightly, the wood splints strong enough that you wouldn’t be able to do any real damage to yourself, he still refused to let you help with the heavy cleaning of the barn section of the house. Which made you feel more of a burden than doing any real good.
Added to the fact that he still insisted that you take the bed, despite the fact that you were fine to walk if you leaned heavily on a wooden stick he had fashioned. Which meant you were fine to sleep on the floor or even outside.
You never saw where exactly he slept. He either cleaned it up long before you woke, or he did not have a bed. And he slept without blankets or anything. Unless he hid the extras from you. Not that you needed them. But you worried he might.
He never wore a shirt. He wore pants, made of burlap and tied with a twine string around his waist, but never a shirt. Not that you minded. You often chose the seat by the window, while milking the cow, giving you a great view of him as he chopped wood for the fires at night. Fall was nearing its end. Which meant you could watch as he spent hours on end chopping wood, often not stopping in all that time. You didn’t mind.
But you wanted to do something other than mindless duties. So, you made sure to finish everything he gave you to do early before you hobbled outside, the stick more difficult to walk with on uneven ground, but you managed as you made it to the garden he was tending to, putting things into a basket that were ripe for eating. “You’re not supposed to be moving around outside,” he spoke without even glancing your way.
“It’s been three weeks. I’m capable. I needed air. While lovely inside, I haven’t been outside in months, really.” He merely grunted to convey he heard her. You continued. “Do you mind if I join you or would you prefer to do this alone?”
“If I minded the company, you would be on the first cart to Carrock with goods to trade.” You gave a small smile, before taking a grateful seat in the dirt a few feet from him, giving him plenty of room to do as he seemed to be an expert in doing.
It was silent as he loaded tomatoes, potatoes, and a few ripe peppers into his basket. And then he moved to another row of plants, searching for anything ready to harvest. “What do you do in the winter, when the crops frost over?”
“I hunt for meats. I leave the game here alone save for my own animals, so that come winter there is a strong picking.” Oh. That was… that was smart. But still he did not look at you. “You’ve been watching me.”
You blinked, and unbidden, a flush touched your cheeks. “Pardon?”
“You’ve been watching me chop wood.”
You had no response. To deny it when he obviously had seen you at some point or another? Or to play it off as nothing? “I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to-”
“You don’t mean to do a lot of things that you do.”
“It’s not my fault that you happened to catch my attention from my seat beside a cow. What would be more interesting to look at, the last Bear? Or a cow’s udders?” He shot you a look of wry amusement, before he began to pluck down some beans. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. But it’s boring when you’re stuck inside all day because you can’t walk.”
He set the greens in the basket. “And yet this is the first time you ventured out.”
“I did not think you would let me make it three steps out the front door until I could walk relatively well on my own.” You knew you were right when he gave another grunt, as if indignant.
Were they still on this? You had hoped the conversation had moved to your leg. Obviously not.
“I… Well, I suppose it just caught my eye. That’s all.” He hummed, as if that response was liked. “How did you notice?”
“I was watching you through the window.” He did not even seem particularly ashamed to admit it. But you supposed that you two had been watching each other. So… you were both caught, only he had admitted it… you were the one that wasn’t as discreet as your ancestors had tried to make you, it seemed. “The sun hits you at three, and makes you glow.”
Now that… was far more than a statement. “I…” You frowned slightly. “I do?”
“You have been watching me for nearly two months,” Beorn spoke simply. “Well, whenever you were awake. Especially under the influence of milk of poppy, you weren’t very discreet in your observances. In your most delirious state, you went so far as to ask if I would keep you warm.”
You were full on matching the tomatoes in that basket at this point. “I-I’m not that bold. That was not me.”
“I’m aware.” He turned to you after a full minute of silence, giving you ample time to cool your face off. “You’re a full blood wolf. Even near the beginnings of the war, that was rare.”
“You’re a full blooded bear,” you returned, frowning slightly. “The distinctive hair down your back names you that.” He only gave a short nod to say it was true. “My father led the wolves. He was their Alpha, so you can imagine how that would put me in danger with the war. He was the one that went to the Bears, asked for their help to fight, knowing we were too few in number. The winter had been harsh that year, and many of us divided to find other food sources.” He gave a nod. It had been harsh for many. “The Orcs knew we were weak. And that was when it began. My father was one of the first to go missing. So my mother took me with her south, among the horses. People of Rohan were easy to hide with. They traveled frequently, kept to themselves, but once assimilated, you were family. Only, Orcs followed. I was only in my hundred and seventies when I took the passage to the shores of Gondor.”
“A risky move.”
“I had not seen a single one of our species since. I’m two hundred and eighty four now.” He turned so that he was no longer kneeling in the dirt, but instead sitting, facing you. “What happened to you?”
“Your father was Bloodclaw, of the High Mountains.” You gave a small nod, closing your eyes to keep the tears away. No one remembered his name anymore. No one remember anyone’s names. So many people were forgotten. “He came to my own leader, Longtail.” Your eyes opened, surprised he knew names after so long. After everything. “I remember him. He was a strong man, with hair like yours, and he had a tattoo across his back of the mountain ranges in which he controlled.”
“Yes!” you gasped, surprised he could remember such detail. “And the names of all of his ancestors made up the lines and-”
“I remember. It was how I survived being captured by Orcs.” You found it hard to see this tall, burly man being imprisoned. But you let him continue. “I was with your father in the fight he was captured. One of the Bear Clan’s frontmen. I was young then, barely into my two hundred and tens.” You were not so far in age from him, then. A mere forty years, which in human standards was only four years of maturity. “There were too many Orcs. They surrounded us, wounding us beyond the point of fighting back. Much like you had been when you first arrived. And they took us to the mountains, their own mountains, and down into the caves and mines they had formed. They chained us and forced us to work. Over the months, and soon years, more soon joined. Until there were so many that we became disposable.”
You had not noticed that you were clinging onto his every word until he stopped abruptly. And you let out a breath. “And my father… You know what happened to him?”
“I do not know. I escaped. My chains broke in a mining accident, I fell… And there was a path through the stone that I followed to the fresh air and freedom. And I did not turn back for the others. I could not. Or none would survive."
“You did what you could to get out, to free yourself,” you said, fighting to keep the disappointment out of your voice. You wanted to know if it was possible your father still lived, even though you knew the chances were slim. There would be no reason for Orcs following a stray wolf now, if they still had the numbers of those captured in the war.
“I wear these to remind me of what I had endured. Of the people that will be avenged with Azog’s death.”
The name was a chill. Azog. The Defiler. You closed your eyes, agreeing with a heartfelt nod. “I want nothing more than for his head to roll. I want nothing more than for him to suffer the same way he made everyone we cared about suffer.”
“You were young,” he said quietly. “You have not seen the horrors of the war, have not fought in the front of them. You are lucky. But I assure you, I have plans for Azog, should he and I ever meet again.” His words were a comfort. You could hear not only the sincerity, but the ferocity. He meant every word.
“That would make you only in your early three hundreds, then,” you said after a moment.
He gave a short nod. “What became of your mother?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what happened to any of them. I barely remember their names.”
He was quiet, before he rose and grabbed the basket. “Come. You will burn if you stay outside for too long. You do not have the resistance to the sun built up like those of us that were always out in the sun do.”
You let him help you to your feet, before you began to limp after him. “Why, because my father was leader? It did not mean he did not have us work. He had me learn to fight since I was able to shift. I was taught to hunt, to survive. To use my speed against my attackers. If not for him, I would never have survived here.”
“If not for him, I would have died in those caves long ago,” Beorn spoke, and he held open the door for her, letting her in. “He was a good man. If any of us became ill, he knew how to keep us at our strength. He could encourage us to mine out our own hearts, if he had the desire too. He was skilled at talking. Perhaps that was how he convinced Longtail to join the war.”
“He never wanted anyone to die. He did not think legions of Orcs would be behind the assault. We all thought it was no more than a few hundred. Not the thousands that ascended.” Beorn set down the basket at the kitchen table, where a pump for the well water rested a few feet away. Where all of the water came from. “If we had known… “
“No one could have. Nor could you have known when you ran here that twenty Orcs would follow. A thousand miles is a long distance for even Orcs to follow someone. Which means they knew exactly who you were.” You felt your stomach coil in fear as he bored deeply into your eyes with a warning. “Which means you need to be careful, should you leave.”
“Should I leave? Do you not want me gone?” The words came out quickly and Beorn raised an eyebrow.
“You are useful around the house, cutting my day in half. And though you do nothing but speak to me, you do not do so incessantly. It has been a long time since I have had company. It is nice.” You stared at him in surprise. “Perhaps there are more of us out there… More bears, more wolves. Maybe even horses or tigers or eagles.” You could only hope. But the hope he had in his eyes was faded, as if it had been worn down far too long by the elements. “You do not have to go, if you don’t want to.”
You glanced around the small barn-like home. “Would I be able to go outside without permission once I heal?”
He wrinkled his brow, as though it was the most outlandish thing he had heard. “I don’t restrict you from going outside now. I simply do not wish you to break your leg, again.” You could agree there was a valid point behind that. “I’m not here to order you around. Nor are you here to be ordered or order me.” You finished your assessment, glancing back to him to see that he was watching you wearily. “At least, I should hope that is not why you are here.”
You gave him a smile, giving him a light shrug. “I could do without ordering you around, I think. I… I would like that very much. I do not even know if I will have a home back in Gondor, if I were to return there, anyway. And if I would, orcs would still be able to find me down there.”
“Just as they could up here.” You nodded silently. “I cannot promise it’s safe, only that we are stronger together.”
That was something that you didn’t even question. You knew it. Especially right now. “Then I take up residence somewhere else while I heal.”
“You stay in the bed until your leg is fully healed, and then we’ll find you another place,” Beorn reasoned firmly. “You can’t get yourself off the ground, so how are you going to sleep on the floor?”
You grimaced. “Fair point.” He gave a firm nod. “I… I can do more than milk a cow, you know. I’m not bad at cooking. Sewing either. I imagine you go through a fair few clothes when you shift. I know I did when I had the freedom to do so.”
“Light labor only,” he spoke sternly. But it was not mean, merely a warning. “Or you will never walk right.”
“A risk I’m willing to take.” He just sighed. You watched as he washed off the vegetables, taking great care in getting all of the dirt from the skins. “Why have you been watching me?” He glanced to you. “You asked me. It’s only fair.”
“You’re different than most women I’ve run into in the past.” You knew that wasn’t much of an answer. “I am intrigued by you. How you hold yourself, your pride is not strong, but it’s intact. You aren’t like most women around here, either. You understand… everything that our people have gone through. I am glad you escaped.”
“How… how bad was the mining?”
“Bad enough we all considering a mining accident not being so accidental.” You swallowed, and he set the items he picked outside on the table, to dry. “I watch you because I know near nothing about you, but I want to know it all.”
“That’s very bold of you,” you spoke once you could find the words. His eyes did not waver from your own, and you found you could not look away either. “Do you always want such things?”
Beorn snorted, picking up a few potatoes as he moved away from you and towards the selection of knives. “No. It’s been over a hundred years since I’ve even been in the same room as a woman and not been chained to a line of others in forced labor.” You couldn’t understand that, but you could understand what he wanted. After years of living alone, you, too, wanted to be near someone again. Even if it was just to have conversations at the dinner table. “Conversation is pleasant when it’s not to animals or yourself.”
You smiled. “I quite agree.” And as he continued to chop up the vegetables, you wondered just how high up he was in the Bear ranks. Purebred Bears were just as rare as Purebred Wolves, but he had only said one of the fighters. One of the many fighters that had been chosen to fight alongside your father.
But he made a point that you did not want to dwell on. The Orcs possibly knew who you were, and they knew where to find you.
Chapter 4: Tiny Creatures
You had been sleeping when you heard the crashing noise as though part of the house had fallen down. Your first instinct was Orcs, and when you heard Beorn give a great growl in his bear form from outside, you were instantly awake, and pulling yourself out of the bed. Your leg was still bothering you, but not too badly. You had to defend yourself. You spotted the dull, blunt dagger on the bedside table. Beorn had placed it there for particularly this reason.
An old kitchen knife, used much too frequently and over the years had gone dull. One knife was better than none. You clutched it tightly as you heard the door slam shut and voices. Voices that were inside the house. And they were urgent. You carefully pulled yourself to your feet, moving silently across the floor, listening closer.
“That is our host,” a withered voice spoke. One that set your teeth on edge. One you knew. Not Orcs. Someone worse. “His name is Beorn. And he’s a skin changer. Sometimes he’s a huge black bear. Sometimes he’s a great strong man. The bear is unpredictable, but the man can be reasoned with. However, he’s not overfond of dwarves.” Neither were you.
But wizards… that was a different matter.
A quiet voice whispered, “He’s leaving.” And indeed you could hear Beorn give one last grunt before he trudged off into the forest. He had likely been so loud to wake you, to warn you of these people’s comings.
“Come away from there. It’s unnatural. None of it. It’s obvious. He’s under some dark spell.” If they meant Beorn as a threat, then they meant it to you as well. You turned to the bed, grabbing a thin blanket for better coverage so that you were not in an untoward shift, before you doubled back to the door, so you could hear the voices once more.
“Under no enchantment but his own. Alright, now, get some sleep, all of you. You’ll be safe here until night.” You clenched her jaw, and stepped out into the room slowly. If Beorn did not know them, then she certainly was not going to be the one to let them stay either.
“Who are you?” You demanded, and the blade was gripped tightly in your hands. The people that had been speaking were a vast more than you thought. At least a dozen, if your count was right, and a wizard. All of them spun towards you, swords out. They did not even come up to your waist in height, which you raised an eyebrow at in consideration. They were the intruders? They were no bigger than children. Dwarves, indeed. “I don’t think you heard me,” You repeated more clearly, your eyes flashing as there was silence. “Who. Are. You?”
The wizard seemed to recover first. “Forgive me. I was not aware that there was anyone living with Beorn-“
“That was not my question,” you snapped sharply. “Who are you?” The gray wizard was someone you knew well, though not favorably.
“My name is Gandalf the Grey, the traveling wizard. And these are my companions.” Your eyes darted to the various small men. All were still holding their swords high. You clenched your jaw and glanced back up to the wizard. “If you’ll forgive us for intruding upon your home. If we had known-“
“It would still be trespassing, whether I was here or not,” you interrupted. “What have you done to Beorn?”
“Oh, nothing, nothing. He’s just been chasing us is all, and this was the only shelter we could find in such short notice.” Your eyes flickered to the windows, where you could see the Bear running to the woods, and the sound of wolf howls.
“Wargs,” you whispered. You dropped the blanket, not caring that you were in a shift, and moved towards the door, but your leg protested at such a fast movement and you gasped in pain, stumbling on the stairs. A wounded animal in a pack of people with weapons.
“Why do you think I’m here, wizard?” you snapped. “Beorn has been tending to it. I need to help him-“
“Ah, yes, the Orcs. There were quite a number trailing us-“
You pushed past the wizard and made for the door. Orcs. Orcs had made it here? Orcs that would kill Beorn alone. “The bear will get you!”
You snarled towards the dwarf that had spoken, satisfied as you watched him shrink away. “If you think Beorn would harm me, then you’re a mighty fool. And if you destroy anything, I will see to it personally that your throat is ripped out.” Your bones burned as you shifted on the other side of the door mere seconds after you discarded your shift, and you howled, able to hear the people inside rushing to the windows.
“Amazing… a Wolf… I haven’t seen one in years!”
“A wolf, Gandalf?”
“Likely the last of her kind. They were the first to be killed by Orcs long ago.” Your claws dug into the ground and then you were running towards the forest with a speed you didn’t know if you possessed. Her your burned as unexercised muscle was used for the first time in weeks, but you pressed on. You had to be there. You could smell them, at least four. If the Orcs had-
But Beorn met you at the forest, and growled at you viciously. And you growled back. It resulted in him jumping at you, sending you tumbling to the ground and a pained whine leaving you. That had hurt. You tried to get back up, but his teeth gently came around your neck, not biting, but a warning. To go back to the house. He had warned you she wasn’t to get onto the leg for a while. But you gave a growl as he let you go, and just as quickly, the teeth were back.
The command was firm now. “Go back now or I will make you go back.” You whimpered and slowly got to your feet, rolling your haunches before staring up at him. He huffed and you lowered your gaze, dropping so that your chin touched the dirt floor, before your lifted herself up and backed up a step. He gave an accepting huff and turned away from you. And you knew he would not let you face an Orc pack. Not even when it meant his life. Not when you were in no shape to fight, just slow him down. Damn him.
You changed at the gates, knowing none could see you, and grabbed the discarded clothing you had been wearing, before marching up the path, muttering under your breath. “Stupid, inconsiderate, dumb, brute, selfless bear!” you snapped. A large bee whizzed past you and you jerked back, your pulse quickening, before you growled in frustration once more. “When I see him next, I’m going to tear his fur from his hide and he’s going to wish that he-“
The door jerked open, and one of the dwarves looked a tad afraid. Good, he should be. “Are you going to eat us in our sleep?”
“You shouldn’t even be here, dwarf,” you snapped, stepping inside. Your leg burned and you moved towards the fire, lifting up the hem of your skirt to see the pink scarring from the arrows and the bruising from the break. But it was otherwise fine. No fractures, just aching. “Beorn will watch the house to make sure that none of the orcs stray too close, but you will not be able to stay here long. He knows you’ve come, and he will not be happy that you are here uninvited.”
“Well, that’s simple then. You just invite us.”
“I’m not invited,” you snapped. “What makes you think that I can invite you?” Though you were an invited guest now, a permanent resident even, the dwarves didn’t need to know that. And especially not the wizard.
“Forgive me, but I had no idea that a Wolf still lived.”
You ground your teeth together. “No, you wouldn’t have. Because you let us be stripped of our pelts, skinned for the price we brought a few Orcs. And you let us die out. At least Radagast had sense, at least he tried to help us. He put few of us into hiding, helped us group together to build strength, but it was not long until they found us there as well. Do you know what it’s like, wizard, to live every moment of your life in fear that you will be forced into your form and skinned for a few pieces of silver? To be worthless otherwise? To be forced into a life of slavery for some Orc’s amusement?” The wizard winced. “No, you do not. Nor would you ever. Beorn and I are the last we know of, and even I was almost hunted down and stripped of my birthright. They found me by Gondor, and followed me hundreds of miles to Beorn’s doorstep when I fled. That is how much of a rarity I am. And where were you? When they hunted us? Sitting in your little home, riding your little cart, lighting fireworks for all the children, while my people died.”
Gandalf lowered his eyes. “I had no power-“
"No power?” you scoffed. “No power at all, and yet here you are with thirteen dwarves, a hobbit, and a trespassers greeting. No power indeed.”
“I could do nothing-“
“My own father came to you,” you returned swiftly. “He came to you and begged you for protection. Begged you for help. And none came. You sent him away, told him you could not get involved, and for what? Your fireworks? Your carefree attitude. You destroyed my Clan. You let it happen. And there’s a reason that I hate wizards.” You darted your eyes to the dwarves. "And why Beorn hates dwarves. The dwarves did not help us either, but that was long after my kind had died out. The Shire was the safest we could get, but we stood out there, so we all migrated to the edges of this world, and still… they found us.” You glanced to Gandalf. “Sleep if you must, but know that I will not hesitate to tear your throat out should you even mutter a spell my way.”
You limped towards the bedroom. “You will sleep with the cattle. And I will hear no complaints.”
“Would you like someone to look at your leg?”
“No wizard or dwarf will touch my injuries. Beorn will look it over when he arrives in the morning.”
But you were seething. And as you closed the bedroom door behind you, you shut your eyes, breathing heavily as you listened to the dwarves all declare themselves a spot to rest. But you could not hear the wizard. The wizard you wanted nothing more than to tear apart. The wizard your father had died because no help came. No help from the istari. No help from anyone but your own kind.
Chapter 5: Honey Cakes & Apple Cider
In the morning, your heard the last final roar of the great Bear and then all was silent. You knew he had changed back. So, you quickly went to the wardrobe, grabbing a few of his things to dress with, and you walked out of the home, over the sleeping dwarves, towards the gate. It was a warm, beautiful morning, and the bees were out full force. You avoided them like the plague, jerking out of their way every time one flew too close, and you set the clothing down on the outside of the gate, before you turned back to the house, seeing that many dwarves were up.
Beorn had changed with the idea that he would be returning in the night for his clothing. And you knew that he would have a long trek into a house full of dwarves, now, naked. You thought to save him from that situation. A blanket was wrapped around your shoulders, to protect some modesty from these… people, but the dress was still thin. It didn’t make you feel too overheated, just warm.
But the dwarves seemed to think that just because you hadn’t killed them meant that you were fond of them.
“Good morning, lass. My name’s Bofur.”
“I could care less,” you stated simply, side stepping him and moving around the kitchen to get yourself from food for your growling stomach. And then you sat at the table, chewing on the cheese slowly as you listened to the dwarves conversing near you. They did not seem to think you could hear.
You caught a few names, and one was one that you recognized. One that had been passed around since you were a child. He was just a tad younger than you, and once you had his pointed out from the group, there was no mistaking his face. The line of Durin was strong in him. You rose from your seat quickly as you noticed Gandalf approaching and washed the dishes you had used quickly before practically tripping over your feet to get out of the house. You were no lighter on them than you were the night before, but at least you made it outside without stumbling.
Beorn was at the tree stump, chopping away at a newly fallen tree he must have discovered in the woods. You clutched the blanket tightly, as a chilly wind swept through your hair, catching Beorn’s attention. He paused only briefly to glance at you before he swung his axe at another block of wood.
The view had certainly improved since the last you were outside, mere minutes ago. “You chased visitors into the home,” you began, stopping a few feet away from him so that there was space between you.
“I remember, vaguely.” The wood split under the axe and he lined up another piece.
You ran your tongue over your teeth before you spoke. “They are dwarves. They are discussing now what to do to approach you.” The axe faltered and he glanced to you, his expression unreadable. “A wizard is with them.”
He tensed and his eyes darted back to the house, his breath leaving him in an angry huff. “Did they hurt you?”
“Not that I know of. They slept with the cattle. They informed me orcs were chasing them, but you refused to let me help-”
"They didn’t approach me. They seemed to fear my involvement,” Beorn spoke. “They avoided me at all costs.” You gave a small sigh of relief. “You should not have shifted. Your leg is still weak-”
“You can’t face an orc pack alone.” He grunted, and picked up his axe as he began once more. “They will introduce themselves, from what I overheard.”
“Very well. I will give them a share, but I will not welcome them.” You were a tad relieved at that. “If you are looking for something to do, you should head to the garden. There are a few things that could be pulled, I believe.”
You were relieved he was finally giving you tasks that let you stay outside. And tasks that didn’t involve getting near a wizard that had ensured your demise. “Thank you.”
“But don’t strain yourself.”
“Everything’s fine,” you insisted. “I feel great.”
“You’re still too weak to shift.” You knew that. Last night had been an emergency. “How many are there?” You did not need him to clarify to know he was asking for the dwarves.
“I counted thirteen dwarves, a hobbit, and a wizard. My count may be off.”
He clenched his jaw. "Very well.”
“One is Thorin Oakenshield,” you finished. Beorn paused as he went to lift his axe. “The Orcs are chasing him. I heard them whisper about a price on his head.”
“Oakenshield?” Beorn demanded. “You’re certain?”
“They definitely called him Thorin Oakenshield. He had long black hair, a tad grey with age, and the tallest.” Beorn straightened as if this changed everything. “The one from the stories. The one to take back the mountains again.” Beorn gave a short nod. “Maybe… he’ll give you the mountains back. The mountains of your people stretched into Erebor’s realm. And mine-“
“Go to the garden, get a few things for a meal. I’ll see to the dwarves. They will stay another night, but no longer unless necessary.” The sound of having his mountains back seemed to appeal to him though. And you gave a small nod. That meant picking enough for a company of dwarves to eat, as well. Not just two ravenous animals.
As you set off in the direction of the garden, you heard the unmistakable sound of the front door opening and the walking stick of a withered old wizard. You hoped Beorn gave them a good scare. They seemed terrified of you last night.
But after the games were over, Beorn invited them inside for food. Of which you were still working on, but you gave the pot a final stir before moving to the pantry to grab a wheel of cheese that you had just finished making. You glared at them all as you set to chopping up some of it, the large knife making quick work of the wheel. You set the platter down in the middle of the table before you worked on another. Beorn poured the milk for them, and you hated to see the hard work you had put into that milk for the last few days go to waste. But you would have to play host for now.
“So you are the one they call Oakenshield,” Beorn began, moving past you as he set the milk back down. “Tell me, why is Agog the Defiler hunting you?” Azog? Your eyes darted briefly to Beorn in surprise, but you didn’t give much away. Azog was the one leading this ordeal.
“You know of Azog. How?” Thorin said in surprise. You finished the next block and set it down, before you stood by Beorn, your eyes darting over them carefully. You still didn’t trust them, though they left their weapons by the door.
“Everyone knows of Azog who has been hunted,” you spoke quietly. “Azog leads them with his second in command, and son, Bolg.”
“Our people were the first to live in the mountains. Before the Orcs came down from the north. The Defiler killed most of my family, but some he enslaved.” You couldn’t help but glance down to Beorn’s wrists, where the broken chains rested. You had been thinking for weeks on ways to get them off, but every time you couldn’t think of anything he had on hand that was stronger than goblin steel. Goblin steel was harder than most, and his chains were made to constrict him to human form, had he not stretched them enough with his bear strength. You could only imagine how painful that had been. “Not for just work, you understand, but for sport,” Beorn finished, and you released a shaking breath. “Catching skin changers and torturing them seemed to amuse him. Wearing us down until we were nothing but slaves seemed to bring him joy.”
"There are others like you?” the hobbit asked with genuine interest.
"Once there were many.”
“I am the last Wolf I know of,” you admitted, and only because of the hobbit’s genuine interest. Hobbits, you had heard, were supposed to be good, kind people. “My clan resided between the mountains north of Rohan and the forest of Lorien and Fangorn, and roamed the plains there. And it was there the Orcs started their enslavements, skinning anything they could think of. And when we became weary, could elude them, they paid men to sell us out. We split up, and soon were all scattered so far we stood no chance..”
“And now, for the Bears?” the hobbit questioned.
“Now, there is only one.”
“Our sister Clan, the Horse Clan, has been unheard of,” you said quietly. “The eagles, the tigers… Even the elephants… Not a soul has been discovered in over a hundred years. We were gone within a decade.”
Beorn seemed to have enough of the talk of their kind, or the reminders of their past, and he sat heavily in a chair, and you stood beside him, too uneasy to sit. “You need to reach the mountain before the last days of Autumn.”
“Before Durin’s Day, yes.”
“You are running out of time,” Beorn observed.
“Which is why we are going through Mirkwood.”
“A darkness lies upon that forest,“ Beorn said immediately, gruffly. “There are things that creep beneath those trees. I would not venture there except in great need.”
“We will take the elven road. Their path is still safe.“
“Safe?” Beorn scoffed. “The wood elves of Mirkwood are not like their kin in the south. They’re less wise and more dangerous. But it matters not.”
“What do you mean?“ Thorin asked as he turned towards Beorn, seemingly deep in thought.
"These lands are crawling with Orcs, whose numbers are growing. And you are on foot. You will never reach the forest alive.” Beorn stood suddenly, and you stepped out of his way as he moved towards Thorin. “I don’t like dwarves. They’re greedy and blind to the lives they deem lesser than their own.” You wished he’d just get on with it, send them away, so you could worry about scrubbing Orc scent off of where they had slept. It burned your nose. “But Orcs I hate more. What do you need?”
“Horses, if you can spare them,” Thorin stated. “Just to the forest, and then we’ll send them back.”
The dwarves, at least, cleaned up after themselves. And you watched as they washed every dish carefully, jumping in surprise when a voice spoke beside you. “You are the daughter of Fingold Bloodclaw… I did not make the connection until earlier.”
“Aren’t you lucky?” you said dryly to the wizard. “Do not think I have forgotten what you told him. The matters are of no concern for me. Skin-Walkers are no concern of mine.” He nodded his head, as if he deeply regretted the decision. “You cast my people away from the safety of Isengard, starving and with a price on their head. I hope there is never a time you will need my help, because I will not give it freely.”
You had barely made it three steps when a hand touched your arm. You paused, and glanced up to see Beorn looking at you carefully, as if assessing whether or not you were well. “Would you like to go outside? While the dwarves rest, I have honey cakes.”
You loved honey cakes. You gave a grateful nod and he disappeared into the kitchen, before joining by the door and you exited into the crisp fall air. Winter was a mere week and a half away. “Where are we going?” you asked curiously as Beorn look your wrist in his grasp, pulling you beyond the shrubs that guarded his small plot of land, and out into the vast plain. And he gestured for you to sit before he sat himself.
“You are afraid of the bees.”
“I was stung when I was a child. And your bees are quite large… They’re almost like birds, only they sound like an arrow whizzing past me when they fly by.” Beorn seemed to understand your reluctance of the bees, then. You had too many run ins with arrows. From a small basket, Beorn unfolded the top cloth to reveal honey cakes.
“Do you think they will harm you?”
“They’re huge, of course I do.”
He gave you a patient look, before he glanced over your shoulder. “And these bees do not have stingers. They are incapable of harming anyone. They purely make honey.” Oh, well… still they were big. He reached into the basket before holding out a honey cake to you. “Do you like honey?”
“My mother made honey cakes when I was little,” you admitted. “I love honey.”
“Then why do you fear bees?”
“They can be harmful.”
“But these are not.” You wondered if this was a trick, and you slowly took a bite of the cake in your hand, before you gave a reluctant nod of agreement. “So you will let one land on you?”
You opened your eyes wide, the sweet taste of the honey forgotten on your tongue. “What?”
“You will let a bee rest on your hand, then?”
“I didn’t agree to anything like that!” you protested, sitting up as straight as you could with your leg resting to the side of you. “I’m not touching any bees.”
“You do not have much of a choice. The bees roam freely in the house. Eventually, one will land on you. I would rather you not harm my bees than potentially injure on as you shoo it away. I have been watching you jerk about – which makes your leg hurt.”
“I’m fine,” you insisted. “Really. I don’t need to become friends with the bees.”
“The bees are apart of nature. Nature you had forsaken to be safe.” You gave a reluctant nod. “These bees have done nothing but provide for your enjoyment. They will not harm you, and if you do not wish to continue after it lands on you, then we will never have this discussion again. But at least I know you made an effort.” You took a deep breath. Fine. That was fair. “Come closer.”
You finished the cake in your hand to show your reluctance before you scooted closer. He situated himself behind you and crumbled up a perfectly good honey cake in your hands, and then grabbed your wrist, holding the hand up so that the scent of the honey traveled in the wind. You could feel his breathing as you were silent, waiting for a be to show up. His breath was warm, right at the base of your neck. And his hand pressed into the ground beside your hips as he leaned forward, so that his chest brushed against the backs of your shoulders. Heavens, he was so close to you.
And you didn’t mind it in the slightest.
“Nothing’s happening,” you said quietly, and while his arm kept your own up, you felt that the longer this continued, the more that was just an excuse for him to be this close. You cursed how breathy your voice sounded.
“It takes patience.”
“Mmm,” you hummed as his warm breath did not falter, but instead seem to get closer. It seemed to take no time for bees to begin to float towards you, and as one whizzed past your ear, you flinched slightly, but Beorn’s hand kept you steady. “They’re much bigger than I remember. I don’t like this.”
“One hasn’t even landed yet.” You squeezed your eyes shut, focusing on his warm, even breathing. You could do this. It was simple. Let one land on you. It hardly took any effort on your part save for staying still. A slight tickling sensation caused your fingers to twitch, and you opened your eyes to see that the tickling had not been the wind, but instead a bumblebee.
A massive bee standing on your hands. But that no longer mattered.
Where Beorn’s hot breath once was, as you let out a shaky laugh, his hand sliding around our waist, his lips now were. The bumblebee floated away as he murmured against your skin. “I am very proud that you could do that despite your fears.” You tilted your head, giving him more access, and his rough hands pulled your hair out of the way.
“Beorn…?” You didn’t recognize your own voice, but it was everything your head was screaming at you in a much softer way. “What are you doing?”
His lips pulled away and his arm retracted almost immediately. You missed it. Turning so that you could face him, he cleared his throat. “Forgive me, I… do not know what came over me.”
“I wasn’t complaining, I was… just curious as to what your intentions with that were.”
Beorn gave a small quirk of his lips, pleased with what you were saying. “I do not know.”
“Then perhaps I’ll jog your memory.” You carefully pulled yourself onto your knees, pulling him into a kiss that was full of all the pent up feelings you had for the last few months. The attraction, the lust, the gratitude, the affection. You two were alone in this world and understood one another more than anyone else could really hope. You knew each other better without needing to talk about yourselves. It was in the way you two moved, the way he would talk, the way he carried his chains on his wrists. The way they jingled as he would grip you tightly or hold you while you were getting to your feet. As if he was protecting you, never wanting to let go. He took control, putting you on your back and his hands pressed against the earth on either sides of you, his body hovering like shelter in the middle of the plains. “Perhaps your intentions are the same as mine… I’m sure a field is the most comfortable place to lie, but I don’t mind it.”
When you pulled away, your lips murmuring your words against his, he was breathing heavily with his eyes closed, his forehead pressed against your own. “We cannot go much further with your leg.”
“My leg isn’t the one making the decisions right now,” you murmured, your fingernails digging into his shoulders to keep him from pulling away. “If you do not want this, then fine. But I have been thinking about you for weeks now.”
Beorn growled softly, his lips nipping at the part of your neck right beneath your jaw, making you sigh as your eyelids fluttered closed. The grass tugged at your hair as you lifted your head, trying to keep his lips on you for as long as possible as he pulled away. “You have been thinking of me? I have been thinking of you. But I did not think that you were interested in me. A Bear, of all people-”
“I think we need to work on our communication more.” You pulled him in for another searing kiss, tasting nothing but apple cider on his lips. The taste of fall and things to come. “For instance, I want you in this field, Beorn. I hope that isn’t going to be miscommunicated.”
He groaned quietly. “No, I do not think it is.” His lips captured yours and his body shifted as his hand moved from the ground to your leg, running down the side of it until it was able to slip under the hem of your dress. “Is this a miscommunication?”
“I’ll let you know when I am not longer capable of speaking,” you insisted, only for your words to end in a slight gasp. Beorn seemed rather pleased with himself at the sound. And the honey cakes were forgotten as you embraced yourself in a cake of your own, that tasted of apple cider and the faintest trace of honey. As he became a man that was fully capable of showing just how much his rough persona meant nothing for how much he cared. How tender he could be. And just for that afternoon, there were no dwarves, or orcs, or a war fought decades ago.
There were just two people uniting as one.
Chapter 6: New Beginnings
The morning sun darted across the covers of the bed, casting spotted light on your skin through the thick vines that kept most of it out. A chain was pressed under your pillow, and another rested on the mattress in front of you as the arm curled around you, pulling you deep into the warm, broad chest of the bear you had spent all morning with in the fields surrounding his home. You kept your eyes closed, snuggling into the warmth, and thought back on just a few hours ago.
You and he had returned to the house once thoroughly satisfied, and he let you wash up before he set to getting everything for the dwarves. They had stayed the night, but they were due to leave in a few hours, once the sun hit the highest point. From where you laid, you could tell it was still mid-morning.
But the dwarves were exhausted and after a quick meal, they rested once more. Leaving you alone with your bear to discuss what exactly had happened. Sex, coupling, mating… whatever the name people wanted to call it… You were the last ones for each other. The last ones to be there for one another. And no matter what happened, you existed for one another now.
So you agreed to keep house with one another. While in any other world, it was marriage, in skin walker culture… marriage didn’t exist. Life partners, certainly, but there was no obligation to be bound to one another. It was a choice, and only a choice, to stay. And so it was then that you insisted that if they were going to be partners, he had to at least take his bed back, to which he compromised a share. There was certainly plenty of room.
But his arm was comforting, and as you were pulled into his naked chest when he started waking, his grip tighter as he released a quiet breath in your hair of content, you gripped the arm, hearing the chains clink as you laced your fingers with his own and pulled the hand up to your chest, over your heart.
“Good morning,” you murmured quietly.
“Good morning.” His voice was gruff and you turned your head so that you could see the sunlight playing with his own hair and beard, and across his broad chest. “You’re moving too much.”
“I want to look at you,” you insisted as you turned your whole body so that you faced him. He grunted, but his arm under your pillow moved down until it accompanied his other around your waist. He was giving you the best hug in the world. His warm skin was warm against your own. Bare. Soft. And he buried his face in your hair, taking in a deep breath of it, before he placed a soft kiss to your shoulder.
“Do you see me now?”
“Not enough of you,” you admitted. He chuckled and rose onto his elbow, hovering over you. All it took was a quick once over, looking down, to see all of him under the covers. “Much better,” you approved.
“The dwarves will be up. You will need to guard near the house while I take them to the greenwood forest.” You knew. You had discussed it in between lulls of intimacy. “I want you to stay in this form unless you sense danger. Or if you see Orcs plainly. Then you are to howl.”
“I know, Beorn,” you said with a soft shove at his chest, and he got off of you, sliding out of the bed, the blankets staying wrapped around you. You were given a nice view of his backside as he reached for his trousers, pulling them on. “I will keep myself hidden. They will not hesitate to get me. I’m smaller and injured. Easy to overpower. My leg will hold. If it withstood the other day, and yesterday’s activities, then it is fine. It should be healed by now.” He didn’t seem convinced, but you’d indulge him until he said it with certainty.
That was how you ended up laying in wait in the bushes surrounding the gate of Beorn’s home. The Company of dwarves, wizard, and hobbit disappeared with the ponies, some food, and a bear. And you stared at the woods, watching the surroundings for any sign of Orcs.
You heard the wargs long before you saw them. They howled so similarly to your own people, that you jumped every time. It reminded you of times before the war.
Only they couldn’t have been your people. They were gone, killed, imprisoned.
Each howl was a reminder. You shifted when you spotted them. A group of at least twenty. Far more than Beorn had made mention of when he ran into Azog and his small group earlier. He had said about five… these were a lot more than that. And he could not face them alone. You let out a piercing howl, distinct enough from the wargs that you knew Beorn had heard it, because faintly in the distance you could hear a bear growl.
The large hunting pack stopped when they heard you, and you held your breath, watching as they seemed to be questioning to head in your direction or in the direction of the scent they were trailing. You would not be able to fight them. You would not even be able to take down three with their wargs trailing. You gave a sigh of relief as they seemed to decide to follow the dwarves instead, but then instantly worried. Beorn was in that path.
It seemed agonizing, waiting and listening to the sounds of howls and whimpers. And you wondered if Beorn would ever appear. But when he did, lumbering out of the woods, you shifted immediately back to human form, and his bear began to pick up speed as he broke out into a run – seeing you. When he reached the gates, he shifted, and you were given a first hand look at the injuries he had endured. A few claws had scratched along his chest, and there was a cut at his cheek, but he looked alright.
“The orcs have taken a different path, to avoid me. I managed to fight a few before they realized it was the better plan.” You gently touched the tender skin on his chest, near a cut, and he let out a harsh growl. “Ouch!”
“You’re a baby. It’s barely a scratch!” you insisted.
He just growled in warning. But he let you lead him into the house, sitting him down and you began to tend to him as he had tended to you in the last few months. For the deeper sections, your fingers worked deftly to stitch them together. And those that did not need stitching, you tentatively placed a clean cloth over, to keep them from getting dirty.
“Thank you,” he said quietly.
“Returning the favor,” you said lightly, and placed a kiss to his cheek, before you moved to the pantry, grabbing some fruits and passing them to him. “There, those will make you feel better.”
He raised an eyebrow, but took a bite out of one, and gave a nod. “Better already.” His smirk gave away that he was making fun of you, and you simply stuck your tongue out before sitting beside him.
“What’s going to happen now?”
He was not wrong. Not even two weeks later, Radagast was pounding on the front door with a wide-eyed expression on his face. He didn’t even give you a startled look, as if he was expecting you. “Orcs. Thousands of them, Beorn! Thousands! Ascending on the mountain! We must help them fight. Or they will destroy these lands and there will be no place for you or I to call home-”
“The mountain? Erebor?” Beorn asked.
Radagast gave a nod. “I’ve called all the others I could think of. From the north, from the west. We must hurry or I fear it will be too late.”
You frowned slightly. “Others?”
“Other beings of nature, of course,” Radagast said as if it was the most obvious in the world. You didn’t see how that was. But a swell of hope formed within you. “Come, come, we’ve no time to lose!”
You were barely given a moment to breathe as Beorn was suddenly blowing out the candles in the kitchen, kicking out the fire in the fireplace, and putting a few of his things away. “You are to stay here-”
“If there is a war that will determine the outcome of our future, I will fight in it,” you cut in before he could even try to make you stay in the home. “I will not hide again.”
Beorn looked as though he wanted nothing more to protest. “Then you fight, but do not get yourself killed.” You stepped closer to him, and embraced him tightly.
“I promise. If you promise me as well.”
“I have no idea what we’re walking into. But I’ll try my best.”
Radagast was waiting impatiently in the garden and he seized both your and Beorn’s hands, tugging you out to the plains. And your steps faltered as you let out a disbelieving gasp. Eagles. Giant eagles, just like… “They still live,” you breathed. The giant eagles of the north, that had reigned there for hundreds of years, thousands even. There were dozens of them flying into the clearing, landing. You pulled yourself from Radagast’s grasp, moving towards the eagles as they landed. They stood at least twelve feet high, and your eyes widened further as you saw people sliding from their backs.
“Skin-walkers.” The words had left Beorn, who followed. And you could not believe your eyes. There were dozens of them. As many to match the number of eagles. And the eagles shifted into their human form. You could not help yourself. You stumbled forward and hugged the nearest skin-walker tightly. You recognized none of them, none from your own Clan, but that didn’t matter.
“I thought I was the last for so long,” you explained as you pulled away.
The skin-walker was a woman, of the tiger clan. The faint stripes on her skin told you that much. “Wolf,” she grinned. “We have yet to see one that survived. Oh, it is so good to see you.” She glanced over your shoulder. “And a Bear! Those we thought lost.”
“I’m Y/N, daughter of Fingold Bloodclaw. And this is Beorn.”
“Beorn,” the woman repeated. “Cousin of Longtail.” Beorn gave a small nod. Well that certainly explained the fact that he was Purebred. He was a cousin to the king of the Bears in the day. “I never knew…” She seemed as shocked as you. “Oh, this is the greatest news. All of us united. We shall not lose on this day.”
“We must make haste,” Radagast spoke. “The battle is beginning.” The Eagles transformed, and as people began to climb on, you and Beorn were directed to a lonely group of Eagles, and climbed onto your own separate. You didn’t do well with heights, but once the Eagles began to fly, the fear was forgotten. It was a short trip to the Lonely Mountain, a section of Middle Earth you had never ventured to. The battle showed you that this would not be a fight of those from nature against Orcs alone. No, there were elves, men, and dwarves battling.
People fighting for a cause you knew all too well. Freedom.
You watched as the shifters in front of you began to drop from their eagles, falling to the ground and transforming into their alternate forms. Tigers, horses, lions. The sight was so welcoming, so comforting. Solidarity.
Your kind weren’t extinct. They still lived. They still thrived in hiding. And though there were no other bears or wolves among them, seeing so many others still made you feel far better than seeing none.
You fell. Your skin stretched and pulled and fur burst from within you. And then you were among the orcs, clawing and tearing at whatever foul smelling creature you had a chance to. You were so caught up in following Orcs and knocking them down that you didn’t realize that you were beginning to distance yourself from the others.
Not until a few Orcs were surrounding you. And you could not see a single skin-walker in your vacinity.
Just Orcs and wargs. And they were closing in. Shit. You backed up a few steps, growling menacingly, daring them to try and get closer. Which they dared do. You held your breath as you took another step back, knowing that you were close to the Orcs behind you, but the ones in front of you were more menacing. You hadn’t the strength nor the size to defeat all of them before one got you with their blade.
You were afraid. You felt as though you had never made it to Beorn’s home. That you had never made it to Gondor. That you were in the middle of the wilderness, in the midst of the first war, and orcs were onto you. Admittedly, they seemed to have not ridden wargs into battle then, but it was similar.
You didn’t have time to protect yourself as suddenly a warg jumped at you, knocking you to the ground,and sending your head cracking into the ice. But once you were able to clear your head, shaking it and snorting in frustration as the world seemed to spin, you could see a white warg standing over you, growling as if protecting you.
It was a large warg, larger than you and had sharper claws. And there were lines along its fur from scars that had long healed. But it was definitely standing over you, and definitely growling at the wargs around it. A few other wargs looked confused with the change of events, and you, yourself, felt just as lost. What on earth was going on?
The warg growled sharply as a warg stepped forward, and it flinched back. An orc shouted something and suddenly an orc came charging for the warg, only for it to claw him with its claws and send him to the ground in a puddle of its own blood. Swift. Efficient. Intelligently. It had barely moved other than that.
Intelligence no mere warg you saw possessed. Intelligence humans had. Intelligence you yourself used in battle to claw or bite at someone. And as you took in the wargs around you, suddenly they didn’t seem too different from your own wolf form. Larger, sure, but that was usually what defined age amongst the Wolves. And they had much more muscle mass than a wolf, making them stand out from you, but… you hadn’t lived a Wolf Clan life in a long while. You hadn’t built up muscle to keep you on the road or to help you climb the mountains.
You glanced to the wolf over you, seeing that the lines along its back from scars were not just from battle. They formed a pattern. A pattern Beorn had reminded you of the last you had talked of your past. Of the mountain ranges and the plains, made of the names of your ancestors.
All those wargs you had killed with Beorn… all those wargs you had killed in battle just today. They hadn’t been wargs. No one had even heard of wargs until after the war. You had thought they were simply a species in a land you had never heard of. You had never thought that… that the wargs could have been… your own Clan. You had killed members of your own clan, people you had likely known. People the Orcs had imprisoned over a century ago. That had no doubt been brainwashed into hunting down others, forced to hunt others or be hurt or worse.
But you knew without a doubt that your father stood over you. He snarled at another warg that attempted to get closer and the Orcs seemed to back up, giving you enough space to get to your feet. As a few Orcs became disinterested, turning to someone else in battle, only few kept their eyes on you, as if waiting. You stepped closer to the warg- to the wolf that was your father in his alternate form, and whimpered slightly to convey your surprise.
He glanced at you, as if to make sure you were alright, before he stepped a bit in front of you, between the orcs that had not given up, and you. You still could not think. You could not process anything that was going on. He was alive. Beorn had not know if he was dead, had not seen, but here he stood… The orcs attacked, and he was swift, and you kicked yourself into gear, quickly running up and doing your best to help take an orc off of a warg. It was not the wargs that were attacking, but the Orcs. And as the wargs were freed, they seemed to skipper back, as if afraid of your father – as if afraid of their long forgotten king.
And when the fight was over, and the fellow wolves showed their signs of submission, your father turned to you. You did not care for anything other than to speak to him, and you glanced around quickly to see if it was clear, before you shifted. “Papa?” you whispered. His ears twitched in your direction, and he lowered his head, before suddenly he wasn’t a wolf any longer, but a man that had graying hairs and scars of hard work and torture. You couldn’t keep the sob from escaping you, and you covered your mouth with your blood covered hand. “I thought you were dead. Beorn said you were taken with him and-” You cried, and he reached for you, pulling you into a hug. He smelt of dirt and blood, and orc, but there was a slight twinge of the honey that you remembered so fondly. “I missed you so much, Papa.”
“Oh, my sweet, sweet moon,” he breathed, and his voice was the same timber that told you the stories of heroic wolves when you were nothing more than a toddler. “Your mother and I thought you were long since gone. We never thought we’d see you again.”
“Mother’s with you, too?” He gestured over your shoulder, and you glanced back to see another pale warg approaching, before she too shifted. “How? Why did this happen? How are you here? And… why are you fighting with the Orcs? They’ve done nothing but destroy us-”
“We had no choice,” Fingold spoke as he released you. “They have those we love in their grasp. And though you escaped, your mother did not. And I knew if there was a chance you were out there, I needed to do everything I could to keep you safe. So I gave them my loyalty, and they promised to keep us from harm.”
“But all the others taken,” you said, confused. “The bears and the tigers – horses!”
“The horses were not useful in mines. Distance strong, but not strength-wise. Some are still in their grasp, but most were released and sent to Rohan.” The Riders. “Bears and Tigers… are still in their grasp.”
“But we can’t let them win,” you insisted. “You can’t keep fighting with the Orcs. We have to fight back. We have to fight them to be free again. That’s what everyone that has died died for. They did not die for some twisted allegiance to keep us alive.”
“And how could we fight them when their numbers were much greater than ours?” Fingold asked. “Everyone they have is on this field today. And all of them are falling. We could not fight any sooner than today. I knew when I saw you… When I saw you, I knew that the world was not lost. Today is the day we fight back.”
Your mother approached just then, and you felt her arms wrap around you. She was every bit as firm in her hugs as you remembered. And she kissed your temple as she pulled away. “A woman now…” She sighed. “I am so proud of who you have become, Y/N.” But your head was still in a whirlwind. You had no idea what to make of any of this. “Fingold, we must act quickly, before more of the Wolf blood is shed.”
And your father suddenly shifted to his wolf form, before letting out a long, piercing howl that made you cover your ears in alarm as you winced. And all of the battle seemed to shift like the tides on the coast of Gondor, and suddenly Orcs were shouting in alarm as the supposed wargs turned them off of their backs and attacked. Your mother’s arm never left your shoulder as you watched the Orcs be taken down by people they trusted.
“We always had a plan should we decide we had a good chance,” your mother spoke quietly as your father’s howl halted.
But as the orcs seized and the wargs bowed in submission to the other skin-walkers in the clearing, you did not spot a bear amongst them. “Beorn!” you gasped, and you shifted suddenly, sprinting through the clearing and searching anywhere you could for the one that you now called a life partner. Your paws felt as though they were shredding on the sharp rocks and orc blades, but you cared not. You kept searching, sniffing for any of his scent.
You spotted the great bear laying on the ice as the snow came down from the heavens. And each of your steps were agony, but you pulled yourself close to his bear form, sniffing him, to see if you could smell any death on his form. Your heart seemed to float as you got nothing but blood, but none that was too severe either. Torn stitches from the other week, most likely. And you nudged him with your muzzle, earning a soft growl and one of his eyes to open. Conscious as well.
A worried whimper left you, making him open both eyes and snort to assure you he was fine. Tired. Exhausted. You had been fighting for hours now yourself, and your mind with this new revelation made you feel like you needed a rest, and you felt like your limbs were on fire. So you pressed your body close to his in the winter snow, closing your eyes and blocking out everything around you, pretending that you were home. Pretending that you could forget what you had learned. Forget that you had not murdered your own people that attacked Beorn’s home.
Pretending that this meant a new beginning, a safe world where skin-walkers could roam free. Pretending that nothing had ever changed. One of Beorn’s paws lifted, and his body turned so that he could nudge you closer to him. And that was how you drifted off to sleep in the middle of the carnage, exhausted, but relieved for the final moments of peace.
When you woke, it was because Beorn was giving a warning growl to someone in the distance. You lifted your head, and spotted the two white wargs, and you nudged Beorn, causing him to stop, before you got to your feet. He lumbered up as well, and never took his eyes off of the wolf pack approaching slowly. You shook the cold snow out of your fur, seeing that it had created a small blanket around the area you had drifted to sleep in.
You shifted, causing Beorn to snarl at you, but you rested a hand behind his ear, and spoke quietly. “They are no wargs. He saved me when orcs surrounded me. Look closer, Beorn. Who do you see? I blind to it, too, until a few hours ago. But who do you see in the pack?”
Beorn growled softly, before glancing back to the wolves. And his entire countenance changed, and when he shifted, so did the two in front. Your mother and father. “How can that be?”
“He said that he has been biding his time, waiting for the Orcs to weaken before he attacked from the inside,” you spoke quietly, stepping closer to him and putting an arm around his waist to keep yourself warm. Now that the snow was steady as it fell, you felt like you were going to freeze to death. “Bears still live too, and tigers and horses… We aren’t the last, like we believed.”
Beorn’s arm came around your shoulder, to show that he was not going to attack, and your father spoke then. “You are the one that has kept my daughter safe.”
“She came to me three months ago,” Beorn stated simply. “With nine arrows stuck in various places of her body, and an orc pack on her trail, all the way from the shores of Gondor to outside of Carrock. A month later, the orc pack attacked my home, and she broke her leg. Yes, I have kept her safe – as safe as I could. But the time before that, she kept herself safe.” Fingold bowed his head.
“I have owed you no greater debt than this one, Beorn. You have always had a good heart, and a kind soul. I apologize for anything that my people have done under orc control to you-”
“You need not apologize,” Beorn said quietly. “I had not known that wargs were… really wolves.”
“It began twenty years ago, long after you had disappeared. I had thought you dead, old friend.”
“I saw an opportunity and seized it.” Fingold gave a small smile, nodding his head as if he would have done the same should it had been him.
“I am returning to the mountains, to free the rest of our people. And yours.”
“I will not fight in anymore wars,” Beorn spoke stiffly. “I do not want that life anymore. My duty lies with my home and to myself.”
Fingold’s gaze darted to you, but you spoke with a heavy heart. “I have missed you so much, you will not believe. But I cannot fight for something that is no longer my home. I belong with Beorn, if he will have me.” Fingold glanced to Beorn in surprise.
“Aye, I’ll have you.” Beorn said it so quietly, it was not meant for anyone but you to hear.
“I do not wish to lose touch. I do not wish to never see you again. So I ask that… once you win back our lands, once it is ours and our people can live in peace, that I see you again. And I promise to visit and help with what needs be. But I have spent so long fighting and running and hiding, that I do not want to hide any longer. I want to live my life in peace.”
Fingold lowered his head into a defeated nod. “Then I ask for you to keep her safe for me. To protect her, Beorn, when I cannot.”
Beorn straightened slightly, and his grip on your shoulder tightened. “That is my greatest duty of all.” Your father and mother shifted, and soon the wolf pack faded into the distance, the others that had flown in on the eagles today trailing after them. To liberate their people. You watched them fade over the hills before you glanced up to Beorn, seeing him stare after them, expressionless.
“Did you mean it? You will have me?”
“Every day until I die, if you want to have me in return,” Beorn spoke, and once he had finished, he glanced back down to you. You gave him a bright smile. “But you are covered in blood. You need a good wash.”
“I could say the same for you,” you laughed quietly, glancing at the torn stitches on his chest. “You need to get that taken are of, as well.”
“Then we had best return home to remedy this.”
“Wait,” you said quietly, and you laced your hands around his neck, pulling him in for a kiss that conveyed everything you felt. All the fear, the exhaustion, the love, the confusion. “That was for our new beginnings,” you spoke as you pulled away.
Beorn grunted. “New beginnings, you say?” He wrapped his arms around your waist, looking off into the sky as if thinking about it. “Aye, I guess that’s what we could call this.” His eyes caught something over your shoulder. “Now, let’s get home.”
Home sounded nice. You let him grab your hand and followed him to the Eagles that had landed, where a few of the injured Skin-Walkers were being helped onto their backs. After a few promised to take you to your home in the middle of a field, surrounded by trees and the sea, you gave Beorn one last kiss to his jaw before you climbed onto the eagle, and Beorn onto his own. And though your bare skin was near frozen in the high altitude, your heart felt warmer than it had in a long while.
You were going home.