The sound of children playing in the front yard filled the kitchen through the closed window. Pies lined the sill; the scent of freshly baked meats filled the air as Cwen carefully extracted another from the oven.
“Bira! Neilia! It’s just about lunch time, my loves!”
She delicately set the pie with the rest of them to cool and cracked open the window to let the stifling heat out. The cool winter day rushed through with a pleasant whine of the wind. Stepping back with a smile, she surveyed her work for the neighborhood party that evening. She hoped the Hobbits would like the fare—she learned the recipe from one of their own and tweaked it slightly to add a touch of marjoram. Hands on her hips, she sighed. The concerns of Hobbits were far easier to deal with than the concerns of Men.
After a moment, she called out to her family again.
“Biramore! Neilia, darling! Where are you!”
It was very unlike them to neglect their lunch. Since moving to the Shire permanently, Neilia had maintained rather round proportions only accentuated by her growing into a fine young lady. And Cwen couldn’t help but note Bira softening a bit around the midsection as well. She smiled as she thought of it and went into the hall to look for them.
“Bira?” He was not in the parlor nor the bedrooms. A frown crept onto her lips as she strode down the hall toward the rounded front door. She threw it open and the cold blast of winter hit her full force. The yard was empty; the children had gone to their own homes, stomachs just as good as a pocket-watch at keeping time in the Shire.
Her frown darkened as worry set upon her brow. “Neilia! Biramore!” she called. A quick sweep of the yard revealed nothing. She went around the house, small for a Man but cavernous for a Hobbit, and found them in the small backyard hovering a short distance away from a prone figure. Gasping, Cwen rushed forward.
“What is it?” she cried as she came up to them. A hand on each’s shoulder and they parted to let her through.
A lynx the size of a large collie lay in the brittle grass, its breathing labored with pain. Its dark purple coat shined with blood on its flank and it hissed whenever Cwen came within a few feet of it.
“Mama, what is it?” Neilia asked trying to see around Biramore’s protective stance.
“It’s a cat of some kind,” Cwen replied. “And it’s hurt.”
Behind her Biramore frowned. “Clearly. Cwen, where do you think it came from? I have not seen an animal like that in these parts. Ever.”
Nodding, Cwen lifted her skirts so she could crouch. “And why is it here? Seeking Men when it is injured?” She offered a hand to the wounded animal without breaking her gaze on it. Hissing, it swiped at her, though its injury kept it from getting close. A warning.
“Neilia, love, go fetch my supplies,” she ordered without turning around. The soft pad of footsteps faded quickly and Biramore moved to kneel next to her.
“You think it is tame?” he asked her lowly once Neilia was gone. “This could be a foolish thing—healing something that could turn around and attack us.”
Cwen waved her hand dismissively. “Biramore, you know that has never stopped me before.”
Giving a curt nod, Biramore fell silent. They waited patiently until Neilia returned with a small hip satchel that clanked as she ran toward them. She also carried a bucket of water and some cloths. Taking the satchel, Cwen ordered her daughter leave the bucket and go retrieve some raw scraps from kitchen before she turned back to the lynx.
Its golden green eyes watched her warily as she inched closer, fangs bared but no longer hissing. Still offering her hand to it, Cwen inched forward until she was within arms length of its nose. It leaned forward cautiously, sniffing. Cwen held still until it could not move any closer and then slowly brought her open palm within its reach. It sniffed her and then sat back regarding her with guarded eyes.
Cwen bowed her head to it, eyes still on the animal. Behind her, she heard Biramore grunt and shift his weight. Slowly, she turned to the satchel and retrieved a tin of plantain leaf.
“’Tis good you gathered some this morning,” Biramore commented as she crushed the leaves with a small mortar and pestle.
“I always gather some in the morning. It only works for bleeding when it’s fresh, Bira. Now that you are training Neilia, I feel like I should always have it around just in case.”
Biramore laughed lightly. “Of course.” After a beat, he adds, “She is getting very good, you know.”
Cwen nodded distractedly as she scooped some of the paste of the crushed plant and put it into a clean bowl. She quickly retrieved a prepared salve from her satchel and placed it next to the bowl, her long, thin fingers adjusting its placement before turning to Biramore. She gestured toward the bucket. “Hand that to me, would you?”
Biramore bent to grab the handle and loped over to place it next to Cwen and the lynx. It hissed at him, but he ignored it. He dipped the cloth in the water and then moved to clean the lynx’s cut. It started hissing and spitting, attempting to move away. Biramore paused and blinked. “Maybe you should do it.”
Cwen rolled her eyes and took the cloth. Moving slowly, she cleaned the cut, finishing just as Neilia returned with a bowl of meat scraps. Cwen selected a slice deep red with blood and tossed it to the lynx. It ate greedily.
Pausing only to toss the lynx more scraps, Cwen quickly finished tending the animal’s cut. She thought it could use stitches but didn’t want to risk losing an eye over it so she settled with a tight bandage and another scrap. To her side, Neilia kept a running monologue of soothing encouragement to the animal. It eventually let her place her hand on its head which caused the girl to smile broadly.
Biramore had disappeared for a while only to return bearing a large barrel from the pantry. Cwen mused on what sort of vegetable now covered her floor, but smiled. As she finished with the wound, she could hear him drop the barrel on its side and then move to the small bale of hay they kept to keep the dirt down. He used it to make a bed in the barrel and then straightened brushing off his hands. When Cwen was finished, he came over to carry the lynx to the make-shift house, but as soon as he came close, it growled low and menacing.
“Bira, I dunna think it likes you,” Neilia observed.
Biramore looked stunned. He nodded and pointed down at the feline. “Do you think you can manage it, love?”
Cwen answered by carrying the animal to the little house and helping it settle down. She had Neilia fetch a bowl of water and then sat stroking the black ears while it purred softly.
“Whose do you think it is?” Biramore asked with his arms crossed over his chest. A troubled look shadowed his features in the afternoon sun.
Cwen squinted up at him shielding her eyes. “I have no clue. I would not call it tame, but it certainly belongs to someone. Perhaps someone in town knows?”
Biramore shook his head. “I doubt a Hobbit would keep a half-tamed lynx as a pet. Thing could eat one for breakfast.”
“Well, we need to find who it belongs to. We can’t keep it here.” She frowned. “I thought lynxes inhabited places farther east, like the Lone-lands or the Trollshaws.”
Nodding in agreement, Biramore said, “That would be what I would have guessed. Perhaps from down river, but it still seems odd one is this far from its home. Perhaps we need to chance Bree-town and see if there’s been reports of unusual movement.”
Cwen looked down at the lynx with a thoughtful gaze. “You think its master could be there?”
He shrugged. “Better chance there than here in Buckland.”
“I don’t want to go back to Bree, Bira.”
Biramore stood still as a statue as Neilia returned with the water and a blanket from her own bed.
“Neither do I, love.”
*image from wildplantforager.com