What the Letters Say

What the Letters Say

Dear Rheb,

In ten day’s time, I will come with a few traders and goodsmen from Durrow and the nearby lands. I will sell for a few; we shall have summer vegetables, breads and dried meats, and some clothing, and I had Callee, my Hobbit friend, brew my favorite honeymead for you.

I believe it best if only the women come to do the trading. If there are Men-men, and not Orc-men, that should be fine, but I hope to establish create a good relationship before the others discover you have orcs. I want to protect you and your people from those who will not understand.

I hope you are well. We miss you.

With love,

Kwen

~~~***~~~

To the Keeper of the House of Medicine of Dol Amroth:

How are you, Nestor? I do hope life has settled for you and no further mischief has overcome the city. You know my propensity for disliking Dol Amroth, but I do love the people there and hope they have found happiness during the summer months.

I am writing to request the list of herbs accompanying this letter. I have a patient here in Bree who would benefit from their properties. If you have any insight into how to brew them in a way that would most benefit someone having nightmares, I would greatly appreciate your wisdom.

Wishing you and your city good health and happy days,

Cwendlwyn Tain of Bree
Field medic of the Wayfarers

~~~***~~~

Dear Callee,

I have spoken with Oendir and the eleventh it is. If you could arrive on the ninth for final preparations, I believe we will be able to solidify all plans in time.

Neilia looks forward to seeing you. Do you think the larkspur back by the lilies would survive the trip? I wish my garden here was more established. I am hoping Oen will agree to me keeping the property and continuing with my plant nursery. I do not see why he would be opposed to it.

All my love, darling,

Cwen

~~~***~~~

Dear Kupsa,

Damn, I hope you can read common. Have your dad read this to you if you can’t. ORENDIR <— have him read it!

I just wanted to say hi and ask how everyone was up there. Is it really still ice even though it is summer? Bree is all right. There’s lots of flowers and honey to be had and everything tastes fresh. You should come visit with your brother and sister sometime. I think you folks would love it, especially Kipina. How is she, by the way?

Vahan is doing great. I know he’s just the runt, but down here, he’s really something special. My brother Eirikr is training him and he’s pretty good most of the time. He gets along really well with our other dog, Bear, but not so much with my sister’s cats. But no one really gets along with them.

Maybe this year we can come visit you again. I think Vahan misses the snow.

Write back! (if you can)

Your friend,

Abiorn of Dale

~~~***~~~

Dear cats that belong to my sister:

STAY OFF MY BED.

I know you can read this, you blasted lynx.

~~~***~~~

Dear Father,

The relic is still guarded well by a sorcerer of some power. My own is not strong enough to dispel the wards placed over it.

I am biding my time and getting to know the people, as you said. There is one who is incredibly suspicious of me; I recall his face from the Ranger’s keep. It is hard to forget.

I do not feel as though he is a normal grave-digger. The girl disappeared for several days after he did; he returned with a sword of some magnificence, but otherwise appears unchanged. How would you like for me to proceed with him?

I will travel to the ruins as before. North, this time.

Your daughter

~~~***~~~

Your excellency,

It is with great pleasure that I congratulate you on the engagement of your son Dunstan to the daughter of Magan. He is a fine man. My only regret, of course, is that it is not my daughter! The foolish girl does not deserve so fine a young man.

Regarding the shipment, it is on schedule to arrive in two weeks. Your influence with the Captain of the Guard will be most beneficial to its safety. Again, I cannot thank you for your assistance in this matter in any other way than my support for your illustrious position. May your court remain true to justice and continue to measure the men of Dale with its wisdom and mercy.

Kolrson, son of Sote

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Dalish Charm: Try So Hard

The streets of Durrow were quiet of people; only dogs barked and crickets sang in the fields as they passed through town. Anya did not say much as Callumn vigilantly walked beside her. His hand extended toward her slightly as if expecting her to fall at any moment. On her other side, Oli trotted along silently. The lynx pressed his flank against her occasionally and she drew strength from the animal’s presence and loyalty.

She should be falling. She should be unconscious, famished from the vigil she kept over Morducai’s heart. Over Melchior’s heart. Over his heart.

The two figures in the dark turned from Long Street onto Chestnut and in short time they stood at the path leading to the Tenorbekk cabin. Hunger and thirst ate at the little energy she had left, but she waved Callumn aside with a thank you and a reassurance she could make it inside. She felt his gentle eyes on her back and, steeling herself, she made it down the path on her own, lifted the latch, and stepped inside to the chorus of loud barks.

Shocked stares greeted her with the more jubilant greetings from the pups. Oli did not follow her inside; he slipped away easily fading into the shadows cast by the light of the fire.

Abiorn was the first to speak. His playful admonishing for not taking him along on her adventure let Anya breathe a little easier. Her younger brother helped her to the couch and then started tea and fetched her some blueberries and honey.

Bear leaped onto the cushion beside her and tried to push his way onto her lap while Vahan sang his greeting at her feet. Eirikr spoke to calm them both, and soon the dogs both rested at her feet panting out their excitement as Anya tasted the sweetness of the fruit Abiorn brought her.

Neither brother asked questions, and she was grateful for it. She knew they would come, but when Abiorn started dragging out the tub they used for baths, she knew they understood. Both brothers went to check on Eruviel’s new home to give her the privacy she needed to wash away the Barrow Downs and its stench.

The water was too hot, but Anya stepped into it anyway. The flush of her skin made it seem like the blood was not hesitant to flow through her sore limbs and as she washed herself, she pictured the hours she sat in the ancient tombs as though she was watching someone else. Occasionally someone would come with drink and she sipped automatically from their hand like a babe, but never did her attention waver from the Star of Cardolan in her palms. Morty’s life was in her hands and she would not fail him.

She must have drifted to sleep because soon she was no longer in Durrow-upon-Dunwash, but in a large and lush garden in the backyard of a tall home in Dale. The judge’s son was there with daisies in his hand and a winsome smile on his lips and he leaned in for a stolen, secret kiss, but his eyes lightened as he moved in and their brown became blue and Aeron was breathing his wife’s name as he kissed her and she felt the heat in her palms as the fear of loss grew in the pit of her stomach and before she knew what was happening next, Morty was leaning over her and she was in the Keep of Tinnudir and he was stroking her hair.

When she awoke in her bed some time later, she tried not to feel embarrassed that one of them must have put her there. The night gown’s ties were open at the throat, but she was well covered and a mass of fur and flesh with two sets of feline ears made her legs hot. Sitting up, she looked out her window and saw stars still shining.

Quickly, she donned her robes and brushed out her hair. Her sleep, though it had been short, had refreshed her enough to recall no one had been tending his garden in the past three days and the roses needed tending to. She did not know when he would be back or if he would be back. She would tend to them. She would not let them die.ScreenShot00466

Her surprise when she saw a light glowing in Morty’s window struck her paralyzed for several moments. Cautiously, she went up to the door and slipped inside.

He was there. He was alive. Hallem and Raenarcam stood glowering, and Morty assured her Cal and Miss Lark were probably off safely home. The real exhaustion hit her then; once the silent worry was assuaged, the fear of losing him forever vanquished, all she felt was the need to sleep. He led her to his bed where she fell asleep.

She only woke once before morning when out of frustration he punched the wall. Her sleep was dreamless and peaceful in his familiar bed and she only regretted the morning because he was not there beside her.

Burrowing deeper into the warmth of bed, she smiled into the pillow just happy to be alive and to know he was alive as well. Soon her body demanded something more substantial than jerky or honey-covered berries, and she forced herself up.

Looking around, Anya realized quickly that she did not know her place there any more. There were no perishables in the house after his long absence; she would have to leave to breakfast and she was not quite sure she was ready to walk out of Morducai Mossfoot’s door for good. Waiting for him to return to force them both into their awkward corners again. No, it was time for her to step out of the shadows and make the choice for herself.

With a piece of charcoal, she wrote on a several pieces of parchment torn from her sketchbook:

Dear Morty,

I do not know where to go from here. I awake to a pale beam of sunlight and the smell of roses and I face a new day both with and without you. 

I had tried so hard to do as you wished. I did not know how. You picked me up, nourished my roots, and allowed me to blossom beneath your loving attention. Without you, I feared I would begin to fade away again and have only a shadowy imitation of life. After all, how could anyone notice me, the second child that was not a boy, but only a bigger disappointment with every move that she made?

Sadron said that he would not be surprised if I was a reoccurrence or recurrence or something like that. We had reached the barrow and I did not think to ask what he meant, but we had been speaking of the Dunedain woman who held your heart when you forged Steve. If I am interpreting his words correctly, I believe I was meant to find you, Morty, and you did need me as much as I needed you. I will always be here to hold your heart until the end of all things. 

What to do with my heart, then? My fea recognizes your fea and neither of us can do anything to stop that loyalty of spirit to spirit. But I understand what you want for me and why you pushed me away before. My heart is still mine to give. I do not take it back from you, but I will change its essence if that it what you need from me now. Through your love, my own has grown and while you keep the first bush, I will give a cutting to another at your behest and his love will help me take root elsewhere and continue to grow. For him, I put away my sadness and began to feel the warmth again.

I will be hard to see you and not embrace you. To pretend that I do not long to be with you, for I know that I will wish it for a long time after I leave this house. But I will try and I hope that long after I am gone and you and Sadron still stand guard over these lands, you will remember me. And perhaps one day, I will be able to hold your heart again should you ever need someone to do so.

Always with love,

Your Anyatka

She folded the parchment in half and rested it against the pillow. She looked around the small, tiny room, and crossed to the mantle where several trinkets still rested in the gathering dust of time. She picked up the small burgundy rose made of sea glass Morty’s brother had given her upon their first meeting and gently blew the dust away before polishing it with the hem of her robes. Beside it she placed the small silver bell her brother gave her when she was just fourteen and faced a world without his protection, and then she stepped back. She took a deep breath.

It was time to go.

The morning sun warmed Anya’s face as she wound her way through the gravestones and out to the Greenway and then south, back to Bree.

Flee, day. Give me night.

Not Alone

An odd sound filled the room. He had never heard it before and now he wondered what it might be. The shelter was small, and it wasn’t coming from the room with the beds and table, so he figured it must be coming from the room where the girl slept and made handsome colours on sheets of rough cloth. He liked watching her stretch new squares of cloth. Her face usually turned red and she would swear when she thought no one was listening.

Bear investigating the source of the odd noise.
Bear investigating the source of the odd noise.

Tick tick tick his claws went as he padded quietly across the room to nose the door. It swung into the room slowly and the noise grew. Salt and sorrow. His soft black nose could smell salt and sorrow and his golden ears perked up with concern.

There.

The girl with the strange two-toned hair sat curled in the far corner of her bed with her back pressed against the headboard and her knees drawn up to her chest. Both arms wrapped around her legs, and her chin rested on her kneecaps. Her shoulders jerked with each unusual noise and her face sparkled in the sunlight coming in through her parted curtains. She looked so miserable and he felt a tightening in his chest to see her so sad.

Next to her hip lay the big, sleek feline and the cranky one rested on her feet and stared at Bear when he pushed open the door. He just stared right back. Clearly they weren’t doing enough to make the girl feel better! Felines just did not understand that sitting there wasn’t good enough to make humans feel better. They needed more than the disdainful acceptance of their presence. He would show her what the human needed! Maybe when his human returned smelling like the Elf, he would give him a special treat if he made the girl smile and forget whatever made her heart sad.

It was such an excellent idea! With one giant leap, Bear bounded onto the girl’s bed, which sent the mackerel flying after an evil, cranky hiss, and licked her bouncing face. ScreenShot00433She kept moving! So he leaped to get a better angle for licking, causing them both to rock and bob on the soft bed. The sleek cat, who had told him his name was Olavi and that he was called a lynx, remained unperturbed and merely watched them both with half-hooded eyes.

“Bear! Bear, no!” the girl said, harshly at first. Her voice sounded deeper than normal, and scratchy. This made him sad, too, so he tried to lick her throat to make it feel better. Lick lick lick. Licking always made his hurts feel better.

The girl finally started laughing, though water kept leaking from her eyes. She started to pet his head between the ears and he stopped jumping to brace both paws on her legs to continue licking the salty water away. As her face cleared of them, she smiled. That must be what was making her sad! Maybe it hurt her, or maybe it just made her itchy. He got all of it now, though. She didn’t have to be sad anymore.

“Hi, boy,” she said as she stroked his soft fur. “Are you sad that I’m sad? It is okay. I will be fine.”

His tongue lolled out and he smiled at her as he panted in her face. Maybe she was cold, too. He’d make her warm!

“Oh, Bear, your breath is rather…warm.” Yes! “Here, get off me, boy. Sit. Sit. Good dog.”

The woman crossed her legs in front of her as he sat back on his haunches.

“Do you miss them, too? It is rather quiet with Abiorn up north and Eiri doing… whatever it is he is doing over at Eruviel’s all the time. You know, I’m surprised he does not take you with him. Maybe you could help him guard the place, hm?”

His head fell to the side as he listened to the human talk. It was nice when the girl spoke. Smooth and rich sounds, like the humming of his mum. He missed his mum and his brothers and sisters, but he liked these humans well enough. The one she called Eiri let him out of the box, after all. It was dark in the box.

“You know, sometimes,” she said in a low, conspiratory voice, “Sometimes, I wish I could have just stayed happy with Anric. You probably do not know who that is, but that is all right. You do not have to know him. Just that he was with me for some time. When I was not quite so alone.”

She scratched behind his ears and he closed his eyes in pleasure.

“But I just didn’t love him enough. He couldn’t handle that I loved Morty at all. But I do. And I guess that is why right now I am alone.”

He pushed his forehead against back of the girl’s hand. She wasn’t alone! Even before he barged in, she had that stupid cat, after all, and the sleek lynx.

The girl smiled and stroked his ears. “I know. Morty loves me. Morty loves me as much as he is able to love me. It is not what I pictured for myself, though. Living cramped here with my brothers when they have the time to think of home. Or going to Morty’s hoping each time to find him unoccupied. It would be nice to have something normal, don’t you think? Someone-no offense-to come home to every night. Who you know will be there.”

He sighed and licked her hand. It was all he could do. As her eyes misted again, he crawled into her lap without waiting for an invitation. Olavi raised his head to look at him lazily, then set it back down again. The feline came up slowly once he was settled, but he ignored her. He did not want to scare her away again. Her human needed her and he wasn’t going to prevent cuddles. Cuddles made the world a better place.

~~~***~~~

Vahan knew how to cuddle, Abiorn would give him that. The excited pup would leap about the surface of the snow barely seeming to break through far enough to give credence to his weight and then bound back into Abiorn’s waiting arms to lick and burrow into the boy’s warmth. The black and white husky runt growled at the falling snow and then made a crazy woo-ing noise that reminded Abiorn of off-key singing if there had been words. Each clump of white was a bird or a hare tempting the pup to go straight for the jugular.

Abiorn grinned as Vahan lept from place to place and then back to him. The pup might be small, but he was smart, Abiorn could tell. He brought out a pocketful of jerky and Vahan had already discovered that if he sat and waited patiently, he’d get a piece. Well, most of the time.

“Come on, Vahan,” he said and started back across the ice toward the hut he was staying in. He took several steps away and blinked down at the puppy who simply sat with his head cocked to the side. “Vahan! Come, boy! Come on, let’s go get warm!”

vahan
Vahan, the husky runt

“Rooooo arroo arroo arroooooooo.”

Abiorn had the odd notion that he had just been told off.

“Vahan! Come on, boy, I’m cold! Let’s see if there’s any goodness to munch on inside.” Abiorn patted his thigh hoping the dog would follow the sound.

“Araaahgh arraaahghhh rrrooorrororrrrooooo.”

“Seriously?” Abiorn stared at the puppy and wondered what he could do. He could always pick the pup up and carry him inside. But then he pictured himself carrying a larger dog several years down the road and he just wasn’t interested in that. He could lure the dog with treats. But then, the future Vahan just turned into a huge, fat ball of fluff that he’d still probably end up carrying around in several years.

What if he just walked away? Said once more that it was time to go and then expected Vahan to follow. Did he have that sort of flair, that sort of leadership quality hidden somewhere inside of him? He doubted it. But before he resorted to leaving out a trail of treats for the puppy, he had to give it a try.

Abiorn spoke in a firm but gentle tone. “Vahan. It’s time to go inside.” He jerked his head toward the hut and tried to keep his body language relaxed and confident. He gave Vahan one last confident look that brokered no other option and turned to head inside.

A high, alarmed yip came from the puppy. Another woo-roo or two sounded from his white throat, and then he bounded after Abiorn and circled his feet at a respectful distance before falling into a trot beside him.

“Yeah, I thought so,” Abiorn mumbled to himself. “Didn’t want to be left alone, didcha?”

He smiled down at the little husky runt that only wanted in on harnesses and treats with the rest of his pack. Vahan would see no harness, but he would find a pack that would love him, Abiorn thought to himself.

Then he laughed loud and clear in the crisp air.

Anya was going to kill him.

But she knew he would love the newest addition to their growing menagerie. She was never one to turn out a member of the pack, runt or no.

Reunited, Reprimanded, and Revealed

Dear Miss Anya,

I have received notice from an Elf named Eruviel that you have lost a lynx. I have been inquiring about Bree for a few days and am relieved to finally find its owner.

Please send post regarding arrangements to meet so we can return the poor thing to you. I wish to warn you that when my Biramore and I found him, he was injured rather badly. He has mended well, but bears scarring on his flank.

I look for your message in eagerness,

Cwendlwyn Tain

Anya blinked as she reread the letter. The woman was due to arrive that afternoon and her heart raced excitedly as she skipped around the house making scones and muffins. Oli! At last! Some good news for a change.

Eruviel hunted that day, so she had no one to share in her nervous energy. Once her baking was done, she had little to occupy her as she waited for their arrival. She paced the front room for thirty minutes pausing only to stare out the window for extended periods of time. Finally, two strangers appeared around the corner. A large black lynx followed them closely behind.

Anya burst from the house and rushed to the end of the footpath that cut through the yard. From a distance, the woman raised her hand in greeting.

“Miss Anya?” she called out in a clear, confident voice.

Anya returned the wave enthusiastically. “Miss Tain?”

The couple drew close and Anya was able to examine them. The woman led slightly; the man trailed behind a bit as he looked around and over his shoulder frequently. She wore well fitting robes of lavender and tan and a wide-brimmed sunhat with a large plume in the band. Anya could see locks of dark hair escaping from beneath the hat. Her eyes were a piercing green that belied the gentle set of her smile. This woman had seen things that would probably set Anya’s head spinning.

The man was handsome and bore himself like a soldier. The shirt he wore fit well and as he turned to look back at the lynx, she could see the well-defined muscle moving beneath the fabric. His face was kind and his eyes clearly protective of the woman as she walked before him.

From behind the man, the lynx suddenly shot forward. It moved so quickly it could have been a fleeting shadow. It leapt at Anya, rebounded off her chest, and bounced around her as she laughed.

“Oli!” She knelt to the feline’s level and he nuzzled up to her cheek. “I missed you, too,” she whispered to him.

The woman paused on the road before the lane and curtsied gracefully. “Miss Anya, it is a pleasure to finally meet you.”

Anya rose and curtsey-bowed to her. She felt so awkward in the presence of the older woman and a faint blush crossed her cheeks. Cwen laughed lightly and crossed to take both of her hands. “Eruviel mentioned you are recovering from an injury. How are you?”

“Oh, I am well,” Anya answered. “Thank you for your concern. I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to find me.” She gestured to the house. “Will you please come in for tea?”

Cwen smiled down at her and waved the man over. “Of course, thank you. This is Biramore.”

Biramore bowed his head in greeting and offered her a kind smile. “Pleasure, Miss Anya.”

Anya curtsied to Biramore even as she led them into the house. Oli wove around her as they climbed the steps to the front door and she led them inside.

*     *     *

Lina frowned down at the pile of linens from the Pony. She chewed her lip for a moment as the steam from the hot water cauldrons rose around her causing her naturally wild hair to frizz even more crazily about her face. She patted it down to no avail. Sighing, she picked up an armful of bedsheets and dropped it into the vat of grey water at her feet.

Aunt Millie fluttered over to her on tiptoes. Lina tried to suppress her frown. She had managed to get out from under the woman’s roof, but she couldn’t get away from her at work.

“I stopped by the boardin’ ‘ouse,” Aunt Millie said in her high nasally voice. Anya often wondered if she spoke like that on purpose because it sounded so affected. “The proprietress said ye ‘ave not been t’ bed in several days, Emmelina.” Her aunt stood with her hands on her hips and frowned at her.

Taking up the broadest washing-beetle she could see, Lina began to stir the linens. She tried not to picture herself taking the tool to the side of her aunt’s head. “Aye?” she responded simply without looking up from the steaming water.

“Aye. Care t’explain, darlin’?” She could feel the evil eye penetrating the back of her skull.

“Nothin’ t’explain, Auntie.”

“Emmelina Lilybrook, yer parents sent ye ‘ere t’protect ye!” The ignominy in her voice threatened to shove Lina head first into the hot water as if that alone could cleanse her of the shame of being such an immoral child. “Jus’ ‘oo are ye cavortin’ about with? Hm? Some crafty, sweet talkin’ young lad promisin’ ye th’world when he finds buried treasure in th’Downs?”

Nearly growling, Lina bites out, “Aunt Millie, leave off, will ye? Ain’t fallin’ fer some fool adventurer who’ll get speared a’fore he walks out the gates o’Bree.”

“I won’t ‘ave it, Emmelina!” Her aunt’s voice rose to a shrill pitch that could have summoned the bats from the Old Forest to descend upon her wayward niece. “Ye git yerself back to tha’ boardin’ house an’ get yer head on straight!”

Lina looked up at her aunt through slitted eyes. “My head’s just fine,” she said lowly. “An’ I think I’m makin’ ends meet on me own, without ye or Ma or Da. I think I’m doin’ just fine.” She raised the bat to emphasize her words. “Where I spend me nights is my business.”

The older woman stared open mouthed at Lina. Without another word, Lina turned back to the washing tub and continued to stir the dirty sheets of Bree.

*     *     *

Bree-town

Cwendlwyn stood at the window of the Pony and stared out over the square. Biramore lay stretched on the bed behind her whistling a light tune and sharpening her dagger.

“You’re thinking,” he said between even strokes across the whetstone.

“Hm.” Cwen did not turn from the scene before her: Bree-landers bustling about with baskets from the market, gathering around the latest minstrel playing near the fountain, or standing about in groups chatting about their day. She thought her memories would haunt her; she had steeled herself for the feelings of loss the town should have invoked.

However, though she found the town much unchanged, she did not dread stepping out of her door as she once did. She did not find herself looking over her shoulder for a madman to attack her or poison her mind. It felt much more like a town settled into a rhythm of subtle adaptation.

“What is it, love?” Biramore prodded gently. “Do you wish to go leave for Buckland tonight? It might be dangerous on the road, but certainly nothing more dangerous than we can handle.”

Cwen shook her head. “No. It isn’t that.” She turned to look at him with an uncertain smile. “I cannot quite put my finger on it,” she admitted and went to sit next to him.

“You’re doing well,” he encouraged her only half-teasing. “No breakdowns, no crying.” He returned her smile and tucked a strand of her long dark hair behind her ear. “Better than the last time we spent any amount of time in Bree, huh?”

She nodded.

“But, you have a feeling, though. I see it.” Bira ducked his head to capture her gaze. “Is it that woman? Anya?”

Shrugging, she said, “I’m not sure. She was very kind, was she not? But…yes. Perhaps there is something about her-” She sighed, frustrated she was unable to put a finger on what was tugging at the back of her mind.

Biramore leaned forward, tipping her chin up with a gentle finger. “It’s no worry of ours, love,” he reminded her. “We’ve done our part and will retreat to the quiet of the Shire tomorrow. I promise.” Leaning in, he kissed her.

Cwen smiled at him as he sat back. “It’s no worry,” she agrees. “Promise.”

Happy Life, Interrupted

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.”
“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.”

“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