Everyone quietly sat at Beorn’s table whilst he poured them milk in rather large mugs. He finished pouring Traude a glass while she observed him with suspicious eyes.
“So you’re the dwarf princess Oakenshield?” Beorn asked.
“Yes.” Traude said “But I won’t be a princess for long.”
“I see.” Beorn said “Tell me this, though. Why is Azog the Defiler hunting you?”
“Wait…you know of Azog?” Traude asked with sudden interest “How?”
“My kind were the first to live in the mountains.” Beorn replied “Then the orcs came down from the north. The Defiler killed most of my family….” he stopped for a moment to seemingly look at the floor before returning to the conversation “…including my two daughters.”
Dorothea gasped softly and put her hand over her mouth, though to be fair everyone was taken aback by this. Nadja and Ottilie took notice. Beorn, in the meantime, continued his conversation.
“But some skin-changers he enslaved.” he said somberly “Not for work, you understand. But for sport.”
It was at that moment that both Dorothea and Brianna noticed something on Beorn’s left wrist. A rusted, old, broken chain that seemed to be glued to his skin. Brianna gulped nervously and returned to sipping her milk.
“It seemed caging my kind like wild animals and torturing them amused him.” Beorn went on as he filled Dorothea’s mug.
“You poor, poor man.” Dorothea said in a heartbroken tone, looking up at him.
“Are there others like you?” Brianna piped up.
Beorn turned to look at her with a saddened look on his face.
“Once there were many.” he said softly.
“A-And now?” Brianna asked.
Beorn then slowly turned away from Brianna and stepped forward a bit with his back turned towards the group. It pained him to recall all of this. Having to remember the orcs jeering and laughing at him as they stabbed him with flaming hot swords and gave him his many scars. Having to remember how he barely escaped them with his life. Having to remember the laughter of his two daughters. He then sighed and closed his eyes.
“Now there’s only one.” he said as his voice broke.
Brianna then felt very sorry that she’d asked and looked at everyone else around her who kept to themselves but she noticed something Dorothea did just as Beorn walked towards the fireplace.
Just as Beorn turned away from the girls, Dorothea slowly reached out her right hand to touch his own right hand as he was close enough for her to do so. She was hoping to comfort him in a way he hoped would understand. But no sooner then she touched his hand then he walked towards the fireplace, his fingers slipping away from her own. She then retracted her hand with lightning fast reflexes and sighed before taking a sip of her mug.
“You need to reach the mountain before the last days of autumn.” Beorn said turning to Gillian who was smoking her pipe “Is that not correct?”
“You are correct.” Gillian replied “We must get there before Durin’s Day.”
“Well then you’d better hurry.” Beorn said “You’re running out of time.”
“Exactly.” Gillian responded between puffs “This is why we’re going to pass through Mirkwood.”
“I’d be wary if I were you. The forest is not what it once was.” Beorn said “A darkness lies upon it. Monsters dwell beneath the trees. I would not venture there unless I had no choice.”
“Oh, how wonderful.” Daniela sarcastically whispered to Barbara.
“We’ll take the Elven road.” Gillian said “That path is still safe.”
“Not exactly.” Beorn said “The wood-elves of Mirkwood are not like their kin. They’re less wise and more dangerous and violent.”
Nadja gulped nervously and bit her lip. Mirkwood was sounding less and less amusing every minute. Beorn then looked straight at Traude who had walked across the room and was standing just behind Kamilla and Frieda who were at the edge of the table that was facing the front door.
“But it doesn’t really matter.” he said “You have an even bigger problem on your hands.”
Traude then blinked in surprise and turned to face Beorn.
“What do you mean, if I may ask?” Traude demanded.
“These lands are crawling with orcs.” Beorn responded as he started walking towards her “And you’re on foot. You’ll never reach the forest alive.”
Traude glared at Beorn. Of course there were orcs all over the place. She didn’t need this skin-changer to tell her the obvious. Beorn then stopped right behind Dorothea and briefly looked at her. Dorothea looked at him innocently, waiting for what he’d do next. Beorn then noticed a little white mouse scurrying across the table. He picked it up with his right hand and held it tightly before looking back at Traude and resumed approaching her.
“I don’t like dwarves very much.” he said “They’re greedy. And blind to the lives of those they deem lesser then they’re own.”
He stopped right in front of her and the two aggressively stared at each other for a few moments. The girls waited for something, anything, to happen. Brianna fiddled with a kitchen fork underneath the table. Dorothea prepared to get up and say something in hopes of easing the tension.
“But I hate orcs more.” Beorn finally said as he placed the white mouse gently on the wooden railing.
Everyone sighed with relief and Dorothea put her hand over her chest as she sighed and sat back down. Beorn then looked back to Traude who was smirking.
“What will you need?” Beorn inquired.
“Depends.” Traude replied “What kind of livestock do you have?”
As Beorn prepared to get them their mode of transport, the girls were busy in the front yard making sure their gowns were nice and clean. They’d washed them yesterday afternoon and were now busy under the trees brushing off the hay and grass from inside.
“I hope he doesn’t give us cows.” Bertha said “Cows don’t smell all that nice.”
“Doesn’t matter what he gives us.” Barbara said “As long as it get’s us where we need to go.”
“How many days exactly do we have till Durin’s Day?” Brianna inquired innocently.
“Summer’s probably passed.” Traude said “We must be in autumn by now. And even then I wouldn’t know what day it is.”
Brianna, who was sitting under one of the trees, looked up at the tree and the sky around. There was not a single cloud in the sky. A gentle breeze blew through the air. The leaves cast shadows on Brianna and the girls and the sun gleamed through the leaves.
“At least it’s nice out.” she said “Reminds me of home.”
Home. Brianna missed her home. As exciting as this adventure had been, she knew that she couldn’t wait to get home and sleep on her warm soft bed again and smell the magnolias which grew in her garden. And the stories she’d tell. No one back home would ever believe her.
But then again, maybe keeping her friends in the dark about that was a good thing. They didn’t have to know everything. Especially her ring. That especially she’d keep a secret.
At the tree nearest the hedge wall, Kamilla, Frieda, Ottilie and Nadja were relaxing.
“Hey, where is Dorothea?” Kamilla suddenly asked.
“She’s inside washing her face.” Nadja said.
“Oh yes she must…” Ottilie said as she suddenly started giggling “…must look good for her beau.”
Nadja suddenly found herself giggling too. Kamilla and Frieda were perplexed by this.
“I beg your pardon?” Frieda asked.
“You didn’t notice?” Nadja replied trying to hold back a giggle.
“Notice what?” Kamilla inquired.
“The way she was looking at Beorn.” Ottilie giggled.
“Wait…” Kamilla and Frieda said as it dawned on them.
“Are you saying that Dorothea…?” Kamilla asked.
Nadja and Ottilie nodded and now Frieda and Kamilla were the ones giggling. Kamilla in particular almost gasped but covered her mouth.
“Oh my goodness, she likes him?!” she exclaimed quietly.
“I surely think so!” Nadja said “She couldn’t tear her eyes off him!”
“Now we must keep this quiet!” Ottilie said “Can you imagine how’d she’d react if she found out we knew?”
“She’d probably smack you on the back of head is what.” Frieda said.
“Well, let’s keep the fact that we know her little secret our little secret.” Nadja said “Deal?”
“Deal.” Ottilie, Frieda and Kamilla said in unison.
Dorothea quietly exited the bathroom after drying her face. She then made her out to the back where Beorn had been chopping wood earlier that day. Only problem was he wasn’t there. At least from what she could see. She then heard a pony neigh and she turned to her left to see Beorn herding about twelve black and white ponies and one rather large grey horse.
She nervously bit her lip, with her hands clasping into fists and began walking towards him. She began running over what to say to him in her head but every conclusion she came to was either too forward or would anger him.
It’s okay, Dorothea she thought to herself Don’t overcomplicate things. Just go over and say hello.
“H-Hello again!” she stammered.
“Oh it’s you.” Beorn said after turning to her.
“So…I see you’ve gotten us our ride.” Dorothea asked.
“Huh?” Beorn asked.
Dorothea suddenly felt very nervous and started blushing like a silly person.
“I meant the ponies.” she said awkwardly.
“Alright then.” Beorn said “You should probably be preparing to join your friends.”
“Quite right.” Dorothea said “May I walk with you?”
“I don’t see why not.” Beorn responded.
He then clicked his tongue and the ponies started trotting between the house and the hedge wall with him trailing behind leading the grey horse by the reigns. Dorothea followed and soon was right next to Beorn (there was enough space between the wall and the house for them and the ponies to squeeze through.)
“So…you built this house yourself?” Dorothea piped up.
“Yes I did.” Beorn said “I did have some help from some merchants.”
“It’s pretty big.” Dorothea chuckled shyly “I mean, well, you’re big yourself.”
“I guess I am.” Beorn chuckled.
A rather serious question then popped into Dorothea’s mind. She nervously thought about whether or not it was worth asking. But she mustered up her courage and turned to Beorn.
“I-I didn’t know you had a family.” she said calmly.
Beorn was taken aback by this and stopped for a moment and the horse did to. He looked at Dorothea, who had never once taken her eyes off him.
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me.” he sighed before clicking his tongue and resumed leading the horse to the houses front.
“I’m sorry about your loss.” Dorothea said “I wish I could have met them.”
Finally, the two finally emerged to the front where all the girls were busy saddling up. Dorothea picked the pony closet to Brianna as her steed when Gillian walked up to the two of them.
“I see you two are getting along well.” she said before turning to Beorn “Now then, Beorn, would you mind if we discuss the rest of the plan privately?”
“Of course.” Beorn said.
Gillian curtsied and began walking off. Beorn then looked at Dorothea who was now smiling.
“I hope to see you again soon.” she said “When all this is over of course.”
“We’ll see.” Beorn said.
Dorothea then carefully climbed onto the pony and gripped the reigns tightly. And with that he walked off without saying another word. Dorothea chuckled softly and felt herself blushing. Good heavens, could her face get any redder?
Her thoughts were interrupted by someone clearing their throat right next to her. She quickly turned to her right to see Brianna who was trying to sustain a giggle.
“What?” Dorothea inquired.
“N-Nothing.” Brianna said.