Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lord of the Rings belong to their respective creators, Joss Whedon and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Author's Warning: major AU. Absolutely non-canon. Seriously, I am not kidding.
Buttercup could not bring herself to cut her hair.
It was thick and shining, a river of gold from the top of her head to the backs of her heels. She usually kept it knotted up out of the way when she went roving, or perhaps in a braid when she was at home. Every evening she washed it, despite any and all protests from her uncle, her parents, and her relatives that such habits were certain to give her an pneumonia, and used a rose-scented soap that Mrs. Gamgee had been much noted throughout the Shire for brewing.
Bilbo maintained that such hair was no hair to be traveling with. Yet even he hesitated at telling her to cut it, for, he said, “Hair to match yours, Buttercup, I have only ever seen on Elves, and given a choice I would choose yours.”
He insisted on having ponies. “I walked the whole way the first time, my girl, and I am not inclined to do it again!” It was decided that they would leave Bag End on the twenty-eighth, and stay the night in Buckland, where they would have ponies purchased and waiting for them. From there they would go on to Bree, where they would stop for the night again, and from there it would be the road all the way to the Vales of Anduin.
While Bilbo stayed in his study poring over maps and making himself notes, Buttercup wandered the Shire, feeling more alive than she had ever before. Everything looked brighter, sweeter, and lovelier than seemed possible even in the Shire, now that she faced the certainty of leaving it, and she passed through all of her favorite places, from the Far Downs to that place beside the Withywindle where she had met Strider.
There, on the bank, Buttercup lingered, sitting in the same place where she had huddled before, smaller, younger, full of misery and guilt. She looked into the water, gray in the evening shadow, and thought of eyes as gray as steel, as water by owl light.
Buttercup wondered if he had ever found his golden-haired girl. She herself had never managed to catch even a trace of the Mannish girl, and had thought many times that perhaps he had caught her after all, and taken her away with him, and that was why he’d never come back. And if her heart clenched a little at the thought, if her chest hurt in a way she found both strangely uncommon and painfully familiar, she didn’t think about it, and did her most to ignore it.
It was while wandering the Old Forest that she found it. It was not a very big piece of wood, but it was the hue that caught her eye, the pale tree-flesh, and the sweetness of its scent when she went near it. When Buttercup held the branch in her hands, it was as if her hands were another’s, her eyes someone else’s, and she looked at the wood in a way she had never done before, and she saw, as clearly as if someone had cut it there, the shape of the bow beneath the bark.
It took her three days to finish it, for she worked slowly, afraid that if she flawed this one somehow, she wouldn’t be able to find more wood of the same kind. When it was complete, the bow was an arch of thrice-curved wood, plain and bare, but when she tested it, when she strung it and tried the draw of an arrow, it felt more right than anything she had ever held before.
Buttercup took the bow with her the next time she went to see Merimac, delivering a message from Bilbo requesting that he see to buying the ponies they wanted. Before she could open her mouth, Merimac had seen the bow, and put out his hand.
He turned it every which way, staring at it all the while, but refused to string it when Buttercup offered. He tried to bend the wood from both ends, but could not get it to do more than stretch.
They were in the hunting lodge Merimac had built one winter at the edge of the wood, a shed for furs, really, barely in sight of Brandy Hall. The light was low in there, golden with a summer afternoon, but Buttercup saw very well how strangely Merimac looked at her then, as if he had never seen her before.
“Well,” he said at last, and held the bow out to her. “A Withybow, at that.”
“Withybow?” Buttercup did not recognize the term. “What is that?”
He ignored her. “Do you know what this is?” he asked, holding up what she could see were bits of bone. “Horn, from the stags that live in the Old Forest.”
From the horn, Merimac showed her how to make pieces for the bow tips, to cover the wood beneath the string nock, which protected the bow proper. Buttercup made the horn tips, but it was Merimac who carved them for her, shaping the horn into stags’ heads, and cutting, beneath each, his own hunter’s mark.
He gave her, too, a baldric she could wear over her chest, from which the bow could hang on her back, and a new cloth in which to put her arrows, which would swing at her hip.
“Keep safe, Buttercup,” he told her. Somewhat awkwardly, he touched her hair, a gesture of affection that he had never shown her before and which put a lump to her throat. “And come back. We sh’ll never hear the end of it from Aunt Amaranth if you don’t.” His expression became wistful. “Bring back some stories for me, won’t you?”
Then, for some reason, Buttercup’s eyes filled with tears, and she felt a terrible sadness that she could not name or place. Merimac had turned away, back to the table at which he had been carving the stags’ heads, and Buttercup could not think of anything to do but slip away, quietly, so that he would not know that she had noticed his own expression.