Part VII: Winterlude
Part VII: Winterlude
They broke their camp at sunrise, and set out through the snow. Travelling was harder now, with the snow more than knee deep for Faith and the ponies. It was a good thing that they had a pony for Bilbo, for the snow would have been waist deep on him.
Their progress was slow. Beorn scouted ahead, picking their route to avoid the worst of the snow drifts, but in some places they had no choice but to force their way through them. Beorn would sometimes become a bear in order to break a path that the ponies could follow. It wasn’t just forcing their way through the snow that slowed them down. The ponies took longer foraging for food, having to dig their way down to find grass to eat. Beorn supplemented their diet with grain from sacks they were carrying.
They heard the Wargs howling in the distance, many times, and sometimes they would come across their tracks in the snow. The howls would be louder at night, and seemed to be closer, but they never saw the Wargs again. They still kept a careful watch through the night, with two of them awake at all times.
It was a tiring week. They, and their ponies, were starting to feel exhausted. Even Faith was feeling the strain, but she knew that their journey was nearing its end. Beorn had announced that morning that they would reach his home before the end of the day. The ponies set out with a new energy, as if they too knew that they were nearly home.
They came to the top of a hill. Faith looked down into a compound surrounded by trees, bare of their leaves, and high hedges. “That you home?
” she asked Beorn.
” Beorn pointed to the left. “This way.
” He started down the hill, holding the lead pony’s bridle to guide them. Faith took a moment to look things over from this vantage point.
The hedge surrounded a collection of buildings. Sheds, barns, and a large, single storey house. Faith thought that such a dwelling should have several people living in it, but from everything Beorn had said, she had gathered that he lived alone. As she looked, she could see animals moving around within the enclosure: horses, ponies, deer, sheep and dogs; but she could see no sign of anyone who might be tending them.
The others were already half way down the hill. Faith hurried to catch up with them. Beorn led them to a wide wooden gate in the hedge. He gave a loud whistle as he opened it, and the horses that were out in the compound came galloping to greet him with loud neighs and whinnies. Beorn spoke back to them, making similar noises.
The other animals came more slowly, and all received a similar greeting from Beorn. Faith had seen Beorn “talking” with the ponies, ever since she had met him, but she had always assumed that he was just making noises to reassure and comfort them. Now she wasn’t so sure. Beorn talked with each of the animals in his compound, making the same sorts of noises that they made, but put together in ways that sounded like language. “Great!” she said to herself. “He’s a friggin’ Dr. Dolittle were-bear.” This really was a very strange world that she’d landed herself in.---
Beorn’s house had a large main section, that consisted of a single hall. There was a fire-pit in the centre of it, with a hole in the roof over it to let the smoke escape. The long room had no windows. What light there was came from the fire, the hole in the roof, or torches stuck in brackets on the posts that supported the roof. There were two wings built off to each side of the main house. These contained storerooms, a kitchen, and Faith was very surprised to find a bathroom, and sauna. The bathtub was Beorn-sized, so it was nearly a swimming pool for her, or Bilbo.
The animals were just weird. The dogs would walk on their hind legs, while carrying things in their paws. Other animals would use their mouths. They acted as Beorn’s household staff, cleaning, fetching and carrying on his instructions. Faith finally understood why Beorn was a vegetarian, if these were the sorts of animals that he usually associated with. She asked Gandalf if all animals in this world were so intelligent, and he assured her that animals such as those that lived in Beorn’s compound were very rare indeed.
Bilbo and Gandalf planned to spend the winter with Beorn, before setting out on the final leg of their journey to Bilbo’s home, and Beorn told Faith that she was welcome to stay too.---
It didn’t take long for Faith to start feeling some cabin fever. Beorn’s place was nice enough, but she couldn’t stay cooped up in it for months. It only took a couple of weeks for her to start feeling antsy. She knew that if she had to spend the whole winter there, she might kill someone.
Gandalf seemed to recognize her symptoms, and he had a solution for them: she started joining Beorn when he would leave to patrol the lands surrounding his home. She was outfitted with woollen leggings, gloves and mittens, and what she couldn’t help calling “a cunning hat,” thanks to Andrew making her watch those Firefly
DVDs. She learned to use skis that Beorn supplied her to glide quickly across the snow, following Beorn as he loped along in bear form. She kept most of her possessions in her pockets at all times: her cell phone, her keys, and the other things she had brought with her from Cleveland. Not because they were useful—the cell phone didn’t even work as a camera anymore, its battery was dead—but because she just liked to have them with her. They reminded her of home, and if Willow somehow did manage to pull her back out of this world, she didn’t want to lose her phone, with the pictures she had taken of this place.
Even with Faith carrying a pack with a couple of weeks worth of supplies in it, they could travel much more quickly than they had while accompanying Gandalf and Bilbo on the ponies. They could travel north, to Marjukka and Teuvo’s farmstead, in just a few days, or south, to other farms scattered along the plain between the river Anduin, and the great forest of Mirkwood. They hunted the Wargs and the small bands of Orcs that remained in that land, driving them back across the river, and into the mountains.
Faith still spent most of the winter in Beorn’s house, and she was always glad to return to it. After spending a week or so out in the cold, she looked forward to his sauna, even the rolling naked in the snow parts of it. These people didn’t have a strong nakedness taboo, at least as far as the sauna was concerned. After returning from the Wild she and Beorn would spend many hours basking in its heat, with Gandalf and Bilbo giving her language lessons.
Outside of the sauna, Bilbo started to teach her to read, using the journal of his travels that he was writing. At other times she would catch sight of him carving something, but he always hid it away out of her sight when he saw her approach.---
Yule-tide came, and with it many visitors from the farms surrounding Beorn’s land. A great feast was held in his hall, with much mead and wine to drink. Beorn’s vegetarianism didn’t extend to fish, so it wasn’t a completely meatless feast.
After dinner, the guests got out musical instruments that they had brought. There were fiddles, and flutes; there was singing, and dancing, and story telling; and more mead and wine, and a couple of drunken fights: so a good time was had by all. Bilbo’s recitation of the tale of his adventure was a great hit with everyone.
Later in the evening, after things had quietened down, and most of the guests had gone to their beds, Bilbo drew Faith aside. “I have made you a present.
” He held out a small package to her.
“You shouldn’t have,
” said Faith. “I don’t have anything for you.
Bilbo smiled at her. “A gift given, in expectation of a gift received, is not a gift, it is merely a transaction. Go ahead, open it.
Faith unwrapped her present carefully, being careful not to rip the parchment. She found that it contained a carved wooden pipe, and a small pouch of tobacco.
“So this is what you’ve been hiding from me!
” said Faith. “Thank you!
” She leaned down and kissed Bilbo’s forehead, making him blush. She looked at the pouch of tobacco. “But this must be nearly all you had left!
“Only half of it,
” said Bilbo. “I know that you are saving your last
cigarette for some special occasion, but now you can have something to smoke, until that happens.
“I have never smoked a pipe,
” said Faith. “Get yours, and you can show me how.
“I just happen to have mine here,
” said Bilbo. He drew his pipe from a pocket in his waistcoat. Faith offered him the pouch of tobacco that he had given her. He took some, and showed Faith how to fill the pipe, how to tamp it down, and how to light it.
They sat together, smoking. Faith savoured the taste of the tobacco in her mouth, quite different from the cigarettes that she was used to. Bilbo made her laugh by blowing smoke rings. She tried to emulate him, but blowing rings was not a talent that she had mastered. When their pipes were done, they said “good night” to one another, and went to their beds.---
By the time spring approached, Faith’s ability to speak the language had improved to the point where she was able to tell Gandalf where she came from. He accepted her story much more readily than she expected.
“I have travelled from one end of Middle Earth to the other, many times,
” he told her, “and nowhere in this land have I encountered anyone who speaks your language, dresses as you do, has devices like your
phone or your
wristwatch. Nor have I seen anyone, Man or Eldar, who can fight like you do. I do not find it hard to believe that you are not from this world.
“Any idea how I’m supposed to get home?
” asked Faith.
“I am afraid that I have none,
” said Gandalf. “But I am not the only one of the wise. Spring will soon be here. There are others that you can consult, who may have knowledge that I do not.
“Who are they?
“There is Saruman the White, who resides at Isengard, to the south of here, or Galadriel and Celeborn in the Golden Wood of Lórien. Lord Elrond lives across the mountains, in Imladris.
“Imladris, that’s where you and Bilbo are going next, isn’t it?
“Yes, but you are under no obligation to continue with us. If you take a boat down the river, you can reach Lórien in a little more than a week, and from there you can continue on to Isengard, if the Lady of the Wood can not help you. The road across the mountains is a much more difficult path.
“I guess I’ll have to sleep on it,
” said Faith.---
Faith awoke in a familiar looking room. She was lying in a soft bed, with warm smooth sheets wrapped around her. Sunlight was streaming in the window. She sat up in the bed, and looked around. There was a reason this room was so familiar, even though it hadn’t existed since the destruction of Sunnydale: it was Buffy’s old bedroom. “Oh great, I’m dreaming.”
Buffy looked up from the sheets she was folding. “Of course you are. How else could you get to my homely house.
“Please tell me that this isn’t another one of those shared dreams of ours.”
“Okay, this isn’t another one of those shared dreams of ours.
“Why don’t I believe you?”
Buffy shrugged. “We’ve always had trust issues.
“Aren’t you supposed to be giving me some message?”
“Nope. I’m just folding the laundry.
” Buffy picked up another sheet, and shook the wrinkles out of it. Faith saw that there was a picture on it of a narrow forested valley. There was a river flowing through it, and at the head of the valley, a beautiful waterfall. Buffy calmly folded the sheet.---
Faith sat up, the coarse feel of the blankets over her straw bed on a shelf at the side of Beorn’s hall a stark contrast to the softness of the bed she remembered. She ran her mind through the events of the dream, fixing it in her memory. She hadn’t noticed it at the time, but she now realized that Buffy had been speaking to her in Westron. She didn’t know if the dream was some sort of prophecy, her subconscious mind telling her something, or just an artifact of her feeling a little homesick, aggravated by the thought of soon being separated from Gandalf and Bilbo, but remembering dreams was something that all Slayers were taught to do.