The pathway to the base of the bear shaped rock was a dangerous thing; it disappeared in places and in others the step was barely big enough for even the smallest foot in the Company. Slowly, in single file, we made our way down and it was when we were halfway I began to feel a severe pain in my chest.
We all reached the bottom safely and I had to lean against the rock to catch my breath. Each breath sent a sharp pain through my chest and I was struggling to get enough air.
"Are yer alrigh'?" Bofur asked coming over.
I looked up and noticed his eyebrows were drawn together in concern. "I'm fine, just a little out of breath" I replied with a forced smile.
"Too close. A couple of leagues, no more" Bilbo replied in answer to a question I hadn't heard "but that's not the worst of it…"
"Have the Wargs picked up our scent?"
"Not yet, but they will do. We have another problem" Bilbo said looking shaken as he moved into my eye line.
"Did they see you?" Thorin asked.
"No, that's not it" Bilbo seemed to be growing agitated.
"What did I tell you? Quiet as a mouse. Excellent burglar material" Gandalf chimed in over the top of Bilbo.
"Will you listen?" Bilbo nearly shouted "will you just listen? I'm trying to tell you there is something else out there".
"What form did it take?" Gandalf asked "like a bear?"
"Yes, but much bigger" Bilbo replied.
"You knew about this beast?" Thorin asked incredulously "I say we double back".
I took a shaky breath in and clenched my teeth at the pain as I stepped away from the rock. "Have you taken leave of your senses? We'd run straight into the Orcs!" I said leaning heavily on Bofur's shoulder.
Thorin narrowed his eyes as he looked at me "are you well?"
"I'm fine" I retorted before glancing up at Gandalf "what do we do?"
"There is a house, it's not far from here, where we might take refuge" Gandalf replied.
"Are they friend or foe?"
Gandalf waved away the questions "neither, he will either help us or kill us".
"What choice do we have then" Balin replied.
"None" Gandalf retorted with a grim look on his face "Come on this way! Quickly! Run!"
Gandalf lead the way as we started off along the faint trail spreading out in front of us. Soon we were running through a field full of flowers.
My lungs were burning and my chest was all but screaming from the pain when I heard a crashing sound behind us. I turned my head around and felt my heart nearly stop; breaking out of the trees was a massive bear and he looked angry.
Gandalf altered his course slightly as a large hedge came into view. Once the rest of the Company saw it they all put on a burst of speed. Even Bombur started to outpace the rest of us. I tried to keep up but found I was falling further and further behind. I felt sure I was going to be eaten by the bear and I started to panic, which didn't help the fact I could hardly breathe. It wasn't long before my air felt like it was cut off entirely and my legs gave out underneath me. I started coughing and gasping to try and force air into my lungs but it wasn't working very well. I looked behind me and felt my terror increase when I saw how close the bear was, if I didn't move now I would never see another day. I tried to get to my feet but the lack of air had affected my body so much I couldn't stand. Someone suddenly grabbed my arm and threw it over his shoulder. I turned my head to find Bofur trying to haul me to my feet.
"Come on lass! On yer feet!"
With Bofur's help I managed to get my legs going and we followed the others as quick as possible.
"Come on get inside!"
"Open the door! quickly!"
The Dwarves at the front of the group were trying vainly to open the door, but they had failed to see the latch above their heads.
"Try the latch instead of brute force" I wheezed pointing above their heads.
Fili looked up and tugged at the bottom edge of the latch, the door swung open and we rushed inside. Not a moment too soon either, as we shut the door the bear's snout was pushing against the wood.
Once the door was shut the questions started, I heard none of them answered because I slipped out of Bofur's arms and collapsed on the straw-strewn floor unconscious.
"Is she alrigh'? She's been unconscious for hours".
"I fear she has broken some ribs, which is why she ran out of air".
"Why would that make her run out of air?"
"You idiot! If her ribs hurt how could she breathe properly?"
My eyes fluttered open as the voices sounded like they were getting into an argument. Though my vision was blurry I could see a vaulted wooden roof above me and a few enormous bees hovering around. I blinked a few times and tried to take a breath. My ribs hurt so bad I hissed through my teeth.
"Easy lass" Bofur came into view and his face seemed paler than normal "Oin says you've broken some ribs".
"Aye" Oin now came into view "I'll bind them up and give you something for the pain but you're going to stay put for a while".
I nodded and Oin started ushering everyone away. I grabbed Bofur's sleeve and checked his movement "please stay".
Bofur looked at Oin, who shrugged "just stay out of my way".
With everyone else gone Oin began by mixing up a few herbs and oils in a little bowl. Then he produced a roll of linen bandages from somewhere in his pack and placed them on the floor next to me. "I'm going to have to remove your shirt lass" Oin said "it'll make it easier to treat you".
"Okay" I replied focussing on breathing without hurting myself. I found if I stared into Bofur's warm brown eyes it was easier.
Oin proceeded to loosen the ties on my shirt and when he peeled it back and exposed my chest wrapping, my face got very hot and I had to look away from Bofur in embarrassment. Oin's fingers gently pressed on my ribs as he tried to figure out where they were broken. I hissed again and a few tears leaked out of my eyes.
"Sorry lass" Oin said as he started to spread the cold mixture onto my skin. "The good news is you've only broken two ribs and the breaks are only in one place" Oin said placing one end of the bandage on the poultice "the bad news is it's going to take at least six weeks to heal".
"Six weeks!" Bofur exclaimed.
"Hush" I replied "I'll be fine".
"Give me a hand lad" Oin said "I need to wrap these around".
Gritting my teeth I sat up and held as still as possible while Bofur and Oin wrapped the bandages around my ribs. Once they were done I gingerly took a few deep breaths and although they hurt my ribs felt a little better.
"As long as you don't do anything more stressful than sit up and walk around slowly you should be fine" Oin said wiping his hands on his shirt. He pulled a small bottle out of his pack and handed it to me "have a few mouthfuls of this and it should ease the pain".
"Thank you" I said handing the bottle back.
Oin nodded his head and stood up to join the others at our host's enormous table.
I reached for my shirt but Bofur beat me to it and he knelt next to me with a determined look on his face.
"Oin said you need to rest so I'm going to make sure you follow his orders" Bofur set his jaw and held my shirt out.
I held my arms out and Bofur pulled the shirt around my shoulders and started re-tying it. My cheeks burnt hotly as his hands brushed lightly against my breasts as he chased one of the ties. I noticed his cheeks were growing redder by the second as he made his way down my shirt. Once he'd finished, Bofur cleared his throat and stood up.
"Take it slow lass" he held out his hand and I slowly got to my feet. Bofur helped me walk over to the table and then he sat next to me. A little bit of sparkle had returned to his eyes.
I saw a huge man walk into view and, though I couldn't place it, I had the feeling I'd seen him before. Then I remembered what Gandalf had said about the huge bear.
"So you are the one they call Oakenshield?" Beorn said as he eyed everyone gathered "tell me, why is Azog the Defiler hunting you?"
"You know of Azog?" Thorin asked suspicion creeping into his voice "how?"
"My people were the first to live in the mountains before the Orcs came down from the North" Beorn replied "the Defiler killed most of my family, but some he enslaved. Not for work, you understand, but for sport. Caging skin-changers and torturing them seemed to amuse him".
"There are others like you?" Bilbo asked meekly.
"Once there were many" Beorn replied.
"Now there is only one".
I sensed a great sadness in our host and I felt for him. It must be hard living each day and knowing you are the last of your race.
"You need to reach the Mountain before the last days of autumn" Beorn continued "before Durin's day falls".
"Yes" Gandalf replied.
"You are running out of time" Beorn said as animals walked up to the table with trays of food on their backs.
"Which is why we must go through Mirkwood" Gandalf replied beginning to pick at his food.
Bofur selected a few things for me and placed them on the plate in front of me. He also placed a full tankard of milk in front of me as Beorn walked around the table with a pitcher.
I smiled in thanks and nibbled at a honey cake. It was delicious; far more so than the ones my mother made.
"A darkness lies upon that forest. Fell things creep beneath those trees" Beorn said in reply "there is an alliance between the Orcs of Moria and the Necromancer of Dol Guldur. I would not venture there except in great need".
A shiver passed down my spine when I heard the name of the old fortress. I glanced around the table and grew uncomfortable at the steady stare I was receiving from Thorin. His eyebrows were drawn together and his jaw was set.
"We will take the Elven road" Gandalf said "that path is still safe".
"Safe?" Beorn raised a bushy eyebrow "the Wood Elves of Mirkwood are not like their kin. They're less wise and more dangerous but it matters not".
"What do you mean?" Thorin asked releasing me from his gaze to turn to look at Beorn.
"These lands are crawling with Orcs. Their numbers are growing and you are on foot. You will never reach the Mountain alive". Beorn looked around at all of us again "I don't like Dwarves. They're greedy and blind" he reached down to the table and picked up a mouse that was scurrying past Dori. "Blind to the lives of those they deem lesser than their own. But Orcs I hate more". Beorn looked to Gandalf "what do you need?"
A/N: And so this story come off hiatus. I'm deeply sorry it has taken longer than I said, but had extreme difficulty in locating a decent transcript…and the one I found isn't that great. Never mind, what matters is I have one and I will now endeavour to churn out the chapters regularly.
Gaubdukhima gagin yakulib Mahal!
(may we meet again with the grace of Mahal!)