Part 1 – The Road to Bree
The Forsaken Inn lay quiet in the early mist of dawn; the inhabitants not yet awake to face the labours of the day. The Inn, a dilapidated, one-story structure nestled at the edge of the Lone Lands, was the last chance place for those traveling east to rest in any sort of comfort before the long trek through the Lone Lands. The front door of the Inn creaked open and a huge figure emerged, dipping his head slightly to fit through the door frame. Quietly, the figure closed the door, booted feet making little sound as he crossed the wooden planks. Shifting a pack on his back and striding down the steps, he turned west towards the distant trees, heading steadily down the road that would take him to Bree. Garbed in a simple blue woolen smock, work boots and silver bracers, the massive stranger wore no cloak or hood to conceal his face. A blue headband held back pale hair that rested on massive shoulders hardened by constant labour. Brown eyes shifted constantly from left to right, searching the woods surrounding the road for threats. Not that anything nearby held any danger for the seven foot man who strode easily down the road towards Bree. Rathbairn of the Vales of Anduin held little regard for danger. Red tattoos down the right side of his face, mimicking the claws of a great bear were as much of a warning as they were tradition. Twin hand-held axes rested in loops on his belt and a massive two-handed axe in a sling on his back. The House of Beorn had always been held in great regard by those who knew the tales. Battles near the great Dwarven stronghold of Erebor, the company of Thorin Oakenshield gaining the trust and assistance of the reclusive Skin-Changer, all these legends now pointing to the facts that the Beornings were deadly to all those who crossed paths with Beorn and his line. Now Rathbairn, son of Grimbeorn the Old, Grandson of Beorn had traveled to Eriador, there to join the battle against the forces that threatened the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth.
The sun climbed higher as the trees on the western side of the road began to thin, giving way to hills. Ruins, mainly watch towers began to appear on the southern side of the road. According to the barmaid, Bree lay nearly half a day’s walk to the west. Once to Bree, Rathbairn thought, I can locate this Strider and offer him help, as Radagast had suggested. Memories of the Wizard’s visit to the Vale brought forth a smile. He and Langhar’s battle with Goblins, arguing with Father and Sterkist over who should cross the river and the nearly two week journey that had led him here, a few hours travel away from Bree and the Inn of the Prancing Pony. A rustling off to the left snapped Rathbairn from his reverie, his hands dropping to the axes at his belt. Gifts from the Dwarves of the Misty Mountains, the axes were heavier than standard one-handed axes used by many soldiers, crafted as gifts for the Beorning’s help with a troublesome Troll near Hrimbarg. Branches snapped and Rathbairn lowered his hands with a laugh as a bear cub wandered from the brush and approached the road, its head lowered in curiosity at the massive figure facing it. The cub growled and then grumbled at the man who smiled and growled back in the language of bears, warning the cub to return to its mother. Suddenly, a larger and more pronounced sound came from deep within the trees and a huge Matron emerged from the foliage, snarling a warning at the man to stay away from its offspring. Rathbairn growled in return, reassuring the mother bear that he meant no harm to its cub and his intentions to move along.
Hoof beats from the road behind, followed by the sounds of Goblins, came faintly to the ears of both Bears and Man. Goblins, this close to a town, thought Rathbairn. The Mother bear and her cub scampered towards the deep thickets within the woods bordering the road and Rathbairn followed. Soon, a single rider was visible through the leaves where Rathbairn crouched, observing. Goblins were closing fast upon the rider and his horse, the latter nearly spent as her sides heaved like a bellows. An idea came to mind as Rathbairn growled softly to the bear Matron, (goblins near, cub in danger). Sniffing, the Matron grumbled at her cub to hide and slowly began to creep towards the road to investigate. Ambling carefully from the brush, she stopped near the road. Rathbairn heard the rider speak aloud, to his horse seemingly and both horse and rider fled past the bear down the road back towards the Bree road. Three goblins gave chase to the rider leaving some few Goblins behind, staring dumbstruck at the massive bear. Rathbairn heard one say “Get him?” as the goblins moved to attack. The bear reared on her hind legs and attacked, as Rathbairn emerged from the brush and brandished his axes. The bear, however, had already dispatched the remaining Goblins and turned to regard the Beorning. (Cub safe, foes dead, grateful) the bear growled. Rathbairn could only nod his head and growl in affirmation as the Matron returned to the brush and her cub. Sheathing his weapons, Rathbairn gathered his pack and resumed his journey towards Bree.
The sun was nearing the midpoint in the sky as the Eastern Gate of Bree came into view. Two guards stood nonchalantly, spears held negligently as they lounged against the fence bordering Bree. As Rathbairn drew closer, both guards stared openly at the massive figure who did not slow or break stride as he drew even to the gate. “HALT!” shouted both guards at once with spears pointed towards Rathbairn’s throat. Stopping with surprise, Rathbairn glanced at the spear points and felt fury beginning to build. “State your name!” the elder of the guards demanded. “What business do you have in Bree? Quickly now! Or you’ll be locked up!” Fury began to give way to wrath as a familiar surge began to take place throughout Rathbairn’s body. His father’s sharp warning came to mind and familiar words rang through the haze of anger. “The people of Eriador may not know us like those of Rhovanion my son. Your other form is powerful, more than most things in this Middle-Earth. However many of the Free People fear that which they do not understand. You must not change form unless you must protect your own life or the life of another. Remember my words cub.” Taking a breath to calm himself, he spoke to the eldest guard. “My name is Rathbairn and I have come from the Vales of Anduin in search of someone named Strider. I was told he can be found at the Inn of the Prancing Pony. Now let me pass, it’s been a long journey and I grow impatient.” The guards relaxed the spears and the eldest stood considering the massive figure before him while his companion foolishly puffed out his chest, striving to make himself look larger, succeeding only in making himself look like a stuffed pillow. “Well then, just you watch yourself or I’ll ‘ave the Captain haul you in and you’ll spend the night behind bars.” He gestured towards the north-western section of the town; “The Pony’s that way, top of the hill. Mind your manners like I said. And no trouble with them weapons, you hear?” Rathbairn fixed the eldest guard with a steely gaze, letting the anger show. “Get out of my way…now.” The guard swallowed and stepped aside barely in time to miss the huge Beorning from walking into him. As Rathbairn passed the gates, the eldest guard let out a deep sigh and glanced at his silent companion. “Well, what’re you looking at? Get back to yer post! Look alive rookie!”.
Bree was the largest settlement that Rathbairn had seen yet, the constant stream of people moving about, horses plodding through the muddy streets, guards patrolling and vendors hawking their wares. As Rathbairn passed, citizens stared openly at the huge figure striding through the town. As he climbed a hill and headed past a fountain with a statue of a Boar in the middle, a trio of merchants stood in the middle of the path. Rathbairn, beyond frustrated with the noise and commotion of Bree, walked through the middle of the trio, brushing them aside without a backward glance.
“HEY! YOU GET BACK HERE! You can’t knock us about that way! Don’t you know who we are?”
He grabbed hold of the Beornings arm and attempted to pull him around, grunting in frustration when Rathbairn simply stopped and turned his head, looking down at the arm that was touching his.
“Do you want to lose that hand?” Rathbairn growled ominously.
The merchants looked over the imposing figure standing before them and began to back away. “Our mistake sir, have a good day!” they called as they fled. Shaking his head, Rathbairn continued past more Vendor stalls and climbed a final hill. Reaching the top, he glanced to his right and saw a two-storied structure with a sign that made him sigh in relief. The Inn of the Prancing Pony. He had reached it at last. Climbing the steps, he pushed the door open and stepped inside.
Part 2 – The Prancing Pony
A wave of smoke, unwashed bodies and ale hit Rathbairn’s senses as he stepped into the common room if The Prancing Pony. Tables on the left ran towards the back of the inn while in front of him at the bar, a few patrons lined the counter, waiting on a plump, heavyset man who reminded Rathbairn of a frustrated chicken looking for a list egg. Rathbairn strode up to the bar, shoving his way to the counter between two scruffy/looking toughs. Both men have startled exclamations as the huge Beorning only glanced at them with an icy expression in response to their protests. Grumbling, they moved back towards a table with several others, casting dark looks Rathbairn’s way. Ignoring them, he called to the bartender, who ignored him while calling out to someone Rathbairn couldn’t see.
“Oy Nob! You woolly-footed slowcoach! Where are you? I need more clean mugs and another cask of…hey now?” The portly bartender felt a strong hand grip his should and spin him around. He was about to give whoever this was a stern piece of his mind and toss them out when his eyes met the owner of the massive paw-like hand gripping him. Brown eyes that looked more feral than human, red markings down the right side of his face and a massive frame that was easily seven feet tall. “I am looking for someone named Strider. He is supposed to be here” the stranger said. Butterbur gulped and in a shaky voice replied “Y-Y-Yes, I mean no! He was here but left yesterday. Said he was going to roam the western road towards the Shire. Don’t know what you’d want with him though, him being one of those Rangers and all.” Rathbairn’s eyes narrowed in frustration at the news. Weeks of travel and this Ranger was nowhere to be found. “Will he be back, Strider that is?” Rathbairn asked the Innkeeper, releasing his grip on Butterbur. “Well, it’s hard to say for sure, but his room is locked and he still has some gear here.” Butterbur replied.
“Then I will wait for him” the Beorning replied, looking around the common room. Noticing an empty table on the far side of the room, he turned back to the Innkeeper. “I’d like some food and something to drink. I’ll also need a room.” Turning towards the common room, Rathbairn crossed the floor and sat at the empty table. Glancing around the common room, Rathbairn took in the surroundings and the patrons within. A Minstrel sat near the fire in front of him, playing a harp and singing softly. What surprised Rathbairn was the fact that the Minstrel was not just female, but a Halfling! One of them had been in the company of Thorin Oakenshield when they had passed into his Grandfather’s home. The tale was famous in the East. Grandfather had received many thanks in the way of gifts from the Dwarves of Erebor for his assistance not only with the company’s journey to the Mountain, but for his part in the great Battle of Five Armies. The Minstrel noticed Rathbairn staring and nodded, not missing a moment of her song. Nodding in return, Rathbairn turned towards the rest of the room. To his right, a few older, bearded men sat drinking and speaking quietly to two younger men. To his rear, a group of ragged, rough looking men were laughing loudly, spilling their drinks and shoving each other. A touch on his shoulder made him turn his head back towards the front, where a serving girl stood, waiting. “Right, what’ll you have sir?” she asked. “We have a side of beef just from the oven, fresh bread, maybe some grouse then? Or nice spiced potatoes, like the serve in the Shire?”
Suppressing a shudder, Rathbairn held up a hand to the girl. “No beef, no flesh of any creature. I’ll have the bread and potatoes, whatever vegetables you have also. If you have any berries, I’ll take them along with some honey. Do you have any cream?” The girl nodded wordlessly, her mouth agape in surprise at the huge man’s list of food. “Then I’ll have a pitcher of that as well.” She turned away and headed towards the kitchen, shaking her head in disbelief. Several minutes later, she returned, carrying several trays of food, grimacing with the weight of the vast amount of food. Setting it down in from of Rathbairn, she stood fixated as he began to wolf down mouthfuls of potatoes, vegetables and bread, pausing now and then to drink some cream straight from the pitcher, ignoring the mug the waitress had set down for him. With a puzzled expression she asked “You know, nobody ever turns down the meat, ever. Old Barley has cooks that can do wonders with beef, ham, pork, bacon and every kind of meat you can think of. How come you turned it down?”
After weeks of travel and eating rations from saddle bags, Rathbairn only wanted a fresh meal eaten in peace, yet the questions interrupting his meal began to get on his nerves. “I am hungry and want to eat in peace. Don’t you have something else to do?” Turning sharply on her heel, the serving girl stormed towards the table behind Rathbairn to check on the loud group of ruffians. Rathbairn overheard one of them ask the girl about the massive figure’s food and heard her exclaim. “He didn’t want any meat at all! Got right testy with me when I asked! It’s not normal for folks to turn down a side of Barley’s mutton!” The largest of the ruffians, a bearded fellow with a nasty scar down the left side of his face patted the server on the shoulder “don’t you worry about him my dear, me an the boys’ll go teach ‘im some manners after we’ve had another round, won’t we boys?” A loud shout of encouragement sent the server off to the bar to grab more ale. Sighing deeply, Rathbairn turned back to his meal, shoving more of warm bread into his mouth. The Minstrel, seeing the Beorning’s curious eating habits, finished her song to mild applause and laid down the harp. “And now a tale to tell! How about a story from days past, of the great Battle of the Five Armies? I will tell you about when all seemed lost, the great Skin-Changer Beorn came un-looked for and how he turned the tide of battle nearly single handily!” Rathbairn froze; a bite of potatoes halfway to his mouth. The tale of Grandfather’s role was known throughout the East, into Erebor and Dale, yet it surprised him that anyone at all knew about it here in Eriador. The hobbit grinned and gave Rathbairn a knowing wink, the Beorning only nodded in return, resuming his meal in silence, fascinated by the minstrel’s skill in telling the tale. She wove the story about Beorn appearing in Bear form when all seemed lost, carving his way through the Orcs and Goblins like a storm, unstoppable. She told them of his rescue of Thorin, by then mortally wounded and surrounded by foes and of Beorn’s return to the battle even more fearsome then before and finally of his defeat of Bolg and the victory at Erebor.
By the time the Minstrel’s tale was finished, evening had arrived, and with it more patrons to the Inn. Rathbairn, finally full after nursing a mug of mead stood up and approached the Hobbit, who had begun packing her instruments. Noting his presence, the Hobbit turned and craned her neck, Rathbairn seeming a giant in front of her. He pressed a small handful of silver coins into her hand, saying nothing, nodding once and turning away. She said nothing in return, just watched the tall man walk away.
As he made his way to the bar to pay for the meal and drinks, the group of ruffians, led by the patch eyed leader, stopped to block the way. The serving girl stood fearfully between them, her arm gripped by the patch-eyed tough. “Oy, you! You got some apologizin’ to do to the lady here.” The leader said. “Ain’t nobody turns down the finest meat in these parts. S’matter? You too good to eat the meat here? You Elvish or something?” All conversation stopped as the patrons of the Inn craned their necks to witness the confrontation. It seemed simple to most, one man standing alone against five rough-looking men. But some patrons, the Hobbit Minstrel included, noticed the way the huge stranger stood unflinching against the group that blocked his path. His eyes never left the leader, his body seemed tensed and ready to spring. “Move… Now” he growled in a voice that made some of the ruffians shiver. That voice didn’t sound like that of a man. The Leader of the group paused, then replied “Nah, you need to say sorry, and we’re gonna make ya, aren’t we lads?” He turned behind him and noticed several of his group had backed up several steps, fear on their faces. Turning back to the front, he flinched when he realized the massive stranger had stepped closer and now was only inches away. He leaned in, his face a hairsbreadth from the leader’s nose. “I said move. NOW!” the latter word coming in a beastly roar that made hairs stand on end of many of the Inn’s patrons.
“Here now, no trouble here or I’m calling the watch! Kercheg! You and yer lads take a walk out. Leave that fellow alone! Pay for your drinks and leave!” Kercheg swallowed slowly and fixed Rathbairn with his good eye. “We’ll see you again real soon”. He slammed several coins on the table and turned, his small band following him out the door, the last man slamming it for good measure. Turning slowly, Rathbairn took in the entire room, except for the Hobbit woman, who was nowhere to be seen, the rest of the Inn’s patrons turned away when Rathbairn’s steely gaze turned their way. Striding to the bar, he called the Innkeeper, who rushed over quickly. “Sorry ‘bout that sir” Butterbur mumbled, “Them’s bad news, that lot. They’d think nothing about starting a fight if it could gain them a few coins. You’d best watch out for them. Now what can I do for you?” Rathbairn shook his head slowly. “They will be no trouble with me. How much for the meal and the room?” Butterbur swallowed nervously, “well sir, ten silver for the meal, see it was more food than we’re used to, see” And as for the room, turns out we have nothing left but one Hobbit sized room, which wouldn’t do a fellow like yourself any good at all. For one more silver, you can bunk up in the stable if you can find a place. As long as you don’t mind sleeping with the horses that is. I can ha…”
“The stable will do” Rathbairn said, cutting off the Innkeeper, who’s nervous chatter had begun to get on Rathbairn’s nerves. Handing out the silver, he left the Inn and turned right after descending the stairs and headed towards the stables.
The smell of horses was a familiar, welcoming smell as Rathbairn made his way towards the stables. Sleeping with horses and animals would be more welcoming than in a small cramped room with a lumpy bed. As the stables came into sight, movement to the right, in the shadows of the Inn drew Rathbairn’s attention. Five men came into view, the foremost missing an eye. Kerchag and his band of fools, thought Rathbairn. They spread out, surrounding the Beorning and some drew crude weapons, some with daggers and some with clubs.
“Now then oaf, it’s time we all had a little chat. Seems you owe us a round of drinks and an apology.” Kerchag sneered.
“How do you figure that?” Rathbairn asked, his head skewed sideways in confusion.
“Well, we figure since you insulted old Barley’s food, and since we’re loyal patrons, you’ve insulted us. But since we’re headed out of town, we’ll make you a deal. Give us all your silver and them fancy weapons you got there and we’ll call it square.”
“How about this?” Rathbairn suggested coldly, stepping closer so that he was inches away from Kerchag. “You all walk away and leave and I won’t tear you apart.”
“No deal, get him lads!” Kerchag yelled. The five bandits rushed Rathbairn like bulls, hoping to swarm and knock the Beorning to the ground, making him easy prey. However, years of hard labour in the Vale and his family’s larger-than-normal size gave Rathbairn the advantage. Bracing his feet, he swung both arms forward and wide, knocking two of his attackers to the ground with dull thuds. The remaining three, seeing two of their number taken down so quickly, spread out, hoping to come at Rathbairn from all sides. Kerchag, sneering from in front of Rathbairn, taunted the Beorning.
“You shoulda taken the deal fool” he snarled “Now yer gonna bleed.” Taking a quick step forward, he snapped a quick left-handed jab at Rathbairn’s head, causing the Beorning to lean back, giving the remaining two men the opportunity to seize Rathbairn’s legs and topple him to the ground. Kerchag, seeing this opportunity, drew a heavy dagger from his belt and stood over the downed Beorning.
“Play times over, you never shoulda come here”
As the knife came into view, with Kerchag’s two men holding him to the ground, Rathbairn felt a shift inside as anger gave way to wrath. A bestial snarl let loose from Rathbairn as the wrath gave him a strength that went beyond that of Men. His body began to shudder as the beast within took over. Limbs began to thicken, muscles shifted and fur began to grow. Kerchag’s men released Rathbairn and crawled backwards, scrambling away as fast as they could. Kerchag, frozen in shock, could only stare as Rathbairn rolled to his belly as the shift continued. Fangs lengthened as the change finished. Where Rathbairn had laid moments before, now a massive bear stood. Rearing on its hind legs, the bear roared with rage, freezing the three men in fear. Dropping to all fours, the bear lunged out with a mighty paw and ripped the nearest henchman from shoulder to sternum, his bleeding body collapsing to the stones. The remaining henchman fled screaming down the hill past The Prancing Pony. Only Kerchag remained, still frozen in shock at Rathbairns change and the ferocity of the bears attack. The beast growled deeply, Kerchag began to back away slowly, the bear matching his pace step for step. As the beast reared to deliver a fatal swipe of its paws, a faint sound was heard through the now crowded square outside the Inn, causing the bear to drop to all fours, its head turning towards the sound, ears perked. From the crowd. And the Hobbit Minstrel, her soft voice singing, the song seeming to weave around the bear as if magic. It continued to stare at the sound, it’s rage forgotten. The Minstrel continued to weave her song like a tapestry, letting it fall gently upon the bear, weaving sleep. By this time, Second Watcher Heathstraw had arrived with more of the city watch, spears at the ready. Heathstraw moved with his men to attack the bear, but the Hobbit raised her hand sharply, motioning for the watch to wait, not missing a note of her song.
Slowly, the bear sank to the ground, the change coming swiftly as Rathbairn returned to human form. The watch moved quickly to seize the massive man as he collapsed to the ground, sleep taking over his still form. The Minstrel called quickly to the Heathstraw as his men struggled to lift the massive Beorning.
“Second Watcher Heathstraw, what are you doing? This man has only defended himself! You cannot take him. I did not sing him to sleep for your needs!” The elder man looked down at the hobbit, “He nearly killed a man Lily and he has to account for that. Don’t worry; we have Kerchag and his cronies too. All of this lot will be headed to the Bree-Town jail. There’ll be no bloodshed on my watch.” Lily watched closely as the watch dragged away the massive Beorning towards the direction of the prison, her mind racing. Without another word, she turned and ran towards the west gate of Bree, a certain Ranger on her mind.
Thanks to timhedden for paving the way for this tale to happen and for permission to borrow your hero for a spell.