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Don't Panic!  by Boz4PM

Chapter 2 - “Bunny Stew”

Penny gathered up her PJs and stalked back to the clearing to find there was no sign of ‘The Stink-Meister’. She spread her clothes over a nearby bush in a vain attempt to dry them. She did consider hanging them over the fire but suspected she’d probably end up burning them or herself if she tried.

Now she could inspect them in the firelight more closely she could see they were stained a filthy mud brown colour from where she had fallen in the swamp. She had a tear in trouser leg and the bottoms were covered in mud splash marks. Now she had them off her she could tell they stank too.

‘Great. Well, they’re completely bloody ruined. I loved these PJs too,’ she thought. “Bugger it, damn and blast!” she said out loud.

She looked round. Still no sign of him. She was desperate for a wee she now realised. Dare she risk venturing off without him tracking her down and finding her? She jiggled about a bit. No, she really needed to wee. She crossed her legs and bounced up and down. Dammit, she had no choice. Better go now than wait till he came back and then have to try and stop him from following her or trying to explain in hand gestures where she was going. That was not a scenario she liked the idea of.

She scuttled off in the direction she had got changed hoping, wherever he was, he would not come that way and find her by accident. She went as far as she could without losing sight completely of the fire in the gloom, dived behind a tree and relieved herself. The question flashed through her mind: what she would do if the ‘other’ call of nature came upon her? She tried not to think about it. He’d have taken her to a town or house by then... wouldn’t he?

As she stumbled back to the clearing on her bandaged feet she could see he was back. He was crouching over something to one side and hacking at it with a fairly big knife he had pulled from his belt. He looked up as she neared and grinned, said something and pointed at what it was he was doing.

Penny noticed in horror he had blood on his hand and on the knife blade. Then she looked at what he had on the ground before him. A rabbit. It’s head was lolling to one side, it was partially skinned and had one foot cut off already. She clutched her hand to her mouth, ran to the side of the clearing and threw up.

Halbarad laughed even if he was surprised by her reaction. Surely she had seen animals skinned and prepared before? He shrugged. She was an odd one that was for certain. He watched her, retching into the darkness. She was going to put him off eating if she carried on much longer. He could tell she had little to bring up, though. How long had she been wandering about in the wilderness? She could not have come far, given that she was barefoot. Her feet would have been in an even worse state if she had.

He wracked his brains as he worked on the rabbit, removing the skin and the head now and setting to work on gutting it. He heard a groan as he cut into the belly to start gutting it and looked up to see she had turned towards him, had seen what he was doing and turned away once more, clutching her stomach and retching.

He shook his head and sighed. “Have you never seen someone do this? I refuse to believe it. What is the matter with you!”

He wasn’t expecting a reply but had to vent his exasperation at her strange behaviour. In any town or village market you would find animals, skinned or not, hung above the meat stalls. What in Arda was her problem?

“You there!” he called to her once he was done skinning and gutting the carcass. “Hey! You there!” She turned to him, looked at the skin, head and entrails on the ground and turned away again groaning. He muttered a curse and came over to her struggling to carry pot, water-sac, knife and the rabbit meat. “You. Help me, would you?” he growled.

She turned, scowling. “What do you want!” she snapped at him.

God, he was disgusting! He didn’t wash, probably didn’t wear underwear and now was butchering wildlife. Freak! Utterly, utterly vile. The sooner she could get to a town and get shot of him the better as far as she was concerned.

He was waving the animal at her. She could cope with it a bit better now it looked less like a real rabbit and more like something she would see at the supermarket. He was holding out the water sac to her and saying something. He did not look happy. Tough! She wasn’t happy either.

With hand gestures and much grumbling he managed to convey that he wanted her to hold the water-sac and pour it over the meat to wash it as he cut it into pieces. The washed pieces then went into the pot. As he picked up the pot and took back the water-sac, having put his knife back in its leather scabbard on his belt, he muttered something and pointed to where she had thrown up with a look of disgust on his face.

“What the hell do you expect? Dear God, do you think I see people cutting the heads off bunnies every day!” She felt her stomach lurch at the thought of it and groaned, clutching her stomach again.

He sighed, clearly exasperated with her, and repeated what he had said. He gestured with his foot, kicking the earth.

She looked at him. “Oh for pity’s sake! Does it really matter?”

He was glaring at her.

“Fine! FINE!” She bent down and covered it with leaves while he stomped back to the fire.

As far as Halbarad was concerned, she was really beginning to annoy him. She did not have a clue. Fine, he did not expect everyone to be completely ‘au fais’ with outdoor living but she behaved like she was some rarefied princess. Her reaction to the rabbit had really irritated him as had her sighing and ‘hrumph’ing at having to help wash the meat. Who in Mordor did she think she was? Luthien herself? He growled to himself. Typical! Absolutely typical! There was always one and he had to be landed with them. He hung the pot over the fire, filling it with water and stalked off to find some herbs to season it.

Penny watched him go, muttering to himself. Good. She was glad she was annoying him. Maybe he would take her to somewhere sensible as soon as possible to get rid of her as soon as possible if that was the case and that was just fine with her.

A thought suddenly struck her. What was a reconstructionist doing with a sharp knife? ‘A VERY sharp knife,’ she thought, remembering how it had sliced through bone like it was butter.

He still had his quiver over his back but his sword was propped up against a tree on top of his pack. She turned to look the way he had just gone. He was in the distance, his back to her.

“Good,” she murmured.

She snuck over, as easily as she could on bandages, and tried to pull the sword part way out of its scabbard.

“Bloody hell this thing is heavy,” she muttered.

She grasped the scabbard and pulled as hard as she could. With a ‘schlack’ sound it slid out by a few inches. The metal shone brilliantly in the firelight. Even from here she could tell it was sharp. She let go of the scabbard and tentatively stroked her thumb against it.

As she did so she heard him shout from the trees. She gasped, cutting her finger against the blade and dropping the sword on her foot.

“Ow! SHIT! Argh! FUCK, SHIT, OW!”

Halbarad was running to her now, his face black as thunder. “Stupid,” he was muttering to himself, cursing himself inwardly for leaving his sword unattended. She was clearly trying to arm herself against him. This did not bode well. He was even more suspicious of her now.

Penny was sucking her thumb as he slowed and strode towards her. She was really bloody irritated with him now. What the hell had he shouted at her for? Idiot had made her cut herself! He was SO annoying!

God, he looked pissed off, though.

What worried her even more, now she thought about it, was that that sword was sharp. Really bloody sharp. What the bloody hell was a battle reconstructionist doing with a sharpened sword! And a sharp knife? It wouldn’t surprise her if those bloody arrows were sharp too. In fact, come to think of it, if he was a reconstruction freak where were the others? They were always in groups. This guy was alone and clearly camping down for the evening.

‘Oh shit,’ she thought. ‘This loony is too loony even for the reconstructionalists. Oh, my God. Oh, shit. Oh, oh, shit. This isn’t good.’

Halbarad had reached her now. He was standing in front of her, herbs in one hand, knife in the other.

“What on EARTH do you think you are doing! You touch my sword again I WILL kill you, you understand me?”

He was snarling at her, the menace in his voice and the glint in his eye unmistakeable even if Penny couldn't understand his words. Looking at him, she was suddenly very, very frightened.

“I was just looking at it," she stammered. "I didn’t mean to... I’m sorry, okay. I’m sorry. Look, I even cut myself on the damn thing.” She waved her thumb at him, tears in her eyes now.

His expression softened slightly as he saw she had hurt herself and heard her tone with him even if couldn’t understand her.

“Why the hell is it sharpened away? Bloody dangerous thing to be walking about with! You’re certifiable, you know that!” She turned to go, sucking at her thumb and feeling utterly miserable. She was lost, alone, and now stuck with some unwashed pyschopath miles from bloody anywhere. She burst into tears.

Her tone had told him she was sorry and had meant nothing by it. He would stay on his guard still but he now suspected she had been curious more than anything else. Why in Mordor draw a sword and touch the blade? She could have had her finger off. He shook his head. The more she revealed about her ignorance the more bizarre he found her and the more worried he became. There was something very wrong here but he could not tell what.

He realised he had scared her by his reaction. He pocketed his knife and walked to her, grabbing her shoulders gently and turning her.

“Here, let me see,” he said, trying to keep his tone as gentle as possible as he took her hand away from her mouth and inspected the cut. It wasn’t too deep, but it was bleeding. He sighed and shook his head. He looked at her. “Swords are sharp things. Not toys.” She blinked at him. He pointed to the sword, “Do not touch.” He shook his finger at her. She seemed to understand and nodded.

He held her thumb up to her mouth and she sucked at it again while he put the herbs in the pot and went to his pack once more. He found his pot of balm and the material he used for bandages and came back to her.

“Give me,” he said and held out his hand to her. She gave him her hand. He smeared balm into the cut and she winced and drew breath over her teeth. Then he tore a strip of material and wrapped her thumb.

She was grateful and managed a smile. ‘Don’t they have sticking plasters round here?’ she wondered. Bandaged feet, thumb the size of balloon, she must look a right state. He was smiling at her in return so he had clearly calmed down a bit, then. He had obviously been telling her not to touch his precious sword. Yeah, like she was going to go anywhere near that thing again! What was she? Stupid? She was still wary of him though. He had seemed harmless enough before but now she was nervous of being in the presence of this man, a complete stranger, armed and with a temper on him. The flash in his eyes when he had roared at her had really put the wind up her.

She sat on the opposite side of the fire from him, watching him nervously and with not a little disgust, as he scraped the inside of the rabbit skin. When he was done, he dug a hole with his knife and put the scrapings, entrails and head of the rabbit into it and covered it all up. Then he sat by the fire, having got a whetstone from his pack and sharpened his knife. She watched him, his face orange in the fire’s glow, sharpening the blade with obvious delight and expertise, stopping every now and then to drag his thumb across it to test its sharpness. She shivered and hugged herself.

He was really beginning to freak her out.

Her mind started racing. She could hear the patter of the rain on the leaves above her so she would get soaked again if she made a bid for freedom. It was not like she even knew where she could run to and besides he was not exactly holding her by force either.

She was most scared about tonight. She would not be able to sleep a wink now, she knew.

First thing in the morning she would head off on her own. Then she remembered he had a horse and could easily run her down. Yet, surely, if he was going to do anything he would have already done it? He could have raped her then and there when he had met her, or killed her hours ago. He did not look that mad. Well... other than the fact that he was dressed like something from the thirteenth century and was carrying a sharpened, fully functional sword. Yeah, because that was SUCH normal behaviour!

She groaned and her head sunk to her knees. Why, oh why, was this happening to her? Why! Why would someone do this to her? Did someone really hate her this much?

She could feel tears coming now. She did not even know where she was. She could be anywhere. It suddenly occurred to her she did not even know how long she had been asleep for. If she had been drugged she could have been out for days. She could... oh God... she could be anywhere, literally anywhere in the world! She was panicking again.

“Calm down,” she muttered. “We’ll see what happens tomorrow.” She glanced at Halbarad now poking his knife into the boiling pot to check on the meat, “If I live till tomorrow that is.”

The rest of the night was spent between her alternating between panic and fear.

Halbarad filled his one bowl for her and let her eat first. She looked at the wooden spoon he had given her like he had slapped her in the face. She looked at it, then at him and then back to the spoon.

“You expect me to eat with this? It’s the size of a ladle. You really are taking this authenticity thing a bit too far, don’t you think?” She sighed and shook her head.

He looked a little peeved at her clear disapproval. She did not want to upset him again. ‘Just play nice. Keep him happy,’ she thought. She smiled.

“Thank you,” she said slowly. “Really.” She sniffed at the bowl and beamed at him in her best fake smile. “Yum! Smells great.”

The fact that it smelt like rat wee was not going to deter her. She stuck the spoon in and managed to slurp some of the ‘sauce’. The grease from the rabbit floated on the top of the liquid in the bowl and stuck to her tongue. She tried not to grimace or gag. There was no salt in it so it tasted vile. She swallowed quickly. He was looking at her expectantly.

“Mmmm,” she forced a smile. “Delicious.” She raised a thumb at him. He looked mystified. She furrowed her brows. ‘That sign is international, surely?’ she thought. She shrugged. Obviously not. Weirdo.

She gave up on the sauce and tackled the meat, bringing her fingers to it. It was not bad, she had to admit, even if it tasted insipid without any seasoning to it. It wasn’t the greatest meal in the world but, given she hadn’t eaten all day and her stomach was rumbling, she did not much care.

She could see him watching her underneath his hooded eyes as he leaned back against a tree next to his pack. “Keeping an eye on his precious bloody sword, no doubt,” she muttered.

She forced herself to drink down as much of the sauce as she could but had to admit defeat after a while before her stomach revolted and brought back the rabbit she had managed to consume. She put down the bowl and spoon. She forced a smile at him.

“Thank you,” she said again slowly.

He nodded, stood, came and took the spoon and served himself now, throwing the bones from her meal on top of the freshly dug earth where he had buried the rabbit remains.

He could tell she had not liked it.

Bloody women!

Well, when you lived rough you had to take what you could get. He could hear Gildor or Glorfindel whinging at him even now in the back of his mind: “Gah! Halbarad, there is no salt in this stew! And would it kill you to carry an onion or two in your pack?” Onions! A Ranger carrying onions! Damn elves! Well, she had eaten without much of a fuss and had pretended to try and like it. At least she was making an effort.

He slurped at the sauce. He paused. Okay, even he had to admit it wasn’t brilliant, but it was better than nothing or lembas yet again and that was good enough for him. He could see her watching him as he ate and that she seemed a lot more nervous of him now. He mulled over this. She was a worry and his suspicions were definitely raised now.

Between the two of them they had finished the rabbit – it being relatively small. He poured what was left of the sauce away under the darkness of the trees and buried the bones. Then he undid the bedroll – little more than a blanket – from the back of his saddle, handed it to her and, keeping his sword with him, gave her his pack to use as a pillow. He took back his cloak, wrapped himself in it and sat with his back against a tree trunk.

Penny blinked at the blanket he had handed her. He was expecting her to sleep on the ground? Of course. Typical. Too damn sensible to have a sleeping bag or something to sleep on. Too much to ask to have a plastic knife and fork with you when you go camping or even a spoon small enough to feed yourself with properly. Too much to even carry salt with you, it seemed.

“I mean you CAN get little plastic pots to carry it in, you know,” she muttered to herself.

She plonked his pack down on the ground near to the fire and settled down under the blanket he had given her.


She sat up and proceeded to remove every twig, every stone she could find.

Halbarad grinned as he watched her. He had heard her grumbling to herself. Well, it was just a few hours ride to Bree tomorrow and then, he hoped, he would be shot of her. If he had to take her to Rivendell with him he was likely to strangle her before they got there if she kept up this attitude.

He sighed as she finally settled down, keeping her back to the fire and him. He knew she wouldn’t be comfortable but neither was he. He would sleep up against the tree. That way, if she stirred in the night to go for his sword again, he would be sleeping lightly enough to wake immediately.

Neither trusted the other. Both suspected the other of being a threat and more dangerous than they seemed.

As Penny dozed fitfully through the night she clenched her teeth. When she was not feeling panicky and scared she was livid. Fuming. Someone was going to pay for this. This was abuse. Had to be. She would get the law involved. This wasn’t bloody funny. She’d sue the buggers. Prison would be too good for them. She could be home, in her warm bed, snuggled up with her laptop and a mug of cocoa.

She felt tears come to her eyes.

Bastards! Utter, utter bastards!

She whimpered, sniffed and dozed even as the tears fell.

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