At the camp of Cair Andros, the sons of Elrond went among the horses of the Dúnedain, Elrohir checking that they were all sound, Elladan keeping his brother company. All was well. The cavalry's horses had been allowed to rest since the end of the great battle at the Morannon. The horses were arranged in tethered rows in a great,irregular meadow, close to where most of the men of Rohan camped.
When they were done, Elrohir lingered to clean the hooves of the horse he rode, a wise grey mare. Recognizing the good Elrohir was doing, the mare lifted each hoof in turn for him. When Elrohir was done with that, he felt her legs to make sure they were healthy and cool. The mare stayed still for this. “My brave one, my fine one, my Forty-Three,” Elrohir crooned to her, ending his compliments with the horse’s name.
Elladan, seeing that Forty-Three looked around alert, plucked up some tender grass and offered it to the mare. He was delighted when she accepted it, and gave him one of her gentle head-bumps in thanks. To cover his guilt that he liked Forty-Three better than the steed he rode, he said, “I will grant that your mare is a wonder amongst horses. I vow she does it to defy that you gave her the most stupid name of all the Ages for a horse.”
Elrohir grinned at his brother’s teasing. “I simply got tired of thinking up new names. She’s my forty-third horse, and thus I named her Forty-Three. And she’s so wise, she can count up to her name, eh, my lady? Was she an elf, she’d give you a run for your money as a loremistress.” Elrohir scratched between the mare’s ears fondly and eyed her chest and flanks. After all the riding for battle, the mare was leaner than she ought to be. Though she still had the long, rippled mane and tail of an elf-bred horse, the grey-white patches had grown wider on her dappled hide. Elrohir stroked her and murmured, “I shouldn’t have ridden you to this war. You are nigh too old for this.” She snorted, straightening her neck, and he smiled; it was as if she was chiding him.
Sensitive to the horse’s every quiver, Elrohir realized something behind him drew Forty-Three’s attention. He looked up at a stallion that had approached the line of tethered horses. “Not again,” he muttered, then shouted, “Go AWAY, Arod!” The dish-faced stallion, lively and restive, tilted his head at Elrohir before ambling away, his silver-white tail waving high and insolent.
The twins exchanged an impatient look. “Shall I talk to Legolas about tethering his steed again? Or shall you?” Elladan asked.
Elrohir smacked his hands against his thighs in frustration. “Even we tether our horses amongst this crowd. Legolas treats Arod like he’s an elf-horse trained from birth, but he’s a steed of the Rohirrim. And the result is nothing but trouble! Stealing feed, walking into tents, picking fights with other stallions.”
“All the Rohirrim are afraid to chide Legolas, since he is both an elf-wight and friend of Lord Aragorn,” said Elladan.
“Well. You and I, his fellow wights of the North, shall set him straight, eh?” said Elrohir. The two elf-kin went off together.
Forty-Three watched her riders go and exhaled, nearly sighing. It had been lovely to have them make much of her. She was disappointed that they were off to some of their duties instead of needing her help. Now she needs must be bored again.
Most of the other horses of the Dúnedain were grazing or dozing in the late morning, grateful to rest after battle. Forty-Three turned her rueful brown eyes on the horse tethered beside her, the gelding Starfoot, who usually carried Elladan. Starfoot was reliable and strong, but not a very good conversationalist as horses went. At least Starfoof recognized that she was smarter, and always followed her lead. She liked Aragorn’s horse, Roheryn, another old campaigner, but he had been tethered far away by Aragorn’s tent. Nearby, the horses of Rohan and Gondor could not communicate with the elf-horses of the North.
She amended that thought as the one horse who broke that rule, along with all the others, ran up in front of her again. “Greetings, Arod,” she said, politely. Arod, after carrying an elvish rider for months, had learned the subtle ways elves and horses communicated, and through that how the North-horses spoke among themselves.
Arod swished his tail, showing off how thick and sleek it was, his grey coat shimmering over his flanks. Then he spoiled the effect of his grace by saying something. “Why did your rider tie you up? He smells like an Elf. My elf-rider doesn’t tie me up. He said Elves don’t tie up their horses.”
Forty-Three tried to ignore the way Arod's muscles filled his shining hide. She stamped in warning as Arod drew close. “Why didn’t your elf-rider teach you manners? And if you go for my feed again, I’ll bite you.”
Arod was not discouraged. “I bet you know just where to nip a stallion, too!” Arod looked at Starfoot, who was stoically ignoring him instead of defending Forty-Three. “Your friend is another story. You were ahead of him in the stable-row when Orome was giving us horses brains.”
Confronted with this rudeness, the mare flared her nostrils. She should be the only one allowed to tell Starfoot he was a dolt. “Who do you think you are, anyway? Lord Shadowfax doesn’t put on half the airs and graces you do.” She flicked her ears against her own irritation. Something in her haunches was beginning to twitch as she watched the young scapegrace of a stallion prancing in front of her, reeking with horse-musk.
Arod tossed his mane proudly. “I have earned the right to boast. I have run a hard road. I survived in battle when my first rider, a knight of Rohan, fell. I trampled the orcs with my hooves and screamed beside his body. Then I carried not one, but two riders, both armed, the elf-lord and his friend weapon-laden! Beside the Lord Shadowfax I ran, carrying them. And then I joined your riding—“
“Where were your fine Rohan boasts on the Paths of the Dead?” said Forty-Three.
Arod put his ears back and shivered at the memory. “You elf-horses are used to weird magic. No ghosts in Rohan, no Elves, no horrible wights!” He perked up again. “I was a little afraid at the start, ‘tis true. One good stale and I was fine. I’d wager that no other horse of Rohan could have gone there.” He turned his sparkling black eyes upon her. “You were the bravest of us all, on that awful road. I remember!” Forty-Three whiffled in astonished pleasure at the compliment.
Encouraged, Arod danced close. “Give me a war-mare any day rather than some farm plodder. I liked you from the moment I saw you, with your fine big eyes, and the way all the others followed how you turned.” Now he was beside her, close enough that she could smell his breath, grassy and warm. “You could do worse than to go for a run with me.”
Forty-Three dipped her head coquettishly. No fool like an old fool, she thought, recognizing spring’s quickening in her belly, the first itching of heat. No wonder she had felt herself smitten by the stallion’s beauty. And now it was clear why Arod was putting Starfoot down. Of course, stallions fought their rivals. For Arod to do so without biting or champing and drawing the attention of the camp suddenly seemed wise and subtle. Might he be a match for her? Did he truly mean the promise of his flirting? Just in case it was the increasing warmth beneath her tail deceiving her, she set Arod a test.
If she didn’t take this opportunity, Elrohir would realize she had come into season. Then he would tether her securely out in the woods, and that would be that for a week. So Forty-Three said, “If you’re clever enough to get me out of my traces, then we shall run and more.” Arod understood. He reached forward and plucked at her light elf-made headstall with his teeth, both of them shivering at the nips. He pulled it forward enough that she could shake it off her nose. Then she was free. She darted a quick look around. One or two horses were watching, but nobody seemed inclined to interfere. Arod was the only one close enough to smell her romantic state. By the smell of him, he was already half ready. She tilted her wise grey head towards a tent, and started to sidle over.
“Hey! Where are you going? You promised - I thought you liked me! Why don’t we run to the fields?” asked Arod, loud and nervous.
“If we go behind that tent for shelter,” said Forty-Three, “we can get started right away.”
Arod flicked his ears forwards and arched his neck, with a whinny of joy. “War-mare and commander! I knew you were for me!”
It was twenty minutes – a fine long time for trysting horses to please themselves, rest, and take pleasure again – before they pricked up their ears. Voices were exclaiming over the horseless harness they had found. “My riders,” said Forty-Three.
“Do they need you? Is it battle?” asked Arod, in a fierce stallion's mood. “Then we must to war! I’ll get off you, although you feel so—“
Two clean-shaven faces peered around the edge of the tent. “AROD!” one of them yelled.
“LEGOLAS!” shouted the other.
“Battle and war? It is now,” said Forty-Three. “Run to your rider!”
As Arod thundered away, she gave him one last glance. Despite his rough manners, Arod was good at heart, she thought, with no regret. And it was nice to know she still kept a little charm when in season. She looked innocently at Elrohir. Her rider was frantically examining her for bites or bruises from the stallion’s attentions. Elladan had dashed off, giving Arod furious chase. From his cursing, it seemed as if he had lost his temper.
Whatever happened next, the rest of the day promised to be anything but dull. Forty-Three turned and gave Elrohir a little nose-bump, happily.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.