1. Boar and Steward
“Ready or not, here I come!”
Fréalas crouched underneath the brush, trying with all her might to silence her breathing. The sound of whistling cut through the bright air, clear as birdsong.
He always tries to find me first, it’s not fair! she thought, and flattened herself to the ground, more wormlike with each movement. It was at this most important moment, when stillness and silence were key if one did not want to be tagged, that she noticed the stone digging into her left knee. But she dare not move for fear of discovery. Ignoring the unexpected discomfort, she held her breath.
The whistling drew nearer. Under the shelter of the tall grass and shrubs on the edge of the forest, she who would not be found tried to be as quiet as a shadow. Glancing sideways, the eight year old gauged how far she had to run to get to the safe haven of the sheep-pen and then she could hide again for yet another round of Boar and Mouse.
That brief movement was enough. The glint of sunlight on red hair gave her away, and she heard an “Aha!” and knew that her hiding place was not what she had hoped for. Before jumping up and dashing to the sheep-pen and her freedom, she grasped at the bit of stone that had so rudely found its way into her hiding place. Only with a most brief glance did she look at the smooth disc before shoving it into her dress pocket. Springing up, she took in the decreasing distance of her brother’s feet. All hope lost, she ran as fast as her legs could carry her, trying to make an arc away from him and toward the nearby pen.
She was utterly dismayed to see the fence-post in front of her, tantalisingly within grasp, when at that moment her feet betrayed her and down she went.
“Frithlíc!” she cried, even as she knew she was losing, seeing her friends run to the fence post in surety now that someone had gotten caught in their stead. But he wouldn’t win without a fight…
“Ow! Fréalas, why’d you have to go and do that, eh?” He stood on one leg, rubbing his ankle with his other bare foot where his younger sister’s fist had found its mark. Catching her breath, she and her brother and friends heard the horn blowing that meant the end of their game for today.
“Well!” a snaggle-toothed boy said, grinning widely, “guess you’ll be the Boar tomorrow!”
In response, she stuck out her tongue. “Halma, son of Halmwine, I know all of your hiding places. Don’t think you’ll be a mouse for long!”
The sun was setting as they walked near the soothing gurgles of the Mering Stream, back to their cluster of homes, the White Mountains glowing as though lit with inner fire. Above them, the clouds blazed with colour, orange and scarlet, and even streaks of lilac. Fréalas stopped, appreciative of the splendour of colours on display and said, “The sky is so fiery!”
One of the other children, in a singsong voice, said,
“Red sky at night, rider’s delight…
Red sky at morning, Eorlingas take warning…”
Fréalas thought it was one of the most beautiful sunsets she had ever seen. It was true that she had an almost unnatural fondness for the time of the sun’s setting, and dusk in general, but she couldn’t help it! Why else have eyes, she thought, if not to appreciate the hues in the skies, the blues of day, turning to reds and violets and the twinkling of stars, whose patterns she was beginning to learn. Her heart leapt and she thanked the mostly nameless ones who ruled fate and time for placing her in the plains of grasses that she called home. She was sure that there was nowhere in Middle Earth more beautiful than the land of the Riddermark, especially her land by the Firien woods. Who else could possibly know the joys of wading on the banks of the clear waters of the Mering Stream (and who else could possess as many smooth skipping stones as she had?), and…
The stone! She quickly stuck her hand in her pocket to see if the mysterious rock had escaped during her dash to the sheep-pen. It was still there, and she drew it out. Clumps of dirt clung to it, so she unceremoniously wiped it on her woven skirt, and was amazed to see that it had markings. The indentions were dirt-filled, so she ran over to the stream to rinse it off.
“Where are you going?” Frithlíc asked.
“My business is my own.”
“I’ll have it out of you,” he warned, with a half-smile.
Squatting by the stream, Fréalas submerged rock and herself to the forearms, bracing at the water's chill. With a half-bitten fingernail she scraped out the dirt until she could see the designs clearly. It wasn’t runes, she decided, seeing the three curvy lines and three stars above them. But what did it mean? What did it say? Her mother was unique in that she knew her letters, but Fréalas had been unable as of yet to convince her mother to teach her as well.
“Well, we’re going to be late! What have you there?”
Fréalas almost fell in, shocked by the voice right behind her.
“Frithlíc, you startled me. Oromë’s horn!”
“Fréalas! Who taught you that? You had best watch your tongue, little one, before you get in trouble. Now what is that?”
She turned, and was about to say that she really didn’t know and wanted to get his opinion on it, but knew that they needed to go back to safety of home with their warm fire, and cosy wooden tables. It was well within community memory of fine people in the Mark being killed by Orcs, hence the extra precaution of blowing the horn at the end of the day for any children who may have strayed away and not realized how soon the sun would set. Fréalas, like all children her age, was learning to shoot with bow and arrow, as well as basic swordsmanship. She hoped that she never had to use those skills, but the alternative could be far worse, if what she had heard about Orcs was true.
Frithlíc raised an eyebrow.
“Not a secret, I hope?”
They were of very different temperament, but they shared a trait that was as obvious within their community of tall, fair-haired folk as a lone tree standing on the grassy plains. Through the workings of which horse-lord or horse-lady Fréalas was quite unsure, but she and her brother had red hair. Not simply sun-kissed, which was not infrequent, but truly blazing, the colour of coals Fréalas saw at the smiths' as they hammered the metal shoes for their beloved steeds. Hair that shade was unusual, though not considered unnatural, and neighbours simply attributed it to the fact that Fréawyn, their mother, was said to be of distant lineage from the ancient line of Northmen, now few and scattered.
She passed the newly-cleaned rock to her brother.
He grunted. “Not runes. But what it says, I am unsure.”
He looked it over carefully, turning it over and again in his hands, gazing at it over his freckled nose with hazel eyes.
“Doesn’t look like it was made by Elves, if you ask me,” he continued.
“I didn’t, but how would you know? You've never seen an Elf! Doesn’t look Dwarvish either; it’s too plain. Their work is more delicate, somehow, though that doesn’t mean what I mean…”
She stopped speaking, brows furrowed.
“Think of that knife that Mother uses for her chopping and…”
Here her voice faltered. This was her mother’s sharpest knife, used both for household chores and more delicate surgical purposes, when needed, as when Fréalas had gotten a skin infection of sorts. She hadn’t known how it all happened, but then her mother had used the knife to make an incision in the reddened flesh to let out the poison. It hurt like fire, and she had wailed, especially after her mother put witch hazel to it, but it had done the trick, and there was but a half-moon scar on her leg as evidence of what had happened.
“Yes, I know,” Frithlíc intervened. “What of it?”
“Well, we don't often see the Dwarves. But still, this doesn’t look like their handiwork. Here, say, give it back! I found it!”
“No need to get possessive over an old rock, anyway!”
Frithlíc’s eyes glinted as he tossed it back to his sister. “Isn’t it time that you had a bath, eh? Ah, lucky you!”
Fréalas frowned. It wasn’t that she minded the hot water warmed over the fire for bathing, to be sure, but now that it was early spring she always seemed to be cold, and the inconvenience of hauling water from the Mering for a mere bath seemed unwarranted. Especially since she was going to be wearing the same clothes tomorrow. At least their mother had skill in making tallow-soaps of pleasing scent, full of the lavender that grew on the nearby hills.
They didn’t often go to the royal city of Edoras, but on occasion the Frithmund family did travel more to the heart of the Mark, trading soaps for things that couldn’t be bartered from the other families near the woods. One could find spices there, from warmer lands further south, and metalworks from the Dwarves traversing the Western Road. There was the occasional Gondorian coming to visit family, as those of Rohan and Gondor were so inextricably linked, though Fréalas always felt somehow looked down on; rustic, through the eyes of the well-clad Southerners. “Are they all so tall?” she wondered, and couldn’t understand why they all seemed to have such dark hair. She sometimes noticed the occasional furtive stare, usually from a Gondorian child, at Frithlíc and her, with their freckles and fiery locks. She was quite sure that she didn’t like those folk from the big stone city. Who would want to live in a place with such an ugly name as Mundburg? she thought at such times. When confronted with a rare sugared candy offered in a gesture of friendliness, however, she was also quite unwilling to refuse the treasure.
The evening passed without incident, and after a dinner of mutton and potatoes and a scrub-down at her mother’s insistence, Fréalas asked for leave to visit the Ísensmith family. Shrugging, her father gave permission, so after donning her gearnscrúd, Fréalas walked barefoot to her neighbors. Their family had a few weeks ago been blessed with a daughter, Tamára, and Fréalas longed for a few moments of solitude with her. The Eorlingas believed heartily in the purifying aspects of being outside in the fresh air, and so built rocking cribs for their babes in the forms of horses that they placed in sheltered side porches. As the moon looked down on the clusters of small homesteads, She would often see a fair daughter of Rohan sitting in a chair next to her horse-crib, rocking it whilst singing a lullaby to her newborn. It was believed that by being exposed to wind and star and moon that the child would gather the strength needed to be a part of these isolated peoples, proud, yet wary, intuition as keen as starlight, and always guarded. So Fréalas visited the Ísensmith’s, waving a greeting to young Smithson, then making her way to stand next to Tamára’s crib for some quiet rocking time. While gently pushing the blonde infant, she sang a lullaby from her recent youth.
Lullay my dear heart, my own dear dréaming…
As the babe cooed and then fell into sleep, Fréalas watched the skies as the constellations silently followed their ages-old patterns across the night sky.
“See that, Tamára?” she murmured. “There’s Swánsteorra the swan… and Eofor the boar… Seems as though he is unwilling to share the sky with the other stars, he takes up so much room!” Fréalas pulled her knitted top around her more closely, keeping away the evening chill. “As for me,” she said, giving the child a final look for the night, “I simply want to share the fire. Sweet dreams."
Fréalas pulled the bow with what felt like all of her remaining strength, yet as soon as she released the arrow, it was painfully obvious that it would hit nowhere near the intended mark on the hay bale. Sighing, she bent down and picked up yet another for practice, pausing to wipe the sweat off of her forehead with the back of her hand. It was now the height of summer, so in addition to the heat itself as an impediment to concentration, there was the issue of trying to ignore the biting horseflies that were part and parcel of living around so many horses and sheep. Though clad in the lightest woven dress she had, it was still hot. And she still was not a very good archer, but determined at least to be as accurate as that silly Halma. She shook her head in resignation. Why can’t I be valued for my speed? she thought. Or in knowledge of the night sky? But knowing which way is east and west is not of much use if Orcs are running at you... Besides, what else awaited her? Weeding in the garden, or going to find yet another sheep that had managed to stray too far from its home -
“Perhaps if you don’t put quite so much energy into grasping the bow, you’ll have more control over where the arrow lands.”
She wheeled around, looking for the source of the unexpected archery lesson. A tall man, with dark hair and grey eyes with a hint of mirth emerged from the nearby forest eaves. Bow and arrow still in her hands, Fréalas started to ask who he was, but when nothing came out, she cleared her throat and tried again.
“Who are you?” she sputtered, trying to take in the figure, who wore clothes that looked as though they had travelled far and were as unkempt as the wearer. He had spoken in Rohirric, but there was an accent to it. Not knowing what else to do since she was alone, Fréalas stood her ground, arms shaking.
He smiled, raising his arms to indicate that he would not do her any arm, and while slowly walking toward her said, “Long-walker, you may call me. Though it has been many years since I was on your fair plains, it gladdens my heart to see that the people of Rohan value still both their sons and daughters in its defence.”
At this, Fréalas loosened her hold on her bow, trying to sort through the wildly spinning thoughts in her mind. How had this man approached so silently? Why was he standing there? Where was he from? Why her?
“I believe you dropped this.” He kneeled, retrieving out of the grass the incised rock that Fréalas had continued to carry with her, trying to figure out its riddles when not doing more mundane things such as watering the garden and staying out of trouble. It must have flung out of her pocket during her sudden reorientation toward the stranger in the woods. He gave it a look, and an unreadable and strange expression passed over his face. Straightening, he offered it to her. “Are you able to read its markings?”
She shook her head, and lowered her bow and arrow. “My mother is able to read, but I have yet to learn.” Looking first at the ground, then daring to return his gaze, she went on. “We of the Mark are to be swift in horse and sword and mind, but the reading of runes and scripts is not valued as highly as those that keep body and soul as one.”
Since he kept her gaze, and didn’t speak, she continued, “Neither is that of learning the star-patterns, but…” here she stopped. Who was she, a child of no one of importance, to talk to this stranger who had simply appeared out of the forest? She gave him a keen look. Well, he hasn’t even put his hand to his sword, and I’m not dead yet, and he does speak in my language. The thoughts danced back and forth in her mind like bees hastily journeying from flower to flower. “If you have lived here before, then you know that we feel best when on horseback, or if not that, with our feet in the grasses and our voices in song. To be sure, I will do my best to safeguard our lands, as I feel they are the most beautiful in the world.” She continued to hold her bow and arrow and stood her ground, yet felt increasingly smaller as each moment passed, as though she were the namesake to be discovered in a game of Boar and Mouse.
With a very serious look, he offered her back the disc. Fréalas shifted the arrow into her left hand so that her right hand was free to receive it. “Long have I missed you and your folk. I fear far less now for the fate of the Rohirrim in these darkening times, having the fortune to cross paths with its future.” The grey-eyed stranger gave her a studious look. “This is no talisman, but a piece of history. Guard it well, for only six left the walls of Minas Tirith many, many years ago. That one has found its way to you is rare indeed.”
Fréalas nodded. She looked at the disc with its stars and unreadable symbols, then back up at the tall foreigner.
“You look like one who would find more satisfaction answering the innards of this riddle by her own merit rather than being told the answer unbidden. This much will I tell you: the letters are in Tengwar, and say ‘Steward.’ Your ancestors are woven into its tale.” He stood in expectant silence, while Fréalas tried desperately to formulate a question, or sentence, or anything.
“I will find out what I am able -” she tried to remember what he had said his name was. “Long-walker? That isn’t really your name anyway, is it?” It was obvious that wherever he came from, he wasn’t of the elite of Gondor, nor of her kind. Neither was he Elf-kind, at least by looks; not that she had actually seen any of them herself, but she couldn’t believe that any of those ancient ones would be so…dirty.
He crouched down to be closer to her eye level, and gave her a searching look. “I am known by many names, and I am needed elsewhere at present.” With that, he rose, and turned to head back into the Firien Woods. After a few steps, he stopped, and rounded to face her. “If I happen to find myself near the Mering Stream again and see a red haired maid of Rohan, how should I call her?”
Fréalas looked at the figure, already disappearing into the forest, his garb blending into the shadows of the trees. “I am Fréalas, daughter of Fréawyn, Long-walker.” Looking down, she realized that she was still holding her bow and arrow, her sweaty palms allowing it to slide to the end of the shaft. “I hope that if we do meet again, my bowmanship will be that worthy of our people.” She looked into the gloom of the woods. “Should I call you Long-walker?” It was almost as though someone else had asked that question. Where was her brother? Where was anybody?
“I will answer to that.”
And then she was alone again, with more sweat on her brow and above her lips to be wiped off with the back of her hand. Holding her stone with even more reverence than she had prior to this unexpected meeting, Fréalas ran to rescue her misaimed arrows, then back to her house and ask her mother about what the word Steward and stars on a rock had to do with her past.
The inspiration for this story comes from three sentences in the story “Cirion and Eorl” found in Unfinished Tales. “He [Cirion] called for volunteers, and choosing six riders of great courage and endurance he sent them out in pairs with a day’s interval between them. Each bore a message learned by heart, and also a small stone incised with the seal of the Stewards, that he should deliver to the Lord of the Éothéod in person, if he succeeded in reaching that land...The first pair of messengers left on the tenth day of Súlimë [March]; and in the event it was one of these, alone of all the six, who got through to the Éothéod.” (emphasis mine) The appendix indicates that there were 3 letters, R ND R spelling arandur, or Steward.
I thought it would be fun for an ordinary child to find this unique piece of history, which would be very nearly 500 years old since the story is set in the year 3001. The grey-eyed stranger, well-travelled and knowing so much of the history of Gondor is, of course, Aragorn.
gearnscrúd= yarn-cloak, or sweater (jumper)
ly´tling = infant, child
dréam= joy, happiness
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.