5. The Forest Watches
Salupád walked around nibbling the grass, her happiness apparent in the way she held up her tail. Threohness came over and playfully nipped the other horse’s flank, beginning a game which soon had them cantering away toward the dark woods.
“Are they not such beautiful creatures?” Tóswífan said, his love for the animals evident in his voice.
Fréalas nodded. “They used to instil such fear in me when I was younger,” she admitted. She turned her head from her focus on the archer’s target to the blonde young man at her side.
He returned the gaze, raising one eyebrow. “But you look so happy when you are riding.”
Fréalas returned her attention to shooting her arrow. “I do now… they just seemed so big when I was a child. I preferred the sheep we had back at the eastfold. My uncle even carved a little sheep for me that I carried around everywhere.”
Tóswífan laughed. “You continue to amaze me, Fréalas. Just when I think I know so much about you, you say something and I realize that I have only just scratched the surface.”
She released her arrow. It whistled through the air, hitting the mark slightly above the centre. There the shaft and feathers stood at attention with many others, evidence of their practice at this isolated range.
“Dragon’s breath!” she muttered, and rolled her eyes. Lowering her arms she looked fondly at her companion. “Yes, that’s me: Fréalas, fire-locks, full of tremendous secrets.”
He grinned, and not for the first time, Fréalas found herself struck by the kindness she saw in his face. That and his eyes, a unique hazel color that reminded her of fields of barley waving golden in the sun. The two had become good friends over the past few years, as she had discovered under his somewhat aloof exterior that he had a biting wit and a generous heart. He was also a good sparring partner for her since they were the same height. But most delightful, however, had been the unexpected discovery that they were both artists. The swirls of flowers, horses and birds of Fréalas’ designs made their way from her imagination onto leather goods that she was then able to sell in the marketplace at Edoras, while Tóswífan was rarely seen without his knife, carving away at some bit of wood.
Fréalas still considered Éowyn to be her closest friend, despite the fact that Éowyn had become enamoured of her brother Frithlíc in the past few years, and that affection showed no signs of abating. Fréalas did not know what on earth it was that Éowyn saw in him, and with Éowyn’s affections focused elsewhere, she had felt at times like a discarded horseshoe, not even worth putting above the door for luck. But then Tóswífan would seek her out, and they would sketch out patterns in the ground for future projects, or lie on their backs imagining fantastical creatures in the clouds after working with their horses. It was a childish pastime, she knew, but a welcome respite from the more responsible adult activities she was expected to pursue.
Tóswífan put down his bow and went to retrieve their arrows. Fréalas walked out a few steps away from the range toward the path they had taken to reach this high field, then stopped and with the back of her hand, wiped the bit of perspiration that had gathered above her eyebrows. She loved the view of the valley below, the mountains nestling the snaking path of the Snowbourne at it flowed toward Edoras. Beyond the sentinel city was a seemingly endless expanse of rolling plains. I wonder if that is what the sea looks like from the mountains? she marvelled. But blue, of course. For several minutes she let her eyes wander over the distant land, until something far off in the light blue sky caught her attention. What is that?
She suddenly stiffened, sensing before actually feeling Tóswífan step behind her. Gently he put his hands on her shoulders, and when she did not move, he slid them down her arms and clasped his hands in front of hers, around her waist. Fréalas was so surprised at the unexpectedness of this encounter that it took her a moment to realize that she was holding her breath. She willed herself to take a deep lungful of air, at the same time registering with surprise the calloused fingers resting on hers. The two had talked for hours and hours, it was sure, but aside from the occasional dance at festivals and weddings and some chaste kisses from a wintergamen several years ago, she had not really thought about his physicality. Now that she found herself nestled in his arms, she realized that though he was slender, his chest was far wider than she had imagined. But you have never imagined anything about him… like this. The thought quickly sped through her mind. Letting the view before her soften, she was startled at feeling a flash of heat go through her as she was absorbed by the unfamiliar sensation of his hips almost resting at her backside.
“What do you see?” he asked. She refocused her eyes on the scene before her, and then saw the speck again, off on the horizon. Disengaging her left arm, she pointed to the northeast.
“There! Can you see it?” She turned her head backward, keenly aware of how close his chest was to her back and how her shirt was stuck to her with sweat. “I think it is an eagle!”
Tóswífan’s face was nestled in her hair. “Mmmmm,” he sighed. “How is it that you always smell of lilac?”
Still trying to sort through this torrent of feelings, she took his hands in hers and then moved them to his side and turned around to face him. What does this all mean? she wondered, then answered his question.
“You know that making soaps is my mother’s great skill.” Tilting her head, she looked sharply at him. “Do you see the eagle?”
His eyes were full of amusement but he seemed unable to take them off of her face to look off to the horizon.
“Well? You will not find it by looking at me. It is circling far away." She turned back around, and pointed again. “To see one is supposed to bode fair fortune.”
Tóswífan looked at the back of the young woman in front of him, his friend since mid-youth, and thought about simply turning her around, taking her face in his hands, and tasting her lips on his. Then he thought about how deftly he had seen her use her knife while they were being put through their paces for self-defense, and reconsidered.
“Fair fortune, indeed, is to be confidante and friend to one as down to earth as you, Fréalas!” He took her left hand in his right, and turned her away from the vista. “Any more luck, or fortune, and the horse-spirits are likely to smite us with something rather unpleasant!”
Fréalas raised her eyebrows and looked thoughtfully at Tóswífan. She was aware of many things, all at once: the sweat of their hands intertwined, the omen of seeing an eagle, the suddenly disconcerting feeling of just the two of them being so far away from the town, his familiar smell of wood and horse. Unable to do anything else, she continued to look at him until a slightly red hue came to his cheeks.
“Were I a piece of wood and you a bore-beetle,” he said, “you would be nigh through me by now!” They walked together toward the trees of the Dimholt and their horses. “You have such a look of concentration… it makes me feel, well," he cleared his throat, “almost unclothed, if you will.” He scratched at a midge-bite on the back of his neck, waiting for his companion to say something in reply.
After several more moments went by and they neared the edge of the wood, having passed their horses which were now contentedly grazing, he said, “Out with it! What on the horse’s mane are you thinking?”
Fréalas continued her silence but seemed to be leading Tóswífan, rather than the other way round. The trees of the Dimholt were now around them, and they entered a profound quiet. This was a place that figured prominently in age-old stories of ghosts and deaths unhappily suffered. The youth of Edoras would come up to this plain on rare occasion, usually during festivals when their parents were otherwise occupied for several hours, and dare each other to enter the woods, alone. It was indeed a place that seemed haunted, an eerie entrance-way for anyone foolish enough to approach the door to the aptly-named Paths of the Dead. Usually none were.
She stopped by a large oak, and turned to face the young man. “You wanted to kiss me.” It was a statement rather than a question, and Tóswífan was startled by her bluntness. He looked down at their hands, still intertwined, then slowly back up at her face, unsure what expression he would see there. She seemed to be smiling, so he allowed himself to gaze back, drinking in her features as though they were on a new person: greenish-grey eyes, some fiery red curls of hair stuck to her forehead with sweat, and freckles emerging from a sunburn that now stretched from cheek to cheek across her nose.
“Yes,” he admitted. “No. I mean, I did. I still do.”
Fréalas felt as though there were heat from the sun emanating from him despite the cool of the woods, and she felt a trickle of moisture traverse from behind her ear down her neck.
“We have been friends a long time, Tóswífan,” she said. “But today, now, you seem different.”
“Different?” he echoed, longing apparent in his voice.
“I am not usually at a loss for words,” she said, taking both of his hands in hers, forcing him to move nearer to her. “But something happened. Seeing the eagle, us being alone, and…” She stepped forward, pushing his back into the tree, pressing herself against him. Her body ached all over, a sort of throbbing, confusing feeling of desire and fear. “And I have these feelings… I don’t know where they came from, but…”
She put her lips on his, surprised at how soft they were. Tóswífan kissed back eagerly, then tried to put his tongue in her mouth. Fréalas was startled at the intrusion, then tentatively did the same. So warm. The thought went racing through her mind as he held her face in his hands. She explored his mouth with her tongue, then pulled away, panting.
“Is something wrong?” Tóswífan exclaimed with a look of apprehension.
Fréalas breathed in deeply, then laughed. “Oh Tóswífan, I was concentrating so hard I was not breathing!” She moved back in to him again and murmured, “Let me try again. This time I will be sure to do both.”
She arranged her body so that she could lean on him as she felt a bit dizzy, and began kissing him again. She had a sudden memory of a game of spin the bottle she had played several years ago, and of quick kisses, followed by jokes and laughter. This is very different, she thought.
As they kissed, she felt a wave of desire go through her. It seemed to center itself between her waist and knees, and she pressed her hips against his. Tóswífan had anchored one of his hands at the small of her back, the other caressing the back of her head, but with this motion, he moved both of them to the curve of her buttocks. Fréalas felt as though every inch of her skin had become alive, and it was almost unbearable. Tóswífan broke from their kiss and looked at her. As though I were something to be eaten! she thought, and wondered what messages were being revealed to him in the same glance.
He turned his head and put his mouth to the side of her neck, kissing it, then languorously ran his tongue up to her ear. Fréalas felt as though her legs had suddenly lost their bones, and sank further into him, closing her eyes. He took her earlobe in his mouth, nibbling on it. She moaned quietly, feeling a heat from somewhere deep within her, a primal ache. She wanted him. She didn’t know what that entailed, exactly, but it seemed that he had an idea of the path to be taken.
With her eyes still shut, she ran her fingers through his hair as he continued to kiss her neck. “Mmmmmmm. Salty,” he whispered, then ran his tongue across her collarbone and kissed her at the base of her throat. Fréalas thought that surely her heart must be beating at triple its normal speed, but she also knew that she did not want him to stop. She became aware that the throbbing sensation she had below her hips seemed to be reflected in his body as well, and she marvelled at this change.
Tóswífan lifted his lips from her neck, and leaned back. Fréalas opened her eyes, and saw that he bore a troubled expression.
“Yes?” she asked, wriggling her hands behind his neck, and then down his back, against the bark of the tree.
“Well,” he began. “It’s just…” He ran his tongue over his lips. “I would be so honoured to see your body, to touch it.” He gazed at her with his hazel eyes, and Fréalas felt as though she had already been laid bare. “I know you are strong from watching you in our years of arms training and riding." He pulled her to him more tightly, moving his hands up to behind her hips. “And I know that I want to feel your skin on mine. I can’t say that I haven’t hoped that this would happen.” Fréalas nodded, acutely aware of the curls of his blonde chest hair showing at the neck of his loosened shirt.
“But I do not want us to regret this, or enter into anything unwanted.”
In a husky voice that sounded unfamiliar to her own ears, she said, “I will let you know if you have gone too far.” She trusted him, surely, and she also knew that she wanted… needed… to explore this new-found physicality that allowed her to escape her racing mind.
“Tóswífan,” she began, then removed her hands from him and edged backward.
“Yes?” he replied, confusion in his voice.
“Tóswífan, will you shut your eyes for a moment?”
The young man’s excitement about their activities was still apparent below his waist, but his face now bore an expression as though he had been slapped.
“I am not going anywhere.” She walked back over and kissed him strongly on the neck, as though to draw blood. “I am simply… well… shy.” She blushed, making her sunburn look all the more scarlet, even in the relative dimness of the forest.
“Shy?” He raised his hands as if to reach for her, then dropped them. “But we have known each other for years, Fréalas.”
“Just do this,” she pleaded, and Tóswífan sensed that if he were ever again to kiss this one who was so dear to his heart, he should do as he had been bidden. He closed his eyes.
“You promise you are not going to leave me up here alone…” he said plaintively, and cocked open one eye.
“Hush, you!” Fréalas stood, only a few paces from Tóswífan who was still leaning on the tree, a shaft of sunlight lazily drifting down onto his chest. Spun gold! Fréalas thought, looking at the curls of hair highlighted by the thin ray darting through the trees. She began again to feel a resonating ache below her hips and new dampness between her clenched thighs and realized that she needed to act before losing her nerve or nothing would happen.
She hummed to herself in the relative dark of the woods so that Tóswífan would know that she was true to her word, as well as doing something to keep up her own courage. Fréalas took a deep breath, and taking the bottom of her tunic in her hands, lifted it over her head, then knelt down to place it on the forest floor. She was, of course, still wearing a further undergarment for women, a tightly-woven singlet made to keep their discomfort to a minimum when riding and fighting.
As she clutched her fingers to the bottom of it, she took a deep breath. To be honest, she had never given her body much thought, aside from when she had received her mark of the warrior clan. Even then, when the sharp tip had poked into her skin, again and again and again and again, the sensation had not been purely that of pain. In fact, while it was rather uncomfortable, after many minutes had passed and she was able to release herself into the sensation, it seemed more like that of incessant loving bites of a butterfly.
Reliving those moments in the dark cave, she pulled the undergarment over her head, and then cast the flesh-coloured top down.
Shutting her lids she said, “You may open your eyes. I do not know what you expect to see, but here I am.”
The quiet was almost oppressive as the two stood, hidden away in the wooded shadows on this hot day of summer.
Tóswífan did open his eyes, albeit slowly. Before him stood his red-haired friend, bare to the waist, two shirts piled at her feet. Her freckles seemed almost to glow in this dark, but that was not where his gaze ventured. He was unable to help it, but he looked straight at her chest, at two lovely, pale rises of flesh. At this, at the reality of being able to caress them, to feel their warm bodies together, he was undone, and sank to his knees, closing his eyes.
“Fréalas,” he murmured, looking back up at her. “I…” then he stopped. “What happened to you?” He had noticed a rather large bruise above her left hip, and rose to go and tend to it with concern. “You didn’t do that when…”
Just then, Fréalas heard a faint sound behind her. Faster than even she herself thought capable, she picked up the undershirt from the ground and pulled it back over her head, anxiously looking right and left for her knife.
“What is it?” Tóswífan asked, equally wary, though remorse was quickly working its way through his mind and senses.
“We are being watched,” she said through her teeth, keeping her voice low. “I did not see anything, but I just know.”
Tóswífan stood still, and though his eyes keenly took in the forest as far as he could see, nothing moved, not even the leaves on the trees.
“Are you sure?” Tóswífan believed that the solitude granted them on this high plateau would not be broken without notice, and certainly not in the woods.
“SSSSSSsssssssssssh,” she breathed, and they both were still.
Many moments passed, and then…
"Tóswífan!" Fréalas pointed back into the woods. "It is... it is..."
"I do not see what you do!" Tóswífan muttered, exasperation in his voice.
Fréalas spoke quietly, taking his hand, and Tóswífan was surprised to notice that she was trembling. "You may think I have taken leave of my senses, but it looked like one of the statues that lines the path." She looked at him, fear in her eyes. "I also do not think that our presence here is encouraged. We must go. Now!"
She led him quickly to the bright light on the Firienfeld, so intent on leaving that Tóswífan was forced to let go of her hand and run back to pick up her tunic. Once out in the sunshine again, she turned around and looked into the woods.
"Fréalas," Tóswífan began, "are you sure it was not simply a bird? The púkel-men do not move."
She slowly shook her head, then looked intently at him. "You may not believe me," she said, "but I know what I glimpsed back in the trees." She shivered despite the heat, and turned her back to the trees. “Let us get off of this plain and back to Edoras.” She held out her hand to take back her tunic, and Tóswífan looked sadly at it, then at her face.
“You mean you want to leave... immediately?”
She reclaimed her shirt and pulled it over her head. Straightening it, she moved close to him and, closing her eyes, kissed him on the lips, gently. He began to respond with more vigour, but she moved back. “I am no coward,” she said, an air of self-defense creeping into her voice. “But I am unsettled. A ride back home with you as company and a glass of strong ale upon our return seems a good thing to do.”
He pulled her back to him and crossed his hands behind the small of her back. Placing his mouth to her ear, he breathed, “Are you sure, my solate, that we cannot stay just for a little while?”
Though Fréalas was indeed tempted, she still felt as though those eyes were on her, and she shook her head. “No, Tóswífan.” With his lips nuzzling her ear she found it increasingly difficult to concentrate. “We need to return before my father sends a search party for me."
Tóswífan sighed as he buried his face in her red hair. “I did say you were well-grounded, did I not?” He released her hands and after giving her a peck on the cheek, walked toward their horses.
Fréalas retrieved their bows and arrows, then met Tóswífan and took Salupád’s reins from him, feeling oddly shy. “You will not go and tell your friends about what happened in the woods, will you?” she asked, affectionately scratching her horse under the chin.
“No Fréalas,” he replied seriously. “I would never betray your confidence." He cocked his head and shaded his eyes with a long-fingered hand to look at her. “And I, for one, have much to occupy my own thoughts.”
They mounted their horses and began the journey back to Edoras.
His solate! Fréalas marveled, then revelled in the view from the plateau again before beginning the descent down the zig-zagging path. She distinctly refrained from looking at the old statues on the way down to the valley.
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.