Yours to command: 7. Winterbreath

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7. Winterbreath

Winterbreath

Firefoot
Dam line: Ash by Hostsplitter out of Wildfire, Wildfire by Clovenhoof out of Dawnlight
Sire line: Fleetfoot by Blackhoof out of Morningmist, Blackhoof by Swiftleg out of Shadow

(Excerpt from the royal studbook at Edoras)

***

Princess Lothíriel stumbled and Éomer stopped himself just in time from grabbing her arm. She had insisted on being perfectly able to walk on her own, but their camp, set out on a piece of grassland on the northern part of the Pelennor, had proven difficult for her to navigate. The ground was uneven and covered with small hummocks of grass. Also he had never before noticed the amount of jumble lying around the tents, starting with a lost boot and extending to washing lines, which were downright dangerous. As for the horse droppings...

However, she had a thin, elegant cane, which she moved in a sweeping motion before her to feel for obstacles as she walked, and he had to admit she seemed pretty proficient with it.

"I'm afraid it's a bit of a walk," he apologized.

She stumbled over yet another stone lying on the path. "I don't mind."

Éomer gently took her by the elbow to steer her round some guy ropes holding a tent down. "This way."

"It seems a very large camp."

"My sister is very popular," he explained, "and many of my countrymen have decided to attend her wedding."

"She's very popular here in Gondor as well." The princess smiled. "Everybody talks of her bravery during the war. You must be proud of her."

Éomer thought of that moment when he had found his sister on the battlefield, not far from where their camp was situated in fact.

"Yes, she's very brave," he answered.

He had thought he had kept his voice even, yet the princess must have heard something, for she suddenly stopped. "Faramir is a good man," she said after a brief hesitation, "and he loves your sister. I'm sure he'll do all he can, to make her happy."

When he didn't answer at once, she coloured. "I'm sorry, my Lord King. I know it's none of my business."

"No, you are right," Éomer hastened to reassure her, "and I'm deeply grateful my sister has found someone to marry whom she loves so well."

With an inward sigh, Éomer thought of his own endeavours in that direction. Although he had met plenty of suitable maidens since coming to Minas Tirith, he had found himself reluctant to commit to any of them. He would not be able to put it off much longer though, the Riddermark needed a queen. Elfhelm and his other advisors kept reminding him of the necessity for an heir to the House of Eorl.

The princess started walking again and gave him a shy smile. "Faramir came to visit us in Dol Amroth in the winter and all he could talk of was your sister and her beauty and bravery. It's clear that this is not just a political alliance."

She sounded slightly wistful and Éomer suddenly wondered if there was any suitable match planned for her. Somebody from Dol Amroth perhaps - surely not at her age, though?

He nodded and then had to remind himself that she could not see him. "That's true, but I also hope that it will bring our countries closer together."

"My father hopes so, too."

"I know, I have spoken to Imrahil about it. I'm afraid all dangers didn't end with the Ring War."

"So is it true we might soon have to go to war again in the south?" she asked. "My brothers seem to think so."

He had thought her quite sheltered and was surprised to hear her ask this question. "I think so," he admitted, "although I believe it will be some years before we have to take up arms again. That's why it's important to use the time we are given to secure our position and strengthen the alliance between Gondor and Rohan. Instead of one big foe we face many small ones and we need to stand together."

It was a matter he had spent many a sleepless night on and he realized he had let himself get carried away a bit.

"I'm sorry," he said ruefully. "I didn't mean to make a speech."

She smiled. "Oh, I don't mind. Anyway, I think you are right."

Éomer sighed. "Some of my countrymen disagree with me. They want to do things as we have always done them in the past and think we can stand alone."

"I'm sure you will be able to convince them," she stated with quiet confidence.

Éomer was touched by her faith in him. "I hope so, and I also hope that my friendship with Aragorn and my sister's marriage will lead to closer ties between Rohan and Gondor."

They now had to leave their narrow footpath and wind their way between the tents to get to the small paddock where the pony had been pastured. He helped her to circumnavigate a wooden tub filled with dishes soaking in water.

"I have further plans to strengthen our alliance."

"You do?" She did not appear surprised, but it seemed to him that a shadow of some emotion crossed her face, too brief for him to make out. He had noticed before that she had an open and expressive face, as if she'd never quite learnt to guard it.

"Yes," he replied, "but we do not plan to make the announcement until after Éowyn's wedding."

"We?" the princess asked.

But as it happened, he never got to explain to her about the way stations Aragorn and he wanted to build all along the Great West Road to further trade between their countries, for he saw that she was heading straight for a rope strung between two tents.

"Princess Lothíriel!" he called out hastily.

"Yes?" She stopped and turned to face him.

"Would you do me a great favour?"

The princess wrinkled her brow in puzzlement. "Yes, of course."

The thought passed through his mind that there could not be many women who would just answer like that, without asking what the favour comprised.

"Would you take my arm? I would consider it a great favour, for I don't really want to have to explain to Prince Imrahil how you came by a black eye."

She lifted her eyebrows in surprise and then started laughing. "Am I in danger of getting one?"

"I'm afraid a campsite is rather a dangerous environment with all the ropes lying round."

"In that case I will accept your kind offer of an arm, my Lord King," she said gravely. From then on she ducked her head obediently when he told her to.

"It would not be the first black eye anyway," she joked.

"No?" Didn't those brothers of hers take proper care of her?

"Amrothos once gave me one by mistake," she explained, "but anyway, that happened before the accident. Mind you," she added with a quiver of laughter in her voice, "I would greatly enjoy listening to you explaining to my father how I came by one."

"You might enjoy it," he shot back, "but I wouldn't, so please have mercy on me."

They reached the paddock where Galador was tethered and were greeted by his squire. Oswyn had been full of disapproval when first confronted with his new charge, but the first thing Éomer noticed was that the pony looked a whole lot better. He had obviously been given a thorough grooming and had had his mane and tail trimmed and braided. Although his ribs were still sticking out, he did not look quite as bedraggled as the night before.

"Princess Lothíriel, this is Oswyn, my squire," Éomer introduced the young rider. "He is looking after the pony for the moment."

"Oh!" she looked slightly disconcerted. "I hadn't realized your squire would have to do so. I'm afraid it must be a lot of work."

Éomer stared at her. Did her tone imply she had expected him to groom the pony himself?

"I've been very busy," he started to say, only to stop short. What was the matter with him? Did he really think he had to justify himself to the princess? After all, the King of the Riddermark had more important things to do than to look after this sorry little creature.

The princess seemed to recall this too, for colour flooded her cheeks. She held out her hand to the squire. "Pleased to meet you, Oswyn," she said. "May I have a look at Galador?"

"Yes of course, my lady," his squire replied, obviously impressed to meet a real princess.

He led the pony over and once again the princess stroked his head and then gently patted his neck.

"His coat is already so much smoother," she exclaimed with pleasure and turned to the squire. "Poor Galador cannot thank you himself, but I will do so," she said with one of her radiant smiles.

"Oh, it's no trouble at all," Oswyn stammered and went beet-red with pleasure.

Éomer watched with amusement as his squire succumbed to the charm of the princess. Poor Oswyn was a good rider and excellent with horses, but his gangly frame and prominent nose meant that he wasn't very popular with the girls. To have a pretty woman smile at him in this way was quite obviously a novel experience.

"I've also had his old shoes removed and reset and washed out his eyes with camomile tea," the squire offered. "He will be fit again in no time."

Éomer magnanimously refrained from pointing out that Oswyn had called saving the poor animal a complete waste of time and that 'mangy nag' had been one of the kinder epithets bestowed on him.

Galador had been nuzzling the princess's hand and now turned to Éomer. With a sigh he unearthed, from out of a pocket, one of the treats he always carried round with him. It was an old and shrivelled carrot, but the pony guzzled it with evident pleasure and nudged him for more. Apparently just a day of enough fodder had already lifted his spirits considerably.

Éomer nodded to the squire. "Could you tell Lady Éowyn that we're here and to bring the horses?"

Oswyn obediently went running off and Éomer turned back to the princess. She wasn't paying him any attention, but was running her hands all over the pony's back and down his sides. As he watched her elegant hands stroke Galador's coat and saw the loving concern in her face, he wondered once more what had possessed him last night to offer to take the pony. Moreover, earlier on he'd had the opportunity of getting rid of him again and had not taken it.

The pony got bored with her attentions and turned back to Éomer, giving him a nudge in the hope of being given another treat.

"Don't come begging to me," Éomer muttered, giving him a pat. "Your true benefactress is over there."

The princess looked up at that. "That's not true!"

She slowly stroked the pony's neck. "I suppose you think me foolish for making such a fuss over a poor creature like this," she added hesitantly.

"Well..."

"I know my father and brothers do, but they humour me because I'm blind," she said with some bitterness.

Éomer did not know what to reply, but she did not wait for an answer anyway.

"The thing is, I can't just walk by while another creature suffers. I'm not brave and strong like you and your sister, I can't fight wars or slay dragons, but I want to do my bit."

She gave a defiant sniff and turned her face away.

Éomer was touched. "Well, you know, I didn't win the war," he said gently. "Frodo the Halfling did. And if I ever had to face a dragon I would probably get on the nearest horse and make a run for it."

She laughed at that, just as he had intended.

"Nonsense! The dragon would run."

Éomer got the feeling that she actually meant it.

At that moment Éowyn came riding up with Oswyn trailing behind her. His squire led Éomer's own horse, Firefoot, and a pretty grey mare, which he recognised as one of his sister's riding horses. Éomer nodded in approval at Éowyn. Level headed, sure footed, and with an even disposition, the mare was too lightly built to carry a warrior to battle, but would do well as a lady's steed.

"Here's someone we want you to meet," he said to the princess.

His sister swung down from Windfola and joined them. Firefoot, recognising his master, came trotting up as well, half dragging Oswyn behind him in his eagerness.

Éomer grinned. "I think my own horse wants to meet you first."

He took the stallion by the head-collar and scratched him under the forelock, just as he knew Firefoot liked it. "Princess Lothíriel, this is Firefoot, my faithful companion."

The princess hesitantly reached out a hand and the big grey lowered his head and gave a loud snort.

"Behave yourself, she's a friend," Éomer said warningly in Rohirric, but the princess just laughed and stroked the velvety skin of his nose.

"He's big," she said in wonder as she had to stretch up. "I think he's even taller than Swift, my father's horse."

The stallion swivelled his ears forward at the sound of her voice. The princess did not seem afraid of him at all and held her ground when he nudged her in search of a titbit to eat. Éomer hastily produced an apple from his own pockets before Firefoot inadvertently bowled her over. It would not take much to do so.

"He likes you," he commented.

"The honour is mine. I like stallions."

Éomer shot her a quick look. He knew plenty of women in the Mark who would have accompanied that remark with a saucy wink. However, Princess Lothíriel's face reflected nothing but innocent interest in his horse. He intercepted an amused look from his sister and felt himself colour slightly.

He cleared his throat. "Anyway, this glutton is actually not the horse I wanted you to meet."

His sister led the grey mare over. "This is Winterbreath." She gently took one of the princess's hands in her own and placed the reins in it. "She's yours."

"What?" Princess Lothíriel stammered.

Éowyn smiled at her surprise. "She's a gift from us."

"Oh!" the princess breathed and an expression of longing briefly flitted across her face. But then she shook her head. "I can't possibly accept her," she said firmly. But Éomer noticed that she did not let go of the reins.

"Please do," Éowyn said. "Surely I may give a present to my witness. It's traditional in Rohan."

Éomer lifted an eyebrow, for while this was true enough, the traditional gift usually consisted of a small trinket like a pretty ring or a brooch. A royal gift this indeed, and moreover one that had been planned awhile. He had wondered at the time why Éowyn had chosen to bring this particular riding horse along when she only ever rode Windfola.

The princess wavered visibly. "I'm not sure..."

"It's also meant as a sign of the enduring friendship between Dol Amroth and the Mark," Éomer interrupted smoothly. "Why don't you give her an apple," he added and unearthed another one from his pockets to hand to the princess.

Unlike Firefoot, the mare had very pretty manners and took it neatly, her nostrils barely brushing the princess's hand. By the look on Princess Lothíriel's face, Éomer knew that the mare had just found a new owner.

"Thank you so much," she whispered. Then she turned to Éowyn and blindly reached out to hug her.

"You have no idea how happy this makes me. And the fact that it's you who's given her to me means that father won't be able to object either."

Éowyn patted her back a little awkwardly. "I'm pleased you like her."

"If your father hasn't got room in his stables you can leave her here for the time being," Éomer remarked, although privately he thought that Imrahil would be a lot more likely to find room for the mare than he had been willing to do for poor Galador.

Lothíriel nodded and turned back to stroke her new steed. "What colour is she?"

"The colour of your breath on a chilly winter's morning, which is where she gets the name Winterbreath from, what we call a dawn grey," Éomer explained. "A very light grey, that shades into white along the haunches. She has one white stocking, but the other legs are darker and more like ash grey and the mane is darker still, almost smoke grey in fact. Also her head is not really dawn grey, it's a bit too pale for that, I think you'd call it more like silver grey."

He stopped at the amused expression on her face. "In other words, she's grey," the princess commented dryly. Behind him, Éowyn unsuccessfully smothered a laugh.

"Yes," he had to agree.

The mare turned her head round in interest as the princess ran her hands all along her neck and down her legs. When she reached her back, the princess stopped in surprise.

"Winterbreath is wearing a saddle."

Éomer thought it only fair to get his own back. "It's what you usually do with horses, you ride them," he answered.

"Ride her! Now? Oh, may I?" she exclaimed.

Éowyn laughed. "Of course you may. That's why we've got our own horses here. I thought we could all go for a ride together. I've been stuck too long in camp as it is, it will be nice to get out a bit."

"I'd love to," the princess assented eagerly, but then her face fell. "I'm afraid I can't, though."

"Why not?" Éomer asked.

She gestured down at the dress she wore. "I'm not wearing a riding skirt, because I don't need one when riding side-saddle behind my brother. This is just a normal dress."

Éomer had seen the slashed riding skirts the ladies here in Gondor wore on horseback and had thought them elegant, but not terribly practical. However, he refrained from saying so.

"Aren't you wearing leggings under your skirt?" he asked.

Blood rushed to the princess's cheeks and he realized too late that this could be taken as a highly improper question.

"What I meant so say is that surely Éowyn could lend you something to go over them," he tried to explain.

"Yes, I'm sure we can sort something out," his sister agreed with barely a quiver in her voice. She linked arms with the princess and nodded to Éomer. "You go ahead and see if any of our other guests want to come along as well. We'll meet you there."

His orders received, the King of Rohan went to do as he was told.

*

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A/N: The names Hostsplitter and Clovenhoof are gratefully borrowed from the Welsh Triads of the Horses.


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.

Story Information

Author: Lialathuveril

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Post-Ring War

Genre: Romance

Rating: General

Last Updated: 09/30/07

Original Post: 09/27/06

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