Mother of Horsemen: 24. Chapter 24

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24. Chapter 24

Author's notes:
It has been a long delay, but I hope my old friends will be happy to know that the story of Readfah will continue. I hope, too, that we make some new friends as well.
I will be making some corrections and tweaks  as the story continues, so you may want to check authors' notes and footnotes from time to time.
Mother of Horsemen  - Chapter Twenty-four
Many more years of Men passed before Readfah could remember the vision - if vision it had been - of her father without grief. She had felt the warmth of his embrace, heard his voice, even smelled the evergreen scent of his clothes. Though scarcely more than a dozen sentences had passed between them, she felt his regret for his earlier attempts to reach her spirit, which had ended only in an invasion of it. Only when he forsook his anger, he said, could he hope to reach her as he had longed to.

"I have no wise words for you, for I have been far from wise," he said. "I have not come of a purpose, or to say aught but that I love you and that I wish I could have been more to you."

"Ada, no, please don't say that! I always felt that maybe if I had been a better daughter..."

"Ah, Readfah! There was no one I loved more save your mother! You know now the doom my father made for all his sons, but that is finished now. There is only one thing I could ask more of you, and that is to someday wed...have children."

Her surprise must have showed, for he allowed himself to smile briefly.

"Be happy, daughter! I know you have been long in grief over Earendil's son, but I beg you set that aside. No match we make with a mortal can be forever, but while it lasts you may know happiness."

He embraced and kissed her again and was gone from her so swiftly that he might have been a bird paused on a bough on it's way to some warmer clime. His words had indeed been few, but he spoke of her children, as if they had already been born.

"As I loved your sweet mother, you may know happiness for a while," he said gently as he faded from her sight.

All the questions she had wanted to ask suddenly seemed unimportant. She whispered "Béma be with you" to his passing shadow, then went back to her bed, suddenly weak, and unable even to weep.
Two score and four years later, the news came that there had been raids on some of the villages between her pastures and Edoras, with cottages burned and horses stolen. Her householders and herdsmen, who had been barely men when they came with their wives to the Wold, were now  grandfathers, with sons and grandsons preparing to do battle.

Eorl himself rode up to her door just past sunrise - a grandfather now, too, but with scarcely a line on his face or a silver strand of hair to show for it - shouting with laughter and joking that they had not made an end of the Easterlings at last when he had been but six-and-twenty, and the whole business would be to do again. He begged her not to make a fuss, as the men had breakfasted at daybreak, but asked leave to make camp for a day or two before riding on, and perhaps allow some of her horses to choose new masters.

"You need never ask, my good King," Readfah replied with a formal bow, then they suddenly both laughed and hugged each other warmly.

"As usual your horses are unmatched. It has been much too long since you have come to Edoras," he complained. "Nearly two years now! I know that to you Deathless ones that seems like a fortnight, but..."

"Sh..." she frowned, for some of the younger esquires looked a little uncomfortable at those words. "I took a good number of my horses up to Donnicscairn when the troubles started," she said, for this was how she now referred to the pasture lying just below the eaves of Lothlórien. "The horses know they may escape into the Wood unharmed. I am safe enough here, for the enemies fear to approach Fangorn as well, but I thought it best not to have them all together. While I was there I had to visit some of my friends for a time. And I see your trusty horse is still with you!" And indeed Felarof was still his inseparable friend, as full of youth and spirit as his master, pawing the ground as if spoiling to be away. She patted him; he snorted softly and nuzzled her cheek.

Brego came riding up a little later with more men. Readfah recalled his distaste for war. As a child he had preferred building large and improbable cities from blocks of painted wood to battle games. When the troubles began he had been drawing plans and gathering the materials and laborers to erect in the heart of Edoras a magnificent Hall for his father and mother.

"But now, it seems that shall have to wait," he said ruefully as they sat about her table that night while the men camped in the pastures. Readfah had bidden two fat bullocks slaughtered that morning in spite of the season, and they were roasting nicely outside.

Eorl glanced up at her from over a tankard of ale. "It seems I am to be built a palace, Readfah! Though I would as lief sleep in a tent like any warrior." He took another long draught, and he had a faraway look for a moment, as if remembering his youth. "Tonight would be a good one for stories, eh?"

Readfah had gone to the door, and the smell of roasting beef filled the cottage. Over her shoulder she smiled, and said "Very well then. I once knew a fellow named Ux..."
And then suddenly they had come riding in the night with voices of grief. Eorl, with his beloved horse Felarof, had been slain less than two leagues from her door, though the battle had turned to their favor and in time was won. His men carried them all the way to Edoras, and they were laid together in a mound before the gates. Readfah rode with them, wrapped in long memory, and she began to sing -  her voice roughened with tears.

 "Hwiderse eoh und se cnihtrid'e? Hwiderse hornung blauwungen?
  Hwiderse helm und herpad'e, und bre'danice beorht flowungen?
  Hwiderse folme on se hearpestrunge, und se breaneread scinungen?
  Hwiderse lencten und se ge-gaðerian-hwil, und se cornmæst aweaxeungen?
  Man geardag'e gelic'rinan on se beorghliþ, gelic'aerfleog'e on se medolæs
  Se dagas ferandun metse Sonnenrest, beæft'e beorgen sceadues
  Hwa gaðere' se breanege-nip of se beamesdead byrnan
  Oþþe behealde se geares flowungen feorra brim geciernan?"

The soldiers listened in silence, then took up the song after she had repeated it. Thus they came to Edoras to lay Eorl the Young to rest.
When Readfah left Imladris so long ago, she had taken with her some of the white flowers that covered the grave of Wimowe, pressed from the root. Now she planted their descendants on Eorl's grave. Over the years they spread their snowy stars over the mounds of all the kings of Rohan. Other than a tiny patch of them behind her cottage and an odd one here and there in the prairies, they never grew anywhere else.   
Still more time passed, with it's joys and griefs. Readfah wept with Brego when his son Baldor was lost on the paths of the Dead, and when Brego died a year later, saw him buried beside his father. She enjoyed the long reign of his brother Aldor, who lived ninety-and-nine years and was called the Old. In his time the office of Stedamaegister** was created, and all herds and breeding facilities were inspected for health and quality before being approved for sale or stud. She disapproved heartily when it became law that only if all children born to a Ruler were female could a woman inherit the crown of Rohan. Since the Ruler was expected to be a warrior, and it was argued that the duty of a Queen to bear heirs outstripped any contributions she could make as a Shieldmaid. A King could sire children and yet fight. So the law was made, but Readfah, remembering Brinhaw and the daughters of her house, thought it foolish.

Also in Aldor's time the Rohirrim spread Westward, settling in many a mountain-dale, turning their horses out to graze and grow fat on the plentiful grasses. Families grew prosperous, and for a long time there was peace enough for the majesty of Meduseld, which was the name of Brego's Golden Hall, to influence the art and craftsmanship of their homes, though none other was so large and splendid. In the Westfold, particularly, there were vast holdings, and Readfah sent many horses as gifts to rich and less rich alike, for during this time there were none who were truly poor.

After Aldor, four Kings came and went. Déor, son of Goldwine, ascended to the throne at fifty-five years of age. As a younger son, not expected to become King, he had spent nearly all his time with his own horses and become one of the best riders in the country. But his elder brother died untimely, two years before Goldwine himself. In due time Déor assumed the kingship with all the brash good humor of his forefather Eorl. At this time, far to the West, the long-deserted ring of Isengard was occupied by Dunlendings who resisted all efforts to expel them. In truth, Déor did not think the matter of much importance and was loth to spend men and horses on such a remote outpost that really was still a part of Gondor, and not Rohan. He was all too glad that they had stopped raiding the farms near the border, and seemed to be content with their prize.

Déor's only son, Gram, was much like him - more warrior than ruler at heart - but his grandson, Helm, was quiet and given to deep thought. He despised and distrusted the Dunlendings, and saw no good to come of his grandfather's live-and-let-live policies concerning them. In this way he was much like his mother, Eormena of Westfold, a gentle yet thoroughly practical woman devoted to the service of her people, and much loved. She too, foresaw trouble to come, but kept her counsel.

During this time Readfah seldom went to Edoras, for other cares kept her close to home, and gradually she was forgotten by her mother's people, as she had been many times in the past. And the people of Rohan began once again to fear the Elvish folk, and very few indeed lived in the Wold, and none at all in the Field of Celebrant where Eorl met his death. She lived quite alone now, and her householders' cottages slowly fell into ruin.
One early Spring, when Gram had been King nearly 10 years, Readfah mounted her new horse, a white mare named Hriðscur***, and left her cottage in the care of her householders to make a long visit to Lothlórien, for many of her friends had decided to take ship into the West. Of her closest friends, few others besides Haldir and his brothers stayed behind. Readfah was stunned when she discovered Ponder among the ones leaving. She tried to dissuade him, but soon realized his heart was already gone. Never had she felt less elflike. She saw, but could not fully understand, the languor of spirit he displayed. He was not sad, he simply didn't care about anything else now.

They tried to talk Readfah into leaving with them, but her heart was still anchored in Middle Earth, and would only consent to travel to the Havens with them. They went slowly - as most of them save Readfah were afoot - singing and laughing with high hearts. They would linger in some pleasant spot for a few days, and the Mortal folk, both Man and Halfling, who got a glimpse of them did not molest them but carried the stories to their children.

"These were no high and mighty Elf-lords, but Woodfolk like us. Their Queen was a merry lass upon a white horse..."
It was past Midsummer when they came upon the marshes below the quay at Círdan's home. It was the first time most of them had ever beheld the Sea, and they all fell silent. Readfah urged the mare forward and stared for a long time at the relentless dashing of the waters against the cliffs. She had somehow imagined the Sea to be a more peaceful thing. She could not know that these waves were but small; that beyond the Gulf they were higher than trees. She had only seen a part of the Sea at Forochel; a vast sheet of ice only seldom broken with leaden-slow water beneath, not this churning and foaming...not this wholly foreign element that seemed something more to be braved than loved. But the faces of the Elves, though awestruck, were also transfigured by joy.

Círdan himself, he of whom Readfah had heard much but never seen, startled her when he appeared on the path from the cliff above and beyond them. He looks almost like - like Gandalf! It was then she fully realized Gandalf had been neither Man nor Elf, but something beyond both. Círdan was unmistakeably an Elf, but unlike any other she had seen. His hair was the colorless white of a very old man, and he had a beard that swept to his knees. His clothing was that of a laborer; indistinguishable from that of any peasant worker of wood. The leaf-shaped ears and keen grey eyes that held no age and all age at once marked him as Elvenkind. He was as tall as Celeborn, and moved with the same grace, and he was in the fullness of his strength. He was giving some order, and she could see farther up on the beach that timbers had already been cut for the next ship. What a strange calling indeed, thought Readfah. Wait for Elves to come, and send them West. Círdan turned to her as if he read her thought, and a ghost of a smile flickered on his lips, but he did not hail her. He had come forth from his house, built high upon the point jutting out to Sea, and now directed his servants to allow the travelers to go aboard.

Ponder felt certain she would change her mind and leave with them, but she could not be persuaded. Even those few who had intended to accompany Readfah back to the Wood were so struck by the Sea that they regretfully forsook her, leaving her to return alone with loving farewells to their families. She did not find in her heart any blame, but wondered that the Sea did not affect her in the same way as her friends. There was a pull, to be sure, but it was resistable.

She watched as her friends boarded the grey ship that lay alongside the great salt-washed pier, as if they had already entered another world and could no longer see her. But at last they turned as the ship began to drift free from her moorings and they called their goodbyes to her. She sat like a stone, too overcome to do more than raise her hand in farewell.

When they were long out of sight, Readfah composed herself and slid from Hriðscur's back and walked to the edge of the water. The  horses stood about uncertainly as she waded forth to where the breakers scattered harmlessly no higher than her knees. She dipped a hand into the water, tasted it with the tip of her tongue, and made a wry face. She looked up and listened to the cries of the gulls wheeling overhead along with the regular booming of the waves. She looked down, at the prints of her feet in the wet sand, and at the tiny fish flickering in the transparent shallows, first there, then gone with the next wave. She found the abandoned shell of some small creature and studied it minutely. For a long time she stroked the satiny, pale blue-tinged interior of the curved shell with a single fingertip. She put it in the pocket of her skirt.

Then she looked long at the house, which seemed to rise of itself of the stones of the cliff. It bore neither tower nor turret, yet wore an aura of long years and majesty. Voices from the past crowded in on her...Gil-galad's home...the Havens...her father...the long years when Elves were many and Men looked out on the world with all the wonder of children. She looked at the house, but did not go in. Summer it was still, but even so she could smell the ripening of Autumn in the air, and there was a long way to go.
* "Where are the Horse and the Rider?" LOTR, Chapter 6, TTT, The King of the Golden Hall.

**Stallion Master. Rohirric government official whose responsibility it was to maintain Stud books, and to inspect farms to see that animals were maintained humanely and in good health. By the end of Aldor's reign, the duties were expanded to include appointing assistants (from head trainers to stablehands) and supervision of horsemanship training for the cavalry. In time there were five Stedamaegisters, with the sixth, the Erkenstedamaegister, presiding. He (or she) alone was not appointed by Royal decree, but chosen by the others from among themselves. By tradition the Erkenstedamaegister lived in Edoras and had the additional office of Master of Horse for the Royal family.

***OE/Rohirric "Snowstorm."

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: Rociriel

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: Multi-Age

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 12/28/07

Original Post: 06/29/02

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Playlists Featuring the Story

Unfinished plots, still a happy reader - 6 stories - Owner: Julie
These stories are double treats, despite being uncompleted. Althought I would heartily cheer to discover new chapters, setting is of equal importance to me as story, and these all contain complete and useful gapfillers of various places and periods in the history of Middle Earth. (Some of these have complete beginning stories, but haven't gotten to the end of the plot.) (I'm quoting from the author's overview summaries because I'm having problems trying to make good descriptions.) Created for the HASA Playlist Challenge.
Included because: " The story of Readfah, the legendary and immortal 'Mother of the Rohirrim.' " -- Early Rivendell & etc. Readfah's story isn't finished, but the Last Alliance arc is complete; well done Gil-galad.

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