5. 5. New Life
“Cap’n! Cap’n!” a young groom called as he ran to Erkenbrand’s office.
Éalwyn looked up from her desk as the boy skidded to a halt. He doubled over, panting for breath. “What is it?” she asked the panicked boy.
“Cap’n’s mare,” he gasped, “she’s birthin’ an’ the stable master said she is strugglin’, said the Cap’n best come quick.” The sweat drenched boy struggled to catch his breath.
“You go back and tell the stable master and the healer the Captain is on his way; I will fetch him from the practice grounds.” She did not wait for a response and bolted from the room.
Erkenbrand saw her approach and knew there was trouble. He did not wait for her to reach him but met her part way. She delivered her message and, without looking back, the Captain raced with long strides to the stables, Éalwyn struggling to keep up. She was not sure why she went too, but felt the need to be there for him. The relationship between a Rider and his horse was a strong one; the animal was family. Erkenbrand was extremely close to his mare; he would be devastated if anything happened to her or her colt. Éalwyn slowed her pace as she approached the stables, not wanting to startle the horses. Cautiously she approached the box stall and her heart went out to the usually calm man. There was a sense of desperation in his eyes as he knelt by his horse, talking softly to her. The animal, it seemed, would not lay still. The healer was trying to check on the mare’s progress, but she kept thrashing about.
“Captain,” the man finally said, “You need to hold her still. Come lean across her just behind her forelegs.”
Erkenbrand did not wish to leave the horse’s head. He wanted her to know he was close, to be able to see and hear him. He looked up into compassionate green eyes. Without a word, Éalwyn moved slowly into the stall, careful to stay in sight of the frightened horse. She kneeled by the large head and reached her hand out to the quivering nostril before stroking the velvety nose. As she often did at her desk, the young woman began to hum, a soft soothing melody that she remembered her father would sing. The horse’s ears twitched forward at the sound. The great charcoal head finally relaxed on the straw and Erkenbrand found the horse struggled less. He patted her neck and watched in amazement as his adjutant moved from humming to singing softly.
“Captain,” the animal healer said quietly, “the colt is breech and struggling. I need to turn it; hold her as her movements could cause internal damage.” Erkenbrand leaned onto his mare, eyes closed. He steadied his breathing; he had to be calm, for the horse would sense his mounting fear. Éalwyn began to sing a bit louder, hoping it would sooth rider as well as mount. For what seemed like hours she sang until finally a new filly drew breath. The captain sagged against his horse. The mare recovered quickly, anxious to meet her babe. The tall Rohirrim stood and thanked the healer before sliding down the wall to sit in the hay, emotionally drained, watching mother and child.
Éalwyn made to leave-- she was already late-- when he reached up and took her hand. “Colmáse,” he said tiredly, keeping hold of her hand.
She smiled down at him, fascinated that so large and powerful a hand could hold hers so gently. “She is a beautiful.”
“I do not think things would have gone so well if not for you. Thank you.” His eyes held great emotion and Ealwyn looked away from their intensity, suddenly feeling butterflies in her stomach.
“I am glad I could help,” she replied. She could feel a tremor in his hand and it pained her. He was a strong man. He had faced unimaginable odds at the Battle of Helm’s Deep and before the Gates of Mordor; yet, the thought of losing his beloved horse made him weak in the knees. She did not understand her mounting feelings for the captain, but she could not bring herself to leave him so shaken. Éalwyn looked at the darkened sky; she would most likely pay for this transgression, still she dropped to the straw, her hand remaining in his. Settling next to him, she began to hum softly. Erkenbrand leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes, letting the soft melody and her presence calm his frazzled nerves. They sat that way for some time, until Erkenbrand felt a wet nose nudge his face. He opened his eyes and looked at the newest member of his little family. He chuckled and scratched the soft nose. Suddenly the tranquil moment was broken, the sky had become dark.
Pulling her hand from his, Éalwyn stood abruptly. “I must leave,” she said hastily, fumbling with the latch on the stall. “Advisor Ordwulf will be upset, not knowing where I am.” Her hands were shaking, as she could not get the latch to release.
The Captain stood also and coming to her aid, released the pin. “If you wait but a moment, I will see you home,” he said, moving to grab a scoop of feed.
“I cannot delay, I am sorry,” Éalwyn called as she ran from the building into the darkness. Erkenbrand watched her flee, wondering at the change in behavior. Had he somehow made her uncomfortable? She seemed content to leave her hand in his and she stayed of her own volition. With a sigh, he finished tending his horses. What he needed was to clean up, pour a pint of ale and settle in for a quiet night. He would speak with his little mouse in the morning.
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