Úreu. Æt áscian æt mæting
Ours: To learn to dream.
Timeline: Thirteen years after The War of the Rings.
For not the first time, I looked behind me, double-checking to make sure I was not being followed, that my meager belongings had not fallen from my saddle, that all four horses tethered behind me were there still. My king and friend informed me as I left that it was disgusting that everything I owned in this world after almost fifty-seven summers could be contained in a bedroll and two pairs of saddle bags. I snorted. I was never one to collect possessions. That was for someone with roots, something a career soldier, which I was, could not have.
For not the first time, I wondered if I were insane. I could be setting myself up for the fall of a lifetime. Quite frankly, this was folly. For years, Éomer openly offered me a position in the king’s guard; I would live in Edoras, stay put, be assigned nicer quarters, would have the chance to find someone, settle down, if it were my wish. I had declined for years, as he knew I would, as he needed eyes and ears and no one else could be trusted to bring back the information he so desired. He compensated me well for turning the position down.
So it was with great surprise to him – and me to be quite honest – when he asked again, that out of the blue I told him what I had been pondering for some time.
“I tire of traveling back and forth, sire. I am getting too old for intrigue.” His jaw dropped. “You have gifted me property in the east. Allow me to settle it and raise horses. I can continue to keep an eye on things and report to you as necessary.” In this, I silently assured him that some things would not change.
I expected him to follow me, truth be told. On more than one occasion, he demanded to go to her, to see her, to check on her and the boy himself. Always, I was able to talk sense into him. She was fine; she was more than well provided for, thanks to him. She managed her money and her property well. The boy, the unexpected son, was growing like a weed. He began his apprenticeship with the blacksmith the year before. Like his father, he was now a handful.
I watched him covertly several times, tear across the open fields on the stallion she purchased. I had to look twice as I saw a young Éomer laughing at the wind. And he was entering those difficult teen years; another excuse I made for making this permanent move.
After days of travel, the huge spread came into view. How many times in the past had I sat on this rise and looked over what she had created? Even before what Éomer King so generously gifted her? And still continued to gift her.
I could care less about her wealth. I had long been impressed by the stronger woman she became, how she stood in the face of much uncertainty and carved a place not only for her, but for her child. She would have done fine for herself, had done well for herself without the King’s aid.
Not that it mattered to Éomer. He was determined…
But even now with three royal princelings and a fourth on the way, he still worried and fretted. I lied to myself, saying I came only to keep a permanent eye on things.
But that was exactly what I was doing: lying to myself. When my feelings changed, I will never know.
I shook my head. Bah. I was putting off the inevitable. Checking my leads again, I began that trek down the hill to the new barn put up on her second property. I was not being particularly quiet, so one can imagine my surprise to hear raised voices coming from the barn.
“I am not stupid!” Wudurose’s voice was raised, not something I was accustomed to hearing from her. “That colt is worth much more than-“
“He is spindly-legged!” A nasally voice interrupted her.
“And bow-legged!” Another voice, whiney burst in.
“The colt is naught a day old!” Wudurose was definitely infuriated. If the colt they were discussing came from the stock from the royal stables in Aldburg, chances were likely the two men were attempting to fleece her. Edric, apparently home early from the village blacksmith, sweaty and tired looking, came around the other side of the barn, Éomund’s legendary fury already written across his features. He saw me in time to nod when I laid my finger to my lips and dismounted. I grabbed my Captain’s cloak, attaching it quickly and entered the barn.
Two men… if one could call them that… stood with their backs to me. One was short-legged with a stomach that had seen too much ale, while the other was as spindly as a scarecrow. Both were dogging a very livid Wudurose.
“Is there a problem?” All three jerked to look at me.
“It is none of your concern,” Pot-Belly snarled. Spindle-leg nodded in agreement.
I ignored them. “Wudurose? Should I be concerned?”
For a moment, I saw relief flash across features I found so very pleasing. It only lasted a moment and it made my heart skip a beat. As quickly, it vanished and ire returned. “Aye, you should be concerned, Captain!” She stepped back and gestured to the stall to her right. “The colt was born last night. These two,” she nodded derisively, “seem to think I should not bother with him and just sell him to them as soon as he is weaned, no other lookers.” She snorted, furiously. “And what they seem to think he is worth, would not buy a bag of feed!”
Pot-Belly began to protest, but a look from me, plus the fact he saw the rank of my cloak as I walked by, quietened him fast enough. I looked into the stall.
I recognized the mare; she was one of the long-maned, heavy wagon horses I ‘sold’ Wudurose two summers past that we called a ‘Westfold Taynor.’ This particular breed were bred to be strong work horses, pulling carts, heavy farm equipment, very desired and sought after in this part of Rohan. Peeking from around her, a long-legged newborn colt peered from behind her long, braided tail. His eyes were full of mischief and I could tell immediately he would be a challenge to break. I entered the stall quietly and squatted, clicking my tongue. The wee one came around and nosed at me, playfully butting my hand, his dam watching carefully. He had unusual, exquisite black and white markings and would be a striking to look at when he reached his full height. “Who is his sire?”
“Baldor, the marbled Taynor you sold me last me.”
I nodded. I remembered clearly each horse I ‘sold’ her. Éomer and I would spend much time, culling from his stock in Aldburg to give her and this particular one had been a complicated choice. Spirited and difficult to break, the stablemaster had suggested he be gelded. Instead, we decided he would make more money as a breeding stallion. “How often have you bred him?”
Wudurose was standing above me. “Three times. This is the first to be born. The other two are due within the moon.”
The colt abandoned me, more interested in his mother’s milk. I watched him carefully before coming up from my heels and exiting the stall. I closed the stall gate behind me. “He will be huge, and already shows signs of a strong gait and a powerful chest. He is full of good humor and monkey business and will require a calm, steady hand.”
“That is what a whip is for,” Spindle-legs snickered.
“Not one of mine!” Wudurose snapped.
I towered over the scrawny man. “Not on my watch.” I backed him up into the planking.
“You may leave now. Rest assured I will never sell you one of my horses.” Never in my dealings with Éomer’s former love had I heard such anger.
Pot-Belly smacked Spindle-legs, pulling him from between me and the stall. “Times will not always be so good for her-“
This time, I pressed against Pot-Belly. “I would not count on that,” I hissed down at him, between my teeth. “She asked you to leave, nicely. I will not be so nice. Do not come back.”
In anger, the two turned, both of them purposely bumping young Edric roughly before leaving the barn. I saw his jaw and fist clench, and I followed the men out, making sure they did not bother my horse or the four tethered behind my saddle. Edric joined me, huffing angrily as the two mounted their nags and trotted down the path.
It took a moment for Éomer’s son to settle down. “I can honestly say,” he whispered, “that it is good to see you.” He nodded before looking over his shoulder. His mother joined him, both hands on his shoulders.
“Aye,” she agreed. “Your presence is welcome.” She looked over where my horse and company stood patiently. “More horses to sell me? I was not-“
“No. These are mine. They are not for sale.” She looked at me quizzically. “I have a request from you.”
I gazed at her, drinking her in, before turning my attention to her son. “Does she really cook as well as you brag?”
Edric broke out into a smile, Éomer personified. “I snared several Ithilian hens yesterday! What she can do them will make your mouth water.”
Wudurose’s arms were now crossed and she bent over, inspecting her feet. “Then go to the house and take three from the root cellar. Make sure they are dressed. Grab some carrots and corn as well and punch down the bread that is rising on the sideboard. I will be down shortly to get them started.”
The boy whooped before retrieving his horse from the side of the barn and flying down the hill towards their house.
“He is a good lad, Wudurose. You have done well.”
She continued to watch him before turning to me. “You are traveling.” She plucked off a stray bit of straw from my cloak.
“I am moving.”
I looked down at my boots. “No.”
It was quiet for a moment.
“Where are you moving to?”
I felt my face flush. “I own the property above this piece-“
“You have been sent here permanently to spy on me!” Her fists clenched.
“No. I would refuse.”
For a time, she stared at me, weighing my excuse and finding it lacking. She then nodded curtly to my horses. “I have several empty stalls. Put them in them and save a stall for yourself. When you are finished, come down to dinner. We will discuss your request.” The word ‘request’ was spat.
With that she turned and walked towards her house.