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2
The Stables

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the recognizable characters; I am only borrowing them for fun for a little while. They belong to J.R.R. Tolkien.

Many thanks to my wonderful Beta’s, Marsha and J.

Author’s Note: I’m posting this chapter early because I’ll be out of town on vacation. The next chapter won’t be up until about June 25th.


~~~

The royal stables of Edoras was quite large and could house more than a hundred horses, though currently it held less than fifty with some of the King’s Riders out on patrol. It was a plain, ordinary looking building from the outside. The bottom half of the building was made of stones fitted tightly together, the top half was wood, and the roof was thatched. Large windows with shutters that could be opened to let in air and light lined each side of the building. Inside the stable it was a different story. Each stall was decorated with the standard of Rohan - a white horse and rider on a green background. The pillars were as intricately carved and decorated as those in Meduseld itself. The feed boxes and water troughs were carved with images of horses and riders. It was to this building that Éomer and Éowyn headed after their lessons were completed.

“Come on, Éowyn, hurry up,” Éomer urged his sister as he glanced back over his shoulder to see she had fallen well behind him.

“I’m coming,” she replied as she scowled down at the belt she was trying to fix on her riding breeches. “Go ahead. I won’t get lost.” She finally stopped to try and untwist the belt.

“I’m not worried about you getting lost,” Éomer said as he walked back to her. “Here, let me help you.” He reached for Éowyn’s belt and jerked his hand back when she batted at it.

“I’m not a baby, Éomer, and I don’t need your help,” she snapped as she finally got the belt untwisted. She didn’t look at him as she tightened and then refastened the belt. Seeing she was finished, Éomer turned and walked on without saying anything further. Éowyn sighed softly and followed close behind him until they walked into the yard in front of the stables.

“You can’t go in there, it’s not allowed.”

Éomer and Éowyn halted abruptly at the loud command that came from one of two boys sitting on a wooden bench to the right of the large area that was cordoned off by a three tiered pole fence. The one that had spoken appeared to be a year or two older than Éomer; the other boy, who was obviously the first boy’s brother, was about Éomer’s age. The boys stood and walked toward them. Frightened by both the harshness of the boy’s voice and his approach, Éowyn slid halfway behind Éomer and grabbed the back of his tunic.

“What do you mean we can’t go in there?” asked Éomer. “I’ve been in there before.” He eyed the boys suspiciously. He didn’t know why they would want to keep him out of the stables, it made no sense. Uncle Théoden hadn’t said he couldn’t go into the stables, and Théodred had sent them here.

“You’re too young,” the older boy snorted as he looked Éomer up and down.

“Ashwín is too young, too,” the younger boy said as he elbowed his brother in the side. “Renward is back and that’s why you could’ve gone in there yesterday and you can’t today,” he explained looking over his shoulder at the stables with a scowl.

“Who’s Renward? The stable master?” asked Éomer. The name was vaguely familiar to him.

“Yes, and he doesn’t let boys our age inside the royal stables. You have to be at least fourteen,” Ashwín said. “He says we can go to the main stables but he doesn’t want us inside his.”

“They’re not his stables,” exclaimed Éowyn stepping around Éomer with her hands on her hips and staring challengingly up at the two boys. “They’re Uncle Théoden’s stables!”

Éomer put his hand on her shoulder. “Yes, they are,” he said soothingly, “but he put Renward in charge of it for him, Éowyn.”

Éowyn turned and looked up at him. “Oh. But, Théodred said to get our horses ready and how can we if we can’t go in?”

“We’re going in,” he replied with a glance at the boys who were watching the two of them with wide eyes.

“Are you Éomer?” the younger boy finally asked.

“I am,” he replied holding out his hand. He hadn’t seen too many boys his age since he’d come to Edoras; only a few that he’d seen while sitting on the porch of Meduseld looking down over the city. Éomer knew that there had to be a lot in the city, but he didn’t know how to meet them. Edoras was so much bigger than Aldburg where he often spent his days with a group of boys he’d known since they played together as babies.

“I’m Alric, I’m almost eleven,” the boy said with a friendly smile as he clasped Éomer’s forearm as he’d seen his father and other men do. “I heard you lived here now. This is my brother, Ashwín,” he said indicating the taller boy.

“I’m eleven,” Éomer replied before turning slightly and holding his hand out to Ashwín. The boy hesitated for just a moment before clasping his forearm.

“I’m thirteen,” Ashwín said with just a trace of arrogance in his tone. “Our father is one of the King’s Riders.”

Éowyn spoke up again. She didn’t know how long these boys were going to stand around talking but she wanted to go and get Ósle ready. “I’m seven and our father is dead,” she said as she looked up at Ashwín. “Our mother is dead now too and we had to move here to live with Uncle Théoden. Come on, Éomer,” she said tugging on his sleeve. “Théodred will be coming soon.” The two boys stared at her for a moment before looking back at Éomer.

Letting his sister pull him toward the stable door, Éomer gave the two boys an apologetic shrug. “I have to go. Where do you live?” he asked as he half walked, half stumbled toward the door. He wanted to see them again… at least he wanted to see Alric again, he wasn’t sure yet about Ashwín. “Stop,” he hissed at Éowyn and pulled his arm loose. Éowyn scowled at all three boys as she waited with her arms crossed.

“We live about halfway down the hill behind the market square. Do you know where the weavers’ shops are?” Alric asked.

Éomer shook his head. “I… no, we haven’t lived here long enough.”

Alric thought for a moment. “Well, we could meet you at the market square or here.”

“The market square.” He hadn’t had a chance to explore the market yet. “I can come about this time tomorrow after my lessons.” He paused and looked down at Éowyn who was not listening but was looking into the stables. Lowering his voice and turning away from her, he asked, “Do you have a little sister?”

“No,” Alric shook his head as he darted a quick glance at Éowyn and gave Éomer an understanding smile. “But there’s a little girl who lives in the house next to ours.” He turned to Ashwín. “How old is Déore?”

Ashwín shrugged. “I don’t know… maybe five? Doesn’t Gárulf have a little sister about her age?” He gestured to Éowyn who was edging closer to the stables.

Alric’s eyes brightened as he eagerly nodded. “He does! I’ll see if he can come tomorrow and you can ask him about his sister.”

Éomer gave a hesitant nod. He knew that Éowyn needed someone to play with and maybe Théodred would know someone if these two girls weren’t nice. Éomer stopped paying attention to what his sister was doing as he continued speaking with Alric and Ashwín.

Éowyn took one last glance over her shoulder at Éomer and his new friends as she slipped inside the stable. She pressed herself up against the wall next to the door and blinked her eyes rapidly as they adjusted to the dimness; the only light came from the large open windows above her. Now that she was inside, Éowyn could clearly hear the sounds made by the horses - the stomps, the whinnies, the snorts, the snuffles, and the occasional kicks against the stall walls – which all combined to make a noise that was comfortingly familiar to her.

Poking her head around one of the carved pillars that were evenly spaced every ten feet down both sides of the wide aisle, Éowyn looked toward the other end of the stable. The storerooms and a door leading out to the large paddock were at that end of the building and she knew that the stable hands were most often working there. Seeing no one, she ducked back behind the pillar and began sneaking down toward Ósle’s stall, keeping in the shadows between the stalls and the row of pillars. Pausing occasionally to pat a horse or to push them away as they tried to nibble at her hair, she made her way quickly to Ósle’s stall. She had just reached it when a voice from the other side of the stable made her stop dead in her tracks.

“Why are you sneaking into the stable, Éowyn?” Renward had seen her from the moment she’d stepped through the doorway and he’d known at once who she was. She had the same blue eyes as her mother, though the rest of her features reminded him strongly of Éomund. He’d learned of Théodwyn’s death and the presence of Éowyn and Éomer in the city within hours of his return to Edoras.

Éowyn froze at the sound of the gruff voice that came from across the aisleway. Peering between the pillars she saw a large man leaning on a half-opened door in an empty stall. In the one hand that was hanging down over the door the man held a brush. She couldn’t see if he held anything in his other hand for it was out of sight on the other side of the stall door. Éowyn looked back toward the main door wondering if she should run to Éomer. But, from the corner of her eye, she saw the man moving and she looked back at him, afraid at what he might do now that he’d caught her in his stables.

Renward frowned at the look of fright on Éowyn’s face and he stopped in the middle of the aisle uncertain as to whether or not he should approach the little girl. Having only sons he wasn’t sure how a young girl might react. Still, she was a member of the royal family and she was in the royal stables which were his responsibility and so he cautiously continued, speaking in a low voice as he approached. He stopped when he reached the pillars.

“Éowyn? Why are you frightened, child? I won’t hurt you,” he said.

Éowyn stared up at the large man for a moment and then her eyes darted briefly toward the door before she answered. “I’m not fourteen,” she said, her voice trembling.

It took Renward a moment to understand what she meant. A deep scowl darkened his face as he looked out the door where he saw the three boys standing. He recognized Ashwín and Alric and knew immediately that the third boy was Éomer… he looked too much like his family to be anyone else. Turning back to Éowyn he found that she was reaching for the latch on the stall and he cleared his throat to gain her attention. She whirled back around and Renward was shocked to see she seemed even more frightened than before and he wondered why.

“I-I just wanna g-get Ósle ready,” Éowyn said without looking up at him. Théodred would be coming soon and she didn’t want him to leave without her.

“I see. Well, do you want my help?” he asked not sure what else to do with the girl.

She looked at him suspiciously. “You aren’t going to make me leave?”

“No, child, I’m not. Ashwín is not allowed in here until he’s fourteen, but these are the royal stables and you’re part of the royal family.”

A brilliant smile lit up her face. “I told those boys these are Uncle Théoden’s stables and that we could come in here.”

Renward nodded once not really surprised that Ashwín had tried to keep the two of them out of the stable. He’d talk to the boy… again, he thought with an inward grimace. “Yes… well…” His voice trailed off and he looked at the black gelding in the stall Éowyn had tried to enter. “Your horse’s name is Ósle?” he asked as he examined it more closely. He’d glanced at the horse and the bay gelding that evidently belonged to Éomer when he’d first arrived early in the morning.

Éowyn nodded. “My f-father gave him to me.” She kicked at the straw as she thought of the day he’d given her her first real horse instead of the pony she’d ridden for several years. It was an old horse, but at least it was a true horse.

“Hmmm…” Renward opened the stall and gently pushed the smallish, docile horse to the side as Éowyn slipped in behind him. He quickly ran his hands up and down the horse’s neck, over the withers, and down each leg. Checking the teeth last he discovered that his guess was accurate, the horse was around fifteen years old. It was sound, though, and should serve Éowyn well for several more years.

“Can you put the bridle on?” Renward asked hesitantly. He wasn’t certain what a girl her age could do, certainly his sons could put a bridle on a horse this size at her age.

“Of course I can,” Éowyn said scowling up at him. She scratched the white stripe between Ósle’s eyes as she watched Renward go and get her tack from the saddle rack that was just out of the horses’ reach in front of each stall. “No,” she scolded Ósle quietly as he leaned against her. Éowyn tried to shove him away but she lacked the strength and ended up taking a couple of steps backwards instead. Shaking his head and nickering the horse followed and Éowyn giggled when Ósle nudged her in the chest wanting her to continue petting him. It was a game they often played.

Renward paused in the act of handing her the bridle. “Why are you readying your horse? You cannot take him out alone, Éowyn.”

“Cousin Théodred is taking us,” she replied, grinning as she tugged the bridle from his hands. “And he should be here soon. Éomer better hurry up,” she added as she slipped the bit into Ósle’s mouth and nestled it between his teeth before slipping the straps over his ears.

“I’ll get him and then I’ll help you with the saddle… you do need help with that?” Renward asked as he watched her tighten the straps on the bridle. She did it easily enough and looked well practiced.

Éowyn nodded. “I can’t lift it. It’s too heavy and Ósle’s too tall for me,” she said, sighing. “Éomer says that by next year I should be able to do it, though.”

Renward looked her up and down and thought Éomer might be right. She was fairly tall for her age and if she grew another couple of inches she should be able to lift the saddle high enough. He left to get Éomer and almost ran into the worried looking boy as he rounded a pillar. Though he was clearly startled, Éomer began speaking immediately.

“Have you seen my sister? I was talking to Alric and Ashwín and I’m sure she came in here but I haven’t seen her and she shouldn’t have come in here by herself because we need to talk to the stable master first because Ashwín said that I should to make sure that it’s all right if we come in the stables and I don’t want her to get in trouble and she could get hurt though she’s really good with horses and I don’t really think that she would and… do you know who Renward is?” he asked peering around anxiously.

Renward stared down at Éomer as he listened to him ramble on. He smiled inwardly when the boy took a deep breath as he finished speaking. “I’m Renward,” he said holding his hand out. “You must be Éomer,” he continued as the boy grasped his forearm. “Come along, I told Éowyn I’d help her saddle Ósle as soon as I found you.” Renward turned and quickly started back toward the stall where Éowyn was waiting.

“You’re helping her? I usually help her.” Éomer frowned as he half walked, half trotted along behind the man.

“You weren’t here,” Renward pointed out with a quick glance over his shoulder. “And she was most insistent that it be done now.”

“She’s like that,” Éomer muttered, though he was not truly annoyed, just relieved that she was all right since he’d let her escape into the stables in the first place.

“Éomer! Hurry up! Théodred will be here soon,” Éowyn called out as soon as she saw him.

“I’m coming,” he replied. Éomer stopped for a moment at Ósle’s stall and looked Éowyn up and down to assure himself that she was well before moving on to the next stall where Cempa was nickering softly. “Hello, boy,” he said as he patted the bay horse on the nose before grabbing the saddle and balancing it carefully on the door of the stall. Opening the door, however, caused the saddle to slide to the straw covered ground with a loud thud and Cempa backed away snorting in fright. “Easy, boy,” Éomer murmured as he slowly approached his horse speaking to it with soft, soothing words until Cempa calmed enough that he could gently pat the horse reassuringly.

“Probably best not to try and balance your saddle on the door,” Renward remarked quietly from the next stall as he finished tightening the girth strap on Ósle.

“I always did it at Aldburg,” Éomer said defensively. It was quiet for a moment as he worked the bridle into his still skittish horse’s mouth. “Though, perhaps the stall doors were wider there,” he said without looking over at the stable master.

Renward bit back a chuckle and all he said was, “Perhaps.” He glanced at Éowyn who was holding tightly to the reins of her horse as he checked over Ósle one last time. “He’s ready, why don’t you tie him to the saddle rack while I get Lord Théodred’s horse ready?”

“Can I help you?” she asked eagerly as she tugged on Ósle’s reins and led him to the rack where she tied the horse before trailing after Renward.

“No, you can’t,” Renward said firmly as he stopped and turned to look down at Éowyn. “Féle is too high-spirited of a horse for someone your age to be near while I’m saddling him. You wait here with Éomer.” He gestured toward the stall where the boy had paused and was watching the two of them closely.

“I won’t get close, I’ll stand back by the rack and won’t get near the stall,” she promised.

“You can help me, Éowyn,” said Éomer. “If the stable master tells you you can’t do something, you need to listen to him,” he added remembering all the times they’d been told that at home… in Aldburg he reminded himself with an inward sigh.

“B-but father’s horse was high-spirited,” she protested as Renward walked away.

“Uncle Éomund’s horse was indeed high-spirited,” commented Théodred as he suddenly appeared next to Éowyn, startling her so that she jumped sideways away from him.

“Théodred!”

“Did you know that his horse and mine were brothers?” he continued and Éowyn shook her head. Théodred glanced at Eomer who nodded before placing the saddle on Cempa’s back. “My father gave them to us,” he added with a small smile as he looked down at Éowyn. “Now, your brother is right; you must obey Renward whenever you are here in the stables. I will not allow you to come here if you do not give me your word that you’ll follow his directions when you are here,” he said sternly.

Éowyn took a step backward and stared up at her cousin in surprise. “All-all right,” she stuttered. “I-I promise.”

Théodred crouched down and laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. “I only do this to protect you, Éowyn,” he said softly. “Many of the horses here are very large and, like mine, are high-spirited and easily startled. Did the stable master in Aldburg not have the same rules?” he asked, knowing full well that he did.

“Yes, but sometimes he said that I could…”

“She didn’t always obey the rules,” Éomer interrupted as he led Cempa out of the stall. He grinned at his sister and she scowled back, her eyes flashing with anger.

“B-but he’d let me help him!” she cried, angrily.

“Hush,” Théodred said placing a finger on her lips, “you’re spooking the horses,” he whispered. The horses in the stalls around them had begun stirring restlessly and Cempa strained against Éomer’s hold on him. “Both of you know that you cannot raise your voices in here,” he said as he stood. His gaze shifted back and forth between his cousins who were staring at each other without blinking and he let out a soft sigh. What had he let himself in for he wondered as he left the children to get his horse. Perhaps his father was right; perhaps this wasn’t going to be as easy as he’d thought.

0-0-0-0-0

To be continued…

Author’s note: I don’t know if other people like this kind of information or not, but I thought I’d include the meanings of the horses’ names:

Ósle – Raven
Cempa – Hero
Féle – Faithful

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