Many Guises and Many Names
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Protector of Horses: 1. The Coming of the Eagle
Thengel sent Thorongil to Aldburg to introduce himself to the Third Marshal. He sent along a letter, unsealed; Thorongil took the liberty of reading it, confirming that it was what the king had discussed with him. He attested to Thorongil's wit and skill, and suggested that he be used in protection against the orc incursions in the Wold. Thorongil approved of this.
Aldburg was a ring-fort with high earthen walls topped with a wooden palisade. It looked ancient, as though it had been carved from the earth itself, but it lacked the feeling of the ancient Elven places Thorongil had seen. There was something... Thorongil would say earthier, but that wasn't it. The Elves had a close connection to Arda that could not be severed, but their works seemed to grow naturally out of it. This was man-created, but seemed as natural in its own way as an Elf-dwelling.
Thorongil shook his head. He couldn't describe it to himself, and had no more time to think on it. He composed himself, combing his fingers through his hair and binding it neatly back, and brushing the dust from himself as best he could. He stopped at the gate, and the guard peered down at him from the tower while two more stepped out from the sides.
They spoke to him in Rohirric, and he wished again he'd had more of a chance to study it. He recognized the greeting but had to answer in the Common Tongue. "I have been sent by Thengel King," he said. "I come on an errand to the Third Marshal. Is he within?"
Two of the guards stared at him blankly, and he cursed inwardly. But the one in the tower climbed down. "No," he said. "Marshal is out. Riding." His accent was thick but his words were accurate. "Patrol. He will return this night. Thengel-King sent you?"
"Yes," he said. "He sent me with a letter."
The guard shrugged. "I will take your word on that. Put your horse in the stable, and then go up to the Hall. The stables are on your left. You see the Hall. Wait in the main room. The Marshal's wife will be there. She will know what to do with you."
Thorongil inclined his head, grateful that someone would know what to do. The guards conferred in Rohirric as he rode away, and he caught a number of words about strangers, Gondorians, and general derision for foreigners. He set his jaw. He was going to learn Rohirric, and quickly. He should have taken an extra two weeks and fallen in with some herders, just to learn enough of the language to get by. It did not serve him to speak Westron here, despite the King's very Gondorian court. He had an increasing feeling that the people resented their king's insistence on foreign ways. He had not anticipated how proud and independent the Rohirrim were.
He stabled the horse, admiring the beautiful and ancient woodwork of the stable building, and awed as ever dby the sheer power and beauty of the horses in it. The horses of the Elves were beautiful, and wise, but these animals had a majestic quality that reminded him of the feeling he could not describe about Aldburg. Not earthy. A heavy, eternal feeling that differed greatly from the ethereal eternity of the Elves. It was beautiful, in its way.
He strode up the short flight of steps to the great hall. It was not set so high as Meduseld, and it was not so golden, made partially of dark stones packed with sod. But it was an impressive hall nonetheless, and the doorwarden surveyed him keenly before wordlessly opening the door.
Two little girls were playing a skipping game on the flagstones inside, and stopped dead to look at him. Both were round-faced and blond, regarding him with wide blue eyes. He inclined his head respectfully, and raised his head to look deeper into the hall as he moved past them.
There was a woman seated in a carved wooden chair beside the open hearth, holding a small child on her lap. She was petite, her body a series of rounded curves strange to a man used to slender Elves, and her red-gold hair was braided and wound around her head. She put the child on the floor and stood, looking warily at him. The child pulled himself to his feet and shrieked with laughter, scampering unsteadily across the floor toward Thorongil.
"Eomund," the woman said, starting forward after him, but the child evaded her gleefully and ran straight into Thorongil's leg. Thorongil regarded him with surprise as the child wrapped his arm around his leg and looked up at him, wide-eyed and grinning.
"Good day to you," Thorongil said a little uncomfortably to the child. He had very little experience with children, and had no idea how old this one was. His head of white-blond curls barely reached Thorongil's knee. He looked uneasily at the mother, who was suppressing a smile.
"Hail, sir," she said. To his relief she spoke Westron. "Though I do not know who you are I will take my son's greeting to you as a character reference. He is not usually quite so friendly to strangers." Her accent was faint, and she smiled pleasantly at him as she bent to detach the child from his leg.
The child screamed, reluctant to be parted from him, and she spoke scoldingly in Rohirric to him. Again Thorongil caught the word for stranger. Safely ensconced in his mother's arms, the child stared up at him, and put out a hand to reach for him. Troubled that he couldn't reach, the child squealed again.
"Eomund," the woman said sternly. She looked up at Thorongil. She was short, and had to tilt her head back to look at him, but she did not step back. "Have you a name? I assume you have come to speak to my husband, and the guards have told you when he will return?"
"Yes," Thorongil said. His confusion at the child's greeting had driven his manners from his head. "Pardon me. I am called Thorongil. I have been sent by Thengel King to speak to the Third Marshal. I have a letter of introduction from the king." He produced it.
"You will have to hold that for me," she said coolly, stepping back at last. "I do not read. My husband will read it. Please, come in, and take some refreshment. I take it you have seen to your horse?"
"Yes," he said. "Thank you." He followed her awkwardly, holding the letter. She seemed offended that he had offered her the letter. Perhaps she thought he was mocking her illiteracy. Perhaps that wasn't it at all. He was not used to Men. Perhaps he had offended her in his confusion at the child's attention.
The child stared at him over his mother's shoulder. She gestured to another wooden chair, and took her seat beside the fire, speaking in rapid Rohirric to the little girls. The girls scampered away, and she set the child on her knee.
He immediately leaned over and cried out again, reaching for Thorongil. The woman shushed him. "May I ask the purpose of your visit?" she asked. "What matter concerns you that you would speak to my husband? This is a busy time and he is not likely to stay long. You are fortunate that you did not come tomorrow, for he leaves tomorrow for a lengthy ride."
Thorongil nodded. "Thengel King said as much. I have come to Rohan to offer my sword to the king, and he told me there was greatest need of me here in the East. He recommended that I offer to aid the Third Marshal in the Wold."
The woman's eyes brightened. "The Wold," she said. She sighed. "We are desperately short-handed. Whence have you come and why do you offer your sword?"
Thorongil shook his head. "I do not speak of my past," he said. "I am a mercenary. I sell my swordsmanship to a lord who will support me. Any enemy of the Enemy is my friend."
She regarded him suspiciously. The child squirmed and fussed, frustrated at not being allowed to go to Thorongil, and she shifted him absentmindedly. Thorongil supposed the child's name was Eomund; it sounded like a name, and he couldn't think what else it would mean. "Have you any references?" she asked, her eyebrows drawing together. She really was quite pretty, Thorongil supposed, in the manner of the Secondborn. Her face was round and symmetrical, her lips full, her eyebrows arched, her eyes deep and blue. And the curves of her body, though he wasn't used to appreciating such things, were quite harmonious really.
"King Thengel," he said. "I had a lengthy audience with him and he satisfied himself as to my character and abilities. That's all the letter says, really."
"Are you from Gondor?" she asked, looking him up and down with a frank appraisal that he supposed he deserved. She had probably noticed the way he had been looking at her. He thought perhaps Men didn't stare at one another quite the way that Elves did.
"I do not speak of it," he said, uncomfortable. The child wriggled, kicking his mother in the side, and she made an annoyed face and put him down.
He immediately toddled to Thorongil's leg again, and pulled at his clothing. Thorongil regarded him with faint horror, and the woman laughed. "I am sorry," she said. "You are not used to children, are you?"
"Can you tell?" he asked, grimacing in concern as Eomund grew impatient and whimpered.
"You can pick him up," she said, amused. "He will not hurt you. I promise it is all right."
Thorongil mustered his courage and bent over and put his hands around the child's waist. The child was heavy, and he grunted a little as he lifted him into his lap. "My," he said. "He's heavier than he looks."
"Oh, I know," the woman said with fond weariness. Thorongil seized on this with hope. Mothers liked to hear their children praised. He could do that without insulting her. The child twisted around to look at him, beaming, and burbled what were most likely words in Rohirric. "That's right," the woman said, in slow and clear Rohirric which Thorongil realized was for the child's benefit rather than his. "He is a big dark man. Why do you like him so much?"
The child turned and addressed him, and Thorongil raised his eyebrows, listening politely, but understood not so much as a syllable. He looked at the mother helplessly. She laughed.
"He doesn't really speak in real words yet," she said. "Most of it is gibberish. But he knows a lot of words."
"He seems very clever," Thorongil said. "I don't know so many words, myself." He made a wry face. "I am trying to learn your tongue but have not had long to study it."
"Oh Eomund," she said, speaking Rohirric. "You know more words than the big stranger. That is funny."
"Funny," the child repeated, and squealed with laughter. He burbled, another string of words, but strain as Thorongil might, he couldn't catch any he knew.
"I understand when you talk to him, at least," he said ruefully.
"You're not doing badly, then," she said. "He's really not saying very many words. Mostly he repeats what he hears, but he does understand some of it."
"How old is he?" Thorongil asked.
"He's not eighteen months yet," she said. "He is big for his age." She looked up into his face suddenly. "How old are you?" she asked.
"Six and twenty," he answered, caught off-guard.
"And you have no babies of your own?" she asked. She clicked her tongue. "A shame. I was four and twenty when I married and I thought I was old." She smiled. "That was many years ago now."
"I have a great deal to do before I am ready to have my own babies," he said. Eomund wriggled happily, bouncing up and down on his leg. "How many children do you have?"
Her smile was a little sad. "I have three, now," she said. "The two older girls and this little rascal." Thorongil bit his tongue; he'd opened a sore subject now and didn't know why. She gave him a sorrowful look. "I lost two, two years ago, including our only son, and it is lucky this one was a boy."
"Oh," he said. "I am-- I am sorry."
"It is not your fault," she said. "But this one had better last, because I am bearing no more children at my age. He was a small miracle."
"You do not seem so old," Thorongil offered. Women liked to be told they looked young, he thought. Though he wasn't sure. He bit his tongue again in worry.
But she laughed. "You must be from Mundburg," she said. "Only there are they such flatterers. I am nearly forty and I am sure every day of it shows."
Thorongil shrugged, allowing himself to be a little pleased that he had managed not to insult her. "I have lived long in the Wild," he said. "I know nothing of flattery." He looked down at Eomund, who had settled happily in his lap and was playing with the buckle of Thorongil's baldric. "Or children. Or women, for that matter. I apologize if my manners are rough."
"I believe you mean well, Thorongil," she said. "You have an honest air to you that I had not expected from a mercenary. I can see why Thengel would recommend you. Perhaps that is why Eomund likes you so. I do not know. But I can forgive you much for your honesty. It stands you in good stead in this land."
Eothain limped up the steps wearily, mulling over what the guards had said. A tall dark stranger, Gondorian by his speech, who spoke no Rohirric, and had been sent by the King. More Gondorians, he thought sourly. Arrogant Gondorians. He would take Thengel over Fengel anyday, when it came to kingship, but at least Fengel had spoken his people's tongue. Was this the aid Thengel had promised him? Another proud Gondorian, too proud to taint himself with the speech of barbarians, too rude to learn the manners of barbarians?
He paused on the doorstep to confer with the doorwarden. As the door opened he heard his wife's laughter. She sounded genuinely amused. Her laugh was beautiful, full and rich when she was sincere, and it made him smile to hear it.
He stepped inside. The tall dark Gondorian, a young and long-legged man, had Eomund wrapped around one leg and was theatrically dragging him around the hall, moaning "heavy, heavy," in Rohirric, and Eomund was shrieking with laughter and repeating "hefig, hefig" over and over. Magge was laughing helplessly at them, sitting in her chair and holding her sides. She saw Eothain and gestured to him. The Gondorian did not see him, and proceeded to slowly, dramatically collapse to the floor, artistically death-twitching. Eomund shrieked in delight, released the man's leg, and ran to climb onto his chest.
Bemused, Eothain came to stand beside Magge. Eomund began to smack the Gondorian's face, jolting him out of his pretend death. "Ow," the man said. "Ow, ow, ow."
"Not so hard, Eomund," Magge said, catching her breath.
"Not so hard," the man repeated, parroting Magge's inflection and pronunciation.
"Not," Eomund said, and turned around to look at his mother. He shrieked at the sight of his father. "Papa!" He climbed off of the Gondorian and ran to Eothain, who picked him up and kissed him.
The Gondorian sat up, horrified, and brushed straw from his hair. "Marshal," he said. He was lanky and very, very tall; he stood up, unfolding his long limbs, and brushed himself off with a grimace.
"Eomund is very fond of Thorongil," Magge said. "We are teaching him Rohirric. He wished to learn."
"Ah," Eothain said. This was hopeful. He extended his hand to the stranger. "Thengel sent you?"
"Yes," the Gondorian answered, leaning forward awkwardly to clasp his hand.
"Thengel suggests that Thorongil might be of use to you in protecting the East Emnet," Magge said. "Thorongil is a mercenary
and will not discuss his origins, but both Thengel and Eomund," she laughed, "have provided character references. Thengel was good enough to put his in writing."
The Gondorian produced a letter. Eothain took it, and shook it open with one hand. He squinted at it. It was dim in the hall, and he was a slow reader. He frowned, and turned it toward the light from the smoke hole in the roof. It bore Thengel's signature, at least. He couldn't read the rest in this light. He shook his head.
"I shall have to read it in better light," Eothain said, folding it. Eomund reached for it and Eothain kept it from his grasp with practiced ease, kissing the boy's face to distract him. Eomund wriggled.
"The big man is funny," he said, or something approaching it, and Eothain smiled.
"I will take your word for it, baby boy," he said. "I hope you have behaved yourself."
"I don't think Thorongil is too badly injured," Magge said. "Though you would have to ask him if he is all right."
Thorongil's air of embarrassment intensified for a moment. "I have faced many foes," he said, reclaiming his self-possession with an effort, "that would be considered more dangerous, and I have taken many hurts more serious, but never have I been so easily defeated."
Eothain laughed. "Well," he said. "Eomund shows a lot of promise as a warrior. I will give you that."
The Gondorian gave him a crooked grin. "I will not underestimate this opponent again."
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