1. Running on a Leash
The doorwardens startled as one of the doors of the Golden Hall was pushed open. Out slipped the Lady Eowyn, niece of the king. Before the wardens had the chance to greet her as was proper, she had ran off down the steps, heedless of the pounding rain. The hem of her white dress took on the greyish browns of the path down the hill, but Eowyn cared not. She ran on, jaw set firmly to keep her tears contained.
That awful, repulsive, disgusting man! How dare he say such things to her, even touch her? Only because her brother and cousin were away and her uncle was to be in ill health. She was disgusted by her own failure to rid herself of his advances. A shudder ran down her spine at the idea of going back to the Golden Halls.
Yet she was cold and wet, and the light shoes she habitually wore inside were now soaked with mud. Eowyn pushed wet hair out of her face and looked around. All the buildings around the courtyard would have people in them, they daily activities having been moved out of the weather.
She did not want to face anyone right now.
Then her gaze slid toward the stables, and that was the answer. The horses asked no questions. Most of all, he would not search her there, for the horses would not suffer his presence.
She slipped quietly past the men cleaning tack, past the empty stalls reserved for the steeds of her brother and cousin. She missed those great heads coming forward to greet her, but hurried on, not wanting to be discovered. Around the corner here, she came to a quieter section of the stables. Here the stalls were larger, and held several young horses each.
Normally these stood outside, but the winter had been cold enough to draw wolves out into the open, and the Rohirrim would not risk their precious horses. The herd went outside under guard if the weather permitted it. On this rainy day, she could tell by the mud-spattered legs and bellies that they had resided in the largest paddock today.
Young horses of all colours started forward curiously, reaching out to her over the sides of their half-open stalls. She smiled through her tears as one snorted at her sleeve and jumped back as it fluttered.
Worry leapt up in her mind as a familiar chestnut face failed to appear from the last stall, and Eowyn quickened her pace.
"Oh Bryne are you well?" she whispered, arriving at the last stall to see the object of her concern lying down. Slipping into the stall, the horse did not get up, and Eowyn felt fear grip her heart. A colic could appear from nowhere and take this beloved horse from her.
But the young mare did not seem to be in pain, she concluded after a few anxious moments. Pulse was normal, a steady, calm beating, and the horses' belly was not sensitive.
"You startled me!" Eowyn whispered in relief. "You always get up when I come in!"
Bryne looked at the young woman with gentle eyes, and nudged her ankle. Eowyn stroked the long nose.
"You have never been like this before "
And that was true. Bryne had been named by the king himself. For her colour, an unusual fox-red chestnut, but mostly for the day the spirited 2-day old foal had floored the king in its determination to return to its friends. Her coat was the colour that could be seen deep within a hot fire, and that was her name. Bryne.
Never had the horse permitted anyone to get close while it was lying down. That was instinctive; a prey animal should never allow itself to be caught at such a disadvantage. That some of the older horses would not get up if their rider neared was seen among the Rohirrim as a great sign of trust.
That this fiery young mare would suffer her mistress to stroke her as she was lying down was downright astonishing.
Eowyn edged slowly around to stand at the horses' back, safely out of range of the hooves should the mare decide to get up after all. But the horse did no such thing; instead it leaned its head back, encouraging the woman to stroke the sensitive spots behind the ears.
She dropped to her knees, heedless of the damage to her fine dress. Arms wrapped around the warm neck of the young mare, Eowyn lay her cheek against the red mane. After a moment the horse shifted a little, so that it could sniff the long blond hair spilled over its coat.
Eowyn tried not to think for a time, only to feel. Her upper body was draped against the mares' withers and neck, the mighty animal allowing her to embrace its neck. The horse had her eyes closed, breath a slow, steady rhythm. She was safe here. None would look for her in this place, least of all.... the snake.
Tears came suddenly, unbidden, and she hid her face in the red mane. That despicable creature held her trapped in her own house, as sure as if he had put bolts on the doors. She took care of her uncle as love and duty prescribed, and that meant she was in range for every new mind game the vile man thought up.
How was it possible that such a man had ever been allowed to aid her uncle? The Rohirrim had of old refused to have dealings with people their horses did not abide, and none of the horses, not even the most placid geldings, would suffer Grima Wormtongue near.
The horses did not have to, but she had. Eowyn had to suffer the man's presence day in, day out. There was no escape.
Bryne rumbled softly, as if to dispel the thoughts of despair that gripped the young woman's heart. Eowyn smiled a little through her tears.
"Soon you will be old enough for Dulf to school you, my sweet." she whispered, a hand stroking the gentle curve of a red ear. It twitched as the horse listened to the sound of her voice.
"And then we'll ride, you and I."
Though where she would ride, Eowyn did not know. Leaving her uncle behind under the spell of the snake was not an option, yet riding off only to have to return was not quite so appealing. She was not free, leashed to the Golden Hall by duty and love.
Right arm draped over the horse's side, she dreamt of riding off, away from the stifling atmosphere of Meduseld. Sometimes she dreamt of riding with her brother, both armed and armoured. A warrior, at least, could make his own fortune. A warrior would not have to endure the sickening attentions of the wormtongue while unseen by her uncle and brother and cousin.
The solid, warm body of the mare was comforting, and Eowyn slumbered for a time, dreaming of being able to take her life into her own hands.
Suddenly Bryne let out a heavy breath, and the horse's head sank until her nose rested on the ground. Eowyn looked up, and noticed how its ears twitched and the open eyes moved rapidly in their sockets.
Eowyn noticed that the mare's breathing had sped up, and great concern grew within her. Was the horse having some sort of attack? The opened eyes, with their quick, unseeing motions, worried her greatly.
The index finger of her right arm moved a fraction, and the horse suddenly startled, the twitching gone. The breathing slowed down.
"What was that, my sweet?"
Then suddenly the memory came to Eowyn of a sleeping cat, ears and toes twitching as it caught a mouse in its dreams. Bryne had fallen asleep!
Only Dulf, the wizened old stablemaster of the Royal Stables, could lay claim on such trust from his horse. That this testy young horse should do so felt like a great and unexpected gift. Such trust! Eowyn did not know if she herself would ever of a trust like that, of being able to fall asleep in the arms of another.
Eomer had hinted at marriage a few times, suggesting riders he thought suitable, but Eowyn had refused the idea and the men.
Men of Rohan prided themselves on being a strong people of strong men and women, but they then strove to cage these strong women in their houses to tend to the fire and the children until they themselves returned from war. If they returned. And what was the use of being strong if all you ever lifted was firewood and kettles and babies? What was the use of being proud if you could not gallop the open fields of your own country, with a sword in hand and the wind whipping your hair?
Even now she was supposed to be inside, lingering near her uncle in case the ailing old man needed her care. Always under the eyes of the vile wormtongue.
Well that may be, but she would be the strong woman legends demanded her to be. And if the vile man thought to touch her once more He would find out that the people of Rohan took their legends seriously.
And then, one day when her duty in the halls ended, this fiery red mare would carry her across the plains to the freedom she so desperately sought.
She would show them all.
The mare nuzzled the long blond hair of the young woman, warm breath brushing her tear-stained cheek.
She would be free.
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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.