8. Wide-Open Spaces
'Course, before Sauron met his match, it'd gotten right hard for any of us to enjoy bein' outside; the air seemed tainted, the sunlight wasn't quite as bright, and as for wide-open spaces, anyone who wanted to come home still wearin' his skin had to stay close to the village as much as life allowed.
Now, I like the fresh air as much as the next man, but with a winter as brutal as the one we had when the King was under our roof, stayin' inside suited me just fine. Not that I didn't have to venture out from time to time, but I don't mind tellin' you that I avoided it.
Elessar and his men seemed more or less happy to stay inside, too, though a few of 'em looked right bored. But takin' one step out that door into the frigid air was enough to freeze the boredom right out of 'em; they'd come trottin' right back in, lookin' for a warm seat by the fire, where they had no trouble settlin' in and lookin' right relaxed. Well, all 'cept Carandol, that is. No surprise there. Never have seen a boy so unable to stay in one place for more 'n a few minutes. Always seemed restless, that one, but I reckon from what little I learned of his past, his agitation was understandable. Sure didn't help his penchant for getting' into trouble though. Reckon that's part of why the King gave him that mare of his to look after. But there I go again! What business has a man like me pretendin' to understand the motives of the King? Still, tendin' to that mare sure seemed to give Carandol some focus. Think we were all glad for that.
Now, one day the lad came rushin' in from the stables; seemed he was worryin' over Anbel, Elessar's mare, bein' out there in the cold. Don't know what the boy thought the King would do, carry the horse up to his bed and tuck her in? Ha! I can imagine the stories reachin' the White City about the King sharin' his bed with some lass named Anbel. Reckon that wouldn't sit too well with that queen of his. Don't know how those elvish ladies react to such stories, but if they're anythin' like our mortal women, Elessar would've found himself in a heap of trouble.
Anyway, when Carandol came rushin' in disturbin' the King about nothin' more'n a cold horse, I expected Elessar to tell the young man to throw another blanket on the mare and quit his fussin'. But the King did somethin' I wasn't expectin'—I was gettin' used to that from Elessar—he got up from where he was sittin' by the fire havin' a nice smoke of pipeweed and went outside with the boy. Left me wonderin' a bit about the King, I don't mind tellin' you.
Maybe an hour or two later—I lose track of time, you see. Busy man, I am!—Elessar came back in, Carandol on his heels. The boy looked a tad calmer, and strange as it seemed, I thought he might've even had a gleam of joy in his eye. He asked me for some oats for the mare—almost polite, he was—and I obliged. Then the lad went on back to the stables.
The King chuckled as the boy left.
I reckoned the King was gettin' quite accustomed to my nosiness, so I spoke right up: "Sire, mare doin' alright out in the cold?"
Elessar chuckled again. Seemed right amused, he did. "Aye, Master Innkeeper. She is just fine, though I thank you for your concern. That mare is as sturdy as they come; It would take more than a bit of cold to harm her."
"Sire, if you call this weather we're havin' just a bit cold, then you're a far sturdier man than I. Er, well—of course you are, bein' the King and all."
Elessar let out a boomin' laugh. "I stand corrected! You are quite right, Master Innkeeper, as you often are. 'Tis brutally cold, indeed."
He got a far away look in his royal eyes, then mumbled something under his breath. I may not have the words exactly right, but the gist was somethin' like, "Of course, I have been colder. There was Caradhras . . . not called 'the Cruel' for no reason."
For a moment, I thought he was talkin' about some lass he'd—er—been friendly with back before his married days. But then what little I know of geography came back to me. 'Course, you understand my ears aren't used to hearin' the elvish term for the Redhorn.
The King shook his head—has a lot of hair that man!—clearin' the memory from his mind. Then he resumed his jovial nature and said, "Anbel needed no help from me; Carandol, however, did."
"I remember when I was around his age"—there it was again, that faraway look in his eye—"my foster father sat with me while I did my lessons, not because they were overly difficult; 'twas more because what was difficult was . . . life. And life always felt a bit steadier in the presence of Elrond." He smiled a wistful sort of smile then, one I'd not seen before, and have to tell you, I think I like that smile on him best of all. 'Reckon I'd become somethin' of an expert on the King and his many smiles. Not many a man can say that!
Elessar looked at me again, the past havin' retreated once more. "Carandol is no different. He just needs to be reminded that someone a bit stronger and a bit more sure of himself is nearby."
Now, Anira had sauntered in somewhere in the midst of the King's little tale. Don't you go tellin' her I said this, but I didn't even notice she was there—so caught up was I in Elessar's words—until she whispered into my ear: "Now, isn't that a right refreshin' change of pace? Imagine! A busy, important man like him troublin' himself by lendin' his presence to that irksome lad. And out in this cold, no less!"
As I looked on Anira's face, it occurred to me that she looked all content and peaceful-like, just as she does when she's out there tendin' to those flowers of hers. And I can't say that I'm too surprised; strange as it sounds, Elessar is a bit like sunlight, fresh air, and wide-open spaces.
Come to think of it, with the King under our roof, maybe it wasn't so harsh a winter after all.
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.