Horse Talk. by Oshun

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Lothíriel had waited all afternoon and early evening for Éomer. That night the stars shone bright as adamant in the cold dark skies. Winter had hit Edoras suddenly and fiercely. From her window, she could see the stable. The lantern above its door glowing yellow in contrast to the silvery-white stars signaled to her that Éomer and his party had finally returned. She delayed as long as she could bear it before deciding to walk to the stables and drag him home if need be.

Entering the horse barn, she immediately spotted Firefoot comfortably ensconced in the stall reserved for the King’s horse, already covered with his best blanket. He nodded at her, slanting his ears forward with a friendly, eager expression. She could have sworn his large fine eyes looked pleased to see her.

“Hey, Firefoot,” she said, when she reached his stall, making a soft click-click at the front of her mouth. He nudged gently against her head, covered with the hood of her heavy woolen cloak. “Where is he, old boy? Is he here somewhere?” She reached into her pocket, offering him a russet on the palm of her hand without being asked.

Éomer poked his head from around the partition that separated the regal stall from the tack room. He looked tired, a bit wind burned and frayed around the edges perhaps, but handsome as ever, and blessedly whole. The last was all that truly mattered to her. She involuntarily sighed, feeling a release of the denied tension that she had held in tight restraint for the last twelve hours.

He had left in the morning to check into reports of sightings of mysterious strangers near the East road. An abandoned barn had recently burned in the same general vicinity and two horses had gone missing the previous week as well.

The outsiders were likely to be homeless wanderers. Two good harvests had seen a notable reduction in the scarcity of wartime. Recently peddlers even had begun to visit outlying farms. The cleansing and rebuilding of the Mark continued at steady pace, but it was not unheard of for small groups of Orcs to harass isolated homesteads. Of course, the travelers seen about the area might have had nothing whatsoever to do with the reported incidents. She suspected that Éomer had wanted a day away from the cares of governance with a party of his comrades from his old Éored more than he truly feared the situation was something worthy of a king’s personal attention.

“You looking for me, princess?” he said, with a crooked grin that pierced her heart with a sweet pike of love and desire.

“Of course not!” she said. “Actually, I just came in to say goodnight to my friend Firefoot. I did think I might have heard you come back over half an hour ago or so.”

He smiled more widely at her with just a hint of mischief, looking for an instant like the boy she had never known and always wished she had. “Poor neglected little princess. You must have been standing at the window longingly watching and listening and seen us light the lamp at the door to the stables. You could not have possibly heard us in this wind.”

“Don’t trifle with me, you big lug. I’m your queen and you’d best not forget it,” she said, trying not to laugh and failing. “Come here!” She opened her arms to him, allowing her cloak to fall open, showing her night dress and letting in the bite of the frigid air. “You must be cold and starving.”

He wound his arms around her, holding her flush against his chest, while he butted his head against hers softly. He burrowed his cold nose under her hood, nuzzling the side of her neck. “Hmm. You’re warm and you smell so very, very nice.”

“You smell like Firefoot.”

“Are you comparing me to a dumb beast?” he asked, arching an eyebrow at her.

Firefoot snorted and shook his head at him.

“The two of you conspire against me. I get no respect from either of you,” Éomer said, laughing.

“Come along inside, my lord. I have water heating for a bath. I’ll give you something you’ll like even more than formal respect.”

“I’ll gladly accept that offer, my lady. A mug of ale and a bite to eat would be appreciated as well.”

“Don’t try to bargain, Éomer son of Éomund. Or you might get nothing at all.”

He picked her up, swung her over his shoulder, and swatted her on the rump, which caused her to squeal, giggle and lose a slipper. Firefoot snorted again and pawed once at the floor.

FIN




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