Rider Of The Mark

Chapter 3 - The Classic Rohirrim Stumper; Horses - vs - Women
Posted the week of: December 2004
 
*****
*** SweetSweetmagicfingersrightoooohrightthereisjust...***

"My name is Aefre."

*** Bemathankyouthankyousweetple-***

Gamling's thoughts shattered in pieces, much as the wall of Helm's Deep had.

"Your name is... Aefre?"

"Yes. What is your name, m'lord?"

He answered without much thought. " Gamling. Just Gamling." Her fingers resumed their delightful dance on his neck and he allowed his body to rock with her ministrations, mind churning.

"Just Gamling then." Her thumbs pressed deeper. "You're stiffening up again. You need to relax."

Several moments passed.

" Aefre? Are you from the Wold?"

He heard her chuckle lightly. "Yes, I am. Is my accent that noticeable?"

Gamling scowled, groaning inwardly. Pulling away from her, he stood up and turned. "Lady Aefre of the Wold, the king has asked about your well-being. It is my duty to take you to him."

Aefre looked him as if he had grown a second head. Planting her fists on her hips, her grimace was tinged with exasperation. "If Théoden King has been asking after my well-being, tell him I'm fine. Right now, I have more important things to tend to."

***What?***

Aefre was looking over his shoulder and her eyes brightened. " Willan. Oh, I'm so glad you're here! I need your help."

Gamling turned to see the troll of a man who had been in the baths the night before, standing apishly in the doorway. The vexing woman made her way around the Horse Lord and stood before the seemingly dull - witted brute. "I need your help with clearing out this room." The troll - Willan - glared suspiciously at Gamling. "No, not him!" Aefre smacked him playfully on the shoulder. "He is moving in. We need to remove the stink of Master Wormtongue." From his facial expression, Willan apparently agreed with her. She moved about the room, gracefully, pointing out things she wished to have done. "We need to replace the mattress, take down the tapestries and have them cleaned, but the first thing is the antecha-"

" M'Lady, if I might -"

"- mber. I'm sorry Willan, but apparently Master Wormtongue has not allowed anyone in this room in ages and he left... well... I'm sorry to ask you to do such a loathsome task-"

" M'Lady, the king has expressed a deep-"

The two were circling each other, Aefre's back to the large Horse Lord, ignoring him, giving orders to the mute giant. No one seemed to realize that Willan, for all his supposed simplicity, was watching the dance with amused interest.

"May I please have a moment of your attention?" Gamling heavily placed his hand on Aefre's shoulder to cease her movement and turned her around.

She had the audacity to look put out.

Gamling shook his head and snorted. Women. Who could understand the strange creatures? He couldn't. They didn't behave like horses; they didn't pay attention or do things logically. Had any man in his command purposely ignored him when he spoke he would have found himself mucking stalls.

"Well?" Aefre snapped. "You have my attention, Sir Horse Lord! What is of such great importance that you must stop me from making your rooms habitable?" She looked at him expectantly.

***Her eyes were brown. Brown as the rich dirt of the farmland he had been raised on, deep as-***

"I'm waiting." She tapped her foot impatiently.

Gamling inhaled sharply. "The King has asked of your whereabouts and has expressed worry for you. I shall take you to him."

Aefre laughed. No, laugh wasn't the right word.

She guffawed. A huge, joyous sound.

"Take me to him?" She patted him on the shoulder. "No, I am going to make this room habitable and you may tell him you have found me and I am fine!" She turned around and began to issue orders to Willan.

Willan actually looked sympathetic towards Gamling's predicament. With a well-practiced sigh, Gamling tapped her on the shoulder. As she spun around to bellow at him, he scooped her up and slung her like a sack of horse feed over his shoulder, knocking the wind from her lungs. He turned to the large man standing at the foot of the bed and gestured around the room. "You have your orders?"

Willan smiled and nodded his assent. As he turned to leave the room, Gamling could have sworn the mute... saluted.

Aefre found her lungs and proceeded to tell Gamling - and everyone else - exactly what she thought.

"You great oaf! What do you think you are doing?" She attempted to kick her way off the Horse Lord's shoulders. In order to keep her steady and secure, Gamling grabbed her backside and held her down.

"The king has charged me with your whereabouts. I am taking you to him."

"Get your hand off my backside, you great, hairy cretin!"

"Tell the Great Hall, while you are at it." Gamling mumbled. The Marshal was grimacing, scowling at anyone who crossed his path causing several serving women to step back, startled.

*** Thingthingsweetbummagicfingersthingthingsweet...***

Aefre took no notice that she was being carried through the Great Hall, people staring at the Horse Lord striding so purposefully with a wench slung over his shoulder.

"You clod! You bonehead! Never in all my days have I come across such a dullard..." Her voice echoed beautifully in the rafters of the Golden Hall.

Four pairs of eyes watched closely.

"Is this a mating ritual I am unaware of, Aragorn?" Legolas asked quietly.

The Ranger watched as the Horse Lord carried the screaming woman towards the hall leading to the King's chambers. "It's not one that I'm aware of." He drew deeply on his pipe. "Although it does look... most intriguing."

"If I were him," Gimli nodded sagely, "I would be most reluctant to put her down!"

The volume of Aefre's screaming seemed to lessen. However, she began to hammer the Horse Lord around his rear-end. At least, Gamling thought she was smacking him. He could hear her smacking, the staccato sound punctuated by the continued verbal lambasting of his intelligence and personality, but the force was not making much headway through his tunic and leggings. Soon enough, he was outside Théoden's door, and kicking it open, he strode inside.

"Set me down, you boor!"

With a satiric grin, Éomer looked up from the table, where he was going over maps with his uncle. "Showing off your fine catch, Gamling?"

*** funnyfunnyharharyounglingbratitaughtyoutoride...***

The screeching again crescendoed from behind him. By the gods of the Riddermark, she could put the Horn of Hammerhelm to rest! Gamling decided to ignore her and leered at Théoden's heir.

"She leapt in my arms. What's a Rider to do? Perhaps I should throw her back?"

"I did no such thing! You ninny! You-"

"Don't you have a room you could take her to?" Éomer used his knife to tack down a corner of the map he was studying and picked up his tankard. "Or did you want advice on your bedding technique?" He raised his mug to the Horse Lord with the screaming woman swung over his shoulder.

***technique? What business is it..."

" Gamling." Théoden had been standing by the fireplace, watching the exchange. "I know there is a reason you have brought a woman forcibly into my private chambers. Perhaps, you could tell me why?"

Gratefully, Gamling turned his attention from the young whelp at the table and carried the screaming woman, who now had suddenly decided to be quiet, bless the gods, to stand in front of the king. "My Lord, I give you the Lady Aefre of the Wold."

Aefre made the mistake of deciding at that time to start wiggling anew, in an effort to free herself. That, combined with the fact that Gamling was attempting to set her on the floor, caused him to lose his grip and she landed with a thud on her backside, legs sprawled, facing the King of Rohan.

Two different hands presented themselves to assist her from the floor. She smacked away the hand that had brought her here and allowed Théoden to help her rise. "My Lord." She made her bow, a rather lady-like dip. She turned to hiss over her shoulder, "You are a warg - riding orc-"
Gamling's countenance darkened and Théoden moved quickly to stop the rising argument. He tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow and led her away from his thunderous Marshal. "Please, Aefre, Gamling is one of my most trusted and valued warriors and Marshal. But I beg you do not insult his horse. Even I would be unable to stop the explosion." He leaned over and whispered in her ear. "I need his level head in these most perilous times." Finding a comfortable chair, he turned her and set her in it. He glared at his still grinning nephew. "Go find your sister. I do not wish the lady to feel overwhelmed." Éomer slowly stood up from the table. "Now, would be nice." The younger man heard the gentle, but steel - edged rebuke in his uncle's voice and with a slightly ashamed bow towards Aefre, Éomer made his way to the door.

Only Gamling saw the age - old fist pump Éomer made to him as he exited the room.

***Brat! And I handed you your first woman!***

He made to follow Éomer, but Théoden stopped him, instructing him to pour three goblets of wine, one for each of them.

Théoden pulled a chair up towards Aefre and began to examine her hands. "You have the look of your grandmother."

"You remember her?" Aefre had gone from a howling harpy to a soft-spoken woman. The change was sudden and it made Gamling's mind reel.

Théoden was smiling. "I was much younger, but aye, I remember your formidable grandmother. She was from Gondor, near the same place as my mother."

That would explain her dark hair and eyes. Most from the Riddermark were fair and blue - eyed. In a way, it made her stand out, and Gamling admitted he found the effect slightly exotic.

Théoden was leaning towards her, smiling. "Would you like to hear a secret?" Aefre relaxed and nodded. "Your grandmother taught me some of the most colorful curses!"

Aefre was giggling, a light girlish sound. "She taught me a few as well." She looked down at the hands holding hers. "I loved her very much." Slowly, the smile slid from her face. "I miss her."

Théoden tightened his grip on her hands. "Doubtless, she would have had much to say over your situation, which we have need to discuss." He took the goblets from Gamling and handed her one. "I am sorry. I have been so very remiss in my duties."

"You were ill, sire. It was not your fault. Éowyn was here when I arrived and she saw me settled."

As if hearing her name, Éowyn pushed into the room, her brother at her heels.

" Aefre! I thought you were over-seeing that Gamling's rooms are set to rights."

Aefre's eyes met Gamling's, a heated, smoldering gaze that he answered like-wise. "I was informed that the king wished to see me."

He had to raise his goblet to her. Most women would be cowed in front of their liege. This one did not back down.

*** hothothothergazewassweetsweetthingthingthinghthing***

Hmmm.

Théoden and Éowyn both saw the exchange. Théoden decided to explore that later, However, now...

" Éowyn, you knew of Lady Aefre's arrival?"

Éowyn had the grace to blush slightly under her uncle's scrutiny. "It is not every day a woman shows up at the gates of Edoras on horseback, escorted by three retainers. You were... ill. Neither Éomer nor Gamling were here, so I listened to her story and found her a place."

"There are two sides to every story, sire." Gamling examined the wine in his goblet. "Has anyone contacted the other party?"

Aefre immediately shot up to her feet. "You accuse me of twisting the truth? Then you are an Orc as well as an arse! Where were you when my home was overrun by lice-carrying miscreants? How dare you question my... you loathsome..."

*** firefirefiredon'tplaywithfirebutitissomuchfunfirefirefire***

Somehow, Théoden calmed the irate woman, getting her to sit back down. She and Eowyn began to whisper, Éowyn's voice soothing, Aefre's punctuated with sharp consonants and hissing. As he passed the Horse Lord, to refill his and her goblets, Théoden quietly admonished the man. " Gamling. Teasing a defenseless woman. Surely, your manners are better than that."

Feeling like a corrected child, Gamling dug his toes in his boots. "I am sorry sire, but she is -"

"Female. I know. We will discuss that later. Drink up and listen." Théoden sat again across from the woman and waited as she finished her second goblet of wine. " Aefre, what has happened? The last time I saw you was right after your wedding." His hand tightened on hers. "I was so saddened for your loss when Lufian was killed."

Aefre's eyes were lowered and Éowyn removed the goblet from her hands, handing it to Gamling. "My marriage to Lufian was a good one. It strengthened ties between his and my father's house. We loved each other much. His loss was..." from somewhere another goblet of wine was pressed into her hands and she drank deeply. "I felt as if a part of me was ripped out. He was brought back alive, sire. It took him three long, horrible days to die." She became very quiet. "I found out later that my father and brother were also lost in that battle."

For several minutes, it was quiet while she finished her wine. Eowyn went to take her goblet, to refill it yet again, but Aefre shook her head. "No more. I will be useless the rest of the day." She refocused on Théoden. "My sister - in - law was pregnant and the loss of my brother hit hard. She gave birth early, but her son thrived. Lufian was an only child. I heard him speak of a few far removed cousins, but I never met them and they never came to visit. There were no messages from them. I governed his Hall, as I had when we were married."

"Imagine my surprise when four years after his death, his cousin Gifre arrived, informed us that he was the next male heir and displaced me. He appeared with a... gang of Riders. One moment, I had a home and the next, they were swiving my servants and I was told that if I wished a bed to sleep in, I would have to share it with him."

"Your guards did not repel him?" Gamling's question was soft spoken.

"There were more of them than of us. We were unprepared." She turned back to the king. "It had been four years. I quickly packed my things, managed to take the small things important to me. My serving women and I, along with what was left of my husband's Riders, made haste to my brother's home."

"I realized within a week what a mistake that was. Eadlyn seems to be a vapid, helpless creature. She is a weak chatelaine and when the servants began to ask me for guidance, she informed me that her home was not big enough for all - meaning me. She had her son's inheritance to look out for and the cost of my retinue was too staggering an amount. She suggested I return to my husband's hall and acquiesce to Gifre. She did, however, like my servants enough to keep them. I sent a messenger to Edoras immediately. When word came that you had sent for me, My Lord, I left immediately."

" Aefre. Where did you stay in the meantime?" Gamling was curious. "Your sister-in-law did not wish your presence, yet you could not return to your husband's home."

Aefre gave a sneaky smile. "My grandmother had her own home, removed from the main hall. It was a day's hard ride from my father's house, built for her as there were times he and she did not get along. It had been left to me and I doubt my brother told Eadlyn about it. She was always a greedy thing and demanded more than her due. I could remain there indefinitely, and be self - sufficient. The house needs work, work I cannot afford to pay for. My grandmother has been dead for fifteen years and no one has resided there in that time. A few of my women came with me there; those that were married or romantically attached to the few men left that were loyal to my husband. But the home is in a sad state of disrepair. There were not enough of us to fix it, nor did I want to bring attention to us. There were not enough men to defend it under an all out attack. I would not put it past my sister in law to decide the place belongs to the estate and I worry about my deceased husband's cousin." Aefre shuddered. " He is a scoundrel, a horrid person. He stank of old ale and sweat and did not believe in bathing. His touch was abhorrent."

Éowyn squeezed her hand. She understood the feeling well; she, too, knew what it as like to have attentions forced on one by someone when you couldn't stand to be in their presence.

Aefre took a deep breath and looked into the eyes of Théoden, sensing his thoughts. "I realize, Sire, that I am imposing on your hospitality. There are those that feel I should remarry. Perhaps I should. However, in my first marriage, I married for love. I would like that opportunity again. In fact, I shall settle for nothing less." Her tone was emphatic and even Théoden could hear the finality of her words.

"Then, for love you shall marry. I take it Éowyn has found you a place to stay?"

"Yes, Uncle." Éowyn's smile was a fond one. " Aefre has aided me greatly in day to day management of the Golden Hall. She is used to running large households with garrisons and most-" she made a point to look hard at Gamling, "do not try to rouse her ire. I have also discovered that she is eager to do work wherever it needs to be done."

***Ah. So that is why she was one night in the baths and the next morning ordering men and servants about upstairs.***

Éowyn continued in her glowing praise of the woman. "I have found her guidance and counsel to be helpful and true. She has refused to act the pampered lady, and insists on helping everywhere and anywhere in trade for a room and a place to stable her horse." She leaned over and stage whispered, " Willan adores her."

"That is saying something," Théoden agreed.

The room was quiet; the only sound the crackle of the fire and popping of the wood.

"Sire, there is much to be done if your man's room is to be prepared in time for him to sleep in the bed tonight. If it is your will, might I leave now to oversee the work?"

Théoden waved the women out, watching Gamling's eyes scrutinizing Aefre closely. As the door whispered shut, the Rider made his way to the window, surveying the tent town outside the walls.

"Ideas, my friend?"

Gamling almost smiled at the compliment. "Many... thoughts, sire. This," he gestured to the refugees, "weighs heavily on you."

"And what weighs on you?"

For a moment, the rugged soldier was quiet. Then...

"Why did her husband's kinsman wait four years to assert his rights?" He turned and stared at the king. "He must have frightened her badly for her to abandon her home; to run as quickly as possible to her brother's." He turned to look at the king over his shoulder. "If you do not need me, sire, I would like to go for a ride. Dréogan has not been out in several days and he gets irritable, when he is cooped up."

"As do you." Théoden smiled and waved him out. He waited for Gamling to make his bow and leave before addressing his nephew.

"What think you?"

Éomer was using his knife to peel an apple. "What think I? You know, as well as I, when Gamling is chewing on something, he rides."

"And what do you think he thinks about?"

Éomer was smirking. "Besides her? Not much else. His romantic skills are rusty. He has been alone for many years and doesn't think past the night's enjoyment on the few occasions he has invited a woman to bed. I have never known him to take an unwilling wench to his bedroll, nor does he have to beg."

Théoden was looking over the refugee camp and he watched his trusted Marshal stride down the hill towards the stables. "He goaded her."

"Aye. Carried her screaming through the halls as well. The men are laughing about in the Hall. With that act, he has marked her as his. Even if he didn't mean to, he has." Éomer joined him at the window, looking down at the retreating figure in green and the colorful tents. "He could do worse. She has land, a small, if ramshackle home. The Wold could use more good Riders." Éomer fingered his beard. "Perhaps, Éowyn and I could collaborate, work to bring them together..." his voice trailed off.

"You will do no such thing. The last time your sister and you attempted to match make, the poor couple refused to speak to each other for months, making the Golden Hall a cold place indeed."

"It was winter."

" Éomer!"

"But they got together eventually." Éomer protested.

"But the months between were inhabitable! No! No romantic trysts planned, no arrows of ardor. You are not a winged godlet of love!" Théoden stomped over to the pitcher and poured himself a mug of mead. " Gamling is a good man, an honorable Rider of the Mark. He has been alone for a long time. If the two of them manage to get past each other's prickly shielding, they will do it on their own." He dipped his nose into the mug. "Leave them be."

Éomer was now tossing the apple core. "I saw his eyes follow her, scrutinizing her every move."

"And her eyes followed him. I know. I saw." Théoden set the tankard down with a solid thud. "Bah. I am an old man and once we decide on how to deal with the mess with Gondor, we will have to begin looking for a wife for you."

"Me? A wife? Why?"

"No wilting Princess for you. She will have to be brave and tough. Perhaps our Aefre will agree to marry you..."

"No. No, no, and no again." Éomer clomped to the door. "I will marry, when I am ready. You, old man," he pointed to his uncle, a fire in his eye, "should think to remarry yourself before messing in others' love lives!" It dawned on him immediately what he had said. "Sir, I-"

Théoden waved him off, good-naturedly. " ' Tis good you are my nephew and not a lowly stable boy. Be gone with you. Go terrorize a serving wench." He turned to the window, seeing Gamling now on Dréogan's back, picking his way slowly around the townspeople. "Strange. What troubles you is her kinsmen. It troubles me as well." The breeze picked up and as Gamling made his way through the gates, his warhorse launched into a gallop, stretching his legs; Gamling's cloak and hair streaming behind him.
*****
 
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