Rider Of The Mark

Chapter 16 - Aaaaefreeeee. You Gots Some 'splainin' To Do!
Posted the week of: May 2005
 
*****
The pounding hooves of the Rohirrim had faded in the distance, the dust settling in their wake. Gamling was bristling.

***My life was so much simpler before... damn Éomer and his schemes, damn every happily married man in the Riddermark, damn her for making me this angry...***

Gamling pulled back in his saddle. "Get on in front of me," he rumbled.

"What? Your saddle isn't built for two and I certainly am more than capable of riding to Gondor-"

"You are not going to Gondor! Now either get on in front of me or I shall haul you off Adenydd and you will return to the Dunharrow camp face down across my lap! You. Won't. Like. It!"

"Gamling!" she started nonchalantly, "I think you are over -reacting -"

"Do *not* push me any further! You have five seconds!"

"Gamling! Really!"

"Five!"

"Béma!"

"Don't swear. Four!"

Aefre dismounted and glared up at him. "What am I to do with Adenydd's reins?"

"Hand the reins to me. Three."

"What? Hand them to you? Why you reprehensible-"

***uh oh, now she's mad.. hothothotsweet foolish...***

"-ill-mannered-"

"Oaf. Two."

"Damn you!" She slapped her reins in his outstretched hand. Going around the front of the two horses and -

***damn jackassbane of my existence you are you doing this to me who's going to watch over you???***

"Gamling," she glared off in the distance. "I can't get on in front of you."

"Wo-"

"It will be awkward!" Her eyes were stinging, but she would be damned if she would allow him to reduce her to tears. "I... can't get on... with you already there. Not in front at least. And not while I'm holding my helmet!"

Gamling rolled his eyes and moved forward. "Fine. Put it back on and get behind me then."

"Your cloak is in the way."

***dammit dammit waste of my time I should have just let her go into battle for all the trouble she's giving me...***

Gamling yanked and wadded his cloak around in front of him in his lap. He watched her struggle for a few moments as she attempted to mount the large warhorse. Finally exasperated-

***Why are you doing this to me? can't you understand - ***

***Why are you forcing my hand in this way? Why can't you do what I asked you to do...***


-he pulled his feet from the stirrups and extended his hand.

"I don't need your help."

"Aefre..."

"I don't *want* your help!"

"Aefre!"

***uh - oh... now I've done it...***

"You have trod firmly on my last nerve. Take. My. Hand!" Reluctantly, she slapped her hand into his and allowed him to help her up. Reaching around her, he flipped her cloak to the side and tied her horse's reins to the back of his saddle. "You are wearing a Rider's cloak."

She didn't respond.

"Tell me how you acquired a Rider's Cloak?" Gamling nudged Dréogan forward, back towards the camp.

Aefre still did not respond.

"Aefre-"

"It was my husband's!"

***I know well what importance one such as you would place in a cloak such as this...***

"There is no insignia, no braiding. It must have been his first one."

"It was."

***Béma! We are almost an hour out of camp. Théoden will keep them at a trot for another two hours, then a hard gallop for an hour before resting.... dammit dammit, I maybe catch back up by midday...***

"Aefre. Hold on to me tightly."

Aefre's hands were clenched in her lap. "I'm fine."

Gamling was getting tired of speaking to her through clenched teeth. "Aefre, I am weary of arguing with you. Hold onto me." He could feel her tense up, tighten behind him.

"No."

***So be it***

Gamling nudged Dréogan into a trot, causing Aefre to bounce, off balance. She gabbed onto Gamling's waist. Transferring his reins to one hand, he covered hers with the other. "Don't turn loose."

"This is unfair to Adenydd."

Gamling looked over his shoulder to see the mare keeping up easily. "She's fine."

For some time, Aefre kept herself as apart, as away from him as possible. Eventually, she gave up and pulled in close, laying her face against his back.

***Finally! Finally give up yesyesyes uh oh no Aefre does not give up I am in for a fight like...***

They rode in silence, painful for her, his thoughts churning, eating him. Her tenacity, stupidity, femininity...

***all these ity words Bema...***

Determination

***Yes! Thank You!***

Sooner than either realized, the camp came into view, tents down, wagons loaded. Gamling could see Willan, silently in charge, directing women and children and men unable to travel far. It crossed his mind to take her into camp, make an example of her, but public humiliation had never been a way his way to keep a Rider under his command in line. Instead, he stopped just outside of camp.

"Get down."

He felt Aefre sigh and turn loose. He focused on the camp, using the time to get his temper in check, waiting for her to dismount. He heard her feet hit the ground. Still not looking at her, he looped the reins around the pommel of his saddle, before dismounting. He could see her helmet hanging limply from her hands, her riding boots in the periphery of his vision and he focused on them for a moment.

"Really, Gam-"

"Do not say a word."

Finally, he looked up and it registered that she took an involuntary step back, her helmet dropping almost soundlessly to the ground.
***oh and aye, You should be afraid! Be very afraid...***

Aefre had tucked her hands behind her back. "Gamling. Please. Let me explain-"

"Explain?" he whispered. He yanked his helmet from his head and threw it to the ground, the metal clanging dully in the dirt. "You can explain until the sun goes down. It will not matter. You can explain until the last Rider returns from Gondor. It will not matter." He advanced on her, backing her up, into a tree.

"Gamling. I think Adenydd is picking her reins loose-"

"Do *not* change the subject!"

"I am not changing the subject, you brute!" She gestured angrily over towards their abandoned mounts. Sure enough, Adenydd was pulling at the knot of her reins, Dréogan attempting to help.

"He'll get her loose." Gamling turned back to her, one hand now braced by her head on the tree trunk. Lazily, he took in her armor, her gear, chain mail that -

***fit her like it was made for her***

- molded to her shape. He drew a single, leather-encased finger around her neckline. "This is not your husband's."

"No."

Slowly his eyes slide, over her, taking in her form-

***that I licked and suckled so thoroughly tasted so good dammit dammit***

- before sweeping up and locking into her gaze, visually pinning her to the tree.

"It was made for you."

"Yes."

"Like your morningstar was made for you."

"Yes."

He continued to look her over, the chain mail was not new; it had seen use, it was supple under his finger. "You have fought before-"

"The Wold is a harsh place. I'm not a stranger to fighting. I'm not afraid of blood and I'm not afraid to kill someone who means to harm me or those whom I love!" Her breathing hitched, became rapid and shallow and she was visibly upset.

"So you have killed before."

Aefre's eyes fell, feet digging holes in the ground beneath her. "I.... ye.... yes..."

***hmmm sounds like a not so enjoyable time for my spirited Shield Madam.***

"My husband trusted me at his side!" That came out in a rush, the effort it cost her, obvious.

"Orcs? Men?"

"Men." she whimpered. "Two."

***ah, a veritable slaughterer are you My Lady***

"With your morning-"

"Yes, yes! With my morning star!" Involuntarily, she hugged herself as a cool wind he didn't feel blew through the sparse trees.

"Not like a straw dummy, is it?"

Aefre was still looking at the ground, tears now beginning to flow. "No," she whispered. "It made me sick afterwards. Now you will think me weak..."

Casually, his hand slid to her neck, cupping her jaw and she leaned into the gentle pressure. "No. I do not think you weak. It would disturb me greatly if it hadn't affected you at all." Gamling pulled her in close, again reveling in the nearness of her, the scent of apples and - yes - last night's sex - vaguely sensed under the leather and chain mail. "Aefre. I gave you a specific order - to aid Eowyn. She will need you, Edoras will need you." He didn't dare tell her he needed her here, safe, in charge in case the Riders in Gondor fell.

***if I should fall***

"Why did you follow me?"

Aefre tensed up, bowed up in his embrace. "To watch your back, you arrogant man! To make sure you don't get hurt!"

The thought of Aefre standing up to hundreds of thousands of Orcs

***... standing on a hill, the muster of the Rohirrim behind her, shaking her fist at leagues of Orcs - Damn you, you'll not touch a hair on his head! and someday Mearas will fly!***


- and Béma only knows that almost made Gamling laugh, but he managed to contain himself.

"Why would you need to watch-"

"I was left behind before!" Her fist thumped on his armor. "He went to hunt a stupid boar and left me behind!" Her fingers wrapped around the leather straps across his chest. "Lufian was hit in the back of his head! I would have watched his back!" She thumped her head against him. "I have watched his back before! I would have watched yours! " She turned loose and tried to shove him backwards. "Damn it! Damn it! Do not make me beg!"

***No. I did that last night...***

"Aefre. You cannot go to Gondor-"

"Why not? Give me one good reason?"

Gamling pushed forward, pinning her to the tree. "Because you are needed here, because Eowyn needs your counsel, because I forbid it, because-"

"That's more than one!"

"-I need to know you're safe! Béma! Will you be quiet?"

Aefre's mouth snapped open again to berate him, snapped shut again, became unhinged...

"What the-"

- her eyes focused around him. "Gamling, your horse is servicing my mare!"

"What?" Gamling turned and looked over his shoulder to see Dréogan doing just that to a very willing Adenydd. "No wonder he knew you were back behind us," he shrugged good - naturedly. "Can't begrudge him that."

***Yes yes yesyes! That is MY destrier!***

He turned back to the woman now ensconced in his arms. "Has Adenydd ever been bred before?"

"No, I wouldn't let her. There wasn't a stallion whose bloodlines..."

"Do you have a problem with my stallion's bloodlines?"

"No," she whispered. He leaned over and nuzzled her.

"Only with his Rider?"

"Only when his Rider is being a bonehead."

"That's part of my job. Marshal of the Riddermark, general of Théoden King's Army, several thousand men under my command, Aefre's personal bonehead."

Aefre was laughing into his chest. "Since when did you become so glib?"

He tightened his embrace. "It is a ruse; it's keeping me from throttling you." His resolve hardened, his anger renewing itself. "Aefre, do you have any idea of the stupidity-"

"Don't! Don't berate me!" Gamling looked down to see her staring at him, earnestly. "Don't leave me. Don't make me stay behind. Let me go, please."

"No."

"Gamling, please-"

She was silenced by a single finger. "If I didn't care for you, love you, I would not have bothered bringing you back or explaining this. Someone must stay behind and help to manage Edoras in Théoden's absence. Someone must bolster the hopes of those left behind. Someone must organize the patrols, the watch. Spring planting must begin this week. Eowyn will need help. The job, the charge I leave you with is every bit as important as fighting. Men will die, Aefre. Someone must be here to pick up the pieces. Helm's Deep was just a taste of the wailing that will be heard in Rohan at the outcome of this war." He held her tighter, whispering in her ear. "If Gondor falls, someone must gather what is left of the Rohirrim and either make a stand or decide where to run. Believe me, what I ask of you is more difficult than what you wish for."

"Gamling, please, Don't leave me behind. I can't-"

"You can!" His finger slid under her chin and he lifted it, forcing her to look at him. "You will!" He thumbed the single tear from her cheek. "I wish no angry words between us. Give up, Aefre. You will not win this one." He looked over his shoulder, Dréogan and Adenydd still-

"Damn!" Gamling whistled between his teeth. "I wish I had his stamina!"

"I'm glad you don't." Aefre mumbled hotly. "Ah, no..."

"What?"

"Willan."

Sure enough, visible in the distance, driving a loaded wagon, Willan headed towards them slowly. Although he was still some distance away, worry was evident on his face.

"Good. I can leave you in strong hands."

"Gamling, please-"

"Aefre!" Again , his voice was clipped and tight. "There is no discussion. It will take me several hours to catch back up to the Muster of Rohan. Dréogan might not be at full strength due to your willfulness." Willan was now close enough to hear the argument.

"Upon my return, we will discuss who owns the foal your mare no doubt is now carrying-"

"Owns? OWNS? We'll discuss a stud fee and nothing else!"

"Deal! Willan!" Gamling grabbed her hand and dragged her towards the lumbering cart. "Willan! Did you know this contrary woman disguised herself and tried to pass herself off as a Rider?"

Willan looked at Aefre, smiled serenely and shrugged. He tossed an apple to Gamling and a carrot to Aefre. He winked at Aefre.

*sorry*

"You knew and you let her go? Dréogan! Apple!" Gamling held it up in the air and listened for the inevitable thundering hooves. "You and I will have a talk when I return. In the meantime-" the apple was snatched from the Horse Lord's hand by eager equine teeth, "do not allow her to follow. Take Adenydd's shoes off and confine her to a locked box stall, if you must-"

"Gamling! NO!"

"Yesss. Do you understand, Willan? If you have to tie this woman to my bed, do so."

"Gamling!"

***no wait. I'll do that when I return. hmmmmm***

"Aefre," he took the carrot from her hand and gave it to her mare, "no angry words. Just do as I bid." He kissed her on the forehead. "I'll be back as quickly as I can and you may yell, berate and curse me until the end of time. I'll yell back. It will be noisy and we will drive Éomer and Eowyn insane."

"We'll find him an ugly, dumpy, princess."

Dréogan was nuzzling Adenydd again and he had a distinct gleam in his eye. Gamling grabbed the mare's reins and handed them to Willan.

"Quick. Tie her to the back of the cart before my stallion gets any more ideas. Bad enough I have to ride his sweaty arse back." Willan climbed down from the wagon and took Adenydd towards the rear. While the man was turned away, Gamling kissed the woman again in his arms. " I need you here. I need to know you are safe. I need to know you are keeping Eowyn strong. Please understand." He pulled her close once again. "Get in the cart. Now."

"Gamling... ple-"

One moment, she was standing on the ground, in his embrace; the next, she was flying in the air and found herself on the crude shelf of a seat.

"No angry words, Aefre. I don't wish them echoing in my head going into battle." He patted her knee and stepped back. "You have this wench in hand, Willan?" The mute saluted, a mischievous grin on his face. "Good. Turn it around and head home. I *will* see you again, Aefre. After all, we have a stud fee to discuss."

The cart pulled in a jerk, slowly making a large circle. Gamling took Dréogan by the reins and swung up and with one last look, turned and took off back in the direction he had come. He knew Aefre was watching, would watch until she could see him no longer.

Both forgot the dropped and thrown helmets, lying over-looked in the dirt.
*****
 
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