A small party of Eorlings make their way from the north, most of them afoot. They’re ringed around about horses, some being led and others left to passively follow the lead of the others, to the number of half a score.
Of the people, most are herdsmen skilled in the handling of such creatures, although at the front the garb and nature of the Eorlings is different—a tall lord, a red-haired lady, and two children of about ten years themselves. The boy of them seems undistracted enough, plodding along and trying to keep step with the strides of his elders, but the girl—constantly tugged along by her hand—constantly looks over her shoulder at the horses with a certain eagerness.
An afternoon for meetings, maybe? The square, so quiet and mostly deserted just minutes ago, is filling with the small party of Eorlings. Alone and separate from them, a tall, slender foreigner is added to the mix as he steps boldly into the sunlight from within the Inn. Shading his eyes against the sun, the southern lord’s attention is drawn by the clansmen’s arrival.
Turning to the young girl whose hand she holds rather firmly, the red-haired woman says something or other in a hushed but still determined tone of voice. It seems to make at least a slight impression on the youngster. Although, not one that lasts for more than a few strides, for when bright and eager eyes fall upon a particular horse whatever was said is soon forgotten.
Lowering his white-gloved hand, a slow smile begins to creep wryly across the southerner’s lips at the sight of the party. Drawing the gloves from his hands as he steps forward, down and out of the Inn’s shadow and into the sunlight, the Gondorian folds them together as he begins to cross the square.
Eowyn, too, quits her current occupation in the stables to come out into the near blinding light of the square, and the noise of arrival, and the utter glory of summer in Stowburg. Smiling she bunches the lawn-stuff of her skirt, and dashes along, racing her shadow to the finish. Absolutely no decorum for the moment, as she comes even to the Gondorian, three armlengths apart. “Finally.”
“Waltheow,” says the tall lord as one of the herdsmen comes to walk besides him, “have them arrayed by the stable, and see to it that the stallions are well-hobbled. Especially the bay with the white blaze upon its forehead. Fierce as a wildfire, that one.” The herdsman nods his head, saying nothing more before he turns to direct the others in doing as the noble Rohir stated. From there, eyes only for the moment sweeping the square so fiercely illuminated by the sun, he turns to the lady and the children while they wait for that to be done. “Once that is done, you may look at them, as your lady mother allows. But think not to get too near, lest they bite. They are not happy to be taken from the wide plains and their wind-chasing kin.”
Glancing to his right, to Eowyn, the southerner flashes her that wry grin—wider now, and pleased—to say, “Your single word, my lady, sums up my thoughts exactly.” Tucking the gloves into his belt, Thorondur indicates the pair at the party’s head, yet across the square. “Only two children? I had thought from your news there might be a dozen!”
Eowyn takes no notice of the Gondorian’s devilry, merely smirking as she slows to walk at pace to which is fitting. “Aye, certainly, sir, it is not all that difficult for me to sum the whole of your thoughts the whole of of acquaintance.” At his further teasing, she pivots and jokingly lifts a foot as though to strike him at the shin with it. “Off with you, knave. It is not me whom you came to speak with, now be about it. I do not think I can tolerate your foolery more.” she responds.
With horses and, not the least, two willful children—who now put up at least token objections when faced with yet another delay until whatever it is that they are so eagerly waiting for—to keep an eye on, Ceridwen has yet to pay any particular attention to those who already are present in the square. Still, as they advance further onwards, she cannot help but to notice the presence of Eowyn ... and with her a figure that is more than somewhat familiar. A look of surprise touches her face, and she looks the way of her husband, attempting to catch his attention with a nod in the direction of the pair.
With a mock-cringe and a hearty laugh, Thorondur favors the Lady Eowyn with a courtly bow—complete with a flourish of his cape. It is difficult to discern how the bow is meant—honest courtesy, or a parting jibe. Quite likely, it’s a combination of both.
Then standing, the former Knight-Herald starts off for the Eowain clan-chiefs and their children with a confident step.
The herdsmen pass, leading the horses to a place set out for such examinations of stock. As they pass the lady of Rohan and her companion, they bob their heads respectfully and murmur, “M’lady.” The Gondorian only gets curious glances, for they’ve work to do. They do, in the end, as the lord commanded. As he warned, the bay was less than willing to be hobbled.
Laughing at the children’s objections, Rananar tries to soothe them, although Ceridwen’s glance draws his attention. He looks as closely as she, eyes squinted against the blaze of light . . . and lets a trifle of a frown touch his face turned from laughter to contemplation. “What is this? The lady and . . . Come, my lady, children, let us greet Eowyn. The horses can wait a little time more. Not all is yet ready.”
And so he starts moving nearer, only to slow to a stop, transfixed. The children look at him quizzically, momentarily distracted from their thoughts of horses, and then to the stranger. “It’s a southron, Mother,” the little boy says by way of observation to Ceridwen.
“Aye,” comes the stranger’s reply, playing off the words of the boy as his flashing blue eyes betray silent, good-natured laughter. “A southron, a Corsair, come to raid your towns and pillage your granaries,” he says with a wink, affecting the accent of Umbar with an uncanny accuracy—though it is unlikely to be recognized here.
The niece of the king comes leisurely to greet Aethelwigend and Maegtheow, pressing her knuckle gently to her lips in order to suppress laughter at the ‘southron’ whom she rolls her eyes at, and with better deportment inclines her head, encircled by the gold of her hair, so much like her mother’s once. “I see Eowain has come home to roost.. I thought I would miss your homecoming.. I am glad now that I waited. King’s greetings.”
His sister, on the other hand, has eyes for nothing but the horses that are now being led away. Indeed, taking advantage of her parents preoccupation she even makes for the stables herself—only to be stopped by one of the grooms who seems to have known all too well what would happen. “Better not try that, Leona, or your mother will be none too pleased,” one of them says to her and nudges her in the right direction.
Ceridwen meanwhile can only nod to her son’s observation; for once something has managed to silence her, if only for a few moments. The boy, Cynhild, does not seem to notice this, however, but instead looks with suspicion at the stranger. Surely no real raider would announce his intentions as such, but then again, one can never be too cautious. Or so this young lad seems to think, at least.
“And perhaps we will carry off your womenfolk, too,” adds the would-be Corsair with a sly, narrow-eyed glance in Eowyn’s direction, “If they must insist on kicking us in our Southron shins. Ah, the horror…!” And with that, the Gondorian lord, resplendent in blue and silver, favors the young boy with a distinctly unlordly, slack salute. “But until then, I am yours to command, lad.”
Dipping in a grave bow, he says his name: “Thorondur Edrahil, Lord of House Girithlin and Herald to the Prince, Knight of the Stones—at your service.”
“Do the dead come to life? What strange portent!” And so, speaking out of his revery, Rananar at lasts states what held his mind so. He interrupts the full elegance of the bow by suddenly catching up Thorondur in a bruising clasp, nigh lifting the man from the ground. “Knight of the Stones! As slow as stone, maybe,” the Eorling exclaims aloud, all propriety forgotten in the joy that enthuses his noble mien. He lets loose the rib-creaking clasp to hold Thorondur at arms length, then, eyes bright with wonder. “Thorondur, by what grace is this? Long have the years been, though unlike me you do not show them.” And indeed, perhaps he bears a few scars on hands and face which he did not bear before.
It takes Ceridwen ... well, a moment or two to compose herself enough to return lady Eowyn’s greeting, and even when she does she cannot seem to quite tear her attention from the, to say the least, surprising presence of Thorondur. “I fear we were hopelessly delayed upon the plains of the Wold, the choosing of some suitable steeds proved a lengthier business than usual, lady Eowyn,” the red-haired Maegtheow of Eowain replies and smoothly bows her head to the King’s niece, then glances the way of her daughter in a way that does seem to suggest that this delay might somehow be linked to young Leona. “I hope your waiting did not prove too boring? Although, it would seem you have had the advantage of some ... interesting company.”
And Thorondur, lithe as ever, still seems made of sterner stuff than his slender build would indicate—Rananar’s bone-crushing hug fails to even bring a grimace. Well, at first… it does take him a moment to regain his breath enough to answer!
“And you, strong as stone yet!” The knight laughs, but indeed, he is yet youthful and unblemished. Rananar is observant. “It has been too long, my friend,” he says, “But what else you have gained besides battles upon battles.” His gaze goes back to the lad, and he speaks a bit breathlessly yet. “Family and fulfillment, I suppose.”
“Interesting indeed, my lady Ceridwen,” says Eowyn with a cool smile, that gives away nothing. “There was much rain while you were away, no doubt the weather was just as bad upon the plain, but the Entwade nearly outdid your bridge. All has been repaired now.” Her steely eyes track from child to child, and smiles. “Your journey looks to have been a productive one. I shall return later to speak, perhaps when the company is less…interesting.. for now, I hope you will not mind if I have a look at what is brought to the stables?”
A faint arching, perhaps, of dark and slender brows, but nothing else save a momentarily dimming of the customarily bright but wry smile shows upon Ceridwen’s face. “That bad this year as well? Good then that Stowburg was in good hands,” she responds to Eowyn before allowing herself a glance in the direction of her husband and their long-gone acquaintance. And then adds, turning once more to the other woman: “Yes, do return later so that we may speak. In the meanwhile I would be most pleased to have you inspect the stock we brought; hopefully there will be suitable mounts for my oldest among them, and the rest might perhaps find their riders too.”
“Lady,” Rananar says at last, recalling his manners and the presence of Eowyn. “My apologies, I am rude, though perhaps I may beg forgiveness. Hail and well met, indeed.” Terse but proper enough, Rananar seems more daunted than his lady wife when being confronted with a ghost of the past.
He returns his attention to that ghost, who is quite real, clearly enough. “Aye, family. You shall have to meet the other children—these you know, who are Ceridwen’s, though maybe you only knew of them when newly birthed. But here then, let us not speak of that yet. What have you? What great adventures have you undertaken, to keep you so long away from our knowing?” At the mention of ‘adventures’ the sulking girl-child and the rather placid young land perk up and look at the stranger anew.
Not unaware of the children’s sudden interest—indeed, he seems to feed off it, for his smile widens of a sudden, and those white teeth flash in an earnest storyteller’s grin—Thorondur gives Rananar a hidden wink. “Adventures? I? Why, I’ve had few adventures indeed, since I defeated the Dark Sorceress of Adunzil!”
Thorondur’s voice is purposefully leading, and he watches the boy and girl from the corner of his eyes.
As intended, the words certainly draw marvelling expressions from both boy and girl . . . but a sneaking glance from the red-haired Leonides shows that horses still occupy a place on her mind, if not nearly as strongly as before.
“Then you must tell the children, when you’ve time, ” replies Rananar, grinning and witnessing the expressions on the children’s faces. “Or at least these others, for soon enough all these will think of for a time is riding their new horses, grooming their new horses, feeding their new horses . . . ” He laughs when Leona screws up her face at Rananar, realizing the joke with a much-too-adult alacrity. Cynhild, on the other hand, still stares silently at Thorondur.
Until, that is, Ceridwen beckons for one of the men who helped herd the horses—the man previously named as Waltheow—to now come and herd the twins into the stables as well. Cynhild is reluctant at first, perhaps because he would rather hear that story now, or perhaps he still isn’t sure whether to trust Thorondur or not. He did, after all, mention raiding. But soon enough his sister, eager for both of them, has dragged him off to see the horses.
“I fear you should not have mentioned the bay, husband,” Ceridwen then says to Rananar with a wryly amused smile curving her lips as she walks over to join the two of you. “No doubt Leona will want him and no one else, now.” Turning to Thorondur instead, still smiling and with glimmer of mischief brightening her eyes, she adds: “I think few dark sorceresses could such handfuls as that girl is.”
“And this is why we call your folk the Horse-Lords,” replies Thorondur to Rananar—with another hidden wink, this time for the boy Cynhild. “The children of the Belfalas Houses are taught to love their steeds, verily, but they thrill to the stories of steel and heroism over all.”
As the pair are herded off with their horses, the knight is able to focus his laughing smile on Rananar and Ceridwen. “Then you have never met the Lady Bethphel, my lady,” he says, and then looks heavenwards with a mock-weary sigh. “Nor have I, in some long time. Tell me, are there any fell sorceresses in the Mark, since last I did visit? The ladies of Gondor have grown increasingly… dull.”
Watching the children go about their looking, Rananar can only wince as Leonides does indeed make her way to that horse immediately. But he knows of this Bethphel, when she’s mentioned, and his expression turns to a grimace even as he passes that topic over. “Ladies of Gondor, dull? Maybe, maybe, though some of the tales make me wonder. But no, there are none in the Mark that I know of.” And then, with a glance to Ceridwen, another smile as he adds, “Or perhaps there is one. But truly, how long are you here? We would deny you nothing if you stayed awhiles.”
“I might, I might,” says Thorondur with a sly grin, “Though Valar trust you, Rananar, to take the only one among them for yourself.” He laughs, musical as ever, and winks a third time—and this time, it’s for Ceridwen. “I’d be a burden on any woman who tried to love me, in any event. In truth, I came to Stowburg entirely to see you, my old friends.”
Again a slight arching of slender brows above those dark-green eyes, as Ceridwen glances up at her husband with a faintly wickedly amused expression upon her face. “Indeed?” she asks, but soon enough turns her attention to Thorondur again, allowing herself a wry chuckle. “I daresay that you have already found out that, while no sorceress, the lady Eowyn is anything but dull.” A hint of mingled mischief and curiosity does now brighten those emerald-hued eyes as she takes a moment or two to study him, the manner of it holding something of a similarity to how she might appraise a horse.
Still at times obtuse in such matters, Rananar glances sharply at Ceridwen’s mention of Eowyn. He too is curious, though in a different way. “The lady Eowyn has quick wits, like to her mother, may Wyrd keep her. And strength like her father, may Wyrd keep him as well. But if you are here to see us, Thorondur, then you surely must take of our hospitality. Would you take a room in the clan hall, as a friend of Eowain? There is much we must speak of—of times past and, maybe, of the future. You who have seen so much of the world may have wise counsel, wiser than that of other men.”
“The Lady Eowyn? Far from dull, indeed,” Thorondur agrees with a grin, “—and fairer than any maid of Dol Amroth, at that,” he concludes. “Still,” the knight continues, meeting Ceridwen’s appraisal with a chuckle, “Such as she are not for me. I have had done with princesses as aught but friends.”
“As for a room, my friend,” Thorondur answers Rananar easily, “It bodes well. I do grow weary of that Inn, if not its ale. I cannot claim wisdom, but I can tell you what stories I may.”
Leona is indeed quite taken with the fierce bay, which so far refuses to let her near him even as she looks on him with immediate possession in her eyes. Cynhild, more methodical, takes his time studying each horse. Too wise by half, he can be heard commenting on this one having too narrow flanks or that one being too weak in the chest.
Rananar chuckles again, and seems to at last grasp the matter of Eowyn, though he talks of other things. “Good! We will see to a man gathering your belongings and moving them to a guesting room. And then, by Bema’s Beard, there shall be a feast and you may meet the other childr—most of the other children.” A pause there, a glance to Ceridwen, and then he forces his own grin. “It is strange to be together again, all three. It has been long and long since the last time that it was so.”
“So now you watch your steps around both princesses and sorceresses? I do suppose one cannot argue with the wisdom of that,” Ceridwen replies to Thorondur with a slight chuckle, still that gleam of amusement bright in her eyes. “Perhaps it would not hurt to extend this caution to Leona, too many stories that are to her liking and she might find a new interest beyond her future horse.” Having said this, she glances the way of her children and shakes her head slightly, adding: “Then again, mayhaps she will not leave the side of whichever mount she ends up picking for a few months or so.” No doubt she’s all too well aware of much like herself her oldest daughter is. “Too long, but that always does seem to be the case,” she then finishes, turning again to the two of you.
“A Princess, a sorceress,” Thorondur says in a droll, world-weary tone belied by his sudden, quicksilver grin. “Give me a barmaid with a lust for,” he coughs, “—adventure,” and again, he coughs, “And I’ll be happy as a peach.” Forcing himself then into some semblance of solemnity, the knight addresses Rananar. “I will be glad to feast with you, of course. But what is this, of separations?”
“The problem, I fear, is that the ... lusty ones always end up running off in search of that ... adventure,” Ceridwen replies in a slyly amused fashion, green eyes flicking idly from Thorondur to Rananar, and then back again. It may have been years since last, but it would seem that she will never quite grow up. Nevermind that supposed hoard of children.
After Ceridwen, Rananar speaks, grinning. “Friend, it has been years since last we saw you—and then ‘twas said that you were dead, or maybe a hermit contemplating thy navel in the hill,” he states, taking a lofty tone at that last amusing declaration and then laughing at himself for such foolishness. “And you are not the first old friend returned from death or long years passage. Lathoren of the northlands, whom you knew, was thought to us dead for many years. Yet the year past he too appeared as if sprung from the very grasses. How strange and wondrous, though the long years ... those bring no pleasure.”
“I have not been staring at my belly,” Thorondur insists with a laugh, “Though I did take much time alone, after my family home was burned. I am sorry for it now,” he says, that smile fading for a moment. “Minalcar…”
That name brings a sigh, and a darkening of the eyes. “No,” he says, firmly. “I will not speak of that here and now. This meeting is a happy one.”
A silence ensues, a drawn out pause in conversation. And then some further antic from the children—this time being Cynhild falling to argument with his sister over the fine qualities of the horses they’ve chosen—draws thoughts past that awkward silence. “Strange days, these. I have not known their like in years, when it seemed the Power in the East strove to drive our peoples before it. But there is hope, both in what was and what will be. You should wed some day, Thorondur. Even knights have their lady loves, and children, though maybe the songs rarely speak of the latter. Life seems the fresher for them.”
“And is it so for you, then? Do not answer—” says Thorondur, his grin coming swift and refreshed, again to his lips. “I can see the truth of it in the manner of the pair of you. But if I wed, it will be a special woman indeed,” he adds with a pained look overtaking his smile. “I am less concerned with bloodlines or propriety now. Things… have changed.”
Ceridwen too grows more somber, the brightness of her mood for the time being subdued, although the final suggestion of her husband’s does bring something of a smile to her lips once again. If one less unrestrained than before. “They would be even lengthier songs in that case, I fear. Surely no knight would want to see himself bested by another even in that particular regard.” A fond smile, although one not untouched by amusement, directed the way of her husband then. “Some are more stubborn than others, however.” It would seem she’s not changed in that way either; propriety never was a concern of hers, and does not seem to have grown one with the years either.
“Changed? That is wisdom, which comes and goes as it may. I had a little of it forced upon me.” Rananar’s reply is accompanied by a grin at Ceridwen, though his eyes again turn to the children. “But there is always time, for such things… Though soon Ceridwen and I shall have to mind the eldest. It seems they have chosen, my lady, and Leona seems ready to leap upon that beasts back. Perhaps we should see to accommodating our guest and preparing the feast . . .?” It’s a good thing the old herdsman is keeping an eye out. Once the arguing stopped, Leona truly did seem interested in finding a way to clamber upon the back of the still-fierce bay.
“Truly indeed,” agrees the Knight-Herald. “I should not keep you further. We shall speak soon, perhaps—over dinner?” Thorondur’s smile is pleasant, but distracted; he has been given much to think on.
“Indeed, friend,” replies Rananar, offering a hand to clasp. “We shall send a man to your rooms, to gather that which you wish to have and to prepare it all for you. The clan hall does not, maybe, offer as much comfort as you might find Dol Amroth besides the wide sea. But maybe in the company of friends it is not so poor for all that.”