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Horsemaster
Chapter 1

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August 16, 3019

On the southwestern shores of Middle-Earth there stood a
castle upon a high cliff that overlooked the sea.  Dol
Amroth had a history that stretched back many ages.  And
those who ruled it pledged their loyalty to the Steward or
King of Gondor.

Though considerably smaller than Minas Tirith, Dol Amroth
was no less grand.  The castle and the city that lay below
it were constructed entirely of the dark stone quarried from
the nearby hills.  The castle was situated on a peninsula
where the Bay of Cobas met the bay of Belfalas and lead out
into the larger sea.  From the castle steps the Elven ships
could be seen leaving the Havens from Edhellond some 150
leagues away across the Bay.

It was said that the royalty of Dol Amroth had Elvish blood
mingled with their own.  Though most of the people of Dol
Amroth thought that more of a legend than truth.  Whatever
the truth was, those who were of royal blood had the long
dark hair and delicate features similar to the Elves that
had first settled in Edhellond. 

Lothiriel, daughter of Prince Imrahil, and her older sister
Erchirion were sitting upon the steps watching as an Elven
ship slowly sailed through the Bay.  The sun was low in the
morning sky and the masts of the ship caught the sun's rays
and seemed to shimmer upon the water.

Dashing up and down the steps in front of them were their
younger brothers, Amrothos and Elphir, who were 7 and 9
years old.  The burden of raising them had mostly been
placed upon Erchirion and Lothiriel, for their mother had
died in childbirth when they were in their teens.   

"Rihiel said he has seen more ships leaving this month than
he has seen his entire life,"  Erchirion said. 

"I know, I've been watching them as well," Lothiriel said. 
She nervously tugged at the end of her long black braid that
hung over her shoulder. 

"What do you think it means?"  Erchirion asked.

Lothiriel shrugged.  "It cannot be good whatever it is.  But
Papa did say the Elves were leaving no matter the outcome of
the War,"  Lothiriel reminded her.

"I would feel better if he were here to tell me that
himself,"  Erchirion said.  "He has been gone too long.  Six
months should be time enough to rid the entirety of Gondor
of all manner of evil." 

Lothiriel said nothing for she did not wish to worry her
sister.  But Erchirion was right.  Six months was far too
long with no word from her father.  The Elven ships sailing
away daily, combined with their own troubles as of late,
made Lothiriel fear the worst. 

Lothiriel did her best to ease the burden of governing the
city that fell to Erchirion when their father went away to
war.  Though neither were heirs to the throne, their
brothers were far too young to do anything but be the rowdy
boys tumbling on the ground before them.  But no manner of
help could completely lift the weight of responsibility from
her sister's shoulders. 

Erchirion chewed on the end of her fingernails.  

"That does not become the leader of our fair city." 
Lothiriel reached over and took her sister's hands in her
own.  "Here comes your favorite member of the prince's guard
now."

Lothiriel and Erchirion rose to their feet as Rihiel walked
up the steps to greet them.  He was tall and lithe.  Upon
his breast he bore the armor of the Swan Prince.  He bowed
slightly.  "My ladies.  More people from the settlements
along the coast have arrived.  The leader of them has come
to speak with you,"  Rihiel said.

At the foot of the steps a middle-aged man stood waiting. 
His face was tanned and weathered from the long years of
living beside the sea. 

"Send him up,"  Erchirion said.

Rihiel motioned for the man to approach.  As he climbed the
steps, Erchirion straightened her braid and smoothed down
the front of her dress.  Holding her shoulders back, she
stood as straight as possible. 

"This is her Queenly pose,"  Lothiriel leaned over and
whispered to Rihiel. 

Rihiel's lips curved up in a slight smile.  Erchirion turned
to Lothiriel, but whatever stinging retort she had, died on
her lips when the man bowed before her.  She smiled at him
and took his hands, bringing him to his feet.

"We come to ask for safe refuge, my lady,"  the man said. 

"You are welcome within our city,"  Erchirion said.  "What
has happened?"

"Black ships of the Corsairs are raiding the homes along the
coasts.  Many of our homesteads have been destroyed,"  His
voice cracked as he tried to continue.  "Many did not make
it out."

"The Princess Lothiriel will escort your families to homes
within the city.  They are expecting you and will welcome
you as one of their own.   I am sorry for your loss," 
Erchirion said. 

The man took her hand and kissed it.  "Thank you, my lady."

Lothiriel smiled and said, "Follow me." 

The man began to follow behind her at a proper distance but
she insisted he walk beside her.  His face and stance were
weary as they walked down the many steep stone steps that
wound from the castle down into the city.  Those who were
not used to such climbs tired easily upon their first
attempt, and many stone benches were placed along the path
to rest.  Each held a lovely view of the ocean and bay.  In
most instances a journey up or down to the castle was
something to be savored.  Lately, however, the threat of
ever approaching evil had ripped the serene tranquility of
Dol Amroth from its very foundations.  And all who lived
within its borders were afraid, for there were few troops
left behind to defend it.

No one doubted Prince Imrahil's loyalty to Gondor, though
many were beginning to doubt his loyalty to his own fiefdom. 
When word came for the desperate need of troops in Minas
Tirith, he spared all that he could and left with as much
haste as could be had.  Those troops he had left behind were
enough to see to the day to day running of the castle but
not enough to defeat the threats of evil that seemed to be
closing in all sides of their borders.  Although, it may
have been unwise to leave so few behind, the darkness that
had spread across Middle-Earth had not touched Dol Amroth. 
And the Prince believed that whatever trouble there was, he
would defeat it on the way to Minas Tirith. 

But the weeks had turned to months and still there was no
word from the Prince.  And the darkness that had plagued the
rest of the world had finally found its way to Dol Amroth.

The man said nothing as Lothiriel lead him deep into the
city.  And from the sad _expression on his face she did not
want to trouble him with idle conversation.  She stopped
upon a cobble-stone street filled with shops and houses. 
"Everyone along this street has offered to share their roofs
with your families,"  Lothiriel said.  "You may divide
yourselves up between them as you see fit."

The man bowed low, giving his thanks. 

*****************************************

As Lothiriel walked back to join her sister upon the steps,
Elphir charged towards her at full speed.

"Lotty!!"  Elphir yelled as he leapt into her arms.  She
staggered backwards under his embrace as she caught him
against her.  Laughing, she looked down into his wide eyes. 
"We are killing pirates!"  Elphir said.

"Oh, and I look like a pirate to you?"  she asked with a
smile.

He nodded.  "You are the Pirate Queen.  We have taken all
your men hostage."

"Then I raise the white flag in surrender.  How many have
you killed?" 

"Hundreds, I am leading the men to war,"  Elphir said very
seriously.  She gave her brother a quick kiss on the top of
the head. He rushed after his brother and yelled, "Gather
the troops, we leave at once!"

Lothiriel sat down and rested her head upon her sister's
shoulder.  Erchirion sighed.  

"Please quit teasing me around Rihiel.  It's hard enough
being responsible for the whole city without you tormenting
me at every occasion,"  Erchirion said.

"But you are so easy to tease,"  Lothiriel said.

"If you don't quit doing it I'll. . . .I'll. . . . "

"Cast me into the dungeons?  Please do."  Lothiriel said
with a grin.

She and her sister both laughed but it was short-lived.  "I
hate to see you like this.  You haven't been yourself since
the couriers started disappearing,"  Lothiriel said.  "You
know it isn't your fault they haven't returned."

"I know they were doing their duty,"  Erchirion said.  "But
I am the one who sent them.  I am the one who has to tell
their wives that they haven't returned."

"You are doing a good job.  Do not worry so.  Papa will come
and he will take care of everything."

"He will not come if he never receives word that we need his
aid,"  Erchirion said.

As they sat there, Rihiel reappeared, this time he was
running.  "My ladies.  I come with serious tidings."

"Another attack?"  Lothiriel asked.

Rihiel nodded.  "Two leagues within the inner hills of
Tornost.  The raids are becoming more frequent and are
moving deeper inland with each attack.  The Captain of the
Guard wishes to know what you would have us do?"

Lothiriel looked at her sister. Erchirion's face was pale. 
No attack had come so close to Dol Amroth in centuries. 
Erchirion's voice faltered as she spoke,  "Send riders to
get word to all of the outlying homes and settlements.  Let
them know of the situation and tell them they are welcome to
seek refuge behind the city gates if they so wish."

"How many riders do you wish to send?" 

Erchirion hesitated and looked at her sister.  They knew
nothing of troop movements or strengths.  This was beyond
what either of them had been prepared for.  Lothiriel
glanced down at her brothers, now commanding a fleet of
imaginary troops.  They probably knew more of war than
either of them did. 

"What do you suggest?"  Erchirion said.

Rihiel was taken aback by the question but then considered
it.  "I would go with no less than 10."

"Then send 20,"  Erchirion said. 

Rihiel bowed and raced down the steps. 

"Attacks so close?"  Lothiriel said.  "What is going on?"

Erchirion shook her head.  "I don't know, but we must get
word to father.  We can no more command armies than we can
wield a sword."

Lothiriel grinned.  "When papa returns I shall give him a
stern lecture about why he should have instructed us in the
finer points of combat."

*****************************

Many leagues away within the Golden Halls of Meduseld, King
Eomer and Prince Imrahil were sitting around the hearth in
quiet contemplation.  Since the war had begun, Eomer had not
had a chance to sit in silence.  Though the roar of his
thoughts were loud enough to forgo him feeling any sense of
peace at the solitude of the morning,  Eomer knew that he
would find few such moments of quiet in the coming months.

Hundreds of his people were homeless, their homes looted and
burned as orcs trampled across the grasslands.  Skirmishes
with orcs were still being reported around the borders of
the Mark.  And the burden of rebuilding his homeland fell to
his shoulders. 

His shoulders. 

That thought was almost as foreign and as strange to him as
the Elves who had filled the hall with song not three nights
before.  In all his years of living in Edoras, Eomer could
never remember having more honored guests among them.  The
beauty of the Lady Galadriel and Lady Arwen alone was enough
to bring a gasp of awe to all who had seen them.  And the
music! Never had such music rang through the halls of
Meduseld. 

As he had listened to the music of the Elves his eyes had
strayed to the tapestries of the Kings of old.  And it
seemed to Eomer as if he were in a dream for he swore he saw
the Eorl the Young and his horse racing along the grasslands
to battle.  Of course, it could also have been the wine. 
Eomer chuckled to himself.

Imrahil glanced at the King and raised his eyebrows in
question.  "Do that too often and your people will think you
are mad."

"You sound as if you speak from experience,"  Eomer said.

"I do." 

"I shall try to keep that in mind,"  Eomer said.  

"You would do well too," Imrahil said.  "Though, in my case,
my bouts of talking to myself were brought on by my
daughters."

"Theoden had much the same problem with Eowyn,"  Eomer said,
with a grin.  He stood and they walked to the porch of the
Golden Hall.   

"Should my daughters have been like the Lady Eowyn, I do not
think I would have survived their childhoods,"  Imrahil said
wryly. 

Eomer laughed out loud.  "I pity to see what a toll married
life will have on Faramir."

"If that is any indication then I do not think Faramir will
mind it too much,"  Imrahil said, staring into the distance. 

Eomer followed Imrahil's gaze down the steep trail that lead
down to the armory.  Behind the armory, obscured from the
view of the path, Eowyn and Faramir stood locked in an
embrace.  Faramir started to pull away but Eowyn pulled him
back to her fiercely pressing her lips to his. 

"It will be a long year indeed before the wedding,"  Eomer
said, laughing.  "Eowyn may begrudge me for making her wait
the allotted time."

"Faramir hopes to have Ithilien cleared of all remnants of
evil by then,"  Imrahil said.

They turned their glances away from the glory of young love
and walked back into Meduseld.  "How long before you leave?" 
Eomer asked.

"First light tomorrow,"  Imrahil said.  "The majority of my
troops are still under Lord Aragorn's command clearing out
the last of the orcs around Mordor.  Those that I have with
me, I will take to Ithilien."  Imrahil sounded strong but a
moment of weariness passed over his face.

"How long has it been since you have seen the lands of your
home?"  Eomer asked.

"Well on 6 months,"  Imrahil said.  "My daughter Erchirion
was to send word if any trouble befell them, but I have
heard no messages so all is well."

"It is a comfort to know that there are yet some lands that
war did not touch,"  Eomer said.

Imrahil nodded.  "It is that thought that keeps me fighting
the battles.  Knowing that my family and my homeland lay in
peace."  Imrahil smiled.  "But you would not know of such
feelings yet.  You are too young and the restlessness of
youth is still within your eyes.  I can see it.  Even now, I
think you are riding somewhere out beyond the gates of
Edoras in the rolling grasslands."

"Are my thoughts that plain upon my face?"

"Only to one who has stood in your place,"  Imrahil said. 

*************************************

The sun had barely risen as Imrahil, Faramir, and Eowyn said
their goodbyes to Eomer beyond the gates of Edoras. 

Imrahil bowed slightly.  "Eomer chance and fate brought us
together on the battlefield, but I consider myself lucky to
have you as an ally."

"As do I,"  Eomer said, bowing slightly.  "One day, I should
like to see the great sea you speak so fondly of."

A wide smile spread across Imrahil's face, "One look at it
and your beloved grasslands will seem small in comparison."

"Perhaps they will seem small but no less beloved."  Eowyn
said.  "For no one loves the Mark more than my brother." 
Eowyn wrapped her arms around her brother in a fond embrace. 

"As hard as I try, I simply cannot see you walking the halls
of Minas Tirith every day followed by a gaggle of doting
servants,"  Eomer said.

Eowyn grinned at him and playfully punched him on the arm. 
"I have no intentions of having doting servants.  The Lady
Arwen has already spoken to me about improving my archery
skills.  When next you see me, I shall be the same woman I
am now."

"I do hope so.  I hate to think that Gondorian life will
change you,"  Eomer said, softly. 

Eowyn's _expression softened and she smiled at him.  Standing
on tiptoes, she pressed a quick kiss to his cheek.  "The
time will fly by,"  Eowyn said.

"I hope you are right,"  Eomer said.  "Be careful."

"I shall take care of her,"  Faramir said. 

"I would not even ask you to try,"  Eomer said with a laugh. 
"Though if you do manage to keep up with her, then I should
think you a very worthy match for her affections."

"Keeping up with her shall be my top priority,"  Faramir
said.  Then seeing Imrahil's and Eowyn's disapproving
expressions he added.  "Of course that only comes after
cleaning Ithilien of orcs."

Eomer watched as they mounted their horses and rode away
with the sound of his sister's laughter ringing in his ears. 
To him, it was the only sound that could bring more joy to
his heart than the songs of the Elves. 

********************************

The day that dawned in Dol Amroth was not nearly as
enjoyable.  Lothiriel was pacing the library.  Throughout
her 23 years whenever she was troubled, she found solace in
the quiet halls of the library.  Today the smell of the old
books did nothing to soothe her spirit.  As hard as she
tried, she could not lose herself in ancient lore.  Her
thoughts were too bent on the present.  An idea that had
been sitting in the back of her mind had formed into a full-
blown plan.  That is, if she had the nerve to go through
with it.   

At dawn, Erchirion had joined the Captain of the Guards in
counsel behind closed doors.  Three hours later and the door
still had not opened.  They had turned away all offers of
refreshment and had locked themselves within her father's
study.  Lothiriel was considering ways to climb in through
the windows of the study when the library door opened and
Erchirion walked into the room.

Her eyes were red from weeping. 

"Talk to me,"  Lothiriel said.

"Oh Lotty, this was not at all what I expected,"  Erchirion
sat down at the table that ran the length of the room and
lay her head in her hands.  "I wanted so badly to make him
proud of me and all I have done is fail him."

"You have done nothing to fail him."

"I'm handing command of Dol Amroth over to the Captain of
the guard."

"You can't!"

"Temporarily until papa returns,"  Erchirion said.  "I did
not want to do it.  But I knew of no other way.  There will
be no formal notice, so not as to alarm the people of the
city and I will be consulted on every decision but I am
leaving most of it in the hands of Dolore."

"Have you transferred control to him yet?"  Lothiriel asked.

"Not until tomorrow at dusk,"  Erchirion said.

"Good, then as your last official command, you can order him
to give me 10 riders.  I am leaving at day break and I do
not plan to return until I find Papa,"  Lothiriel said.

Erchirion started to protest but Lothiriel stopped her. 
"No, I have thought this out.  Whoever is attacking the
couriers may be reluctant to attack a party of 10 riders
escorting a woman."

"But Minas Tirith is leagues away!"

"That is why I am going to Rohan instead.  The King there
should have news of the war,"  Lothiriel said.  "I will not
see my home crumbled into ruins."

Erchirion nodded.  "You are right.  But I should be the one
to go.  I am the eldest."

Lothiriel shook her head.  "That is exactly why you should
stay.  The people have grown accustomed to your presence as
a leader.  You saw the way the man looked at you yesterday. 
He bowed at your feet.  People respect you.  You have the
look of a queen."

Erchirion did not speak for a long moment.  Lothiriel held
her breath.  Hoping against hope that her sister would
agree, and at the same time dreading it would happen.  The
seconds stretched out indefinitely.  Finally Erchirion
spoke, "You should get packed if you are leaving at day
break."

Lothiriel nodded, her stomach tying into knots.  All of her
life she had wanted to leave Dol Amroth.  See what lay
beyond the Hills of Tornost.   For years, she and Erchirion
had begged their father to take them to Minas Tirith, but
their father had said the journey was too long and strenuous
for young girls.  After their mother died, they were in
charge of tending to their younger brothers and travel was
not an option.  But now, finally, after all these years,
Lothiriel was going to travel.  Unfortunately, it was not
under the circumstances she had expected.

* * * *

Erchirion sat within her chambers listening to Dolore's
incessant ranting which had begun the moment he learned of
Lothiriel's plans and hadn't stopped since. 

Erchirion had all but drowned out the sound of his chatter,
choosing instead to let her gaze fall on Rihiel, who was
waiting his turn to speak with her on the far side of the
room. 

Dolore paced the ground in front of Erchirion.  "My lady,
please listen to reason.  Your father will have my head when
he discovers that I have allowed his daughter to go
traipsing about the countryside."

Erchirion stood her ground.  "My father will have your head
if his country falls into ruin while under your command.  My
sister is doing what should have been done months ago."

"Letting your sister go off on this vain quest simply proves
that you are unfit for leadership,"  Dolore said.

"Do not speak to me in such a fashion.  I may have handed
control of the city over to you, but that does not go into
effect until tomorrow,"  Erchirion said.

"And what will you do if I should recall my troops
tomorrow?"  Dolore said. 

"You would not dare,"  Erchirion said.  "If you did so, I
would think you * wanted * our city to be taken by dark
forces.  For you seem to have done little so far to make our
situation known to my father."

Dolore marched from the chambers. 

Rihiel bowed respectfully to Erchirion.  "He is right you
know.  Your sister is riding into great danger."

"I am not the fool Dolore takes me for.  And I should hope
you do not take me for one as well,"  Erchirion said, icily.

"I have taken you for many things, but never a fool," 
Rihiel said.

Erchirion's _expression softened.  She sighed.  "I am well
aware of the danger Lotty is riding into.  It consumes my
thoughts.  But I see that I have little other choice."

Rihiel reached out and took Erchirion's hands in his own. 
"If there is anything I can do to ease your burden's, please
ask.  You know that you have my loyalty, no matter who is in
command of the Dol Amroth."

Erchirion squeezed his hands.  The words he spoke were
bordering on treasonous, but they were music to her ears. 

* * * * * *

The day passed much too quickly.  Lothiriel spent most of
the day deciding what would be appropriate to take with her
on such a journey.  Erchirion had taken care of getting the
riders ready.  What trouble she had in convincing the
Captain of the Guard, she did not reveal to Lothiriel.  In
fact, Lothiriel did not see her but in passing glances until
the sun was low in the sky.  Erchirion insisted that they go
down to the beach and watch the sunset.  It was a long walk
but well worth it.

Lothiriel gazed out at the ocean.  A sight that she had
never tired off in all her life.  It consumed her senses,
the endless expanse of water.  The roar of the waves.  The
crisp sting of the wind whipping across the sea spray.  The
salty smell of the water.  She had never been away from it.

"Are you frightened?"  Erchirion asked, as she took her
hand.

"Terrified."

Erchirion gave her sister's hand a squeeze.

"I have never gone a day without the ocean,"  Lothiriel
said.

"Nor have I." 

"I am homesick and I have not even left yet,"  Lothiriel
said.

"Once you cross the hills, you will be so caught up in the
adventure of travel and new sites that you will forget all
about being homesick,"  Erchirion said.

"I hope you are right."

"I know I am."

"Remember how we used to play Minas Tirith?"  Lothiriel
asked.

"We were on a long journey to visit the Steward and to
pledge our undying allegiance to him and the crown."
Erchirion  said.

"And to rid the world of the dragon that lived beyond the
gates of Mordor,"  Lothiriel said.

"We slay that dragon at least 4 times a day that summer."  

"Do you think that Papa has slayed the evil beyond Gondor?" 
Lothiriel asked.

"I don't know, Lotty. But if anyone can find the answer it
is you."

* * * * * * * * * *


The sun was setting as Eomer sat within the great hall of
Meduseld.  For the first time since he had become King, he
was completely alone.

His eyes wandered over the tapestries, up the wooden
columns, to the high ceiling.  In all his life when he had
imagined his future, being King had never entered his
wildest dreams.  He had no need for power as some men did. 
Nor did he seek out the glory that came from battle.  He had
been content with what he had.  Following in his father's
footsteps to be the Third Marshal had been the fulfillment
of all the plans Eomer had ever bothered to make.  And in
the past few years Eomer had been so preoccupied by his
uncle's failing health and Grima's silent but all too
obvious threats to Eowyn, that he had given little thought
to anything but preserving his homeland and protecting his
sister.  For a while he wasn't certain if he even had it in
his power to do that.

On one never-ending night spent locked within the cells of
his own home, Eomer felt as if every bad thing that could
possibly happen was happening and he was powerless to stop
it.  And for one horrifying day when he thought Eowyn was
dead on the battlefield, all of his nightmares had come
true. 

And now Eowyn was off in Minas Tirith building a new life
for herself.  And though he wanted nothing more than her
happiness, he missed her presence now as he never had
before.  So many people were lost.  Theodred was gone. 
Theoden was gone.  And the responsibility of Rohan had
fallen to him.  It was not a question of wanting it.  Rohan
was more dear to his heart than words could ever possibly
express.  But Eomer, though well-versed in the arts of
battle, had never been groomed as Theodred had for the
throne.  And he could not keep the worries from his heart,
"Would he be a good King?"

Eomer sighed.  Moping certainly wasn't a very Kingly
quality.  He rose from his chair and stretched up to his
full height. 

He walked down the hill that lead to the cluster of wooden
bunkhouses where his household eored lived.  While Third
Marshal, Eomer had spent many nights within those bunks
himself.  As King his days of sleeping in the bunkhouse were
long over.  In many ways he regretted that.  He always felt
it foolish to sleep apart from his own men.  Simply because
one was of a higher rank, did not mean he had to abuse the
privilege. 

Eomer walked into their crowded dining hall and got in line. 
The rowdy noise of the men instantly lifted his spirits.  He
sat down beside Elfhelm his lieutenant and Marshal of the
East-Mark.  It wasn't long before he was exchanging banter
with the rest of them.

Eomer was finishing the last of his food when a stable-hand
burst through the doors at a run.  

"My Lord, the horses. . ."

Eomer and Elfhelm followed the stable-hand through the gates
of Edoras and down to the outlying stables. 

Within the stables lay three dead horses.  Arrows protruded
from their hearts and carved upon their skin was the eye of
Sauron.

Eomer clenched his teeth in fury.  While he examined the
horses, Elfhelm investigated outside.  He soon returned, his
_expression grim. 

"There are three sets of tracks, fresh.  They lead around
the gates," Elfhelm said.

"Show me,"  Eomer said. 

Eomer grabbed a torch and followed the footprints around the
northern side of the gates. 

"They crouched low to avoid being seen by the guards,"
Elfhelm said.

"In this new moon, they were practically invisible,"  Eomer
said.

At the far southern edge of the gates, the footprints veered
off south and joined the path to Dunharrow.

"Get the eored ready, at first light we ride to Dunharrow," 
Eomer said.

*************************************
Reference Dates:
The Year 3019 of the Third Age
Arwen & Aragorn's wedding - June
Funeral of King Theoden - August 10

**************************************
 
Disclaimer: Recognizable characters, etc, belong to JRR Tolkien. This is a non profit story, no copyright infringement intended.
 
Extra note: The author (Jen) was playing around with the genders of Erchirion here.