Eowyn was fast approaching her sixteenth birthday. Her uncle, King Theoden, had promised her that she was to have a horse for her present. For the last month, she had spent what free time she had down by the pastures, watching the horses. Often, she had also seen a small ceremony taking place. It looked so solemn and formal, and she wondered greatly about it. After the last one, she asked the Eomaegister what it was about. All he would tell her was that it was indeed a very solemn ritual, but that she would only find out when the time to own her own horse had come.
A memory took her back to when her brother, Eomer, had received his horse at the age of sixteen. He never even told her that he was getting one! That summer, she had gone with her mentor, Rian, to Dor-er-Ernil. When she returned, Eomer met her astride his horse. A beautiful, white coated, young stallion he had named Firefoot. Admiring both horse and being just a little jealous of her brother, Eowyn hadn't noticed the bandage wrapped around his left hand, nor the mark upon the Firefoot's neck.
Bringing herself out of her reverie, she sat down cross-legged on the ground, hoping to catch a glimpse of the horse that had caught her fancy. The mare was now two-years old. Eowyn had only seen her a few times, but had fallen in love with her at first sight. The horse was a creamy white all over, save for a bright reddish color that went from her knees to her hooves. Smiling, Eowyn had even thought of a name for the mare; Leoflic. It meant 'beloved, favorite', which the horse was for her. Hopefully, she'd be able to have Leoflic for her own.
'My birthday is too far away,' Eowyn lamented silently. 'Why can I not have my horse today?' The thought was folly, as she well knew her birthday was only two weeks from then.
A soft, cool breeze rippled over the plains and played in Eowyn's long golden hair. Tilting her head up to the sky, she closed her eyes and smiled. It was a perfect day, the weather was still warm, and the sun was shining brightly overhead. When she saw Leoflic in the past, it was always on days such as this. During the next breeze, her head tilted back again, and this time she spread her arms as if to fly. She couldn't wait to do this on the back of Leoflic.
"So this is where I find you," a cheerful voice said from behind her. Eowyn started to her feet in surprise.
"What are you doing out here all alone?" Rian asked her. She was smiling, but there was a slight note of reproach in her voice.
"I came to watch the horses," Eowyn began.
"There are only a few in this area today. The rest are in other pastures."
Eowyn sighed. "Leoflic is not among the others. I looked. I was hoping I'd see her here today."
"Oh child. You aren't in trouble, I promise. Well, maybe a little for not having a guard with you," Rian laughed as she put her arm around Eowyn's shoulders. "Who is this Leoflic?"
Smiling up at her mentor, Eowyn told Rian all about the two-year old Leoflic. In the telling, she noticed how Rian seemed to want to see the mare. 'Nearly as much as I do,' she thought. After finishing, she waited for her mentor's voiced reaction, knowing there was one coming.
"She sounds very beautiful, Eowyn," she said wistfully.
"Oh, she is, Rian. She is absolutely the most beautiful horse I've ever seen!"
Rian looked at the small band of horses that had stopped to graze. There was a reddish band stallion with a white star on his forehead and a creamy white mare next to him. Assuming this was the lead mare, Rian had figured that these two must be Leoflic's parents. Scanning the horses again, she noticed a smaller mare come from behind the stallion. 'A creamy white mare with red boots from knee to hoof,' the description from Eowyn ran through her head. 'Leoflic has come.'
Moving slightly, so as not to startle the horses, Rian raised her hand to point quietly at the band. Eowyn looked and then bounced just a little before clamping a hand to her mouth so her squeal of delight wouldn't scare Leoflic, or the others, away. They stood watching the horses as they grazed placidly for a while. Suddenly, a flock of loudly chirping birds flew overhead, startling the horses. They all ran off at a gallop, faster than any Rian had seen.
"Eowyn? Are those horses part of your uncle's herd?"
"I think so. Why do you ask?"
"I believe you've chosen one of the mearas, dear."
"Oh... oh no!" Eowyn said with dismay. Only the King was permitted to ride any of the mearas. A single tear fell down Eowyn's face. Before she could stop them, more tears fell. Rian heard the soft sob from her charge and gathered her up in her arms to hold her.
"Do not cry, Eowyn. You've had your heart set on Leoflic for quite sometime. I can tell. If the Fates decide it, she may also choose you. Should that happen, I do not think even your uncle could deny you Leoflic."
"Are you excited about your birthday, Eowyn?" Theoden asked his niece while they were at supper a few days later.
"Very much so, sir," she said excitedly.
"Rian tells me that you've been watching the horses," he started.
"Oh yes, uncle. They are so beautiful."
"Have you picked a favorite?"
"I have," she started, but the hesitated.
"Tell me," he prompted.
Since Rian told her that she had inadvertently chosen one of the mearas, she had been rather hesitant to mention Leoflic at all. Unable to stop herself now, she continued on with her description.
"She has a beautiful creamy white coat, but for the reddish color boots from knee to hoof on each leg," she began. A look of recognition flashed in Theoden's eyes, but she did not notice. "She's about two years old, and is still with her band. When she runs, the wind whips through her mane and tail, fanning them out like flags. And she's so graceful, uncle! I've never seen her stumble over anything, even when she was a yearling, and her jumps are spectacular!" Eowyn finished with a wistful gaze. Her thoughts had turned to riding Leoflic, and she was unaware of Theoden's slight, disapproving frown.
Indeed, he had recognized the horse from her coloring. More so from the description, however brief, of the mare's band. Eowyn had chosen one of the mearas within his own herd. Traditionally, no one but the King could ride, or even touch, one of the mearas. It seemed to Theoden that his young niece had her heart set on this particular mare, and he was not sure if he would go against tradition should the mare choose her during Eowyn's bonding ceremony.
After they finished with their evening meal, the family gathered in Theoden's sitting room. Theodred had brought Rian in with him, and all were conversing quietly over the day's events. During a lull, Theoden cleared his throat and stood up. All attention was drawn to him and they waited patiently.
"I know Eowyn's birthday is still another week and a half away, but I've decided to let her have her bonding ceremony at this week's end."
"This week's end?" Eomer said a little incredulously. "I had to wait until I was fully sixteen for my bonding ceremony!"
"Eowyn is more than ready for it now," Theoden stated firmly. "If I recall correctly, nephew, you were concerned more about your sword and spear training than having your own horse."
Eowyn watched her brother flinch from the admonition, but could not help but smile at the situation. Eomer might now be twenty-one, but he still had some of the petulant little boy in him. She looked back at her uncle and he winked at her. As the moment passed, Eowyn remembered something that had confused her.
"Uncle, what is this bonding ceremony you speak of?"
"It is a very solemn ceremony, Eowyn. You must conduct yourself properly. Of the ceremony itself, I cannot say. It is special for each person, and each ceremony is different."
"Am I to be alone?" she asked with a small tremor in her voice. It sounded all too daunting, and she hoped she'd be allowed someone's company.
"Of course not! The Eomaegister will be with you during the ceremony. We," and he indicated the small group of people around her, "will be watching and waiting."
A sigh of relief escaped her, and she smiled sheepishly, a rosy blush coloring her cheeks. Theodred laughed from his seat behind her and came over to wrap an arm around her shoulders.
"You didn't think we'd miss your bonding ceremony, did you, cousin?" he asked her with a great smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes. He gave her a quick kiss on her forehead, and then bade everyone a good night. A few minutes later, Rian also left after hugging her charge goodnight. Before she could leave, Theoden called to her.
"Yes, your majesty?"
"I would have you help Eowyn prepare for the ceremony."
"I will, most certainly," she replied. With a curtsy, she left the room. The rest of the family left to go to their own beds for the night, and Eowyn found herself dreaming of Leoflic and what would happen during the bonding.
The sun had barely risen when Rian knocked on Eowyn's door.
"Come in!" Eowyn exclaimed from her seat by the window. She had been awake for hours and was waiting rather impatiently for her mentor to arrive. For today was, at last, the day of the bonding ceremony. Standing up to greet Rian, she smiled at the startled look on Rian's face when she entered the room.
"You're up early, Eowyn. I was thinking I'd have to drag you from the bed as usual," she said with a laugh as she set down the small tray of bottles she had brought in with her.
"I couldn't sleep, Rian!" Eowyn said in a rather dreamy sort of voice as she danced about the room.
"Dear, you're acting like a bride on her wedding day," Rian said with a smile on her face. She watched the younger girl spin about in her nightgown, her golden hair flaring out around her. Memories of the morning she was hand-fasted presented themselves in vivid clarity. She had been just as happy then. But this was Eowyn's bonding, not her wedding day. Rian collected herself and stood silent until the dancing Eowyn stopped in front of her.
"You must repair to the sitting room, Eowyn, while the servants prepare your bath. The men should be up with the tub momentarily."
"So serious, Rian?" Eowyn said with a smile.
"Of course. You remember what your uncle told you a few nights ago?"
Eowyn's smile faded a little, but the twinkle remained in her eyes. She inclined her head, then gathered up a robe, and went from her bedroom to wait in next room. A knock on the door heralded the arrival of the bathtub, and Rian let them in. She directed them to place it in front of the bed. Once the men left, serving-women arrived with buckets of steaming hot water. The filled the tub under Rian's watchful eye and then left as quietly as they came.
Walking over to the tray she had brought in, Rian selected two of the smaller bottles and brought them over to the bath. Taking the stopper out of one bottle, she poured a bit of the lavender oil into the water. The fragrance was lovely. Then she replaced the stopper, and opened the other bottle, pouring a few drops of rosemary oil into the bath. Each signified purification, which was vital for the bonding. Satisfied, she went to the door and gestured for Eowyn to come in.
Curious now, the girl opened her mouth as if to speak, but Rian shook her head and she remained silent. She re-entered her bedroom and breathed in the fragrance of the bath. Rian helped her out of her robe and guided her to go behind the screen to take off her nightgown. As Eowyn did this, Rian turned her back and closed the curtains over the window. She heard a soft splashing and knew Eowyn was in the bath. Going to the tray once again, she selected another bottle and handed it Eowyn. For a moment Eowyn did not know what to do, but when she opened the bottle the smell of roses wafted up and she smiled. It was her favorite scent, and Rian had remembered it. With perfect calm, she washed slowly. Rian helped her wash her long golden hair with the same calm.
When all was finished, Rian helped Eowyn stand and exit the bath, handing her a towel to dry off. While that was being taken care of, Rian went to the linen press. She selected several under clothes, a white under dress, and chose a simple gown of the deepest blue to go over it all. Silently, she helped her young charge get dressed, and then arranged her hair in a single plait down her back. Placing her hands on Eowyn's shoulders, she smiled and then led her from the room into the hallway. Smells of breakfast distracted Eowyn so that when they reached the royal dining room, she made to go in and sit down. Rian quickly grasped her wrist and shook her head again, leading the girl away.
Theoden stood in the front of the rest of the family when Eowyn and Rian emerged into the sunny morning air. Without a word, he offered his arm and they processed down to the main corral where an Eomaegister awaited them.
"Lady Eowyn, daughter of Eomund, will you hear the significance of the bonding ceremony?" the man spoke in a serious and firm voice. Eowyn, now suddenly nervous, could only nod her head. The man nodded in acknowledgement and then began.
"The horse is highly valued among our people. They are not nameless or worthless animals. They are dear companions and must be cared for with the highest regard and love. It may be one day that your horse will save your life." He pointed to the northeast to a rather large herd of horses. "From this moment on, you and I will be the only ones to approach the horses. I will instruct you further when we arrive." The Eomaegister gathered up a halter and a lead rope, bowed to the royal family, then walked off a few yards to wait for Eowyn. For a moment, she stood facing the Eomaegister and the herd beyond him. Gathering her courage, she turned to face her family and smiled shyly.
"We wish you luck, Eowyn," Theoden said as he stepped forward to kiss her on the forehead. "We will wait for your return here."
The rest of her family came forward and wished her luck and gave her kisses and hugs. Last to come forward was Rian, who held her a little longer than the others.
"May the Fates grant you your choice," she whispered in Eowyn's ear. Stepping back to take her place beside Theodred, Rian waved reassuringly to her charge. Waving back, Eowyn turned to follow the Eomaegister toward the herd.
Her instructions had been clear enough. She was to take the halter and lead rope with her and walk slowly into the center of the herd. Once there, she was to lay the gear down and then simply wait for any of the steeds to approach her. She was allowed to walk around slowly, but never far from the gear on the ground. It was going to be harder than she imagined. The urge to call to a horse was great indeed, but she fought it down.
More than once, a curious horse would come by and snuffle at her hair and even her out-stretched hand, but none would stay. It was as if they knew she had her heart set on another and they respected that. She would sometimes catch a glimpse of emotion from the horse in its eyes. Disappointment, perhaps? It was hard to tell. Although she was a little sad to let them down, her hopes remained high for Leoflic.
Minutes ticked away and there was still no sign of Leoflic. Eowyn began to feel desperate. She wanted so much to bring Leoflic back to her family, to show that she had been chosen by one of her uncle's mearas. She was not one for one-upmanship, but she knew her horse would be grander than even Eomer's Firefoot. A smile crept over her face as she began to envision races against Eomer and his look of consternation at being beat by his little sister. Such thoughts were unbecoming of her, and she composed herself again and calmly walked around.
The sun moved further into the west, soon to setting. The Eomaegister walked quietly to Eowyn and stood waiting for her to acknowledge him. Slowly turning about, she held herself from starting in surprise at the sudden appearance of the man.
"My Lady, we may as well head back to your family. The horses seem... uninterested this day," he spoke quietly.
"Oh, but it is still light out, sir. Can we not stay until at least dusk?" Eowyn pleaded. She did not wish to return without a horse. She knew very well she would not be reprimanded for it, but she would certainly feel very embarrassed. To her, it would feel like a failure, and she did not wish for that feeling at all.
"Very well, my lady. But we will return at dusk. With or without a horse," he said firmly. He turned and went back to where he stood before and waited.
Another hour went by, the sun was sinking further in the west, and Leoflic still had not come. Eowyn despaired. Determined to not go back without a horse, she found a grey stallion with black markings around his fetlocks that appeared to be around five years old. She approached him slowly, her hand held out, palm facing up. The stallion whickered and took a few steps forward, but then jumped back. He seemed nervous of the girl. Trying another tactic, Eowyn turned her back to him and slowly walked away. Sure enough, the grey followed her. She felt him snuffling at her hair, and she smiled before she turned around. He nervously backed away again, and Eowyn turned around again, this time walking back to the halter and lead rope she left behind.
She heard the hoofbeats of the curious grey behind her as she slowly bent to retrieve the gear from the ground. Just as she was about to guide the halter over the grey's head, she heard the fast approaching gallop of another set of horses. Looking around the grey, she caught sight of three horses running wildly toward the herd; a big red band stallion with a star on his forehead, and a creamy white mare matching him stride for stride. Eowyn's heart gave a little leap. Was Leoflic with her parents? The answer came moments after when a slightly smaller mare came from behind the two running horses, her creamy coat catching the reddish glow from the sunset, and her mane flaring behind her like a flag.
Eowyn could not help but give a little yelp of joy. The grey in front of her started backwards, and Eowyn apologetically laid a hand on his nose. As the trio of horses got closer to the herd, the other horses split apart to make way for them. The grey startled even more and turned to run away. Eowyn kept him in mind for another time. She would ask the Eomaegister if he could keep the grey close.
Her attention was soon riveted back to the trio of horses who were now trotting toward her. When they reached her, she stood as still as she could as the horses circled her. It was as if they were singling her out just as she would a horse of her choosing. Slowly, Eowyn brought her hands out, palm up, for the horses to smell her. The band stallion and the lead mare did not approach her, but Leoflic did. The two-year old snuffled at both her hands, then paced around her and snuffled her hair.
Coming back around to face Eowyn, Leoflic backed up a pace and waited, standing proudly. For a moment, Eowyn was unsure of what to do. But then she noticed a wink from Leoflic and she was once again sure of her next move. Slowly walking to meet Leoflic, she moved the halter and lead rope to her other hand, placed her free hand upon the noble forehead, and gave a little rub. Then, keeping a hand on the mare, she continued to walk around, running a hand through the creamy mane, petting the withers and then the flanks. A thrill of joy ran through her as she finally came to stand in front of Leoflic. Only one thing was left for Eowyn to do.
As slowly as she could, she brought the halter up to Leoflic's nose, letting the mare smell and snuffle at it. When she was sure of it, Eowyn guided it over the velvety nose and over the ears. She walked around Leoflic once more, assuring the horse that all was well. Then, she tied the lead rope to the halter and backed away, gently tugging at the rope. It was an unnecessary move, for Leoflic readily followed Eowyn. The Eomaegister wore a bemused look on his face when she reached him.
"My lady, are you aware that..." he began.
"Yes, sir. She is one of the mearas."
"But... your uncle..."
"My uncle witnessed Leoflic choose me, as did the rest of my family and yourself. Would you deny her choice?" Eowyn's frank boldness startled the Eomaegister out of his bemusement. He shook his head and said nothing. Instead, he took a small ceremonial dagger from his belt.
"My lady, this is the last thing we must do. I must make a small cut in your palm and on her neck. Once both cuts are made, you will place your wound on hers to allow your bloods to mingle. This is the actual bonding of horse to rider. Do you understand?"
"I do, sir. But Leoflic may not."
"She has made her choice. She knows what to expect."
He held out his hand and Eowyn placed her left hand in his. Without warning, he made a small cut in her palm. Eowyn let a little gasp of pain escape her, but she held herself steady and did not cry. Then he placed a hand upon Leoflic's neck and did the same thing. Eowyn brought her bleeding hand to Leoflic's cut and held it steady. Neither moved for the next few minutes.
The Eomaegister took hold of Eowyn's hand, wrapped a bandage around it, and then advised her to see a healer upon her return to the palace. He then took some water and wet a clean cloth and cleaned the blood from around Leoflic's wound. In another swift movement, he cut a lock of hair from Eowyn's head, and a lock from Leoflic's mane. Plaiting the two locks, he tied the ends together and wrapped the bracelet around her wrist. He told her she could return to her waiting family and introduce her new horse to them.
"Thank you, sir," she said as she curtsied. He bowed in turn, and then began to walk away.
"Wait!" Eowyn shouted after him. "Wait! I would like to ask you something."
The man turned to face her in the now fading light. "Yes?"
"The grey stallion I was about to harness. Could he be trained and placed with the army's spare horses for their use?"
"I can do that, my lady," he said and smiled. "Do you wish to name him?"
She thought for a moment, and then decided. "Name him Windfola."
"Windfola he shall be my lady," and he bowed once again, turning in the direction of the grey who stood not far away.
There were torches lit to guide her back to her family. She was smiling big and laughed when she saw the clearly astonished expressions on her kinsmen's faces. Rian's face was smiling and knowing as she came forward to greet the new horse and rider.
"I see the Fates have granted you your wish," the older woman said softly.
"Yes, and I shall be forever grateful to them," Eowyn replied, breathless with happiness. She lead Leoflic to the still gaping trio of men. "Uncle, I'd like you to meet Leoflic," she said simply. Theoden came forward and, to Eowyn's surprise, Leoflic bowed gracefully, further proving that she was mearas.
"Leoflic, I greet you," he said solemnly. "You've chosen well." At that, Leoflic winked at him and he could no longer be serious. His smile was every bit as big as Eowyn's and he laughed. "You knew exactly what you were doing, didn't you girl?" he teased her playfully, rubbing his hand on her forehead. Leoflic whickered in reply.
As they headed back home, Theodred and Eomer both congratulated her, both still rather awestruck of the whole thing. They all went to the royal stables and helped Eowyn prepare a stall for her horse. Unsure if she should tie a rope across the front of the stall, Leoflic once again surprised her by going into the stall and turning around to stay, waiting patiently. The rope was tied, and Eowyn rubbed Leoflic's velvety nose, earning a snuffle in return. On a whim, she tiptoed up to kiss Leoflic's forehead. The mare whickered at her and winked. Eowyn smiled and turned to leave, wishing her new horse a goodnight.
A sound from the gate caught her attention. With Eomer at her side, she went to investigate. Standing before the gate was the red band stallion and his creamy white lead mare. Admonished, Eowyn approached them slowly and stopped when she stood between them. She placed a steady hand on each neck and silently thanked them for allowing their daughter to choose her new path. As if they knew and understood, they each snuffled her hair and whickered at her before they turned and galloped away. Eowyn sighed and hoped that she would see them again.
One year later, Eowyn and Leoflic raced across the plains, crossing the agreed upon finish line. Slowing to a walk, she turned her horse around and waited for Eomer to cross with Firefoot. Laughing, she nudged Leoflic back into a gallop.
Eomer heard his little sister laughing before and after she passed him on the way back from finishing. He shook his head and couldn't help but smile himself as he finally brought Firefoot across the line.