Title: Rider of the Mark
Cast: Gamling. Other miscellaneous (hah!) Rohirrim.
Beta: Alex and Dame Niamh
Disclaimer: It ain't mine!! nada!!Gamling and Cohorts belong to the powerful and Mighty JRRT and PJ. No money, no assets, no life apparently! Aefre and Willan are mine. So are the horses!
Time: From late TTT into ROTK and beyond.
Dedication: To the seasoned woman, who isn't perfect. We deserve love too.
Many thanks to Nove for her insight to the Rohirrim and to Dame who has faithfully bounced this bunny with me for several months getting it into shape.
Also, much love and respect back to Bruce Hopkins, who brought this wonderful character to life. I didn't make Gamling sexy, sunshine; you did.
Rider of the Mark 01/?
So there were these Hobbits, see?
The fortress at Helm's Deep had almost been lost.
Despite the Elves led by that arrogant March Warden in his Shoot Me Please Red Cloak, despite the Ranger, despite it all...
It had almost fallen.
Blown apart by magics unknown; the look on Théoden King's face, aghast; shocked. Gamling knew what was going through his Lord's mind.
Slowly, they had been beaten back, almost into submission. There had been no way for the women and children to escape.
In a last ditch attempt, the Ranger had persuaded Théoden King to ride out one last time. To ride to Glory.
Even Gamling had to admit, the timing was exquisite. As they had ridden down the embankment, riding over Uruk hai after Uruk hai, the sun had risen in the east, bringing the Grey Pilgrim, the Riders of the Riddermark.
The glare of the sun was blinding, glinting off the burnished steel of armor and swords. And almost too quickly, it was over.
The flag of the White Hand flew no more.
The Rohirrim had gathered and buried their dead, their heroes. They had buried the Elves, had gone to great pains to mark their graves carefully. Théoden, Éomer, and Gamling had watched as Legolas, Gimli and the Ranger personally laid the Elf, Haldir, beneath one of the few trees in the valley.
They burned the Uruk hai. They burned their bodies, their clothing; spread the ashes to nourish the soil. They did not burn or dispose of their armor or weapons - no, those were too precious a commodity to destroy, and so they kept them. They would be scrubbed , refurbished, melted down if necessary and reworked. For the glory of Rohan.
Then they made their weary way home, back to Edoras. Home to rebuild, to grieve.
Home to await the summons of Gondor.
Gamling sat, drenched to the under linings of his leggings.
Damned, hairy-footed Halflings! Dancing on the table!
"Why scowl you?" The grizzled woman serving him set another tankard of ale in front of him. The Captain of the Rohirrim grabbed it and sank his nose deep within the brim.
"Damned thing kicked my last one in my lap! I am soaked to the skin!" He took a deep pull.
Béma! Here they come again. He leaned back, bringing the tankard with him, as Merry and Pippin made another drunken pass on the table.
The old woman - Eldywythe - gave him a toothless grin. "Ye won't want to be sleeping in that mess. Go to the bathhouse, m'lord."
Gamling's nose was still deep in the tankard. "And leave such auspicious company?" His eyes rose to meet hers. "Think of the fun I would miss!" He did not sound as if he thought he would be missing any.
"I hear women are aiding in the baths..." Eldywythe crooned.
Gamling never removed his nose from his tankard. "I take your daughter is there?"
The old woman straightened up, a scowl to match his on her face. Ah. He hit a nerve. So many women were widowed. Too many. Although many grieved, they sought protection. Those that thought themselves too old to marry, were pushing their daughters into the arms of the few available men. Confirmed bachelors were suddenly eyeing young maidens...
Gamling propped his foot on his bedroll. What was the point, men suddenly wanting a girl or woman to wive? Career soldiers did NOT marry, especially when there were so many willing wenches. He, himself, was a Marshal of the Riddermark; Théoden King's right arm, captain of the First Army.
Sweet young things, however...
Marriage. Bah! Not when there was a war to be fought.
This war is not over. Not by any means!
Still. Sweet young things...
In the baths...
Gamling buried his nose again in the tankard. The war was not over, there as no need to rush into something... permanent.
Soap. In the hands of a sweet, young thing...
He stood up, bringing the tankard with him.
There was a quiet spot in the corner, close to the fireplace. He had already had enough toasting of the dead, Béma take them swiftly on his wings to the houses of their fathers. A good night's sleep would do him good. He leaned over to pick up his bedroll...
Only to remember his leggings were plastered to his working, moving parts in the most uncomfortable way.
He would wake up stiff and dry and...
A bath. At this hour.
He looked longingly at the spot in front of the huge fire. Perhaps, if he was quick, he would get himself cleaned, wash out his leggings and could be back before the spot was taken.
Right. And someday, Mearas would fly!
Sweet things in the baths. Sometimes, they had warm spots, close to where the pots boiled constantly. An additional body in his bedroll would only make things nicer.
Sweet young things.
'Gamling.' That nasty little voice in his head went off. 'She might be ugly.'
Well, if she was ugly, he could always close his eyes. It was night; it was dark in the Golden Hall, and he didn't have to look at her. He refilled his tankard, just in case, and as he threw on his cloak and shouldered his bedroll, he watched in disgusted glee as the two dancing Hobbits kicked yet another tankard of ale in Éomer's lap.
Early spring had not yet arrived at the Riddermark. Cold winds blew from the mountains, whipping his green mantle about him with the snapping crispness of dried leaves. He was damned proud of that cloak; had gone through Melkor's Caves and back to earn it. He had sacrificed much, worked hard as a gangly boy, worked hard to improve, to understand the workings of defense and leadership. He had dug out his fair share of horse dung and cleaned many a trough. That Théoden King trusted him, he had no doubt and the craggy soldier would willingly lay down his life to protect his King.
The baths were in a largish wooden shed, attached to the back of the Golden Hall, near the kitchens, and as he made his way around, he could hear the giggling of the women inside; low murmurings of men. Sweet thing or no sweet thing, he wanted to get this mess off him and get out of his clothes. Again, the thought crossed his mind to hurry back to gain a spot in front of the fire; his clothes would dry overnight.
Sweet, young things...
Great Harpy of Helm's Dike, would that incessant voice in his head never be quiet? He threw open the door of the baths and made his way in.
The baths, for lack of a better word, were really troughs; giant, wooden troughs. Many lanterns and globes hung from the rafters and sat on rocks, giving the place subdued light. Some nervous soul had hung great bolts of cloth and leather from the rafters, separating one from another, giving the bather privacy.
Gamling scoffed at the thought - privacy. So little of it in the ranks. He normally bathed in the river, with the other men; who never thought anything of shielding themselves. Shyness was for women-
For some reason, a compliant, soft body in his bedroll was looking better and better. He made his way towards the furthest empty stall, clicking his fingers at the huge troll of a man in the back to begin filling up the tub. He set his bedroll and his pack high on a shelf; the last thing he wanted was for those to get wet. He was toeing the heels of his boots when the troll and another man began to carry steaming buckets into the stall. Eyeing the water as it began to fill the trough, he considered throwing his clothes in as well, but decided to let them wait until he was done bathing the grime and ale from his body and then toss them in. It wouldn't be the first time he had placed his clothing to dry in front of the fire at night.
The heated water was rising higher and higher in the trough.
Sweet, young things.
He scratched his beard. That could do with a bit of washing too. Some women weren't picky, but he was. If the girl looked as if she needed washing, well, he would just pull her in with him.
"Are you going to get in or not? I've got better things to do than to wait for a man who is scared of the water!"
Gamling turned abruptly at the rich alto that invaded his thoughts. All musings of sweet, young things rose and disappeared through the hole in the roof, along with the steam rising from his trough.
She was not sweet. Nor was she young.
She wasn't a witch, or old.
She was a ... something.
That's it. She was a something.
The woman stood, fists on her hips. She was neither short or tall, young or old, beautiful or ugly. He might have considered her passing fair, had she not been scowling. He recognized her; one of the serving wenches flitting here and there. Gamling would have continued to stare at her except she rushed to him and spun him around.
"I swear! Men! You can't do a thing without help!" Her arms went around his waist. "It's a wonder that you can even dress yourselves for battle!" Thud! His leather belt and scabbard were tossed to the side, discarded like last year's beard trimmings. Her hands went to the hammered clasp at his throat.
"No!" Suddenly, the reticent Rohirrim came to life. "You'll not-"
"Not what?" The green cloak slid from his shoulders, and he watched her deftly fold the rich fabric, hands meticulously respectful to the emblem emblazoned on it. Eyes as dark and as rich as the dirt in the farmlands gazed up at him. "Afraid I will drop it? I know well the pride one such as you would take in this." She moved away, carefully placing the mantle high on the shelf. She gave it a longing pat before turning back to him. "What? Do I have to undress you too?"
Despite his earlier musings, Gamling suddenly felt the blush of embarrassment spread over his cheeks. "No, I do not need your help." Staring her in the eye, he pulled his tunic over his head and dropped it on the floor.
"I don't suppose you'll be washing your clothing as well?"
Fantasies of a sweet, young thing in his bedroll this night were fast dissipating.
"Yes," he spat tersely, "I will be washing my clothing." His hands moved to the lacings of his leggings. "After I finish with me."
He expected her to turn her back, go elsewhere to retrieve soaps and what not, but instead, she stood, arms crossed and hip cocked, and stared him in the eye as he peeled the sticky wool from his legs. He dropped the clammy, smelling leggings on top of his tunic, leaving himself standing in only his drawers and skin.
Her eyes never left his face. "You have a nicely turned ankle for a man."
Gamling cocked an eyebrow at that. Maybe at least a sweet thing was back on for occupancy in his bedroll. She didn't have to be young. Sometimes, a little seasoning was better than-
"You appear to have had a run - in with a tankard of ale, m'lord." Her eyes raked down over him and she was grinning mischievously.
Looks like you are back on for a lonely night in the bedroll.
"Try two Halflings dancing on the table." He went around to the trough in a vain, unconscious attempt to cover himself while he pulled off the linen undergarment. He stepped quickly into the tub, strangely grateful when he saw her back was turned as he settled into the steaming water.
"I heard about them. Full of life, they are. Here." The woman set a largish, steaming bucket down in the corner of the stall. She picked up his clothes and set them in it. "They get cleaner in water that hasn't been bathed in."
Gamling's gracious acceptance of her thoughtfulness was drowned as a bucket of water was unceremoniously dumped over his head. His hands gripped the sides of the tub as he angrily shook the wet mass from his face.
"Béma's... balls, woman! The least you could do was give a man some warning!"
The Horse Lord felt a solid thump across the back of his head. "My apologies, m'lord! You're in a bath, you should expect a dunkin'!" Another whack. "Do not swear around me!"
Before he could respond, he felt her hands in his hair, a soft bar of soap in one. "Damn you. I know women that would kill for this mass of hair and you treat it like a curtain."
Against his wishes, Gamling felt himself relaxing into the gentle kneading of her fingers. "It's hair. What should I do with it? Wear it up in ribbons?"
Unbeknownst to him, the woman behind him smiled at his joke.
"Like a woman? I think not." She had lathered it up and was contemplating the suds. "No soft-smelling softling are you." Her voice dropped down several notches. "My husband used to let me wash his hair. It was one of the few luxuries we enjoyed together."
Gamling stiffened slightly. "Used to?"
She removed her fingers from his hair and again, he was doused in warm water.
"Aye. I'm widowed. And no, I'm not looking for a husband."
Sweet thing back in the bedroll! Make that saucy thing...
Strong fingers worked the kinks in his back, his neck; knots he had forgotten about, that he had gotten used to... wasn't a man supposed to have a pain right... there?
The hands now moved forward, over his shoulders, to his chest. Muscles and erogenous zones long unattended immediately came to life. Slowly, the warrior moved his head to the side, allowing her free rein to his neck and pectoral muscles.
It felt right nice.
"So," he looked her from the corner of his eye, "do you want me to stand, so you can pay such close attention to the rest of me?"
For a moment, time stood still as she cocked her head and contemplated the unspoken offer from the highly ranked soldier.
Then soap was flung, hard into the water, stinging suds splashing into Gamling's face. His hands went to his eyes.
"No, m'lord. Allow me!" A bucket of cold water splashed over him, cooling any ardor he was feeling. He heard the bucket bounce as it was flung to the floor. "Wash your own bloody arse!" By the time he got the water from his eyes, all that was left of her was the breeze of cool air from the curtain swinging madly.
Lonely night in front of the fireplace. Fine.
Except when he finally got bathed, his clothes cleaned, redressed himself and got his bedroll and gear rolled up, and got back to the Golden Hall, the nice warm spot in front of the fireplace was taken.
In fact, all the good spots had been taken.
Gamling shook his head in ire and headed to the next warmest place he knew.
Outside, down the hill, towards the lower end of Edoras.
To the stables.
"Move over, Dréogan!" He slung his gear into the corner and proceeded to drape his wet clothing on the stall door. His horse looked over his shoulder, munching on timothy hay, the look in his eye clear to his Rider.
What? You again?
Taking special care to hang the cloak of his rank high off the floor, Gamling flipped out his bedroll and moved into the far corner of the stall, on a mound of relatively clean straw, away from the tail end of his horse.
While the Marshal meticulously spread his roll, he felt a gentle prod at his hip. He never turned around; simply reached to the pouch tied to his waist and pulled out the apple.
"You're spoiled, you know. You're a brute, stubborn and you refuse to neck rein! Give me one reason to keep you?"
As if to answer, Dréogan blew timothy - sweetened breath, ruffling the still damp strands of hair that lay on Gamling's shoulder. Nickering softly, he grabbed the apple from the Horse Lord's hand and ambled to the opposite side of the stall, giving his Rider all the room he could give him.
The brazier in the middle of the stable belched, but at least it was warm and dry. Gamling settled in for yet another long night with his closest friend.
A/N: Béma is the Rohirrim word for the Vala the Elves called Oromë. As the great huntsman and horseman of the Valar, he and his steed Nahar were known to the horse-loving people of Rohan, who claimed that their great horses, the mearas, had ancestors brought out of the West by Béma himself (from the Encyclopedia of Arda)