Part 88 of the Elfwine Chronicles. The Elfwine Chronicles are a series of one-shots built around the family group of Eomer, Lothiriel and Elfwine. The total number will depend on how many ideas I get for new vignettes.

A/N: Hope this keeps up and we'll be to #100 in no time. Sorry if it takes me awhile to respond to your emails. Since I'm off-line at home, it can take me awhile to access my email account and read them. Looks like the Esgalmir/Theodred story will start posting Monday.

Leadership

(Aug, 7 IV)

The six-year-old boy kept out of sight behind the buildings as he edged his way to where the horses were tethered. Earlier, a group of soldiers had ridden into their village, and everyone was gathered round them as they talked of boring matters about crops and such. Those things did not interest Caffola. He was determined to get a closer glimpse of the fine war horses the soldiers had been riding.

They were a farming community, and only a few rough draft animals were in evidence here, but Caffola had the heart of a true horse lord, and he dreamed of the finest horses in all of Middle Earth. Surely these war horses must come close. Had he more experience with horses, particularly stallions trained for battle, perhaps he would have shown more caution in approaching them, but his awe and admiration drew him like a moth to flame, heedless of any danger.

A few of the animals caught his scent and cast a baleful eye at him, several offering a warning snort, but he edged eagerly forward, extending his precious gift of homage to the nearest one – a handful of crumpled, withered grass.

Firefoot rolled his eyes at the tiny human standing before him, then slowly lowered his massive grey head and nimbly plucked the grass from the little fingers without even the smallest nip. The grass was a mere swallow, and was gone in an instant. As the horse stopped chewing, the boy looked regretful that he had no more to offer. Tentatively, he reached out and stroked the broad nose, and the stallion blew out a gentle breath, then gave him an encouraging nudge with his muzzle. The gesture elicited a delighted giggle.

Suddenly there was pandemonium behind the boy, and several shouting men came running in his direction. Caffola was alarmed at being caught, fearful of what punishment awaited him and certain he was in a great deal of trouble. The next thing he knew, though, the great stallion had moved forward and was standing over him, his teeth bared and ears pinned, and the men skidded to a halt some distance away, not daring to approach closer.

Pressed against the horse's forelegs, Caffola gazed up at the stallion towering over him and looking quite fearsome. For a moment, he was frozen with terror. The animal that had seemed so friendly a moment ago did not appear so now. And then Caffola realized with surprise that the horse was protecting him. He thought the men were going to hurt him! At that understanding, he burst into an excited grin! What a fine animal, indeed!

Just then another man arrived, one of the soldiers, accompanied by several of his fellows. This man was not afraid of the stallion, and moved assuredly toward them, speaking firmly to him. "Firefoot! It is all right. They will not hurt the boy. Stand down." He raised his hand to the stallion and instructed, "Back!"

After the merest hesitation, the horse did as he was told, unflattening his ears but eyeing the men warily just in case. When they started forward, his ears pinned again and the man grinned, "Stay where you are. I will bring the boy to you. It is safer for everyone!"

Moving to stoop in front of the lad, the man asked, "What are you doing here with the horses?"

Caffola shifted nervously, then blurted out honestly, "I was just looking! We do not have great horses like these in our village!" He dropped his head, assuming he was in trouble.

"What is your name?" the man asked quietly.

"Caffola," he mumbled.

"Well, Caffola, obviously you know fine horses when you see them." Scooping the boy up in his strong arms, he carried him closer to the horses, walking slowly down the line and telling him about each one and the battles they had been in. When they reached the end, the boy considered a moment, then said, "I think I like that first one best of all. He protected me and he is very nice!"

The man let out a hearty laugh at that. "Well, I am rather partial to him also, for that is Firefoot and he is my own horse, though he is not often called 'nice'!"

There was a snicker nearby and another man murmured, "That is for certain!"

"Shut up, Eothain!" Eomer laughingly instructed.

"Yes, my king!" his friend rejoined.

"King? You are the king?" Caffola asked.

"I am," Eomer assured the boy, still settled in his arms.

The boy studied him a moment, then observed, "You do not look like a king." A man who had been following them at some short distance blanched at his son's honest opinion, freely given.

Eothain gave another snicker, but Eomer's face grew thoughtful. "Do I not? What do I look like?" he asked.

"You look like a soldier," the boy answered with conviction, after a moment's further perusal.

Eomer considered this, then nodded. "That seems reasonable, for I have been a soldier far longer than I have been a king. Perhaps in time I will come to look more like a king."

Changing subjects abruptly, Caffola eyed him closely and asked, "Do you have any little boys like me?"

Startled, Eomer nodded. "I have a son, yes. He is about your age, I would think. Why?"

"That must be why Firefoot is nice to little boys then."

The king rubbed his chin at this logic, but then shrugged. "Possibly so. Elfwine does like to spend time with Firefoot."

Eothain cleared his throat. "Sorry to interrupt, my liege, but we do need to be going, if you can tear yourself away."

"Caffola, it has been a pleasure meeting you," Eomer said, moving back to Firefoot so the boy could farewell the horse. "I hope we meet again sometime."

"When you come again, will you bring your son so we can play?" Caffola suggested.

"Perhaps I will," Eomer grinned.

The boy's father scurried forward to collect his son, not certain whether to be honored or embarrassed by his son's encounter with the king, and the royal party had soon departed to farewell waves from the villagers, the most enthusiastic from Caffola.

xxx

It was hard to believe it had taken two years for Eomer to return to this part of the Riddermark. Though he tried to visit towns and villages more often than that, it wasn't always possible, and time had gotten away from him in this case.

"Thank you for bringing me with you, Papa! I have enjoyed traveling with you!"

Eomer smiled at his son riding beside him. Though Lothiriel had thought him a bit young for such a journey, he had assured her it was not that far, and would not be difficult. She had reluctantly agreed to it. At eight years, Elfwine was already an accomplished rider for a boy his age, and there was every evidence he would only get better as his physical ability increased.

They were nearing the small farming community he remembered from years ago. Already the villagers had spotted their arrival and were surging toward the road leading into town to welcome them. Eomer wondered if Caffola would still be so enthusiastic in his greeting as before, and remember their previous encounter as vividly as the king did. Though his eyes swept the people, he did not spot any boys he thought might be a slightly older Caffola.

Once they were dismounted and the pleasantries done with, Eomer voiced his interest, "Where is the boy Caffola? I would see him, if I may?" The men looked startled at his request, and then one offered to go and fetch him.

A short time later, Caffola and his father appeared, the man looking more than a little nervous about why the king might be asking to see his son. He had purposely kept the boy at home and working so he couldn't get into any mischief as he had done the last time the king was here.

"Caffola!" the king boomed in greeting, "Come and meet my son, Elfwine. I have told him about you and he is eager to talk horses with you. In fact, we have brought an extra horse, and perhaps you would like to go riding with him while I conduct business."

Caffola was certainly startled at the king's offer, but quickly recovered and took him up on it. Caffola's father, however, stood staring in disbelief at this turn of events, as his son ran off to happily greet the young prince and find his way into a saddle. Eothain took the boys in hand and, though Caffola had little experience in riding, they soon had him drilled in the basics and loving every minute of it. Elfwine always enjoyed talking about horses, and Caffola was eager to hear anything he had to say on the subject, including hearing of Elfwine's meeting with one of the Mearas.

When Eomer had concluded his business and was ready to go, the boys were sorry to part company, for they had formed an easy friendship. Elfwine sympathetically watched Caffola blink back a tear as he bid farewell to the horse they had brought for him to ride. The gelding made a good riding horse for beginners, with his even temperament, but he was still spirited enough for a boy to be able to imagine himself a warrior when riding. Turning to his father, Elfwine asked, "Papa, would it be all right if we left Mithlig here until we come again? That will give Caffola a chance to practice his riding before then so we can ride more when I return."

Caffola's eyes had gone round at the suggestion, hardly daring hope such a thing was possible. Eomer cast his eyes toward the boy's father. Quietly he asked, "Would that be a problem for you?"

The man understood the deeper meaning of the question; could he afford to keep and feed the animal, did he have room to shelter it? It was a generous offer, but one the king did not want to overwhelm them or turn from a gift into a burden. He shook his head, "No, my lord. It is not a problem. We will take good care of the animal. And I thank you."

Eomer nodded, and smiled at Caffola, "Then I expect to see you riding like the wind when next we come! We will make a rider of you yet!"

Caffola stared at the king for several long moments. In two years' time he had grown a bit more reserved than he had been at six years of age, but some things transcended all else. He rushed to Eomer and flung his arms around the king's waist, hugging him with all his might.

For a long while, the small knot of men and boys all stood silently witnessing this show of emotion, and each and every one of them was fighting mightily not to display their own tears. At length, Caffola pulled back and did a quick swipe at his nose, trying to appear nonchalant. His father was rubbing his forehead, torn between emotion and embarrassment. Would his son never stop doing such things in front of the king?

Elfwine broke the spell. Calling out, "See you later, Caffola!", he swung easily up on Greyflood and waited for the rest of the party to mount. They followed suit and the royal party departed soon after. As they rode out of town, Eomer glanced at his son out of the corner of his eye. Yes, it had taken him far too long to return here, but it had been a satisfying visit, nonetheless – in more ways than one.

THE END

7-26-06

Caffola: caf – bold; fola – colt

Mithlig: mithan – hide, conceal; lieg – flame, fire

End note: It is not essential that you read the Elfwine Chronicles in the order they were written, but there is an advantage to doing so. The more of them that I wrote, the more likely I was to make reference to one of the previous ones and something that happened there. If you want to read them in order, go to the top of this page and click on my name (Deandra). That will take you to my profile page. Scroll down and you will find all the stories I have written. The Elfwine Chronicles are in order from bottom to top since ffn shows them in the order they were posted. A few were posted out of number order (#15 came after #17, I think), but you can read them in posting order or number order since those few won't be affected in the story content.