A/N: This is a sequel to my AU story, Heart of the Horselord. I'm not sure it will make much sense to anyone unfamiliar with that work.
A/N2: My apologies that it's taken so long to post any sequels to Horselord. That had not been my intention when I finished it last spring, but then life interfered in a number of ways. This is primarily about Brynwyn and is a bit of fluff, but there's another installment nearly ready which will be along in a few weeks or so.
This takes place four weeks or so after the end of Horselord.
"There." Lisswyn moved the little rocking chair over beneath the window, then stood back and looked around the room. "Won't it be nice to have so much more space to play when Jocosa comes to visit?"
Brynwyn nodded and looked around the room. Accustomed to the small cottages of the village, the room had seemed large to her even before Hilde's few belongings had been removed. Now, despite the new chest and the rocking chair, it was simply enormous.
"Liffild needs Hilde more than we do, right now." Her sister's voice was soft, and Brynwyn met her eyes, nodded again. The young widow had taken her infant son and moved into one of the little cottages belonging to Meduseld, and Hilde had gone with her to assist her.
Brynwyn understood that. She also understood how privileged she was to be living in Meduseld, and to have such a big room, all to herself. But…
"Did you thank Marshal Elfhelm for the chair?" Lisswyn asked.
A little insulted by the question – of course she'd thanked him – Brynwyn simply nodded again, then went over to stroke the arm of the rocking chair. It was just her size, sanded so smooth it barely seemed made of wood, and he'd carved tiny flowers along the top. It was the loveliest thing anyone had ever given her, and she truly did love it.
But it seemed lonely in the big room.
Knowing what was expected of her, she sat down, started the chair rocking, and then looked up to smile at her sister. Lisswyn was busy enough, or distracted enough, that it must have been convincing, because she smiled in return.
"Good. I'm going to check and see if Liffild and Hilde are getting settled. Would you like to come with me, or are you going to stay here? I thought perhaps Jocosa might be able to come up for a while this afternoon."
"I'll wait for her." Though Brynwyn didn't know if Jocosa would come or not. Sometimes the other girl had chores she had to help her mother with, such as keeping an eye on her younger brothers. Someday – hopefully soon – Lisswyn would have a baby she'd need Brynwyn's help with.
Her sister left, and Brynwyn sat back in the chair, but didn't rock it again. Her gaze shifted over to the bed, and she shivered. It was a big bed – had been big enough for her, Hilde and Lisswyn to sleep in when they'd first come to Meduseld.
And now she'd be in it all by herself.
Evening came, and she put off going to bed as long as possible. But finally, when Lisswyn had spoken sharply to her, she'd known she couldn't delay any longer.
It was as bad as she'd thought it would be. Lisswyn had already been in to say goodnight – the king, who sometimes came as well, was in a late meeting – and the room was as dark as it usually was. But tonight, there was no hope of Hilde coming in to share that darkness with her, no promise of the elderly woman's soft snoring to drive away the shadows.
She curled up in the very middle of the bed, her back to the wall, and stared out toward the room that looked so different than it did during the day. Instead of contributing any real light, the banked fire cast weird, scary shadows, and this was the wrong side of Meduseld to catch any moonlight.
She screwed her eyes closed, and tried to sleep.
The village was burning, burning, and she was running, not knowing where to go to escape. There were orcs after her. Where was Lisswyn? Why had she left her alone, when she'd promised to never go? It didn't matter. She was alone, and the sound of the steps – odd that she could hear them over the noise of flames and screams of women coming from somewhere in the darkness – were coming closer. They were going to catch her. She stumbled, fell, scrabbled desperately to get back up—
Brynwyn sat up, stifled the scream that wanted to erupt so that it came out as a whimper. They must not hear her. Shaking her head, she forced the fear back, away. She wasn't lost in the burning village. Wasn't being chased by orcs – or by the wildmen who'd actually attacked the village.
But she was alone.
Swallowing, she slowly pulled the blankets tighter around her.
She was alone.
Barely moving, she slid her gaze to the darkest corner of the room, felt fear ball in her stomach again. There was something in the corner. Something that shouldn't be there.
Her heart beating a hard rhythm, she tried to calm herself. She was in Meduseld. There were guards out at the main doors. She was safe. The king was asleep across the big hall, in the room he shared with Lisswyn.
The shadow in the corner seemed to move, and the fear in her came alive. She scrambled out of the bed, across the room and out into the hall, then stood there, trying to stifle the sound of her harsh breathing.
Reason returned. There wasn't an orc in her chamber – she could hear the soft words of the door guards. No orc had slipped by them.
But not for all the horses in the Riddermark could she go back into that room of weird shadows.
What, then? Shame ruled out knocking on Lisswyn and Eomer-King's door. He thought she was brave, had told her so, any number of times. He wouldn't think so if he knew she was afraid to sleep by herself.
Then it came to her, and resolutely, she turned, slipped into one of the corridors that led to a side exit of the building. It was cold outside, with autumn far progressed into winter, but the thick nightgown and bed socks she wore would keep her warm until she got where she was going. And there, no nightmares would chase her.
Lisswyn had gone to bed, and Eomer was preparing to follow her when the soft knock came at the door to their sitting room. Puzzled, because there'd been no other sounds from the hall to suggest an emergency, he opened it – and was even more surprised to see Breghelm, his stable master, standing there. The other man wore a concerned, but not alarmed, look.
"Will you come with me? There is something in the stables I need your assistance with."
"Of course." Glad he hadn't yet undressed, Eomer stepped through the door, pulled it closed behind him. Breghelm had already started back through the hall, and figuring it was easier to follow him and find out what was going on than ask more questions, Eomer moved quickly after him.
It was colder outside than he'd anticipated, making him wish he'd grabbed his cloak. Winter really was upon them – they'd probably see snow soon.
And then he was following Breghelm back into the warmth of the stables. It was dark, save for a single lantern burning at the other end of the long row, across from Firefoot's stall. Even knowing that Breghelm would have said so if something was wrong with his horse, Eomer quickened his stride, relieved to see Firefoot's head poking out above the door.
But it wasn't with his customary manner. Usually, his mount would be greeting him by now – whuffling or nickering to show he was glad to see him. Instead, Eomer reached the stall door only to have Firefoot bare his teeth. At him. His rider!
Startled by the response, Eomer took an involuntary step back, then looked at Breghelm, who grimaced, perhaps in sympathy, before nodding again at the stall.
What in Middle Earth was wrong with his horse?
"Easy, boy," he said softly. "What's the matter? No one's going to hurt you." Continuing to murmur, he stepped forward again, grateful that Firefoot seemed to be relaxing. His own tension, however, returned fivefold when he looked over the stall door, and saw the small figure curled up against the far wall. Brynwyn!
Glancing at Breghelm, he motioned for the other man to open the gate while he stroked Firefoot's neck and tried to sound as reassuring as possible. Once the gate was open, though, they were confronted with a different problem.
Firefoot refused to leave. And that was when Eomer realized the horse was guarding the little girl. It wasn't unheard of, of course, for horses to do such a thing, but it was rare for a warhorse to guard anyone other than his rider. Shaking his head in disbelief, Eomer stared at his mount. "Everything is fine. I'm not going to hurt her," he finally said softly, feeling foolish.
Firefoot appeared to consider him for a long moment, then snorted before allowing Breghelm to lead him out of the stall.
Relieved, Eomer stepped into the vacated pen, his heart still running at speed. What had caused Brynwyn to do such a thing? He knew she liked Firefoot – and the feeling was apparently mutual – but had she no idea of how dangerous it could have been? If she'd startled the horse, and he'd accidentally stepped on her…he shuddered, too well aware of the unintentional damage hooves could do.
He'd have to make it clear to her that she wasn't to enter the stall by herself, for any reason. But first things first – why had she done so tonight?
Bending over, he saw she was shivering in her sleep. Dressed only in her nightgown, she'd pulled some hay around her in an effort to get warm, but the stable was drafty. He scooped her up in his arms and turned, deciding to take her into the tack room. Breghelm used the area as an office as well, and there'd be a brazier in there providing more warmth, as well as some saddle blankets.
Firefoot snorted again as Breghelm led him past them back into his stall, but Eomer couldn't tell if it was a pleased sound or not.
Once in the tack room, he grabbed a blanket and settled in Breghelm's chair, Brynwyn on his lap.
She was awake, but pretending not to be, her face burrowed into his chest. Even wrapped in the blanket, she was still trembling, but was it with cold, or fear?
"Tell me." He kept his voice even, began a gentle rocking motion.
There was a long pause, but he waited her out.
"The village was on fire. I was alone and an orc was in my room."
She muttered the words, still burrowed into him, but Eomer caught them, and felt some of his tension release. Ah. A bad dream, then. And not a surprising one for her to have, really.
"I see." His voice was still soft, reassuring. "Why didn't you come to Lisswyn or me?"
Another long pause. "You thought I was brave." This time, he could barely hear the words.
When he realized what she said, heard the past tense term she'd used and the shame in her voice, he closed his eyes as his heart took a punch. He'd known how much she looked up to him, how much his opinion of her seemed to matter, but it hurt that that had kept her from coming to them when she'd needed them.
He tightened his arms around her, cleared his throat. "You're still brave." To the point of danger, if she was willing to go practically barefoot, in early winter, to sleep with a warhorse. "Even adults have bad dreams. I do. Eowyn has. Lisswyn does." Though hers tended to stem more from the orc attack that had taken Maegwen's life, or of Hunlaf, rather than the night their village had burned. "Being frightened by a dream doesn't mean you're not brave."
She seemed to relax some at that point, but not enough. "I can't sleep in my room." There was still misery and distress in her voice.
"You've had bad dreams before?" Why hadn't Hilde said something? Though the woman could be impatient with her, she was nonetheless devoted to the little girl.
"Not with Hilde there, so much."
Ah. And here they'd thought she'd like having her own room. Sadness that something they'd intended as a source of joy for her had turned out to be just the opposite moved through him, along with frustration that none of them had realized the little girl was too young to be on the other side of the hall by herself. Well, that at least could be corrected.
"Then we'll find you somewhere else to sleep, not so scary."
She finally looked up at him then. "I'm still brave?"
The hopefulness in her voice touched him, and he leaned down, brushed her forehead with a kiss. "Yes," he said definitely. They'd still have to address the issue of her hiding in Firefoot's stall, but that could wait.
He stood, shifted her, and started out of the stables.
"I can walk," she protested.
"Not in those thin socks."
She subsided at that, relaxed against him.
He took her to his and Lisswyn's sitting room, laid her on the small sofa. It wouldn't have worked as a bed for anyone much bigger than her, but he thought it would suffice quite well for one night. He grabbed several additional blankets, and then stooped to stir the fire before turning to her again. Her confusion and uncertainty was apparent.
He dropped two of the covers on the floor next to her, so they'd be easily accessible if she grew cold, and then used one to cover her with before squatting next to her. "I think I know a place we can move you to tomorrow that will be less scary, but for tonight, you can sleep here. Lisswyn and I are just on the other side of that wall," he nodded toward the bedroom, "and I'll leave the door unlocked. I expect you to call out or come wake us up if you get scared," he ended firmly. "Do you understand?"
Brynwyn simply stared at him, then looked over at the door to the bedroom before nodding. Visibly relaxing, she settled against the pillow, and closed her eyes. Eomer reached out and touched her cheek. "Sleep well, little sister."
With that, her eyes popped back open and she gave him a delighted and drowsy smile before once again snuggling beneath the covers.
Eomer remained where he was until her soft breathing told him her sleep was peaceful, only then going into the bedroom and quietly closing the door. He'd told her he'd leave it unlocked, but perhaps he should leave it cracked as well, so they'd hear her?
No, the walls weren't that thick, and he really did want her to feel comfortable enough to make the effort to come to them if she grew frightened again.
Lisswyn awoke when he crawled into the bed and rolled over toward him. "Where were you? I was expecting you quite some time ago," she murmured.
He pulled her into his arms, nuzzled her hair. "I was rescuing my horse from a damsel in distress."
She'd been deeply enough sleep that it took a moment for the words to penetrate. "What?"
Eomer nearly grinned at the confusion in her tone, then sobered. "Brynwyn had a nightmare, and took refuge in Firefoot's stall."
"Brynwyn?" Now wide awake, Lisswyn moved to leave the bed.
He pulled her back against him. "She's fine. She's asleep on the sofa in the sitting room."
"Why didn't she call for me? Why didn't you wake me?" The puzzled confusion in her voice held a hint of hurt.
"She didn't call for either of us, apparently because she thought it would lower my opinion of her." Dismay at the thought still laced his tone.
"So she hid in Firefoot's stall? Eomer, she could have been killed!"
"I know." He tightened his hold, kissed her forehead to comfort both of them. "Oddly enough, Firefoot was acting…protective toward her. I've never seen him do that before." Before Lisswyn could comment, he added, "I'll make clear to her tomorrow that she can't go into his stall like that again. I didn't have the heart to do so tonight."
She nodded, and finally relaxed against him, though he could tell she was still worried. "She's too young to be on that side of the hall by herself. I thought it would be all right since she's been used to sleeping over there with Hilde."
Knowing what he had to say would further upset her, Eomer turned further, cuddled her to him. "She's been having nightmares all along, I think, but could cope with them because Hilde was there."
Lisswyn's response was immediate, and not unexpected. She went still for a moment, then began to struggle away from him. "I want to check on her." Without stopping for her robe, she slipped out of their bed and into the other room.
With a sigh, Eomer followed her, stopping to grab both their robes from the end of the bed. When he arrived in the sitting room, he saw Lisswyn bending over the sofa, tucking the covers more securely around her sister, then pausing to stroke the hair away from the little girl's cheek.
As she slowly stood and stepped back, he walked over and draped her robe around her shoulders, then wrapped his arms around her. "She's fine," he said again softly.
Lisswyn nodded, and leaned against him with a sigh. "I know. I'm sorry. It's not that I didn't trust you. I just hate that she's been frightened before and I didn't know."
He pressed a kiss against her hair. "I know. And you wouldn't be you if you hadn't needed to check on her."
With one final look at the figure on the sofa, she allowed him to lead her back to their bed. She didn't speak again until they were once again curled up beneath the blankets, her head on his shoulder. "What will we do now, though? She can't spend every night in our sitting room."
"I have an idea on that, but let's leave it to morning."
He was relieved to hear her laugh. "Tired, my lord?"
He answered her the best way he knew how.
The sun was shining in her face, and Brynwyn turned from it, only gradually waking up enough to realize that she wasn't in her bed. Memory of the night before returned, and she sat up, rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. It was much later than she normally slept, something attested by both the slant of the sun and the hungry grumbling in her stomach.
"I thought you'd be hungry before long. Come have breakfast."
She looked up and saw Lisswyn sitting at the little table next to the fireplace, her knitting in her lap. She motioned to the table, and Brynwyn scrambled to do her bidding, surprised and pleased to see some of her favorite breakfast foods…along with two thick slices of Tille's apple bread. Eyes wide, she stared over at her sister. She almost never got apple bread for breakfast.
There was something sad about Lisswyn's face, but she simply nodded toward the empty chair, so Brynwyn slid slowly onto the seat, and unable to resist, reached for a slice of the apple bread first. It was as good as expected, but why was she having it for breakfast?
It must mean no one was upset with her for the night before. She cast a cautious look at her sister, then felt her appetite fade as the reminder of her problem came back to her. What was going to happen that night? What would she do when she was once more in that big bed, all alone? No longer hungry even for the treat of apple bread, she pushed the remainder of her breakfast away.
"Perhaps you'd like to see your new room now."
Her new room? Her head jerked up and she watched as her sister stood, held out her hand, a knowing expression on her face. Confused, she allowed herself to be pulled up. But instead of leading her out into the hall, Lisswyn brought her other hand around, cupped her cheek. "You must never hesitate to tell me when you're afraid, Brynwyn."
"Eomer-king says he has bad dreams, too," she blurted.
"What does he do when he has them?"
Lisswyn took the question seriously, as Brynwyn had known she would. Her voice thoughtful, she said, "He's only had two since we've wed. With the first one, he got up and went to work in his study until the dream faded. With the second, I woke up because he was restless."
Brynwyn's shoulders slumped. "He didn't wake you, then."
Lisswyn cupped her chin, forced her to look up. "He didn't have to. He wasn't sleeping alone. I, on the other hand, woke him last week when I screamed."
Lisswyn nodded, and Brynwyn realized her sister wasn't at all ashamed by her admission. "I did. I dreamed of Hunlaf, and woke confused and frightened."
"Oh." She was unsure of a response. It was hard to imagine Lisswyn screaming.
"Come. I think we have a solution to your problem."
Still trying to imagine Lisswyn screaming, or the King being frightened by a dream, she took her sister's hand, her puzzlement growing when Lisswyn led her toward the bedchamber, then through it, to Lady Eowyn's room.
Two lines of smaller chambers marched down either side of Meduseld. On the north side of the building were the guest chambers, while the south side was the king's suite, four rooms that opened into both one another as well as into the great hall. The king's study, up by the throne, led into the king and queen's sitting room, which led, in turn, into their bedroom, and then into the something the people of Meduseld called the Queen's chamber.
Since her sister didn't go in there much, the title had always rather confused Brynwyn, and Lisswyn's explanation that some queens had chosen to have their own bedchamber rather than sharing a bed with their king hadn't helped.
Regardless, since until recently there hadn't been a queen in the Mark for many years, Lady Eowyn had used it.
As they walked in, Eowyn was handing an armful of her dresses – obviously just removed from the wardrobe – to Brecka, who turned and walked out with them. The King's sister turned and smiled, and moved toward them, and it was only then that Brynwyn saw the little rocking chair behind her.
They were moving her to the Queen's room. Shame at being responsible for such disruption, for forcing Eowyn to give up her room, rushed through her and she dropped her head. This probably meant everyone in Edoras knew. Even the boys.
Miserable, she barely noticed Lady Eowyn kneeling in front of her, until the other woman took her hands. "Do you know what I used to do when I was frightened by a dream?"
Brynwyn shook her head, but curiosity had her looking up.
"I'd sneak into Eomer's room, wake him, and make him talk to me until I was no longer afraid." Though she was still gripping Brynwyn's hands, Eowyn's eyes were no longer on her, were instead on some distant memory. "Even after he joined the eored and was no longer here, I'd still sneak into his room when I was frightened, and pretend he was." She smiled, turned once more to Brynwyn, squeezed her hands. "And I was much older than you by then."
Brynwyn nodded, looked over as Brecka came in and scooped up another armful of clothes from the bed. "But it's your chamber."
Eowyn laughed. "Not for much longer, and I do not mind swapping rooms with you for a few months before I go to my new home in Ithilien." She squeezed Brynwyn's hands again, then stood, still smiling. "Besides, it is past time I began sorting my clothing to discover what will go with me, and this will help me get started on that. You've done me a favor."
Brynwyn doubted that, though it was kind of the king's sister to word it that way. She glanced up at Lisswyn, still standing behind her, her hands on Brynwyn's shoulders. Lisswyn smiled. "All you will need to do is knock on the door, or even call out, and I'm sure one of us will hear you."
Before she could respond, there was a noise at the door, and Eomer-king stood there. He looked over his shoulder, back out in the hall and said something to someone she couldn't see, then turned back toward them.
For the first time since she'd known him, she felt shy as he walked over, knelt in front of her as Eowyn had.
"How did you sleep?" his voice was low, deep, and brought back the memory of the last thing he'd said to her the night before. Little sister. Even so, she couldn't answer him, simply nodded.
"Good." He looked around the room, then nodded to the door behind them, the one that led to his and Lisswyn's bedchamber. "You will not hesitate to wake us the next time you're frightened, either by knocking on the door or by calling out to us?"
"Good," he said again. Then he hesitated, and his expression somehow went even more solemn. "I'm going to ask you to promise me something."
Confused, she tilted her head. "What?"
"You must never again enter Firefoot's stall unless I am with you."
Puzzled, she could only stare at him. "Why not?" The question came out wrong. She knew it almost as soon as the words left her mouth. It sounded as if she were challenging him.
"Brynwyn!" Her sister's tone was sharp, but that was nothing compared to the look that came over Eomer-king's face. His lips thinned into a grim line, his eyes flashed, and involuntarily, Brynwyn pressed back against Lisswyn, frightened. She'd seen him angry on occasion, but never before had it been directed at her.
It was too much. Still tired and upset, and crushed by the realization that she'd angered him, she covered her face with her hands and sobbed.
With a barely suppressed oath, Eomer scooped the little girl up and settled on the edge of the bed with her in his lap, and let her cry out her confusion. A glance at Lisswyn told him her feelings were running about the same as his: equal parts of frustration, compassion and sympathy.
Finally, as Brynwyn's tears slowed, he took the handkerchief Lisswyn handed him and wiped the little girl's cheeks. But before he could speak again, she gulped, and said, "Don't be angry. I won't go in his stall again. But…"
Her lips trembled, and she dropped her head. "I thought he liked me."
"He does like you." Enough to show his teeth to Eomer in her defense. Eomer tilted Brynwyn's chin back up. "He likes you very much. But he's a very big horse, and you're a small girl. If you startled him, or even if something else startled him while you were in the stall, such as a noise from outside the stable, he could hurt you without meaning to."
"As long as Breghelm or one of the boys is in the stable, you can visit Firefoot – but you must not go into the stall unless I am with you."
"You'll still take me for rides on him sometimes?"
"Absolutely." And would get her a pony of her own as soon as possible. In the meantime… "I have something else for you." He sat her on the bed, stood, and went to the door. When he came back, he was holding a small covered basket.
He handed it to her, and she gave him a puzzled glance before tipping back the lid. "Oh!" Her expression turned to delight as she lifted the small white kitten out of the nest of soft cloths.
Sliding to the floor, she settled with the kitten on her lap, then laughed as it began to climb up her dress to nestle against her shoulder.
"What will you call it?" Eowyn asked.
"Is it a boy or a girl?"
"Girl, I believe," Eomer replied.
"Then I think she should be Snowball." Brynwyn said firmly.
Eomer looked up, realized Lisswyn was looking at him instead of her sister, a soft expression in her eyes. She came over, settled on the bed next to him and rested her head against his shoulder. "She's always wanted a kitten, you know," she said softly.
"So she's told me." He turned, slipped his arm around her, then murmured against her ear, "I thought a roommate would be another weapon against the dreams. Firefoot would probably have offered, but I was afraid the room wasn't big enough."