A/N: I haven't written Lord of the Rings in nearly a year, so I'm not sure how I did with this - I hope it's okay, though. A review would be lovely! :)
The knife slipped underneath my pillow was in my hand before sleep fully left me. In a single breath, I opened my eyes and swiftly drew it, pointing it at my rouser, my heart already beginning to pound in frantic staccato—but in the gloom of my chamber, I saw that the enemy I had imagined in my alarm was but a boy. It would seem that the habits of war did not easily leave me.
"My lord," the boy said, quakingly. His golden locks hung tangled about his smudged face, his clothes were strewn with fragments of hay and sundry rents, and he was altogether an unkempt picture. He seemed unable to manage more than the two words he had already spoken, and I realized I still held my knife at his throat. I lowered it sheepishly.
"Peace," I said. "I sometimes forget that the days of darkness have passed, and that men may now sleep without the need of weapons near at hand."
The boy seemed to breathe easier without the threat of being skewered by his sovereign. "Forgive me for waking you at so unseemly an hour, my lord," he said, his voice rather faint, "but you are needed."
I could made out his shadowed features now—his clear eyes glimmered with youth and excitement, subdued only by his recent encounter. I found to my chagrin that I could not recall his name. "Is anything amiss?"
"Nay, my lord; indeed, the exact opposite!" Now all thought of being held at knife-point seemed driven from his mind, and he appeared ready to dance with joy. "My father sent me to bid you come to the stables."
His name came to me in a rapid flare: He was Heregil, son of Hardred, who was master of the stables of Edoras—a position of highest honor. I had seen the boy in the stables at times, assisting his father.
"And what does your father require of me at this hour of the night, Heregil?" I said, groaning quietly as I stretched.
Heregil moved even closer to my bed, his eyes now wide and shining with some secret anticipation. So bright was the light of his expression that he seemed almost to glitter in the darkness, and I smiled to see his transparent delight through the smears on his face.
"My lord," he said, "Leyrin is in labor. And—and—my father is quite certain that her foal—"
I understood at once. "Go you as quickly as may be," I commanded. "I will follow."
"With a good will, my lord!" he beamed, and all but ran from the chamber. I swiftly donned a suitable tunic and breeches and hurried after the echoing sound of his footsteps.
The summer air was clear and warm as I strode towards the stables, and a light wind lifted my hair—it sang of chattering brooks and flowers gleaming jewel-bright in green swards, and it bore the scent of chrysanthemums and eucharis. The moon's light was dimmed by a few errant clouds, but a sky of deepest black stretched above me, vast and immeasurable, and stars were sprinkled across it, lovely and sad as simbelmynë in the grass. I wondered how many moons would pass before those sorrowful flowers carpeted Théoden's grave. Éowyn and I would return for his body in a week's time, and bear him from his rest in the Silent Street to the land he loved. With every step I took, the deep grief I often managed to bury surged forward, and faded memories of the uncle I held so dear assuaged me; and yet I knew with clear, ringing certainty that his death was not a waste, and was indeed a nobler ending than any could have hoped for. He had fallen with the morning in his hair and the wind in his face—and he had fallen fighting for the Mark, and for his beloved people, though the battle raged in a foreign land far from green fields. Nay, his death could not be regretted, but mourned.
So thought I as I stepped through the swinging doors of the main stable and its congenial smell surrounded me; and before I could allow my eyes to adjust to the darkness Heregil came hurtling out of the shadows.
"My lord," he said breathlessly, "here—" And he led me to the middle of the stable, where Hardred was kneeling on clean straw by a magnificent palomino mare. He was soothing her gently, patting her sweaty head, blocking most of my view, but I cared not.
"The foaling is halfway over, my lord," Heregil said, "and then we will see for certain."
Wordlessly, I knelt by Hardred. It was too dim to see the foal distinctly—shadows completely shrouded the corners of the stable, and the moonlight was absent. But the labored breathing of the mare and the ceaseless, calming murmurs of the stable master swept through the calmness of the night, and I laid a hand on Leyrin's golden head. Hardred spared me a nod and a quick smile before returning to the task at hand.
We toiled long into the night; the flickering lamplight faded, the stars danced across the sky, and still we worked tirelessly, my thoughts of Théoden punctuated only by the distressed sounds the mare made. Heregil fairly hopped with impatience, but I noted that he could be relied upon to bring water and cloths quickly and dependably, his assistance proving invaluable even as he knelt by our sides and aided in the actual birthing.
The night was old when our labor ended. The sounds of new life brought into the world filled the quiet of the stable, and Heregil would have started forward eagerly, casting a pool of wavering light from the lantern in his hand, had his father not laid a restraining hand upon his shoulder.
"Forget not the customs of our people, Heregil," he reminded him. "When a foal is new-born, the mother—"
"—is to spend the time between darkness and dawn with her own, unobserved and undisturbed," recited Heregil. "But I thought, Father, for this foal—" His clear voice trailed away and he nodded solemnly, perhaps catching a glimmer in Hardred's eyes that I did not perceive. Together we sat on a floor thatched with misted straw that seemed gray in the fading gloom; for the night was dying and the stars were vanishing one by one, replaced by the looming promise of a brighter light. Our vigil was fated to be brief, for dawn was creeping in through the cracks in the roof.
And quite abruptly, several things happened at once. The foal stumbled upon its legs, found its footing, and took a step; Leyrin let out a joyful, ringing neigh; Heregil leapt to his feet; and a dazzling beam of light cut through the stable roof, a pure shaft that struck the gleaming coat of the newborn. There was no longer any doubt.
Hardred and I leapt to our feet just as Heregil had, and the boy wasted no time in taking his father's hands and beginning to dance. Hardred seemed no less delighted.
"Black!" he cried, and the oft quiet stable master's voice rang past the stable and into the summer air that lingered beyond. "The foal is as black as its lost sire!"
"Black!" sang Heregil, "black as the night is his coat, black as the ashes left by an evening fire!"
The stable master and his son danced and sang and cried aloud, their shouts echoing and rousing several indignant birds, who added their noise to the cacophony. I smiled, stunned, overcome, and frighteningly happy. Heregil spoke truly; black was this foal's coat, black as the night and the ashes of an evening fire, the sable of good things, and not an empty echo of the Darkness that would soon snatch it away. Hope! This foal would fly across the free plains by Théoden's blood, as would my children, one day.
I sank to my knees and felt tears course down my cheeks, as father and son danced, and a rose-and-amber dawn painted itself across the sky.
"Some years ago the Lord of the Black Land wished to purchase horses of us at great price, but we refused him, for he puts beasts to evil use. Then he sent plundering orcs, and they carry off what they can, choosing always the black horses; few of those are now left."
-Eomer, The Riders of Rohan, The Two Towers
EDIT: Lialathuveril raised a question regarding the color of the foal's coat at birth. From what I gleaned from my research, there are two types of black horses; the ordinary black horse, whose coat fades into brown if exposed too much to the sun, and the jet-black horse, which is fade-proof. The ordinary ones are born a sort of mousy gray, but the jet-black ones are born black. So for my purposes, this foal is jet-black, as its stolen sire was.