November 2011, somewhere on the coast of northern Germany...

Balancing on one leg, the plump, red-haired woman tried to get out of her muddy wellies, at the same time opening the back door to let the dog in, that was eager to get out of the cold drizzle. She herself did neither mind rain nor November, being used to the gusty weather of the coast, but this endless drabness was driving her bonkers.

Entering the utility room did not improve her mood though, as the smell of wet wool and horse hit her nostrils. Cursing in at least three different languages, she removed her rapidly steaming up glasses with an impatient movement.

Why had that dolt of a husband hung up those damp saddle blankets in the utility room?

She loved her husband dearly, having grown ever the fonder of his absolute reliability during the past decades of their married life, not to talk about other qualities, but sometimes men simply were not practical. Deciding she had better hang them in the drying shed, she grabbed the blankets … and blinked.

What the effing...

What she had taken for blankets seemed to be some sort of cloaks, long woollen cloaks, made of dark green cloth, lined at the edges with some sturdy linen band of the same colour. Her brain started to do somersaults, while she examined the cloth with an expert's eyes.

Cloth, looking like some handwoven twill made of homespun yarn, obviously carded on the outer face to create a smooth windproof and water repellent surface. Some blokes of the local Medieval Times Society that got part of their sheep's wool every year? No way!The quality of the cloth was simply too good to have been made by that bunch of dabblers.

Well, first things first!

Throwing the cloaks over her shoulder, she made for the door, careful not to step on the cloth, which was quite a task, as she was little more than 1,60 meters tall. She knew it was not her day, when she stepped into the puddle right in front of the shed. She should have known better than crossing the yard on socks! Gritting her teeth, she hung up the voluminous garments and got out of her soaked footwear as well.

Entering the utility room again, she found that the old Newfoundland dog had shaken itself thoroughly in the meantime, leaving wet and muddy sprinkles all over the place.

She should have come in through the stables!

Though that might have caused a train of straws being spread through the whole house...

Grumbling she took her wellies and opened the door to the boot room. The stench that emanated through the only slightly opened door nearly made her retch! Pinching her nose closed with one hand, she rushed in, slamming the door shut behind her to prevent the beastly fetor from evaporating through the house. She flung the window open and looked for the source of the miasma, when her gaze fell on three pairs of top boots, riding boots by the shape of the heels. Carefully she sniffed. No, not the boots, but some square woollen rags placed on the drying rack. Foot rags!

Who the hell wore anything like that … and obviously for at least a decade at a stretch?

Holding them at arm's length, she carried the rags over to the shed as well, cursing anew when she realised that she had forgotten to put on her slippers and now was padding across the yard barefoot.

At least when she entered the large farmhouse kitchen, her mood softened under the soothing influence of warmth and the delicious smell of freshly baked bread. Her husband's bread was praised by all of their friends. Yet the mellow temper did not last for too long, as one look into the oven told her that two of the three loaves that usually made up one fill were already gone. The soft clinking of glass brought her attention to the cellar door and with a crate of beer in one hand, her husband entered the kitchen.

"Hi, dear, you've got visitors." His face gave nothing away, which normally was an absolute certain hint for mischief.

"And who?" One look at the crate told her that six bottles had already gone down someone's gullet.

"Some blokes. Three that is. Don't understand all they say, but at least it seems to be some kind of English. They asked for some "Mistress Thanwen". That's the name you use on the net, isn't it?"

"You're not telling me that some blokes who read my stories on the net popped in to say hello on some long distance ride through Europe, are you?" Her voice oozed with sarcasm. Her husband had complained more than once about the time she spent in front of her PC, and now he obviously had engaged some morons from the Rural Youth Organisation to play a trick on her.

A wry smile crinkled her husband's eyes. "No, not really. I didn't say they were English, did I? They just speak English... at least that's what I think it is. So I told them to wait for you. And as we couldn't talk, I dished out some bread and beer."

She snorted. "The three most important things in life: boozing, gorging and bonking. I'm just grateful you left out the last one."

He just shrugged. "It would not have been acceptable anyway. One of them is a boy."

Probably one of her students involved! She felt her hackles rise. Without a word she swept past her husband and crossing the hallway, jerked the door to the parlour open, only to stop mid-movement at the displayed view.

What shocked her was not the fact that the room smelled of horse. More than once friends or students stopped for a talk and a glass while on a hack; they were "horse-country". Nor was it something new to find total strangers sitting in the living room when coming home. They had quite a reputation as sheep people and there were always friends giving their address to fellow breeders. It did not surprise her either that all three of her visitors sported long braided hair in different shades of blond. They had enough acquaintances who were a bit eccentric to say the least. What left her speechless was the fact that all three of them, the two men on the small sofa and the rather big easy chair as well as the boy on the rug, were clad in mail. Polished, solid mail. Not the fake aluminium stuff their LARP friends wore, but iron. She gulped. Real iron mail shirts, reaching well down to the men's knees. There was something utterly wrong, she just was not sure what it was.

The man in the chair beside the stove had noticed her by now and called the other one's attention to it. Turning towards her, the occupant of the sofa gave her a big smile. "Ah, mistress Thanwen, I assume. How nice to come to know you face to face."

She was fuming with rage, and showered him with an angry tirade in Plattdeutsch, the local language, but he just raised an eyebrow enquiringly, seeming not to understand nor being impressed at all.

"I'm very sorry, but I'm afraid I can't follow your address." His voice held just a slight taint of amusement, but that made her see red nevertheless.

"Pull the other one, it's got bells on. Look boys, you've had your fun, my spouse had his fun, and now just get out of here!" Clenching her fists and thinking of the hatchet that hung on the wall of her study, she gritted her teeth, when her gaze fell on the two swords leaning in their scabbards next to the TV set. Without hesitation she went over and grabbed the scabbard of one to pull out the blade.

"Stop that!" A heavy hand encircled her wrist, the man in the chair having simply reached out, without even getting up. Their gaze locked, steel-grey and cerulean eyes boring into each other, but though she realised that the bloke might well simply snap her wrist, she was not backing up or buying any nonsense.

"What is it?" she sneered. "Afraid I'll find out it's some polyurethane LARP crap?"

The man blinked. "I don't understand what you are talking about, and I assure you that I don't want to hinder you at finding out anything, but that is Guthwine, the sword of the King of the Riddermark and you are not authorized to draw it."

She snorted, totally unimpressed. "Shall I tell you where you can put your kingly sword plus the king himself? Stop that masquerade at once, or..." While talking, she had turned towards her husband to tell him her piece of mind as well and was surprised to see the utterly shocked and worried expression on his face. Obviously the entire farce was gliding out of his hands.

A short remark from the man on the sofa caused the other one to release her wrist. Her ears pricked up.

That had doubtlessly been old English. Who the heck was taking that much trouble to play a trick on her?

"Mistress Thanwen?" The man on the sofa looked at her thoughtfully. "Do I guess rightly that you doubt our identity and think that a look at that sword would confirm who we are?" When she nodded, he tilted his head with a wry smile. "So be it then. But watch out, it might be a bit heavy, and I assure you it is sharp."

Shooting him a poisonous look, she unsheathed the blade … and gulped. This certainly was no plaything. Not. At. All. Her brain ticked off the characteristic indicators: It certainly was heavy, at least well above one kilogram. The entire thing was obviously a one handed sword, nearly one meter long, the straight, double edged blade itself certainly over 70 cm with a deep fuller running along it. The hilt was wrapped in roughened leather, the lobed pommel giving the sword a perfect balance. That would well fit for some kind of Viking sword, yet the quite large straight guard did not fit, as it was rather Norman. And the runes etched along the blade... She blinked. That were no futhark runes as she had expected, though runes it were. Cirth! She made out the rune for G, I, W... obviously the sword's name and some other symbols besides. She could not help feeling slightly queasy. But she would not give in that easily.

Desperately hoping for her voice to sound confident, she turned to the man on the sofa. "That may all be very well, and I certainly have to admit that this is the best replica of a 11th century sword I have ever seen, as well as I will grant you that you put up a quite convincing performance and most obvious have taken a lot of pain preparing it, but if you wanted to play-act the horselords and convince me, then why the bloody hell did you come without any horses?" Towards the end of her statement she felt back on solid ground again. Being fond of horses, the dog would have sensed if there had been any in the stables, and as well she herself would have heard them while being in the boot room.

The mail-clad man shrugged nonchalantly: "We left them in the wind shadow of a copse west of the farm, as there was quite some greenery left in that sheltered place and thought to stable them later."

Swivelling round without any further word, she left the room, and having fetched her wellies, made for the copse, a smallish group of some very old and impressive trees, mostly maple but intermixed with some very fine species of birch, linden and a variety of wild fruit trees near the edges. Towards the west, the direction of the more or less constant winds, the copse was sheltered by a massive evergreen privet hedge, and that was where she spotted the horses, contentedly nibbling the leaves.

Two geldings and grey stallion, the bay gelding and the grey stallion rather large-framed, while the sorrel with the showy blaze down his nose was much lighter in build. She swallowed and went nearer. These were no way horses from the neighbourhood, where besides some ponies mostly Hanoverian horses were bred and some black Frisians. These three, despite their difference in build, looked like different species of yet the same race, something one might still find in the traditional "Old Frisian" breeding standards but not in modern horse-breeding.

She felt her palms getting wet. This simply could not be true. Though it was wide-spread in fan-fiction to picture the king of Rohan's horse Firefoot as a grey stallion, she was sure to never have mentioned the colour of Éothain's mount, and who besides herself had some midget squire attending to Éomer King, let alone supplied him with a sorrel? She frowned. She had never written about these horses, but here they were, just as she always had imagined them. She shook her head. It still might be only some strange kind of coincidence. Then the big grey turned his head, snorting at her, and her breath caught: along his neck, from right below his left ear halfway down towards his broad chest he sported a scar. A real scar, nothing brushed into the coat or painted on. A scar she had seen before her inner eye, but never had mentioned. A scar no one would cause just to fool some Middle-Earth addicted geek.

She heaved a deep breath and moved on to have a closer look, but the stallion threw his head up in a warning. The drizzle had stopped in the meantime, but the gusts shaking the naked boughs of the trees overhead promised more rain to come. Feeling utterly defeated, she walked back to the house, when she saw her husband approaching her through the kitchen garden. Seeing her slumped shoulders, he hugged her, and arm in arm they went back to the house.

"I thought you knew about the horses, otherwise I would have told you."

She sighed."Well,dear, this certainly is madness, but as we obviously can't fight it, we had better accept it. I just don't have a clue why they have come."

He looked rather surprised. "I thought you were expecting them and just had not told me to keep me from getting upset beforehand."

Not telling him beforehand when something she knew he would not like to be confronted with was about to happen had been her tactic through the last decades, and that had been why she had thought he was paying her back. She shook her head. "I well stopped posting any fan-fiction in September. I really don't know what they want."

Her husband frowned. "That puts the thing into quite a different light. And what did that ox grab you for?"

"Didn't want me to fumble with his king's sword. Goodness, as if I had grabbed the bloke's ..."

"You better don't wife," he said drily. "I'm quite sure he won't buy any nonsense."

"That makes two of us," she answered heatedly. She may have been downcast just a moment before but her time of recovery from any kind of blow was splendid. "I did not invite them, you did not, they don't seem in any urgent need, so I don't see any reason, why we should put up with them."

Her husband shook his head thoughtfully. "You had better ask them for their reasons. They seem to be rather nice, but I'm quite sure I don't want them to be mad at me, and not at you either."

"This is bloody much my house! And I'm not taking any bullshit from anyone in my own house, be he the King of the Mark or Béma himself!" Angrily she toed off her wellies and stormed into the living room.

The two men were in a lively conversation, while the boy now was sharing the rug with the dog, that lay on its back, paddling with all four legs, its tongue lolling out in some kind of canine grin, as the boy devotedly stroked its belly.

"OK, muckers, let's believe you are what you pretend to be. Would you mind to tell me then why you are here?" Standing on the doorstep with her arms akimbo, she tried to ignore her dog's more that obvious betrayal.

The man in the chair, who she was quite convinced now to be Éothain, cleared his throat and turned to the boy. "Winfrid,..." He did not continue, as the first gush hit the window, the branches of a rosebush in front of it violently scratching along the pane.

Her husband appeared beside her, one arm already in the sleeve of his work jacket, jerking his head towards the window. "It's getting quite gusty, we'd better get those horses into the barn and have a look at the sheep."

Immediately the boy and Éothain rose and together the three of them left, leaving her alone with a slightly embarrassed King of the Mark. "Well, mistress Thanwen... or would you prefer to be addressed as B..."

"No!" Her voice seemed to have got out of control, shrilling at least one complete octave higher than usual. He could not know, could he? Giving him a sheepish glance, she blushed profoundly, causing him to rise both hands in capitulation.

"I'm sorry, if I have offended you. I assure you ..." He clearly did not know what to make of her behaviour. "I read that name at the door, and as it was a female name and you are the husbonde I thought..."

"It's alright," she hurried to assure him. "So you can read modern letters?"

He nodded. "As well as I can speak what I thought to be the Common Tongue, though I'm not too sure about that anymore, at least your husband does not seem to understand much of it."

She snorted. "The Professor used his own language, English, to represent Middle-Earth's Westron. A lot of people speak it, but by far not all."

Again he nodded. "I understand. Well, I would like to use the time of Winfrid's absence to explain the reason for our visit." He cleared his throat in a cumbersome way. "As you know, well you certainly know because you wrote it, my wedding with the Princess of Dol Amroth is to take place in March." He hesitated, scratching his bearded jawline. "You see, that is quite some time to go. I mean, I would not make so bold as to demand a change of the date, but really, mistress Thanwen, to just stop the story and let us wait the complete winter with nothing to do whatsoever is quite heartless."

She sighed. "Look Éomer Cyning, I stopped because I don't have the time to go on writing. I'm a teacher and a farmer, I have a household to mind... And I think I at least gave you a quite nice ending, didn't I?"

"Nice ending?" He frowned. "What is nice about being set ablaze with ardour and then just being told to wait for some seven months in some cold and lonely corner?"

She at least had the decency to feel somehow concerned. "I'm sorry, it had not occurred to me..."

"That's what I thought," he cut her off. "Well, as I said, I do not demand you to change the date of the wedding, though I have to admit I miss her dearly, but could you not at least provide some … well, entertainment, distraction... Let's say some letters, that would be nice. And some fights, some sparring at least, some hacks in the snow, some hunting, some booze-ups … Whatever you like, mistress Thanwen, just not four more months of nothingness." He looked at her pleadingly, only to meet a quite huffed gaze.

"I'm sorry, Éomer Cyning, but as I told you: I don't have the time to do so. Hopefully in spring..."

"What do you mean by "hopefully"?" His voice had got some dangerous edge, pretty close to some very big cat's growl. "You promised you would continue in March, didn't you?"

She averted her eyes. "Well, not exactly, I mentioned I perhaps might..." She was stopped abruptly by a fist slamming down on the living room table.

"You can't do that!" No doubt the king was livid. And she had to admit to herself that she quite understood his reasons.

"Let's make a bargain," she suggested. "I promise to continue the story first thing in March, providing a nice steaming wedding night and as many children as you like, and hunting and boozing and whatever you want. Just leave me in peace now, I really don't have the time, you see."

The look he gave her was difficult to interpret, but no way it meant acceptance. She sighed. Why were men always so unreasonable? Then an idea struck her, and a broad smile crept over her face. "Didn't you say you can read modern script?" He nodded doubtfully, obviously not trusting her mirth. "Well, why then don't you just have a look at some other story and go there? There are loads of Éomer and Lothíriel stories on the net."

Motioning him over to her study, she booted her PC up and opened one of the countless fan-fiction sites. "Look, you just enter the names of the characters you want to read about, and there you are."

Fascinated the King of Rohan sat down on the office chair and started to read. When her husband came back inside with Éothain and Winfrid, Éomer was well into the first story and soon all three Rohirrim were settled in front of the computer, Éomer reading aloud to the other two, only interrupted by some Rohirric comments now and then.

Well, that problem at least seemed to be solved!

Relieved she made for the kitchen, where her husband was piling up the used crockery beside the sink. "Looks like we are in for some storm, dear. I'll better check the video text for the weather forecast."

Only some minutes later he reappeared in the kitchen, his face in a deep frown. "Storm flood alert," he mumbled. "High tide will be at two in the morning, and with north-western winds it will not really be ebbing tonight."

She grimaced. "Plus we are having a full moon. Congratulations. The boys of the dyke guard are in for a nasty night." Getting her biggest pot out of the cupboard, she sighed. "Well, the horseboys are occupied, though I'm afraid they might have to stay over night with this storm. I would not like to be responsible for anything. Who knows how they came here and how and when they can get back to where they belong? I'll just make a pot of stew and then they can sleep in the guest-room and tomorrow morning we'll hopefully get rid of them."

She was just about to shove the pot filled with cut-up spiced rabbit, cabbage, potatoes and carrots into the oven, when the telephone rang. Picking up the receiver, she at once recognized the neighbour's little daughter. "Mummy says you should come. The calf is breech and dad is at the dyke to check the sluice."

Within minutes she was ready with headscarf, anorak and wellies, and giving last instructions to her husband, while pushing her bike out of the barn. "The stew will be ready in an hour, there is some ice-cream left in the freezer, and you can open a jar of cherries. Oh, and if they have finished the current story, make sure they don't read Tide of Destiny."

"Tide of what?" Her husband found it difficult to grab the title in a language he did not understand.

She groaned. "Just don't let them read anything by LBJ and they'll be fine."

"What? That's the woman with the little pup, isn't it? You like her stories, don't you? Why do you want to keep the blokes from..."

For no money in the world she would answer that question. "Just shut up, dear and do it." She kissed him fiercely, a most convenient way to convince him of anything she wanted him to do, and rushed off.

ooo

Some four hours later she came back, dirty, exhausted and wet to the skin. They had managed to pull out the calf alive, a sturdy little thing that had recovered in no time, being able to stand on its own legs, though a bit wobbly, when the men finally had come back from the sluice, but she had had to push her bike on the way back, the storm being far too strong for cycling. Squinting her eyes against the rain, she entered the barn. The horses were dozing in the boxes they usually used during lambing time, and she hurried into the boot room, where she left as well her wet and soiled outerware. From the living room the noise of some music could be heard intermingled with some voices and an occasional guffawing. Obviously the blokes were watching some film, and when the sound of a Hardanger fiddle rose above the general din, she realised which one: Her husband was showing them the Jackson version of "The Two Towers" and the horselords found it mighty entertaining.

Good for them. At least they were out of her way. What she needed now was a long and hot shower, preferably with some nice-smelling lather: sandalwood, cloves... Going through the assorted soaps in her mind, she went upstairs, looking forward to getting the grime and stench off her body. Though she already had scrubbed her hands and forearms right in the neighbour's stable, her hair and skin seemed to have soaked up the unpleasant smell of silage and she felt like some walking dung heap.

Her anticipation was somewhat dampened upon entering the bathroom. The floor was swimming and a heap of used towels as well as the damp air indicated a very intensive use. Obviously more than one of their visitors had had a shower. Using the discarded towels to dry the floor at least a bit, she selected her favourite soap, stripped and stepped into the shower cabin. Hot water! Grinning expectantly, she turned the tap … and froze. Literally! The water was ice cold. She jumped out and quickly closed the tap, panting.

Those bastards! They had been sitting inside, their bloody arses high and dry in front of the stove and they had used all the hot water!

A part of her felt simply devastated: exhausted, grimy, smelly and terribly cold, but it was the other part of her that won: the aggressive, determined and ruthless terrier mentality. So after lathering her body, she stepped back into the shower cabin, and gritting her teeth, flushed the suds off with cold water, her mind working wildly on a variety of the most wicked ways to kill some horselords.

Her teeth clicking like some Andalusian castanets, she hurried over to the sleeping room, not even surprised anymore by the clutter of different garments including mail shirts in front of their marital bed. She got dressed, and then her stomach suddenly started to grumble.

Those morons had better left her at least some stew or there would be blood!

Her mood improved, as she found at least some stew left in the kitchen, though it was a rather meagre portion, as if they had just realised that she might want some food as well when coming back, before scraping the last serving out of the pot. Eating the warmed up stew in the kitchen, she listened to the noise coming from the parlour. They had obviously reached Helm's Deep by now.

Her body having warmed in the meantime, she was feeling tired, and thought of calling it a day. As the film was about to come to an end soon, she would just make some last arrangement for the night, like telling them to put the two spare guest-beds into the sleeping room they had obviously chosen anyway. She had to admit it made sense, as it was much bigger than the guest room and would easily hold three beds and give enough space for all three of them to move about unhampered should they need to go to the loo during the night. She just hoped her husband had explained the usage and functioning of said gadget to their visitors.

Yawning she opened the door to the living room … and gasped in disbelief. The room was hot, smelling of wood smoke and alcohol, but the roar of the stove went unheard in the general racket.

Her first glance fell on Éothain, who was again sitting in the chair right across from the door. His hair was unbraided now, laying still damp around his broad shoulders, but it was his garment that made her stare. He was wearing some blue terry cloth pyjama trousers of her husband's that did not reach lower than mid-calf on him, and though they were rather loose on her husband, on the horselord they gave the impression to be in danger of bursting under the movement of his prominent muscles any moment. He had wrapped some towel around his waist that nearly fell to his knees, if for modesty reasons or what else she did not know, and his feet were clad in some sheepskin slippers. His broad chest was covered by a black tee-shirt, as tight as the trousers, sporting the imprint of a tractor track in bright orange across his belly, accompanied by the words "top agrar". He did not notice her, being totally captivated by what was going on on the screen, commenting the scene at the top of his lungs, while his wild and uncoordinated gesticulation caused whatever drink the glass in his left hand held, to slosh liberally. The man was no doubt as pissed as a newt.

Quickly she glanced over to his king on the sofa. He more lay than set on the small piece of furniture, one arm thrown over the squab and wearing... she closed her eyes, shaking her head violently to get the weird picture out of her head. When she opened them again, the view had not changed though.

The King of Rohan sat there, glass in hand, wearing her favourite blouse. The only thing was, that the bramble-coloured garment looked quite different on him, to say the least. Whereas the many pleats caused by a smocked shoulder and sleeve hem served on her to somewhat hide her more than ample bust size and the rather unfeminine bulging biceps, the cloth was drawn straight by his much larger frame, the pleats simply enabling him to fit into it at all. The buttons on throat and cuffs were not closed, the sleeves ending just below his elbow. The lower half of his body sported much the same kind of clothing than his captain's, only the pyjama trousers being grey. His rather large feet were resting amidst a clatter of plates, knives and half-eaten foodstuffs on the low table and were clad in home-knitted green-white socks. She blinked. She had knitted that socks as a Christmas present for her son-in-law, a devoted soccer fan, in the colours of his club, so if Éomer was wearing them, it could only mean one thing: They had found and plundered the Christmas box!

A closer look at the table confirmed her suspicion: a raisin-stuffed heel and some crumbs of candied lemon peel were the last traces of the stollen she had put away to maturate for the feast and a big bone was all that was left of an entire smoked lamb ham. In between lay slices of bread and salami, a loaf of cheese, jars with different candied fruit, biscuits, pickles … the table looked like some kind of battlefield, and in the middle of it stood a nearly empty bottle of rum.

Her husband sat in the easy chair at the top of the table, his legs dangling over one side of the arm-rests, grinning like an idiot and obviously having the time of his life. With rising alarm she spotted a second bottle near the chair, this one empty. There had been three in the box, each containing half a litre of some very special blend. Could it be that they had downed a bottle of rum each? And there had been that crate of beer. They would have the mother of hang-overs the next morning. And what about the boy? Had those oafs given some rum to the lad as well? Winfrid was lying on the rug, muffled in her husband's thick dressing gown, cuddled up to the old Newfoundlander, one arm around the dog's neck, a contented smile on his sleeping face.

How could that boy sleep in all this noise?She just hoped it was not due to some booze.

She took two steps towards the sleeping form, and only now did the dog turn its head to look at her, the tail softly patting the rug but it never left the boy's side. Near their heads stood a decorated box that had held nearly two kilogram of home-made shortbread, now there were not even crumbs left. She rolled her eyes. Knowing her dog, she was sure that that meant about one pound of butter in each of their stomachs. She would just have to wait who puked first, the dog or the lad.

On the TV screen now Éomer was showing up behind Gandalf on the ridge above the Hornburg and the Rohir on the sofa doubled over with laughter, raising some imaginary sword, mimicking the actor. And then hell broke loose. As soon as the Riders in the film started to urge their horses down that incredibly steep slope, both men jumped up, staring at the screen in disbelief.

"Stop those ... idiots! They can't get their mounts down that slope like that!" Swaying and pointing an accusing finger at the screen, but not letting go of his glass, Éomer made to grab her husband, who looked totally flabberghasted, while Éothain apparently looked for some way into the TV set, all the time yelling swearwords in Rohirric. The boy shot up disorientated, the dog started to bark and growl... the commotion was nothing but perfect.

With a furious movement she slammed down on the remote control, the screen went black, and all of the living room's former occupants shut up in unison.

"Oh, my dearesh … cuddly wife." Getting out of the horselord's grip, her husband waved at her grinningly. "We lef you shome shew."

"I noticed, " she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm."You left me some stew but used up the hot water, plundered the Christmas box, and got ratted."

"Ecshacly!" His grin was now threatening to split his face, and he tried to put an arm around her waist and pull her close.

Angrily she shoved him away. "I had the hell of a job, it's cold, wet and stormy outside, and mind you: I'm not overmuch fond of having my arm shoved up some cow's arse. And I bloody well have the right to some hot water, order and quiet in my own house when coming back."

Her anger even reached through their alcoholic haze and while her husband truly looked contrite Éothain sat down on the floor in front of the TV with an embarrassed face while his king tried for some kind of excuse. It was astonishing, how well he could muster his senses once he had recognised the situation as urgent. His voice much less slurred than before, he turned to the woman. "Sorry, mistress Thanwen, we'll pay attention to leave enough water next time.

"Next time?" Her eyebrows shot up to her hairline.

With a big grin the Rohir nodded. "Yep. We mean to stay, your husband has agreed to put us up until you have provided some story for the winter months. That's what we were celebrating, you see?"

The stout little woman stood speechless, something that did not occur to her very often. The king pleadingly held out his hands, swaying only slightly. "Try to understand. You abandoned us, left us to darkness, cold and boredom. Did you really think we would accept it without resistance? Well, we are here now, and unless you continue the story, we have nowhere to go."

Grudgingly she had to admit at least to herself that his claim made some sense, though she never would tell him. "Why do you need your own story? Why don't you just go into some other story?"

Éomer King shook his head. "We can't, because we are already there. That is, some other blokes with our names are there, because it's their story." Seeing her frown, he shrugged. "Maybe Winfrid could go, but I would not like to leave him alone. Nobody would know him in that story, he would have no family, no friends. You cannot really want the boy to suffer anything like that."

Gritting her teeth, she realized that the king was not half as drunk as his captain and her husband. Her husband! How could that idiot have made such an arrangement with this pest of a horselord! And then it dawned on her: How could he? He could not! He did not speak the language!

Angrily she glared at the king. "You planned this. You got my husband drunk on purpose and you made him agree to something he did not even understand."

The king's face did not give away anything. "Maybe. But anyway we'll stay till March unless you give us some life over the winter months. I would have preferred you to be reasonable, but dire straits demand dire measures." His outstretched hand landed heavily on her shoulder. "And, mistress Thanwen, don't you forget: You promised me a wedding night. Otherwise we might well visit you again in summer."

Her eyes daggers, she shoved off his hand. "That's blackmail, Horseking."

"Exactly." With a smirk he raised his glass to her. "I'm already learning German. Prost!"

He should not have done that. Being defeated and mucked about was just one thing too many and caused her to slip into some cool, ruthless attitude her students feared and used to call "second level of escalation", the first one being her usual yelling and swearing, while the third was far and wide unknown as they claimed that no one had survived it yet to explain.

With a deadpan expression she turned on her heel and left for her study. In the parlour the Rohirrim started to chant some kind of battle song as she booted up her PC, a grim smile on her face. Raising her chin in challenge, she let her chubby fingers descend on the keys, a wicked gleam in her eyes.

He would get what he wanted, and he would wish he had never asked for it.

Annotations:

husbonde: (old English) housewife

cyning: (old Englisg) king

Prost!: (German) Cheers!