"Ready or not, here I
Fréalas crouched underneath the brush, trying with all her
might to silence her breathing. The sound of whistling cut through the
bright air, clear as birdsong.
He always tries to find me
first, it's not fair! she thought, and flattened herself to the
ground, more wormlike with each movement. It was at this most important
moment, when stillness and silence were key if one did not want to be
tagged, that she noticed the stone digging into her left knee. But she
dare not move for fear of discovery. Ignoring the unexpected
discomfort, she held her breath.
The whistling drew nearer.
Under the shelter of the tall grass and shrubs on the edge of the
forest, she who would not be found tried to be as quiet as a shadow.
Glancing sideways, the eight year old gauged how far she had to run to
get to the safe haven of the sheep-pen and then she could hide again for
yet another round of Boar and Mouse.
That brief movement was
enough. The glint of sunlight on red hair gave her away, and she heard
an "Aha!" and knew that her hiding place was not what she had hoped for.
Before jumping up and dashing to the sheep-pen and her freedom, she
grasped at the bit of stone that had so rudely found its way into her
hiding place. Only with a most brief glance did she look at the smooth
disc before shoving it into her dress pocket. Springing up, she took in
the decreasing distance of her brother's feet. All hope lost, she ran
as fast as her legs could carry her, trying to make an arc away from him
and toward the nearby pen.
She was utterly
dismayed to see the fence-post in front of her, tantalisingly within
grasp, when at that moment her feet betrayed her and down she
"Frithlíc!" she cried, even as she knew she was losing,
seeing her friends run to the fence post in surety now that someone had
gotten caught in their stead. But he wouldn't win without a
"Ow! Fréalas, why'd you have to go and do that, eh?" He
stood on one leg, rubbing his ankle with his other bare foot where his
younger sister's fist had found its mark. Catching her breath, she and
her brother and friends heard the horn blowing that meant the end of
their game for today.
"Well!" a snaggle-toothed boy said,
grinning widely, "guess you'll be the Boar tomorrow!"
response, she stuck out her tongue. "Halma, son of Halmwine, I know all
of your hiding places. Don't think you'll be a mouse for
The sun was setting as they walked near the soothing
gurgles of the Mering Stream, back to their cluster of homes, the White
Mountains glowing as though lit with inner fire. Above them, the clouds
blazed with colour, orange and scarlet, and even streaks of lilac.
Fréalas stopped, appreciative of the splendour of colours on display and
said, "The sky is so fiery!"
One of the other children, in a
singsong voice, said,
"Red sky at night, rider's
Red sky at morning, Eorlingas take
Fréalas thought it was one of the most beautiful
sunsets she had ever seen. It was true that she had an almost unnatural
fondness for the time of the sun's setting, and dusk in general, but she
couldn't help it! Why else have eyes, she thought, if not to
appreciate the hues in the skies, the blues of day, turning to reds and
violets and the twinkling of stars, whose patterns she was beginning to
learn. Her heart leapt and she thanked the mostly nameless ones who
ruled fate and time for placing her in the plains of grasses that she
called home. She was sure that there was nowhere in Middle Earth more
beautiful than the land of the Riddermark, especially her land by the
Firien woods. Who else could possibly know the joys of wading on the
banks of the clear waters of the Mering Stream (and who else could
possess as many smooth skipping stones as she had?), and
stone! She quickly stuck her hand in her pocket to see if the
mysterious rock had escaped during her dash to the sheep-pen. It was
still there, and she drew it out. Clumps of dirt clung to it, so she
unceremoniously wiped it on her woven skirt, and was amazed to see that
it had markings. The indentions were dirt-filled, so she ran over to
the stream to rinse it off.
"Where are you going?" Frithlíc
"My business is my own."
"I'll have it out of
you," he warned, with a half-smile.
Squatting by the stream,
Fréalas submerged rock and herself to the forearms, bracing at the
water's chill. With a half-bitten fingernail she scraped out the dirt
until she could see the designs clearly. It wasn't runes, she decided,
seeing the three curvy lines and three stars above them. But what did
it mean? What did it say? Her mother was unique in that she knew her
letters, but Fréalas had been unable as of yet to convince her mother to
teach her as well.
"Well, we're going to be late! What have you
Fréalas almost fell in, shocked by the voice right behind
"Frithlíc, you startled me. Oromë's horn!"
Who taught you that? You had best watch your tongue, little one,
before you get in trouble. Now what is that?"
She turned, and
was about to say that she really didn't know and wanted to get his
opinion on it, but knew that they needed to go back to safety of home
with their warm fire, and cosy wooden tables. It was well within
community memory of fine people in the Mark being killed by Orcs, hence
the extra precaution of blowing the horn at the end of the day for any
children who may have strayed away and not realized how soon the sun
would set. Fréalas, like all children her age, was learning to shoot
with bow and arrow, as well as basic swordsmanship. She hoped that she
never had to use those skills, but the alternative could be far worse,
if what she had heard about Orcs was true.
Frithlíc raised an
"Not a secret, I hope?"
They were of very
different temperament, but they shared a trait that was as obvious
within their community of tall, fair-haired folk as a lone tree standing
on the grassy plains. Through the workings of which horse-lord or
horse-lady Fréalas was quite unsure, but she and her brother had red
hair. Not simply sun-kissed, which was not infrequent, but truly
blazing, the colour of coals Fréalas saw at the smiths' as they hammered
the metal shoes for their beloved steeds. Hair that shade was unusual,
though not considered unnatural, and neighbours simply attributed it to
the fact that Fréawyn, their mother, was said to be of distant lineage
from the ancient line of Northmen, now few and scattered.
passed the newly-cleaned rock to her brother.
He grunted. "Not
runes. But what it says, I am unsure."
He looked it over
carefully, turning it over and again in his hands, gazing at it over his
freckled nose with hazel eyes.
"Doesn't look like it was made by
Elves, if you ask me," he continued.
"I didn't, but how would you
know? You've never seen an Elf! Doesn't look Dwarvish either; it's too
plain. Their work is more delicate, somehow, though that doesn't mean
what I mean
She stopped speaking, brows furrowed.
of that knife that Mother uses for her chopping and
voice faltered. This was her mother's sharpest knife, used both for
household chores and more delicate surgical purposes, when needed, as
when Fréalas had gotten a skin infection of sorts. She hadn't known how
it all happened, but then her mother had used the knife to make an
incision in the reddened flesh to let out the poison. It hurt like
fire, and she had wailed, especially after her mother put witch hazel to
it, but it had done the trick, and there was but a half-moon scar on her
leg as evidence of what had happened.
"Yes, I know," Frithlíc
intervened. "What of it?"
"Well, we don't often see the Dwarves.
But still, this doesn't look like their handiwork. Here, say, give it
back! I found it!"
"No need to get possessive over an old rock,
Frithlíc's eyes glinted as he tossed it back to his
sister. "Isn't it time that you had a bath, eh? Ah, lucky
Fréalas frowned. It wasn't that she minded the hot water
warmed over the fire for bathing, to be sure, but now that it was early
spring she always seemed to be cold, and the inconvenience of hauling
water from the Mering for a mere bath seemed unwarranted. Especially
since she was going to be wearing the same clothes tomorrow. At least
their mother had skill in making tallow-soaps of pleasing scent, full of
the lavender that grew on the nearby hills.
They didn't often go
to the royal city of Edoras, but on occasion the Frithmund family did
travel more to the heart of the Mark, trading soaps for things that
couldn't be bartered from the other families near the woods. One could
find spices there, from warmer lands further south, and metalworks from
the Dwarves traversing the Western Road. There was the occasional
Gondorian coming to visit family, as those of Rohan and Gondor were so
inextricably linked, though Fréalas always felt somehow looked down on;
rustic, through the eyes of the well-clad Southerners. "Are they all so
tall?" she wondered, and couldn't understand why they all seemed to have
such dark hair. She sometimes noticed the occasional furtive stare,
usually from a Gondorian child, at Frithlíc and her, with their freckles
and fiery locks. She was quite sure that she didn't like those folk from
the big stone city. Who would want to live in a place with such an
ugly name as Mundburg? she thought at such times. When confronted
with a rare sugared candy offered in a gesture of friendliness, however,
she was also quite unwilling to refuse the
The evening passed without incident, and
after a dinner of mutton and potatoes and a scrub-down at her mother's
insistence, Fréalas asked for leave to visit the Ísensmith family.
Shrugging, her father gave permission, so after donning her
gearnscrúd, Fréalas walked barefoot to her neighbors. Their
family had a few weeks ago been blessed with a daughter, Tamára, and
Fréalas longed for a few moments of solitude with her. The Eorlingas
believed heartily in the purifying aspects of being outside in the fresh
air, and so built rocking cribs for their babes in the forms of horses
that they placed in sheltered side porches. As the moon looked down on
the clusters of small homesteads, She would often see a fair daughter of
Rohan sitting in a chair next to her horse-crib, rocking it whilst
singing a lullaby to her newborn. It was believed that by being exposed
to wind and star and moon that the child would gather the strength
needed to be a part of these isolated peoples, proud, yet wary,
intuition as keen as starlight, and always guarded. So Fréalas visited
the Ísensmith's, waving a greeting to young Smithson, then making her
way to stand next to Tamára's crib for some quiet rocking time. While
gently pushing the blonde infant, she sang a lullaby from her recent
Lullay my lýtling, my dear one, my
Lullay my dear heart, my own dear
As the babe cooed and then fell into
sleep, Fréalas watched the skies as the constellations silently followed
their ages-old patterns across the night sky.
Tamára?" she murmured. "There's Swánsteorra the swan
and Eofor the
Seems as though he is unwilling to share the sky with the other
stars, he takes up so much room!" Fréalas pulled her knitted top around
her more closely, keeping away the evening chill. "As for me," she
said, giving the child a final look for the night, "I simply want to
share the fire. Sweet dreams."
Fréalas pulled the bow with what felt like all
of her remaining strength, yet as soon as she released the arrow, it was
painfully obvious that it would hit nowhere near the intended mark on
the hay bale. Sighing, she bent down and picked up yet another for
practice, pausing to wipe the sweat off of her forehead with the back of
her hand. It was now the height of summer, so in addition to the heat
itself as an impediment to concentration, there was the issue of trying
to ignore the biting horseflies that were part and parcel of living
around so many horses and sheep. Though clad in the lightest woven
dress she had, it was still hot. And she still was not a very good
archer, but determined at least to be as accurate as that silly Halma.
She shook her head in resignation. Why can't I be valued for my
speed? she thought. Or in knowledge of the night sky? But
knowing which way is east and west is not of much use if Orcs are
running at you
Besides, what else awaited her? Weeding in the
garden, or going to find yet another sheep that had managed to stray too
far from its home -
"Perhaps if you don't put quite so much
energy into grasping the bow, you'll have more control over where the
She wheeled around, looking for the source of the
unexpected archery lesson. A tall man, with dark hair and grey eyes
with a hint of mirth emerged from the nearby forest eaves. Bow and
arrow still in her hands, Fréalas started to ask who he was, but when
nothing came out, she cleared her throat and tried again.
are you?" she sputtered, trying to take in the figure, who wore clothes
that looked as though they had travelled far and were as unkempt as the
wearer. He had spoken in Rohirric, but there was an accent to it. Not
knowing what else to do since she was alone, Fréalas stood her ground,
He smiled, raising his arms to indicate that he
would not do her any arm, and while slowly walking toward her said,
"Long-walker, you may call me. Though it has been many years since I was
on your fair plains, it gladdens my heart to see that the people of
Rohan value still both their sons and daughters in its
At this, Fréalas loosened her hold on her bow, trying
to sort through the wildly spinning thoughts in her mind. How had
this man approached so silently? Why was he standing there? Where was
he from? Why her?
"I believe you dropped this." He kneeled,
retrieving out of the grass the incised rock that Fréalas had continued
to carry with her, trying to figure out its riddles when not doing more
mundane things such as watering the garden and staying out of trouble.
It must have flung out of her pocket during her sudden reorientation
toward the stranger in the woods. He gave it a look, and an unreadable
and strange expression passed over his face. Straightening, he offered
it to her. "Are you able to read its markings?"
She shook her
head, and lowered her bow and arrow. "My mother is able to read, but I
have yet to learn." Looking first at the ground, then daring to return
his gaze, she went on. "We of the Mark are to be swift in horse and
sword and mind, but the reading of runes and scripts is not valued as
highly as those that keep body and soul as one."
Since he kept
her gaze, and didn't speak, she continued, "Neither is that of learning
the star-patterns, but
" here she stopped. Who was she, a child of no
one of importance, to talk to this stranger who had simply appeared out
of the forest? She gave him a keen look. Well, he hasn't even put
his hand to his sword, and I'm not dead yet, and he does speak in my
language. The thoughts danced back and forth in her mind like bees
hastily journeying from flower to flower. "If you have lived here
before, then you know that we feel best when on horseback, or if not
that, with our feet in the grasses and our voices in song. To be sure, I
will do my best to safeguard our lands, as I feel they are the most
beautiful in the world." She continued to hold her bow and arrow and
stood her ground, yet felt increasingly smaller as each moment passed,
as though she were the namesake to be discovered in a game of Boar and
With a very serious look, he offered her back the disc.
Fréalas shifted the arrow into her left hand so that her right hand was
free to receive it. "Long have I missed you and your folk. I fear far
less now for the fate of the Rohirrim in these darkening times, having
the fortune to cross paths with its future." The grey-eyed stranger
gave her a studious look. "This is no talisman, but a piece of history.
Guard it well, for only six left the walls of Minas Tirith many, many
years ago. That one has found its way to you is rare
Fréalas nodded. She looked at the disc with its stars
and unreadable symbols, then back up at the tall foreigner.
look like one who would find more satisfaction answering the innards of
this riddle by her own merit rather than being told the answer unbidden.
This much will I tell you: the letters are in Tengwar, and say
'Steward.' Your ancestors are woven into its tale." He stood in
expectant silence, while Fréalas tried desperately to formulate a
question, or sentence, or anything.
"I will find out what I am
able -" she tried to remember what he had said his name was.
"Long-walker? That isn't really your name anyway, is it?" It was
obvious that wherever he came from, he wasn't of the elite of Gondor,
nor of her kind. Neither was he Elf-kind, at least by looks; not that
she had actually seen any of them herself, but she couldn't believe that
any of those ancient ones would be so
He crouched down to
be closer to her eye level, and gave her a searching look. "I am known
by many names, and I am needed elsewhere at present." With that, he
rose, and turned to head back into the Firien Woods. After a few steps,
he stopped, and rounded to face her. "If I happen to find myself near
the Mering Stream again and see a red haired maid of Rohan, how should I
Fréalas looked at the figure, already disappearing
into the forest, his garb blending into the shadows of the trees. "I am
Fréalas, daughter of Fréawyn, Long-walker." Looking down, she realized
that she was still holding her bow and arrow, her sweaty palms allowing
it to slide to the end of the shaft. "I hope that if we do meet again,
my bowmanship will be that worthy of our people." She looked into the
gloom of the woods. "Should I call you Long-walker?" It was almost as
though someone else had asked that question. Where was her brother?
Where was anybody?
"I will answer to that."
And then she
was alone again, with more sweat on her brow and above her lips to be
wiped off with the back of her hand. Holding her stone with even more
reverence than she had prior to this unexpected meeting, Fréalas ran to
rescue her misaimed arrows, then back to her house and ask her mother
about what the word Steward and stars on a rock had to do with her
for this story comes from three sentences in the story "Cirion and Eorl"
found in Unfinished Tales. "He [Cirion] called for volunteers,
and choosing six riders of great courage and endurance he sent them out
in pairs with a day's interval between them. Each bore a message learned
by heart, and also a small stone incised with the seal of the
Stewards, that he should deliver to the Lord of the Éothéod in
person, if he succeeded in reaching that land
The first pair of
messengers left on the tenth day of Súlimë [March]; and in the event it
was one of these, alone of all the six, who got through to the
Éothéod." (emphasis mine) The appendix indicates that there were 3
letters, R ND R spelling arandur, or Steward.
I thought it
would be fun for an ordinary child to find this unique piece of history,
which would be very nearly 500 years old since the story is set in the
year 3001. The grey-eyed stranger, well-travelled and knowing so much
of the history of Gondor is, of course, Aragorn.
yarn-cloak, or sweater (jumper)
lýtling = infant,
dréam= joy, happiness
"Daughters", Chapter 2
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