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3. Choosing Horses
The three remaining elves joined the party by the horses, and introduced themselves. Galion, the ginger elf, was a sword fighter. He was a lot stronger looking than the others’ slim figures, with bulging biceps under his woolen tunic. On his back he had strapped a huge, double-handed sword in a leather scabbard. Unlike Wynne he had no freckles, as one would expect with that red mane of hair, but his skin did have that pale, almost translucent tone that Wynne had noticed on ginger humans.
The king carried two slender swords in ornate scabbards, but the other elves were bowmen, although they had long daggers in their belts as a backup. Nodir and Bronedir, the two dark elves, were brothers. Their heritage was southern, their mother came from an elf settlement south of Harad, which explained the tanned skin of the sons. Not that Wynne would have known, anyway, she had no idea what elves usually looked like.
After the short presentation, the elves began to take down their tents and pack their belongings in a speedy, efficient way. When they were done it was almost impossible to see where the camp had been, so carefully did they restore everything. It was clear that the elves respected the nature, which made Wynne slightly less apprehensive of them. A creature who cared for the living things in its surrounding, could not be all that bad.
They did not carry much, and their luggage fit well into the saddlebags Wynne had brought. The horses not chosen for riding would carry their packs, including her own bags. If need be, they could ride the pack horses alternately. They were all equally suited for riding, and alternating horses was always a good way to spare them.
Wynne let the elves pick out mounts among all the horses, except her own Vatna, watching them carefully as they did. She was curious about which ones they would choose.
The king went first, daring the others to precede him with a stern look. Wynne had to hide a smile when he was done, the stallion he took was the most headstrong of them all. Thranduil would have a handful with that one.
Galion was next up, he seemed to have singled out a huge gelding beforehand, and Wynne nodded appreciatively. It was a good choice. Hlaupari was strong and fast, and would not tire even with such a muscled warrior on his back.
The dark elf brothers seemed to care less about what rides they got, they soon picked two similar looking bays, both mares. One was a lot more active than the other, Wynne knew, but they would notice that themselves before long.
Legolas took his time before he made his decision. He walked slowly among the horses, stroked them, looked them in the eye and blew air on their noses. Finally he picked a slender, young mare in a pretty chestnut color. The mare had answered his blowing with a puff of air of her own, and then commenced to nuzzle his shoulder in a friendly way. It was clear they had both taken a liking to each other.
Legolas was the only elf wishing to know what the name of his horse meant, which rose him even further in Wynne’s eyes.
“Her name is Stelpa, and it means girl in Old Rohirric,” translated Wynne.
“Stelpa. Very fitting name. I like it.” He fondled the chestnut’s forehead, following the contours of her white star.
It was time to get going, and the elves promptly mounted their horses in a varying range of difficulty, used to saddles and stirrups as they obviously were.
Prince Legolas was an exception; with an elegant jump he straddled his mare, and she did not even flinch. Already he and Stelpa seemed connected, somehow.
“How do we make them to go the way we want?” King Thranduil managed to sound lofty and unconcerned, despite the wild capering and shaking of the head his stallion made.
Wynne then instructed them of the basic commands, both verbal and by touch of the legs, to make their steeds walk faster, slower, turn right or left, and walk backwards. She doubted they would remember half of it, but with Vatna in the lead the horses were likely to follow her anyway. Vatna had a high status in the herd.
They followed the Anduin south, heading in the direction of the Brown Lands where Thranduil said many orcs were still hiding. The Ring War ten years ago had been the death of most of Sauron’s armies, but some of them had scattered all over Arda, seeking refuge in any uninhabited areas where they could waylay unexpecting journeymen and rob them of both their belongings and their lives. Wynne could only barely remember the dark times of the War, young as she had been, but for Thranduil it seemed that hardly no time had passed.
“I have scouts out all over the Wood of Greenleaves, or Mirkwood as it was formerly named. There is less evil there now, but still not a month go by without us finding another spider’s nest or orc den.”
Wynne wondered then why the king had agreed to leave his forest to come so far south, was he not needed at home? What if something happened to him, and left his kingdom without its regent? If they all were slain they would not even have the next in line, the prince.
“We must all do our part in this, king or no king. My people are not so depending on me, they will manage. Some might say it will be an improvement without my meddling.”
Was there a hint of a smile in the corner of his mouth? Wynne was surprised. She had believed Thranduil to lack humor entirely.
They spent the better part of that day on horseback, making only a short stop for lunch. The elves managed the horses quite well, even the king despite his steed’s repeated mischief. More than once the stallion stopped mid-canter to graze a few mouthfuls of yellow grass. Thranduil miraculously managed to keep his balance, and stay seated each time.
“You are a good horseman,” Wynne complimented. The king only grunted in reply, the annoyance showing plainly in his beautiful face. But he could not really complain about the horse’s behaviour, as he had chosen it himself. Complaining would be the same as admitting that he had made an uninformed decision, and it was evident to Wynne that he would rather have the horse throw him off before that happened. He was one of those persons who would never admit to being wrong. Quite a bit like Wynne’s Mother, actually.
Nodir and Bronedir soon discovered the different speed of their bays, one being happy to join the front of the company and the other rather lazy, with a tendency to stay some distance behind the rest. Since the brothers preferred to ride in each other's company, this turned out to be a hard nut to crack, and in the end Bronedir had to change to a horse Wynne told him was the mother of Nodir’s mare. After that the journey went a lot smoother for the pair.
They camped by the Anduin late in the afternoon, and as Wynne tended to the horses the others put up the tents and started a campfire. Wynne felt over each horse carefully with her hands, searching for warm or swollen limbs, and checking their hooves for stones. Before she rejoined the elf company she gave Vatna a long hug.
“Oh my sweet girl, what am I to do?” The mare nuzzled her shoulder and huffed softly. Wynne blinked away the tears that burned in the corner of her eyes. How could Mother believe she had even the slightest chance to make anyone fall for her? Especially not stuck up, self-important fellows such as this lot.
Wynne looked back at the elves, who had lined up barefoot by the river, cleaning their arms and faces thoroughly in its cold waters. She realized this was her cue, this was her opportunity to show some skin as well.
With slow, reluctant steps she proceeded towards the five elves, starting to unbutton her tunic as she went.
If you like this so far, I'd be super happy for feedback. <3
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