Stirrups and Stitches by Linda Hoyland
Rating - T
Summary - Arwen and Éowyn try to help a distressed young Princess.
Disclaimer – The familiar characters belong to Tolkien and his heirs. I make no money for writing this story.
With grateful thanks to Raksha and Deandra for editorial assistance and to Pauline and NiRi for their expertise in subjects I know little about.
Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? the glory of his nostrils is terrible. He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet the armed men. Job 39 .19-21.– The Bible.
“My esteemed lord expects me to ride through the streets with him?” Minnah asked dolefully.
“That is the custom in Dol Amroth so the people can see their new Princess,” Arwen explained.
“But I cannot ride!”
“You cannot ride?” Éowyn looked shocked. “I have been told that not many women in your lands do, but I assumed as you were about to marry a Lord of the West you would have been taught. Are you afraid of horses?”
“I like horses very much, honoured Lady Éowyn,” said Minnah. “I would watch my honoured father ride his great war stallion into battle and I was sometimes permitted to visit the foals and fillies.” She smiled wistfully. “Horses are prized by the khans even more than their second-born sons. Yet no maiden in Harad is permitted to ride. It is said such exercise might cause her fail the sheet test on her bridal night and bring great shame upon her family!”
“There is no such test in my lord’s realms,” said Arwen. “Our maidens are well chaperoned and protected, but the young women of the noble houses learn to ride, alongside their brothers.”
“Alas!” cried Minnah. “I will bring shame upon my honoured lord and upon my house! May the Lord and Lady of the Moon be merciful!”
“I am certain that Elphir would-“
“Nonsense!” interrupted Éowyn. “I can teach you to ride, Princess Minnah.”
“But how can I master such a skill in so short a time, honoured lady?”
“All you need to learn is stay atop a gentle horse,” said Éowyn. “It is simply a question of balance. You are fond of horses, so that is a good start, since they know full well who likes them or not. Arwen, do you need the Princess for dress fittings in the morning?”
Arwen shook her head.
“Good, then we will begin your riding lessons after breakfast on the morrow, Princess Minnah.”
“You honour me, esteemed Lady Éowyn. I shall strive to master this noble art.”
“Have no fear that you will,” said Éowyn. “I taught Elestelle to ride when she was four years old, while even Elboron, who is not yet two can sit astride his pony with ease while I lead him round the paddock.”
A little later, Arwen and Éowyn found themselves alone together when the Princess retired to her chamber.
“Why did you not let me suggest to Minnah that Elphir would surely not mind if she rode in a carriage?” asked Arwen.
“The girl is timid as a mouse,” said Éowyn. “She needs some confidence before she becomes a bride. Learning to ride would give her that. I deplore how women in Harad are treated like fragile hothouse plants to be plucked by the menfolk! Exercise and fresh air should make Minnah blossom.”
“I believe you are right,” said Arwen. “And should she fail to learn to ride, there is always a carriage.”
“She will learn,” said Éowyn. “I need the help of the children first. May Eldarion join Elboron and the girls outside?”
“Of course,” said Arwen. “Are you planning to take them riding? I must return to my embroidery.”
“I simply need them to go to the paddocks with me,” said Éowyn rather mysteriously.
“The fresh air will be good for Eldarion,” said Arwen. She was already halfway out through the doorway.
Éowyn went first to the stables to speak with her grooms and then to the nursery and told the children to gather up all their musical instruments. A few minutes later, she led them out to the paddock where her young mares were grazing. She told the children to play their instruments while shouting and singing as loudly as they could.
“I thought we weren’t supposed to make a lot of noise near the horses,” said Elbeth.
“Usually, you should not,” said Éowyn. “I want to find one that is not scared by noise and making lots of noise is the only way to discover which of the mares is calmest. So please make as much noise as you can.”
The children set to with a will and produced an ear- splitting din that made Éowyn cringe. Elboron yelled at the top of his voice and banged a drum as only a toddler can, while Eldarion blew a trumpet. The girls sang and waved tambourines. Éowyn carefully observed the mares. Several bolted off to the far side of the field with their ears flattened, others simply stopped grazing and looked around. Several took no notice at all.
Éowyn told the accompanying servant to fetch her grooms. They arrived a few moments later carrying tack, as Éowyn had instructed them previously. She ordered them to saddle up the mares that had remained calm and ride around the paddock. She then told the children to play the instruments again and alternately cheer and boo at the tops of their voices. She sincerely hoped that most of the folk in Dol Amroth would welcome Princess Minnah, but there was always a risk that some might not.
One of the mares reared and almost threw her rider. She told him to dismount and unsaddle the horse and return her to the paddock. She continued to watch the others, most of them looked fairly untroubled, but two, a bay and a sorrel seemed especially calm. Éowyn instructed the grooms to take those two to the stable and release the others back into the field. She then returned to the nursery with the children and stayed with them for a while.
Before bedtime, Éowyn visited the two mares in the stables. She had long been trying to breed horses that would be good for riding under a variety of circumstances. She tried to decide which of the two would be most suitable for the nervous Princess, but both mares were equally friendly and placid. It might be best if Minnah chose her mount, or better still the horse chose her! In the Riddermark, horses almost always chose their riders.
After breakfast the next morning, Éowyn found some riding boots that would fit Minnah and took her out to the stables. The ever- present Raha trailed behind them. Éowyn introduced the Princess to the two horses she had chosen the day before. The bay hung back, but the sorrel immediately nuzzled against the girl.
“She is beautiful!” Minnah exclaimed.
“If you can learn to ride her, she is yours,” said Éowyn.
“You would give me so great a gift, honoured Lady Éowyn?” Minnah’s eyes lit up, though she looked as if she could hardly believe her ears. “May the Lady of the Moon forever guide you to dwell near an oasis!”
“She will be my wedding gift to you if you can master her. She is a good horse; her sire is of elvish stock, while her dam came from my homeland, which is famed for its horses.”
Minnah beamed and clapped her hands in delight. She turned to her maid and for a moment chatted to her excitedly in her own tongue before returning her attention to Éowyn. “I have heard of the horses of Rohan,” said Minnah. She fed the sorrel a carrot that Éowyn had handed to her. “What is this horses’ name?”
“Her name is Rusca,” said Éowyn. “My husband named her soon after she was born. Now let us get her saddled and you can begin your first lesson.”
“I can hardly wait, honoured lady. Long have I desired to ride a horse.”
Éowyn smiled at the girl who was almost childlike in her excitement.
One of the grooms saddled Rusca and led her to a nearby paddock where the children usually rode their ponies. Éowyn asked the man to bring a mounting block and hold the mare’s bridle.
“Today, you will just learn to get used to sitting upon Rusca’s back,” said Éowyn. “Tomorrow, you can start learning to ride at a slow walking pace. This mare is well trained and you can trust her, but she will need to trust you too.”
“I shall try my utmost, honoured Lady Éowyn,” said Minnah. She allowed Éowyn to help her sit in the side- saddle, and place her feet in the stirrups. The young Princess nervously looked down and around her. “It is very high up here, esteemed lady!” she said. “May the lord and Lady of the Moon protect me!”
“You will learn that is a good feeling,” said Éowyn firmly. “Now, don’t slouch, keep your back straight and your hands steady. If you pull at Rusca’s mouth, you will hurt her. Keep your legs steady too so that you are secure. Your toes should point upwards. Keep your ankles flexed and your heels down as that will keep you secure by not allowing your feet to slip through the stirrups.”
Minnah screwed up her face in concentration as you tried to follow these instructions. “What if I fall?” she asked anxiously.
“You will not if you do what I say,” said Éowyn. “Try to feel at ease. If you feel upset, so will Rusca.”
“I do not wish to upset her,” said Minnah. “She is so beautiful.”
By the end of the morning, Minnah looked almost as relaxed upon Rusca’s back as she did sitting upon a chair. Éowyn was pleased with her pupil and told her so.
The next morning, Éowyn again took the Princess out into the paddock and helped her mount the mare. Then she handed the girl a whip.
“I will not hurt Rusca!” Minnah protested indignantly.
“Neither do I wish you to,” said Éowyn. She was beginning to warm to the girl. “You use the whip to give your horse cues, as riding side-saddle you only have one foot to show her where you want to go. Now keep your posture correct. Your hips and shoulders should be square on and your spine aligned with the horse’s spine. Your heels should be below your toes and both ankles flexed. The left heel must touch the side of the horse whilst in the stirrup, and the right heel stays down for balancing.”
“There is so much to remember, honoured Lady Éowyn.”
“I shall teach you to remember,” said Éowyn. “I shall now lead you round the paddock. Hold on to the reins evenly.” She started to lead Rusca around the field at a very slow pace. With every step they took, Minnah became more confident.
“I’m riding a horse!” she exclaimed when they reached the far side of paddock.
“Indeed you are,” said Éowyn. “Is it not the most wonderful feeling? Tomorrow, you shall try guiding Rusca yourself.”
Minnah nodded and smiled broadly.
At the noonday meal, Minnah excitedly informed Arwen that she had been riding. Her eyes were alight and her skin was glowing. She ate her food with enthusiasm and even requested a second helping.
As the days passed, Minnah became increasingly confident. Éowyn concluded the young princess had a natural affinity with horses. As her riding skills increased, she blossomed like a flower too long in the shade, suddenly exposed to the sun.
When Aragorn and Faramir returned for a visit, they found their wives engrossed in wedding preparations.
“How is our timid Princess faring?” asked Aragorn, putting his head around the door of the sewing room.
“You will be surprised when you see her,” said Arwen. She put her embroidery to one side and went to join her husband. “Éowyn is teaching her to ride and she is blossoming.”
“That is excellent news,” said Aragorn. Linking his arm in his wife’s, the royal pair walked outside to where they could see Minnah riding around the paddock under Éowyn’s close supervision. The Princess’s laughter was carried to them on the breeze. “Elphir will be delighted. Faramir and I were talking to him while we were in the City,” said Aragorn. “He told Faramir and I that one of the reasons that he asked for Minnah’s hand in marriage was because he felt so concerned for her wellbeing. It seems that no one wanted to marry her because her mother is presently out of favour with the Kha Khan. The Kha Khan tried to persuade Elphir to marry another of his daughters instead, the sister of his heir, but Elphir was able to decline as the girl was only twelve years old.”
Arwen sighed. “I feel for the maidens of Harad.”
“The lowly born women have far more freedom then their high born sisters,” said Aragorn. “As do the nomads, many of the wandering groups are led by very competent women. I have met them on my travels.” His eyes fixed on Minnah as she executed a perfect turn around a hedge on the sorrel mare. “I believe Minnah’s mother came from one of those tribes. Minnah reminds me of the nomads in the way she sits on the horse as if it were part of her.”
The King and Queen wandered over to the paddock. Arwen became somewhat apprehensive, wondering how Minnah would react to the King’s presence. To her surprise, the Princess from Harad rode over to them and inclined her head.
“Greetings my esteemed Lord King and my esteemed Lady Queen,” said Minnah with a smile.
Aragorn smiled back as he called out a greeting.
The days passed until the date of the wedding neared. It had been decided that the wedding party would travel to Dol Amroth mostly by water, down the Anduin and then along the coast to their destination.
The Royal Barge was large enough to comfortably accommodate the King and Steward and their families, as well as the Princess and her maid and their horses. Minnah’s escort travelled overland to meet up with the bride at her destination.
Minnah was as excited on the journey as the children. Fortunately, she was not seasick. She could hardly believe her eyes when they reached the coast. “So much water!” she exclaimed as she stood on the deck beside Arwen and Éowyn and the children. “It is as vast as the desert!”
“You will soon grow accustomed to your new home,” said Arwen.
“I like it already, esteemed Lady Arwen,” said Minnah. Then she looked anxious. “Shall I see you and honoured Lady Éowyn again?”
Arwen smiled reassuringly. “Of course you will. We often visit Lord Imrahil and his family, as do Faramir and Éowyn.”
“And Faramir and I shall invite you and Elphir to stay with us in Ithilien,” said Éowyn.
Faramir owned a house in Dol Amroth, which he had inherited from his mother. He had decided it would be perfect for the bridal party to stay there for two days before the wedding. The ladies continued with wedding preparations and shooed their husbands and children off to the beach.
The day of the wedding dawned clear and sunny, a perfect day for a celebration. Ambassador Tahir and Lady Adiva had arrived the previous day. Aragorn had been asked to perform the ceremony in the town square where the groom and his family, including Faramir and Éowyn, would be waiting. The newlyweds would then ride through the streets in their wedding finery before enjoying a wedding banquet.
Arwen and Minnah’s maid helped the young bride dress. After she had bathed in water scented with rose petals, Arwen and Raha dressed her first in long drawers and a linen shift with a low neckline before easing her into her bridal gown. After the initial fittings, Arwen had kept the dress hidden from the young princess. Now she saw the finished gown for the first time, she clapped her hands in delight. It was truly a magnificent dress. The full skirt of scarlet silk fell in graceful folds as did the long sleeves, which were lined with the blue of Dol Amroth. The bodice was of the same blue, while embroidered in silver and mithril were two graceful swans with diamonds for eyes. Around the hem, coiled the serpents of Harad, embroidered in gold thread. A train of shining gold silk, and a silvery veil secured by a gold coronet, completed the outfit.
“It is beautiful!” Minnah breathed. She hugged Arwen gratefully. “Truly this gown will be remembered in song and story. Even my esteemed father’s favourite wife does not own such a dress!”
“I enjoyed making it,” said Arwen, returning Minnah’s embrace. “The silk is of a good quality so it should last well. You will be able to wear it for many state occasions after today if you wish.”
“It shall always be my favourite dress,” said Minnah. She admired her reflection in the glass as if hardly able to believe what she saw.
“Tahir and Adiva are waiting for you,” said Arwen. “I must go now and join Estel in the town square.”
“I like the honoured Ambassador and his wife,” said Minnah. “They are most kind.”
A short time later, the bridal procession made its way to where the groom and his family were waiting. First came Minnah’s guards from Harad and then Tahir and Adiva who were escorting the bride.
Music was played by Imrahil’s minstrels, but the crowd remained silent, unsure of what to make of this young woman from the land of a former enemy.
Elphir stood waiting, flanked by his father, son, brothers, and sister, together with the rest of his kin. When he beheld his bride, his eyes opened wide in admiration and amazement. He beamed at Minnah and she smiled shyly back at him.
Aragorn, with Arwen at his side, bound the couples’ hands with a silken cord and asked them to repeat their vows after him. There was no hesitation in the voices of either bride or groom as they declared their commitment to each another. Aragorn pronounced them to be man and wife. He looked at the crowd expectantly and a cheer went up. The people of Dol Amroth might have their reservations about the foreign princess but they loved their Prince and his heir and trusted their King.
Elphir escorted his new bride to where the horses were waiting and helped her mount the sorrel mare.
The procession set off through the winding streets. First came the musicians and then the guards from both lands, followed by the Swan Knights, then the bride and groom, Imrahil and his family, the Ambassador and his wife and the King and the Steward and their wives. More guards and Swan knights brought up the rear.
Minnah rode confidently beside her husband and smiled at the crowd. They cheered their lord and his bride for his sake. Some younger voices seemed to cheer the bride for her own sake as well.
“No one would guess that Minnah has only just learned to ride,” Arwen whispered to her husband. “Éowyn achieved a marvel in teaching her so swiftly.”
“She did indeed,” said Aragorn, “as did you my love, in making that fair dress for her.” He smiled proudly at his wife and then caught Éowyn’s eye and smiled at her too. No two ladies could be more complete opposites, but together they had helped Minnah to joyfully and confidently begin her new life.
Riding references –
Written for the Teitho “Opposites” challenge where it was unplaced.