Joker 2018


Picture Challenge III



Five Ingredients II




Picture Challenge II


Survey results & NEW RULES

Joker theme



Five Senses

picture challenge






Originals and Copies











Life and Death













Out of Place

Unexpected Adventure



Alphabet Story



Betrayal and Forgiveness

No Time

Yes, I do















History Repeating Itself


Last Words


Around the Fireside

Moments of Transition

First Meetings





Stories and Pictures

In the Name of Love

Animals of Middle-earth




Colours of Middle-earth



Father and Son


One Voice


Heart Break


Losers Weepers

Finders Keepers

Devil's Advocate



Five Ingredients - Your Recipe

The Student Surpasses the Teacher



Return of the Light

Trading Places

The Price of Freedom

Giving Gifts, Receiving Gifts

Bad Habits

Weird Tales


Elven Realms


Crime and Punishment

"When I Was Your Age...!

Eat, Drink and Be Merry!



Once Upon A Time




Growing Up


Dark Places

Friend or Foe

Well-laid Plans

The Sea, The Sea

Good and Evil

The Four Elements

As Time Goes By

Childhood Fears


Me, Myself and I


Maidens of Middle Earth

Crossing Borders

On Location

Home is Where the Heart is

A Glimpse of the Future

That's a First



Unlikely Heroes

The O. C.

Lest we Forget




If I could turn back Time


First Sentence

Things to be Thankful for

White Lie

Winter Wonderland

Rituals and Festivities





What If ...?

One Title: Your Story

A Fairy Tale, Middle-Earth style

Games People Play

Friends in Small Places

The Horse and the Rider

Animals of Middle-earthSummary: The horse is the best teacher

Rating: G

“So you wish to become a Rider in the service of the lord of the Mark?” Folcred considered the stranger. Tall, dark-haired – he resembled the Men of Gondor. “Why?”

“I wished to learn more of horses,” the man answered. “Who better to learn form than for the lords of horses?”

“Hm!” Folcred had heard flattery before. “The king does not accept just any wanderer who present himself, however eager to learn.”

The man did not answer. He stood quietly, waiting.

“At least you look fit,” Folcred admitted. “And you know when to keep your tongue. Not every youth from the Stoningland do as much when they come begging, hoping that the king will give them a horse and a sword with which they can impress the maids.”

“I have both horse and sword,” the stranger answered.

“But not knowledge,” Folcred countered.

The stranger smiled. “I have a little,” he said. “Of both sword and horse.”

“And yet you have come to learn.”

”Who,” the stranger asked, “have ever learned all there is to know of either sword or horse? Not even the long years of the Elves suffice.”

It was Folcred’s turn to smile. “You may make a Rider yet,” he said. “If those be more than pretty words. Show me your horse, and we might test your skill.”


The man bowed. Not deep, but with enough bend in his neck to show that he was well bred. But his eyes showed that he deemed himself more skilled than his words implied, and his smile… Folcred deemed his humble display less sincere than the stranger himself might think. He watched the man turn, and expected to be asked to follow him to the stables, but the man whistled – two sharp notes – and turned back.

“She will be here shortly.”

A mare. That was uncommon. But Folcred had no time to ponder the meaning of the horse’s gender, for up through the streets of Edoras came the clang and clatter of hooves, and the shouts of men, and the laughter of children. A black mare – a rare colour – came trotting up the street. It had no tack, but a stable-hand had thrown a rope around her neck. It has not stopped the mare, and the poor man, foolish enough to try, was dragged along. His heels were planted into the ground, furrowing the hard-packed earth, as would a plough.

“She jumped the door of her stall, Master Folcred,” the stable-hand said. He was out of breath, full of dust, and his face were red. “We closed the stable-doors, but she broke through them, even after I managed to get the rope around her neck.”

Folcred looked at the horse again. She stood calmly beside the stranger with her head at his shoulder. He had lifted one hand to scratch her under the chin, but not once had he turned to see the commotion he had wrought.

“What is your name?” Folcred asked.

“Thorongil,” the answer came.

West of Edoras, away from the mounds, the land was even and flat. The grass was trampled there, dusty and torn by many hooves. Thorongil found his way there before an hour had passed, sword at his side, horse saddled and ready. Folcred awaited him there, mounted on a gelding, grey-coated and strong. And he was not alone.

Men and women, old and young, had gathered there, and more came following.

“Have all of Edoras come to see one stranger?” Thorongil asked.

“No,” said Folcred. “Only those that have no pressing task.” And indeed Thorongil saw that most were children, or men too old to do hard work.

“Am I to be the entertainment of the day, then?” he said, and chuckled. “Should I seek to be the king’s jester, should I fail?”

“Thengel king has one already,” Folcred answered. “But perhaps he would like another. You will have to prove that skill to him later, though: his tasks are more pressing than theirs.” He gestured to the crowd, too small to be the whole of Edoras. He rode closer to Thorongil. “You need not fear,” he said. “You are strong of body, and look as if you can wield a swords – which is more than I could say for others that have come. And your mare…” He stopped to measure her again. Noble and long-legged she were, her muzzle small, her nostrils big, her forehead broad but her nose were not arched like the best breeds of the Mark. And she was lean.

“Your mare is thin, but her conformation is good. What is her name?”

“Bereth,” Thorongil answered. “It means ‘queen’.”

“A noble name,” Folcred said. “And she is a more noble beast than any I have seen from Gondor.”

Thorongil smiled. “We come from the North, both she and I.”

“Well, then. Let us see what skill the men of the North have with horses, and hope it is better than those of the South.”

Folcred turned his horse and Thorongil followed him.

“This is where the Riders train,” Folcred explained. “As do the boys that wish to join them. But the king’s éored train inside, by the stables where the space is small.”

“Why?” Thorongil asked. “Should not the king’s men have the best place to train?”

Folcred smiled. “You have shown skill with your mare on the ground,” he said, ignoring the question. “Now let me see you ride. Do you see those markings?” He pointed, and Thorongil saw that a place was marked off with short poles at each corner, longer than it was broad, and the earth inside was more trampled than the grass around.

“Show me a walk,” Fastred said. “Straight along the sides and at every corner a circle, ten paces wide.”

“At a walk?”

“Yes,” Folcred said. “Go.”

Thorongil nudged Bereth forwards.

“Pick up the reins,” Folcred called. Thorongil did, but Folcred called again: “Shorter! We are not Easterlings: contact with the reins.”

Thorongil did. From boyhood he had learned to take instructions without complaint, and save his questions for later.

Bereth tossed her head, unused with so short a rein.

“More legs,” Folcred called, and Thorongil kicked gently at her sides. But Bereth was a horse used to small aids, and she sprang forwards.

“Walk! No running,” Folcred called, and Thorongil gritted his teeth and pulled a little on the reins to slow her. She tossed her head again.

“No pulling!” was Folcred’s call. “Be gentle with her mouth.”

He made it through one round, with constant calls from Folcred, demanding first more legs, then reins, and then that was wrong again. Bereth tried as well, but her pace was uneven and jolted from the conflicting aids.


He did. Bereth danced a little under him, and would not stay calm, unlike her usual patient ways. Folcred rode up beside him. “She did well,” he said. “Let her have her head.”

She calmed at once when he gave her longer reins.

“No jester’s work for you, I fear,” Folcred said. “You have some skill, little though it may be. I will take you as a stable-boy.”

“A stable-boy,” Thorongil said.

“It suits your skill.”

“I would like to think my skill a little more than that,” Thorongil said. He was no longer smiling.

“Not from what I have seen.”

Thorongil looked at Folcred, and his eyes were sharp. “You have not let me show my skill,” he said.

“I have seen what I need,” Folcred answered.

“From a walk?” Thorongil said. “A walk in which you told me how to ride, with no thought of my horse or whether it was warmed?”

“An enemy would not wait for her to warm up,” Folcred countered. “or would you ask the orcs to fight among themselves while you warmed up your horse?”

“I know more of orcs,” Thorongil said, “than many of your fully fledged Riders. I killed my first when I was sixteen summers old.”

Folcred backed a little. He studied him, then nodded. “Very well,” he said. “Show me what you think you can.”

Thorongil backed a little too, then the smile was back. “I’d like some targets,” he said. “And some space.”

Folcred gestured to the open plains. “Wulfstan,” he called. “Ready the heads!”

A young Rider sprang forward, and many of the youths followed him. They picked up poles hidden in the grass beside the corner-marks and quickly they ran to place them scattered across the plain, and on top they placed thin boxes made of wood.

“There are your targets,” Folcred said. “and as much space as you could want.”

Thorongil drew his sword, and smiled. He picked up the reins until he could gently feel Bereth’s mouth and spoke to her softly. Then suddenly he shouted, and with a kick he sent her off in a canter, and after a few strides urged her into a gallop.

Along one line of poles he rode, and hewed at the boxes. The first shattered, two more fell, and the last he split in twain. Bereth eased her speed once she was past the last pole, and he slowed her even more before he made a wide turn and headed back. he felt her strides grow even and smooth, and when he neared a pole where the target was still whole, he let the reins fall and held his sword with both hands.

The target was pierced.

He stopped in front of Folcred, the box still stuck on his sword. The rider looked at is, and him, with no more approval in his eyes than before.

“I am not done,” Thorongil said. He threw the sword on the ground, and let the scabbard follow. He spun Bereth around, and off they went again.

This time he heeded not the targets, but let the horse run and gripped the pommel. He swung both feet out of the stirrups and up above Bereth’s back. then he let them both swing down on one side to touch the ground. He rebounded off it and swung back up and over to the other side, and in this manner jumped from side to side several times while the horse ran.

When he was once again in the saddle, he turned back and stopped in front of Folcred once more.

“Now are you done?” the Rider asked.

“Do you need more?”

Folcred smiled again. “Your queen is well-taught. Did you train her alone?”

“No,” Thorongil admitted. “Others trained her before she was given to me, but after she was mine, the work I did on my own.”

“Folcred nodded. “You have more skill with the sword than I thought,” he said. “The king’s stable-boy, then, perhaps. If you do not wish to be his jester.”

Thorongil darkened. “And what skill lacked? What mistake did I make that you would laugh at it?”

“Not your sword-work, though you missed half the targets in your line,” Folcred answered. “And you have a better hand with horses than I thought when first I lay eyes on you. but you must become a better rider first.”

“How many of your Riders can do what I just did?”

“They are Thengel king’s, not mine.” Folcred’s horse shifted under him. The crowd was silent. “The targets,” he continued,” all Riders could have done, and better. But we are Riders, not jesters. Some amuse themselves with tricks such as yours, but tricks don’t make a Rider. No,” he silenced Thorongil before the other spoke against him. “Train with us you can, and earn your food and tutoring in the stables, as do all that wish to train thus do – lest they be of noble birth and trained by their fathers ere they come here. Until you pass the test, so shall you.”

Thorongil’s posture eased, and he inclined his head. “What is this test?” he asked. “And who decides when I can take it?”

A light breeze blew across the plains, blowing from the west. It whispered in the grass and played across the faces of the men.

“You can try whenever you want,” Folcred answered at length. “Unless duty prevents the king or the marshals to oversee it.”

“What is the test?”

Folcred sighed. He turned to the crowd. “Go home,” he told them. “Tend to your tasks; or find the jester and let him amuse you.”

They left. Wulfstan, the young rider, looked back at Thorongil once, and gave him a smile. Thorongil did not know how to read it. Folcred stayed silent until everyone in the crowd was gone from sight. Then he spoke again.

“The test is twofold. If you cannot do the one, you will fail the other.” He regarded Thorongil again. “You are strong in body and spirit,” he said. “And you have pride. But you have but learned the semblance of patience. Yet you seem older than your years. Why, since you claim you came to learn, will you not take the time to do so?”

“I am still young,” Thorongil said. “Though I am older than I look, and the years I have seem too short for what I must do. Yet they will be longer than I would wish.” He stopped. “I have said too much.”

“Perhaps,” Folcred said. “To me it seems that you have not said enough. But your heart is your won; I do not command its secrets, nor do I demand your confidence. I would know, however, why, when you claimed to have come to learn, that you would seek to best us before your lessons have been learned?”

At that Thorongil laughed. It was a joyous sound, in which the melting-brooks of spring flowed, clear and clod, heralding the winter’s end. Far younger, and far older, did Thorongil look, and Folcred saw in a glimpse one that could rival the mearas had he been born in other flesh.

“Forgive me,” Thorongil said. “Since I came of age I have not met many men, if any, that could best me. You made me feel like I did in childhood, where I could never hope to reach the skill of my teachers. It wounded my pride. And what you asked of me was wrong: never have Bereth resisted me so.”

“Never have you asked her anything she found it hard to do.”

Thorongil narrowed his eyes, but Folcred shook his head and smiled. “Have I hurt your pride again?” he asked.

“You’ll find no better horse than Bereth in all the Mark,” Thorongil answered. “And none so willing or so brave: she would do whatever I asked of her, no matter how hard.”

“That wager you will lose,” Folcred said. There was no jest in his voice. “The mearas surpass even the horses of the Elves.”

Thorongil startled at his words, and Folcred nodded as if a guess had been proved right.

“An elven horse is rare to come by,” he said. “And I know little of the training the Elves favour. Yet even the mearas are horses, and so would the elven horses be. A horse is a horse, seeing her, I can guess. She was taught on a long rein, and to carry her head low. With open neck to find the form she choose.

“This is not wrong,” he continued. “Were you an archer, you could have served the king sooner, perhaps from this day.”

Thorongil shook his head. “I can shoot well enough,” he said. “But I am no archer, the sword is my weapon of choice – and talent.”

“The you must learn to ride anew,” Folcred told him. He turned his horse to stand alongside Bereth. “I said the test was twofold, but in truth there is just one. The first is merely to see if the youth is ready, that he will not shame himself even should he fail. But any that ask can ride the true trail.”

“What is the trial?”

Folcred smiled. “To slaughter all the orcs’ heads.” He pointed to the poles that still stood strewn across the grass, some bare and some still with their targets whole. “Those boxes are the orcs’ heads and you must destroy them all. A time is set, and an order in which the targets must be hit. It must be done at the canter or a bounce1, and if you break the gait, a penalty must be paid.”

“What penalty?” Thorongil asked.

“Your trail is forfeit, and you must take it anew.”

“How many tries?”

“As many as you wish,” Folcred said. “But not twice wit in seven days on the same horse.”

Thorongil said nothing for a time, and Folcred let him think. Bereth lowered her head to eat, but xx, his own gelding, stood unmoving, waiting for his Rider.

“Why a canter, and not a gallop?” Thorongil asked at length. “Surely it must be harder at a gallop?”

“There is no room for gallop in the throng of battle,” Folcred explained. “Any fool can gallop though the lines, and hopefully check their steeds on the other side – though I have heard stories telling otherwise. No sword would be needed – the horse would be weapon enough. This is not the main task of a Rider.” He turned to Thorongil and said: “Give me your sword, and watch.”

He took the offered hilt. His horse jumped forward into canter, and when he neared the first untaken head, he shortened its stride until the horse’s canter were hardly faster than at a walk. The head was cloven, and the horse surged forward to the next. In such a manner, shortening and lengthening its strides, Folcred clove all remaining targets. When he returned, Thorongil held out his hand and Folcred handed back his sword.

“What skill is there in hitting the target when the horse is standing still?”

“You will see what skill I showed,” Folcred replied. “If you stay.”

Thorongil stayed.

Every day he shovelled dung in the stable – the newest man – though many of the stable-hands were no more than boys. Less experienced or skilled than him. The first day of sword-practice he disarmed them all without trying. In the week that followed only stubborn pride kept him from leaving. Bereth was his comfort, and the one he confided in. And the mare was patient, as always.

The second week Wulfstan, the youngest Rider there, approached him.

“You are skilled with the sword,” Wulfstan said.

Thorongil nodded; it was the truth.

“Will you spar with me? My sword-work is not as good as it should.”

“Gladly,” Thorongil said, and he smiled.

They sparred every day, dancing across the practice-yard. Ducking, weaving, slicing the air with the edges of their blades. Then Thorongil would close in and throw his sword away to wrestle Wulfstan to the ground, and they would roll in the dust, neither wiling to yield.

Wulfstan always called first.

Two weeks later, Thorongil asked the question on his mind.

“Show me the order of the orcs’ heads.”

Wulfstan did not answer at first. He was grooming his horse; with slow, even strokes he brushed the coat until it shone. Thorongil could not see his face, but he waited until Wulfstan lowered the whisk and turned.

“I have not seen you at the practice-ground outside,” he said. “Where Folcred trains the others that would be Riders.”

Thorongil looked away.

“I have watched them,” he answered. “But Bereth is not happy with the way he wants me to ride. He does not think her training is right for war.” He looked back to Wulfstan. “Bereth id a good horse, and willing. I trust her, and what she knows. And the wisdom of those that trained both her and me.”

“You wish to prove him wrong,” Wulfstan said.

“I wish to prove her able.”

Wulfstan’s gelding interrupted them. The horse nudged his rider, impatient since his grooming had been interrupted before all his itchy spots had been scratched.

“I will show you later,” Wulfstan promised. “But I beg you: do not ride the trail before submitting to the first test. I do not wish to see you shamed, and I have not yet seen Folcred wrong.”

Thorongil did not answer.

Wulfstan kept his promise. He showed Thorongil to the training-grounds of the king’s éored, where the orcs’ heads were numbered and he could see the Riders practice. He marked well the patterns that they rode. Later that day, after the boys had trained and left the grounds, he set the poles.

Wulfstan were the only one to see him practice, or so he thought. That first day he missed most of his targets, and Bereth broke the gait more than once. The turns were too sharp, but at the end of his practice, Bereth knew what her rider wanted. Each day they grew better, and though Wulfstan shook his head and predicted he would fail, Thorongil grew more and more confident.

At the end of three weeks, he felt sure that he would make it.

“Your turns are still too wide,” Wulfstan told him. “You will not make the time.”

“Bereth know the pattern,” Thorongil replied. “And I can hit the targets though the speed is greater than the Riders have; I can make up the time on the longer stretches.”

“It is meant to test your skills, not your mare’s,” Wulfstan said. “And if you ride faster on the stretches than you already do, then you will make the turns even wider than you do already. The test is taken at the inner grounds: there is not room to turn.”

But Thorongil would not be swayed.

“Will you submit to the first test, then,” Wulfstan asked.

“I need it not,” Thorongil answered. “I have seen Folcred drill the boys for it: it is a simple test: walk, trot and canter, nothing more. I could do that before I was ten years old.”

The next day Thorongil saddled Bereth. The mare was calm, and it calmed him. When Wulfstan came to speak with him again, he but smiled, and led Bereth up the streets to the stable where the horses of the king’s éored were kept. Folcred waited for him there.

“You had no need to come here, man of the North,” Folcred said, “since you could learn what you needed on your own.”

“I still wish to serve the Lord of the Mark,” Thorongil answered. “I wish to ride the trail, and prove Bereth’s worth.”

“Bereth’s, or your own?”

But Folcred showed him to the grounds, where the marshals stood, with the king’s éored, and Thengel king.

“Here are the targets set,” he told Thorongil. “With clear numbers. Do you wish to walk it once to make sure you know the order? It is allowed.”

Thorongil looked at it. “The order of the heads are changed,” he said. “Why?”

“The enemy never stays in the same order,” Folcred said. “And so the pattern of the targets change from time to time. Why, do you wish to withdraw?”

“No,” Thorongil said.

He took Bereth through the new pattern at a walk, speaking with her as he rode. She was a most clever horse, but though he thought she knew the new pattern, still her body was not ready for the changed turns. She brought him close enough to most of the targets that he could reach them, and all targets he could reach, he could cleave. But the turns were too sharp, the space too small, and Bereth could not keep her pace, and Thorongil could not meet the time, nor all the targets.

He returned to Folcred, hot and ill-tempered. The Rider spoke no word of reproach, but Thorongil needed not the words to read the words in Folcred’s mind.

“Next time I will make it,” he said.

“You might,” the other replied. “Your horse did well, but you trust to her too much. She must be able to depend on your skill, not you on hers.”

But Thorongil did not hear his words. He practiced the new course until he was certain, and then he tried again. But once more the course had changed, and they failed. Again they trained the altered course, but every time he went back, the course changed.

Once day, when he was training with only Wulfstan to help, Folcred rode out to him. He was riding a stallion that had seen many battles.

“You are persistent,” he greeted Thorongil. “That will serve you well. But you are stubborn and proud as well, and if you do not change your ways, you will never manage the test that you have set yourself.”

Thorongil did not answer. He waited while Wulfstan set the course, then rode, destroying all the targets with his sword.

“I will not make it, you say?” he challenged when the course was done. “If you had given me a fair chance, I would have made it already.”

“I told you that you trust your horse too much,” Folcred said. “You trust to her to know what way to turn, and do your work for you. And even then you rely too much on your own skill with the sword. You do not ride, you let the horse carry you, and in the kind of battle that we do, you cannot leave it to the horse to know what enemy you need to slay. It is not fair to her.”

Thorongil did not answer.

“Come,” Folcred said. “Dismount. Show me what you can: swordplay.”

“Very well.”

They sparred. Wulfstan held the horses while they danced and weaved. It took him longer, but in the end he disarmed Folcred.

“Well done,” the Rider said. “Your sword work, as we both knew, are better than my own. That is why you hit the targets as often as you do.”

“Are you saying that you cannot hit the targets was well as I can do?”

“I can hit them,” Folcred said. “On horse, the sword-play is much simpler – it is the riding that makes the difference. But let me show you: I have brought spears. Let us spar with them.”

“I do not have the same skill with the spear,” Thorongil said.

“We should be more equally matched, then.”

And indeed they were. None of them could best the other.

Thorongil had had teachers enough to know that Folcred had some lesson in mind, but he could not guess what it was. Or how he would go about it.

“Ride the course again,” Folcred said. “But use the spear.”

Thorongil tried, but the weapon did not lie well in his hand, did not move as if a part of his hand, and though its reach were longer, he could not take all the targets.

“Do you see?” Folcred said.

“I do not.”

So Folcred took his own sword, and rode the course, picking all the targets, making all the sharp turns Bereth had not mastered yet. But Folcred was not finished. He made Wulfstan ready new targets, and rode with spear. Again he picked all targets.

“Now do you see the difference?” he asked Thorongil.

“You know the course better.” It was the only answer Thorongil could think of.

“I do not,” Folcred answered. “But if you need proof, I will ride again. You pick the weapon I shall use, and call the order of the targets while I ride. Perhaps that will make clear what I would teach – if you would learn.”

Thorongil doubted him, but he did not resist the challenge.

“The spear,” he said. “It seems you better weapon.”

“Not really, but the spear suits me well enough.”

His horse did not canter, but bounced, its beat even and strong. It moved no further forward than a hoofs’ breadth until Thorongil called the first target, then it jumped forward until Folcred checked the length of its stride again, waiting for the next target to be named. It never broke the gait, though Thorongil made it harder and harder for Folcred. But the Rider was able to turn his horse at a moment’s notice, had it dance sideways and even back until the targets were gone.

“Now, do you see?”

“I do not understand,” Thorongil said. “But I would learn. How do I teach my horse to do the same?”

“You do not teach her to do it. You train her until she is strong and supple. All she needs to know, is to follow your body; you need to learn how to use it to guide her. But you cannot do it on a long rein. You cannot do it if you leave the work to her: you must do the work yourself.

“I told you that the swordwork is simple: it is the riding that is hard. If you can place the horse, you can hit your targets with little training with the sword. But if you cannot get your horse close enough, the sword is of little use.”

Thorongil said nothing.

“Dismount,” Folcred said. “Bereth cannot teach you this, for she has been taught different herself. But Lar is my best stallion, and my best teacher. Let us see what you can learn from him.”

Thorongil dismounted and took the offered horse. The stallion was broader than the horses he was used to, strong and supple. It danced under him when he picked up the reins.

“Shorten them more,” Folcred said. “He is used to a stronger contact, both with reins and legs.”

Thorongil felt like he had never been on a horse. Lar did not respond like he was used to, and he would move sideways when Thorongil wished to walk forward.

“This is your best horse?” he asked. “I have never had such trouble with any horse.”

“He is,” Folcred confirmed. “He does everything you ask him to. It is you that do not know what you ask. Make your body still. Balance yourself; the way you hold your body, so he will use his.”

At the end of the lesson, Thorongil no longer knew how to ride. Lar would back when he would go forward, would turn right when he would turn left, and Folcred stood beside Bereth, and said little, other than: “Walk” and “Straight ahead”, and “Now circle”. Never had Thorongil been happier than when Folcred called for halt, and he could slide from Lar’s back.

“Same time tomorrow,” was all Folcred said, and he left the two youngsters there to clear the field, and find their way back.

Thorongil said nothing, and Wulfstan let the silence stretch between them while they walked back, Bereth walking behind them nibbling the grass. It was not until they parted for the night that either of them spoke.

“Do you wish me to stay away?” Wulfstan asked.

Thorongil looked at him. “For now,” he said. “I think. But you have stayed with me in my foolishness, you deserve to see me humbled in the end.”

“I would never wish to see a friend humbled,” Wulfstan answered. “And I did not see that at the end. The halt was good, there at the end.”

Thorongil smiled, he could not yet bring himself to laugh. “I think I tried to practice for the wrong test,” he said. “You tried to tell me, but I was to proud to listen.”

Wulfstan did not answer: both knew Thorongil’s words were true.

The first weeks were torture. Thorongil despaired that he would ever managed to amount to anything on a horse again, though Wulfstan assured him that he was making progress. Folcred said nothing, besides showing him what he should do. The horse made sure he knew when he did wrong.

Then, after three weeks, Folcred said he should ride Bereth again. The mare had been left to run with the herds of mares that grassed close to Edoras at that time of year. She had enjoyed the freedom, though at first the other mares had viewed her with suspicion. Now she was brought back, before the herds moved off to other pastures.

Thorongil longed to ride her, to once again feel as if he knew what to do. But Bereth did not like the shorter rein, or stronger contact that he had learned. She kicked, and went against his aids.

“What have you done?” he asked Folcred. “I cannot even ride my own horse now! Three weeks should not have her forget all her training:”

“No, she has not forgotten,” Folcred said. “And that is more of a problem than if she had. You ride differently now, and though you have more to learn, the lessons have been well learned. Now she must unlearn, and be allowed to be a horse again. We never teach our horse; when we ride, we must learn how to use our body that the horse will follow. But she was trained to listen to clues, and to guess her rider’s wish. That she must unlearn, and in the unlearning she will be confused, and unhappy for a while. It was the same for you.”

Thorongil nodded, and grit his teeth, and set out to work.

Folcred made him ride all day the coming weeks. The other stable-hands muttered, but Wulfstan smiled as if he knew a secret. Three or four different horses he rode, then five, seven, nine, and after two weeks Folcred had him ride ten different horses every day. He had no time to shuffle dung, but Folcred brushed off all his questions of how he were to pay.

“Leave such troubles to me,” he said, and Thorongil, not missing that particular work, held his tongue, and rode the horses.

One day Folcred bade him saddle Lar and bring him to the stable of the king’s men. Thorongil did so, and walked the stallion up the streets of Edoras. There Folcred waited, with the marshals and the king’s men, and from the stairs of Medusel, Thengel king looked down on his men.

“Mount,” Folcred said.

“In front of them?” Thorongil asked. “You wish to make a jester of me, then?”

“No,” Folcred said. “A simple training, as we have done outside: I will tell you what to do; all you have to do is follow my command.”

He bowed, and mounted. He had not ridden Lar for many days, not since Bereth had been brought back. The stallion was as broad, but calmer than he remembered, and so soft and supple that Thorongil could not remember riding a horse more supple.


And they did. Calmly around the training-ground, and the horse obeyed as it never had before. Whatever Folcred asked, Thorongil could do: straight lines, circles, changing reins and halt.

“Well done,” Folcred said when Thorongil halted in front of him. He turned towards the Riders and the marshals watching. “This is Thorongil,” he called to them. His voice rang clear and strong. “A Rider of proven skill.”

“Thorongil!” the men shouted, and their voices rang so loud that he thought the whole of Edoras would hear it.

“With whom will he serve?” a single voice called. It was Wulfstan, the youngest Rider, who against custom had demanded the question.

“With the King’s Men,” Folcred answered. “If you would heed my counsel, Thengel king.”

“But I have not ridden the test,” Thorongil hissed at Folcred, while the other Riders, and the marshals, turned to hear the king’s choice.

Folcred smiled at him.

“You just did.”

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