The Stable Boy

by The Foe Hammer


Prologue

The sun rose over the prairie to the east as another day began in Modelas. Life in this village along the White Mountains was not exciting enough that
Jamund was thrilled about getting out of bed. But his chores were waiting and he knew that his benefactor would frown upon him getting a late start.

"Jamie! Jamie!" came the call from outside, "best get out here and get started boy." Gorlinger's tone was not quite that of a father waking his
well-loved son from a night's sleep. For Jamund was not his son, but his ward, and the stablemaster expected his ward to earn his keep. As Jamund
slipped into his work tunic and buckled on his leather belt, he recalled once again the memories of his real father.

They had lived farther west along the mountains closer by a half day's ride to the Gap of Rohan than Modelas was.  The few shacks they lived in then
could hardly be called a village. His father and some friends had settled here hoping to raise horses on their own and eventually make a living
bartering them in Edoras for the King's cavalry, the Rohirrim. The country was good country for horses, but mostly unsettled for fear of incursions by
the Dunlendings.

As Jamund headed out of the house towards the stable, he choked back the hatred again at the thought of that name. "Dunlendings!" The barbarians had
robbed him of his father, mother and almost everything he held dear. He never would forget the day they came storming down the very mountainside
that his father Jamen thought was their best defense from an attack. His father ordered him to take his sister Peonumar and ride to the east to get
help. Jamund had rode so fast and hard he thought his horse would collapse. Several of the men from Modelas, including Gorlinger, had come back with
him, but when they returned it was too late. The wild men had burned the village and slain everyone in sight, even the children not as fortunate as
he and his sister to escape. He helped the men bury his mother and father that day and returned to his sister in Modelas.

Jamund was eleven years old at the time, while his sister was ten. Gorlinger knew that they had nowhere to turn. Having no wife or children of his own,
he agreed to take them in his care in exchange for hard work. Peonumar could cook and clean to earn her keep, while Jamund was apparently skilled enough
with horses to make a good stable boy. Gorlinger ran an established stable in the village; much like his father and his friends had planned to do
farther west.

That was two years ago and the memories still burned in his mind as if it were yesterday. He rose every morning and tended to the horses and the
stables. First he had to fetch hay and water for the animals. Then he would oil all the saddles and other tack that Gorlinger used for giving the horses
their workout. In the afternoons he brushed the horses and finally cleaned the stalls and crib before sunset. He did not mind the work; it was what he
learned from his father since he could walk. What Jamund minded was that he had no idea what was going to become of Peonumar and him. Would they work
for this lonely man all their life and take over the stables when he died? It seemed like an empty life with little love and little hope. There were no
children their age in Modelas, and even if there were he had little time for friends and recreation.

The love for his sister was probably the only thing that kept him from running down the road and looking for the next opportunity that arose. He
knew Peonumar would not last long living off the land. She favored their mother, Hannah, who had been more timid and frail in comparison to her rough
and tumble husband. Jamund resolved that no matter what his plans, they had to include Peonumar's safety.     

Occasionally, a horse trader from Edoras came by to inspect the stock and place an order. A short while afterwards, Gorlinger would be gone for days
to deliver the stock to the capital of Rohan. Jamund had thought once of asking Gorlinger if his sister and he could ride to Edoras with him and take
their chances finding work and shelter in the much larger city. But after reflection, he thought Gorlinger would be offended, might refuse, and his
sister and he would have it even harder as wards of the stablemaster.

Jamund finished his morning chores and returned to the house for the noon meal. After prayers they waited as always for Gorlinger to begin eating.
Then they dug in to the meal of bread and vegetable stew that was the usual fare in this part of Rohan that was considered west of the Westfold.

Jamund looked over at his sister. Her once beautiful and joyful childlike face was now as joyless as the plate on the table in front of him. He swore
that if it took him a lifetime, he would see his sister smile again someday.

Chapter 1

A few weeks passed and Gorlinger was off on one of his trips to Edoras. Jamie enjoyed these times somewhat, because it gave his sister and he some
time to talk and be a bit more relaxed. They were eating their noon meal together when they heard the sound of thundering hooves from outside. Jamie
ran to the door to see what the commotion was about, his sister peering over his shoulder as she ran up behind.

"Riders of Rohan!" exclaimed Jamie. He had heard stories about them from his father and groomed and tended to many of the horses that they rode, but he
had never seen one in person. Now here rode a dozen or so of the most famed horsemen he had ever heard of. He looked at the leather armor emblazoned
with the crest of the Rohirrim. Each rider carried a long spear and a shield. Strapped to their backs were great broadswords glinting in the
midday sun. Two of the men held the reigns of spare horses that had run alongside them into the square. The apparent leader of troop had a helm of
shining gold that he removed as he stopped at the center of the village square. Halborn, the barkeep and sometimes innkeeper of the Prairie Post,
met him in the square and began conversing. Eventually the barkeep pointed towards the stable and at Jamie himself. Jamie's guesses as to the reason
were quickly answered as the lead horseman headed his way.

"Good day to you sire, may I be of assistance?" asked Jamie in a very excited voice.

"That you may my well-mannered young friend," nodded the rider dismounting from his horse. "My men and I will be staying in the village tonight and
wish to shelter our horses until morning. Might you have room for them in your stables? "

Jamie was speechless. No group so large had ever stayed the night in Modelas. Being this far west they had only seen the occasional brave
adventurer or misguided traveler who had thought the Gap of Rohan was a good shortcut around the Misty Mountains. With the Dunlendings raiding so close
to the gap, most people with knowledge of the region never traveled too far west of Modelas.

"Sire, I believe we have the room, but this stable has never provided care for so many horses at once, and my master is away on an errand to Edoras,"
Jamie finally explained.

"So, the barkeep has told me," responded the rider. "Allow me to introduce myself and to make a proposal. My name is Grimbold and I serve as a
lieutenant in the King's Cavalry. King Theoden has sent an eored to this region to investigate the incursions of the Dunlendings and other foul
rumours. I lead one of the ten patrols of this eored under our captain Lord Theodred. Regarding the care of the horses, as you may know, any fit member
of the Rohirrim would never allow another to tend the direct needs of his mount. Still, if you will allow us to use your facilities, I will pay you a
fee that your master would find acceptable for full services that would more than double the cost of feed and the general care of your stables."

Jamie was uncertain. Gorlinger always handled the business affairs. The occasional traveler who stayed at the Prairie Post would pay the barkeep a
set fee and he would in turn give the payment directly to the stablemaster when he returned. Obviously, Halborn knew this might be beyond Jamie's
capabilities, so he had passed the captain along to him. After another brief moment, he decided he could not let these riders down. A mission as
important as this deserved his taking a chance on overstepping his benefactor's wishes.

"That will be fine sire, my name is Jamund, and I am at your service. You may pay the barkeep the usual rate when you pay for your lodging. If you
will excuse me, I will ready the stalls for your men," said Jamie as he extended his arm to close the deal.

"Very well, young Jamund," said a smiling Grimbold as he clasped his much larger arm with the stable boy's. "I will inform my men."

Jamie ran to the stable, forgetting all about his noon meal in the excitement. Luckily, there was plenty of room since the Edoras buyer had
placed a fairly large order on his last visit to Modelas. 

His sister looked on in puzzled amusement as he ran around and in and out of the stable ensuring all was in order. Excitement had finally come to Modelas
and Jamie appeared to be basking in it.
      

 Chapter 2

Later that evening Jamie was still hard at work. He had stopped for a quick bite to eat with his sister and told her not to wait up for him.

"Don't stay out in that stable all night, Jamie!" said his sister looking concerned. "You'll catch the death."

"Don't worry Penny, I won't," Jamie had said heading back to the stables.

Most of the riders had brought in their horses, unsaddled them and tended to their grooming and feeding. Two of the men were in the stable now as Jamie
was refilling the water in the horse troughs with two large buckets. The lieutenant, Grimbold, came in with his own horse walking behind him.

"Young Jamund, you appear to be a very attentive stable hand," said the man from Rohan. "Perhaps you could assist me in tending to my own steed."

"Certainly, sire," responded Jamie setting down his buckets. He walked over to an empty stall and opened the gate for the patrol lieutenant.

"Please, call me Grimbold," chuckled the man, "my friends need not be so formal with me."

"But sire," said Jamie, "my father always taught me to be respectful to my elders."

"Elders? You cut me to the quick young Jamund," said Grimbold chuckling, "I have seen a few years out on the plains, but I will hopefully not be
considered an 'elder' for many years to come."

"But sire... I mean, Grimbold," stammered Jamie, "I meant no disrespect!"

"None taken, my young friend, now help me get this saddle off," said the lieutenant as he led his horse into the stall.

Jamie helped him and went to get some hay for the feed box in this stall. When he returned Grimbold was brushing his horse and whispering in his ear
as he did so. Jamie admired the care in which the Rohirrim leader, and in fact all his men, took in caring for their horses. Most of the farmers in
the village cared only whether their horse could still pull a plow. Grimbold spoke to his mount as if they were close friends.

"Here you go Windmere," said Grimbold, leading the horse to the hay, "get some food into you." The horse ate quickly as its master and Jamie gathered
up the gear and buckets and exited the stall.

"So young Jamund, that is the last of your guests for the evening,' said Grimbold closing the stall, "my men will take turns at watch and keep an eye
on the stables. You can be off to your own family now, I am certain your father will be anxious for you to be home."

"Si... um, no, Grimbold," said Jamie, "my parents both were killed a couple of years back. My sister and I live with the stablemaster as his wards."

"Killed! I am sorry to hear this," said the lieutenant sitting on a stool in the stable hallway, "how did it happen?"

Jamie also sat and proceeded to tell Grimbold all about the raid on his parent's farm and how he came to live with Gorlinger. Although Jamie did not
realize it until he was nearly finished, this was the first he had spoken of his parent's death to anyone. He had cried many times in his bed for the
first few months, and he knew that Penny did also, but somehow speaking about it out loud now was different. He thought more of his hatred for the
Dunlendings this time than he did for his own grief.

Grimbold sat thoughtful for a moment. Then he spoke. "Would that the Rohirrim been abroad that day. We would have made them pay for such an
insolent incursion. I am sorry for your loss and that my folk were not here to aid your parents. Hopefully, that will change now."

"How will it change?" asked Jamie, "Are we now at war with Dunland?"

"No, the King is quite far from declaring open war." Grimbold paused as if deciding how much more to say, and then his mind apparently made up, he
continued. "Many say his heart still grieves over the loss of his sister and her husband a few years ago. He would not see more of his people lost in
open conflict with Mordor or Dunland. But his son Lord Theodred has begged permission to patrol the western marches to at least dissuade them from
attacking our western villages."

"How can I help?" Jamie asked.

"You have already helped a great deal," stated the lieutenant standing up.
"You have provided excellent shelter for the King's horses and given me some information as to the location of their raids. I will report this
information to my Captain and we shall focus some of our attention in that area."

"But I want to fight the Dunlendings too!" said Jamie his fists clenched.

"Ah! And someday maybe you shall. But you are too young to enter the training my friend. Most boys in our household do not begin until they are
at least sixteen years of age. But, you have as good a head start as they do with your knowledge of caring for horses. Practice your riding and when you
come of age, you will be ready." Grimbold set the stool back against the wall and patted Jamie on the back. "But come my friend, you are not too
young to hear tales of the Riders of the Mark, and if the ale at the inn is of any quality, I am sure the tales are flowing quite thick by now."

Jamie joined the riders that night at the Prairie Post. The men told stories, mostly of their homes, and of how they would gather in a large hall
that could house their whole village for meals. The families of the eored all supported each other, especially when the men were away. The men, he
could tell, missed their families very much.

A few of the older men told of battles with creatures called orcs. Jamie had heard of orcs from his father but never seen them. They bragged somewhat of
their riding skills and their ability to fight with sword or spear while mounted. But Jamie hung on every word, he could envision them sweeping
across the plains with spears glistening, driving the Dunlendings or any other foe from the battlefield.

Much later, Jamie finally returned to his master's home and after checking on his sister, crawled into his own bed. His mind raced with so many new
thoughts and new ideas. His world had changed today. He even sensed it. Grimbold and the Rohirrim had revealed to him another world. One in which he
and his sister might have a future.

As he passed into sleep, his mind led him to dreams of valiant men, on mighty steeds, thundering across the plains...      

Chapter 3

Grimbold and the riders left that next morning after a brief goodbye to Jamie, and a reminder to practice his riding. Jamie saddled up his father's
old horse that very afternoon and began riding fast around the corral. To the amusement of those in the village who spotted him, he grabbed a
pitchfork from alongside the fence and began thrusting it forward as if it were a spear. Jamie paid them little attention; his mind was in another
world of brave heroes fighting glorious battles. 

He shared the stories and his newfound dreams with his sister that evening. Penny was happy for him and liked the description of life in the village of
the eoreds. But Jamie could tell she did not yet share the hope that had sprang into his mind for a brighter future.

Eventually, Gorlinger returned from his trip and to Jamie's surprise was very pleased at learning of Jamie's decision to take on the stable boarders
for the night. Apparently, Grimbold had paid Halborn handsomely for both the rooms and the stable fees. He had also left a note for the stablemaster,
which he read to Jamie. The note thanked Gorlinger for the use of his stables and the services of "the finest stable hand" Grimbold had met in
years.

Gorlinger softened a little to Jamie and Penny after that. He was still a practical man, who saw things and people in terms of their value. But he
eventually allowed Jamie to begin putting the horses through their workouts, sensing his interest. Of course, Jamie had to finish his chores that much
quicker, but now he assaulted them with new vigor, hurrying to the rewards he had in the afternoon.

Over the weeks and months he became an even more accomplished rider. Trying stunts and tricks that he had seen his father do when very young. He could
lean out of the saddle and pick a previously selected stone up off the ground. He also practiced his game with the pitchfork, but now only when
Gorlinger was away. The stablemaster had scolded him the first time he saw him riding with it. He feared that he might hurt himself or the horses with
such a dangerous game.

Both Jamie and Gorlinger were happy to see return visits from Grimbold and his patrol. Gorlinger could use the extra money and Jamie got to listen to
stories of their adventures abroad. Some of the eored had reported skirmishes with small groups of Dunlendings, but these usually only ended
with the Rohirrim chasing them into the mountains where they hid.

Whenever he got the chance, Jamie showed Grimbold his improving riding skills. Grimbold for his part was amazed at the boy's skills and encouraged
him with new advice and new techniques. As Jamie turned fourteen both he and Grimbold knew there was not much more the boy could learn without proper
training.

"Well, my young Jamund," said Grimbold during one of his visits, "I have spoken to my Lord Theodred about entering you in the training a year early."

Jamie was beside himself. "You mean Penny and I can move to Edoras?!"

Grimbold paused, his expression changed to one of both embarrassment and sympathy. "I'm sorry Jamie. No. My Captain has agreed to let you enter the
training. But the training will take place northeast of here at our main camp. We may not return to Edoras for many months, and even then I am unsure
if we could bring your sister with us on such a journey."

Jamie stared, and then he spoke slowly but determined. "I cannot leave Penny behind. I cannot chase my dreams and leave her here with no family and no
one who loves her."

"I understand," replied Grimbold, holding back tears of both pride and sorrow, "but you must understand that a Rider's camp is no place for a young
maiden like your sister. Perhaps we should wait for a better time."

Jamie knew this was his only choice, but his heart was nearly broken in two. He had seen his hopes for the future nearly fulfilled and then stifled in
the same brief moment.

Grimbold left that day with his patrol, his heart also broken. He knew of the love that Jamie had for his sister, for he had it for his own sisters
back in his village of Grimslade. But they were not alone and had the family to support them while he and his wife served in Theodred's household.  He
thought of his wife, Demar, now. She had given birth to their son just before he left on this mission. They had named the boy Leofen, for they were
filled with love for him when the midwife brought him forth.

Grimbold hoped now that he and Demar could raise their son to be half the man that this stable boy of the western plains had become just at the age of
fourteen.

Chapter 4

A few weeks had passed since Grimbold's last visit. It was late, near midnight probably. Jamie was lying in his bunk, staring at the inside of the
thatched roof as he had done every night since that painful day. He would lie there, asking himself why he had dared to believe life would grant him
something other than the hard choices he had been faced with so far in his life.

He felt selfish inside for even wanting something greater than this, selfish for even beginning to think how completely unfair it all was. He felt
guilty, because to be sad or angry about it meant in his mind that he was somehow blaming Penny for his hard choices. That concept was the farthest
from the truth in his waking mind. But in his dreams he had thought it possible to have both.

Jamie was torn from his thoughts by an odd sound. Shouting noises that sounded half like a chant and half like a dog barking. It took him a few
moments to search back in his memories to find where the sound triggered his recollection. "Dunlendings! A raid!" his mind quickly told him. He jumped
from the bed just as he heard Gorlinger unbolt the door to head outside.

"You two stay here," shouted the stablemaster as he slammed the door closed, "Jamie, bolt the door behind me!"

Jamie ran to the side room that was Penny's and saw her staring towards the door. The sounds must have triggered her memories also. She appeared to be
in shock, how serious Jamie had no way to tell. He had to snap her out of it; there was no other way.

"Penny, quickly get under the bed," he shouted as he bolted the door. "I have to see what's going on!"

"No, Jamie, stay! They'll kill you just like ma and pa," Penny sobbed, "I can't lose you."

Jamie ran over and hugged her close, walking her back near her bed. "No one's going to kill me, I promise. Now please trust me and do this for me."

Penny nodded reluctantly and grabbed a blanket and slid under the bed. Jamie quickly arranged the other bed dressings to make it look as if no one had
been in the bed that evening. He placed some barrels and chests around the bed to make it look as unused as possible. He had no plans of letting anyone
reach the house before he came back anyway.

Jamie climbed out the back window and ran around to the side of the house that faced the stables. He saw utter chaos as Dunlendings were running
through the village throwing torches and bashing down doors. He saw several men from the village, including Gorlinger and the barkeep, running to defend
some of the buildings from a small group of the raiders. They were wielding swords and farm implements against the savage Dunlendings who were mostly
armed with clubs, but the villages were outnumbered greatly. Jamie wanted to do something to help, but he had no sword.

He looked around for a weapon and then he saw it, the pitchfork lay there against the fence, where he had left it that day after his chores. A plan
formed in his mind, though he knew it was desperate. He ran to the stables and quickly bridled Frostbite, a white mare he had been exercising that
afternoon. He had no time for a saddle and jumped on bareback using the stall door for a boost. He grabbed the pitchfork as he rode from the corral
heading for where the villagers had chosen to make a stand.

The Dunlendings had apparently taken a break from their destruction to deal with the defenders. Jamie saw a farmer fall down from a club blow to the
head as he bore down on the group. He tightened his legs around the shuddering midsection of the mare as he got closer, pitchfork raised just
like in his practice sessions. The noise of the horse must have alerted one of the Dunlendings because he turned and shouted. His shouts were muffled
short as the pitchfork entered his chest and stuck there, ending this barbarian's life.

Jamie lurched backwards on the horse from the impact of the collision, losing the reins in the process. The horse also panicked slightly from the
surrounding melee and turned to run. Jamie struggled to hang on and tried to reach the reins as Frostbite ran back towards the corral. As she slowed by
the fence he finally grabbed on and resumed control of the horse. He turned her just in time to see several of the barbarians chasing him from the
square. He headed into the corral hoping to lead them on a chase away from the others. At least he could even the odds a little.

As he rounded the second gate of the corral he looked back to see how Gorlinger and the others were faring against their attackers. What he saw
made him lose his concentration momentarily. The stablemaster had just fallen from a large swing of one of the raiders huge clubs. The raider was
picking up his guardian's sword and beginning to hack at him with it. Jamie suppressed the sudden shock and tried to focus on how he could help.

He spotted a good-sized shovel near the back door of the Prairie Post. He road quickly and grabbed it. Several Dunlendings still followed him as he
headed back towards the defenders. There were only two men left against six or seven of the savages, the barkeep and a farmer named Stedman. The rest of
the Dunlendings were either following him or heading back to their rampage on the town. He spurred Frostbite on as he pointed the shovel forward toward
one of the savages. The shovel struck it hard in the back of the head, knocking it senseless. The other barbarians turned and grabbed at him and
the horse throwing Jamie and his weapon to the ground. He grabbed the dropped shovel and began swinging it wildly, his face full of rage. The
Dunlendings swarmed around him and the remaining two defenders, taunting them. Jamie blocked their blows as best he could with the shovel, but he
knew they would soon have the best of him.

Then Jamie heard it, the sound of thundering hooves. They were coming; he saw dozens of horses with riders; shields and spears shining in the
firelight. The Rohirrim had come! The Dunlendings turned and started to flee, but many of them were quickly cut down. Grimbold and another large
Rohan rider cut several of them down with their swords then headed off in pursuit of others. The battle for the village was over, almost as quick as
it had begun.

Jamie looked around for Gorlinger and ran to where he lay. He lifted his head on to his lap and tried to determine if he was still alive. The
stablemaster's eyes opened, but his breathing was raspy and blood was everywhere.  He spoke to Jamie through his blood stained lips.

"Jamie, I'm sorry. Take care of your sister, I, I, tried to..." and then his head rolled back.

Jamie sobbed as the remaining women and children of the village ran out to see after their loved ones and to try out the fires that were started. Jamie
looked towards the stable house and saw Penny running towards him, panic in her eyes.

As the Rohirrim chased any stragglers out into the plains, Jamie and his sister hugged and cried looking at their guardian and the surrounding death
and damage the Dunlendings had caused.

Jamie could only think to hold his sister close and repeatedly said, "We'll be all right Penny, I promise, we'll be all right"