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A Handful of Valentines  by Branwyn



"Hold your weeping. I cannot bear to see it," her brother begged as if he were in mortal torment.

Eowyn nodded, sniffling and trying to stop the shaking of her shoulders.

"No one will force you to pledge yourself to this outlander. The laws of our people forbid such a thing." Her brother scowled then struck his palm with his fist. "I will speak with Theoden King at once." He swung about on his heel and nearly fell in a heap of manure as he tripped on his new sword. With a muttered curse, he stamped out of the stable and into the cold rain.

Heedless of her best gown, Eowyn crawled into the hay loft. There she would be safely hidden while she waited for her brother to return. She hated this gown, hated the way it bared her shoulders and stretched across the new curves of her breasts. She was nothing more than a filly being raised to be a brood mare.

At the sound of men's voices, she peered down the ladder. She heard Freawulf, the stablemaster, giving orders to the grooms. Then she heard a low voice speaking Westron in a strange, lilting manner. She leaned down to spy a glimpse of the outlander, for she knew that was who it must be.

His black hair hung in wet strands, and water streamed from his cloak. Even from her perch in the hayloft, she could see that his hands were white from the cold and his broad shoulders were stooped with weariness. Yet he unsaddled the horse himself and dried its coat with clean sackcloth,refusing the help of the grooms.

Scratching the horse on the whithers, the outlander told old Freawulf, "He is cold and overtired. He needs to eat--" And here he said a few words in Sindarin. "It is food for sick horses. I do not know what its name is in the Common Speech."

Moving quicker than thought, Eowyn shimmied down the ladder and landed with a thud. Then she pulled down the rumpled skirt of her gown as the outlander stared and the stablemaster coughed into his hand. She looked up at her betrothed as she spoke. "'Bran mash.' It is called 'bran mash' in the Common Speech. Freawulf, be so good as to cook some for Lord Boromir's horse."

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