A Life More Ordinary - Chapter Four - The Pony
Gimli stared at the pony.
The pony stared back at Gimli.
Dwarf and beast examined each other, neither liking greatly what they saw and but lacked the ability to communicate to each other their apparent distaste. Gimli wondered what the elf was thinking in presenting him with this gift and suspected immediately that Legolas was having some joke at his expense. The beast watched him unmoving, as if expecting to make some sudden move to which it would be required to defend himself. Gimli supposed that he was not helping to soothe the creature's anxiety that Gimli was approaching the pony like he was about to go into battle but he could not help it, it was a battle in some way.
From this distance, the beast did not look entirely threatening but Gimli knew looks could be deceiving. After travelling on a quest with a Ranger who turned out to be a king, an elf that became a trusted friend and a hobbit that proved to have power enough to topple Sauron, Gimli would never again trust appearances. No doubt this pony, bred apparently in the highlands of the White Mountains by the Rohirrim as beasts of burden despite their small size, had hidden strengths that would reveal itself in time. The pony had a flaxen mane flowing over its neck and its face, far longer than most full size horses. It did not bear the equine grace of horses but appeared stocky and rather ungainly, much like a dwarf, Gimli thought to himself. The rest of its body was a rich, golden color with a blaze of white from its forehead to its nose.
When Eomer's men first presented the pony to him at the Glittering Caves, he had thought it to be a joke. However, the message that came with the creature told him clearly that it was nothing of the kind. Legolas had requested that Eomer select Gimli a horse that would suit the dwarf for it was undignified for the Lord of the Glittering Caves to be ferried everywhere without a steed of his own whenever they traveled together. Gimli wondered if Legolas had fallen upon his head when he had made the request since it was well known that dwarves did not ride, ever. Even when he was forced to mount a horse behind Legolas, it had been under great protest and even then, he had never felt comfortable about it.
Eomer had thus selected a breed of pony that were reared in the White Mountains and were used mostly for dragging yokes and wagons on farms. However, lately, the beasts had become more popular as a child's first introduction to horses. Nobles across Middle earth were purchasing the animals for their children who were too small for proper horses but old enough to ride. Also since learning of the Shire folk, efforts had been made to introduce the ponies there because their size fit the small stature of the hobbits. Since dwarfs had never shown any interest in mastering horses of any kind, Eomer had never given it much thought until Legolas' request but upon being asked, thought the pony he had selected to be the ideal size for Gimli.
So now, Gimli found himself staring at his gift, complete with saddle fit for a dwarf, hand crafted he was told by one of the finest saddle makers in Rohan which was now resting on one corner of the stall, uncertain of what to make of the elf's gift. Gimli swore under his breath as he regarded the beast that the next time he saw Legolas, the elf would be receiving his very own set of mining tools and Gimli would insist that he use them. He had no idea where to keep the pony as caves were no place for such an animal although he could not see why it could not be allowed to roam during in the fields beyond the caves during the day and brought in for its protection by night. It was at this point to his utter shock, that Gimli realized that he was resigning himself to keep the creature.
"I cannot keep you!" Gimli told the pony as he stood before it in the section of cave that had become its stable since being presented to its owner more than a day ago.
The pony did not appear to care very much about Gimli's dilemma.
"I know why that cursed elf gave you to me," Gimli ranted as he started to pace beyond the hastily put together stall that had been built for the pony. "He wishes to vex me even in his absence. I am certain wherever he is; he is drawing great amusement at my expense. I sometimes wonder why I even call him friend!"
He knew why of course and had it been any other elf, Gimli was certain their friendship would not have flourished. Perilous times and great deeds had forged their friendship, binding them together as no elf or dwarf had ever been for too long. Legolas had saved his life more times then he could count and he in turn had done the same. Outwardly, those who saw them together would think that they were an unlikely pair, always bickering with one another but anyone attempting to break that bond would have reason to regret it.
Part of the reason they were so close, Gimli believed was because around him, Legolas did not have to act the age of a three thousand-year-old elf. Gimli did not look to Legolas for wisdom the way the rest of the Fellowship had done. To him, Legolas was an elf and nothing more. Age had little to do with his perception of the Prince. For this reason, Legolas was allowed to be himself, without maintaining the air of mystery elves liked to project around themselves. This unfortunately, allowed Legolas to show the side of himself that few people knew of, for instance his terrible sense of humor, particularly in his choice of gifts.
"He knows I do not like horses," Gimli continued his one sided conversation with the pony. "He thinks to annoy me by having you here, so I can be forever reminded by the fact that I must keep you because you are gift from him!"
Gimli knew that he was working himself in a proper state but he could not help himself. What sort of game was Legolas playing with him? This poor creature deserved a master who could ride him, not to be kept away from the open plains in a dwarf's realm. He walked to the edge of the stall and ran his hand along the pony's flank. Strangely enough, the beast did not recoil, merely reacted to his touch with a slight turn of its head. Examining the pony a little closer, Gimli discovered that it was male but gelded. At least Legolas and Eomer did not saddle him with a female, though he had no idea if that made any difference in terms of riding a pony.
"I have no doubt when I see him next he will take great relish in asking me how I fare with his gift," Gimli continued to complain, "knowing full well that I would never ride you. I wish I could tell him otherwise. Now wouldn't that make his jest leave a bitter taste in his mouth?" He chuckled slightly to himself.
"That would make him eat his words if I rode you when I returned to Minas Tirith," Gimli continued to speak, his mind suddenly filled with images of Legolas' shocked face when he appeared before the elf, astride the pony as if he were born to the saddle.
The pony looked at him rather doubtfully.
"I suppose it's not so impossible that I try, I mean how hard could it truly be? Men ride all the time, some before they can even walk. Perhaps that is an exaggeration but you know what I mean." Gimli started rationalizing the thought that had started to take root in his mind the more he considered the seemingly preposterous notion. Dwarves did not ride. Dwarves did not befriend elves either or take part in events that had shaped the world, far from their deep mountain recesses. His whole life had been about accomplishing things that dwarfs were not meant to. Why was this any different?
Gazing purposefully at the saddle that had been made for him, Gimli crossed the floor of the cave and came to a halt before it. Dropping to his knees, he examined the stitched leather saddle and could not deny that it was well crafted enough to have been dwarf in origin. Everything about it had been made to suit him, even possessing a strap to which his axe could have been attached. Gimli took in the smell of new leather and admire the craftsmanship before he picked it up and headed towards the pony that was eyeing him rather suspiciously.
"Now let us be reasonable about this," Gimli remarked as he stepped into the stall, approaching the pony stealthily. "You do not want to be left languishing in here any more than I want to see that elf's smirking face the next time I see him. I shall put this on you and if you do not bite or kick me, we can begin this relationship amicably."
The pony seemed to be thinking this over when Gimli approached it with the saddle, taking more care than he would use whilst approaching a sleeping Balrog after a particularly bad day. The animal did not react when Gimli placed the saddle upon its back and attempted to decipher the straps and buckles that would secure it to its body. It was not difficult to discern since no self-respecting dwarf would ever admit openly that he was unable to master any kind of device, even if it was for use on a horse.
Once he was certain that everything was in place and the saddle would not slide off the beast's body when he mounted it, Gimli stepped back and stared at the pony. He could not deny that he was a little uneasy about actually attempting to climb into the saddle but he knew that he was no coward and this was only a pony. He had faced far greater threat then this in his life and he would not falter now. Taking a deep breath to strengthen his resolve and approached the pony once more.
"I am going to climb on now," he told the animal earnestly. "Let us both keep calm, shall we? You do not throw me and I will resist the urge to introduce you to my axe."
The pony did not respond to this with any violence, so Gimli decided that it was safe to continue. Placing his feet gingerly in the stirrup, he pulled himself up clutching the saddle, remembering how he had seen Legolas perform the same maneuver time and time again in the past. Swinging his foot over the leather, he rested himself carefully unto the seat and found that it felt quite strange to be sitting on top of the pony alone, without someone else in front of him. Taking the reins in his hands, Gimli had to confess that this was not as bad as he thought it would be.
"Let us move around a bit, shall we?" He asked the animal and tried to remember how he had seen Legolas nudge Arod into moving.
The moment he dug his heels into the pony's flank, Gimli suddenly felt the beast heave sharply from the rear with such force that he could do little except to shout indignantly as he was unseated from the saddle. The dwarf landed on his face into the fresh straw that covered the stable floor. He was grateful that he was wearing his helmet for it would have been a painful exercise to land on the hard, stone ground without it. For a few seconds he lay there, adjusting himself to the pain moving throughout this body before he stood up abruptly and turned to the pony that was staring at him unrepentant.
"I thought we had an agreement!" Gimli barked at the pony that did not flinch at its master's anger.
"I should take an axe to you," the dwarf raved as he picked himself up and dusted the errant pieces of straw attached to his clothing. "But that would mean that I was defeated by an animal and I am not ready to give up the notion that I will never master you for I shall."
With that, he strode back to the pony and attempted to climb into the saddle once again. This time the beast did not even allow him to do that much. No sooner than his foot was in the stirrup, the animal moved away, allowing him to stumble and fall onto his back, his foot still caught in the steel. Gimli freed himself and swore loudly, certain the impassive look the beast was giving him was nothing short than a smile of derision. He continued towards it, anger making me more determined than ever to mount the pony.
"I will ride you beast," Gimli declared as if he were uttering a battle cry. "Make no mistake on that. Before this day is out, one of us will know who is its master and I swear to you, it will not be me."
* * *
As the Lady of the Glittering Caves and the wife of Gimli, son of Gloin and elf friend, Lorin had become accustomed to the fact that her husband was not an ordinary dwarf. Indeed, it was his lack of convention that had made him a hero and had aided her decision to choose him as a husband. In truth, when she had first left Erebor for the lands of Rohan, she had no intention of marriage. By trade, she was an engraver and many of the axes carried by the dwarfs who resided in Erebor had her distinct markings upon it. However, the chance to start a new life far away from the world she had known had inspired her interest more than Lorin would have expected. Without giving the matter much thought since her heart made the decision for her, Lorin found herself journeying to the Glittering Caves with the rest of the dwarfs that were following him to establishing a new colony called Aglarond.
It was not because he was a great hero that she found herself forming affections for him but rather because of the kind heart that existed beneath his crusty exterior. In truth, he could be impatient, downright stubborn and impossible but he showed tenderness and tolerance that was uncommon in most dwarfs. When he spoke about the Glittering Caves, he described it with the wonder of a child and one could not help but desire to see it as he did. Of course, he also had the same glimmer in his eyes when he spoke of the Lady of the Golden Wood. Lorin knew Gimli kept a lock of her hair like a sacred trust however, the dwarf lady had come to accept that his love for Galadriel was more than awe than anything.
Fortunately, what he felt for his wife was decidedly grounded in reality and Lorin was not so insecure that she would be jealous of his infatuation with an elven lady who had passed beyond the boundaries of Middle earth. Certainly her husband did not treat her as if she had to compete for the affections of another. Indeed when she had first made known her regard for him, his reaction had almost bordered on astonishment. Strange how this was the reaction of most dwarf males when approached by women of their own kind. However, in time they forged a love that was stronger than mithrail and though it was not one of burning passion because dwarfs did not like passion as much in their relationships as they liked comfortable familiarity, it was no less binding.
As a husband, she did not expect to see him a good deal even before they had married, aware that he was a wanderer at heart, despite his beliefs to the contrary. He spent a good deal of time journeying with the legendary Fellowship, especially the elf who was son to King Thranduil of Mirkwood. She did note however, that he made time to return home, not merely to see to his realm but also to see her. There were occasions when he simply came back for the latter and Lorin was deeply touched by it.
He was not like other dwarfs, her lord and she loved him dearly for it.
Lorin sat in the parlor of the rooms that served as their private residence, darning some clothes of his that was in great need of repair when suddenly she heard a door slam, which made her jump a little, followed by determined footsteps approaching. Looking up, she saw her husband storming through the room appearing quite disheveled, with piece of stray clinging to his clothes. There was also a slight limp in his steps and he bore all the earmarks of having been in some kind of battle.
"What happened to you, husband?"
Gimli did not speak at first, choosing instead to go to the fireplace where his axe hung over the mantle piece.
"Why are you taking your axe?" she questioned again, aware that he did not take it from its place without intending to use it.
"I am going to introduce it to that damn pony!" Gimli hissed.
"You attempted to ride it?" she exclaimed with incredulity as she at last understood why he was in the state he was.
"I did not get that far," Gimli rumbled darkly as he removed the axe and clutched it purposefully in his hand before turning to leave again.
"You do not know how to ride," she pointed out, feeling it a wifely duty to stop her husband when he was bent on leaving, armed with an axe and obviously furious.
"That was painfully obvious by the number of times that accursed creature threw me!" Gimli paused long enough to answer.
"Husband." She intercepted him before he got past her. "You cannot kill the creature, it was a gift from Legolas," she replied attempting to reason with him.
"A gift!" Gimli snorted. "It is not gift! It is just a way for that damned elf to cause me annoyance. They thrive on it you know, these elves. They appeared to be worldly and wise but their secret ambition is to drive every living thing insane!" He said this with more than a look of mania etched in his face.
"I thought you decided you were not going to ride it," Lorin remarked, gently reaching for his hand so that she could remove the axe from his grip.
"Well I thought that I might teach Legolas a lesson," Gimli frowned. "I know he think me to afraid to learn to ride the thing and I was going to prove him wrong. I was going to ride the beast back to Minas Tirith when I return."
"An admirable plan," Lorin agreed and she could not help but think that her husband would look very impressive on a horse, thought his was not the best time to mention that. "However, I do believe instruction is required in such instances. One does not simply mount a horse and expect to simply ride it."
"How hard can it be?" Gimli retorted.
"Judging by the number of times you fell out of the saddle, I would say considerably," Lorin answered with a straight face.
"Are you mocking me, wife?" Gimli straightened up and gave her a look.
"I would do nothing of the kind," she said with a little smile, leaning over to kiss his lips gently before speaking again. "I have heard Legolas speak of his childhood and I am certain he makes it clear that his father had to teach him. He simply did not hop onto the back of horse and knew instantly how to ride."
"I suppose," he shifted uncomfortably at her point, wishing it were not so because he really did want to introduce the pony to his axe.
"Perhaps you should find someone to teach you," she suggested.
"Teach me?" he snorted. "Who could teach me? I do not think I wish to go to Minas Tirith simply to learn to ride a horse. Aragorn would be good enough to teach me if I were to ask but I do not think it appropriate to make such a request of him."
"Then do not go so far," Lorin replied. "You are friends with the King of the Mark, are you not?"
"With Eomer? Yes, we are friends though I once almost took my axe to him over his slight against the Lady of the Wood."
"Yes, yes," Lorin rolled her eyes impatiently, "I have heard that tale before. I meant, do you trust him enough to teach you how to ride?"
Gimli shrugged and found that it was not a question that was at all easy to answer. It was not that he did not think that Eomer would help him but he was somewhat embarrassed to be in a position where he was required to ask for aide.
Dwarfs were fiercely independent and they liked it even less when they were in a position of disadvantage. Despite the fact that Eomer was someone Gimli considered a friend, this age old conditioning of his race was a tradition difficult to break.
"I suppose," he fidgeted uncomfortably where he stood because he was hesitant to answer. Lorin could be so much more sensible then him and when she put forward the questions so starkly, that was very little he could do to deny the wisdom of her words.
"Well, then," she gave him a look of gentle understanding; "you know what you must do if you truly mean to master Legolas' gift, you must ask Eomer to help you."
"I suppose there is no other way," Gimli muttered unhappily, having hoped he would have been able to master the pony without any assistance. However, the last few hours had proved quite plainly that if he intended to go through with his plan, then he would have to do as his lady suggested. He just wished he did not have to.
"Well, you could forget the whole idea to begin with," she remarked, eyeing him suggestively.
"No!" Gimli retorted sharply. "I will not let that elf get the better of me. I'll show him that I can do this. I will go to Edoras tomorrow and that damned pony is coming with me!"
* * *
When Eomer, King of the Mark was told that he had a visitor, the last person he had expected it to be was Gimli, Lord of Algarond or the Glittering Caves as it was most commonly know to the Rohirrim. After all, it had only been a number of days ago that the gift Legolas Greenleaf had requested Eomer to make on his behalf was delivered to the dwarf. While Eomer had anticipated a message that would either have Gimli cursing or thanking him, since it was anyone's guess how a dwarf was going to react to a gift of this nature, he had certainly not expected Gimli to make an appearance himself.
"Gimli!" Eomer exclaimed when chamberlain showed Gimli into the hall of Meduseld.
"Eomer," Gimli smiled as the two warriors met in friendly embrace. "It is good to see you King of the Mark."
"Likewise, Lord of Aglarond," Eomer teased. "So to what do I owe this visit?"
Gimli seemed to bristle at the mention of that and he looked at Eomer through narrowed eyes, "I came about that wretched beast."
"Ah," Eomer nodded understanding completely as he led Gimli to the long table where food and drink were being prepared for the guest. "You are here to return it. I understand," he said quickly sparing Gimli the indignity of explaining. "When Legolas first mentioned the idea, I thought him mad. After all it is well known that your people are not fond of horses.
However, he was determined that you have one, kept saying something about the Lord of Aglarond should not be forced to travel with his companions on the back of someone else' horse."
"Actually," Gimli cleared his throat, trying to force the words out of his mouth. "I came here to learn how to ride."
There were not many things that could stop the King of the Mark dead in his tracks but apparently this was one of them.
Eomer turned around and looked down at his diminutive friend, "you want to learn how to ride a horse?'
"That blasted pony anyway!" Gimli declared a little defensively. "I will not let a beast defeat me!"
Eomer's brow rose up over his eyes in surprise at the dwarf's obvious chagrin and he was forced to stifle the urge to smile because to do so would undoubtedly earn him the sharp end of Gimli's axe, king or not. Instead, he did a remarkable job of composing himself as he listened to Gimli rave a little more about a pony whose crimes it seemed were more heinous than any committed by Sauron himself. The dwarf was working himself into a proper state of outrage as he described the events that had led to his arrival in Edoras seeking Eomer's aid.
"So you see, I am going to learn to ride this creature if it is the last thing I do," Gimli concluded his speech.
"Well if you had continued to be thrown out of the saddle, that may very well have been true," Eomer pointed out. "Do you know how dangerous it is to be thrown? You could have hurt yourself badly."
"Well that is why I am here," Gimli retorted gruffly. "My lady seems to think as you do. She advised that I seek your aid in learning how to ride properly since I am so determined to do this thing."
"The Lady Lorin counsels you well, "Eomer replied with a little smile, "it is no easy thing learning to master a horse or a pony for that matter. My father taught both Eowyn and I as a child. In Rohan, I think we are bred to ride before we walk."
"I think that is the same of us in Erebor," the dwarf remarked as he relaxed a little, pleased that Eomer was not making light of his request but seemed genuinely committed to help him. "We learn a trade before we learn anything else."
"It is not difficult to learn how to ride," the king continued, "however, it does need to be learnt. It is not a thing that can be done by simply climbing into the saddle, be it a horse or a pony such as yours."
"Well, if the little hobbits can do it, I can see why I cannot," Gimli retorted remembering the pony named Bill that was so cherished by Samwise Gamgee. "Although I am certain that there is something wrong with that pony. It must be sick in the brain I am certain."
Eomer had not picked the pony himself but he did send one of his most trusted men to make the selection and prior to its delivery to Gimli, had inspected the animal himself. He had considered the choice to be well made although like all the Rohirrim, his eye was more for horses then their smaller cousins. Of course, he had not ridden the thing himself and supposed in that respect at least, there was the possibility that there was something wrong with the pony to cause Gimli such distress.
"Some animals may simply be unaccustomed to having a rider on its back," Eomer explained, drawing from his own experiences.
"It is not that," the dwarf said vehemently, "that beast is stubborn, bad tempered, with more spirit then sense!"
The irony was not lost on Eomer.
However, instead of responding as no doubt Legolas would have done had the elf been present, the King of the Mark preferred to move on and leave the volatile comment alone, choosing to address the problem that had brought Gimli to Edoras instead. Besides, Eomer could see the whole situation bothered the dwarf and he had not the heart to make light of it.
"I am assuming then your journey here with the beast was not as easy as you would have liked," Eomer asked innocently.
"Not at all," Gimli scowled. "I was tempted to use my axe several times."
Eomer gave the dwarf a look of reproach before responding, "I think we will have to try something other than that to gain its trust."
"Gain its trust?" Gimli stared at him blankly as if he had suggested the most preposterous thing imaginable. "Why would I need to gain its trust?"
"Because if the animal does not feel comfortable with you, it is not going to carry you anywhere," Eomer answered with more of a condescending tone then he meant.
"Why cannot we simply get another pony?" Gimli offered, not liking the idea of pitting his wits against the wretched beast again, since every encounter so far had been met with humiliation and defeat.
"For starters because we do not breed them here," the king explained. "They are found in the mountains where their breed grows freely. It is the cold and temperate weather than makes them small yet hardy, secondly you do not strike me as one who gives up so easily."
"Give up?" Gimli took offense at the phrase. "I am not giving up," he stated firmly.
"Of course not," Eomer remarked neutrally.
Gimli stared at Eomer through narrowed eyes, aware of what the king was trying to do and finding it extremely annoying that he was succeeding.
"If I am to keep this beast, will you help me then?" Gimli looked at him hopefully. "Will you teach me how to ride?"
He had been called on to do many things in his life, face trials that would have broken lesser men but teaching a dwarf how to ride a pony had to be counted as something of a first.
However, Eomer knew how difficult it was for Gimli to come to him for aid, especially when one considered on what foot their association had began and how it had evolved into the friendship they now shared. Since the end of the War, that friendship had strengthened because of the close proximity of each of their realms.
"It will be my privilege to try," Eomer answered with a little smile. "Let's see what kind of horseman you make."
"Hopefully one who can stay in the saddle for more than a few seconds," Gimli remarked, wishing he had Eomer's confidence in his abilities.
"Oh do not worry," the king smiled mischievously, "we have rope."
Gimli gave him a look and then cursed under his breath. He could not believe the lengths he was going to accomplish this task. Once again, Gimli reminded himself to take sweet vengeance upon Legolas, the next time he saw the elf.
That is if he did not kill himself first.
* * *
The lesson began the very next day with Eomer and Gimli gathered in the large courtyard outside the hall of Meduseld. Although there were better ways for the King of the Mark to occupy his time, Eomer could not help be pleased that the task of helping Gimli ensured that for a few days at least, his mind was filled with things other than the affairs of state. There were times when even the king required a little distraction and he had to confess that despite the unusual nature of the request the dwarf had made of him, Eomer was somewhat looking forward to it. Sometimes, a king needed to succeed the smaller battles in order to win the larger ones.
"What are you doing?" Gimli asked when he saw Eomer tying the rope to the bridle around the pony's elongated nose.
"Ensuring that when this animal choose to move with you on it, it does not decide to bolt for parts unknown," Eomer replied.
"If I can remain in the saddle long enough for the beast to bolt, I will be surprised," Gimli retorted, watching how the pony seemed so placid in Eomer's care and felt no end of resentment towards the beast for its pretentious docility.
"You know," Eomer paused and looked over his shoulder at Gimli, "it might help if you actually gave the animal a name, instead of simply calling it beast. "
"A name?" the dwarf snorted. "You mean aside from riding it, I must now name it as well?"
Eomer gave him a look of impatience that spoke volumes.
"All right," Gimli muttered under his breath, considering what he could name a pony. He had never named an animal before and the experience though not entirely impossible, was a little difficult. However, after a moment, he was willing to make an attempt. An evil thought crossed over his mind and he offered a suggestion, "what about Mirkwood Prince?"
"You want to name your pony Mirkwood Prince?" Eomer stared at him.
An utterly demonic expression stole across Gimli's features, "does not that flaxen mane remind you of anyone?" the dwarf asked smugly.
Eomer did not trust himself to answer in case he was forced to repeat it later and responded diplomatically, "its your pony and you are the one who is in danger of being riddled with arrows when he finds out."
"After the gracious gift he presented to me," Gimli retorted, not in the least worried about that, "it's the least I can do for him."
Eomer rolled his eyes and faced Gimli once the rope was secured to the bridle. "Climb into the saddle," he ordered.
Gimli paled visibly at the thought as he stared back at Eomer "Are you certain?"
"You are not going to learn to ride unless you do," he stared at Gimli, waiting for the dwarf to make a movement towards the pony.
Gimli walked gingerly towards the beast, trying to hid his anxiety as he approached. Eomer who had once seen the dwarf slaughter orcs without fear or impunity, playing his deadly game with Legolas during the battle of Helms Deep at the Hornburg had not seen the fear in Gimli's eyes that he did now. The absurdity of it was beyond his ability to believe it but he kept this observation to himself and allowed Gimli to continue his cautious advance to the pony. For the sake of Gimli's esteem, Eomer had ensured that no one was lingering in the courtyard that had no good reason to be there and explicit instructions had been given that no mishap suffered by Gimli during the lesson was to be the source of amusement to anyone. Anyone found doing so would earn the king's extreme displeasure.
Gimli reached the pony and placed his hand upon the saddle. The pony did not move. As he attempted to mount, he heard Eomer offering him some advice on how to climb into the saddle properly and he had to confess being surprised at how different it was from his own method. The pony did not move away as Gimli pulled him self up to the seat and then lowered himself in it. Clutching the reins in his fingers, he tried to dispel the knot that was forming inside his stomach in anticipation of what the animal would do now that he was at its mercy.
He really wished he had his axe and was rather unhappy that Eomer would not let him near the pony without it.
The King of the Mark approached pony and rider, examining briefly the way the dwarf's feet rested in the stirrups and noted the manner in which he held the reins in his fingers.
"Hold it like this," Eomer explained showing him the proper way in which to do and tightening the stirrups so that Gimli could achieve the proper balance that required.
Once that was ensured, Eomer began to lead Gimli around the courtyard. The pony did not seem to have any difficulty being forced to follow its tether and for the next hour or so that the lesson progressed, Eomer allowed Gimli to get used to the feel of being in the saddle. Most of his life had been dedicated to soldiering and this was really the first time he had been called on to teach anyone anything. It was a different feeling from being a leader of men but in some ways no different. After a time with the pony alternating between trots and cantering, Gimli became more comfortable in the saddle and Eomer decided that it was time to move the lesson to the next level.
"I am taking the rope away," Eomer answered when Gimli asked what he was doing.
"Taking the rope away?" The dwarf gawked at him, with no small measure of panic in his voice. "I do not think that is such a good idea," Gimli said nervously.
Eomer stared back at him, trying to swallow the whole notion of Gimli being afraid. In battle, he had seen none braver so it was quite something for him to witness the dwarf's fear of riding without a tether. "You will have to do it alone sometime," Eomer pointed out.
Gimli frowned and seemed to clutch the reins even tighter when Eomer removed the rope from the pony's bridle. He expected to be thrown immediately and brace himself in the saddle for this eventuality. However, nothing of the kind happened in the interminable minutes that passed after Eomer stepped away from the pony. Gimli cursed under his breath, thinking that he must have sounded like a complaining child to the King of the Mark about this pony, especially when all his warnings about being thrown appeared fruitless.
"This pony hates me," Gimli declared hotly. "It seeks to make me look like a liar!"
"I am certain that is not true," Eomer said neutrally "It is just a pony."
"It is not just a pony," the dwarf returned sharply. "It is a creation of Morgoth!"
"Gimli, I know you are distracting me from what must be done," the king gave him a look. "Now you know what you must do, so hurry along and do it."
"This is a bad idea," Gimli pointed out as he clutched the reins in his knuckle white hands. "I just want you to remember that I told you so,"
Eomer rolled his eyes, starting to feel his patience dissipating. "Just remember what I showed you," he repeated himself, "remember, your steed is your companion, not your enemy."
"I have no difficulty in remembering that lesson, it is this beast that does," Gimli grumbled as he dug his heels into the creature's flank in order to start the pony moving forward.
In retrospect, Gimli supposed he ought to be grateful that what followed next ensured that his word would no longer be doubted by Eomer since the pony reared up violently and tossed the dwarf, trailing a litany of curses through the air and onto the ground. Gimli landed not far from Eomer's feet just as the pony snorted loudly its distaste for the whole attempt.
"Master dwarf!" Eomer skidded to the dwarf's side, fearful that he had been injured by that fall.
Gimli sat up suddenly; his face twisted in anger and fairly growled at Eomer, "NOBODY TOSSES A DWARF!"
"Are you all right?" Eomer asked concerned as he helped Gimli to his feet.
"Yes," Gimli nodded, suddenly becoming so calm it was frightening. "I am quite fine thank you."
Yet Eomer had good reason to distrust him because even as he said those words, his eyes were searching the courtyard for his axe.
"This is most unexpected," Eomer frowned at the pony. "I have never seen a horse or a pony behave in such a way."
"I am not going to be beaten by this infernal creature!" Gimli bellowed and stormed back to the pony, his posture rigid and unyielding as if he were about to take on a host of orcs with his bare hands. The pony stared back at its master with challenge, daring Gimli to mount him again.
Eomer could only watch in dumbfounded astonishment as nothing less than war was waged. Gimli would keep trying to climb unto the saddle and there were times when he was seated long enough for Eomer to think that he had succeeded in taming the creature when suddenly the pony would show them both how wrong they were. Very soon those who had been under strict orders to go about their business in the courtyard could not keep their eyes from the spectacle, taking place. They viewed the dwarf's determination to conquer the pony with growing admiration and after a time, even Eomer began to consider that perhaps this whole idea of Gimli learning to ride might have been an idea ill conceived.
Gimli was determined to conquer this creature no matter what. Since coming to Edoras, he had learnt one thing and that gave him will to continue because he knew now that it was not his fault that he could not ride, it was the pony. He had never in his life been defeated by anything and he would be betraying every dwarf from his father to the first ones created by Aule by giving up until he had won the day. Eomer had instructed him well and he knew that given a saner specimen, he would learn to ride but he was not ready to concede defeat to a pony.
Gimli son of Gloin had too much pride for that.
"Master dwarf," Eomer finally spoke when evening started to approach in the distant horizon. "Perhaps we should try this again tomorrow. It has been a long day and you have been thrown too many times for me to allow you continue in good conscience."
"No," Gimli hissed at the king. His whole body was aching from the abrupt landings on the ground but it would all be for nothing if he gave up. "I will not stop until I have mastered this beast."
"I do not wish to see you hurt," Eomer insisted. "You've been thrown off so many times, I am becoming exhausted watching it."
"Nobody tosses a dwarf!" Gimli repeated himself and stormed off again, once more unto the breach.
Unfortunately, there was much dwarf tossing throughout the night and when the sun finally set with Gimli landing hard one time too many until he did not rise easily again, Eomer knew that the stout hearted Lord of Aglarond was not going to win the day. When Gimli did not rise to his feet after his latest fall, Eomer knew that he was done.
"Come on, Master Gimli," Eomer said sympathetically as he helped the woozy dwarf to his feet, "you did your best. Now its time to rest."
"I will never give in!" Gimli retorted sharply, even though he now needed the aid of two palace servants to stand.
"Take him to his chambers," Eomer ordered the two men. "Ensure he gets a good night rest."
"Confounded spawn of Melkor!" Gimli was still ranting as they took him out of Eomer's sight.
Eomer turned to the pony that had caused all this difficult and stared hard at the indifferent beast who did not seem at all repentant at what he had put Gimli through for the last few hours. Eomer studied the pony for a long time, sizing up the creature as an enemy as formidable as he had ever faced in his life. He did not realize the pony was doing the same. The King of the Mark stared at the animal for the longest time, wondering what was in its nature that made it so difficult. Obviously it did not like the dwarf and Eomer was rather incensed that he would have chosen a gift on Legolas' behalf that would find Gimli so objectionable.
He came towards the pony and ran his hand against the hot flank of its neck. Its exertions had made its skin hot and sweaty. The pony flinched a little at his touch but reacted little else after that. Eomer took a deep breath and wondered what Gimli was doing that had earned him the pony's severe dislike. Putting his hand on the pommel, Eomer hauled himself onto the saddle. He was too tall for a pony of this size, that much was obvious but he did not intend to ride it to Gondor, just around the courtyard to see why Gimli was having the difficulties he was with the animal.
When he tightened his legs against the animal's side to prompt him into moving, the pony that Gimli had called Mirkwood Prince showed that despite its small stature, it was capable of inflicting as much harm upon a man as it was upon the dwarf. While Eomer did not sail across the air as Gimli had, he did make a rather unceremonious fall off the saddle into the ground.
"That does it!" Eomer glowered as he stared at the creature that stared back at him with defiance.
"You are not fit to be ridden! You will kill someone before you allow that to happen! Were I not such a lover of horses, I would have you put to death!" Eomer's infinite patience suddenly dried up as he shouted at the pony.
It was to his shock that Eomer discovered that he was now reduced to Gimli's state of mind.
Eomer stood up to his full height and strode towards the pony, his face was dark and stormy. Those who saw him remembered how he appeared at Helms Deep and the Battle of Pelennor. Even then, he had not appeared so fierce as he reached the pony and stared at it, nose to nose.
"I am going to do what I should have done in the first place," Eomer hissed, his voice full of menace.
The pony dared him to do his worst.
* * *
It was almost three days before Gimli was in any fit state to make another attempt.
He had spent most of the time, driving the healers at the House of Healing to distraction with his insistence that he was well enough to stand on his own feet even though his body was bruised from his efforts to ride. However, Eomer had insisted that he take the full measure of time in recovering for he could not be any less than completely fit when he attempted to ride again. During his convalescence, Gimli had calmed down in temperament enough to admit that perhaps he was not the dwarf who would break his people's long held reluctance to ride. Perhaps Legolas was right, his people were too rigid in their ways to ever learn to be masters of horses as men and elves were. However, a tiny part of him did feel somewhat inadequate when one considered that even the hobbits knew how to ride.
Unfortunately, his efforts with Legolas' gift proved that he was no horseman and was very unlikely to become one in the future. He had started to resign himself to the fact that he would never accomplish this task and the taste of defeat was sourer then he cared to admit but it was beyond Gimli's nature to show weakness, even in the face of failure. Fortunately, he knew that Eomer would understand and would not make his decision any harder to bear. The king despite his warrior nature had a far more sensitive soul then most would believe. Of him and his sister, Gimli decided that it was Eomer who was more thoughtful of the two.
Thus it was to of complete surprise to him when Eomer turned up at his chambers early that morning, pounding on the door, expecting him to continue their riding lessons.
"I have given up," Gimli retorted unhappily. He did not like to say it even though he had more or less resigned himself to its acceptance.
"Nonsense," Eomer brushed aside the comment, "we are riding this morning."
"Why?" the dwarf said glumly, "I am only going to be thrown again."
"Do you not know that it is extremely bad manners to refuse the request of the king whilst you are in residence of his domain?" Eomer looked at him critically.
"Oh you should have said you were going to cheat," Gimli said sarcastically, grabbing his helmet as he stepped out of the doorway to follow the king where he willed. "Then I would have understood better."
"You left me no other choice," Eomer answered with a little smile. "Now come on."
Deciding that he had no choice but to comply with Eomer's madness, Gimli followed the king to the courtyard once more. The pony was already saddled and waiting, making Gimli wondered if the King of the Mark was having a worse case of denial in Gimli's ability to master the beast then the dwarf himself. In either case, it was apparent, Eomer expected him to ride. As he approached the pony, Gimli blinked once as he saw the animal that had caused him so much bruising. Once again, he wished he had his axe close by because if he was tossed again, the last thing the creature would know was his blade.
"Climb into the saddle," Eomer instructed.
Gimli looked at him skeptically. "Are you trying to get my neck broken or do you simply wish to see me further humiliated."
"Trust me." Eomer gave him a look and added, "I do not need to wish that, I saw enough of that during our first lesson."
"I am glad you drew such amusement from my embarrassment," Gimli retorted but Eomer noticed he was nevertheless still approaching the animal.
The dwarf reached the pony and paused a moment. His hesitation was brief as a contemplative look crossed his crusty features. Eomer's breath held but was released a moment later when Gimli placed his foot into the stirrup and pulled himself into the saddle.
"Are you certain about this?" he asked Eomer once more.
"Yes," Eomer said firmly. "Try it."
Gimli nodded and tensed his legs against the flank of the pony. It felt as if everyone who was present were holding their breaths in anticipation, whether or not they happened to be spying on the king and his companion or simply passing by and had paused to watch if the moment. Then they saw the muscle in the pony's flanks ripple like a stone thrown into a still pond. Under its russet pelt, the pony took a tentative step forward and then another, and yet another still. Gimli's expression was one of surprise and then of euphoria as he found himself controlling the pony for the first time since he had acquired it .
There was a collective cheer from those present, Eomer included when the pony made its way across the courtyard and then under Gimli's control, turned and returned the way it had came. The dwarf was wearing a wide grin on his face as Eomer closed the distance between them on foot.
"I knew you could do it, Master Gimli," Eomer laughed.
"Thank you, Eomer," Gimli replied, genuinely touched by the king's efforts on your behalf. "I could not have done it without you."
"You would have eventually succeeded yourself, I merely offered some useful advice," Eomer grinned as Gimli remained in the saddle, apparently unwilling to climb off the pony just yet. Eomer could not blame him. After the ordeal he had endured to learn how to ride, why should not the dwarf want to savor his victory?
"You offered more than advice, Eomer," Gimli said gratefully as he ran his hand across the flaxen mane of the pony and though to himself that Mirkwood Prince was definitely the name for the steed. "You had faith that I could do this and I am thankful for that."
Eomer did not know what to say and for a few seconds an awkward silence followed before Eomer spoke up, propelling them past the moment, "so what now? Do you go to Gondor to see the Prince of Mirkwood and tell him what you named his gift?"
"Definitely," Gimli said with relish, "I think it will amuse him to no end."
Eomer seriously did not think this was the case but he had no wish to dampen the spirit of Gimli's pleasure, "I am certain it will draw some kind of response."
"Oh Eomer," Gimli suddenly remarked, "there was one other thing."
"Yes?" The king asked innocently.
Gimli stared at Eomer with a little smile before the king became too smug with himself because there was one little matter the dwarf wished to clear up.
"How is it that my gelding has suddenly become a mare?"