The days passed, slowly turning into weeks and then months. Arwen’s ladies went about their daily routines all through the changing seasons. And so it went from spring to winter again in Minas Tirith.
Arwen’s ladies had all gathered in Lhunidil’s room, it being the biggest, and were practicing their instruments for the Midwinter Festival performance that night when Arwen herself came in. They didn’t see the queen very often anymore, as she was suddenly very busy. So when she came in, they all jumped to their feet and ran towards her. She laughed.
“Slowly, now, ladies,” she said through her smile, “I have come for a purpose. You are all to receive gifts today.”
The maidens looked at each other. Surely she had not come to tell them that. All people received gifts at Midwinter, so why was she making such a fuss?
Arwen’s eyes twinkled. “Gifts from me that will shape the course of your lives. Well, maybe it’s not that serious,” she relented. “But it is important. So put on something warm and come with me.”
The girls all pulled on cloaks and stepped after the queen.
Nori was the first to notice they were heading towards the stable. As she was next to Analsiel, she whispered, “What does Arwen want to give from the stables?”
Analsiel shrugged, though she thought she might know. She gripped her sword, Ruthruin, tighter to quiet her nerves.
When they reached the stable, Arwen stopped outside the door to explain. “A shipment of horses has just arrived from Rohan, and as my Midwinter gift to you, all of you, I give you each one of them!”
The ladies drew in their breath. Beside her Nori squeaked, “A horse of our own? Really?”
Arwen laughed. “Yes, Norinel, a horse of your own.” The queen refused to call Nori by her nickname. “Go on in, and pick one out. Hurry so you can get back to practicing. We are all expecting a splendid performance tonight.”
Then she left.
The ladies all looked at each other, unsure of whether they really should go in. But Analsiel, who came from Rohan, felt a certain right to see the horses, so she stepped into the warm stable.
It was dark, but clean, and well-kept. Analsiel breathed in the smell of horses that she had grown up on. Her mother had only allowed her to ride only once, but she had been in the stables almost every day when she was a child. Now, she had a chance to prove herself worthy of being from the home of the Horselords. She relished it, and searched for the proper mount.
The first few she saw were meek, a simple mount for a simple rider. She sought something fierier, a horse worthy of her blade. You’re being ridiculous, said a little voice inside her head. You’ve only ridden before once in your life, and you’ll make a fool of yourself on a hard mount to handle. She ignored the sneering voice, and searched on. As she reached the back of the area, she heard a soft whicker from one of the stalls. Turning, she went towards it.
When she reached the stall, she saw a tall red stallion. His face was long, and smooth, and his tail was held high. His mane when she touched it was soft as silk, and his eyes were blue. Dark, but still blue. In the half-light of the stable, he looked almost like a shadow. A red shadow, she thought. In Sindarin it was Carandae. But that was silly. Shadows were dark, not red like a horse. But still…he looked like a shadow. He looked magnificent.
Nori came over, holding the reins of a white mare. “What do you think of her?” she asked.
Analsiel looked the horse over casually. “She’s a fine horse for you Nori. This one will love you forever if you treat her right. Good find.”
Nori glanced in at the stall by which they stood. “And the same to you, if this is the one you’ve chosen. Strange the way the light makes him fade into the shadows.”
“You see it that way, too?” cried Analsiel.
“Of course I do,” replied Nori. “Now come to the tack room to get what you need for him.”
Analsiel had picked out plain black tack with no embellishments. It was serviceable and nothing more. She knew that Carandae, as she had decided to call him, would only look silly in the flamboyant tack that Lhunindil picked for her palomino mare, all covered with blue fringe and bits of metal. Normally she did not shun pretty things, but she knew that when she was up on the back of a horse, she would have to be thinking of nothing but the horse.
Lhunidil assembled them all for riding. They were already wearing the long woolen stockings that went under their dresses for extra warmth, so riding would be simple. They all mounted, and Lhunidil led the way to the enclosure.
Riding felt to Analsiel much the same as fencing had. As if she had belonged on a horse all her life. Most of the other’s mounts were doing as they were told, though Astianen’s grey was giving her trouble. Analsiel rode up next to her. Astianen scowled at Analsiel perfect seat.
“Is there anything you can’t do?” she muttered, not really meaning it.
Arwen awaited them in the riding enclosure. She was mounted on a tall white steed that Lhunidil greeted as Asfaloth. The Queen also had a sword at her side.
“Today,” she said, “I am throwing centuries of traditional riding to the wind. You will learn to fight with swords on horseback before you learn anything else. I know it is silly, but it will make fighting with your horse as an asset much simpler, almost like second nature. So let us begin.”
At the end of the two hour lesson all the girls were tired and sore, though they knew they’d be sorer tomorrow. Still, there was a Midwinter festival to perform for that night, and they were all excited enough to put away there aches and pains for the next evening.
The performance was splendid, though rather usurped by the fact that all Arwen’s ladies were given their first swords, and named in front of the whole assembly. And it did seem a bit strange to see the beautiful Quelleanon singing an old Lothlorien song with a glittering sword strapped at her waist. But the performance went through, and then the gifts were exchanged. Analsiel had given all the ladies small trinkets, but she had given the Queen a scarf embroidered with moons and stars. She received little gifts from the other ladies, but from Nori came a large white hunting bird and from Quelleanon a set of silver bells to tie to his feet. The gifts were exchanged during the feast and soon all the participants were full. The company then went to bed and, after putting away their instruments, so too did the ladies of the Queen.
Analsiel sat in her window seat, staring out the snow that was falling at midnight. She could not sleep. Sitting on the soft cushions of the seat did not lull her in the slightest. More than once, her eyes strayed to the stables, and her thoughts to Carandae.
She stood up, and crept to the door. There was no one in sight. She smiled, and threw on several layers of warm clothing before tip-toeing out of her room, and down the stairs out into the dark night.
The stables were never locked, so Analsiel had no trouble getting in. She blew on her fingers to warm them, then walked toward Carandae’s stall. She stroked his face with her gloved hand, then led him out of the stall. She would have thought he would be more reluctant about having to leave his warm stall for the cold snow, but he came as softly as wind. She saddled him up, and she did not make a single either. Then she led him to the door, and pushed it open as she swung up onto his back.
The air was cold, but welcoming. Analsiel breathed it in and felt peaceful, but at the same time she was on fire inside, and she kicked Carandae’s red sides. Then they were off.
It was ride that neither horse nor girl would ever forget. The wind blew through mane and hair, stirring both mount and rider to a magical excitement. They moved faster and faster, never making a sound except to their own ears. The faster they went, they higher they seemed to fly until at last they reached the treetops. Then their pace began to slow, until they seemed to be dancing to gentle music. Silver leaves fell around them, and they felt enveloped in a cold cloud of winter and silver. The dance went on until the sun rose, when at last the horse and rider floated to the ground and returned separately to the stable and the palace in the first rays of the warm golden sun.
When Analsiel woke up that morning, she seemed not tired out from her long night of sitting at the window, but happy and calm. Then she remembered her dream. She had left the window seat and ridden Carandae up to the stars and silver leaves had rained down upon them until the morning. It had been a wonderful dream that she had left reluctantly. She sat up in bed and ran her hands through her black hair.
Her fingers caught on something hard and almost sharp that was tangled in her locks. When she pulled it out she gasped, but her face lit, and her eyes glowed silvery blue. For the object that had stayed in her hair from the night before, was a silver leaf.