"They love their horses next to their kin. And not without reason, for the horses of the Riddermark come from the fields of the North, far from the Shadow, and their race, as that of their masters, is descended from the free days of old." Boromir at the council of Elrond, quoted from The Council of Elrond; The Fellowship of the Ring; Book II by J.R.R Tolkien
Minas Tirith, 29th March, 3019 Third Age
She waited a little longer, not wanting the sound of her steps to give her away, and then she stealthily continued the path to where it was blocked by the wall.
So that was the Steward's cousin! What a conceited, ego-centric twit! Worse than her brother's notoriously bad-tempered stallion, and obviously as focussed on swagging, biting and kicking as that dratted horse. How could the Lord Faramir let such an idiot provoke him like that? Had he not told her some days ago that it was more than difficult to communicate reasonably with his cousin under the given circumstances?
Men and their protective instincts! Éowyn felt like snorting. It really did not seem to matter whether they were from Gondor or the Mark. Had not Éomer been thrown into prison for exactly the same: losing his temper when provoked by the Worm? Only that the current case was much less serious. She was not fooled into feeling insulted, knowing too well that the spoilt brat from Dol Amroth did not even know her, probably never had heard anything about her save the things Faramir had told him. He did not care who she was, apart from the fact that she was a means to get the Steward's hackles up. And his stupid, vulgar remark had been nothing but the final straw that broke the donkey's back. And nearly led to having his own broken, too.
She chuckled, but then stopped abruptly. Something simply did not fit. The Steward was no hothead like Éomer. How could a man of such superior composure go for bait like that? And his threat had sounded deadly serious. Thoughtfully, she shook her head. It probably was the fact that his foul-mouthed cousin had teased him more than once with suggestive comments and scoffing. She being the Steward's sweetheart! Ridiculous! And because it was absolutely ridiculous Amrothos' insistence had probably angered the Steward all the more.
She sighed. Men! But it had truly been a great kindness of the Steward to consider her feelings of being closed in by all the walls around her. A sudden pang of nostalgia caused her to grimace. The unobstructed view over open plains! The plains of the Mark certainly were covered in blossoms now where the chalky hills rolled out into the moors near Aldburg. How she had loved the small pale tulips strewn all over the plains and the golden clusters of smallwort in the still naked alder groves along the streams of the Folde.
Squaring her shoulders, she continued her way. There was no use to whine and no need for it either. She would go back there as soon as her arm allowed. And who knew? Perhaps in just a few days she would be able to go to Cormallen and see Éomer again. She smiled. That would be bliss. And they would sit in that copse of golden trees, walk the surrounding woods, the riverside... And as the Steward had told her, she would find more than just one kind of wild flowers in blossom in Ithilien. Flowers and aromatic herbs, moss that yielded under the step of the bare foot, foliage of all kinds of green... It was a pity Faramir had to stay in the city and could not go too, he who loved that land on the other bank of the Great River so much. It would be fun to stroll about in his company, to listen to his explanations, to joke with him... And she was sure Éomer would get on well with him too, despite their different temperaments... So different these two men were, and yet for all their disparity so much alike in their perception of honour and care.
Having reached the wall in the meantime, she gave the door in front of her a closer look. It was made of solid larch wood, silver-grey with the impact of weather and time, and when she opened it a crack to see what was behind it, she realised she had taken the path that led to the healers' quarters. On the other side of a large open space a row of small, one-floored houses stood, all built of the same fawn sandstone, all sporting similar wooden doors and shutters, painted in a light blue. And beside each door a wooden bench painted the same colour stood on a small paved patch that also provided enough space for a water barrel and a number of flowerpots, the contents of which Éowyn could not see clearly from where she stood. Cosy those houses seemed and yet strange in their absolute similarity.
The large space in front of them held a kitchen-garden, neatly separated into patches of identical size, some still holding the last remnants of winter vegetables like kale and leeks, while others lay empty. Only at a second look did Éowyn notice the old woman kneeling beside one of the patches. A small basket at her side, she was planting onions, and being totally absorbed in her work, she had not yet noticed the intruder.
For a moment Éowyn thought about retreating silently, but then her curiosity got the better of her, and hailing the woman, she went over to her. Surprised, the woman looked up. Already that early in the year her wrinkled face was well-tanned, hinting at the many hours she spent in the open every day. She was wearing the usual grey healers' garb, partly covered by a brown apron made of coarse cloth, but no veil, and Éowyn was intrigued by her hair. It was grey, but of a most unusual hue, rather a dark steel-blue than the ordinary faded colour old people's hair tended to be. And though the woman was visibly old and frail, her hair had not thinned with age, but framed her tiny, wrinkled face in an abundance of thick, straight tendrils, cut short at chin-length.
And yet, when Éowyn came near enough to behold the woman's features in greater detail, what fascinated her most were the eyes. Deeply-set eyes, huge but now almost hidden under heavy lids, old eyes, and yet surprisingly lively. But it was their colour that made them so stunning. Never before had Éowyn seen eyes of that hue. The enticing mixture of light brown and green, golden-flecked around the pupils reminded her of a forest in spring, with the sun drawing patterns on the mossy ground.
Feeling in a strange way intimidated, Éowyn tilted her head in a greeting. "Westu, Ealder Modor, hál."
Only when she had said the words did she realise that she had spoken in the language of the Mark, a language the old woman in front of her most probably had never heard before and did not understand. But the woman did not show any traces of surprise, lowering her head in response. "Good morning."
Her voice was raspy but not brittle as one would expect with someone so old, but she did not say anything else, only gave Éowyn a faint smile and then continued planting. Éowyn stood for a moment, looking down on the old woman's head and her small, gnarled hands as they put bulb after bulb in the moist soil, and then in a sudden impulse she crouched down, and reaching for the basket, she too started to plant.
"Get yourself an apron from the shed." The crone's voice held a friendly kind of authority, and without hesitation Éowyn walked over to the open garden shed and fetched the demanded piece of clothing. But she could no way tie the apron string.
"A moment, Dear." With a low groan, the woman stood. "Turn round."
Éowyn felt her pulling the strings together and tying them, and she could hardly suppress the urge to chuckle. It seemed she was getting dressed by the strangest people today.
Kneeling again without any further word, the woman shoved the basket to a convenient distance for both of them, and for nearly an hour they worked side by side, only interrupting their task when the woman went to the shed to refill the basket. And all the time the crone did not bother to say a single word. The sun was higher now, warming their backs in a most comfortable way, and in one of the small espalier trees along the walls a robin was warbling. A content laziness came over Éowyn as she put onion after onion in the moist soil that lay glistening in the spring sun. Sun, water and soil... Jara's never-ending circle... How good it was to let one's mind rest...Gardens on the other side of the Anduin, stretching from the foot of the hills to the riverbanks... Gardens covered in an abundance of all kinds of plants: kitchen-herbs and flowers, terraced vegetable beds, edged by low boxwood hedges... Rows of fruit-bearing trees on green pastures... But no chard in the gardens of Emyn Arnen. She smiled. It certainly would take the Steward some time to make his dreams come true, but she did not doubt he would succeed in the end. Strange that he had not spoken about his ancestors' abode again after the Dark One's downfall...
"My Lady Éowyn! So here you are! My, you really made me worry when I could not find you anywhere. What a good thing one of the patients saw you coming this way this morning. But you really should have told someone..."
Éowyn rolled her eyes. Who if not Ioreth could spoil the silent peace of this blessed spot of earth?
With a raspy noise the crone at her side cleared her throat, and immediately Ioreth's tirade stopped as if somebody had plugged her mouth. Rising after having planted the last onion, Éowyn watched Ioreth's chubby face turn crimson. It seemed the garrulous healer had found a mistress who did not need any royal glare. Éowyn hid her smile, but there was no need for secrecy, for Ioreth's attention now was solely on the older woman, and when the crone made an attempt to rise too, Ioreth bustled to her side, eager to lend her a hand.
"You should not work so much, Glandis. Come, have a rest on the bench. I'll fetch you a drink."
Glandis... So this was Ioreth's cousin! And how soft and pleading the healer's voice suddenly sounded. Intrigued, Éowyn watched the two old women interact. Having accepted the younger one's help, the crone straightened as far as her age-bent spine allowed and fixed her gaze on Ioreth, the wrinkles of her face all folded in a deep smile. "Stop bleatin'. You found your lost lamb, and now be gone."
Ioreth did not answer, just bent hurriedly to pick up the basket for her cousin. With a nod Glandis took it and then passed the knuckles of her gnarled hand in a soft, caressing motion over her cousin's cheek. "Fussing won't change anything, Dear."
The normally talkative healer only nodded, and when her cousin, after a silent smile and nod to Éowyn, slowly walked towards one of the houses on the far side of the garden, Ioreth remained standing, worriedly following her with her eyes, unaware of the faint smear of earth on her cheek.
Even when the light-blue door had close behind the crone Ioreth did not say anything, so finally Éowyn asked: "Well, mistress Ioreth, what was so urgent as to bring you here, searching for me?"
The healer startled: "What? Oh, I'm sorry, my lady. But she was not feeling well this morning and I did not expect her to be out and about and..." She stopped, eventually realising that she was babbling and not answering Éowyn's question. She swallowed and then started again. "I am sorry for disturbing you, my lady, but let me help you get rid of the apron. There is a Rider from the camp who demands to speak to you. I cannot understand what he wants as he does not speak any Westron but he is very stubborn and quarrelsome. Why, just imagine: He even wanted to enter the female healer's domain when he could not find you in your room and in the garden and someone told him you had taken this path. It's a good thing that there also were two of the Rohirrim in the garden, for only with their help a Gondorean patient could convince him not to do so."
Waiting for Ioreth to unfasten the apron, Éowyn found it difficult not to roll her eyes. Aloud she said: "I only can imagine that not knowing the language, he simply was not aware it is forbidden for any man to enter here."
Eagerly, Ioreth nodded. "Certainly so, my lady. But he made the other Riders tell me, that forbidden or not, if I did not find you in the next ten minutes he would come and search for you himself. That is really quite shocking behaviour."
A certain expectancy entered Éowyn's mind. "Was it a tall, bony, red-haired Rider?"
Ioreth nodded. "Yes, and he said quite a lot of other things besides that, but the other Riders preferred not to translate those, and for good reason I suppose."
Hiding her grin, Éowyn nodded. "If he's the man I think he is, you are absolutely right. Where is he?"
"In the garden, my lady. Oh, and if you don't mind... I would just like to have a word with my cousin... I mean, you cannot miss him anyway, can you?"
Alarmed, Éowyn saw the old healer's eyes suddenly moisten, and when she continued speaking it became obvious how close she was to tears. "She's getting so frail lately. She... I knew it would come to an end one day... But I've spent nearly all my life at her side... Nienna have mercy... I cannot... What shall I do if she goes first and leaves me behind."
Éowyn could not help feeling embarrassed, as if she had been caught peeping secretly into someone's private life. Hesitantly, she touched the healer's shoulder. "Go and see her, Ioreth. I know my way."
Drying her eyes with her apron, Ioreth scuttled away and Éowyn walked to the larch wood door, closing it carefully behind herself. How could loving care for someone make people so weak and confused? Why did people turn into brainless, fussing mother hens where their loved ones were concerned?
Éowyn spotted him at once when she came around the corner of the building and stepped into the open. His long arms folded behind his back, Ceadda was pacing the space in front of the ambulatory impatiently, his red hair and beard gleaming like a firebrand in the sun. As soon as he got sight of her, he approached with long strides.
"Westu, Éowyn, hál. I'm off for the Mark and come to say good bye. We leave at noon"
Éowyn did not even attempt to hide her surprise. "You are riding to the Wold?"
The herder shook his head. "No. The éoreds for the Wold left two nights ago, as soon as the provisions arrived from the Citadel. Elfhelm had had the Riders in readiness for days and he made sure that warriors went, not the likes of me. I'll head for the Folde and then for the Eastemnet, to make sure that the pasture is safe for the new foals." With a somewhat apologetic grin he flexed his shoulders. "I'm fed up sitting around here, with a thumb up my arse. We are taking the horses that have been injured and cannot carry a rider yet but are able to make the way back over to the Emnet and we'll be riding slowly with long rests in between."
Out of the corner of her eye, Éowyn saw Ioreth come up the path from the healers' quarters at a remarkable speed and disappear into the Houses. Again she could not help comparing the plump woman to a squirrel, bustling about. At her side Ceadda chuckled.
"I'm afraid I ruffled her feathers a little bit. But I had thought you would come down to the camp today when Kenward told me that they were expecting the Steward down again, and now I am in a bit of a hurry to take my leave of you."
Éowyn shook her head. "Why should I come down if the Steward goes?"
The herder just shrugged. "Well, you did the other day."
She could not but grimace at the herder's logic. "Ceadda, the Steward did go at Elfhelm's request to find out about the Southrons. What business would I have with that?
He grunted non-committally and then remarked: "That Lord Faramir is well in with the marshal, I dare say."
Éowyn raised her eyebrows. "He is, and rightly so for he's a worthy man."
"That he is. And not sore to the eye either. It's a pity that he's a Gondorean." Ceadda winked at her, grinning wryly. "Though not the worst stock it seems. I've heard his mother hails from Dol Amroth, same line as Queen Morwen. Thengel King certainly knew what he went for. And who knows, a bit of new blood..."
There certainly was nothing like a herder's subtlety! Laughing, Éowyn swatted the back of his head. "You need to get back to the herds, Ceadda, your mind is simply too fixed on breeding."
Grinning widely, he shrugged: "Not the worst thing to fix one's mind on, I dare say. Who knows? I might even get myself an heir once I'm back in the Folde."
Éowyn fought to hide her surprise. "You've already made specific plans, Ceadda?"
The herder cleared his throat. "There is Eádhun, Wynstan's young son..."
"Wynstan?" Éowyn frowned. She only remembered Ceadda's friend as a silent lad, slightly younger than Ceadda himself, following his flamboyant friend everywhere like a mute shadow.
His face grave, Ceadda nodded. "He died about a year ago, when a pack of orcs tried to attack the horses in his care in the Emnet. The herders got wind of the beasts and sent women and children with a large herd of mares to the Entford, the men staying behind to buy them as much time as possible. They nevertheless would not have made it, but fortunately they encountered one of the patrols Éomer had sent out and who took on the orcs, finishing off all of that scum. For the men though they came too late, and all they could do for them was to keep their bodies from being eaten. His boy is four years old now, and he needs a father." Ceadda sighed. "If only the mother weren't such a bitch."
"You cannot seriously be thinking of marrying a woman you despise just because you feel responsible for her child." Éowyn stared at the herder in disbelief, but he stubbornly shook his head.
"It's Wystan's child, too, Éowyn. And he was my oath-brother. I have supported the boy and his mother this last year, but the child needs to be taken care of. And my own mother is not getting younger, she could also do with some help, especially with the summer approaching and her wanting to be out on the Emnet with the herds." As if to convince himself he added: "And don't get me wrong: It's not that I despise Eádhild. She not a loose one or anything like that. The only problem is that she can be quite demanding, and not only between the sheets. I mean, I could cope with that, but she has an eye for riches. Dresses and trinkets and the like. I got a small fanciful dagger from the loot and two lines of coloured glass-beads and a large silken shawl or whatever it is. I'll see if she accepts my gifts and let me make the blood-sign over the boy."
How could he run into such problems open-eyed? Éowyn wished she could knock some sense into Ceadda's head. "Don't be an idiot. I do understand that you want to take care of the boy, but... Look, Ceadda, go for a handfasting. The tradition would even be on your side. And if things really do not work out you'll be able to get out of it after a year's time without having to give a reason."
Again Ceadda shook his head. "No, Éowyn. I admit I only want the child, but I will not cheat his mother. I'll offer her a proper wedding, and should she want to get out of it, she'll always be able to do so, given my flaw." He averted his eyes, and she saw him swallow hard. Stepping closer, Éowyn put her hand on his arm.
"But that's nonsense, Ceadda. Who tells you it was your fault that Aebbe did not conceive."
With a bitter laugh, he pulled his arm away. "Stop it, Éowyn. I did not even have to mention it and you knew what fault I was talking about. For over ten years the poor girl kept telling me so, taking all the blame, but I will not live with a lie. I know, you know, and all the Eastfold knows. They don't call me the proud-cut for nothing. Why do you think the women do invite me so readily to their beds? I'm safe sport, Éowyn. Though I should be thankful that at least sport I am. I want Wystan's boy, the son I will otherwise never have, and for that I will put up with his mother, though I wish my oath-brother had chosen more wisely."
Seeing that any further discussion would be fruitless, Éowyn changed the subject, switching to something that had been in the back of her mind since her recovery.
"Ceadda, do you know what happened to Windfola? I looked for him when I was down in the camp, but..."
"You don't know?" The herder was utterly surprised. "Éomer Cyning is riding him, or rather took him with him to that Black Gate as a remount."
How could her brother forget to tell her about it when he had come to say good bye? She frowned, and only then remembered how devastated Éomer had been when their talk had drifted to the situation in the Wold. She sighed. He would never forgive himself if his little daughter had come to grief, no matter how many people told him that his decision to order the troops to ride on had been the only sensible thing to do. Truly a victory stripped of all glory... And who knew? Could it not be that there had been a ray of truth in Théodred's drunken ravings that Eorl's House was cursed, forsaken by the gods? The suddenness of that thought nearly took her breath away. Where had that idea come from? Had she not always been proud of not being as superstitious as the average Eorling? Had not Frithuswith told her again and again to scrutinise common belief? What had made her prey to such thoughts and emotions? She frowned. Could it be an effect of the Black Breath? Had not the Steward mentioned that it had caused despair and the feeling of hopelessness even in him? And was he not someone who certainly had more stamina to withstand the evil influence than most men she knew? She bit the inner part of her lip.
"Woolgathering?" Ceadda's friendly mocking voice jolted her out of her musings. Chuckling, he held out his hand. "Well, Éowyn, I had better go. There still are some things to get ready which I would not like to leave to the boys."
Nodding, she took his hand and squeezed it heartily. "Go then, Ceadda. And may the gods guard your steps. I wish I could ride with you, but I' afraid my arm will take quite some time to heal."
He nodded. "It would be foolish to make the healers' good work futile." He shrugged. "That's what I had to tell Leofstan, too. Though it's a pity he's not yet able to leave."
"But he's well cared for and will come in time."
The Eastfolder grimaced. "At least I'll be able to tell his parents that one of their sons is coming back." He heaved a breath. "I have to admit I'm a bit worried what I will find at Aldburg, though I hope for the best." He smiled wistfully. "Mother told me she'll have an eye on Hraefn, but you know how it is. Last winter did not work in favour for mother's joints, and am afraid nor it did for Hraefn's."
Typical of Ceadda to mention his mother and his old mare in the same breath! But then certainly Hraefn was a special steed and also one of the last sheer blacks they had at Aldburg. Shaking her head, she told him so and he merely shrugged.
"You're right. Once a herder, always a herder. And so what? It's the King's herds I'm caring for and yours. You certainly would not want a less eager one. Good herders make good horses, mind you."
"And certainly you are the best, Ceadda."
The Eastfolder grinned. "I would call myself the best if I managed to establish the true blacks in the king's herds again. But who knows? Perhaps I can find a fitting stud for Hraefn.
Éowyn shook her head. "Ceadda, she is twenty years old. Her breeding time is over."
Stubbornly, the herder shook his head. "Nay, Éowyn. She's an old girl, I give you that, but she's fit. She's up to it, you'll see. And I tell you: It will be an omen, a sign for the Mark renewed."
She found it difficult not to groan. Was there any other bunch of people more superstitious than the Eorlingas? But she did not want to argue with the old friend of her childhood. So she just shrugged. "We'll judge it when it happens, Ceadda. But it is a pity I had no news of your departure for I would have liked to send at least a small present to Mildburh."
"Don't you worry. Mother will get the knife the Steward ordered to be dealt out to all of us. Good steel, she'll like it." He squinted one eye shut. "Did you tell him to do so?"
She shook her head. "No, it was his idea. He simply asked me if it would be an appreciated gift."
The herder grunted. "Got some sense that bloke. As I said: It's a pity he is a Gondorean."
"Oh, shut it, will you?" Éowyn was torn between scolding and laughter. There was no one who believed more fiercely than Ceadda that the world began and ended with the Eastfold. It would certainly do him good to be back there amongst the people and horses he loved. And whatever he said himself there certainly was no better herder than him. Did not her own steeds bear witness to that? And then the idea sprang up in her mind.
"Ceadda, as soon as you get to Aldburg, I want you to check my herd for a good horse to give as a present to the Steward."
"What? You mean... A horse?" Overcoming his first surprise, the herder squinted his eyes. "Éowyn, I know you have a head of your own, and I normally do not doubt your sanity, well not too much, you see. But you are the king's sister, you cannot just... Béma's horn! I was joking, Éowyn, just pulling your leg. I did not mean..." He heaved a breath and added: "And besides, you know yourself that we have no trained stallions left at Aldburg as Éomer ordered every war-worthy mount to..."
"Ceadda! Are you daft!" Beside herself with anger, she fell back to the rudeness of the stables. "A horse I said! A horse, you git! A useful and noble gift to a friend, nothing else. Nobody ever mentioned a stallion." How could this imbecile think she was planning to give a stallion, the traditional wedding gift, to the Steward of Gondor! She felt like strangling him.
Ceadda grunted, his face as red as his hair. "Béma, you could have said that from the start. Would have spared me quite a fright. Well, be a bit more specific what you are thinking of."
Checking her anger, she specified. "A gelding. Well-behaved, trained for riding, not necessarily a warhorse. The Steward plans to settle on the other side of the river, so he will want a reliable horse with a smooth gait. Oh, and no grey." It was enough that the man himself wore grey and black, she would not accentuate that with his mount. But certainly that was nothing Ceadda needed to know.
The herder scratched his head. "That reduces the number quite a bit. There are a number of promising bays, but all of them too young."
"And what about Ǽledfell? The flashy sorrel out of Slidor?"
"Not fit as a gift, if you ask me. Pleasing to the eye, no doubt, and also good-natured. But he has a gait like a saw-horse." Thoughtfully the herder sucked at his front teeth. "What do you think about Salubrūn?"
Éowyn grimaced. "What should I think about him? He's Hrodwyn's."
"He is. But he would be perfect. Intelligent, reliable, large frame, a gait like a running river... And he's quite a pretty boy."
Frustrated, Éowyn kicked the kerbstone that edged the path. The dark chestnut truly was exactly what she wanted, but she knew only too well how much pride Elfhelm's wife took in the mount with the flashing coat. "It's useless discussing him, Ceadda. Hrodwyn will never part with him."
The herder grinned. "Hrodwyn has an eye on Lyftfætmanu, Éowyn."
"And how do you know?"
Ceadda shrugged. "I have eyes, you know. And right she is. That mare is the best of your entire herd. And in foal by Thunor. Though she has probably foaled in the meantime."
Éowyn bit her lips. The mare was precious, a wonderful dapple grey, and what was more, the foal would be one-eighth Meara. "It would be idiotic to trade the mare for just a gelding."
Snorting, the herder raised an eyebrow. "You know as well as me that Salubrūn is not just a gelding. He's perfect and you won't find a better horse in the Emnet. Pity he was one ball short as a colt, the poor bugger. He would have made a perfect stud."
Éowyn gave the kerbstone another kick. It did not do to stint on a present for a man who had not hesitated a second to give her anything she had needed, no matter how precious it was. She heaved a breath.
"Well then, Ceadda. The chestnut it is. Offer the mare for it." She hesitated, but then, clenching her fist, she added. "And throw in the foal, too if Hrodwyn doesn't take the bait. That should be more than the gelding is worth."
Ceadda shot her a thoughtful glance. "Certainly. And yet you might not get it for less. Had I not better have a look round for another fitting horse for that Steward? There certainly are good horses in the Mark that might not be as costly."
"You said yourself there is no better horse in the Emnet."
"True, but does it really have to be the best? I mean, he's but a Gondorean. What do they know about horses?" He shrugged, his mien openly sporting condescension.
She glared at him. "I don't care if the Steward is able to realize the value of my gift, Ceadda. I know it, and I want it to be the best that can be had, for he deserves it."
Gravely, the herder nodded. "So be it then, Cynesweoster. I'll get Salubrūn for you and send him here as soon as possible. Fare well."
Another squeeze of the hands, a wink out of bright, cerulean eyes, and walking around the corner towards the main entrance, the herder was gone. Heaving a breath, Éowyn squared her shoulders. Another man who held a certain place in her heart was riding away, leaving her behind. She snorted angrily at her own soppiness. She was of Eorl's House, she would hold her head high, no matter what the gods would deal out.
"Westu, Ealder Modor, hál." (Rohirric/Old English) literally: "Be you, Grandmother, hale." It's a respectful form of greeting.
Handfasting: Throughout the Middle Ages handfasting or troth-plighting was a common term for marrying in Britain, but in Ireland and Scotland this was a term for a temporary marriage, lasting for "one year and a day". It could be terminated after that if one of the partners did not want to continue it, or become a "regular" marriage if both partners decided so. I introduced this custom into Rohirric tradition to show Ceadda's character, and to hint at different traditions in Gondor and Rohan. ;)
proud cut: This term is used for a gelding who still shows stallion behaviour. Certaily I do not want to hint at Ceadda having been gelded, but restrained testicles are not too uncommon and do not cause impotence but sterility in a male mammal, humans included.
sheer black: a true black horse (dark skin and dark-brown eyes) that does not sun-bleach to a more brownish colour like most blacks do
I treated myself to the invention of more or less fitting Rohirric horse names in Old English. ;)