Snowmane, king of horses

 
 
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FREYA, the finest brood-mare in the king's stables, was stolen one night by a band of raiders. They killed the stable hands and threw ropes around the necks of Freya and five other mares, leading the startled horses away into the night.

 

By the time the alarm had been raised it was too late: the king's men found the guards slaughtered and his prized mares stolen. Théoden commanded that the fastest steeds be brought forth so that the raiders could be pursued, but by the time the king and his men had given chase they had made good their escape. Théoden sent messengers all over the land, offering a reward for information leading to the mares' whereabouts, and the raiders' capture. There would be nowhere they could hide: their lives would be forfeit.

o0o

The months passed. Then, at last, came news that the murdering thieves had been caught, ambushed in a deep gully by riders of the king's own household. All bar one of the raiders had been killed: the survivor had managed to escape into the hills.

One of the king's riders trailed him, following the man to his hideout in the hills. There were the six mares including the lovely Freya. There also were two other horses: one a yearling filly and the other a lame grey stallion. The injured raider hobbled up to the nearest mare and grabbed her tether rope roughly. She reared up in terror. Suddenly there was a sound of movement behind them, and as the thief turned round he fell victim to the rider's knife, and died instantly.

The rider dragged the body outside, then went back inside to calm the terrified animals, signalling to the other men in the valley. Hours later the weary men and horses were greeted by king Théoden, grateful to get back his mares and also to gain a fine little filly and a magnificent grey stallion who luckily was only slightly lame. The king named the stallion Snowstorm. Freya was one of the two mares in foal to him.

Théoden was worried that the mares would slip their foals due to their ordeal, but thanks to gentle care they were both delivered safely. The mare Daylight had a pretty little filly, which Théoden named Morning Cloud. Freya's foal was born two days later on a wet night with the wind whipping the stable. The foal was a fine colt and Théoden named him Snowmane.

o0o

Snowmane grew into a magnificent white stallion. Théoden himself broke him in to ride. Snowmane became one of the fastest horses in the valley: few could beat him, except perhaps Snowstorm his sire. Théoden needed the finest horses to carry him into battle. They had to be strong and fast. Snowstorm had already carried Théoden to war and had proved a great war horse. Snowmane would be as fine as his father: he was a brilliant jumper and would fearlessly leap the most difficult of obstacles. He was proving himself in other ways too. Théoden bred him to a number of his mares and soon there was a fine crop of colts and fillies.

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One day Snowmane and his band of mares was herded down the valley where the grass was richer. Once Théoden and his men had seen the herd safely to their destination, the king bade farewell to the stallion, Snowmane nuzzling his master. Then Théoden rode off knowing Snowmane would take care of the herd. The days flew by, and the mares and their offspring roamed freely. The grass was lush and plentiful, and there was also plenty of fresh water.

Life would have gone on peacefully enough had not a pack of wolves moved down the valley looking for fresh meat. They had not killed in more than a week and were ravenously hungry. One of the colts wandered too far away from the herd and became separated from his mother. The foal's dam had followed his tracks. Snowmane raised his head from drinking from a stream. Noticing the mare and colt were missing, he cantered to the top of the rise and looked down, but there was no sign of them. He whinnied loudly but there was no answering call. Snowmane sniffed the air, scenting danger. He reared and galloped downhill, whinnying in alarm.

He moved the herd down the valley, Snowmane keeping them well bunched together. He knew there was some safety in numbers. There was only one action he could take: he must move the herd down the valley and take them home. The mares and their offspring obediently followed him: nervous, but confident that their leader would get them to safety.

Two of the older mares led the band. They were survivors of previous predator attacks and could be trusted to lead the herd safely home, while Snowmane moved to the rear to keep them moving. He cantered back along the way they had come. He knew he had to find the lost pair. After some time he came to a little clearing. The odour of his missing mare and colt was strong, but there was another smell too: that of predator and death.

Snowmane stumbled on the remains of his mare and her offspring. He was too late. Giving a loud shriek of anger and anguish, Snowmane bolted back to catch up to his band knowing he must be in time to save them from the jaws of death. The stallion knew that the wolves were close by, the scent of them was very strong. The mares and foals, now sensing the danger, were starting to panic. Snowmane kept them moving, the horses had to move along quickly without stampeding. They were approaching a steep cliff, one false slip and they would go over the edge.

Suddenly, a group of large wolves appeared and advanced on the herd. The horses whinnied in terror, the foals clinging to their mother's side. Snowmane screamed his battle cry and attacked the wolves, his great hooves caving in the beasts' heads. The chief wolf, largest of the pack, leapt for Snowmane's throat but Snowmane was ready for him. He leapt high in the air. Spinning round, he kicked the great wolf in the ribs, sending the snarling animal over the edge of the cliff.

Snowmane's white coat dripped blood, but he battled on. Several of the wolves had broken away and were now attacking the mares, who had bunched together to protect their offspring. The wolves sprang, snapping at the mares' throats.

One mare fell and in a moment the wolves were upon her. Snowmane threw off his remaining attacker, sending it into oblivion. He galloped into the mist of flying hoofs and snarling savagery. The mares were fighting desperately to save their foals. Three mares had fallen over the cliff to their deaths, including one of the veteran mares who had led the herd.

Snowmane launched himself into the fray. Teeth bared he fought the remaining wolves with savage fury until only one remained. Snowmane was bleeding from many wounds but his great strength held, and with one final powerful blow from his hooves killed the last wolf.

Snowmane raised his crest and uttered a triumphant whinny. All the wolves were dead. Four mares and a colt had also been killed, and a number of the mares were injured, but the herd had survived. Ignoring his own injuries, Snowmane herded his band down the valley.

Hours later, Théoden and his men greeted his battle worn stallion and his harem as he returned home. The king gave orders that the animals be well taken care of. With care the mares recovered, being young and strong. Snowmane Théoden attended personally, and the stallion responded well to his master's nursing, though would always bear the scars.

o0o

Three months later Snowmane carried his master into battle for the first time. It was not the last. A noble steed, he was to carry king Théoden to victory many times: the mighty Snowmane, king of his kind.