Freya and the Warg
Éowyn sighed, wondering what had ever possessed her when she had said she wanted to have children. Today they had been a trial. The boys had been restless, fighting and arguing all morning. Finally they had gotten in the way of Magda, more commonly called 'Cook' who had ordered them to leave the kitchen and play in the courtyard. Unfortunately they had left behind a toy horse, placed in the kitchen's walkway and then forgotten. Magda had tripped over the toy, causing her to fall forward while carrying a tray of freshly baked bread from the oven to the table. The hot bread went flying across the room, hit the wall and then dropped onto the floor. Magda's right knee hit hard against the scrubbed flagstones of the kitchen's flooring and she had screamed in pain. Her attempts to stand without support were unsuccessful and the pain did not abate, so the healer was summoned. He had directed bed rest for two weeks while her leg was immobilized. The boys had been sent to their room in disgrace.
Sometime later, standing in their room holding a tray with their dinner, Éowyn looked at her two crestfallen sons standing in front of her, tear-stained faces staring at the floor. She placed their dinner onto the low table in front of the hearth and walked back to the two boys. Squatting down and putting a hand under each small chin, she raised their heads so that they were looking at her.
“Hmmm,” she said as her thumbs wiped the tear tracks from their cheeks. “I know that Cook’s injury was an accident, but she was badly hurt. I hope that this will teach both of you to be more careful with your toys.”
Giving each boy a kiss, she rose and returned to the food tray. While setting out their dinner she said, “Eat your dinner, and then bathe and get ready for bed. Your father and I will discuss your punishment. It is important that you learn that all of the servants are worthy of the same respect as any guest or family member. Perhaps if you had not been making such a fuss in the kitchen, the entire accident could have been avoided. I promise I will return later tonight to tell you what that punishment will be as well as to tell you a bedtime story. You know that your Father will be fair, and we all know that it was an accident not something that you did out of malice, so fear not.”
Ruffling each boy’s hair, Éowyn left the room and headed towards the stables where she checked to make sure all was well. Several horses were close to foaling and she wanted to be sure that the grooms would send for her when the mares began to show signs of dropping their young. She then returned to the house.
Faramir had returned from Minas Tirith late that afternoon. As they sat down for dinner, she looked closely at him. He looked exhausted. She described the events of the day and proposed her punishment to him, asking for his input.
He nodded, “Yes, it will be good for both of them to assist as needed for the two weeks, and even longer if needful.”
Éowyn then finished her dinner of stew and potatoes and rose to return to her children. Kissing her husband, she released him to their bedchamber and sleep, promising to join him as soon as the boys were settled for the night.
She shook her head as she approached the room where her two young sons were awaiting her. She wondered how to instill a sense of responsibility into them. Truth be told, she was overly fond of her boys and quite proud of how they were growing up.
They need to learn that even though a person does not carry a noble title, they are still worthy of respect, she thought. Perhaps I should tell them the tale of Freya.
Entering the boys' bedroom, she saw that they were both in bed, eyes wide, awaiting her. She walked towards them, stopping at the side of the large bed.
“First of all your father and I have agreed that you shall have to act as Cook's legs for the weeks while she is bedridden. That means that one of you will be there to help her in all matters as she requests, calling on adult help as you or she need. You will split the day so that you can still get your schooling. Elboron, you will be with Magda in the mornings, and Tornic, you will be with her in the afternoons. Your responsibilities will end at dinnertime each day when the healer will visit to assess her progress. His assistants will take over for the nights.”
Two heads of curly, light auburn hair nodded at her words.
“Move aside and let your poor Mother sit between you,” she continued, pulling her house slippers off her feet, climbing onto the large bed and resting back on the pillows leaned against the headboard. She opened her arms and quickly had her sons embraced, one cradled in each arm, their heads resting against her body. This was her favorite time of the day. Often she would read to them and sometimes she would sing them songs of the Éored that she had learned while growing up in Rohan. Today, however, she planned a more specific tale.
“Did you know that Magda is descended from the line of Freya Wargkiller?” she asked her sons. Both boys shook their heads, 'No'; this was new information to them.
“I will tell you the tale of Freya as it was told to me and as it has been recited through the years around fires from the Eastfold to the Westfold. It is a well-loved story and one often asked for when the people gather to follow the herds in the spring.”
* * * * *
“This is the tale of Freya and the Warg.
“In the early years, shortly after Eorl the Young was granted the lands which would become known as Rohan; Brego began building his Golden Hall of Meduseld in the town of Edoras. Many of the people would gather together in the town each winter, separating in the spring with smaller groups going into different directions. Over time various leaders and their followers went habitually into certain areas. The men of Chéorl went to the east each year and were finally granted the territory that we now call the Eastfold. The people of Rhohrl went to the west, and were granted the territory of the Westfold. Others went north towards Fangorn Forest into the lands of what we now call the Wold.
Freya had recently married Wulfgar, a Rider under Rhohrl's command. Her brother was a blacksmith who lived and practiced his craft in Edoras. When he wasn't making horseshoes and riding tack, he turned his skills to more mundane items, among which were an iron cauldron and an overlarge slotted spoon that he made for his sister on the occasion of her marriage. Freya was a talented cook and he had wanted to give her equipment that would serve her well for many years to come. As a wedding gift to his beloved bride, Wulfgar had given her a sharp fleshing knife made by the weapons master with a matching belt sheath. She wore it at her waist at all times. And of course, she also wore a boot knife as most of the people in Rohan do.
Each spring the Riders left Edoras, separated their horses into smaller groups and herded them towards their summer pasture lands. Freya fell in love with the Westfold from her first sight; the rolling hills in the distance and the swaying grasslands in which the horses gamboled became dear to her heart. Rhohrl's larger group split into even smaller ones once they arrived in the west. This allowed the horses to feed on fresh grasses and it helped to avoid overgrazing the land.
Freya’s family group consisted of eight adults and two young children. The group was small, but large enough for efficient herding of their animals as well as for safety, since enemies and wild animals that could threaten the lives of both the people and the horses were in the area.
Besides Wulfgar, there were four other men, his two older brothers and two cousins. The small extended family group worked well together because the men had known each other since childhood and had traveled with each other for many years. Freya was welcomed into the family when she married Wulfgar and she felt very comfortable with them. Soon it seemed as if she had never lived a different life. They followed the herd as the horses roamed the grasslands. The family carried large felt tents to live in, erecting them easily when they found good locations for temporary camps.* After a few weeks in one place, they would strike the tents and move on to a new area with fresh feed for the herd and new plants to harvest for the humans.
This afternoon Freya was tending the outside fire, watching a venison stew she had cooking in her iron pot. Earlier, shortly after sunrise, Wulfgar and his brother Kevyar had brought down a deer, bringing it to the camp before they left on patrol. Freya and the other two women had spent several hours taking care of the fresh meat. They had built drying racks for most of the venison, cutting the majority of the deer into thin strips for drying. When the racks were ready, they placed the strips over the racks in neat progression. Just a few days in the summer sun would dry the meat which would then be mixed with berries and other spices to make a nutritious traveling food and a staple for days when game was scarce and hunger would loom.
Freya had put the remainder of the venison into her cooking pot. She had mixed the meat with various herbs and some of her treasured spices, adding some salt, and various vegetables including onions and dried mushrooms. She had then melted some butter, added some ground wild wheat flour, and had combined everything in the pot along with some water and ale.
Taking her large slotted spoon in hand, she settled down near the fire to watch the pot carefully. It will not do to burn dinner, she thought, while she allowed her mind to review the events of the past few days. The men had discovered a den of wargs and had been hard-pressed to destroy the dangerous creatures. Yet they had persevered and had succeeded in killing six of the animals. Normally they would have brought home the skins of any animals they killed, but the hides of wargs were rough and rarely considered to be worth the effort of tanning them. Additionally, their meat was inedible, so they had burned the carcasses. After bringing the deer to the campsite this morning, the men had decided to examine a nearby area to ensure that they had found and destroyed all of the wargs. These were beasts that could easily threaten the lives of both humans and horses.
Her other companions, the wives of Wulfgar’s older brothers and their children, were in the grasslands to the east, harvesting some of the early summer berries and looking for vegetables and herbs that could be added to this night’s dinner or used later. Only Freya was left in the camp, and she was enjoying her rare solitude. She listened to the wind's song as it blew through the tall grasses, she heard the occasional raised voice from the women and children to the east, and she heard the rhythm of the horses' hooves as they kicked up their heels in their grazing lands south of the tents. These were sounds that she cherished and that she was used to. The low menacing growl that she suddenly heard from the opposite side of the fire pit was not.
Freya raised her eyes from the pot of simmering venison to look across the fire at a pair of yellowed rheumy eyes staring directly at her. She realized that a warg, skinny and not particularly healthy looking but a warg nonetheless, was growling at her from across the all-too-small fire. Freya slowly stood up, watching the warg bare its teeth at her. The pitch of its growl increased in volume and she was almost afraid to blink. Her left hand slowly inched towards her fleshing knife which was, as usual, in its scabbard attached to her belt.
Suddenly she heard a scrabbling noise behind her as one of the children came around the side of the tent from the field. “Tanti Freya, I’m supposed to…” The boy’s voice suddenly stopped as the warg shifted its attention away from Freya towards the easier, smaller prey standing just a bit farther away to the side.
Freya knew she had to keep the warg focused on her instead of the child or her nephew might be injured, perhaps even killed. Pulling her fleshing knife from its sheath and screaming a loud cry, she leapt towards the warg holding her large iron slotted spoon in her right hand and her fleshing knife in her left. The warg leapt towards the child at almost the same time.
Freya crashed into the warg's body at the edge of the fire pit, the momentum of the collision causing them to fall to the ground between the fire and the nearby tent. Freya had thrust her fleshing knife deep into the warg's body, between its ribs. But the beast, although gravely injured, was still very much alive and twisted away from her, taking the embedded knife along with it.
Intent on keeping the animal's attention away from the child, Freya struggled back to her feet, striking the warg on its nose with her spoon. As the warg scrabbled to regain its footing and began to back away from her attack, she switched the spoon to her left hand, continuing to beat the animal on its face with the iron implement. Her right hand reached down for her boot knife. It was much shorter than her fleshing knife had been, but it was the last weapon she had available.
The warg backed away for another step but then regained its confidence. Freya was totally focused on watching the beast which was now standing no more than three feet away from her, its attention again focused on her. It was in pain and bleeding from the wound she had given it with her fleshing knife, but it was only injured, not crippled. It was angered and desperate, snarling and ready to pounce on its tormentor.
The warg coiled its muscles and sprang towards her. Its mouth was open, ready to bite, and its claws were extended. Freya held her spoon before her to help shield her from the warg's teeth; her boot knife was grasped in her right hand. She thrust the iron slotted spoon with its overlarge bowl into the open mouth of the warg, wedging its mouth open, but the beast's momentum pushed her down onto her back. She could feel its hot breath on her face, and looking up, saw its teeth only a handspan from her face. Shivering from a rush of desperation, she raised her boot knife and, stabbing upwards, pushed the blade through the warg's eye, piercing its brain. The warg quivered and then died, collapsing upon her with the spoon still wedged in its mouth.
The boy screamed and ran to Freya who was trying to push the warg off her body. Freya wriggled out from under the carcass. She was covered with blood from the carcass, shaking with the fear that she was just now allowing herself to feel, and trying to get her emotions under control. She was grateful to be alive and thankful that the child appeared to be unharmed.
Glancing at the fire pit, she realized that although the pot of stew was slightly canted, it was still upright enough that most of the stew was still intact and would be available for the evening’s meal. She took a step towards the child, knowing that she looked frightening, covered as she was in the warg’s blood. “Tommen,” she said gently, sinking to her knees in front of him and holding her arms out to him. “Are you all right?” The young boy burst into tears and ran into her arms. She hugged him, assuring herself that he was only frightened, and calming him with soft words. When he had recovered his poise she got back to her feet and looked more carefully at the body of the warg.
Examining the carcass, she saw that her iron spoon was still lodged in its throat, the handle sticking out from between its jaws of sharp, yellowed teeth. The warg was a female, and from the look of her, she had a litter somewhere in the area. Freya was too exhausted to hunt for the pups and thought that it was a task better suited to the men. She resolved to remember to ask them to look for the warg’s litter and kill the pups before they could grow up to be a danger to all. Bracing her foot against the front of the warg’s jaw, she grasped her spoon firmly and, by wiggling the spoon, pulled it out of the animal’s throat a little bit at a time.
Thank goodness my brother is talented at the forge, she thought as she looked over the spoon carefully. There were indentations and scratches on the long handle from the warg’s teeth, but the bowl of the spoon was still intact. She placed the iron portion of the spoon into the fire to burn away any residue from the warg before taking it to the nearby creek to wash it. While pushing the spoon into the hot coals, her sisters-in-law and the other child entered the camp, stopping short in shock when they saw the body of the warg.
“What has happened here?” shrieked one woman.
“Tommen, my dear one, where did all of this blood come from?” asked the other, running to clutch her son's shoulders and looking him over carefully.
“I’m all right, Mater. But Freya was amazing! She killed that warg with her spoon. You should have seen her,” Tommen exclaimed.
“With her spoon?” the first woman questioned, looking quizzically at Freya.
Freya walked to her husband’s small keg of ale and taking a mug from the nearby bench, poured herself a portion. Plugging the keg she drank the ale in a single swallow, then replaced the mug and returned to sit by the fireside. The two women dragged the warg’s carcass away from the center of the encampment to the edge.
When Wulfgar and the other men returned home later that afternoon, they were told the story of how Freya had killed the warg with her slotted spoon. Even though Freya took her husband to the carcass and pointed out the wounds left by her fleshing knife and her boot knife, it was the use of her spoon that caught the herders’ imaginations.
The next day, the men searched for the warg’s pups, succeeding in finding and killing them.
The small family group continued to live their summers in the Westfold, moving through the grasslands with their horses and returning to Edoras for the winters. Freya and Wulfgar lived a long and happy life and had several children together. But from this point onward Freya was often named 'Freya Wargkiller' and even though she bore no noble's title, she was given great respect by both commoners and nobles alike throughout Rohan.”
* * * * *
“Now,” Éowyn said. “Magda is a proud woman and she is a direct descendant of Freya Wargkiller. The slotted spoon that Freya used to help kill the warg is still used today by Magda in the kitchen. When she is fully healed and able to return to her hearth, if you ask nicely and treat her with the respect that she deserves as a valued member of this household, she may show you the marks of the warg’s teeth on the handle of the spoon.”
Éowyn continued, “It is time for you to go to sleep and dream sweet dreams.” She moved off the mattress, tucked the two boys in and kissed each sleepy head goodnight. Blowing out the candles, she banked the fire so that it gave off a soft, comforting glow. As she turned to leave the room and close the door behind her, she looked back at her two sons. A smile stole across her face. Despite their actions, they were her beloved sons and both she and Faramir were proud of them. They would continue to make every effort to make sure that their sons would grow up to be valued members of their community.
* * * * *
The boys were attentive to Magda while she was recovering and asked her many questions about her famous ancestress. When Cook was able to return to the kitchen she showed them the iron slotted spoon that Freya had used to defend herself so many years before.
As the boys grew up, they never forgot the lesson of Freya; that each person possessed individual merits which, even if hidden, were still present. They treated each person with whom they came into contact respectfully, and in return, they were treated with honor and respect. This served them well as they came into their adulthood and took on their responsibilities towards both the Crown in Gondor and their lands in Ithilien. And when their own children were of an age to learn this lesson, they passed on the story of Magda's famous ancestress, Freya Wargkiller and her iron slotted spoon.
* * * * *
Author's Notes and Recipe:
I envision the early Riders of Rohan as semi-nomadic in nature, transporting their housing (similar to today's yurts or teepee dwellings) using a travois-style method.
* * * * *
Although I made small changes to the recipe that Freya makes, this is the recipe that it is based on:
Venison with Sherry-Mushroom Sauce
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ t ground sage
½ t salt
½ t black pepper
4 T butter, divided
1 cup chopped Vidalia onion
2 cups sliced mushrooms or baby bellas
6 (3-ounce) venison tenderloin steaks
1 T all-purpose flour
¾ cup sherry
¼ cup water
1 – Combine ½ cup flour, sage, salt, and pepper in a resealable bag, set aside. Melt 1 T of butter in a large pan over medium heat. Stir in onion and cook until almost soft. Add mushrooms, and continue cooking until soft. Remove from pan.
2 – Turn heat to medium-high and melt 2 T of butter in pan. Toss the venison steaks in the seasoned flour mix and shake off the excess. Sear venison in butter for 6 to 7 minutes per side and remove.
3 – Reduce heat to medium-low, and melt the remaining T of butter. Whisk in 1 T of flour, followed by the sherry and water. Return the vegetables and meat to the pan. Increase heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.
I altered the recipe to make it appropriate for the times as well as cooking using an open fire. I also replaced the sherry with ale which I felt was more appropriate to Rohan. My recipe would be more of a stew than a stand-alone meat dish, but the flavors would still work well together, the ingredients would be readily available, and using the ground wild wheat flour would make a nice thickened sauce. Enjoy!