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The Road Winds Out Behind  by aiwendil

This is Eomer.

He's better than you. He's taller than you and he's better than you and his skin is more tanned than yours from the long hours he's spent riding in the sun.

When you were just a boy a horse threw you. This happened to most of the boys and girls. But the ground hurt, and when you looked up you saw how big the horse was and how small you were – and you were afraid. The horse must have smelled the fear on you. When you reached for its halter with trembling fingers it snorted and butted your hand away.

You did not reach again.

When your family noticed how the horses shied at your approach they called you cursed. It was only laughingly meant, at first, but the words hung over you like a storm cloud over an open field. You stopped trying to ride and fight. You hunched over at their taunts. But you remember most the day your younger sister cornered you as you dug your hands absentmindedly into the hot earth.

“I can make halters,” she said. “And one day I will make a fine one from gold and it will go on the king's horse. What will you do for Rohan?”

You thought that if you said nothing she would leave you be, so you stayed silent. But she waited, and you realized that she wanted an answer. Her faith touched you. She believed you had something to give. So you said, “I will tell the king things. Useful things. Like where the paths have hidden roots and how to best fend off the ravens on a hot day.”

That had satisfied her. As she ran away, you leaned back on the ground. The other boys did not love you, but you were the one they came to with their questions. And you understood, for the first time, what you could be. For Rohan. For the king.


Eomer is smiling. He has pulled himself up to his full height – taller than you.

“You can kill me,” he whispers.

You can kill him. With a word, you can kill him. Your word is stronger than his sword.

Suddenly, Eomer laughs. He presses up close against the bars to his cell and you flinch back, unthinking. He towers over you, his hair gleaming like a chestnut's mane in the weak light.

“You can kill me,” he repeats. “But Wormtongue, do you hear me? I will die a better man than you. Even dead,” – another bout of hysteria takes him – “I will be a better man than you.”

Why do you have no words? There are only pictures: the low, yellow plains of Rohan; a pale young boy, as out of place as a crow among sun-birds; the flash of swords in the pavilion below. You think of your beginnings, and know you could tell a tale of then to now, and it would have every trapping of sense, but still be false. You only have the distance, that stretches out like Rohan's many leagues.

And as you turn from the desperate pride in his eyes, you can only regret – with a depth and nearness that startle you, like a blade slammed through the back – that you did not reach out one more time.

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