Author's Note: I do not usually write for Lord of the Rings, although I love both the books and the films. This is a one-shot largely inspired by the latter. It was written by request for Whiteraven, whose The Allure of the Dark Angel is an incredible story and an excellent reminder of how good original characters can be if you work hard enough at them.
Summary: His treachery revealed, Grima Wormtongue has been cast out of Edoras in disgrace and now flees to Isengard. On his journey, he has time enough to reflect upon what he has lost and what he will gain.
Long Lies the Shadow
Blood beaded on his lower lip, the taste of it filling his mouth. Salt for the tears the people of Rohan would shed in the coming war, salt to purify all their transgressions. The man tucked his chin deep into the thick fur of his collar. His hair fell in lank and greasy strands across his cheek, shielding him from unfriendly eyes.
Saruman, master. I come to you.
He dug his heels into the sides of his horse to urge it on faster. No one had raised a hand to him in the stables when he saddled his favorite mount, moving with a speed that belied his hunched frame. No warrior barred the way when he rode down the winding path through the village, the clusters of low huts all a blur of mud and thatching. Neither man, woman nor child had a single word of farewell for the man they called Wormtongue.
Grima expected none. He was not such a fool as to think that wielding power was the same as commanding devotion. Even the man who stood at the king's right hand must remain ever watchful, looking for treachery in every glance, a knife in the dark.
His downfall had not come till the day Gandalf Stormcrow returned to Meduseld.
Now he would escape the shadow of the Golden Hall and the long reach of its king. Not daring to look back, he could still hear the banners snapping in the wind as the gates of Edoras receded further behind them. Gloved hands tightened upon the reins, knuckles white.
You unfortunate few, content to scratch out your meager lives on this fallow heap of rock and earth. I was never one of you.
The Riddermark's beauty was bright but brittle in its harshness. In spring and summer, the ground was dotted with simbelmynë like white stars scattered across a field of lush green. Autumn brought carts with bales of hay from the Eastfold as winter fodder, the last berries that could be gleaned from their wild brambles, still bursting summer-ripe with juices. From the Westfold lakes and streams fed by snow melt from the hills, the women and children caught strings of speckled trout they would cook over the fire until the skin crisped and the flesh flaked from the delicate bones.
But in winter...
Grima was glad of his rich cloak of sable, for he could almost feel winter's chill upon him. Winds howling from across the plains flattened the tall grasses until they lay russet and tawny upon the ground, glistening with the silver of the first frost like a wolf's pelt in the fading light.
In Edoras, there was no shelter from the fierce gales, they found every open crack in the wall of his chamber, every fingersbreadth of exposed skin. It seemed to Grima that all his life, the wind had sought to beat him down like the grasses on the plain until he, too, could be trampled underfoot.
This was the place of his birth, where all Rohirrim hoped to die with honor and be buried beneath these rolling hills ever to look upon the timbered walls of Edoras and the white-capped mountains beyond. He would never return, nor was he likely to die with honor.
A sepulchre of earth and a place in the hall of my fathers was not enough. I wanted more.
Grima probed the split in his lip, feeling the flesh hot and swollen and the blood rising to meet the tip of his tongue in a sharp pang. He wanted it to hurt. In the days to come, he would repeat this action many times, as if he wanted to keep the wound open and fresh as the day it was made.
In his pocket was a handerkerchief of fine linen edged with lace and hemmed with stitches almost too small to see. The fabric was so worn by repeated handling that it was nearly translucent in spots, yet the faint scent of lavender water could still be discerned upon it. As insubstantial as it was, he fancied he could feel the pressure of its thin folds against his side, light as the touch of a hand in a darkened hallway.
His wrist began to throb where he'd stretched out a hand to break his fall. It needed binding and a cold poultice, but Grima had no time for such leechcraft. Shifting in the saddle, he gingerly pulled his cloak closer around him. The gold chain of his office weighed heavily against his breast, chafing against the sweat and grime of his neck. He would have it melted down when he reached his journey's end. It meant nothing to him now, another useless relic of the life he no longer wanted.
But there was one thing he could not think upon with that same icy detachment. He would not forget her.
Dismounting, Grima wound the reins of horse around his uninjured hand. Though the day was bright and clear, here the sky was choked with thick columns of smoke wisping from deep caverns in the earth. It stung his eyes and throat, which had been accustomed to the open grasslands of the Riddermark and the air blowing in from the White Mountains with the promise of snow.
That was no more, the man who had been the king's counselor left it behind. He had crossed the River Isen that poured like a stream of molten silver through the West-March, stopped to drink his last while kneeling on a bed of smooth river-stones the size of hen's eggs. The hem of his black cloak was still damp.
Théodred's life yet mingled with the shining river, the blood-and-water that flowed through land shadowed by peaks of the Thrihyrne and colder than the grave. But that, too, must be forgotten. The man who would be his own ruler must look always to the future, not the past.
And so Grima Wormtongue lifted up his gaze. On the horizon was an indistinct mossy line that marked the edges of Fangorn forest. Across barren rock and wiry tufts of grass stretched a lean shadow, all jagged edges and unforgiving angles. This was his destiny, this was the life and fate he now could claim in exchange for all he had given...
The tall obsidian spire of Orthanc rising out of a burnt wasteland.