Author's Note:

I stayed up waaaayyyy too late to write this. Sorry if it's short, but it tells everything I wanted to in the way I wanted to tell it. Goodnight. Enjoy some backstory for our favorite stallion. 33

-In Amber Clad

Chapter 4: Thoughts that Wander

The journey seemed shorter on the return path. The Éored had learned the way, as had their horses. The ravines were unwound behind them. A long stretch lay ahead. The waves of earth crashed beneath a hundred and twenty hoofs, for each horse had four, and forty horses galloped. To ride and ride, this was what it meant to be in land of Rohan, home of the horse lords. Éomer would have it a way none other. Even in winter, when the very breath was chilled and the grays of snow frosted the yellow grass, this was his country. This was the home Éomer, son of Éomund, Third Mashal of the Riddermark.

Many years has passed since he was given this charge. He had been young, and bold. The King had trusted him with these miles of grass, with the many villages scattered across them, and with the men that rode with him. The men were like horses themselves. Éomer was new and untested. They did not trust him, and loyalty was only in name, and not in blood. In his youth, Éomer likened their treatment to that of an unbroken stallion. He had dealt with stallions. The boldest of all had dealt him many aches and demanded many toils.

The stallion was Firefoot. A proud and virulently stubborn descendant of the Mearas, the young horse refused him. Éomer was equally proud and stubborn, young was he was too. He refused to allow the horse to break the man. He had taken a new approach. He would not ride Firefoot, he had told the King, who had given him to Éomer. He would not ride until the horse came when uncalled. Every day Éomer would be at the horse's side. Éomer would not allow anyone else to care for him. He would brush his coat, clean his hoofs, and braid his mane. He took the time to learn the personality of this horse. He found that Firefoot loved plums, even more so than apples. Scratching the spot between his left haunch and his neck caused the horse's face to lift and pucker his velvet lips. Éomer taught Firefoot to kick with the snap of his fingers. He taught him to roll, to jump, and to rear. For three months, this was the way they bonded.

Then came the test. Beyond the gates of Edoras, Éomer walked to a lone hill with Firefoot in tow. Éomer removed the reins and with a whack, slapped the horse's rear. Firefoot bolted and ran. He ran far, further and further into the hills till he became but a dot. Éomer remained on the hill. Éomer never told how long he waited, but Éowyn, his sister, watched from the high tower. For what seems like hours, she had said, her brother patiently sat.

Éomer's faith was rewarded. Firefoot approached him, and nuzzled his golden head. The bond had been made, and the test of friendship was passed.

The Éored was much like Firefoot in this manner. They were all grown men, and he had been but a boy in their eyes. He accepted this challenge. He observed their strengths and weaknesses. Each man's name was learned and was given Éomer's time. No horseman was neglected. He demanded more of them than they demanded of themselves. Over time he proved his worth as a leader, for it was they who had to prove themselves as followers. The day came when a host of orcs attacked them. Their bonds were tested. Many hours of battle ensued, and under the leadership of the Marshal, they rose victorious, no man or horse lost. They celebrated his name in the ceremonial burning of the pile. From that day forth, they took his word as their bond, for that was the love for their leader.

The thoughts of Éomer returned from hours of wander. He had all but forgotten the maiden until she shifted in her seat. He adjusted his arm around her side that she might be more comfortable. Her head rested on his chest, though he could not feel it beneath the leather decorated metal. She had not slept, he knew. If she had, her weight would have shifted further, and he would have had to hold her relaxed body more firmly. She still shivered, now and then. The blanket was not enough. Surely her legs and feet were buffeted by wind. The back of a horse in winter was no place for lavish dresses and there were many hours yet until dawn.

Éomer slowed the company to a halt. He instructed, "We shall rest here for an hour, as before. Let a fire be built and a guard posted." This was done. Éothain and four men patrolled the circumference of the temporary stop. Guthwine and three others stoked up a respectable fire. The maiden was seated in front of it, and she held her frozen hands to its flicker. It seemed a trick of the firelight that her taught hair blazed.

"Eat," Éomer stated.

The girl started at his voice. She turned and saw him sitting near, handing her a small loaf of bread, waybread of the Rohirrim. She took it coyly and ate it in small bites. Satisfied, he also handed her a drink of water. This girl was indeed no fool. She had the senses about her replenish her strength. When the loaf was gone, Éomer had the mind to ask questions, but the memory of her tragedy stopped him. There was no reason to ask what he already knew. He moved to stand so he could tend to his horse, but stopped when she spoke for the first time.

"… Did I do the right thing?" the maiden asked, her voice barely above a whisper, her eyes resting on the dancing flames.

The men around stopped to listen, though her brief words were spent. Did she do the right thing… this was the cause of her silence? Éomer tried to glimpse behind her reasoning. Clearly this thought had tormented her these hours. At a moment, he replied.

"You did not doubt then," he said, referring to when she stood above her assailant, and struck him with fire. "Do not doubt your heart now."

It was hard to tell if the words he chose gave her comfort, but she pulled the blanket closer. He breathed out through his nose and stood. They would be leaving soon. He was not allowed the luxury to sit idle and forget his charge. There were things to be tended.