WWI Poets Challenge

Cover Him with Violets

1. Cover Him with Violets

Timeframe: March 18, T. A. 3019, in the late afternoon and early evening.

You would not know him now . . .
But still he died
Nobly, so cover him over
With violets of pride
Purple from Severn side.

My latest patient, little more than a boy, stirs restlessly beneath my hands as I try to cool his brow with a damp cloth, but he cannot be soothed. He thrashes and mutters in Rohirric, which I do not understand. I stop mopping his hot face and hold his arms down, murmuring comforting words in the Common Tongue, hoping that my tone will calm him even if he does not know what I am saying. I push his injured leg straight again, anxious that he not jar it too much. I pull up the dressings and apply more oil of violets to draw out the poison from the arrow wound in his thigh.

A heavy footfall enters the room, and I look up and see the Chief Healer frowning, his forehead furrowed. “We can wait no longer, Ioreth. If I do not remove the leg, he is doomed. His fever mounts higher as the poison spreads.”

“But, sir,” I say in a quavering voice, “you know how desperate he is to keep his leg, he cannot ride at all without it—” The first time the Chief Healer had come in here with knives in hand, the young Horse-lord was briefly aware of his surroundings and had begun shouting and cursing, making it plain he would not abide having such a thing done to him. It was after that day that I became his nurse, since Lord Faramir and Lady Eowyn were now recovering and this boy needed more care than the others in the Houses.

“What use is his leg if he dies?” the Healer snaps. “Let us tie him to the bed, and be ready to help me.”

He reaches for the sheet at the bed’s foot, but before he can tear it, a strangled gasp erupts from the Rider’s mouth. His back arches up and his whole body convulses; he cries out a word I do not recognize, but I somehow sense he is calling for his mother. I take him in my arms and hold him as his eyes grow wide and his limbs stiff; he chokes as he falls back onto the bed, and then all is silent.

The Chief Healer places a hand upon the boy’s chest, and shakes his head. “Dead,” he says tersely. “Too late again.” He walks wearily to the door, and pauses. “But perhaps it is just as well, for a legless Rohirrim would have been one of the living dead.” I can hear the anger and pain he buries within his sharpness.

As his footsteps fade in the distance, I gently lay the boy flat, arranging him carefully. I draw the linen sheet over him, leaving only his face exposed, veiling the bloody wound. He is handsome, like many of his race, with flowing golden hair and broad shoulders; as striking as our own men are, the Rohirrim are even more so, proud, confident, and supreme on their horses. I smooth down a stray lock of hair; his expression is no longer pained, but relaxed. If I had not seen him die, I might believe he was merely sleeping.

My eyes remain dry, but I can feel my heart filling with my unshed tears. I turn from the bed and go out to seek the sanctuary of the gardens, to forget this new grief among green and growing things.

* * * * * * * *

I sit on the small bench next to the huge oak that towers over the Chief Healer’s garden. Violets cluster around the trunk—the same violets I used to make the useless oil that cured nothing. I reach out and stroke a silky petal, my other hand clutching at my gown as I fight to not weep. So many, so many we cannot save . . .

“What is the matter, Ioreth? You look very sad.”

I lift my head in surprise. Before me stands the halfling King Elessar healed of the Black Breath and who aided the Lady Eowyn in slaying the Captain of the Nazgul. His round, friendly face is full of concern as he stares at me with wide, shining eyes.

I do not speak at first, gathering my thoughts. “I have just lost a patient,” I finally say, “one of Rohan’s riders. He was very young, and it has upset me greatly. After all these years, I never can accept losing anyone in my care. Please forgive me, Master Meriadoc, for not being of good cheer.”

“Of course I forgive you, Ioreth—I’m not particularly cheerful myself, to speak truthfully.” He rubs his injured arm with a distracted air. “I cannot bear being left behind while my cousin marches to battle. And the thought of another Rider dying is horrible, too, for they are good and brave men.” He sits down at my feet and rests his head on his knees.

We do not speak for some time, but at last Meriadoc sighs softly and looks at me again. His fingers brush some of the violets; he turns, picks a small bunch, and lays them in my lap.

“Here—I know it isn’t much, but maybe they will lighten your heart a little. I always pick flowers for my mother when she’s upset,” he confides artlessly. “And we hobbits put them on our dead’s coffins.” His voice is tighter, with a hint of tears now.

My hands curl around the violets as a thought occurs to me. “Do the Rohirrim do that as well? Do you know?”

“I don’t, but I do know they plant a white flower on the graves of their kings, I saw that. Why?”

“Because I want to do something for my Rider. Come, will you help me pick more?”

Meriadoc does so willingly, never asking what I am about. I fill his arms with the fragrant blossoms, and lead him back to the room I had fled. When the hobbit sees who lies upon the bed there, he catches his breath quickly.

“Why, it’s Edwy! I didn’t know him well enough to speak to him, but Eowyn pointed him out to me as one of the best horsemen among the Riders.”

“Edwy.” I repeat it softly. “I did not know his name, before.” I dash away a stray tear. “Now, let me place the flowers around him . . .”

The halfling stands patiently as I arrange the violets, covering young Edwy’s body and masking the bloody wound I can see through the linen. Their sweet perfume, far less cloying than the oil, drifts up. When I have laid the last blooms, Meriadoc speaks again at last. “Should we sit with him for a while?”

I nod. I pull up a chair beside the bed, and Meriadoc finds a stool on the other side. We each take a hand as we sit in silence, each of us lost in our own thoughts. I wonder what kind of a man Edwy was. I know he was brave, but what else might he have been? A well-loved son, I guess, and perhaps a brother and grandson as well. Does he have a sweetheart or wife who waits for him? And as young as he was, is there even a baby who will never see his father? Did he laugh often, or weep, or sing in joy? Will his spirit find repose in a foreign land, so far from the plains of Rohan? Will anyone else remember his sacrifice?

I lose track of time as the walls grow dark. The halfling stirs and stands up. He asks anxiously, “May I go now, Ioreth, or do you need me to stay?”

I shake my head. “No, no, you need not linger. Go, Master Meriadoc, and thank you so much.”

He walks around to me and touches my hand again. “You’re very welcome,” he says solemnly. “Please take care.”

I watch him go, then turn back to the Rider. The purple shadows blend seamlessly with the violets, leaving his golden hair and pale face shining in the dusk. I kiss his forehead gently, lay my head down against his hand and let myself weep at long last. How many more will die before I have no more tears to shed?

Cover him, cover him soon!
And with thick-set
Masses of memoried flowers—
Hide that red wet
Thing I must somehow forget.

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.


In Challenges

Story Information

Author: Regina

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Rating: General

Last Updated: 06/05/04

Original Post: 06/05/04

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