Grasping at Moonbeams Glistening
1. Grasping at Moonbeams Glistening
That over hills were doomed to roam;
And forth he hastened, strong and fleet,
And grasped at moonbeams glistening...
(Song of Beren and Luthien, from “A knife in the Dark”, FotR.)
March 16th, 3019, TA.
Houses of Healing, Minas Tirith.
Is it morning already?
Nanwen blinked as the sunlight fell on her face, blinding her. She dropped the soiled tools and the brush in the bucket before her and stood from the cold stone floor, lips twisted due to the sharp pain in her lower back. The tingling in her numb muscles felt extremely uncomfortable, making her stumble several times on her way to the eastern windows. Wiping her bloodstained hands on her apron, she closed the curtains to avoid the morning light in her sore eyes. As she turned around, a hand clutched desperately at the edge of her skirt.
“Please, good woman,” a man on a straw mattress pleaded. “Please – don’t shut out the light. There has been so much darkness – so much death!” Despair coloured his voice as he turned his damaged face to her, his good eye begging her to let the sunlight in.
Several replies rushed through Nanwen’s weary mind. I have to finish washing the surgeon's tools, she thought. I have wounds to dress, linen to soak, and men to feed. How do you expect me to continue my work with no sleep, hardly any food and this accursed sunlight falling in my eyes? But when she caught a better glimpse of the man’s damaged face, the harsh words died in her throat: almost all of the left side of his once-handsome face had been reduced to a mass of bloody shreds of flesh. With a tinge of guilt in her heart, Nanwen looked away and reached for the curtains.
“Of course,” she said, her cheeks burning with shame for her own insensitivity.
As soon as the sunlight fell on the injured man, his expression changed. His fists were still clenched by pain – droplets of sweat still crowned the intact part of his forehead – but the hint of a smile appeared at the right corner of his mouth. “Thank you,” he said, his voice soft, and closed his eyes.
Nanwen turned to leave and continue with her chores when the man’s grip stopped her once more.
“Please, stay a little longer,” he pleaded. His right eye was now fixed on her face, while the left stared blankly into thin air from a strange angle. “I can handle the pain,” he murmured, “but every time I close my eyes, the cry of the Nazgûl echoes inside my head, testing my sanity.”
Nanwen stared at him, unsure of what to say. “I need to return to my tasks,” she mumbled.
The pain that arose in the man’s battered face made her regret her cold reply instantly, and she knelt beside him, taking his right hand in hers. Only then did she realize that the rest of his body had not been spared the cruelties of war. A hideous wound gaped just beneath his left shoulder and under the soiled sheet, his left leg was missing from the knee down.
“I look awful, don’t I?” Nanwen could almost taste the bitterness in his tired voice as he laid there, eyes now closed. “But at least the foul beast that did this to me will not harm any more of Gondor’s people.” He tightened his grip on her hand. “I made sure of that.”
She looked at his greying hair and tattered uniform. No longer young, this man had probably seen many battles, until one creature of the black hordes of Mordor cut him down. “Will you tell me your name?” she asked, struggling to keep her voice calm, for she knew that such wounds would eventually claim his life.
He opened his eye. “They call me Beregorn."
“Well, Beregorn,” Nanwen replied, her voice calm, “I cannot stay for long, but I promise to come and check on you from time to time.” Her gaze travelled briefly around the room – to the wounded and dying, the healers and surgeons who fought their own war against death. She squeezed his hand. “My name is Nanwen. If you need anything, just call me and I will come,” she promised.
“Thank you,” Beregorn replied, and released her hand.
Nanwen felt his gaze following her as she walked to the back of the room where the surgeon’s soiled tools still soaked in a bucket of lukewarm water.
Sometime later, Brannir, the master surgeon, tended to Beregorn’s wounds. His skilled hands worked fast and efficiently, cutting off dead skin, cleaning lesions, and sewing torn pieces of flesh together. The injured man endured it in silence – eyes shut, teeth clenching every time the surgeon’s hands caused him additional pain – until he finally passed out. When he finished, Brannir stood, wiped his hands on his stained apron, and stared at Nanwen, who had stayed beside him the whole time, handing him fresh linen and clean needles. He just shook his head.
Nanwen felt suddenly light-headed. Her knees grew week and she reached out to Brannir to steady herself. When she regained her self-control, she found the master surgeon’s kind eyes fixed on her.
“You need rest, lass,” he told her, his voice kind but firm.
She shook her head. “No, master Brannir, I could not leave you now. The wounded are so many - I have too much to take care of.”
The master surgeon raised his hand to her chin. “Go and rest, Nanwen. You will be of no help at all if you collapse on the floor. Is that clear?”
She nodded. “As you wish, master Brannir. I will finish washing the tools and then take my leave,” she replied, no longer able to deny her exhaustion.
The master surgeon nodded and left.
Nanwen rolled up her sleeves and emptied the tray with the used tools in a bucket. She walked to the hearth and filled the bucket with boiling water, threw a bar of soap in it, and grabbed a brush from the rack. Struggling to ignore the pain in her lower back, Nanwen carried her heavy load to the wall and sat down on a rug, waiting for the water to cool down a little.
Lowering her head, she hid her face in her hands – never had she been so tired. Her shoulders felt heavy and slumped beneath an unspoken burden. Sighing, she looked at her hands: the skin of her fingers and palms was rough and cracked and ached badly – the result of too much washing of linen and tools. What ailed her more, however, was the grip around her heart. During the past few days, Nanwen had witnessed too much suffering – too much death.
After a while, Nanwen sighed, pushing the grim thoughts to the back of her mind, and sat up. She dipped her fingertips in the warm water and found its temperature tolerable. Her hands moved with a will of their own in cleaning the scalpels and scissors while her mind drifted away to the events of the past day. So much had happened! The news of the Steward’s death had reached her ears over the dead body of an unfortunate soldier, and one of the other women had pointed out the motionless body of the Steward’s younger son while she whispered in Nanwen’s ear the gruesome details of the late Steward’s passing. Sometime later, a pale woman from Rohan had been brought in, her arm broken and her mind gone, lost in the dark dreams of the Black Shadow.
Still, among the bloodshed and the suffering, something had changed in the world. Nanwen had not sensed the change until much later, when the strangest of smells had filled her nostrils. Fresh like the morning wind blowing down from snowy peaks, carrying the scent of cedar and thyme, that smell had awaken strange memories in her mind – memories of tales from her childhood, tales of hope and honour. Nanwen recalled raising her head to see a tall, rugged man kneeling beside the Steward’s son – the words that had reached her ears, rekindling hope in her heart: “What does the king command?”
So the king has returned, Nanwen thought, placing the tools on a rack to dry. What does this mean? Can he bring an end to all this senseless suffering? As she picked up the bucket, its water now tainted with blood, to carry it outside, a painful jolt in her stomach reminded her that she had not eaten anything since the night before. With her lips drawn into a tight line, she willed the pain away, but her step still faltered under the weight of the bucket as she passed through the side door and stepped outside. The morning wind lashed her face and chilled her bare forearms, carrying the scent of distant fires. Somewhere above the White City, a bird chirped its daily blessings to the morning light, as though nothing mattered but the sun and sky.
The sound of her clogs on the white stones echoed strangely in the silence of the early hour as Nanwen walked to the trees to empty the bucket into the soil around them. Strange fruits these trees will bear, she though. Watered by the blood of the sons of Gondor, will their leaves and blossoms carry a part of their soul as well? Sighing, she picked up the empty bucket and turned back. Just before crossing the threshold, the sound of voices towards the south made her look up.
Who can that be this early in the morning? Curious, Nanwen put the bucket down, removed her clogs, and, on bare feet, she walked slowly alongside the wall to peek around the corner. Not far from her, the strangest of people sat upon the wall. She recognized the small people – one of them had also been afflicted by the Nazgûl’s taint. What had Brannir called them? Halflings?
The two Halflings were not alone – two others sat beside them. Nanwen stretched her neck as far as she could to get a good glimpse of the other two, hoping that they would not notice her presence. The third of their group was as short as the Halflings, but he couldn’t be more different, with his bushy beard and roaring voice. He must be a Dwarf! I have never seen a Dwarf before, Nanwen thought. With her cheeks burning, despite the morning chill, and her heart beating frantically, she forgot her weariness and sneaked closer to get a better look at the exotic strangers.
Indeed a Dwarf, the third stranger sat next to one of the Halflings and smoked a pipe. Among puffs of smoke, the Dwarf and the Halflings talked about strange events and faraway lands. And although Nanwen could not make out their words, the sound of their voices kept her still, enchanted by the presence of these people. Then the fourth of the companions spoke in a voice soft and colourful – like the trills of finches singing praise to the spring in vast forests of ancient trees and lore. Something stirred inside her – something she had only felt in dreams. With her heart in turmoil, Nanwen crawled closer, behind the dense bushes of the greenswards of the Houses of Healing, to get a better view of the company.
Who is this man? One of the Rangers that came with the king, perhaps?
Crouched on the damp ground, Nanwen cautiously parted the branches that blocked her view. The man with the soft voice stood tall and straight, clad in green and brown, with a great bow resting at his side. When he turned and looked at one of the Halflings, Nanwen’s hand jerked upwards, to her mouth, to drown a cry of surprise.
He’s an Elf!
Nanwen had never seen an Elf before. Of course, she had heard tales of the Firstborn, of their splendour and lore. Now she knew that mere words could never describe the light in their eyes, the silver of their voice, or how the morning air danced around them, whispering secrets and blessings. It almost felt a sacrilege to spy upon one as fair, but even so, Nanwen could not turn her eyes away. Never had she seen such harmony in a face. Long strands of hair crowned perfect angles of a face fair and yet terrible, like the steel blade of a fine sword. The light of a myriad springs danced in his eyes, reflecting memories of glistening moonbeams through the leaves of a forest old beyond any mortal recollection. Speechless – breathless – Nanwen clutched her knees to her chest, mesmerized by the liquid grace of his movement.
When he looked away to the south, a great sorrow overwhelmed Nanwen. An unexplained longing clenched her heart – a longing for things she had no name for. Then the Elf began to sing and her heart fluttered, following the trills of his voice over lands and plains – to the sea.
“…Tall grows the grass there. In the wind from the Sea
The white lilies sway…”
A draft of air against her face and the salty moisture on her lips made Nanwen suddenly aware of the tears running down her cheeks. Her heart and soul flew on the wings of the elven song, but her mortal feet, rough and broken, remained chained on the ground, behind the bushes of the greenswards of the Houses of Healing. She sat still, content to be in the presence of those she could never touch, until all talk among the four companions ceased.
Some time later, after the company had departed, Nanwen finally found the strength to stand up. Slowly, she managed to drag her feet to the side door, pick up the bucket, and get back inside. With her heart in turmoil, the much needed rest seemed out of her grasp.
In the solitude of her room, Nanwen sat at the side of her bed and took her small bag in her lap. Her hand searched through various pieces of clothing, through needles and threads, until her fingers traced the outline of a comb. As she took out the small object, tears filled her eyes. Doblung, her late husband, had brought her this gift from a trip to the south.
A craftsman of Umbar carved it, he had said, from the shell of one of the great tortoises that dwell in the shallow waters around the reefs of Far Harad. She wiped her face with the back of her hand. He was a good man, may Eru rest his soul. Doblung had been a good husband, solid, dependable, and he had always loved her, in his own quiet way. He had died years ago, when a Corsair ship assaulted his vessel somewhere south of Pelargir, leaving Nanwen alone.
Nanwen removed the kerchief from her head and started to comb her hair, her thoughts drifting from memories of her late husband to the elven song. She grimaced every time the comb met a knot in her unkempt hair and, after the long hours among the injured, her locks felt rough and greasy. How would his hair feel, if I touched it? The boldness of the thought that sprang in her mind made her cheeks burn, but she could not resist the guilty pleasure of it. Would it feel soft and fragrant if I hid my face in it, breathing deeply from the scents of a deep forest – of young grass after a rainy night? How would his skin feel, if I touched him? Would it be cold, like the clear waters of mountain springs under the moonlight, or would his ancient blood burn the tips of my fingers, for daring to touch one of the Firstborn?
She breathed faster now. Her hands fell on her knees and her right fist clenched tightly around the comb. Silly woman, she scolded herself. This can never be and you know it. Do you really think that he would not notice the white in your hair, the lines around your eyes – your rough hands? She looked at her palms, feeling the wetness on her cheeks. Years of chopping firewood, of scrubbing floors and dishes at her own home as well as at the Houses of Healing, had hardened her skin. No longer in her first youth and hardly beautiful anymore, how did she dare to dream of touching one so fair?
Nanwen fell back on the bed. The Elf’s song still echoed in her head, fuelling her yearning. She had not heard his words clearly - only the loneliness in his voice, and the longing. Perhaps, somewhere in the enchanted woods of the North, a maiden awaited his return - a maiden with bright eyes and long, delicate fingers that danced on the strings of a harp or a lute, making the nightingales cease their songs in shame. Had he sung for a lost love? Nanwen would never know. All she knew, as her eyelids grew heavy, was that his face and voice would haunt her dreams for the rest of her life.
Her restless slumber led Nanwen into dreams of flying and dreams of falling. The trills of an elven song teased her, inviting her to a chase among starlit clouds after a slender figure, just beyond the reach of her hands. Ah, how did the night air refresh her heart! Traces of lavender and sage left a trail for her to follow until soft hands grasped her shoulders and drew her closer.
Then all was fire.
In her body and mind the flames rose and demanded to be unleashed, reaching through the tips of her fingers, her lips, and every pore of her skin. In a kiss, in a bite, in a final desperate thrust, her unspoken desire found release in a dream of flying that turned suddenly into a dream of falling - falling, falling into a sea of starless cold.
As dark waters closed over her head, the sea roared around her: “You can never have him!”
Nanwen woke with a gasp.
March 17th, 3019, TA.
When Nanwen walked inside the great hall of the Houses of Healing the next morning, little had changed. Some had died during the night, more injured men had been brought in, and the air was still heavy with the smell of blood. Hardly refreshed from her restless sleep, Nanwen noticed with relief that Beregorn had survived the night. The master surgeon seemed pleased with his progress, if not a bit surprised.
Sometime later, Nanwen brewed a strong infusion of marigold petals, following the herb master’s instructions. Careful not to cause Beregorn additional pain, she removed the stained bandages to clean his wounds. Aware that he watched her closely, Nanwen tried to keep her face calm at the sight of his torn flesh. His face twitched only when she touched the damaged area around his left eye with a soft cloth soaked in the warm brew. Without a word or a moan, he let her clean his wounds and apply fresh bandages to them.
Nanwen had just started to clean his stump, when a familiar voice made her raise her eyes from her work. Her hand jerked sideways, scrubbing the stitched skin harder, and Beregorn drew in a sharp breath from the sudden pain.
“Forgive me,” she mumbled, but her gaze remained fixed on the Halflings who had just entered the hall. They walked to a remote part of the room, behind the drapes that concealed the fair lady from Rohan. Perhaps their Elf friend will come for a visit later, she thought, struggling to keep her hands steady. She turned her gaze back to the injured man and saw him smiling. Embarrassed, she lowered her eyes to his stump and continued her work.
“Marvellous creatures, are they not?” His voice rang clear and steady, and Nanwen’s head jerked upwards.
“The Halflings,” Beregorn explained with a grin. “I have never met any of their kind before. Mithrandir thinks highly of them, I hear.”
Unsure of what to say, Nanwen just smiled.
She had almost finished dressing Beregorn’s stump when another voice echoed in the hall – a voice clear as crystal chimes in the breeze. With her blood rushing in her veins, Nanwen raised her eyes and saw that the Elf and Dwarf stood at the threshold speaking to the herb master, likely inquiring about their friends. Tall and lithe, the Elf walked inside the room, and a breath of fresh air followed his step, as if all the windows had been opened wide to welcome the coming of the spring. Her hand stopped in mid air, unable to finish its course, in fear that a sudden move would dispel the magic of this moment. Nanwen’s face flushed in memory of the past night’s dreams, but she could not look away. Mesmerized, her gaze followed the Elf around the room.
They did not stay long. The Elf and the Dwarf conversed briefly with the Halflings and then left, leaving Nanwen dazzled. Gathering the remnants of her self-control, she tried to focus on her work. After she had finished dressing Beregorn’s stump, she saw with shame that this should be the worst bandaging in all her time in the Houses of Healing. With her face still burning, she stood up.
“I have to go,” she mumbled, daring a glimpse at Beregorn’s face.
He nodded. “I understand.” His voice was casual, but it seemed as though a shadow had fallen over his face – not of pain, but of doubt and concern.
Nanwen avoided his eyes for the rest of the day.
She sought refuge at the back of the room, washing tools and linen, preparing brews and salves – anything that could keep her away from other people. Sometime after midday, the herb master approached her. Mumbling a greeting, he started to open cabinets and drawers, pulling out sacks and jars and sniffing the ingredients stored in them. Nanwen watched him in silence, but the frown on his kind face made her speak.
“Can I help you, my lord?”
He scratched his head, looking puzzled. “I’m sure I saw one last sack of willow bark stored somewhere in here.”
Nanwen shook her head. “I used the last of it some time ago, I fear. Perhaps if you looked in the storeroom?”
The herb master sat down on a stool. “I have already checked there. It seems that we are out of willow bark, , marigold, and arnica as well.” There were lines on his forehead that Nanwen had never noticed before. He looked at her, weariness written across his face. “Could you do this for me, Nanwen? Could you go down to the Apothecary’s Shop and see if my old friend Esgaloth has any herbs left? I will write you a list, if you could be so kind.”
Nanwen sighed. The Apothecary’s Shop was down at the third circle, but perhaps the walk and the fresh air would lift her spirits. “Of course, my lord,” she said.
As she stood before the Apothecary’s Shop, Nanwen realised that although the fresh air had cleared her mind, she actually felt worse. On her way down, she saw that a great part of the White City now lay in ruin. Many houses had been damaged beyond repair and desperate people struggled to recover their belongings from the rubble: clothes, books, and various other objects and heirlooms - anything that had survived the rage of Mordor. Wherever she looked, she met eyes shadowed by grief. It seemed as if no family in Minas Tirith had been spared the loss of fathers, brothers, or sons.
Set at the inner part of the third circle, Esgaloth’s shop bore the signs of the siege as well, but at least it remained standing. When Nanwen pushed the sturdy oaken door open and entered the dimly lit establishment, the mixed aromas of various herbs filled her nostrils: cinnamon and sage, rosemary and thyme. She blinked as her eyes adapted slowly to the shadows of the room. Before her, among sacks and shelves filled with jars and containers, two people were arguing over a certain herb.
“I have told you, Master Dwarf, that I have no knowledge of such plant! Perhaps your people refer to it by another name,” said Esgaloth, the shopkeeper, frustration colouring his voice.
“How can you not know of pipe–weed?” On hearing the Dwarf’s voice, Nanwen’s heart leaped in excitement. Much to her disappointment, she saw no one else in the room. “Listen, my good man,” said the Dwarf. “It is a long ride to the Black Gate. How can I ever endure the long hours on horseback without some pleasure at the end of the day?”
The shopkeeper sighed. “May I suggest some other herbs that are popular here and burn nicely, Master Dwarf? Plants that leave the breath fresh and cleanse the chest? I have mint, and eucalyptus leaves, and I also have thornapple, which often helps those with a shortness of brea-”
Esgaloth never finished his words due to the Dwarf’s angry roar.
“What do you mean by ‘fresh breath’?”
Neither of them had noticed Nanwen, who stood at the back, her eyes fixed on her feet and on the circles she drew on the dusty floor. She did not mind waiting, because in her heart she hoped that the Elf might step in, sooner or later.
The apothecary raised his arms. “My apologies, Master Dwarf. Insulting you was not in my intentions. I was merely trying to suggest alternatives.”
“There is no alternative to the Halflings’ Leaf,” the Dwarf protested.
“The Halflings’ Leaf?” Confusion appeared on Esgaloth’s face.
“Yes,” replied the Dwarf. “I might as well travel to Bree to buy some,” he added, disappointed.
The apothecary slapped his forehead. “Westmansweed! This is the leaf you seek, Master Dwarf! I’ve had some delivered from Bree some months ago, at Mithrandir’s request.” His gaze travelled in the room, searching for the plant in question. Only then did he notice the woman at the back. “Can I help you, my good woman?”
“I come on behalf of the herb master of the Houses of Healing,” Nanwen replied. “He needs willow bark, and marigold, and a few other supplies,” she explained, handing him a folded parchment. “But I can wait,” she added, glancing shyly at the Dwarf.
The Dwarf had made himself comfortable on a sack beside the counter, and stroked his beard. Hearing Nanwen’s words, he shook his head. “No, my good woman, the needs of the herb master are more important. I do not mind a short delay, as long as I don’t have to wait for the next shipment to arrive from Bree.” He glanced sideways to the shopkeeper, and chuckled. “Mithrandir can have that.”
Silence fell over the room, interrupted briefly only by the shopkeeper’s mumbling. “Marigold leaves… where have I stored this? Ah, here it is. I think I’m out of meadowsweet, though…” When finished, he gathered several small cloth sacks in a wicker basket, and handed the parchment back to Nanwen. “Almost done, except for one thing; I do not have willow bark stored here, but I have placed some freshly harvested pieces on the racks at the back yard to dry in the sun. Would you mind gathering them yourself?” He tilted his head sideways, pointing at the Dwarf. “I have to search for the Westmansweed.”
Nanwen nodded. “Of course,” she mumbled, and took an empty cloth sack from a self. As she passed over bags and crates to reach the back door, the onset of a new discussion between Man and Dwarf reached her ears.
“Tell me more, my good man, about those plants that can help with one’s breath,” said the Dwarf. “No, not for me! I have this friend…”
The sunlight danced on the leaves of a blossomed apple-tree, and several small birds hopped on its branches, chirping cheerfully. The buzzing of the bees over the various herbs that grew in this back yard, the harvested plants that dried on the racks, the serenity of that place brought back memories of another time – a careless time. Walking cautiously, in fear of disturbing the peace of this small garden, Nanwen took a couple of steps toward the racks next to the back wall. Only then did she realise that she was not alone.
With his back to Nanwen, leaning against the trunk of the apple tree, the Elf began to hum a strange tune. Frozen, she did not move – she couldn’t even breathe, fearing that the Elf would consider her presence there as an intrusion. Had he noticed her? She could not tell. All she knew was the way the sunlight shimmered on his hair and his crystal voice that made her heart clench with yearning.
“…The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair…”
Nanwen gathered her courage and took another few steps so she could see his face. His eyes were fixed on the fingers of his right hand and the small insect that buzzed around them. The Elf ceased his humming and watched the bee in silence, as if all the mysteries of the Valar unravelled in those small, transparent wings.
“All day long you labour, little one,” he said, his voice low and comforting like a summer drizzle, and Nanwen felt her knees grow weak. “Day after day you continue to work without one word of complaint – just like many others like you in the hive. What do you dream of, I wonder? Do you ever wish you could fly high over the flowers that feed you, high into the sky, like a hawk, like an eagle? Do you ever dream of chasing moonbeams, I wonder?”
Nanwen hastily wiped her wet cheeks with her sleeve. Weeping in the presence of a stranger – of this stranger, especially – would be too humiliating. Still, the Elf’s words to the bee – if indeed he talked to the bee – had stirred something in her heart and had rekindled the longing for all the things she could not have.
With a gentle move of his arm, the Elf let the bee fly away, to return to its kin. He tilted his head sideways and glanced at Nanwen. “There are no bees in the woods of my homeland, you know – only spiders.” His voice rang lower now, like a distant thunder, and a shadow clouded his face for a fleeting moment. But a heartbeat later the light returned to his face and Nanwen felt her eyes water anew under his direct stare. “Was there something you wanted, my good woman?”
Nanwen’s mouth felt dry all of the sudden. Many words came to her lips, but none dared to come out, in fear that any sound from her would offend him. Lowering her gaze to her feet once more, Nanwen gathered the remnants of her self-control and managed to utter a reply. “I need willow bark for the herb master,” she said, horrified by how coarse her voice sounded. With her face burning, Nanwen felt the urgent desire to flee. “Forgive me, my lord,” she said, and took a step backwards. “I have disturbed you – I will return later.”
Her head jerked upwards at the sound of his voice. Astonished, Nanwen saw the Elf walking to the racks at the back wall. With swift, graceful moves, he gathered several pieces of willow bark and brought them to her.
“Will these suffice?”
Unable to speak, Nanwen just nodded, and opened the sack she had been clenching tightly ever since she saw him in this garden. As he carefully placed the pieces of bark in it, their hands touched. Did he sense the trembling this casual touch caused to her heart? She would never know, for her gaze was caught in the fluid way his long fingers moved, as he pulled the cord of the sack and tied it into a firm knot, securing its contents.
There was nothing left to say or do. “Thank you, my lord,” she mumbled. Yet, her feet refused to move, for he had seized her hand, and her body begged for this moment to linger on. Although her face burned, Nanwen found it impossible to look away. In his face she saw the beauty of all the children of Ilúvatar. In the light of his eyes and the grace of his brow she saw the flight of the hawk and the song of the nightingale – and most of all, she felt the joy of the gull that soars over deep blue waters.
“Farewell, lady,” she heard him say, and she nodded.
With shaking hands, Nanwen opened the door and entered the shadows of the Apothecary’s Shop. In the shadows, no one would see her wet face.
Yes, Master Elf, she thought. Sometimes, even a bee dares to dream of grasping at moonbeams.
Nanwen never saw the Elf again. In the weeks that followed, many things changed in the world. The Host of the West returned, bringing news of victory and of the passing of the Shadow. The war finally came to an end. One by one, the wounded in the Houses of Healing returned to the care of their families, save for Beregorn, whose family in Minas Tirith had perished during the war, and the rest of his relatives lived somewhere at the South. With the workload significantly reduced, the master surgeon released many of his assistants from service so they too could rest and heal.
Nanwen spent her days sitting upon the walls, gazing westwards, watching the flight of the gulls that followed the ships on the Anduin. Her heart clenched with sorrow every time she heard the cry of the sea birds – the call of the sea. This sorrow no longer pierced her heart: it just left her with a bitter, numb aftertaste for daring to dream of things beyond her reach.
On the first day of May, Nanwen climbed to the seventh circle of Minas Tirith to watch the coronation of the king. Among the townsfolk, rumour had it that many guests of strange, faraway lands would attend: Dwarves and Halflings, delegations from Umbar, even Elves from Rivendell and Lorien. Amidst the crowd, Nanwen squeezed and pushed and elbowed, but she could not get close enough to have a good view of the king and his escorts. At one moment, Nanwen thought she caught glimpse of a fair figure in the distance. But then a banner waved, someone stepped in front of her, cheering, and she lost sight of the fair man.
Disappointed, Nanwen returned home. She sat on the edge of her bed for a long time, her hands on her knees and her eyes staring at the wall, lost in the memory of the elven song. Oblivious to the passing of time, her head jerked upwards when a knock on the door startled her out of her reverie. Bewildered, she saw that the hour was late. Passing her fingers through her hair, she stood up and straightened her dress. Who can it be this late?
Slowly, Nanwen unbolted the door and glimpsed outside. A man stood there – a man whose grey hair shone silver in the twilight. A plain cloth patch covered his left eye, but it failed to conceal the scars that marred half his face. Supporting his weight on a crutch, due to his missing leg, he just stood there, looking tired.
His face lit up at the sound of her voice. “The surgeon master told me where you live,” he explained, a shy smile curling the corners of his mouth. “Have I disturbed you?”
Nanwen stared at his scars, at his strong, rough hand that held on the crutch, at the clear, honest sparkle of his eye and suddenly she knew: there was a time for dreaming and a time for healing.
“No,” she said. “You have not disturbed me.” She smiled and stepped backwards, holding the door open for the old soldier to come into her home. Before shutting the door behind him, Nanwen thought she heard a voice singing an elven song, somewhere in the distance.
“…And long ago they passed away
In the forest singing sorrowless…”
And all was well.
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.