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Stardust - Book I: 2. Moments of Weakness, Part 1
Although most of the children and virtually all of the women left Minas Tirith well before the beginning of the siege, a bare handful of each remained. Bergil, young son of Beregond, ran errands for the Guards and Ioreth, who had prepared medicines and bandages in preparation for the battle, was already hard at work caring for those who had fallen to orc arrows shot over the high walls. Among the wounded moved several handmaidens, some who had never before cared for the ill but who found reserves of resolve and courage when pressed by their dire situation. Unlooked for hope came to all when the discord of war, heard dimly as a constant background even in the Houses of Healing, was overlaid by the brash cries of many horns, a sign that the riders of Rohan had come to the aid of the beleaguered white city. Even through the pain of their wounds the men of Minas Tirith could raise a ragged cheer.
One lady, however, turned a moment from her grim work. She stood by a window and pulled back the covering, briefly staring out at the battle raging over the Pelennor Fields, hearing the wild horns braying a death knell rather than salvation. He will not return, then, she thought without bitterness. So be it. I know what I must do. Briefly she laid a hand on her stomach before letting the cover fall back over the window, deadening some of the sounds from the battle. She turned back to her duties and, while she performed them without fail, there was a gleam of calculation in her eyes when she looked at each wounded man that had not been present before.
While the many acts of valor that took place during the Battle of Pelennor Fields have been long commemorated in song and tale, there were also many acts of valor within the walls of Minas Tirith itself. Most were never commemorated by any except those that directly experienced them. Those in the Houses of Healing made do with the thanks of wounded and dying men, removed from the thick of the battle yet ever aware of both the rumor of it outside their walls and the cruel results brought into their care. Even as the criers in the streets shouted of the fall of the Dark Captain and the route of the Enemy's minions, tempers and supplies ran short in the Healing wards. "How can I cleanse wounds without water?" rasped Ioreth, her old voice more cracked than ever with weariness and irritation. She cast her gaze about for one of the errand runners, but between the need to spread the news of the victory and to fight the fire that raged in the Halls of the Dead, there were none at hand. Her eyes fell upon a young woman, lingering by the bedside of a Rider of Rohan who was not much injured and who was receiving, perhaps, a share of attention that had little to do with his wounds. "You!" Ioreth snapped, and both the young people jumped, the woman spinning about with guilt on her features, the man wincing in pain and clutching at his wounded side. "We need water, missy! Hie you to the wells and fetch it hence."
It was not work she was used to, but much that she had done the last few days could be so described. She smiled at the warrior and brushed her fingers over his hand in parting, and rushed out of the sickrooms to do Ioreth's bidding. Sniffing, the old woman marched over to the Rider to see that he had not reopened his cuts. "Old dame, who was that?" the Rider asked her anxiously. "I did not get her name."
Old she may have been, but she had been young once and she knew the look in the man's eyes. "A Lady far above your station, unless you are the King of the Horseriders," she told him, curtly, "and even were it so, she is wed. Take your mind elsewhere."
Ioreth received a rakish grin in response. "Wed is all the better. It saves the time wasted on courtship."
The old nurse scowled and pinched the edges of his wound together a bit harshly as she rewrapped the bandage; the young Rider yipped, then laughed at her and lay back to rest.
She was almost dazzled when she set foot outside the Houses of Healing. The dark clouds that blanketed Gondor from horizon to horizon had lifted some hours earlier, but those closeted inside had not noticed. Blinking, she held one hand over her face and looked toward the battlefield. A great pall of dust hung over the Fields, and the smell of smoke and ash was still heavy in the city's air, but still it seemed to her a more fair sight than she had witnessed in many a day. She shouldered the pails and gazed forlornly down the many stairs she would have to traverse to get to the wells, and tried not to think about the even more trying journey up the stairs once the pails were filled.
She had filled the buckets, and was beginning the long trudge back, when she heard some cheers go up around her. Hurrying to the edge of the walkway, she looked toward the gate that led to the lower circle of the city. Through it rode some warriors, not Riders but Rangers by their rough woodsman garb, and at the tail of the small company were two who, despite being garbed in a similar fashion, immediately drew her eye.
She could not say how she knew, having never seen an Elf before, but as soon as her eyes fell upon the two she knew exactly what they had to be. Even begrimed with the dirt of battle there was an air about them far different from the Men they rode behind. She leaned over the wall, wishing a better view, and thought to call out to them as they passed under her post. "Lords, will you not tarry a moment? I have fresh well water to cleanse your throats of the dust of battle."
They looked up at her, surprised but pleased, and dismounted, meeting her at the foot of the stair where they allowed her to serve them the water. They were even more fair close up, and she found herself over-awed, unable to speak more than simple words to them. So they spoke between themselves as they drank, very like Men were wont to do, as if she were not there. "Did you note the Prince?" one asked of the other.
"Imrahil? How could I not? Although it is long removed, he is clearly kin to us," said the other in amusement. "I doubt he even realizes it himself. I wish Father were here! He would doubtless know who it was that tarried in Middle Earth some few decades before making the crossing. I would know the tale."
"It would be a sad one," replied the one who had spoken first. "Tales of Men with Elves always are. I have witnessed the beginning of many sad songs today. It will be a long time before I have the heart to hear any more." He smiled at her as he handed the ladle back, thanking her with courtesy and asking if there were a place to stable their horses for a brief time while they searched out comrades who had been carried to the Houses of Healing during the battle. Glancing up on the walkways, she chanced to see Bergil staring down on the two with awe and called to him, asking him to see to the needs of the elf lords' horses. Bergil nearly flew down the stairs, so great was his delight. The two thanked her once more and made their way up the winding walkway.
Shouldering her pails again, she smiled without humor. Even Elves would speak carelessly around one they took to be a servant, and from what was said it seemed Elves were not so different from Men in other ways as well. As she considered how they spoke of the Prince, resolve began to harden in her veins. Those of the line of Dol Amroth such as Prince Imrahil were said to be longer lived than most of the nobility of Gondor, and less prone to the ailments that afflicted other Men in their later years. Certainly the Prince himself was fair to look upon, and those two were beyond fair. All attributes that would be assets in any line. The gleam of calculation again came into her eyes, and the hopeful young Rider of Rohan was utterly forgotten.
When she returned to the House of Healing she asked careful questions of some of her charges who came late off the battlefield, and found her quarry were more than mere Elves, they were Elven lords, the twin sons of Elrond, who oft traveled with the Northern Rangers. Perhaps they were the source of the rumors of the King she heard bandied about, although no-one seemed to have actually seen a King, just a banner in the wind thought to represent his return. Even now the Rangers and their Elven comrades camped outside of the city's gates. She was impatient to follow them, although she also understood her duty to the wounded and made sure all in her care were well tended. Therefore it was evening before she made the long walk to the lowest circle of the city, and stood on the wall overlooking what had been the battlefield. She could see the lights of the encampment, and even the fire-highlighted features of the Rangers who moved about the camp, for they were close enough to the city itself to be revealed to her sharp young eyes. They were tall, fell warriors, dark as her husband had been dark, and many would have earlier found favor with her had she not set her mind elsewhere. She searched in vain for the Elven lords for some time, and was about to turn from the wall in defeat when two new figures walked into the circle of firelight.
What caught her eye first was the shorter of the two. She knew of the Halflings, one of whom had been brought wounded to the Houses of Healing. She had not been permitted to attend him, so she had yet to see one of the strange little folk. As she studied the form, however, she knew she would have to wait longer to satisfy her curiosity about Halflings, for they had been described to her as children. This stout figure with its long, heavy beard could never be mistaken for that of a child. He leaned on his double-headed axe as he looked up at his companion, who stepped closer to the fire, cocking his head to catch words she could not hear. The firelight gilded his hair to a burnished red-gold, and the smile that chased across his face at his companion's words was not the polite one of the Elf lords nor the practiced charmed one of the wounded Rider, but one of genuine caring and open friendship such as had been dearly lacking in Minas Tirith under the rule of the Steward Denethor. Although he in no other aspect resembled her husband, her husband was a Man who had spent enough time away from Minas Tirith to still have a sincere smile, and for a moment the expression on the Elf's face brought him strongly to mind.
So her gaze fell for the first time on the Elf Legolas, and her half-formed plans for one or the other of the Elven sons of Elrond went the way of her flirtation with the hapless Rider of Rohan. Once she saw him, only he would suit her purpose. Her thoughts became fixed upon getting him into her bed.
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