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Herb-master of the Houses of Healing

Location(s): Minas Tirith

Race/Species: Man

Type/Kind: Dunadan of Gondor

Title(s):
Herb-master of the Houses of Healing

Dates: late Third Age

Description:

A lore-master and the chief herbalist of the Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith:
'Have you athelas?'

'I do not know..., lord,' [Ioreth] answered, 'at least not by that name. I will go and ask of the herb-master; he knows all the old names.'

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 8, The Houses of Healing

Thereupon the herb-master entered. 'Your lordship asked for kingsfoil, as the rustics name it,' he said; or athelas in the noble tongue, or to those who know somewhat of the Valinorean...'

'I do so,' said Aragorn, 'and I care not whether you say now asëa aranion or kingsfoil, so long as you have some.'

'Your pardon lord!' said the man. 'I see you are a lore-master, not merely a captain of war.1 But alas! sir, we do not keep this thing in the Houses of Healing, where only the gravely hurt or sick are tended. For it has no virtue that we know of, save perhaps to sweeten a fouled air, or to drive away some passing heaviness. Unless, of course, you give heed to rhymes of old days which women such as our good Ioreth still repeat without understanding.
When the black breath blows
and death's shadow grows
and all lights pass,
come athelas! come athelas!
Life to the dying
In the king's hand lying!
It is but a doggrel, I fear, garbled in the memory of old wives.2 Its meaning I leave to your judgement, if indeed it has any. But old folk still use an infusion of the herb for headaches.'

'Then in the name of the king, go and find some old man of less lore and more wisdom who keeps some in his house!' cried Gandalf.

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 8, The Houses of Healing

'Master Meriadoc,' said Aragorn,... 'If your pack has not been found, then you must send for the herb-master of this House. And he will tell you that he did not know that the herb you desire had any virtues, but that it is called westmansweed by the vulgar, and galenas by the noble, and other names in other tongues more learned, and after adding a few half-forgotten rhymes that he does not understand, he will regretfully inform you that there is none in the House, and he will leave you to reflect on the history of tongues.'

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 8, The Houses of Healing


Notes
1 The herb-master's uncomplimentary attitude towards military men seems to be shared by the Warden of the Houses of Healing:

'A great lord is [Aragorn], and a healer; and it is a thing passing strange to me that the healing hand should also wield the sword. It is not thus in Gondor now, though once it was so, if old tales be true. But for long years we healers have only sought to patch the rents made by the men of swords. Though we should still have enough to do without them: the world is full enough of hurts and mischances without wars to multiply them.'

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 6, Ch 5, The Steward and the King

2 Had Celeborn been party to this conversation, he might have repeated his pithy rebuke of Boromir:

'[Do] not despise the lore that has come down from distant years; for oft it may chance that old wives keep in memory word of things that once were needful for the wise to know.'

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 8, Farewell to Lórien

Contributors:
Elena Tiriel 14Mar08

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