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Ioreth

Location(s):
Imloth Melui, Lossarnach
Minas Tirith

Race/Species: Man

Type/Kind: Dunadan of Gondor

Dates: end of the Third Age

Siblings:
at least two unnamed sisters

Description:

A Gondorian woman who works in the Houses of Healing during the Siege of Minas Tirith.
Then an old wife, Ioreth, the eldest of the women who served in that house, looking on the fair face of Faramir, wept.... And she said: 'Alas! if he should die. Would that there were kings in Gondor, as there were once upon a time, they say! For it is said in old lore: The hands of the king are the hands of a healer. And so the rightful king could ever be known.'

And Gandalf, who stood by, said: 'Men may long remember your words, Ioreth! For there is hope in them. Maybe a king has indeed returned to Gondor; or have you not heard the strange tidings that have come to the City?'

'I have been too busy with this and that to heed all the crying and shouting,' she answered. 'All I hope is that those murdering devils do not come to this House and trouble the sick.'

Then Gandalf went out in haste....

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

Then [Aragorn] called to Ioreth and he said: 'You have store in this House of the herbs of healing?'

'Yes, lord,' she answered; 'but not enough, I reckon, for all that will need them. But I am sure I do not know where we shall find more; for all things are amiss in these dreadful days, what with fires and burnings, and the lads that run errands so few, and all the roads blocked. Why, it is days out of count since ever a carrier came in from Lossarnach to the market! But we do our best in this House with what we have, as I am sure your lordship will know.'

'I will judge that when I see,' said Aragorn. 'One thing also is short, time for speech. Have you athelas?'

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

'It is also called kingsfoil,' said Aragorn; 'and maybe you know it by that name, for so the country-folk call it....'

'Oh that!' said Ioreth. 'Well, if your lordship had named it at first I could have told you. No, we have none of it, I am sure. Why, I have never heard that it had any great virtue; and indeed I have often said to my sisters when we came upon it growing in the woods: "kingsfoil" I said, "'tis a strange name, and I wonder why 'tis called so; for if I were a king, I would have plants more bright in my garden". Still it smells sweet when bruised, does it not? If sweet is the right word: wholesome, maybe, is nearer.'

'Wholesome verily,' said Aragorn. 'And now, dame, if you love the Lord Faramir, run as quick as your tongue and get me kingsfoil, if there is a leaf in the City.'

'And if not,' said Gandalf, 'I will ride to Lossarnach with Ioreth behind me, and she shall take me to the woods, but not to her sisters. And Shadowfax shall show her the meaning of haste.'

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

'Your lordship asked for kingsfoil...,' [the herb-master] said....

'[We] do not keep this thing in the Houses of Healing.... For it has no virtue that we know of.... 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...!
It is but a doggrel, I fear, garbled in the memory of old wives.'1

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

And then [Aragorn] cast the leaves into the bowls of steaming water..., and at once all hearts were lightened. For the fragrance... was like a memory of dewy mornings....

'Well now! Who would have believed it?' said Ioreth to a woman that stood beside her. 'The weed is better than I thought. It reminds me of the roses of Imloth Melui when I was a lass, and no king could ask for better.'

Suddenly Faramir stirred, and he opened his eyes, and he looked on Aragorn..., and he spoke softly.... 'What does the king command?'....

'Rest a while..., and be ready when I return.'

'I will, lord,' said Faramir. 'For who would lie idle when the king has returned?'....

... Pippin heard Ioreth exclaim:

'King! Did you hear that? What did I say? The hands of a healer, I said.' And soon the word had gone out from the House that the king was indeed come among them, and after war he brought healing....

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

'Nay, cousin! they are not boys,' said Ioreth to her kinswoman from Imloth Melui, who stood beside her. 'Those are Periain, out of the far country of the Halflings, where they are princes of great fame, it is said. I should know, for I had one to tend in the Houses. They are small, but they are valiant. Why, cousin, one of them went with only his esquire into the Black Country and fought with the Dark Lord all by himself, and set fire to his Tower, if you can believe it. At least that is the tale in the City. That will be the one that walks with our Elfstone. They are dear friends, I hear. Now he is a marvel, the Lord Elfstone: not too soft in his speech, mind you, but he has a golden heart, as the saying is; and he has the healing hands. "The hands of the king are the hands of a healer", I said; and that was how it was all discovered. And Mithrandir, he said to me: "Ioreth, men will long remember your words", and —'

But Ioreth was not permitted to continue the instruction of her kinswoman from the country, for a single trumpet rang, and a dead silence followed.

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


Commentary
Ioreth is sparely drawn as a rather wordy person, prone to talking about anything that comes to mind that is associated with the topic at hand. We know that she has family in Imloth Melui, Lossarnach, which family consists of some unnamed and unnumbered sisters and a cousin who is present for the coronation.

She is described as an old wife and the eldest of the women who served in the Houses of Healing. As such, she might have had authority over the rest of the women there, though what her professional rank is in comparison with that of either the herb-master or of the Warden, we do not know. She seems to have knowledge of what is and is not in supply, which may be a part of her duties, and she gives the impression of being one staunchly devoted to caring for the sick and injured despite the danger: "I have been too busy with this and that to heed all the crying and shouting".... "All I hope is that those murdering devils do not come to this House and trouble the sick". She, like many, appears to have held Faramir in affection, and it is she who suggests inadvertently the means of curing him.

Commentary by Dwimordene


Notes
1   Had Celeborn been part of 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:
Loquacious 04Apr03
Dwimordene 10Jun03
Elena Tiriel 14Mar08

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