HASA Resources

Timeline Event

Aragorn enters the Houses of Healing and calls for athelas

Event Type: General

Age: 3rd Age - Ring War

Date: March 15, 3019

Description:

An event in the aftermath of the Siege of Minas Tirith; see that entry for an overview:
Then Aragorn entered first and the others followed. And there at the door were two guards in the livery of the Citadel: one tall, but the other scarce the height of a boy....

'Strider! How splendid!... I guessed it was you in the black ships. But they were all shouting corsairs and wouldn't listen.... How did you do it?'

Aragorn laughed.... 'Well met indeed!' he said. 'But there is not time yet for travellers' tales.'

But Imrahil said to Éomer: 'Is it thus that we speak to our kings? Yet maybe he will wear his crown in some other name!'

And Aragorn... turned and said: 'Verily, for in the high tongue of old I am Elessar, the Elfstone, and Envinyatar, the Renewer': and he lifted from his breast the green stone that lay there. 'But Strider shall be the name of my house, if that be ever established. In the high tongue it will not sound so ill, and Telcontar I will be and all the heirs of my body.'

And with that they passed into the House; and as they went towards the rooms where the sick were tended Gandalf told of the deeds of Éowyn and Meriadoc. 'For,' he said,... 'they spoke much in their dreaming, before they sank into the deadly darkness....'

Aragorn went first to Faramir, and then to the Lady Éowyn, and last to Merry. When he had looked on the faces of the sick... he sighed. 'Here I must put forth all such power and skill as is given to me,' he said. 'Would that Elrond were here, for he is the eldest of all our race,1 and has the greater power.'

And Éomer seeing that he was sorrowful and weary said: 'First you must rest, surely, and at the least eat a little?'

But Aragorn answered: 'Nay, for these three, and most soon for Faramir, time is running out....'

Then he 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 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....'

'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.... 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

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. 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


Notes
1   Aragorn appears to be referring to the line of Lúthien, which is associated with great healing powers, thus Ioreth's proverb The hands of the king are the hands of a healer:

'There live still those of whom Lúthien was the foremother, and it is said that her line shall never fail. Elrond of Rivendell is of that Kin. For of Beren and Lúthien was born Dior Thingol's heir; and of him Elwing the White whom Eärendil wedded.... And of Eärendil came the Kings of Númenor....'

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 1, Ch 11, A Knife in the Dark

['Magic'] in this story... is not to be come by by 'lore' or spells; but is... an inherent power not possessed or attainable by Men as such. Aragorn's 'healing' might be regarded as 'magical', or at least a blend of magic with pharmacy and 'hypnotic' processes. But it is (in theory) reported by hobbits who have very little notions of philosophy and science; while A. is not a pure 'Man', but at long remove one of the 'children of Lúthien'.

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Edited by Humphrey Carpenter, Letter 155 to Naomi Mitchison (draft), 25 September 1954

2   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:
Elena Tiriel 14Mar08

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