1. One of that Company
It had been a week now, since the King was crowned. Summer was waxing, rising in a blaze of heat that had even the dragonflies lying up quietly in their reeds, unwilling to stir unless forced to it by a farmer's lad mucking out the irrigation ditches. Hot though it was, there was still work aplenty to be done as folk struggled to rebuild their lives, in the fields and up through all the levels of the city.
"There now, good as new, my lad," Ioreth, in the Seventh Circle, says cheerfully, as she helps a young man take his first faltering steps upon legs wobbly as a newborn colt's. "And look who's come to take you home!" So she speaks, and delivers him into the glad arms of a weepy mother and father, and the lass who will, if that kiss means aught, be his wife one day.
All around the Houses, she sees such scenes repeated: one man, blinded in the siege, bursts into tears at the sound of his wife's voice, and she laughs for joy that he is still here to greet her; another hoists his little girl high, and it does not matter he's but the one arm now, so says the light in his eyes; another very nearly tears his stitches as he and his brother, cursing each other in voices that belie the foulness of the oaths, embrace enthusiastically.
Yes, change is in the air, she thinks, as one by one, her brave birds fly their coop, though not without a tearful, grateful farewell. Ioreth is so many times an honorary aunt or grandmother now, she need never regret her own childless nest, though she finds herself regretful nonetheless. 'Tis no uncommon sentiment among the healers of the Houses.
"I am glad for them," Mistress Lalwen tells her, as they together wave farewell to a terce of brothers. "But it is so empty here now."
Ioreth nods, and they press hands for comfort. For as beds empty, others also leave who had been bound to care for those men. Their boys had gone first, of course—some back to fathers fortunate enough to have survived the war, others to family recently returned to claim their orphans. Who'd have imagined the silence could weigh so heavy when they'd gone? But they were but the first to leave, and in the end, theirs was the easiest parting. Old companions drift on in life, and sometimes decide that healing's not for them, or that they've done their work and now 'tis time to leave it to others, or that they are called to practice elsewhere. Such is the way of things, and surely nothing that has never happened before, and every year at that.
But it is different this time, Ioreth finds, watching as Lalwen, having made up her beds and seen to her patients, does off her white smock to kiss a young man home from Lamedon—right there in the middle of the ward, to the raucous cheers of men whose lives she has helped save.
She'll one day soon come no more, Ioreth knows, and she not alone. Every one of "her" girls that had stayed to nurse men through the siege, every healer and leech, had said farewell to a loved one, and believed it the last parting they would ever make. No few among the younger healers and sister-acolytes had broken troths, blessed their beloveds, and sent them on their way, freeing them to make a new life for themselves in their absence. But such charity is hard to bear, wears one out, and many's the healer who's gone quiet with exhaustion lately. Physician, heal thyself gets but wan smiles with the tenth repetition.
And so it is a joy—a great, aching joy—to hear the cries of homecoming, and see her sisters and brothers of the Houses happily reclaimed. Yet healing hearts comes at a cost: the healers' common room grows smaller, grows strange and quiet. There is a certain turning inward, a hush, as men and women close in in little knots to speak. And even old rivals find themselves sitting close of a sudden, guarding seats that had belonged to "him" or "her", whoever it was that once had been accustomed to repose there, keeping them apart until just lately.
For it is not just that brothers and sisters have left, but there are new faces in their ranks. Young men and women, many of whom had not stayed the while, had not endured the dark days in Minas Tirith, come now to learn the healing crafts. "Green," the old bonesetter harrumphs. "Children," Lalwen says, and shakes her head. As for the Herbmaster, he is disconsolate: one of the "children" has rearranged his seed archives.
"It was a system!" he laments, to the knowing amusement of the staff who've had to learn that system over the years.
Yes, it will be a different company, and there's a part of Ioreth that's pained to think of it. Indeed, is pained so, that she wonders whether this is what women feel, when their labor is done and their wombs emptied of the child they had borne for nine long months. Perhaps it is, or perhaps it is more, even, than that. There's much talk in the city of that Fellowship of the Ring—of companions inseparable despite the distance that would separate them. That will separate them one day soon.
Ioreth always listens when she hears those songs, and she nods when they are done—firmly and with decision. Good songs, she judges, and as she gazes round the wardroom, at the quiet bustle of the Houses, she knows the truth of them. They all do, and there's a certain quiet pride among the healers of the Houses. For fellowship is not bent only round rings, is broader than blood ties: against the dreadful duty of their time that had set them here as healers, they—she and her sisters and brothers—had all made these Houses home, for themselves and all their wards. Who, then, but they can understand the bonds of such a company?
And so of course it's hard to see new faces, in the absence of old friends, and the consolation of bonds that cut 'cross space and time is as pale as it is inevitable. For time will one day take the sting from separation, and rubbing shoulders with the untried will no more rub one raw. In her heart of hearts, Ioreth knows that longing for what's past will fade, though she might wish it otherwise, at least for a little while.
"It's how the stories go, you know," she tells a tearful Lalwen, the day her sister of the Houses announces she shall leave to go to Pelargir with her new husband's family. "Mercy, but I should know! I've told enough of them to our poor broken lads, to pass the time and take their minds off matters. But you see, it's true, my dear—folk take up together for a time, for one reason or another, and then they've got to go on their own ways. We're all in the tale just a little while, and then piff! We're out of it and into another."
So she says, and wishes Lalwen well, as one by one, her remaining fellows come forth to embrace their new-winged sister and bid her good journey.
And Lalwen wrings their hands and smiles through her sniffling. "I won't forget," she tells them. "I'll never forget..."
She can't continue, but it doesn't matter, as Ioreth hugs her tight once more. "None of us shall," she whispers. "Good faring forth—farewell!"
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.