2. The Healing
I hurried back to them as soon as I'd procured supplies. I'd loaded Mauwen's lad down with blankets, kettles, ewers and the solemn promise to return with a good bed and palliasse, even if he had to dismantle his own.
Mauwen trailed after me, determined not to miss aught, but since she'd found clean bandages, water, good herbs… I tolerated her wittering at my back..
The fire crackled almost merrily when we returned; the varnish on the chair-legs caught and flared blue, sending odd, flickering shadows across the floor. She had pulled down a curtain to make a temporary bed in front of the hearth. She must have dragged him there, for now she'd stripped off his oil-soaked shirt and trews, even his breeks. Oil and sweat sheened his body; the coughing had opened up the unstitched wounds. Dark bruises, livid wounds and bright blood puddle down his ribs and across his naked belly to lie clotted in the dark hairs that trailed up from his groin and down his thighs. I heard Mauwen gasp at the back of me; she all but dropped the pitcher in her arms.
The she-elf showed no such embarrassment to be found kneeling over a naked man.
"Give it to me" she commanded, holding out her hands for the pitcher of warm water, "we must clean him."
I grabbed clean towels from Mauwen's numb fingers and joined her at his side. Her touch was quick and sure; it was mine that trembled over his poor, wounded body. All the one side of him was scorched to livid redness; the worst, a patch all along his forearm was blistered and weeping. Across his thigh an axe wound, and another at the chest, left their distinctive long open wheals. The bloody edges were almost chewed in their rawness, where his mail had deflected the blow, but not stopped injury. In the leg muscle I could still see metal links forced into the wound and neglected by the men who stripped off his armour. A war-hammer had been deflected by the pauldron, but it left his shoulder darkest purple; aye, and doubtless had broken the collar-bone. The next worst was the arrow he'd taken in the rib. The mail and leathers had stopped much of it, but a dark, triangular hole showed where it had penetrated. The wound bled freely; not always a bad thing, it takes any poison out of the body. There were more cuts and scuffs of blows taken through armour, but none were life-threatening. We sopped him with water to wash the ash, blood and grime away as gently as possible, and I'll own to adding my own tears to the mix.
Mauwen made a shrewish mouth, protesting it wasn't seemly for such a young woman to tend a naked soldier. My 'young' madam retorted she'd tended more naked soldiers than Mauwen had eaten lamprey pies! At that Mauwen had the grace to blush; her waistline gives ample credence to her fondness for lamprey pie! Before I had to referee a fight, I banished Mauwen to find a healer to come and stitch his wounds. Lord Denethor can have allowed no proper treatment; his gashes were only bandaged in a temporary fashion. I set water to heat on the hearth, while the northern one swaddled him in the blankets. My lamb, moving him had at least roused him back to us a little, but all the while he shuddered and coughed, fit to turn his lungs inside out, and that caused more bleeding. Between us we raised him, leastways, she lifted him and she took her place at his back, legs stretched either side of him, supporting his body against her to ease his ragged breathing. She'd set aside, her buff-coat and quiver and knives; without them, she looked more like a slender maid in men's clothing, not a seasoned warrior, and a ranger to boot. As each wracking cough tore through him, it tore through her as well. I could do little but pat her hand as she rocked him in her despair.
With the water steaming I bought a bowl and held it before him so he'd inhale the vapour, but his lungs could scarce cope, so shallow did he breathe. His head drooped forward. It was difficult for her to hold up his body and cup his head back so he'd not scald himself.
"Have you knowledge of the King?"
"Find him – he will have come to the healer's rooms by now. Find athelas, and bring them both here"
So she knew the old tradition too. I was reluctant to leave, but if anything would help my bairn…
First - athelas, that was easy. My Lady's garden – some had scorned that she grew 'weeds', but she and I knew their uses. There would still be patches under the shelter of the far wall; its roots run tenacious and deep. For all my Lord Denethor had sought to clear the ground, many of the herbs live on. After she died he tried to destroy the garden, he himself took a sledge-hammer to the shell-walled grotto. Grief made him do it I suppose; he felt if he could ravage the very earth, if he could spend his anger freely… then, his anger was hot, he raged incoherently against circumstance.
Later, he grew cold, cold and hard as stone. He would have locked the garden and thrown away the key. I stopped him – the babes need a green space to run, I told him. Unless we ride down to the lower circles and back three, four times a day, how would they get it? I thought he would strike me down then and there, but the babes' faces turned his anger.
"Have it," he told me, "but never let them bring aught out of it. I will have no decorations of weeds in their rooms!"
He turned his back on it and never entered there again.
Young Boromir I had to persuade to venture in; he wanted his father's approval and would follow the Steward's lead. Little Faramir was too small to know any different, though I'd to cope with many tears the first few times he went there and could not find his mama. He asked for her often in those first days, then accepted that 'Mother's Garden' was the nearest he could come to her now. I kept the key to the walled garden. It grew wild and rough, but was a suitable place for boys to play. I showed Faramir the plants that had field uses and he delighted in watching the birds with me, and soon started to draw them. Boromir was more inclined to use them for target practise with knives and arrows, smuggled sharp weapons he wasn't allowed to use in the practise ring. But I can still see his tear-stained face the first time he killed a robin with a thrown knife – it brought home to him that death has no release. He was so contrite, poor love; we buried the little body before Faramir could see it and my big brave Boromir swore me to secrecy – it must have been just before his eleventh birthday.
I still had a key on my chatelaine. In the dusk I searched for the pale leaves. It was early for new growth, but I found some tucked in the warm fold of the stone wall. It's a plant hard to eradicate, a single piece will root again, unless it be pulled completely from the soil. In the healer's rooms I followed the murmur of rumour and gossip that trailed behind the tall, dark-haired man in the patched, shabby clothes. He was the one. I saw him at some distance, but I knew him as surely as this she-elf ranger knew my bairn. As he knelt beside an injured man, I touched his arm; he looked up. Those same grey eyes, so tired, but clear, his face begrimed by battle; he still had that look of old. I bowed my head and curtsied. Before he could speak; I blurted out.
"My Lord Faramir has need of you."
"Come Sir. We need haste."
He stood from the man's bed he knelt by, pausing to lay a hand on his forehead,
"Courage," he said before turning to me. He was about to speak
"We have great need of you, Sir."
His eyes widened a little, the question on his lips remaining unspoken, but I showed him the apron of fresh athelas I'd gathered. Instead, he nodded and smiled. "You come well prepared – Mistress."
"With need my Lord – please to come quickly my Faramir is near death."
His face took a serious turn and he pointed me to lead.
She knelt at the bed-side. The carpenters had done their job in my absence. She jumped up when she saw the Dunadan, greeting him in elvish, too soft for me to gather more than a few words, but 'need' and 'death' and 'athelas' I heard. He hastened to the bed. Faramir's face was slick with sweat, glistening in the fire-light; his skin was flushed unhealthily from the fire within, as his body shuddered, still wracked with coughing, though even that were much weaker now.
"Give me the herb! Bring boiling water and a bowl."
He commanded in a quiet voice which brooked no argument. I thrust some leaves into his hands; he chewed a wad before spitting into his palm. He bent over the bed, enfolding Faramir's lips under his own and blew into his mouth. In that first instance, the Dunadan drew back, touching his lips with trembling fingers; his eyes flared wide, I fancied perhaps he remembered another's lips he'd kissed … then he steeled himself and bent again to change breath with my bairn. He chewed fresh leaf and holding onto Faramir's shoulders, breathed again and again into his mouth, until the rasping breathing eased. Then he held his hand, stroking it and murmuring words too quiet for me to hear. The athelas in the kettle filled the room with uncommon sweetness, more than I've smelt from the herb in many years. I felt even my fears calmed. She didn't take her gaze from the Dunadan, just bit her lip; her eyes filled with slow tears, but even she relaxed in the end. I could see her shoulders loosen as the strain was released from her.
Faramir opened his eyes. He focussed on the Dunadan and gave a weak smile, not much, but enough to show he was back with us again. The Dunadan kissed his mouth properly this time, a kiss of grace, before he stood to leave us.
"I will return," he said, then he strode quickly away, but not before I'd seen his eyes were full with unshed tears. She got up, hesitating between needing to stay and wanting to follow him.
"Go Ranger, if you wish. I'm here"
She smiled then, the first I'd seen cross her face. She paused briefly at the door, reluctant to leave. I nodded, "We will be here – Loss, when you return."
She dipped her head gravely, before hurrying to catch him.
I tended my bairn. I took cloths and soaked them in the athelas water, stripping back the blankets so I could sponge his body. His flesh still burned within. I stripped off the damp breech-clout, the coughing takes away bodily control. I washed and dried him quickly; it's a task better done by an old woman, more seemly. My boy stirred a little at my touch, a flush to his face that wasn't fever. I stroked his cheek.
"It's only me, my bab. Sure haven't I done this often enough before?"
He gave the weakest smile. "But not since I grew hair down there…," he whispered.
"Tis nothing a married woman's not seen before." I arranged a fresh towel to cover him. "There sweeting… sleep now."
But I didn't need to tell him, he'd drifted away, but this time to wholesome sleep.
I was wrapping him in a fresh sheet as she returned. Immediately she came to take him from my arms – I let her. She needed the comfort of his body leaning against her more than I. Between us we swaddled the quilt around him. I fetched fresh water and threw in more athelas. The herb was not as sweet as formerly, but the air was freshened by it. We bundled him onto his uninjured side, if you can call it that, and placed the bowl near his face. He still coughed, but the dreadful rawness seemed lessened now the Dunadan had shared breath with him.
"Sleep," she told me, "I will watch him. Nay…" She cut short my protest, "I will wake you if there's need."
I sat in the armchair by the fire and realised how tired I was. There was only the soiled blanket he'd been brought here with, but I took it anyway. The smell of smoke was strong on it, but so was his scent and that was a comfort to me as I fell asleep.
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.