34. The Houses of Healing
The lower levels of the City were still shrouded in a smouldering reek as Aragorn drew near the gates. Théodred would have rushed after his cousin, but Aragorn put out a hand to restrain him.
"We still have much to say. Stay…?" It was a request, not a command.
Théodred hesitated for a moment, but '…what could he do that her brother could not?' He nodded. Aragorn smiled briefly, then looked around.
"Prince Imrahil, I will not enter the City until I am invited by the Steward. It will cause too much unrest for rumours to be rife at this time. I shall pitch my tents here, outside the walls."
Théodred frowned. "You've already raised the banner of the King… Will you have your right challenged?"
"No, but the time's not ripe. I only want to battle the Enemy and his servants, not Lord Denethor as well.
Prince Imrahil nodded. "Denethor's temper can be uncertain, and with his city besieged and partially ruined, his sons vanished, or at the least, mortally injured, a calm head will be best for the first approach. I'll speak to him - but you shouldn't just stay here like a beggar at the gates."
"Not a beggar – say a captain of the Rangers, unused to cities and houses of stone. Anyway, I have to speak with Lo…" Aragorn smiled, "With King Théodred…"
Théodred interrupted with a wave of the hand, "No, don't call me that yet – the title is still too new for me to grasp."
Aragorn gave a soft laugh, "This is true, for all I have looked to this moment, it does indeed feel strange. Furl the banner for me, Halba..."Aragorn bit his lip, for a brief moment he had forgotten, it was not Halbarad who held the great black banner now; he had forgotten that yet another dear friend and companion would not be at his side anymore. Elladan nodded in understanding, he took the banner-pole and slowly began to wind the cloth to rest. Silently Aragorn took off the Star of the North Kingdom and handed it to Elrohir.
"Keep these safe for me."
Prince Imrahil reached and touched Aragorn's shoulder lightly. "I shall leave you then. Elphir and I wish to see how Erchirion fares; doubtless he won't be that far from your fair cousin – he seemed quite smitten…" Imrahil smiled wanly, "Love and war often go hand in glove."
He urged his horse away, his eldest son at his side, leaving Aragorn and Théodred to dismount stiffly.
The jetsam of battle was already being cleared. Tents were being set up; men from the City brought carts out to collect the injured and move the dead. Some cut-purses were already wandering among the corpses, black crows, slitting throats with the pretence of helping the living, while they helped themselves to whatever they found of value. The
Rohirs caught one looting a fallen horse-man and their justice was summary. The thief's throat was cut and his body propped up by spears thrust through his sleeves and down his coat and into the ground. His hands had been cut off and hung around his neck as a warning to others. After that, the light-fingered slunk off and confined themselves to the bodies of Southrons. Only the very bravest dared rifle the body of an orc for ornaments of gold or silver… and there were few of them.
Aragorn sent to find what wardens and sergeants of the guard he could, and had them organise the Gondorians who were fetching the bodies. He also ordered, in an undertone, that after the sun was well set, they were to take down the thief's body and dispose of it quietly. The few hours it would be seen would be enough to warn the dregs of the city, and placate the anger of the Rohirrim. The wardens nodded in grim agreement; they did not know who this dark stranger was, but the deference paid to him by the Men of the Mark and by the dour Rangers was enough to commend him to them as Captain.
Shortly the first make-shift tents were up and field-services arranged to distribute water, ale and bread to the soldiers. Water was set to heat to clean wounds and make tea; from a soldier's view they were of equal necessity. The Dunedain had seen their Captain's tent equipped with benches, table and a mattress first, retrieved from the ruins of a nearby farmstead, and then set up their own accommodations, surrounding and guarding his. Finally Aragorn and Théodred were able to take a little ease in private, the two kings sitting across the table and looking at each other for a moment, neither speaking. A ranger scratched the fabric of the tent before entering with a small candle-lamp and a motley collection of pots and mugs that held hot tea, water, ale and a half-burnt loaf.
"We brought what we could find, lord. There'll be hot food later."
"Thank you, Elurin. Have the others found food and drink?"
Outside, a cheerful roar went up. Elurin grinned.
"Aye, sir, we have – and the Riders have 'commandeered' some barrels from a burnt-out inn above the gates. Seems the cellars weren't touched!"
Théodred and Aragorn looked at each other… and burst out laughing; a good sound in such a time. Théo turned to the departing ranger.
"Tell them to save a mug for me!"
The northman grinned in acknowledgement and lowered the tent-flap behind him.
Aragorn selected a mug of tea and offered one to Theo, who accepted it with a brief nod. They sipped the scalding liquid in silence for a few moments, satisfied to ease tired muscles and rest themselves. The Rohir was aware that the miruvor's effect was beginning to wear off; he began to feel the bruises that would surely patch his body with purple by the morning, but as far as he could tell he had no cuts deep enough to speak of, none that needed a leeches' stitches anyway. But his senses were still heightened; at least, he could see the ranger's face quite clearly even in the dim flickering light. He could smell him too – leather, sweat, the quenched iron of blood… but also something behind that, something elusive… a 'greenness'… as hard to describe as the smell of freshly scythed grass after summer-rain… A couple of deeper sniffs revealed his own smell: musky souring sweat, horse and leather and…
"Struck flint…" said Aragorn, "and meadow hay, all of you do, but there's a touch of almonds about you as well."
Théodred's jaw dropped '…how had he known that – and what he'd been thinking?'
Aragorn teased a piece of the less burnt crust from the bread.
"I've lived much of my life with elves, and there is still a remnant of elvish blood in my veins – enough to read men well enough to guess their thoughts, and to recognise body scents. I'm not as good at it as the elves are… but then they have a greater difference between theirs than we do. Their smell is part of their identity." He shrugged; it was a simple enough fact - all elves could recognise each other blindfolded, as well as places and buildings, just by smell.
Theo took this in with more sips of tea '…yes, he hadn't really noticed at first, but after he'd left and Lord Celeborn had kissed him… yes, he'd recognised the differences between each of the four elves… '…but only three now', he thought with genuine regret.
"I have only been among them for a brief while… but, it is strange… they are like us yet unlike. At first I thought them heartless, cold as the distant stars… but I have seen them love and seen them grieve… in that they are as we are. In other things…" Théodred shook his head, "Yes, they are a marvel and to learn their senses are far greater than ours… I shouldn't think of it as surprising."
They sipped there tea in companionable silence again, grateful for the respite. Finally Theo spoke:
"I should go and see to my cousins – and my men."
The dull hubbub of voices rose in volume as a song started, an old song of victory that would soon have new verses added to it.
Aragorn sighed. "I dare say Mithrandir will be here to see me shortly, but I wanted us to have a chance to speak privately – mayhap there will be little enough time later. I only ask a few moments… please… tell me what happened to Boromir."
Théodred took a breath, propped his elbows on the table and clasped his hands in front of his chin. "It was hard…" he began. "Boromir worsened rapidly after we parted from you…"
With as much directness as he could muster, Théo told the facts of what they had done, their rescue by Haldir, Lord Celeborn saving Boromir, his own injury and recovery in Fangorn ; that he had parted from the man reluctantly, but with the sure knowledge that this was a choice he had to make, and that he had made the right choice to leave him.
"He is still alive," Théo said, "I know it. I sense him sometimes, here and here." He touched his brow and breast. "I know he's still with me."
Aragorn looked down at his own hands resting on the table. "He was always with you," he said quietly. "Yes, we found some comfort with each other, but… his heart was always yours."
Théodred looked away. This wasn't a confession he wanted to hear, but… the man was honourable enough not to conceal what he knew Théo suspected… and in the past he too had taken comfort where he could… he could not condemn Boromir for doing the same. Théodred nodded…
"Onions make him fart like a milch cow," he said, surprising himself with the seemingly inappropriate remark.
Aragorn nodded vigorously, "Yes. They do… and camp-greens…"
And all at once they were both roaring with laughter, even if it was harshly enough for Elurin to scratch discreetly at the tent-flap and poke his head through to enquire if they needed anything. Aragorn composed himself enough to smile reassuringly:
"More tea would be welcome." Elurin departed.
Théodred gradually sobered. "What will happen to him?"
"Boromir?" Aragorn shook his head, he sighed deeply, considering his reply. "I don't know. Lord Celeborn used an old power, a summoning only the most powerful elf-lords can attempt. The fact that Boromir was not dead… makes it a different matter. I have only heard of the like being attempted twice before, one worked, one… brought back a different fea…"
Theo looked up sharply.
"But they were elves who had passed, not living men. Boromir was held with love and respect, he will not be harmed… but… he may be changed. The truth of the answer is, I don't know!"
The silence lingered between them again, only the sound of the carousing Rohirrim, mixed with a song from the Rangers now, drifted into the tent.
Aragorn sighed again, speaking aloud, as much to himself as to Théodred. "I lost a good friend of my youth today, Halbarad. We shared many journeys together… many miles, and many nights under the stars… I will miss him."
The Rohir watched the ranger's face, softened now in memory; he saw how his hands gripped the thick pottery mug more tightly, and in pure impulse he reached across and placed his hand over Aragorn's whitened knuckles. Aragorn smiled wanly.
"No, don't feel sorry for me. Halbarad loved me, and I could only love him as a boon-companion in return. Yet I believe there's someone in this city I shall have to tell of his death, and that will be hard. They were hand-fasted once, many years ago." He snorted with soft laughter. "She always said it was only because that was the nearest either of them could get to me, by hand-fasting each other… she was right. My heart has always been given to my fair Undómiel… but had things been different, had these been other times, I might have found a life as nothing more than a Captain of the Rangers, with a northern wife to berate me and a bloodline to keep…" He broke of with a shake of his head. "At least I won't have to tell her that Boromir is dead."
"Who would that be?" Theo was puzzled.
Aragorn eyed him with a quick smile that crinkled his eyes, "A good friend of his," was all he said.
Just then Gandalf swept aside the tent-flap.
"Good, you've found some ale!" He downed a small mug, slammed the pot back down on the table and addressed the new King of Gondor. "Come lad, we have work to do!"
Aragorn stood and gathered his grey cloak, Théodred standing up with him.
"We should both go and see your cousin, there will be others too, I dare say..."
"Yes, there are." Gandalf spoke from the opening of the tent, "We are both needed this night, but you even more than I. And I have grave news to discuss with you – Denethor is dead."
"Grievously – by his own hand…"
"He died believing Boromir was lost to him," murmured Aragorn.
Gandalf nodded, "And I dare say that added to his madness…"
"Then I should have gone straight to tell him he still lives!" gasped Théodred.
"No…" Gandalf paused to smile kindly, "Denethor died while the battle still raged. No one could have altered his mind – save perhaps Boromir himself. You could have done nothing, Théodred King; do not grieve on that score."
"We must go now – but we will talk more when we can?" Aragorn offered his open palm to Théo, who grasped it fore-arm to fore-arm, hand to shoulder.
"Yes. When we can." Théo agreed.
Aragorn turned to Gandalf as they walked ahead. "Is she here?"
"She is the Amah, she's always here! She is with Faramir, and he is in sore need of you – an evil dart, the Black Breath, and a great weariness have almost taken him. He hangs on by a thread - and she's not ready to let him go."
"Have you… spoken of me?" Of a sudden, the new king seemed almost sheepish.
"Aragorn son of Arathorn, you think me a complete fool? I've come through battles enough without choosing that one with a temper on her…" But his eyes were laughing as he spoke. "She will be as surprised as you were to hear she was here now…"
Théodred, walking behind, heard all, and was curious as to who might possibly be mad enough to risk tangling with a wizard… Then it came to him… 'The Amah! Of course! But…'
Those tales that as youngsters he and Boromir had thought impossibly wild began to make more sense… 'It must be her! Amah, the brothers' childhood guardian - she of the mysterious past, survivor of many run-ins with Denethor, suffered to stay only because his solemn promises to his late wife kept him from having her tossed off the ship-wall… according to Boromir!' He had told him that in later years, she'd brought back valuable intelligence from the South, passing it on to Boromir in his inconspicuous visits to the house of an old family retainer. The revelation was what she was, or might have been, to Aragorn. It was then it occurred to him to wonder exactly how old Amah actually was, and what more of her story Boromir had not ever heard… And by that time they were approaching the damaged lanes of the City and his thoughts turned to his cousins and the other injured in the Houses of Healing. It took some while to negotiate the damaged streets strewn with masonry… and worse, before they came to the upper levels.
In the shadows outside the door of the Houses they found Prince Imrahil.
"Mithrandir! There is much bitter hurt here – we should send for Lord Aragorn…"
Aragorn pushed back his hood and stepped forward, the light spilling out from the hall beyond glinting off the green stone he wore on his breast, "I'm here," he said simply, "but here as the Captain of the Dúnedain of Arnor. The Lord of Dol Amroth shall rule the City until Faramir wakes – and each of us should let ourselves be ruled by Gandalf throughout the coming days and our dealings with the Enemy."
Théodred King and Prince Imrahil nodded agreement.
"Come then," said Gandalf, "for we have much to do here tonight."
In the Houses of Healing the injured were everywhere, crowded into rooms, laid on makeshift beds in the passageways. There seemed no end to them, men, women, even children… some already bandaged and tended to, some newly arrived with only fiends or relations at their side to try and soothe them. The air reeked with sulphur lamps. Braziers for heating water were fuelled with rue and dried lavender as well as charcoal in an effort to cover the soiled smells of the wounded and the dying. Healers bustled between the injured, while from many rooms came groans and whimpers. From the surgeons' chambers, muffled screams made the waiting men shudder.
The herb-masters did all they could, but they had to ration their stores of poppy and only the most grave cases were treated to the fullness of sweet oblivion; most were given sufficient to dull the pain rather than obviate it. Some soldiers had broken into abandoned wine-cellars; they found their own way to seek respite for themselves and their fellows in good brandy and strong wines. One man of Rohan as they passed gazed blearily up in recognition of his Marshall.
"M' Lord," he slurred, "did we win?"
His comrade hushed him, but Théodred paused to speak to the fallen man.
"Aye, we won."
"Good – drink on it." The wounded man waved a half empty bottle of brandy at his king, before he started coughing, which made him groan and hiss in pain. Théodred crouched at his side and took the proffered bottle. The rider's leg was soaked in blood; from thigh to knee his leathers and trews were racked by a great gash from the blow of a battle-axe and his still booted foot turned at an odd angle. Théo lifted the bottle to his lips, his thumb inside the lip, so although he appeared to drink deeply, barely a sip passed into his mouth. He could see the man's leg was broken; unset for much longer and he'd be lucky to sit a horse again. Aragorn crouched at his side; he produced a knife and slit the man's trews, peeling back the sodden cloth as gently as he could. The ranger met Theo's eyes, and he handed the bottle to Aragorn, who took a deep swig before nodding to him.
Théodred gripped the man's shoulders and spoke quietly to his friend, "Hold him fast!"
Aragorn lent forward and sprayed the brandy from his mouth into the length of the bloody wound. The man screamed. The ranger swiftly turned the knee inward, feeling the broken thigh bone crunch together.
"Bandages!" he shouted. A passing woman of the House thrust the wad she was carrying into his hand. "Put your hand here and press!" he ordered. She obeyed.
The rohir's screams were cut short as he lost consciousness. The only splint at hand was the man's own sword in its scabbard, so Aragorn swiftly strapped that to the outside of his leg. He rubbed his hands together hard, as if to warm them, then placed his palms over the break, closing his eyes, his brow furrowed in concentration. After a short while he relaxed and turned.
"Find a spear-shaft when you can and they will substitute it for the blade, until the healers can stitch the wound and do a better job of bandaging." Aragorn said to the man's friend.
He rose, his hands bloody. The woman silently proffered the hem of her long apron, still tied at her waist. Aragorn hesitated, then nodded at her consideration and wiped his hands clean. On an impulse, she lifted the edge of the hem and wiped his brow with it. Aragorn smiled at the motherly gesture.
"Look after him," he murmured to her before he walked away.
Years later, the daughters of a man with a limp would wonder why one of their mother's most cherished possessions, protected in folds of white silk, was an old apron soiled with faded blood-stains.
"Thank you," said Théodred simply. Aragorn dipped his head in silence, hand to breast.
Gandalf led them on down the maze of corridors to where two guards stood outside a solid door, one tall, one the height of a boy. At the sight of Aragorn, the smaller guard cried out, "Strider! You know I guessed it was you in the black ships. But they were all shouting corsairs and wouldn't listen to me. How did you do it?"
Aragorn laughed and took the hobbit by the hand. "Well met, indeed!" he said. "But the 'hows' must wait for later."
Prince Imrahil was amused. "Is that how we speak to our kings? But mayhaps he'll wear his crown in another name!"
Aragorn grinned and said: "In the high tongue I'm Elessar, the Elfstone, and Envinyatar, the Renewer." He touched the green stone. "But Strider shall be the name of my house, if it should be established. It will sound better in the high tongue – Telcontar I will be and my heirs that follow me."
Inside the room, only one of the two beds were occupied; the Lady Éowyn lay so pale and still, her chest barely rising. On either side of her bed two men sat glowering at each other, Éomer, and Imrahil's son, Erchirion. The swan-knight's shoulder was now expertly immobilized in fresh bandages, though his face was very pale and his eyes dilated from the poppy medicine. His father, Prince Imrahil, stood behind him. Éomer had dumped his cuirass and helm in the corner, but his clothing, liberally stained with blood, reeked of smoke. Neither young man was about to leave side of the stricken shield-maiden unless forced to.
Aragorn went to her, touching her forehead, before he ran his long, expert fingers over her ice cold arm and hand; the frown on his face deepening. She lay motionless, barely breathing, lapsing deeper and deeper into what might soon become her final sleep.
"Have you athelas?" He looked up sharply; one of the nursing women, Ioreth, made an automatic curtsey.
"I do not know, lord," she answered, "at least not by that name. I can ask the herb-master if he knows of it."
"Yes, or ask for kingsfoil, 'tis what country-folk call it…"
"Oh, that! If you'd said so I'd have known it! No, I don't think so; it has no use as far as I know, except for freshening a room, perhaps… It smells sweetly when it's bruised, does it not?"
"Yes, that's right – and I need some now! Go and ask for it – or find someone to fetch some. And be quick!"
Ioreth scurried away; Aragorn turned wearily to Gandalf. "And Faramir?"
"He is near, and gravely ill, needing your help urgently. While the maid and the halfling sink under the Black Breath's coldness, a fire rages through his body even harsher than the fire that burnt his skin… They are both with him…"
Aragorn looked questioningly at Gandalf, who shrugged, "Where love stands, reason falls – the amah will not leave her charge or suffer anyone else to care for him, and you know how stubborn the other one is, she will not leave her love."
Aragorn nodded; he turned to Théodred. "I must see Faramir first, then I shall come straight back." He clasped the rohir's shoulder. "She is strong, she fights hard… speak to her softly. Even though far off she still may hear you and take some comfort until I can call her back."
He turned and strode quickly through the doorway; Gandalf had already hurried away on a mission of his own. A tall, strong-faced woman in soft boots and a long-skirted coat of fine leather came hurrying by, an incongruous apron tied at her waist, now held gathered up in front of her. She pulled up short when she saw Aragorn lingering briefly at a sick man's bed in the corridor outside the door; she reached to touch his arm. He turned, and the two stared at each other for a long moment of utter silence. Then she ducked her head and curtsied, speaking without looking up.
"My Lord Faramir has need of you." she said.
"Come, Sir. We need haste."
She showed him the contents of her apron, green leaves freshly pulled.
"You come well prepared, Mistress," he said with that grave half-smile, and pointed for her to lead the way.
In the silence in the room, they heard a heavy door at the far end of the corridor squeak open and thud closed. Théodred went to the open door, there was no sign of Amah or Aragorn; he closed the door and looked around him. Erchirion swayed slightly in his chair; his father went to his side immediately.
"Come, my boy, lay down here before you fall."
He tried to get Erchirion to the neighbouring vacant bed, but he resisted. Théo went to Prince Imrahil's aid.
"My cousin would not want to see you injured for her sake… Lay down awhile; you can still look out for her."
The poppy medicine had made the young knight's eyes droop; the two half-lifted him onto the bed against his mumbled protests before they settled him on his side so he could see Éowyn. Lying so pale and still, and breathing so shallowly, it was difficult to believe she still lived. Erchirion stretched out his arm.
"Let me touch her hand, Father – we may yet call to her in her dreams."
Prince Imrahil considered for a moment.
"Help me push the beds a little closer," he said the Théo. "Our elvish line runs strongly in my second son; he may be able to offer some small aid to her…"
They eased the bed over a little so Erchirion could take Éowyn's cold hand, laying atop the coverlet in his. On the other side of her bed, a very suspicious Éomer frowned, and took up her other hand, as if to keep his sister from being taken from him. Théodred moved to where his cousin sat, leaned forward, and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "They only wish to help."
"I can guess just what he wishes!" Éomer growled softly, as Théo dragged a stool up to sit beside him.
"Hush, cousin. The princes of Dol Amroth have ways that we're not privy to…"
He squeezed Éomer's arm to cut off the retort he saw form on the younger man's lips. Éomer looked surly but held his peace, clinging on to his sister's hand below the bandages that supported her broken arm. He ducked his head and bent to brush his lips across her hand, the sword-practise calluses on her knuckles rough against his mouth.
He shook his head, "I kept telling her to wear thicker gloves," he mumbled.
Theo put an arm across his shoulders comfortingly. "She is a Shield-maid of the Mark, she won't slip away easily." he murmured.
Across her bed, Prince Imrahil clasped his son's hand in both of his own. "I am with you," he said softly to his son. Both lords closed their eyes.
Gradually, very gradually, Erchirion's breathing slowed to match Éowyn's, breath for shallow breath.
Prince Imrahil frowned. "Not so far…" he whispered, clasping his son's hand the tighter.
Erchirion exhaled a long breath, and in it he whispered Éowyn's name. It was as if they heard him calling her from a great distance. His lips moved again and again, but there was no sound. Aragorn returned; in his hands a bunch of green leaves and a small kettle of steaming water. He came to stand beside Éomer.
"Alas, she fought against a foe beyond the strength of her mind and body. Sad lady; when I first saw her she was a white lily, standing straight and tall on the steps of Meduseld, yet even then you could see her that delicate form might have been wrought from elven steel, her eyes frosted by sorrows held back…"
"There were no such sorrows until she met you!" Éomer blurted out. "She worried for the king's bewitchment and dreaded what Wormtongue might urge him to do next, but those fears did not bring this about."
"No, her fears began long before," said Gandalf, who had slipped back among them unnoticed. "You had horses and deeds of arms, and the freedom to act as you saw fit. She had the constraints of her sex and although her courage and resolve matched yours, she could only wait on an old man she loved as a father and do nothing but watch him fail before her. Do you think Wormtongue had poison only for your father's ears? Who knows what she spoke to the darkness in the bitter hours of the night, when all her world seemed to be shrinking to a cage?"
Éomer was fell silent, and Aragorn touched his shoulder gently. Imrahil watched them from where he sat on the bed behind his son's still form.
"Truly, she loves you more than me. In you she sees what she knows and values, in me she loves a shadow, only a thought of great deeds and a hope for glory beyond her narrow confines. And what makes it worse for her, is that at heart she knows that to be true. I can do my best to call her back and heal her, but I cannot cure despair. For that there must be another healing that I cannot bring."
He lent over her and kissed her forehead, calling to her softly.
"Éowyn, Éomund's daughter, awake! Your enemy has passed away."
And both she and Erchirion took a deeper breath. Prince Imrahil shook his son's hand and placed his other hand on Erchirion's head. He bent to whisper in his son's ear, as if to carefully rouse him from sleep. Aragorn crushed some of the athelas leaves and tossed them into the steaming water. He dampened a cloth he'd brought with him in the herbal water and laved her forehead; then gently disengaged the young lord of Dol Amroth's fingers from hers so he could wash her arm with the brew. All about them was a clean freshness, as of pure mountain air after snow. There was no scent to it; more an absence of the stifling odours of the Houses, replaced by an invigorating sense of newness and healing, washing over them like a clean wind from the sea.
Erchirion opened his eyes and smiled. "I walked in bright sunlight on the long strand beyond the bay. There were white horses that galloped free, splashing through the shallows… the sun made them seem to wade through diamonds... then one turned and came towards my call…"
Imrahil patted his son's shoulder, "I know…" was all he said.
"Awake, Éowyn, Lady of Rohan!" said Aragorn again. He took her right hand and felt it warming as life returned; then he took Éomer's hand and placed her hand in his. "Call her!"
Gandalf beckoned to him, "We must see to Meriadoc now," he said, and the two quietly left the chamber.
"Éowyn, Éowyn!" cried Éomer, his tears flowing freely.
Slowly she opened her eyes: "Éomer – you're safe! And Théodred! They said you were dead… that the ghosts from the Wood had stolen you away… They said… but no – those were the dark voices from my dreams. I ran from them and then… there was nothing but blue and light and I knew I could run free forever if I wanted… but… someone called me to stay… How long have I been dreaming?"
"Not long, little sister," said Éomer, "But don't try to think about it now."
"I am strangely tired," she said. "Perhaps I will rest a while. But what of Théoden King? I know he is dead… he foresaw it."
Théodred bowed his head, "He is dead, but before he died he told me to say goodbye to you for him; he loved you as his daughter…" He lifted his chin, "Now he lies in state, here in the Citadel."
She nodded, "That is good. I have so worried that the honour of the House of Eorl was sunk lower than any shepherd's brood… And what of the king's esquire, the Halfling? Théodred, you must make him a knight of the Riddermark, he was valiant!" Then she paused for a moment in confusion, "You are king aren't you, Théodred? I know Éomer was declared heir when Wormtongue told father-king you'd been seized by the dwimmers from the wood, but…"
Théodred smiled, "Not ghosts, Little Plum," The Shieldmaid of Rohan was even too tired to object to her despised baby-name, "They are Elves, to be sure, and some of their ways are strange, but they have honour; they fight with valour and such war-skill that few of our men could match… and yet they too know how to sing a companion away and mark his passing with sorrow…" Théodred's voice faltered as he remembered the elves' acute grief as they let their fellow go to the river-waters. "I went with them for a reason, and it was the right reason."
"For Boromir?" said Éomer.
Théo nodded, "Don't say I deserted my warriors or my king! I could have as easily died at the Fords as anywhere else in Rohan. That I didn't die is thanks to those 'spirits in the Wood' – you have them to thank, they healed me when I was sick nearly to dieing."
"You were…?" gasped Éowyn, struggling to sit up.
"It is past, and I'm all better now, Little Plum…" "Don't call me that!" snapped Éowyn, dropping back onto her pillow.
Her brother laughed, "See? She's getting better already!"
Éowyn turned away her head crossly, and looked straight into the eyes of Erchirion, lying on his pillow watching her.
"Oooh…!" Her mouth dropped open in surprise, until she realised and she shut her mouth. She turned back hastily, her cheeks blooming to pale rose. She cleared her throat and nudged her brother, flicking her eyes sideways to the strange man laying in the bed next-door '…who's that?!' her face said.
Théodred looked up, amused. Prince Imrahil helped his son to sit slowly upright; the young man bit his lip to cover the suppressed groan as his broken shoulder and ribs flexed with his movements. A sweat broke out on his forehead with the effort of not crying out loud. King Théodred made a formal bow.
"Sister-cousin - may I introduce to you Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth, and his son, Lord Erchirion, a swan-knight of Dol Amroth, lately injured in battle on the Pelennor. Prince Imrahil, Lord Erchirion… my sister-cousin, Lady Éowyn of Rohan."
Prince Imrahil bowed in return, Erchirion attempted but gasped in pain as his damaged ribs objected.
"Pray excuse yourself, Lord!" said Theo, "I'm sure a nod between warriors is enough to cover protocol."
Rohan's shieldmaiden glared at her cousin, before turning to smile at Prince Imrahil, but she could barely meet Erchirion's eye. His face fell in disappointment. His father keenly aware of his son's discomfort spoke first, "We should leave you to rest, my lady. Perhaps we may speak again later?"
Éowyn nodded curtly. Éomer stood to take their leave with barely concealed triumph, while Théodred's brow furrowed at this apparent rudeness.
"Sir," he said, "We will be glad to entertain you when my sister-cousin is more herself." Then he nudged his Third Marshal to bow in the proper manner expected of him.
After they had left the room, Prince Imrahil hovering to support his son, whose stiff-backed walk, told of iron-control as much as disappointment, Theo cuffed Éomer's arm.
"What was that for?"
"That," said Theo, "was for being rude to a Prince!"
"It wasn't Prince Imrahil I was being rude to…" Theo cuffed him again, shaking his head, "I could do with a stiff drink, but if nothing can be found, then some tea would do your sister good - why don't you try and find some?"
"A stiff drink?"
"Find a servant, - there must be kitchens here – and don't stay to warm a scullery-wench to your glory either! We're not at home now!"
Éomer grinned roguishly. "Don't I deserve one?"
"No!!" said Theo and Éowyn together. Éomer was still grinning as he reached the door.
"A brief while with your sister, and then I'll come to find you. We need to see to the men – your wenching can wait till later."
"A brief while will be enough for me," said Éomer, still grinning as he left.
Theo grinned and tossed his head with a snort. Some scullery maid was about to be charmed into tossing her petticoats over her head, before she'd even had time to boil the water! He turned to Éowyn, whose expression of wearily amused exasperation matched his own.
"How do you feel?"
Her face immediately sobered, and as memories returned her eyes became bleak. "I will be happier when I can fill some rider's empty saddle."
Theo sighed. "I hope it will not come to that Plum." Éowyn was too tired to remonstrate with her cousin; she could feel her eyelids drooping, but this time she welcomed sleep, knowing there would be no dark pit of evil dreams waiting for her. Her head nodded to one side before she forced herself awake again.
"No, don't fight it – sleep is what you need to heal you." She smiled, her eyelids slowly closing.
"Éowyn… who called to you in your dreams… the first time?" Theo asked softly.
"Lord…A'gorn…" was the mumbled reply. Theo leant forward till his head was on a level with her face on the pillow.
"Who really called to you…?"
"Tell me, sweeting," he whispered gently, "…It wasn't Lord Aragorn, was it, not to begin with?" She wearily shook her head.
"Was it the young lord of Dol Amroth?" Sleepily, she refused to answer; Théodred persisted. "Erchirion is a noble man, it's something he would try to do… was it him?"
She frowned and turned her face to the pillow. "I don't know…" she mumbled, "It might have been… doesn't matter…" She struggled to rouse herself, "It does not matter!"
Theo hushed her, stroking her from shoulder to wrist to soothe her until she drifted into welcome rest, "Sleep, little sister, let your dreams be sweet ones. Ride free."
Her eyes were closed now and her breathing deep and even. He watched her for a few moments, saw the tiny smile curve her lips and imagined her dream – riding down that long sunlit strand perhaps, splashing diamond-droplets from the shallow surf… apart from the fact… Éowyn had never seen the sea.
He rose and went to the door; as he opened it, the stench and murmur of the field hospital the Houses had become hit his nostrils and his ears. He closed the heavy door quickly behind him; let him do that small protection for her anyway.
They still had much to do – their enemy was not wholly defeated yet, and now their army was even more depleted. He straightened up, pushed away from the door, and then he stalked off to find his Third Marshal – even if that meant upsetting his amorous moment with the scullery-maid!
Authors Note: At some points in this chapter (and the previous one) I have tried to use phrases from the original text, or to paraphrase.
As I've written this I found I wanted to incorporate my other !verse into this parallel Middle-earth. Some of the stories of the Amah can be found archived on HASA in 'The Blue Book of Melleth', including her version of the Houses of Healing. Since they were written before this, in those stories Boromir is dead - at some point I may try to remove that discrepancy and knit the melleth!verse more tightly with this tale It may not be possible, but you should know that in my mind this is the same character and the stories are versions of the same stories.
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.