44. The Nature Of Healing
The Nature Of Healing
Meneldil slipped into the Perian's chamber again. It was the third time he had checked on Pippin since Lathron had sent him up to the Sixth Circle and away from the Middle Tents, early this morning. The healer-craftsman was more than grateful for the change. He had been the very last man to be reassigned; everyone else had been rotated to other tasks, for Master Túrin himself insisted that none should remain on such grim duty for more than three days, lest their hearts harden and become too numbed to give their charges proper care.
As his workshop space was still in use as a storehouse for herbs and powders, he was uncertain what skills he could offer to help those whose lives hung in the balance. But when his old friend Lady Ivreniril discovered him mopping floors, she insisted that he would be of much greater use as assistant dressing-changer, poultice-mixer, and brewer of teas. Again he found himself grateful—though this time, his assignment meant that he answered to the opinionated, gossipy, sharp-tongued matron, Ioreth. She was officially in charge of dressing changing, poultice-mixing and the brewing of teas, and since she had never liked him—in his opinion—she seemed to take particular pleasure in bossing him about relentlessly.
It was as good an excuse as any to escape for a few minutes and check on the lad. Not that he really needed an excuse. He was terribly worried about the Perian. Pippin had roused from his swoon and confirmed the tale that the others had guessed, though no one had realized until the Halfling reported it that he'd flung his own dagger at the Wraith—and where that dagger had originated. It explained what those few men who had witnessed the scene, from upon the walls, had said, of how the black-cloaked figure had suddenly faltered and cursed, then seemed to limp through the Gate before vanishing into the skies.
Meneldil had seen the lad briefly while he was still awake and told him how proud he was to be his friend, how brave he'd been. Pippin had flushed and muttered that he'd done nothing special. That was hours ago. The lad had since fallen into the dark sleep of those afflicted with the Black Breath. The wound on his hand was clean and not too deep. Ivreniril herself had stitched it, murmuring that the cut would heal easily, were it not for its source.
"He is but one of too many victims sickened by the Black Breath," she sighed as she stood up from the Halfling's cot and began repacking her supply of sutures and bandages. "And the tea no longer seems to have much effect…It is as if as the battle continues, the virulence of this terrible illness grows ever stronger." As she left the chamber she placed her hand on Meneldil's shoulder. "Visit him as much as you can, friend, and speak to him, even if he does not appear to respond. It is Master Túrin's opinion that those who hear the voices of friends and loved ones cling more closely to this life, and drift from us less swiftly."
His duties called him away. When Meneldil returned at midday, he was surprised to see that another cot had been placed in the Perian's room, and lying upon it was a second Halfling, a bit older and with darker curls, wearing a bloodstained green and gold tunic but with the same grey cloak Meneldil had seen Pippin wear—and the Lord Boromir—folded over a small knapsack. Pippin had spoken a few times about his dearest friend and cousin, Merry, off in Rohan, about whom he was so very worried. This must be his kinsman…
He watched them for a few minutes. Master Túrin must be right, he thought. For though the words they mumbled were unintelligible to Meneldil's ears, he observed that the Pheriannath seemed to respond to one another, as if they were conversing in the same shadowy dream. They even both laughed at the same moment, then seemed to sigh with sadness. Had they shared some joke, or amusing tale that had turned to woe? Meneldil shook his head with the wonder of it, and vowed to recall this detail for the master healers, who were much more learned than he. Perhaps they can make something of it…
Alas, as the day progressed, their mumbling whispers grew fainter, then stopped altogether. On this, his third visit, Meneldil heard nothing from his young friend and his kinsman than their ever slower breaths. The craftsman's heart was heavy at the thought that he might lose this very special young friend. Then he stiffened at a shrill voice in the hall.
"Where is that lazy laggard? I need ten wounded soldiers moved to clear space for fifteen more, and a strong back to do the lifting…"
Meneldil groaned. Ioreth… He leaned down and caressed Pippin's pale brow one last time, and left to lend his strong back to the task at hand.
* * *
A rather exhausted Master Túrin took time from his many urgent duties to sit at Lord Imrahil's bedside and give the recovering Prince the news from the battle that had filtered up to the Sixth Circle. After all, this man is second in line to rule in Gondor, if the worst comes to pass and Lord Boromir does not recover…
The Master Healer did his best to balance dread with hope, and he was glad that upon this day, the third full day of siege, at least some optimistic news could be discussed. The Riders of Rohan had arrived, and the reports from those who watched from the ramparts told of their successful routing of batallions of Orcs and Haradrim. The cavalries of the White City and the fiefdoms were sweeping in a victorious swath toward the Causeway Forts. Captain Faramir's officer, Mablung, had told of the felling of the Wraith-Lieutenant and his beast—and though all in Minas Tirith had felt a lightening of their spirits, the explanation for it was now clear. And by mid-afternoon the ancient symbols of royal Numenor had been displayed, and the City's dismay at sighting the invading Corsair fleet was turned upon its head.
But alas, the rest of his news was grim. One name after another: Denethor, Boromir, young Éomer of Rohan, his sister… And so many whose fate was yet unknown. Túrin halted in his woeful recitation, waiting to gauge the wounded Prince's strength to bear these burdens.
Imrahil frowned and stared at the square of bright blue skay framed by the window in his chamber. It had been dark for too many days, but now it seemed that the hopeful light mocked them. He had been clenching his hands into fists; he released them, and stared down at his palms, calloused with sword-drills, and put to use so briefly before he had been struck down. I am of no use lying here, when the fate of Gondor is in the balance…
"You take great care with your words, Master Túrin," the Prince said. "Yet I read in them what you no doubt think me too infirm to hear." He turned his piercing eyes onto the healer's. "My nephew, Boromir, was forced to administer the Mercy Stroke upon his father—do I guess rightly?"
Túrin sighed deeply. "It is true, my Lord…"
Imrahil shook his head sadly. "An act of supreme courage, and one of true devotion and love… And yet if I know my nephew, beneath the deadly dreams of the illness he suffers, he will be tormenting himself with feelings of guilt." He sighed. "I cannot imagine having to face such a decision, for one so close. If I had been forced to do thus to my own father, Adrahil…" He shuddered. "And the relationship 'tween my brother-in-law and his sons, though rooted in love, was always much more… complex… It would make such a decision all the more weighty and distressing…"
Suddenly the Prince swept aside the coverlet and swung his legs over the edge of his cot. He sat up and reached out his hand.
"Help me up, man," he said gruffly. "Take me to my nephew's side…"
"But my Lord, you were seriously wounded just two days ago…"
"…and am able to totter about, with help… Bori needs me, and the realm needs her Captain-General!"
Túrin rushed to support the Prince as he struggled to his feet. "Whatever will the Lady Gwaeleth say when she learns I have allowed her husband out of bed just two days after an arrow was withdrawn from between his ribs…"
Imrahil snorted. "Gwaeleth isn't here, and if she were, she would undoubtedly have shooed me out of bed and to Bori's side the moment she heard the tale." He leaned on Túrin's shoulder and grimaced as he swayed for a moment. Then he straightened, and drew in a deep breath. "Lead on, Master Túrin. Take me to the Steward of Gondor."
* * *
The shadows of evening fell early on the Houses, sheltered as they were beneath the great pier of stone and facing south and east. The lanterns were lit and the braziers ignited, for the clear night air already promised a chill. The steady flow of wounded from the fields increased even as the tidings of the final purging of every last living foe from the Pelennor reached the Sixth Circle.
Imrahil's chest was throbbing. He had been sitting at Boromir's bedside for nearly six hours, and he had to admit that his strength was ebbing. At first his nephew seemed to sense him nearby; the Prince was convinced that he had understood some of his utterances. The Captain-General called for his father and brother, and muttered the name of the Northerner he had described with such hope, again and again. Curiously, Imrahil heard Boromir say the name Mithrandir once or twice… and some other strange name he could not make out: 'Rodo,' perhaps? He could not be sure. But as the hours wore on, his nephew slipped deeper into unconsciousness; his flesh grew cold, and his breathing was shallow. The Master Healer and his chief assistant were doing their best, but nothing seemed to help. Imrahil's hope faded with the daylight.
Gwaeleth came and sat beside him, and his sons and daughter came also in turns through the day, when they were not keeping vigil at their brother's side in the Citadel. A tall man entered quietly, bearing a lantern, a tray of bread and sliced cheeses, and flagons of water and wine. Meneldil paused at the doorway for a moment, his eyes on the face of the stricken Captain-General. The Prince glanced at him, vaguely recalling the man's thin, high-browed face, from just those few evenings past when he and his knights had ridden proudly up the streets of Minas Tirith. He nodded, and the man bowed and left the couple alone with their dying kinsman.
"Perhaps you should go and rest, my love," Gwaeleth murmured softly as she placed her hand on the Prince's arm. "You've been at his side since noon…"
"In a little while. When Fari comes, perhaps…"
"And now Fari is here, Uncle…"
Imrahil turned, wincing as his movement pulled on his wound, but filled with relieved joy at the sight of his younger nephew in the doorway, begrimed and spattered with the filth of battle, but apparently unscathed. Faramir hurried to where his brother lay in a deep sleep and dropped to his knees between the bed and the chair on which his uncle sat. The Captain of Ithilien reached out with both arms at once, clutching Imrahil's outstretched hand and laying his palm on Boromir's cold face. After a long moment of silence, a hoarse gasp was wrenched from deep within his chest.
"No! I cannot bear to lose him too, and so soon…" He released his grip on his uncle and flung himself across his brother.
Imrahil looked up. Two others had entered the chamber: one tall, cloaked in grey, with a stern and noble face, dark hair and beard flecked with silver, a shining sword at his waist, and a green and silver brooch at his throat; and the other, his smooth face youthful yet old, his eyes deep blue, his tunic of the same shade as his eyes, and though wearing no emblem, token or gem, filled with a light that bespoke a different, more ancient sort of royalty.
The Prince's breath caught as he realized who the newcomers must be.
"Hail, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and friend and companion to my nephew, Boromir… And welcome also to you, sire… If my eyes deceive me not, you are of the Elder Race…"
Aragorn bowed his head and extended his open hand. "Prince Imrahil, well met, though in circumstances dire… We have met before, my Lord, though you may better recall me by another name…"
"Hmm… Of course, now I see it... Welcome back, Captain Thorongil…"
"This is my foster-brother, Elrohir Peredhel, son of Elrond, Lord of Imladris…"
"A son of Elrond…!" Túrin appeared behind them, Ivreniril at his side. "The leechcraft and wisdom of the Lord Elrond is legendary! I know you have just come from long and wearying hours of combat, but if you could but give us even a moment of advice… We have reached the limits of our knowledge…"
"Whatever you can teach us, sire, we would gladly learn," Ivreniril said earnestly. "For though Lord Boromir is the noblest of the victims of the malady we name the Black Breath, these Houses hold many others so afflicted…"
"We shall do more than teach, Lady," Aragorn said. "My foster-brother and I have come from the field of battle, weary, yes, but ready and willing to do our part and give what aid we can—for I was raised as foster-son to Lord Elrond, and was also his pupil in the arts of healing. Let us not waste another moment. Have you athelas in your herbstores, Lady?"
She smiled curiously. "Athelas? Why yes, we have a goodly store of it, newly culled and drying in preparation for the tea we make here… Are you saying that the herb does have some benefit in this terrible illness?"
"'Some' benefit?" Elrohir said as he turned fully to face her. "Indeed, good Lady, it is the only remedy that has any benefit… in the proper hands."
Ivreniril flushed at the Peredhel's piercing glance, but so pleased was she to hear this news that she looked back at him eagerly. Impulsively she reached out and grasped his hand as tears sparkled in her eyes. "I am so very glad to hear it, my Lord! Please, sire, teach me… teach us… Show us the way, and we shall follow in your footsteps as we are able…"
Elrohir met her fervent gaze with a small smile, and squeezing her hand, he bowed. "We shall begin immediately—once a supply of the herb in question is brought…"
"Oh, yes! Of course!" she cried, as she spun and flew from the room.
"Ioreth! Meneldil, come! I need you at once! Hope has come at last!"
The men could not suppress their grins at her enthusiastic voice calling in the hall; even Faramir looked up and smiled wanly. Then he released his grip on his brother and turned toward Aragorn, and his faint smile faded.
"The loremasters of my youth taught that of old it was said that the hands of Elendil's descendants were healing hands," he said as he gazed up at Aragorn. "Bori spoke of of your skill in helping him recover from an earlier wound—a mere Orc arrow, it is true, but undoubtedly serious…" The son of Denethor eyed the Heir of Isildur with a look of calculated appraisal, one that was strikingly like his father's. "Did my brother speak the truth, or did his growing friendship with you lead him to embellish the tale?"
Imrahil hid his smile behind his hand, and Lady Gwaeleth at his side appeared embarrassed at her nephew's blunt words. One of Elrohir's black brows rose, and Túrin cleared his throat nervously. But Aragorn gazed back steadily.
"You are wise to to query me thus, my Lord Faramir—for upon your capable shoulders much responsibility has fallen in too short a time, and a ruler must judge all such claims shrewdly." His face softened as he regarded the younger man. "I know not what tale your brother told you. But I do know this: I am the Heir of Isildur's only surviving son, Valandil, and through father to son in a long line unbroken, I am thus also the Heir of Elendil of Númenor. If with that bloodline comes the healing touch, then I am honored and blessed to have it. And I can think of no worthier recipient of whatever skills I have been granted than Boromir."
Faramir nodded slowly; then he rose to his feet and gestured to Aragorn to approach the bedside. "Then do your best to help him, sire, and I—and all Gondor—will be ever indebted to you… if it is possible for us to be more in your debt than we already are…"
Aragorn bowed his head, and turning to the Master Healer, he asked that fresh cool water and a pan of steaming hot water be brought, and clean cloths. Túrin left, and Aragorn came to the bed as Faramir stepped aside. He bent over Boromir, and moving the bedclothes aside, he examined the wound in his side.
"I understand the Morgul fragment was removed almost immediately?"
"Yes," Faramir replied. "By the Perian, Pippin, who also lies in this House."
Aragorn's eyes drifted to Elrohir's. "Gandalf's 'whim' has been proved prophetic—not once, but twice, this day," he said. "Had Frodo's young kinsmen not been part of the Fellowship, I dread to consider how much worse today's griefs would have been." A sad smile curved his lips. "Ada must learn of this; I suspect he may still feel a bit piqued at being overruled…"
Elrohir sniffed. "I sincerely hope that Ada has had no greater worries since we last saw him to distract him from that tiny prick to his pride." Then the Peredhel's voice dropped. "While we wait for supplies, might I have a word with you, brother?" He gestured toward the open doorway.
They stepped into the hallway for a moment. It was hardly a place for private conversation, for the Houses were filled to overflowing, and folk bustled to and fro. The brothers bent their heads together and spoke in subdued tones just outside the door.
"Estel, I understand your desire to help Boromir, and perhaps the Hobbits. But then you must rest, and leave the others to me."
"But there are far too many stricken with this malady for one…"
"…but you are yourself unwell, and I note that you have not allowed me to examine your wound since the evening before last…"
"…we have been a bit busy, toro-nin…"
"…that is beside the point…"
"Then what is your point, Elrohir?" Aragorn said irritably. "We have too much work to do, and no time for this discussion…"
The Peredhel flushed and gripped his brother's arm. "Fangorn's draught is nearly gone," he whispered urgently. "We have, at most, four days' supply left, if you take but a single swallow each day—and after today's exertions, you should by all rights take twice that. You need your strength, Estel, for what lies ahead. What will it avail you to save these victims of the Black Breath, if you drive yourself beyond exhaustion?"
"He's right, you know."
Halbarad, his left arm bound in white cloth, appeared at Aragorn's side, and behind him stood Legolas and Gimli.
"Listen to your elders, youngster," the Dwarf growled.
"Indeed, Aragorn," Legolas said. "This was but one battle; the war is not yet won…"
Aragorn looked from one face to another, his eyes on fire and his jaw clenched. "Do none of you understand?" he whispered hoarsely. "Whether I am strong or weak matters not, for there is no war to win! No force of arms can overcome this Enemy. Sauron has not yet unleashed one quarter of his armies! We have but one hope: to continue what Gandalf has begun, and draw his Eye away from his true peril, without hope for ourselves..."
The others stared at him in silence, but Elrohir spoke.
"Think you truly that we understand not the reality we face?" he said in an urgent but hushed voice. "We are your close kin, and your dearest friends! Even if I had not guessed this harsh truth, Ada gave the same advice to us before we left Imladris: to focus all strategies upon two small and courageous travelers." He paused and frowned. "As for me, what hope I had was ripped from me at Helm's Deep, and I seek no more for it on these shores. But nor will I shrink from what my twin and I came here to do: to see this through, whatever bitterness lies at the end. And for what you propose—a credible assault that will distract the Enemy from the danger that approaches within his borders—a great leader of men will be needed, to convince and inspire those that must march forth on such a desperate venture. Only you can be that leader, Estel. Only you can be their King. And so on behalf of all—on behalf, if you will, of Mithrandir, that his sacrifice not have been in vain—you must conserve your strength, I say again, for what lies ahead."
Aragorn's expression was dark. "I hear your words, brother, and see the wisdom in what you say. But my heart speaks against you, for the sake of all those who lie here in the grip of the Enemy's foul sickness…"
The Peredhel's mouth curled in a half-smile. "You would not be you, Estel, if you felt otherwise. Let me suggest a compromise, toro-nin: let us both proceed in our work on behalf of those in this House. You begin here, with your friend and member of the Fellowship, Boromir, and I shall visit the Lady-Knight of Rohan, and from thence we both shall seek out others to help, as directed by the worthy healers. But your brother-of-the-heart and stalwart lieutenant, Halbarad, shall remain at your side, and when your second in command orders you to cease and rest, you shall obey him."
Aragorn grudgingly accepted this plan, to Halbarad's carefully suppressed delight. Elrohir bowed and left, in the company of Legolas Greenleaf, to seek for the chamber where the Lady Éowyn was housed. As they turned toward Boromir's room, Gimli spoke.
"I hope you'll visit the Hobbits next. Legolas and I just left them." He sighed. "I fear for them both, my friend…"
"I will go to them at once, after I see what can be done for Boromir."
They entered, and immediately Aragorn realized that Faramir had been standing just inside the doorway the entire time. The Steward's son gazed at him solemnly.
"Nearly every word," Faramir muttered. "The Prince and his Lady did not, and I would beg that you allow my Uncle another night of rest spared from this grim knowledge, for he has himself just risen from his bed after an arrow wound."
"Of course," Aragorn replied quietly.
Faramir caught his eye again. "You should know, my Lord, that your words just now were an echo of the Steward Denethor's words, on the night the siege began, and immediately after he informed Bori and I what he had seen of the Wizard's fate. He said, 'As Mithrandir has done, so must we: whatever we can, without thought for ourselves, to bring an end to this Darkness.'"
Aragorn nodded. "Your father was a great man, Faramir, and I truly mourn his loss. If there be any hope beyond this Darkness, I look forward to speaking to you at length about him: of the brilliant and courageous man I knew him to be, years ago, and of the heroic man he was, at the end."
"I would appreciate that… As would my brother, if…if he lives…" Faramir's voice faded to a choked whisper as they came to Boromir's side.
Whatever doubt remained in Faramir or Imrahil of the truth of Aragorn's bloodline was soon dispelled. As he crumbled the athelas leaves upon the steaming water, once again the sweet scent of the brief, fragrant spring of the high valleys of the White Mountains of Gondor was released. The room was utterly silent as he sat beside Boromir, gently held his hand, and softly called his name, again and again. Minutes passed, and the healer's head bowed as his voice dropped low. Suddenly Faramir's heart leapt upward and tears stung in his eyes as his beloved brother's eyes fluttered open.
"My Lord," he said, "you have called me forth again from the darkness…"
Aragorn smiled. "So I have, my friend…"
Boromir smiled weakly. "Friend? I am honored that you would call me thus—but for my part, I am proud to call you my King…" His eyes glittered, and his voice grew hoarse. "I knew you would come, Aragorn!"
"I hope to prove myself worthy of your belief in me, Boromir." He turned to Faramir and stood. "Sit by his side, as your duties allow you—but stay not too long, for he shall require true healing sleep, and soon…"
Aragorn glanced back as he, Halbarad, and Gimli left the chamber. Faramir clasped his brother to his chest, and Boromir's hands rested on his neck. The Prince of Dol Amroth had risen from his chair, his arms enfolding both of them. All three noblemen of Gondor wept unashamedly, and the Lady Gwaeleth smiled at them, her eyes brimming over with tears. He nodded approvingly as he closed the door to allow them their moments of privacy.
With an astonished Master Túrin in their wake—the Lady Ivreniril had gone to fetch the herbs and other necessary supplies for the Lord Elrohir—they now proceeded to the much smaller room where Pippin and Merry lay. Though the chamber was half the size of the one where Boromir was housed, it was much more crowded. The two cots had been pushed together in the middle of the room. On stools near Pippin sat the young soldier Galúvegil, and with crutches leaning on the wall behind him, the injured man, Bastir. Near Merry, Harmund sat, leaning forward, his hand clutching the Hobbit's. By the doorway, Meneldil and Candir stood, whispering softly together. And just outside, in the hall, Mablung peered through the frame. As soon as Captain Faramir's lieutenant caught sight of Aragorn, he stood tall and gave the salute of Gondor: a clasped fist placed before his breast, and a quick bow.
At the appearance of Master Túrin, the two assistant healers straightened and ceased talking at once. Harmund gasped and came to attention, for he had returned to the field in time to witness the Heir of Isildur's prowess in battle, and rode near Prince Théodred as the Captains met and names exchanged. The young soldiers of Gondor, for the moment unaware of the identity of the tall man in the grey cloak, gaped instead at his Dwarf companion with undisguised curiosity. Gimli glared at them, and their faces flushed.
With a few sharp words from Túrin, the room was cleared, though the men lingered in the nearby hallway. Aragorn requested that the cots be moved apart to allow him room to sit between them. He crushed a few leaves of athelas into two separate bowls of water—first for Merry, then for Pippin.
"Interesting," Gimli muttered, as steam wafted upward. "The scents are similar, but different…"
The fragrance released for the heir of Brandy Hall was earthy, like a freshly tilled garden with green shoots springing from fertile soil. And for Pippin, they caught the fruity scent of ripe apples, and something slightly tangy.
"Beer," Halbarad chuckled. "It smells like the Common Room at the Pony…"
Aragorn smiled wanly and nodded; then he bowed his head as he reached out and held both Hobbits hands at the same time. Meriadoc… Peregrin… Merry… Pippin… The deep tones of his voice could barely be heard, even in the tiny chamber. Again and again he called to his young friends. The others waited anxiously as the seconds turned to minutes, and no response came from the Hobbits. Aragorn frowned worriedly as he looked from one unnaturally pale face to the other. Then he seemed to come to a decision. He nodded slightly, placed Pippin's hand in Merry's, and cradled them together in his own.
"Merry… Pippin," he whispered. "My friends, you've slept through second breakfast, luncheon, afternoon tea, and even the dinner hour has come and gone… If you do not awaken soon, I make no guarantees that anything will be left for you to eat…"
With that, Merry groaned, and one of Pippin's eyes popped open.
"Strider! Is that you?" he said sleepily. "Where on earth have you been?"
Merry yawned. "I'm hungry..."
"So am I…" Pippin agreed, even as his stomach let out a loud rumble.
The others laughed with relief.
"Some things are immutable," muttered Halbarad. "And a Shire-hobbit's appetite is clearly one of them…"
Joyful onlookers crowded at the doorway. Aragorn rose and asked Gimli to stay for a while with their young companions, and instructed the rest to visit their friends but briefly.
"Food, quite obviously, must be brought at once—but no beer," he said, which raised a moan of protest from Pippin. His voice dropped low as he took a step through the door and spoke to the others. "But I would ask that care be taken in speaking to them of recent events. They will be weary, and should sleep. There will be time enough for them to learn all the news…"
"I heard that, Strider," Pippin said sharply. "At least tell me how Boromir fares—I think I deserve to know that much…"
"And the Lady Éowyn—how is she, do you know?" Merry cried as he pushed himself to a sitting position on the cot.
"And what of everyone else?" Pippin sat up too. "Legolas—I don't see him—don't tell me he's injured, I couldn't bear it…"
"…and is there any news of…of our friends who went eastward? Doesn't anyone know anything?"
Halbarad steered his Captain back through the doorway. "No getting out of this room so easily, my friend."
Aragorn smiled and held up his hands. "Very well, I surrender!"
The Hobbits were given the news they sought, though Aragorn decided to withhold the grim tidings of Gandalf's capture from them for the time being. Trays of nourishing food and mugs of tea were brought, by none other than the assistant healer, Candir, who solemnly insisted on serving the Haflings himself. Finally they seemed satisfied, both in belly and in curiosity, and Aragorn again rose to leave. But Pippin had one last request.
"Strider—I mean, Aragorn—if you could find the time for one more visit… I know you're frightfully busy, and I suppose you won't be able to do anything for him, but I surely wish you might try…"
The young Hobbit sighed deeply, and Aragorn looked at his uncharacteristicly serious face with concern. "What is it, my young friend? Who would you have me visit?"
"His name is Faeron…" Meneldil drew in a sharp breath, and Candir looked in amazement at the Halfling. Pippin glanced at Meneldil and went on. "I don't even know if he's still alive…"
"He is, my boy," Meneldil murmured.
Pippin's eyes glistened. "Please, Aragorn, just go see him. Even if all you do is introduce yourself—tell him who you are, and why you've come—I think it would help him tremendously. I know there are some injuries that can't be fixed, but a sort of healing can happen anyway, can't it?"
"I will do as you ask, Pippin," Aragorn said. He paused at the doorway and looked back, and on his face was a grave smile. "Gandalf's wisdom was never shown more clearly than on this day, my friends. We are very fortunate that he chose you to be two of the Nine Walkers. I am so proud of both of you, and I am certain that he would be, were he here tonight."
Merry yawned again. "Thanks for that, Strider. Though I suspect old Gandalf's got more important things to worry about tonight, wherever he is…"
"Exactly," Pippin said through his own yawn. "Quite likely he's thinking how lucky he is to finally be rid of this fool of a Took… G'night, Strider… and thanks…"
Aragorn managed to keep the smile on his face frozen in place long enough to reach the hallway. Then the Heir of Isildur leaned against the wall, squeezed his eyes shut and buried his face in his hands. His kinsman placed his hand on his shoulder and pressed it tightly. Halbarad waited until his Captain's shudders ceased. Then Aragorn dropped his hands.
"As he has done, so must we—whatever we can, to bring an end to this Darkness." He looked up. "Lead on, Hal."
* * *
Legolas observed with keen interest as Elrohir did his work. First, he undid the bindings on the Lady-Knight's wounded arm and studied the ugly gouges worriedly, noting their dark edges and red streaks. He murmured a request for a special poultice, dictating the exact proportions of the herbs for the matron, Ioreth, who snorted and shook her head in disbelief at the strange recipe. But Lady Ivreniril insisted that Ioreth go at once and prepare the mixture, and the matron left, muttering to herself all the way. When she returned, Elrohir carefully applied the new concoction upon the ragged cuts. The scent was clean and fresh, whereas before the wounds had emitted a sickening odor. He wrapped and bound her arm in a sling, and instructed that the poultice and dressings be changed twice daily.
Then, as the others stood by and watched in awe, the Peredhel whispered a few words over the leaves of athelas and breathed upon them as they lay in his hand, then crushed them into the newly heated basin of water. The floral scent of Rohan's high vales, bursting with their brief but vigorous spring, filled the room. Ivreniril's eyes grew wide and her heartbeat quickened as he called the Lady of Rohan back from the depths of the Black Breath. Éowyn's breathing became steadier, and her brow wrinkled as if she was about to awaken. A faint pink colored her face, but she did not open her eyes.
"Call to her, and hold her hand," Elrohir said to the Prince. The Peredhel rose from the bedside and gestured for Théodred to sit by his cousin. Elf and Half-Elf stood back and waited.
"Éowyn, my dear one, Éowyn, wake! Ah, sweet cousin, it is I, Théodred…" The Prince's voice broke, and his head bowed over her hand as he clutched it in his. His eyes were closed in grief, and thus he was the last in the room to see her eyes open.
The Lady blinked and stared at her cousin's red-gold hair. Then she looked up, studying each face in the room solemnly, first Legolas, then Elrohir, and finally Ivreniril. Her gaze returned to the Wood Elf.
"My Lord Legolas," she said softly, and at the sound of her voice Théodred's head snapped up.
"Éowyn, Éowyn! You are awake at last!" he cried as he reached out to caress her face.
But she returned his gaze sadly, and again looked up at the Elf. "You are the one who saved my brother, are you not?"
The tone of desperate sadness in her voice was deeply disturbing to those listening. Legolas frowned worriedly. "Yes; I came upon him and his companions in the midst of battle, my Lady, and did what any would have in the same circumstances…"
Her eyes shimmered. "Alas, what you did, I undid." Her voice was hoarse and low. "Were it not for me, my brother Éomer would now live. It is my fault he died…"
"Nay, say not so, my dear one!" Théodred cried. "He was murdered by a foul enemy, one you destroyed by your valor…"
"But not in time," she whispered, as tears slid down her cheeks. "Not in time…"
"You should not say that, Éowyn!" her cousin said. "You did more than the bravest knight..."
But she shook her head and closed her eyes. "Nay… I failed… He spoke truly… He was a vile murderer, but he spoke the truth…" she whispered.
Legolas could bear no more. He strode swiftly to her cot on the opposite side to Théodred, and knelt. "Lady, if I understand you aright, you refer to the words spoken to you by one of the Ulairi… the Nazgûl… the creature you would name the Dwimmerlaik…"
She turned her head to the side and nodded; another tear traced a path from her eye to the pillow.
The golden-haired Elf leaned forward and gently folded her right hand in his own; her flesh was icy cold, and she resisted him not at all. Legolas sensed that she was unable to move her limb. He focused on her hand, willing warmth and life to return as he spoke quietly.
"In the far south of the Woodland Realm where my people make their home, an evil fortress sits. For years beyond count, Ringwraiths, others like to the evil Wraith you faced, have dwelt there. Many times—more times than I know, more times than I care to count—our folk have been assailed by the armies of that dreadful fortress, or we have made war upon them, and always the Wraiths come behind their Orc-servants, driving them forward..."
His voice dropped to just above a whisper, and his fair countenance seemed clouded with grim memories. "I have much knowledge—far too much knowledge—of these wraiths. I have seen them… I have been near them when they walk unseen… I have engaged them with my own weapons, though not once with success… I know their ways, all too well…" He paused; she had not yet turned her face toward him, though it seemed she was listening intently. "Lady Éowyn," he said. She frowned, but again did not look toward him. He repeated her name. "Look at me, Lady. Look at me."
Finally, Éowyn turned her head and looked into the Elf's bright green eyes. He held her gaze. "You know of what race I am, do you not?"
She nodded, as a child might, without speaking. The stern look on his face was gone now, replaced by a gentle, kindly expression.
"Do you fear me, Lady?"
"Nay," she whispered.
"Do you think I am evil?"
"N…no, of course not…"
"Or that I would deceive you?"
"I… no, I would never think that of you…"
"Then hear my words, Éowyn. The Wraith who spoke to you purposefully deceived you." She frowned and drew in a breath to speak, but he went on. "The Wraiths and all like them may seem to have immortal life, but what the Enemy has granted them is a mockery. It is the opposite of the life someone like me, or like the Lord Elrohir has been granted. And they know this… The Wraith who vindictively poured lies into your ears knew that the gift of immortal life he was given by his Master was nothing but a terrible lie… For that so-called gift, he paid dearly. The price was everything that you have in abundance: courage, strength, and most importantly of all, love."
Her lips trembled as she stared at him.
"My Lady, the Wraith perceived the love between you and your brother, as vividly as you might see the fire from a torch. He saw it and he was consumed with jealousy. He had no such thing—he bargained away all such priceless gifts for a useless ring, thousands of years ago. He saw what you have, and he coveted it… But he knew he could not have it, no matter what he did. So in his jealous rage, he tried to destroy what you had." The Elf leaned forward and curled his other hand around her cheek, and once again he smiled. "But he failed! He could not destroy what is in you—what you share with your brother. He failed—not you. Your love for Éomer and his love for you lives on, and will continue, long after your mortal life also comes to its end."
She gazed at him for a long time. Finally, the despair etched on her face seemed to soften. With a deep sigh she closed her eyes, and when her tears flowed again, they were the healing tears of release.
"The Lady will now require true sleep, healing sleep," Elrohir said softly. "When she awakens she should be encouraged to take such nourishment as she can, and perhaps in the morrow she can be allowed to sit up, but quiet and peace is what she needs most now…"
The Prince rose and walked with the Peredhel and the Wood Elf to the door as they made to leave. "My Lords," he said, "I cannot thank you enough, for all you have done… I only wish there was some way I could repay you …"
Legolas bowed his head gracefully. "Payment enough, Prince Théodred, to see the Lady begin the journey back toward health and wholenesss…"
Elrohir placed a hand on Théodred's shoulder. "She should not waken alone. When you can spare time from your duties I would advise that you sit by her, for the wound to her heart is greater by far than those to her flesh…"
"I will do so, sire," Théodred said. "And Harmund… I will ask him… It is because of his faithfulness that she lives at all…"
"And I will assign a young woman who is in service here, Mareyn, an apprentice healer whose father is from your country, my Lord Prince, and who speaks your tongue. She will sit with the Lady when the others are called to duty, and will help her with her personal needs and cares," Ivreniril said.
* * *
Through the long hours of that evening and into the night, Aragorn with Halbarad and Elrohir with Legolas walked through the Houses of Healing in the company of the Master Healer and his Chief Assistant. Everywhere they went they found those in need of their aid, and again and again they did not hesitate to offer their services. Not all those suffering with the Black Breath or other injuries and maladies inflicted by the Dark Lord's servants—tainted wounds, poisonous darts, or simply accumulated weariness and grief—could be helped. Many soldiers of Gondor and Rohan died that night. But many others were saved, and the names Lord Elrohir and Lord Aragorn were heard repeatedly in those hushed hallways. Assistant healers and matrons witnessed as those thought at the doorway of death were revived. Word went swiftly through the Houses and spilled out into the City: that the healing hands of the line of the Kings had returned at last to Minas Tirith.
The healers were not the only ones in attendance in the Houses of the Sixth Circle. Halbarad noticed the Lord Faramir moving from cot to cot, and from ward to ward, as he visited every man who had been hurt in the defence of Gondor. His ever-present officer, Mablung, nodded to the Northern Ranger lieutenant as they passed in the hall. Theirs was a similar task: to be ready for whatever was required, in service of the man they admired most. The Prince of Rohan also roved through the chambers, his second, Harmund, by his side, as they sought the injured Riders of the Mark housed there. Gimli joined Halbarad and Aragorn for a time; then the Dwarf excused himself and went in search of the Elf and Peredhel. No one slept that night.
Each time he watched Aragorn at his healing work, Halbarad resolved that when this task was done, his friend and kinsman must cease his worthy efforts and go and find rest. But his heart was as like to Aragorn's as Elrohir's had been to Elladan's. Just as he was about to insist that Aragorn stop, a healer would plead for his aid, or a soldier weeping with grief for his stricken comrade would find them and beg for just one last visit. Neither Aragorn nor his lieutenant could refuse them—for these men were their long-sundered brethren, and their need was great. Hour after dark hour passed. Midnight slipped by, and still they labored.
They had just left yet another newly awakened young soldier's chamber when they passed a row of windows that looked East. Halbarad could hardly believe his eyes. Pale light reached upward above the dark line of the distant Ephel Duath. Can that already be the dawn? How had so many hours passed? He was supposed to be protecting him, ensuring that his Captain did not work too hard, or too long, and here it was, nearly morning!
"My friend, it is time. You are exhausted. Frankly, I am exhausted." He lay a hand on his kinsman's shoulder. "Let's get some sleep."
Aragorn nodded numbly, and Halbarad knew how weary he truly must be if he was too tired to resist. The Houses were finally silent and the halls empty as they made their way to the entrance and to the street. Halbarad took a step toward the winding thoroughfare that lead down through the City. But his kinsman looked up, toward the highest gate.
"There is one last duty that cannot wait…"
He walked slowly up the street, Halbarad a step behind him. They passed through the final gate and into the Seventh Circle. Halbarad gazed up at the white Tower of Ecthelion in awe. The courtyard was empty but for a pair of sentinels. Aragorn paused and bowed his head beside the bare-limbed, lifeless Tree for a moment. The faint tinkle of falling drops was the only sound. Then they continued, climbing the stairs and entering the Citadel.
The Great Hall stood open, a guard in the livery of the White Tree at the doorway. Aragorn murmured to him, and they entered. The vast room with its rows of tall graven images of Kings of old was nearly completely dark; only two lanterns were lit, near the front. Their golden light shimmered on the gems and precious metals set into the far wall. As they walked forward Halbarad couldn't take his eyes off the image of the White Tree, and the throne beneath the marble canopy in the form of the crown of the Sea Kings. At last… This is where he belongs…
Stone tables stood before them, and upon each lay a figure, utterly still. One was draped in sable-black, another in brilliant blue; the third was covered to the plaits of his golden beard in rippling green fabric. By each one stood a guard in the livery of the same colours. And closest to the front of the great room, at the foot of the stairs, stood a fourth table draped in pure white. Upon the widest and lowest stair, a plain black chair stood empty, and lying across its seat was a white rod with a gleaming golden knob.
Faramir was there before them, standing beside the bier of his father. Mablung stood a few yards away. The acting Steward's head was bowed; his hand lay at rest upon the white cloth that covered Denethor's body.
Aragorn took a step forward, waiting for the younger man to acknowledge his presence before approaching. He saw that Faramir was clutching his father's hand through the fabric.
Faramir sighed and raised his head. His blue-grey eyes were sunken and surrounded by dark circles.
"I am grateful, sire, that you have come," he said. "You must be weary after your long labors in the Houses…"
"No wearier than you," Aragorn replied. "I did not wish to seek sleep until I had paid my respects to the fallen."
Faramir bowed and stepped aside. Aragorn moved closer and gazed down. Here lay the man who had been his chief adversary in Gondor when he was Thorongil—the man who had the most to lose at his return and most cause to deny him his claim. In truth, he had long dreaded this reunion—and now, it would never be. So many years wasted in useless rivalry, in pride and subterfuge… Between these two, the greatest leaders of men of their age, so many barriers had risen, so much had been unspoken. The handiwork of Sauron at his worst—setting friend against friend… In more ways than could be numbered they were as alike as brothers—the brother neither had, in life. Had things been different, Aragorn thought, he and I might have been fast friends...
He studied Denethor's face. Decades had fallen from him; his features were those of a much younger man, though his hair and beard were grey. Gone were the deeply engraved lines of bitterness and harsh restraint. The weighty burden of a constant battle against insurmountable odds with an undefeatable foe had finally been laid down. A slight smile lifted one corner of Aragorn's mouth. He is truly at peace… Captain Thorongil had been one of hundreds of guests at the wedding of Denethor and Finduilas. He looks as he did, that day… He is happy again, at last… Gravely, the man who would supplant him stood tall before the last Ruling Steward of Gondor, and saluted in the manner of the soldiers of that realm.
Aragorn turned from the bier of Denethor and gazed into the shadows of the hall at the three others lying in state under varied colours. He paced to the green of Rohan. The outline of Éomer's form appeared whole and undisturbed beneath the cloth. Some brave and determined knight of the Mark had wrested the King's sister-son's severed arm from the jaws of the monster that had killed him. His youthful face was marred by a jagged gash upon his brow that tore upward into his scalp; but his expression was peaceful. He died doing what he had done all of his brief life: protecting his beloved sister.
Next the men of the North walked to the figure lying beneath the colours of Dol Amroth. Aragorn was startled by the youthfulness of the face before him. He turned to Faramir with a raised brow, and the Captain of Ithilien stepped close.
"My young kinsman, Amrothos," he murmured. "Prince Imrahil's youngest son… Not yet seventeen when he died at his father's side, upon the walls of the City in the first days of the siege."
"I had no idea… I will extend my condolences in person to the Prince and his Lady…"
Halbarad lingered for a few moments at the young man's side, his head bowed and his eyes squeezed shut. Aragorn placed a hand on his kinsman's shoulder and pressed it gently.
Finally they came to the fourth slab of stone, draped in black cloth embroidered with seven concentric white circles.
"Baranor," Faramir said huskily. "Commander of the Regiment of Minas Tirith. A superb officer, and a good friend… He died in the final hour of the conflict. His second, Aratan, reported that Baranor took off his helm in the heat of the late afternoon. A single dart flew—a Morgul Orc. Just a flesh wound, I am told, but as I am sure you are aware…"
"Yes," Aragorn muttered. "Their hideous poisons are infamous…"
A scratch on Baranor's momentarily bared scalp had resulted in an agonizingly painful death. They had not even been able to bring him to the City in time. He had died upon the Pelennor between the ruins of the Rammas and the Gate, one of the last casualties of the Battle for Gondor.
Halbarad and Mablung now approached, and with a nod to one another, the lieutenants reached out and grasped their respective Captains' arms.
"It is time, my Lord," Mablung said gruffly.
"Sleep, gwador-nin… Sleep. Until noon at least," Hal muttered.
The acting Steward agreed to see to it that word was sent to the surviving Commanders of the forces of the West, to meet at one hour past noon for a council. The topic of debate was to be, according to Aragorn, 'the days ahead.'
"And where should I ask them to gather?" Faramir asked. "A neutral location… The Citadel Council Chamber may not be proper…"
"I agree, not yet. Perhaps a large tent can be erected upon the fields," Aragorn murmured.
Halbarad sniffed. "Bad idea. There's hardly three square yards out there not thick with… well, you can imagine…"
"I have an idea, sire," Mablung said. The others turned to him, questioning looks on their tired faces. "The Houses have a sizeable library, used for study, of course, but with a central area they clear out for lectures and teaching. A neutral location, and allows other conveniences…" The officer looked at his Captain. "Or perhaps you think, my Lord, that your brother would wish to be left out of such a discussion?"
Faramir snorted. "He would soundly thrash me if I did so," he laughed. "Excellent idea. Make it so, then. Mablung. The Commanders of the West shall meet in the Library of the Healing Houses, with Master Turin's permission, and the Captain-General and the Prince of Dol Amroth shall join us if they are able."
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.