9. Chapter 8
Afternoon found them sitting in the gardens again, surrounded by green plants and beds of flowers.
"How came you to become a healer?"
Idrin did not need to think before answering. "I had ever been intrigued by the art," she replied. "From the moment I came to Minas Tirith and first set foot in the Houses of Healing as a child of seven years, I was drawn to the healers and their work. I lived with my aunt while my mother received treatment, but I was often in the Houses. I began helping the healers: rolling bandages, making simple tinctures and poultices; herb-lore fascinated me, and they began teaching me about the healing plants. Afterwards I became an apprentice and began studying in earnest."
Her short account was given, but the warm light still lingered in her eyes. "You were not born here, then?" Éothain found himself asking, recalling her words.
The healer shook her head. "No. I was born in Lossarnach, in a town by the Anduin. My father and mother were born in Minas Tirith, but after they were wedded they built their home in Lossarnach, deciding it was a more... wholesome place to raise children than a stone city." A fleeting grin passed across her features. "What of you? How came you to become a Rider of Rohan?" she returned his previous question.
Éothain did not answer immediately, thinking back on the replies she had given to his enquiries instead. Though plain at first thought, they did arouse his interest: it was more common for people to be cared for at home rather than travelling the many miles to another place; wedded couples usually took abode in the place of their birth, continuing the family trade, and a city such as Minas Tirith would definitely provide with more opportunities than others. Yet the healer's manner and words once more indicated none of those characteristics typical of common folk. His impression that there was more to this young woman than he had originally perceived began to take root.
"My forefathers were Riders," he finally spoke in answer to her query. "I learnt how to ride even as I learnt to walk and was taught how to wield sword and spear when still a lad. Playing a part in defending my land and its people seemed to be – and indeed is – fulfilling for the spirit." The subtle mention of battle brought the reality of the war surrounding them into the peaceful retreat of the Houses and their easy conversation drifted into silence.
Éothain's exclamation made his companion follow his gaze and, at the sight of the man approaching, stand up. Even though she had never before met him, the name alerted her to the tall Rohir's identity. "King Éomer," she bowed her head respectfully to the new ruler of Rohan, belatedly noting the familiarity with which her patient addressed him.
"Mistress Healer." He easily recognised the garb she wore despite the fact that the tell-tale veil was currently draped about her shoulders. He looked at the Rider by her side who had risen and was supported by his crutches. "How is your leg, Éothain?" Idrin went a little ways off, giving the two men some privacy.
"Better. It was not a very deep cut," replied Éothain.
"Good," said the King. He drew a breath. "Aragorn summoned a council. We are to ride to the Black Gate in two days' time."
Éothain frowned. "There was a war council held and you did not think to inform the First Captain of your éored?"1 he cried in the language of the Mark, a trace of displeasure in his tone.
"I was told by Déormód that can scarcely put weight on your leg," said Éomer, also shifting to his mother tongue. "I would not have you hobbling the long way down to the tents on crutches," he explained. At Éothain's pointed stare he went on, "Would you have ridden there in a wheeled chair?" His First Captain looked affronted. "That is why I did not send word."
Éothain was silent for a while, a thoughtful look in his eyes. "We ride in two days then?" he asked at last. Éomer met his gaze squarely.
"Your leg is not yet healed," he began; "I do not expect you to fight while injured."
"I have done so before," remarked Éothain. "And we will not go to the Land of Shadow on foot."
The King of Rohan shook his head at the perseverance, but good humour gleamed in his eyes. "You may be my First Captain, Éothain, but this is not my decision to make," he reverted to the Common Speech, effectively drawing Idrin's attention back to their conversation. "If your healer releases you from her charge by the day we march, then all is well." Éothain grudgingly agreed, and Éomer turned a glance to the building behind him, a shadow passing over his face.
He looked at Idrin. "Mistress, can you tell me aught of my sister, the Lady Éowyn? How fares she?"
The healer understood his worry and sought to reassure him, "She is well; recovering." The King of Rohan seemed to ease.
A deep frown appeared on the face of his First Captain, confusion and bewilderment showing through. "Éowyn?"
"Yes. She lies in this House," said Éomer, still using the Common Tongue out of courtesy to the Gondorian woman. "She rode with our host in disguise and smote the Chief of the Nine Servants of the Dark Lord, and her arm was broken. Death nearly took her, but she was healed by Aragorn."
Éothain simply gazed at him without speaking, taking in all that new information. Even as his mind began to wonder why Éowyn would seek battle, Éomer spoke again, "I must now go to her." He acknowledged the healer with a short nod and walked away.
Éothain sat back on the bench, watching the retreating form with glassy eyes. Idrin stood beside him, silent. As a woman born into a family of warriors, she knew well what it meant to them to sit idle while battle raged. And what warrior would want to be left behind when this last battle began?
A shimmer of movement nearby broke into Éothain's despondent thoughts and his attention shifted. Two small figures – one with dark curls and clad in similar clothing as he; the other sandy-haired and wearing garments of silver and sable – were walking leisurely down the cobbled path. He gazed at them and to the forefront of his mind came the haughty words he had once spoken: Halflings! Do we walk in legends or on the green earth in the sunlight?* How erroneous he had been to dismiss their existence so lightly!
He remembered the first time he laid eyes upon the hobbits, beside the ruined gates of Isengard, sitting comfortably upon a great heap of rubble. The sight of the two strange small men lounging so heedlessly in the midst of flotsam and jetsam, there, at the end of the journey of King Théoden's company from Helm's Deep to the Wizard's Vale, had been most peculiar to behold. He had sat atop his horse, watching them with wonder as they spoke courteous words of greeting, and suddenly felt a fool for having shown such doubt and disdain. His tongue had run away with him, again. He cursed that bad habit of his early youth, one not completely curbed by the coming of age and responsibility; and indeed during the course of this War he had more than once regretted the thoughtless words he usually chanced to utter out of tiredness and frustration.
He regretted most the scornful manner with which he had confronted Arathorn's son on their first meeting on the plains of Rohan, and the undue jeering born of his own over-impatience to be off to Edoras without delay. He had thought his words just at the time, but when his temper cooled and when he later witnessed the man Aragorn was at the battle of the Hornburg, he thought them rash and ill-mannered.
A clear voice now drew Éothain from his reflection: "Look, Pippin! It's the flower that grows on the mounds of the Kings in Rohan!" The Halfling Meriadoc stood only a few paces from the healer and the Rider, pointing to a patch of white blooms that spilled over the edge of their flowerbed. Éothain regarded the small flowers with keen interest, not having paid close attention to them before.
"They are indeed the simbelmynë that cover the tombs of our Kings," he muttered to himself, not without a measure of surprise. These blooms were in Rohan so closely associated with dead Kings that it was strange to see them growing in a garden.
As he spoke, the hobbits seemed to perceive him and the healer at his side for the first time. They recognised the man's face, recalling he was one of the Rohirrim who had accompanied King Théoden to Isengard, one who had stood close to Éomer, though they did not know his name. They offered a polite good evening to both, and Pippin greeted the healer by name: "Lady Idrin."
She laughed, "Just Idrin, please."
"Then I bid you call me simply Pippin," the halfling requested and the healer inclined her head in accord. "This is my kinsman, Merry Brandyback," the hobbit introduced his cousin, and Merry gave a slight bow as well as he could. He then found himself gazing at the Rider, a curious expression on his face. Before long, he realised what he was doing and shook himself.
"Oh, forgive me," he started. "It is simply that you resemble Éomer."
Éothain chuckled. "So I have been told. We are kin; I am called Éothain, son of Léofred, and Éomer's father was first cousin to mine."2
"That would explain the resemblance," said Pippin. He looked over at the healer who had sat beside the Rohir and picked a white bloom from the green patch, now glancing at the man as though trying to see the likeness the Hobbit had spoken of, a small spark of wonder in her eyes at the revelation.
Éothain turned to Idrin, "I did not know that simbelmynë were to be found in Gondor also."
The young woman gathered her thoughts. "We call them alfirin in the Elven-tongue, which means immortal," she said. "They grow still on the summit of Amon Anwar, the beacon-hill on the border of Rohan, and in the vales of Lebennin."
"But the flowers in Lebennin are bell-shaped and golden, or so at least I heard it said in song," said Pippin, recalling the verses Legolas had sung; "these are white and not very bell-like."
The healer grinned. "Indeed. Alfirin can be both golden and white, and the kind found in vales may differ from others."3 She looked at the little flower in her hand. "But I have always associated the white kind with resilience; they thrive even on bare mountain-tops, and continue to blossom even when surrounded by snow. Simply looking at them makes one think: if these small flowers can withstand adversity, can not we weather dark times?" She slowly twirled the bloom in her fingers, gazing at it thoughtfully. The hobbits and the Rider were silent. After a moment Idrin shook herself out of her reverie and realised that the sun had begun its descent.
"It's growing late," she said. "It's almost supper-time, and there are bandages to be changed." She rose and looked at Éothain who took hold of his crutches wordlessly and hoisted himself upright.
"I will stay here a while longer," said Merry. "I am not yet tired and the air is still warm."
Pippin nodded. "In that case I will bring some food from the kitchens. Camping in such lovely gardens is not a bad idea," he finished with a tiny smile. The healer and the Rohir bade them good-night and left them to enjoy the waning of the day.
* From The Two Towers, Book 3, Chapter II: The Riders of Rohan.
1 Tolkien does not provide with any information concerning the rank Éothain holds in Éomer's éored. Him being First Captain is my own conjecture, surmised by the 'feel' of his overall interaction with Éomer in The Two Towers and the fact that he was the only one who dared speak his mind without hesitating when first meeting the Three Hunters.
2 Again, the Professor gives us no details on Éothain's background. His and Éomer's being second cousins is of my own invention; an extrapolation, if you will, from the little we know about him. The first fact I draw from is his name itself: Éothain has the same element eoh (horse in Old English) as Éomer, Éowyn, Éomund. Names among close family members of the Rohirrim seem to have a similar sound, so, deducing from that similarity, Éothain may very well be related to Éomund and his family. Although Éomer and Éothain being first cousins would no doubt make more sense, I feel there is a 'freshness' to them being second cousins instead.
The second fact I draw from is that, when Éomer's éored first cross paths with the Three Hunters, Éothain brazenly voices his opinions to the face of his Marshal. That signifies that (apart from holding a high rank in the éored) he is on a certain level of familiarity with Éomer, something that exists among close family members or good friends.
Given those two facts, it's not unreasonable to assume that Éothain is kin to Éomer.
³ In one of his letters Tolkien describes alfirin as being '. . . a beautiful bell-like flower, running through many colours . . .' (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #312). In Unfinished Tales the white alfirin – although not mentioned whether it is bell-shaped or not – is said to grow on the site of Elendil's mound on the summit of the Halifirien and is stated to be the simbelmynë that covers the tombs of the Kings of Rohan (Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Chapter II, (iii) Cirion and Eorl; Notes). In The Return of the King a golden, bell-shaped alfirin growing in Lebennin is mentioned in Legolas's song (The Return of the King, Book V, Chapter 9: The Last Debate).
In his commentary in Unfinished Tales, Christopher Tolkien theorises that the white alfirin (simbelmynë) and the one in Legolas's song are different flowers, due to the deviation in appearance. However, given the Professor's own words, it seems much more plausible to me that they are simply different varieties of the same plant.
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