2. Chapter 2
Arvinion was sitting alone by the blazing logs nearby, cutting a rabbit to pieces. A second coney was on a wooden board beside him, already skinned. He glanced up at his sister as she approached.
"Would you like some help?" Idrin motioned to the board.
Arvinion stilled his hands and regarded her. After such a journey, he had expected her to take advantage of her leisure and unwind instead of seeking something to do. "You should be resting," he stated firmly, pointing the knife he held at her.
Idrin waved him off. "A bit of warm water on the skin and some peppermint ointment for the muscles can work wonders." It was true. Her brother didn't argue. "I am not that tired," she added earnestly in softer tones. Sweeping her immediate surroundings with a quick look, she retreated back into the tent, emerging a few minutes afterwards with a slender knife in hand. Arvinion did not need to ask how she had acquired the double-edged blade: even with Sauron defeated, the travelling roads were not yet wholly safe, and it was not unheard of for women to know how to protect themselves when need arose. She sat beside him, drew up the sleeves of her dress and reached for the skinned rabbit.
Only the sounds of the crackling fire and the crunching of knife on bone engulfed them as they worked; but they were soon joined by the sound of footfalls.
"Should you not be resting, dear sister?"
Idrin turned to look behind her, an indulgent grin playing at her lips. "I am fine, Damhir." Her eyes moved to the man accompanying her brother and something inside her gave a tiny jolt. The flaxen-haired knight stared at her, transfixed. Damhir began introducing the man to his sister, but a slow smile had already started to form on Idrin's lips before he had finished.
"We have already met," her voice mingled with Damhir's last words. The younger of her brothers gazed at her with interest; Arvinion raised an enquiring eyebrow. "At the Houses of Healing," Idrin went on to elaborate, casting a quick glance at her siblings.
Then she shifted her attention to the Rohir, what remained of the rabbit in her hands forgotten. "I trust your leg is healing well?"
Éothain had been watching her, a light in his eyes. He recalled the wish he had expressed so many days past, when the healer had bid him farewell on the eve of the army's departure. It had been sincere, that want of his, but the harsh reality of battle had driven him to accept that such a want was likely to remain unrealised. And yet they had now met again, in the most improbable of places. What was more, she was the sister of two men with whom he had fought side by side on the battlefield and whom he had grown to call friends.
The keen look the healer presently fixed him with and the question asked brought to the forefront of his mind an incident in the aftermath of the Battle of the Black Gate.
It had been near sundown on the day of their great victory, and the host had moved back to their camp for the night, set up in the most unaffected part of the Battle Plain. Unwelcoming and barren though that land was, they would linger there for a few days still, to allow the regaining of strength. Healers and those with some knowledge of the healing arts went ceaselessly about, tending to the wounded, while others undertook the task of preparing food.
Éothain was sitting by a small fire, a look of concentration on his face as his fingertips probed carefully at his lower back. Even though he could not see it, he could feel that the sword-cut was shallow, but a bruise had formed nearly a hand's width above it where a heavy blow had forced his mail-shirt into his right side. He gritted his teeth against a wince and reached for a clean cloth to dunk in heated water and wash the wound.
"'Tis more prudent to let another treat a wound you cannot see," a voice came suddenly from beside him, making him turn sharply. The soon-to-be-crowned King of Gondor stepped round the fire-pit and squatted next to him. "Let me."
Stunned, the Rider made no reply as the man took the cloth from his hands. Éothain had seen him earlier with the healers, going from one wounded soldier to the other to offer his skill, barely allowing himself any substantial time for rest after the big battle. "Thank you," the Rohir said belatedly and was answered with an amiable curl of lips. Silence fell as Aragorn cleaned the wound gently and searched inside the small bag he carried. An uncomfortable feeling began to plague Éothain: the presence of the king had caused old memories to surface, none of which he was overly fond of. There had been ill-mannered words on his part that he wished to apologise for, even if the man he had indirectly offended seemed to have dismissed them from his thoughts.
"My lord Aragorn," he began, "when first we crossed paths on the plains of Rohan, I was impetuous and ungracious." He paused a second to draw breath and ploughed on: "I spoke words birthed by ignorance and a troubled mind. Our days prior to that one had been difficult; I was angered by the treachery of Saruman whom we had thought our friend and ally and, as my companions, I chafed to be away to Edoras. I had but little patience to deal with strangers travelling through our lands. I recognise now that I should have checked my tongue."
Aragorn let him finish without interrupting, watching the young man's face as he spoke. In truth, he had not taken to heart the words he had uttered that day, attributing them to some ill fate and not paying much heed to them. He was, after all, no stranger to the straightforwardness of the Men of the Mark and the way they spoke their minds.
"There is no need to apologise, Éothain," he said kindly. "A troubled mind may lead a man to say things he does not mean." As the Rider bowed his head in relief, the King resumed dressing his wound, applying salve and binding soft pads of linen to his side.
Almost unconsciously, Éothain began rubbing his left calf; the former Ranger noticed. "Does your leg hurt?"
The Rohir looked up at him while readjusting his tunic. "Stitches that merely itch," he replied. At Aragorn's request he took off his boot and revealed the sutured skin. "A healer at the Houses of Healing tended the wound after the battle of the Pelennor," he explained. "She was quite insistent that I not strain it overmuch and gave me salve to treat it." And he had indeed been true to his word, applying salve and clean bandages as she had instructed.
"She was quite right," said Aragorn as he examined the area. "It has healed nicely; the stitches only need to be removed." He retrieved a small knife with a very fine blade from his bag and set to work.
Now Éothain felt a grin nearly lift the corners of his lips as he looked at the healer in question. "Yes, lady, it has fully healed," he answered her enquiry, addressing her by the title befitting one of her lineage: he had only recently, while conversing with her brothers, learnt that the siblings were sister-children to the late Steward Denethor, and the knowledge now verified his previous vague assumptions concerning the healer's standing.
Idrin seemed pleased to hear his leg had mended, but it was plain by the small frown momentarily creasing her brow that she had not expected the use of any title. "No formality is necessary, Éothain," she assured him quietly when she understood the reason behind it, following his movements absently with her eyes as he placed the basket he carried on a flat stone nearby. Suddenly she was made conscious of the half coney and knife she still held.
"Your dagger will be better suited for what we have procured from the mess tent." Relieved of his own load, Damhir settled beside her and nodded to his right. Idrin thought for a moment and then passed the rabbit to him, getting to her feet: her slender blade was indeed not very suitable for cutting meat and joint. She washed her sticky hands and dagger and moved to the other side of the fire, noting that a pot was already heating over it. She studied the contents of one basket appraisingly, thankful for the abundance of ingredients, and set to chopping.
"Any news from home?" asked Arvinion from where he had been sitting with Éothain, the basket of potatoes in front of them. The avidity in his tone was hard to miss.
"What news there have been I have already written in my letter," said Idrin, stirring onions and garlic into the heated oil in the pot, the hint of a smile in her voice. "Faramir is healed, and the lady Éowyn also, and the City is being set to order." She did not wonder at her brother's eagerness for tidings, for she knew he was merely impatient to go back to his home: both he and Damhir had family waiting for them. "Your wife and daughter await your return, and" - she turned to her second brother who had now joined her to add the rabbit pieces into the pot - "your son is already making his presence known."
Damhir stood gazing at her with a lopsided grin spreading wide on his face. Even though he already knew his wife believed their unborn child to be a boy, he never tired of hearing it. He was smitten with his becoming a father; and Idrin had never seen such a look of tenderness and pure rapture before. After a moment her brother blinked and regained his focus.
Idrin gave the stew a stir and turned to him: "I do not suppose you have brought wine with you?"
The fire was still crackling merrily when they finished their dinner, the faint scent of thyme and rosemary still wafting over the pot.
Éothain put his bowl down, his attention drawn to Idrin as she laughed at something Damhir had said. For some strange reason, words had failed the Rohir while they ate, and he had kept mostly to himself, content with simply watching the siblings interact. Their good humour and easy bantering as they spoke together stirred warmth inside him but also a sudden, deep longing for his family. He gazed at the last drops of liquid in his cup pensively.
"Are you well?" The gentle voice brought him back to the present; he saw that Idrin had moved closer to him.
He tried to dispel his melancholy, managing a grin. "Yes; I was simply pulled into my own thoughts for a moment," he assured her.
"You miss your home." It was more of an observation than a question. Then again, with the three of them speaking of things familiar and loved ones, it was no feat to understand what had affected his mood.
"I do," the Rider replied. "Both the place and the people there."
"Do you have siblings?"
"A sister," answered Éothain, "five years younger than me." He gazed at Idrin in sudden contemplation; the intensity of the look caught the young woman off guard. "Your decision to become a healer... did your parents not object to it?" he asked. "It is not something as ingenuous as merely being a herb-master or brewing draughts for the sick," he hurried on to explain. "It can be strenuous and bloody work, and those of high birth would be likely to label it an inappropriate and unrefined pastime for their daughter." Even though Idrin had told him why she had chosen to become a healer, his recently gained knowledge of her descent made him wonder what the initial reaction of her parents had been.
"Both Father and Mother were people who did not contemn work." It was Arvinion who replied. He and Damhir had joined them after having pulled the cooking pot from the embers, now empty save for the dregs of wine at the bottom. "Father believed that if one finds fulfillment in an occupation, then they should pursue it, so long as it's not exorbitant or causes offence. And even though enjoying the privileges of being a Steward's daughter, Mother entertained similar beliefs." He fell quiet and looked at his sister.
Something akin to a smile brushed her lips as she recalled an old memory. "When I was young, I asked her once why she insisted to tend our garden by herself instead of having a gardener do it for her. She told me it gave her joy, made her feel useful; told me there was more to life than having people wait on you while you did nothing to fill the emptiness. It was years later that I understood what she meant." There was a long pause as her words faded into silence; then she spoke again: "Just as Father approved of my choosing to become a healer, so I like to believe would she."
Éothain simply nodded but his gaze lingered on the young woman a second more. Her words stirred him, acutely honest and simmering with quiet emotion as they were. There was nothing frivolous or impetuous about them, and he realised he appreciated the plain sincerity of her manner.
The conversation then moved to other topics, and it was nearly two hours before they decided it was time to retire. They made quick work of clearing away empty bowls and utensils, and then the Rohir was standing before the healer.
"Thank you for a fine meal and good company, my lady." He bowed his head in farewell.
"Good-night, Éothain." She did not correct the manner of his addressing her, knowing it was no longer meant to bear the gravity of a formal title. The Rider nodded his good-bye to her brothers and went his way.
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.