3. Chapter 3
The following morning Idrin awoke later than was her wont. I was more tired than I had thought, she reflected as she parted the tent flap to step out into the golden sunlight, washed and dressed.
"Good morning, sister." Damhir sounded cheerful. "Breakfast?"
She was both surprised and pleased to see that the makeshift table – wooden boards atop a flat stone – had not yet been cleared: dried fruits and cheese and crisp-bread were still on it. Her brother looked comfortable, savouring the moments of morning peace: his face was turned towards the warmth of the sun, his long legs stretched out before him. She took a seat by his side and her gaze wandered to the midst of the green field of Cormallen. Grand pavilions had been erected there, and a large throng of people – soldiers and civilians alike – milled about, coming and going without pause
"It seems the feast will not be lacking," Idrin commented as she watched the final carts being unloaded.
"Indeed, it will not," replied Damhir. "The preparations have been going on since dawn. It will be as proper a banquet as can be."
They talked of the coming celebration as she broke her fast, and of those who had come to attend, and then Idrin took her leave, wishing to see more of the camp. Her brother chose to stay and finish whittling a thick branch of holly oak he had found earlier.
She kept near the stream that flowed past their tent as she walked and did not stray far amid the multitude of similar-looking pavilions for worry of losing her way in that vast encampment. Yellow celandines and anemones and irises in many colours grew by the water, creating a vibrant living carpet, and among them Idrin could pick out the unassuming forms of coltsfoot and ribwort, plain and yet so cherished by healers.
The young woman attempted to commit her surroundings to memory – she had come to North Ithilien only once before, years past as a young girl, and thus every sight was new to her now.
A voice called out to her by name, and she turned to see a young man clad in deep blue robes sitting before a large tent. Recognising her fellow healer, she went from the stream-bank to join him and his companions. "Camaen," she greeted him, "I am glad to see all of you are well." There was true relief in her voice as she regarded the six robe-clad men looking up at her. "I trust the others remain unharmed, too?"
"Aye," Athenir, the healer beside Camaen, answered; "the worst injury received was an arrow graze." The older man studied her then as if assessing her appearance, and a gleam shone in his eyes. "What of you, Lady Idrin? I believe this is the first time we see you in aught but healer's garb, and it truly does become you." The others laughed quietly at his teasing, and Idrin found herself grinning readily with them. It was true that in all their years of knowing her, they had never chanced to see her in everyday dress, and the occasion decidedly merited the remark. She appreciated the good nature and friendly ease behind it, valuing the fact that her lineage was of no consequence with those serving in the Houses.
"My brothers called for me," she replied, seating herself next to the black-haired healer named Tirhael, "and, being assured that my presence in the Houses shall not be missed, I am come." It struck her at that very moment what strange a sight their assemblage must currently present: a young woman flanked by a company of men, engaged in such easy conversation. To those not aware of the ties of profession and friendship binding them, they would be a most queer spectacle indeed. "And what of you here?" Idrin proceeded to enquire. "How went the battle?"
There was a heartbeat of silence before Camaen took up the tale. They had worked ceaselessly after the battle of the Black Gate had begun. Stationing themselves on the outskirts of the fray and erecting tents to serve as screened treatment areas, they had made themselves ready and waited. It was not long after the din of bloodshed had filled the air that the wounded began flooding in. Few as they were, the healers were soon in a frenzy of activity, working quickly and deftly as the number of the injured increased while dressing materials and necessary supplies grew less.
Following the grim account without speaking, Idrin could not help but mentally compare the described events to the direct aftermath of the battle of the Pelennor. The Houses of Healing had been filled with wounded men then, but this last battle against Sauron seemed more brutal and much more costly. Perhaps it was the fact that the healers in Minas Tirith had had the luxury of working indoors, protected from the battle raging six hundred feet below them, or the fact that there had been more helping hands: many of the minimally wounded and able-bodied soldiers had been recruited to help carry litters and aid the healers in whatever way they could.
Idrin herself had been charged with tending the less-grievously injured and the recuperating, and that duty was much lighter than others. As such, it had kept her at a distance from the rooms where those with life-threatening wounds were ushered into, but she had heard the cries of agony and the calls for hot water and bandages, had seen the broken bodies and other healers stained with blood.
"The Halfling Peregrin was found under the body of a Troll," Camaen finished. "We had thought him dead, but there was life in him still and he has recovered well enough." The ghost of a smile flitted across the healer's angular features. "They can be brave and resilient, these Halflings, though they do not seem it."
"The one called Sam has not yet woken," Tirhael put in, "although Frodo has, earlier today." He lapsed into silence and then a snort of brief laughter escaped his lips. "Who would have believed that for nigh a year the fate of us all was in the hands of such unlikely a creature." He shook his head to himself, a look of wonder on his face.
The comment caused Idrin's thoughts to shift from Pippin to the Hobbits mentioned. It was only a week previously that she had learnt of their pivotal role in the War. It was Faramir who told her, one morning shortly after the Captains of the West had begun their march to the Black Land, in reluctant reply to her musings concerning the foolhardiness of that decision. He had remained silent for a long while, listening to her talk of the foolishness of setting seven thousands against the vast armies of Mordor.¹ Then he had drawn a long breath and looked at her with a searching gaze.
'It is not victory by arms the Captains hope to achieve,' he had finally said. 'Such hope would be futile indeed. Nay, they only wish to draw the Dark Lord's attention and thus give Frodo chance to accomplish the task appointed to him.' As Idrin looked at him in incomprehension, he went on: 'Remember you the dream that led Boromir to Imladris and what it spoke of? Isildur's Bane has indeed awoken, the one thing the Dark Lord desires above all, and it was for its unmaking that the Fellowship of Nine set out in secret.'
Idrin remembered the fear coursing through her when she had at long last grasped the full meaning of her cousin's words; the endless questions she had wanted to ask; the sorrow for the priceless sacrifice that was to be made in the name of a faint hope. And yet, against so many odds, victory had been theirs. She had often wondered, before news of Sauron's defeat had reached them, if her mind would be less troubled had she not known the truth about Isildur's Bane and the Halfling's Quest. Peaceful is the thought of the ignorant, an old saying claimed, and she had understood why.
But all that was past now, and Idrin was glad for all the familiar encounters here in Ithilien. She stayed with her fellows a while longer, chatting about pleasant and trivial things. When she left them to their own endeavours, her feet carried her towards the Great River, the stream always at her left side.
A tent to her right caught her attention: it was larger and less plain than the rest, its ivory-coloured cloth almost vibrant and not faded by frequent use. It stood some ways apart from the other pavilions nearby, a bit closer to the stream. It was the woman who sat in the sun near a slender golden-red tree that made Idrin pause, however. As she approached, the older female glanced up from her needlework and smiled lightly.
She was a tall woman, nearing her sixtieth year, with keen eyes and somewhat aquiline features that gave her an austere appearance. Her dark hair was flecked with grey, drawn away from her face in a knot at the back of her head. The simple-cut, subtly embellished gown she wore only added to her grave demeanour, and as she rose, it became evident that this was a woman of dignified bearing.
"Lady Berenil," said Idrin amiably, "it is good to see you here."
The other met her gaze steadily. "Old habits are difficult to cast aside, even in times of grief," she replied. "My son has fought in this battle and survived it. I owe it to him to be here on this day."
The young woman was struck into silence, not quite knowing how to respond. The Lady Berenil was wife to Angbor, Lord of Lamedon, who had joined the march to Mordor with his son after leaving a large part of his men in defence of Minas Tirith. Both had fought valiantly, but the Lord had perished before the Black Gate while his heir was spared. Idrin could not pretend to fathom lady Berenil's pain at losing her husband so violently and suddenly, but she would have thought her sorrowing still and in no humour to entertain others at present. And yet, here she was, keeping to the long-established practice of riding out to meet the men of her family after battle for which she was known, even though her spouse was among the living no longer.²
"A new dawn is breaking over the horizon," Berenil continued more softly, perceiving perhaps that her stern words had startled the younger woman, "and better days are to come. It does not do to mourn overmuch for those we have lost to battle, for they have willingly given their lives so that our future may be brighter." She smiled thinly.
Idrin looked at her. Never before had she realised how much strength the Lady Berenil possessed – not bodily strength, but one of another kind, quiet, unseen and far more potent. Her aunt Ivreth had possessed such strength. The healer simply bowed her head.
The final preparations for the feast were well underway when she made her way back to the tent she shared with her brothers. Arvinion had returned, too. He sat watching his younger brother turn the piece of wood in his hands, eyeing it critically and occasionally paring slivers off. When he was satisfied with the result, Damhir blew the wood-dust away and held the carving up to them.
It was shaped as a fox suspended in mid-step, its tail curling low near the hind legs and its head turned to the right to gaze at something beyond sight. It was well-proportioned and detailed as could be, and yet small enough to fit into one's palm.
"Why a fox?" asked Idrin as her brother placed the carved animal in her hand for inspection.
Damhir shrugged. "It seemed more fitting than anything else," he said. "Foxes are beautiful animals, clever and adaptable; my son will like it."
His sister smiled. "Yes," she agreed, giving the wooden toy to Arvinion; "it is quite elegant."
Idrin settled by her brothers, and once more their talk turned to family and matters near their heart. The sun climbed higher in the sky; it was noon when a lone trumpet marked the hour and summoned all.
¹ '. . . [the number of soldiers setting out for Mordor] told six thousand foot and a thousand horse.' (The Return of the King, Book V, Chapter 9: The Last Debate)
² It is never stated whether the Lord of Lamedon accompanied the Host of the West to Mordor or whether he remained behind to help guard Minas Tirith. I think it's plausible that he would leave a part of his force to strengthen the City while he and the rest joined the march to the Black Gate.
Lord Angbor's family background, as well as his fate, are of my own invention since we know nothing about them.
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