2. Chapter 2
(There was an important issue I didn't properly address in Alfirin: the matter of sorting the wounded coming in from the battles. While it had always been at the back of my mind, it never got to be sufficiently explained on paper. That little slip has now been fixed.)
The sun was moderately hot when they left the Citadel library.
"I was acquainted with your sisters-by-law today," Éothain began as their feet led them towards the embrasure at a leisurely pace. "And your niece is a very sweet child." It had been quite a chance encounter: he had gone down to the city's fifth circle to meet with Arvinion and Damhir at their father's townhouse, shortly after the bell in the Citadel struck the third hour from the rising of the sun, and had found a young girl playing with a tabby cat before the door. Two dark-haired women came from within then, accompanied by the very brethren he sought. The introductions were made over refreshments, with the eldest brother's daughter sneaking curious glances at him.
Idrin turned to look at him. "We were expecting them to arrive tomorrow," she said. Arvinion's wife, Faervel, had sent word to communicate as much. Her and Gladhwen's early arrival made the healer realise just how great was their desire to reunite with their husbands, after being apart for nearly two months. That particular feeling was something she herself had yet to fully comprehend, but she was told she would once she was wedded. Her thought shifted and a smile tugged at her lips. "Yes, Orien is an adorable girl," she commented. After a moment of quiet, belated realisation came to her and she spoke again: "This early arrival has left my brothers preoccupied and postponed the promised exploration of the city, I presume?" She had known Arvinion and Damhir meant to show Éothain around Minas Tirith that morning, yet she had seen neither all day.
"Yes, but that is no great matter," the Rider was quick to reassure her. "I have made my own way about the Citadel, saw a bit more of the library and the White Tower and the bath-house, and have seen the jeweller's shop on the sixth level." Of those, the small bath-house located within the seventh circle – not far from the lodgings he himself had been allocated as a captain of considerable rank – and destined for the use of visiting high guests and dignitaries, was a feat of true craftsmanship. Designed by the Númenóreans, Éothain was told when he put forth his question, and supplied with water from a vast lake within the mountain that was fed by underground springs.
Idrin shook her head. "Discovering a city without a guide is no fun. Since my brothers cannot, I shall be your guide today."
"Will you not be needed back at the Houses?" asked the Rider.
"I have spoken to the Warden about working fewer hours today so that I could attend other responsibilities; I will compensate tomorrow."
Éothain felt pleased by that reply: it hadn't taken him long to realise that he had grown fond of the healer's company, in a genuine and undemanding way. An exploration of Mundburg with her would perhaps be more interesting than with her brothers.
Thus, they made their way towards the tunnel that sloped down to the sixth level. With Éothain having already visited the jeweller's, there was not truly anything else of great interest to see in that part of the city: most of the shops were located in the lower circles, while the upper levels largely held the houses of the more affluent. They descended therefore to the fifth circle, with Idrin pointing out those works of stone-masonry she thought pleasing and graceful, and answering the Rohir's enquiries about the fair, strangely-wrought inscriptions carved over many arched gates and wide doorways.
They had passed the weaver's shop on their way back from the northward part of the fifth level – a two-storey establishment which held the owner's lodging on the upper floor and catered to those of refined taste – when Idrin pointed. The building she stopped at was of modest size, flanked by a tall mansion on either side, the door and frames of its large, glazed windows painted blue. A climbing wisteria covered much of the wall that faced the main street, its vibrant colours lending life to the white stone. The long tables behind the windows displayed a variety of vases and ornate bowls and even little animals made from tinted glass, and the wooden signboard that hung beside the lantern outside marked it as a glassblower's workplace, in both Westron and Sindarin.
"When I was little I used to come here often whenever we visited the City," said the healer, looking into the shop with a tender expression on her face. "I could stay here for hours, just staring at all the baubles made from coloured glass. Sometimes, the shop-keeper would even let me watch while he worked at his furnace, and I remember thinking it was so fascinating, to be able to create glass from sand, to shape that molten mass into such designs. It still is."
As she spoke, Éothain took in the softened features of the young woman beside him, the glimmer in her eyes. She was so different from the person he had glimpsed when he walked into the Citadel's library – the sharp tone and the firm gaze were things he had not expected to see her display. But then, people had many sides to them, and it was that which made them interesting.
"Those little critters are exceptionally fashioned indeed," he said. "Glass-makers in Rohan aren't given to such practices of crafting ornaments or, in fact, tinting glass. Such fragile adornments are not practical at all."
"That is what most people in Gondor think, too. Minas Tirith is the only place where glass animals are made, by one person alone... Still, they are beautiful." A brief pause and a quick glance at the shop window followed. "Come, we have a whole city to see." Idrin shook herself and began walking towards the fifth-level gate.
As they passed, they saw the front garden of her father's townhouse was void of people – her family had most likely retired for a short afternoon rest. A soft sound alerted them to movement, and they turned to see a white-and-brown tabby cat perched on the low wall by the entryway. Idrin's lips curved into a wide smile and she reached a hand toward the animal. "Hello, my love."
The cat, not quite fully grown yet, purred loudly and leant against her as her fingers found the sensitive spots behind ears and under jaw. "I have neglected you recently, haven't I?" While the cat moved to expose more of its body to her touch, the healer turned to Éothain. "I had our housekeeper take him with her to Lossarnach when the city was evacuated. I wouldn't have been able to care for him properly had he stayed here with me. Then, the preparations for the King's coming and the return of the armies kept me busy; and with Orien's visiting I decided to have him temporarily relocated from the Steward's House to our townhouse – she's very fond of him."
A fluffy tail swept past her cheek unexpectedly, causing her to jump. She gave the animal a last pet and moved to wash her hands at the water-basin always kept just inside the garden. "That's enough for now," she told the kitten looking expectantly up at her. "I've a prior engagement. You will have to wait until tonight."
The Rider of Rohan studied the healer in amusement, the corners of his mouth twitching upwards. He hadn't previously been aware of her fondness for cats, and that display of affection was agreeable to watch. It brought to mind the bond between the horsemen of an éored and their mounts: all Rohirric knights harboured strong feelings for their destriers, deeming them much more than just animals.
When Idrin resumed walking once more, leaving the tabby kitten watching after their retreating forms, Éothain fell into step beside her easily.
The main attractions to be found in the city's fourth circle were the timekeeper's workshop – an oblong structure, with a homely interior boasting a wide selection of water clocks, sandglasses and candle clocks; the luthier's shop with its finely-made wooden stringed instruments; and the large inn called The White Horn. Doubling as a tavern, the latter garnered customers from all social classes, owing to its strategic location halfway between the lower and upper levels of the City. Presently, the establishment – as well as the other inns on the third and first circle – was overflowing with blond and dark-haired men.
In addition to the returned citizens and refugees from the plundered fields of the Pelennor, the flood of soldiers brought a new, unfamiliar energy to Minas Tirith. The Tower of Guard, for a long time accommodating only half the people that could have easily dwelt within its walls, once again swelled with much noise. Many an empty house had been opened and cleaned, and previously silent courtyards now rang with voices.
Not a stall in the stables on the sixth level was left unoccupied, and any others that could be found throughout the city were full as well. Paddocks were built just outside the walls, nearer the mountain where grass still grew.
Even so, there was a good number of uninhabited houses to be seen, halls shrouded in silence and yards left untended. This Éothain noted, and he turned to his companion. "The city was built to house more people than it currently does."
Idrin let out a deep breath at his observation. "Yes. Decline was set into motion centuries ago, with the Kin-strife. It began in 1437, when Castamir, a distant relative of the then-King Eldacar, usurped the throne. Eldacar was of mixed blood, his mother being the daughter of the King of Rhovanion, and many Gondorians of Númenórean descent thought this mixing of blood a slight. Eldacar managed to win back the throne ten years later, but the war left Osgiliath devastated, made an enemy of Umbar, and weakened Gondor greatly. Then came the Great Plague, and the invasion of the Wainriders. Since that decimation, neither Minas Tirith, nor any city or town or village in Gondor has ever fully recovered."
The Rohir was looking at her with a strange expression on his face. Interpreting it as mystification, and realising what must have caused it, the healer ducked her head with a huff. "I'm sorry, I got carried away. Too many details. I've confused you."
There was the slightest hint of amusement as he shook his head. "No. I found it rather interesting, a bit digressing though it was."
The vestiges of surprise she had attempted to conceal at his first word gave way to a relieved little twitch of her lips, and the sobering effect of the Rider's forthrightness made her register she needed to work on that habit of giving long-winded explanations.
"Gondorians thought those of Northman blood inferior, then?"
Idrin was surprised by the darkness in his voice, and the deeper meaning of his question brought an uncomfortable feeling. She tried to phrase her reply with care. "A few did. It was then unheard of that a King or his heir should wed one not of Númenórean descent – that was a means to preserve the longer lifespan and... dignity claimed by those of pure blood." She paused, considering.
"People should be judged for their quality of character," Éothain said slowly, glancing at her.
"They should," she agreed. Her eyes focused ahead in earnest once more. "Oh," she exclaimed, her train of thought changing. "The market's one of the most absorbing places in the City."
Éothain followed her line of sight. They had passed down into the third level and reached Mundburg's marketplace: an open space, stretched between the gates to the fourth and second circle, stalls lining the wide pavements on either side of the main road. From flower-sellers and farmers, bakers and poulterers, to cloth-merchants and jewellers, it seemed to offer every kind of commodity. Many shops stood behind the stalls, and the Rider saw hanging signs naming each one: a butcher, a chandler, a potter, a baker, a seamstress. Farther off, where houses took the place of shops, he could make out a tavern thrusting its front invitingly into the road. At present, the market hummed with voices, and he saw many flaxen-haired heads mingling with the dark ones at the stalls. Despite the fact that the local produce had suffered because of the war, life went on.
They perused the first few booths leisurely, not speaking much, when Éothain turned to her. "Will you help me choose a small gift for my mother and sister? I would like to take back something from Gondor."
"What would they like?" asked Idrin.
The Rohir had halted in front of a stall selling gloves and cloaks and was fingering a pair of riding gloves made from fine cowhide. "They are both of practical mind, and don't care much for baubles." He studied the displayed goods speculatively. "Perhaps something characteristic of the land." He swept from the booth, Idrin following.
While he pondered scarves and belts, the healer drifted to a stall a little way off. She was examining the wares on the display table when she felt the solid presence behind her. "These are both practical and pretty," Éothain commented over her shoulder.
"Mmm," Idrin murmured, her eyes fixed on an ivory comb shaped as a butterfly. She picked it up to inspect the enamelled wings. "Do you think they would like something of the sort?" She twisted her neck to look at up him.
"A gift for my lady?" The merchant's honeyed voice made her turn before the Rider could reply. He was a stocky man of average height, with beady eyes that currently flicked from her to Éothain and back again. No doubt the sight of so many Horse-lords in the City took some getting used to. Or perhaps it was that he had not expected to encounter one in such fine dress.
"Indeed, no," answered Idrin. "We are simply looking."
"It is beautiful." The Rohir took the comb from her hands, but after a moment's consideration something on the dark drape of the table caught his eye. He moved to stand beside the healer and picked up a delicate, silver-gilt hairpin with a crimson, star-shaped flower as head.
"A lovely item, sir." The merchant took a step closer to the booth. "Discreet but in style." He scanned the table briefly and retrieved something from it. "I have its mate here." He presented Éothain with the hairpin's twin.
Idrin smiled lightly. "You wanted something characteristic of Gondor and now you've found it: stonecrops grow in abundance here, wherever rock is present. They have become an unofficial symbol."¹
The Rider gave a short nod and regarded the pins thoughtfully, turning them carefully in his hands. "Yes, my sister will like them," he finally decreed. "The colour will look good on her." He lowered the hairpins onto the table.
"Would your mother wear something like this?" Before he could peruse the wares again, the healer held up a brooch, wrought in bronze-gilt and engraved with yet another star-shaped flower.
Éothain's eyes glinted appreciatively. "Yes." The answer was immediate, and he claimed the brooch for closer inspection. "It is simple enough for her taste; she will certainly appreciate something so useful." He set it beside the hairpins.
"Might I interest my lady in a pair of inlaid combs?" The stall-owner tried again, lifting one such gold ornament to show Idrin. "If I may be so bold, it shall look lovely in your hair." He looked appealingly to Éothain.
"Perhaps some other time," the healer persisted softly.
The merchant bowed, conceding. "Would that be all, sir?" He turned to the Rider and at his affirmation wrapped hairpins and brooch in linen. "That would be three castar... ah" – he paused and consulted a little book – "four scillingas and one sceatt."²
A wispy smile flitted across Éothain's mouth as he handed the Gondorian the correct sum, though Idrin could not grasp the reason – the man's pronunciation, perhaps? They left the stall and continued down the market-road, occasionally stopping at various booths to look at the wares on display. As they approached the tavern, the Rohir turned to her. "That comb would have looked lovely on you."
The unexpected compliment took Idrin by surprise, but the healer had grown used to the candour of the Horse-lords by now. "I am not very fond of gold," she replied. "It's too boisterous for my liking."
They had descended into the city's second level by then, and Éothain saw that it was largely dominated by shops: they passed a hatmaker's workshop, a lampwright's, a shoemaker's, a vintner's, an apothecary's. The largest and most imposing structure was the public bath-house, containing both heated pools and cold baths. Water was carried to them by a great covered channel built in the mountain, and warm air from furnaces beneath the floors heated them.
They paused at a side-street shop, rather removed from the main road, when something solid bumped into Éothain's leg. A ball rolled away from his foot. He squatted to pick it up.
"I think I know where this came from." Idrin looked across the street.
The two-storey building was modest and had obviously seen better days, boasting many windows and a courtyard with a scattering of green plants, all enclosed by a four-foot wall. A large group of young children, donning similar clothes in a pale tone of grey and blue, looked out as healer and Rider crossed to them, some expectantly and some with apprehension. One boy of about ten years came to the wall and accepted the ball Éothain handed to him with a little smile and a thank-you. The others hovered behind him, waiting to resume their game.
"Idrin!" A high voice drew the healer's attention.
The girl whom it belonged to was no more than seven years old. As she hurried to the wall, a cloth doll clutched in one hand, the hood shadowing her features fell, revealing dark hair and blue eyes. Beside Idrin, Éothain started at the sight of her left cheek and neck, covered in greyish, stiff skin.
"Hello, Lírien." The young woman managed a grin, which the child eagerly returned. "What happened to your doll?"
The girl's countenance turned doleful as she looked down at her inanimate companion, gaze lingering sadly on the torn arm. "She snagged on a bush yesterday. Mistress Tassweg and Mistress Míril didn't have time to sew her." Suddenly her eyes lit. "Could you do it? You're good with a needle."
"Of course," replied the healer and drew the gate open to join Lírien. Éothain followed slowly and stood nearby as she sat on a bench, waiting for the girl who had sped inside the large house. She reappeared promptly, presenting Idrin with needle and thread. The Rohir watched as the young woman bent to her task while the girl followed her movements with bright eyes, a strange feeling in his stomach.
Idrin held up the doll to examine her work when she finished and gave it back to a beaming Lírien.
"Will you stay?" asked the girl.
"I am afraid I can't today," she answered. "But I will try to come soon."
Lírien glanced at Éothain, realising for the first time he was there, and studied him for a moment. Then she offered a shy smile. His lips twitched in return. The healer got to her feet and explained they had to be on their way when Lírien turned to her again. She watched the girl walk towards some playmates, an expression of sorrow brushing her features, but when she swerved round towards the gate, it was gone.
Éothain did not break the silence until they found the main street and walked slowly to the gate descending into the first level. "The girl..."
"She suffered from the disease when she was three years old. The healers treated her as best they could so it didn't progress."
The Rider snorted. "Hardskin is a little death that only sleeps, waiting to wake again. I've seen it take many lives, and no treatment has ever cured it."
Idrin frowned. "Its progress can be checked. Yellow ginger poultice; pudding-grass in soured apple cider can help if the disease is caught early."
Éothain stared hard at her. "And what then? When those afflicted think they are rid of the disease, it smites them down again. They spread it to others. Death always comes, and it's always slow." He looked back in the direction of the orphan-house. "A swift death by blade would be kinder."
The healer stopped in her tracks and gaped at him. She had never expected such harshness from him, and it vexed her more than she could say. "Kinder?"
"It would spare them the agony of watching their bodies waste away, their limbs become numb, their fingers and toes shrivel. Who would want to live like that?" The Rohir met her gaze without flinching.
"And if it was your own child who was afflicted?" Idrin let out a huff of exasperation and, as she wrenched her gaze from Éothain's face, suddenly noted a boy gazing at her from across the street. Curiosity took over. He appeared to be about fifteen, she reckoned, tall but well-built and not lacking in muscle. She felt a frown work its way above the bridge of her nose – his features began to seem vaguely familiar, but she could not be certain.
Caught staring, the boy averted his eyes, but a moment later he threw her a furtive glance, turned away and then his eyes sought her again, uncertainly. After a few heartbeats of indecision, his hovering ended and he walked up to where she and Éothain stood.
"Mistress Healer, m'lady, we need your help." He nearly stumbled over the words, his dark eyes pleading. "My master sent me – he did not know to whom else to turn." He began fumbling with his hands.
Idrin finally recognised the youth as the smith Angdan's apprentice. She had seen the boy only once or twice in passing, but she was well-acquainted with the blacksmith, as she had treated him when a heavy mallet broke his shin some months past. The boy's earnest entreaty was enough to make the heat of her disagreement with Éothain dissipate – for the moment at least. "Of course. What has happened?"
At that he glanced away and a light colour dusted his cheeks. When he met her gaze again, the look in his eyes was one of uncertainty once more. He spoke haltingly, "It is not... a person... that needs aid."
The healer started at the words, and the small crease settled between her eyes for a full second. "I have no such experience with animals," she warned him, not quite as elegantly as she would have liked, she realised a moment too late. His face fell and his expression became dejected. A twinge of guilt tugged at her. "But perhaps I can see first. If it is something simple..."
The glint in the smith-apprentice's eyes was full of hope. "Come," he beckoned, and he set off, leading the way.
¹ Stonecrop grew in Ithilien: '[R]ocky walls were already starred with saxifrages and stonecrops.' (The Two Towers, Book 4, Chapter IV: Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit); '[I]n the crevices of [the statue's] stony hair yellow stonecrop gleamed.' (The Two Towers, Book 4, Chapter VII: Journey to the Cross-roads)
Having this plant associated with Gondor, because of its growing abundantly throughout that land, is my taking creative licence. It seems fitting, since stonecrops thrive on rocky sites, and Gondor itself is, after all, named for its abundance of stone.
² Concerning coinage in Middle-earth, we know that 'In Gondor tharni was used for a silver coin, the fourth part of the castar (in Noldorin the canath or fourth part of the mirian).' (The History of Middle-earth: The Peoples of Middle-earth, Chapter II: The Appendix on Languages, The Languages at the end of the Third Age: On Translation)
Pennies were used in Eriador: 'Bilbo gave a few pennies away . . .' (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, Chapter I: An Long-expected Party); 'Bill Ferny's price was twelve silver pennies . . .' (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, Chapter XI: A Knife in the Dark)
Assuming that the Rohirrim would also have their own coins, I have taken the liberty of giving the name sceatt to any silver coin used by them, and the name scilling to any gold one, since silver sceattas and gold scillingas were used by the Anglo-Saxons during their early history.
Given Tolkien's medieval calquing, it is possible that he had in mind the medieval system of defining coin worth, according to which a coin had the value of the metal in it. Thus, further estimating that the fineness of precious metals in Rohirric coins might not be quite the same as in their Gondorian counterparts, I've taken another liberty of not equating the value of the silver tharni/canath to that of the silver sceatt, or the value of the probably-struck-in-gold castar/mirian to that of the gold scilling. Instead, I have devised an exchange rate where 1 castar (4 tharni)=11 sceattas, and 1 scilling=8 sceattas.
Unfortunately, the only given reference to monetary value in Middle-earth concerns Bill the pony, according to which one pony is worth four silver pennies in Bree-land (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, Chapter XI: A Knife in the Dark). I have made a feeble attempt to name commodity prices by consulting Thorold Rogers's A History of Agriculture and Prices in England from 1259 to 1793, and trying to convert given prices into possible Middle-earth value.
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.