Frodo paused, smiling to recognize those who came down the ramp from the Citadel. Aragorn wore grey trousers and a rather simple shirt, a plain grey surcoat and the Elessar stone, and carried the worn red bag that held his healer’s kit over his shoulder; Pippin was dressed in his uniform; and Elladan wore soft golds. “Good morning, Aragorn, Lord Elladan, Pippin.”
“Good morning, Frodo. Do you do well this morning?” Aragorn noted the wearing of the cloak, although the day was warm and promised to be much warmer.
“Now that you are here, very well. How was it to sleep in a proper bed--the first in months?”
“Decidedly odd, but comfortable.”
“Did you manage to sleep until you were roused?”
“And how did the meeting with the Citadel staff go?”
“Very well, and there were at least two there who remember back to the days when the Citadel was visited by the Lord Captain Thorongil and who remember him--and his aide--well.”
Frodo laughed, and Aragorn saw some of the almost unnoticed stiffness leave his posture. “You will have to tell me the details later.”
“Would you like to accompany me as I visit the guardsman who served Lord Denethor?”
Frodo sobered. “I would be honored.”
Together they turned back toward the lane where stood the house in which the Fellowship dwelt, but stopped at the first house on the left. The King looked at his guard and ordered, “You will remain on guard here, outside the house.”
“Yes, my Lord,” Pippin said formally, then turned, sword drawn, and faced the street, his expression watchful.
As they approached the door, Elladan smiled. “I would not have imagined such as he should prove so apt to his current duty; but he fulfills it admirably.”
Aragorn nodded. “I wish some of the young soldiers among Men were as steady.” Frodo, glancing over his shoulder at his cousin, saw Pippin straighten even more with pride, and smiled. He noted that Healer Eldamir was crossing from his own house, and his smile grew brighter, for he found he truly liked the young healer.
The rap at the door was answered by a young maid. “Yes, sirs,” she said, her face properly politely interested in spite of the paleness and drawn expression indicating long nights of standing by her mistress and master. Then she took in the tall Man and the presence of Elf and Pherian and her eyes grew wide with amazement. She turned her attention to Healer Eldamir as he came up with the rest for explanation and reassurance.
“I’m the King Elessar, Mistress. You are Mistress Avrieth?”
Turning her face back to the taller Man who’d addressed her, the girl’s face went even paler. “My Lord?” Her face was a study in confusion.
“Mistress Avrieth?” he asked again. “I am your new King, the Lord Elessar. May I visit your mistress and master?”
She stepped back automatically, still uncertain as to what was expected of her. “I don’t understand, my Lord.”
As they passed her, Eldamir answered her. “Avrieth, the Lord Elessar is himself a most gifted healer, and he has come to see to the welfare of your master and mistress. Will you please announce us to Mistress Berilien, and then go put water on to boil?”
“Certainly, Healer Eldamir.” This she appeared able to deal with somewhat better, leading them to the study at the back of the house where a narrow bed had been set up for her master, as they had been unwilling to take him upstairs, so far from the kitchens and bathing room and fresh water. Carefully she called out from beyond the doorless casement, “Mistress, the healers have come.”
The woman beside the bed was of middle years, her face pale with grief and exhaustion. She sat by the bed, a table with a bowl of broth and an invalid’s cup on it. She looked up, smiled with relief at Healer Eldamir, then turned her eyes to the others in the room. The Man on the bed was considerably older than his wife, and his face was pale. He was awake, but how much awareness he might have had was hard to tell. His breathing was harsh and rasping. The King gave a deep sigh. “The lung sickness, then.” Eldamir and the Elf both nodded, and the three of them walked swiftly to the bed and leaned over the one who lay there, partially propped up to ease his breathing. The woman who sat by the bed rose in her own confusion, wondering who these others were who had accompanied the familiar healer.
The woman looked at the one who did not walk to the bed. Frodo saw the pain in her eyes and was filled with compassion. “Mistress Berilien?”
She looked at him, and her eyes cleared. “The Ernil i Pheriannath,” she breathed.
Frodo’s cheeks briefly pinked. “No, Mistress--I understand that title has been given to my cousin Peregrin, who stands before the house now on guard. Frodo Baggins at your service, Mistress. There were four of us Hobbits who came South with the King.”
“Four of you?”
“Yes, Mistress Berilien, four of us.”
“Yes, there is a new King now--Avrieth told me.”
“Yes, Mistress. Mistress, this one with Healer Eldamir is the Lord Aragorn. He is a healer also, as is Lord Elladan, who has accompanied him today. Both were taught by Lord Elrond, the Master of Imladris, who is the greatest of healers now in Middle Earth. Lord Elladan is the son of Lord Elrond.”
“They are both healers, trained by Lord Elrond,” she repeated.
She took a deep breath. “I am afraid--afraid it is too late for us, Master Frodo Baggins. He has the lung fever now.”
Frodo looked over at the three figures leaning over the one on the bed, then looked back at the woman. “If any can aid him--even if it is only to ease the way--it is the Lord Aragorn, my lady.”
Aragorn looked over his shoulder. “Frodo--can you make certain that young Avrieth has set water to boil, please. Both she and Mistress Berilien are distraught with concern and lack of proper sleep. I will see if I can have another to aid them over the next few days so both can get proper rest.”
“I don’t wish to leave his side.” The woman’s voice shook slightly.
“I can understand, Mistress. However, you do neither of you any good if you also were to fall ill.”
Frodo found the kitchen and saw that the girl had set a goodly pan of water to heat, and now sat on a simple stool by the worn work table watching, her face blank. He noted that the fire was properly burning, then came to her and took her hands. “It will be well enough, Avrieth,” he murmured.
She looked down at him. “You are a halfling.”
“We call ourselves Hobbits.”
“Is he truly the King?”
“Yes, he is truly the King.”
“Master Halargil--he was so distraught when--when Lord Denethor died. It was Master Halargil’s torch Lord Denethor took there, there in the Tomb of the Stewards.”
Frodo took a deep breath and then let it go. What a thing to have the memory of! “It is of no wonder that he had a brainstorm.”
She slowly nodded her head in agreement.
“I will go and tell the King that the water is heating.” He looked up and smiled reassuringly. “You are doing well.”
She smiled weakly, and squeezed his hand before she let him go.
He returned to the other room. “She has the water heating.” He took another deep breath. “He gave the Lord Denethor the torch he used at the end.”
Elf and King looked at one another, then exchanged looks with Eldamir. Aragorn closed his eyes and shook his head. “Feelings of guilt can destroy so much of one’s spirit,” he said quietly. Knowing from personal experience just how true this statement was, Frodo simply nodded.
Elladan was listening to the lungs when young Avrieth entered carrying the steaming basin. Aragorn took it from her and thanked her and set it on the table by the bedstead, then brought out one of the packets of athelas from his kit, culled from one of the plants ordered planted in the herb garden for the Houses of Healing by the Warden there in the shadow of the healings done there by the King. Gently he breathed upon the leaf and rolled it between his fingers, singing softly under his breath as he committed it to the water, then lifted the basin to hold near the sick Man’s face. His breathing deepened as he took in the steam scented with the odor of lilies, and his face cleared somewhat. His eyes became more alert, and he looked up at the face of the tall Man standing over him. The lid to the left eye drooped, as did much of the rest of the left side of his face, the lower lip on that side slack. As Aragorn took a square of clean cloth that lay there and dipped it into the steaming water and wrung it out the former Guardsman tried to speak.
“Thorongil,” he finally managed to say.
Aragorn paused in his reach to wash the Man’s face and looked more closely at him. “What is your name?” he asked.
“Hal--” He was obviously having difficulty forming the words.
“Halargil. His name is Halargil, my Lord.” The wife’s voice was flat with fatigue.
“Halargil.” The tall Man’s voice was distant with memory. “I see. It is a very long time, Halargil, since Captain Thorongil served in Gondor.”
“Thorongil. Captain. Re--returned.”
Aragorn gave a soft, very gentle smile as he began to gently cleanse the Man’s face. “Returned. The King has returned, Halargil.”
“Do not trouble yourself, Halargil. Denethor was a masterful Lord, and ever required strict obedience, even when it was to the detriment of his own comfort.”
“Fara----” The right side of his face showed frustration that he couldn’t appear to finish the name.
“The Lord Steward Faramir has recovered, Halargil. He will serve the realm long and well, and with the great honor he has ever displayed; and will receive the respect he has ever deserved.”
Aragorn again dipped the cloth into the basin and wrung it carefully, began washing Halargil’s chest where it could be reached through the opening of his night robe. “Yes, Lord Steward. Faramir has been confirmed as Lord Steward of the Realm of Gondor.”
The Man weakly fumbled up his right hand, caught Aragorn’s, held it to his cheek. “Back.” His eyes closed, and he appeared to drift into sleep; but the right side of his face was clearly smiling.
After they coaxed Mistress Berilien to go to the kitchen herself to get some food, Frodo sat on a stool on the near side of the bed and took Halargil’s left hand. His face very pale, he looked up into Aragorn’s face. “His hand--it’s dead and wooden--like mine when----”
“The brainstorm has simply left that side of his body without direction, Frodo. It may recover--or it may not. We do not understand how or why this happens, but it usually happens that one side or the other is weakened or lost.”
Frodo listened to the labored breathing and looked again at Aragorn, but the Man put his finger to his mouth when Frodo would have spoken. Aragorn continued to clean the Man’s body while Elladan combed Halargil’s hair and Eldamir went out to see to it that Mistress Berilien ate.
At last Aragorn finished with his cleansing and set aside his cloth. Together he and Elladan set their hands over the sleeping Man’s breast, and together they began the invocation....
At last they both came back present, looking into one another’s eyes. Halargil woke suddenly and looked up into Aragorn’s face.
Aragorn studied him. “You have been very ill, Halargil. We can aid you with the lung fever if you wish, but I doubt you will be able to walk easily ever again.”
Halargil looked up at him intently. “Not walk?”
Halargil trembled, and closed his eye. His breath was quite labored. Finally he murmured, “Don’t know.”
The King looked to his Elven brother, then made a decision. He turned to Frodo. “Frodo, will you please go to your house and fetch Lasgon for me?”
“Certainly, Aragorn.” With Elladan’s help he slipped from the stool and headed for the door. Halfway to his own door he had to stop and take a deep breath himself. Finally he was able to complete the walk, entering in and calling the young page to him, then escorting him back to the other house.
Eldamir had looked out the front window in time to catch Frodo having to stop and pace himself, then returned to the sickroom. “The Ringbearer is not recovering well.”
Aragorn looked up at him with concern in his eye, then gave a reluctant nod to his head. “I sent him to fetch the page I’ve assigned to their service. I need him to go up to the Citadel for me.”
Eldamir looked at Halargil and smiled to see him more alert and aware again. “You may yet make a recovery,” he commented.
Halargil gave a one-sided shrug. “Ringbearer?”
“The Halfling who sat beside you is Peregrin Took’s cousin Frodo Baggins. He carried the Enemy’s Ring to Mordor so it could be destroyed. He himself was terribly hurt by his ordeal, Halargil.” The healer looked to his King, then spoke the one thing he knew they all hoped to be untrue, but feared was all too likely. “He may never fully recover. He has awakened, is able to walk and talk again, even to smile and joke. But he is still only a few steps from despair, and knows pain and frustration, and becomes exhausted so easily.” He smiled. “Yet he is a game soul, and seeks to do all he can in spite of the weakness.”
Halargil gave a slight nod, then looked to the right. “King.”
“Yes, Halargil,” Aragorn replied, “I am now the King. Aragorn son of Arathorn, the heir of Isildur, Valandil, and Arvedui.” Halargil went quiet for a time. They heard the knock at the door and Avrieth opening it to admit the Halfling and the page. “If you will excuse me....” He left the room, went to speak to the boy who’d returned with the Hobbit, sent him off, then turned to the girl. “Please bring Master Frodo a small glass of water.”
“Gladly, my Lord,” she said with a curtsey.
Berilien returned to the room and smiled to see her husband obviously aware of her. “You are doing better?” she asked as she walked around the bed to stand where he could see her better.
“Beri----” He fumbled his hand again to catch hers and hold it. His breathing was still very labored. “Love you--so,” he finally managed, then closed his eyes.
She looked up, again alarmed. The Elf and the two Men looked from the Man on the bed to her eyes. “He is very tired, Mistress,” the taller Man said quietly. “And it appears he blames himself for what Lord Denethor did and tried to do.” Reluctantly, she nodded. He continued, “We may be able to help him some; but as he has not recovered markedly since the brainstorm itself occurred, we may not be able to do very much to help him regain his control over his body. The longer it is from the brainstorm, the less healing is likely.”
Again she nodded, closing her eyes to control the threatening tears.
The Elf now spoke. “We have asked him to decide how much he would have us aid him in his recovery from the lung sickness. And my mortal brother has sent for one to ease your husband’s spirit so that he might make the final decision in a clearer mind. Are you willing to stand by him, no matter what he decides?”
She looked from one to another and then to the third. Finally she took a deep breath. “It is his decision,” she said quietly.
“You will not be alone through it,” the tall Man said again.
“Thank you, Lord Aragorn,” she murmured.
Frodo again came toward the bed and was helped by Elladan up onto the stool. The girl returned with the small glass of water and set it by Frodo’s hand. Frodo accepted it with thanks and drank gladly from it. Elladan finally looked up. “I will go to the kitchen and prepare a draught.”
“Hannon le, muindor nín,” Aragorn said quietly, handing the invalid’s cup across the bed. “Take the bag.”
The Elf took the red healer’s bag as he went. When Halargil again opened his eyes he definitely smiled on the right side of his face to look into his wife’s eyes first. “Berilien,” he said quietly. “Love you.”
“And I you, beloved. Do you feel better?”
“Yes.” After several minutes of just looking at her, he added, “Sorry--leave--I think.”
She looked up at the tall Man beside her, felt him set his hand on her shoulder. “If you feel it is time,” she finally said steadily enough.
Elladan returned with draught in hand. He handed it across the bed to Aragorn, who helped Halargil drink it. Once he was leaning back again he sighed. There was another knock at the door, and Avrieth could be heard opening it and then leading someone to the study. Mistress Berilien raised her head to see who it was, then grew pale as she recognized the new guest. “My Lord,” she said, surprised.
“Mistress Berilien,” answered the Lord Steward Faramir as he approached the bed. Aragorn indicated he should come around it and gave up his place. Faramir looked down at the Man on the bed with compassion as he placed his hand on the Guardsman’s shoulder. “Hello, Halargil. I’m told you became ill while I was still within the Houses of Healing.”
“I am well now, apparently, if that is what you mean.”
“Yes.” Halargil began to cough, and Elladan and Faramir held him straighter while his wife held the basin to catch the phlegm. At last he was through, and they settled him back against the cushions set to hold him lying more upright. He looked again at Faramir. “Sorry.”
“That you are means a good deal, but there is no need. The same despair that took my father almost took me without the need for the fire. It was permeating the land, everywhere the shadow of the clouds from Mordor lay, everywhere where the cry of the Nazgul could be heard. My father was certain our doom was at hand, and, I truly believe, sought to spare me the greater pain of dying at the hands of the servants of the Enemy.”
Halargil nodded weakly. His head fell back and his eyes closed. “Tired.”
“Yes, I am certain you are. Rest, and grow strong again.”
A slight shake to the right. “No, too old.”
“Halargil----” But the King’s hand took his shoulder, and Faramir straightened, looked into the eyes of the new Lord of Gondor. He turned back to the Man on the bed. “You know best what is right. I would have you remain long enough to see that all does indeed go well with the land and the city--and with your wife and myself.”
The right side of the Man’s face lit with a smile. “All--is well. King. Thor----” He did not finish, took as deep a breath as he could. “Beri----”
Faramir released Halargil’s hand to his wife and stepped back. Halargil opened his eye again, looked into his wife’s face and smiled. “Protected. Good.”
Aragorn said steadily, “I will see to it she is protected and surrounded by caring.”
“Thank you.” All could see the squeeze he gave to his wife’s hand, a surprisingly strong squeeze. He again closed his eyes and allowed himself to drift into sleep.
It was some quarter mark later that the last release of breath was not followed by another inhalation. King and Elf together laid their hands on his forehead and murmured a prayer for protection for him in his release, and the King leaned over him and kissed his forehead.
Faramir straightened. “I will see to what must be done, my Lord, and to provisions for Mistress Berilien. As a sister she shall be to me.”
Mistress Berilien looked at the Steward’s face, saw the grief and resolve displayed there, and smiled through her tears. “Thank you, my Lord Faramir.” The King turned to her and took her hands, then, as she wavered, swept her into an embrace. “Thank you, my Lord, that he died at peace with himself.” For a time she wept and then he drew her to a chair and saw her sat, knelt in front of her for a time, his right hand on her temple. Finally he rose, went out to speak to the girl. They heard her cry of grief.
Elladan looked to Frodo, who understanding, rose. He approached the new widow. “Mistress--my kinsmen and I will remain in the city for some time more in the house at the end of the lane. If you should wish for anything, you may call upon us.” He reached up and touched her hand.
She looked at him and took his hand in hers, held it tightly for a moment, smiling again through her own tears. “Thank you, Master,” she said quietly. “Thank you for being here to see him go. I think it calmed him.”
Trying to swallow the lump in his throat, Frodo nodded. He kissed her hand, then turned to leave the room. Elladan lingered a moment longer, then after a final exchange of looks with the healer who remained there, he bowed deeply and withdrew as well. Soon the three of them emerged from the house. Pippin stood on one side of the entrance while Faramir’s personal guard stood on the other. Pippin looked to them, and gave a slight nod at their expressions. Then he fell in behind Aragorn as he turned to take Frodo back home.
Sam was sitting in the doorway with a mug of ale in his hand, and he stood swiftly at their approach, taking in their aura of solemnity. He held the door open to draw them in, looked with mild surprise and then realization as Pippin turned to wait outside the door, and with a brief comment, of “Very well then,” he closed the door and went to see to the comfort of his Master and his King and the King’s Elven brother.