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The Last Yule in Halabor
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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20
Day 20 - The Beggar and the Dimwit

For disclaimer and further details see Part 1.

Rating: General, for this part.

Author’s note: The sick room of the Infirmary was modelled after the one in the still operating medieval hospital “Hôtel-de-Dieu” in Beaune, France.


~~~

Day Twenty-One – The Beggar and the Dimwit

The Infirmary of Halabor was another one of the important things built during the better years of the town. It was several hundred years old already, yet it still served its purpose rather nicely, thanks the devoted healers working in it. It was a long, two-store building, built in typical Halabor style: the ground floor was made of stone, the upper floor of solid oak beams. The hospice itself – with the adjoining kitchen – occupied the entire ground floor, with the herb mistress and the helpers’ living quarters and the storerooms upstairs. Only Mistress Angharad, the actual healer had a small house of her own, joining the Infirmary in the right angle from the South.

The long hall on the ground floor could take in eighteen patients at once. The canopied and curtained beds stood in two parallel rows, and behind each of them a small niche was hidden: storeroom for the patients’ belongings and for the chamberpots that were cleverly installed into frames that looked like armchairs, making it easy for the old and the ailing to sit on them. Due to this privacy, where each patient could take care – or have taken care – of their needs, men and women lay in the same room. They could not see each other from the bed curtains anyway. To see the actual shape a patient was in, one needed to sit on the law stools placed next to each bed.

Healing the sick and the injured was not the only purpose of the Infirmary, however. They also took in old people without any close kin who had become too old, too week or too confused to take care for themselves. Currently, one-third of the hospice beds were reserved for such permanent dwellers.

Galhir, the beggar, was one of these people. Once he had been a soldier in Gondor’s army and had served in the garrison of Osgiliath faithfully. But after a particularly brutal fight he got trampled to the ground by frightened horses, and not even the best healers of Minas Tirith could save his legs. He lost them both, just above the knee.

It had taken him a long time to heal – as much as he could be healed, that is – and even longer to learn how to scuttle around on hands provided with wooden patters, dragging his lower body behind him on a little wheeled trolley. But after a while he learned it and could move around at considerable speed that no-one would expect from a man without legs. For a few years, he eked out a meagre living by begging at the town houses of noble families of Minas Tirith, but he quickly grew tired of that life and the hunger and cold that had become his constant company.

Fortunately, some of his former comrades had decided to move to Halabor, and they asked him to go with them. He could still be useful, they had said. He could still sharpen the swords and polish the mails, even in his current condition. And he could read and write, though not very well. Henderch had been certain that he would make himself useful. And he did.

Of course – unlike the Wardens – he could not count on a payment. Nor could he live in the home of the unwed Wardens, the steep stairs being just one of the obstacles. Thus he got granted a bed and daily meals in the Infirmary, for the grace of Lord Orchald, while he scuttled over to one of the watchtowers or to the House of the Wardens almost every day. During the fairs or before great feasts he still set up his pitch near the Town Hall on the Marketplace, or right at the Market Hall in front of Rollo’s Gate, as foreign merchants tended to be open-handed after having made good business. After some initial hostility, the other beggars had come to accept his occasional presence. More so as they knew the Wardens would not allow them to harass a former soldier.

Today, however, was too cold for him to set up a pitch. In fact, it was too cold to leave the Infirmary at all. But he still could make himself useful in a number of ways. There were many tasks that could be done sitting in a high chair, and as the youngest dweller of the Infirmary with his forty-eight summers, he would find it shameful to do elsewhere.

Manning the obstacles of getting washed and dressed with relative ease born of long years of practice, Galhir made himself on the way to the kitchen. He hoped that Mistress Lendar would find something to do for him – his aching bones longed for the warmth of the kitchen hearth. T’was not a long way, as the old peoples’ beds were the closest to the kitchen; for their old bones it could never be warm enough. He was, however, stopped on his track near to his goal by Mistress Angharad.

“I hope you may be able to help us, good Galhir,” she said in that deep, pleasant voice of hers. “See, poor old Cynan is suffering badly from the creaks and pains in his shoulder and back. We need someone with good, strong fingers to rub flax seed oil set with mustard and wolfsbane into his joints. Meurig would do it, but he has his hands full with splitting firewood. Have you done anything like that before?”

“Nay, but I worked with horses in Osgiliath,” said Galhir. “I recognize knots and inflamed joints and know how to treat them carefully – if someone can get me to the right height.”

“Meurig can do it,” replied Mistress Angharad, “and he would be most grateful for you taking over this particular task. He is always afraid to hurt the old people, as he is so very strong.”

That was doubtlessly true. Meurig, some ten-odd years Galhir’s junior, had the strength of an ox, the good, peaceful nature of an ox, and the endurance of an ox. Alas, he also had the slow wits of an ox. Had he always been that way or had he retreated to this simple, child-like mindset after the Orcs had brutally murdered his entire family, one could not tell. Their farmstead had been a lonely one, far from town and from their neighbours, with whom they had rarely kept any contacts. Little Edwy, Meurig's only living kin (saved by having run away to watch the foxes a day earlier) was too small to remember what Meurig had been like before.

In any case, he seemed strangely complacent, as always, as Mistress Angharad and Galhir approached him. He had already placed the slightly confused old Cynan in a low chair and was about to pull the rough woollen tunic from the old man’s shoulders. Seeing the healer, a broad smile spread slowly all over his square, good-natured face, which was brown and weathered like it had been during the years he had spent on the farm. After all, he still worked on the Infirmary’s crop fields from early spring to late autumn.

“I bring good news, Meurig,” said Mistress Angharad. “Galhir here offered to rub old Cynan’s shoulders for you – if we can find a high enough stool for him, that is.”

“Sure we can,” said Meurig in his slow, pleasant manner, and dragging a higher stool forward from one of the storerooms, he simply grabbed Galhir by the hips, lifted him as if he had been but a child, and placed him on the stool safely. He was very skilled in lifting and moving patients who could not do so alone, and, despite his fears, he never crushed anyone with his great strength.

Galhir thanked the gentle giant who nodded pleasantly and trotted out into the icy cold to split some more firewood for the kitchen. Mistress Angharad looked after Meurig fondly.

“He is a good lad,” she said in the manner of a loving mother rather than that of a lover, although everyone knew that the two were to be betrothed after Yule.

T’was a good enough match, despite Meurig’s slow-working mind, found Galhir. For truly, Meurig was not a fool, just… slow. But only when it came to thinking. He was a hard-working man and a friendly one. And he was very good to little Edwy, whom he treated as a son. Besides, Mistress Angharad did have enough wits for both of them.

Galhir liked the healer very much. She was good at her craft, skilled and tireless, although sometimes a little impatient with the complaints of her charges. More so when she suspected that they were just fishing for sympathy. But she had no life outside the Infirmary, at least not since her grandmother’s passing. T’was certainly beyond time for her to get married, if she ever wanted to.

Galhir knew that Mistress Angharad sometimes got visited by Young Herumor in her house. A beggar had a lot of time on his hands, and he saw a lot. Not that he – or indeed anyone from the Old Folk – would find anything wrong with the whole thing. If young Lord Herumor took a fancy to her an she was willing, t’was their business only. The healer answered to no-one but herself, having no living kin in town, and she deserved a good time.

It could not last long, of course. Sooner or later, Lord Orchald would put his foot down and demand that his only son married someone of his own rank. That was the way things were done, and Mistress Angharad had chosen wisely to take Meurig as her husband. He would treat her well, would never make any accusations about the past, they could share work – and little Edwy would have a mother. Galhir had little doubt that Meurig had considered the boy’s well-being when he had accepted Mistress Angharad’s offer.

The healer thanked him and left to look after poor Etterna. The fisherman Brannoc’s mother-in-law did have kin in town, but she was quite mad and Brannoc feared for his smaller children, thus asked for her to be taken in the infirmary. Here the poor madwoman was given a mild draught that kept her peaceful and sleepy most of the times, but one needed to keep an eye on her. She would get frightening fits every time and again, and in those times she needed to be bound to her bed as not to harm her fellow patients.

But today was not one of those times, Galhir noticed thankfully, massaging the achy shoulders of old Cynan vigorously. He found and loosened the knots in a way that hurt but felt good at the same time. The old man closed his small, bleary eyes in pleasure, making happy little noises, while Mistress Angharad talked to poor Etterna soothingly, so that she would take her draught. At the same time, another slightly confused female dweller of these halls of mercy, old Eubrwrast, was prattling in the kitchen, and the clatter of Meurig’s axe could be heard from the outside.

Today, they were all warm and content and not in too much pain. Small blessing as these were, Galhir appreciated them greatly. It was the closes thing to a family a man in his situation could hope for.

~The End – for now~

~~~

Note: Mistress Angharad had managed to hide the patients in the deep cellar of the Infirmary before the Orc attack. Most of the old people, however, died from the smoke of the burning house that was seeping down to the cellar. Galhir refused to hide and fought the Orcs as well as he could ‘til he was slain.


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